Monday, 24 December 2012

Twas the Night before Christmas.....

....and all through the house, not a creature was stirring, except for the local population that were...well...panic buying.

You see I can see the local supermarket from my living room window as a sit on the floor, wrapping presents, listening to Classic FM and sipping coffee (I am a woman, so naturally I multitask). I can see the people of Balham piled into their cars (ranging from the small city cars to the huge range-rover that is so favoured by some well-off people in South London) desperately queuing to get into Waitrose. It is mayhem. People honking, turning their cars into strange angles, yelling at each other and even on occasion driving up on to the pavement out of frustrated desperation. God knows what kind of battle will be going on inside!

Let's imagine that shall we? Brussel Sprouts are flying through the air, mince pies are being crushed under foot, a woman is clutching a slice of Stilton and weeping with relief and two mothers with toddlers on their hips are arm-wrestling for the last tub of brandy butter.

Ridiculous! I hear you say? Not so! I have actually seen two old ladies fight over the last tub of brandy butter in Marks and Spencer a couple of years ago. What is ironic about this situation is that brandy butter is extraordinarily easy to make. It is basically brandy, butter and sugar. I remember when I was at university, making it myself and then, without a care for the dangers of heart disease, eating it straight out of the tub for several hours each day.

I also have first hand knowledge of what it is like to work in food retail during Christmas. For around a year, I worked at a delicatessen serving cheese and slicing salami. When Christmas came, we would open early in the morning and customers would be lined up in a queue to get in, that would stretch down the whole street. When the doors opened there would be a mad rush for Stilton and Cheddar cheese. And invariably we would run out of food as the day wore on. 'What?!' one woman once shrieked at me, 'There is no more Cropwell Stilton?! But what shall I serve on Boxing Day?! Our Christmas will be ruined!' 

Of course no one's Christmas is ruined, even if they don't have the gloriously yummy Stilton to eat on Boxing Day, just perhaps lighter in calories. 

As I write this, the horn honking outside has reached a crescendo at the appearance of a large John Lewis delivery van stuck on the street. Yes, the Christmas traffic has reached crisis point. The driver revs his engines and honks his horn impatiently, like his display of motoring frustration will make any difference to the Christmas-food-obsessed shoppers who have backed up the traffic for a mile in either direction. My husband is laughing so hard at all the honking (schadenfreude), that he has actually ended up knocking his knee on the coffee table in our living room. 'Merry Bloody Christmas!' yells an irate man out of his car window. Tensions are bubbling over and tempers are high. After all, those Pigs in Blankets aren't going to cook themselves!

And the most strange thing is that I know in around 4 hours time the area is going to be deathly silent, the roads will be empty and when my husband and I sleepily stumble to Midnight Mass at 11.30pm, the only people out will be a few drunk revelers and some church-goers. The people of Balham will be snug in their houses, watching TV, trying to get their kids to go to sleep, putting out a snack for Santa or tucked up in bed - all of them with a fridge full of food.

So without trying to sound trite, let's remember what Christmas is all about. Yes, in part it is about stuffing your face with food and unwrapping presents, but it is also about giving gifts to others and spending some quality time with those people who put up with you when no one else will. ie. your family. is also about the celebration of the birth of a little baby and the joy of his parents. Now if that is not worth celebrating, I don't know what is!

Merry Christmas Everyone!

Saturday, 8 December 2012

Just when I think I have seen it all...

Along comes dogs. Dogs who can drive. And the crazy humans teaching them. Click on the link below to see our canine friends in mini coopers driving around like they had evolved to do it...

Saturday, 24 November 2012

Happy Thanksgiving!

Happy Thanksgiving everyone! Especially to my family in the US!
I am currently wondering if I can celebrate Thanksgiving as an Anglo-American without....a turkey! Or any form of roasted fowl. I have some cold pizza in the fridge which might make a good meal if re-heated in the microwave, but somehow I don't think it will be keeping in with the usual family tradition.
My husband and I just got back from Japan last night after a 13 hour flight and we are currently suffering from a 10 hour-time-difference jetlag, so roasting meat is not a high priority. About 10 hours ago, my bed looked so good and sleep came so easily, but at around 4am this morning, our eyes snapped open and I was the most alert I had ever been for the middle night ever! I could have recited poetry on command, done some serious mental maths and written an 3,000 word essay before the sun had even risen - I was that awake.

So we went to Japan, for 3 weeks....and I am not kidding...I seriously feel as if my whole outlook on life has completely changed. But, before I start writing about the most awesome trip...ever...let me recap on what exactly Thanksgiving has been to me the last 30 years.

I grew up in London, the child of American parents. We weren't actual citizens of the UK until I was much older, so for all intensive purposes we were pretty American for my early years. We celebrated Halloween more than anyone else at my school. When I was little, people didn't 'trick or treat' much in the UK, so my mum would dress up with me in our flat and basically just give me sweets and carve pumpkins and then try to scare my dad when he came home from work. It was great fun. I loved roasting the pumpkin seeds in the oven and sucking all the salt off them later.
And of course, we celebrated Independence Day (4th July) and Thanksgiving each year. Thanksgiving was always a big deal. My mum would buy a huge turkey, our cat would go crazy over the smell of cooking bird for around 4 hours and we always ended the meal with a pumpkin pie. I loved every minute of it and always gorged myself on turkey, gravy, caramalised onions, cranberry sauce, corn bread and wild rice pilaf. My dad would teach me how to draw a turkey by tracing around my hand on paper and we sometimes even made pilgrim hats and Native American Indian headbands complete with fringed bright coloured paper feathers. Of course, this is all before I had any idea about the human rights abuses the Native American Indians suffered at the hands of the pilgrim settlers, but hey! It was my time of innocence.
We often used to invite our close British family friends to Thanksgiving and sometimes there were as many as 12 or 15 people in our small flat. We pushed tables together and all sat squeezed in on mis-matched chairs. I loved sitting at the table and watching everyone eat and talk loudly. It was nice to have so many people in our lives and to watch them all enjoy themselves while eating a huge meal that my parents and I had spent hours preparing was, heart-warming.

