Friday, 26 November 2010

Uncle Boonmee

Sometimes, when travelling, I've visited cultures that were so different to anything I've experienced before, that I've felt an uneasy dislocation from myself. It's almost like I've just woken up and don't know who I am, and the business of being alive is strange and absurd. Usually this feeling wears off after a couple of days in a new place, but I remember feeling it when I got lost in Bangkok, and I had it again watching Uncle Boonmee Who Can Recall His Past Lives. This is far from being a criticism of the movie; I think, although it's discomforting, this feeling of alienation serves to pull me out of the rut we all fall into of being absorbed in the day to day stuff we do, and makes me really THINK about my life and who I am.

This film set in Northern Thailand, is about a man, Uncle Boonmee, who goes back to his farm to die. It starts with a long, brooding sequence at dusk, when an ox (or maybe it's a buffalo, I'm not well up on different types of bovines) becomes restless and escapes into the jungle, where it is watched, but by exactly what the viewer doesn't know, at this point it's just a pair of glowing red eyes in the nightscape. Later, this scene, along with others, makes more sense, it seems to be an image from a former incarnation of Boonmee, although the film never explains this, just interposes these images in between the scenes depicting the central character with the people in his life, going about the ordinary stuff of everyday. By not following a more traditional narrative arc, but at the same time having a slow and gentle pace, the film seems to make the out of the ordinary events seem unthreatening, and I felt less concerned about trying to make sense of them

By day, Boonmee potters around his farm. His sister-in-law has come to visit him, and he shows her his bee hives, and introduces her to the workers who tend his trees. But at night events take place which may seem strange to Western eyes, but probably because they are rooted in traditional Thai spiritual beliefs, after their initial surprise, they seem to be easily accepted by the film's characters. On the first night, sitting at the table with two of his relatives, they are suddenly visited by the ghost of Boonmee's late wife, Huay, who has been drawn to visit him because she is aware of his sickness. Then a simian figure, with glowing red eyes is also drawn to their table. This turns out to be Boonmee's son, who disappeared many years ago, and became one of the monkey ghosts who dwell in the jungle. This strange group sit around the table, eating leftovers and looking at photos of family events the visiting spirits missed out on. I loved the silences, and the acceptance of events. If such creatures appeared at my table, I'd bombard them with questions about what had happened to them, but Boonmee and his guests relate to each other just as they did when they were all alive, and human.

The film follows Boonmee's last days and nights. Near death, he seems to be in a place, both spiritual and geographical, where the metaphysical becomes everyday. It reminded me of those times, after the loss of someone close, when everything seems charged with meaning and significance, and I've felt more aware than ever of life outside myself. The farm is on the edge of a jungle, which seems a mysterious, magical place, with resonances for me of the way William Blake, and much medieval literature, depicts forests, as places where one can, and will, meet creatures of dreams and imagination. My favourite scene is where Boonmee and his two living relatives go out into the night, and stumble through the forest to a womblike cave. But suddenly, the roof of the cave is lit by dots of phosporescence, or maybe even glow worms, and it looks just like a star lit sky.

I don't know if I liked the film or not, I can only say the time passed without me being aware of it, and the world seemed different when I left the cinema. Looking down at Brixton market from the heights of the train platform, even that familiar scene seemed magical and special. Maybe that's how the world really is all the time, when we care to take notice.

Sunday, 14 November 2010

Friends and Fireworks

I haven't been feeling myself of late. The temptation is to withdraw, stay at home and have as little to do with the rest of the human race as possible. I think it may have been Sartre who said "Hell is other people". Whoever it was that said it was not a happy bunny.

But last Saturday, Nov 6th, we had arranged to have a group of our friends over for bonfire night celebrations, that is, food, bonfire and fireworks. We've done this for the last 4 years or so, ever since we moved into this house. It's becoming an annual tradition. It was very much a tradition of my childhood, that we would have the family over on bonfire night, and feed them Lancashire hot pot, with pickled red cabbage, followed by parkin (a tea bread not unlike ginger cake, but much stodgier). My strongest memory of those nights was actually staying indoors, comforting our several cats and dogs who were terrified of the fireworks. My collie, Shep, used to hide, shaking, under my bed, which I couldn't bear to see. He also used to do this whenever there was a thunder storm. Besides, I was quite a serious child and I could never quite see the point of fireworks. I did like making a guy though, which we we would plonk out on the street to collect money from passersby. One year, too lazy to make a guy, we put my little brother, Damian, out there instead. People got quite a shock when our guy moved.

But I seem to be going through a second childhood. Just as playing games with my young nieces and nephews is much more fun now than it was when I was their age, nowadays fireworks seem to be a thing of awe and wonder. Maybe they're just better quality fireworks. So we decided not cancel our party. I also thought that seeing friends, spending time with people who I knew cared about me, might prove somewhat restorative.

I felt I was noticeably quieter than usual, but no one commented on this. In any case, the noise of explosions was so overwhelming as to preclude much conversation. Our garden is not overlooked by buildings at the back, so we could see, and hear, fireworks going off all around. It was a bit like that trippy scene in Apocalypse Now, where one of the soldiers has just dropped some acid, and is trying to make his way overland during a bombardment. The noise was incredible, there were a series of booms, presumably from an organised display, that were so loud it felt like we were under attack by mortars. Actually, when I was a kid, I was convinced that this date was spelt 'bombfire night', which I still think makes more sense than bonfire. What the hell is a bonfire, anyway?

But I digress. We did the fireworks in two bouts, one early on, then the rest later, after my friend Ella had arrived. Bless her, it took her twice as long as it should have done to get to our house, due to packed buses on the way to the displays around London. Martin lit most of the fireworks, which made me quite anxious until I realised that as soon as he'd lit the fuse he scurried for cover into the garage at the bottom of the garden. My favourites are the ones that rise high into the air, then explode into a shower of colours, way up in the night sky. I've never been fond of the ones that sit on the ground and spew out colours, fountains I think they're called. They do seem a bit lack lustre.

We bought a fire pit this summer, and it was lovely, sitting around it, waving sparklers and listening to various people play guitar and sing (yes, we are a bunch of hippies at heart). I felt buoyed up by good company, free from my worries into the moment. A friend of ours, Mike, took some excellent photos. I was a bit puzzled at first as he had this peculiar gadget, with three bendy legs, which I thought was some kind of device for doing Indian head massage, until he attached it to his camera where it functioned as a very adaptable tripod. As he said, it's especially cool as it's a gadget that makes another gadget work even better.

