Monday, 27 February 2017

will you call my name?

 I filled out a survey at running club this evening.  I wouldn't normally consider this worth mentioning, except that I found this one intriguing.  There was only one question:

"What did you have for breakfast this morning?"

I can't even remember who was collecting the information, or why they wanted it, but I was fascinated by the simplicity of the whole thing.  One question only....but what a question!  So many possibilities for the most important meal of the day!

Of course, this being a running club, on a Monday night the answers were all fairly drab and worthy: a smoothie, fruit, shredded wheat, soaked oats... that kind of thing.

If the question had asked me what I had for my breakfast on Sunday, the answer would have been a single, small and slightly disappointing banana followed by an 11.5 mile run and then two bacon cobs with an assortment of mushrooms and a whole black pudding.

But they didn't ask me about Sunday's breakfast, they asked about Monday.

I had several choices this morning.  I had three delicious fruit teacakes; I had a whole sourdough banana bread loaf; I had about a third of a leftover date and walnut loaf*; I also have some more disappointing bananas and some sad looking easy-peelers.

But no.  For my Monday breakfast, I toasted myself two clementine flavoured hot cross buns**.


Even better.....I have two left of those left for breakfast tomorrow too!  I KNOW!  WINNING!

What's your breakfast of choice?***

* what can I can I tell you? I guess I just get through a lot of bread.  I'm an athlete, you know. 

** For an atheist, I eat an awful lot of religious-themed bread.  Although, in my defence, I eat it all-year-round and don't see it as a food purely for the Easter period. That makes all the difference, right?

*** I know that comments aren't really a thing anymore, but let's give it a go, eh?

Wednesday, 22 February 2017

don't stop 'til you get enough...

The mind is a powerful thing.  In the summer of 2005, a numb right hand was the first symptom of what was ultimately diagnosed as multiple sclerosis.  That was worrying enough, but that sensation of numbness quickly began to spread across my body, creeping down through my legs all the way to the soles of my feet (it turned out to all be caused by a lesion on the spinal cord in my neck, hence the widespread impact throughout my body).

I didn't run then anywhere near as much as I run now, but I still did the odd half marathon and liked to go out a few times a week.  Think for a moment what it's like trying to run on legs where the muscles suddenly feel numb and when you can't feel the ground beneath the soles of your feet.  It was so weird that I actually thought for a while that I might have to stop running altogether.  What would happen if I mis-stepped and fell over? The loss of sensations in your muscles that you would normally take entirely for granted made me suddenly feel very unsure of myself.

I was afraid.

But I kept running.  It ultimately took me four years to reach a diagnosis of MS, but through that time I just kept running, slowly at first but then faster and faster. It's amazing how quickly your brain begins to adjust to a new normal, and before long, I was running further and faster than ever before.  In fact, I think the diagnosis actually made me more determined than ever not to give up: I seriously doubt that the pre-diagnosis me would ever have even considered joining a running club and taking part in a marathon.

I know this.  I also know that I'm a fairly determined, stubborn old bastard, and I like to think that, should my symptoms worsen and I am unable to continue with my running, I will find something else to keep myself active.

But I still find myself worrying about the way my legs currently feel like they belong to someone else, possibly to someone who has been dead for several months? There's a new stiffness in my legs now that sees me staggering around like an old man first thing in the morning and after I've been sat down for a while.  I can feel it when I'm running, and I can feel myself becoming more cautious and slowing myself down.  Are these new symptoms? Is this temporary, or will I feel like this forever now? Perhaps this is the beginning of the end? Perhaps I should start to be more careful?

My rational brain tells me that I should keep going: my brain will adjust to a new normal soon enough, just as it did before.  It might take a while, and perhaps I'll have to slow down for a bit and maybe I won't ever manage to be as fast as I'd like to be.... but I can surely keep running.  I know all this.... but I'm still afraid; I'm afraid of the symptoms I feel and of what they might mean.

