Not a review: ‘Bookworm’ by Lucy Mangan

Note: this really is not a review. My about-a-book entries are never reviews, just me gushing about books I’ve absolutely loved and have time to write about. Take it for granted that if this was a review it would be a five-star thing, though, because I’m coming out of the tail-end of a migraine right now and shouldn’t be looking at a screen, but am compelled to write this. Continue reading “Not a review: ‘Bookworm’ by Lucy Mangan”

The writer next door

Last week, browsing the bookstands at Southbank (yes, again. I have an addiction), I picked up two books by Lillian Beckwith. There are a few names that leap out at me when I’m running my eye over a shelf, and hers is one of them.

Growing up, Lillian Beckwith was our next-door neighbour.  We didn’t know her as Lillian Beckwith. We knew her as Mrs Comber. When we first moved in, my dad mentioned that she was an author, and as a kid who liked to write, that caught my imagination. I honestly can’t remember, looking back, if I wanted to be a writer before we met the Combers, or if knowing them is what made me want to work with words. Continue reading “The writer next door”

A long time ago, we used to be friends

This week, the site closed down once and for all. OD, as it was affectionately known by its many users, was one of the earliest social networking/blogging sites out there. Here, have a link to Wikipedia. It was a surprisingly innovative site – maybe not as well-known as Live Journal, but it solidly paved the way in a few areas.

Ladies and gents, this is not my first blog – I wrote over at OD, under various pseudonyms and at various levels on privacy, for about thirteen years, on and off. It was more of a journal than a blog, though. I certainly didn’t hold back on subjects there that I don’t even mention here.

Continue reading “A long time ago, we used to be friends”

Pictures or it didn’t happen

I’m taking a terrible, but lovely, series of photos of my route to work over the next couple of months.

They’re terrible because I’m using my phone and I’m a bad photographer whatever the tools, but lovely to me because they’re sentimental. This is my London as me and many other people travelling into Victoria see it, even on the grey days. I’ve had conversations with fellow commuters, and I know that it’s not just me that gets a kick out of the band-name graffiti scrawled on the walls as you come into the station. Loads of other people have spent the day with “It Only Takes a Minute Girl” stuck in their head thanks to whoever painted that lyric on the side of a house. I’m not the only person who goes ‘Awww’ when we see the dogs residing at Battersea Cats and Dogs home being brought out for walks. I want to have a record of some of these things before they are cleaned up or are turned into a soul-less shopping centre. Continue reading “Pictures or it didn’t happen”

If music be the food of love, make jam

I wrote some really, truly terrible stories when I was younger. I’ve been going through the Folder of Old Stuff, which contains things written from age 19 or so upwards. I was looking for something in particular, but got bogged down reading, as you do. The folder is full of stories mostly written for creative writing classes at university (a very useful, career-oriented degree). I feel very, very sorry for my tutors.  Nicholas Sparks ain’t got nothing on me at my most maudlin and over-sentimental. Sledgehammer sentences abound.

Continue reading “If music be the food of love, make jam”

Jonesing: past, present and future

I’m typing this awkwardly with blistered hands from steam-cleaning the kitchen carpet – because that’s the sort of glamorous, rock-and-roll thing us London girls do at the weekend. The blisters are sort of worth it as, although the carpet is probably not cleaner, the dirt is more evenly distributed. I’m sharing this detail because it’s sort of relevant to the below post which, as you’d expect, meanders through three different subjects before stopping abruptly. Structured writing skills – I don’t haz.

Bridget Jones’ Diary has been the source of a lot of conversation this week. One of my friends was re-reading it, and that prompted me to pick it up and re-read it (actually I picked it up to try and get Coffee Monster to read it, but then I took it off him again). As a result, the book and the character have come up a few times in different discussions with different people.

