Tuesday, 3 March 2009

Talk to strangers and avoid Palmer’s Cocoa Butter

(Video from the British Film Institute http://www.bfi.org.uk/ )

On last week’s show we talked briefly on the topic of commuting. It is a strange phenomenon. Londoners are typically an uncommunicative lot unless with members of immediate family and friends. Despite this, they are perfectly happy to squeeze into carriages with complete strangers, standing so close that one can count every pore on the skin and vein in the eye. And you always get stuck next to the moustachioed man who forgot to shower rather than the attractive brunette across the way reading a book on Tantra. All, apart from the rattling of the train and the tinny sound of bad music belching into ears, is silent. Eyes are cast down to shoes or up to adverts. This can be disheartening.

Obviously, over-familiarity, lechery, interruption and talking to children are not the things I am encouraging here. Nor am I suggesting carrying a thermos and sharing deep personal truths with a stranger over a cup of char. Instead, a genial nod, a moment of tacit understanding between fellow men, a remark about the weather perhaps or a comment about a newspaper story. I understand it is a question of judgement. One wouldn’t chat to the man with nothing on him but a trench coat and a bag of Haribo for instance. But, perhaps to the lady with the tartan shopping trolley?

(Alas! Forgive me! I have just been guilty of creating sinister and kindly stereotypes there. It is only fair to remind readers that this might not be the case. The man might have been attacked, everything but his coat being taken from him by force, he may have then begged for some food from a passing confectionary salesman with the hope of restoring his blood sugar and using the remainder to barter passage back to Wimbledon. The elderly woman might be an assassin; an agent of a dark fascist power, and the tartan bag will very probably contain her terrible instruments of death. Use your intuition.)

On a particularly arduous bus journey, I was sitting next to a gentleman who had no shoes on and yet was carrying a bin liner containing at least six pairs of trainers. He was holding a large pot of Palmer’s Cocoa Butter. I am always wary of ointments and ablutions that smell like they might be edible. I recall a large bottle of bubble bath that smelt exactly like cinnamon muffins. I had to go and have my stomach pumped soon after. The risk of a similar event happening in this case was minimal however. The smell of cocoa was offset somewhat by the odour of the man smearing it on his bare feet. Now I respect a man who moisturises, but on your own time boys. The man in question clearly had a story to tell but I thought it best not to ask. Partly because talking would involve inhalation accompanied with the undesirable scent of stale urine and partly because the man was now eyeing my shoes with a lust I have never seen equalled. My stop was next. I disembarked with my brogues still firmly laced to my feet.

It is occasions like these that can encourage us to plug ourselves into our iPods or read some garbage in a damp free paper, but it is worth reminding ourselves that most people are pleasant enough and welcome cheerful banter. The other day, I had a lovely chat with a gentleman on a tube station platform about the busker we had just passed.

A final warning though: There may be times when a display of good humour will shock your audience. After I bade a lady good day last week, so shocked was she, that she dropped her shopping. As I watched a grapefruit roll away toward the horizon, I ruefully conceded to myself that the hat-tipping Utopia one might see on a 1950s postcard from the village of St. Mary Mede is not one that is always found or expected today. I then had to chase the fucking grapefruit.

So here are your orders readers:

1.Don’t be afraid to say “Good morning!” jauntily to a passer by.

2. Avoid Palmer’s Cocoa Butter

3. Do remember to wash before boarding public transport, for the love of God.

4. And always give your seat up to a lady.


I was all for seeing The Day the Earth Stood Still. The original was splendid and I was curious to see how such an iconic piece of film history would be reinterpreted.

Cult sci-fi was not to be the evening fare however. My sister suggested we go to see Twilight, an adaptation of an American ‘young adult’ novel by Stephanie Meyer that has a following of almost religious fervour. The film’s target demographic is female and teenage. I snuck in unnoticed at my local cinema. By the by, Odeon have stopped giving their orange movie tickets, replacing them with till receipts. I am outraged.

The film might not be to everyone’s taste but do pop along if you like any of the following: Dreamy leading men, talented leading women, vampires, murder, the Volvo C30, a small but potentially toxic dose of American high school prom action.

