Thursday, 29 April 2010

Les Enfants Terribles by Jean Cocteau

Paul loves Dargelos, Gerard loves Paul, and so does Elisabeth. Elisabeth and Paul are brother and sister.

Jean Cocteau once claimed that everything he made, be it poem, book, play, drawing or film, they were all poems really. This makes sense, as this book is not a plotty, observational saga, but a dream.

The book begins during a boys' snowball fight which is taking place at dusk in a Parisian street. War has been declared and the combatants are determined to win for their chosen side. The game is referred to only as 'the battle' and as Paul, warm with love, searches the icy battleground for Dargelos, soldiers fall and missiles fly.

The reader is drawn into the boys' world which, already insular, is made further otherworldly by the snow.

'The snow had gone on falling steadily since yesterday, thereby radically altering the original design. The Cite had withdrawn in Time; the snow seemed no longer to be impartially distributed over the whole warm living earth, but to be dropping, piling only upon this one isolated spot.'

This feeling of claustrophobic isolation is carried on when Paul, hit in the heart by Dargelos' rock centred snowball is taken home by Gerard. Paul and Elisabeth's mother is ill and the siblings share a room, 'The Room', which is their own private world with treasures, stories and 'The Game'. This Game seems to be ultimate escapism, the ability to retreat into your mind and enjoy a swooning reverie which Elisabeth thinks of as 'their private legend.' (Cocteau wrote this book during a week of drug withdrawal.)

These children are utterly immune to the realities of life. When their mother dies, they are looked after by Gerard, a maid and a kind family friend. They exist in a private netherworld of barley sugars, crayfish, shoplifting, dares and dens.

It is apparent to the reader from the first few chapters, that these two innocents are not going to thrive, but it is the arrival of Agatha, a spitting image of Paul's lost love Dargelos, that precipitates the end of The Room and of The Game.

The book is illustrated by Cocteau's pen and ink drawings and these help to contribute to the dreamlike feeling that pervades the text. Simple line drawings show Paul in battle, Elisabeth as a spider caught in the web of her own making, and a group of ghostly school boys pressing their noses against a snowy window.

The translation is by Rosamund Lehmann and was said by The Times to have 'the rare merit of reading as though it were an English original.' The prose does seem fresh and uncontrived. Translations can often be stilted, but this highly specific book seems to flow straight from Cocteau's pen into English.

'The street lamps shed a feeble light upon what looked like a deserted battlefield. Frost-flayed, the ground had split, was broken up into fissured blocks, like crazy pavement. In front of every gully-hole, a stack of grimy snow stood ominous, a potential ambush; the gas-jets flickered in a villainous north-easter; and the dark holes and corners already hid their dead.'

If you enjoy pacy, plot-driven reads, then do not bother opening this book. If, however, you enjoy beautiful writing that you can dwell on, rather than be pulled along by, then this poem of a book will haunt you for ever.

Tuesday, 27 April 2010

Nights At The Circus by Angela Carter

Was this the kind of book that wraps me up and refuses to put me down until I have finished it? In parts. Was it one of those books that, even when I am half way through, I brandish in the faces of my friends and say 'you must read this, I'm just loving it!' ?

No. It is better than that. It was not a struggle, but neither was it an easy read. This is a good thing, by the way; this book challenged my lazy preconceptions every step of the way.

It was impossible for me to just go with the flow of this book because every time I thought I had the hang of it, ' oh it's a Gothic fairytale...', 'no, it's a feminist manifesto...'...' oh hang on it's a love story'... each and every time I tried to settle myself down into a well-worn reading groove, the narrative turned a sharp corner and turfed me out of the cart.

Fevvers, 'Cockney Venus' trapeze artist who may or may not be half woman, half avian, is one part winking, peroxide haired, busty pin-up and one part flatulent, gluttonous slattern. It is my squeamishness as a reader that always put me off Carter's books and I was duly assaulted by a very full description of every smell, stain and encrustation that could be found in the dressing room of Fevvers, chapter one.

