Thursday, June 28, 2007

Vic Reeves - "My Family And Other Freaks"


Comedian and part-time pop star and actor Vic Reeves also fancies himself as an artist. This isn't news, of course. Vic published a book of his drawings, "Sun Boiled Onions", about ten years ago, and I remember attending an exhibition of his in a poncy Brick Lane gallery a few years back. So when I saw a poster advertising a new Vic Reeves exhibition at the Eye Storm Gallery near where I'm working on Bankside, I went along.

It left me a little baffled. Obviously, I knew what to expect having seen lots of Vic's drawing and paintings in the past. But I gave it a little more thought today. Entitled "My Family And Other Freaks", Vic's exhibition includes lots of pictures of his wife Nancy and his four children. Most of the family portraits were huge oil canvases, and these worked effectively well and, thankfully, most of them weren't for sale. (It seems wrong, to me, for an artist to sell intimate paintings of his wife and children).

The rest of the exhibition was a combination of original doodles and prints. And my bafflement lay with these... and the price tags. For a fairly reasonable £250 you could buy yourself an unframed A3 colour print of one of Vic's bird etchings, and for a moment or two I felt tempted (until I remembered I don't currently have £250 burning a hole in my pocket). But for a staggering £950 you could buy a plan of Vic's living room with arrows pointing to the television, or a ridiculous cartoon of a man in a funny hat, as doodled on a page torn from an exercise book. And I felt that was taking the piss.

After I returned to work, I mulled on this some more. Maybe it's me who's missing the point. Maybe Vic's plan of his living room is some kind of postmodern statement about how television rules our lives and how whichever way we face, we're all pointing the same way. Or maybe he and Nancy were simply sketching out how to rearrange their living room one day, and then decided to keep the evidence to flog to one of Vic's unwitting fans as art. Vic, if you're reading (yeah, right), I'd love to know.

"Seraphim Falls"


Caroline and I went to a preview of the new Pierce Brosnan and Liam Neeson film "Seraphim Falls" in Soho last night. It's billed as some kind of epic Western and a fight for rights, set after the Civil War in outback America in the 1830s. And heavens, was it tedious.

To clarify, Caroline and I met a year or two ago when we spent a year studying script-writing for films. And we both agreed that if we had dared submit a film with as little characterisation, narrative development or basic plot as this, we'd have been kicked off the course.

"Seraphim Falls" begins with a gun being fired at Pierce Brosnan while he's roasted a rabbit in a snowy wilderness. Pierce then runs off as a group of men give chase. Pierce then falls in a ravine, is swept down a manic waterfall, nearly drowns, loses his coat, gets out of the water, lights a fire, performs surgery on the gun wound in his arm, kills one of his pursuers... and on and on and on and on it goes. Barely a word was spoken. After 45 minutes we still didn't know who Pierce was, who the others were, why they were chasing him and, more importantly, we didn't care. So we left. There was another 75 minutes to get through and life seemed so short.

Avoid. Seriously, avoid. There is only so much beautiful scenery that can redeem a film as poorly constructed as this. Avoid.

Monday, June 11, 2007

PS

VE is aware she hasn't posted much for weeks and has now posted three things one after another. This is because she has discovered Facebook.

"How We Are: Photographing Britain"


Keeping busy, BB2 and I went to see the first ever photography retrospective at Tate Britain yesterday, "How We Are: Photographing Britain". This exhibition is quite an event in my household, as photographer P has plans to see it with no less than five different people, and I have plans to return with another two. It is also the first exhibition I've ever been to that has been so fascinating I've felt compelled to cough up £20 for the catalogue.

This exhibition has been fantastically curated so that it is never dull and is constantly fast-paced. Moving from the first photographs of the 1840s to the present day, it is a fascinating insight into the way our society has changed so much in the past 170-or-so years. With only a small selection of pictures by a huge range of well-known photographers, "How We Are" is neither biased nor repetitive. And although a lot of the pictures are quite well-known, in that they have been used on record sleeves or to illustrate prominent magazine articles over the years, as an exhibition everything fits together. I really think the true star of this exhibition is the curator. What a great project this must have been to work on.

Dali & Film


Last week, AB and I donned our twiddly moustaches and went to see the "Dali & FIlm" exhibition at Tate Modern. Typically, it was rammed solid with people who all stood right up infront of everything so that everyone else was forced to shuffle about like a group of bored school children who would rather be in the gift shop. But the few things we could see looked great.

Personally, I'm quite a fan of Dali. I like the silliness, I like the twirls and I like the idea of mixing art and film. Which is just as well because - as the name suggests – this exhibition is all about Dali's collaborations with various filmmakers, such as Hitchcock, Disney and the Marx brothers: how they came about, how they worked and what they represented. The Disney one wasn't even finished until 2003, so that really was a mammoth project.

As an aside, in the final room (and there are 16 in total, so wear comfy shoes) there are the photos used in Dali's book with photographer Philippe Halsman, in which Dali's moustache attempts to visually answer a series of probing questions. Pointless but amusing. It's silly but it's fun. And why does art have to be serious all the time?

Wembley, Can You Hear Me?!


Finally, Wembley Stadium is finished. So P and I were excited to head up north at the weekend to see George Michael play the opening show (I'd like to take this opportunity to say that Yeovil Town FC played the third ever football match there - now that's cool!). The stadium is BIG and very impressive... as you'd expect for a mammoth building that holds a million people. But what was even more impressive was that little old George Michael (one man with no fancy dancers) could hold all of those people's attention for two and a half hours solid. Madonna, take note.

All the hits were there: George as an American cop for "Outside", George doing his Wham! hand-clapping stompy dance thing for "I'm Your Man" and George whipping the crowd up into a sing-a-long frenzy for "The Edge of Heaven". P (who spent 10 years photographing gigs for music magazines so has seen a fair few) went so far as to say it was one of the best gigs he'd ever been to. And he was there when we saw Lee Hazlewood at the Festival hall in 2004, so that's saying something.

It's difficult to know what to say when there's nothing to slag off, so I won't go on. George was excellent, he was even worth the loss of the limb I'm now suffering as a result of paying for the ticket. The only thing I'd fault him on was the decision to have a sodding DJ as the support act - and not even a proper DJ who mixes records, but one who just plays them. I can do that myself. Rubbish! But other than that - faultless. What a star!

Thursday, June 07, 2007

Fern Britton

On Monday evening, PHD Paul and I went to sit in the audience of Fern Britton's new ITV nostalgia quiz show - "That's What I Call Television". It was my first experience of being an audience member at one of these things, and it was quite fun... but, at three-and-a-half hours long, bum-achingly tiring. Still, we did get a free Flake out of it.

Basically, this is classic, low-quality, ITV1 dumbed-down rubbish. Fern and co-host Julian Clary (the most disingenuous man on TV) fluffed their autocues between a series of clips of old shows and ads. And were joined by a few celeb quests. These included, ahem, four people who used to be in "Crossroads", four former Flake girls, Judith Chalmers and (stay with it) Richard Briers and Felicity Kendall from "The Good Life". Now, that really was a coup! The good folk of ITV1 even mocked up a bad replica of the Goods' kitchen and had Fern and Julian interview the legendary pair in there. It was worth it for that moment alone.

Thursday, May 31, 2007

"Vernon God Little"


Last night, Dave, Tom and I went to see "Vernon God Little" at the Young Vic near Waterloo... and it was smashing. Adapted from the Booker Prize winner by DBC Pierre (which Tom had even read - so he managed to tell us it was a splendid adaptation, but missed a bit out in the second half but nothing too major).

From the website, "It's Friday at the Sheriff's office. Vernon sits in his underpants, staring at his Nikes. His best friend Jesus went and killed all their classmates, then himself. Normal times just ran howling from town." The play really doesn't hide behind it's hands. It starts with a bang and just keeps on going. And considering that it's central topic is the ever controversial one of high school shootings, "Vernon God Little" manages to be very, very funny at the same time.

The use of the stage and props is ingenious (particularly the two cars), but the highlight for me was the inclusion of various cast members bursting into random bursts of accapella, southern-style country songs throughout the show – the best one, by a long shot, being a Mexican interpretation of Johnny Cash's "Ring Of Fire".

"Vernon God Little" has been so well received that the run has been extended by a few weeks, and rightly so. Teenager Colin Morgan is fantastic as Vernon and surely has an amazing career ahead of him? And Mark Lockyer as the detestable but irresistable journalist does an impressive Billy Bob Thornton-style turn. Everything was thoroughly OTT in a heavy-handed media satire kind of way... but if you leave your political correctness at home, you'll really enjoy it.

