Everyone has been telling me to watch 'Gladiator' for the last 12 years or so, so tonight I finally got round to watching it, having just got back from Rome.
I have hardly ever seen such a pile of stinking shite in my life, and although it has not changed my opinion of Russel bloody Crowe in the slightest, it has put me right off Ridley Scott, which is the only sad thing about it.
I am also rather worried about all my friends who told me it is a good film. I can never trust their opinion ever again.
What a waste of money that picture was. I paid £1.99 on eBay for it including postage, and I bitterly resent even that.
I decided this morning over coffee, that I am at my most content when simply blending in. Conversely, I am most troubled when out on a limb in the company of others.
You must know by now that 90% of my social life consists of talking to people in the pub. Apart from a handful of contemporaries, I often find myself to be the oldest in any particular group, so the others quite often consult me on matters of fact, having had more experience than them, being - on average - about 40 years older.
Last night, a crazy young woman shouted to me from across the bar where she had been discussing the subject with another young woman, "Why is it that you never see white dog-turds any more?"
I was able to inform her that it was - of course - all down to diet, and not the 'fact' that only white poodles produced white turds and that there are not as many white poodles around these days, as she had believed.
Dogs produce, I intoned, white turds when they are fed a large bone every day, and not many people give their dogs a bone now. I also supplemented this snippet with another fact - that in Victorian times, leather-tanners somehow used white dog-shit in the process of curing leather, and you could sell pure white dog-turds to tanners for a reasonable profit. For this reason, poor people made a point of feeding their dogs at least one bone per day, supplementing their meagre incomes.
I added yet another bit of trivia to this - that small boys would commit minor fraud by actually making fake white dog-turds from chalk and other shit to sell to gullible tanners, and there was a little, Dickensian cottage-industry going on in the slums of Victorian London, carried out by boys with conkers and string in their pockets who could not afford a whip and top to keep them amused.
One young woman regarded me with a far-away look in her eyes as she said, "Well I never knew that about the fake shit".
The other stared at me for a couple of seconds, then said, "You knowledgeable cunt, you".
Sorry to harp on about Rome again as if I was the only one of us to have been there, but - try as I might - I cannot quite digest the sheer scale of the place, let alone put myself in the mental position of getting any sort of a grasp on what it must have been like in its full glory.
It's the micro/macro thing again, but even that is macro compared to the rest of the Roman occupation of Europe. The details interspersed with the grand scale is what makes a shifting image that little bit more solid, and - as always - the details have been rearranged by the Christian Church - the original Christian Church.
St Agnes was a 13 year-old girl who was executed in the stadium where the Piazza Navona now is, for refusing to marry. A whole church devoted to her now stands on the edge of the stadium, and she is the patron saint of young girls.
What makes her a saint? She was stripped naked in front of the crowds as punishment, but miraculously sprouted a thick coating of body hair to cover herself, and for this she paid with her life. But did she start off as a Christian, or was she just hi-jacked by them?
The grand scale is also reflected in the sort of relics that are housed in the Vatican's 'treasury' I put that word in parenthesis because if you seriously believed that this series of little rooms holds all the treasure that is at the disposal of the entire Catholic Church, then you would be more gullible than even they suspect you to be. But what can you believe?
Is that really the finger of Saint Peter in a crystal box, pointing toward heaven in the classic Moslem gesture? Is that really a piece of the True Cross, unlike all the other medieval bits of it - enough wood to build a battleship? Were those two lone thorns really part of Christ's crown on the cross?
It's all to do with the Mystery of Faith, so I am told by the same man who transubstantiates wafers and wine into flesh and blood.
I am not trying to tread on anyone's toes here, as I am just as keen a believer on the power of Faith as the most devout Catholic, but I always think of Tinkerbell's warning about how a fairy dies each time a child expresses their disbelief in the existence of fairies at all.
To visit Rome as a Catholic must be like going back to the place you were brought up, to visit your extended family. It must be very comforting. But what a family. Faith and Forgiveness is what holds all families together, including the black sheep - the black sheep with dog-collars included.
No parents really want to see their children grow up and leave home for fear of loneliness in old age, but most of them put a brave face on it and hope for the best. There are always the grandchildren to look forward to. Then there are the great-grandchildren...
I used to go out with a girl from a very rich but dysfunctional family, and her mother's name was Faith. Faith had a sister who I once met, called Charity.
"There is no Hope in this family", my friend told me at her wedding.
