Friday, April 28, 2006

With this Independent photographer, you are really spoiling us

I don't know what impression of me this blog gives - I fondly imagine that anyone who reads it thinks I am a devil-may-care carouser with a bulging address book and borderline alcohol problem. How this mythical reader would square that with me having enough time to write 1000 words of fatuous commentary on my life about twice a week I do not know. But for one week only, let me tell you, I am living the dream.

Yes, that's right, I've had two meals out this week. Hold on to your hats, for I am a fully-fledged gastronome, the Giles Coren of SE16, only less miserable and not even a tiny bit Jewish. (Neither will I include the phrase "he began to plan a relaxing afternoon wank" in my debut novel.)

Last night's destination was the Ambassador on Exmouth Market, which the Man of Taste & Substance chose, having read a glowing review in the Metro by Marina "Yummy" O'Loughlin (on the web here).

The fact that we were on the gastro cutting edge was reinforced when we turned up, late and slightly pie-eyed (in my case) and were shown to a positively spartan table and chairs, the French wooden curvy-backed ones that numb your buttocks within seconds and usually have one dodgy leg. Despite the fact there was clearly a cloakroom, no one offered to take our coats. Had we done something wrong? Were we not cutting edge enough? I was wearing a pencil skirt and stripes, goddammit. Man of Taste and Substance was wearing a flowery shirt! Did we smell uncool?

The reason for the staff's distraction soon became clear, however. "I hope you don't mind," the waiter said sheepishly, "but there's a photographer from the Independent here tonight." I looked round - ah, of course. There he was, lining up his lens directly at our table, in order to get the best shot of me shovelling reasonably-priced bistro food into my gaping maw. Thank God no-one reads the Independent.

I can only assume the Indy snapper's presence indicated that the culinary bandwagon was drawing up outside. The day before, the Standard's Fay Maschler had given the Ambassador four stars. This was looking hot. And Marina had found herself in thrall to the rabbit ravioli, apparently, and I was looking forward to feeling the same.

As it turned out, it was not to be. You see, this is one of those places with five or six options for each course which change regularly. And rabbit ravioli had been cruelly displaced by squid and pig's cheek casserole. Ho hum.

But the pared-down menu seemed logical, given the surrounds. This is that rare and successful creation, a restaurant that knows what it wants. It's all about good, fresh, seasonal ingredients and nothing else. The cuts of meat on offer - such as pork belly and the aforementioned cheeks - are relatively cheap, but repay long, slow cooking by becoming melt-in-the-mouth delicacies. I like this in a restaurant - as Anthony Bourdain put it, any chimp can fry a steak or boil a lobster. Even I can at home, really. Making something edible out of the offcuts is proper cooking.

"Yes," agreed Man, tucking into the foie gras and chicken terrine (this choice, followed by the veal, meant he had plumped for the No Ethics Special). "It's peasant food, isn't it, for people who are time-rich and cash-poor?"

Hold on, I thought, that's me. Why I am not at home, sweating some scrag end? Because, crucially, I am still frightened of weird meat. We were very much a chicken breast and pork chop kind of household, so as a child my only encounter with the outer fringes of meatiness was Dad's yearly purchase of andouilette and tete de veau on holiday. Well, andouilette smells of poo, and tete de veau is a horrific concept. It has taken me years to recover, and although I enjoyed the bone marrow salad at St John, and even a piece of pigeon so rare blood oozed out of it as I cut it, I still have a problem. Only last year I bottled out of cooking pig's trotters when I realised I would have to shave them first.

Anyway, it's not just lesser known cuts of meat that the Ambassador gives an airing, but vegetables too. "Shit. What's an endive?" I hissed behind the menu.
"It's a root vegetable, um, one of those ones with leaves and a stalk," said Man. "I think it's one of those ones that's, er, thicker at the base."
I sniggered like the fourteen-year-old boy I am inside.

The starters arrived almost freakishly fast. I can understand the speed of the terrine's appearance, as I'm sure they just chop a slice off a big slab in the kitchen, but I would have thought the pig's cheek and squid casserole might have taken a bit more time. But if they did just bung it in the microwave (which I'm sure you can't do to squid) you couldn't tell. I snaffled some of the terrine - outstanding - before returning to my own starter. My major problem with squid is the way it looks, and this looked like a plate of arseholes.

Thankfully, it tasted like squid, all squeaky and fresh, but cooked just right with a little bit of bite, which perfectly complemented the falling-apartness of the cheek meat. And it was just the right size; my bouche was certainly amused, but I was still keen to get involved with my main: Grilled Charolais Rib-eye Steak with Swiss Chard and Bone Marrow Gremolata.