But you know what? Whilst all this has been going on in my head, I also went and joined that Athletics Club where I've been doing track interval training on Thursday nights.  They're a really friendly bunch and have made me feel very welcome over the last few weeks... I doubt myself every week, and I spend most Thursdays in a state of mild dread about the evening training session ahead because I can't quite shake off the feeling that I don't belong and that I'm nowhere near a good enough runner to be even thinking about training on the same track as these thoroughbreds.  I know rationally that no one cares about how fast I run and that they're simply delighted to have me on board and want me to be as good a runner as I can be... and I enjoy the sessions (once we're finished, anyway - it hurts!) All the same, the demons in my head keep whispering these negative thoughts, doubling down with the way my legs feel and trying to convince me to take the easy way out and to give up.

I felt that fear and I decided to join anyway. I feel the fear before every track session, but I go anyway.  Not only am I going to keep running, but I'm going to keep trying to push myself to be as good a runner as my body and - perhaps more importantly - my mind will let me be.

[partially inspired by this article on running demons]

Thursday, 16 February 2017

rock and roll star...

I stumbled across an interesting article today: “Why British Men Never Got Over Oasis”.

What? Well, okay…. let’s give the man a listen before we dismiss him.

Oasis weren’t just the biggest band in the world – they encapsulated British masculinity like no one before or since. And us men were never the same again.”

Um. Speak for yourself, mate. It’s hard to know where to start with that statement, really. Oasis were many things, but original isn’t one of them; there’s pretty much nothing original about Oasis. Even the fraternal fighting was nothing new to anyone who knows anything about the Kinks. Like most guys my age, I’ve got the first three Oasis records. I quite liked them and they were undeniably a phenomenon, but they weren’t ever in my all-time top ten. I’m not even sure that they would even make a top ten of their contemporaries: I still listen to the likes of Blur and Ash and the Auteurs and I haven’t listened to an Oasis album in full for years. Hell, I haven’t listened to “Be Here Now” since 1997. I watched Wales v England at the weekend, and during the National Anthems, I marvelled at how grown men could get tearful at something as arbitrary as this; that their sense of personal identity was so bound up with their nationality. Like many people before me, I went through a phase where the music of The Smiths and the lyrics of Morrissey just seemed to speak to me in a way that no one else ever had… but Oasis definitely weren’t in that league, and why on earth would you tie your masculinity up with any band, never mind that band?

He’s just getting started.

Between 1994-97, and further still, Oasis took it up a notch. During this heady era when the British zeitgeist was riding high on all things laddism, Britpop, and football coming home – they embodied what it meant to be a man. Oasis weren’t just the sound of a cultural moment, they led the cultural moment. It was the age of bolshie, sweary, boozed-up men, and the true personification of mid-Nineties manliness, they swaggered around like they owned the place, kitted out in football shirts and indie clobber, giving it the big I am.

Let’s be clear: Oasis have never embodied to me what it meant to be a man. I’ll go further: men who behave like this strike me as mindless gibbons. When they headlined Glastonbury in 2004, even though the tickets must have been sold months before the announcement, on the day they were playing, suddenly the bars were full of people wearing bucket hats and chucking beer around. What the hell? Radiohead and R.E.M. headlined the same year. Where the hell did those idiots go when they were playing? If Liam Gallagher is your idea masculinity perfected, then what the hell must you make of Thom Yorke and Michael Stipe?

Listening to them now - and you'll remember most of the words - they’re like a jolt of pure nostalgia. It must have been bloody magic at Knebworth, to be one of those quarter of a million voices singing along. And I’m not the only one who wishes they’d been there. One in 20 Brits applied for tickets – a testament to Oasis’ cultural impact at the time."

I was at Knebworth, as it happens, and what I remember most clearly (apart from sitting for several hours in the middle of the night in a traffic jam around Stevenage) was 125,000 people bellowing along drunkenly, completely un-ironically to the chorus of “A Design for Life” as Manic Street Preachers played. I think most people were happier when Cast were playing, to be honest. Ocean Colour Scene played on the bill the day before, which pretty much sums it up. I was there, and it was ridiculous, but…. nah.