Thursday, May 24, 2007

"Peep Show"


I know it's taken me a while but it always does because I don't watch enough telly - that's why I got into 'Friends' after about five years, 'Sex And The City' just as it finished, and I do like 'Ugly Betty' but have only seen about five episodes as it's too much commitment remembering to watch it. Consequently, I'm much better at catching up with telly when it comes out on DVD and I can watch it when I want to.

The nice people at LoveFilm sent me the first series of "Peep Show" yesterday (since I've now seen two episodes of series four on normal telly and found it hilarious). And because P was watching the football in the pub, drinking beer like a proper man (grr), I ended up watching the first four episodes of "Peep Show" one after the other like a saddo (in my defence, I watch so little telly that I think I'm allowed to binge once in a while).

It's hilarious. Really funny, basic but clever humour, with a great cast - Mitchell, Webb and Olivia Coleman (who has, quite rightly, been in loads of other stuff, too). I'm sure everyone else knows the premise: two dysfunctional, mis-matched flatmates and their attempts to get girls/lives. But this is no "Men Behaving Badly" insult to the licence-payer. Instead, "Peep Show" is hilariously, stomach-crunchingly painful comedy that makes you squirm with embarassment on behalf of the characters. Brilliant. It might take me a while, but I catch up in the end.

Thursday, May 17, 2007

"Calamity Jane"


Last night, AB, CG and I went to West Brompton to see NewBestFriendPaul in "Calamity Jane", put on by his am-dram group. And I have to say, it's rather preferable to see a musical like this for £10 than to cough up 350 to sit in some West End theatre and see a bunch of Sylvia Young brats whine out a few chorus numbers.

The venue (London Oratory Theatre) was exceptionally plush, considering it is basically a school theatre (albeit the school where Tony Blair sends his youngest), and the production quality was really high. All of the cast were great, especially the girls playing Katy and Susan... and obviously Paul was marvellous in his role in the chorus. I was bursting with pride! They put on a great show of "Calamity Jane" (complete with singing and dancing middle-aged twin ladies-in-hairpieces - wow!) and if you've got time before Saturday evening, check it out and support burgeoning London talent.

Wednesday, May 16, 2007

"The Shuttle" - Frances Hodgson Burnett


A few days in Somerset last week gave me ample time to speed through the 500-page 1097 novel "The Shuttle" by Frances Hodgson Burnett, published by Persephone with - quite possibly - the nicest Turnbull And Stockdale end-papers I have yet seen in one of their books.

Burnett's "The Making Of A Marchioness" has long been one of my favourite Persephone reprints, and it retreads her familiar path of a down-on-her-luck good soul who suffers at the hands of others before falling into the life she so deserves. And "The Shuttle" is essentially no different – and that's not a complaint. The novel (unfortunately abridged from 700 to 500 pages, which is a huge shame: there is never any need to abridge any book) covers the late 1890s/early 1900s trend for impoverished English aristocrats (who are left with a dilapidated mansion and no funds to maintain it), who shuttle across to New York to marry wealthy heiresses and shuttle them back to England to siphon off their wealth. (A very famous example is Jennie Jerome, who became Winston Churchill's mother.) However, these marriages were often loveless and a disaster, and this is what "The Shuttle" highlights.

Gentle and sweet Rosy is the daughter of multi-millionaire Reuben S Vanderpoel, and thinks it a romantic dream when English aristo Sir Nigel Anstruthers appears and makes her his wife. But the second she steps off American soil onto the boat shuttling her back to England, all her dreams turn to tatters as Sir Nigel turns into a thoroughly wicked rogue who has no interest in Rosy other than manipulating her into signing over her inheritance to him. A catalogue of misfortune spills out, before Rosy's little sister Betty comes of age and finally comes to England in search of her long-forgotten sister and finding out what went wrong... all with the compelling, well-written and touching style you would expect from Burnett.

But I'm aware I've just summed "The Shuttle" up in a way that makes it sound like little more than a dated Barbara Cartland romance. And that's a huge injustice. Because the book also typifies the horrors of these long-forgotten alliances between the new and the old countries. And this, to me, is the beauty of the Persephone reprints: that they allow us to recapture the genuine social situation of the time. Rather than historical novelists such as Tracy Chevalier or Sarah Waters researching the past to write about it, Persephone writers actually did live through the times they write about, making the researchers a poor second best.

Coincidentally, the American Museum near Bath is hosting the Dollar Princesses exhibition until October 28, which celebrates exactly these unions. The museum was co-founded by Dallas Pratt, who was the son of a Dollar Princess. Mrs M and I went to see the exhibition last week and it was fascinating. Well worth a look.

Monday, May 14, 2007

"Hot Fuzz"


It may have been out since Valentine's Day, but I finally bothered to watch "Hot Fuzz" at the weekend. And after a promising start of tight dialogue, witty one-liners, well-strung montages and a zillion cameos... after 15 minutes, I started watching the clock.

I struggle with Pegg a bit. I mean, yes, he's a funny guy and he's doing a lot for British cinema in the international arena (ooh)... and clearly he's got a lot of luvvy mates... but he's also smug to a degree that must surely hurt internally. The other problem is that I used to share a flat with his sister, so I've met him many times and found him to be two things: 1) smug and 2) determined to be Funny-At-All-Costs, even if it meant drowning out everyone else until they were all listening to him. (I also recall an unintentionally amusing incident when he turned up in Kensal Green in a flashy red sports car... but I won't go in to that now.)

So the problem with Pegg is that he creates these roles for himself where he gets to play an everyday hero who saves the world. Pegg likes to think he's doing it with an ironic sense of parody. But what it really comes across as is a comic-loving geek who struck lucky and is writing himself a wannabe-sexy hero role, who may not get the girl but is still the envy of all the lowly men who populate his false existence. It's very much a boy's own adventure story. (Not to be confused with a Boyzone adventure story).

Oh, and "Hot Fuzz"? A cocky policeman turns up in Somerset, gets bored, watches "Point Break" with fatty Frost, catches a swan and tries to arrest James Bond (the crap Bond mind you, Timothy Dalton). On the plus side, it provides an opportunity for his mates (including, deep breath, Martin Freeman, Bill Nighy, Olivia Colman, Billie Whitelaw, Edward Woodward, Bill Baily, Stephen Merchant, Steve Coogan, uncle Jim Broadbent, old Tom Cobley and all) to show their faces. On the downside, I've now lost all respect I ever had for Paddy Considine - previously one of my favourite British actors. Why, Paddy, why?

Friday, May 11, 2007

Week Off... Hurrah!


VE has taken time out of her hectic schedule of study and employment to indulge in a week of fun-filled festivities and merriment. Yes, another one. So here's my self-indulgent diary of events.

On Saturday evening, after a strange lecture about the appropriation of rooms in modernist literature, I headed to Somerset to see Mr and Mrs M, as they'd been a little neglected since Christmas. After absorbing myself in village activities like cycling, walking and baking, I remembered how boring the country becomes when you're there for too long, and promptly read all 500 pages of Frances Hodgson Burnett's "The Shuttle" in around 48 hours (honestly), but more on that later.

By Tuesday, desperate for conversation, I walked into town and had elevenses with Hannah (who hasn't eaten solid food for nearly 12 months on her doctor's advice - never trust a GP), and lunch with Dave (who has an adopted otter). All of which improved my spirits enough for me to face an evening of wall-to-wall soap operas with my parents. But her from Hear'Say is STILL ruining Corrie. Disgraceful.

On Wednesday, Mrs M and I drove to Bath to see the Dollar Princesses exhibition at the American Museum, as recommended by Persephone on account of how it is extremely relevant to "The Shuttle" (see above), and we thoroughly enjoyed the decadence and glamour. Considering Winston Churchill's ma was a Dollar Princess, there's something more to this than pearls and fancy dresses. Although, lest we forget, behind the fur coats and diamante mirrors, there was a huge degree of misery and lies.

By Wednesday night, I was back in London and feeling culture shock at the people you pass in the street who don't acknowledge you with a doff of their cap and a cheery "'af'noon". By Thursday morning, I was back in the gym and kicking people smaller than me, before attending a baffling lecture about archival systems - led by four people who nod and laugh at each other a lot, while their students sit there in mild bewilderment. Academics, eh? And by Thursday night, I was in a pub in Russell Square quaffing wine with my fellow students and attempting to talk like an academic - however, I don't think anyone was fooled.

So today, I've been back to the gym, back to baking, and I've had PHD Paul round for tea - accompanied by two conversational topics: 1) how weird are academics, and 2) how much do we miss Julia Brogan from Brookie. Tomorrow, Emma is coming to stay and we're going for posh afternoon tea at a fancy hotel. Since I'm reading "The Remains Of The Day", I'm trying to recreate the world of toffy living. This was spoilt somewhat by P informing me he was doing a shoot involving a naked glamour model, a disembodied pig's head, an offensive comedian and a very large knife.

