Sunday, 28 February 2010

Ooh aah Avatar!

Last night, the Shah and I (being the only people in the entire universe who had not experienced it) went to see Avatar.  I have to admit to being fairly ambivalent about it before we got there as I suffer from that classic English cynical mistrust of anything that has so many superlatives heaped upon it.  It couldn’t be that good, surely?  This was despite TD’s assurances that it is the “best film ever – I cried and cried”.

The Shah was concerned for an entirely different reason.  Moi, being a Real Mummy (see previous post dated 25 /1/2010) as opposed to a Model Mummy, am inclined to fall fast asleep once I am in a comfortable seat in a warm, dark room.....and what is a cinema but a warm, dark room with comfortable seating?  Unfortunately, the resulting snoring can be a little disruptive for my fellow viewers and somewhat embarrassing for the Shah, so he was on red alert all night, periodically digging me in the ribs if I hadn’t moved for a few minutes.

However, he needn’t have worried. The volume, for one thing, was designed not to let anyone drop off for an instant.  And I have to admit that the whole film was incredibly clever – the special effects were jaw-dropping and it was just so visually lush – the gorgeous colours of the glow in the dark forest, the hideousness of the various sabre-toothed monsters – the action scenes really couldn’t be faulted.

The only one, teeny, weeny little moan that both of us had was the lack of humour.   As someone whose life is predicated on humour (the most fun you can have with your clothes on) I get a little hacked off with anything that appears to take itself too seriously....and Avatar was just one of those things.  In fact, the Shah and I were in complete unity in wishing it hadn’t been quite so, well, worthy.  James Cameron could perhaps have introduced a little bit of wit by paying homage to films that have gone before – and, before I go on, what is it with the way people have taken to pronouncing the word “homage”? Long gone is the English “homij” and now everyone seems to call it “ho-marge” or, worse, “o-marge” .   WTF? You’re not French – get over yourselves.

Anyway, I digress.....I have some suggestions for James Cameron as to how he could not only improve his scripts; he could prove his green credentials by recycling some of them.  There are many excerpts which could be moved from movie to movie and no one would notice.  Or care.

For example:- In Avatar, every time Jake Sully has to leave the Na’vi and return to base, he could say the immortal line “I’ll be back” obviously from James Cameron’s Terminator series of films.  There’s a line in True Lies where one character says to another “have you ever killed anyone?” and the reply is “yeah but they were all bad” ideal for one of the American baddies in Avatar, I’d have thought.   What about Titanic? Surely one of JC’s biggest grossing movies?  Remember the scene where Jake – sorry – Jack – says to Rose “Where to Miss?” and Rose replies “To the stars!”.  Hello!  We’re talking aliens and distant planets – geddit?  And talk of Aliens brings me neatly to Sigourney Weaver.  Why not pay homage to that groundbreaking film by having something burst out of Sig’s stomach – or hey – even better – why not have Sig burst out of her own stomach when she is in Avatar mode?  Hell yes!  I’m on a roll here!

When Jake Sully is persuading some Velociraptor-type creature to let him hop on board for the ride, the Shah and I were sniggering “You can be my wing man – No – You can be MY wing man”  to each other – spot the movie reference there if you can remember that far back!  Similarly, JC could also have substituted “Thank you for coming back to me,” from Brief Encounter for the soppy bit (the bit that made TD cry and cry) where the Na’vi and the human Jake go “I see you...” to each other.  Unfortunately, by the time we reached that bit, I’d had just about enough of this tosh and leaned over to the Shah to whisper “I keel you,” in the manner of Achmed, the dead terrorist.  The Shah’s unfortunate snorting brought on a few dirty looks from the row in front.

But finally – How about honouring one of my favourite ever British films?  Yep – The Full Monty. Just think how good it would have been if the American soldiers had leaned out of their helicopters and screamed that famous line at Sigourney Weaver’s Avatar – OOH-AH AVATAR – HAS TO WEAR A GIRLY BRA!

Monday, 22 February 2010


The Dustmen don’t like me. There can’t be any other explanation for it, as they consistently ignore my pathetic attempts at recycling and being generally ‘green’. Every week, we stick our food recycling box outside the front gate and, most weeks, come home to find it still there, heaving with stinking leftovers, while all the boxes belonging to the neighbours loll emptily on their sides, rolling about in the breeze. Possibly they have overheard the family name for the item in question. I blush to repeat it, but it’s one of those ridiculous bits of family tradition/shorthand that just somehow seem to stick – a bit like an inappropriate nickname that your mum dreamt up when you were 2 but which she still uses to this day. We know the food recycling box as “The Uck-Uck”. It was a term that was invented by a long-dead relative when he was a small child and I think it actually has some onomatopoeic resonance, well that’s my excuse and I’m sticking to it. The name stuck so well that even my French cousins refer to “Le Uck-Uck” (pronounced Le ook-ook, in typically Gallic fashion).