That was over a week ago now, and I'm still not feeling myself. But I try to remind myself that other people, especially ones who know you well, and understand you, are not hell at all, but can be more like the other place.

Sunday, 24 October 2010

Feminism in London 2010 Conference

Attending the Feminism in London 2010 conference, on Saturday October 23, was like returning to a country I once lived in but haven't visited for some time. Feminism has been an important part of my life. If you'd asked me, age 10, if I was a feminist, I would've probably asked what a feminist was, and on finding out, I would have claimed to be one. But my feminism, until my mid 20s, was really about being able to do what I wanted to do, without other people's ideas about gender limiting me. My political action took other forms. It wasn't until I did my teacher training course at the University of Nottingham in 1991-2, that I became aware of feminist theory, different types of feminism and feminism as a political force. Doing an MA in Women's Studies and Educational Research, and a gender related PhD, added to my knowledge and encouraged me to get involved in feminist activity.

My activism included being Women's Officer for Graduate College, at Lancaster Uni and volunteering in services for women victims of violence, and for a project supporting young women when I moved to London. But at the same time, the movement seemed to be fragmenting, into theorists (caught up analysing different types of feminism, and pontificating on very high level theory) and activists, who knew there was still a need to campaign, in a world of unequal pay, where up to 2 women every week died as a result of domestic violence. Meanwhile younger women, as I discovered doing my PhD research, seemed alienated from the word feminism as a consequence of its depiction as being solely about man hating. This situation was not helped by the lack of leadership from feminist writers such as Natasha Walter (a conference speaker, see below), who argued that the gains we'd made were such that there would be a natural trickle down through our society, ending gender stereotypes, sexism and so on. But we seemed to forget that gains that have been made can be taken away, or undermined.

But the rallying cry at the conference, attended by over a thousand women, was that feminism is back and a force to be reckoned with. The savage budget cuts, which disproportionately affect women, combined with the hypersexualisation of western culture, and the increasingly extreme use of women as sexual objects, seems to have fired a new generation of women to get involved, and invigorated the desire of older feminist for social change.

Re the conference itself, the morning's panel was on Women in Public Life, chaired by Ceri Goddard, Chief Executive of the Fawcett Society Fawcett is one of the oldest organisations for women's equality, started in 1866 to fight for the vote, the right to own property and so on. So unfair did the Society find the June 2010 budget, that they launched a bid to get a Judicial Review of the budget, under equality legislation, on the grounds that the government is legally obliged to conduct an Equality Impact Assessment, to ensure that its policies don't impact unfairly. The Guardian reported this week that the government admitted that this assessment was not carried out, and they were said to be "stunned" at this first ever legal challenge to a budget, which have always previously been seen as sacrosanct. Fawcett is still absorbing the impact of this week's Comprehensive Spending Review, but Goddard highlighted a few points, among them: 65% of public sector workers are women, so the 490,000 public sector job cuts will inevitably impact more on women. Women are more often users of public services, as overall, we earn less and own less. According to Fawcett, women face a triple jeopardy, of benefit cuts, job losses and the increasing care gap. Since women undertake 89% of home care, who do you think will be expected to fill the gap in care that will result in cuts to services? For more on how the CSR affects women, see the website of the Women's Budget Group, a hub of economics and social science professors, at

Other speakers on this panel included the inspirational Helena Kennedy, Rahila Gupta, and Lindsey Hills. Kennedy, famous for her outstanding work in the legal profession, encouraged other women to get involved in public life, put themselves forward to be leaders, despite the glass ceiling which prevents many women from getting to the top of their professions, and the tokenism of institutions that seem to feel that as long as they have one female employee at a high level, that particular box is ticked. This was a message I heard throughout the day, but I have to say I wish that some of the women who have already 'got there', would pass on concrete advice on how to do just that, or perhaps set up mentoring opportunities to encourage women in moving upwards. This is just not about the politics of representation, having equal numbers of women MPs (still a far off dream), or Supreme Court judges (at the moment, there's just one!), but aslso being aware that having women in office can be a lever for change. As Vera Baird QC (appointed Solicitor General in 2007) said in a later workshop, when she joined parliament in 2001, following on from the influx of women into parliament in 2007, there were all party parliamentary groups on issues such as beer, and whisky, but none on violence against women.

BUT these new women MPs set up such a group, which has been instrumental in the previous government's response to violence against women. Kennedy acknowledged that, when in power, Labour failed to sufficiently regulate the banks and financial markets and caused much of the country's debt by bailing out the banks, but women such as the much derided Harriet Harman were instrumental in pushing through legal changes such as making criminals out of the men who pick up prostitutes, rather than the prostitutes themselves.

Usually on panels such as this, only the great and the good are represented. But this conference gave a nod to feminism's need to include all women, such as Lindsay Hills, who spoke very movingly about the stigmatisation she faced when she became a mother in her teens, and how very hard it was to get training and suitable employment, and adequate housing. She powerfully dismantled the myths around young mothers, and demonstrated, (through talking about her own achievement in holding down a job, single handedly raising two children, and still finding time to campaign through YWCA, and mentor other young mums) how woefully our society underestimates and stigmatises such women. You may argue that she's an exception, but I know from my own voluntary work at a young mum's project, that there are many like her, equally talented, strong, and determined to build better lives for themselves and their children.

I've written at some length already, and could write much more, but will confine myself to briefly mentioning the two workshops I went to. The first was on Violence against women as a hate crime, and featured speakers who included content on how feminist activism has brought about changes in legislation, from first making domestic violence an offence back in the 70s, rather than as previously seen a private matter between husband and wife, to making it possible for women to either take up an injunction privately through the courts, against a violent partner, more easily than was previously possible, or to have partners charged with an offence by the police. There's much more to say about this, and I'm happy to correspond with any reader who wants more information. But the message from all speakers was that there is still more to do, especially in a society where some estimates claim that one in four women has been raped, yet only one in 20 of reported rapes result in a conviction.

I also (completely by accident as I wandered into the room thinking the workshop was on something else, and was so gripped by the excellent presentation that I stayed) attended an anti porn presentation. The gist of this was that our culture is now hypersexualised, via the plethora of images and communication media that surround us. Sex is everywhere, but not a healthy version of sex based on equality between partners, but a representation of sex that increasingly uses imagery drawn from pornography, and depicts women as prostitutes (or alarmingly, as childwomen) and men as punters and pimps. This was demonstrated by an analysis of the images of women used in advertising and culture in the 70s, compared to contemporary images which depict women as always sexually available, and whose bodies are their only worthwhile assets. Even powerful women is such disparate fields as movies and sport, are depicted in this way. Meanwhile pornography itself is booming business of 75 billion a year, and the growth of websites offering images of brutalised and dominated women is increasing.