Back when the book first came out, one of the reasons it was a hit was because Bridget is an Every Woman.  A thirty-something every woman, living in London, working in publishing – to some extent, she is still something of an Every Woman, at least in my circle of friends. One mate commented that her mother pointed out that her career path matched Bridget’s; another related how her friends had (insultingly) pinpointed her as being Bridget when they were all 16 and watching the film. I’m of an age now where I was curious to re-read the book and see how much of myself I recognised in it.

When it came out I was about 13 years old. I knew of it because I was the kind of weird 13-year-old that picked up the Sunday papers book section and pored over the bestsellers list and read the reviews and interviews and was very intent on building my ‘grown-up’ book collection. I mean, I actually had a separate shelf on my book shelves where I put all my ‘grown-up’ books. Stuff by Rick Moody and Esther Freud and JG Ballard separated from all the Jean Ure and Robert Swindells. Roald Dahl occupied places in both sections.

So when the little corner shop down the road had a copy of Bridget Jones’ Diary for sale in its tiny, dusty book section, I eventually scraped together the money (I also had a weekend job at this point) and bought it. Then I went home and snuck up to my room and read it in one day. I don’t know why I snuck up to my room with it – I was fairly secretive about the whole venture. But I read it and swallowed it whole and re-read it several squillion times, and nurtured the thought of a future working in publishing, in a City, writing stuff, hanging with friends.

Bridget Jones' Diary
Cup of tea, good read – way better than steam-cleaning the damn carpet.

The whole boyfriend/fuckwittage thing was amusing, but that really wasn’t much of a concern at 13 – in fact I went through school being a) an unattractive geek and b) very certain that school romances were a waste of time anyway, since school was nothing but a starting point and it would all be left behind in favour of a glamorous future. (And then Facebook came along and destroyed that fantasy for the world.) I was all about the lifestyle. That’s amusing now, because now I’m older clearly the point is that she’s not glamorous at all. She’s awkward and normal and broke and bored at work and has a damn good group of friends, and that is, if you’re lucky, basically life in a nutshell.

At 13 I really wanted to be a writer (I finished my first novella at 14 and it was appropriately dreadful. As has been pretty much everything since). I was reading the media stuff in the Sunday papers in part because I spent a lot of time dreaming of the wider world and writing and films and books and the future anyway, and then along comes Helen Fielding and BAM! Talk about reading (and rereading) at a formative age. Then I got older and, well, a bit bored of the whole thing… and now we’re here, where I find myself reading it all over again, but instead of relating to (or wanting to be)Bridget,  I seem to have morphed into Shazzer. Sweary, ranty, feminist Shazza. And that suits me just fine, because she always seems happy, if with a core of rage at the world, which is something I can totally relate to.  It also suits me because it fits nicely with my comfort zone – always the sidekick, never the star. I like being behind the scenes and helping things work. I don’t like being the centre of anything – it’s far too much pressure.

Some of you might be scoffing at that –yes, I have diva-ish moments. Notably when I’m ranting about shit. But the best way I can think to illustrate how I feel about my place in the world is like this… On university trips to the climbing wall, sat in a mini-van on the way home, driving through the mountains in the dark in the middle of nowhere, I used to play a rather morbid game of ‘Slasher Movie’ in my head. The game is essentially this : if the van broke down, and we were all being stalked by a crazy psycho in the middle of nowhere, who in this van would survive? Who is the star, who is the killer, who is which bit player? Who dies fighting, who dies running and who dies fucking? Apply all the movie tropes and see where you end up. I never cast myself as the star – I figured I’d probably be the one who was abruptly stabbed through the window after we heard spooky knocking at the doors. Quick and easy and out of the way. (I can’t be the only person in the world who considers these things?)