The failure of the recyclers to remove our Uck-Uck irritates the Shah enormously because when he does something, he really, really goes for it and that includes Going Green. Remember the comedy show Goodness Gracious Me which featured various Asian actors and comedians in sketches – brilliantly written by Sanjeev Bhaskar, Meera Syal, Kulvinder Ghir and Nina Wadia amongst others? One of the best characters was “Mr Everything comes from India” who used to insist to his despairing son that every person or item he mentioned had its origins in the sub-continent. “Jesus? Indian! He worked for his father and fed 5000 people on very small amounts of food! Superman? Indian! Two jobs and a bad haircut!” Well, I am becoming convinced that Indians were the original recyclers and continue to be amongst the most ingenious. After all, the Goodness Gracious Me crowd recycled loads of old songs and sketches, turning them on their heads to great effect - Skipinder the Punjabi Kangaroo, The Six Million Rupee Man, The Delhi Tubbies, to name but a few.  Unfortunately, the Shah occasionally confuses recycling with hoarding piles of crap - viz when I pointed out that some steps we have in the back garden really needed to be replaced as they were becoming worn, he suggested (without a shred of irony) that we lay some off cuts of Astroturf that he has in the garage along the tops of them. When I protested loudly, he just gave me the injured puppy look that he is so good at.

He is also a great collector of jars and pots because “They Might Come in Useful Sometime”. Amongst the other items he likes to hoard (on the basis that it would be wasteful to chuck them) are Computers – he reckons he can cannibalise them when a part fails on a working model which is why there are at least six in various stages of dismemberment lurking in the garage - lengths of wire, four-way adaptors, fuses – Oh God, I could go on forever. In fact, we recently had occasion to move some furniture around in the bedrooms and the Shah swapped bedside cabinets with TD. This, of course, also involved swapping the contents. “Easy,” I thought to myself. “Hers will take hours to empty – he’ll only have a couple of books and a hanky in his.” Oh Boy - was I ever wrong...

I should, at this point issue a disclaimer and say that I apologise in advance for what follows, but I have to share this with someone – and you drew the short straw...

These were the contents of the Shah’s bedside cabinet:-

1 bottle of Snore Relief (used, but not used enough)
1 flat head screwdriver
4 AA batteries
1 Emergency Phone Charger (unopened)
! Queen Elizabeth II Golden Jubilee Commemorative coin in a presentation case
2 Radiator keys
3 screws
4 safety pins
1 hat pin with a pearl on the end (inexplicably)
1 curtain tie-back hook
4 Marks & Spencer receipts dating from 2007
1 Rawlplug
1 Brass washer
1 door hook
1 USB key
1 Coaster
5 boot laces (unmatching)
5 pens
2 over-door hooks
1 bottle of Shake & Vac (why? I have never bought Shake & Vac in my life – where the hell did this come from and how the hell did it end up in his bedside cabinet? Am getting slightly worried...)
1 stopwatch
1 fake Rolex watch (not working)
1 shaver charger
2 hankies (one used, one clean)
2 Ikea pencils
1 penny
1 ancient Geometry set, embossed with the name of his elder brother
1 earpiece cover
1 toothpick (wooden)
1 pocket torch
1 Airline toiletry bag full of travel adaptors
2 more adaptors
1 travel hairdryer
1 Trimphone
2 Airline toiletry bags (empty)
1 Airline toiletry bags containing original toiletries, unused.
2 toothbrushes (Airline)
1 bar of soap
1 gadget featuring a large red button which, when pressed, issued a loud voice crying “Bullshit Alert! Bullshit Alert!” There is so much I could say here, but I will resist....
1 bookmark
1 cover for an electric razor
No electric razor
16 Golf Tees
1 piece off our bed
10 assorted books
1 blue sock

Even he looked a little embarrassed when I catalogued the whole horrible mess.

I can’t really explain this hoarding/recycling instinct, except to say that it could, of course, be simply genetic. After all, his father keeps an old bathroom washbasin and pedestal in the back garden, in which he likes to grow Tulips (I kid you not).

Sunday, 14 February 2010

Sent to Coventry

Aah, the weekend! That oasis of calm and rest and peace and relaxation. Or not. This weekend it was time to visit the Outlaws as I like to call them. Don’t get me wrong – I love my parents-in-law very much. After a fairly rocky start (which I won’t bore you with here, but will no doubt bore you with sometime in the future) we now get on like a house on fire and I know the affection is reciprocated. The Shah’s sister had called a family gathering and so we all obediently gathered and it was actually really nice to see everyone, given that the Shah is the youngest of 6 siblings (5 of whom live in England) and we are scattered to the four corners of the country.