Be Here Now…has stood the test of time to rank alongside Definitely Maybe and (What’s The Story) Morning Glory?

No, it really hasn’t. It’s a horrible record, full of songs that aren’t good enough and are too long and over-produced. I bought it on the day of release and I’ve only been able to listen to it about three times. I’m certainly not about to listen to it again now. The album – five star reviews all round and a gazillion sales – didn’t mark the end of an era just because the Spice Girls came along, it marked the end of an era because it was shit.

no band has managed to capture that sense of masculinity so perfectly since.

Why would this even be a good thing? You only need to go to a Kasabian gig to see drunk people throwing £7 pints of beer over the front row. They’re pretty much the same people, aren’t they? (and, if anything, Kasabian are a much more inventive band than Oasis ever were). Maybe they’re a bit younger than the sad 45-year old dads who went to Heaton Park in their bucket hats to watch the Stone Roses the other year, but very much from the same lineage.

Maybe I’m wrong. Maybe it’s just nostalgia. Maybe the flouncy dancing and self-important warbling of Chris Martin is the look and sound of modern masculinity, and I’m just too much of a curmudgeon to feel it. But it seems to me like ever since Oasis, there’s been something missing between men and rock music. “

You know what? It’s actually almost sweet reading this. This guy is clearly a bit young to remember Oasis in their Imperial phase, and it’s almost touching to read how much they moved him. He’s clearly wrong to generalise about what does and doesn’t define masculinity, but at least he’s allowed music to move him… and you can’t fault him for that, even if the band he’s chosen to be moved by is completely baffling.


sidebar: check out this list of the ten best Britpop songs in the Guardian the other day.  Luke Haines will doubtless be furious that he's been included... and the arguments about the choices are still raging in the comments section. Two Pulp songs? No Supergrass? What the hell? etc. I saw Pulp, Radiohead and Manic Street Preachers playing mid-afternoon slots at the 1994 Reading Festival (shortly before hopping across to the Melody Maker tent to watch Jeff Buckley by mistake when I was waiting to watch Gene).  We were fully a year away from the release of "A Different Class" and Britpop wasn't yet a thing.  The Manics were releasing The Holy Bible the following Monday, and I have to tell you, that although it's the least "Britpop" album you could possibly imagine, that's the record from that era that really stays with me.

Monday, 13 February 2017

don't know much about geography...

I work with some intelligent people.  I say this now because of what follows....

One of my colleagues isn't a driver and has a somewhat tenuous grasp on geography, thinking that Leeds lies between Nottingham and London. As you can imagine, this causes much amusement in the office.

Because of this, someone shared this map that was drawn by someone in their team.


It's hard to know where to start, isn't it? What's happening to Northern Ireland up there?
"Other Citys"?
"Devon/Yarmouth etc"

Perhaps stung by the insinuation that she might be *this* kind of idiot, my colleague took it upon herself to draw her own map of the UK.

This is what she came up with.

Detail on the East Midlands is quite good, but it's probably best not to dwell on much of the rest, especially if you're from Bristol, Somerset or Devon.  This splendid effort also prompted a conversation with another member of my team, also an intelligent person.

"My geography isn't very good, but I always know which direction I need to travel in."
"Yes, so if I want to go to London, I know that I need to go south."
"Well, that depends on where you are."
"Does it?"
"Well, if you were in Dallas, which direction would you need to travel in?"
"Oh.  East! I know that one!  Although Dallas is hotter than London, so it must be further south."
"But the South Pole is also south of London, and that's pretty cold...?"
"That's true."
"And how do you account for the fact that the sea to the east of England is called the North Sea?"
"No it isn't. That's the English Channel.  Does London have a beach? It's on the south coast, after all.

Like I said: intelligent people.

Well, no one knows everything, do they?

Friday, 10 February 2017

just aim for my heart if you feel like it....

