Tuesday, 26 February 2013

The Memory of Summer

I am feeling a little bitter about the length of the winter we are currently experiencing in London. The cold, grey skies and the huge heating bill we received this week has got me dreaming about the memory of summer....

...hot blue skies, sunshine and gentle breezes....

Sunday, 24 February 2013

Metaphorical Sharks and Blood

It was only a matter of time before a US remake of the original British political thriller/drama/black comedy about a Chief Tory Whip who murders and connives his way to the top, surfaced on our TV screens. Except that it is not on our TV screens at all. It is being shown on Netflix, the online pay-to-stream from the internet TV and film company. So of course, like many people, after reading about Netflix's ridiculously expensive purchasing of the rights of the show, I headed online to Netflix, signed up for a free monthly trial and accidentally watched 3 episodes of the new American version of House of Cards back to back.

It is a great show. Not because the filming is great or the scenery or even actually the plot. I much prefer the British original series for its twisting and surprising plot twists. But this US remake is great because of Kevin Spacey portraying slimy, Machiavellian Francis Underwood. Yep, I basically watch it for him. Him and his ice queen of a wife, Claire (portrayed with conflicted creepiness by Robin Wright). Together they are the Macbeth and Lady Macbeth of American politics. No one in this show is nice. All of the characters are pretty ruthless, ambitious and despicable, but strangely I don't seem to care when watching the show. I often feel I need to have at least one character in a film or TV drama to sympathise with, but watching House of Cards is a bit like a guilty pleasure because I don't feel sorry for anyone (not the cocaine snorting congressman, the idealistic egotistical charity worker, the furious teacher's union leader, the horrifically selfish young journalist shamelessly using her sex appeal or even the new arrogant Secretary of State who gets horrifically screwed by Underwood) and I still love the show.

Underwood is the ultimate anti-hero. I actually want him to succeed even though he is basically evil and power-hungry. One of my favourite scenes of the show is when he feels guilty about a particularly bad action he took and goes into a church to try praying to god. After exhausting that option, he tries to pray to the devil  with exasperation in his voice and then in the end he gives up and determinedly grinds out between his teeth, hands crossed on the church's altar: 'I pray to myself! For myself!'

Francis Underwood toasting to you for voting for him?
Although I could see a fair few of the plot twists coming, the script kept me surprised. Like the original British series, the US version has a great script, which involves Underwood addressing the viewer directly like the original Francis Urquhart (played by Ian Richardson) did which not only makes the show very funny but also draws the viewer into some of Francis' inner motivations and plans before other characters know about them. This direct address to camera, makes the viewer an accomplice in all of the immoral actions of Francis himself.

The British Francis Urquhart giving you his trademark raised eyebrow.
Along with his creepy knowing confiding looks to the audience, Francis also gets some great lines. There is of course the well known: 'You might very well think that, I couldn't possibly comment,' said by Kevin Spacey with a southern twang as apposed to the plummy posh English tones of Ian Richardson in the original series. My husband (whose middle name is Francis ironically) delights in saying this to me whenever he does not want to answer a question I have asked him directly. For example:

Me: Do you think I have gained weight? Do I look fat in this dress?
Husband: You might very well think that, I couldn't possibly comment.
Me: You better bloody well comment!

Other gems from the series are:
Francis Underwood: (referring to his wife) I love that woman. I love her more than sharks love blood. 
Francis Underwood: It's so refreshing to work with someone who'll throw a saddle on a gift horse rather than look it in the mouth.

I have personally taken quite a liking to the overly dramatic line about sharks and I have started using it in normal conversation much to the amusement of my husband and the bewilderment of my friends.

Me: I love these shoes more than sharks love blood.
Friend: Really?! That's disgusting.

Me: I love this doughnut more than sharks love blood.
Husband: (giggle) The words doughnut and blood should never be used in the same sentence. Ever!

Me: I love my new zumba class. I love it more than sharks love blood.
Work Colleague: Oh my god! That quote is from House of Cards isn't it? I love that show! I love it more than sharks love blood!

Normally I hate it when Hollywood remakes foreign films or British TV series, especially when the original programmes are especially good in their own right. But in this case, Hollywood has come up trumps and I am eagerly awaiting the next series. As for staying a member of Netflix, well...we shall see...

Friday, 22 February 2013

Have a Great Weekend to One and All!

picture from: http://www.etsy.com/shop/nidhi?ref=seller_info

More Happy Weddings with More Happy People....