I settled into the malodorous velour of my seat not knowing what to expect. I knew Robert Pattinson, best known previously for playing the dearly departed Cedric Diggory in The Goblet of Fire (hideously underwritten for, wouldn’t you agree?). This provided some incentive (always nice to see new talent and all that) but I really can’t abide angst-filled teen romance. I began viewing with scepticism, which was not allayed by the predictable narrative voice over the first scene. As the film progressed however, I was drawn in:

To briefly summarise: Girl meets boy. Boy is vampire. All merry hell ensues. I don’t feel I should tell you any more frankly. Like a good pair of briefs, there is tension in all the right places, the correct amount of levity, occasional unpleasantness and a few surprises along the way (that analogy wasn’t as exact as I would have liked but I do hope you get the gist).

The success of a film such as this, with or without a legion of fans of the original material—whom, I am reliably informed, call themselves Twilighters—rides on the believability of the leading woman’s performance. Thankfully Kristen Stuart gives a wonderfully natural portrayal of Bella and the chemistry between her and Pattinson is most poignant. So much so that, despite myself, I was with the rest of the audience in wanting them to snog each other’s faces off before half time. Pattinson does well too although with a face like that he could just sit around looking smashing and one wouldn’t care. Yes, dear reader, I have a man crush of almost orgasmic proportions.

Catherine Hardwicke directs a polished piece often beautifully filmed. The majestic Oregon landscape provides a pleasant backdrop on affairs.

Paranormal romance was not a genre I was particularly familiar with before now and not one I would wish to further investigate apart from within this particular franchise. Twilight is a film you view much like one of its vampiric characters. Every sensible part of you knows you ought to back away, but you are drawn in regardless.

Stephanie Meyer is now sandwiched between Alexander Dumas and Simon Blackburn on my bedside table. It’s a bit of a squeeze but everyone seems to be having a lovely time. Especially Dumas the old rascal.

The Gym Member

I was in my local corner shop looking to satisfy my craving for Reeses Peanut Butter Cups. The gentleman on duty greeted me with an unenthusiastic monosyllable. We then undressed in front of each other. I made my purchase and left.


This of course is nonsense, but it is a suitable preamble to today’s musings. My question today is this: Why are there so few changing rooms in today’s leisure centres?


I use that frankly misleading term, rather than simply gym, as it implies the presence of more than a few exercise bikes. It probably has a pool. I enjoy a light paddle as much as the next fellow, but the necessary preparation presents a problem. Should one be without a cubicle one must expose one’s knackers to the rest of the changing room. Why, I here you say, in today’s open minded and liberal society should this present a problem? Well call me old fashioned, but despite the occasional over zealous flirt to the contrary, most men prefer to keep their trouser dwellings out of sight. Or so I thought.


I was at a rather pleasant example of a leisure centre the other day, making use of a friend’s guest pass for a game of tennis and a quick dip. The first activity didn’t present a problem. I had chosen underwear that etiquette demanded for the occasion, manly and pleasantly supportive, which did not have to be shed for the on court shenanigans that followed. As I locked my things away and turned to leave, I was confronted by an elderly man, starkers, one leg on a bench, drying his parts with unnecessary vigour. I froze, transfixed (for future reference, this is not the socially acceptable thing to do). Thankfully, the man was so preoccupied in his task that he didn’t notice.


The mere remembrance of that dark time has brought shivers down my spine. And with some nails and some MDF, the problem might have been averted.


I made my leave rather the worse for wear and was beaten soundly by my friend (at tennis you understand). I returned to the changing room to prepare for my swim. It was crowded. The towels were too small. There was nowhere to hide. Men were chatting amiably, bearing all. What else could I do? Some form of the towel trick was out of the question. Opening locker doors either side of me in a poor, Heath Robison style approximation of a cubicle would simply not do. I had my pride. There was nothing for it. I stripped bare.


Let’s not kid ourselves dear readers. With the notable exceptions of Bruce Forsythe and Dasal Abayaratne, the naked man is not a pleasant sight. Why is it illegal (and rightly so) to expose oneself in public but suddenly perfectly acceptable to ‘rock out with one’s cock out’ in a changing room. Cubicles. Everywhere. Now.

