Monday, 29 October 2012

How late it was, how late...

...except actually it isn't late at all.  It's just really vilely dark outside, because the clocks went back.  The sodding clocks went back.  It's autumn. 

It's also about to pour with rain, yet again.

On the plus side, it's Samhain on Wednesday.

Had another happy Saturday helping TCI and G with their DIY.  They're on to the decorating stage; paint rollers and dustsheets and toning sealants going in around fitted and finished white goods....  Large chunks of their flat now look glorious; like a real home!   Some bits do still need a little work, e.g. the half-plastered wall in the kitchen.  They should be very proud of themselves, though, as they have done a tremendous amount since they bought the place.  DIY heroes!

What else?  I'm still writing; Villain A (the Really Bad one) is now arguing with Villain B (the unpleasant but naif scientist) and threatening him with an automatic pistol.  Villain B is being sarcastic, which may not be a good idea given that he is not the one with the gun.  My heroine has made herself invisible and is trying not to feel trapped and out of her depth, seeing as she cannot get out of the room and there's a Nasty Piece of Work with a gun standing a few feet away from her, losing his temper rapidly...  Yep, it's all fun and games at (what's left of ) the Droit Institute.

I'm very worried by the weather reports from across the Atlantic.  Good grief, it sounds as if half the east coast of America is in danger; they are apparently facing a similar combination of factors as caused the famous floods of 1953 in Britain and Holland - with the addition of a bloody hurricane...  The most powerful country in the world; but Mother Nature can still be far mightier.  The US will be in my prayers tonight.


Thursday, 25 October 2012

Slowly slowly

Writing update: For those who are interested to know, I'm slowly working my way through the destruction of the Droit Institute.  I'm not exactly enjoying this stage of the development, and I suspect I may be over-writing something rotten.  But I've known from early on that this particular story would require extensive revision, so I'm going to tackle the de-purpling of the purple prose at the same time as I come to that.  For now I just want to finish the blowing-stuff-up bit.

I've managed so far to knock down the main wing; the lecture theatre and all the seminar rooms have been reduced to rubble.  I was visualising this part looking like my old art college, a sort-of mini-Bauhaus of glass façades and cool grey corridors.  I like that style of architecture but I'm sorry to have to report that I have none the less blasted the fictional version to pieces just about as thoroughly as I could.  Two characters are trapped under the rubble, but neither is badly hurt (owing to their "special powers", whoo) and being very capable sorts they are now digging their way out.  Someone else is about to go into the neighbouring annexe where the main lab is, which is still standing; and get in trouble there. This is where I'll be making the most of the Dipgeek's tips on what-not-to-do with an MRI scanner.

Slowly slowly; but making progress.

Tuesday, 23 October 2012

Ask a silly question...

I did an online survey in my lunch break yesterday; for Boots The Chemists.  I guess I was sucked-in by marketing; they offered to enter me into a draw for £200-worth of stuff from Boots, and I thought of all the contact lens fluid and antiperspirant I could get for £200...  Yep, I got sucked-in.

And then they asked me this: "Did Boots staff do everything they could to make your visit to our Oxford Street Store enjoyable?"

The choices to answer were "Yes" and "No".

Now talk about "ask a silly question"; this is one of the silliest I've been asked in a long time.  And I bet it has messed up their statistics.  Don't the people who write surveys think about what they're putting down?  Because the only logically correct answer to the question, as written, is "No".

The member of staff who served me was friendly and courteous, and efficient on a cash register.  I don't ask more than that, so she was fine.  She did everything I expected and she did it well, and with a smile.  But did she do everything she could to make my visit enjoyable?  Of course she bally well didn't! 

Where was my free cup of tea?  Heck, where was my free glass of Talisker?  Where was my comfy armchair and fresh fruit salad?  Where was my foot rub?  My session in a flotation tank?  I don't recall being presented with theatre tickets, or tickets to the opera or the ballet, or to a film premiere, either.  Or being given a voucher for a free make-over including liposuction, a unique new treatment that reverses premature greying, and a couple of grand towards a new wardrobe.  I didn't get a free pedicure or manicure or even some free nail polish.  And I'm still waiting for my gift-wrapped Jeremy Renner. 

