Wednesday, January 27, 2010

My First Guest Blogging Post!

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Wahey! The fantastic Novelista Barista has posted my guest post on when I went to China in 2008. Read it here and support me and her wonderful blog.

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

A-Z of Cinematic Uplifting

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So, some scientists have deemed this day, the last Monday of January to be the most depressing day of the year. Which makes sense if you think about it: all the holiday spirit has run out for sure, the cold/rain/ice/early sunsets set people on edge and it's another manic Monday after all.

But why, say I, do we give in to the scientists? After all, they all laughed at Christopher Columbus, when he said the world was round. In a similar fashion, being still in the residue glow of "Up in the Air" (I have told every man, woman, child and vaguely intelligent-looking sentient creature how much I love that film) I sat there like a geek and compiled this. My (drumroll please) A - Z of films that will make you happy/inspired/proud to be alive/at the least not regretting you watched these films. Lights!

Amelie - A classic bit of J-P Jeunet, you will believe one person can find and cause a disproportionate amount of happiness for the world around her. Plus how can you hate any film that includes an orgasm montage?!
Big Fish - One of my all time favourite movies. Guarantees soul cleansing tears of pure joy unless you're dead inside. The shining happy heart of Tim Burton movies. (Honourable mentions: Billy Elliot/Bucket List.)
Casablanca - Just an indescribably wonderful film, the characters are brilliantly portrayed with character nuances in all the right places. Bogart is intense yet vulnerable, Bergman just defies you not to fall in love with her. Beautiful. This film has its rep for a reason.
Die Hard - "Yippee Kay Yay...." All the blokes know what I'm talking about. Everyman adventure spectacle. Plus Chandler, Joey and Ross love it.
Eternal Sunshine of a Spotless Mind - Quirky to a fault (come on, Charlie Kaufman wrote it, duh) but so endearing. An ingeniously cast pair in Kate Winslet and Jim Carrey.
Forrest Gump - Because life IS like a box of chocolates. Tom Hanks + Robbie Zemeckis, was this ever going to be anything other than genius? A rollercoaster ride through Forrest's life, you'll laugh and cry with him.
Garden State - Zach Braff penned, this is heartfelt, understated and cathartic. I expect many people have felt like the ironically-monikered Largeman, and for them, this is the anecdote that may skew their points of view back to the positive.
Happy Feet - Happy penguins. Dancing penguins. Dancing penguins to disco covers. Wake the heck up and SMILE!
It's a Wonderful Life - As Christmassy as turkey, crackers and passing out after dinner, James Stewart uses his guy-next-door to heartbreaking, lifechanging and soul-raising effect. A festive must. Capra + Stewart earn their keep once more as a partnership.
Jerry Maguire - It'll have you at "hello". Like so many films on this list, you go through the terrible crushing lows, but the high at the end is completely worth it. Tom Cruise in one of his best performances, and Cuba Gooding Jr at his Oscar winning best! Plus one of the few films where Renee Zellweger actually endears herself to me.
(To) Kill a Mockingbird - Not as completely happy as some of the others, but one of the greatest films I have seen, and certainly one of the best law-related films I have seen. Wonderful book, wonderful film. I would highly recommend both, if only to restore your faith in humanity, democracy, brotherhood and the law.
Lion King - Hamlet +  Disney at its best + Hans Zimmer + Elton John. If you have a soul you'll love this film. Everything the light touches will be your kingdom. (Honourable mentions: Lost in Translation/Love Actually)
Mary Poppins - A very British film busting through the adverse effects of the stiff upper lip and 'children should be seen and not heard' tradition. Julie Andrews is a wonderful triple-threat and Dick Van Dyke is chirpy and addictive, despite the abysmal cock-er-ney accent!
(My) Neighbour Totoro - All the charm and childlike wonder of Disney with a quirky Japanese twist. I love the Studio Ghibli films and if you like Disney and broadening your horizons, I daresay you will love this too!
One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest - Jack Nicholson and his kooky supporting cast make this adaptation an acting tour de force, fully bringing out all the charm and character traits from the book. No matter the ending, the scenes of the asylum inmates finding their confidence again under McMurphy's anarchic approach will bring many a smile to your face.
Princess Mononoke - another, more famous contribution from Studio Ghibli. Rather more adult than Totoro, but no less impacting, wonderfully rendered and captivating.
Quantum of Solace - Ugh. I needed a 'Q' ok? Maybe this isn't the best example (Casino Royale/Goldeneye/Dr No would be better) but James Bond films overall are just massive example of high-octane action! Like Die Hard, a vicarious trip through macho ubermensch victory!
Return of the King (Lord of the Rings) - I personally prefer 'Fellowship' but this makes the list as the completion of this epic journey, a thank-you for sitting through 10-12 hours of sheer slog through Middle Earth for which we receive you get the mother of film pay offs. More battles than you can shake Anduril at, all the characters' stories get tied up suitably and perfectly, and thus ends with no small degree of satisfaction and emotion one of the best film trilogies we'll ever see.
Singin' in the Rain - An all-singing, all-dancing fun-filled journey through the things that make this genre of film great. One of my favourite 'cheer up!' films, and now I pass this along to y'all. (Honourable mentions: Shawshank Redemption/Sound of Music/Slumdog Millionaire)
The Truman Show - Again, Jim Carrey? Who'da thunk it? Dulling his comedic side to make him more genuinely vulnerable and universally loved, set to a wonderful Phillip Glass soundtrack, another journey through an everyman's life that will have you rooting for Truman every single step of the way.
Up in the Air - Understated but outrageous beautiful in its own way, this film reminds us that it's never too late to make the dramatic life change to help yourselves and those around you and that reaching and falling short is better than setting your sights lower. (Honourable mention: UP!)
Vanilla Sky - Though I actually prefer the hispanic original (Abre Los Ojos) this return to the Crowe-Cruise partnership again reaps wonderful results. Think the Truman Show with a more philosophical and askew approach. If nothing else you can look at Penelope Cruz and the brilliant cinematography.
Wall-E - For a film where the main protagonists are robots and the first half hour includes not a word of dialogue, there is a huge amount of emotional content here. Wall-E himself is clumsy and ditsy, but his zest for life, even among the refuse of the husk of Earth, is infectious and through his tribulations and triumphs, your heart dips and soars with 'his'.
X-men - The only 'X' that came to mind! This film and Spiderman show how comic book movies should be made, the perfect blend of geekiness, SFX and personal backstory makes this film perfectly enjoyable, and less depressing than its superior sequel and travesty of a third-parter.
Y Tu Mama Tambien - A coming of age Mexican film with a great soundtrack and an even better cast. Exploring the end of boyhood and skirting on sexual tensions, this film isn't groundbreaking, but one of those films and sucks you along in the fervour of its swirling colours and lifestyle and you'll go along gladly, with a massive grin on your face all the way.
Zorro (Mask of) - 'Z'? You think of one. Ahem. Unabashedly popcorn, the Californian setting with Antonio Banderas (for the laydeez), Catherine Zeta Jones (for the fellas) and Anthony Hopkins (for those grumble about young upstart actors), this adventure makes you feel like a child sitting too close to the telly :D

