What was actually revealed inside was astonishing - a clean, well-maintained hostel in which the dispossessed could find privacy, clean linen, some security and basic human sympathy. The punitive institutional architecture of Victorian benevolence had been partially tamed and the conditions in general would put many hospitals to shame. You never found out whether this is the result of munificent funding from Camden Council or simply exceptional management, but whoever is running the place should be asked to apply their talents a little more widely - they could sort out London's problems first and when that's done turn their attention to the country as a whole.
When it was built, Arlington House was intended to house 1,000 working men - not destitutes but the deserving poor. Now that the rabbit-hutch cubicles have been expanded it will hold just under 400 guests, each of whom will have been interviewed before they are given a room. On the evidence of some conversations in the film this cannot be an easy procedure. How do you interview a man who replies either without the use of consonants or with a medley of Harry Lauder songs? With considerable reserves of patience, I guess, a quality which Bloomstein's touching film also had in large measure.
From the opening scene, in which a sprucely dressed man sang a song to prove that 'everybody here isn't a vagrant', Bloomstein was at pains to listen to the men's account of themselves, narratives shot through with pained candour and self-justification. One man, who had fled from the violence of Northern Ireland said of alcohol that it had given him 'a glimpse of being without fear'.
A former public schoolboy, features now hidden behind a paste- brush beard, pulled tightly on a tiny roll-up as he explained how his father's legacy had run out. He hated alcohol, he declared, though 'I once tried ether - I looked it up in a medical book. It's non-toxic and it gets rid of phlegm on the lungs'. He delivered this with a dry chuckle, a familiar sound in these bitter recollections, sanding the edge off remarks which would otherwise leave splinters in the mind.
'It breaks my heart to look at the bastards,' said another guest. 'I think I'd sooner be in hell.' Then he chuckled too, as though laughing at his own caricature of misery. Another man shook as he described how he had lost his lover through drink, his eyes trembling with tears like an overfilled glass. That you emerged from this hour feeling hopeful says a considerable amount for the businesslike love of those who run Arlington House and for the humane optimism of Bloomstein's regard.
In 'Ghosts in the Dinosaur Graveyard', Horizon (BBC 2) followed a band of American dinosaur hunters to the Gobi desert. They were in part following a celebrated pre-war expedition, a fact brought home by startling echoes of the historical footage in the current film and by the antiquity of some of their vehicles. The scientists' ability to sort bones from stones was little short of miraculous - 'It's a specimen of protoceratops', said one, handling a large lump of shapeless rubble. But then if I drank whisky at the rate they appeared to, maybe I might see dinosaurs too.Reuse content