I came out of the store with the items I'd gone in looking for; toothpaste, and a packet of sodium citrate.  It's just plain silly to ask if the staff did everything they could to make that enjoyable. 

I ticked "Yes", because I wasn't going to say "No" just because I didn't get the whiskey and the foot rub and the pedicure, and Mr Renner and a box at the opera...  But I still think it was a very silly question.

Friday, 19 October 2012

Friday friday...

Thank goodness it's Friday.  I have soldiered on all week with a steady series of flare-ups of cystitis; eating wholesomely, drinking water and cranberry juice and herbal teas, taking those funny-flavoured alkalizing  powders, taking cranberry caps and a probiotic and goldenseal drops (ugh, that's one nasty taste).  I now have a doctor's appointment for next Thursday (earliest they could fit me in) so if I'm still in trouble by then I'm going to swallow my principles and beg for some antibiotics.

Kew is looking wonderful.  I just wish I felt better able to go out and appreciate it.  The weather has turned wet (AGAIN!!) so all the fall colours are rich and saturated in the wet.  There are dainty lilac autumn crocuses everywhere, and tumbling clumps of the big double colchicum "Waterlily" to the side of the path where I walk through from the back of the office towards the Princess of Wales Conservatory.  There are still real waterlilies in the Waterlily House (and it's still hot in there, too!).  The Rock Garden has little secretive clumps of cyclamen, and crinkly pink nerines, blooming here and there among the boulders.  It's beautiful, it really is.  A feast of colour and texture and rich sweet musky smells.  And huge, huge puddles.

Thursday, 18 October 2012

Wednesday, 17 October 2012

Strange dream

I had a very odd dream last night.  I had gone back to my old junior school (=kindergarten, for anyone in the US) to talk to all the kids, because I was a terribly succesful and inspirational former pupil.  I was signing autographs and writing personal messages of encouragement for all these terrific, bright, sparky children, and they were telling me how brilliant it was to meet me and what an inspiring person I was. 

It was absolutely, completely and utterly bl**dy surreal.

It was also rather awesome, though, if I'm honest.  I've never had that feeling of inspiring anyone and had no idea how it felt.  It felt good

Any ideas what the flipping heck it means, though? 

Monday, 15 October 2012

Talking in public...

On Saturday, after bending our brains together at “Looper” (excellent, but inevitably a little brain-bendy, by dint of the subject) the Dipgeek and I went for a meal and a quiet drink in a pub in Richmond.  We started off talking about all the general “how are you?” stuff one always starts with, followed of course by “how’s your food?”; but then we got onto alternative lives/alternative universes, and would-you-change-the-past-if-you-could; and excrement, of course (the Dipgeek works with it, and I use it in metaphors perhaps rather more often than I should); and then we got onto the subject of blowing things up.

It’s amazing what some of my friends know.   I had no idea how dangerous liquid nitrogen is, for example.  I can have so much fun now, writing stuff that would make any health and safety conscious person run a mile.  I have just enough factual info to make the destruction of the Droit Institute in "Gold Hawk" sound moderately credible instead of really, really lame (it was limping along on the level of “He hit him, then he hit back and a bit of the wall fell down”, which is pretty shameful).

The Dipgeek had read this, and realised she could advise me to a certain extent, simply because she's a Dipgeek and I'm not.  She very sensibly decided against sending me a detailed email entitled “How to blow up a research institute”, since it could be, well, misunderstood...  So, being two terribly intelligent people (well, actually, being two trusting souls who are used to living in a free country) we sat in The Duke off Richmond Green and talked about it in public.  

I made a lot of notes.  I now have a notebook with some really appalling things written in it.

If anyone did overhear the conversation, we’ve probably both moved up the MI6 watch list.  Particularly as we kept laughing.  It was normal laughter, though; not Evil Villain mwahahah laughter.