Tuesday, May 08, 2007

VE Goes Mad In The Country

Tally ho, dear reader. VE has left the hustle and bustle of the capital to venture down to Mrs M's in Somerset for a few days of country air. And I appear to have turned into one of the Famous Five in the process.

As I sat on the train from Waterloo to The Country on Saturday evening, my eyes lit up with glee as the scenery changed from Vauxhall-based tower blocks to boring Basingstoke to fields filled with rabbits and llamas (really). And as I alighted in Somerset, my lungs were filled with good old country air and lashings of ginger beer (not really).

And Sunday morning saw me embrace the possibilities of the countryside to the hilt. After breakfast, I set of on a cycle ride of the village (once honoured by TS Eliot and now home to the family of Daphne du Marier) and spent a bracing 30 minutes cycling around the country lanes I knew so well as a girl. (Sigh). And after a hearty home-cooked roast lunch, Mrs M and I set off for a brisk walk in the woods before coming home and baking a huge tray of fairy cakes and icing them. Yum. All before, I settled down in front of the fire and began reading Frances Hodgson Burnett's "The Shuttle" (you'll never guess who published it). This book is so good that, despite being around 500 pages in length, I have already read around 350 of them. It's simply topping.

Tomorrow evening I have to return to London (via the "Dollar Princess" exhibition at the American Museum in Bath, one of the reasons for my visit) and frankly, dear reader, I don't want to. (Sigh).

Friday, May 04, 2007

Pillow Books

The Guardian's Books website wanted to know what books were by people's beds. This is my offering:


What a nosy insight into other people's minds. This is better than 'Enders!

By the side of my bed is...

"The Best of Smash Hits 1980s" edited by Mark Frith - which I dip in and out of when I'm feeling too tired to handle anything more challenging. Fantastic stuff... and I'm hoping I never run out of things to read in it.

"The Shuttle" by Frances Hodgson Burnett, and recently republished by Persephone with beautiful floral endpapers. I can't wait to start reading this, as it's about the early 19th century habit of wealthy English women 'shuttling' across the Atantic to find a wealthy husband in the States.

"Royal Borough" by Rachel Ferguson. An original 1940s ex-library copy of this long out-of-print book by former sufragette and novelist Rachel, who used to write for Punch as well, about her love for Kensington. A glorified history, with so much detail, old maps, original drawings and photos.

"The Tao of Pooh" by Benjamin Hoff - my mum gave me this for Christmas to encourage me to feel more peaceful towards the world. It's certainly very soothing reading that talks a lot of sense.

"School's Out" by Christophe DuFosse - I've just finished this and felt disappointed. The blurb enticed me that this would be a great modern thriller about psychotic school kids in France picking off their teachers. It was a rambling let down. Very disappointing.

Ben Fogle


Great news! Ben Fogle's official website (see link on the left) now has a 'Ben Pet' that you can download to your desktop (sadly PCs only, so that excludes me - sort it out, Ben!). You have the opportunity to stroke Ben, play with him and feed him. Quite how anyone would also get any work done is beyond me.

Friends of VE will know that Ben Fogle is my number one hero (closely followed by Tony-From-Hollyoaks). Not only does Ben save nature by washing parrots and rhinos at Longleat on BBC2, he also has a lovely posh accent, soft, fluffy hair and seems like a thoroughly topping chap. Now, Ben is urging us to use water more efficiently with a campaign through Waterwise... however, the implications of this on his ability to wash animals at Longleat is something of a worry.

He also looks exactly like P. So much so that, at the latest count, four people have (unprompted) said to me that they think P "has a touch of the Ben Fogles about him". Quite. One friend even posted me a magazine cover featuring Ben with the attached note: "I'm glad to see P is making ends meet by posing for magazine covers".

So I strongly recommend that all Fogle Fans head to benfogle.com/gallery and peruse the endless stream of photos of our hero in all manner of hearty pursuits... hugging tiger cubs, jumping on beaches with dogs, baby Ben, Ben's Barn, Ben as an officer... Joy.

Tuesday, May 01, 2007

Primark - Hell on Marble Arch


I'm working close to the new Primark superstore at Marble Arch... so I ventured in at lunchtime. I could feel my Vivienne Westwood shirt recoiling around me in disgust at the stench of acrylic, polyamide and a multitude of other man-made fibres... all mingling with the body odour entrenched in the garments by the underage Bangaldeshi sweatshop workers who created them (hourly rate varies from 3-5p depending on whether you read the Daily Mail or the Daily Telegraph. It's quite a difference as 5p is almost double 3p. Genuinely shocking).

Putting on my chav-retardant blinkers, I took a deep breath (and coughed out strands of polyester-mix) and tried to wade through the jumble sale-effect shop: was this part of their design ethic? Primark extends over three floors but I didn't manage to get beyond the ground floor. I flicked through the t-shirts (average price £4), but couldn't find anything smaller than a size 16-18. Further investigations throughout the rest of the floor proved I'd be lucky to find anything at all in a size smaller than a 16-18. Which leads to my next question... why can't you be a size 16 or a size 18? Why do you have to be in the middle? I couldn't find one garment in a definite size. Fortunately I didn't want to try anything on, as the queue for the changing rooms snaked around most of the underwear department (huge, since you asked - and I wouldn't advise striking any matches around there: the place'd go up in a ball of flames, look what happened to New Look last week). Consequently, I didn't want to buy anything - just as well, since the queue for the till snaked around the entire 't-shirt' department (huge, since you asked - also vile). Honestly - can someone tell me what the fuss is? Cheap doesn't equal tasteful.

(Disclaimer: VE is aware she sounds like a snob. That's because she is a snob. Man-made fibres have been a big no-no in her world for a long time. Do you really need to be a walking fire hazard in synthetic fabrics? And they're so unflattering... the way they cling to the wrong places and hang badly. Urgh!)

Depeche Mode


Lately, VE has been having a Depeche Mode renaissance on her iPod (although I feel uncomfortable about them being described as "electro-goth" by the far-from-exhaustative-but-still-fun "Encyclopaedia Of Classic 80s Pop" by Daniel Blythe).

Depeche Mode (or, 'ver Mode' as Smash Hits used to call them, RIP) are one of those rare acts, like U2 and Madonna, that I grew up with. Their early '80s angst-pop soundtracked my school years and family holidays, their stadium rock era populated my college days and their subsequent, post-drugs hell reoccurrs on my stereo. But a sad fact is, due to the fickle nature of the contemporary music business, it is now impossible for any band to have that kind of regenerative longevity. A big shame.

Obviously, "Violator" is the classic album, but there's a great deal to be said for "Music For The Masses" (this morning's walk-to-work accompaniment), and "Songs Of Faith & Devotion" is a corker – try listening to it in its entirety in the dark... on your own. Even 1997's "Ultra" album produced a heart-rending classic in "Home". The two more recent albums are harder work, but I'll get there.

But my personal favourite moment in the history of the Basildon boys-next-door turned LA tattooed-rawk-gods? The 1996 NME headline: "I Shot A Speedball And Turned Green", in reference to Gahan's hideous heroin and cocaine speedball in LA. He eventually survived, it's OK. I saw them at Birmingham NEC in 1999 and he seemed remarkably well... considering he'd been dead three years previously.

Monday, April 30, 2007

"This Is England"


Finally, the new Shane Meadows film "This Is England" has been released, and P and I went to see it last night on the Haymarket.

Hardly comfortable viewing, Meadows consistently makes excellent films and I've been saying for years that I think he is easily the best film director in this country. Hailing from Nottingham, I first became aware of Meadows in 1999 when his second feature, the remarkably excellent "A Room For Romeo Brass" was released. I was living in Nottingham myself at the time, and my then-boyfriend (who worked for Meadows' distribution company) sent me off on a press junket around the council estates of Nottingham with Meadows and some other journos to see where the film had been shot and to generally quiz Meadows. Then in his late-20s, Meadows was a likeable and enthusiastic man, self-taught as a director, who came across as having a genuine reason for wanting to make films. Rather than wanting the glamour of glitzy big-name actors, fancy budgets and poncy London locations, he favours the Midlands and little-known actors (many of the same faces reappear in his films) to make films with messages. Which is how we end up at "This Is England".