p.s. Give me a break. It's hard to find things for Q, X and Z, darnit!
p.p.s. You totally saw it, didn't you? I was bound to mention Up in the Air.

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Dealing with Mediocrity

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As you may be aware, Jim Cameron's epic blue-skinned opus has sent thousands into a depression tailspin. Honestly, just Google "Avatar depression" and look at the page of stories that comes up. Heck overexcited journos  have even dubbed it a syndrome. CNN has a more balanced account here.


 In a nutshell, people having watched the beautifully rendered colourful paradise of Avatar's Pandora for hours (anyone else spend the latter half of te duration quietly squirming in their seat?) returned to their concrete jungle existences and were upset by how drab their real lives were in comparison. Who are we to stay if it's irrationality or the sterling work of their CGI artists (I usually consider them technicians, but here I think you can forgive my variation) that has led to this? And I will only slightly judge people for this reaction. It was a pretty bloody beautiful film, one like Finding Nemo, Raging Bull and Big Fish before it where nearly every frame of that movie is aesthetically pleasing enough to hang as artwork in and of itself.

And heck, I was 'suffering' with a mild case of the life-is-mediocre/shoula-woulda-coulda/I-am-but-an-insignificant-ant thoughts today. Let me elaborate:
- I wake up to my CD alarm playing music from Mumford and Sons. Those guys are freaking geniuses: like Fleet Foxes, recalling a time of cheery folk sounds, perhaps even uber-British traditions of minstrels telling stories through the ever-beautiful medium of song.
- Completed and sent off a profile of Franz Schubert I had to submit for a media internship I have applied for (bit of a career about face but sounds amazing and there's no better time for it). Again, massive overachiever! By my age (23) the guy had already composed the whismsical Trout Quintet, 6 spectacular symphonies and literally tens of thousands of bars of amazing Romantic-period music. Melodic genius.
- Read "A Hundred Years of Solitude" on the tube in (I refuse to abandon this masterpiece for my Shakespeare quest, I will merely push it back a few weeks when I have completed it) - again, Gabriel Garcia Marquez? Deservedly garnering a high reputation, his beautiful wordsmithing ("...she found herself upset by gusts of bad humour and she tried to get rid of the shadows that were begining to wrap her in a straitjacket of cobwebs") and creation of the magical realism style of fictionwon him the Nobel Prize for literature. Literary Colombiano genius.
- In the evening, I was lucky enough to win tickets to an HD screening of "Jaws". I don't need to wax lyrical about Spielberg's tour-de-force, but needless to say, a handful of the screened shots in silhouettes most notably, the intense level of performances by the three principal actors and the expert handling of the scenes and cinematography are more than enough anyone awe-struck. Movie genius.
- Watched highlights of the Golden Globes when I got home. Now I haven't seen most of the films being awarded for Drama prizes ("Up in the Air" and "Precious" for example have just been released over here, definitely intend on watching the former, possibly even tomorrow) but from nearly all accounts and the reverence they were held in is enough to convince me that I will all but certainly love these films and definitely respect their craft. And they showed clips of Avatar, enough to give a less cynical mind a syndrome? :p Modern day geniuses.

Surrounded by proof of such brilliance in the course of literally one day, how is one to cope? During periods of inactivity (read walking home, insomnia-racked bedtime, answering the call of nature) I am prone, I suspect more than most, to rapid, anxious and bordering on frenetic wonderments on the meaning of life, life on Earth, my part in this huge cycle and most importantly personal introspection. And the cold hard truth that hit me again and again harder than the cold hard gust of the not-yet- Spring winds is that try as I might, chances are exceedingly high, all but that I will not reach those dizzy heights, or aiming lower, achieve any filmic, music or literary opus that will be revered and remembered after I'm worm food. And this realisation is an unwelcome pang in the soul that keeps returning. Now I'm not a panicky type of guy (for the most part) so I don't freak out, tear off my clothes and hair and run shrieking through the streets of the London. The other side of my constantly-in-devil's-advocate-mode-consciousness fights back and calms me down.

And it is those arguments and resolution that I will leave you with now (say whaaat? He's finally finishing up?)