The Dipgeek may have missed her forte, incidentally; she shows great promise as an Evil Villain, with some quite extraordinary blow-things-up ideas.  Not quite up to James Bond standards (she needs to work on the baroque hairdo and the sadism, though she does now have the white fluffy cat, and can do a better mwahahah than me), but certainly better than the average “Mission Impossible” baddie, for example.  Mind you, it's hardly difficult to be more evil than Dougray Scott; while the Evil Villain in “MI4” is described at one point as having a ludicrously high IQ - 185, was it? - (I can’t remember, damn it; now I shall have to watch a bit of the dvd in order to check.  Lunge scene, here I come! Oh no, it isn’t in the lunge scene.  Hmm.  I think I shall watch the lunge scene anyway, simply because it is so... so... words fail me.  So - so lunge-y) and he’s just a blank cipher with a glassy stare.  If that’s an IQ of 185 then maybe I’ve got one too.  I can certainly do blank and glassy-eyed.  Pass me the whisky and I’ll show you right now.

Certainly Dipgeek would be far more interesting than Mr Glassy-eyes; but of course, she’s sane, which does make the whole Villainy plan a little redundant. 

Anyway, I now have a bit more knowledge about dangerous things in labs, and coincidentally also about Informed Consent (which is going to be really useful in Chapter One when I get the the rewrites stage), and I'm a happy writing bunny.  With an excuse to watch the lunge scene again.

Friday, 12 October 2012

A film review (a long one)

Well, I did it; I watched it.  I bought it in a sale, several months ago, and then stuck it on my shelf thinking “You’re going to have to watch this sooner or later, now you’ve paid a fiver for it” until in the end my innate meanness pushed me into sticking it in the dvd player last night.  Because I’d paid for it.  If someone had given it to me it’s quite likely I would have passed it to a charity shop, unwatched.

I’ve been a bit of an idiot, because of course it was nothing like what I had expected.  I had stated pretty firmly in public, a few months ago, that I had no intention of watching this film as my nerves wouldn’t take it.  Ahem; just before I bought it.  Yes, I’m not always logical.  But I knew what the subject matter was, and I told myself that my imagination could conjure plenty to alarm and horrify me without my needing to see a realistic depiction in technicolour.  Ding dong, wrong wrong.  It is a brilliant film and I can understand entirely why it won so many awards.

I do feel that there was a bit of a whoops on the part of the marketing team, though.  By splashing quotes on the cover of the dvd that emphasise that this is a war movie and an action movie, and putting images of explosions and screaming faces on the sleeve, they make it look like something it is not - a full-on violent action piece in the “boys-will-be-men” genre; something like a modern-day “Dirty Dozen”.  They gave me expectations which the film itself then completely overturned.  I’m delighted about that; but anyone who had wanted “The Dirty Dozen” would have been bitterly disappointed. 

What I had expected was something very violent, with a seriously high level of blowings-up, shootouts and general death and mayhem.  I was expecting explicit gore and horror, and to be scared stiff a lot of the time.  I was also expecting the film to be pretty gung-ho, and I was certain it would be political.  I didn’t know whether it would be pro-war political, or pro-this-war political, or anti-war political, or anti-this-war political; and I didn’t much care which one it was, to be honest, since in a war movie, having a political stance generally turns the characters and the story into ciphers whose sole purpose is to illustrate the film-makers’ point, and whether I agree with their point or not that still makes for a less interesting film.  

So, anyway, I was anticipating being hit over the head with one of the following: A) Our glorious, noble boys are fighting for freedom, rah!  B) Our glorious, noble boys are fighting for freedom this time even if they weren’t in ‘Nam, slightly-less-rah!  C) Our poor boys always end up getting into fights because they are men and men always get in fights because they don’t know any better, boo!  or D) Our poor boys are being misled into laying down their lives by corrupt politicians, but they’re still glorious and noble even if misguided, slightly-less-boo! 

With lashings of blood and guts, and graphically-highlighted corpses mounded to left and right till the set looks like Cuchulainn’s defence of the ford. 