My wife is a fan of classical music in general, but she has a particular soft-spot for Mozart.  I like all sorts of music, but for some reason, I've never really been able to wrap my head around classical.  Over the years, my wife has tried to rectify this with the judicious gifting of things like Mozart's Requiem or Shostakovich, but nothing has really taken root.  I'm afraid I'd much rather listen to some banging rock music.

The other day, she was listening to the Queen of the Night aria from the Magic Flute.  It's a lovely piece of music, but I thought it would be amusing to reference the famous scene in the film "Amadeus", where the audience at the premiere of the opera are horrified by what is one of the most famous pieces of music ever written.

"It's just scales"

Or... as Salieri says in the film:

"There she was.  Onstage for all to see, showing off like the greedy songbird she was. Ten minutes of ghastly scales. Arpeggios. Whizzing up and down like fireworks at a fairground."

Sadly, she didn't catch the reference and turned on me in a fury as the ignoramus I clearly am.

In an attempt to lighten the mood, I followed up with this:

"It's just like 'Moves Like Jagger' by Maroon 5.... scales!"

Apparently, one does not simply compare the music of Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart to that of Maroon 5.  Who knew?

After 18 years, it seems like I still have a lot to learn about my wife.

And music.

Moo-ooo-ooo-ooo-ooves like Jagger.....

Wednesday, 8 February 2017

black mirror...

We've only got a little bathroom in our house.  Plenty big enough for the essential functions, but there's barely enough room in there to have a good prance about in the altogether, if you like that sort of thing... and frankly, who doesn't?  There is a mirror above the sink, but it's barely the size of a piece of A5 notepaper: more than enough for shaving (especially when you have a beard), but not really much good for prolonged admiration.  Luckily, I don't think either of us is particularly vain (and C has a much larger mirror elsewhere in the house that I don't much trouble myself with).

The upshot of this is that I don't spend a great deal of time gazing at my own reflection.

We were staying with friends last weekend.  They've just had their bathroom done up and it now contains a splendid rain shower (which doesn't go quite hot enough for my tastes, but you can't have everything).  They've also had a fairly substantial mirror installed above the sink.  I mention this because I happened to catch sight of my reflection in this mirror as I was getting ready to jump into the shower.

I am PUNY.

I already knew about the pathetic muscles in my upper body. My first neurologist was interested in the size disparity between the muscles in my lower body and the muscles in my upper body, wondering if perhaps this was also a sign of neurological damage.  Well, maybe..... Although I do have muscle wastage and weakness from my multiple sclerosis, this kind of physique isn't all that uncommon in runners....

Besides, I have never liked spending any time pumping iron as it seems a ridiculous thing to do.

Who does that?

But what really shocked me was how concave my stomach is. Although I worry about middle-aged spread, it actually curve inwards.

As you probably know, one of my little foibles is that I honestly believe that I have the body of a much bigger man. In my head, I'm still the man I was around 20 years least seven stone heavier than I am now.  It's ridiculous, but there you are. That's just the way it is.  To actually stand in front of this mirror and to see my stomach curving inwards around my inguinal crease (which is apparently very fashionable at the moment, ladies.  It's sometimes called the 'love line' or the 'moneymaker'.  Just sayin'....) was to have the shocking realisation that, in fact, I am really very thin indeed.

This may not be news to you, but it was definitely news to me.

I guess this is just the result of calories in being smaller than calories out for an extended period of time, but I actually shocked myself at the realisation of quite how much my mental picture of myself differs from reality.

Thank goodness I've always been completely realistic about the magnificence of my luxuriantly full head of glossy, shiny hair.


Monday, 6 February 2017


Stiff, heavy muscles are nothing new for any runner, but I'm now starting to be increasingly bothered by spasms and spasticity in my legs. Most mornings I stagger around on stiff legs until the muscles seem to wake up properly and let me move more freely.

As you can imagine, this is somewhat tiresome.

After a relatively good run over the last few years that saw me complete two full marathons with barely an issues at all, I've had a few niggly little problems recently that have affected my running: muscle problems in my leg on the weaker left side of my body held me back a little over the second half of last year; there was the never-ending chest infection that lasted six weeks around Christmas; and now there's a cracked rib and a broken toe...  My wife sometimes remarks that I've had a good innings and it might be time to put me out of my misery by taking me on one final journey to the vet.

