Something in the Air…

Returning to work this morning after being away last week, I expected to be immersed once again in the serious business of Intranets and Virtual Learning Environments, and I was. But not without being wrong footed by the slightly surreal atmosphere… Apart from the odd member of staff missing due to their being stranded in far flung locations, ranging from Dubai to Greece, I was struck by the eccentric nature of the e-mails that were sent last week. Certainly during the previous week of the Easter break the college was largely desserted and some members of staff might have found they weren’t experiencing the usual number of demands made of them, but I had no idea that this had lead in some cases to extreme paranoia and schizophrenia…

The first in an epic and gloriously irreverent thread began simply with the plaintive “Just sending an email in the hope of a response and confirmation that I am not the only person working today?

The sender turned out to be having issues with the college’s lighting which is designed to sense movement and so remain on (to allow work to be possible in the windowless bowells of college), except that last week there was no movement so they would periodically be plunged into darkness. Someone else suggested that they had heard “Reports of Gremlins in [the] new building going around switching off lights“. When it was suggested that the weekly badminton session be observed (despite only about three people working last week) it was someone else’s inspired comment “Maybe the gremlins would fancy a game too, you never know?!” that prompted this superb announcement and piece of photoshoppery:

Security have just informed us that the surveillance cameras in the main sports hall were mysteriously vandalised last night sometime after midnight. In an attempt to identify the culprits, security have released the following screenshots from the time of the attack“:

Gremlins

So far so daft. Quality use of time – morale is boosted. This was apparently not an isolated instance of slight madness and excessive creativity. A new member of staff made the questionable descision to ask a colleague for my whereabouts so that I could carry out a spot of training for the software I help maintain (Microsoft’s SharePoint) before receiving this rather curt reply:

I am glad that you are… ready to seek the ways of the enlightened.

The oracle of wisdom that you seek is James Leahy, the Sharepoint Administrator who dwells in the dark forest (aka the Quality Department). Enter the great white Tower block and there you will find the portal to the clouds. Press floor 5 and pass through the doors on this level. You must not turn left, no no, as this will take you to Performing Arts and this is a land of whirling dervishes and creatures so alarmingly different from other mortals you blood will turn cold. Do not look upon them for their spells may entice you to break out into spontaneous interpretive dance and then I fear you will be lost. No, turn right fair maiden and proceed through the gates of wisdom and into the realm of quality and assurance. Once you have passed through these gates you will encounter the gatekeepers. These are solemn, tired creatures feasting on stale coffee and biscuits (and maybe a cheese and pickle sarnies if on sale at Sainburys). The one you seek is behind the file cabinet to your right. He can be identified by the very pretty Mac computer that he greedily hoards to himself.

Raise thy hands to the stars and speak clearly ‘I seek the ways of Sharepoint!’ and he will set you free.”

Does volcanic ash have properties akin to opium? Possibly. It’s just excessively pleasing to return to work and yet, return to nothing like the standard day you were expecting. Thank you colleagues for brightening my day… You absolute weirdos 🙂

The Revolution Will Not Be Televised (although it might be available on-line…)

Read two very depressing articles today. Both concerned domestic recreational viewing habits. Each made blundering attempts to identify trends by gender stereotyping and failed to identify the main problem: 90% of TV is shite.

The first was a lazily written slice of home life where the writer explained about the “war” he regularly has with his daughter over what to watch. He is apparently so in love with football that it’s the only thing he’ll watch. I find most televised sport so mind-numbingly dull that I can see why his daughter might make a case for not watching it every evening. He then goes on to say that his daughter only seems to want to watch Britain’s Top Model which is a show that sounds so uncompromisingly unbearable that I can understand the father’s complaints about being subjected to the show’s narcissistic, self-promoting characters each time he wants to spend time in the living room (although he must see a few of those whilst watching the footie). Why can’t these people develop an imagination? They’re shows that exist on TV that are actually interesting, entertaining, informative, stimulating, involving and an absolute joy to behold. You might have to spend a bit of time reading a TV guide or the previews of coming shows but they’re out there. The writer might benefit from realising men are allowed to watch stuff other than football – and that’s O.K. (Mad Men, for example, is probably not made with a solely female audience in mind).

Because of the infrequent good programming, services like iPlayer or 4oD are very much the way forward (I found out recently you don’t need a TV license for anything that’s not being broadcast live) and DVD boxsets of the genuinely good stuff are really good value now. It’s just depressing that father and daughter have to undergo constant feuds over which is the lesser of two painful viewing experiences. Not to mention the other half of the family who can’t even bear to experience either!

The second article banged on about 57% of men between 18 and 44 preferring surfing the internet compared to 46% preferring TV and that “…the relevance of television is fading.”

I don’t think this comes as any shock.

“Some 73% of young males between 18 and 44 watch video-on-demand at least once a week, with nearly half watching full-length TV programmes.” – Now that anyone (women included) need not watch programmes at a regimented time slot we are free to plan our time better and an evening doesn’t have to revolve around a particular show. Also watching stuff on-line cuts out the majority of TV advertising which is often so loud and annoying that it can distract you from what you were trying to concentrate on.

We also prefer to get our news on-line as the internet allows stories to be updated as events develop. A good friend of mine says she doesn’t like to watch the news because most of the features are presented in a way that suits the (often limited) footage they have.

“More than 25% of young males living with their partners watch TV on a computer in the living room while their other half uses the main TV set.” This might well be true. My housemate watches TV in the living room and I escape to watch an episode of this or that. Anymore than 5 minutes of something that’s not well made or really holding my attention and I have to complain bitterly or (for better relations in the flat) just leave the room. A lot of people who complain to broadcasting standards groups or Points of View should follow suit: just change the channel or be brave and switch the TV off and do something else – if viewing figures were down on poor shows, they wouldn’t be able to justify making them. Although a season of Monkey Tennis might have achieved cult status…

Flicks

Have been getting to the pictures quite a lot recently. Managed a staggering three trips to different cinemas last week which I don’t think I’ve managed since I was living in Brum and was known to see multiple movies in a day. Spoilers lay in wait so beware.