Her underwear is compared to worms writhing around on the floor, her champagne ice stinks of fish and the description of the state of her satin robe caused me to shudder delicately. Her language is coarse and her manner rough, but she is a vivacious and hilarious host who clearly has a loving relationship with her diminutive gnome of a foster-mother Lizzy. 'Ah', I thought , 'a tart with a heart.' Not quite. Fevvers is 'the only fully feathered intacta in the world'. A virgin who grew up in a brothel.

All of this rough, bawdiness is offset by exquisitely beautiful descriptions. One page starts with Fevvers complaining about a henchman trying to 'get a good feel of my titties' and then 'shrugging the buggers off' before describing an ivied mansion where , 'above the turrets, floated a fingernail moon with a star in it's arms'. Later on, she encounters the brute again, ''e's the one groped my right tit', before explaining how her malevolent host, Mr Rosencreutz 'upends the claret into the jug of white roses, which blush.'

This is a feminist book but Lizzie's strident politics is softened by Fevvers the non-avenging angel who, although determined to remain single and in charge of her own image, is incapable of hurting another human being. The creed of this book is definitely of the post-feminist variety, with militant feeling replaced by gentle, mocking humour 'there must be something useful this young man could do for them, if only she could think of it.' Natural objects are rendered male (old father Thames) and cultural concepts are female (Mother Parliament.)

Love is the main catalyst for change in this novel as it inspires culture in an unloved orphan, drags Fevvers through an icy wasteland and destroys an all-female prison. Fevvers does fall in love, but, unusually, this does not become the main focus of the novel, merely an accepted fact, one of many.

Reading this book reminded me of reading Nabokov. Firstly, for its placing of the narrative in a highly specific yet non-authentic historical setting. I also recognized the feeling that I was getting just a small fraction of the various references and illusions but being thrilled at the thought of revisiting the book to wring out further meaning at a later date.

Sometimes the best books are the ones that you struggled with the first time you read, just as some are discarded as soon as you have gobbled them up, never to be opened again. Nights at the Circus falls firmly in the former camp. It is back on the shelf, but still in my mind.

Sunday, 25 April 2010

Bright Star

Oh Bright Star, you were such a beautiful film: Fanny in a field of blue flowers behind a floating screen of green leaves; Keats, Brown and Fanny as two brown dots and one pink one, running across a field and the two lovers, pink and turquoise against a copse of light grey trees.

You started with a needle being threaded and poking in and out of fabric. I took this to be a heavy handed sexual metaphor but there was to be no consummation. Keats said to Brown 'There is a holiness to the heart's affections that you know nothing about.'

There was no sex, in film or real life, but the scene where Fanny moves her bed against the wall that adjoins her bedroom with Keats' was swiftly followed by a study of a bee seeking pollen outside, amongst the blooms. Fanny collected butterflies, letting them take over her room.

The attraction between the lovers was immediate and acknowledged by all and anyone with a passing acquaintance with the biography of Keats could guess the plot. And yet. The time flew and one's heart was gripped as this well known tale spun out. Jane Campion is the master of scenes in which nothing, and yet everything happens. A slow shot of somebody's hands, through her lens, can break your heart.

The lush cinematography which highlighted a red haired child against a bank of evergreen trees, was off set by quotidian family exchange: 'I've let this happen', moaned Fanny's mother, sounding like a soap opera mum who realises that her teenage daughter is pregnant by a family friend. Siblings grumbled at each other and people sat about on couches and beds, staring into space or looking at one another.

The film was so quiet, we had to set the volume high enough that we were deafened when the channel changed. The images spoke loudest in this film about a poet. Tears were experienced.

Saturday, 24 April 2010

On The Character of Amy Pond

I am not a 'proper' Dr Who fan as I have only watched the new incarnation of the series from Christopher Ecclestone onwards. Still, it is one of the better things on British television at the moment and the only Saturday night program that doesn't make me want to rip out my eyes so that they can weep from both ends.

