Wednesday, 31 March 2010

Jane Pan

I am not sure if I will ever be ready to accept my age. I don't really mind being 30, it is the fact I am supposed to be getting old I have a problem with. Like most kids, when I was younger I was impatient to grow up but now I am here I am desperately trying to back-peddle. With age supposedly comes wisdom and an element of self-confidence and assurance - unfortunately those aren't the only things that come with it.

I went to a trendy bar opening last night and chatting to a friend surrounded by IT boys and girls, we felt particularly out of our comfort zone. The beautiful people led us to reflect on the contradictions of age. Over the last month I have had the most enormous spot covering my chin that practically resembled a boil or wart it was so hideous. I thought spots were something only teenagers got and one of the perks of being an old-timer like me was supposed to be clear skin. Chatting away last night, it was clear I am not the only one who has entered old maid territory and is still spotty. My friend complained of spots and wrinkles – paradoxically signs of youth and age.

Weight and temperature control issues are other treats you can expect with age. Since turning 30, shifting the pounds seems to become increasingly difficult or maybe that's just because I am not trying so hard or my lack of a stable income means I am not exercising as much as I used to. I never used to feel the cold and adopted a Newcastle beer jacket returning from a night on the town but since returning to the UK have been walking around like the Michelin man wearing a ludicrous amount of layers. At night I am freezing and have resorted to wearing fleece pyjamas, a t-shirt, hoodie and socks with two duvets and a fleece blanket covering me and the added precaution of a hot water bottle. One morning I even woke up to find I was still wearing my scarf and had comfortably slept in it. Is this old age or just my body still adjusting to our icy temperatures after more than six months of continuously sweating it out in hot and humid climates?

Sleep patterns are something else that are supposed to change with age. I am constantly arguing with my father about this one. I have always been a “night person” and always will be, although I can get up for work and function in the morning when I need to. During the week it seems a physical impossibility to go to bed at a “reasonable” hour. I am always aware of how much “me time” I should have once I get home to relax and get things done, never quite managing to adjust my calculations after returning from a night out. I have always used seven hours sleep as an acceptable benchmark figure for the optimum nightly sleeping hours so rarely allow myself longer but often spill over into this designated time, just “getting something done”. At weekends, however, I relish a good lie in, attempting to compensate for all the allocated sleep hours I somehow managed to skip during the week. Of course, I am also aware that I quite often don't have to get up at a certain time so end up going to bed even later, frequently sacrificing lie-in hours and trying to at least manage the optimum seven. My dad says by sleeping I am “wasting the day” but I argue he is wasting the night. Instead of passing out in a chair at 7pm, I would rather completely tire myself out enjoying and utilising the quiet of the early hours to sleep peacefully, awaking to a full day. My father's next argument against being the only one in the house still awake is the waste of electricity but as The Boy pointed out, at this off-peak time energy costs are generally lower anyway. I wonder if the only thing to deprive me of my amazing ability to sleep and enjoy guilt-free lie-ins would be the introduction of children and the responsibility that comes with them?

It seems like age is merely an excuse or the scapegoat for many of these changes, rather than the cause. Perhaps with the fast pace of modern life our bodies are more prone to getting run down as we don't have time to take care of ourselves as well as we should, becoming easy targets for dreaded zits. In a strange limbo between young and old, exhibiting signs of both, I am determined to remain Jane Pan forever, eternally youthful in outlook, although perhaps not in appearance.

Tuesday, 23 March 2010

The Missing Off Switch

For some time I have been trying to get my shorthand speed up and the more I practise, the harder it is to switch off. I found after five days without practise, my speed had deteriorated somewhat. Frantically practising again over the past two weeks ready for yet another shot at the exam, I spent hours listening to and annotating practise exams, transcribing shorthand notes back into long hand and transcribing everything the residents of the Chatsworth estate had to say.

After all this, I was back into “dream mode” where I lie in bed for hours at night infuriatingly unable to stop inventing sentences and imagining them in shorthand outlines in my head. Walking to the bus, I experience the same phenomenon - reading signs, watching films, talking to friends … no matter what I seem to do my brain refuses to switch off and the virtual shorthand practise continues to torment me.