Anyway – obviously reading Bridget Jones’ Diary is not the be-all-and-end-all of why I live where I live and do what I do – I found out about the book in the book section, for heaven’s sake. Even if I hadn’t read it, no one from my past would be shocked that I work with words now. But, in retrospect, it might have genuinely shaped some of my choices. This, in turn, with babies and children on my mind (my sisters’, not mine, I hasten to add) makes me think about how much of an effect all the reading and writing and pictures and games has on kids today, and how much more glittery and how much worse it seems to me, looking at it with adult eyes. There’s nothing for me to be smug about – there was a lot of crap available when I was growing up as well, but it was easier for parents to protect kids from it. Now there’s such an onslaught of rubbish shaping minds. Everything is so photo-shopped and glamorous – really glamorous, not Bridget Jones glamorous. It’s fucking scary.

“We do it for love, but we need money”: The Rep – Part One (the film)

This is going to be a long one – in fact, it turns out, has required splitting into two parts –  so bear with me (or not, if you get bored).

Usual disclaimers: I am not a journalist and recorded nothing except a blurry photo, so this is all memory, bad research and my opinion. ‘Quotes’ are not verbatim. If I get something wrong (not my opinion, mind, but an actual fact/quote) then please tell me.

Regular readers will have heard me mention the Prince Charles Cinema before (here, for example). I have a lot of love for the place and the films it shows and the friendliness and welcoming attitude of the people who work there. Handily, I also have a membership card. I’m not sure I’ve ever really explained what kind of cinema it is though. The PCC is – and bear in mind that this is my description, not theirs – a part-repertory, part-second run and sometimes-first run (it was the only place I found showing Waltz with Bashir when it came out. Also Beasts of the Southern Wild – which I was hankering for after months of reading on the internet. The PCC showed it pre-Oscar nomination. The chain cinemas jumped on the bandwagon for that film months late) small two-screen cinema in the West End. When I first came to London, the people I was moving in with listed it in the first few things they told me I should check out (they also mentioned the Roxy in Borough, the Peckham Plex and a few other places, but truly, The PCC is my most-beloved indie cinema). And I did, a couple of times, shyly and on my own, and never felt unwelcome. I’ve been going there more and more as years pass and gathering friends to go with. I associate different parts of the building with different films and events. Like I sort of assume, at this point, that any film I see in the upstairs screen is going to make me cry, having come out of there utterly destroyed by the aforementioned Waltz with Bashir and Southern Wilds. It’s also where I caught the Sofia Coppola doublebill. Downstairs by the bar tends to be the fun stuff for me – the action/comedy double bills, time with friends, events with directors. Right before the screening I’m going to talk about below – and this is very relevant – I saw that the PCC is hosting another of their pyjama parties in July, on a weekend when my baby sister is visiting, and that they had picked all the films from my youth that I love and have strong memories for. I was and am so, so excited (as is my sister). Tickets have been bought and friends talked into coming. I had the same excitement when I discovered the Edward Scissorhands/Batman double-bill a few months back. This cinema taps into a rich vein of nostalgia and geekiness for me and many other people, and we all get to be young geeks together. That’s what a rep cinema does. It’s a magical place, and I don’t say that lightly.

So a month or so ago, when I saw they were planning to screen a film called The Rep – a documentary about a year in the life of running a repertory cinema – I leapt on it and (assuming it would sell out) booked tickets for me and Coffee Monster. I did this because I had no idea how the magic at these cinemas is created; I don’t know who puts things together or how or the amount of work involved – I only ever enjoy the end result. I thought this would be a nice little film about behind the scenes in a rep cinema. Sort of like High Fidelity was to record stores (which the fellas I knew who worked at the late-lamented Cob Records in Bangor assured me was actually fairly accurate).

Looks cheerful, doesn’t it?

As it is I came out of that tail-end of that movie utterly fucking heartbroken. And inspired, amused, angry, impressed. But mostly heartbroken. Because, although I’m not as hard core as some folks, I love film, I love old films, I love cinema and the community at the small cinemas, and this was a film about the death of them.

