Saturday, 31 December 2011

Fairly average expectations

I'm generally uncertain about Dickens. I have read A Christmas Carol, a story so familiar that it would be difficult to hold the author's constant overuse of commas against the general bonhomie of the tale.

I got stuck two thirds of the way through Oliver Twist. I don't know if it's just me, but page after page of long winded descriptions of unrelenting child abuse and ridiculously named characters didn't endear me to the scruffy little tyke.

I loathe the way he names his characters and I am uncomfortable with the rampant anti semitic descriptions of Fagin. But most of all, I was bored. Bored shitless. I know vaguely that it all comes right for Oliver in the end and I just couldn't care enough about the bits inbetween. I also can't read it without visions of Ollie Reed reeling about and singing songs about picking pockets. Oliver Twist has essentially been ruined by its own success.

So it was with a general air of gritted teeth that I agreed to watch Great Expectations with my mother. Mostly to get her to stop reading this blog and therefore seeing the one about the twat who was horny. I just don't need that kind of stress in my life.

Gillian Anderson played Miss Haversham perfectly. Someone once said I was like Miss Haversham, which I think is a bit harsh. I clean my house at least twice a year and I've thrown out the wedding dress. But Gillian. Who would have thought back in the day when she was trying to maintain some kind of sexual chemistry with David Duchovny she'd turn into an immense period actress?

The actor who played Pip (no idea who is he and can't be bothered to check) reminded me uncomfortably of the angular faced lad who plays Edward Cullen. I kept expecting him to sparkle unconvincingly every now and again and try and find the mopey goth girl in the corner for dry humping and angsty conversations. He was the dullest part of it, which is not how it should be. I'm pretty sure we should be bewitched by Pip and be rooting for him. But Pip's a bit of a dick. He turns his back on his poor relations and lords it up for a bit on the back of a fortune left to him by an unknown benefactor. He assumes it's Miss Haversham. Turns out it was Magwitch, who is THE best character in the entire thing bar none.

Ray Winstone was cuddly and lovely as the sometimes murderous but kind hearted criminal and I adored him. Strange choice of wig, but other than that, just gorgeous.

So far, this has been my favourite Dickens experience which I rounded off by watching the always ace Sue Perkins narrate a documentary about his wife. He was a right cunt by all accounts. Spent most of the time trying to get off with her sisters and made her pregnant about 20 times. I knew there was something off about him.

Bleak House is my last roll of the Dickens die... we shall see

Wednesday, 28 December 2011

The sights and sounds of Royal Leamington Spa

There are some beautiful venues in the Georgian town of Royal Leamington Spa. It was so named because Queen Victoria herself liked it a bit when she visited once, so they say. Her statue now graces the bottom of the historic Parade, just opposite the Pound Shop and that discount place.

Today, Leamington's gleaming streets are filled with a cornucopia of delights, including 79 branches of Cafe Nero and many, many pizza outlets. Oh, and a Robert Dyas. I have heard whispers of a Nandos. I sincerely hope I live to see the day.

A bustling town during the day time, Leamington boasts no less than 273 Big Issue sellers and approximately 89,000 accordian players who fill the air with the same three bars of Fur Elise over and over again. At Christmas this changes to Jingle Bells, the strains of which will follow you as you take a leisurely stroll up the Parade past McDonalds, Savers and Tesco Metro.

But it is at night when Royal Leamington Spa comes into its own. On Warwick Street - one of the main thoroughfares of our beautiful town - one can choose from The Glasshouse (a brightly lit and austere room full of empty chairs and sad barstaff), Saint Bar (a lovely vaulted space with a dancefloor, a DJ and more children than a Wacky Warehouse but with the added advantage of lots of underage girls in their underwear), Kokos (it's important to look down a lot in order to avoid the vomit that will inevitably adorn the dancefloor, but do try not to meet anyone's eyes).

For a more upmarket affair, turn onto Regent Street and visit The Sozzled Sausage. Once, many years ago, The Sausage was the busiest pub in Leamington. Luckily the management has had the foresight to rectify this issue and now kindly make sure there are never more than five people in the place at any one time.This allows for a lot of personal space and there is never, ever a queue at the bar.

