Wednesday, November 29, 2006

Fancied a new look

Well its taken a little bit of fiddling - and I admit I haven't done that much - but I decided to give the old blog a little bit of a facelift. Out are the spots, in is a subtle white brick background and swirly pink things. Let me know what you think!

I'm sat at home waiting for Husband to return - the hours he is working at the moment are just totally ridiculous. If he hadn't been up north at the weekend I swear he would have worked the whole time. I hope he manages to make it to Christmas in one piece. Thank goodness I've got the cats to keep me company and a (accidentally) giant three-spice gingerbread loaf in the oven.

Monday, November 27, 2006

Vanishing Acts by Jodi Picoult

I can't say reading this makes me want to go out and read any more Jodi Picoult. I generally like a bit of light-ish fiction - I'm a big fan of Anita Shreve - but this just didn't meet the requirements. It was full of lots of individual little narratives that didn't hang together. Major emotional episodes - Delia switching her affections from her long term love and father of her child to their mutual best friend - were dealt with without so much as a by your leave. Graphic and disturbing pictures of maximum security life which the mild mannered pharmacist/old people's entertainer takes to with gusto just didn't make sense. Ruthann's suicide was obviously meant to be a beautiful expression of her native American world-view but was just thrown in quite carelessly. Considering how much is told through the inner voice of the characters they seem so two dimensional and their emotions trite.... ok I'm starting to rant, so I'll leave it there.

Sunday, November 26, 2006

Sunday morning ramblings

Just had email no. 9 with a batch of photos from Mum and Dad, who are halfway through their 6 weeks in south-west Australia, so I’d thought I’d share a few. Dad is already moaning about how the bright light means that he can’t take good photos – but I’d have to disagree.

I’m sat here on my own (except for the cats) is Husband is up in the north-east visiting family and seeing the Bluetones play for the umpteenth time. It would have been nice to go with him but, being realistic, I couldn’t have survived either the drive or the socialising. Can’t wait until he gets back tonight for a hug and all the gossip on Husband’s sister who seems to have finally found herself a nice, normal, single, child-free, employed man *quintuple shock* to get together with. Hallelujah!

Knowing that Husband was going to be away this weekend I decided to organise a little outing for me. A new spa complex opened in Bath in August and so I grabbed a few ladies from work and decided to check it out. On the surface of it, paying £19 to sit in hot water sounds like madness, but it was divine. Although there was a bit of to-and-froing between floors as all the facilities are stacked on top of one another, there were some lovely design touches including: four different steam room pods (jasmine was my favourite), rooftop open air pool (involved running out the lift and into the water as quickly as possible), and a funky bit of the main pool which has a gentle current so you can just float around the outside of the integral Jacuzzi (odd sensation, but I liked it).

Considering the mixed-ness of our bunch it actually worked out really well. Five of us had a nice lunch and a bit of browsing – although I couldn’t bring myself to spend anything I could have gone bananas in Ted Baker. I think this may become a regular activity – the spa that is, not going bananas in Ted Baker.

I’m on my own until Husband arrives back this evening – I’m quite enjoying the chilling time. Going to try and write a paper on internal communications in my organisation. I know I shouldn’t be working but its in my head so I might as well use it while I’ve got it!

Underworld (2003)

I have avoided this film like the plague, not due to a dislike for the subject matter (I'm a closet goth) but for a pathological aversion to the lead actress, Kate Beckinsale. As the film finally made it onto terrestrial TV on channel 4 last night I decided to give it a go.

The film was visually stunning in many respects, but in particular the costume design deserves a special mention. The attention to detail is glorious - someone must have had a lot of fun putting those outfits together. Some wonderful sets as well... I will be scouring the internet to find that staircase and entrance hall.

Unfortunately, for all its positives and ticking of my victorian goth loving boxes, my pathological aversion was justified. Kate was just a non-leading lady - no dynamism, no facial expression, no emotion. Considering she's flinging herself around in PVC and leather most of the time it takes a special kind of 'actress' to take the life out of role like that Celine....

Saturday, November 25, 2006

Kids (1995)

I remember the furore that erupted on the release of Larry Clark's 'Kids' back in 1995. The movie is a brutal watch - kids aged between 12 and 16, having sex, doing a lot of drugs and drinking heavily. We only see one parent in the film so the impression is given that these kids really are on their own in the world. Their whole existence seems to be an embodiment of Durkheim's anomie. I recently bought this on DVD and so revisited the movie. I think I was probably more shocked watching it now than I was as a teenager when I first saw it. I didn't live like the kids in the movie but I could understand how, in the right combination of the circumstances, kids could end up right where Larry Clark puts them.

