Monday, 30 April 2012

Lulu in Marrakech- A Warning

As is my custom and an ingrained habit since childhood, I don’t ever leave a book half read. Somehow it just bugs me, so I always carry on to the end, however painful this proves to be.  Last night I was finally released from the clutches of a 300 page god awful book, which has kept me prisoner for the past two weeks. I am left feeling bewildered by it; both insulted and strangely encouraged. How can such a terrible novel find a willing publisher? But at the same time, this in itself is proof that there is hope for us all. If this book was published, then surely there is a publisher out there for me too!
I now feel the need to review said book, to spread its joy to you, in the hope that you will be saved from the same fate as me (having to read it). Lulu in Marrakech follows Lulu on a secret CIA mission to Morocco, where she is to stay with her recent lover Ian, who happens to live there in a big old house. I don’t know whether it’s intentional, and if so then her profession makes no sense, but Lulu is one of the most stupid characters I have ever met. She is pathetic and clueless and has no idea what she is really doing in Marrakech. She hints from time to time about her many hidden CIA talents, such as being able to make an impression of a key using wax, but other than that she appears to be a complete waste of space. Added to which she is a total racist, insensitive and ignorant to the culture of the country in which she is in.  She makes regular sweeping and insulting statements about Islam, especially regarding terrorists, implying more than once that Muslims could at any time be blown up by close family members. And also with regards to women, Lulu assumes that all female Muslims covering their heads are doing so because they are oppressed, and she feels sorry for them regarding the issue of virginity. Don’t get me wrong, I’m sure there are some Muslim women that are oppressed (but certainly not all), and of course the obsession with preserving the hymen is, to me, a bit unreasonable, but Lulu simply has her own, outragious way of putting it. For example:
I tried to remember being a virgin and I couldn’t. That is, there was no difference in me either way; it was exactly the same, and it was terrible to think there were whole continents of poor girls for whom that inconsequential poke might mean life or death.
Firstly, whole continents? Which would those be then? And secondly, inconsequential poke? Speak for yourself luv, haha.
I hoped at least that Lulu in Marrakech would be a trashy romantic romp, but even the love life side of the story is completely glossed over and crap. About a third of the book is spent with Lulu going to tea with her pregnant friend Posy (honestly?).
Three quarters of the way through Lulu is joined by some other CIA agents, who keep her completely in the dark about what they are doing. Regardless of this, however, she mindlessly joins them in kidnapping a ‘suspect’ (of what? I still have no idea). They strip him naked, tape his mouth shut and drive him somewhere, only to find that he has choked on his own vomit on the way there and died.
After this, Lulu goes on a short lived emotional journey of remorse, her main point being that if she knew he was going to die she wouldn’t have looked at the man's willy. Even after the man turns out to be innocent, she still remains preoccupied with her lover Ian- who she has forgiven for running off with another woman in the middle of the book- rather than being riddled with guilt at the murder she has assisted. 
Overall, the book has terribly drawn characters, none of which you feel you know at all by the end. The plot is almost non-existent and hardly includes the reader in what is going on. Terrible.
I am warning you now, that if you choose to open its cover and delve in, you will only have yourself to blame for the consequences.

Wednesday, 25 April 2012

I'll order two, no make it three

Having lived away from England for a while now, I have begun to forget the ultimate joy found in reading adverts in 'older peoples' magazines, such as Woman’s Own. The adverts in question can be anything from an imitation-diamond encrusted clock, to an entire plate set with the royal family stuck on the front. Always elaborate and completely ridiculous, with equally strange ways to pay for said items, such as by putting thirty 2nd class stamps on an envelope and posting it in, no more than once a week for a year.
For me these adverts are often more enjoyable than the actual content of the magazine. Until coming to stay with the couple near Barcelona, it had been a long time since I was amused in this way. But luckily, I have been introduced to a charming magazine, The Oldie. And there it was, whilst unsuspectingly leafing through the pages, that I came across an advert for a traditional nightshirt. Yes, that's right, imagine Ebenezer Scrooge, complete with cap, and you'll be about there. The great news is that the  shirt is a mere twenty pounds, with the cap thrown in for free! It couldn’t be more perfect. The advert begins in the neverfailing way, ‘treat yourself or the one you love, to the freedom, warmth and cosy comfort of a brushed cotton nightshirt.’ Apparently we can all wave goodbye to tight waistbands, and thankfully for us all ‘women love them too’ so you can order his and hers, with different coloured stripes. Most wonderful.
But the really, really great thing about the advert is the far-too-young man pictured sporting these garments, cap included, looking like it's the best thing that ever happened to him. I wonder how much he got paid for that job.
Another advert I liked in The Oldie was for the Cumberland Pencil Museum. To me there could be no more gripping way to spend a sunny Sunday than ‘taking a journey through the history of pencils.’ I kid you not. I would love to meet someone who’d been there. My guess is that you’d never quite be the same again after being forced into experiencing something like that.
And for now I am done taking the piss. I just had to share because things like this never cease to make me smile. I’m off to read another edition of The Oldie.