The speaker put forward the idea that our culture is grooming young children for sex, through the omnipresence of such images, also by targeting younger and younger girls and boys. For example, the Bratz dolls have an accompanying website which encourages its young consumers to look 'hot', and dress themselves in a way that is deemed sexually alluring. There were many more examples than I can include here, and also mention of studies that have attempted to measure the effects of objectifying women's bodies on consumers, such as the American Psychological Association report in 2007, that apparently found that this objectification can lead (surprise surprise) to low self esteem, obsession with body image, and is implicated in eating disorders. There are organisations researching and campaigning on this issue however, such as, and the pink stinks campaign.

Following on from this, Natasha Walter was one of the speakers in the final session. Discussing her latest book Living Dolls, the return of sexism, which explores the issues mentioned in the last paragraph, said that in her earlier writing (see beginning of this post), was overly optimistic, and did not appreciate how regressive policies and attitudes towards gender, would impact on gender relations. She said that much of the press coverage of the book had focused on how she didn't, apparently, look like an angry feminist. But, "Guess what?" she told us, " I am angry", at the current state of affairs. However, she did say she had found a sense of hope, in meeting so many young women who are committed to activism, and campaigning for change, and how important it is to hold that hope in balance with the awareness of the tremendous challenges that face us.

The conference ended with a rousing call to arms from Finn Mackay, the young founder of the London Feminist Network (, the group who organised this conference. She urged us to action, and not only women. She stressed the importance of men in becoming involved in this action for social change, and thanked those men present for attending. Finn quoted Andrea Dworkin's assertion (incidentally a women much vilified as a man hater) that she wasn't a feminist because she hated men, but rather because she believed in the humanity of men, despite the evidence to the contrary. Finn also emphasised the importance of our own coalition of groups aligning with others such as the TUC, that have important roles in the current struggle.

As for me, all week I've been feeling like we were on the way back to the 80s, most of you will know what that means. But the conference helped me to remember that the 80s were also a time of tremendous social activism, that brought about (some) change. So this time, maybe we need to not only campaign for change, but try and figure out how to embed the changes we will surely achieve, so thoroughly in our world, that we move onwards to a more equal future, rather endlessly being thrust back into a less equal past.

Monday, 18 October 2010

Jammin' at Cafe Crema

One of my favourite nights out is the piano jam at Cafe Crema New Cross ( I first went there for a lovely veggie lunch, and discovered that it's open occasionally at night, showing films on Thursdays and hosting a monthly jam. It's a cosy place, painted a warm red, and filled with odds and ends of furniture.

I've been a regular jammer for some time now, although my attendance has slipped of late due to the voice problems I mentioned in my last post. This Saturday, I went along with my friend Mia. Neither of us intended to sing, merely to shake and bang the various percussion instruments that Mia brings along.

The piano at the cafe has seen better days, but it is in tune, and gives that honky tonk sound so evocative of New Orleans jazz. Anyone can get up and sing or play, but there's a group of regular musicians who get the party started. The guy who co runs the cafe plays piano, accordion, guitar and harmonica. He has a band called The Reverend Jim Casey, with a mate of his who's also a regular guitar player at the jam, they have a kind of rockabilly thing going on. Usually in attendance is a white haired, bespectacled saxophonist, whose instrument has a "For Sale" sign wonkily sellotaped across it. There's another regular who plays guitar, bongos and kazoo, occasionally all at the same time. He does a wicked version of Sit down (by James). I don't really know anyone's name who goes, nor do they know mine, but that's fine. It's not about making friends, it's about making music.

There's a host of songs the regulars all know, this weekend the selection included Bankrobber, Message to you Rudy, and a song about a holey bucket that I'm told is by the Alabama 3. This has a rousing chorus that is so simple, even the most musically illiterate person could pick it up straight away. The surprise ingredients are provided by different folks who come along each time. You never know what you'll be privileged to hear. This week there were a couple of talented pianists, and a young guitarist who came in near the end, asking if he had time to nip home for his banjo and his fiddle.

Every time I go to the jam, I fully intend to leave on the last train, at five past midnight. But once the music gets going, I don't want to be anywhere else. Closing time seems to vary according to how lively it is, this week the last of us stumbled out at around 1.30 am. And I did sing... Around midnight one of my favourite musicians turned up and took the piano for a spin. He plays by ear and can play pretty much anything. He seems to like my voice, so we muddled our way through Natural Woman, Second that Emotion (of which I know about one word in four), and The First Cut is the Deepest. The other musicians joined in, with percussion, sax, guitars, voices, you name it. Being at the centre of this musical storm is exhilarating; I jigged around like a woman possessed.

Communal music making can be a spiritual experience, it's uplifting. Human beings have gathered together to create in this way since the earliest days of our species. It's the deepest kind of sharing with each other (or just a fun thing to do when pissed, however you want to take it). Wouldn't it be great if, instead of watching the X factor, people got together, and made music themselves? At home, in the pub, knocking back a few ales and belting out the classics.

Monday, 11 October 2010

Last week a Rasta saved my life

Ok, that's not quite as cool a title as Last night a dj saved my life, but it's not bad. And it's true. I was on my way to meet friends at the Hootanany (sic) in Brixton, for their Rockoke night. (That's like karaoke but with a live band instead of a karaoke machine).

Anyhow, I was just about to cross a side road, when my attention was caught by a couple on the other side of the main road I was walking down, who seemed to be having a bit of a domestic. I should have paid more attention to where I was going, however, as at that moment, a BMW screeched around the corner and would have sent me flying, had not the Rastafarian standing next to me, also waiting to cross, grabbed my arm and pulled me back, saying "Careful sister, careful."

I didn't get chance to thank him as he legged after the BMW and jumped in. I wondered at first if he was actually some kind of guardian angel, but he turned up at the Hoot, working the door, and you don't get many angels moonlighting as security. Or maybe you do, who's to know? So I introduced myself, and bought him a drink (an orange juice, to my surprise, don't Rastas drink?) and went back to my friends. I did hesitate to go over, worried that he might have thought I was trying to chat him up, but felt that saying a simple thank you was the least I could do.