With a certain don't-fuck-with-me stare, I had ordered the steak rare, and by god had they taken me at my word. Thick slices of beef had a brown rim but plenty of red, glistening core, slathered in meaty, snotty breadcrumb and marrow mix.
"What's that, then?" I said, forking a celery-like structure underneath the beef.
"That must be the Swiss Chard," said Man.
"And that would be?"
"Well, it's celery stuff, I suppose," he continued, and looked at me appraisingly. "It's, um, thicker at the..."

But I had already started snickering in a juvenile fashion again, and I swear I even heard a click from the photographer. Shit.

My humiliation was complete, but not the meal. The dessert menu arrived - some sort of chocolate tart, panna cotta ("Bollocks to panna cotta," said Man, fervently) and quince and apple pave. "I'm not having that," I said - thinking, in for a penny, in for a pound. "That sounds too much like quim." So we both had the cheese course.

Bizarrely, they brought the cheese (or rather, three cheeses) out to show us, before whisking it away and returning with three small chunks of it on a plate. I can understand the point of bringing a trolley for you to choose from, but this seemed pointless. "It's like showing you the instruments of torture," mused Man. At any rate, it was good cheese - I would love to tell you what it was, but the young man who had briefly shown us the cheese had mumbled the names too quietly and quickly to discern anything. One of them was clearly Roquefort, the other Brie-ish, and the third some sort of hard cheese which gave off a thrillingly ammonic whiff but turned out to be reasonably mild.

I suppose at this point I should report back on the bogs, seeing as they've become such a hot topic. The ladies' were red. Unpleasantly red, like being trapped inside a strawberry. And all the doors looked the same, so it took me some minutes to get back out. What about the gents? "They've got mirrors on facing walls. You can see yourself reflected an infinite number of times." No agreement on whether this a good or bad thing.

Including service, and a bottle of wine more expensive than was strictly necessary under the circumstances, the meal came to £90. So go quickly if you want to, because I hear the clattering hooves of the culinary bandwagon on the approach, and it might well do a Galvin and be fully booked until the end of time soon. And that would be shame, because buttock numbing and affection for humorous vegetables aside, it was very good.


A humorous vegetable, yesterday.

Juvenile interlude.

Wednesday, April 26, 2006

Meme, or rather, Me!Me!

With apologies for my self-indulgence.

1. When you looked at yourself in the mirror today, what was the first thing you thought? Why do my eyes look fat? Is it possible to have fat eyes?
2. How much cash do you have on you? A pound in change. I am all about the debit card.
3. What's a word that rhymes with TEST? Lest.
4. Planet? Neptune. I feel it's the underdog planet.
5. Who is the 4th person on your missed call list? My housemate Tom, thrillingly.
6. What is your favorite ring on your phone? It used to be Justin Timberlake's Rock Your Body, rescored for the tinniest phone ringer ever, but then I realised I'm not 15 and so now it's just a chirruping sound.
7. What shirt are you wearing? I'm not wearing a shirt. How d'you like that?
8. What do you label yourself? Alpha female manquée, or filthy journo hack.
9. Name the brand of shoes you've recently worn: Jones The Bootmaker.
10. Bright or Dark Room? Dark. What a crap question.
11. What were you doing at midnight last night? Working. Yeah, at work, in my office, bagpiping FACT into NEWS.
12. What did your last text message you received on your cell say? "I'm actually out doing a vox pop at the moment. Reviewing the circus. What's going on?"
13. Where is your nearest 7-11? With a what now?
14. What's a saying that you say a lot? "But he's the sexiest man on television!" (Can you guess who I was talking about? Pia is not allowed to answer.)
15. Who told you they loved you last? Er, probably best not go into this.
16. Last furry thing you touched? Some clothing in a shop, probably. All I seem to do in clothes shops these days is wander round, idly feeling fabrics.
17. How Many Drugs Have You Done In The Past Three Days? Why is this question capped up - is this a test of some kind? What do you mean, am I paranoid? Are those chocolate biscuits?
18. How many rolls of film do you need to get developed? Er, none. I use my phone.
19. Favorite age you have been so far? Probably 21. That was good. Or 20. I was very excited in the run-up to being 15, but it turned out to be rubbish.
20. Your worst enemy? The Tesco Finest Ready Meal. Destroyer of waistlines, slayer of good intentions.
21. What is your current desktop picture? An amusing picture Grinch sent me of a feminist rally at a golf course. Some joker has snuck in the back with a placard that reads, "Iron my shirt, bitch." I feel vaguely guilty about it, so it might be replaced with "Every time you masturbate, God kills a kitten."
22. What was the last thing you said to someone? What, now? I'm at work, so probably something like, "Has the new shape come through on the nursing WOB?" Well, you asked.
23. If you had to choose between a million bucks or to be able to fly, which would you choose? Flying. Come on, if Jade Goody can become a millionaire by being thick on TV, you would clearly earn more than that if you could fly.
24. Do you like someone? I like lots of people. I am a very warm, giving person, according to my psychotherapist. It's just that sometimes, you can hug the rabbits too tight and they don't get up any more. That makes me sad.
25. The last song you listened to? White Town's Your Woman. A zillion years after its original release, I still love it. I harbour dreams of finding out why it's a man singing, "I will never be your woman," but cannot be arsed. (Actually, I can.