In 1983, 12-year-old Shaun (the astonishingly good Thomas Turgoose) is grieving for his father who has been killed in the Falklands. Bullied at school and misunderstood at home, he ends up being adopted as the mascot of a group of skinheads lead by the likeable, good-hearted Woody (Corrie and Emmerdale's Joe Gilgun) who kits Shaun out with a number one cut, a Ben Sherman shirt and some braces. Feeling accepted into Woody's gang, Shaun at last feels happy, despite being significantly younger than everyone else. This harmless idyll is disrupted when the vicious Combo (Stephen Graham) reappears after doing three-and-a-half years inside and attempts to recruit Woody's gang to his own National Front cell. Woody, his girlfriend Lol (Meadows regular Vicky McClure) and token black member Milky (another regular, Andrew Shim) all walk out in disgust, but Shaun decides to stay with Combo, having been convinced that joining the National Front is the only way to avenge his dad's pointless death. Needless to say, it all goes hideously wrong, starting with a shocking meeting in a back-room of a grubby pub led by Meadows stalwart Frank Harper and culminating in a vicious racist attack that becomes a pivotal point for Shaun.

Meadows doesn't deny that the film is partly based on his own formative experiences, and insists this is a good thing to add to the authenticity of "This Is England". And in The Times the Saturday before last, he gave a fascinating interview about the film, where he dismissed the Falklands as an "open act of bullying" - a fact sadly missed by Cosmo Landesman in yesterday's Sunday Times, when he wrote a ridiculous review claiming that "This Is England" was false and unconvincing, and then puts up the weakest, most pathetic argument I've ever read in a national newspaper for his cause.

"This Is England" is by far the best film I've seen all year (closely followed by "Das Leben Der Anderen"), and further proof that Meadows is the best thing happening in British cinema. "Twenty Four Seven", "A Room For Romeo Brass", "Once Upon A Time In The Midlands" and "Dead Man's Shoes" were all leading up to this. And if you watch all the films in order, the trail of Meadows traits are clear to see (revenge motifs, cameo appearances, hapless villains with a vicious streak and a dodgy car...). Really exciting, if harrowing, stuff.

Pen Pusher 5


Just a quick note about the ever-excellent Pen Pusher magazine. Issue five is now out in all good bookshops (see the link on the left to find your nearest) and... not only does it now come with a fancy spine and even more pages, it features a review of Rachel Ferguson's "The Brontes Went To Woolworths" written by yours truly. If that's not a reason to get one, I don't know what is. Impressively, the magazine is still free and, since there's thankfully no advertising, I really don't know how they do it. But check it out for an eclectic range of features, short stories, poems and simply topping book reviews (ahem). A splendid platform for London's literary outpourings.

Friday, April 20, 2007

Site Meter

Every now and then I take a look on my Site Meter to see how and why people come across Velvet Empire. Today's revelations are rather shocking. The majority of people visiting in the past week have come here because they have put in one of the following search combinations: "Joe Mott", "Barry Grant" or "Brookside". Who knew there were still so many avid Bazza and Brookie fans out there (or "Br**ks*de" as it was referred to in G2 this week, when Jim Shelley ranted about the implausibility of Sinbad from Brookie turning up in Corrie - having been inspired by my identical post here a fortnight ago)? And why so many people want to Google JM is beyond me, so presumably it was Mott himself (who, by the way, I bumped into earlier today).

But I really don't want to dwell on the person whose search term was, and I quote, "DEEKS FREE.GRATIS", which led them here for two reasons: my occassional spleen-venting on Barbara Ann Deeks (aka Babs Windsor), and my every-now-and-then comments about the literary Pen Pusher magazine (because I once said it was 'gratis', which it is. Although - to the best of my knowledge - they are still to print an article about Babs' literary output and, God help us, they never will). But quite why this mystery visitor wanted a free Deeks is something I will never know. Maybe they resented the 1p it costs to buy her book second-hand on Amazon. Understandable. I got a signed hardback for free, and I resent the space it takes up on my shelf. Witch.

"The Runaway" - Elizabeth Anna Hart


Victorian poet Elizabeth Anna Hart wrote "The Runaway" in 1872 and, although popular at the time, it became forgotten until wood-engraver Gwen Raverat - who had loved the book as a child - created 60 illustrations for it and campaigned for its republication in 1936. And in 2002, Persephone re-published it for a third time, complete with Gwen's beautiful illustrations, which add great depth to the story and really help it come to life.

Although "The Runaway" is essentially a children's book, it has something for all ages – as proven by the fact that I've just finished reading it for the first time (aged 29) and loved it so much I raced through it, while sitting in St James' Park on a gloriously sunny afternoon. The story is simply that of Victorian teenager Clarice, who lives a luxurious life with her widowed father and typically starchy governess, who one day happens upon a runaway girl hiding in the bushes. Olga, the runaway, brings new excitement to Clarice's life, excitement that Clarice had been longing for with the romantic aspirations of any bored 15-year-old. As the days progress, Clarice struggles to keep Olga hidden around the house, as Olga is intent on causing mischief and creeping up on the servants to make them believe she is a ghost. But also, as the story progresses, Clarice is led to question whether she is doing the right thing in concealing Olga, and whether Olga is telling her the truth about who she is and why she ran away in the first place.

The triumph of childhood over adulthood is clear, and the strong sense of morals is in place, making "The Runaway" a classic "good" book. But it is more than a moralistic tale of right and wrong. "The Runaway" is something that a contemporary children's book could never be: a yearning for a simpler way of life. After all, it was only around 20 years ago that, as a child myself, I was lapping up books like Eve Garnett's "The Family From One End Street" and Ursula Williams' "Gobbolino", as well as books my own mother loved as a child like Elizabeth Stucley's "The Pennyfeather Family" (I have the original 1950 edition in front of me now - complete with the illustrations crayoned in by my mum when she was little - and, Persephone take note, this book has long been out of print, is impossible to get hold of anywhere, and desperately needs to be resurrected); and these were all books, like "The Runaway", that told simple stories in an uncomplicated but engaging way. So I can't help feeling that the "Harry Potter"'s and "Tracey Beaker"'s of the world are a shame, because although they are getting children reading, they are hardly literary triumphs.

Thursday, April 19, 2007

"Das Leben der Anderen"


Two years ago, P and I visited Berlin in a freezing February and visited the former Stasi Headquarters in Lichtenberg, former East Germany. Initially, I was reluctant to make the long trek outside the comfort of the former west to trawl through what was still a solid mass of faceless, harsh, grey concrete to reach the domineering and over-shadowing Stasi block. But it was fascinating at the same time as horrific.

None of the people of the former Warsaw Pact countries were as highly monitored as the East Germans: there was one Stasi officer for every 180 people, compared with one KGB officer for every 595 people in the Soviet Union. It was around this time, February 2005, that I became aware of a new German film called "Das Leben der Anderen" ("The Lives of Others") being made by Florian Henckel von Donnersmarck, but it is only now that the film won the Best Foreign Language Oscar in February 2007, that it has seen the light of day in England.

When a stroll down the Kings Road on Tuesday afternoon took me past the Chelsea Cinema, which was displaying a poster saying the film started in one hours time, I bought a ticket straight away. The film is astonishingly good and deserving of its Oscar. It would be difficult to call it enjoyable, as at well over two hours it is an intense slog through the claustrophobic, bleak, corrupt and distrustful Orwellian world of the Stasi, where everyone is an informant on everyone else.

I don't want to say too much for fear of giving the plot away. But "Das Leben der Anderen" centers on writer Georg (Sebastian Koch) who, in 1984, comes under suspicion of Stasi officer Wiesler (Ulrich Muhe), who sets about bugging Georg's flat and monitoring every word he says to his friend and lover, Christa-Maria (Martina Gedeck). Georg's fury at the lack of freedom he or his friends have is heightened when a director friend of his hangs himself after the Stasi take away his right to direct any more stage plays. This prompts Georg to look into why suicides are glossed over under the Stasi rule and leads him to write a controversial article for a western magazine about what the Stasi is concealing.

But the film is much more complicated than that. There are all the lies, the deception, the fight for survival and the hideous things you had to do for people you loathed just to keep your head above water. And the most repugnant scene of all is right at the start of the film, when Wiesler is interrogating a man accused of helping someone cross the wall.

There is a fantastic article about this film here, on The Guardian website, which I strongly recommend. It is written by Neal Ascherson, who was The Observer's Berlin correspondent at the height of Stasi rule, and is one of the most interesting articles I have read for a very long time. read the article and see the film, because it is shocking how recently all this happened.

Monday, April 16, 2007

Now We Are Three


It's rather scary, but P and I celebrated our third anniversary at the weekend. I know in the big scheme of things that three years is somewhat paltry, but it's a long time in my world and my best effort yet.

To mark the occasion, my very lovely and romantic boyfriend took me for a slap up meal at the Wolseley and then for cocktails at Nobu, and we got dressed up in our finery to make sure we looked the part.