In fact, it was all very jolly and enjoyable except for one very large bluebottle in the unguent. They live in COVENTRY. I’m not complaining about the distance, I’m not complaining about the journey, I’m complaining about the city itself.

Now I am the first to say that Coventry has had a very hard time in the last 60 or so years. The city has a long and rich history and is famed for the story of Lady Godiva. It was also birthplace of the modern bicycle and production motor car in the last century. It is known around the world for the destruction that it suffered in November 1940, when it sustained the heaviest bombing of any British city in a single night in order to cripple its manufacturing capability which was crucial to the war effort. However, to my mind, the real damage was done in subsequent years. I’m not trying to make light of the way Coventry and its people suffered during the war but, dear God, have you seen the state of it recently? It looks as though anyone with a Ronald McDonald Certificate in Lego has been given carte blanche to throw up a new building anywhere at all. I give you the Coventry University building...I mean, WTF? Google it, if you can stand it.  Really, what possible architectural merit can this have? It looks like a load of beehives stuck on poles. Also note the mural of that well known son of the West Midlands, Che Guevara.... And one of the worst sins of the town planners is the way they have allowed hideous new buildings to be bunged into place beside(or virtually on top of) the few remaining ancient sites.

Now all this is bad enough, but it pales into insignificance beside the road system. This is a death-trap and a paean to bad design and I am utterly convinced that some concrete manufacturer has earned a huge backhander during the time of its construction. Let me give you a flavour of the sheer joy that is to be had in circumnavigating it. The Ring Road, as its name suggests, encircles the city. So far so good. The trouble is that it is designed like a roller coaster – it undulates in a thoroughly emetic manner. To add to the feelings of unease this produces, there is only one slip road and it is used for both entry and exit! But wait – there’s more! The slip roads are about 25 yards long at most! So there you are, trying desperately to pull on to this highway from hell, indicating right like a maniac and inching over, attempting to avoid hitting both the massive concrete stanchion in front of you and the several dozen cars that are leaving via the same exit and peeling across your path like demented dodgems, whilst simultaneously brushing the sweat out of your eyes as it streams down your face and the vein in your temple throbs in time with your thumping heart. I guess you must need to have been brought up here and earned your driving stripes on this road to manage to navigate it. Unfortunately I have discovered that, when faced with joining or leaving it, it’s so damn scary that I instinctively close my eyes – not a great idea when you would prefer to stay alive. The Shah, by contrast, being a long-time resident of Cov steams on and off the ring road, positively beaming with delight as he misses cars in front and behind by inches. “It’s fine,” he assures me cheerfully (one of the Shah’s most used and least convincing catchphrases) as we swerve to avoid a meandering Morris Traveller, driven by a bespectacled, bemused Pensioner. I hear myself gasp and shriek and, worse, stamp my brake foot to the floor as if I were competing for Olympic Dressage honours, all of which completely enrages the Shah and only serves to make him drive faster and less carefully, round and round and up and down as my stomach heaves with every dip in the road.

I badly wanted to take a photo of the current skyline from out of the car window but a) I couldn’t keep my eyes open long enough, b) there is so much up hill and down dale going on that I couldn’t hold the camera steady enough and c) it looks hideous and would put anyone off ever going there. I said as much to the Shah who replied “It’s fine,” (of course). “Coventry’s really come out of the doldrums,” he opined, swerving to miss a Learner Driver. “Look around you – signs of urban regeneration everywhere!”

We drew up at some traffic lights and I obediently looked around. The first thing I saw was a gigantic pile of vomit on the pavement. The second thing I saw was a pigeon standing ankle deep in it ....EATING LUMPS OF VOM. I rest my case.

Tuesday, 9 February 2010

Baby love....

Dr Helen Wright! Whadda woman! A quick labour, baby number three, a couple of hours rest and she’s back behind her desk in her office at one of our leading girls’ boarding schools. Just exactly was she thinking? IS she thinking?

This week, her grinning visage has been plastered all over the newspapers and TV. This morning, she was interviewed “live from her office” at some ungodly hour of the morning for breakfast television with, natch, baby in tow. In fact she was shown changing a nappy in one clip and apparently breastfeeding whilst addressing a class full of rather embarrassed-looking teenage girls in another. When interviewed, she trills happily that she is showing “her girls” that they can have both the “exhilarating excitement of a career they love and the joy of a family” and that she wants to show the girls under her tutelage that it’s “not an impossible dream”. She then goes on to suggest that women should solve the childcare conundrum by taking their babies to work with them.