Peter Pan

I sit in my friend's room wearing her shoes and contemplating how much makeup I could wear to the theatre without being noticed. I am just about to apply a discreet layer of foundation when two thoughts strike me: I could use tinted moisturizer instead. And, woefully, we are not seeing a pantomime this year. Instead, Peter Pan awaits. I mean, I love J.M. Barrie (or, more accurately, J. Depp's portrayal of him in that wonderful film Finding Neverland), but compare this production with Stephen Fry's amazing Old Vic Panto offering of yesteryear and I feel I shall be left wanting. But perhaps I am too hasty in my judgement. I could be pleasantly surprised. Even though the West Yorkshire Playhouse does look rather like a toilet...


As it transpired, it smelt rather like a toilet too. "Welcome to the WYP, the largest public convenience east of the Pennines!" cried the usher. Wiping away his tears he beckoned in our merry band. Despite the malodorous lobby area, the stage and auditorium themselves are excellent and all are afforded relatively good views of the action.

The titular character turned out to be Scottish. And portrayed by a male. I was sure he was supposed to be played by a young woman traditionally. The actor had a damn good voice but if one is playing a forever-young boy without wearing hose one should at least take the trouble to wax. Hook and Smee stole the show. As is traditional, Mr. Darling (the father of the children for any ill-cultured peasants reading) and Hook were the same man.

I find the story of Peter Pan (despite the injection of adequately jovial musical numbers into this production) somewhat tragic really. 'The boy who wouldn't grow up' is supposed to stand for youth, fun and freedom. But he can't allow himself to love, for that is part of growing up, and he is never and never will be kissed. "To die would be an awfully big adventure." What about living Pete? Eh? It seems to me that he isn't free at all. Is Neverland really a prison?

There are some wonderful things about the play. Hot mermaids aside, it is a relevant comment on the astonishing rate at which children seem to grow up. Childhood is a fantastic thing that many young folk (or ought we to call them dudes these days?) seem in a hurry to leave. Pan revels in it, one of his few admirable traits. Wendy, forced to play a maternal role in the lives of the Lost Boys, longs for her own source of motherly support.

My sister and I (24 and 20 respectively) had a heated debate over whether we would want to fly like Superman or Peter Pan: Super fast or gliding gracefully. I pointed out that if Pan could reach the second star on the right he was more than capable of well over super sonic speeds. We almost strayed into violent confrontation (best avoided as she would probably win). As we screamed fondly at each other, I decided that most of us have a share in both worlds. We all grow older, but rarely do we truly grow up.

Mamma Mia!

Naturally, I have always been an ABBA fan. Who hasn’t? And as an unashamed lover of musicals too, the idea of a film adaptation of Mamma Mia appealed to me greatly. For those of you who have been living in what frankly must be a cultural vacuum for the past thirty years, Mamma Mia! (yes, the exclamation point is obligatory) is the most successful musical ever produced. It is based on the works of Swedish super group ABBA. I won’t bore you with the plot details apart from the fact that it is a sweeping sing song romp of a ride with a thread of paternal confusion, maternal affection and a good dollop of humour.

At the film’s opening I was in a state of high stress; partly because of the little bugger in front of me who insisted on rustling his M&Ms throughout The Dark Knight trailer but also because I was genuinely hoping this film would be a success.

It opens with our heroine, Sophie (played by Amanda Seyfried—previously best known for her supporting role in the much over looked Mean Girls—I believe she played a character whose breasts could predict the weather) singing softly. I immediately doubt her ability, her quavering tones no match for my own dulcet notes, but as the movie progresses it is clear she has the voice of an angel and wins the crowd over with her talent and lack of brassier throughout. But it is Meryl Streep (Sophie’s mother) who really steals the show both vocally and perhaps surprisingly on the dancing front. One might say she is the Dancing Queen. Oh dear.

But things only really kick of with the entry Julie Walters and Christine Baranski who both possess magnificent comic personae carrying the film throughout. Indeed, all of the cast step up to the plate in this regard and the piece is not afraid of poking fun at itself and its inspiration though never straying into disrespect. The three male leads are super troupers also, but personally I am outraged that actors should be paid what I am assuming is a healthy sum for dressing in nylon cat suits and singing ABBA. I do that regularly free of charge and never receive anything apart from a nervous glance from a passer-by.

