they fuck each other up, your Mum and Dad

Everyone thinks their parents are strange.  Or at the very least endearingly kooky in some way.  Mine are plainly odd, first and foremost, it appears to me, in their relationship itself.

You should never presume or make judgements about any relationship from the outside.  You don’t have all the information, the chances are that you’re wrong and you probably don’t really care all that much anyway.  Which is why it’s fun and reckless to make the prejudgements.  But with your parents, if they’ve always been together and, just there, a constant part of your life for as long as you can remember, you feel this gives you a little more insight. Reasonable enough.

My folks rarely demonstrate any outward sign of affection towards each other.  Not necessarily remarkable because plenty of couples of a certain age don’t.  My Dad is fundamentally quite lazy and self-serving around the house.  By the same token Mum does do everything but gives the impression of enjoying her martyrdom.  It’s normal, natural.  She wouldn’t know what to do with herself if she didn’t feel aggrieved or wronged.  I’m constantly paranoid about not offering the correct level of gratitude.

It’s a bit like getting used to being miserable, playing sad music, watching melancholic films, absorbing yourself into that perpetuating cycle: easier than trying to wrench yourself out, force change.  I’m probably just as much a victim of that.

Yet they sit there in this probably dysfunctional empty shell marriage for years: passive, unmoving, equally lazy in their own ways, equally disinclined to change.

Before I left home for university, when Mum was first around the menopausal stage, I’d sometimes get back from college to find her in tears about being unappreciated, taken for granted.  It wasn’t comfortable.  What could I say?  Yes, you’re being a mug?  So, are you happy?  What’s keeping you here?

The most recent gnarly family trauma is Dad’s ignorance of his eldest Grandson, a three year old boy with plenty of vim and vigour, energy and bustle, prone to the occasional temper tantrum.  I’ve little experience with kids but he’s three years old, that’s what they do, right?  Dad doesn’t engage or play when he’s in his delightful good moods, to any degree, but freely dishes out advice when he misbehaves; stares daggers at him for disrupting meals.  This disappoints everyone.

Apparently he was the same with us when my brother and I were that age, and didn’t have a father-son relationship which was that healthy itself.  But that’s no excuse.  Play is part intuition, part emulation.  To me, at least.  Dad simply doesn’t try, which upsets my brother and his wife.

Today he was out of the house and Mum walked into Dad’s office room, where I happened to be working.  She told me how she’d explained to him that he should try to get engaged more, that it does upset people and is an issue.  He was subsequently in a sulky mood but would be better after he’d done some exercise.  This was the catalyst for her to reel off a list of her biggest gripes with him and gradually descend into an emotional whine about their relationship.

“You know, I asked him if he still loved me recently,” she said.  My stomach tightened as she spoke, I didn’t like where this was going.  I’d been home for Christmas too long now.  I didn’t have any answers for her.  I glanced between her and a hole punch while a dated screensaver played.

“He paused,” Mum continued.  “properly thought about it.  Then, after a second, do you know what he said?”

“No.”

“ ‘I’m very fond of you’.”

I sighed, shook my head.  Thought about hugging her but selfishly discounted the idea in fear of making everything more emotional.

“You know!” she said, for something else to say.

I shook my head and sighed again.  I didn’t know.  Still don’t.  Probably never will.

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Avatar ponderings

James Cameron’s latest blockbuster film, Avatar has got many tongues furiously wagging, and rightly so.  From the reviews I’ve read and head, most seem to be agreed that for all the flaws of character, plot, script and trying to do a bit too much, it is rollickingly good fun.

I’d agree too.  In fact, I’d likely forgive the accused flaws.  Show me a massive blockbuster film which sets out to cater to the lowest common denominator audience, and which has well rounded characters, an innovative and unique plot, and a script which doesn’t sound cartoony.  There probably are some, but I can’t call them to mind easily.

What I’ve been surprised about the reviews I’ve seen and read, is their neglect of “difficult” issues which the film appeared to more than touch on. 

These were namely terrorism and religion, or faith.  It appeared more that terrorism was more pronounced than in plot predecessors, your Bravehearts and Star Wars.  One major plot point revolves around a scene where vivid 9/11 imagery was unmistakeable.  The religious view meanwhile, of the native alien beings, the view that their god is in and of all living things, that energy is borrowed.  Is this not a principle tenet of the Islamic faith?  That the sacred is in and of everything that exists around us?  Forgive me if I am wildly wrong; I’m too lazy to look it up and qualify.

