Sunday, October 28, 2007

All movies all the time

There are two problems with starting a course in film studies: 1) I simply haven't watched that many films in recent years, due to sojourns in Spain and the Netherlands; and 2) I can't remember the many films I watched in my teenage years, due to that being 20 years ago. I'm having to make up for these by watching lots of films now. So, recent weeks have seen me plough through The Third Man, Mildred Pierce, Brighton Rock, Hell Drivers, My Darling Clementine, The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance, The Maltese Falcon, A Canterbury Tale, I Know Where I'm Going!, The Lady From Shanghai, The Letter, Dark Victory and, in a return to the 21st century, Layer Cake and The Libertine. All entertaining films (although I am finding it hard to enjoy Westerns). And last night we headed for the bright lights of Southampton to see Eastern Promises, David Cronenberg's new film. This is my first Cronenberg -- as you can see from the list above, I am not a huge fan of modern/violent/horror films; I prefer my fight sequences to be shot in black and white and involve guns, not big knives and razor blades. I spent several parts of the film with my eyes firmly shut, feeling PJ wince beside me. But still, an interesting look at a London I know nothing about --even if I now know never to go to Finsbury Public Baths. Back to the safer world of High Noon and Calamity Jane tonight!

Worst. Season. Ever.

A 2-0 defeat to West Brom leaves us at the bottom of the Championship; relegation appears inevitable. We're in good company at least, with 3 points fewer than Crystal Palace and QPR, also former luminaries of the Premiership. The Championship is the toughest division in football -- the desperate scrabble for the glittering prizes of promotion and the fear of the drop. I am trying to take some comfort from Leeds' impressive turnaround in fortures in Division 1 this season; perhaps we can find our own Dennis Wise and rise, phoenix-like, next season.

Friday, October 26, 2007

They call me Student Dumpling

It's true. After 8 years after my last incursion into academia, I've re-entered the fray. An MA in Film Studies at the university up the road. Part-time of course; I don't want to be a poverty-stricken student again (and PJ won't let me off my half of the rent). It's been interestingly challenging so far, and with us halfway through a 12-week whistlestop tour of critical theory: classic Marxism, Althusserian Marxism, realism, mise-en-scene, son et lumiere -- with feminism, Freudian psychoanalysis, auterism and cognitive poetics still to come. History was much easier -- just one damn thing after the other and rarely questioning the nature of reality. And we had proper titles for our essays; today's task was applying one of the critical approaches we've studied to a film of our choice (British/American, 1940-60), and in just 1000 words. A terrifying experience; despite my day-to-day job and occasional bursts of effort on this blog, I do very little actual writing -- and certainly none of the high-falutin' pretentious nonsense that is academic debate ... sorry, discourse. But it's done. It needs to be revised, of course, arguments tightened and structure changed. And then I need to prepare a seminar presentation on genre for Tuesday. And maybe at that point I'll stop dreaming about writing essays and lecturing on how to read the Western.

About five years ago I had the option to acquire an MA from my alma mater -- for just 10 quid. I turned it down -- perhaps misguidedly. We'll see.

Sunday, October 21, 2007

HOW much!?!?

Off to London for a couple of days, the first time in many weeks. It's still noisy, expensive, and dirty -- you're better off in Winchester, the best place to live in England, Wales, and Northern Ireland and second only to Edinburgh in the UK. Anyway, we were up in town for a fun event, The Economist Innovation Awards, with a lovely dinner at the Science Museum. Great food, fun exhibits to look at, and interesting people to chat to -- there was a Nobel prize winner at our table; I didn't tell him that physics made me cry at O level and that I only got a C in it. All in all, an impressive evening that made me realize just how little I contribute to the world. I'm not sure that "does little harm" is really good enough.

However, the hotel we stayed in was something else. Very large, comfortable rooms; friendly staff and great service; beautiful public spaces. But. The rack rate for our room was 480 English pounds. Let me spell that out for you, in the manner of unbelievable football scores on Grandstand. FOUR HUNDRED AND EIGHTY POUNDS.* Not only did it not have an external window that you could open, resulting in a bizarre microclimate that left you both cold and lacking any form of moisture in your body, but you didn't get:

1. An iron and ironing board.
2. A hairdryer, other than the fixed one on the bathroom wall -- that sort that wheezes over you like an asthmatic badger.
3. Tea and cofffe-making facilities.

In fairness, the hotel staff sent up the first two to our room on request, albeit a particularly useless iron that emitted little heat and removed few crumples. But still -- it's a city centre hotel, presumably full of reasonably well-dressed people who want to have clothes that look somewhat less crumpled after a journey. An iron and ironing board in each room does not seem like an unreasonable request. But my particular bugbear is the lack of a kettle and assorted sachets for making hot drinks. This is England! We drink tea! We like -- nay, need -- to have a cup of tea when we wake up in the morning, and charging several quid to send one up to your room on top of the FOUR HUNDRED AND EIGHTY POUNDS rack rate is outrageous!

I wish I had an adequate form of protest, but given that we weren't paying and will certainly never stay at that sort of hotel under our own steam, my options are somewhat limited.

*Of course, the people who paid for the room almost certainly got a much better rate, but still. That's a lot of money.

March of the sinister ducks

We stayed at Forda, a small "resort" of A-frame lodges and converted farm buildings deep in the Cornish countryside. A games room allowed me to thrash PJ at table tennis, while a swimming pool and visiting beauty therapist provided rather more relaxing alternatives (for him). Best of all, though, were the grounds. Three fishing ponds were great places to sit and read the (out-of-date) newspaper, while listening to the sounds of nature and basking in the sunshine. And then there were the ducks. A flock? A swarm? A murder? Perhaps, more accurately, a pester of ducks -- 20 or so of the things, very friendly, very unafraid. Each morning, they would do the rounds of the different visitors, hoping for bits of bread. They'd lurk on the patio, quacking loudly, persistent in their requests. And then, just as Bauhaus and Alan Moore sang, they would march on, sinisterly, to their next victim.

Monday, October 15, 2007

Cats of Clovelly

Does exactly what it says on the tin.

West Country Dumpling

Off on our hols -- the first since Latvia last year. Not quite so exotic this year; inspired by all the Brit porn on BBC2, we opted for a week in Cornwall. And glorious it was, despite (or perhaps because of) no access to the Internet or mobile phones. Who knew that there were still places in Western Europe that had, TV channels other than the original four, and no mobile reception! So, we read, we watched films, we devoured the second season of Life on Mars, and we even tried some cycling -- and discovered that the hills around Winchester have nothing on the hills round Bude. As a result, we took the car out to visit both childhood haunts (Trevone) and expensive private villages (Clovelly), admiring the dramatic scenery. The only slight downside was a lack of decent restaurants; great farm shops, reasonable pubs, and a pretty good pizza one night, but apart from that it was self-catering all the way. However, we had glorious weather for the first week of October and it was all rather relaxing, what with complete silence (other than the site's large gang of ducks) and no demands on our time. I'm not waiting another year for a holiday.