However, if queues at the bar are your thing - and I'm sure some people actively seek out a place where it can take up to 45 minutes to watch a half wit measure a shot of gin - then hie yourself to The White Horse. With a huge capacity and a lovely large outdoor area, The White Horse is perfect if you need a lesson in learning patience. During 2010, I taught myself how to meditate just by wisely using the time stood at the bar in The White Horse. Other things you can do include counting in binary in your head, learning a language, reciting Joyce's Ulysses out loud or studying quantum mechanics on your smartphone.

Winding your way back home through - particularly on a Friday or Saturday - you can expect to come across several fights (mostly verbal), 12 arguments between people all of whom appear to be named Craig and Tracey, various young ladies sitting on the kerbside outside Halikarnas, one of the finer kebab establishments in the town and, if you're very lucky, you may catch a glimpse of one of Leamington's famous alcoholics.

Sometimes I play a form of bingo while smoking a cigarette at night. I award myself points for every crying girlfriend screaming: "But Wayne, I lovvvvvvvvvvve you.", every manically giggling student, every inexplicably tuneless chav male, every braying pissed posh lady and every boyfriend yelling: "Just fuck offfffff Tracey, you're mental." I got special points for the time I heard someone scream: "I want to die, I want to die, I want to die." over and over again.

Tuesday, 20 December 2011

Dorian Gray: did he need the picture anyway?

The other day I started thinking about all the books I haven't read yet. Not ever being able to read every book I want to read is just one of my ever-present background fears. Others include apocalypse (specifically nuclear), being orphaned, getting wrinkles, not ever getting a dog, breeding with someone and then ending up silently resenting them for the next 40 years.

So I decided to just do it. Start reading them. Get on to that pile of Dickens that I have been ignoring since forever. The only Dickens I had ever read was A Christmas Carol. I wrote a whole essay at degree level about Bleak House without ever opening the actual book. And this was before the days of nicking stuff from the internet. Fuck, I'm old. And a genius, clearly.

Anyway, as I have recently seen a film of Dorian Gray, I thought I'd have me a bit of Wilde before I got stuck in to Dickens' ouvre. I knew the story roughly before the film of course: Faustian tale, pretty boy's soul stuck in painting, he never ages etc etc, blah blah. In the film he kills himself after living a rather awesome-looking life of drugs, fucking and general depravity.

The book, however, is rather different. For a start, Dorian is a schmuck. He's a knobhead. He's a totally shallow albeit fit guy. He doesn't need to make a deal with the devil to lose his soul; I'm doubtful he had one in the first place. He's an empty headed scumbag. All he thinks about is how ace he looks and how he can put his penis in people. This is true before he loses his soul to the painting and it's true afterwards.

He's 20 years old as he sits for his portrait. The artist is clearly gay and fancying the pants off our Dorian, who idly plays with his emotions. Everyone loves the painting but none more so than Dorian himself, who can't stop staring at his own face. What a tool.

In passing he wishes out loud that he could swap his soul in exchange for always looking so awesomely smooth.

He falls in love (lust) with an actress who he then goes off in about a week, leading to a really familiar situation. After proclaiming his undying love for her and asking her to marry him, he changes his mind literally overnight. He goes to dump her: "You have disappointed me. I can not see you again." She cries and wails and pleads and begs because she believed him, you see. Silly girl. Silly, silly girl.

He watches her fall apart and muses: "There is something ridiculous about the emotions of the people whom one has ceased to love." How many times have you seen that in the face of your asshole boyfriend as he does a total about turn and decides 'we need a break'? No? Just me then?

After walking out and leaving her drowning in a lake of her own snot, he dusts himself off with the thought that "Women were better suited to bear sorrow than men. They lived on their emotions."

He's wrong, naturally, and she kills herself. His first thought when he finds out? "She had no right to kill herself." What about meeeee? He very quickly decides that: "The girl never really lived, so she never really died." This cheers him up immensely and puts him in the mood to go and sow his seed to the four winds.