And of course being British as well as American means I get to have a big British Christmas as well! Throughout my childhood, my mum used to cook strange things for Christmas as less than a month before she had been roasting turkey for Thanksgiving and so wanted to eat other dishes for Christmas day, but after a few years we developed a tradition of going to visit some family friends (who were English) for Christmas Day and Boxing Day. We would engage in a never-ending orgy of eating and drinking traditional British seasonal food. Which led to me probably being the only American child to develop a taste for Christmas pudding and brandy butter. So you could say that I got the best of both culinary worlds.

Then I grew up and experienced the awkward joy that is the 'Work Christmas Party.' In fact this year I have a ridiculous number of Christmas parties to attend at my workplace (due to the fact that my students are also organising events). I believe the total number is 10 parties/dinners. I will be well and truly sick of turkey and bacon-wrapped-cocktail-sausages by Christmas Day. Plus there is, of course, all the Christmas family events as well. Due to the complicated nature of my family on my husband's side, I will be attending 3 separate Christmas family gatherings, possibly even 4. But hey, I am fan of celebrations and this year I attended my first Hanukkah lunch and I would probably even celebrate Diwali if someone invited me to! Just maybe go easy on the turkey.

As the years have gone by I have begun travelling on the path to starting my own family. I married an Englishman and we incorporated him and his mother (also English) into our American Thanksgiving festivities. My parents, after living in the UK for more than 20 years, are now very Anglicised and take great pleasure in celebrating British holidays and cultural events. The last few Thanksgivings we have had have been smaller and I had the disconcertingly melancholy feeling of leaving my parents' house at the end of Thanksgiving. I have in the passing years grown up and become another guest. Instead of waving goodbye to friends at the end of the day, I now kiss my parents and leave to go to my own home with husband. So in fact, we seem less American now than when we moved to London all those years ago and I have had to adjust my identity from American to British, child to adult and daughter to wife.

However, this will be nothing compared to the adjustment I will have to make come January 2013, when I will have to transform from turkey-eating-party-goer to dieting-hard-working-exercise-freak. How else will I lose all those pounds I gained from eating so much turkey!
Ah well...

Tuesday, 23 October 2012

The Last Rose of 2012

I snapped this Rose last weekend. I think it is probably the last one of this year. Winter is coming!

It's a TV Jim, but not as we know it....

What big TVs looked like the last time I had one...

So I recently purchased a new laptop and collected it on a Friday about two weeks ago at the Tottenham Court Road branch of PC World. I originally bought the computer online and after a few calls to customer services and a long walk in the rain to several different stores, I finally managed to pick it up. After that long-winded and traumatic experience, I did not actually turn the computer on until last weekend. It has been sometime since I bought a laptop and I was very surprised as to how advanced these pieces of machinery have become.

After years of using the same laptop that has faithfully served me well, I needed to buy a new one. This is, of course, because my old computer has got so slow, that it is quicker to write in this blog with a pen and paper than type online. Some technophobes would say this would be no bad thing, but after waiting so long for a document to open, I often just give up and go make a cup of tea instead. Yep, I was ready to join the technological revolution and get some up-to-date hardware. Also, my husband wanted a new computer and his patience is even shorter than mine, so we bought the laptop TOGETHER.

This big joint financial purchase is like a precursor to having children (except with less forgoing of sleep, nappies and responsibility). I reckon that if we can buy a computer together and keep our bonsai tree alive, then we can graduate to a pet and then maybe be trusted enough to care for a mini-human. The jury is still out on our bonsai tree. I am not sure it likes us that much, as it droops a lot and sheds brown leaves all over our coffee table no matter how much I water it.

So, off we popped to our nearest computer store: PC World in Brixton. As soon as we entered the store, I felt uneasy for a number of reasons. First of all, without being rude about Brixton (I do love the area), the PC World in the area feels like one of those stores where you could buy a piece of electronics technology and then be robbed immediately after walking out the door with it in your arms. Don’t get me wrong, Brixton is no way near as dangerous as it used to be and it is a seriously funky and interesting place. It has a lot of great restaurants and a really cool cinema. But…it doesn't always feel so safe. Maybe I feel this way about the area, because, when we have come to the corner of Cold Harbour Lane outside the KFC restaurant, we have routinely been offered drugs.
‘Want some E? Some Charlie? Skunk?’ they ask my husband, as if he needs an illegal substance just to be able to cope with being seen with a woman as strangely dressed as me (bright coloured tights, long tangled mess of hair). Sometimes they use names for drugs that I have never even heard before. I’m not real up to date on my contemporary illegal drug lingo, what with me being someone who only really takes paracetamol when I have a headache and drinks the occasional rum and coke in a pub. Caffeine is my strongest drug of choice. The streets around the PC World store, however are free from obvious signs of drug dealing but are also poorly lit, so you have to carry your new and expensive purchase across an expanse of dark concrete parking lot. Basically, it is prime real estate for muggers.

Then there is the fact that half the stuff in the store is exactly the kind of items that juvenile, bored, frustrated and opportunistic youths were looting during the London riots about a year ago. I am not totally unsympathetic to the plight of these youths. Being young, unemployed and de-motivated in an expensive city like London during a recession has gotta suck. But none-the-less, when my husband walked into the store and exclaimed excitedly, ‘Oh my god! Look at the size of those televisions!’....All I could think was: People bothered to steal these things during the riots?! They risked getting criminal records for 32 inch plasma screen TVs! It is just a screen for god's sake! You could look out of the window for much less hassle and money!
I guess the TVs probably did not mean that much to the looters, it might have just been the idea of stealing something or taking an item that was a symbolic statement of affluence. A pair of designer shoes would probably have done just as well.

Of course I am not sure that PC World in Brixton was actually looted in the London riots last summer. It just has that sad atmosphere of a palace of treasures surrounded by city dwellers who can never gain entry to it's gilded doors. I honestly wondered how many of the giant TV screens the store has sold to the neighboring population. Brixton, like a lot of areas of London, is filled with many poor people, gaggles of students sharing houses, young professionals with flatmates, middle-class families and a few sort-of rich people. I wonder how many of them have giant plasma TVs? Brixton lately has become more trendy and gentrified, but that does not always translate into extra cash available for expensive electronics. Also, how many people have enough space on their walls for these home cinema screens?