Tuesday, April 25, 2006

Tidings of confit and joy

I've been trying to eat at Galvin for some time, but it's not easy. The Baker Street 'Bistrot De Luxe' has been going for months now, but thanks to some embarrassingly gushing reviews about its great food and unbelievably reasonable prices by Giles Coren et al, it's always fully booked.

So I decided to approach from another angle: lunch. One of the perks of being a journalist, and therefore having journalist friends, is that plenty of them work bizarre hours and days. So it was perfectly possible to assemble five of us in Baker Street at 1 o'clock: reformed bloggers Damo and Guttersniper, and Indy Man and Woman (look, I'm rubbish at thinking up witty and apposite pseudonyms, but they work for the Indy, so those will have to do.)

Even getting a table for lunch - lunch! on a Tuesday! - had been difficult. We were put on the reserve list, apparently, when IW called on Monday night. But clearly some dreadful businessman had closed the deal or whatever without the need for upmarket French bistro fare, because she got a call at half ten this morning saying a table was now ours.

First off, the restaurant looks good. The front door is suspiciously flush with the surrounding walls, leading me twice to peer into the lobby of the flats next door, until the presence of two security guards at a desk made me twig this wasn't the restaurant.

Inside, it's all dark wood panelling and mirrors. My only complaint is that in the eight-foot wide floor space between the two walls of banquettes, they've shoehorned in some tables for six that are clearly too big. If you sit at one of these (and we did) you are uncomfortably aware of the complicated balletic movements required of the waiters negotiating the dining room.

But this is the price of success - and it's pretty understandable success. The set lunch, at £15.50 for three courses, is about half the price of that at comparable restaurants. (My wet-dream gourmet lunch? Le Gavroche, at £43 including a half-bottle of wine.)

There were only two choices for each course, and either we're all shockingly alike or I must have started a trend, because we all ordered the same: Terrine of duck confit with lentil vinaigrette, followed by veal cheeks, macaroni and Marsala sauce.

Until, that was, the terrine arrived and Guttersniper espied a very prominent nut in it. He's allergic to the little buggers- in fact I was there the last time he had a reaction, and truly it was a sight to behold as his entire face swelled and he went a shade of puce more usually found on a Glaswegian alcoholic's nose.

We called the waiter. "Is this a nut?" he enquired, despite the fact that it was quite clearly a nut. "I will find zis out," parried the waiter (did I mention all the waiters are authentically French? A touch of class.) Of course it was a bloody nut. Impasse. "Well, I can't eat it," remarked Guttersniper. "I'll be sick all over the table."

This seemed to galvanise our waiter into action, and a Jerusalem artichoke soup was swiftly substituted. I'd earlier decided against this option on the grounds I didn't know what a Jerusalem artichoke was. I asked. "Well," said Damo, expansively. "It's not actually an artichoke. It's a tuber." The others nodded sagely. "And it looks like one of those vegetables Esther Rantzen used to show on That's Life."

"Great," I snapped, "all very useful if I get asked about it in a quiz, but what does it taste like?" The table fell silent.

Sadly, by the time the soup arrived I was already face-down in my duck terrine and in no position to appreciate its tuberous goodness. The terrine arrived in a slab, with stripes - oh joy of joys - of foie gras. The duck meat was all earthy and vigorous like it should be, but intercutting it with almost wrongly rich foie gras was a masterstroke. The two complemented each other perfectly, and I fell upon it with disgusting degustatory enthusiasm.

The veal cheeks were less successful. Everyone else snacked theirs back, so I can only conclude that either my portion was unusually salty, or everyone else has a higher tolerance of it than I do. The jus reduction business tasted too much like neat Balsamic vinegar for my liking. However, the cheek itself was done to perfection - practically falling apart. Sorry that you died young, baby cow, but at least it was worth it. The pasta tubes were slightly redundant, but decorative.

Pudding choices were Brie de Meaux with walnut bread or Tiramisu. All of us plumped for Brie, except Nutboy. A big hunk of cheese duly arrived. It wasn't as oozy or as noxious as I'd hoped, and frankly was too much for a lunchtime. We had a minor disagreement about the bread. Damo said the fruit detracted from the cheese. The Indies disagreed. I found it hard to get worked up about the bread question, as I was still whimpering from the terrifying interrogation over my single status between courses.