There's a big 2 weeks ahead of me, culminating with a job which - if I get it wrong - will destroy the visual appearance of a vast and important, Grade 1 listed Georgian country house which is the apple of my client's eye, and has been since first seen in the 1970s, long before it was bought. I'd better not get it wrong, then.
The scaffold has come down from St Michael Without - the perch of the Peregrine seen so often here - but thankfully they have not yet begun to ring the ghastly bells. I am hoping that they will be forbidden to because of the lean in the spire, but I fear it is only a matter of time.
I first noticed the lean in the spire many years ago, when they re-built the top 6 feet of it plumb, putting a kink in it which accentuated the rest by comparison. Around a year ago, I noticed that the lean was getting worse, and wondered if anyone else had noticed. There is a lot of masonry to fall down into the busy streets below - hundreds of tons of it, in fact.
This is the third successive St Michael Without to be built on that site - the first was medieval and fell down of its own accord, the second was deliberately pulled down to build this one, and I daresay that it looked a lot better than this one. The 'Without' title refers to it being just outside the city walls, as in 'There was a green hill far away...'
Then a friend of mine got the contract to conserve and restore the tower, which has been done over the entire Summer. When the scaffold went up, I asked her what was causing the lean on the spire, and she told me it was the ferrous supporting structure on the inside, which had rusted over the years and pushed the joints apart in one direction. When iron rusts within a tight space, it expands a fraction, but this fraction is enough to actually split stone or, in this case, open the joints in which it is set, causing a worrying tilt.
I wondered how on earth they were going to correct the problem, and she said that it could not be corrected, only stabilised and halted. The only alternative would be to remove the iron structure and replace it with stainless steel. This would be an extremely risky business and the consequences of anything going wrong would be dire to say the least.
"What we are trying to avoid is bringing the whole tower down", was how she put it. A very British way of putting it.
Using Rome's deep underground Metro system as much as we did brought another irritation into consciousness to add to the huge list of everyday irritating things: the way that the rubber handrails of escalators never keep up with the steps, so you have to keep repositioning your hand every few seconds. There. now I have reminded you, this will haunt you forever too.
I found a bar close to the hotel which specialised in catering for international youth - very similar in feel to our own Bell Inn here in Bath, but with the facility to pack back packers together on a racking-system in communal dormitories. I went there every night and sat listening to English in a variety of accents, it feeling a little like home from home.
After a while, I became fed up with being surrounded by hedonistic youth - particularly as I was pretty much ignored by the pretties - unlike The Bell, where they fawn over me in respect and admiration.
I also became fed up with being surrounded by white-haired culture-buffs of my own generation, so there was no escaping the conclusion that I was just fed up with being surrounded by anyone, regardless of age.
People have often commented that Rome is just never quiet. There is always an ambulance or police vehicle trying to negotiate unregulated intersections, sounding their identical sirens - in the same way that cicadas are absolutely identical - and the sirens are modelled on Johnny Weissmuller's call as he swung through the trees on a vine. Think Johnny Weissmuller having contracted the same condition as Stephen Hawking, swinging through the trees with the same voice simulator, and you will know what I mean. There. That's another thing I have put into your head.
Bottle collections, overhead aircraft hitting the air-brakes as they approach the nearby airport, more pre-dawn bottle collections (I played a large part in this, for which I take my share of the blame), heated conversations which sound like arguments, ordinary car-horns as cars have heated arguments, music - live or otherwise, the building sites which are everywhere, cutting steel and yet more travertine marble - it never stops, it only goes into lulls.
One night, I found myself remembering a radio show from my childhood - 'In Town Tonight' - and I had not even thought of it since my childhood. You have to be well over 60 and British to remember this program and the introduction: "Once again, the mighty roar of London's traffic comes to a halt (the mighty roar comes to a halt here) as we bring you..." I bet Weave remembers.
It has always been the same, only the noise has changed. There is a photograph of Piccadilly Circus taken in the late 19th century, and the whole area is blocked by horse-drawn, Hackney carriages. In 18th century Bath, they would pay a boy to lay straw over the cobbles outside the house of a dying person, to deaden the noise of cart wheels on the road. Much of Rome is cobbled, and almost every car has a severe rattle on the rear axis, presumably as a result of the cobbles and the holes where they have gone missing - these holes are everywhere.
We got back home, sat in the kitchen at lunchtime and marvelled at the quietness. We temporarily forgot the warning of our taxi driver, that the university students had come back to town and an important rugby match was about to be played out over the weekend...