- Adjust your expectations - yes, unless you're lucky enough to live in the foothills of the Alps, next to the Great Lakes or in the shadow of one of the world's great mountains, chances are the horizons of your daily life is nowhere near as beautiful, idyllic, dare I say it, perfect as Pandora. But we have to get over it. And screw it, if you know where to look, chances are your world has just as much beauty in an entirely different way. It is the great photographers and artists of the world that know where to find these types of scenes. Don't just envy them, emulate them, learn how they see the world and if you want to combat 'Avatar Depression Syndrome' get the heck out of your house and open your eyes. The screening of Jaws I went to today was held in the London Aquarium on London's South Bank (PR stunt and alos pretty surreal/freaky/childishly AWESOME to be watching the film while 2 feet away is a tank full of sharks. Little baby ones that could just about rid you of your hand) and the walk there and back reminds me as always how much I love walking along the Thames at night. London, when it's quietened down, filled with the semi-hushed and reverential people also in love with this city, even sexier when they're expressing it in accents, and lit by colourful lights is just a pleasure. With sights such as the one on the right (only prettier and NOT from a cameraphone's POV) who could say otherwise?
- Never stop striving - Yes, for most of us, in the scheme of things we will not achieve long-standing greatness. But that doesn't mean we shouldn't give it a bloody good go! To bastardise a perfectly good saying, Pandora wasn't built in a day. No, it was built in years and years, and with a team of likely hundreds of hugely talented artists, visionaries and organisers. Epic films, books and music albums often take years to write and many failed attempts to reach that book. Even Spielberg (sorry, Stevie, love your work, honestly massive fan, but I'm using you to inspire here, ok?) hit 1941 and Hook on his way to Jaws, Close Encounters and Schindler's List. Sure, on balance he was one of the greatest film directors we'll ever see, but everyone makes mistakes. And we cannot allow these setbacks to define us, to hold us back. It is how we deal with adversity, the manner in which we pick ourselves up and carry on that makes us great within ourselves. Shout out to Lance Armstrong here! Be realistic, but don't stop believing. Hold on to that fee-ee-ee-eeeeeling. (Ps, congrats, Glee!)
- Seek glory in the little things - Friends, family, the unique and heartmelting sound of a baby laughing, being someone's first kiss, being someone's last kiss, that promotion you've worked your butt off for, completing the marathon, wiping someone's tears, pulling back a friend from the brink, appreciating the achievement of others, helping someone in need, seeing something truly beautiful, witnessing/being that random act of kindness that brightens up mediocre days, teaching a child to grow, hitting that home run. Love.
- LIVE. Don't sit at home moping. Don't wonder what could have been. When you're on your deathbed (*knock on wood* YEARS and YEARS from now!) let your last thought be "I never achieved this" or heaven forbid "If only I had done that". When that white light hits you, may your final breath be "I enriched my life. I bettered lives of those I love. I improved the life of the people around me. I tried my damnedest to the best I could and I'm proud of what I've done."


(Wow. I've just been typing non-stop to the point where my knuckles are feeling abused. My knuckles, what the heck? Anyhow I hope I made some sense and said some interesting things.)

Sunday, January 17, 2010

How many words IS a picture worth?

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I return from the pub, with my ears rendered pink from either the cold air (snow's gone, chilling winter breeze has not) or the cheap pints of generic beer, and a hankering to write something down. Anything. Read others' blog posts. Decide all are on a superior level/on a topic I know little about. Google "blog post inspiration" (geek alert). Find THIS WEBSITE, complete with amazing ideas ("Host a Carnival") and just plain grim ones ("Write your own Epitaph"). Settle upon "put iTunes on shuffle and say what a random song reminds you of".

But that's pretty pedestrian, so as a variant, I scrolled around my iPhoto on random and decided to type what I can about the first photo I laid my cursor on with my eyes shut. This one:



Now watch me type about this photo until I run out of words. Or (more likely) before the beer high runs out and I just want to sleep/watch Peep Show until tiredness bitchslaps me onto the bed. Chances are I'll make a liar out of Fred R Barnard.

Firstly, I'm rather glad this picture came out of my oh-so-logical photo-picking process. While there are many photos of which I am more proud of, there are also a myriad more that I would probably have just ignored and not put up here. Like the picture of the pavement a mere couple of page scrolls up.
Secondly, this was taken during this leg of my Gap Year. Rubbish blog post though, it was just my lazy copy and paste from a Facebook message. Now I'll stop padding and start describing.

This is the view from a bridge overlooking the main river that runs through in Guilin, Guangxi province, south China. Though you couldn't tell from this photo, February 2008 was at the time the worst winter China had seen for some 50 years. Initially my little group of culture-shocked young'uns (so alien a situation to be in, where I was the oldest and most mature! Pity these kids people. Pity and fear for them) and I had intended to fly into Guangzhou first before making our way up the South West but changed our flights to arrive in Guilin instead. Mere days before we had been advised that the airport was crippled by snow (think England two weeks ago), that flights were sporadic and that people were sleeping in the airport trying to get transportation in or out. We learned this was the case from fellow travellers later on. So on balance I think we made the right decision!

The city of Guilin itself is very modern, to the point of feeling rather artificial. The main road through the city is highly modern, stone paved, very wide and exceedingly clean. Unlike some parts of China, people actually use the rubbish bins! One suspects cynically (and probably accurately) that all is catered specifically for a tourist crowd. Indeed the main features of Guilin are its proximity to other popular locations, its two bus/train stations and the province's airport. Yet the shops are irrefutably Chinese. The stalls selling lamps, stamps, prints and other paraphenalia are clean and look newly built, where you would expect and hope for signs of use, quaint indicators of tradition and loving patches of repair.