Other bits: the wine was very good, and very reasonably priced. Our double espressos were exemplary. The service was slightly supercilious, but that's French waiters for you. Oh, oh, the toilets. I must tell you about the toilets. They were lovely - even more wood, funky door bits, ambient lighting. Even if the food were crap, it would be worth going to see the toilets.

Luckily, it's not, and I'd love to go back to eat a la carte. I've got my eye on the Salad of Dorset Crab and Apple, Feuillete of Angus beef, etuvee of leek & Bourguignonne garnish (what's an etuvee?) and then Oeuf a la neige, which would still set you back just under £30 before service.

£30? The owners must be mad. No wonder it was fully booked on a Tuesday lunchtime.

Monday, April 24, 2006

In which I take leave of my fashion senses




Sometimes, fashion treats you right. This winter, apparently, it was all about Hitchcock Blondes and lots of black and a few stripes if you felt particularly daring. I rose to the challenge admirably, as my entire wardrobe still bespeaks the fact I was once a fat goth, and so is a temple to black.

Stripes? Well, when I was young we were told that horizontal stripes made you look fat and vertical stripes made you look like a cafe awning... but bugger it, I was game. I've always thought that it's probably a good idea to wear these styles of clothes which everyone knows are deeply unflattering, as it levels the playing field. Who's to know that you are a genuine fat person in skinny jeans? *Everyone* is a fat person in skinny jeans.

I went on a rare clothes shopping spree last week (for me, visiting more than two clothes shops in a day counts as a spree; more than four is a rampage) and checked out the finest the High Street had to offer. As I get older, I get more and more set in my ways over a lot of things; but in clothes terms the reverse seems to be true. I now wear things I would have openly scoffed at only two years ago.

Example: I have just bought a pair of satin ballet pumps. With ribbons. Ribbons that you lace up your legs, like Margot Fonteyn or a ten-year-old in a bun. I cannot fathom why I did this: it can't be that I long to be a ballerina. I *was* a ballerina - or at least I did ballet, for several years in fact, in an attempt to correct my disgraceful childhood pigeon-toed gait. I became obsessed with it for a while - all the photos from my First Communion feature me in first position, toolishly.

But the sad fact was, I was rubbish. I could do the arms no problem, but the leg bit totally eluded me, and eventually I was put out to pasture in the class with all the fat kids (I was then a thin kid; it all went wrong aged 12). Anyway, it's not a part of my life which necessarily kindles any strong feelings in me. Neither is my current life likely to lead me into any emergency from which the only escape is the magic of dance.

But this purchase has me worried; am I now going to start uncontrollably buying clothes I find inherently ridiculous? Has my brain become suffused with the misplaced belief that I can accessorize without looking like Coco The Clown? I don't really own any jewellery - four necklaces, maybe, mostly presents. I usually have a ring, but I've lost it and I can't be arsed to buy another one. Earrings? Well, when the holes in your lobes are a centimetre wide, your options are limited and costly.

Then last week, out of the blue, I bought a hairband. And not just any hairband. It's lace. It's - for want of a better word - fancy. It makes me look even more like Princess Beatrice than usual. In fact - god - all my new clothes are making me look more like Princess Beatrice.

Further evidence that I've taken leave of my senses came in the form of The Tea-Dress. I bought it on a whim, hoping it was summery (it's not; it's black and red, and makes me look like I should be serving antipasto with a sneer somewhere with checked tablecloths). And then Matt came over, saw me in it, and said words I had never had addressed to me before: "Oh, that's a pretty dress."

I don't think I've ever owned a "pretty dress". People who own pretty dresses watch Desperate Housewives and have pedicures. They're high-maintenance. I'm a scruffy student trapped in the body of a journalist.

I can only conclude it's my job that's changed me. Working in the smartest office in the world (TM) with immaculately groomed 40something women who work hard to look 30 is rubbing off. The trouble is, I'm also trying to look 30 now - but from the wrong side. And it's not working.

Therefore, I have devised some rules which I am going to stick to when I next go shopping, in the hope that I can restore some calm to my wardrobe. We're not having the jolly sequinned cardigan debacle all over again, I'll tell you that.

