Thursday, 19 February 2015

Whiplash is simply wonderful

In my time, I've cycled through rain to get to a 9am screening; driven over an hour and a half to catch a flick at some obscure cinema, or cancelled plans to head to the movies alone. And it's all worth it, when the film is brilliant. This of course is a sadly rare occasion.

But last night, driving for an hour to get there and (due to an insane amount of roadworks) an hour and a half on the way back, paying £24 for tickets and £8 parking - I was still smiling. Why? Because I saw Whiplash. What a glorious, subtle, thrilling little gem of a movie it is. And I fucking HATE jazz.

'It's about a boy and a teacher..' someone said. Ok, so far, so Miyagi. Seen it all before. But this time is it Miyagi or the drill Sargent from Officer and a Gentleman? That was the burning question... With incredible performances from JK Simmons and Miles Teller (previously amazing in Rabbit Hole) and a director who makes jazz as thrilling as Fincher made coding (in The Social Network) and a script so perfectly tight that every single line is crucial, it is story telling at it's finest.

After Birdman I'd have been happy never to hear a cymbal crash EVER again, but here, I was mesmerised - someone willing to bleed for his art, quite literally. So many gorgeous themes were touched upon but not rammed home: was Andrew the little drummer boy, looking for acknowledgement from a teacher simply because he didn't get it at home? Or was it that his Dad - too busy adding chocs to the popcorn at the movies - just failed notice what really drives his son? If he didn't even realise his kid had to eat around the candy, then what else doesn't he see?

We all know that in every good climax there is a battle of sorts - but I have never seen one take place over a drum kit. To say it is beyond tense is an understatement. I won't add in any spoilers because it is simply too ace to ruin a second of your viewing pleasure. Go see. By the end of it, you may even be a jazz convert... 

Sunday, 15 February 2015

Job done

Phew!! Operation - done. Glad that's all over. The worst part always is having a cannula put in - and then having to sleep with this thing in your hand for the night. It took me back to the C section days - except this time I could just focus on recovery and not have to think about the small being I'd just created.

The staff at The Spire Hospital in Harpenden couldn't have been more fabulous. In fact, I almost enjoyed my night away in my own little room, getting peace from the family - if it hadn't been for you know, the surgery bit. Also, getting to do nothing for a few days - is bizarre. I find it a virtual impossibility to relax at the best of times - so being made to laze around feels very weird indeed.

The thing that made me most grateful was the kindness of others: several lovely Mums from my daughter's class texted, emailed and cornered my husband to check how I was and if there was anything they could do to help. Friends and family rang and cared - although the male members of my family stipulated 'I want to know absolutely NO details of your surgery - other than, are you ok?'

I think the weirdest part of it all, is the discovery that things can be going on inside your body and you have no idea; you attribute your symptoms to stress, or whatever things you can grasp, to explain them away. It made me feel oddly more vulnerable - but more than ever, glad I had myself checked out as soon as I realised something does not compute. If in doubt - get it checked. The worst part of all of this was the not knowing what was wrong - the mind is a dangerous place, especially when you google symptoms...

The cold spell has passed. My fears have all but subsided, and now I can look forward to the magic of spring. Being healthy is something I have often taken for granted. This small insignificant blip made me appreciate my body - cellulite and all - for all it can do. So with that in mind, this will be the spring that I shall whip it into a new shape. Not thin. #fitnotthin will be my mantra. Well, I've gotta balance out my cake love somehow, eh?

Thursday, 12 February 2015

7 Things

So the whole 7 things you never knew about me is doing the rounds on Facebook and what-not and the bizarre thing is trying to think of 7 things I haven't shared - as I am QUEEN of the overshare and always tell everyone everything. If I come back as anything - I want to a mysterious brunette with a sultry voice and a 22 inch waist. I have kind of done this before, but why not try and tell something new?