What I was sure of, while standing in the store, was how much TVs have changed since I have owned one. Yes, that is right, I do not own a TV. I last owned one right after university when I was 21. Even then, my flatmates and I never paid the UK TV licence and so we couldn't watch live TV and only used the unit to watch DVDs (usually scifi movies or period drama series). When I lived with my close uni friends (Rosa, Bella and Dee - the names have been changed to protect the innocent!), we had one badly functioning TV that only played VCR videos. We only had one video tape: Lord of The Rings, The Two Towers. The TV sat in the kitchen and we used to turn the film on while cooking dinner and eating breakfast or even while having a break between writing essays on Greek mythology (we studied Classics at Uni). We must have watched the movie about a 100 times. I can practically recite all of Frodo's dialogue from my daily dose of Elvish drama. I have of course watched TV at my parents' house and I currently watch films on DVD on my ancient laptop, but never had I seen such big TVs in a store before. I have obviously fallen behind the times when it comes to technological advances in TV viewing. They even come in 3D now! I felt a bit like a Victorian looking at a series of brilliant new washing machines while still clutching my trusty washboard and old mangle.

My husband excitedly exclaimed, 'They are so big! Some of them are the size of a dining table! You could eat off this one!' He eventually grew tired of ogling them and we soon graduated to not-caring, 'Pff! What a waste of money.' He scoffed. 'You'd have more fun going to the cinema.' (which is now almost as expensive and also comes in 3D ironically)
Off we trotted to the laptop section. After getting lost in the 'Speaker' section and the 'Digital Camera' aisle and then passing the 'High Performance Laser Printer' shelf, I began to feel a little overwhelmed. There were so many gadgets all around us and only the newest and best technology on sale. I began to feel that familiar feeling that all retailers love shoppers to feel. They wait in the stores, looking out for that moment, when you experience shopper's anxiety. Basically shopper's anxiety is when you are confronted with so much materialistic choice that you feel as if you should own it all. In fact you feel obliged to own it all. You think you might be missing out if you don't own it all. We needed all this stuff in PC World. To survive in today's technologically modern world we need to have a laser printer and some HD speakers with 3D screens and surround seismologic sound that also comes with your own personal robot who bakes eggs while whistling Christmas carols and heating your bathwater (okay, so I invented that last gadget to illustrate my point). All the electronics items lining the shelves were being marketed as if they were essential items that we must have. It was extremely important that we own iPhones, earphones, speakers, a TV, iPads, Galaxy tablets, external hard drives, bluetooth headsets and something called a smartpen and gaming mouse.

Except none of the above looked like they were built to last. If I buy a toaster, I want it to last a good 10 years (I need to have my bread crispy, my friends!) or more. I don't see the point of upgrading every couple of years. I feel the same about my laptop. I don't want to constantly to be having to buy the latest technology. I want these items to be built to be used over years of time. It would save me money and definitely be more environmentally friendly. Of course, I know that computer manufacturers probably don't care about this and PC World just want my money. But I also don't like feeling that I need all these gadgets to survive modern life. Sure, I don't want to go back to the washboard and mangle (I like my washing machine) and I am not a technophobe, but there is no need for gadgets to be instigated into every area of our lives. We should be able to mix our own cake batter with a bowl and wooden spoon instead of one of those posh electric cake mixers that I see advertised in cook books all the time. Put some pumping arm-action and effort into that cake for god's sake!

I guess I am just in favour of being choosy. Some things I do the old fashioned way, others I use technology for. I wrote this blog post on paper first in a pretty little notepad while lying on a blow up mattress at my parents' flat. Technology allows me to distribute my thoughts to a wider audience. Otherwise, each and every one of you would be getting an individual blog post in a letter from me delivered by Royal Mail. So while my husband and I use our new laptop, do let me know if you'd like an old fashioned hand-written letter, I'm getting out my feather quill pen!

Oh, and since starting this post, our bonsai tree is looking a lot worse for wear and may actually have died. I guess a pet is off the cards then.....

Tuesday, 9 October 2012

Dreaming of sunnier days....

The winter weather has me dreaming of my holiday in Florence four months ago....

Friday, 5 October 2012

Facebook trying to connect to us without a computer...

So the above video is an ad for Facebook. Not that Facebook needs to be advertised since most people have heard of the social networking site already. There are those people who are on Facebook and there are those who aren't. And so far I think each individual in those two camps are probably fine with their 'status' as a user or non-user.

So who is this advert for?! Shareholders? Is it trying to raise the profile of the company so more people will invest in it? Or is it trying to improve the reputation of Facebook? It is as if the above advert is saying: See! Facebook is not a website where people spy on their friends, it is not a place where your privacy is routinely violated or where minor acquaintances project their deeply private inner-most thoughts on to your news feed. Nope, Facebook is like a chair. A bridge. It brings us together. Reminds us we are not alone in the universe. 

Sorry if I sound too sarcastic or hypocritical. I like Facebook. I have a profile on Facebook. I surf Facebook several times a week. I connect with friends and family who live on the other side of the world through Facebook. I post jokes and funny messages and sometimes I even express my frustration with, say, public transport or the IT system at work. BUT...I am aware of what it is. It is not real life. Seeing my friends' profile on Facebook is no substitute for seeing them in the flesh. Or even receiving a letter from them in the post.

My Facebook feed is mostly made up of news from different arts organisations, Time Out London updates and funny photos posted by George Takei (famous as being Sulu from Star Trek and more recently as a gay rights campaigner in California). I use Facebook as a way to find out what to do in London on the weekend or to email my friends who constantly lose their phones.

So when I see a video like this, I think...well...there are so many other ways to connect. Everyone in this advert is connecting without the use of Facebook and they all seem to be having a great time doing it (except for the one crying woman standing in her kitchen!?). Why use Facebook if you do have a spare chair for a friend to sit down on? Or a bridge to climb over, or a sunset to look at, or a plane to fly in? This ad just serves to emphasise how much more exciting real life is than anything that you can find on a computer.

Now on that note, stop reading this blog! And go for a walk outside!