It was odd having my life saved by a complete stranger, I've only ever had my life saved by surgeons before, and it's kind of their job, so less surprising. There's an old, allegedly ancient Chinese proverb (I say allegedly as it's funny how often proverbs are claimed as ancient Chinese, I'm sure China can't have been the font of all folk wisdom). This proverb says if you save someone's life, you're responsible for them ever after. I don't know about that, but it did feel as if there's now a connection between me and this man. Spookily, when my train was cancelled and I went for the bus home, he was also standing at the bus stop, chatting with a friend, and even though it was dark and dodgy where I was waiting, I felt quite safe with him there.

And what of the Rockoke? Well, I didn't sing, as some of you will know I've been struggling with hoarseness due to my asthma inhalers, and I sound like Kermit the frog at the moment, only minus the American accent. But my friend Claire sang, and did a fine job with Valerie, despite the loudness of the backing band that made it very hard for her to hear herself. As for me, I just felt deeply envious that I couldn't get up and strut my stuff on the stage. Believe me, if/when I get my voice back, they'll know about it....

Monday, 27 September 2010

Wild Swimming

Apologies for the long gap since my last post, I've been dealing with the autumn blues. There's something about this time of year, the long crawl into winter, that tips me into melancholy. I've lived through enough of them now to recognise the pattern, if not the reasons why. But I'm now seeing signs of recovery, one of them the desire to write this blog again.

I've been meaning to blog since the August Bank Holiday, about wild swimming. For those unacquainted with this term, wild swimming is the art of swimming outdoors, basically in any body of water that isn't a swimming pool. It seems to be an increasingly popular past time, there are books about it (of which more later), and tv shows.

Of course, as my mate Ursy pointed out, wild swimming is nothing new. Indeed said friend and I, along with a couple of other mates, spent a holiday in the lake district the summer we left school. My best memory of that camping trip was swimming in a small lake below a waterfall, splashing around in one of nature's jacuzzis, feeling completely happy, if freezing cold.

I tend to jump into the sea whenever there's an opportunity, there's little to compare with floating on your back in a warm ocean, as the waves rock you gently like a baby in its cradle. But I've seldom swum in rivers. The first time I did this was in the river near Hornby in Lancashire, a beautiful spot bypassed by tourists as they head for the lakes. It was a gloriously hot day, and several of us headed out there from Lancaster, to a spot somebody or other knew about, where there was a little shingle beach at the side of the river, perfect for launching oneself on the water. I can still remember how amazing it felt to pootle up and down the river, listening to the birds and other critters, and getting close to a couple of stately swans.

It's interesting to speculate why the sudden increase in the popularity of wild swimming, maybe it's the word 'wild' itself, that appeals so strongly to those of us living urban lives, of whom there are far more than those fortunate enough to live in the countryside. There is wildness in the urban environment, if you are open to it. Squirrels, urban foxes on the prowl, wild flowers colonising derelict buildings. But are these glimpses of wildness enough for human beings? I don't think so.

To me, the wild is where you can be alone with the natural world, away from all the clamour and fuss of what we choose to call civilisation. So I decided to pursue wild swimming in a more regular way. I got a book for Christmas, Wild Swimming by Daniel Start, which is crammed with gorgeous pictures of ponds, lakes, rivers and the like, all just waiting to be jumped into.

But first, I had to buy a wetsuit. This took me some time to get around to, as there don't seem to be any wetsuit shops in my area of London. Anyhow, I finally bought one from a surf shop in Aberystwyth, and it had its first outing on August BH, when I took a dip in the river Medway. This is a spot mentioned in my wild swimming book, in between Penshurst and Leigh, at Ensfield Bridge.

To get there, we got off the train at Penshurst, had a delicious pub lunch at a great place called the Little Brown Jug, then walked for a few miles through a magical country park to the swimming spot. It was the perfect day, golden and warm(ish), and the walk alone would have been worth the trip.

Arriving by the bridge we searched for a spot to get down into the water. The banks are steep, but we found a place where they'd worn down enough to scramble in. I donned my wetsuit, and feeling as if I was about to undergo a sacred ritual, I edged gingerly into the peaty brown water.

It was bloody freezing! I'd worn a wetsuit before, but that was in the tropical waters near the Great Barrier Reef when we went snorkelling. I hadn't realised that wetsuits don't actually keep you that warm...but of course, as soon as I started swimming about, I felt much better. I can't say it was the most beautiful place I've ever swum, but I did enjoy it, I felt zingy and full of life.

I haven't been out again yet, I'm not that impressed by most of the nearest locations in the wild swimming book, and I'm looking forward to having the opportunity to swim somewhere truly wild. I'm longing to go to the lakes, or Wales, which is unlikely to be possible for some time. But I'd love to hear about any other wild swimming spots readers could recommend, as obviously my book won't have them all.

BTW, I did wonder whether I should included a photo of me in my wetsuit, but really, I don't think my ego could take it!

Monday, 23 August 2010

A tale of two seaside towns

We've been away for a week or so on our annual summer round of the relatives. Both Martin and I are from small, seaside towns, where our families still live. First of all we went to Southport, to visit all my lot. The place has changed immensely since I lived there. There's so much more to do now. I visit the town every few months, but for some reason the changes only sunk in during this visit. I took some of my nephews and nieces (there should be a collective noun for those!) out for the day, and most of the activities were new since my day. We went ten pin bowling, on the tram along the pier, on a boat on the marine lake, and had a rousing game of crazy golf. But it also struck me how expensive all these activities are, and how unlikely my nephews and nieces would be to take advantage of these regularly, given the cost. There should be some reduction for local people especially in the low season when the town is far from swarming with tourists.

Yet the increase in activities also means an increase in lowly paid seasonal jobs for young people; taking care of the boats, making hotdogs, waiting on tables, and even driving the tram down the pier. Hopefully, these opportunities will be available to my family when they're a little older.

The biggest change I've observed has been to the beach. Southport is known for it's long stretch of golden sand, upon which the sea seldom encroaches. It takes so long to wade out to it for a paddle that it's really not worth the effort. But now the shoreline is being transformed by clumps of grass taking root and turning the beach into land. It's distressing to see the beach disappear. I'd be somewhat consoled if I knew whether these developments are good for the environment, but I fear that they're not good for the town.

Aberystwyth, next stop on our summer tour, is a very different town. It's been immortalised in a series of comic books by Malcolm Pryce (Last Tango in Aberystwyth, The Unbearable Lightness of Being in Aberystwyth and so on). Despite its beauty, it does feel like an end of the line sort of place. The highlight of our summer visit is going to the summer show at the University's art centre. This year it was to see Chicago. The last few years the show has been directed by Michael Bogdanov, a well known director, but although he didn't work on this year's show, it was still a fun night out.

