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Thursday, July 22, 2004

Summer Holiday

OK folks - we're off to Wales. See you in a week or so.

Meanwhile, Ginger Bob is in charge.



OK folks - we're off to Wales. See you in a week or so. Meanwhile, Ginger Bob is in charge.

Don't Ask

Feeling grumpy, ill-tempered, crotchety, crabby, crabbed, tetchy, testy, waspish, prickly, peppery, touchy, irritable, irascible, crusty, cantankerous, curmudgeonly, bearish, surly, churlish, ill-natured, ill-humoured, peevish, cross, as cross as two sticks, fractious, disagreeable, pettish; having got out of bed on the wrong side; grouchy, snappy, snappish, chippy, on a short fuse, short-fused; shirty, stroppy, narky, ratty, eggy, like a bear with a sore head; cranky, ornery, soreheaded; with many issues unresolved; unsettled, undetermined, uncertain, open, arguable, debatable, unsolved, unanswered, pending, open to debate, open to question, doubtful, in doubt, borderline, moot, up in the air, indefinite, inconclusive, unconfirmed, confused, problematic, vexed, ambiguous, equivocal, vague, in a state of limbo, in a state of uncertainty, ongoing, incomplete; iffy.

On the upside, Maurice our wonderful washing machine repairman, called and fixed the switch on the machine that Debbie had managed to break in a fit of extreme temper a few days ago.

All of which means I’ll be spending the rest of the day loading and emptying a five day backlog of dirty clothes; three teenagers included in that backlog by the way….eeeeuuuuuuhhhhh! The thought of that leaves me feeling grumpy, ill-tempered, crotchety, crabby, crabbed, tetchy, testy, waspish, prickly, peppery, touchy, irritable, irascible, crusty, cantankerous, curmudgeonly, bearish, surly, churlish, ill-natured, ill-humoured, peevish, cross, as cross as two sticks, fractious, disagreeable, pettish; having got out of bed on the wrong side; grouchy, snappy, snappish, chippy, on a short fuse, short-fused; shirty, stroppy, narky, ratty, eggy, like a bear with a sore head; cranky, ornery, soreheaded; with many issues unresolved; unsettled, undetermined, uncertain, open, arguable, debatable, unsolved, unanswered, pending, open to debate, open to question, doubtful, in doubt, borderline, moot, up in the air, indefinite, inconclusive, unconfirmed, confused, problematic, vexed, ambiguous, equivocal, vague, in a state of limbo, in a state of uncertainty, ongoing, incomplete; iffy.

Wednesday, July 21, 2004

The Paint-Cam Is Go



The walls in the hallway are bleak and a touch more institutional than you’d like, after the removal of the pictures. Sam has been filling in all the little holes left behind once the tacks had been pulled out. Thereafter it’ll be sanding, more cleaning and then eventually, painting. Debbie has plans to go for a multi-coloured approach – yellow one wall; blue on another.

I, of course, prefer yellow. Left to me just about every surface would be yellow. Someone recently tried to sell me on a band called Coldplay on the basis that I was bound to like them because they had a song called Yellow. I’ll keep you posted on that one.

Who knows maybe reading this diary won’t just be like watching paint dry? Hell, it WILL be watching paint dry. I’ll get Sam to set up the PaintCam right now!

Tuesday, July 20, 2004

Sound-Dust by Stereolab

That joke isn't funny anymore. . .


Can you have too much irony? Getting through Stereolab’s Sound Dust got dusted off the shelf it had been sitting on for quite some time; mostly unloved and largely unlistened to for the last year or so since I got it. I’m not sure why I got this album – there must have been a reason at the time. Perhaps it’s a mood thing but I just couldn’t get away with the sly knowing smile that the music insinuates.

It’s a very cute recreation of a 1960s album that was never quite made; shards and slices of it provoke a false memory or rather, a taste of a memory. So far, so clever. However it does come across as fairly soulless and after a while, the pervasive smarty-pants wryness starts to wears a bit thin.

Different strokes for different folks I guess. Moving on in a similar vein, Belle and Sebastian got an airing as well. This wasn’t a full album but a selection chosen by Chris Wilson and given to me quite some time ago. Although this music is just as careful as Stereolab’s, it doesn’t seem as remote somehow.