Monday, 1 October 2012

Rainy Days are a commin' to London Town

Today it is raining in London Town. Not heavy tropical (interesting) rain but that wonderfully British grey drizzle that this country is so famous for. When the weather is this crappy, I really only feel like bedding down for the day under the duvet with a box of jaffa cakes and a historical novel about the Tudor royal family. But since I am working for my bacon as an administrator and have battled with our huge, but ineffectual, printer at least four times this morning, lying down in a bed and gorging on chocolate is not really an option (although highly desirable). The next best thing to lying in bed is lying in a hot bath and after that, blogging (the mental equivalent of cosying up your brain into some warm and comforting thoughts).

It rains a lot in London. During Autumn at least. In fact it was raining so hard last week, one of my students asked if this was the start of the 'English monsoon season.' Since he came from Thailand (where they do have seasonal rains), this was not a wholly ridiculous question. I explained to him, that as an island, we have some pretty strange weather year round and that it is not unusual for it to rain in the middle of June. In fact, a dear friend of mine, who is planning her wedding in May next year, has to seriously consider the weather if she wants to do something outdoors even though it will be Spring and should be lovely and sunny. As a rule, you always need a backup plan if you want to plan an outdoor event in the UK. Weddings need tents, picnics get moved indoors, festivals are enjoyed in a sea of mud and marathons are completed in the wind and rain. All year round!

This of course brings me to the fact that in England, the weather is the default subject of conversation. Whenever you feel the need to make small talk in the UK to break an awkward silence (as you have probably guessed, most silences for me are awkward), then bringing up the subject of the weather is excellent idea. 'Rainy day we're having eh?' 'My, it is muggy and humid today!' 'Och aye, looks like a storm is a commin'!' All great starters for a chat with someone who you don't know that well, or someone you actually don't like, but are thrown into spending time with. 

Funnily enough, I have had the best 'weather-chats' in various different lifts and elevators. I have an odd habit of speaking to strangers in lifts. There is something about spending time in a confined normally solitary space that makes me need to blurt out the most ridiculous things. Once you ask the individual in question which floor they want to go to, and then press the relevant floor button, I feel that this little exchange is the introduction to a mini conversation that should be continued. I once commented on the weather in the elevator of a bookshop I used to work in.
'Which floor would you like?' I asked 
'Number 2 please.' A middle-aged man replied stepping into the lift.
'Ah. Number 2.' I press the button and wait nervously as the lift jerks to life and moves slowly upwards. I twitch. Then I say, 'Awful weather we are having.'
'Yes, indeed.' He replies amiably
'I bet if we did not have the Thames Barrier, the river would flood' (what did I say that for!) 'Half of London would be underwater...with all this rain I fact this bookshop would be submerged....the books would be floating about...what a waste of reading material eh?!'
The man nods in a freaked-out sort of way and quickly exits the lift at level 2.

This habit has led to me meeting quite a few people in lifts. Recently I made friends with a member of faculty in the lift at work. He actually thought I was a PhD student, which pleased me no end. I must look clever! I thought with glee. I once got asked out on a date in an elevator. The guy invited me for dinner. But since he was the local homeless alcoholic on Charring Cross Road who used to frequent the bookstore I worked in, it was not that promising an offer. I declined as gently as I could. 'I'm not allowed to date,' I told him. 'My father forbids it.'
'Bastard!' he replied. I nodded sympathetically and directed him towards his favourite bookshop section: The car manuals.

I did also have one man in a lift offer to paint my portrait for me. He was a graphic artist. 'You would make a perfect Elf or Air Sprite.' he said handing me a card with raunchy sketches of dwarves and fairies on it. I again politely declined, explaining that my imaginary boyfriend would probably not like it. 

I also once calmed down a claustrophobic student in a lift that got stuck in the lift shaft at a student halls of residence. We waited for the engineer to rescue us by discussing which meal served in the halls canteen we hated most. She really thought the porridge and powdered eggs were bad, my worst dish was the deep fried blue cheese tortellini.

But aside from spending time in a lift during bad weather, one of the things I love to do best when it rains is go to a museum. London is filled with some of the world's best museums! And I strongly urge everyone to go visit them before the Conservatives win the next general election and cut the funding for the arts even more and start charging us all for entrance fees. My favourite museum suggestions this week are:

  • The Science Museum, specifically...the Cockroach Tour of the Science Museum! I am actually not massively fond of cockroaches (although really, who does like them?). But who would pass up the chance to dress up as one and walk around a museum?! Sounds fun eh! More details can be found: here (the video can be viewed above)
  • The Museum of London! This is the place to expertly explore London as a city with a gallery devoted to the Georgian pleasure gardens, re-created Victorian cobbled streets, prehistoric London artefacts and remnants from the Roman town of 'Londinium.' Held in the ugly and yet uber retro 60s building complex, The Barbican, the museum has a great shop and a nice cafe that serves great soup in the winter. Actually there is the burnt ruins of the city walls of Londinium in the parking garage of the Barbican - burnt and scorched by a siege of the city during Boudica's attack (she was Queen of the British tribe Iceni who rebelled against the Romans who were being quite unreasonable at the time). Best of all the Museum of London is free! (except for a few special exhibitions)
  • The Welcome Collection! The Welcome Collection is a museum with a difference. It advertises itself as 'a free destination for the incurably curious' and certainly houses a whole host of strange objects and scientific curiosities. This month a new exhibition has opened at the Institute called 'Superhuman,' all about the commonplace human enhancements that we take for granted. The exhibition takes a broad and playful look at our obsession with being the best we can be. Items on display range from an ancient Egyptian prosthetic toe to a packet of Viagra, alongside contributions from artists and scientists, ethicists and commentators.
  • And for luck....The National Portrait Gallery! A great art gallery filled with fantastic portraits of pretty much every famous monarch, statesman, actor, journalist, writer, artist, scientist and musician that has lived in Britain in the last four centuries. A perfect game to play on a rainy afternoon is to go to the gallery and guess who the portrait is without looking at the label. 'Is it Prince Charles?' 'Nope it is Iggy Pop!' 'I think it is Charles Dickens!' 'Nope it is Gladstone.' I am actually better at this game than this of course, as I know what all the above four people look like!
So there you are! Lots of little treasure troves of interest for a rainy day in ol' London Town!