For someone who has been stuck head first in (what has become) a very tedious essay and who has not seen the nightlife of London for weeks, my feeling about the evening was not dissimilar to that which a child feels when seeing her Christmas presents for the first time. Suffice to say, yesterday was spent sitting gingerly under a tree in St James' Park reading "The Runaway" by Elizabeth Anna Hart (published by Persephone obviously, but more on that later).

Yes, three happy years. I can only hope there are three hundred more to follow. At least.

Friday, April 13, 2007

Bryan Ferry


What has Bryan Ferry done?! I loved that man. I really did. I even added him to my allowed list, despite the M&S ads. Bryan Ferry was cool. He was in Roxy Music, he was sexy, he dated Jerry Hall... he was a legend.

But today, a CD called "Dylanesque" has come into my hands and it's so awful it nearly reduced me to tears, as my ears were assaulted by MOR versions of Bob Dylan classics. The worst offender? "All Long The Watchtower". Shortly followed by "The Times They Are A'Changing".

I just don't know what to do. Do I strike Bryan off the list, or what? I'm devastated.

Tuesday, April 10, 2007

Velvet Empire Is Away

I've taken a break from the monotony of work and given myself two weeks off (15 days if you include the bank holidays, which I do). However, this is supposed to be time for me to consolidate my thoughts and deliver 5,500 insightful and intelligent words about how Amis and Bracewell confirm Thatcher's assertion that there's no such thing as society. So while you were all out getting burnt in the sun and scoffing Mr Whippys, I've been hunched over a desk for seven hours a day trying to think of something clever to say. It's a struggle...

So, to distract myself, I've developed a fresh obsession with the gym. I've booked in six personal training sessions to motivate me. And not content with that, I walked past a new gym (so cool it's not actually a gym, but a "personal training studio") this morning, and have signed up for a free session on Friday morning. This place is amazing. Unlike my current gym, it boasts fresh air, cleanliness, new equipment, enthusiastic staff and, due to the prices charged and the fact it doesn't market itself, a wonderful lack of other people. I have zero tolerance for many things, one of which is people who go the gym simply to eat muesli, drink coffee and read the Daily Mail in the lounge area. I also can't abide the woman who walks so slowly on the treadmill that she is capable of filling in the Telegraph's crossword.

Other distractions from the essay this week include a trip to the dentist tomorrow, and a trip to Guildford on Friday afternoon to see my doctor. So I don't really know when I can fit in any more words about Amis and Bracewell. Certainly not now, because I'm too busy writing this. I have a feeling I'd be more productive if I was back at work.

Thursday, April 05, 2007

Alumni

Last night, ITV1 started a new 'reality' show called 'Deadline' where Janet Street-Porter rallies a bunch of nobodies, and relations of nobodies, into producing a weekly celebrity rag to be given away free with a proper celebrity rag. She is assisted in this task by Darryn Lyons (the head honcho at Big Pictures - the largest pap agency in the country, not to be confused with Big Pictures - and, by the way, one of the richest men out there. So why, when I ended up at his table in a club last year, was he so mean about who got to drink the decent champagne? Tightwad), and Joe Mott - from The Daily Star (and 'boyfriend' of Sarah Harding).

Now what baffles me (and an old friend), is the staggering rise in success (obviously, success is all relative) of people who were colleagues when we worked here back in 2001. This was where I cut my teeth in the heady world of showbiz journalism and I had a great time, well you would when you're about 23. My colleagues at the time included Joe Mott, Brit Award winner Amy Winehouse, Georgina and Patrick Littlejohn (wonder how they got their jobs, eh?) and we were all, erm, governed by Jonathan Ashby (the Fleet Street hack who broke the story of Boy George's heroin addiction in the 80s). Those were the days. Oh, and not forgetting CK, who still dines out on his infamous George Harrison interview that caused national headlines and made its way into a biography of the now deceased Beatle. Yes, heady days indeed.

Wednesday, April 04, 2007

Horizon


Last night, P and I saw Horizon on BBC2 about a guy, Nick, with Tourettes Syndrome, who is a genius piano player - but is thwarted by his fear that he will have an involuntary spasm while performing and feel embarrassed in front of his audience. So he went on a trip to America where he met all sorts of other Tourettes sufferers, who are all also gifted pianists and fascinating and intelligent people, and none of whom were among the 10-15% of Tourettes sufferers whose condition is characterised by involuntary swearing and obscenities.

This made a pleasant change from Five's Hidden Lives programme about Tourettes on Monday night, which focused on how difficult it is to get a job if you're one of the 10-15% who swears and hits out with no self-control. A rather frustrating programme - as it is clearly one of Five's attempts it get a share of the viewers by promoting 'freakery' rather than a grossly misunderstood condition - of which public awareness has only been made worse by people like Pete from Big Brother.

Tuesday, April 03, 2007

Bed


Regular readers will know that I am a big fan of The Bed, so it is with much joy that I find myself working on a bed feature for a homes magazine today.Aside from being thrilled to include a photo of my own Warren Evans bed - I am also excited by this beauty from La Maison - so much so that I've put it here to show you. Now, this really is a girl's bed. What a beauty. I'm sure P would love it!

In Praise of Barry Grant


A few years ago, I used to be a huge fan of the soaps. But then things changed. In short, I got a life. And I stopped having time to watch all the soaps every day. But I enjoy working at a soap magazine, and I still tune in to the odd episode of EastEnders of Coronation Street. Which was how I found myself watching Tracy Barlow's trial in Corrie last night. But rather than being horrified by the result, I was left dumbstruck at the sight of Sinbad-from-Brookside waddling around with a bacon sarnie in his flabby gob. What's that all about?

In it's heyday, Brookie was up there with EastEnders as one of the finest soaps on telly. Harry Cross, Amanda Redman, the Jordaches, Terry Sullivan and his moustache... even the siege, the rare disease and – my personal favourite – Mike Dixon being locked up in a Bangkok jail for smuggling heroin in little Kylie's teddy bear. But nowhere in that list did you see mention of a little fat man whose only major storylines involved 1) washing windows badly and 2) shagging Mandy Jordache. So why do we need him on Corrie? (Mind you, for a programme that considers Hear'Say drop-out Kym Ryder to be an actress, what else can we expect?)

However, the one character that all the soaps should bring back is Barry Grant, played by the lovely, menacing and whispering Paul Usher. Barry Grant is one of my top two soap villains of all time - along with (original) Dirty Den.

Barry Grant - here's a man who infiltrated a cult, was involved in murder, drug smuggling and gun plots - but it's OK, because he loves his mum. Barry Grant - he was there from the first episode and he became the best recurring character a soap could ever wish for - even appearing in the (awful) final episode. He was a scally, he had a 'tash, he was bezzie mates with Tel (even though he shagged his wife and fathered her child), and he was never far from a warehouse with an industrial-sized freezer, just the right size for a human body. He was a legend.

Sod Sinbad, he's a fat, podgy insult to the legend of Brookie - in the words of Bazza, "just do one, will you?"

Friday, March 30, 2007

"The Main Form of Animal Locomotion on Land"


Now that I am able to walk to and from work again, I have gained 40 minutes of valuable thinking time twice a day. And, when you think about it, it's amazing (or terrifying) the utter rubbish the human brain is capable of processing.

Which is how I found myself walking along the Embankment, and suddenly wondering how on earth I was doing it. I looked down, and my legs were busily marching on their way - one in front of the other, in the traditional fashion. But I wasn't consciously doing anything about this. I wasn't thinking "move left leg, stop, move right leg, stop, repeat to fade" etc. Nor was I actively picking one leg up, moving it, picking the other leg up, etc. So how was this happening?

When I arrived at work, I went to Wikipedia and looked up 'human leg'. This is what Wikipedia had to say on the matter: "Legs are often used for standing, walking, jumping, running, kicking and similar activities." Since "walking" was highlighted, I clicked on it and was directed to a link that told me: "Walking is the main form of animal locomotion on land, distinguished from running and crawling. When executed in shallow water, it is usually described as wading and when executed vertically it becomes scrambling or climbing."

Fascinating as this was, it hadn't answered my original question. But by this point, I was now so horrified at all the other things my body does without me consciously doing anything about it (the biggest worry for me - as someone who has seen "ET: The Extra Terrestrial" - is quite how the body repairs itself after you cut yourself, now that's just freaky), that I had to admit defeat and go back to living in blissful ignorance.

I am terrified about what I'm going to end up thinking about this evening. Last night, I spent 40 minutes mentally recalling the various men I have 'known' in my life... and that was rather frightening, too.

Thursday, March 29, 2007

Indecent Proposal


Last night, AB and I were drinking in The American Bar at The Savoy, belatedly celebrating her birthday. But as I emerged from the ladies', I found a new friend.