Yet even here I found my attention diverted to the precocious cultural referencing; connecting with what was implied rather than what it actually said. That’s fine as far as it goes but it’s like trying to have a heart to heart with someone who has decided to hold it all back. That sense of reserve and emotional aloofness becomes an obstacle for engagement.

Listening to both artists one after the other reminded me that a joke is at its funniest on its first hearing. After that you can admirer its construction, its origins and social usage, its cultural meaning and context and so on. Whilst repeated telling may make you chortle or titter, nothing will ever equal the impact of that initial outing

Monday, July 19, 2004

Picture This





Tom and Joe helped me to remove the pictures from the hallway today - all sixty six of them. My role was strictly supervisory; they actually did all the work involving the careful removal and storage of various frames, canvasses, photographs, drawings, clippings and album covers that have decorated our hallway for nearly ten years.

It seemed appropriate that Tom and Joe should be engaged in this activity given that a large percentage of the items removed were drawn or painted by them. It’s amazing how much authority can be conferred upon a doodle on the back of cereal packet when you put it in a decent frame and stick it up on the wall next to “real” art.

The lads were (rightly) proud of the numerous abstract splodges and kept asking me “did I do this?” and sometimes competing with each other over questions of attribution.

Checking the back would occasionally reveal a date or the name of the artist concerned but more often than not such details were depressingly absent. Then I was required to ferret about in the dull and dark corners of my memory and failing that (which I mostly did) I just tossed a name up in the air and watched how it either flew or fell.

The theory is that at some point over the next six weeks, the hallway is going to get its first new lick of paint in a little over a decade.

Sunday, July 18, 2004

Shoe Gazing

I was up early again this morning; partly pain, partly disposition. There’s a distinct clarity of light and thought at this time of the day.

The radio interference of life in general is largely subdued and although I tend not to engage in any formal sitting practice, one nevertheless drifts into a quiet space of reflection and consideration.

I spend so much of my life feeling scared. Even something as innocuous an unexpected invitation to an afternoon barbeque can provoke a slithering shiver of apprehension.

But enough of such shoe-gazing. In the end of course, I put my head down and we had a lovely afternoon in Jed and Lesley’s front yard, chatting, swapping stories, eating and drinking.




Saturday, July 17, 2004

Taking A Fall

Well, the Lib-Dems took one of the seats (Leicester South) on Thursday’s by-election with Labour hanging on by the skin of their teeth at the other (Birmingham Hodge Hill). “Chat Show Charlie” (Charles Kennedy, the Lib Dem leader) is now being referred to as Campaign Charlie, after the good showing.

The theory is that they would have taken the second seat as well were it not for the votes given to the anti-war protest Respect Party.

The Tories came in third in both cases. Now that really did surprise me. I had thought there might be some flicker of life in the Conservative body politic but obviously not just yet.

Given all of the political difficulties facing the government at the moment, it seems ridiculous that the Tories were unable to capitalise on any of their troubles. This probably says more about the Tories than it does about Labour.

Yesterday Tom and Joseph finished their school for the summer. We always commemorate this auspicious occasion with a fabbo feast; in this case, homemade pizza. I had thought that the boys would feel somewhat cheated given the relatively mundane mien that pizza has these days. How wrong I was. They cheered the arrival of the sizzling dough to the rafters.

My mother looked well and seems to be recovering well after her recent fall. This happened during my recent period of diary blackout. She was on her way to answering her front door when she slipped on her stairs and plunged down them.

The good news was that she fell down on her back rather than head first and she had the presence of mind not to try and break her fall – a fact that almost certainly saved her from a broken arm. Her bruising and swelling has gone down and she’s moving a bit more easily now than she was. At 77 we understand how dangerous any kind of fall can be and that there may be longer term repercussions. She’s been very lucky indeed.

Tonight we are going to watch Wisconsin Death Trip.

Friday, July 16, 2004

The Long Firm

The Trouble With Harry. . .

The television adaptation of Jake Arnott’s The Long Firm entered its penultimate, and to my mind, best part to date. Although the stories have a Jewish, gay gangster (Harry Starks) as their centre, each episode focuses upon a different character drawn into his malign and dangerous orbit.

The first week it was a Lord of the realm (loosely based on the Conservative peer, Lord Boothby). Week two saw a B-movie blonde (an amalgam primarily of Diana Dors and Barbara Windsor) waltz in and try and lift Harry’s idea of quality entertainment for the dirty raincoat brigade.

