Slow, Slow (Slow-Slow-Slow)

When I gave up my TV set, angry at the BBC for refusing to fund free licences for the over 75s from next year, I expected to be watching less TV. In fact, no TV. That was before I discovered Amazon Prime.

Now, I have been paying for Amazon Prime for years without understanding exactly what it was. It used to be just getting your parcels the next day, then the price went up – considerably. I was never entirely clear why this should be and several times cancelled my Amazon Prime subscription, only to go slinking back to it as soon as my parcels started taking ages to arrive.

Only recently did I realise that all this time I could have been listening to music and watching movies free, gratis and for nothing. You do have to have the patience hunt for the good free stuff, though. A lot of the free stuff is bad – films so execrably bad you wonder how on earth they got the funding to make them; films with plot holes, logic holes, unsuitable-looking actors and actors who obviously aren’t actors at all but people netted at random from the local pub or garage forecourt.

I watched – forced myself to watch – recently a Christmas Movie so indescribably awful… Well, suffice it to say that the young heroine spent the whole movie strutting about the snow-clad Rocky Mountains (or similar – it’s a bit vague where they are) in a mini-skirt, surrounded by fake snow. The strutting about and the deafening clatter of her monstrous high heels continued throughout the movie. Everyone else was wearing either suits or Christmas jumpers.

At one point there was an inexplicable Soup Kitchen. It just sort of materialised, so that they could cook their Christmas Buns in it when the plumbing failed in their – Christmas Bakery Thingy. And the men in suits – well, the suits were all identical, all a size or two too small – and the men inside them all had lantern jaws and shoulders like Popeye, post spinach. Presumably the local gym had supplied the men, and a cheap-ish men’s outfitters had hired the suits out in bulk.

However, it’s worth the effort of wading through the turkeys to get to the good stuff. Last night I watched a film called He Won’t Get Far On Foot about an alcoholic, wheelchair-bound cartoonist. It was somewhat “gritty” and sad, but also funny. Joachim Phoenix. Heard of him but never seen him before.

And before that a French film: The House By the Sea. There’s something about French films, so very cool and triste and sophisticated. Everybody smoking more than is good for them, and occasionally committing suicide. Plenty of expressive shrugs.

There’s Mr Robot, of course. My absolute favourite and still going on. Every Monday a new episode appears, like magic, on my tablet. The only trouble is it’s so very noir it’s difficult to see what’s going on – I mean, the lighting is clever, and super-creepy, and the hero, Eliot, wears a black hoodie… They do all tend to mumble, which makes them ultra authentic and cool, but mumbling in an urban American accent can be a problem if you’re not American or urban – or cool, or young. Then I discovered subtitles. Yes, you can turn them on and off at will and they stand out so well against the pitch-blackness of all those sinister rooms.

And now, from the same director (Sam Esmail) there is Homecoming with Julia Roberts. Better lit but just as creepy. I don’t normally like Julia Roberts. She strikes me as one of that small bunch of actors who have a personal charisma so great that they will always be watchable, but at the same time are always playing themselves. Hugh Grant, Colin Firth, John Wayne… always themselves. Ultra-strong signal, narrow bandwidth. However, she is good in this. She’s excellent at suffering, I think. Silent suffering.

And I think I have finally discovered a phenomenon known as Slow TV. It’s not exactly a new thing – does anyone remember The Potter’s Wheel intermission? And the (very) lengthy shot of a photograph of a little girl with chalks, at a blackboard? The present-day version is a kind of televised vlog produced by an exhausted, unshaven chap of a certain age who buys a narrow boat and sails it around the waterways of England.

He seems to be on his own and filming everything with a mobile phone, although he is quite good at propping it up and leaving it at an angle so that you can see him tying the boat up prior to stopping for one of his many cups of tea. The first episode takes place almost entirely inside his camper van, where he sits, for days, surrounded by all his worldly goods, waiting for his purchase of his narrow boat to go through. It rains on the windscreen. He wonders if he is doing the right thing. He eats pork pies and pizzas discovered in village petrol stations. He drinks tea. Always that same mug.

And after that it is sailing – up one canal, down another, through a very long tunnel, then through an even longer tunnel. Tunnels are scary. You never know when you are going to meet another narrowboat coming the other way. But the England he passes through, at four miles per hour, is very green, very lush, very damp, very quiet and apparently completely devoid of people. Just – wonderful!