So here goes:

1. I once broke my arm aged 8, simply walking up the stairs back into school after break time. I tripped landed on my left arm (I think) and my only fear was that Richard Milligan would see my enormous regulation navy knickers. I broke the bone in two places, bent it, chipped it and twisted it. The worst bit was when they took the cast off it was attached to my skin - which they proceeded to rip off. Plus I had spent the day of the accident covering my arm in temporary tattoos and the docs throughout the leftover blueish marks in weird pirate ship and skull formations were in fact bruising and almost put the cast back on...

2. Between the ages of 14 and 18 I taught kids to love Jesus; taking Sunday school for a load of 4/5/6 year olds with my mate T. Often I was slightly hungover and regularly we would play hide and seek and leave the kids hiding for longer than was necessary as we dissected the previous evening's events. I did this to obtain my duke of Edinburgh bronze medal thinking I needed to do it for 2 years - when in fact, you only needed to do it for 6 months.

3. In the summer of '99 I was walking through China Town in London when I bumped into a hot stranger. We stopped, chatted and exchanged numbers. Turns out he was an actor who had just come off stage. The very next evening I arrived at a dinner party - to find him there. He pounced. Back at his flat, I noticed in his bedroom a picture of his (I thought ex) girlfriend beside an ENORMOUS black and white photo of himself in some awful pose. I spent the night but refused to have sex with him. He was a typical player. If I read any showbiz stories about Gerrard Butler, I see that he still is...

4. I still have a comfort blanket that was on my cot as a baby. My Husband calls it the 'piss rag' and refuses to touch it. Fair enough...

5. My only regret in life is not going to see U2 in the summer of 1993 with all my idiot schoolmates, who decided to hire a limo to take them from Belfast to the gig in Dublin, or was it Cork? Anyway, as they pulled in at a hotel - a whole wedding party flocked around the car convinced U2 had arrived, only to see my drunken and stoned mates all pile out needing a wee. They had a ball and I wish I had gone, but being a poor student at the time, I refused. Damn.

6. According to my husband I proposed to him 33 times before he proposed once and I accepted. The first gift he ever bought me in our relationship, was a bracelet with a small silver smooth stone hanging from it. I asked him to engrave it - hoping for some words of love. He gave it to me and winked. At the time I had proposed 3 times. The stone said, 'Lucky number 4?' Some guys just play hard to get....

7. The worst haircut of my life was aged 14 in Belfast at a cool hairdressers (the only one at the time in the provence) called ZAKKS. The guy cut my hair to an inch below my ear and then permed it. I was thinking of a Madonna look - he gave me a dirty blonde afro. I slept with conditioner on my hair for a week and immediately got the bus to town and bought a black cap which I wore all summer to hide my do. At the local ice rink 'Dundonald Ice Bowl' I bought a doughnut and the woman handed me my change saying, 'there you go SON.' Not what I needed to hear as a 14 year old girl with bad teeth and a bad perm....

Saturday, 31 January 2015

Happiness is a double stuff Oreo

HOO RAH January is almost done.

Also, as I type I am alone in the house. This is a rare occurrence. Husband has taken sprogs to the movies and I find myself  wondering WTF to do. It is actually quite unnerving to have no blogs needing written, no script that needs a polish, no studying of telly to do. I'm not good at the old relaxing malarky. So here I am, having a blog moment.

Life is pretty bloody good at the moment which is slightly unnerving. We're not good with happiness are we? Much more comfortable having a moan, needing change, wishing for more. So when life is just swell, there is a sense of foreboding doom that waits for us over the horizon, just ready to pounce when at our most comfortable.

Ever since Husband changed his job, my life did a full 360. (Or does that mean I am right back where I started? Should it be 180? Maths was never my strong point). Basically, having spent years as a single parent while Husband ran bars until the wee hours of the morning, he is now around. A lot. It means he can take Sproglette swimming (I abhor council swimming pools, the smelly changing rooms, the sauna like heat at the side of the pool and the freezing water that awaits), make dinner (he is by far the better cook), do bath time and share the chores of raising a family. It means also, that finally, we all eat together as a family every evening.  We chew the fat, Sroglette turns her nose up at the 6 hour slow cooked Jamie Oliver winter chilli that Husband slaved over ("I like the chilli, just not the bits in it") and we always ask, 'what was the favourite part of your day?' I began this tradition, because I wanted to focus on the good and now Sproglette insists we ask it no matter what. Sometimes, after a day of writing and chores it is hard to pick out a resounding highlight, but I've persevered...