Using James Ellroy’s trick of intercutting real people (as long as they’re long dead and thus can’t sue) and real events provide a patina of contemporary grit. A series of starry cameos by the likes of Judy Garland, Johnny Ray, Dorothy Squires and latterly Joe Meek, pricks our curiosity to see how easily worlds of showbiz and crime mingled.

With all of this going in its favour, The Long Firm, should be incendiary stuff but somehow it fails to catch even with the long-overdue introduction of the latest victim; a deliciously seedy pill-pusher Jimmy, played with an almost Dickensian relish by Phil Daniels.

Looking uncannily like an addled Keith Moon, Phil Daniels brings an authentic whiff of the moral turpitude that had infested much of the establishment of the day, be it politicians, porn-kings or pop stars.

As welcome as his appearance is, there’s a sense that it’s too late to do much about the show’s curious lack of connection or drive.

After inveigling his way into the entertainment industry (legal and less so) and acquiring a measure of political respectability, this week, Harry accompanied by the noxious Jimmy, turned detective tracking down the murder of a rent boy found cut up in a suitcase.

For all their plodding up and down several blind alleyways, this unlikely pair had a real charisma and would have made a great goofy spin-off if the producers wanted; bad lads on the wrong side of the law spend their spare time solving crime.

Despite its patient recreation of 60s London and the helpful positioning of several cultural signifiers, there’s something about the programme that fails to convince. It’s not any lack of attention to set dressing but rather to the central figure on the set itself, namely Harry.

A villain this inconsistent in his approach to staff and discipline wouldn’t last five minutes down the real East End. In theory, giving Harry a contradictory personality should make him a more rounded or multi-dimensional character; conflict being the source of the drama.

Yet possessing several sympathetic traits (remorse amongst them) instead of strengthening Harry Starks they fatally wound his credibility. All of which would be fine if he were lower down in the food chain. However, we are meant to believe that he is a player near the top of this dangerous game.

Given his bungling and general ineptitude, one wonders how a character like this would ever get past the doorman of Esmerelda’s Barn never mind build a criminal empire.


Thursday, July 15, 2004

The Butler Did It

Yesterday the Butler Report into the Government’s handling of the Iraq adventure pronounced that no-one was to blame for the misleading intelligence that persuaded the House of Commons to vote for military intervention.

It criticised the “thinness” of evidence used to make the case for war as presented to parliament and the British public but reckoned that Blair and co acted in good faith; so they overstated and bolstered their case but did so in good faith. So that’s OK then.

The usual suspects are wheeled out to say that the world is a better place as a result of the action by coalition forces. Well it might be. But that’s not the reason Blair gave to the country when he wanted the vote in the House of Commons. It was clearly stated that Saddam possessed an arsenal of weapons of mass destruction that could be readied for battlefield use in 45 minutes. Oh and something about Iraq defying the UN. I guess if we are applying the latter transgression to our strategic and military thinking, then we can expect to hear news of our invasion of Israel and the United States itself fairly soon.

What the government and in particular the Prime Minister know is that If Blair had said “Saddam’s regime is cruel and terrible and we should go in and liberate the people of Iraq” then whilst no one would have seriously disagreed with that proposition, they would have a lot of difficulty in seeing it as justifying our military action. There are plenty of dodgy regimes around the world but we don’t go round toppling those regimes when we feel like it. Remember Rwanda anyone?

Away from the international stage, Blair will face another political test today;
two by-elections in safe Labour seats. As a lifelong Labour party supporter, it gives me no pleasure to say that Labour will lose both of them in a spectacular reversal of fortune.

No crystal ball is needed to make this prediction; this is always the pattern with by-elections. the sitting government of the day generally get a kick in the pants. Certainly, suspicion about Blair’s handling of Iraq will impact upon the voter’s willingness to put their X next to the name of the Labour Party candidates.

Yet I feel the loss of these two seats is part of a groundswell of opinion that goes deeper than post-Iraq blues.

The levels of distrust and cynicism directed to the government currently remind me of the kind of distaste and incredulity that was rightly heaped upon the last discredited Tory administration. The political tide is turning and there’s little that Blair will be able to do to halt it even though some reckon he’s a bit of a Canute.