The film is shot well and everyone sounds and looks wonderful. Frankly I defy any woman, gay man, or sexually unsure young male, not to find the gyrating form of Mr. Brosnan in a wet shirt arousing. I hasten to add that this is the only exception to my generally heterosexual approach to life. That and William Moseley in full Narnian battle regalia.

Some sceptics thought that studios and actors would be unlikely to take a chance (take a chance, take a chance) by associating themselves with a project that could so easily have been a disaster, but with the right cast and crew Mamma Mia! is a success and the winner, as they say, takes it all.

Might I urge the reader, if indeed there is one, to go and see this triumph of modern cinema and be sure to sit through the extremely entertaining credits. It is a sign of the actors’ karisma and charm that these even elicited enthusiastic applause from my fellow audience members (even the chap in the beige waistcoat at the rear of the auditorium who smelt slightly too strongly of Um Bongo). Also it is required by law to sing along loudly regardless of whether others choose to join you.

There’s no fucking left page (and other reasons why we must hate the Ereader)

I am angry. I may swear. I may become impassioned and lean towards the overly elaborate and incomprehensible. For this I can only apologise. I also realise the slight irony of using an online blog to vent my anger but please bear with me.

Friends! Rise up against the Ebook! The Ereader. Whatever the bugger its called. I don’t give a flying monkey fuck.

In order to play by the Queensbury rules so to speak (as much as I want to give this scourge of all things good and holy a heavy kick in the genitals while its down), I have included for your perusal the opening to this piece of black magic’s website:

“If you love books, you’ll love the new Reader from Sony. Invented especially for book lovers, Reader is the best way to enjoy the new generation of electronic books (or “eBooks”). Slim and compact, it lets you store and take stacks of books with you wherever you go. It’s as simple and absorbing as reading a real paper book.”

Although I very much want to kidnap, torture, and shoot down this flimsy and linguistically uninteresting piece of filth that opens the website, might I just point out the disgusting, hypocritical bile of the accompanying video advert displayed on the same page. In fact, I may just go off on one?

The clip begins with the camera panning across a typical bookshelf. A pair of feminine hands appear, gently caressing the spine of each book, searching for one to withdraw. We can picture the scene...

(I will over romanticize here to help prove my point but I don’t care.)

The woman is attractive in a severe sort of way, possibly working in her husband’s Dover Street gallery. Her name has no relevance here, but we may assume it is aristocratically double barreled. She is learned; Russell Group and all that. She has enough poise to pull off her Chloé ensemble (the label only springs to mind as I read today, for those fashionistas amongst you, that Phoebe Philo, previously one of the label’s most foremost designers, has moved to Céline. Apparently we are to expect “amazing leather goods.”). She stands in the library of her tall Georgian town house. Visually, the tableau is a riot of colour. Uncompromising leather tomes of black or burgundy stand regimented like the royal guard, their gold inscriptions reflecting the expensive SW1 sunlight. A colony of penguins jostle each other self-importantly on the shelf above with their orange beaks and feet and cream bellies protruding (please correct me if my knowledge of collective nouns has gone awry). Above that - dictionaries, pulp, Wisden, biography, Mr. Men, Wilde, Harry Potter. The antique shelves almost buckle under the knowledge, the pleasure, and most literally, the PAPER.

The aforementioned spines all feel different. Glossy, matte, smooth, cracked, well read, unread. Some crumbling with age, or from being dropped in the bath. The books have individual scents. Chalky new or dusty, nostalgic old. Each has its own separate character. Dedications on the front page, phone numbers on the back. Bought at an airport, borrowed from a friend.

Each is a tactile and indeed (forgive me for the usage of one of my old English teacher’s favourite words) a wholly SENSUAL experience.

...And from this personal museum, she withdraws a small device. A satanic piece of puke-ridden garbage. It is like a piece of dung, only clinical to the touch and less visually interesting. Sorry. It fits easily into the palm. Its ‘revolutionary eInk display will amaze.’ And using it ‘couldn’t be simpler.’ Well here’s an idea you morons.

What is simpler than picking up a sodding book?

And there’s no fucking left page either.