Thursday, November 23, 2006

Dinner with the cardinal

I’ve had so many thoughts buzzing around my head the last week I thought I should get at least one set of them down on virtual paper.

Following a random dinner conversation, I had been invited over to Dublin to witness a PhD viva voce on the subject of environmental theology. This was the first instance of the award of a new type of PhD in Ireland, which was intended to give established authors the ability to submit their extant body of work instead of a PhD thesis. The author in this case was Fr. Sean McDonagh a Columban missionary, mainly based in the Philippines, who had been writing (for a long time as the soul voice) of Catholic eco-theology.

His presentation was really interesting and the panel of two eminent theologians and an ecologist gave him a little grilling – but nothing too bad. His work did not fit the mould of a traditional PhD, it couldn’t, as he hadn’t written it with the intention of submitting it as such. So he was a bit light on methodology, and in some cases theory, but as he had made such a contribution to his field I, and obviously the panel, felt that it was only right that that contribution be recognised as equivalent to a traditional PhD.

I loved my undergraduate degree of theology and religious studies. It is a subject that I still think and read about often. One of the lecturers from my department was there and he seemed very pleased that I still had an interest in theology. I do feel torn sometimes as to whether that should be what I pursue in my academic life rather than higher education policy. But talking to my old lecturer made me realise that my choice of MA dissertation – looking at the construction of the meaning and purpose of higher education – continued the skills and attitude that I had developed through my BA. So much policy is just taken on face value – no one questions the underlying moral or ethical or religious viewpoint it embodies – and that is always what I want to examine when I think of policy.

Dr Michael Northcott was one of the examiners on the PhD panel. I had heard of him, although I haven’t read any of his work. He writes on eco-theology and political theology, with his latest work examining the distorted Christian underpinnings of the American political right - a book I must lay my hands on.

So anyway, after the conferment of the degree, the panel, Fr McDonagh’s friends and family and the staff from the agency who were responsible for the award, and me, went for dinner. So I was sat at a table with an Anglican priest to my right (Northcott), a Catholic Cardinal opposite to me and a Catholic priest (McDonagh) at the head of the table. It certainly led to a surreal, if very interesting, dinner conversation.

Saturday, November 18, 2006

Good tea

Okay, lets have a slightly cheerier post at the top of my blog..... isn't this the poshest tea bag in the world?
It is also damn fine.... good enough for Prince Charles is good enough for me.

Sympathy for Lady Vengeance (2005)

This is the second non-English language film - the first being the Russian 'Nightwatch' - that I've seen this year which seems to have broken the 'world cinema' mould. What I mean is, that although there were elements that did relate strongly to the Korean origin of the film, they didn't dominate. Sometimes watching 'world cinema' (what a patronising term that is) I just feel culturally lost - that despite the subtitles the film is still in another language. This was not the case with 'Lady Vengeance', I felt like I 'got it'; it wasn't an effort to watch. Actually, that's a lie, it was an effort to watch as it was an incredibly emotionally and morally complex film. Maybe then the real difference is: what I got out of it was worth the effort I put in. I'm sure some people would say that this means the film has lost its 'native-ness' and has moved to appeal to wider sensibilities through becoming more 'Western'. I'm just going to have to disagree with that. I think it is about the movie industries in certain countries starting to get past their teenage angst and starting to get everything in line to make some high quality, high production values, true 'cinema'.

Anyway, back to 'Lady Vengeance'.....urrrr..... where do I start?

The light - white, but soft, like the light reflected off snow. Slowly turns more towards umber as the plot develops and then back to white. Shows off the red of her eye-shadow, her white skin and black hair.

Brilliant cinematography - on more than one occasion we had to pause the film and rewind to just check out what had just been done. The best 'little' moment was the pulling of a shot out from a street-scape and into a room - can't explain why but was just magnificent.

Geum-Ya - Lady Vengeance herself - so terribly manipulative and evil but her retribution is only proportional to the evil that has been done to her and others that she encounters. Wonderful poetic justice of her vengeance means that this is not a 'gore fest' as the reviews state but a vendetta of greek tragic proportions.

Oh this is a useless post - just go and see the film. Then do what I'm going to do and work back through Director Chan-Wook Parks back catalogue..

