I Did It My Way…

We had Rae at home with us last week. Having just gotten home from a month in Thailand and Cambodia visiting temples, attending weddings and island hopping she was understandably exhausted. So when Bill came over to the house over the weekend Rae wasn’t really up for entertaining despite a few beers on offer and my breaking out the miraculous Falling Tower Game. A poor substitute for Jenga, this collection of wooden bricks is remarkable if only because it was conceived with no thought of proportions or dynamics or even basic physics. When you arrange one row of bricks you notice that they do not measure the same as the side of bricks above or below which creates a structure that is not so much a tower as a pile of delicately-poised rubble. In Jenga the handicap is dictated by how much you’ve had to drink but here it’s the game itself. Attempts to improve our evening’s entertainment with Trivial Pursuit were shortlived after we remembered (as we do every time we play) that we weren’t born in the US in the early seventies and were unlikely to know to many of the answers. The plan of going to the pub was hit upon and after Rae made her excuses Bill and I were left to go on our Man Date (I think Courtney may have coined that one – Liam?).

The Pheasant in Welland is awful. Armed with this irrefutable piece of knowledge we marched up the road to The Marlbank which has undergone a new lease of life and these days regularly plays host to all manor or cavorting and merriment on a Saturday evening. Acknowledging that we were done messing about on the board game scene, Bill and I got on with the serious business of getting drunk. After a few rounds we hit on the dazzingly original idea of crashing the 21st birthday party in the marquee outside. This was easy enough but due to the party being comprised of family rather than friends of the birthday girl and the party lacking those high-octane thrills necessary for the craic (and it having been altogether too easy to gain access), we suspected that it might not really be the place to be. It was about this time that we found out that the Birthday Party Party had requested karaoke in the lounge. Now we were both pretty wrecked at this stage and it so happens that this is the optimum condition for wanting to sing appalling songs at the top of your voice to a room full of people you’ve never met before in your life. Amazingly we picked a half decent song first and belted out a passable rendition of “Baggy Trousers” by Madness. Somehow our standards then sank to “Lady In Red” by Chris de Burgh and culminated with Diana Ross’s “Chain Reaction”. We were just about able to remain standing for each but I think we may have been unable to read the words on the screen because I have a vague memory of us singing anything that came into out heads in a tune that in no way resembled either of those songs. We certainly substituted the verses for long drawn out reinterpretations of the choruses. In a way we had achieved the challenge that someone relishes in a game of Jenga; we were drunk and trying to keep the structures of our bodies upright despite the overwhelming absence of balance or co-ordination.

I have no memory after that point. Despite our bad behaviour and complete disregard for anyone else in the pub that night, and being blind drunk, I can tell you that the birthday girl was called Michelle and she appeared to have good time. Whether her family did or not I can’t say but it may be some time before I can go back to the only acceptable pub within a mile of my house. Blast.

Passport to Pimlico

Last week marked my Dad’s 73rd year on the planet. The Old Man had a hankering to get to see an exhibition (as he often does) of one his favourite artists, John Constable at Tate Britain. Being particularly preoccupied with rural landscapes, the interplay of light and shadow and composition, Dad has a lot in common with the Suffolk born artist. This exhibition is notable particularly because it is perhaps the first time that Constable’s impressive six-foot canvasses have been presented alongside the “sketches” and trial versions allowing you to see the choices the artist faced and the subsequent decisions he made when working on the competed piece. A contemporary of one of my favourite artists, JMW Turner, Constable had been criticised for his composition and his scaling in his early career. His solution was to form a working sketch and use it to experiment with arrangements and the lighting conditions and when he was satisfied he would work on giving each scene a sense of animation and vitality. Constable was obsessed with the land surrounding Flatford Mills on the River Stour in Suffolk and most of his works draw upon the elements he found nearby. He also lived in London and Sussex and created a particularly handsome painting of the Chain Pier in Brighton in 1827 just after it had been constructed. What was interesting for me was seeing how having locked-off the composition he then worked to achieve his snapshot of a busy waterway. Several times it struck me how cinematic the effect is. He was really crying out for a movie camera! Also I found it interesting how Constable worked at getting his most precious ideas and conceits out of his system in the rough version and almost adopting the mantra of “kill your darlings” to exorcise the ideas that were most likely to hinder the best realisation of the finished piece; like a writer hurrying through a first draft so that they can then discard the chaff for the revised version. So the composition and the lighting varies very little from the sketch to the final piece but the many figures and animals and vehicles are reconfigured (even to the point where there are noticeable over-paints when the artist changed his mind). The x-ray exhibit was particularly informative.