Of course, we are left to ponder who will gain from this state of affairs. Well, traditionally, the Liberal Democrats usually prosper in these circumstances. That they can capitalise on this come the General Election is doubtful though.

“Chat Show Charlie” as Lib Dem leader, Charles Kennedy, is sometimes referred to (by his own party members as well as critics) might well have made some good points about the war but lacks the necessary depth to engender warm feelings of trust and sense of purpose. And this despite the fact that I understand he’s fond of the odd King Crimson tune from time to time!

So in the long term that leaves us with an contemptible collection of Tories under the leadership of Michael Howard, a man who seems to be a walking, breathing definition of the word “odious”; a man who would choose Bryan Adams’ Everything I Do I Do It For You as the record to accompany him to the mythical desert island (if proof were needed).

It’s an old political saw that says oppositions don’t so much win elections as governments lose them. Even were it not for the folly of Iraq, the present government would still be in deep trouble with seriously flawed policies in education, health, relaxation of gambling laws, bungled constitutional reform and contentious meddling in the public sector and transport.

With such easy targets as these, it may well be only the inept aim and ongoing lack of credibility in the Tory and Lib Dem camp that will keep Blair in power next year when he has to go to the country.

Wednesday, July 14, 2004

The Equatorial Stars by Fripp & Eno

It's been a long time coming. . .

Space is indeed the place when it comes to the new, long-awaited Fripp and Eno album, The Equatorial Stars. Clocking in at a refreshingly brief 48 minutes, there’s nevertheless a generous sense of scale to be found here.

Fripp and Eno have always dealt with raw emotion much like a potter transforms clay into something beautiful and significant. As with their previous MO, the notes and atmospheres present throughout The Equatorial Stars are malleable; stippled, squashed and seasoned to form something more resonant than the base materials from which they started.

Yet this process of remaking and remodelling paradoxically creates something that sounds rather lo-tech and closer to the nub than is sometimes expected with this genre. Pieces such as Meissa and Lyra are both uncluttered and yet smoulder intensely. Fripp’s formidable array of sound sources are paired back, resulting in something intimate and almost vulnerable in his playing that should not be missed.

For all that this is an album rooted in technology, it is actually the lucid connection of finger to string, and of heart to head that determines the strength of the record. It's personality and character transcending its origins. 

Does it break new ground? Does it live up to the reputation of their previous outings? With over 70 years professional experience between them, Fripp and Eno have nothing to prove. They’ve been there and done that, and most likely sold somebody the T-shirt.

On first pass may it seem understated. Yet the patient listener will be amply rewarded with an album ingrained with a surprising force and flow. The slow-burn ecstasy of Ankaa is vintage Fripp; nothing obvious or showy, just notes whose aim is true and that hit the target. Terrebellum is the keeper with a dramatic build up and fade to black that's truly gripping.

No doubt, legions of bedroom soundscapers will be twiddling their knobs in high dudgeon at the relative simplicity of it all. After all there’s no gimmickry, shtick or stunt in evidence.

“Hey – I could do that!” they cry. And well they might.

But lest we forget, Fripp and Eno were there first, and on the evidence of this latest release they are ones who are still raising the bar all the way up to the heavens.

Tuesday, July 13, 2004

A Well Known Typo

Liek – I meant to type “Like” but my fingers branched out into their own little nano-world between brain and keyboard.

As far as I know it’s not a real word – at least not English - but the more I stare at it, the more convinced I am that this word should be used in everyday parlance.

I just need to figure out a useful definition and start dropping it into conversation.

Listening to Peggy Lee, Julie London and Dubstar.

Monday, July 12, 2004

A Great Little Show About A Great Little Machine



Today I heard a great little documentary on Radio 4 about Peter Zinoviev

Who he? He invented the VCS3!

Sunday, July 11, 2004

There And Back Again

I ventured out to the suburbs of Whitley Bay this morning accompanying my youngest son, Joe, to a school mate’s house. Joe had the address but had no idea where it was but said he’d go on his own. He knew only that it was up by the ice rink. The thought of allowing Joe to go wandering around the streets (mean or otherwise) on his own is just too worrying to think about.

As a child during those endless summer holidays, it seemed as though we left the house early in the morning and didn’t get back until it was getting in dark. We went everywhere. Nine times out of ten it was fine and without incident.