Therefore, I was keen to not hate the new Doctor and his assistant. I had already seen Matt Smith in BBC's Party Animals, a drama about political researchers at Westminster, and thought that he was great, so episode one was all about Amy Pond.

In her first episode, we found out that Amy was a strippogram. Dr Who is a 'family show' and no one has hired a strippogram since 1983 so we can assume that she is really a stripper. According to press releases, this means that Steven Moffat is an 'edgy' writer and that Amy is a strong and confident woman. 'How worrying', I thought, 'that a children's show is perpetuating the ludicrous myth that beautiful, intelligent, solvent women pay club owner's for the privilege of dancing about in front of random, half-cut strangers because it makes them feel really confident.'

It seems like this plot turn may have just been a controversial hook for the press, however, as it has not been referred to since.

Tonight's episode, The Time of Angels, was such a refreshing take on the Doctor and assistant's relationship (again, I'm referring to new-era episodes) and it was Amy's character that made the difference.

When Rose met Sarah-Jane Smith she was openly bitter and sullen and both women made disparaging comments about the others' age. When Martha Jones and the Doctor were trapped in pre-Great War Britain, she wallowed in miserable jealousy as he romanced Nurse Redfern. All the while, the Doctor was blissfully oblivious of all the crazed female lusting, doing lots of important thinking whilst stroking his sonic screwdriver.

So far, so BORING. Tonight, when Alex Kingston's archaeologist, River Song launched herself into open space and into the Tardis, instantly taking charge and flying the Doctor's machine better than he can; Amy did not curl her lip and sulk in a corner. She seemed delighted by this cool, smart woman and, if she had had a speech bubble above her head, it would have said 'You are awesome, let us be buds.'

Take note Rose. This is the mature reaction. Amy is an orphan who seems to have been neglected by her carers growing up. She is engaged to be married at a very young age. She must have insecurities as well as trust and abandonment issues, but she can still handle not being the only pretty, clever women in the room.


Friday, 23 April 2010

Eastenders: Last Tango in Walford

This has just arrived. I have not watched it yet but, from the packaging I already know that: It contains exclusive new footage. It contains flashbacks; '25 Classic moments' (always the best). Ricky and Bianca do a Tango. THE CAST OF EASTENDERS PERFORM 'LOVE MACHINE' BY GIRLS ALOUD.

It will probably be the best DVD I ever own, or the worst.

Do you think that anyone involved with making this has actually seen 'Last Tango In Paris?' Should I expect a graphic sex scene between the happy couple involving Pat's kitchen floor and a tub of Stork?

This DVD is the best kind of present; one which delights you but that you could never openly buy for yourself. Other recent gifts to have fitted this description have been a copy of Heat Annual 2009 and a bottle of Cherry Lambrini.

Thursday, 22 April 2010

The True Deceiver by Tove Jansson

Tove Jansson was originally known in Britain for her Moomin books, but her fiction for adults has gradually been introduced by Sort Of Books, a great publishing company who produce really beautiful editions.

2003 saw the publication of The Summer Book, a story about a young girl , her grandmother and their summer together on a Finnish Island. In 2006 a collection of short stories called The Winter Tales arrived and Fair Play, a novel about two women artists and their partnership followed in 2009.

I had no idea that The True Deceiver, Jansson's last novel had been published at the end of last year, and so was delighted to unwrap it on Christmas morning.

It is very difficult to dissect a Tove Jansson novel, as her prose is so subtle and yet solid. It is no surprise that Ali Smith, the novelist who said 'I want to make a book so strong that you can hit it with a hammer and it doesn't fall apart. That's all.', is a fan.

The True Deceiver is set in a Scandanavian village which is experiencing a long, cold winter. Katri Kling wants the house and money of the local artist, Anna Aemelin, so that she can provide for her slow, younger brother, Mats.

Katri is cold, smart and uncompromising and Anna is a rabbit-faced hermit who is vague about everyday details. The two women strike up an uneasy acquaintance that is part professional, part friendly and almost familial. It is never clear who has the upper hand.