Friday, November 17, 2006

Microserfs by Douglas Coupland

I cannot think of any other contemporary author who has had the word 'zeitgeist' used in more reviews of his books than Douglas Coupland. I first encountered him a decade or so ago when I read 'Generation X' (1991). I liked it, although I did find it painfully trying to be truly 'of the moment'. Published four years later 'Microserfs' (1995) - the story of a bunch of coders who break free from Microsoft to start up their own company - seems to suffer from the same problem. Again, I did enjoy it to a certain degree.

There are moments of humour - the hunt for 'flat food' to slip under the crack of the door in order to feed a coder who has gone mentally AWOL after a bad meeting with 'Bill'. The irony of the 'we are changing the world' attitude of the start-up coders when all they are really doing is creating a program which allows you to build things out of virtual lego. The lack of connection with the reality of life despite all their efforts to become more rounded human beings. Unfortunately, the cheesy ending did kill the charm of it for me - Mum has stroke and learns to communciate again through the computer - too Hollywood.

This was a book chosen by my reading group - the Illiteracy Club - and, considering how negative the group has been about a lot of the recent offerings, I was a little worried about this one. The interesting thing is, although no one was wild about the book, it did get us on to a good discussion on whether a book that is so about a particular moment in culture/time, stay a good book for all time. We were all a bit sceptical about the staying power of 'Microserfs', feeling that it would survive only as a curiosity, not as a great work of literature - or even a 'good read'.

As the plan for the next few months' reading of the 'Illiteracy Club' is to try and read pairs of books which connect or contrast in some way, as a companion for 'Microserfs', we came up with 'Bonfire of the Vanities' by Tom Wolfe. Although I've read (and immensely enjoyed) 'Bonfire' before, I'm interested to see if the other members agree that it is a book which stands the test of time.

Thursday, November 16, 2006


Head thumping, bones hurting, muscles aching, vision blurring, mind spinning, ears ringing, heart racing, hands shaking, no sleeping, hardly working, big stressing, never ending…

(with apologies to Pepsi™)

Thursday, November 09, 2006

Leave a light on....

Well it took Belinda Carlisle to get me in the bath today. Not an obvious motivator I guess but it did it for me. I was feeling a little odd last night, made soup but couldn't eat it, then we went to bed and I just couldn't sleep. Even when I did nod off, I kept waking up through the night. Needless to say I felt awful this morning and had to take the day off work. Anyway, I was having difficulty getting up the energy to get washed and dressed after watching Neighbours (will Carl remember accidentally sleeping with Izzy?), and 'We want the same thing' came on one of the music channels. So I decided, with Belinda to help me, I could face a bath. Grabbed her greatest hits and headed upstairs. Now I'm clean, legs are shaved and I have 'Live your life be free' going around my head.

I also had another secret motivator. More4 are showing Thirtysomething at 3pm on weekdays. The show was one of the things my Mum and I used to watch together - along with Northern Exposure - before I became a terrible teen. Not sure that Thirtysomething was a suitable programme for me considering the age I must have been, but anyway it reminds me of better times with my Mum. She and Dad have made it to Perth for their 6 week holiday in Australia. I can't believe she actually took the 21 hour flight - I'm really proud of her.

Dazed and Confused (1993)

Directed by Richard Linklater (he of Slacker and Before Sunrise) this goes down as one of my all time favourite films. I don't know when I first saw this but it can't have been long after it was released - probably when it made it on to satellite. Anyway, its been on my DVD 'wish list' for ages just waiting for it to pop up on offer somewhere, which is just did at HMV online. No P&P - score!

I have a particular weakness for all things teenage. I'm not really talking about the wave of teen gross out comedies that have come out in the last few years but more brat pack, Dawson's Creek, Party of Five etc. Things that give that nice soft-focus, rose-tinted sheen to the (usually American) teen experience. It wouldn't take a Freudian psychiatrist long to work out that my penchant for these films derives from my own fairly crappy teenage experience - 5 years on a sofa feeling very ill - so I like living vicariously through my friends on screen.

Dazed and Confused, however, would have to be in any film aficionados top ten teen experience movies. Following a group of 1976 high-school kids on the last day of school of their junior year - when they 'graduate' to become seniors and so both rule their school and their town.

There is the permanently stoned one, the handsome one, the jock, the nutter (repeating senior year and so getting to beat freshmen twice), the older dude still hanging with the kids, the bitch, the geeks, and the adopted incoming freshman who get a taste of high school life. The film is filled with classic moments and classic lines.... all enhanced with a 'kick ass' mid-70s rock soundtrack (opening with Aerosmith's 'Sweet Emotion').