Wednesday, 18 April 2012

Bed knobs and more bed knobs

I have never considered myself a hoarder. Yes I am prone to collecting books, especially children’s ones, but it doesn’t go much further than that. I don’t even particularly gather unnecessary pairs of shoes. It wasn’t until coming to this house near Barcelona, however, that I realise exactly how far off I was from ever gaining hoarder status, as I have finally learnt the true and extensive meaning of the word ‘hoard.’ I have never met anyone who has even a quarter of the quantity of random stuff that these lovely people we are staying with here do. But luckily for us, they are indeed hoarders and therefore have called upon us to help them sort through the incredible vastness.
I can’t help wishing I was better at DIY—if it’s not too late for a new year’s resolution then I will make one now to improve my skills in this area in one way or another—and of course I see the value of having a collection of nuts and bolts, screwdrivers, electric drills and so on. But there is a line. Yesterday I was told to sort three boxes of screws into large, medium and small. There must’ve been thousands of the things. I was overwhelmed even at that point, but it turned out that that wasn’t even the half of it. I’ve seen odds and sods today that I’ve never even dreamed of: door handles for every occasion, stacks of car alarms, spare toilet seats, a large box of hammers and mallets, I could go on forever. It’s amazing. Watching someone agonizingly decide to get rid of a lamp, then cut off the switch and the plug before throwing it away so that it’s not a complete waste, is one of the stranger sights I’ve witnessed in my life. And when Lee went with our host to dump discarded stuff at the bins, they came back with other things they'd found there, making it more of a trade-off than an exercise in de-cluttering.
What I find the most intriguing is the attitude that goes along with it, the ‘why thrown it away when it might be useful?’ mentality. I do see the logic behind this, but I am more of the ‘why keep it?’ school of thought, as I don’t think there's any point keeping loads of stuff when chances are you won’t actually be able to find it when the time comes anyway.
But that’s just me. My opinion is probably a result of uprooting myself regularly and therefore being accustomed to getting rid of anything that is not strictly necessary. Maybe when I finally have my own house, I will be so excited about having space that I will hoard anything and everything possible. I suppose only time will tell. 

Saturday, 14 April 2012

Suddenly Lord Sugar seems so sweet

Imagine the scene: two weeks of unpaid 9 till 5 training, including four hours of back to back teaching every afternoon (with not even a five minute break in the middle) and then over 6 hours of homework and planning to do in the evenings. Welcome to the world of Vaughan Systems. We finally arrived in Madrid on Saturday, after being messed about by the company already- in March they informed us 3 weeks before our start date that they couldn’t offer us the job they’d said they would, but that we could come and train almost a month later than planned for a freelance job.  So we took it, for want of a better offer, and that’s what we’ve been doing for the last five days; going to bed in the early hours of the morning, working our arses off to learn the very specific teaching ‘method’, doing stressful last minute extras that were suddenly landed on us right before teaching, and then of course, trying to do well in the classes. The one good thing, which at least reinforces that I actually enjoy teaching, is that the students were lovely.
This morning, pleased at it being Friday and that I survived the week, I dressed up in my ‘power suit’ (black skirt and top- it doesn’t get much better than that) held my heavy pile of books and papers under my arm and went to the office to start the day, only to be taken into a room and told ‘I haven’t got good news for you,’ by one of the most high and mighty bitches I’ve ever met.
So I now consider myself officially apprentice style fired! Hahaha. I was given a list of bullshit reasons, to which I couldn’t help but laugh then I went up to the hotel room and had the long forgotten luxury of a bath. Wonderful.
And what next? All I can say is I think I’ve had a very lucky escape from a cut throat, heartless company, who expect the world, give nothing in return and pay a poxy 15 Euros an hour anyway at the end of it.   Good riddance!

