Tuesday, April 29, 2008

Tagged by Thoughts Running Through My Head

I've not been tagged before so I was pleased to receive the invitation, but then I found it difficult to think of anything that I probably haven't mentioned before. I'm also in a fairly navel-gazing reflective mood so I had to try hard not to fall into self-pity!

1. Link to your tagger and post these rules on your blog.
2. Share 7 facts about yourself on your blog, some random, some weird.
3. Tag 7 people at the the end of your post by leaving their names as well as links to your blogs.
4. Let them know they are tagged by leaving a comment on their blog.

So here we go:

7 Things about Me.

1. My mother was a Beauty Queen. I look like my father.

2. A male friend once said I was “very funny for a girl” which is both one of the most sexist and nicest things anyone has ever said about me

3. My friend’s dad used to drive us to school in the back of his furniture van. All of the other parents drove BMWs, Porsches and Jaguars.

4. I eat tomatoes every day.

5. The first film I went to see at the cinema without an adult was the Care Bear movie. I got lost going to the toilet and ended up outside on a building site!

6. The first concert I went to was The WonderStuff who played on the badminton courts at my local leisure centre when I was 15.

7. I went to the same school as the reporter Kate Aide (although years later), to university with Cilla Black’s son and work with someone who once dated Jerry Springer.

I am tagging the following:
Brain Drops
Chocolate and Cherries
Cut My Life into Pieces
Mellifluous Dark
Miss Forthright
A Girl in Winter

Monday, April 28, 2008

I love the Southbank

Last week work involved a day working on the Southbank. I arrived far too early to go into my event, but I didn’t mind just ambling around because I love the Southbank. It is especially nice early in the morning when there aren’t too many people about.

I had my camera with me so decided I’d take a few photos. Of course, the views around there are really incredibly touristy. I couldn’t resist taking photographs of Big Ben and the London Eye. Much to my embarrassment, a man stopped me and asked if I wanted him to take a picture of me with the Houses of Parliament in the background. I didn’t have the heart to tell him that I wasn’t a tourist, so I just said “No, thank you” in a way that I hope sounded like English wasn’t my first language (I’ve been accused of this before anyway) .

Lots of people hate the buildings on the Southbank. Prince Charles ranted about the National Theatre buildings. Admittedly, they aren't the prettiest. But I love them. I think it is possibly because my university (UEA) was designed by the same architect so it feels like home there amongst the Brutalist concrete structures.

I wish I worked there as I feel nothing bad could ever happen and I'd be happy to go to work everyday.

Sunday, April 20, 2008

Muñoz, Duchamp, Man Ray, Picabia and Me

I had been meaning to go to the Tate Modern to see the Juan Muñoz retrospective since it started and then the other week, I realised that it was very nearly finished and I still hadn't been. So today I had to motivate myself into leaving the house on what was a rather grey day and get down to the Tate Modern, which is a bit of a trek with Sunday transport.

There was a combined ticket offer for both the Muñoz exhibition and the Duchamp, Man Ray and Picabia exhibition, so I saw both.

Here are my thoughts:

  • Juan Muñoz is my favourite sculptor (although I can't really think of many more than five sculptors off the top of my head)

  • Some of his work was disturbing, some of it I found soothing, perhaps because it reminds me of home

  • Sometimes seeing work in a gallery isn't the best place for it. I first came across Muñoz's work as a set of his work on the beach in my hometown, and in contrast to that, where the weather, seagulls and public are free to interact with the pieces, sometimes the gallery's restrictive environment didn't feel right.

  • My favourite pieces were "Many Times" (pictured above) and "The Prompter".

  • I didn't like the work of Duchamp before and I still don't. It irritates me.

  • I don't mind a bit of May Ray and Picabia's stuff wasn't bad either

  • I would have been quite tempted by the May Ray Chess Set in the gift shop if either a) I could play chess or b) I thought the OH knew who May Ray was.

  • Overall, the gallery was far too crowded so I didn't look at much of the permanent collections except;

  • Cornelia Parker's "Thirty Pieces of Silver" which was quite stunning

  • In theory, I'm in favour of the major galleries being free but in practice, it leds to overcrowding and people coming with no interest in art whatsoever, namely;

  • Toddlers. The Under-3s tend not to be interested in modern art in my experience. They may like drawing, but they've usually not much time for the surrealism, modernism or any other isms. Yet, there were hundreds of them, mainly being dragged round reluctantly by mothers or in one case, lay spread out in the middle of a gallery surrounded by craft materials and toys, but still miserable. I'm all for introducing children to art but does everything have to be tailored to suit them? They've got swings and ice cream.