The photo itself is from an unfortunate section of the river from an anecdotal point of view. Further down the river are the famed 'Two Pagodas', publicised in all the travel guides and subject of many of the city's postcards. What they don't tell you is that they, like the rest of Guilin, look distinctly younger than 10 years old, either newly built or ruthlessly reconstructed. Continue along the other side of the bridge and you hit a section where the banks have small stone sculpture or elaborate murals on the walls, again very recent but very beautiful to look at, and very Chinese. Photogenic insertions for the cameras of tourists no doubt, but this only slightly detracts from their elegance.

The bright colours result from the combination of my desire to experiment with my camera's light settings (water + bright lights + little movement = pretty pictures, don't you know) and the slightly garish garden lights placed along the riverbank. Even the riverbanks have wide stone pavements, which make them ideal for strolling along but again, having sought a more 'genuine' experience, this was disappointing. In the background is a brightly lit building, I suspect from a commercial district, being as it is surrounded by other such buildings. You can see for yourself how clinically perfect the trees look, how symmetrically trimmed the shrubberies, how clean the pathways are and even the street vendor looks like his equipment was newly issued. All in all, Guilin is a beautiful place, but beautiful in the sense of a well designed new car rather than the rustic snapshot of China we had desired, though we were to be later satisfied on that later on that trip.


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And there we have it folks. Again, you'll forgive the lack of editing, the waffly and cliched writing and the self-indulgence. It also appears to me that I haven't spent much time talking about the actual photo. I'm not sure this post will survive the night and suspect I'll put it out of its misery tomorrow in the cold light of day. Night night!

Thursday, January 14, 2010

Haiti, Charity and Twitter

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Seven years ago, I was studying GCSE history. Many facts remain from that year, but only one terrible quote made it verbatim through the minefield of my scrambled memories since then. In 1938, Neville Chamberlain made a statement that will forever tarnish his memory. In reference to Nazi Germany invading Czechoslovakia, he claimed, "How horrible, fantastic, incredible it is that we should be digging trenches and trying on gas-masks here because of a quarrel in a far away country between people of whom we know nothing." And as horrific a concept as that was, isolationism was the way in those days. People were still scarred by memories of the Great War and reluctant to repeat such atrocities for a foreign country. Heck, modern historians cite the isolationist approach America took in those days (though of course now they are arguably the largest national provider of foreign aid, sending 6000 military troops to Haiti for instance).

Don't worry, I'm going somewhere with this. Nowadays, such an isolationist attitude can no longer reasonably exist. We have countries built partially on the backs of immigrants now, with telephones and computers and link them back to their homeland. We have international news stations and the internet blasting us with information (let's not get into an argument about media bias just right now) from around the world. It is increasingly impossible for a modern and informed inhabitant of Earth to not know about the major goings-on halfway around the world. The increasing success of charities like the Red Cross and Band/Live Aid can be attributed in no small part to the advertisements and TV shorts of suffering, starving and suffering children from Africa and other Third World or developing countries. Emotional blackmail, yes, but entirely understandable in a media culture where things must needs be sensationalist to be heard.

Images like these (Not for the easily distressed). It would take a heart of steel-reinforced stone to not be even slightly moved by the images we see on our screens. And so we reach the modern day. The 7.0 Richter disaster hit Haiti not 48 hours ago and awareness of this issue is already widespread. Definitely more so than if this had occurred even a year ago. And the most unlikely purveyor of the news? Twitter. The interwebz are indeed aflame with the tweets of thousands, which means an unprecedented number of people exposed to this news, pictures and the ways in which they can help. Say a thousand people tell our their friends, who twitter their friends, etc. Before you know it, a million people are made aware. Plug in the search term "Haiti" now and your results page will be filled with tweets on the news from the last half minute. The admittedly ADD viral nature of Twitter is nevertheless not to be underestimated.

And if everyone exposed to the news gives but a paltry sum, it'd be a massive help. Hannah wrote an hugely enlightening blog post HERE (thanks HK) about how Haiti was hugely underprivileged before the earthquake. Obviously now their need is greater than ever. There is a national scheme in America, where you can give $10 by texting HAITI to 90999. I encourage Brits and other non-Americans to check out similar schemes HERE. After all what is $10 (£6.50)? Two cups of Starbucks? Three beers in London? Lend your thoughts, prayers and currency to the cause people, it's enough to break your heart.

In the strangest of moods

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Another set of bullet points today, my friends:
Feel free to leave as honest a set of criticisms on the previous two posts. As ever, inspired by Birdykin's archives and the influx of creativity from Alex at Kind of That Girl, I just wanted to get something down. Almost entirely unedited (spelling and punctuation of course, you should know how fastidious am I with these) they will be raw but maybe it's better that way.

Finally went to see Avatar this evening. I meant to see it last week but ended up frolicking in the snow instead. Frolicking sounds like I'm a lamb or a 1950s child. Ended up having japes in the snow. That's hardly better. Anyhow, I really enjoyed Avatar. Certainly it was very long, mediocre and unimaginative in its writing and as cliched a collection of dialogue as you could ever ask for. But the sheer creativity of the colours, the creatures, even the foliage was just breathtaking. I'm sceptical about how much of that can be attributed to the frankly irritating pair of Joe 90-esque 3D glasses we have to wear, but nonetheless, a three-hour-stretch well spent I feel. Goodness knows I love films with a good sense of colour, spectacle and cinematography.

Being a TV Geek, I'm:
-  Underwhelmed with the amateurish, almost cover-version-feel of the British version of So You Think You Can Dance
- Underwhelmed with the return of Hustle
- Happy but underwhelmed at the return of Chuck
- Excited by the imminent comeback of 24
- Hopeful about the sudden spike in quality of Scrubs
- Ditto but to a lower key with respects to Heroes
- Still remembering the 100th episode of How I Met Your Mother, complete with musical finale
- Missing Glee and Dr Who (David Tennant era)
Wow that's a lot of TV-linkage.