I realise I’m a touch over-protective about where the kids are going, who they see and what they get up to. I tell Joe that once he knows the route, he can do this himself. It’s nice to be able to chat and walk. What Joe wants to talk about is mainly what a good time he’s going to have when he gets there.

I sense that for him, at least for now, the glass is half full rather than half empty. Long may it continue.

The walk to Joe’s friend lasts only twenty minutes or so. The walk back takes a lot longer. By the time I get home, I am right royally cream-crackered. I go supine on the floor with a copy of Pauline Kael’s Hooked supporting my neck. Debbie and her two are out at the pictures to see Around The World In 80 Days and Tom is at one of his friends who lives in the street.

By the time Joe is ready to come home (i.e. six hours later) I am suitably recovered to do the walk there and back again.

Once in Joe helps me prepare a feast for the ravenous hordes returning from their cinematic outing. Their verdict on the Chan / Coogan vehicle is - very good fun.
I was sorry to have missed it. I normally find any kind of martial arts about as interesting in reading the collected speeches of Rhodes Boyson.

However Jackie Chan’s movies (at least the more recent ones) are so gentle and very slapstick, reminding me more of Buster Keaton than Bruce Lee.

Tonight we are going to watch Good Bye Lenin!

Saturday, July 10, 2004

Paving The Way. . .

Well they didn’t deliver the goods yesterday. It didn’t seem to matter that Debbie had hired supporting equipment and people to spring into action first thing Saturday morning. We discover that they don’t ever deliver after 5.00 p.m. and that frankly speaking it would be impossible that a member of their team would ever tell a customer such a thing. It didn’t matter that we were able to give them the name of the hapless assistant who assured us that the delivery would be made after 5.00p.m. on Friday night.

It didn’t seem to matter that we had a computer printed sales slip that states in black and white that the goods would be delivered after 5.00 p.m. on a Friday night. When confronted with the name of the member of staff who not only told Debbie all of this but tapped it all onto their computer, the person we were dealing with merely said “Oh her! I’m not surprised.”

This morning the atmosphere of calm reflection created largely it must be said by the sonic treat that is the new Fripp and Eno album could do little to mollify Debbie’s thunderous mood as she unmade her arrangements for her DIY activities of the day.

But then you know what happened next. Yes, that’s right; the goods from the DIY firm arrived. Lots of paving stones, ready mix, sand and gravel. This being a pedestrianised street, Sam and Alys as well as chums Cowgill and Lil, formed a weary convoy convey the bags up to the house from the end of the street.

Now you might be thinking “Isn’t Sid a bit of a lazy git not helping lift and carry all those slabs and bags?” Well, given the perilous state of my back lately I was excused from all such duties. Instead I was on cooking detail.

To my amazement, after hauling paving slabs for an hour, the team began to lay them down. Blimey!

Before


During


& After

Friday, July 09, 2004

Magma : MDK

Magma always bring a smile to my face. I like to imagine the telephone call in the A&M offices after they've listened to MDK; sort of like Bob Newhart and the Walter Raleigh sketch…

”I’m sorry Herb, I’ve played the tape but I can’t understand the words. They sing in a language called what? Uh-huh. Kobian. And that would be where exactly? Oh from outer space! Kobia is a planet, I see.

No, it’s OK Herb, I’ve just not heard of that one before. Oh they made it up! So let me get this right – they’re singing in a made up language about flying saucers coming from a planet called Kobia. Right. Well, I guess it might work – the Purple People Eater was a big hit a while back. Say why don't I call you back sometime...”

Elsewhere. . .


A morning spent trying to prove that I exist. Having ordered a large item from a local DIY store, Debbie was at great pains to point out to the store that delivery could only take place after 5.00 p.m. when there was ure to be somebody in to receive the goods. Rest assured, Debbie was told, our delivery times are meant to fit around us the customer.

Well, those of you seasoned in the ways of our consumer driven society will hardly need me to tell you the next part of the tale. But in the absence of anything else. . .

When I got back indoors this morning at around 9.30 a.m. I discovered that the driver with the goods had already been. However upon finding that nobody was at home and unable to leave the goods on the street, he’s gone off leaving us the message to ring the service desk.

Well, those of you seasoned in the ways of our consumer driven society will hardly need me to tell you the next part of the tale. But in the absence of anything else. . .

I rang the service desk and three cheery automated minutes later found out that there was no record of an order being placed with them at all.