This is the first moment he notices a change in his portrait and figures out the whole soul-loss deal. He momentarily thinks about destroying the painting and therefore saving everyone else from his horrible behaviour... but that soon passes as he concentrates on how many women and men he can dip his increasingly used wick into. He doesn't want to do the right thing because he only wants to do things that feel good. To him. Regardless of the consequences. As he says: "I don't want to be at the mercy of my emotions. I want to use them, to enjoy them, to dominate them." And that's what he does.

This is the point I think. He isn't a victim exactly. He has a choice. He always has a choice. He has a vague idea that he's hurting people but shakes it off because he is shallow inside and out. He has the attitude of the born beautiful and I don't actually think he would have acted any differently had he never had his soul trapped in his painting. He would have been just the same but wouldn't have been able to shag quite as many people on account of his opium-rotted features and terrible breath.

Various adventures ensue, including him killing his artist friend and generally acting like my university boyfriend (apart from the killing bit). Eventually even Dorian gets sick of himself and decides to destroy the painting, not in a noble, self-sacrificing way that the film has you believe. No, he just wants to destroy it so he can live out the rest of his life normally. It doesn't occur to him that to kill his soul will destroy his own self.

Anyway, he does kill himself and his corpse ain't pretty.

I didn't expect to get the distinct feeling that Dorian really doesn't need a portrait to be a complete bellend.

He is my ex.

Monday, 19 December 2011

I'm texting you because I'm horny. LOL

And with those fateful words, Phil from Coventry sounded the deathknell for any possibility of us meeting for that coffee.

Online dating is still not really working for me. As you can see.

Phil from Coventry had seemed like an alright guy. Bit young maybe. But he had a correctly shaped face, decent head of hair and is an aeronautic engineer. So I thought I was pretty safe in thinking he would be relatively intelligent. Definitely more than the average crayon eater anyway. I mean he does things to plane engines.

A few texts back and forth had me slightly losing what enthusiasm I had had. But he did own a dog and we seemed to be getting on OK. Got to be worth meeting for a coffee, I thought to myself. After all, what's the worst that can happen? People keep telling me I'm too picky, too specific, I mean, maybe what I should do is just date everyone that asks me and hope that one works.

There is that old saying, throw enough shit at the wall and something'll stick. So maybe Phil will stick, I thought.

So we arranged to meet on the Monday.

On the Friday I was at work when I got a text from him at around midnight.

"I'm texting you because I'm horny. LOL"

To which my response was: "What the fuck?"

To which his response was: "I am horny though. LOL"

To which my response was "...."

I was properly shiveringly grossed out. We hadn't even met and yet he seemed to be assuming that I would act as some kind of sext-line relief every time he found himself alone with a hard on. Bleuuuuuurgh.

On the Monday he texted asking if I still wanted to meet.

After I had picked myself up off the floor from my sudden onset of laughter, I declined on the basis that his text was, er, offputting.

His response?

"But I WAS horny. This isn't going to work if you get offended every time I'm horny."

I thought about trying to explain to him how he appeared to have missed the point somewhat. And, in fact, there are probably very few girls who would be flattered by clumsy attempts at sex texting from someone they haven't even met yet, and that perhaps he might want to rethink his strategy in future.

And then I thought about life being very short and just left it.

Turns out people who fuck about with aeroplane engines don't have to be intelligent after all. Good to know.

It tastes like ashes

Last night I watched a film that blew my mind. It blew my mind visually, aurally and mentally. Melancholia is by far the most affecting film I have seen in years. In fact, in the metaphorical post orgasmic glow I can't actually think of another film that filled me with such tension, awe, pain, sadness and a weird sort of vindication.

Von Trier courted controversy with his pro-Nazi comments at Cannes this year. But it appears he either did that for effect, or it was a ill-judged joke, or... actually I don't care. I think he's probably socially awkward and cocked up something that was meant to be a commentary on something or other. It's a shame, though, that this may have coloured peoples' opinions of him to the extent that they may not ever watch this film.