Jannson's writing is like a polished pebble, fished from the bottom of an icy river. There are no extraneous descriptions and there is so much unsaid in this novel. There is almost an entire shadow novel hidden behind the actual book. The writing is so clever and delicately wrought that it is impossible to gain a firm grip on the plot. It is a block of exquisitely carved ice, the cold burn of which is felt long after the reader had finished.

'In the morning, an invisible Katri had put a breakfast tray beside Anna's bed. Fires in the tile stoves, a bowl of periwinkles, the hem of her dressing gown mended. The right book opened to the bookmark beside Anna's plate. A lot of small things, everywhere, all day. But Katri continued to be invisible. Anna grew more and more uneasy, it was like having a spirit in the house, one of those magically enslaved and obedient pixies that frequent the castles in fairy tales, diligent creatures, ever-present but always just vanishing. You catch a glimpse of movement and turn around - but there's nothing there, a door closing silently.'

There is no neat wrapping up of loose ends at the close of this novel neither does it stop abruptly at a pivotal scene. The final chapters are so quiet, yet filled with raw emotion. It is a story that I fully expect to live with for quite some time.

Wednesday, 21 April 2010

On Mini Viva's 'One Touch'

Mini Viva's new single One Touch is due to be released on May 10th and it is pretty good. Like most Xenomania tracks you don't think much of it the first time you hear it but then it works its way into your brain and you are humming it in Tesco's like a senile old woman (or an oblivious 5 year old).

The band don't seem to have done as well as you would expect considering that a) Xenomania write their songs and b) they have the perfect pop star names of Britt Love and Frankee Connolly (I KNOW). There was even a television advert urging listeners to pre-order their last single 'I Wish' which shot into the charts at number... 73?

This song is better, but it does remind me of others. The 'hips, lips, fashion status, I get my kick....' sounds like the 'Walk, walk, fashion baby, Work it, move that bitch cer-azy' section in Lady Gaga's Bad Romance and the chorus is similar to that of 'Girl Overboard' by Girls Aloud.

It's like the song is a pie made from the left over fillings of other pop songs. It's still a tasty, tasty pie, however, and one that I shall purchase and boogy to incessantly I should imagine.

The video is not great. What is the premise behind these weird vids that have a lamp and a sofa to approximate a living space and then just have the group standing in various parts of the 'room' whilst kind of dancing but also kind of not?

It cannot be budget restrictions as an idea costs nothing. Some of the most celebrated videos have also been the cheapest (Verve's Bittersweet Symphony, Sinead O'Conner's Nothing Compares To You, Fatboy Slim's Praise You or OK Go's Here It Comes Again, for example) You have a catchy tune and two photogenic young women, it should be easy.

Anyway, sounds good:

Tuesday, 20 April 2010

Life Does Not Get Much Better, It Would Be Churlish To Complain.

What a brilliant homecoming! As I opened the front door, I felt the delightful squidge of packages. The Iceland ash cloud must have affected the post as everything is late, but has all come at once.

First of all, Bright Star, the Jane Campion film about the love affair between John Keats and Fanny Brawne. I like films that are visually exciting and innovative and would take lush cinematography over pithy dialogue any day of the week. (Although both together is obviously preferable.) Everyone I know who has seen it describes it as 'a beautiful film' and I can't wait to watch it.

I also received series two of Homicide: Life on the Streets, one of the greatest American tv shows of the 90s. Pacy, funny, scary and visually inventive, it never disappoints.

The remaining packages were possibly the most exciting of all. I first heard about Persephone books a few years ago and was thrilled by their remit of re-publishing over looked books, written mainly by women; coupled with a commitment to good design. Each smooth, grey tome carries coloured inlay pages inspired by fabrics relevant to the content of the book.

I have perused their website countless times, read many articles and blog posts extolling their virtues and bought catalogues and tokens for their shop as Christmas and birthday presents. Yet I have never bought one for myself. Partly this was due to price, a £10 book seems a stretch when you are paying off loans and buying ridiculously priced driving lessons for what seems like YOUR ENTIRE LIFE (whoops, breathe) and partly due to the impossibility of choosing where to start.