Saturday, 29 September 2012

Object of Desire....

Image of Book Necklace

Okay, eye candy post coming up...

This week's object of desire is: Lucie Ellen's wooden Book Necklace. Lucie Ellen is a jewellery designer based in the UK who makes lovely affordable pieces of jewellery that she sells online at her shop:

She can also be found on that all-consuming internet treasure trove -

When pointless action scenes ruin a movie...

Last night, in a fit of impulsive spending, I bought membership to a company of independent cinemas called The Picturehouses ( and in doing so, got two free tickets to see the film of my choice. I chose to see the new scifi film 'Looper.' So off I trotted to Brixton with my husband and after gorging ourselves on very good Thai food, we sat down in the main theatre ready for a thought-twisting tale on time travel starring Joseph Gordon-Levit and Bruce Willis. I must confess I have a little crush on Joseph Gordon-Levit. I remember him from his teenage 'Third Rock from The Sun' days and I consider him to be an excellent actor and I have enjoyed almost every film he has acted in. 

Except that in Looper, the make-up team have slapped some extra facial chops on him to make his cheeks look a bit more like Bruce Willis. Ironically, this does not seem to affect Joseph's acting chops and he does eerily look like a younger Bruce. After I got used to the strange make-up choice of the producers, I began to enjoy the film. It is a tale about a hitman who works in the past for the mafia in the future who send back their targets to be killed 30 years before, at a time when their bodies can be disposed of more easily. Of course, you guessed it! What does the main character do, when the victim sent back 30 years in the past to be killed by his future self? I won't ruin it for you, but what follows is a very interesting story.

It is an exceptionally well written script with a quite a complicated moral conundrum at the centre of the story. Essentially the question asked is...if you could go back in time and kill a ruthless leader when he was child, to prevent the destruction of so many lives in the future, would you do so? Could you kill the child in present to prevent him becoming the man you suspect he will be in the future?

There is also the overwhelming themes of how far you would go to save your own life or the life of your child. And the fierce bond between mother and son and how sad it can be when a boy grows up without a loving parent. All of this was expertly explored in subtle and at times not so subtle ways (there is a scene where a little boy, when mistreated by an adult, goes crazy and destroys a house with his telekinesis powers) . But unfortunately any status the film may have garnered as a thought-provoking intelligent scifi film was completely blown out of the water by the amount of pointless violent action strewn throughout the most of the movie.

Generally I am not a fan of violence in movies, aside from all the moral arguments about projecting widely unrealistic violent untruths to young people (If you hit someone over the head with a chair, they will not get back up, if you kick them in the stomach you will rupture their spleen, you will break your hand punching someone etc.), I just find violence kind of boring and uninteresting to watch. I find violence against women and children in films particularly upsetting. I guess I just hate the idea of people being in pain and I don't see the point in watching upsetting drama in my spare time. Plus the Ritzy cinema in Brixton had, for some unknown reason, turned up the volume of the film way too loud and so every punch, gun shot and smack sounded like someone was smashing a large pumpkin against the side of my head.

All the characters in the film seemed overly ready to punch each other  shoot at anything that moved and also to slam their hands on desks for emphasis or to slam car doors shut aggressively. After a while, all I could hear was a series of root vegetables being whacked on a concrete counter-top with a large wooden hammer. When Bruce Willis got out two huge machine guns and sprayed a whole bunch of young faceless film extras with bullets, I began to see where crazy Americans who buy guns from Walmart and then shoot up their work places, probably get their ideas from. It just all seemed so pointless and head-ache inducing. My husband winced beside me and we both squeezed our fingers into our ears.

I got the point of the violence. The filmakers were trying to show a future where despite the technological advances, most of the population lived in abject poverty, addicted to drugs and quick to distrust their fellow humans. Life was supposed be portrayed as cheap in this dystopian view of our future. Nevertheless I felt the violence let the film down. It eclipsed the good plot, the sharp script and the genuine compassion you felt for the main character and his dilemma.

As my husband put it, 'Well maybe Bruce Willis can only act well with a machine gun in his hands?'

Friday, 28 September 2012

Dancing and Singing through the difficult stuff in life...

I must apologise for the last few weeks of cyber silence. I have been unable to write in my blog, not for any glamorous reason, like reclining seductively on a large yacht in the Mediterranean, but simply because I have been working too hard. Yes, I have had a series of stressful and intensive weeks of working like a dog and any creativity or intelligent thought in my unpaid personal time has leaked out of my brain through my ears like water from a swimming pool.

Of course, this means that now that I have got a handle on things at work, or at least begun to have lunch breaks and live a little more normally, I can now write up all the backlog of blog entries that I have been preparing for weeks. Get ready to receive some serious literary eye-candy. Well almost…

Eye-candy is the operative word as my first post this week. Yes, the subject is that famous TV Show: Glee. For those of you have never seen Glee, it is a musical episodic tv show about a musical theatre club in an small town American high school. It is deeply popular with teenagers worldwide and has been known to even appeal to non-musical adult men (not my husband, but I have met 35 year old straight men who can sing ‘Don’t Stop Believing’ with gusto). On first appearances it looks like a show about teenage students who are predictably egotistical and melodramatic and who unrealistically burst into song at every opportune moment to express their seesawing adolescent emotions. Each episode is, on the surface, a bright coloured, bubble-gum, ridiculous collection of current pop hits sung by various actors who are 21 trying to look 15.

Except, that over the course of the first episode of series 1, I realised that there was a lot more to the show and that the scriptwriters of Glee had a wicked sense of humour. The show accurately explores how cruel high school can be, with different cliques and a food-chain of popularity, in which the lowest members routinely end up being bullied and belittled. The characters in the show, while initially appearing to be stereotypes of high school movies, are complex and actually grow over the series. Rachel Berry one of the main characters, (played by actress Lea Michelle, who has a singing voice that is as beautiful as it is powerful), is both a wonderful sweet person, but also additionally self-centred and woefully insensitive. The characters of Glee make real mistakes. The act petty and unimaginative at times, but also show real kindness, dedication and bravery. Essentially they are 3 dimensional characters written by script writers who remember their school days avidly and have a real understanding of human behaviour.

