Tuesday, 14 February 2017

Private Snow

I was walking home from a night out, feeling gloomy and wishing I’d got a cab, when I noticed little white flecks in my hair. Snow!
I felt a sudden urgent need to tell someone.
‘IT’S SNOWING’, I write to my friend Marta on facebook, and then see that she hasn’t been online for 5 hours.
The white flecks suddenly intensify, falling in thick, rapid flurries that cling to my hair and dampen my clothes. I stop, mesmerised, watching snowflake after snowflake die on the wet road.
The streets are deserted, orange-lit by street lamps. My own private snow.
I wonder if everyone will wake to an inch-thick layer of white in the morning, or whether it will peter out, a fleeting mini-blizzard that was just for me.
I take my camera out and snap a picture, desperate to acknowledge the moment, forgetting that I’m in a woman alone in Plumstead, in the middle of the night, with a very expensive, very big black camera.
I trudge on, this glaring invite to muggers still in my hand, my shoes increasingly wet, passing the black expanse of Plumstead common.
A movement spotted out of the corner of my eye and I suddenly snap to awareness, the magic of the moment receding and the camera suddenly feeling very obvious in my hand. But it’s just a fox, eyeing me suspiciously and eating bread left out for the birds.
In the half glow of the street-lamps I see snowflakes collecting on the tips of its’ orange fur, not penetrating the thick coat..
At least someone else is here to see the snow, I think, as it hurries off with a soggy mouthful of crusts.

Saturday, 16 July 2016


Fifteen years ago I got the best present I will ever get. The friendliest, most gentle, good natured dog imaginable. I doubt there's another dog like him out there, and not just because he was some mysterious combination of breeds with tiny legs and a giant body and fur that randomly changed length and colour. An animal's life doesn't mean much to most people, but then he was a better person than most people. He wasn't capable of being anything but kind, and he loved everyone and everything - including the baby guinea pigs he helped nurse and the brain damaged kitten who could easily intimidate him. He snored, he did appalling farts, he was too fat and he wasn't very clever - but what he lacked in actual intelligence he made up for in emotional intelligence; he always knew when you needed looking after. When I was a kid I worshiped him. He made my childhood a joy and he made our home a home.
Even though fifteen years is far too short, and even though this feels unbearable, I still feel lucky to have called him our dog; our Alfie.

Monday, 23 February 2015

For Rik

It's such a curious thing, to form a connection with a face on your TV screen. To become the person that you are today because of the influence of someone you've never met, who knows nothing of you and reached you through a pane of glass.

It's an even more curious thing to grieve the death of such a person, to feel, individually and yet en masse, a right to that grief, a keen and personal sense of loss.

Whilst James Gandolfini's death is a contender - I still haven't summoned the emotional strength to re-watch the Sopranos final scene - never has the passing of a perfect stranger struck me more painfully than Rik Mayall's, a man who's comedy is inseparable from memories of my childhood, who's handwriting hangs in the hallway of my family home; 'To Rae, Love and Snogs, Rik Mayall', (for my brother) 'Happy New Year, Arseface'.

With the aforementioned brother in tow, belly-down on my nan's living room floor, we frequently neglected the outside world in favour of Bottom on VHS. We had every episode, every live show - except for that one that my cousin borrowed and never returned, the bastard - and knew every punchline to every joke off by heart, even the ones that sailed clean over our six and eight year old heads. When I was ten, we saw the last live Bottom performance, An Arse Oddity, and I remember with utter clarity how our (late) arrival prompted rows of swiveled heads and stares; we were the only kids in the theater.

My mother, as I think is clear, was very laid back about what kind of media we were exposed to, something for which I will be eternally grateful, as it allowed the entrance of Monty Python, Blackadder, The Young Ones, Father Ted etc, into our lives. These programs shaped my perception of comedy, instilled in me a love of the British sense of humour, of the bleakness and wryness and the self deprecation, all shot through with a vein of surrealism and silliness, that stays with me to this day. 