As a sufferer for many years, I have never seen in a film a depiction of the depths of hopelessness and nihilistic drag the canker of depression can cast over a person's life. After a sublime and beautiful opening sequence which features a series of apocalyptic vignettes set to a pulsing Wagner (nope, steer away from the Nazi connection please...) score we already know without question that the world is going to end.

We then join Kirsten Dunst's character, Justine, on her way to her wedding reception. Her charmed life and the love from her new husband radiates in her smile. She looks beautiful. Perfect. Happy. Smiling. We reach an enormous mansion that turns out to be the home of Claire and her family. Claire is Justine's sister and appears uptight, bossy, control freaky and mean.

Von Trier first tells Justine's story by allowing her to unravel before our eyes. Before the wedding night is over it is clear Justine is suffering from severe and debilitating depression. "I thought I could do it," she says, speaking of her relationship, her wedding, her life.

Claire is angry. Claire's husband, a scientist who also happens to be Kiefer Sutherland in a rare non CIA role, is even angrier.

"I tried," says Justine plaintively to Claire. "I smile and I smile and I smile." Her mask isn't enough and her true self leaks through, slowly poisoning the traditions and fakeries of her own wedding reception. A reception that includes Justine disappearing on numerous occasions. She escapes onto the golf course, of which her brother-in-law is so proud, and alternately pees while staring at the constellation abover her and shags a stranger following a scene where her husband awkwardly paws at her as she stiffens and finally runs away.

The marriage is over before it has begun and she says goodbye to her husband. A failed attempt to communicate with her supremely selfish parents renders Justine absolutely alone with only the darkness inside her.

Alone, that is, except for Claire. Claire is her reproachful but ever present support.

"Is everyone in your family crazy?" snaps Kiefer.

"She's my sister," she answers.

Justine lives without hope and without hope there is no future. Which is why, when it becomes apparent that a planet called Melancholia is hurtling towards earth and may possibly collide with it, therefore rendering life obsolete, Justine is calm and unafraid. She is not frightened of the obliteration of mankind as, to her, life on earth is evil.

Claire is the pillar of support that helps Justine function through the catatonic stage of depression that follows the wedding. Justine can barely walk. She cannot wash herself. She cannot eat. Claire holds her up next to a bath, baby talking her into stepping into the water. Justine folds in on herself, wailing like a child. She has regressed to a state where she no longer has to cope with the darkness around her. Sleep is her little death and Claire keeps her alive through that.

In the second part of the film we switch to Claire. It becomes clear that calm, rational, capable Claire is chronically anxious, possibly self-medicating and really freaking worried about the planet that is on its way. Her scientist husband reassures her over and over that there is no danger.

As we already know that this isn't true, the tension ramps up slowly, slowly, slowly.

Justine is now a calm presence in the background of Claire's increasing panic. The day finally arrives and we sit with the family as they watch the planet come closer and closer. It seems inevitable that this is the moment. But the night passes and the planet appears to recede.

Except that it hasn't.

And as inexorably as Justine's darkness encroaches on her potential future, the shadow falls over the earth again as Melancholia comes closer.

Claire's husband commits the ultimate betrayal when he realises his calculations were incorrect. While Claire is dozing in the sun he takes all of the tablets she had stockpiled and kills himself, leaving Claire alone to face the end of the world.

Alone, that is, apart from Justine.

So Justine, Claire and Claire's sun face the end of the world together and the final scene ratchets up the tension unbearably. The planet hits, the screen fades to black and then it's finished. And I'm quietly hysterical on the sofa. Snot, tears, the works. As I was at someone else's house this was a tad embarrassing.

I googled reactions to the film and they are almost a 50/50 split between 'it's really boring and miserable' to 'it changed my life'.

I urge you to watch it and decide for yourself.

Wednesday, 7 December 2011

Kids say the funniest things

Don't they?

Like this, for example: "God made the world".

Shocked I was, I don't mind telling you.