These meal times make me happier than I think I have ever been. Tis odd that such a small thing has such an impact on my life - but it does. We finally feel like a family - and the kids are such gorgeous ages (8.5 and 4) that the discussion is never dull. (Plus it takes Sproglette about 5 hours to eat 3 freakin' peas so we are at that table for a loooong time...).

Sproglette is full of nursery stories, 'Ella pooed on the floor and so and so had to have time out...' (she is such a monitor it is incredible) and Sproglet wants football results and how chuffed he is to have got 'pen license.' Usual, mundane stuff - that I love. Sometimes I find myself thinking, 'it doesn't get better than this.' Both kids snuggle under a soft wool blanket to watch a movie or Sproglet's fav Modern Family. They still let me stroke their hair and kiss the backs of their necks. This won't last. Soon they will be sulking in their rooms only gracing us with their presence to ask for food or money or a lift to some godawful club.

Soon they won't care that I make the best hot chocolate in the world, or want to break open a packet of Oreo double stuff (try them) with me. They won't get excited to have cake on a Friday, or run to the park and feed the ducks on a summers day. They won't want to watch Nemo - again. Or even Jaws. I'll be embarrassing and uncool and annoying and it is the moment I dread the most. At the moment I can convince them that the most prosaic things are magical - soon my powers will cease.

We crave the moments when they are asleep to finally have peace, then we wish they were awake and bouncing around. Like today, I'd have given my eyeballs to have a few hours to myself. Now I'm here alone and the house feels quiet - too quiet. The snow falls and the fire crackles and I miss those little nightmares.

Tonight is Star Wars monopoly, home made banana chocolate cake (divine and I don't even like bananas), The Voice (who will turn.. dun dun DUN) and the beginning of Spiral. So all that is left to do is start thinking about what the best part of my day has been...

Wednesday, 28 January 2015

Letting go of the burden of hate

January has been FULL ON.

Normally it's a slow old month, crawling to the finish line, filled with failed resolutions and empty bank accounts. But this January has been busy busy busy and has zipped past. Not though, without the odd bump.

For several months I've had a health worry - one that I put down to all manner of things, but eventually realised something was wrong. So my GP referred me to a consultant and I've got to have a small operation in mid Feb. Nothing to worry about, which is wonderful - but for a couple of weeks when I hadn't had my diagnosis, I was frantic. I kept thinking that life has been so damn great, that something was gonna come a cropper... I worried that just as everything might fall into place, the one thing I need the most: my health, would fail me. It puts everything in perspective, when you are scared.

In the midst of all this I met up with a bunch of old schoolmates. Most of whom I see anyway - they are still a big part of my life - but a few I hadn't seen in 20 odd years. One girl J, was understandably nervous about seeing a gang of 15 people she hadn't set eyes on for two decades, so we met before the actual meet.

It transpired that J reads my blog, so knew about my life. J mentioned she had just resumed contact with a schoolmate of ours, whose wife used to be a close friend of mine, but cut me off several years back. To my horror, even though this ex-friend had never ever had the courage or courtesy to tell me the reasons why she terminated our friendship - J knew it all! Brilliant! So I was sitting there, looking at a lovely woman who hasn't seen me in 23 years (but looks exactly as she did all those years ago) who has heard all this poison about me. My head was spinning.

Thankfully J knows me of old, so wasn't in any way judging me. She knows that I try to have a good heart and am (hopefully) a good person, so I didn't need to defend myself to her. She said to remember that ex-friend of mine was filled with grief at the time this all happened, having tragically lost a baby. 'Grief causes people to react in all kinds of strange ways,' J wisely said.