It's beyond me how I would ever get through life without the company of comedy; when I can't sleep, when I need a distraction, when I need to hear another voice in the room to detract from the ones chattering incessantly in my head, my favourite programs, invariably all British sitcoms, can be relied on like nothing else to bring some relief; they are a window to look out of.

And this is true, most of all, for Bottom.  

It's odd that nothing leaves me pining for my childhood more than watching middle-aged men in over-sized pants batter each other with frying pans and make fart jokes, but truly little else does. At the first note of the opening theme, I feel a familiarity, a comfort; some throw back to Sunday afternoons, staving off the dread of the upcoming school day with TV. Laughing too much from somewhere deep and sore in the pit of my stomach.

I want to give real testament to Rik Mayall's life. I want to list the comedians that he influenced, charter the part he played in spawning an alternative comedy scene that is still influencing comedy today. But somehow I can't do so with real feeling; that he was just a silly man who made me laugh as a kid feels like the biggest testament to his life that I can provide. 

He was a wonder, an explosion of energy that flung itself from one end of a stage to another, a shameless reveler in base level comedy, in a silliness and rudeness and shoutiness that is the essence of being a child. 

I still know every line in Bottom, and it still makes me laugh anyway.

Now that he's gone, however, the nostalgia I feel when I watch it, is different; it's heavy, weighed down with sadness. I will never loose the laughs, stored safely within my old videos; but my childhood is something that I'll never get back, and Rik Mayall's death feels painfully symbolic of that.

"I feel sorry for you, you zeros, you nobodies. What's going to live on after you die? Nothing, that's what! This house will become a shrine! And punks and skins and Rastas will all gather round and all hold their hands in sorrow for their fallen leader! And all the grown-ups will say, 'But why are the kids crying?' And the kids will say, 'Haven't you heard? Rick is dead! The People's Poet is dead!' ... And then one particularly sensitive and articulate teenager will say, 'Why kids, do you understand nothing? How can Rick be dead when we still have his poems?"

Saturday, 24 May 2014

On Redirecting Hatred

Didn't we once share some tacit understanding that the working class should look out for one another? Now those most willing to condemn the poor seem to be the poor themselves, eagerly heaping contempt on people within our own communities. Blame immigrants, blame benefit claimants or the unemployed, blame whatever fraction of the lower classes being grossly misrepresented in the Daily Mail this week, blame the moral failings of individuals rather than the failings of society itself. And reserve little hatred for the cunts at the top - the people evading billions of pounds of tax, the bankers who single-handedly arse fucked the economy, the MP's using the public's money to buy three piece fucking sofas. It is not a coincidence that all this negative coverage of benefit claimants coincides with the Tories slashing those benefits. This government wants to fuck you, and if you continue to direct your indignation at every scape goat it dreams up, then you're going to let it.

Monday, 5 May 2014

Love and Other Impossible Pursuits: Movie Resurrection

This was written for Screenrobot.com to be apart of it's 'Movie Resurrection' feature - a revision of potentially good films that got bad reviews - but the film was shit so my review ended up too negative to fit the brief and subsequently went unpublished...

With the movie industry so often accused of treating women as little more than seductive set dressing, it's unfortunate when a film with the potential to present multi-layered (and fully-clothed) female characters to a mainstream audience fails not only in this endeavor, but as an effective piece of film-making overall.

Such is the case with Don Roo's 'The Other Woman' (originally titled 'Love and Other Impossible Pursuits'), which gropes at a multitude of poignant subjects - motherhood, infidelity and grief - without ever delving deep or dark enough to grasp any one of them.

Adapted from a novel by Ayete Waldamn, 'The Other Woman' is the story of Emilia Greenleaf, played by Natalie Portman - seldom seen grappling with such an ambiguous, potentially unlikeable role - who's central character conflicts are introduced, alongside a quirky indie soundtrack, within the first ten minutes of the film. In a marriage born of her affair with an already betrothed man, Emilia is a pariah among mothers, a 'home-wrecker' who's entrance in a room of Manhattanite first-wives can induce a flurry of whispers and exchanged glances.