I've seen the show in the West End, and also the film, and while the dancing in Aber's version was not nearly so spectacular, the staging and costumes were excellent and the singing pretty good. Most fun was the casting of transvestite Elizabeth Diamond as Mama Morton, the go to person for any goodies to make a stay in prison more tolerable. Lawyer Billy Flynn was played by a real live American, which meant at least one of the accents in the show was relatively good.

We are currently all agog to see what the show will be next year, my bet is Grease. Will keep you posted.

Friday, 30 July 2010

No Shit Sherlock

Turn off your 'phones and your computers, ignore your loved ones, do whatever you have to do to ensure yourself an uninterrupted hour's viewing of BBC1's Sherlock Holmes on Sunday. It's the best tv drama I've seen in ages, aeons, and any other word you can think of that means a very long time indeed.

The brains behind the modernistation of Jekyll and Hyde last year have scored another winner with their modern day version of the classic Conan Doyle character, and unlike any other version I've seen, it actually makes me want to go back and read the original novels.

It's stuffed full of marvellous actors, the wonderfully named Benedict Cumberbatch (I know, sounds like a vicar from a Jane Austen novel, doesn't he?), Martin Freeman, and the woefully underused Una Stubbs does a comic turn as the duo's landlady. Not to mention Rupert Graves as the clueless Inspector Le Strade, and last week's villain, the lovely Phil Davis.

All the cast, but especially Freeman and Cumberbatch, play with an energy that shows they know this is the good shit. It's good to see Freeman play an everyman with a bit of an edge for a change, with his portrayal of the grumpy, post traumatic stress suffering Dr. Watson, and Cumberbatch is a revelation. I last saw him as a nerdy IT genius in some nonsense about government surveillance and a rampant man made virus, on BBC1 last year. But his sociopathic Sherlock, with flowing Byronesque coiffure, is knee weakeningly hot stuff. He could show Luther a thing or two about deduction...

The pace is fast and assured, with fantastic hurdy gurdy accompanying music that evokes Victorian London. There are new televisual touches too, with text messages and Holmes' deductive reasoning displayed on the screen for the viewer to share. There's even a website, which is worth a look.

My only concern (a minor one after just one episode) is that all the flash and swagger overtakes the plots, this Sherlock needs a challenge, and stories that unfurl over two or three episodes, not the detective story equivalent of a Guardian quick crossword.

But all in all, my brain fizzed with ideas and energy after watching this show, the way it does when inspired by television/cinematic fabulousness (so not too often then...). As I said at the start, don't miss it, you'll be amply rewarded. It's elementary, my dears.

Monday, 19 July 2010


It's surprising how much French you can learn watching a footy match with a French commentary. Our arrival in Corsica for our summer holiday coincided with the World Cup final, in front of which we collapsed with a bottle of local plonk. Additions to my vocab included 'contre attaque' (counter attack), 'un frappe' (a shot on goal) and 'hors jeu' (offside). Unfortunately none of these proved particularly useful during the rest of the week.

Corsica is a gorgeous island, with masses of lovely sandy beaches, clear seas and stunning mountains, all of which we thoroughly enjoyed. It was surprisingly green, with trees and flowers everywhere. Meadows are covered with what is known as the Maquis, a pungent mixture of wild herbs including rosemary and oregano. Corsica also the birth place of Napoleon Bonaparte, but apart from a few plastic statues at the airport and a Rue Bonaparte in a town we visited, this didn't seem to be particularly celebrated.

Highlights of the hol included a boat trip to a blue grotto, a welcome refuge from the heat of the day, and a walk in the Col de Bavela, a mountain pass with awe inspiring views, including the Bavela Needles, granite formations which do indeed look like needles. I was also dragged around the Corsican version of Stonehenge, at place called Filitosa where prehistoric menhirs have been excavated and are now on display. They are alleged to have faces but they looked more like giant phalluses to me. But the place did have an eerie vibe, enhanced by the orchestral music piped out around the site.

We were there for Bastille day, and joined the locals of Porte Vecchio in celebrating, by wandering around the pavement cafes and bars, listening to bad live music and not watching fireworks (scroll right to the bottom of this page to see a photo) . We joined hundreds of others waiting down by the harbour for the firework display, which despite much tooting of boat horns, did not materialise. We learned later that there'd been a fire nearby which had demanded the services of the local fire engines, which presumably resulted in the fireworks being called off.

And what was my holiday reading? Well, I entertained myself on the beach with Audrey Niffenegger's Her Fearful Symmetry, which has been out a while in hardback but has only recently been issued in paperback. It was an ok holiday read, despite being 400 and odd pages I whizzed through it due to the very large print. It's undemanding enough, if depressing, featuring as its main location Highgate cemetery, and various ghosts, including one of a kitten which I found very upsetting. I don't think it's a patch on The Time Traveler's Wife, either in terms of the plot or the depth of the characterisation. Must be hard to follow up such a world wide best selling smash though, let's hope I get to find that out for myself one day...

Tuesday, 6 July 2010

Beating Berlusconi

Oh dear, I'm slipping. Almost a week has gone by since I saw the production I'm about to review and I haven't got round to writing about's certainly not a reflection on the quality of the play, it's probably the heat. Speaking of which, a boiling hot evening is probably not the best time to visit an un air conditioned fringe venue, but we tried not to let that ruin our enjoyment of Beating Berlusconi, which is quite simply the funniest thing I've seen on stage since I went to see Zodiac Mindwarp and the Love Reaction, and I don't think the latter were even trying to be funny...

Beating Berlusconi is based on the true story of a Liverpool fan who blagged his way to the 2005 Champions League final in Istanbul (where we of course won on penalties). But the play is so much more than that; it's like a distillation of finest scouse spirit, comprising elements of politics and humour along with the footy. It describes the life of a fan, viewed through the lens of his football club, taking in the historical milestones such as Heysel and Hillsborough along the way.

It brought back so many memories of living in Liverpool, and visiting Anfield, an awareness of that intense tribal loyalty, to which I wanted to belong but didn't really feel entitled to (having been born 20 odd miles away). It took me right back to Liverpool in the 80s, when the city was a last bastion against Thatcherism, and a beacon of hope and humour. I think scousers invented and lived the idea that politics is personal way before any feminist theorists, in Liverpool, it doesn't matter what your status, politics is the bread of daily life. I remembered the garden festival, and actually heckling Margaret Thatcher, who unfortunately chose to visit the same day.