Every time I read the catalogue (a great read in itself), I was torn. The Persephone reading week hosted by Paperback Reader and The B Files moved my hand, however.Finally I have chosen The Runaway and The Home-maker. I am particularly excited by the Runaway which contains exquisite wood-cut illustrations which dance in and out of the text, sometimes framing it, instead of just being restricted to staid, full pages.

I knew that the books were lovely to behold but did not realise how lovely until now. The grey covers have DUST COVERS and the books come with matching book marks. My squeal of joy when I realised this was similar to the noise I made when a chocolate bar fell out of our coal merchant's Christmas bill. (Thanks guys!)

I have a pile of lovely books and dvds, there is tea in the pot, soup bubbling on the hob, it's snowing outside and there's a fire to be lit. Bliss. It seems to be snowing and sunny at the same time too. AMAZING...

Granta No.110, Spring 2010, S*x

The asterisk in the title of this post about Spring 2010's issue of Granta Magazine is not due to prudery, but because I do not wish to attract pesky, porny spam to this blog any earlier than its inevitable arrival. This ploy will probably not work.

Granta has always been a great place to find new writing from authors both established and up-and-coming.

Under the editorship of Ian Jack, a journalist by trade (and a great writer), the magazine seemed to consist mainly of reportage and memoir but it has recently begun to include more poetry, illustration and art photography.

S*x is a beautifully designed book with provocative cover photo by Billie Segal, gold lettering on the front and hot pink lettering on the spine and back.

The writing ranges from poignant memoir,( The Unwritable by Mark Doty); a fictional story about Kiyoko, the only female on a desert island populated by castaways, (Tokyo Island by Natsuo Kirino) and straight up erotica ( This is For You by Emmanuel Carrere).

I really love that Granta is more visual now. Dave Eggars provides four hilarious illustrations entitled Four Animals Contemplating S*x; there are photographs of deserted adult film sets by Jo Broughton and a strange, dreamy collection of images by Yann Faucher called Body.

I have not read the whole magazine yet as I prefer to dip in and out of it, giving each piece its own time and space. I am particularly looking forward to the Jeanette Winterson short story at the end; The Agony of Intimacy. She is an author who I have always been interested in reading but have not yet properly sampled.

Monday, 19 April 2010

Siobhan Donaghy

Siobhan was one of the original Sugababes. She left and made a decent solo album called Revolution In Me. Then, in 2007, she released a second album, Ghosts, which was BRILLIANT. It didn't do very well in the charts despite good reviews and an appearance on Loose Women (she must feel so bitter), and there have been no releases since.

I hope to hear more from her soon. As you can hear, Ghosts is laden with studio effects and some of the vocals seem to be played backwards. A pretty hard track to sing live then? Nope, nailed it (see below). AMAZING. Especially when you consider that many pop stars struggle to sing songs that are not backwards, live.

Palladian by Elizabeth Taylor

My name is Tea Lady and I judge books by their covers. I know that it is wrong but I cannot help but refuse to buy ugly books; especially if I know that they have alternative editions bearing more attractive covers.

This is why I love the original Virago Modern Classics more than the new. The cover illustrations were taken from paintings that related to the content of each novel and make the books gorgeous objects as well as great reads.

My edition of Palladian has a section of a Stanley Spencer painting called Interior of Cookham With Flowers on it's cover. It depicts a vase full of spring flowers in front of a fire-place. There are Grecian urns and curling photographs upon the mantelpiece. The delicate jug holding fresh greens could refer to the leading lovers in the novel and the urns and photographs to the dark secrets and memories which surround them.

The book is the story of Cassandra, a 20 year old orphan, who has recently been engaged as governess to a girl of about 10, Sophy Vanburgh, at Cropthorne Manor.