Well, there is a bit of gore, indeed quite a lot in places.  There are deaths.  There are explosions (there would have to be explosions, really).  There is a fair amount of shooting at times.  But none of this is handled in the way I expected.  The violence is there because it’s essential – perhaps a better term would be unavoidable - since the setting of this story is a war zone; but the way it’s treated is as low-key as is feasible.  It’s never gratuitous, it’s not lingered over, and as much as possible it’s kept painfully human.  One is not allowed to forget for one moment that each wound, each death, each moment of fear or grief or shock, happens to a human being and not a plot device.

Then there’s the fact that it’s startlingly apolitical; war is the context, but it’s kept right in the background.  No-one ever talks about it in terms of politics, beliefs, right or wrong, etc.  It’s just the situation these men are in – the same as a building site is the situation builders are in, the same as the office I’m sitting in now, writing this while I eat my lunch, is the situation I’m in.  There’s no preaching, from any side, and no nationalistic claptrap, and neither glorification nor liberal breast-beating and wailing of woe.   That’s not to say there isn’t a message (more on this anon), but the message is again kept resolutely on a human level.

Overall, what one gets is a series of almost random vignettes that build up into a powerful exploration of the effects of unremitting stress and the shifting balance of instinctive dislike and growing comradeship between three mismatched men enduring said stress while working together in appallingly difficult conditions.  God, that’s a clumsy sentence; sorry about that.  We see these men argue, hit one another, yell at one another, struggle to understand one another; we see them bond and un-bond and then re-bond...  But an action piece it’s not.  It’s a psychological study in human character and human tension, and far more than it is violent it is deeply moving.

About the only expectation I had that was not thoroughly confounded was the one of being frightened.  I was genuinely terrified for the three principal characters, most of the time; the creation and sustaining of tension is brilliantly done.

This is achieved, as far as I can see, by a combination of several very simple things having all been got right.  The director knows exactly what she is doing; the script is excellent, clear and brilliantly economical; and the cast is superb.   I could leave it there – that does kind of say it all, after all.  But I was so impressed that I found myself analysing what I had been watching; trying to work out why it works so very, very well.

Take the opening.  The first scene lasts, what, eight or ten minutes?  I didn’t count the lines of dialogue, but there aren’t that many – maybe fifty lines altogether.  It’s just some men in a street, talking about their work, then executing it.  The scene is set; not just the immediate scene – this street, this day – but the whole scene – this city, this country, this conflict.  We’re shown what these men’s work is and their individual roles within the team.  We see how they interrelate, and how at ease they are with one another.  It’s clear that they have worked together over a period of time, in dangerous conditions.  We learn a surprising amount about how roadside bombs work, too; by the time the explosion occurs, we know precisely what has happened to the man who falls and does not get up, and why.  All this is done without a single bit of overt exposition.  Then in the next sequences we see how the survivors feel about his death, and we meet the man who will replace him; and see, immediately but through very subtle ways, how totally different this guy is to the man who died.   At no point does anyone say “You need to know that...” or “Let me tell you about...”  At no point is there any voiceover, and the very brief use of subtitles is relevant and adds pertinent information economically.  The whole thing is an absolute master class of “show, don’t tell”. 

The casting is another masterstroke.  Yes, I confess that this is why I ended up buying the dvd.  Yes, I-am-a-creature-of-crushes.  Etc, etc.  And, if you’re wondering, no, I’m not actually ashamed of it.  I’ve come to feel the only shameful crush is the one one is ashamed of.  I realise that, written down, that looks like a logical impossibility of some kind.  What I mean is that it’s the person saying “I don’t have a crush! How dare you – this is true love!” who is most likely to turn into a stalker.  Having the experience, a few years ago, of living just down the road from someone I admired hugely - seeing him in the greengrocer’s buying beans, or putting out his recycling bin on a Monday evening - cured me of any inclination ever to stalk anyone.  It was alternately boring and terribly embarrassing.