We see the adult tolerated (and even encouraged) hazing of the new freshman (beatings for the boys, humiliation for the girls); the eternal quest for beer; hanging out at the pool hall; and the end of school party out at the 'moon-tower'. I'm not saying its a work of genius but it captures a wonderfully idealised moment which is great fun to vicariously live through.

Tuesday, November 07, 2006


It's been fun driving to work this week as we've had dense fog each morning which lasts until lunchtime. I was trying to find a webcam photo to demonstrate the fogginess but all I could find was this one of our new south-western bypass; now if that's not stimulating viewing I don't know what is.

The more importantly foggy place is, however, my brain. I don't know who first used the term 'brain fog' to describe what happens in a ME/CFS suffers head on a bad day - as I'm sure lots of sufferers, including myself, came up with it independently. It is so hard to describe the symptom, except as trying to 'think through fog' - nothing resolves easily, every perception and thought process takes a conscious effort and the world seems to be tilted at a slightly off angle.

Writing about 'brain fog' reminds me of what for me has been the other major consequence of living with a chronic illness... losing the ability to be light-hearted. Even when I'm having a good spell I often have to consciously remind myself that things are going well, to smile, laugh, make love with my Husband; to not stay caught up on the 'survival' mindset that suffering generates. I'm sure this feeling isn't restricted to ME/CFS suffers, or those with other chronic illnesses. It think it is a mindset problem that probably is an issue for anyone who has had a prolonged period of stress (or even a very intense short period of stress).

When I was little we had hundreds (literally) of films taped off the TV. I think my Dad had done some work for AGFA and as a result ended up with dozens of free VHS tapes. There were certain (fairly random for children of the 80s) films that my sister and I used to watch compulsively: The Slipper and the Rose, Little Lord Fauntleroy, The Railway Children, Anne of Green Gables (mini series) etc. We also had Pollyanna, the version with Hayley Mills. Pollyanna is an indefatigably cheerful and optimistic child being raised by a rather stern Aunt after her father's death. When ever she was feeling down or trying to cheer someone up she would play the 'glad game'. She would always manage to find something to be glad about no matter the situation. That was until she (I think) falls out of a tree and breaks her back. Then she's not so glad for a while... until the town that she has charmed, charms her back for a classic Hollywood ending.

I have to say, I've never come across a true 'Pollyanna' in real life although I'm sure they are out there someone - probably get their lights knocked out on a regular basis for always being so damn cheerful. But maybe we (and by we, I mean I) should take a leaf out of Pollyanna's book and play the glad game once in a while - because no matter how crappy life gets we should always be able to find something to be glad about. Maybe that's the only way for me to re-instate my ability to be light-hearted.

Friday, November 03, 2006

Disturbing mail

Just checked into my hotmail account. This is the place where all my subscriptions go for everything I sign up to on the web. In my box today was a message from the publishers Politicos, advertising their new wares. The first disturbing discovery was a book entited 'Ariel Sharon: An intimate portrait'. I really don't want to be intimate with Mr Sharon thank you very much, and I'm not sure how many other people want to be intimate with him either. I went on to check out the book's entry on the Politicos site and found an even more disturbing read....

Thursday, November 02, 2006

The turning of the year

Something has (finally!) happened with the weather this week. The whole of the country seems to have bathed in a Indian summer since late September and, frankly, I've been getting sick of it. I love frosty mornings: wrapping up all cosy in big jumpers and snuggling back into bed with purring cat shaped living hot water bottles.

Well mother nature decided to get her act together for Halloween and the air flow swung round to give us a nice blast of arctic air. The temperature starting dropping on the 31st as the trick or treaters were coming around. I like living in a neighbourhood where it is actually kids that come around - not teenagers asking for money wearing masks and hoodies. Most of them were under waist high and many had made quite an effort with their costumes. I decided to dig out my full length, hooded black velvet cape (you know the one we all have in the back of our wardrobes) and answer the door looking like that. At one point I opened the door to two little girls - they couldn't have been more than 6 or 7 - they were both struck dumb by being greeted by me in my get up. After a little awkward silence they managed to ask if I was a witch - I assured them I was, but a nice one - and then they took some sweets and scarpered. Husband's pumpkin generated considerably less trepidation, but did receive a significant number of compliments.

When Husband got home he put his wedding garb on, and I found my 6th-form red velvet ball dress; we looked a right pair! I'm glad I have a husband who likes dressing up. If only we'd had somewhere to go.

I made it back to work today after six days horizontal - bar greeting trick or treaters of course - it was good to be back in the land of the living, although it took a 500ml bottle of lucozade and a finger of fudge to get me through the day.