The manor is a dilapidated and forlorn sort of building with several extensions from various time periods and an extremely rickety conservatory that threatens to come crashing down at any minute.

This conservatory is clearly a symbol, and there are many symbols, clues and portents in this book.

The idea of mould and decay is painted in very heavy strokes for the reader and especially in the first few chapters. The book that Cassandra reads on the train "has a strange, fungus smell", and she passes by "a mouldering lodge" on her journey. Tinty, her employer's old aunt is sitting with a Ryvita and a pot of old, stewed tea when she arrives and Sophy, Cassandra's charge is warned by her aunt, Margaret that if she does not eat her glucose then mushrooms will grow inside of her, "thick shelves of fungus branching out of her ribs...".

It soon becomes clear that certain cliches are being employed and that the events take place within the framework of a traditional, romantic novel (Cassandra's surname is Dashwood and Greer Garson's Pride and Predjudice is showing in town.) This is particularly apparent when Cassandra and her new employer, Marion Vanburgh, inspect the dark library with the use of a large candelabra and then kiss during a storm (this is not a spoiler, don't worry.)

"Marion you say?" Yes, his name is Marion and it is this character who initially relieves and makes it clear that this is not just a straightforward, dull romance. Marion Vanburgh is delicate, frequently referred to as effeminate by nearly all the characters and, as he puts it "reading himself to death."

His and Cassandra's love affair revolves around books and learning. He gives her Greek lessons and first kisses her in a library. When he chases after her and asks her to marry him, he finds her in a bookshop. Unlike a conventional leading man who would hurl the book she was holding over his shoulder, sweeping her up into a passionate embrace, Marion contents himself with taking the book from her hands, paying for it at the counter and taking her to a hotel for... a cup of tea.

All of the above is honestly not a spoiler, however it may seem. The story is not really about these two, you see. They are just ciphers; bland, almost non-characters, who merely serve as foils for the other, richer, much more subtly drawn personalities of Tom, Tinty, Margaret and Sophy.

These characters' story lines do not run the same smooth, fateful path of Marion and Cassandra's. Even calm and confident Margaret is unnerved and derailed by the close of the novel.

When Marion and Cassandra are described, they are compared to flowers or glass snow globes.
Tom does not shower and,as Sophy points out, always stinks of alcohol. Margaret is constantly eating and is described as having moisture in her hair from the drizzle, or static in it from tugging dresses on and off. They are physical, real beings.

Marion and Cassandra's story practically ends with "they lived happily ever after", but the others are afforded no such tidy conclusion.

A beautifully written novel that is self conscious and slyly deceptive at the same time.

Sunday, 18 April 2010

On Live Performances

My other half and I were visiting a friend in London. Said friend said "There's some really good shows on at the moment, you should try and catch one while you're down." We both nodded enthusiastically; "Yeah, yeah, we'll certainly do that..."

When the friend left the room, other half whispered "I never want to go and see a show in the West End... EVER." It was then that I knew we were meant to be together.

I hate going to the theatre. I hate going to 'gigs' and the thought of seeing a stand-up comic makes my blood run cold. Observe my reasons with your eyes:

a)There is always the risk of audience participation, the thought of which makes me want to tear off all my skin.

b) I always stand next to people who spend the entire performance either singing tunelessly in my ear or screaming the name of the band/performer over and over and over : "S-IGUR ROOOOS! SIGUR-ROOOOS! SIIIIIIGUUUUR ROOOOOOOOS!", "GRAHAM FROM BLUR! GRAHAM FROM BLUR! GRAHAM FROM BLUUUUUUUUUUUR!", " GOLDIE! LOOKING! CHAAAAIIIINNN!!!" (I was at a festival ok, don't judge me.)

c) Knowing that I cannot really choose when to go to the toilet without causing hassle makes me want to pee immediately and constantly.

d) This is the worst one. Music sounds crap live. Yes, I said it. Even a live CD is better than a live performance.

e) Theatre acting is just embarrassing.

f) I feel like everyone thinks I'm a perv when people kiss in a play. Even though everyone else is watching too. I once went to a play in a tiny 5 row theatre to support a friend who was starring alongside his girlfriend. Apart from me, there were four other people in the audience and the two stars snogged pretty much the whole way through. This is not my idea of entertainment.