Making my way back through the foyer, a rather suave older man stepped in line beside me. "Are you going straight ahead or turning right?" he asked.

I looked at him, and rather boredly said, "Turning right, I suppose." So he did, too.

As we went up the steps towards The American Bar, we were met by the tinkle of the piano player and his singing. So my new friend asked, full of confidence and ignoring my cold shoulder, "Do you sing or do you play the piano?"

"Well, I got my grade one in piano when I was 12. How about that?"

Clearly impressed by my ivory skills (ahem), he said, "You're much more talented than me, I never even got that."

Disappointed, I stopped, looked at him and asked, witheringly, "So you don't even know where middle C is?". And left.

Dirty old sod.

My top tip to any male readers who are on the look out for a lady: never proposition a girl when she's just come out of the ladies' (which has happened twice in the last few months) – it really gives off the wrong impression.

Tuesday, March 27, 2007

Picture of the Week

"Someone Else's Shoes"


Last night, I went to see “Someone Else’s Shoes” at The Soho Theatre with Dave, Paul and Tom. The Soho Theatre is always a treat – it feels like a proper experience to go there, much more so than the faceless and over-priced tat-fests in Theatreland.

Set in a society where everything can be bought and sold – and even creativity and love are commodities – “Someone Else’s Shoes” asks how far capitalism can go and if there’s anything that can’t be owned.

The Amedeo brothers’ business, Mercury Shoes (basically, Nike), has been sold to a multi-national corporation. And Adam Amedeo has gone to Canada to become an art collector, where he finds Nadine, an artist whose work he buys – but, when he starts shagging her, is he really buying her soul? Meanwhile, Nadine’s ex-boyfriend Jed (sexy Jonjo O’Neill) is working his way up Mercury’s shop floor, until militant left-wing activist Mary embroils him in her terrorist mission to bring Mercury (and capitalism) crashing down, by replacing the soles of the shoes with bombs. It’s all very, erm, subtle.

Relentlessly performed in an hour and 40 minutes solid, the five cast members were all impressive, especially Jonjo O’Neill. It was something of a flaw that the character of Nadine was hugely unpleasant, meaning you didn’t care what happened to her or her precious art, but the result of that was it made you root for Jed even more.

Make time to go to the Soho Theatre – decent fringe theatre in the heart of the West End… and it’s cheap, too!

Friday, March 23, 2007

Peerage


Exciting news - I've just become a Lady. After hankering after being an aristocrat since I was a young girl, I have finally given up waiting for a toff to whisk me off my feet, and shelled out £29.99 for a peerage off the internet. It's been on my mind for a while.

It's all legal and above board. I can update my passport, driving licence, bank details etc accordingly and - naturally - I expect everyone to refer to me by my new title (or, at the very least, m'lady). I own one square foot of land in Scotland, I have legal rights to go fishing on my estate AND I have a little card to prove my worth... as well as a plush certificate. How about that then?

It seemed pointless waiting around to become a lady through the traditional channels. And since P gave me a diamond ring for my birthday, I think it's a bit unfair to start shopping around for a proper Lord (not that I'd find one who would compare to P anyway, sigh).

Lady Jane

Hey You (The Rock Steady Crew)


I went to see my tutor on Wednesday for a tete-a-tete re the essay and, as I arrived and unravelled myself from my iPod wires, this prompted him to ask what I was listening to. "Scritti Politti?" he asked, with a knowing smile - since the last time I went for a tutorial, we spent over an hour discussing the merits of post-punk Green Gartside. "Erm, no," I said - making a quick decision in my mind about whether to be honest about what I really had been listening to, or whether to make up something more sophisticated and suitable for a mind of great academia.

I went for the former choice.

"No," I said, "Howard Jones." My tutor blinked at me, looked surprised, and said, "It's been quite a few years since anyone admitted to listening to Howard Jones." So I assured him I could go one worse, and told him I'd previously posed to have my photo taken with Nik Kershaw - who came up to my shoulder, by the way.

The tutorial degenerated into a discussion about the merits of Musical Youth and The Rock Steady Crew (I firmly believe that "Pass The Dutchie" and "Hey You (The Rock Steady Crew)" are two of the most significant records of the 1980s - and I am fully prepared to argue this case with anyone who cares to question me), versus whether or not that has anything to do with Thatcherism and society (debatable).

I'm going to get a crappy mark, aren't I?

Original Thinking


Lately, I have become aware of a strange new phenomenon in my head. I think it’s got something to do with the MA and never reading for pleasure any more, rather reading with a desperate intent to try and find a deep meaning in a book so that I can construct an essay around it. So I lie in The Bed every evening, clutching Martin Amis in one hand and a pen in the other, and reading feverishly as I graffiti the book in the desperate hope that at least some of my notes will actually mean something.

But what all this – coupled with the fact I am unable to think about anything but my impending essay during my entire day – has led to, is me ‘reading’ imaginary passages of Martin Amis, or whoever, in my sleep. In a half-awake, half-asleep state, half my mind is making up the next pages of the book, while the other half of my mind is lambasting me for not making notes on it… while a tiny bit of common sense tries to remind me that it’s not a real book. I tried explaining this to P this morning, but he looked at me like I was talking, erm, rubbish. Ahem.

At this rate, I shall be writing my essay on an entirely fictional version of “Money”. Does that count towards the original thinking they’re always telling us to conjure up?

Friday, March 16, 2007

Inappropriate


A quick word on Comic Relief. I was going to write about how much it set my teeth on edge seeing the likes of Ant and Dec, Ricky Gervais and Davina McCall sobbing in the name of charity. But I've decided the moment has passed and it's too much of a touchy subject. And Ian Hyland did it perfectly in the Screws yesterday.

So, instead, equally inappropriate, I shall say that I've just seen "Hollyoaks" for the first time in aeons - and I STILL really fancy Tony. I know many people think that's wrong, but too bad. I think it's got something to do with that scar on his forehead. Phwoar! Not 'arf, etc etc...

"Alpha Dog" - Part Two


Well... who knew Justin Timberlake could act? Caroline and I went to a press screening of "Alpha Dog" last night, and were quite impressed by the Trousersnake and his incredibly honed body (a shame about all the tats though).

Neither of us was convinced the film would be great, and neither of us was convinced it was, but director Nick Cassavettes's attempt at recreating the true events surrounding a bunch of Californian petty drug barons who kidnap the younger brother of a debter was still quite gripping, if a little long. Coming in at two hours, Cassavettes could easily have shaved 30 minutes off because if you boiled the story down, there wasn't much there.

But Bruce Willis and Sharon Stone put in entertaining efforts, and it's always splendid to see the wonderful Harry Dean Stanton on the big screen. And Shawn Hatsoy (as the fawning mule for dealer Johnny Truelove) put in an exceptionally good effort. The biggest surprise was JT, who I'd presumed was going to be a minor character, but his sympathetic Frankie (who hides the hostage) turns out to be quite a feat.

Thursday, March 15, 2007

Persephone Book in Film Adaptation Shock!


STOP PRESS!

I've just read that there is a film adaptation of "Miss Pettigrew Lives For A Day" (Written by Winifred Watson and published by Persephone) in the pipeline for 2008. This is a good and a bad thing.

It's a good thing as it will generate publicity for Persephone, thereby boosting their sales, raising more awareness of them and helping them to exist and publish even more marvellous books.

But it's a bad thing as the book will doubtles be bastardised by the Americans. I hear that Frances McDormand is in line for the title role. Now, I'm a fan of Frances McDormand - she's a grand actress. But she's also an American actress. And Miss Pettigrew is a 100% English gentlewoman. Sure, McDormand is more of a global cinematic draw than an English actress (and let's face it, Helen Mirren can't be in everything, neither can Judi Dench), but I'm sick of Americans portraying English legends (Zellweger as Beatrix Potter and Bridget Jones; Anne Hathaway as Jane Austen; to name but two).

It's always iffy when one of your favourite books is mauled by Hollywood... but let's wait and see what happens. Oscar-nominated Brit Simon Beaufoy ("The Full Monty") and Oscar-nomiated American David Magee ("Finding Neverland") have done the script, and British TV director Bharat Nalluri ("Life On Mars", "Hustle", "Spoooks" etcl) is directing, when shooting starts in April.

"Alpha Dog"


I'm going to see the Justin Timberlake film "Alpha Dog" tonight. It's not out in the UK until April 20 but I've read some American reviews, which are quite mixed. Will reserve judgement, but two hours of Trousersnake fills me with trepidation. In my mind, he wouldn't look out of place in a souped up Cortina in a council estate car park in Essex. Apparently his acting is better than his 'singing' though.