And the beliefs and the terrorist actions are deliberately exchanged, opposed.

“Nyerr,” some of the critics have sniffed, because it is their job to: “if it costs that much money, it SHOULD look that good.  It was ok, I didn’t hate it.”  Their desperation to appear unaffected, to immediately focus on the cash, was sickening.

This was an incredible film.  Too long, definitely.  Rather baggy, sure.  Plot, character, script points I’m willing to overlook them all.  But is there a fear, or basic reticence to try and read such a mainstream film on any other level which isn’t mainstream.  Viewpoints which challenge; the terrorism victims having the extremist religious beliefs – albeit green and arguably fey ones.  The opposing insensitive greedy battering ram of atheism.

Avatar has plenty to admire from any perspective; it’s a long, mostly gripping ride through a familiar storyline we’ve been told before and will be told again.  But most stories follow a basic structure.  The way this has done (and I’ve barely touched on staggering effects which made me wonder about David Attenborough’s appreciation); plus just a subtle sprinkle of mind fodder, for me makes it outstanding.

needing to be a bit of a cock

Yesterday I think I might’ve been lobbed another bone in the similar sort of way as a couple of Fridays ago.

Watching Frank Skinner’s interview with Russell Brand, they discussed the need to actually act like a bit of a cock in order to be promiscuous, get laid, have one night stands.

I’m not saying I can’t act like a bit of a cock, I’m sure I’m more than capable of that.  But it is this fronty salesy bravado I struggle with, the pure belief and directness.

A few industry colleagues and by now borderline real proper friends, a busy Chrismassy pubby pub bang in the centre of Soho, several ales.  We get chatting to a trio of Americans over visiting for a family wedding, the youngest at 24, eldest 34, one pretty much in the middle between.  Kooky and fun the youngest is particularly cute, not dumb, but very Americaayn: little sense of irony, acutely self aware, constantly self fluffing.

After several hours drinking, we fail in finding a decent Soho eatery and wind up in a place with a strange penchant for 24 hour breakfast dishes.  It’s approaching midnight and they want burgers.  Their high maintenance faces shrivel in barely concealed disappointment.  But we go in anyway, for want of a better option, and they troop to the Ladies en masse.  A mate and I sit at a table, half wondering if they’ll seek another exit and flee.  They don’t, a makeup touchup later, they’re back with us and begin inspecting an unimpressive menu.

Only on realising the time, and that I need to move sharply if I’m to make it back to Waterloo for the last train, do I realise I’ve possibly missed another opportunity.  The final setting was wrong, cramped around a table, eating.  I didn’t even say goodbye to them properly, squashing a note into my friend’s hand as I left, saying goodbye, lovely to meet you, and leaving.

Back in the pub, where we’d spent most of the evening, much time chatting one-to-one with the cute, highly made-up Americaayn, who I wouldn’t have cared THAT much about being an idiot in front of.  If I’d made my affection more obvious, firmly trodden that difficult line between sleaze, creep, being a bit of a cock, and appreciable directness; deliberate and transparent interest.  Maybe then…   Probably not, but maybe..

It’s all too common, shoved in an unpredictable, one-off fluid scenario.  You can’t plan or consider a strategy in the same way that you can if you work in an office with someone, or regularly see them as part of some group or social gathering.  It has to be a spontaneous and concerted calculation of the moment, ridded of those neuroses and crippling shackles.

I tell myself this now of course.  It never occurs to me at the time, or perhaps it does and I just bottle it, fearing the humiliation and looking like a bit of a cock.

“no, i have one back in Thailand”

“Is it your first?” I innocently asked the asian partner of a local at our brief festive gathering yesterday afternoon. 

They had arrived together with an older woman and I couldn’t immediately detect which pair were the couple.  It appeared the older lady was the man’s mother.  He was an entirely bald thirty-something, his mother apparently much older than she appeared.  At a stretch, or a quick glance at their backs, you could even take them for a couple.  They had apparently lived in the street for many years, as the twenty or thirty attendees of our street-only invited gathering had.  It being a London suburb, although reasonably affluent, few people seemed to know any others.  Perhaps excepting their closest neighbours. 