1) No more black. I am not a fat goth, and summer is coming.
2) City shorts are the work of the devil. They are merely the culottes which I so despised in the early 90s in another hellish incarnation. Why not just wear a skirt, or trousers? It's not exactly the hardest decision in the world. Pick one or other, not some half-arsed middle-ground, which will make you look like Dawn French as George in Five Go Mad In Dorset.
3) Just because I was not allowed to wear the following things while growing up is no reason to wear them now - ballet shoes, hotpants, tutus (I am serious - I feel a strange affinity with netting in skirts), red lipstick, white foundation, the colour purple.
4) I will give brown another chance. Ever since being forced into a brown school uniform - brown pleated skirt, beige jumper, brown tie, brown blazer with gold piping, brown she-brogues - I have not been able to look at brown clothes without suppressing a shudder of horror. Sadly, brown suits me, and I need to accept this.
5) I will never buy cheap shiny suit trousers because I am poor, as they look awful and sometimes go so shiny across the buttock you start sliding off your chair at work.
6) Tulip skirts - what's the point? My arse is big enough already.
7) In the epic Miltonian battle between the thong and the French short, there could only be one winner. The thong must be cast out into the wilderness and spurned like a rabid dog.
8) That which looks good on SJP does not look good on me. Ditto Sienna Miller.
9) No more ballet pumps. I love them, but I need to branch out.
10) Absolutely no cropped ANYTHING - from jackets to trousers. Just makes you look like you're in denial about your size.

Dear me, that was shallow, wasn't it? Don't worry, W has just sent me Kabbalah and Criticism by Harold Bloom, so the next post could well be about mystical Jewish texts. After a thousand words of that, you'll be begging me to write about my feelings on city shorts again.

Sunday, April 23, 2006

Thirty-eight seconds

I missed Eddie's funeral by thirty-eight seconds, and consequently feel like a total shit.

After working late on Friday, I got to bed at a reasonable hour, and primed my phone alarm to wake me up at 6am, giving me ample time to get up, shower, dress and attack my hair with straighteners, before making an unrushed journey to Paddington to catch the 0748 train to Hereford.

Unfortunately, at about 5am I woke from a dream involving a coffee date with Ben Elton to hear what sounded like a murder happening outside in the street. Several minutes of guilty inactivity followed, until I assured myself it was just foxes.

At this point I must have somehow clobbered my alarm clock, because when I next woke up, wondering how long I had before the alarm went off, the display read 0658. Oh good, I thought, a few more minutes and then it will go off, everything under control.

And then it was as though my sluggish brain popped up a little questionmark, and in a second I knew. Shit. SIX-fifty eight? i should have left the house already!

I'm not one of nature's early risers (a fact I exploit by working evenings) but if there's one thing that sets my teeth on edge, it's the possibility of missing a train, or more generally being late for something important. I find watching Clockwise causes me actual physical pain. Over the years, I've learned to deal with this by rigid organisation and a freakish devotion to being early. Job interviews? I turn up at least an hour early, and kick my heels in a nearby coffee shop. I must have spent hundreds of hours in Paddington since I moved to London, since it's the station I use to go back to my parents, and to Oxford.

So, needless to say, I didn't deal with the possibility of being late terrifically well. I ran (yes, actually ran, at least until my throat started to hurt) to the Tube station. Next train: 3 minutes. Shit.

The worst thing about that kind of situation is not the moment when all is lost, but the time you convince yourself you might, might, just make it.. if only you run. The glimmer of hope is what's painful.

As it turned out, I scattered all those French tourists on the escalator to no avail. I came up the steps from the Tube to Paddington station to see the clock reading 07:48:38. And with every fibre of my being I thought: FUCK.

Of course, it being Saturday there was no other train, nor byzantine permutation of trains, which could get me to Hereford before noon. Perhaps I could get to Worcester and persuade my parents to drive me to Hereford? This really was beginning to feel like Clockwise.

But no, decreed the Gods of British Rail. The earliest I could get there was half-past, just in time to stumble into the Cathedral breathless and dishevelled for the last hymn, only for my mobile to ring, probably. Constructively, I burst into tears. Then got the tube home again.

And so I missed the funeral. NB kindly agreed to come over last night and tell me about it, which made things better - it looked like a nice service, with tasteful hymns and thoughtful readings. I know that it was an honest mistake, and that Eddie's family will have had no idea whether I was there or not, but I can't help feeling bad about it.

---

This week, I went to the launch of Pen Pusher magazine (website here) which was being held in the same pub as a Grange Hill cast reunion. Normally, I would hysterical with excitement about the prospect of so many minor celebrities in one place, but I was left strangely cold as I didn't really recognise any of them. Apparently, John Alford was there, but I didn't see him.

The other notable thing about the evening is that my ex-boyfriend's new love interest was there, but I didn't know that until last night (ie too late to gawk at her and ascertain if she is thinner/prettier/less mad than me). Balls.

Sunday, April 16, 2006

V for Vendetta: Rhymes with 'should have been better'

After months and months without even thinking about watching a film, I'm becoming quite the moviegoer of late. And this week, I pleasingly
managed to watch two very different films which tackled similar themes - terrorism, alienation and acts of random violence - allowing me to
make fatuous and largely baseless comparisons between them.

The first film is Christie Malry's Own Double Entry. Stop sniggering at the back, for the Double Entry of the title refers to a system of accounting invented by some monk in the Middle Ages. Apparently, the double entry book-keeping system is the foundation of modern capitalism, making it a Big Idea. Yet it's been (as far as I know) consistently overlooked by modern writers, probably because they are mostly humanities graduates and are thus scared of numbers.