It snowed again today, but not enough for snow days but enough to make it annoying, slippery and vaguely dangerous. I'm over it now.

If I have any sway over any of you whatsoever, donate some money to Oxfam/Unicef/the MSFs/other NGOs that will help the situation in Haiti. Only what you can spare. Thank you.

The Colour and the Shape

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With a mild sense of childlike wonder, he enjoys the crunch of the settle snow under his brogues as he strolls along the pathway. Goodness knows there is enough cynicism in the world without letting the little wonders go unnoticed. He deliberately takes his time, he is no hurry and the rhythm to his gait sounds almost musical to his ears. No symphony would soundtrack his life at the moment though. At best, a busker playing his battered guitar for pound coins in the biting cold air. Passing a bench he stops in his tracks and decides to stay his journey for a while. Sitting (the cold reaches through his woollen coat) he places his gloved hand in his laps and just watches.

Watches the passers-by, shopping bags in hand and a pace that spells the impending start of a soap opera; the birds, seemingly oblivious to the slippery surfaces, hopping around the grass and tarmac; watching the few remaining curled leaves from the whitened oaks flapping around in a futile struggle against the stiff breeze. He so rarely takes the time to just watch. Though he has just left work, the season dictates that the sun should set at this time but this is not a fact at which he (today at any rate) laments. On the contrary, it is timed perfectly. The sky, already blackened like burnt paper at top of his vision, blends seamlessly into quite fantastic merged oranges, pinks and purples over the tree tops. As the streetlamps have yet to turn on (should the council be getting on that, he wonders) the trees devoid of their customary green signs of life yet stoically solid as ever maintain a sharp silhouette against the paint palette sky, the long boughs almost like long posed limbs reaching up towards the stars.

Hard to feel pessimistic about the world when such a sight is before your eyes. For a moment he forgets it all, the dead-end career situation, the sense of ennui that already is beginning to seep into this perfect moment, the cold that turns his breath into train-puffs of moisture in the air before him. Find the wonder, he resolves, find the wonder and keep it in your heart.

Ignoring the ache the cold has (already?) wrought upon his thighs, he rises to his feet once more and continues the walk home.

Adrift

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Paddling solo against the ocean current
he struggles to remain afloat
without the flotsam and jetsam of life to cling to
memories of trite words of encouragement
do nothing to increase buoyancy
abandoned
helpless

Breathe.

The sun sets, taking with it the colours and hope
once shining and foaming crests of waves
darken into intimidating shadows and sentinels
his heart sinks but his body cannot
yhe dark seas must remain below
watching
pulling

Breathe.

Surrender is not his way
his arms flail
pale imitation of swim strokes
tired eyes scan the horizon
no ships
no land
waiting
hoping

Breathe.

Friday, January 08, 2010

Another award, another set of red herrings

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Thanks Alexandra of the TellTaleBlog.com!  Check out her blog, very human, very funny, very cool photos (can you tell I've been having photo envy of late?)

The Rules
1. Thank the person who nominated me for this award
2. Copy the award & place it on my blog
3. Link to the person who nominated me for this award
4. Share 7 interesting things about myself
5. Nominate 7 bloggers

7 Things about me that you may not know
1) I have a big head that is, no jokes, too big for your average hat. That's why I don't wear caps.
2) I have three scars from three different countries that stemmed from alcohol. And were incurred within a 6 month period.
3) I play the violin, piano, and am trying to teach myself guitar. "Stairway to Heaven" was the most common sound from my room for a good solid week when I first started.
4) Aside from illness/jetlag related incidents, I couldn't tell you when I last fell asleep before midnight.
5) I'm not the world's best singer but I am a karaoke fiend. (Oriental much?)
6) The first tape I ever bought for myself was "It's Like That" by Run-DMC v Jason Nevins.
7) Little kids love me and I love kids ("the appropriate amount... as allowed  by law..." Quote alert.) So after I have become a corporate sellout for a few years or so, I hope to be a teacher.

7 Beautiful and Deserving People (who didn't make the OTT 5)


Alexandra "Falex" at KindOfThatGirl - recent blog find and 20SB friend, this girl is beautiful inside and out. She sculpts words and that's hot.
Sarah Nicole at Live in Imagination - definitely one of the girliest blogs on my Google Reader, but she is so sweet, likes cool stuff and is partially responsible for half my Christmas presents this year. Cookies!
Allison at A Bit of Allison - actually Allison may be even girlier. Just as cool though and just as creative.
Kat at Unfettered Youth - Don't be frightened by her tight writing and rapier wit, she's a very pretty lass with a heart of gold underneath (I think...?)
Conor at the Pizza Box - Ahem. *Manly slap on back*  You're alright lad. You're alright, you beautiful lunk of Irish.
Kiley at Hello Kiley - Dazzling smile, awesome taste, wonderful personality.
Sam at Simply Sam (Love ya, but NOT going to include the bazillion asterisks!) - Great photos and taste in photos (seeing a theme?), the cutest smile (seeing another theme?), and she's SO on point with her knowledge and passion for advertising. And that's cute too. Check out her advertising blog too!

Hugs and stuff to you beautiful people!

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- Gave my cousin a LONG and COLD walking tour of London today, and it was a slightly surreal experience seeing London through the eyes of a tourist. It's not like I customarily hang out in front of Buckingham Palace! And I didn't realise how freaking awesome is London is. Even more than I previous thought. Wish I brought my camera with me though, she didn't really care about the cool little things that I saw and the way the sunset hit the horizon and the Thames at an aesthetically pleasing angle.
- The National Gallery is free, awesome, and not just filled with portraits. We spend hours in there and I bought a print of this for that bare spot on my wall.