So the bald thirty-something man, it turned out, was the partner to this pregnant asian lady, probably in her early thirties.  We were introduced to her using her unlikely English name, and I phased out amidst the politeness of the scenario, wondering. 

Even if you couldn’t have too much of a developed communication, it saddened me to sense that I was beginning to empathise with the not unattractive appeal.  It’s so preposterously easy there, I remembered, on the southern Islands and further east into Vietnam they can almost literally throw themselves at you as you walk down the touristy streets.  That doesn’t happen so much in London.  Not in my experience anyway.  But it becomes a pain over there, an irritant as you try to keep walking.  You just need to be white, Western.  They’re not fussy. 

It’s getting increasingly common too.  Last Christmas at home, in our comparatively isolated village there was a local with a young eastern girl who sat quietly in the corner, saying nothing to nobody and being roundly ignored by her presumably newish partner.

“Is it your first?” I asked yesterday, when we turned to her bump.
“No, she said,” in perfectly good English, “I have one back in Thailand, but..” and she trailed off.
I felt bad for asking, insensitive.

It jabbed hard, the extreme displacement they must suffer, the sacrifices they make – as much as they are willing to endure it in the hope of a better life.  Acclimatising to a place and culture so far removed as to be practically impossible to call “home”, must be utterly bewildering.  The promise and hope invested in such a move: are they really worth it in the long term?  Is the poverty that unbearable, or the allure of the west that great? 

And is it cruel to facilitate that transfer, to encourage it.  Or is it acceptable now?  Should we get over ourselves and be more liberal about it now?  Or is it fundamentally a bit wrong and uncomfortable?  Especially if there’s a significant age discrepancy.

“Sounds complicated!” a neighbour chirped into the half second of silence.
It’s certainly that.

a bump

Following another Saturday afternoon spanking, although my personal performance hadn’t been as abject as the week previous, we visited a local pub screening the Tottenham game.  Here we witnessed another limp, dismal performance not unlike our own, where our heady top four aspirations were dealt another blow by defeat from the league’s bottom side.

With a weary feeling of all round Saturday defeat I embarked on the short cycle back. There’s a large, traffic light directed crossroads at one point, just before the river.  I needed a right turn, across traffic, as opposed to the easy left.  This evening, with my cycle lights flashing, the traffic lights changed and I cruised through without needing to stop.  Traffic queues left and right halted.  Opposite were three cars wanting to turn left into the same road.  One turned, I thought I could nip quickly before the next and up onto the cycle path.  Surely.  The following car would slow to let me, I only needed a small gap, I’d indicated my intent and was moving assertively across its path.  Surely, it had seen me, surely it would slow.  Crump, went the bumper against my bicycle frame, then my calf.  Was this it?  I thought, at that split second, judging the pace that the opposing vehicle’s bumper had been travelling.  Was this the moment I would be splayed across asphalt?  The time when I’d regret never wearing a helmet?  But I wasn’t going flying.  The car hadn’t been travelling that fast.  It had only just started.  My cycle had taken the impact and was toppling under me.  I let it go and hurdled the falling frame.  No tyres screeching, no horns.  Just that crump.  It was all peculiarly sedate.  I picked it up quickly and lifted it to the safety of the pavement.  The offending car hadn’t moved.  I’d given it a thumbs up and waved it on, over my shoulder, not looking at its occupants for fear of confrontation.  I didn’t want confrontation.  I was just grateful, relieved, slightly confused.  A kindly looking grey haired man leaned out the passenger window.  I unpopped an earphone from my blithely playing music.  “Are you alright?” he asked.  Yes, I’m fine, I replied.  “You’re sure?”  Yes, I replied, go.  Still no horns or impatience from the car behind him.  He went.  I felt the eyeballs of the waiting traffic in the adjacent queue, but never looked.  My left pedal was a little crooked, my right calf tingled bearably.  I cycled on, wondering if I should’ve been angry rather than quite so numb, yet not knowing how responsible or to blame I was.  I imagined my relief should be combined with a deep gratitude to something or someone.  Who knows what could’ve.. 