And for anyone who loathes united and that scottish prat, there is a fantastic scene at Manchester Airport, where the scouse hoards depart for the final, and while waiting for their flights mercilessly bombard the mancunian security stafff with jokes about united, ferguson, and all things Manchester in general.

And all this is delivered by just one of Paul Duckworth according to my quick google search, who has the most mobile and emotive face I've every seen. He single handedly portrayed a huge variety of characters, including the protagonist's wife, his two best mates, his dad, not to mention the aforementioned Manc airport staff. Duckworth's energy is awesome, by the end of the first act his shirt was soaked with sweat, and the one he changed it for at the interval was equally drenched by the end of the evening. He delivered humour, energy, anger and pathos.

The play has now finished its run at the King's Head in Islington, but do google it and go and see it if it comes on again, or is playing elsewhere. More fun than the Liverbirds, Bread and Brookie combined.

I'm also thinking of instituting an award, the Brew Award, for those who introduce me to worthwhile artistic and cultural experiences. So the initial Brew award goes to my mate Ali, who saw this, got the tickets and generally organised me into going to see it. Nice one!

Monday, 21 June 2010

Girls Night Out

Apologies for the gap since my last posting, but I've been in Cornwall with my family for a week, and I had no experiences that seemed suitable for this blog. Except for the jolly nice cream teas, but really how much can you say about scones, clotted cream and jam?

This week, I had a truly girly night out, to watch Sex and the City 2 with a couple of (female) friends. Afterwards we retired to a bijou French restaurant in Islington to drink kir royales (they didn't do Cosmopolitans) and pick over the carcass of the movie, which was interesting as we'd all 'read' the film slightly differently, of which more later.

As for me, I didn't expect to be challenged by this film. I thought I might fume and swear a bit, but didn't expect to be confronted with my own ageism. When Samantha "rocks" a dress meant for a far more youthful fashion victim, I inwardly cheered (although I hadn't particularly thought of the dress as too young until a spectacularly tactless sales assistant said so). But there was a ghastly scene early on, at the wedding of Carrie and Charlotte's BGFs (Best Gay Friends), where Liza Minelli, whose face is now only partly mobile, appears as the cabaret (see what I did there?), singing Beyonce's All the Single Ladies. I found this genuinely frightening, and queasily reminiscent of the Rocky Horror Show. The assembled nearest and dearest, cavorting away to various gay anthems, looked more like a Halloween party than wedding guests.

When the 4 ladies are together, it becomes obvious how hard they have to work to look even 75% as good as they used to, and somehow that striving lacks dignity. I think it's the trying so hard to defeat, even ignore, the ageing process, that made me uncomfortable. Surely there must be good stuff about getting older, or we'd all top ourselves around our 30th birthday.

The 4some seem so cool and sophisticated, when on their own New York turf, but pick them up and plonk them down elsewhere, as this movie does, transplanting them to Abu Dhabi, they seem alienated from themselves and, especially in a scene in the souk, where they are confronted by an angry bunch of men, like silly schoolgirls. You can take the girl out of the city, but you can't take the city out of the girl.

But back to our discussion in the restaurant, what we all agreed on was that, from being one of the strongest characters, Samantha was positioned in this film as a bit of a sad old slapper. She is given very Samantha-esque moments, such as rocking the aforementioned dress, but this is then undermined by having Miley Cyrus turn up at the same premiere in the same dress. Or by showing her maintaining her impressive libido despite the menopause, yet also showing her defending her sexual behaviour to hotel security staff, with her usually immaculate makeup smudged and her hair dishevelled. Then when a condom slips out of her passport onto the table, the hotel manager's face looks more like it was a cockroach lying there, and Samantha looks unusually shame faced. And by the way, would a woman who beat breast cancer, and dealt with hot flushes during her treatment, plus the loss of her hair, ,really make such a fuss about the menopause?

So what worked? Well, as in the series it was the celebration, and the validation of women's friendships. Hurray for women who don't break dates with their female friends to go out for dinner with men, hurray for women who go on holidays with their friends, even though they have children and spouses. This was underlined a little too heavily when the NY 4, fleeing the angry men in the souk, are rescued by a group of veiled and robed women, who, as they reveal, are sisters under their robes, united with Carrie, Samantha, Charlotte and Miranda in their love of haute couture.

I tried to think of other films/tv series that are similarly built on this idea of female friendships, and I could only come up with The Golden Girls, remember them? Similar types appear in the 2 series- Blanche the faded Southern Belle is an older Samantha, and there was a dippy uptight one who was a bit like Charlotte. I would love to go and see Sex and the City 25, in a couple of decades time, featuring the "girls" dealing with really being old. I wonder what they'd be like?

Monday, 31 May 2010

the unbearable clumsiness of being

One way to survive in this world with your self-esteem intact is to have an imaginary, idealised version of yourself firmly implanted in your head. If you don't like your size, or shape, imagine yourself how you truly want to be as you go about your daily life. Sometimes I think we do this unconsciously, when I catch a glimpse of myself in a random mirror or shop window, it takes a moment to really recognise that person.

My idealised self is graceful and elegant, gliding through the world without the least bump or bruise. It's been a very clumsy week for me. Last Tuesday I was getting off the top deck of the bus early in the morning, not really paying much attention as I was chatting to a colleague, when I heard this grunt of protest behind me. I turned to find that, as I'd let go of one of the bus's poles, my hand had smacked into the back of an elderly man's head, knocking his headphones askew. He was quite rightly red with outrage. The next day, in a small and overcrowded meeting room I managed to walk right into a shelf protruding from the wall. I've walked into the bed twice, I have matching bruises on my shins. But my nadir came on Saturday. Iwas at my mate's house, and she, foolishly perhaps, asked me to pour the tea. It came out in a dribble from the spout of the teapot. So I shook the pot and jiggled it around, until the leaves blocking the spout cleared, and the tea fountained everywhere, saturating the place mates and spoiling the polish on her wooden table.

Some of these incidents can be explained by my physique, I'm tall, with long limbs and big hands and feet, so there's quite a lot of me to fit into spaces that often aren't ideal for a person my size. I also have shocking spatial awareness and no sense of depth, or any of the dimensions at all really. This is one of the reasons I gave up driving; I was a menace when trying to get through parked cars against oncoming traffic, I could never tell if there was room. I lost a number of wing mirrors doing this until I gave it up as a bad job.