My disbelief grows weary of suspending itself…

I’m onto a sticky wicket with suspenders, I know. American suspenders are as illustrated below:

suspenders

British suspenders are things that hold up stockings, supposedly wicked, lacy and black (or red) but as I recall them from my uncomfortable schooldays, more often medical, pinkish and rubbery, and held together with sixpenny pieces when they broke. They always broke. The rubber perished. The little suspend-things cracked and disintegrated…

So what do Americans call suspenders-suspenders if what we call braces are there known as suspenders? But what holds up American stockings? If that’s suspenders too, how do they know what they are holding up? Is it just a matter of deduction from the context?

But this post is not about that.

When I was at school, struggling with the uncomfortable suspenders and the 60-denier sun-mist-stockings-with-seams – surely the ugliest stocking ever invented (not about that, remember!) it was explained to me that when we get completely lost in a book, or a film, or a story told by some grey-haired hippie-type lady whilst sitting cross-legged on a cushion in the library (pre-suspenders) was called ‘suspension of disbelief’.

I did not used to find this difficult, except in the case of plays. Plays have never done it for me. I’ve never been able to get past the reality of a lot of foreshortened real human beings prancing about on a stage and acting at one another. I can tell it’s acting. I can always tell it’s acting, even if it’s good acting, and it annoys me. People are pretending and I can see them doing it.

A posh lady I went to a play with once advised me that this was probably because I hadn’t grown up in a theatre-going household. She didn’t mean to be patronising, and she was right, partially – we didn’t go to plays, or the ballet or opera, come to that.

My parents were working class and, even if they could have afforded to go, would have been terrified to pass through the doors of a theatre. They wouldn’t have known what to wear or how to behave. They would have felt they stuck out like a sore thumb.

An all-encompassing self-consciousness is one of the things which go with being not-posh. Only when you are middle class can you raise your voice above a low murmur, not minding if others hear. Only when you are middle class can you walk about with your shoulders back and your snoot in the air, flinging your purple pashmina dramatically over your right shoulder, and not even know you are doing it. That’s confidence. Read Alan Bennett’s loving tales of his Mum and Dad if you don’t believe me. He knows. Alan Bennett is the greatest.

But I could get lost in a book. So could my mother, but my father appeared not to possess the suspension of disbelief gene. Maybe he lost it, as he lost so much, as a young conscript in the second world war. The war really did for him in a lot of ways, I think. He could never leave me alone when I was reading. He used to wave his hands in front of my face and think it was funny. ‘Look at her – she’s miles away. Away with the fairies.’ He never did understand why this was annoying.

Same with films, although mercifully my father wasn’t usually with me when I went to the pictures: I could be immersed in the story, living inside even the most far-fetched sci-fi blockbuster. I would be one or all of the characters, fleeing in terror from the scary monsters, falling in love, falling off a high building… The film’s ‘afterglow’ would stay with me for days afterwards, the story re-running itself in my head, scenes acting themselves out before my inner eye. And maybe it would still be the same, if I could afford to go.

Instead of fiction-reading, my father used to read out columns from newspapers – anything he found to be of interest. He was interested in politics and the financial markets, the way they worked, even though these things had little effect on his everyday life. We used to sit there bored, and the read-out paragraphs seemed to get longer and longer. When he grew ancient, however, propped up in a chair with a cushion behind his neck and the walker by his side, he lapsed into depression and scarcely spoke.  My mother used to gauge how happy, or not, he was by whether he read out any paragraphs. Eventually, he read out no paragraphs. He read nothing. He told my sister he had forgotten everything he had ever been or ever done. God save us.

As I have grown older I have become more interested in politics and found it more and more difficult – not to read – the words still make perfect sense – but to get lost in reading. My suspension of disbelief seems to have suspended operations. I am turning into my father, and this saddens me. Reading was all I had. I got through a tedious and difficult life mostly by daydreaming. I could lose myself in stories, and in plans I would never carry out, journeys I would never, practically, be able to make. Now, although I am still doing my best to get it back I feel – now here’s a simile for you, or maybe a metaphor – like a hunted rabbit, all exits sealed by the men with the dogs – or is it ferrets? – just an airless darkness and waiting for Whatever-it-is to be sent down after me.

Lucy: I Am Everywhere

‘Lucy’ was one of many films I would have liked to see when they were new, but had to wait till they appeared on TV. And last night, at last, it did appear and I actually sat down and watched it, all the way through from start to finish. Like, amazing!

Mostly I get to see films on TV in snatches and completely out of sequence, and subsequently piece them together in my mind. That’s half the fun – imagining the missing segments, then finding out segment by segment that they were not the way I imagined them – or were. That way you get several films for the price of one, or rather for the price of an annual television licence. (And if I can survive long enough into old age even that will be free.)