At first I was livid. Ready to fire off some email of rage - how dare someone slander me so badly! Then I thought on what J said. That grief does strange things to people. I've never lost a child, can't imagine how horrific and sad that must be... You can't know what someone is going through unless you have walked in their shoes, but that is no excuse.

In this case the ex-friend took as a slight that I called my daughter 'Riley' - a name I had held for years since I learned it was Elvis's Granddaughter.  (Not a massive Elvis fan - just really liked the name, also because it usually is a boys'). My Husband, an Aussie, nicknamed her 'Roo' when he saw her in a baby Bjorn one day. This was apparently hurtful due to the name of the child she lost. Did I have a clue about this, or even think that my Husband's innocent nickname would be such a bone of contention? Nope. No idea. Who thinks this way - that you name a child to slight someone else??? Only those who think the world begins and ends with them. There again, grief does strange things to people...

Instead of being annoyed at something that to me, had been so twisted, I just felt sad. Sad that communications get so broken down. Sad that people can join dots that are not even there, to come up with a sum that makes me the bad guy. Then I thought some more: Maybe I was the bad guy - in not even realising I was being him. But how can we realise we are doing something wrong if NO ONE TELLS US?

It all comes down to one word: value. If we value someone, and they hurt us - unwittingly (as in my case - I'd never wittingly hurt a soul) or wittingly - shouldn't we tell them? A friend a while back called me on something I did without really thinking it through and we talked it over, over coffee. At the end, she had explained the reasons why she had been disappointed. I explained why I did what I did and was utterly apologetic that I had upset her in any way. We moved on. Air cleared. She valued me enough to tell me I had upset her.

It is hard of course, to tell people when they upset us, disappoint us, let us down. Perhaps we think they should know what they've done? But people aren't telepathic. They often walk around having no clue, while we seethe. But if we want them in our lives, then isn't it better to say our beef - give them a chance to explain, or apologise?

If we don't, it is that we didn't want them in our lives to begin with.

I know this, because this month I also got to tell someone why they had upset me: that every time I see them they are abusive in some way, or confrontational - so I'd rather just keep my distance. No anger, no issue, no dislike, just - I don't want to hang out with you. They wondered why I had waited almost 2 years to tell them. Well, I hadn't seen them in nearly two years - so that's a giveaway in itself  - but also, I prefer to say things face to face and hadn't had that chance. I was happy to explain how I felt. I'm always one for getting things on the table.

We can walk around bitter about perceived slights, angry at deep hurts and painful neglects, but it us who carry this heavy baggage of anger, resentment or hate. Isn't it better to let it go? Unburden ourselves, or make peace with it?

For a long time I felt rejected by this ex-friend and it was hard to emotionally let it go. I pride myself on my friendships - my friends are my family - so losing one was devastating. More so than any of the past romantic relationships I had that went by the way side. Whilst I never want her back in my life - how could I trust her again? - I do forgive her. Because carrying hurt and sadness - that aint my bag. I'm a cheery person who wants a life filled with positivity and honesty. (I sound like a nutter don't I?).

Sorry to quote from Frozen (Christ, I've been to so many Frozen parties with Sproglette recently if I never hear that song again I won't be upset) but shouldn't we all just 'let it go?' Forgive even if we can't forget? Elle MacPhearson once said at parties she breathes in love and breathes out her fear. Forgive that friend that kissed your boyfriend, the neighbour who never gave back your scales, the Father who missed your graduation, the husband that stayed out until 7am on a school night. Even if you can't do it to their faces, do it inside YOURSELF. Take a load off. You might not mend bridges, you might not resolve old wars, but you sure as hell will find peace.