Voted 'Britain's best painting' on a popular poll, ladies and gents, the breathtaking "The Fighting Temeraire".










- I am more sturdy of foot than I thought, even in the face of extreme road-icing. And not in the yummy sugar coating way.
- David Bowie is a crazy, eccentric and slightly prancing maniac. But in the 'bloody-hell-how-irresistably-cool' way. If you haven't got a copy of "The Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders from Mars", why the heck not?
- What terribly cataclysmic world disasters would have to occur for Zooey Deschanel to want to bear my children?

"Oooooh, the weather outside is frightful..."

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Blue sky + Orange streetlighting  = ooh, pretty!
Macro-tastic shot of pretension

 



Thanks right. We built a (mishapen) snowman! And I succumbed to the "Let's jump like an idiot" school of Facebook photography.


















So the British news was all a-flutter the past couple of days with the snow. "You know, it wasn't even very deep" says every other snowed under country in the world, and you would be right. But despite being more than heavily accustomed to rain and cold, England is not used to coping with snow. The admittedly rather shallow snow (not quite half a foot my neck of the woods but reaching perhaps a couple of feet in particular and non-prepared areas) was not dealt with and schools, average-Joe workers and to a lesser extent workplaces shut down for the day(s) and instead everyone larked around in the frozen precipitation. At least in places where it hadn't demoted itself to the hazardous black ice.

Not all fun and games though, trains, buses and even planes were cancelled because of the snow, Gatwick all but closing completely as a result. I had some relatives who had their flight from Salzburg moved a day later. And from Zurich.

But look how cool! Britain from the sky


In other news:

- Check out the photos at WarmPears. Truly spectacular, I defy you to do anything but love each of them
- The wonderful Alexandra at the TellTaleBlog.com has gifted me a 'Beautiful Blogger Award'. Yeah, it's another less-than-fully-masculine award but heck, I'm going to milk this stage where every award is a significant event in my blog-life. Will undertake the challenge later.
- The more observant amongst you may have realised I've changed the name of the blog. It's just shorter and easier. Plus the webaddress is the same, so very few, if any, sheep will get lost along the way!

Wednesday, January 06, 2010

I'm OTT! (And other non-sequiturs)

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According to the wonderfully eloquent and, er, Irish Conor over at the Pizza Box, I merit this award! Yeah, it's got a woman with an apron on it, but I'll take it anyway! One could even argue that it's fitting considering a lot of my new followers seemed to stick around when I started showing pictures of cookies.

Oh, and while I'm at it, definitely go and check out Conor, he's got a wonderfully honest way about his blog.


Now I have to answer a few questions to earn my keep for this award:

part 1: answer questions with one word:


1. Where is your cell phone? Next to my Macbook, between a book and a champagne cork. Not entirely certain how that latter got there. How to put that in one word? "Here."

2. Your hair? Black (also short and depressingly annoyingly straight)

3. Your mother? Kooky

4. Your father? (very) Chinese

5. Your favourite food? Sushi! (make it fresh and with a lot of wasabi on the side!)

6. Your dream last night? None! (Though the last one was an epic combo one involving different scenarios where people were marooning me or looking after me in hospital. Port does weird stuff to me!)



7. Your favourite drink? Whiskey (alcoholic) / Mango juice (non) [Unfortunately the two do not mix]

8. Your dream/goal? Happiness

9. What room are you in? Bedrooom

10. Your hobby? Reading/film-watching/procrastinating


11. Your fear? Solitude

12. Where do you want to be in 6 years? Lawyer/writer/teacher

13. Where were you last night? T'pub

14. Something you aren't? Tall / intolerant / Pope

15. Muffins? Conor stole my 'Poker Face' joke opp, so I'll just say "Yes (please)!"

16. Wish list item? (Any freakin') Job

17. Where did you grow up? London, England

18. Last thing you did? Narnia (as in watched the film. Not a patch on the book, but still, Liam Neeson as Aslan! So proud that I missed that innuendo opp)

19. What are you wearing? T-shirt / Trackie bottoms / Favourite hoodie

20. Your TV? No (not in my room anyhow)

21. Your pets? Goldfish (pl)

22. Your friends? Varied. One of the best and worst things about my friends is that I have circles of friends, and circles rarely overlap! Which makes for variety, but a pain in the ass trying to catch up with them all!

23. Your life? Bridge (as in the bit in songs between verses/choruses. In flux. Waiting for the next bit.)

24. Your mood? Peaceful (listen to some Remy Zero, toasty and warm while it's snowy outside)

25. Missing someone? A bunch. I'm currently in a period of trying to resolve this where I can.

26. Vehicle? Polo.

27. Something you're not wearing? A black lacy bra. (At the moment)

28. Your favourite store? Second hand book stores

29. Your favorite color? Blue

30. When was the last time you laughed? When I saw someone fall over and faceplant into some snow. I helped her up after I hasten to add!

31. Last time you cried? Erm, I teared up during the end of Dr Who on New Year's Day? Shut up.

32. Your best friend? Probably one of the 4 chaps I've roomed with in the past 4 years.

33. One place that I go over and over? Cubana's (Cuban bar in Waterloo, London. Go there, Conor!)

34. One person who emails me regularly? No-one emails me anymore, I get Facebook messages! A-R T is the most recent offender.

35. Favourite place to eat? Park (on the grass, between the shade and the sunshine, summertime. End of exam time optional)




part 2: pass the award on...