My most watched-in-fragments film by far is The Fifth Element, which seems to haunt Freeview. Whichever channel you flick to, there it is. And I am still noticing new things it. Second would be Avatar. I love Avatar. I seem to be drawn to anything sci-fi or fantasy – unusual in a lady of my age, but it can’t be helped. On the other hand I loathe soaps. I’ve never managed to watch any episode East Enders, Coronation Street or Emmerdale for more than five minutes without being driven to switch over by the gloom, the grating accents, the hysteria, the bellowing and the inch-thick makeup.

And I do like Scarlett Johansson. If God gives me a choice next time round to look less like a giant racing-cyclist’s daughter I will ask to look more like Scarlett. Much more. The world would be one’s oyster with a face like that. And she can convey something like terror, for instance, with nothing more than an impassive face and a rapid flickering of the eyes. This is a contained reaction – terror as you and I would like to imagine we would manifest it, if about to be operated on and have a huge plastic wrap of some brain-enhancing blue crystal substance concealed amongst our intestines against our will. Terror without the screeching, the gibbering and the uncontrollable widdling.

Much as I like watching films I do not much enjoy going to the cinema, at least alone. Cinemas are dark. They are full of people who kick the back of your seat, try to grope you (well, not so much of that nowadays) continue using their mobile phones, eat, chat and dump their inconvenient children next to you. Yes, I once had a pair of parents pointing their horrible, fidgety, snot-nosed children to come and hem me in at the end of a side aisle, whilst they repaired to another part of the cinema completely. I have never known a pair of children to get up, go out to the loo, come back, sit down, get up… and so forth, so many times in succession.

No doubt I could learn how to stream films but that would mean committing myself to sitting down and watching them and – apart from the odd exception like ‘Lucy’ – that is something the inherited Mum side of me won’t let me do. Mum used to claim that it was Grandad, her father, making it impossible for her to sit down, stay put and concentrate on anything for more than two minutes, or rather her internalised, reproving father figure.

Grandad only lived along the road and had become, for Mum, a kind of troll-under-the-bridge bogeyman. After Nan died he was lonely, desperate to be useful and had a tendency to materialise at our back  (kitchen) door with an overlarge panful of peeled potatoes mid-morning (‘He will dig the eyes out – they’re full of craters!’). According to Mum if he caught her sitting down with a cup of tea he would ask her if she hadn’t anything better she could be getting on with.

As a know-it-all teenager I once pointed out to her that Grandad was merely an excuse to rationalise her naturally jumpy, hyperactive nature but she wasn’t into self-analysis. I on the other hand was gradually analysing myself away to some sort of vanishing point at which the real, spontaneous, basic me could no longer be accessed. The ‘real’ me seemed to have retreated to some kind of fantasy garden to which I had mislaid the key. And perhaps that’s why I’m so drawn to fantasy and sci-fi. Roaming these fantastical other worlds I am hoping against hope one day to meet up with me.

everywhere 3

 

The Silverado train of thought

Until yesterday I didn’t actually know Silverado was a western – a revisionist, postmodern western in fact. There are quite a few craters in my cultural consciousness. Silverado came out in 1985. I don’t know what happened in 1985. I lost interest in most things round about 1980 and didn’t start taking an interest again till 1994.

It never occurred to me either that I could watch a full three-quarters of an hour of a movie starring my heartthrob Kevin Costner without once realising he was in it. Was that really him? Which one was him?

Until yesterday, I’m ashamed to admit, I thought Silverado was a unique, characterful little jewellery shop in a narrow street in Brighton where, in the company of my former friend Isobel (Made Up Name) one Gay Pride Day – it was a coincidence, honestly – we just used to go shopping – I once bought a pair of dangly silver earrings with exotic dark green oval gemstoney-things. The earrings are long lost. I think the hoover ate them.

I didn’t even know Silverado was a chain of unique, characterful little jewellery shops (I am so naïve). It occurs to me now that Silverado (established 1994) may well have named their chain of jewellery shops after the movie. How can I have lived so long and learned so little? I need to know this stuff. Nerdy. Can’t abide those missing details.

Isobel and I should never have been friends, really. We found ourselves working together as secretaries – she considerably more elevated, secretarially, than I – in an educational establishment. She kind of adopted me. I wasn’t aware of having made much of a choice or done any work to achieve Friend status. I have since realised that Only Children do tend to do this – home in on the loner, the drifter, the one without the social skills to wriggle out of it.

She also had one of those credit cards you can buy anything on, just because you feel like it, whenever you feel like it. This meant a lot of standing around outside shops when we went shopping in the afternoon, pretending to prefer watching passers-by to rifling through trays of exotic beads and silver fastenings and buying long cheesecloth skirts and expensive Jumpers.

She had Hobbies. At that time it was jewellery-crafting. Later it moved on to keep-fit and even – briefly, I suspect – belly-dancing.