This time last week I took in Babel. What an absolute hoot of a movie that was. I realised I’d made a terrible mistake several minutes after the thing had started when all the performances were sickeningly noticeable because everyone was trying so hard to be understated. It was a wearisomely earnest and melodramatic affair that was so utterly devoid of humour (except in several bizarre and inexplicable moments) that I did almost burst out laughing at points because I was aware I was half expecting characters to become sudden victims of ridiculously exaggerated bursts of violence just because their impending (real or mataphysical) doom was being thrust down my throat ALL THE BLOODY TIME. The stars, all of which have given very decent performances in other things, were uniformly awful and indiscriminately wasted in what must have been literally minutes of screen time (which was probably for the best as they were the least interesting things in the movie) and the piece built to a kind of anti-climax where the director stole his main piece of score from a real movie made nearly ten years ago and whose memory sustained me to the end of this overstretched tower of nothing more than utter wank. I had been very interested to see this because I still haven’t caught Amores perros and 21 Grams but I’m suddenly not so keen now.

Wednesday saw me weave through the couples to my seat for Hot Fuzz. This wasn’t quite what I’d been expecting and did slightly smack of trying too hard but was nonetheless tremendous fun. The sheer amount of talent being displayed was almost unseen in a British comedy in years and year and years (including Shaun). The amount of original jokes and puns and affectionate references that were actually laugh-out loud funny was staggering as was the pacing of the substantial narrative which still gave time for the great performances and boat loads of cameos which added to the effect rather than stole the show. It left me feeling quite dizzy and I was still chucking for many days afterwards. I saw a trailer for Run, Fat Boy, Run also starring Pegg. The trailer makes the film look great fun so I hope it follows in the footsteps of Hot Fuzz rather than last year’s Big Nothing which I haven’t actually seen but didn’t have to to tell that it’s a bit lacking in, well, everything really…

Friday night and to Tewkesbury for Pan’s Labyrinth. You know that I really want to see something when I have to resort to travelling to the next county because nowhere near here is showing it! I’d been a fan of Hellboy and so had a vague idea of what to expect and appreciated the ingredients here but not the blend. It reminded me of The Road To Perdition and The Cell (don’t laugh). The Cell is actually not a bad film and, despite having Ms Lopez in it, is a very striking and visually stunning adventure that thrusts its use of stylized visuals to the fore to play out the battle of wills between a sort-of psychotherapist and a serial killer with the twist being that it plays out in the mind of the killer (the scene in Pan’s Labyrinth with the banquet table was particularly reminiscent of the representation of the killer’s id in The Cell). In The Road to Perdition Tom Hank’s murderous father manages to rescue his son’s soul from eternal damnation by slaying Jude Law’s assasin before the son, who is actually prepared to do it, has the chance (you can tell Law’s supposed to be evil because he has bad teeth). The similarity of the themes in Pan’s Labyrinth to those in Mende’s story are perhaps more obvious but I mention these two films because they do what they say on the tin. With Pan’s Labyrinth it’s the classic problem of using certain elements in the promotion of the movie to make it more appealing (in this case to draw in lovers of that delicious brand of dark fantasy) and although these elements are very much present, this film gets the mix wrong and the result is too much missed opportunity and left me with a very bitter taste in my mouth. Not only is it a deeply unhappy ending but there’s the feeling that the fantasy world, far from being helpful, has actually contributed to the outcome and the heroine has only been hiding from reality (or using it to cope) rather than learning and using her world to achieve anything. For me this story was how The Shining might have ended if Nicholson hadn’t perished in the blizzard and how La Vita è bella might have ended if little Giosué had been discovered by the Nazis, i.e. all that gone before had been in vain.

It’s 1973. Nearly dinner time. And I’m havin’ hoops.

lom-guilty.jpglom-cortina.jpg

Series 2 of Life on Mars kicks off tonight and I’m actually quite looking forward to it. This is surprising because I hardly watch any TV (let alone get excited about it) and also because I said I wouldn’t bother with any more because they didn’t wrap it up at the end of the first series when they had the chance and I hate those TV shaggy dog stories that drag on and ultimately disappear up their own behinds. The first series was excellent. The scripts were mustard, the casting inspired and the performances and direction much better than anything else around. Besides this the early seventies were so well realised and the amount of nostalgia and loving in-jokes was perfectly balanced with the story and the issues raised. That and the soundtrack was awesome. This is promised to be the last series and so I’m going to absorb myself once more in the Manchester of 1973 and the masterly partnering of John Simm and an “…overweight, over-the-hill, nicotine-stained, borderline-alcoholic homophobe with a superiority complex and an unhealthy obsession with male bonding”.

Getting Festive

I really love this time of year. I don’t care what anyone says, it’s so much better than Summer. When the sun does shine the light is so much crisper and clearer and the air quality is a lot better (especially here in the middle of nowhere). It’s also the time of year where everything happens. For me there’s never been a December that’s dragged because I have my birthday, Xmas and New Year lined up (at least one of which is guaranteed to be good). January and February are a different matter and should, of course, be cancelled 🙂

In the meantime I’m getting ready for Xmas and trying to compile a list of festive music. So far I’ve got a bunch of classics including The Pogues’ “Fairy Tale of New York”, John Lennon’s “Happy Xmas (War Is Over)” and “Let it Snow!” by Dean Martin. But it seems like I’m missing things. Any other suggestions?