I won't lie to you: it's annoying.  Lots of my friends have been getting fitter and fitter and are really pushing their limits and seem to be lowering their PBs every week.  I've never really been all that interested in PBs (or in competitive running), but I'm very happy for them and have been inspired by their progress.  What I find frustrating isn't that I'm not running super-fast and smashing all my PBs, but rather that I'm not running as fast as I would like.  To some extent, that's true of every runner who ever laced up their trainers... but equally, I'm keeping a weather eye out for any sign of permanent physical deterioration, and I don't like what I'm seeing.

Yes... it's true that by almost any benchmark, I'm doing pretty well.  I'm 42 years old and I suffer from multiple sclerosis.... and yet I ran the London marathon in 2015 and 2016; I ran 45km in 24 hours at Thunder Run in July last year and will do at least the same again this year; I covered well over 1000 miles last year and I would expect to do something not too far off that again this year.  Whilst I might not be running as quickly as I would like, I'm not actually running too slowly at all.  Marathon training seemed to take some of the speed out of my legs over the last couple of years, so now that I'm not doing the really big training runs, I'm probably trending faster year-on-year.

But I want to do better.  My body might be starting to give me some warning signs, but this is making me more determined than ever to flog as much out of my body as I can while I still can.  That's why I'm going to join a running club and why I'm going to continue to drive myself as best I can at their track sessions on a Thursday night.  I don't want to slip gracefully into a gradual decline... I want to fight it all the way, kicking and screaming.

I have a friend with MS who relies heavily on sticks to walk and, of course, there are plenty of other people with MS who find themselves confined to a wheelchair.  Their physical condition has got nothing to do with their personal determination, but everything to do with their particular disease progression.  My disease progression may well be different.  Who can say?  I would be lying if I didn't say that I am a bit worried about what my future might hold and what this new stiffness in my legs might mean... but I'm damned if I'm going to let that stop me from running before I have no other choice.  I did a 4.5 mile run in the pouring rain this evening.  My legs felt terrible for the first couple of miles and then suddenly seemed to loosen up as I went along.  I can't exactly tell you that I enjoyed the run, but I'm certainly glad that I did it [sidebar: read this... "I hate running"]

Another friend asked me today how I could even think about running with a cracked rib and a broken toe (never mind the rest of it).  I told her that it doesn't seem to make them any worse, and it's only pain*.

Her: "I think I need you in my antenatal class tonight [she's a doula] when we talk about labour."
Me: "Well, I wouldn't have the brass neck or stupidity to lecture those ladies on pain management!"
Her: "No but you can tell a good story about the difference between pain and suffering."

Funnily enough, I have a tattoo about that.

That's on my weaker left side (you can see some of the scars my ankle cuff has left me with).  Coincidentally that's the same side as the broken toe, although I'm not so much blaming the MS for that as a stray suitcase left between the end of the bed and the wardrobe that I encountered at 3am the other morning....

* I also take painkillers. I'm not an idiot and will-power can only get you so far.

Friday, 3 February 2017

mad world...

Terry Pratchett was a very wise man. He died in 2015, but it’s somehow comforting to look back on some of his writing now and to see what a clear-eyed grasp he had of what it means to be human. His characters were often trolls or dwarves or vampires, but they were nevertheless all acutely observed, clear-eyed character studies of the human condition.

I started reading his books when I picked up the first Discworld novel quite by chance at the age of thirteen, and they were a pretty solid staple of my reading life from that moment onwards (although I haven’t been able to bring myself to read the last few books, partly because I don’t want to see if his writing deteriorated towards the end, but also because I don’t want to read them knowing that there will never be any more to read). People often sneered at him as a writer of fantasy books, as though the genre itself made the writing somehow less worthy, but I can honestly say that I can’t think of another author who has quite the same grasp on humanity; how ridiculous and petty and cruel and wonderful we are.