Sampling the Local Cuisine

We were having a quick drink the pub next door to the restaurant we were eating in on Saturday. Next to us were two foreign girls, obviously tourists in London, judging by the way they kept taking photos of themselves. They were having some of the pub food and my friend noticed that they were having the "traditional Sunday roast" along with a side order of toast.

Toast with a roast! Apart from the rather pleasing rhyme it seemed a bit of a strange combination. But more than that, the toast was burnt.

Burnt toast with a Sunday roast? It was not offered on the menu - I did check.

Presumably they had requested the toast, but judging by the amount of scraping going on, I don't think they'd requested it burnt or well done. Fair enough, they may have fancied a bit of toast, but what possessed the pub cook to serve it burnt? Why did they consider that acceptable?

Its no wonder English food is mocked by other Europeans if this is what we serve up to tourists.

Friday, April 18, 2008

And now for something completely different…

Let’s come straight to the point with this one. Last night I went to watch darts! Wembley Arena to watch Premier League Darts!

Around Christmas time, I started watching the darts with the OH and found it quite enjoyable. It was easy to follow and quite exciting, plus I was won over by the “characters” of certain players and their showman-like entrances to the arena.

So when tickets went on sale, the OH and his friends thought it would be a good idea to go along and I thought, “Why not? Let’s do something different”.

I was less enthused when I arrived at Wembley Park Station, amongst of throng of geezers, all chanting the Sky Darts Theme Tune (previously known as Chase the Sun). It goes something like this “de, de, de, dou, da, do do de de da”. This was a very different crowd from the sort you get at the theatre.

Inside, we had good seats “on the floor” at a table which meant that we could walk down to where the players made their entrances. This key in watching live darts, as to be honest, the rest of the action, you pretty much have to just watch on the screens, as it is essentially still two men throwing darts at a board, so not really possible to see in detail without the help of the screen no matter how close you are.

The first match was between my favourite Wayne “Hawaii 501” Mardle (who wears Hawaiian shirts and enters to the theme music from Hawaii 50) and Terry “The Bull” Jenkins (who looks like one of the Chuckle Brothers and enters to “Wooly Bully”). It ended in a draw and wasn’t very exciting.

The other games were of better quality although I think I actually prefer watching it at home on the television. The crowd’s behaviour was rather alarming at times – I didn’t like the chanting of “Engerland” when Phil Taylor played Canadian John Part – there was no need for such nationalism and I prefer the John Part anyway, so was tempted to join in with the small voice that shouted “Canadar”. Then a conga started up in one section of the arena, during this match, which was the best of the evening, which I thought was rather odd, that having paid to see the darts, you then miss the best bit by dancing instead.

So I’ve been to see live darts. It was a new experience, but probably not one I’ll be repeating.

Monday, April 14, 2008

Shout at the television time: The Galaxy British Book Awards

My sort of New Year's Resolution to read more didn't get very far (the slow-changing nature of the My Library widget on this page is testament to that), so I probably have no business watching or criticising The Galaxy British Book Awards. But nonetheless...

Like everything else these days, it had been been hijacked by the Micro-Celebrities. The best biography section dominated by tv stars and won by Russell Brand, the "popular non-fiction" award was won by Ewan McGregor and that other bloke with a motorbike, and Katie Price/Jordan was nominated for her book about pony care.

But worse were some of the celebrity presenters. That man Ross popped up again to present the big prize, obviously not content with his BBC millions, he has to appear on Channel 4 too. Geri Halliwell was even worse though. She looked quite nice with her curly hair and pretty dress - "oohh you look just like a fairy" cooed Judy, and I questionned whether a woman pushing 40 should really want to look like a fairy anymore. Then she started talking about her new book that she had coming out soon and how, as all of the other authors in the audiences would know, she felt so proud of it. You could see "the other authors" i.e. the proper ones, who weren't singers/dancers/presenters, bristle at that. She then exclaimed "I love reading!". Nothing more, no indication of what it was she liked to read.

Most awards shows involve actors and they tend to be pretty good at being the magnanamus loser, even if it isn't genuine and they are putting their acting skills into use. Not so the authors. Some of them tried, but none could hide their disappointment and a few especially failed to hide their outright displeasure, especially if the book that beat them was lower-brow than theirs.

Surprisingly, the best bit of the show was the Richard & Judy Book Club Award. Whilst I'm always quick to remove the "Richard & Judy Book Club" sticker if any book I read happens to have been a choice of theirs, I do think it is a good thing, anything that encourages more reading can't be bad. This prize was won by "A Thousand Splendid Suns" by Khaled Hosseini, who gave a brilliant speech about how he hoped one day another writer from Afghanistan would collect this prize, and that it might one day be a woman. I thought I might cry at this point and I've not even read his book, but then I nearly always cry at awards ceremonies.