She was very posh, the daughter and one-day-to-be heir of farmers. I was permanently anxious in case I said the wrong thing or exhibited working-class manners I wasn’t even aware of. She was also very well-educated and had charming, witty, kind intellectual other-friends. I was forced to mix with them too, at intervals. This made me even more nervous.

I don’t know what I did wrong in the end – something. I think I might have accidentally pointed at the door to the Ladies in a Pizza Hut. She gave me a Look, which of course I was completely unable to interpret except it was Not Good – so that might have been what it was. Well, she asked me where it was.

But until it all inevitably went pear-shaped we made a few good memories. We went to Brighton quite a few times. She had appointments at some New Age herbalist for her migraines. While she was consulting the man in the multi-coloured stripey jumper in the back room I would lurk obediently in the waiting room for what felt like an entire Ice Age reading little fold-out pamphlets about Aromatherapy, Reiki and Counselling, then reading them again. Wondering why these places were always so dusty and had that funny sweet smell

But then came the good bit. We would go to an Italian restaurant and have yummy stuff with names like Margherita and Tagliatelle. She showed me how to wind the tagliatelle round my fork using the spoon as back-stop so that it and garlicky, cheesy mushroom sauce didn’t slide all down my tee shirt. We had a couple of glasses of wine and enjoyed the wiggling of the waiters between the tables. Waiters in Italian restaurants wiggle on purpose, did you know that? It’s part of their performance. And they make the effort to smile. They smiled as if they found us beautiful, and that is an art. Life was good, for a lunch-hour at least.

 

Alphabetical Advice

I’m not at all sure you’ll want my advice. Nevertheless, that’s the prompt…

Always look on the bright side of life, tee tum, tee tum tee tum tee tum… Not that I do. More of a Marvin the Paranoid Android myself.

Bats can be nice. Wherever I move, there always seem to be these little furry beings. They’re not creepy at all and watching them flittering and fluttering in the gathering gloom provides an hour or so of free entertainment.

Concentrate on one thing at a time. The world will do it’s very best to stop you and mostly it will succeed.

Don’t go anywhere without a large, old-fashioned paper book. This will enable you to avoid staring gormlessly at gormlessly-staring people on public transport. You don’t have to read it.

Eggs are a waste of time. You buy half a dozen and they sit in the fridge – and they sit in the fridge – and then you throw them out because you start to wonder whether little hens might even now be germinating inside them…

Football – shouldn’t be allowed. Or if it has to be allowed it should be allowed on one easily-avoidable TV channel only. Similarly golf, darts, snooker, indoor bowls, curling, party political broadcasts…

God may or may not exist. If he doesn’t, the only way to get your revenge on a bleak and meaninglessly random universe is to love one another regardless. All we can do is assert our humanity.

Heart-warming: any film described as heart-warming, good family entertainment, gritty – or containing Gwyneth Paltrow – will be rubbish.

Ideas – good ones tend to vanish in seconds – bad ones hang about forever and won’t leave you alone till you have acted on them and discovered exactly how bad they are. Carry a notebook. Act only on ideas you would otherwise have forgotten.

Judi Dench – conversely, any film containing Judi Dench is going to be good.

Kermit says: Maybe you don’t need the whole world to love you, ya know? Maybe you just need one person.

Learn it your own way. If school isn’t working, make up your own pattern; knit your own degree. They’re probably not teaching you right.

Men have feelings too. Proceed on that assumption.

Never apologise to someone else for something they just did to you.

Oranges are not the only fruit. Bananas make a change.

Polishing shoes is just one of the many things life is too short for, along with stuffing mushrooms and making your own Christmas table centrepieces. Buy trainers, jelly shoes, go barefoot, whatever. And remember – leather shoes are made of dead cows.

Q – if you have just spent several hours wondering when a U is going to turn up so that you can make a word out of it, it’s possible you need to get out more. Mind you, there’s always Qi, Faqir, Niqab…

Red should never have been invented. Then people in tiny, ugly houses wouldn’t be tempted to create feature walls with scarlet poppy wallpaper. Similarly, Union Jack cushions and those curly wooden or transfer mottoes – the one in the bathroom saying SOAK, the one in the bedroom saying DREAM…

Serviettes are useful for writing poems on. Gravy, spaghetti and everything else will soak straight through into your skirt.

Try, try and try again, if at first you don’t succeed. Or maybe rethink your ambitions.

Understanding the universe, at last? Isn’t going to happen.

Vegetables taste the same whatever shape they are.

Walk if you’re miserable. Walk if you’re not.

Xcruciatingly difficult to think of advices beginning with X.

Yeah, yeah, I know it’s a cop-out.

Zzzzzzzzzzz… bored, now.