Under thirty seconds was all it had taken.

fraternal affluence

About 4pm yesterday I received an unmarked call.  This often means it’s my brother as he withholds his mobile number when calling, but it being in office hours I gave a formal answer anyway.  “Do you have any plans tonight?” he asked.  I told him no, not minding that I was clearly playing second fiddle to a better option.  “Well I’ve got two press tickets to go to the theatre in town if you fancy it?”  The line was crackly as he was in an early learning centre of some kind with his son, but we stumbled through it and arranged to meet an hour before the show for dinner.

My brother has grown into London and its affluence much easier than I, propelled by professional and domestic success through well defined focus, dedication and probably more hard work.  Seldom do I eat out, especially in midrange yet still classy West End restaurants, but my brother was almost at pains to stake his ease in such environments. 

More than simply at ease: he was languid and sprawling in his manner and communication to waitresses – wanting to appear in consummate control, needing to seem to his incidental brother that this was his natural habitat, his domain.  He often lunches long with high profile figures, expensing flamboyant meals and wine.  I didn’t understand the quickly reducing liquid level of his wine glass when he didn’t appear to ever sip.  It was surreptitious, neat and nipped; and I was behind.  He dictated our pace, his ever paranoid eyes clockwatching for fear of being late back to the theatre, but not to excess.

When we had met at the theatre, he had tried to collect his special tickets but been told that the relevant desk wasn’t open yet.  We had bumped into his colleague, a pretty small blonde televisual woman and her husband.  My brother’s frighteningly direct manner has often appeared excruciatingly over sincere to me, affected somehow, and when he trowels on charm it’s impossible not to interpret the distortion to smarm.  I wonder if this is to do with the longevity of my interpretation though.  And whether it’s not entirely accurate, because people do seem to react well to him and this manner – perhaps as it’s an accepted part of him and how he conducts himself.  Maybe the smarm effect on people isn’t as strong as it appears to me.

Dinner was fine and we trotted through amiably enough, speaking of our work – I think he’s surprised at how long I’ve managed to keep this going, how it isn’t yet an abject failure – and also briefly of family.  He’s always keen to impart our parents’ latest views of me and how they spoke to him last in a telephone call.  I never reciprocate this because it never seems apparent to me, my parents and I don’t speak so much of him.  However, it’s possible I’m considered much differently, the sensitive distant loner son who nobody knows that well.  Perhaps.  Each interpretation of my current state via a fifteen minute telephone conversation could be afforded more scrutiny than I presume.

At the end of the meal I forced my own debit card onto the little plate with his, despite his protestations that he’d pay, as he often does, knowing his obviously superior solvency.  Sometimes it’s nice knowing that nobody knows how I’m doing, what I’m earning.  Other times it can lead to faint, possibly even unintended patronising.  We left the bright restaurant, bidding goodbye to the cute young maitre’d – who my brother had pegged as an out of work actress, then walked back down the street to the theatre, coincidentally collecting his colleague and her husband en route.

After the show, my brother bumped into several people he knows – more colleagues and old college friends.  Towards them he exudes smarm, to me, perhaps charm to others, and is well received.  I stood in the foyet waiting, while his voice rippled up the stairs below.  His dominating voice has always had the power to ripple penetratingly within buildings.  It’s not deep and booming, masterful or commanding.  Simply loud, posh, erudite and confident.  Wodehousian.  Much about him is.

crap pub sandwich

A professionally challenging week ended last Friday with another personal challenge, as if designed by God to halt my tedious moaning.

Sometimes this happens and it’s like somebody is actually saying, “there you go then, twat.  Cease your boring whining and make something of this.”  And I predictably falter.  Today, having not eaten a proper meal for a couple of days and only skimped on rubbish food between times, I decided to treat myself to a late pub lunch.  My stomach has been doing that gripey, empty, complaining thing and I wanted to satisfy it with hearty gastro food.

Studying the menu at the bar, I balked at the prices and merely opted for a steak sandwich and chips.  It took a long time to arrive, and as the sheepish barman made a sharp exit, what was presented to me explained why.  The steak had been forgotten.  It lay on a bed of passable salad, on top of a pathetically thin slither of dry white bread.  Soggy brown chips underneath.  It wasn’t a triumph.  You often don’t get served the best cuts when dining alone.  Perhaps it’s widely known that sad single folk lack the will to complain.  Particularly slightly defeated, younger looking ones.  It worked again and I didn’t.