Context is probably needed here. A week or so ago, right in the middle of my martyrdom to the burned leg (it was still weeping and hadn't yet crisped up), my mum brought my nephew over to see me. He's five years old and, of course, he's hilarious. What five year old boy isn't?

I'm not a gooey type about children. On the whole I much prefer animals. But I do like my nephew. He's in my top three kids that I like to spend time with for a few hours before leaving them to go back to my nice, quiet house.

We went to Cafe Rouge for lunch. I don't go there very often, partly I think because I worked at the Solihull branch about 12 years ago and they paid me something like £2.50 an hour and kept the tips. I do hold grudges, it has to be said.

I didn't realise that Cafe Rouge in 2011 is akin to a fucking Wacky Warehouse (not that I've ever been to one, but I've been to something that I'm reliably informed is very similar and it involved hundreds of screaming, snotting, oozing children hurling themselves around the place). We were wedged in between two families who seemed to have at least 15 children each (on closer inspection it was three), all of whom were yelling, crying, chucking chips around and generally making me feel uncomfortable.

And then my nephew said, and I quote: "Children shouldn't be allowed in here if they are crying."

After I high-fived him we talked a little about stuff. You know, school and Star Wars and things. Mum told me that he's been selected as Joseph for the school nativity. I understand, from observing gushy office-mum behaviour in the past, that this is a Great Honour.

I asked him whether he was pleased. He said: "No. I don't wanna. I don't like Mary."

We couldn't get out of him why he doesn't like whichever unfortunate lass who is to star opposite him but he was very clear about the fact that: "jesus is a doll", and said this phrase with such derision and contempt that my heart sang a little.

So I thought I was on safe ground when I asked him whether he believed in 'god'. I assumed he would roll his older-than-his-years eyes and say: "As if Auntie Debs, I would be taken in by such fairy tales and nonsense."

Instead he did that 'um' thing that kids do when they push their tongue in front of their lower front teeth. In the 80s it used to denote that they thought you were mentally inferior. I'm sure it doesn't now, what with it being 2011 and all.

I can only describe his expression as shocked when he said: "Of COURSE I do. He made the world."

After a short but intense conversation, mostly one-sided, where I explained to him the difference between provable facts and ridiculous stories made up to control people, I let the subject drop. With him. I turned to my mum and asked "What the fuck?", without using the word 'fuck' but wholly conveying it - a skill I have honed throughout the years of talking the lovely refined lady that she is.

She blithely returned that as he goes to a religious school - despite the fact that neither of his parents are religious in the slightest - that is what he is taught. On a daily basis. Now, I don't have a problem with people believing in things I don't believe in. I really and truly don't. If you have developed a theory and a rationale for believing that the world was created by a big man who lives in the sky, then fine. Go for your life.

I do have a problem when children are taught that one point of view is a fact, without recourse to other theories. Particularly when those people are five years old. An age where truth is imperative.

"Why does he go to a religious school?"

"Because the other ones in the area are horrible and this gives him the best chance to get into a good senior school."

"Well, what's the POINT of that if all he's going to come out with is a messed up view of religion as fact?"

Just as mum managed to completely steer me off the conversation (she just stops interacting with me until I have to eventually stop ranting) my nephew took a renewed interest. He said: "I think god put the dinosaurs there..." and looked mighty uncertain about it all for a second.

From this I take great hope. And when he's a couple of years older I'm going to show him some books I think he should read...

Between you and me

I've been having a dabble in online dating recently. It's a thing I've done before, with varying degrees of success.

I went out with one guy for a few months. He lived in London as they mostly do on Guardian Soulmates. I was looking for a man who might read the odd book, you know? Or maybe have an opinion on something that would make me stop and think.

What I got was a slightly taciturn lad who refused to acknowledge me as his girlfriend after four months of dating. Dating that involved dragging my exhausted ass to London and schlepping round parts of the city at beer festivals and shit. Stuff that I wasn't, to be honest, that in to. I asked him outright if he saw me as his girlfriend and he said: "Hmmm. No, not yet."