The entrants in the Best Newcomer category were reassuringly mature, so I suppose there is hope yet that I might write that novel.

Sunday, April 13, 2008

Top 5 Worst Films Ever and Top 5 Best London Cinemas

As mentioned below, Funny Games has made it into my worst films ever list. So I thought I'd post a list of them. And for some positivity, I thought I'd do a list of my favourite cinemas. A list of my favourite films is too hard and probably not that interesting/ Worst cinemas doesn't matter as all bad cinemas tend to be bad for the same reasons and I've ranted about that before.

Top 5 Worst Films Ever

Hotel - Directed by Mike Figgis, I had the displeasure of seeing this at the London Film Festival a few years ago. I saw it for free and still felt cheated. It contains split screens, a film within a film, vampires, The Duchess of Malfi and a cast of upteen famous and some good actors, plus Saffron Burrowes who Figgis was dating at the time. It was a mess, it was pretenious, it was terrible. The comments on IMDB for once seem to universally agree on this. The last thing I saw directed by Figgis was those adverts about how to behave on public transport, which I doubt will improve anyone's manners on the bus, but a career high point after this nonsense.

Funny Games - see below for my opinion.

Disclosure - I went to see this with my mother., the only time just the two of us have been to the cinema together since I was a child. Our town had been without a cinema for about a decade, but a new arts centre had opened with a cinema screen and we went to see this at that newly opened venue. There were five people in the screening; us, a couple who sat in the back row kissing and a member of the local council who slept through it all. Unfortunately, we had no such distractions. It is apparently a sexual thriller (a genre sprung from Fatal Attraction and Bacic Instinct that my friend C refers to as "Lick My Gun" films) but it is neither sexy nor thrilling. It has a tacked on virtual reality sub-plot, which made no sense and confused my mother. Even her love of Michael Douglas didn't redeem the film for her and I recall her muttering afterwards about him not being as good as his father anyway.

Ghosts of Mars - Released in the USA as John Carpenter's Ghosts of Mars, which was actually an accurate title as he seemed to do pretty much everything on the films, writer, director and music. It was pretty obvious that no one else had stepped in and told him it was rubbish. It is a sci-fi, horror western in case you are interested, a mercifully small genre. It stars Jason Statham who if he isn't the world's worst actor, must have taken some lessons since this was made. Like Hotel, I saw this one back when I worked in a different sector and I sometimes got invited to free film screenings. It seems churlish to moan, but that is testament to how bad these films were.

The Horse Whisperer - I went to see this when I lived with a group of girls including a horse-mad Italian. It was her choice. She drove us there. The only reason I didn't get up and leave was because I'd have to get the bus home. It was so dull, even the horse-mad Italian didn't enjoy it. It may have looked good but it was boring, meladramatic, hackneyed and did I mention, it was dull?

Top Five London Cinemas

All of these cinemas show films that go beyond the latest blockbuster, but that is not all.

The Tricycle, Kilburn - you can become a member for a bargain price, it has a great bar/cafe area, comfortable seats sponsored by stars and patrons of the arts.
Screen on Baker Street - possibly the most comfortable cinema seats with plenty of legroom.
Cineworld Haymarket - The only major chain cinema in this list, included for its main screen, a beautiful old auditorium with high ornate ceilings, this is how film viewing was meant to be.
BFI Southbank - Formerly known as the NFT. Great seasons of films, lovely location in one of my favourite parts of London and their "no food or drink except a bottle of water" policy that many think is harsh, but I agree with wholeheartedly. I once watched four films in one day here.
Riverside Studios, Hammersmith - interesting seasons of films, most films are shown as themed double-bills for less than the cost of one ticket in most other cinemas. Another one with a good cafe.

The Electric would have been included before it started pushing itself as an exclusive member's cinema and racked up the prices for non-members (it isn't a members as in supporters club like at other cinemas, but you have to work in the media and/or live in Notting Hill and be approved by a committee).

So what are your worst ever films? And best cinemas in case I'm ever in your area?

Saturday Cinema: "Lars and the Real Girl" and "Funny Games"

We decided to spend Saturday at the cinema. Not one cinema, but two actually. We had a list of five films between us that we wanted to see so thought we'd see two of them. The decision on which we would see was based upon the timings at our favoured cinemas. I also added the suggestion that we shouldn't see more than one film that was likely to be bleak.

So our plan was set with an afternoon showing of "Lars and the Real Girl" at a small independent cinema, followed by an early evening screening "Funny Games" in the more bearable of the localish multiscreen cinemas.

"Lars and the Real Girl" was funny and sweet, prehaps a little silly, but ultimately heartwarming. In case you don't know it is about a man who falls in love with a sex doll! But not in a sexual way at all. He is delusional, brought on by grief and fear of losing people he loves. I shed a couple of tears, not uncontrollable weeping, but a subtle few as things of a heartwarming nature tend to have this effect on me. The cinema was comfortable, the patrons well-behaved which always helps.