The history of Emilia's courtship with husband Jack (Scot Cohen) is shown in a series of flashbacks that, in a fashion indicative of the whole film, feel like a selection of inconsequential moments, building to no real emotional intensity. The affair is treated so light-heatedly, with all the gut-wrenching parts like Jack coming clean to his wronged-spouse punched out, that one is led to wonder if Roo's has already forgiven Emilia for her adultery long before the audience can even begin to consider it.

Distancing her even further from the clique of motherhood is Emilia's questionable habitation of the term 'mother'. Having lost her three-day old daughter Isabelle to SIDS, Emilia's remaining maternal responsibilities lie with the product of her husbands first marriage, her finicky, precocious stepson William (Charlie Tahan), who is frequently used as a weapon against Emilia by his preposterously over-furious mother Catherine (Lisa Kudrow).

The two share an antagonistic, uneasy dynamic. William is a child unarguably difficult to love, and Emilia is uncharitable in her affections; he jabs at her grief, highlighting her paternal failings in comparison to his pediatrician mother; she mocks his every childish utterance with a scathing sarcasm above his comprehension in all but it's underlying contemptuous tone. They make a very watchable combination, Tehan proving a competent actor.

But whilst William's faults can be excused by his age and the fierce loyalty demanded of him by his mother, the explanation provided for Emilia's petty hostility - guilt over the possibility that she inadvertently smothered Isabelle to death - does not quite satisfy, and feels more like a desperate, last-minute grab for sympathy.

Perhaps to counter Emilia's unlikeability, ex wife Catherine is a walking caricature of the scorned woman; acidic, overly shrill and confrontational, she is a typical bourgeoisie social-climber, preoccupied with health food fads, ivy-league schools, and maintaining an overall appearance of wealth. Kudrow plays the role convincingly and with surprising venom, a performance wasted on such a clumsily handled character.

In Waldman's novel, the contrasts between Emilia and Catherine offer a stab at social commentary. Catherine represents societies mold of wife and mother, a mold into which Emilia does not fit - she is brazenly sexual, unconcerned with domestic responsibilities or her potential home-wrecker label, and lacks any apparent natural maternal instincts toward any child but her own.  In Roo's film, however, Emilia's characterisation is so vague, plodding and weak, that we never successfully pin her as any of these things, and this idea goes entirely over the audiences heads. At times, it's difficult to to gauge Portman's aptitude for playing Emilia at all, the character is so cluttered with contradictions and disconnected from the audience.

The extent to which actresses and characters alike are squandered becomes most apparent in a confrontation between the two women, when Catherine informs Emilia in clipped, clinical tones that "you didn't kill your baby." This is easily The Other Woman's most powerful scene, Catherine's act of mercy for her ex-husbands mistress a small testimony that sins we commit against one another are irrelevant in the face of our responsibilities as women, as mothers, or simply as human beings. The film does not effectively build towards this moment, nor treat it as any more significant than the myriad of emotional confrontations that precede it, and yet despite being criminally underplayed it still retains some capacity to stir the heart.

At it's peak moments, The Other Woman teeters on the cusp of worthiness, illuminating briefly for it's audience some of the shadier areas of familial relationships - before plunging them back into darkness. At it's worst, and despite the valiant efforts of Tahan, Kudrow and Portman, it feels like a feature legnth soap opera, delivering neither genuine insight nor genuine entertainment.

Saturday, 26 October 2013

The UK's Biggest Killers

Rather embarrassing piece of satire that I wrote whilst highly irritated by the media hype over Britain's so-called killer spider, The False Widow. Website I wrote it for said 'we don't do satire' (probably meant 'we don't do shit').

A wise man called Homer Simpson once said, you can use facts to prove anything that's even remotely true.
And whilst it is treacherously tempting to refer to actual evidence or scientific data when forming an opinion, the majority of Briton's know to instead seek guidance from the Daily Mail in all areas of life.

Such are the sinister nature of facts that they would have you mistakenly believe that not everything that ever existed ever is in some way trying to kill you, commit benefit fraud, molest your children or convert them to Islam.

One such example of scientifically established truths being exploited deplorably to whip the public into a state of mass calm is the situation with Britain's wildlife.