The show starts when all the characters are 15 and 16 years old and by the end of the third series they have graduated school and are all well on their way on the scary journey into adulthood. And they have to learn some harsh truths, like they are not as special as they think they are. The show explores all the difficult parts of growing up: winning and losing, competing or falling out with friends, falling in love, standing up to bullies, experiencing failure and heartbreak, feeling isolated and out of place and struggling to achieve the dreams you have for yourself.

There are some really difficult subjects explored in the third series such as: suicide, drug abuse, disability, domestic abuse, bullying, corruption, adoption and mental illness. And of course, all of the above, is done in complicated musical dance numbers. Each episode has at least 3 songs and often many more, which means each week the cast of Glee has to learn how to sing several new songs and memorise the choreographed dance routines to go with them to standard of quality that is routinely found in Broadway musicals. This is pretty impressive considering the time, effort and work that must go into essentially staging a mini-musical each week.

But aside from all this the three main things I love about Glee (apart from the amazing re-working of songs I know and love) is:

  1.  The main heroine, (or one of the main heroines) is a brunette with straight hair and a fringe. You can call me silly, but I love to see a fun and fantastic character having brown hair. For years as a child, I watched films and read books about female heroes who were brilliantly blonde-haired or curly red-heads. I always wondered where the short brunette superheroes were. Rachel Berry is sort of unrealistically good looking but she has pretty normal hair and her clothes and behaviour definitely scream geeky.
  2. One of the characters suffers from a mental illness, more specifically OCD. It is good to see a sympathetic character on TV suffer from an illness that affects millions of people worldwide. Glee is one of the few shows currently on TV that portrays an individual suffering from OCD so badly it hinders her ability to enjoy life and her struggle to overcome the illness. Yet again, it is often portrayed in song and often quite sweetly and tastefully. The character in question is Emma Pillsbury, a well-meaning anxious school guidance counsellor, who wears amazing outfits and sings and dances, while all the time trying to cope with her OCD and help her students. Ironically (in reference to the paragraph above) she has two unsympathetic parents who are red-haired and are racist towards anyone who hasn't got auburn hair! 
  3. The last thing I want to mention about Glee is how open the show is on the subject of homosexuality. Not only did the first two series confront what it is like to be a gay teenager at school and home, but it also showed what it might be like for someone to 'come out' to their family and friends. Luckily, for the characters of the Glee music club, their parents and friends are supportive, even if the rest of their peer group is not. There are two very loving homosexual couples on the show and their relationships are treated much the same as the main heterosexual romantic pairings with equal air time and lots of dialogue and scenes. I would even go so far in stating that I believe the show is introducing positive ideas about homosexuality to a whole generation of teenagers in the USA if not worldwide. I like the idea that there are more gay characters on TV and that they can be openly gay without it seeming controversial or forbidden (do you know how many TV shows or movies portray homosexual love as 'forbidden' and tragic!). BBC TV shows, Doctor Who and Torchwood are also good at portraying homosexuality as perfectly normal, albeit with less musical numbers.
So there you go! You can confront the difficult things in life with music and dance and in a way, that helps to overcome them. And introduce new ideas to a whole generation of teenagers (so that hopefully they will be more accepting of diversity and difference) with a couple of smokin' hot Michael Jackson songs and a few well choreographed dance numbers in a school corridor. I sure feel better after watching an episode of Glee, even if it does make my husband (who is allergic to most musical theatre) cringe with horror and flee the living room!

Friday, 31 August 2012

The Beast of Balham

So it is 2.17 in the morning and I am awake. I can't sleep, I am wearing a bathrobe, a pair of green ankle socks and eating a Krispy Kreme doughnut with a spoon. Life could not get more glamorous than this.

I just looked out of the window and saw one of the many neighbourhood cats. He is a big black beast that I like to call Beelzebub. I call him that because he shows no affection or even any interest in the humans that reside in his territory and I think a cat that big, that furry and that indifferent to creatures that so obviously try to pander to his every whim, must have a touch of the devil in him.

Of course he could just as easily not be Beelzebub and instead be the Beast of Balham (Balham being the area of London I am currently wide awake in). He could be a panther or maybe a puma. After all, the story that dominated the headlines this week was the Essex Lion. For those of you that did not follow this most exciting and dramatic news story and were perhaps doing more important things than reading news items about cats (you silly people), I will enlighten you. A couple while holidaying in Essex looked out of their caravan window at their lovely view of a field and spotted a big cat. Well, what they though was a big cat. They even took a photo. Then they decided what they were looking at was a lion. Then they called the police. Surprisingly the local police took this couple very seriously and launched a massive search for the supposed lion, which included armed police, two helicopters and even some zoologists, who had perhaps petted lions before.

Don't get me wrong, I'm not saying the police were being gullible. I saw the couple interviewed on BBC news and I believe they genuinely thought they saw a lion, they seemed so convinced. I think they seemed so sure and their photo looked quite a bit like lion, so that the police probably thought that they could not take the chance of neglecting to organise a search, case the lion turned up in a local village somewhere and ate some school children..or a postman. Just in case you wanted to know the above photo is not the photo they took but it is what I imagine an Essex Lion would look like if it existed (complete with trendy haircut and dye job). Which of course, it doesn't!

The lion turned out to be a local domestic cat, who lived in the Essex area, called Teddy Bear. Teddy is a ginger Maine Coon (which traditionally is a very big breed of cat). He did not seem to relish his new found fame and had to be dragged out from under his owner's bed in order to be presented to the BBC reporter who had turned up to interview him. The end result is that the owner of Teddy is sure that the Essex Lion is him, the police are refusing to disclose how much their helicopter search cost the British taxpayer and the holidaying couple still maintain there is a lion on the loose in England.

So hey, for all I know Beelzebub could be the real deal. I better go get my camera.