“But I’ve got a message from your driver telling me to ring you.”

“Yes that is strange. I’m sorry but we have nothing in the system for you.”

Then I twigged that the driver being efficient and wanting to get ahead of the game probably ticked us off his computer connected delivery list before discovering that we were out. However as far as the computer is concerned, we’re done and dusted.

I proffered this theory to the receptionist on the service desk. She didn’t sound convinced. However, she couldn’t explain why there was no trace of our order. Nor could she explain why, after being given the choice of a delivery time after 5.00 p.m., did the attempted delivery take place at around 9.00 a.m.

She suggested that they would look into the matter further and that somebody would be sure to get back to us before close of business today.

Well, those of you seasoned in the ways of our consumer driven society will hardly need me to tell you the next part of the tale. But in the absence of anything else. . .

Thursday, July 08, 2004

The Bridge Inside

Up early with the pain in my hip. The upside of being up is that you get to see such marvellous sunrises. These pokey pictures just don’t do it justice.

Yesterday I spent a portion of my day inside the towers of Newcastle’s landmark Tyne Bridge. The architecture of any bridge is fascinating. Getting inside that architecture is doubly so. As I stand inside those vast columns, the noise of the traffic rumbles high above like crashing waves.Somewhere inside this vast tangle of girders and wiring, the call of kittiwakes and gulls nesting on the outer ledges of the bridge mingles with the echoing boom. I recorded about twenty minutes of this beguiling sound.

On my way down to the bridge I noticed this piece of graffiti on the side of a building society.


The fightback begins!

Wednesday, July 07, 2004

55 Degrees North

Last night I watched the BBC’s latest addition to its roster of crime-based programmes; 55 Degrees North. Set in Newcastle, we see whistle-blower cop DS Cole (Don Gilet) as an outsider – he’s black and from London – entering a homogenised north east replete with institutional racism, corporate indifference and a suspicious community.

The phrase “it’s cold up north” takes on a new meaning altogether as the plucky Cole rubs up against the various cold shoulders of indifferent colleagues and patronising superiors.

Though it has a competent cast and good production values, the lazy and obvious direction, as well as plodding script prevents the thing from getting airborne.

Whilst we understand that the programme makers have a limited amount of time to establish the ensemble of players, do they have to dispense with subtlety and tension altogether? What we get instead is big stroke set-pieces - the running, jumping, chase sequence that a marathon runner at the top of his or her game would have trouble keeping up with, as well as short-cut characterisation that really does the show no favours at all.

Thus we know that the racist cop at the start will become friends with DS Cole; the testy eye-candy CPS solicitor is destined for a “will they won’t they?” relationship with our handsome lead; one of the good guys is actually a bad guy all along (I’m betting on the grizzly looking DS rather than his weasel-looking sidekick) and his boss who is very anti him at the moment will become very pro him before the six weeks are out – “good job DS Cole. I admit I was wrong about you.”

Despite the shiny streets of Newcastle looking good, I think I’d rather be watching the re-runs of Ironside. At least the music is a lot better.

And sticking with the television vibe, BBC 2 are launching a new crime-based drama serial adapted from Jake Arnott’s 60s themed book, The Long Firm. I may well have to watch. I think I need to get out more.

Tuesday, July 06, 2004

Listening To. . .

the Animals best of compilation;Janaceck’s Mladi and Capriccio Vzdor; The Beat – I Confess; Madness’s Greatest Hits; Julie Driscol Save Me; Hello Spaceboy by Bowie and the Pet Shop Boys; Morgana King; Fred Astaire; Leon Redbone; The Inkspots; The Selector On My Radio; The Specials Ghost Town and Gangsters; Watermelon Man by Mongo Santamaria; See Emily Play by David Bowie; Janaceck On An Overgrown Path; Gentle Rain by Gilberto – to die for the slide on the strings at the very end!; Prefab Sprout – Lions In My Own Garden (Exit Someone); Janaceck Kreutzer Sonata; Sailing by Christopher Cross; Whiter Shade of Pale by King Curtis; The Godfather soundtrack; Julie London; Shirley Bassey live at the Pigale; Bing Crosby and Bob Hope; Bing Crosby and Frank Sinatra...although not always in that order.