The film (from the book by BS Johnson, who you'll remember from previous posts if you've been paying attention) focuses on the life of Christie, a disaffected twentysomething accounts clerk for a sweetfactory, who lives in Hammersmith with his dying mother.

Between her death and the utter bastardry of his boss, Christie comes to the conclusion that life is inflcting unjust pain on him and those he loves - debits - and so he must do the same back to credit his account with "them". Escalating acts of terrorism - from keying a car to mass poisoning - ensue.

That's pretty much the plot - the book is only 20,000 words long - the same number as Christie kills in pursuit of balancing the books. The
film's joy comes in the bleak and unsparing depiction of life's injustice, typified by Christie's boss's reaction to his news that he took the afternoon off work to go to his mother's funeral. "I'm on to you, Malry," he shouts, veins throbbing in his forehead. "You can only have one mother!"

Christie's quest for vengeance ends suddenly, in an ending which has been changed from that of the book, where Christie suddenly develops
incurable cancer. There are a few other changes - Christie is given a friend, whereas the Christie of the book is just given a girlfriend, the Shrike. The whole film is updated to the 90s, and topical references to the Gulf War and Princess Diana are shoehorned in, with often less than successful results.

A whole subplot of Fra Pacioli's invention of the double-entry system and his friendship with Leonardo da Vinci adds little to the overall message, but does manage to up the nudity count (although those of a sensitive disposition should note that an early auto-erotic asphyxiation scene is eye-opening, to say the least). But overall, it's an excellent film from an excellent book.

If only the same could be said of V for Vendetta. I can't comment on the comic from which it originates (not through coyness - I've never read it) but the film was good. I know, there's nothing wrong with good, it's better than bad, and workmanlike. And it should certainly be said that I think this film did not deserve the shocking reviews it garnered, as there's a lot to like.

Yes, Natalie Portman's accent roams the world quicker than Michael Palin; yes, having a main character whose masked face displays no emotion is a drawback; yes, Hugo Weaving is still doing that Agent Smith drawling thing ("Miizzter Aaandurrrsun") that was so irritating in the Matrix.

This paragraph was going to be about the film's redeeming features, but actually I haven't finished the list of things that annoyed me yet. How, for example, in a totalitarian police state, did someone conceal the size of factory required to make the zillion Guy Fawkes masks everyone's wearing at the end? I can't see any dictator worth his salt putting up with that. Why does everyone say 'bollocks' so much? Why do Americans believe Benny Hill is the apogee of English humour?

Calm. As you can see, it's pretty easy to pick holes in V, post-viewing. But none of these things particularly spoiled my enjoyment while in the cinema (apart from all the bollocks). As a blockbuster - the cinematic equivalent of the fast food meal - it succeeds. It's not going to teach you anything profound about the nature of the human spirit; at a pinch it might spark a lively pub debate about the difference between a terrorist and a freedom fighter (answer: freedom fighters are the ones from small, plucky, underdog countries - the resistance equivalent of Tim Henman).

The trouble is, given the millions of pounds they spent on it, it ought to be better. It's a lot like eating in a London restaurant - yes, the welsh rarebit on hand-rolled ciabatta is tasty, but it's basically cheese on toast, so why am I paying six bloody pounds for it?

Christie Malry manages to make the same points as V on a budget of about 12p, and has a better soundtrack and casting to boot. Most of V's money has been spent on special effects, but really - you've seen one exploding seat of Government in Independence Day, you've seen them
all.

Of course, V for Vendetta still pulled them in - when we went on a drizzly Wednesday night, the cinema was packed. Whereas i suspected that making my housemate watch Christie Malry with me has upped its viewing figures by 2 per cent.

The film industry is a mystery to me. Luckily it seems to be a mystery to everyone else, even alleged experts, so I don't feel so bad. I decided to ask W, who's nearly got a freaking *doctorate* in film, and therefore seemed a likely person to be able to explain.

I'm not sure that he did, really, but he ranted in rather an entertaining way, and I must prod him further on the subject.

He wrote: "Why-oh-why does no one watch British films...?  I remember that Christie came out right in the swinging middle of my website's heyday - and I rated my top 10 films of that year (whichever year it was) and that an amazing SEVEN of my favourite ten films of the year were British...  (Think list included Christie, Lawless Heart, My Little Eye, 24 Hour Party People, Once Upon A Time in the Midlands [only just], and one or two others...)

But NO ONE watches the bastard.  Why not?  It's good.  It's really good.  Just b/c V is written by the Wachowski Bros (pron. f-ack-off-ski?), it's huge.  