A cat that definitely has a connection with me is Lulu. Lulu is a long-haired fluffy tabby with a desperate high pitched meow and cute little face. She has especially funny round paws that hide long and sharp claws that snag on everything. She also belongs to my downstairs neighbour. Through one way or another Lulu sometimes ends up stuck in the hallway of the building and cannot get back into her owner's flat. The first time she did this, my husband came home from work, startled Lulu and was met by a hissing furious ball of fur at the bottom of the stairs to our home.
'She's evil.' he stated to me the next time we came across Lulu in the hallway after coming home from the cinema one night.
But they don't call me The Cat Whisperer for nothing! I made friends with Lulu right there and then. She loves being stroked and I think perhaps she does not get much attention from her owner. Okay, I don't actually know that for sure. Lulu does love to follow me up and down the stairs and I suspect she is actually really an attention-whore and would never be satisfied. She is one of those pets that would wake you up at 5am with a carefully aimed claw to your nostril just to make sure you fed her some more really expensive cat food.

Then things escalated. Lulu started following me up the stairs and into our flat. Then she started clawing huge holes in our carpet. 'I TOLD YOU! She's evil!' cried my husband with exasperation. So I developed a system where I clapped my hands loudly every time she used our floor as a scratching post. That seemed to work and she lost interest in our carpet.

Then one day I found her rolling around ecstatically and scent marking my husband's swimming shorts. Then she climbed into our bed and licked one of our pillows. Then she climbed into our fridge and tried to eat my favourite cheese. Then she chewed one of my bath towels. Let's just say having Lulu around was fast beginning to lose its charm. And yet still I loved her little furry warm body sitting on my lap, her ridiculously sounding purr and the false innocent wide-eyed little looks she gave me. She is really a rather pretty kitty. I just wished she left my bed pillows alone.

The problem is that she does not belong to me and my neighbour does not know that she is in my flat. Every once in a while Lulu's owner calls into the hallway. 'Lulu? Lulu sweetie, where are you? Here pussy pussy...' I obviously freak out and desperately try to shove Lulu out my front door and into the communal hallway, lest I be suspected of cat kidnapping. Lulu, the little betrayer, the adulterer, the feline Jezebel, ignores her owner's call and purrs her way round my legs and back into my flat. The second problem is that Lulu's owner has never been that friendly to me. Even though we have lived in the same building for almost two years, she barely says a word to me and makes no attempt to clean up the junk mail that comes through the letter box every day. (I'm not sure what junk mail has to do with this situation but my neighbour's lazy attitude to it, rankles me)

So obviously I suspect my neighbour would not be happy to find out that Lulu has been hanging out with me.
'So what did you do?' asked my friend Roco, when I met her and our other friend, Lyns for dinner last week. I save all my best cat stories for Roco and Lyns as I feel that they can really appreciate them.

'Well, Lulu would not leave the flat and she scratches if she is picked up so....I enticed her out of our flat with pieces of cooked chicken.'
'Oh no. You didn't!? Now she will never leave!' Roco exclaims with both a conflicting mix of disapproval and admiration in her voice. I can tell Roco and Lyns are secretly impressed that I have turned to a life of crime and stealing other people's cats.
'And what if your neighbour sees you feeding chicken to HER cat. She won't like that!' Lyns reminds me wisely shaking her head.

Well you see my neighbour almost caught me the other day. I had got Lulu to the front door by feeding her chicken on every landing of the stairs and I was just about to lead the cat outside when Lulu's owner opened the door and exclaimed 'Lulu! There you are!' As usual the neighbour saw me and said 'Oh hey' with an unimpressed coldness. She tried to get Lulu to come into her flat, but of course I still had chicken hidden in my hand behind my back, so Lulu just sat at my feet, gazed at me adoringly and begged. That cat! She knows which side her bread is buttered on.

'I just don't understand her,' my neighbour said to me, 'She never comes when I call her.' She scooped up Lulu, who moaned in protest and slammed the door to her flat in my face.
I smiled guiltily and backed out the front door. On my way up the street I tossed the rest of the chicken in my hand to Beelzebub, who was lounging on the pavement like he owned the place. He looked at it and then turned, nose in the air and haughtily walked away.

Ungrateful furball.

Thursday, 30 August 2012

Enticing overseas students with my British accent...

Today has been an action-filled today. Work is very busy at the moment as we are preparing for our new intake of students next week. There are literally not enough hours in the day for us to do all the work that needs to be done and to then additionally talk about the work that needs to be done (something that my workplace is very keen on). Why do the work, when you can just discuss it at length and then generate more work? And this is coming from me, ie. someone who loves to talk!

For those of you who are reading this blog (which probably numbers only 3 or so people) and who desperately want to know where I work (ah! Now I have you on the edge of your seats!), I will attempt to explain the inner workings of a....Higher Education Institution. Of course all names and places are changed to protect the innocent (mainly me) and so I don't get fired.

I work in a Higher Education Institution in a nice building, in a nice part of London with a nice team of women (and one man - yep, you should pity that man). Unfortunately that is as nice as it gets. Don't get me wrong, some days I love working where I do. After all I got to go to 5 separate work Christmas parties last year and it didn't cost me a penny (and I ate plenty of mini sausages wrapped in bacon at each party). But at the same time, like any institution or business, my workplace is steeped in bureaucracy, riddled with a 'culture of meetings' and strewn with the most magnificently large and difficult egos you will ever encounter outside of Banking or Politics.

Before I worked here, I had never been to so many meetings in my entire life. You could collect up all the hours I spend in meetings (normally asleep) and then add them together and it would probably equal up to a 1/4 of my life. Probably more time than I spend in the shower or eating doughnuts. How sad is that?! I do try to make the meetings more interesting. I don't mind the small meetings so much; the ones that are just between me and my team are usually quite genial and can be quite useful. Sometimes I even make people laugh. At least no one has actually cried yet. And sometimes we chat about fun stuff like going to the pub and gossip about our students.

But the big meetings! The ones that have 100 or more people in them and take place in an airless, windowless lecture theatre. I actually find myself ready to scream when I enter these meetings. Some member of staff I have never seen before and who I will not remember when I meet them at a drinks reception 6 months later, gets up and talks in a monotone voice for a good portion of an hour, while flicking slowly through a PowerPoint presentation that as far as I can tell has no bearing on my job whatsoever. I suspect I am slowly and regularly being sublimely hypnotised into pledging my soul to my workplace in these meetings. My eyes start to close and I fight to stay awake. I fight in various ways. I dig a pen into my thigh (always effective), I pinch the skin on the inside of elbows, I write a poem, I imagine everyone has transformed into root vegetables and often I try to perfect an interested and intrigued, but also extremely intellectual expression on my face. 