Then onto the next cinema. It seems to be a growing trend amongst the chain cinemas to not bother with the box office much and now you have to buy your tickets at the food concession. I don't know why this bothers me (its not as if their box office staff were knowledgeable film fanatics) but it somehow feels wrong to buy your ticket from the popcorn stall. But the selling of popcorn and nachos seems to be a bigger priority on the actual films in many of these places. We were in the minority in our screening in not having a giant bucket of something to eat and the first couple who left during the film, were holding an empty popcorn bucket as if they'd only stayed until the food ran out.

But they weren't the only people to walk out and I only stayed out of stubborness. I must have apologised the OH twenty times afterwards for even suggesting this film. It was dreadful. It has catapulted itself into my Top 3 of Worst Films Ever Made. The following will contain spoilers, but hopefully you'll heed my warning and not watch it, so the spoilers shouldn't matter. The basic plot of the film is about an affluent family arriving at their holiday home, then two young men claiming to be friends of the neighbours call round and end up torturing them.

You don't actually see any of the violence on screen though because, of course, that is not the point. This is a clever film. It is not a violent film, it is a film about violence in films. The intruders talk to the camera, a remote control is used to rewind action and change the outcome of events and they discuss real and unreal universes in a manner rarely seen outside of first year philosophy classes and Richard Linklater films. My reason for hating the films was not that I didn't understand this (I'm not so sure about many of my fellow cinema-goes, who may not have been able to hear much over the sound of their own popcorn munching). But it wasn't hard to grasp as it wasn't done in a subtle way.

Playing with viewers expectations, the viewer as voyeur, violence in films, these are not new subjects. And this film is a direct remake of the director's own early film in German. It was made ten years ago when perhaps it might not have been so unoriginal, although I'm not convinced.

On IMDB, two of its key plot words are listed as Eggs and Golf Balls. There aren't many other films that can make the same claim and I did actually dream about eggs last night. But there ends its effect. It wasn't scary, it wasn't funny, it wasn't original, it wasn't clever. It was too long. It was a waste of time.

Monday, April 07, 2008

Propaganda Party

I’ve never really understood the hijacking of the arts and sports by government for propaganda purposes. If I was living in poverty under a harsh regime where I couldn’t access news, voice an opinion, or practice my religion, I don’t think my dissent would be quelled because they put on a big street party or made a film saying how great things were.

But it seems to have been a common tactic used by most governments at some point. I’ve been intrigued for a while with the CIA’s championing of Abstract Expressionism in reaction to the Soviet realism. But yesterday, London found itself dragged into China’s propaganda party – the Olympic Torch Relay.

I can’t claim to know that much about the Tibet situation but the blatant use of the Olympics as a means of propaganda by the Chinese government makes me uncomfortable. The relay apparently was a tradition introduced by Hitler, so it is on dodgy grounds anyway. But I can quite understand why sports stars and athletes took part in it as they have genuine pride in the Olympics and the power of sport and most of them do seem to have agonised over whether to take part.

The same cannot be said for the D-list celebrities who also got in on the act yesterday. What business did former Blue Peter Presenter Konnie Huq have being there in the first place? She might play lip service to her love of sport now, but if that was the case just make a donation to a sports charity? What really motivated her and the other celebrities to come to this dubious event, was to keep their own names and faces in the paper.

So now its not just the Governments commandeering these events for their own ends, its also the celebs.

Sunday, April 06, 2008

The White Stuff

Today's plan to do some gardening has been put on hold because it has snowed.

April, spring should be well under way and here we are with snow. I don't think I've ever seen snow on a palm tree before.

The children next door loved it. They were giving little squeals of what could only be described as glee.

So the garden will have to wait. I predict a day of tea and biscuits instead.

Friday, April 04, 2008

Perks of the Job

Years ago when I worked in recruitment, we used to ask candidates for details of their current salary and benefits. One unfortunate stated the only benefits of his job were “free tea, coffee and cordial juice”.

Sometimes I feel that way too (except we don’t have the juice), but today I was reminded of a small thing I love about working in an office. It isn’t really a perk of this job, but something that is a tradition across most British work places.

The Sweep Stake

I’m not a gambler. I’ve never set foot into a betting shop. But I love a sweep stake. Today, it is for the Grand National but we also do them for the World Cup too. A little bit of excitement in exchange for a pound.

Of course, I don’t expect mine will win, but nonetheless tomorrow I will be cheering for McKelvey.

(I’m in a good mood today because it is sunny and when its like this I appreciate the small things more and all seems well)