But no ingrate thicko would consider watching a film called Christie Malry's Own Double-Entry - despite the fact that it sounds, you know, dirty...  Why? What uninspires people to see British movies (apart from Pride and Prej, Bridget Jones, Bride and Prej, Prejudice in its Prime, Pride of Prejudiced Lions, Four Weddings and a Funeral, Five Weddings and a Funeral, Sex Weddings, 100 Weddings [genuine film title - coming soon], Notting Hill, Bridget Jones in Notting Hill, Bridget Jones at Four Weddings, etc, etc, etc...)?

I scratch my head."

So do I.

Monday, April 10, 2006

April is the cruellest month.

NB rang on Friday afternoon, just after 2pm. Odd, I thought, why is he ringing in the middle of the day? "Hello," he said, sounding subdued. "Are you at work?" I told him it was my day off.

"Well, I'm sorry to ruin your day off..."

Instantly, all my mind did that canter round all the possible bad things that could have happened – always quite a revealing instant, because it tells you not only what you would feel most guilty about if it were discovered, but whether you really think there's a chance of it coming out.

"...but Eddie has died."

Sudden inrush of breath. This is the second time in two months I've had this kind of phone call, so I suppose I should have been more accepting, less questioning. But obviously not.

"MR told me, " he continued. "His parents are flying over to the Lebanon now, apparently."

I'm no good at dialogue, so let me tell you the facts: Eddie was in his twenties, had just finished a degree in Classics at Oxford - where he had taken a year out to be President of the Union - and had gone to the Lebanon to improve his French, and learn Arabic.

---

From: Edward Tomlinson 28 February 2006 18:43

Just a quick note from Beirut for you. How is life at the mo? Things over here ticking along, with the odd demonstration by millions and millions against Syrian political interference, and the odd bout of Islamic mob violence a-trashing embassies too.

The French and Arabic are making rather slower progress than I would like, but I have lots of charming Francophone types in my classes. They are very nice and we get along perfectly but I fear we are not as one politically. After class today one of them said that he wanted there to be a European head of state ruling the whole continent.

---

Eddie died of an embolism, in his sleep. I'm happy that he felt no pain, had no foreboding over what was to come, but at the same time, selfishly, I almost wish he'd been ill first, had given us time to say goodbye.

Bizarrely, after being acquaintances for three or so years, I had got to know him much better in the last six months. For some unknown reason, he had turned to me and NB for relationship advice, particularly in regard to Sarah, a girl he'd known at Oxford who was living in Paris for a year. She hadn't replied to his Ace in the hole - a postcard onto which he had lovingly translated the lyrics of Take That's Back For Good into Latin.

NB and I had regarded him rather sceptically when he had told us this the last time I saw him - the last time I will ever see him - tucking into artisan sausages in the Stoney Street café opposite Borough Market.

"Erm," I'd ventured, "why Back For Good? Does she particularly like Take That?"

"Um, no, not really," said Eddie, blinking rapidly as he always when he felt he was going to be told off for some piece of fuckwittage. NB and I exchanged glances, but neither of us had the heart to say that quoting decade-old pop songs randomly in an ancient language was a less than watertight way of pulling.

Two weeks later, in the Lebanon, he was concerned by his lack of success with the postcard gambit.

----

From: Edward Tomlinson 28 February 2006 18:43

This doesn't look too good, especially as she said she would be delighted to hear from me anytime, when she sent on through
her Parisian postal address. So, now I need to know whether to persist
with this line of enquiry or just take the hint and bog off.

----
To: Edward Tomlinson 02 March 2006 11:51

Dear Eddie,

Can only conclude that La Poste have eaten your postcard due
to horsemeat shortage, or are on strike, bloody trades unionists that
they are.

---

The Take That wooing scheme was typical Eddie. He was a self-confessed fuckwit when it came to pursuing women, and hardly Machiavelli when it came to arranging other aspects of his life either. "Edd-ieeeeee," we'd chorus at his latest harebrained scheme, "that's a preposterous idea. Don't fuck it uuuup!"

---

From: Edward Tomlinson 03 March 2006 21:50

I have a nice balcony here in Lebanon and on the mountainside is a truly massive statue of the Madonna. I'm living in the Christian bit out here and there are saints' shrines, crucifixes and images of the pope/Maronite patriarch everywhere. Oh yes, and Church bells which play out the tune for "Ave Maria" twice a day, everyday.

Anyway, I was bopping along listening to my portable CD player on my balcony, as one must. When "Back for Good" came on (I HAD to bring it with me) I obviously started getting a bit excited and started singing, because the chap in the next room along popped his head out to see what the fuss was. He's a 50 year-old Syrio-Catholic priest with a long white beard, and he rather naively thought that I was having some sort of religious experience, and so saluted with both his hands the statue of the Madonna on the hillside.