Monday, 9 April 2012

More on the Hunger Games

It’s taken me a while to write this, but I still wanted to add two comments to my previous blog about The Hunger Games, relating to other peoples’ reactions to it, rather than my own. I tell you, people really do make me laugh. The Daily Mail (note: I did not buy this, but it was lying around so I had a little read) had a double page spread about one woman left feeling like a ‘bad mother’ after taking her two daughters to see the film. She claims she did her research but was left appalled, with her children apparently scarred for life. How could you research the content of this film and still be surprised? Even the trailers tell you what's going to happen, in terms of the situation Katniss is going to be in. The woman then said that her younger daughter was so sensitive she had been known to cry when her brother accidentally stood on a ladybird. Surely if this is true, then you really can’t pin the blame on the film, but on the fact your child is an absolute baby. The girl asked at bed time that night whether the atrocity that is the Hunger Games could ever happen in real life, leaving her Mum to try and sooth her fears. She couldn't believe her child had been subjected to something so incredibly horrific. But aren’t we forgetting the whole point here? This is fiction, people! And Suzanne Collins is certainly not the first author to create a terrifying situation for children. Hello Lord of the Flies, The BFG, The Witches, um, Lord Voldemort?
My second grievance is much worse, although linked via the theme of innate stupidity. The character Rue is played in the film by a talented black child actress, who plays the part extremely well. She has since been the subject of various racist ‘twitters’ by people who feel that her presence in the film is disrespectful and misrepresentative of the world of Panem. What is wrong with people? Of course you are free to imagine characters of a book any way you want, but the book does say that Rue had dark skin. And of course it would be absolutely weird and stupid if a future USA was depicted as being totally white anyway. What made me saddest about the comments made was that they came mainly from teenagers. Whilst my vain hope is that they will learn better as they get older, the more realistic truth is that they will take these vile opinions with them into adulthood, most probably passing them on to their own children. I despair, I really do.  


Sunday, 1 April 2012

Roll up, roll up, Hunger Games 50p a ride!

*Warning: sort-of-spoiler alert! Do not read on if you are hoping to watch the Hunger Games without the burden of my eternal cynicism hanging over you.

I’ve had my suspicions about this for a while now, but after my recent visit to the cinema it is certain: I am getting old.

I went to see the Hunger Games, a film that was for me much anticipated in light of loving the trilogy of books. So what did I think? I suppose you can guess what’s coming.
Well no, actually, I didn’t hate it. In fact I thought it was portrayed rather well. The acting was good (well done child actors, for once), and the story true to the book. I also liked the way they used Caesar Flickerman's commentary throughout as a way of explaining things that were otherwise unexplainable.
Having said all that, there were some major, although not unfamiliar flaws for me.
The death of Rue is a touching moment in the book. Anyone who knows me, would say that I am a sucker for sad films. I quite successfully cried my way through the whole of My Sister’s Keeper, and I’m not ashamed to admit it. But the Rue part of the Hunger Games was, in my opinion, incredibly contrived, like I was being told ‘this is sad Rachel, you should cry now.’ I just think some essential tear jerking element has been lost, when the death of a young girl on screen is less moving than, for example, Bobby shouting ‘Daddy, it’s my Daddy!’ on a platform in The Railway Children (It gets me every time).
Anyway, onwards to the thing that makes me feel old, the thing that I think defines modern ‘action’ cinema in a way that is just not acceptable to me.
I seem to be getting a recurring feeling of motion sickness when watching these newfangled movies, not dissimilar to the sensation of being on the waltzers at the fair. And it’s not just the action filled parts- even when Katniss first got to the Capitol, the camera refused to settle on any one person for more than a couple of seconds. It is too much for my eyes, the constant, fast paced movement leaves me reeling, unsure of who’s who or what's going on, as well as making me want to puke. And it seems such a waste when things have been done so well, to then ruin them for the viewer by making everything too quick to take in.
Maybe it’s just me, but at the end of the Hunger Games I couldn’t help wishing I could see what it would’ve looked like had it been made twenty years ago. I suppose that’s a bit sad and I need to move on, but it’s hard to because I just don’t want to. I like to think that if anyone ever offered to make one of my children’s stories into a film—getting a bit ahead of myself but bear with me—that I would stand by my morals and say NO! to crazy camera work, painfully drawn out meaningful glances and an overkill of CGI. Of course in reality I would just say ‘thank you very much,’ and take the money, but I can always dream.
My hope for the future (me, overly dramatic? never) is that this is merely a cinematic phase, that we are going to move on at some point to an era that suits me better. To a place where I can be impressed but not overwhelmed and leave the cinema safe in the knowledge that a good job was done. Ideally I would like this to happen sooner rather than later. But for now I will just close my eyes, hold on tight and ask you to let me know when the ride has come to a complete stop.