Firstly there are the experts, who, laughingly basing their information on years of education and study in their selected fields, claim that the UK is a region with virtually no animals venomous enough to kill a human being, and almost none inclined to attack one unprovoked.

Secondly are statistics, which, using some bull shit called scientifically compiled data, 'prove' that only around 25 deaths can be attributed to animals in the UK each year, and these are mostly the result of allergic reactions to bee stings or road accidents involving horses and deer.

Lastly, and perhaps the most nefarious of all, is common sense, since about five seconds of dangerously rational thought could lead you to the conclusion that no-one you've ever known has been killed by an animal and the biggest threat you've ever experienced from UK wildlife is a pigeon shitting on your car.

In order to survive in the harsh wilderness of modern Britain, you must avoid these three at all costs.

Because in actuality, the UK is infested with a myriad of borderline demonic, poison-shitting, blood-thirsty creatures which feed on the flesh of children and perhaps, some sources suggest, have links to Al Qaeda.

It's very easy for foreign observers, such as Australians or Americans, to mock our mounting public hysteria or proposals for massive culls, since in their own countries they are required only to co-exist with significantly less dangerous species like Black Widow Spiders, Mountain Lions and Great White Sharks. Pussies.

They do not have to face life with the notorious False Widow Spider, for example. Although this species has been present in Britain for over a 100 years, it's mission to exterminate all human beings is an apparently recent one. Whilst some claim it's small surge in population is the result of people-induced climate change, it seems more likely that it's just an evil bastard.

In past weeks reputable publications such as the Daily Mail and the Sun have reported a spate of attacks on British citizens, and one can only imagine the fierce physical struggles that must have ensued between victim and 20p sized spider. Although it's bite is similar in symptoms and severity to that of a bee sting, if you are allergic or particularly susceptible to insect bites, then you could, possibly, maybe, require medical attention, or at least an anti-histamine. It's definitely a possibility. Probably.

In this way the False Widow Spider is comparable in danger to a peanut. A fucking evil one.

And having Grizzly Bears raid your bins or Alligators wander into your swimming pool is mere child's play to the average Briton, who regularly encounters the Urban Fox. For once, the claims of experts may be plausible when they suggest a correlation between the destruction of the foxes natural habitat and food source and it's increased presence in our cities - the foxes are clearly plotting revenge against us all.

Slightly bigger than a domestic cat, foxes have been known to wander into houses where young children have been left unattended for long periods of time with the garden door wide open, sometimes producing wounds that due to the foxes cunning nature, could also be attributed to a pet dog or cat. Whilst some drug addled hippies have suggested secure disposal of food waste, collar controlled cat flaps or just shutting one's fucking door as a preventative to bloody fox induced death, a much more measured response is simply to massacre the entire species. Again, with no bias for it's pro-hunting Tory collaborators or audience, or with any intention of scare mongering, the right wing press has been nobly informing the public of this immense threat to their safety.

People of Britain, beware of these killers, preying on the children and the elderly. Accept the so-called 'fact' that they've never killed anyone, ever, at your own peril.

It may provide you with some shred of comfort to know that our ancestors have already wiped out a large proportion of British native species, including Wolves, Wild Boars and Antelope, and UK conservationists say that thanks to our heroic efforts in deforestation and habitat destruction the rest are declining in numbers all the time.

Also working in our favour are those brave individuals who face down foxes and badgers, and sometimes even their newborn cubs simultaneously, armed only with traps, shot guns, a few hundred dogs and several horses to defend themselves.

Hopefully, if we continue on our gallant path of eradicating nature anywhere it inconveniences or interferes with our lives to any extent, or shooting at it just for a laugh, our children and grandchildren will be able to grow up in an environment with literally no natural wonders or wildlife whatsoever.

Here's hoping for a better world.

Sunday, 24 March 2013

Ghost World

This may not be the most well articulated post since I have been up all night drinking a stomach curdling combination of beer and coffee. (Started with the beer in the vain hope that it would help me sleep, several hours/cans later sought the help of coffee to stay awake instead. Have succeeded only in forming the beginnings of a stomach ulcer.)