Anyway, to go back to my subject, this was the film that shot The Crush of the Moment from hard-working character actor into star-in-the-making.  It must have come as a shock; he was in his late thirties, after all, with at least fifteen years hard graft under his belt.  And he’s not remotely the regular identikit chiselled Hollywood Hero, gorgeous though he be.  He has a rough-edged, lived-in, everyman-ish gorgeousness; he’s none too tall and he’s got nice eyes, a round face and no cheekbones to speak of.   Not the usual movie star type at all, though to my mind far more interesting.  The possession of a truly lovely physique does wonders for the overall Hunk Score, but once again it’s an everyman’s great bod, not the gym-sculpted Artificial Perfection of a body builder.   He looks splendid, and very fit, with his shirt off, but like a fit human being, not something that was produced in a workshop using a hammer and chisel. 

Okay, I’ll stop drooling now, having bored anyone reading this rigid with that little side-disquisition on male beauty.  Ahem.   When he was offered this part, Mr R was not yet a star; he was a bloody good actor who got a lucky break in the form of a great (though clearly pretty stressful) role in which he could burn up the screen by just standing still, and finally get to show everybody just how much he could do with the most inward and minimal of means.   He is absolutely electrifying; it really restores one’s faith in the movie industry to see that a performance of this calibre can get someone noticed to this degree.  Quite what the assembled casting directors of Hollywood had been failing to notice up until then, I don’t know.  Maybe they’re all prejudiced against any chap who’s less than six foot in his socks. 

The other two leads are also excellent, and I’m very pleased to see that one of them, Anthony Mackie, has also begun to make a bit of a mark for himself now.  Talent and hard work can still be what it takes.  Hurrah for that.  But because all three of them look like everyman, and at the time of filming effectively were everyman,  one stops seeing them as anything but everyman, within minutes of the film starting.  So that it feels like a story about ordinary men, and not a fiction; and the visual style is messy enough to keep this documentary quality.  On the occasions when a known face appears he generally gets wiped out soon after.  It’s one of the best uses of a Brechtian distancing device I’ve seen for a while – the Movie Star appears, smiles, speaks a few lines and promptly gets killed, bang! One is thrown back each time to these three perfectly ordinary blokes who are brave and desperate and real, carrying on with their terrifying work, doing their human best, and coping with their frayed nerves, damaged souls, and breaking hearts. 

The end is utterly heartbreaking, too.  I actually sat and cried at the sight of someone shopping in a supermarket and clearing leaves out of a blocked drain.  It reminded me of one of the most potently subtle sad film endings I know, the closing scene of “Walkabout”.  I have no idea if the echoes I saw were intentional, mind you.  But I ended up glad for Sgt James; because he can go back, where the girl in “Walkabout” cannot.  And this brings me to the one place where I feel this otherwise superb film came crashing down.  It has a firmly stated message, which appears right at the beginning as an epigraph, in lieu of a title sequence.  But what follows is far deeper and more subtle than that epigraph can ever be.  So if one watches trying to relate everything to the epigraph, one ends up losing some of the laminations of meaning, of emotion, of human depth. 

If this had been a story about medics, then the thesis that war is a drug would have been demonstrated very clearly and without any contradictions.  A doctor can practice anywhere, after all.  Most of the places a doctor can practice are reasonably safe; certainly as safe as this office.  So a doctor who chooses voluntarily to keep returning to the battlefield can quite reasonably be suspected of an addiction to the danger and thrill of a war situation.  But really, what is a bomb-disposal expert supposed to do in civvy street?  It’s hardly a regular skill set to take to the local jobcentre.  The film makes it very clear that, troubled and difficult man though he is, Sgt James is also highly skilled and has a real aptitude for his job; he’s a natural.  Is there anywhere a really good, naturally gifted bomb-disposal man can do his right work, other than in the military, in a war zone?  I can’t think of any other option for him.  No-one likes to feel useless, after all.  One of the most touching elements of the “back home” sequences is the way James is always shown busy with something – something, anything - to be useful and keep himself occupied. 

The epigraph made me feel I was meant to have been thinking “Shitterbricks, how tragic, he’s going back, the poor addicted bastard” – but I didn’t.  I am pretty thoroughly anti-war; and I didn’t.  I just felt cross at having been told what to think.  Especially in the context of a film that was in every other way so very thought-provoking, so very moving, and so very unprescriptive.