I only mention this BEFORE I see the film, as my blog opportunities have been slashed what with the current employment situation and I may not get a chance to mention it again AFTER seeing the film. And tomorrow I fully hope (fingers crosed) to submit a 100% scathing attack on the loathsome habit of office employees attempting to have personalities for one day of the year in the name of Comic Relief.

But while I'm here, I'd like to say how violently opposed I am to the proposed Take That musical (a la Mamma Mia and We Will Rock You). Why would right-minded fans pay £50 for a ticket to see some immitation boybanders perform the classics, when they could cough up £10,000 for a touted ticket from a thief on eBay? Oh yes...

AND... good news, P and I are going to see the sumptuous George Michael when he opens the new Wembley Stadium. We're very excited. Less so at paying £200+£20 booking fee+£5 postage for the tickets but at least they're genuine. On which note, the BBC 'Have Your Say' section of the website had a ridiculous argument this week about the Take That eBay rip-off. It made me very angry. As lots of people who couldn't care less about seeing bands bothered to write in and say that they thought the touts were in the right for wanting to make money, and the fans were in the wrong for wanting to go and see these bands in the first place (rather than something more cultured, such as, ooh, opera, prsumably). But the REAL twats smugly sniffed, "Well, I had no problem booking tickets to my son's nativity play, I don't know what the eBay fuss is about". That made me want to smack them around the head with a wet Ronan Keating. Repeatedly.

Tuesday, March 06, 2007

"26a" by Diana Evans


“26a” – Diana Evans

Diana Evans’ debut is so sad, it had me sobbing on the sofa as I compulsively read and read it for hours at the weekend. When P came home he assumed something terrible had happened.

Evans, a former journalist, uses her natural talent for writing and a life-altering event in her past to construct a thinly veiled autobiographical book about twin sisters growing up in Neasden, with a homesick Nigerian mother, a drunken Yorkshire father and two feisty sisters.

“26a” covers a huge time span, from the early ‘80s to the late ‘90s, but at no point do you feel lost or like anything has been glossed over. And the intensity of the writing really helps you get inside the heads of twins Bessie and Georgia and catches you up in the ferocity of their emotions.

But please don’t think this is a hideous chick lit book (a phrase nearly as offensive as yummy mummy, argh), as this is far too intelligent. It may be along the same lines as Monica Ali, Zadie Smith, Meera Syal et al in that it covers problems of ethnicity in London, but Evans brings something new to the equation. The addition of twins makes “26a” a book with a split personality about two characters who are essentially the same person.

Monday, March 05, 2007

Goth Gags


Last night, on a whim,VE ended up at the Mermaid Theatre in Puddle Dock for the Laughter For Life charity event… and met Richard Madeley (who has surpassed Fern Britton as the nicest daytime TV presenter I’ve ever met, and totally eclipsed Phillip Schofield). Comedians included Dara O’Brain and Bill Bailey, who were both very good, but the highlight for me was Rob Rouse, who had a great line in Goth gags.

After sharing that his favourite summer activity was watching Goths struggling in the heat, Rob told a very funny anecdote about how he likes to hang around the bus stop outside Tesco in summer and see sweaty Goths waiting for the bus, while laden with their groceries… how mundane. And an equally amusing one about how he went to the zoo in Kent and saw a mummy and daddy Goth pushing a pram, and his desperation to see what a baby Goth looked like… and what it did look like. To backtrack – Goths in a zoo!

Sunday, March 04, 2007

Study Break


This weekend (with P away at his ex's 60th birthday party - yup, 60! That's 31 full years older than me... tee hee) has been devoted to my next essay, which is to do with Thatcher's 1987 comment about there being no such thing as society, and does the writing of Amis and Bracewell reflect this.

So yesterday was divided between the British Library and the university library and I felt quite pleased with myself. Although less so today, as my attempts to make sense of all my notes and photocopies has resulted in me 1) having a bath, 2) doing the washing up, 3) putting the washing on, 4) taking the recycling out and 5) ringing my Australian brother for a chat (he's well, by the way). Oh... and writing this.

But I did catch up with Caroline last night, and we enjoyed copious eating and drinking (mojitos and chips at Ballan's Cafe, and white wine and margheritas at Pizza Express) sandwiched around a trip to the cinema to see the dreadfully self-indulgent "A Guide To Recognising Your Saints". It was painfully self-conscious and agonisingly turgid in the director's attempts (I can't be bothered to look up his name) to immortalise on celluloid his true tale of tumultuous teenage years in downtown New York. The whole thing was predictable and painful, and the 'twist' was recognisable from the off. Yawn.

This morning, I watched "Enduring Love" on DVD in The Bed. Daire lent it to me on Thursday, assuring me it was "identical to the book" (which I haven't read) and telling me that by watching it I would qualify to come to the McEwan reading group tomorrow night. I'm not convinced. A quite enjoyable film though. Not sure about Daniel Craig but always nice to see Helen McCrory.

Oh, and Take That ticket latest: the eBay rush has inevitably died down and tickets are now going for a more, cough, reasonable £500 a pair. If push comes to shove, I haven't ruled out swallowing my pride and buying a more fairly priced pair nearer the time. But for now I've left a message with my second brother's former flatmate's ex-girlfriend (who's pretty significant with the largest tour promoter in the world) to see if she can help. And P has left a message with his friend in Dubai who was one of TT's backing dancers the first time around and, apparently, "still talks to Mark sometimes". We'll see... but I haven't given up hope.

Friday, March 02, 2007

Take That - The Rip Off Begins


Still seething over my Take That loss. Apparently there was some loop in the online buying system that meant that even though tickets didn't officially go on sale until 9am, some touts had been buying them earlier. Meaning that genuine fans had zero chance.

There are now (I've just looked) 949 (NINE HUNDRED AND FORTY-NINE) bastard rip-off fuckers on eBay taking the joy out of genuine Take That fans' lives for £620 a pair and upwards. What galls me, is that some desperate idiots are paying for this.

Presumably the lovely boys themselves - Gary, Mark, Jason and Howard - are seething at this injustice. But why does eBay allow it to happen? And why does Ticketmaster let people get ripped off so badly.

Take That - The Desperation


I'm fucking fed up with eBay ticket touts. As a genuine Take That fan I marked today in my diary last week... as the new tour tickets went on sale at 9am. I even persuaded my joyless, despot current employers to let me come in at 10 (instead of 9.30) so that I'd be by the computer, ready to buy my two tickets (for personal use, not to sell on for an outrageous profit) the second they went on sale.

Instead, I have sat here for 45 minutes, tearing my hair out as the computer keeps telling me the system is overloaded, there has been an error, there is too great a demand, there are no tickets left etc etc etc.

But guess what I saw on eBay at 9.05 - two Take That tickets on sale for £350. AND PEOPLE ARE ACTUALLY BIDDING ON THEM. What kind of fools are they?

Thursday, February 22, 2007

Camden


This week, I have begun the first of four weeks working in Camden. Which is quite a departure from my usual Southbank base... and the re-introduction of commuting (after nearly four years) into my life is quite a shock. Normally, I take a brisk walk along the Embankment to work, which sets my head up for a day of air-conditioning and strip-lighting in front of a computer screen. So coughing up £53(!) for a bus pass is quite a shock to the system. I hope Ken is spending my money wisely.

I had envisaged spending my bus journeys immersed in books essential to the MA and decided that this would be a good use of time. But I quickly learnt that buses are full of Other People, which is not a good thing. Other People, it seems, spend their bus journeys talking loudly and pointlessly into their mobile phones, coughing in a disgusting manner, arguing with the driver, and generally dribbling on the windows. All of which makes me feel unwell. So, unable to read, I have spent my journeys plugged into my iPod trying to pretend that it's not really happening. All of this cements my knowledge that surely I am meant for Better Things, but I think P is tiring of my pleas for him to make more money so that I can abandon work and actually live my life, rather than exist in it.

This morning, I noticed an abandoned record shop on Camden High Street, formerly called Reckless Records. The windows were washed with that white paint familiar to closed-down shops... But what was really sad was that, from the inside, the former owner had written "No Hope" with their finger in the paint. Considering that I am immersed in Michael Bracewell's 1980s books about dissatisfaction, it all seemed extra poignant.

A good thing about working in Camden is that I am working with my old friend CG, so I have some moral support in my 'There Must Be More To Life Than This' campaign. Our lunchtimes this week have been spent either devouring chocolate muffins as we whinge about men (her), work (me) and Other People (both of us); or abusing the privilege of working for someone we’ve both known for years and taking a two hour lunch break to go to the gym. Yesterday, I surpassed my own personal best, and ran 5k in 25 minutes. I'm warming up for a charity run in the summer, and hope that at this rate I shall get through the whole thing in 10 minutes. But when I suggested this to Paul The Personal Trainer last night, he seemed doubtful that that would be humanly possible. I shall prove him wrong. In the meantime, please sponsor me, as all the money goes to trying to find a cure for breast cancer.