Now I’m unsure how much detail to give about the film itself because spoilers and whatnot. But it’s not on wide release. Director Morgan White took NO box office for the showing at the PCC – he just wanted it seen. Oddly, other small cinemas have refused to show it (more on that later, in Part 2 of this subject once I’ve finished it). During the panel talk after the film, Paul – the programmer for the PCC – actually said they were happily surprised at the number of people who showed up for it, especially given the hot weather and it being early evening on a Tuesday. Maybe it will make it on to Netflix in the future which, given the subject matter, would be a kick in the teeth, really.

So, The Rep. Not a funny film with a few tragic moments about running a repertory theatre in Toronto, but a fairly tragic film with a few funny moments about trying to open and keep running a repertory theatre in Toronto. Three friends who met through film one way or another decide, having no jobs but plenty of inspiration, to reopen an old cinema in the basement of a condo in Toronto – The Toronto Underground Cinema.

They have never started or run a business before. Hell, one of them has never even had a job before. They enter into the project with much gusto but very little know how. There’s highs and lows, but mostly lows. You watch the clashes between the three partners – and then are impressed at how well their friendship survives them; see the cinema owner being quietly supportive about, well, everything; meet the audience member who became a roommate, his life having been saved by having a little cinema to go to where he felt at home. When a screening goes well and sells out after much stress (Adam West!) you cheer for them; when they hit rock bottom with debts and having to play a DVD that skips instead of a reel, the audience is plunged into despair right there with them. Back to happy again as they survive until their first-year anniversary and things seem to be on the up. And then, at the end, the kicker. After shot after shot of closed indie cinemas… The Toronto Underground Cinema is also, now, closed.

The cultural background to all of this is given using interviews with other rep and indie cinema programmers and owners. As the film goes on the audience realise that, with the advent of Netflix and co, that this is a species of entertainment that is very much under threat (as well as starting to understand the pressure and love that goes into running a place like this). Showing old films doesn’t cut it anymore, and people need a hook to come out and watch. Cinemas all over the States and Canada are being closed and knocked down – particularly memorable and poignant are is the interview with Sam Sharkey, on the closing night of the Red Vic in San Francisco, a cinema that had been running as a collective for 31 years. Old films are being lost to group audiences forever. As one interviewee says – and I can’t remember everyone’s names,  sorry – this is the filmic equivalent of museums being closed down, only the art, which is the shared viewing experience of the old films isn’t being moved or protected. It just vanishes.

The panel discussion after the film went into more detail about the rights and finding the films and so forth – with the exception of money troubles, the film itself sort of skimmed over that side of things, except to show us the warehouse full of 35mm reels owned by one projectionist (“I stopped buying DVDs after I started collecting these.”)  – but the message is clear. Independent cinemas, not just reps, are being pushed out.

This is a film that needs to be seen, really. I know that the number of people who love to watch old movies in cinemas is probably lower than I’d like, but it was an eye-opener as to what’s being lost if we, as an audience don’t fight for it. Unfortunately, because small cinemas are closing down all over the place, the people that need to see it probably never will.

Part two – The panel discussion will be available soon

Picture this

Finally, the weekend. After spending the morning trailing from podiatrist (one day I will devote an entry to my disgusting feet, but not today) to pharmacy across most of South East London, and failing to be at bus stops at the same time as buses, and losing my patience and walking instead of waiting, I’m back home and taking a break before heading out this evening to a shindig hosted by Frozen Margaritas. Continue reading “Picture this”

In which we revisit my childhood brat self

That last entry is the most popular thing I’ve ever written – more than 10 times the number of views I usually have. That could have something to do with me linking to it with the comment, ‘Sorry if this is too much information’. Quite a lot of people probably clicked and then went away again almost immediately, disappointed at the lack of drama or naked body parts – the naked photos are a few entries back, folks. I could keep adding such interest-inducing comments to the links, but I don’t think I could keep the hyperbole up (‘More too much information!’; ‘Ladybits!’; ‘MY WHOLE PRIVATE DIARY!’).

Continue reading “In which we revisit my childhood brat self”