When I’d sat down another solo eater had been sat there finishing soup, reading a newspaper.  After a time he’d left and his replacement was surprising.  An attractive young blonde girl who looked for all the world like she’d be waiting for someone, but wasn’t.  She’d also ordered soup and sat there unavoidably in my eyeline attached to her mobile phone.

Shrill screaming toddlers pierced what would have been an otherwise pleasant Friday afternoon pub scenario.  They ran amok like it was a nursery, their guardians largely unconcerned.  I’d waited twenty minutes to be served my simple and not very nice meal, she waited ten for a hearty looking soup with thick crusty bread.

As the waiter left her, our glances finally crossed and we weakly exchanged smiles.  My sandwich was still dry and crap.  “Any good?” I bravely chanced after a few minutes.

“Mmm,” she replied, amiably enough, well spoken as you might expect from a pretty young blonde Putney-ite, “it is.”
“What is it?” I said, wanting to prolong conversation of some sort.
She described what it was.
“I’m jealous, mine was horrible.”
“What was it?” she politely returned, and I told her.
“Steak sandwich?  Well it’s your own fault, you shouldn’t have steak somewhere like this.”
I wasn’t sure exactly why, it was a reasonable enough pub, notwithstanding the wailing children.
“No, I agreed,” as if understanding completely, “schoolboy error really.”
She slurped soup, I snapped a bit of stiff bread.
This was the point when I could have moved the subject off food, something more general.  But confidence in my ability to do this without appearing predatory, weird, intrusive or just creepy always fails me.
So instead we sat in silence, listening to the wailing infants.
I raised my eyebrows in her direction when one speeding sprog veered towards our corner, then away.
“Peaceful here isn’t it?”
“Oh, bliss,” she agreed.
Escalate, move on.  So what brings you here…?  What do you do?  Do you want a drink?  Can I join you?  No, no, no.
We studied our mobile phones, then after a few minutes I finished my food, loaded my bag with book and my jacket pockets with devices.
“See you,” I said.
“Bye,” she said.

2009 arty consumption

A selfish attempted record of some pop lit books wot I’ve read this year, lest I forget. 

In no particular order

Tom Perrotta – Abstinence Teacher (4/5)
Tom Perrotta – Little Children (3/5)
Nick Hornby – Juliet, Naked (4/5)
JM Coetzee – Summertime (4/5)
Evie Wyld – After The Fire A Still Small Voice (4/5)
Douglas Kennedy – The Pursuit Of Happiness (4/5)
Douglas Kennedy – State Of The Union (3/5)
John Boyne – The House Of Special Purpose* (2/5)
Charles Eton – Mr Toppit (2/5)
Julian Barnes – Nothing To Be Frightened Of (5/5)
Sebastian Faulks – A Week In December (3/5)
Richard Milward – Ten Storey Love Song (4/5)
Irvine Welsh – Crime (3/5)
Irvine Welsh  Reheated Cabbage (3/5)
Zoe Heller – The Believers (3/5)
Zoe Heller – Notes On A Scandal (4/5)
Xialou Guo – UFO In Her Eyes (2/5)
Steven Hall – Raw Shark Texts (4/5)
Emile Zola – Germinal (4/5)
Peter Manseau – Songs For The Butcher’s Daughter (4/5)
David Mitchell – One Day (3/5)
*still reading so should probably reserve judgement

Presuming one reader for a moment..   Frankly can’t be bothered to find / post links to any of this stuff, but there’s a thing called Google which can probably help out with further details.

And while I’m regurgitating media consumption, why not?  New musical discoveries I’ve rather loved this year:

Florence & The Machine – Lungs (sad that it’ll rightly become very popular but become horribly overexposed)
Mumford & Sons – Cry No More
The XX – XX
Alberta Cross – Broken Side Of Time
Gaslight Anthem – The ’59 Sound
Jamie T – Kings & Queens
Biffy Clyro – Only Revolutions
Jay-Z – The Blueprint 3

Way too many films to regale, but my last seen is the best for a long time and up there with anything I’ve seen all year.  Can’t gush enough about Swedish film, the English title translation of which is, Let The Right One In.