Monday, July 05, 2004

Smacked

Torrential rain was due in the afternoon they said and torrential rain is what we got. I’d just hung the washing out to dry when maelstrom came our way. It was over quick but the sheer force of the sheet rain was incredible. In the time it took me to unclip four pegs and race back indoors I was soaked through. Not just polite wet. Not even gamely wet. But absofuckinglutely drenched right through; the kind of wet where you have to change every single item of clothing.

The clouds cleared long enough for me to join an old friend for a late lunch. “How are you keeping?” he asks. I parry this with the vague but effective “Oh you know, up and down.”

We move swiftly onto topics such as Marlon Brando’s demise and the potentially dubious merits of Godfather 4. I’m a complete fan of Brando in the Godfather and though I try to offer some incisive commentary about his acting abilities, I simply manage to slobber on the table cloth and go all cross-eyed. The prospect of a Godfather 4 makes us both go cross-eyed for other reasons.

Other items discussed included the the vote in the House of Lords on whether parents smacking their children should be banned.

Later in the day Tom got in from school. Things between us have been slightly brittle over the weekend. I grounded him for an offence which I need not go into here.

Although we’ve made our peace I know Tom still feels as though he’s been treated unfairly at the hands of a despotic regime. Tom turned 13 last month and though it is a cliché, feeling that you’re being treated unfairly is all part of that angst-ridden territory.

During the weekend fracas, when asked why he had lied, Tom replied he was frightened I would get angry and hit him. I was amazed by this at first but then saw it for what it was; a wily piece of emotional misdirection on his part. Having parked my tank on his lawn, so to speak, he had to find a way off throwing me off. Tom not only knew where the button was but he also knew how to press it.

I’ve not smacked Tom other than on one occasion when, to my shame, I lost my temper over a trivial matter and lashed out. He would have been about five years old and I was certainly old enough to know better.

The smack was not “serious” but it was traumatic enough for me to be dogged by guilt for days and for Tom to be able to recall it years later.

Despite the frosty burr that remains on Tom’s outer shell, I judge my response to his transgression to be fair and appropriate. I also understand that this is not how Tom sees it. Such tussling is after all, a healthy part of growing up.
We discover limits and the tensions that follow when we come into contact with them; we learn how far we can go; how rules are defined and perhaps most importantly, whose rules are they anyway?

I can’t say I ever experienced such exchanges with my father; he and I never argued once. This was not due to any Waltons-esque homely harmony but more about living under a trashing tyranny that allowed no dissention whatsoever. Physical punishment was very much the first resort in his armoury. To be fair to him, the beatings were always directed at my mother rather than me or my two sisters.

Yet their impact was just as profound as if they had touched our flesh and bone. Whichever way it comes down, you learn quickly to keep your mouth firmly shut.

As much as it grieves me to have locked horns with my own son in what amounted to the most serious argument of his life to date, it also marks a rite of passage; questioning authority is fundamentally a good and wise thing to be doing.

Sunday, July 04, 2004

Good Will Hunting

Last night as the gang from Victoria Avenue caroused their ways around the pubs and eateries of Whitley Bay, I settled down on the Maximus to watch Good Will Hunting . Although it’s been around a while I’d never bothered to see it; a decision based entirely on my then genetic predisposition to avoiding Robin Williams as a lead character.

However a few months ago, one of the bookshops in Newcastle had a stock clearout. Wading through obscure titles like Cornell’s Romance of Welding (volume 3 – 5) as well as numerous worthy but impenetrable sociological tomes detailing the likes of the Hormish community of New Hampshire (an isolated group who worship and pay homage to all things concerning the spokeshave), there was the screenplay to Good Will Hunting. Despite Mr. William’s craggy yet vulnerable features gracing the cover, I bought it reduced from £8.99 to £2.00.

Over the last couple of years I’ve accrued a neat little collection of screenplays. Reading them is always instructive; economy, the art of show not tell, less being more, etc. In some cases the introductory essay is worth the price of admission alone. For example, Roderick Jaynes’ rib-tickling sideswipes at the Coen brother’s always puts a smirk on my face that industrial strength cleaners would be hard pushed to remove. Those boys really know how to send themselves up.

What intrigued me about Good Will Hunting was that it was written by two young actors. During long drives, the two would entertain themselves by creating characters and situations and improvising their thespian hearts out to the max. And when their work demanded they be separated, they would continue the process by coast to coast faxing. After many months, they realised they had a screenplay.