I began to wonder if multilingual people experience the same thing. I am sure I must think and dream in English words but I don't notice because doing so comes so naturally, unlike the mental processes of T-Line. I wonder if multilingual speakers think in certain languages depending on the situation and who/what they are thinking about? For instance, do French speakers living in England, think in French when thinking about French friends or food specific to the motherland?

At the pub one Friday I met a German guy who is a fluent English speaker and tells me that he occasionally finds himself inventing German sentences in his head. Curious to get closer to an answer I decide to research theories about language and thought. Rather like the age old argument, what came first the chicken or the egg, there is divided opinion on whether thought depends on language or to formulate language, thought is needed first.

Classical Developmental psychologist, Piaget, believes that language is dependent on thought for its development. The main basis of this belief comes from infants demonstrating the basic principles of thought before they are able to speak. Contrastingly, Vygotsky believes that thought and language are initially separate systems that merge around the age of two, producing verbal thought. Vygotsky views mental operations as being embodied in the structure of language, suggesting thought is the result of the application of internal unheard or unseen language use.

Safder Alladina in her guide to being bilingual:

points out that if we thought in the same language we speak in, our actions would no longer be instantaneous. The exception to the rule is thinking out loud or talking to ourselves, a type of thought that is generally much slower and allows us to work through ideas or processes. Bilingual people are described as often using their native or dominant languages for different purposes, for example a person may count in their mother tongue because that is the language they learnt to do so in. How long the person has spoken each language for and who they are with may also affect which language they think in. Scientists believe that dreams take place through ideas rather than language, explaining how a whole sequence can go by in a flash. In dreams language that we can recognise generally only takes place when a person is dreaming about a language or imagining a conversation.

Browsing chat rooms, it still proves difficult to find a definitive answer to the question of what affects the language we think in. Accounts support the idea multi-lingual speakers dream in their mother tongue, will dream in whatever language they were last using before going to bed, will use whatever language relevant to the content of the dream or may even code-switch. One user claims to think, dream and sleep-talk in English rather than their native language because they prefer English.

The language of thought or "mentalese" is certainly no cut and dry matter. In a lecture the famous linguist, Steven Pinker, explained:

"Fundamental concepts such as space, time, causality and human intention, such as what is a means and what is the ends? - these are reminiscent of the kinds of categories that Immanuel Kant argued are the basic framework for human thought. Language is not so much a creator or shaper of human nature, so much as a window onto human nature."

No wiser or nearer to a definitive answer, I can safely say right now the view into my soul is pretty dire – full of strange squiggles, coded language and redundant exemplary sentences.

Preposterously Convenient

I have to confess, I love a bit of celebrity gossip, particularly favouring round-up sections. Today's Guilty Pleasures pages in Metro featured the news that Jade Goody's mother, Jackiey Budden, had followed the same road as the ever-laughable Kerry Katona, being filmed snorting lines of coke.

Aside from her actions being “excused” by her grief at the first anniversary of her daughter's death, several things struck me about this story.

I was never a huge Jade fan, like many, confused as to what she had done to have managed to sustain her celebrity status, or even earned it in the first place! I avidly followed the first Big Brother house mates and continued to watch the show, until by the third series, my interest started to waiver.

Jade's rise to stardom irritated me because she was essentially lacking any brain cells and had done nothing but make painfully stupid remarks that seriously lacked any eloquence or indeed any grammatical understanding. Her supposedly endearing “charm” could have been easily rivalled by any girl from the street given half the chance to make it as a C, or even D list, celebrity.

I was in Australia when news of her death reached me and was pretty shocked as I had been travelling for so long, I hadn't been keeping track of much of the inessential news from home. As much as I resented her misplaced celebrity and found her excruciatingly annoying, her particularly painful and premature death, saddened me.

Now a year on, reading about her mother's antics, I have to wonder why the mother of a deceased D list, or perhaps E list, celebrity is even in the news and whether the coverage of such shenanigans is a pathetic attempt by Jackiey to keep her name in print. After all, all press is good press, right?

I am pleased to say, aside from catching the odd disturbing picture of her and her gold-digger toyboy, until today I had never read an interview with her. Scanning today's shocking news I was unable to resist the temptation to see whether her IQ matched Jade's. Commenting on the News of the World expose at the weekend, wordsmith Jackiey, said: “Yes, I was a crack head, nine years clean. Five o'clock one morning and I was stressed out I thought, 'Do you know what? I'll just take two lines.' It's the biggest mistake I've ever done. I feel physically sick and disgusted that I ever done it. I shouldn't have done it but I did.”