Wednesday, 14 January 2015

Four Weddings and a Funeral

My grandmother was born the same year the Titanic ship sank - 1912. She was born in the only house she ever lived in. There she stayed through her childhood, marriage, widowhood. One icy night in early December 1998 she slipped walking across the yard of the house and lay there all night, frozen, until a neighbour saw her light on and rescued her. The night spent facing the elements gave her pneumonia, which eventually a week later, killed her. She'd already survived cancer that year, but it had returned with a vengeance. I like to think that her house and that fall somehow saved her from a much worse death. It had looked after her all her life... and kept her safe until her last breath.

She was eldest of 7 surviving children; 2 more had died: Nancy aged 4 had been killed by a car, the other a stillborn baby. When my Grandmother was 18 her own mother died, leaving her to mother 6 children - the youngest Edna was only 4. My Grandmother was so busy raising her siblings she never got around to marrying until she was in her early 30s - in that era she was practically seen as an old maid.

My Mother was her firstborn, then she had another daughter. By then her siblings had all left home, bar Edna - her closest sister, who came home, only to discover she had cancer. My Grandmother cared for her until she passed. By then, my Mother had divorced my father, so I lived there too. I have vague memories of bringing Edna icy drinks to help with the pain.

My Grandmother's hands were the oldest looking part of her: never having owned a washing machine she scrubbed everything by hand. We had no central heating; daily she built a roaring fire. At night, for supper she'd let me toast marshmallows and nothing on earth has ever tasted so gooey and sweet. Her talent for baking was extraordinary. One anorexic friend resisted all food, bar my Grandmother's famous shortbread. She came from a era of giving and supporting your neighbour, so she would mind a neighbour's child (refusing to accept any payment) until the single Mum returned home from work. She would help neighbours by paying the milkman, fishmonger and coal man if they were out. She would feed their pets when they went on holidays - open their curtains, water their plants. When new people moved onto our windy little lane she would appear with apple pies, biscuits and buns to welcome them. If a neighbour was ill she would make her healing chicken soup and carry it up the lane to them, a teatowel around the bowl to keep it warm.

Every day she would walk to the local shops - a journey that should take 5 minutes at most. But she chatted to everyone: the butcher, the newsagent, the pharmacist, the greengrocer, the neighbours etc and it took her the best part of two hours. She also visited an old lady who was immobile - brought her a daily paper and made her tea. She kept her company every day until she died. She never asked for anything, never cared for material possessions. She was all about giving to others, making time for people and treating a neighbour as you would want to be treated yourself. Looking back, she was a hero in every sense of the word. I wish I'd told her that; but she wouldn't have believed me.

A regular church goer, she would bake for Soldiers Sunday - the first sunday of every month. As I tried to sneak a jam tart, or pinch a warm german biscuit she would slap my hand away. Her Husband had died when my Mum was 21, my aunt 18. She broke the news to them as they lay in bed - refusing to cry. "Why would I be sad when I have two wonderful daughters," she said as her children wept.

She loved Tweed talc, refused perfumes and always had a great make-up line where her foundation finished at the edge of her neck. She had a set of pearls she kept for special occasions. She never wanted designer goods or fancy meals. She had simple tastes, and would have hated anyone 'wasting' their money on her.

I lived with her until I was 11, then my Mum moved in with her boyfriend. With my drama teacher I wept, worried my Grandmother would be lonely without us. I missed her beyond words. Her hairnets falling across her brow, her laugh, her soft worn hands, the smell of her baking, her brisk hugs, the way she cried 'yo' when we drove over bumps on the road on the way to relatives in the tiny seaside town of Donaghadee.

She died on Christmas Eve's eve 1998. It was the year she had fought cancer and won. She'd watched my Mother re-marry - one of four weddings I attended that year. We arrived at the hospital - a nurse had been calling us for an hour, but pre-mobiles, hadn't got through on the landline. The stone cold corridors were eerily silent, the lights dimmed. We arrived to be told that she had gone. I saw her - but it wasn't her - turned on my heel and fled.