Except today my meeting was different! I had a meeting with 45 new students! Online! In a Webchat! My first team webchat! I logged on and spoke through a phone. It was ever so exciting. I sat there listening to my boss chatting away online thinking this is how people must have felt when they discovered the phone or  how to send a telegram or how to cook rice in a modern rice-cooker. It felt good to be able to give information to people who were avidly hanging on your every word across the other side of the world and whom you could hang up on whenever you felt like it.

JJ, one of my colleagues, a woman who was brought up in Sweden and educated at a drama school in London, suddenly developed a very posh, almost Royal, British accent while talking over the phone. Both my boss, Ash and I glanced at each other with raised eyebrows upon hearing JJ's plummy tones filter through our headsets. It is true that JJ normally speaks with an English accent. After all that acting training I guess it is just something she picked up. In fact I refused to believe she was actually Swedish until I heard her swear in her native language. But she had never sounded quite so posh and clipped before. It was like listening to a 1940s BBC newsreader over the airwaves.

Ash sounded strange too. Her speech became slower and she paused more often, elongating her words slightly and talked in a deliberate way that made her sound as if she was explaining particle physics to a bunch of seven year olds. This is unusual for Ash, who is a bubbly Californian and often punctuates her speech with bunch of expletives and words like Douchebag, while emphasising her point often with the raised volume of her voice. But then obviously you can't call a whole bunch of students Douchebags. Even when they don't attend their lectures and as much as we would like to.

And of course my speech changed as well. JJ said my voice sounded deep and husky. She even went as far as saying, perhaps I could consider a career as a sex phone operator if things got really bad with the job market in London. All I was aware of was how fast I spoke. Just the idea of 45 people listening to you speak even if it is over the internet and they can't see you, filled me with nervousness and I started talking in a rapid fire machine gun rhythm, that was even hard for me to understand, let alone a student in China with English as their second language.

Despite this strange mix of oratory styles, we had great feedback from the students on our first web chat. So the lesson learned is:
In a meeting, if you want someone to remember what you say and to not lose consciousness when you present to them, alternate the speed of your speech, emphasise certain words, keep your voice deep, sexy and alluring and most importantly speak in an English accent. Best of all, if the meeting is a Web Chat, there is no need for you to even wear any clothes...

Dream a little dream of….

I woke this morning with a feeling of extreme unease. It had nothing to do with the fact that I had only slept for 6 hours (any less than 8 hours and I feel a little icky) or that I had to actually get up and wash my long difficult hair and then leave the house for work in less than 35 minutes. My unease was due to being wakened suddenly by my distressing sounding alarm clock, having been deep asleep and in the middle of a very bizarre dream. It was an unhappy dream verging on being a nightmare wherein I was arguing with my mother in her bathroom while she took a shower. This is not something I would normally do while awake, so I can only assume it was one of those weird, slightly sinister dreams you have during a period of stress.

During the dream I was literally screaming and crying at my poor mother, who bizarrely seemed totally unaffected by my hysterics. Worse, I was actually complaining to her about my husband. ‘He’s so mean!’ I wailed. This is not only totally untrue but also a weird thing to complain to my mother about. Then my mother popped her head out of the shower and I was struck into silence by the sight of her head of long hair which appeared to be coloured bright blue. Clouds of steam billowed around us like some kind of malicious pollution and she smiled at me and said politely (in a French accent) ‘Could zee pass the soap si vous plait?’
Then my alarm went off and I woke up.

I moaned to my husband afterwards while he battled with his tie and suit in the bedroom. ‘I had a bad dream,’ I said pitifully. He gave me a hug and listened patiently to me relate my dream, in his usual gentle way. He must know he is married to a crazy person, but to his credit he never lets on how weirded-out he must be sometimes.
‘I had a bad dream too,’ he sighed as he was walking out the door to go to work.
‘Really? What was it about?’ I ask, thinking maybe we dreamed the same thing. Maybe we are psychically linked! How amazing would that be?! On second thoughts I don’t really want him dreaming about my mother in the shower…
‘It was awful!’ he exclaims looking nauseous, ‘I dreamed I married one of my best men!’

Wednesday, 29 August 2012

Back from Outer Space AKA South London

So after 5 years of cyber-silence, I am back with a new blog. Blogging has changed since my days as a young blogger all those many years ago. There are many blogs out on the internet now. Some quite flashy ones run by very suave attractive stay-at-home mothers who seem to bake professional-looking cakes, while writing about the latest adorable thing their eloquent 2 year old has just done and sewing giant eclectic patchwork quilts that would not look out of place in a museum.

I don't believe it. I think these blogs are fake. Or at least dressing the truth up to look beautiful. I honestly don't think a 2 year old can be eloquent. And this is coming from someone who apparently, according to my mother, started talking at 7 months. Seriously what does a child at that age have to say? And all those cake pictures on the internet, does anyone actually believe those are baked by amateurs? I can tell the difference between a genuinely baked cake made at 2am (because you started baking at 11.00pm) by a harassed office worker and a 5 tier rainbow cake made by a professional pastry chef who has a spacious kitchen and several assistants to clean up the eggshell from the floor.

I promise, that in this blog, I will tell the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth. As I see it anyway. You have to allow me to have my opinion, as ridiculous as it may be. Before I begin on this journey of written self abuse, I just want to lay out the following points:

1. My kitchen is small. Yesterday while cooking dinner (pasta - the simplest dish known to man), I burnt myself, broke a saucepan lid and squirted tomato seeds into my eye. Far from baking well, I am just glad if whatever I take out of the oven has not turned black or on fire.

2. I don't have a two year old. And if I did, I am sure my child, although being very special and a miracle to me, would probably just look like a regular kid to the rest of the world.

3. My new sewing machine, if it could talk, would tell a long tale of woe about how it has sewed nothing but monstrosities for the last month, least of all a quilt.

Oh...and in London, it is currently raining...

Welcome to the Real World....