Saturday, 17 April 2010

Miyazaki Knows His Tea

We watched Spirited Away again tonight. Hayao Miyazaki's films are obviously known for their fantastical elements of old lady-head birds, fish that turn into little girls and forest spirits, but it is their simple, everyday, sensual details that both ground the fantasy and make it more persuasive.

Haku the dragon informs Chihiro, the heroine of Spirited Away, that she has stumbled into a world of Gods where her parents are transformed into pigs whilst she stands in front of an exquisitely realised blue hydrangea bush that the viewer can almost smell.

When she crosses the sea to visit the evil Yubaba's twin sister, Zeniba, Chihiro is served spongy cake and a cup of tea, the surface of which ripples gently as she wriggles in her seat. We can see that she takes it without milk.

We are just getting used to the idea of the title character of Kiki's Delivery Service being a witch, when she moves into a bakery packed high with warm loaves which have visible flour dustings and look delicious yet wholesome.

In Ponyo, Sousuke's mother is raging at his father's overtime whilst preparing a delicious looking stir fry full of recognizable vegetables. She later serves Ponyo and Sousuke cook-in-the-bowl noodles and we watch as the water is poured over, the lids are placed on the bowls and then the children pack their faces with the soft, stringy bundles.

The Miyazaki world is so comprehensively realised that Chihiro, clad in trainers, lime striped t-shirt and polyester shorts can travel in an ornate lift with a whiskery, man-boobed, walrus-moustached radish ghost to the damask curtained, gilt mirrored and shag pile carpeted lair of Yubaba without any of these visuals jarring.

Stylised figures painted with flat colours run through hyper-realistic foliage and it all looks so right.

Everything is exactly and completely what it is, with no compromise.

Miyazaki's ACE.

Friday, 16 April 2010

Private: My Secret Lover

Okay, it is with some reservations that I direct your attention to this video as viewing it may cause you to download the song , which will then lead to you wasting HOURS OF YOUR LIFE dancing about to it in your room.

It was brought to my attention by the mighty popjustice, God bless their toe-tappin' souls.

It is just a simple video of simple dance routines to an insanely catchy song; that's all. Big red lips singing 'Bullet's in the gun'? Check. Line of little animated men boogying along the bottom of the screen? Check. Trio of dancers with comically mismatched heights performing a choreographed routine? CHECK!!


Thursday, 15 April 2010

Eastenders:The 'Grim Myth'

I heart Eastenders. There are no other soaps in my life now that Hollyoaks has been phased out. These days, there is only Walford and her inhabitants to occupy my soap dish, dip a doughnut in my tea and provide heart-rending material for regular sofa sobbing.

Every time that I give voice to my love,however, there is but one retort;"Eastenders? But it's so depressing!" Wrong, wrong, wrong and I'm about to tell you why:

1. It is before the water shed, so there can be no swearing. Shouting arguments are forced into trailing silences or quaint euphemism.

2. They all still do their shopping in the market; supporting local commerce and sticking two fingers up to the conglomerates.

3. Even though they all hate each other, they all turn up for each others weddings, funerals, engagement parties, birthday parties, coming home from jail parties, etc...

4. They cover each others' shifts all the time! If I visited my friend who works in a pub and she said "Hey, Tea Lady, I'm going across the road to punch my boyfriend in the face for sleeping with my mum, can you look after the bar?" I would say "But I don't know how to work the till, where is the stock? What if a barrel needs changing?"

The people of Walford do no such thing, they just slip on that Minute Mart or Laundrette tabard or tie on a market change-apron and just get on with the covering; leaving said friend to punch to her heart's content.

5. Even people who have only been living in the square for five minutes have a best friend, a job and a torrid affair. Things that take most of us weeks, months or years to obtain.