Oh yeah? Well I’m sorry, it might be all very lovely when you have an office the size of the average council house, medical specialists on hand (it’s a boarding school – they will have people with medical training on the staff) plus any number of cooing girls and staff happy to take little Jessica off her hands once in a while. But what happens when Jessica is teething? When she has a tummy upset or a virus? It still might be manageable for Dr Wright under those circumstances but how would a Surgeon or a Barrister or a Dinner Lady cope? Indeed, how could it possibly be feasible for any of them to actually take a baby to work with them?

I believe that my generation is heartily sick of hearing how women can “have it all”. Maybe some of them can but not without a gigantic bank balance and/or huge quantities of guilt. It doesn’t work – you end up employing other people to raise your kids – Nannies, Nurseries, and then later on, Au Pairs. Why have kids if you are simply going to get someone else to bring them up?

I was riveted by the brief interview with a couple of her sixth formers....the body language was a revelation. They squirmed throughout and haltingly attempted to praise the Headmistress by saying things such as “well, um, she’s like, our, um, role model and um, she’s um, showing us that, um, we can, um, aim like really high.” They really weren’t convincing and I felt sorry for them being pushed into punting the party line.

Dr Wright is, to my mind, completely unrealistic and if my daughter were in her care, I would be making my views known most volubly. That and looking for another school for her. On this occasion, Dr Wright is just plain Dr Wrong.

Tuesday, 2 February 2010

Fancy seeing you here!

Some friends were recently recounting the story of the party they had been to the previous weekend. It was a fancy dress do, requiring everyone to come in 80’s gear – and let’s face it, for people of my generation, that wouldn’t be too much of a stretch given that my wardrobe at least has not moved on much in the past 25 years. Or at least, that’s what my children tell me...

But as I was enjoying listening to their tales of drunkenly strutting their stuff to Abba’s greatest hits, dreadful flashbacks of fancy dress parties I have been to and appalling outfits I have worn came rushing through my memory.

There was one – must have been in the 70’s sometime when I chose to dress as a Viking Queen. Yes, it must have been the 70’s because I had a floor-length bottle green cloak, lined with paler green satin and with a velvet hood – my mother made it for me, poor woman! I also had waist length strawberry blonde hair at the time which was perfect for two long plaits. I managed to buy a plastic horned Viking helmet from somewhere or other and some sort of Neptune’s trident – I’m not entirely sure why but it seemed to fit the bill at the time. My last memory of that night is drunkenly rolling myself up in my cloak and dossing down on someone’s (very uncomfortable) floor for the night.

The next one wasn’t exactly a fancy dress party – but it was a David Bowie concert which amounts to the same thing really – especially when you are about 17. I discovered a silver lurex outfit – baggy top and trousers in the back of my mother’s wardrobe which I colonised – much to her amazement. The trousers fitted quite well around the hips but were straight-legged! OMG – the sheer social Siberia of appearing in anything other than flares or better still, Oxford bags! Easily solved – I simply tucked them into knee-high black leather boots, slung a belt around the baggy top and painted my face with as much glitter as I could find. I thought I was the total bee’s knees until I saw my friend Anna who was working the androgynous look like a pro. Her hair was quite short anyway and she had painted A LIGHTNING BOLT across her face in glitter – just like Aladdin Sane. I wanted to die of jealousy. Thankfully, we didn’t have the obsession with cameras and recording our every move that my daughter and her friends have today, so there is no record of this auspicious occasion (er not that I know of anyway....eek!)

These two might be bad enough, but the real killer happened many years previously. I was six and at primary school and we were to have a fancy dress party at the end of term. I desperately wanted to go as Little Bo Peep because I had an ancient Alison Uttley book of Nursery Rhymes in which LBP was depicted as a Regency Belle with a gorgeous little bonnet and flyaway curls (so similar to my good self, ahem...) My parents, however, ran a pub at the time and decided that I should go as a bottle of Guinness...yes, I know – call the pc police. Can you imagine the uproar these days if a child was dressed up as ALCOHOL! Ooh! Anyway, one of my mum’s dresses was made into a long brown shift, the cap was made out of an old pillbox hat, covered in green felt with the edges crimped to resemble a bottle top. An artistic Aunt was press-ganged into making a huge oval label out of brown paper. How I howled and cried for Little Bo Peep, but to no avail. “Nobody else will have thought of this,” cried my enthusiastic mother as she dragged me unwillingly to school.

She was right. I won first prize and had to stand, cringing and purple-faced on a podium while the six Little Bo Peeps who weren’t even placed, circled below like angry sharks.