Her funeral was on Boxing Day. The storms gathered and the rain fell. I stood shivering in the church, wondering if I would ever feel any warmth in bones again. She was 86. Last night as I drove home a song came on the radio that I had played over and over the Xmas of '98: GooGoo Dolls - Iris. It always makes me think of her. The tears fell down my face as I missed her so acutely - wishing with all my heart she had met my beautiful children, that I could reach out and hold her hand, that she would laugh me with one last time.

They don't make them like my Granny anymore. Her era has gone: where the old guard women of the street welcomed in the newly weds and skilled them in baking, in starching white linen, in needlework. There wasn't a stain on earth that she couldn't get rid of, or a baking recipe that defied her.

My Grandmother was a truly selfless person - she had more qualities in her little finger than I have ever possessed. I will never stop missing you Annie. You and your shortbread.


Sunday, 11 January 2015

Foxcatcher and Birdman

A few years ago a friend went to see the film The Social Network. It had been my favourite film of that year but she admitted that she was 'livid' with herself for not enjoying it. I never really understood her reasoning until now: I wanted to love Foxcatcher and was annoyed as hell that I didn't fall in love with it.

So why not?

It is an unsettling and compelling film, where Steve Carrell gives a career defining performance as billionaire John Du Pont who wishes to be a champion but is a mere collector of champions instead - gathering other peoples' trophies and displaying them as if they were his own. Du Pont hires Olympic gold medal winning wrestler Mark Schultz (Channing Tatum) to join his Foxcatcher team and live in his compound. From the very beginning his creepy offer would send anyone running for the hills, but Schultz, a lonely man who appears to live only to grapple with other men, it seems like the offer of a lifetime.

At first everything is hunky dory in the Pennsylvanian fort: Mark keen to impress, Du Pont desperate to be needed. But slowly their friendship begins to unravel, as does Mark whereupon Du Pont drafts in Mark's brother Dave - another Olympic gold medalist - to join the gang.

In this hollow tale, Mark Ruffalo gives an extraordinary performance as Dave - a flash of colour on an otherwise grey palette. The scene where he struggles to explain on camera that Du Pont is his 'mentor' is one of the best.  Dave engages us, we care about him and his cute family and relish the fact he stands up to Du Pont, protecting his younger sibling.

The problem with this wrestling film is that in spite of all that rolling around in bare skin, we never really get under it. Du Pont - a man child whose mother clearly preferred her horses - is completely flat, bar his spectacular nose. What motivates the tragedy at the end of the film? His unquenched thirst for his wrestlers? If the man had only come out, would tragedy have been averted? I left the cinema scratching my head. Foxcatcher isn't a bad film, it just is incredibly s-l-o-w. That combined with the sparse script that heavily relies on subtext (usually no bad thing - here just makes the film feel 'empty') and a lead that we don't really care about adds up to a film that is watchable but not memorable.

Similarly Birdman walks a similar path. It is a film where art imitates life and Micheal Keaton - best known for his role in the 80s Burton Batman flicks, is an ex-movie star Birdman who is trying to resuscitate his career by staging a Broadway play. For me, any scene not involving his mixed up, sexed up daughter/assistant played by a brilliant Emma Stone was simply not worth watching. The ending was predictable; the whimsy not whimsical enough, the special powers revealed to be real (I think?) which instead of adding to the story merely detracted from it.

Keaton is magical - playing essentially a more wired version of himself - but the one-take structure is wearing and whilst the script is sharp and occasionally funny, I left the theatre feeling ambivalent about the whole thing. Almost as if everyone who wants to appear clever will clap and praise a film who points a finger at the vacuousness of Hollywood, it's opening weekends, social media and how anyone can now be a celebrity. But we know all this - we don't need Keaton in his pants running through Times Square to tell us that...

Call me sentimental, but I want someone to champion, to love, to make me laugh and weep and run the gauntlet of all possible emotions through a 2 hour window. In short, I want HEART. In these two films I failed to find it. But that's fine - because tonight, fingers crossed, at the Globes, Boyhood should take the prize as it has it in spades...