The world currently seems to be a very scary place indeed. Indeed, as Pratchett’s Death notes in “The Thief of Time” , the chief aspects of humanity are ARROGANCE, PRIDE AND STUPIDITY… a point we seem to be proving rather well just now.  Rather than dwell on some of the more depressing aspects of the week’s news (who would have thought it would be possible to bring one of world’s leading democracies to such a state of crisis within a mere fourteen days?), let’s just laugh along with pterry about quite how ridiculous we are.

Some humans would do anything to see if it was possible to do it. If you put a large switch in some caves somewhere, with a sign on it saying ‘End-of-the-World Switch. PLEASE DO NOT TOUCH’, the paint wouldn’t even have time to dry.

The point is not that we will push the button to see what happens, it’s the fact that this is so achingly predictable and that we’ve pushed that button before, many times across history. We fuck things up because we are idiots and fools, but somehow, who knows how, we still muddle through. These things will pass and these idiots will be replaced by other idiots.

Most of the great triumphs and tragedies of history are caused not by people being fundamentally good or fundamentally evil, but by people being fundamentally people

It’s easy to dwell on the “evil” of men like Adolf Hitler… but to demonise them like that simply makes them seem like one-offs that could never happen again. What does history tell us? That if we don’t learn from it, then we’re doomed to repeat? Hitler was elected as a patsy that people thought they could control. They were wrong. Sound at all familiar to you?

Here’s one for Mike Pence and anyone who thinks that we should legalise the right of people to discriminate on religious grounds: “Goodness is about what you do. Not what you pray to”, or, to put it another way, “Evil begins when you begin to treat people as things

One last one – my favourite:

Build a man a fire, and he'll be warm for a day. Set a man on fire, and he'll be warm for the rest of his life”.

Terry Pratchett was a one off and I’m sad that there isn’t going to be a Discworld novel about Ankh-Morpock voting to secede from the rest of the Sto Plains. One can only imagine what the patrician would have to say about that, or indeed about the very idea of asking people for their opinions in the first place.

He is missed, but his name will live on in the clacks.

I got distinctly misty-eyed reading this tribute by his daughter this afternoon.

Wednesday, 1 February 2017

you're beautiful...

There's a guy in the changing room at work who has a locker just in front of a large mirror.  He gets changed in front of the mirror making loving eye-contact with himself throughout.  He does stop short of slowly rubbing moisturiser into his pecs, which is what I've seen guys at my gym doing in front of the floor-length mirrors.... but he's not that far away, and I can't help but look at him and fight the urge to tell him to get a room with himself.

Speaking of the gym, after nearly twenty years, I've finally cancelled my membership.  I've never exactly been one to pump iron and chug protein shakes in the changing rooms whilst admiring my guns*, but I did try to swim a couple of times a week. I really ought to be swimming two days a week because it's a great holistic exercise that works my weak shoulders in a way that running just does not.  I really should.  I should also probably be using the extensive selection of weights in the gym to work my weaker left side and to try and reverse my muscle wastage.  I haven't done that either.  Since I started training for that first marathon in 2015, the plain truth is that I've added two additional runs to my exercise schedule and haven't been swimming at all, never mind set foot in the main body of the gym.

In fact, the last time I set foot in the gym at all (since they closed the Sweatshop that used to be the meeting spot for my running club) was when I popped in for a pee in the middle of a long run a few months ago.

Hmm.  That's probably a sign that there are better things I could be doing with that money, right?

So we went in to cancel. As we went through the process of signing forms and things, I looked around at the kind of person who goes to a gym like this.  All sorts of people go to gyms like this, of course, but the people I was seeing were pretty much exactly the kind of people I don't want to be.

There's a Starbucks concession inside the gym. It's about a 50m walk from there to the car park.  The car park has Starbucks cups discarded all over the place, in spite of also having plenty of bins.

Those kind of people.

That guy who gazes at himself lovingly in the mirror in the changing rooms at work? I saw him in the shop at lunchtime today, and he was browsing the Valentines cards.