You see? Heartwarming. Walford is like a sleepy little village where all dreams come true and they just happen to talk in Cockney accents.

Homicide: Life on The Streets

My sentiments exactly, an amazing show from the creators of the Wire, a show which apparently everyone in the world has seen apart from me.

Based on the book by David Simon (creator of the Wire), Homicide: A Year On The Killing Streets, which chronicled Simon's year shadowing the Homicide detectives of Baltimore City Police, this show is gritty and procedural but a far cry from glossy, thrills-packed cop shows like Without a Trace (which I also love).

The detectives wrestle; not only with their many cases, but their relationships with each other, the superiors in the department and, sometimes, their faith. The show is really about how a person deals with a job that exposes them to the worst side of people, where their belief in goodness is constantly tested and our mortality is always at the forefront of their mind.

Some of the detectives are cynical, some idealistic, some religious, some superstitious. They are all explored and exposed, with none of them appearing to be heroes or villains; they're just people doing their job.

It is also a shock after watching a show like Without A Trace to see balding, overweight, badly-dressed and, frequently, very sweaty cops. You need to tune into the first few series to see this, however, as the TV Network put a stop to all this ugly crime-solving half-way though the show's life.

Wednesday, 14 April 2010

A Tree Grows In Brooklyn

Francie, the young protagonist of Betty Smith's A Tree Grows in Brooklyn, is a wonderful character because she is a real little girl. Her circumstances may not be the same as the readers' (unless of course you live in turn of the 20th century Brooklyn), but her inner life and fears are so easy to relate to.

She is not an orphan, nor do her parents seem to be mere shadowy background figures in their child's thrilling, magical adventures. She has a very vividly painted home life.

We know what she eats, (stale bread dumplings),exactly what her house looks like,( a corridor) and we see her being scolded by her mother and comforted by her beloved yet useless father. We also see clearly that she is her father's favourite, but that her mother prefers her brother, Neely.

Instead of travelling through time, Francie looks at an old man's toe sticking out of a broken shoe and is hit by the idea of mortality. She does not find treasure, but knows the joys of peeling open a lychee and making a 'potsy' for hopscotch with a run-over tin can. She peers down the ventilation shaft in her bedroom and imagines that it's Purgatory and knows no greater felicity than sitting out on her fire escape on a sunny day with five cents worth of pink and white wafers and a brand new library book.

'As she read, at peace with the world and happy as only a little girl could be with a fine book and a little bowl of candy, and all alone in the house, the leaf shadows shifted and the afternoon passed. About four o'clock, the flats in the tenement across from Francie's yard came to life. Through the leaves, she looked into the uncurtained windows and saw growlers being rushed out and returned overflowing with cool foaming beer. Kids ran in and out, going to and returning from the butchers, the grocer's and the baker's. Women came in with bulky hock-shop bundles. The man's Sunday suit was home again. On Monday, it would go back to the pawnbroker's for another week.'

Francie does not encounter any evil witches or monsters, just cruel neighbourhood kids, bitter teachers and the terrifying child killer who made my blood run cold 17 years ago, when I first read the book, and now, still.

This is a book that can be revisited countless times as the reader ages and there is always more to find and enjoy. This is partly because Francie's story is traced from before her conception until her early adulthood and partly because this book is not only a coming of age story, but an excellent social history of immigrant life in early 20th century New York. The adult characters are just as complex and sympathetic as Francie's and they swim into a clearer focus as the reader ages. It is rich and therefore endlessly rewarding.

It is a pity that the old Heinemann edition seems not only to be out of print but off the face of the planet. It's cover image was this Julia Margaret Cameron image (see below) which led me to her photographic work. The image above is taken from the film poster. Unusually for a book so beloved, the film adaptation is very satisfying and heartbreaking.

Where did I first hear about this profoundly moving life companion of a book? A character from the series 1990s hit series The Babysitter's Club had to do a book report on it. The glittering burn of culture is a wonderful thing!

Thursday, 1 April 2010