But some accidents, such as the teapot fiasco, could happen to anyone yet always seem to happen to me. Sometimes I think the world of inanimate objects is out to get me...

Friday, 28 May 2010

Women beware women

Lovely lovely National Theatre! It's not just the great plays, but the whole experience of the place is thoroughly pleasurable. There's the spacious, lounge-like foyer, where you can have a pre play drink or meal, while listening to a live band (incidentally, the bands are usually jazzy, and pretty good, and you can just wander in from the Southbank to listen, if you so desire). And, unlike most of the West End theatres I've visited, there's loads of loos! The Olivier theatre, with it's revolving stage and seats offering excellent views, is a delight. We had seats in the stalls where it felt like we were right in the action, for only £15. I wonder if this is all deliberate to put you in a mellow, receptive frame of mind for seeing a play...

And what of the play? Well, Women Beware Women, written by Thomas Middleton, a contemporary of Shakespeare, is surprisingly bold in the themes it covers: incest, greed, corruption and rape. The director, Marianne Elliott, has chosen to do a modern dress version, set in the 1950s. When I've seen plays of this period set in the modern era, it's always emphasised in some way an aspect of the text, eg Kevin Spacey's Richard II, featuring modern media, underlined that rulers only rule through selling themselves well to those who support them. But with this, it wasn't obvious why Elliott had chosen the 50s, in fact we ended up having an interesting discussion about this with a complete stranger during the interval visit to the aforementioned loos. I could only think it was because of the familiar 50s theme of the glorification of a woman's role at home gave a twist to the female roles in this play, particularly that of Bianca, who is a runaway bride kept under lock and key while her young spouse is away working, until she, unluckliy for all, catches the eye of Florence's lascivious Duke, who then exercises his power to have her for his own. Also, in the pre sexual revolution 50s marriage was ostensibly the way of fulfillment for men and women, while all the time all and sundry were shagging their brains out with anyone and everyone, as long as it remained secret (or so I'm told by those who were there). And it was the era of cool modern jazz and sophistication, so this staging of the play borrows the feeling of a cocktail lounge with some superb accompanying live jazz. The musicians gallery was just alongside us and it was fascinating to watch them at work, as completetly a part of the play as the actors were.

One of the pleasure of the theatre is seeing actors who are familiar from countless appearances in tv drama and films really flexing their acting muscles in challenging roles. Harriet Walters is one such, a face you know you've seen somewhere before. She's utterly mesmerising as the manipulative Livia, a woman so corrupted by life in Florence's high society, that she arranges the incestuous seduction of her niece, Isabella, not to mention the rape and subsequent fall of Bianca. She's like the Marquise de Merteuil from Dangerous Liaisons but to the power of 10. There is a crucial scene, where Livia plays chess with Bianca's mother-in-law, to distract her from protecting the vulnerable young girl, and the game is not only a symbol for the power play going on throughout the play, but the bawdy double meanings of many of the lines give away the moral vacuum at the heart of this society.

Like most tragedies of the period that I've seen or read, morality wins out and all the wrongdoers are slain, the stage is strewn with bodies at the end. The only main character left standing is the boring but virtuous cardinal. But this is rescued from farce by its hallucinatory setting, which is compelling to watch. I'd definitely recommend you to get a ticket before this ends next month, and enjoy a very theatrical night out.

Sunday, 23 May 2010

The art of blogging

The brew has been up and running a while now, and much to my surprise, people have started making requests/suggestions for content. One friend said she'd like it if the Brew included "random waffling- but it has to be funny", instead of just reviews; another felt I should update it more often; and another thought I should complete the personal profile. My first response to these requests was "Bugger off- this is MY blog" but then my essentially pleasant and reasonable nature reasserted itself and I thought, "Well, if they're actually taking the time to read it, maybe I should try to accommodate them. So I will attempt humorous waffling, and update more frequently (BTW, a heads up, I'm going to see Women Beware Women at the National Theatre on Weds so I'll be updating about that on Friday. Side bar- "Heads up" is a phrase I seem to have acquired recently, I think from US tv shows, but I quite like it and can't think of a Brit equivalent, what do other people think?) I may or may not do the profile thingy, not keen on those. They remind me of those awful questions you get asked sometimes in job interviews, where they say "tell me about yourself" which is supposed to make you relax and ease into interview mode, but actually just winds me up cos how am I supposed to convey the richness of my life in 30 seconds, and why does it matter anyway when what they really want to know is can I do the job?
I think I'm more in the mood for a rant than a waffle. I've been feeling really grumpy for several days, I blame Luther. Let me vent my spleen. I never thought I'd be turning into Mary Whitehouse, but really I was outraged by last Tuesday's episode of Luther on BBC1. I've been giving Luther a go, cos of Idris Elba, who is in The Wire. I've been having a love affair with The Wire on DVD, (Martin too, it's been a kind of menage a trois). But Luther has been a HUGE disappointment and a waste of the 3hrs I've invested in it so far. Not only has it got crappy storylines, and dreadful dialogue, but otherwise excellent actors (Paul McGann, Saskia Reeves) are miscast, and deliver their lines with an air of "How the hell did I end up in this shite?".
But this week, the show went too far. The crappy storyline was about an occultist bookseller/serial killer who abducted women and tortured them horribly. I can't remember the actor's name, but the serial killer was played by this Welsh guy, who always plays intellectual, creepy psychopaths (no, it isn't Anthony Hopkins). He played an ancient vampire in Being Human.
Anyhow, one particular scene focused on a bound and gagged women, alive and terrified inside a chest freezer, whilst alongside her the serial killer drinks a glass of what the viewer is meant to assume is her blood. Showing an image like this was so unnecessary to the story line, and could've been done in much subtler ways, and I had to wonder at the director's/writer's motivation at including this scene. Where they trying to appeal to the sensation starved and gore hungry among us? Are they trying to frighten women by saying look what monsters lurk in the shadows, waiting for you? Or do they themselves enjoy these images? Is violence against women so completely commonplace and acceptable nowadays that it can appear unquestionned on prime time tv? Imagine the furore if it had featured an animal undergoing such abuse.