Tuesday, 9 October 2012

The wrong man is on my roof

Well, there’s a man on the roof of my office, and a mosquito inside it.  Why can’t it be the other way around?  Not that I necessarily want this particular man in my office, but any human would be preferable to a ruddy mozzie – which I have so far singularly failed to squish.  Grr. 

I know I am turning into a dirty old woman now I’ve seen the wrong side of forty, but honestly – why do maintenance men always look like one of the thuggy guys from “Eastenders”?  They never look like Will Houston, or Gary Avis, or Roderick Williams, or Jeremy Renner...    Or even like Mr Marinated Artichokes, or the Lovely Wes.   I’ve got a great view of this chap’s legs, but I have seen much better legs in my time.

I should explain that I’m suffering my usual atypical response to medication.  Most women lose their sex drive when they get a mirena coil, but mine trebled – it feels like I’m channeling Samantha Jones the entire time.  I’m sitting here eating black olive paste on home-baked mixed seed bread and thinking about what I could do with the black olive paste if I had the attractive man of my dreams (as opposed to the unattractive man of the roof) in here with me; it’s so weird.  I have never been a Samantha Jones-type girl.  Never.  I’ve been a good, quiet, modest lass (as is befitting in one so stout and plain).  But now – well, I have never stared at so many men’s bums in the street as the last few months.  It’s just really, really weird.

I haven’t started acting like Samantha Jones, I should add; just thinking like her.  I actually haven’t got a clue how to become a voracious man-eater.  Indeed, the idea is rather comical.  Whereas becoming a sneaky old letch seems to come naturally.  Oh well.  Thank goodness for the beautiful bodies and faces of actors and dancers and so on, then.  At least I have something to leer at.

Mind you, it’s also since the mirena settled down that I got this wild drive of creative juice and started writing again.  So maybe being juicy in one sense goes with being juicy in the other.  If so, I cannot complain, for anything that keeps my creativity up is welcome and blessed - even if it is also inconvenient and baffling!  But I can and do complain that the man on the roof isn’t a hunk.  Drat it, if I’ve got to be disturbed by all this crashing around overhead, I demand eye candy in compensation!    

One visual pleasure is presenting itself to me; not a man, but a tree.  There’s a big maple across the Green with leaves that are slowly turning the most glorious flaming orange-red, from the top down, as the autumn nights grow cooler.  The colour is practically incandescent in the sunlight.  It’s simply stunning.

Monday, 8 October 2012

Oy, what a miserable wet day!

The weekend was so lovely, with crisp mornings and bright autumnal sunshine.  Leaves are turning and asters and dahlias and Sedum spectabile are blooming.  Squirrels were out gathering nuts.  Nerines are in bud, and everywhere you go in Kew Gardens, you can spot little clumps of autumn-flowering cyclamen peeping through leaf litter or out from rock crevices. 

But today it has chucked down rain, completely ignoring the BBC and the met office, who insist it’s an overcast but dry day.  Hi there, Beeb/Met folks, you’re wrong.   It is a classic rainy Monday, and I’m feeling blue.    

I shouldn’t be blue.  I got my tax return done this weekend and I baked bread (albeit rather solid bread – haven’t made any for a while and seem to have lost my baker’s touch), and I wrote some more, and got my protagonists into the first stage of the final stretch.  They are now both inside the place that’s going to get blown up in a bit.  Anna has managed to rescue two friends, though she had to do something rather mean to one of them to get him to agree to leave.  Thorn has met something extremely unpleasant in a stairwell, and on escaping from that has walked smack into the villain and his cohorts.  And I’ve left them staring at one another in a mutual “Oh sh*t” moment, and come in to work.

On the down side, though, besides the rain, I have a really weird sensation in my throat – as if there were a lump in there.  No pain, and I can’t feel any actual lump; I just have this swollen feeling all the time.  It’s actually very uncomfortable.  If it doesn’t clear up I shall have to go to the doc.  Rats!  I hate having to go to the doc.