I thought it was only right to do the same, and so as Gary sang out "your lipstick marks still on my coffee cup" I held out both my hands to the Holy Mother of
God. Am I in trouble, do you think?

---

Went for dinner with NB last night, to see how he was coping. He'd spent all day with MR, looking at pictures on Eddie's facebook profile and reminiscing. "How are you feeling?" I ventured.

"I think it's still sinking in." He drank reflectively.
"I think that's the trouble with grief," I said. "You expect it to hit you all at once and leave you totally incapacitated. It'd be easier if it did, I reckon. As it is, you feel so horrible you can carry on with your everyday life. And it just stings like new every time you think, "Oh, I must tell Eddie that," or, "I wonder how Eddie's getting on..."'
'Yes. That's what we were saying today - all we want to do is talk to Eddie and say: Eddie, what the fuck? Why have you gone and died?'

I laughed. I suppose on one level it's horribly disrespectful, but it's so typically Eddie to go to some unstable riot-filled country and die in the night and have his body found by a monk. It's untidy. It's harebrained. It's so irritatingly like him.

---

I knew pretty much as soon as I heard that I would have to write about Eddie's death. I couldn't not - following what BS Johnson said about his need to write – I write to have it there, in a book, not here in my head. I asked NB if it would be disrespectful to write about him on my blog. Would it trivialise the situation?
"No, I don't think so. I think he would have liked it."
So here it is.

---

All I can think about now is how unfair it all is. It’s hit me like a ton of clichés, but the most painful thing about death is that there’s no arguing. It’s done. That’s it – no rematch, no recount, no quibbling, no winning on points in the final minute when all seemed lost. One of the nicest, sweetest, most unassumingly brilliant people I’ve ever met will never have a chance to do all the things he could have done. And the rest of us will go on living, and forgetting.

And I don’t want to do that either – I want to remember his voice, calling me by my surname, which always made me feel like a public schoolboy, and remember him telling me about his grand plan to marry a baronet’s daughter, and him fiddling with his glasses and looking sheepish.

All I can think of is the end of Dr Faustus: “Cut is the branch that might have grown full straight.”

---

From: Edward Tomlinson March 13 2006

Really, despite the drama of recent messages, I'm perfectly happy at the moment and it's not as if I have suddenly become a total wreck or anything. As ever I'll just keep life ticking over and I have no doubt it will continue to surprise and delight.

--

Unaware but underlined I figured out this story / It wasn't good /But in the corner of my mind I celebrated glory /But that was not to be...

Honestly, Eddie. Take That?

Tuesday, April 04, 2006

ten things that have recently made me feel bad:

1. That I am far too annoyed by people who try to open the doors on
the tube by pressing the door opening buttons. Don't they realise that
the doors open automatically? (Obviously passengers on the DLR, where
the doors do not open automatically, are exempt from this.) I stand
behind them, fuming. Then immediately after I feel that I must be a
horrible person to be so enraged by their innocent and logical
assumptions about the Tube.

2. That on the way to work yesterday, I was so deeply enjoying This Is
Craig Brown (thoroughly recommended), particularly the piece where he
interviews Tony Blackburn, that I failed to notice the tiny little old
lady on the Tube and so left her to the tender mercies of standing up
amid a group of rowdy Eastern European schoolchildren. When I looked
up to check I'd arrived at the right station and noticed her, I felt
compelled to affect a slight limp as I left the train so everyone
wouldn't hate me.

3. That I saw on the story list that an Air Force plane had crashed, I
was excited because it might have been someone important. Then I was
disappointed to find out it was a cargo plane. Ouch. It reminded me of
the bit in the Piers Morgan diaries where they hear Concorde has
crashed and start speculating what celebs were on board. When the TV
broadcasts the news that the plane was carrying a party of German
tourists, the entire news floor groans. Then they realise they are
uncaring bastards.

4. That two close friends have told me things in the last few days,
and I simply haven't believed them. Uh oh, never a good sign.

5. That I sent a joke talking email to a friend which contained, inter
alia, the phrase "I want to feel your warm love juice running down my
thighs." He played it in front of his mother.

6. That the mother concerned does not know it was me that sent her son
an obscene talking email, and when I next meet her, she will think I
am a lovely well-brought up girl and not a borderline sexual deviant.

7. That I am so sad I read the free newspapers which come through our
door and scoff at their poor use of drop caps, and their inability to
use either an em dash or an en dash consistently.

8. That I have watched so much of Buffy Series 6 in the last few days
that I am more worried about whether Spike and Buffy can ever be
together than I am concerned for any of my *real-life* friends.

9. That I spent twenty minutes explaining to my housemate Max, a
history graduate, how strongly I believe that Henry VII killed the
Princes in the Tower, not Richard III.

10. That I am such a loser I can so easily think of ten things I feel
guilty about right now.