And then it was one of those moments where the scales fall from your eyes. I realised that not only did I not care that he didn't see me as his girlfriend, I didn't want him to. So programmed was I, after years and years in a relationship, to feel I need a boyfriend that I literally hadn't stopped to consider whether I wanted to be with  him. Weird, huh? So I finished with him forthwith. Naturally, then he decided that he did want me as his girlfriend after all. None so queer as (male) folk. Never been at all sure why women have the crazy tag.

Anyway, I'm digressing. As I tend to do. My second foray into internet dating a couple of years later resulted in the one I have christened Twatface. Or Asshole. Or Knobhead. Broke what was left of my heart into tiny pieces so he did. Still, we had nice holidays.

Earlier this month, prompted by boredom and curiosity, I decided to reignite one of my profiles. I gave Guardian Soulmates a miss as it's filled either with London-based body fascists who live in Chelsea and work in banks, or really pretentious arty types with thick rimmed glasses and speak like they thought Nathan Barley was a documentary.

I decided to go to You know the one with the puke-inducing advert where a stalker sings to a girl at a tube station and she doesn't, as would be perfectly natural and understandable, spray her perfume into his eyes while simultaneously kneeing him in the bollocks. No, she falls in looooooove with him.

It's almost a month in and it's been hilariously predictable so far. I am actually considering branching out my freelance business in order to write profiles for men on online dating sites. Because they're SHITE. I mean, REALLY shite:

"I like staying in and going out, I like too (sic) watch films and eat nice food (really). I like too (sic) go out with the lads, LOL, (FUCK OFF) and play extreme sports (reaaaaaaaaaaaaaallly?). I'm looking for an easy going girl with no baggage, who is slim and athletic (usually from a man who most closely resembles a fat Karl Pilkington). My friends would say I am the life and soul (doubtful). I'm a really easy going (balls) and attractive (I'll be the judge of that, sonny) man who is looking for a partner in crime to snuggle up with on the sofa with a bottle of wine and a DVD(yaaaaaaawn)."

I play profile bullshit bingo. It's the most fun thing about being on there.

The point of relaying this is partly a symptom of my unedited stream of consciousness style of writing (you lucky, lucky people) but I will now get to the point of this post. Which is thus. I was chatting idly to a man on Facebook chat earlier. A man I met on the internet and went on a date with maybe a year or so ago. Lovely guy, but there wasn't any chemistry. We're Facebook friends. We chat every now and again. He told me he is seeing someone, to which I responded positively, because it is a nice thing. A nice guy is seeing someone new and is happy, which makes me happy about it. 's generally nice.

So, we're chatting about me and relationships and I say:

"i just need to stop being so picky i think, i'm not at all sure i actually want a relationship between you and me"

He comes back with: "that's not an option right now Deb"

I looked askance at this for a while.

Quite a long while in fact.

What's not an option? Had I said something else that had disappeared from the screen? Had I misunderstood something? WHAT'S not an option?

And then, I put myself in the mind of a man. Ohhhhh...

So he thought I meant that I was considering a relationship between me and him: "I'm not sure I actually want a relationship between you and me." As in, I was randomly and a propos of nothing propositioning him five minutes after congratulating him on his new girlfriend. And his male brain hadn't assimilated that and come to the conclusion that he had perhaps misunderstood. He went straight in with the: Oh, no, I'm sorry but you can't go out with meeeeee.

Quite obviously, I meant: "I'm not sure I actually want a relationship COMMA between you and me."

As in, I'm taking you into my confidence here dude.

It did make me snigger in an irritated fashion. Which is something to behold I tell you. And it also made me question, once again, whether men are born with an inbuilt level of self-esteem that wraps them warm in a cosy duvet of a life time's snuggly denial about their level of attractiveness. Because increasingly it seems to me that men have, at their core, the central belief that all women find them heart-stoppingly sexy and are either just being coy or are too shy. 

I guess my lesson for today is, do watch the commas when you're IMing people, yes? For you don't know what kind of scrapes you could get into. Scrapes that will most likely leave you spluttering incoherently about punctuation mistakes on a blog.