Since I was little, and ran out of a cinema in tears when a horse got hurt in a scene in a Herbie film, people have tried to console me by saying "Don't get upset, it's not real". But the problem is, it is real. Ok, they're actors, it's synthetic blood and the woman in the chest freezer probably climbed out and went home for her tea, feeling like she'd done a good day's work. But the image is real, and now indelibly drawn in my mind. Plus there are real women out there who are kept imprisoned and tortured by psychopaths, whose suffering is trivialised by programmes like this. Years ago, I read this book called Less than Zero, by Brett Easton Ellis, and I HATED it. The people in it were so numbed by wealth and privilege, and by having it all at a young age, that they could only get their kicks by causing extreme pain and violence to others. When I look around and see the routine violence and cruelty that feature so strongly in what passes for culture these days, I feel like I'm living in the world of Less than Zero, and I don't like it one bloody bit.

Friday, 14 May 2010

Robin Hood
I wasn't well disposed towards this film when I first heard it was being made. Yet another film about Robin Hood? Please! But when a director (Ridley Scott) has made one of your favourite films (Blade Runner) you kind of feel you owe them the benefit of the doubt...besides, I had a free ticket to the preview screening at Brixton's Ritzy Cinema on 12th May.
But this isn't the Robin Hood story we're all familiar with, it's his back story, how he came to be an outlaw in the woods fighting injustice. There's a pompous little message at the start about how times of tyranny and injustice call outlaws into being. Seems like 12th Century England was a miserably unjust place where taxation on the poor subsidised the follies of the rich (not much change there then...).

After a strange little prologue featuring Marion, (Cate Blanchett), who isn't a Maid in this version, skilfully seeing off raiders who try to rob her home, the action moves to France where King Richard's armies are plundering and despoiling their way back from the crusades. There we meet Robin (Russell Crowe) who is gathering around him the men who will form his Merry Men. And one of them is that funny red haired guy, Dr Morris out of ER, with the worst Welsh accent I ever heard. But that's quite in keeping with the other dreadful accents in this movie...fake East Midlands for the most part that veers between Irish, Scouse and something vaguely northern.

Richard isn't the noble, splendid king of the familiar legend, a strong theme of the film is that the powerful generally abuse their power for their own ends. Robin returns to England and, with echoes of Sommersby and Martin Guerre, assumes another's identity and fights for the rights of the downtrodden common man. Fathers and sons are another strong theme: Richard, the absent father of his people, Robin's father absent since his childhood, and Robin's father/son relationship with the wonderful Max Von Sydow, who plays Sir Walter Loxley.

Comparisons with Gladiator are inevitable, given the pairing of Scott and Crowe and a film about a historical hero. But where Gladiator's Maximus is a single minded, focused tragic hero, Robin is more morally ambiguous. He fights for the poor, but he doesn't mind robbing corpses and stealing an identity. He does become more moral, but the lever for this change is not emphasised enough. There are way too many plot strands going on to build the same intensity of atmosphere that Gladiator had.

But the recreation of mediaeval England is lovely at times, and fans of Crowe's rough hewn brand of masculinity will enjoy the 'money' shot, where Blanchett helps him off with his chain mail before he takes a bath. Overall rating, it tries hard, but for me it didn't work so well. After more than 2 hrs, it was either stay for another noisy, confusing battle scene, or get the train home. Guess which I did?

Friday, 30 April 2010

Blood Brothers (Phoenix Theatre, Charing Cross Road, London)

Never thought I'd be writing in praise of a Spice Girl, but hey, life's a funny old thing. Sporty Spice (Mel C) is the best thing about Blood Brothers in its current West End incarnation. It's long been said that she's the only former Spice who can actually sing. Don't know if I'd go that far, always thought Mel B has a reasonable set of pipes, but Sporty sure can belt 'em out. Maybe I shouldn't have slept thru her set at the V festival back in '99, but I was V trashed at the time.

Mel C's voice is rich and strong, and she has a pretty good range. She's sometimes a little too
careful about individual words, rather than singing smooth phrases, but that's just me being picky. Beforehand, I did wonder whether she could act, well I doubt she'll ever join the Royal Shakespeare Company, but she did well enough in her role as the mother of twin boys, the Blood Brothers of the title.

I didn't join in with the standing ovation at the end, I'm mean with my standing ovations (last one was for Ian McKellen and Patrick Stewart in Waiting for Godot last summer, a theatrical experience that'll take some beating), mainly because for me, the musical is flawed. The same actors play the twins from boyhood to young men, and as usual when actors play children, they play it for laughs and go way over the top. So in the second act, when the boys' relationship goes downhill to the tragic denouement, it's pretty hard to take them seriously. Plus one of them is the spit of Prince William. There's also a really irritating devilish narrator, who wanders on at intervals to the sound of overloud soft rock guitars, to pronounce solemnly about Sporty and her family's future. But the music was so loud I could only make out the odd word, and it was just plain annoying. Weirdly, part of me was thinking throughout "This is so silly" but I still had a tiny tear in my eye at the end, when Sporty knelt at stage front, singing the final song.

Monday, 19 April 2010

The Hurt Locker

Sometimes I watch a film almost to the end before I "get it", I feel like I understand what the film is about. That happened with The Hurt Locker. That's not to say I wasn't held by the tension throughout, finding myself holding my breath as US bomb defusers tackled explosive devices on the streets of Iraq. Those streets seemed like the war had already passed thru to elsewhere. The insurgents were an absent presence- there in the devices left in the corpses of cars, and in one harrowing sequence, in that of a young boy. There was also a sense that they were watching, from the windows and roofs of nearby tower blocks, as the defusers delicately unpicked the wires holding explosives to their fuses. The film used the familiar narrative of a main character who is reckless and seemingly invincible, who puts himself and his comrades in danger at every encounter, by pushing for the ultimate adrenalin kick. You just know his psyche has somehow, somewhere, already been blown to bits and he's doing his best to ensure his body follows suit. But this narrative is played with in a scene where his increasingly desperate co-workers, nearing the end of their tour of duty and convinced he'll kill them all before then, discuss whether they could remotely detonate the device he's tinkering with, and blow him out of existence. I was wondering all the way thru whether this film is pro or anti the war, and feeling unsettled until a scene near the end. The reckless hero has made it home, we see him in the supermarket with his wife and child. Sent to get some cereal for the baby, the shot opens out to show his bewilderment at the vast array of choice, the box after box of cereal wheaty, corny, sugary goodness. This shot for me works on two levels. Firstly, since the next shot shows him getting off the plane in Iraq, life there is simpler for him than life back home. But that long line of cereal boxes also reminded me that this was the purpose of the war, the march of consumerism, and our democratic right to choose whatever form of cereal we desire.