Ah! TOUGHIE! I've been following a bunch of people of late, all wonderful in their own ways. Also not sure any of them are really 'over the top', just superlative bloggers! Anyhow, I'm going to bite the bullet and shoot for:

1) Hannah at As Simple As That - not entirely sure her style really constitutes over the top, but her posts ALWAYS but always make me think.  

2) Andrea at Caffeinate Me - At the same time one of the bravest and most shy bloggers I've been reading


3) Emily at Emily-Jane.Net - Just the sweetest lady, and we share more than a few interests!

4) Lindsay at Birdykins - One of the most poetic bloggers you'll read, each post a poem that lingers on your soul for a bit after you close the page.


5) Sebastian at MrSeb.co.uk - He's crazy, sorry 'off centre' and I like that. Also, he takes the photos I wish I could take.


And there you are! Congrats to the winners, and enjoy! Check out their blogs!

Without sounding hollow, I genuinely wish I could give more shoutouts, everyone I follow and KEEP following are award-worthy, but these are the first brilliant ones to come to mind! 

-----------


p.s. Maybe it's appropriate that I got the award with a sodding apron on it. Look what I made for my visiting gran!




p.p.s. Why can't I stop listening to this?



p.p.p.s. Snow? Again? The crossroads near my house looks like a blank piece of paper and it's still going. Would run out and make a snow angel except:
1) I'm on my own. Playing in the snow on your own is tragic.
2) It's the middle of the night.
3) I don't want to red run over.
4) I also don't want to freeze my bollocks off.

p.p.p.p.s. The Complete Works of Shakespeare came through the post. Uh oh. Looks like Lord of the Rings has a bigger angrier brother. With thinner pages.

Monday, January 04, 2010

Goodbye Noughties, hello.... Tensies?

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I suppose history will remember it as the 'two-thousands' and 'twenty-tens', but what will we call them?

So despite my admittedly short-lived determination to resist, I am instead succumbing to the "New Year" post that is doing the rounds on the blogs I have been reading. To be frank, many of the topics have been on my mind anyhow: any period of inactivity/momentous occasion leads to a higher level of introspection.

In one of my half-baked, spur of the moment theories, I think even-numbered years are better for me! 2009, while containing an awesome first half, was not so nearly as spectacular as 2008 (or even 2006, or 2002) for the sole reason that I was coasting. Something I am especially prone to do and a habit I have resolved to banish (or realistically minimise) this year. Heck, decade. It's just a number I know, but it's another number and hopefully another reason to live this year rather than just subsist. In 2008 I lived in three different countries, and while I might not be able to travel as much this year, this should not stop be from attempting to recapture that joie-de-vivre, the joy in experiencing the things around me rather than just taking them for granted, rather than merely walking by.

It wasn't all bad though, in 2009, I:




- Met a bunch of truly 'different' people, because who wants all their friends to be the same, honestly? But I will have to continue my effort to retain friendship ties, because to lose the sense of connection and experience once shared is tragic, especially when it can so easily be avoided.

- Finally saw the Louvre  - certainly, the extent of the artistic genius was lost on me slightly, but it's one of those experiences no European really has any excuse for not witnessing. There are shedload of similar things I need to see in Italy soon.

(p.s. Sure it's one of the most famous paintings in the world, but no-one ever mentions how the Mona Lisa is the size of a freakin' A4 piece of paper.)




- Started playing the piano again - Yes, it was a backlash to people hearing "Clair de Lune" and thinking of Twilight but however it got me there, I hadn't really taken the time to play the piano more than idly for a couple of years, and this again is something I would like to keep up.
- Attended the theatre four times - Why this number isn't higher considering I'm a Londoner is anyone's guess.
- Went to my first live rugby match - Truly more of a gentleman's game than football.


(this photo belongs to my friends GH, I can ask permission if you want to use these or others of the match)



And because life is more about the present and future than the past, I intend to do these things in 2010:

- Take a truly beautiful photo. Sure I take ones like this and the one to the left, but I want to take a really good one. May require a proper camera.
- Read the complete works of Shakespeare. Will be tough, but I got the bug while watching Hamlet, and I might as well read this now while I still have two young non-bespectacled eyes!
- Go to the theatre/open air theatre at least 12 times this year. I'm a Londoner. No excuse not to really, and goodness knows that Futurama doesn't count as high culture.
- Start running again - I was making such rapid progress, quickening my pace and being able to run for longer without getting completely knackered. But even faster than I got swifter, I got worse again. This time I have to keep it going!
(Couldn't resist the opportunity to think of synonyms for... er... speedy. I'm such a word and punctuation geek: is it any wonder that I love this book?)


I also intend to make a dent on my Life List (name changes bi-daily) which I'm still in the process of prefecting. But ones currently on the list which I will try to knock one or two off:
- Go bungee-jumping
- Become the most knowledgeable person I know about a subject. And a real one, of the type that would go on Mastermind, something like 'The films of Hitchcock' rather than 'The Moves of Pikachu circa Pokemon Red'. And this might be tough, since I went to a good school and a good university I have a bunch of polymath friends.
- Get paid for art/creative piece of my own making - this could be busking, selling a poem, story, article
- Be part of a 'flash mob' event -  Because honestly guys. How fun does this look?
- Visit every continent (so far only have Europe, N America, Asia and Oceania knocked off)
- Make an 'Amelie moment' - where I truly help someone without ever letting them know it was me. If you don't get the reference you should really watch the film.
- Watch every film on the BFI/AFI/IMDB top 100 list
- Read every Book on a reputable top 50/100 list
(One of these two might be doable this year if Shakespeare doesn't knock me out too much)

Any other suggestions for the rest?