Wednesday, February 21, 2007

The British Library


This isn't the kind of thing I'd normally put on this site, but I've been made aware that the ridiculous men who 'govern' our country are planning to cut the British Library's budget... meaning that the opening hours will be dramatically slashed and we will be charged to use the reading rooms (bad news for students, and also defeats the purpose of a national library that's open to all).

There is a petition on the Prime Minister's website, and please consider signing it. The British Library is an essential resource, and it will be a terrible thing if the hours are cut any more and we have to pay to use it.

Tuesday, February 20, 2007

Site Meter

Every now and then I do look at my 'Site Meter' to see who's been looking at my blog and where they've come from, and I noticed an influx of people from a website called Slate, so I went and took a look. Apparently the folk at Slate, which seems to assess the news of the day as discussed on the web, had taken a shine to my anti-Gillian McKeith comments. So I've added a link to them here, as I approve.

This week, I am pleased to welcome readers from as far afield as Massachusetts, Dakar, Athens and Slough. Welcome one, welcome all.

Monday, February 19, 2007

Films

And I've seen some films. (I'm only adopting this approach to catch up since I've been slack - it's not a new tack).

"Little Miss Sunshine"
A heart-warmingly endearing tale of a gently eccentric family trekking across American in a camper van to get to an inappropriate beauty pagent. Most enjoyable.

"My Beautiful Launderette"
A repeat viewing of Kureishi's classic as background study for the essay. I've seen it many times and there's always something new in the downtrodden but debauched carryings on.

"The Last Of England"
Derek Jarman's anti-Thather, experimental view on society. "Tomorrow has been cancelled due to lack of interest." More essay research. Tilda Swinton is in it. Is that a good thing? Don't know.

"Once Upon A Time In The Midlands"
Shane Meadows is this country's finest young director. He has yet to make a duff film. This one's a bit of an ensemble piece now that he has a reputation, but he's always pulled in the names. Not his best work, but certainly not shit.

Books

It has occurred to me that I am supposed to be writing primarily about books on this blog... but lately I have been more preoccupied with talking about fancy spas and disgusting celebs. So I shall attempt to rectify that with a brief catch up of my literary endeavours...

WG Sebald: "The Rings Of Saturn"
This is one for the MA. I started it about a month ago and need to finish it by tomorrow. The trouble is that, while being beautifully written, it is so dull that I am unable to stay awake long enough to read more than a few pages. The other problem is that since it has no structure whatsoever (being a terribly clever and postmodern attempt to dissolve the framework of the novel) I am unable to concentrate on what I am reading, and spend more time wondering what I need to buy at Sainsbury's later. Red snapper, sugar snaps, rocket...

Alan Warner: "The Sopranos"
Another MA one, however I read this by choice years ago and loved it. I'm getting much more out of it the second time around and have nearly finished it. The debauched tale of five or six Scottish choir girls let loose in Edinburgh for the day. Highly recommended. Takes a leaf out of Irvine Welsh's mythical guide to writing a book in Scottish. Don't let that put you off though.

Michael Bracewell: "The Crypto-Amnesia Club"
My tutor suggested this as a possible for my next essay (on how literature reflects Thatcher's ideas of a society-less society), alongside Amis's "Money". So I sped through the 110 pages in two hours. It's very self-conscious and wanky as the title suggests, but it also seems very true of the late '80s nightclub scene and general dissatisfaction with life. I read Bracewell's "Saint Rachel" years ago and considered it to be cod-"Prozac Nation", and why would anyone need that?

Hanif Kureishi: "Sammy And Rosie Get Laid"
I read the script and accompanying diaries (fascinating) thinking it might tie in with my essay (see above), but have since decided the Indian connection is making life more complicated - as I only have 5,000 words. But I may change my mind back as I love Kureishi's stuff. The concepts of anarchy and outrage appeal to my inner teen.

There have been more, but I think these are the most significant...

Friday, February 16, 2007

Scandal

As I sat on the bus this morning, I was mulling over some really grim celebrity gossip I was privvy to yesterday. Now, in the course of my work I hear all sorts of things about all sorts of people. But yesterday I heard something extra special... about someone extra grim... who got married earlier this week. In all honesty, I've heard quite a few off-the-record nasty things about said person this week, but what I heard yesterday made even cynical-old-me cringe in disgust and left a vile picture in my mind (even now it's causing me to wince). So it's fair to say that when I got home last night, and P revealed the nitty gritty of a separate celeb's hanky panky with a royal (in full detail), I didn't have much stomach for it. Sometimes, I really have to question the integrity of what I do for a living.

However, as I sit here now, waiting for the cromalins to turn up, (7.40pm on a Friday with no sign of going home for at least another four hours and yes, I have been here since 10am) I've been considering how much longer I can really hack it. As much as I've enjoyed (if 'enjoy' is the right word) 'urgh'-ing and 'yuk'-ing over the salacious tales I hear from industry insiders, there is a large part of me that finds it all desperately sad. Sad that readers find the heavily-edited lives of these losers fascinating (I could understand it more if they knew what REALLY went on), and sad that people are making millions out of it. So a certain part of me is relieved that I have a three week booking at a homes magazine coming up... surely my morals will be safe there, sandwiched between a spread on sofas and an article about plumbing - or am I straying into dangerous territory again?

One final word... for all that I've said above, when The Gordon Ramsay Story (yes, THAT one) finally breaks, I shall be the first in line to buy my copy of the News Of The World. I might even frame it. Tee hee. Some things ARE worth sharing.

Monday, February 12, 2007

Gillian McKeith Be Gone


Hurray! At last, the loathsome Gillian McKeith has been exposed for the sham witch doctor we always knew her to be. I write this with a flurry, fresh from reading The Guardian's gleeful slamming of the TV 'doctor'. Tee hee.

It was September 2004 when I was first alerted to Gillian's false credentials. I spent a month working on the launch of Reveal magazine, for which 'Dr' Gillian was then employed as their resident health columnist. And one of my colleagues (a former health journalist on one of the broadsheets) couldn't help but express his fury at the fact she had bought her credentials from an American website. So much so that every time her name was mentioned, you could almost see him frothing at the mouth. I imagine that he is currently jumping for joy, and salivating for a different reason.

Everyone who knows me is aware of my loathing and distrust of GPs who, in my experience (and, boringly, I have had ample experience), know very little about not much. Example? A friend of P's went to his GP several times recently complaining that things didn't seem right but his GP dismissed him each time. The result? Said friend is having surgery for cancer today (after ignoring GP and seeking out a proper doctor). Another example? My sister-in-law went three times to her GP saying she thought she had gall stones, but he ignored her. The result? She collapsed and was ambulanced to hospital with potentially fatal pancreatitis (caused by the gall stones having become infected since nobody took them out - which would have been a run of the mill thing).

GPs? The clue is in the name. GENERAL practitioners. McKeith may have claimed to be a nutritionist (rather than a GP) but her sham qualifications are as bad as theirs. Let's hope this is the end of her TV career.

Body Shock


Today, I returned to work after a two week break. So yesterday - my body reacting to its embedded allergy at the concept of work - I developed a stinking cold and spent much of the day moping around, downing Diet Coke and making woeful eyes at patient P.

It was all rather unfortunate as Mrs M had come to stay for the weekend, but we had a good time anyway. She appeared on Friday morning (interrupting my new favourite TV show, "Homes Under The Hammer") to drop off her case, and reappeared in the evening when P and I met her in Fitzrovia for dinner at Chez Gerard and then to go to the Drill Hall to listen to a few recordings of Radio 4's "The Wright Stuff", which was more entertaining than I'd expected. Sebastian "Birdsong" Faulks, eh? Who knew he had a decent sense of humour?

On Saturday, Mrs M and I took a trip down memory lane by going to Portobello Market. (Memory lane for me, since I spent four years living nearby; and memory lane for her, since she spent much of the '60s hanging out there when it was far cooler than it is now). My current favourite thing about Portobello? Tamara Fogle (Ben's sister) who sells handbags.

Yesterday, we managed to stumble five minutes round the corner to Tate Britain, where I sneezed, coughed and spluttered my way round a few Francis Bacon's and John Piper's, before giving up and and coming back to the flat to cook lunch for Mum before she got her train... which allowed me to retreat to bed and watch "The Dreamers" on DVD. I'd read the book a few years ago and deemed it "OK-I-suppose", but the film left much to be desired. Unlike "Cocktail", which the ever-reliable Channel Five saw fit to screen last night and proved just the tonic. Hurrah for Tom Cruise.