...he's buying that card for himself, right? I hope he likes it.

* I have names for my guns: they're the Bennett Brothers... Alan and Tony... and they're every bit as impressive as those names might lead you to believe.

Monday, 30 January 2017

And whisper'd in the sounds of silence...

I've just finished reading "Silence" by Shūsaku Endō.

To quote wikipedia, "It is the story of a Jesuit missionary sent to 17th century Japan, who endures persecution in the time of Kakure Kirishitan ("Hidden Christians") that followed the defeat of the Shimabara Rebellion. The recipient of the 1966 Tanizaki Prize, it has been called "Endo's supreme achievement" and "one of the twentieth century's finest novels". Written partly in the form of a letter by its central character, the theme of a silent God who accompanies a believer in adversity was greatly influenced by the Catholic Endō's experience of religious discrimination in Japan, racism in France, and a debilitating bout with tuberculosis."

I studied history at University, and I think the most interesting course I took was called "Europeans in Africa and Asia" and focused mainly on the Christian missions to India, China and Japan.  The Jesuits who founded these missions were the most extraordinary and accomplished men, writing the first dictionaries of these complex languages and finding ways to immerse themselves into the highest society of these strange new lands.  It's a fascinating period of history.

When I saw a trailer for Martin Scorcese's adaptation of "Silence", I was intrigued... but the 160 minute adaptation of a relatively slender book, my bumpy relationship with the work of the director and... let's be honest... the presence of Liam Neeson in the cast rather put me off.  I decided to read the book instead and see how I felt afterwards.

And now that I've read it?


My first thought is that I don't think it's been very sensitively translated.  Clearly, I don't read Japanese, but it just feels too clunky and I can't believe that such a well-regarded and prize-winning book could be so clunky.  I had similar problems with Jose Saramago's "Blindness"... which is apparently brilliant, but I found my translation to be laughably poor and completely obstructive to my enjoyment.

My next thought, I'm afraid, is that the book just doesn't move me. I'm atheist, so perhaps the spiritual anguish the protagonist suffers in the book is never going to touch me the way that it clearly touched the rather more Catholic Scorcese (he says as much in the preface).  I rather think not, though.  I might be atheist, but during my degree, I actively sought out courses on the history of religion: the Dutch rebellion against the Spanish, the French Wars of Religion, the Reformation and the Counter-Reformation.  I don't believe in God, but I'm fascinated by the ideas of people who did and the achievements they made in the name of that belief... just read about the lives of man like Francis Xavier or Matteo Ricci and marvel at the places their faith and their brilliance took them.  I can be moved by these stories... I'm just not moved by this story.  I find the protagonist, Rodrigues (played by Andrew Garfield in the film) to be singularly unsympathetic.  He is driven by his faith in God to seek out his mentor, who has disappeared in Japan and is said to have apostatised.  Whilst there, although Christianity has been outlawed and Christians are persecuted where they are found, he seeks to carry out his mission to the peasant believers that he finds there.  Perhaps this is deliberate (the author is a Japanese Christian himself, after all), but his attitude to these peasants is patronising at best and racist at worst and his 'suffering' for his faith seems to be somewhat superficial and quite some distance from the glorious martyrdom he seems to imagine for himself.

Perhaps I'm misreading and that's the whole point: that all these people suffer and die for nothing but the silence of an uncaring God.... although it's hard to see what Scorcese would like about that.  That kind of cosmic joke would seem more like Richard Dawkins' kind of bag, to be honest. 

What I can't escape is that I just found the book boring... slow is one thing, but this novel seems to take an inordinate amount of time taking us nowhere very interesting.  Even the ending - a series of afterwords in the form of letters and diary entries - is dull and anti-climactic.

So, do I fancy going to watch a 160 minute adaptation of this book by a director who -- for me -- often seems to make overly-long and underly-interesting films and has a track record of dwelling on his own faith?

Not so much.


Speaking of highly-rated books that I'm not enjoying, do people honestly find "The Third Policeman" funny? Really?