Oh the irony....It turns out nothing bad happens, just more happy people at more happy weddings....
So a few weeks ago there was a dramatic debate in the House of Commons on whether the UK should legalise gay marriage. After hearing a variety of different speeches from MPs, it became clear that this was going to be a battle of personal opinions. Some people are fine with idea of gay marriage and other people are...well....just not. Personally I am not sure what all the fuss is about. Obviously I understand that the UK government telling religious institutions what they can and cannot do in terms of the parameters of religious belief might be problematic. But hey, gay marriage means more people getting married, what could possibly be the harm in that? And is it not time that perhaps some religions moved with social progress and embraced different human relationships? I cannot see what could possibly be wrong with homosexuals loving each other, entering into matrimony and having children. Love is love in my opinion and arguing against gay marriage is like arguing against the very concept of love itself.

It seems that 400 MPs felt the same way as me because the vote was passed. What was disappointing is that 175 MPs voted against the bill and even some MPs abstained. In such a modern era, it is distressing to me that politicians would vote against a bill of law that would give basic equal human rights to a group of their own electorate. Although I am not a Conservative Party supporter or David Cameron's biggest fan, I am impressed with his insistence on pushing a vote on this subject and I don't believe for one second that he is doing it because he thinks it will be a vote winner at election time. He's not a stupid man and although I am loathed to admit it, he is a shrewd politician. If anything, the Same Sex Marriage Bill will lose him votes among some of his supporters. This time I actually think he is doing this because he believes it is the right thing to do.

So after celebrating the news of the successful 'Yes' vote, with a whoop and a 'hear hear' directed at the radio playing BBC Radio 4, I decided to have a little look at the bill. Let me emphasise how unlike me this is. I almost never read government legislation. That is because I live with a man (my husband) who does and he normally explains it to me. In fact, if given half a chance, he would probably read me the new NHS health reform legislation while I tried to snooze on the living room couch. But I care about gay rights, I have gay friends and some family who are gay and since I personally managed to get married with some drama (although none of it legal drama) and lots of love, I wanted to see what this bill would mean if it gets passed in the House of Lords and is successfully implemented. Now, not being a legal or political expert, what I gleaned from it is that Homosexual couples would be able 'marry' in a civil ceremony (like heterosexual couples) and have their existing civil partnerships changed legally into marriages. Gay couples may also be allowed to marry in a religious institution like a church or temple if the church or religious group in question grants them the right...or recognises homosexual marriage as...okay I guess.

See that's the problem right there. The bill is an 'opt-in' scheme for religious groups. They have to opt-in to let gay couples marry in their premises. This allows the religious institutions who do not recognise or allow gay marriage to not do anything at all and remain silent, simply because they are not 'opting-in' to the law. I would have preferred an 'opt-out' scheme, so that all churches and religious institutions were automatically allowing gay marriage and would have to specifically 'opt-out' if they did not want to marry homosexual couples in their premises or recognise them in their congregations. This would mean religious institutions would have to publicly declare their beliefs. I am all in favour of people's personal beliefs remaining private (ie. individuals), but religious institutions and churches are public places and public groups (and often receive a tax credit from the government - ie. public money), so to be honest, they should have to declare their beliefs and what they stand for in a public arena.

Perhaps different religious groups don't want to do this. Maybe they think it would lead to lawsuits. Maybe they don't want to appear bigoted  like the Tory MPs two weeks ago who argued that they themselves were not homophobes, but that they voted against the bill because it changed 'what the institution of marriage is.' (a shit argument if I ever heard one)
But personally I would like to know if my local Anglican church retains an outdated bigoted view of marriage before I go along for a service or pop money into the collection box. Probably not, since my local Anglican has a female vicar and is extremely liberal and accepting.
I guess the bill is trying to retain some separation between church and state and allowing religious freedom. Except surely freedom, whether it is personal, religious or economic, should not come at the cost of someone else's freedom.

Thursday, 21 February 2013

Japan - a work in progress

So I have written a poem about Japan, although it is still a work in progress.....