Aside from sleep deprivation and chemical stimulants, I also enjoy films. Last night I substituted sleep with There Will Be Blood (amazing, obviously), Starter for 10 (rubbish but I would do borderline illegal things to James MacAvoy), and Ghost World (which is what I'm about to write about).

I like Ghost World. I like the graphic novel and the film. I think it captures the feeling of being utterly lost, and ill at ease with yourself, perfectly. And I can relate to Enid's sexual frustration and listlessness and sexual frustration and self hatred and sexual frustration (did I mention sexual frustration?) probably too much for someone out of their teenage years.

However, the problem with Ghost World, on first appearances, anyway, is that it attracts the very audience it's attempting to satirize. It's one of those films that self professed 'alternative' people gravitate towards.
You know the ones I'm talking about - they've become an entire demographic catered for almost entirely by Micheal Cera. And although Ghost World isn't as tailor made as more recent films for that 'indie' audience (Scott Pilgrim Vs The World, Juno & Napoleon Dynamite all spring to mind), it still has all the makings; graphic novel to film; youth and coming-of-age related themes; a pre-occupation with music, private jokes, obscure pop-culture; a protagonist with an eccentric dress sense and just overall tones of quirkiness. Kitsch, retro stuff, acoustic guitars, social awkwardness; they lap that shit up.

Some Ghost World fans may be able to recognise that they're in this demographic, so therefore attempt to distance themselves from it. These are the ones that have only a cautious affection for the film; they claim to have loved the graphic novel long before the film adaptation, whinge that most people don't 'get' it (much like I'm doing now), and complain that, like previously niche franchises such as Star Trek, Ghost World has been 'stolen'. It's almost as if they believe that this small cynicism, this rejection of what's considered 'cool' amongst their social group, gives them true solidarity with Enid Coleslaw.

And then there are the less subtle fans who buy bat-girl masks and thick glasses and profess loudly that they're totally wacky and geeky and just like Enid. The sort of people who wear T-shirts with the word 'Nerd' slapped across them.

What they all seem to miss is that yes, they're just like Enid Coleslaw, but it's not a good thing, because she's full of shit. The whole point of Ghost World, the graphic novel in particular, is that she's full of shit. Enid mocks the attempts of those "extroverted, obnoxious, pseudo-bohemian losers" at 'hip' subversion whilst actively pursuing it herself, as is evident in her ever-changing styles. Her carefully studied apathy and sarcasm are all a veil for the uncertainty, alienation and self-hatred underneath. She's not a cynic; she is completely and utterly lacking in self awareness, wholly naive. Her prank on Norman or the 'Bearded Windbreaker', falling flat and cruel, is a perfect example of this.

To phrase it extremely confusingly, if Enid Coleslaw had seen a film about someone like Enid Coleslaw, she would do just as her emulators have done and attempt to be that person. And she would claim that everyone else was full of shit, while she was the genuine article. Yes she's an outcast, but not because she's this romanticized, 'love bird in a flock of sparrows', too-weird-to-live-too-weird-to-die sort of creature, but because she's a firm believer in the idea that all you need is the outfit for the identity to follow.

I'm not saying that Enid becomes an unsympathetic character under scrutiny. The reason she has this belief, as so many of us do, is because she lives in a 'Ghost World' of endless identikit logos and franchises and advertisements, where the appearance of something is far more important than it's substance, where authenticity has been replicated over and over and individuality is lost. In the film the character of Norman, isolated, embittered and incapable of relating to the human race, is an example of where true authenticity will get you in the modern world.

Enid is also impossible to condemn because she's an honest mess - like many of our teenage selves, she doesn't know who she is or what the fuck she's doing. She's well observed and relatable, and not just for teenagers, after all  here I am, aged 21, with metal shit in my face and hair dyed colours that do not occur in nature, still - as Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind put it, 'applying my personality in a paste'.

Here's a good quote.
"There are women in my closet, hanging on my hangers. A different woman for each suit, each dress, each pair of shoes."