Saturday, January 02, 2010

Media Overload - Christmas/'Cultural' Edition

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So my Christmas period has been a blur of food, chocolate, relatives and shopping (the penultimate informs the latter, which I may or may not bore you with later on). But it has also been a wonderful burst of media. Wonderful, unique, feel-better-for-having-seen-it media and because I still have some sleep to catch up on after last night's heavy duty drinking (still maintain my no hangover record though! Seriously. Water. Miracle cure.) I want to wax lyrical for a spell. I get the distinct feeling that if I don't get a little something down now I might go for a while without writing again.

Hamlet (RSC production)

So this Christmas telly period has been fairly David Tennant heavy. Along with guest presenting Buzzcocks, appearing on QI and cameo-ing on a bunch of TV shows, he played the titular role in this gem of a piece aired by the BBC on Boxing Day. Featuring the Royal Shakespeare Company cast from their 2008 production which I never had the fortune to catch, most notably (new knighted!) Sir Patrick Stewart as Claudius/The Ghost, it was an excellent television play, despite some gimmick with CCTV cameras that I never quite understood. Every part played to a more than satisfactory standard apart from the Cornelia who I felt was played a little too angsty even for Cornelia. David Tennant was an extraordinary Hamlet, flitting between hilariously manic, pensive, depressed and devilish fury. However, he also portrayed all these as Doctor Who and I will admit it was fairly difficult to detach him from this role. And I had forgotten how many common English phrases had derived from this play. "Neither a borrower nor a lender be" anyone?

This has led to another addition to my still-being-completed Year List/Bucket List/Life List. I have ordered the complete works of Shakespeare and I will complete it by this time next year. This traditional word but modern props interpretation really reignited my passion for Shakespeare in a way that merely reading it in a classroom did not in school. I can't wait to reread Othello, innuendos and all!

Ballet/Billy Elliot

BBC4 also showed a filmed production of Swan Lake in its entirety. I tried, I really did, but I can't get into ballet. I thought I would be able to, the Tchaikovsky music is epic but after a dozen minutes or so, I just saw admittedly very disciplined women in tights dancing in line. And most of them too skinny to really do anything for me.

Billy Elliot (filling this year's quota for Christmas Day ultra-British-preferably-Working-Title-film) was much better. It's hard to argue with any film that features music by the Jam and the Clash. Should I have capitalised those The's? And where did Billy Elliot learn to tap dance?






Les Miserables

What with out of towner relatives over for the Christmas period, I felt I would be remiss if I didn't take them to a show. Plus I have a penchant for live entertainment and hadn't seen Les Mis myself. Unexpected bonus, obviously, it's not like I suggested it to them or anything. Ahem. (Another 2010 aim is to see a play/musical/open air production at least once a month.)

It didn't disappoint, though being rather lengthy it dragged in places. But:
- The songs I knew prior (Confrontation, On My Own, Do You Hear The People Sing?, I Dreamed a Dream) were all performed to satisfaction and not overly 'ruined' for me.
- I was bemused/slightly put out that half the theatre practically stage whispered "Susan Boyle!" when I Dreamed a Dream started up. One has to wonder if a lot of the audience were there for that song primarily.
- The little girl who sang "Castle on a Cloud" (Young Cosette/girl on the illustrated pictures) was cute as a button, but didn't stick around for the curtain call. Bedtime?
- The spinning stage was cool and made a lot of sense especially now that Les Mis has been demoted to a smaller theatre.

Dr Who

You know, I'm only slightly ashamed to admit how much I was looking forward to this. Yet ashamed enough to semi-critically discuss the cultural impact rather than just gush like a fanboy.

It seems my generation loves a revival. James Bond (twice). Countless TV shows. A large handful of comic book adaptations. But none was so quintessentially British as that of Dr Who in 2005. Starting off with Christopher Ecclestone for one series, It was David Tennant (he of the omnipresent media appearances of December 2009) who took the role and seriously ran with it for three series. And at least for me, as he took the role so seriously and gave it such presence, in the same way that Pierce Brosnan will always be my James Bond, so shall Tennant be my generation's Doctor. Not that the ludicrous plot was hideously important or believable (even in comparison to normal standards?) or even as epic as some of the lower budget Christmas specials, but I shall not ruin it for anyone who may not have seen it. (That's pretty much directed at you Emily, if you're still reading me!)

What I will say is that it's perhaps a beautiful end to screenwriter and creator of the Dr Who revival Russell T Davies' stint as handler of all things Doctor simultaneous to Tennant's stepping down. There's a nod to the Donna-storyline of the last full series, a massive if temporary promotion for her Grandad Wilf, a shedload of self-referencing and a huge range of high-octane (as far as BBC license-payers' wallets will allow!) action and emotions that David Tennant is given to play with. Key moments though, actually come after the main story, with the Tenth Doctor's final actions, cameo-ing key players from the revival storylines and such puppydog loyalty displayed by Grandpapa Wilf that my eyes teared up a little. I could actually have done with just the last half hour of the second part if I'm honest.

"I don't want to die" is Tennant's last line as Doctor. Many of us may feel the same way, but in a lesson taken (and perhaps should be shared with Scrubs) maybe it is best to leave things on a high. Thank you David Tennant and more importantly thank you Russell T Davies.


p.s. not sure I'm going to even watch the new Doctor to be honest. He looks dim and "Geronimo" is not nearly as cool a catchphrase as "Allons-y!"

p.p.s. Also coming to an television end, as quietly and understated as it began is Gavin and Stacey. 'Stacey' is hot, 'Smithy' is that annoying but endearing friend everyone has, and while the plot has never been groundbreaking, the characters are so very real and I have enjoyed its run.

p.p.p.s. Normal, non-geeky, posting shall resume soon. Happy New Year everyone!