Japan was freedom to me,
Not the natural freedom of an English pastoral past,
But an illuminated dream of the future,
A premonition of the space age.
It was all shiny surfaces,
Smooth and sudden,
And the bright reflections of lights,
In the water of wintry harbors,
Tall buildings draped in ornate neon,
A hive of busy pattern in garish colours,
A hub of life assaulting the eyes.
Japan was our dragon’s breath in the cold crisp dark air of night,
Freezing bones warmed with bowls of steaming soupy noodles,
Paving ways to our mouths with the wet flicks of eels’ tails.
There were flickering vending machines on slick black streets,
Each an unnatural star in the overpopulated sky of the city.
In Japan, everything was different,
The sky was bluer in daylight,
The clouds were cartoons of other cumulus elsewhere,
The autumn leaves so red, the trees seemed on fire,
Unknown sea creatures wobbled in tiny bowls at breakfast,
And food was served like art at an auction.
The tiny mountains lay like discarded pointed party hats on the horizon,
Smaller and sadder than the skyscrapers,
Steamy fog seemed to hover around their steep slopes.
Japan was no rolling tumbling place,
Not the gentle green hills of my childhood,
Or the twisting cobbled streets of my home,
There were no ancient carved stone churches,
Scarred by the years of grey rain.
Japan’s sunsets were a fierce and violent purple,
Its shrines, the red colour of essential blood pumped from the heart,
Its people were quiet but furious,
Bowing heads of smooth dark hair,
Its castles were not the castles of my memory,
But tiered and stretched high, like wooden wedding cakes.
Japan was my moon,
Distant and ambitious,
An orbiting world spinning round my own consciousness,
And a breathtakingly blinding dream of difference,
A planet and people so startlingly removed from my own.
And yet, it was in this alien land that I came to Earth itself,
Hours ahead of the rest,
And now years behind us all.
Japan’s difference is my own,
It is as old and new as I am,
Its many contradictions are like the conflicts of my very soul,
And yet somehow it forms the perfect picture,
A wondrous memory of freedom ,
For me to close my eyes and see.

Wednesday, 20 February 2013

The Swimmer

You cannot see me without your glasses,
Your short-cropped hair is sticky wet,
Your eyes bright and watery,
You blink chlorine from them,
Goggles poised upon your head,
At the ready.
You swim slowly at first,
Tentatively dipping your head under,
A taste of the soft upside-down world,
Below the surface,
And then you move faster,
Straining against the liquid volume of the pool.
You would be weightless,
But you never learned to float.
Instead you swim like a fish,
Far, underneath and deep in the blue.
You are a smooth Ocean-Man,
It pumps through your seafaring blood,
The ancestral genes of Merchant Navy uncles,
The steady strokes,
Your palms cleaving the ripples and waves,
A graceful journey forward.

I am a wriggling creature in the water,
A panting Labrador swimming for a ball.
I splash and shoot off,
All haphazard directions, gulping chlorine,
Snorting out fluid, giggling and kicking,
Reasonless in this water-world.
But when I float, I hover,
Like a hypnotised Victorian,
A possessed child in the shallows,
I am oblivious, a drifting survivor,
A happy shipwrecked soul,
Moving with the current.
You wonder then, you ask ‘how?’
And yet each of your attempts,
Ends in a kick!
A stroke, a purposeful push forward.
I fear you will swim, but never float.

When you stop,
You crouch on the bottom of the pool,
To look out, straight at me,
A look of expectant apprehension,
On your lovely face.
From across the liquid landscape,
I wave and smile,
But you cannot see me without your glasses. 

By ClaraJean (2011)

The Half Marathon Runners

They are salmon swimming upstream,
Struggling against the constraint of their tired flesh.
I watch them at the finish line,
Each a puffing, gasping triumph.
Legs quivering,
They halt, hands on knees,
Bent over, creased like paper.
Their eyes gazing at bruised and static feet,
So recently pounding through the miles.
Some sprint the last steps,
Smiles of triumph on their faces,
They run with lively bravery,
Rushing towards the spectating crowds eagerly.
Their end of the race marks the abolition of a long-distance loneliness.
Others hobble on wobbly ankles,
Feet burning,
Lines of pain carved across their sweat streaked faces.
We call to the tired ones,
Words of encouragement,
Promises of praise and rest.
I welcome each and every one,
The quick, the slow, the young, the old,
Even the cart wheeling professionals,
Eerily thin and disbelievingly fast.
But it is for you I wait and watch,
And at last,
When you come forward and cross that line,
I cry your name out aloud,
And clap so hard,
That the palms of my hands do sting.

by ClaraJean (2011)

Thursday, 7 February 2013

Lunch Break or maybe I actually mean Lunch Desk?

So I am eating lunch at my desk reading a BBC News article about workers having lunch at their desks.....
....oh the irony....

http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/health-21364588 - the results of a BBC survey on workers eating at their desk...

http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/magazine-21365727 - the article...

Ah well, lunch is now over. Back to work. Yep, I am still here. At..the..desk.