If the writing of it was geographically tortuous and time-consuming, then the reading it was a fairly quick affair – even to a slowcoach like me. It read quick because it was very pared down and simple and its lucidity lends it a refreshing directness. Plot wise, a young man with a genius gift for numbers is faced with the choice of entering the halcyon groves of academia or staying in his blue collar world of horny-handed toil, sweat and beers.

Are they his only choices? Well of course they’re not. They come a poor second and third when he has to figure if he should get close to someone he thinks he could fall in love with. The person who helps Damon’s character unlocks the puzzle is a shrink played by Robin Williams.

On the page, this highly emotional process is sharp and incisive, coming across fairly dry thus avoiding the cloying Hollywood slushiness. Although it flirts with corniness here and there, the sense of emotional containment (and what might happen when you lift the lid) makes Good Will Hunting something of a page-turning drama.

On screen, the tautness of the writing is allowed to slacken off somewhat. The performances though generally good are a little to rich in places when compared to the original recipe; slightly overdone is what comes to mind.

The emotional charge which powers the original screenplay is further dissipated by director Gus Van Sant’s use of that most heinous Hollywood habit; the song with meaningful lyrics. If there’s one thing guaranteed to make me bite a chunk out of the seat in front of me at the movies, it is this pernicious practice. As long as there’s been cinema there’s been music weaved into the narrative to illustrate the general emotional colour of the scene.

However, the deployment of the heartfelt pop song isn’t so much weaved into the narrative, rather it becomes the narrative. It dispenses with subtlety and nuance of performance in favour of shortcuts and big handkerchiefs. It tells us what the characters (and by extension, the viewer) are meant to be feeling – RIGHT NOW! Never mind ambiguity or examining one’s own reactions and responses; here’s an emotion that somebody else prepared earlier.

The one exception might be Donnie Darko and Gary Jules’ reinvention of Mad World (originally performed by the poptastic bombastic Tears For Fears) but that is quite evidently, a different story.

Now I know some people regard knocking Robin Williams as nothing short of sacrilege. And should you think me overly harsh about Robin Williams’ capabilities, let me say that I thought he was ideal casting in both Insomnia and One Hour Photo – where he plays the pervy psycho to febrile perfection. And just in case you think I’m trying to offload a back-handed compliment there, I really enjoyed both of those movies.

In Good Will Hunting, in order to match the screenplay, Williams is required to offer up a character whose stern wintry regard chills Matt Damon’s smart alec tough guy into silence. Instead Williams plays it with a wistfulness that isn’t exactly bad but just isn’t as good as it could have been. Of course, had I not read the screenplay prior to viewing, I would probably be singing its praise to the rafters.

This morning as I sit here mulling this stuff over in my head, I reach for the screenplay just to make sure I’m not kidding myself. I’m not. Those pages have a chasteness that is unblemished and fresh. Once it’s gone through the collective grinder of directors’ notes, actors making helpful suggestions about their lines, never mind the movie soundtrack merch considerations, something slightly different takes its place. What emerges isn’t a bad movie but one which sadly short-changes rather than delivers on that original promise.

Saturday, July 03, 2004

Silence At Sunrise

I was up very early this morning and was rewarded with a wonderful sunrise. I always hope that a little of the silence one encounters at this magical time of day stays with you.

We have house guests with us at the moment; old friends of Debbie’s from her student days in Birmingham.

My input into the planned activities stretches to making a meal. I’m not a brilliant conversationalist or glittering social creature when I’m coming out from this fug of depression. I subscribe to the “when you have nothing to say, say nothing” school of thought.

So, it’s a quiet day for me – in every sense of the word.

Friday, July 02, 2004

Sound The Trumpets!

I’m just emerging out of the silence of the last couple of months. A combination of bad back, black dog and intermittent disconnection has meant I’ve been unable to maintain an online presence.

Anyway, I’m emerging back into the light; my back has improved and my head is a whole lot better, and more than this, the telephone bill is at last up to date!

In amongst the adverts for free pills, poppers, hair restorative, get rich quick schemes and penis enhancing activities, many people have e-mailed to good wishes; this has been gratefully received and I will get round to answering people individually in the next few days.

So rest assured things are on the up and up; the kids are well, Debbie is fine and I’m on the mend.

Listening To Henry Purcell ! – sound the trumpets indeed!

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