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Whilst Contable’s creations are immensely satisfying I still get a bit frustrated (as I do with my Dad) with how narrow the range of subjects are. The exhibtion suggests that the artist failed to make it out of the south east of the UK. Suffolk is beautifully realised and the brief trips to Essex, Sussex and London are similarly exciting but I couldn’t help wondering what interpretations Constable might have made of other locations in Europe in the way his contemporaries did. Not only does the artist seem unwilling to stray beyond the UK, but he does seem to confine himself to setting each scene at or around midday (I think this was supposed to reinforce the timeless aspect of the composition) and he has the skies (wonderful as they are) peppered with clouds that may or may not threaten rain, but that are captured at a point where they fail to deliver any weather at all. But then the man was fascinated with his own set of themes and concerns like any great artist. He was also a very devoted father which must have taken up a lot of his time too. Did I mention he had a lot in common with Dad?

Recent Movie Round-Up

Having now had a chance to catch the latest brace of blockbusters I feel it necessary to say that I enjoyed them all. Pirates of The Caribbean: Dead Man’s Chest delivered a good yarn full of weird and wonderful characters – Bill Nighy and his crew were so grisly and entertaining that you couldn’t help find them riveting (especially Nighy’s accent which sounded French at first). Orlando and Keira are still positively inert in comparison but perhaps necessary to the story, which I read somewhere managed to create an equivalent character for each persona in Star Wars even down to Mackenzie Crook and Lee Arenberg as R2-D2 and C-3PO who just seem to haplessly turn up in the right place at the wrong time. Depp is obviously great but I was also delighted to find that Geoffrey Rush will be in the third one as he’s such good value. Great fun!

After the opening few seconds of Superman Returns I was able to relax the hugely tensed muscles that were causing my face to contort with trepidation and start to really enjoy myself (a bit like when you’re dreading an embarrassing relative making a speech at your wedding and them turning out to say generous, warm and funny things). This epic, trapped in development hell for ages which had more directors attached to it than probably anything else has ever (even Batman Begins) managed to be really very good. Apparently we’re meant to disregard a few of the latter Superman films but since I couldn’t remember them anyway that didn’t matter. The story with the crystals was very watchable and Spacey was superb as Luther. Most surprising of all was Brandon Routh who made a really good Clarke Kent and Superman respectively. What I found refreshing was that the producers didn’t cop out and go back to do a roots story which is what is done with every superhero movie, largely because they can’t seem to find a way to develope a good story once the hero has become established and triumphed over their first big nemesis (and it’s easy to see how attempts at these developments fail when you see something like Spiderman 2 which apart from the great action sequences was like watching an expensive soap opera). Kelvin might be able to help me out with why, or more likely find me a dozen examples of why I’m talking tosh 🙂

Last night I popped along to see Michael Mann’s latest, Miami Vice which duly kicked ass. I think I enjoyed it so much because there is actually nothing like it around at the moment and hasn’t been for quite some time. All recent action movies are aimed at kids like Stormbreaker or for prepubescent teens like The Fast and the Furious: Tokyo Drift or else they’ve felt that they have to be more than they actually are in the case of M:I:3 and other so called event movies (and usually end up being much less than the sum of their parts). Miami Vice was a no nonsense, stylish and fast paced cop picture that managed to be both authentic and visceral whilst at the same time having its heroes pulling ridiculously ostentatious heroics with speedboats, ludicrously powerful guns, and surveillance technology. Because of the beautiful locations and consistently intriguing array of characters, even two hander conversations were suspenseful and establishing shots were an event in themselves. The final shoot out was very reminiscent of the superb gun battle in Heat except here the stakes were higher with a more traditional good guys versus bad guys. So good! Even if Colin Farrell looked a bit like one of the village people.

In other news, Film Four, true to their word of showing great movies, are showing a season of Hayao Miyazaki films all this week. On Tuesday I caught “My Neighbor Totoro” which managed to be both utterly daft and a really affecting story of two young girls moving to a remote rural location with their well-meaning father whilst they worry about whether or not their hospitalised mother is ever going to recover. They make friends with a huge cuddly tree spirit who might not be able to make everything alright but does introduce them to a flying cat-bus. Yesterday I saw the epic “Nausicaä of the Valley of the Winds” which was a very involved parable about mankind’s struggles to utilise early 20th century technology (and space age sleds) and harness the winds whilst surviving threats like toxic forests and huge insect armies in the wake of a nuclear holocaust. Tonight’s film is Porco Rosso (about a dashing pilot who seems to have had his face altered to resemble a pigs) and tomorrow is Princess Mononoke which I’ve seen before and loved. Catch them if you can!

Photos

The fact that I’ve only got a limited upload limit at Flckr meant that it did take me three or four months to post the majority of the Prague pics so I’ve now had a chance to post some of Rae’s birthday and graduation as well as a few I took on my recent walks. Let me know if you want to made a “friend” contact so that you can view the full collection. You can view pixs here.

Big Chill!

Thanks for the interest, it was truly a blinder! As if I wasn’t going to say something… Alex, Soni and Harry duly whisked me off to Eastnor on Thursday afternoon for a weekend of sun, beautiful surroundings and a tonne of superb food. Oh yeah, there was plenty of helpings of great music too! Continue reading