Aside from Jackiey's linguistic flair, her comment caught my eye because I was left wondering who decides at 5am to snort coke and is able to instantly access some, without already stocking it? It seems preposterously convenient - like these celebrities who sadly take their lives by accidentally or suicidally hanging from their wardrobe railings. I am not sure I have ever had a wardrobe big enough or tall enough with a rail strong enough to carry my load! Surely, some amount of planning must be involved?

The lovely Jackiey went on to update her adoring fans on the progress of Jade's two children: “Bobby's IQ at School is grand and Freddie, who was obviously knocked back for a couple of years, can read a little bit now and can write his name more proper.” If ex-drug dealer Jackiey being a role model for these two children is not disturbing enough, then her belief “Bobby's IQ is grand” certainly is! I hope for Bobby's sake he doesn't follow in the footsteps of his mother or grandma.

Friday, 19 March 2010

Stuck In The Middle

In the job centre waiting to sign-on, I am fascinated by those around me - a broad spectrum of representatives from all parts of society. I wonder if before the recession, there would have been such a diverse group of people waiting here for their names to be called?

An exceedingly smart man flicking through a portfolio catches my eye as an unlikely job centre candidate. Luckily for me, I don’t catch his because right after noticing him, he does something unexpected. He addresses a guy sitting next to me minding his own business: “Do I know you?” Before the guy even has a chance to reply, the hopeful city-boy has anticipated his response: “I’m sure you must know me because otherwise I can’t figure out why you are staring at me.” The guy next to me is bemused while I am unexpectedly amused. This is the whole “You looking at me… what you staring at?” routine I have heard shouted on the streets so many times by paranoid individuals with some form of complex, clearly looking for a fight. I never expected the smartest person here to initiate that old chestnut. Shows you how deceptive appearances can be.

Before I get to find out the outcome of this whole scene, my name is called and I am facing a career advisor, going over my forms. As I am not living with The Boy and we are not married, despite the fact we have been together a hell of a long time, I somehow fall into the category of single. I manage to avoid that horrible overly business-like word, partner. If I had been probed further, I would have very reluctantly, said I have a “boyfriend”. “Boyfriend” is a relatively modern term. In the past when sexual and romantic relationships outside marriage were frowned upon, the word “boyfriend” was less commonplace as it carried implications of illicit relationships. In contrast to its female equivalent, “girlfriend”, guys referring to non-romantic relationships with friends do not often use “boyfriend”. In a strictly grammatical sense, a “girlfriend” or “boyfriend” is an "individual of significance'" with whom one shares an intimate relationship. If you separate the compound noun the meaning is somewhat different - a friend simply identified on the basis of their gender.

My problem with “boyfriend” is it sounds childish and temporary, while “partner” sounds so grown-up that over the years all feelings have expired. I am stuck in the middle, caught between two ages – I am too old to use “boyfriend” but too young to say “partner” so never sure how to introduce The Boy. Chatting to a friend, she expressed her dislike for the term “common law partners” (“de facto marriage”, “informal marriage” or “marriage by habit and repute” all sound even worse!). I guess if we actually had our own place and both lived there, I might also fall into that category – such a sterile, legal and unfeeling term.

In my attempts to dodge the ageing process and accept how old I am, I have problems with using lots of words. I prefer being called a “girl” and refuse to be called a “woman” or “lady” because woman makes me sound old while “lady” suggests I am ladylike when in actuality I am half bloke. I have a habit of trying to avoid real names, which is possibly why “The Boy” is always called “The Boy”, resulting in a lot of people never knowing what his actual name is and someone mistakenly thinking I was talking about my son. Occasions like Valentine’s Day and anniversaries have both been shortened down to “V-Day” and “A-day”. What to refer to The Boy as when introducing him to relatively new friends or colleagues, still remains a problem so I decided to do some research and after many hours of browsing and scrolling, came up with a huge array of possibilities that I screened for suitability. Below is a huge list of words under categories of my own invention:

Names that make me want to vomit:

Sweetheart, lover, beloved, baby, dearest, heartbeat, heart throb, honey, love, pet, sugar, treasure, true love, angel, dear one, heart’s desire, honey bunch, lamb, precious, sweetie, babe, button, poppet, sweetie pie, pumpkin, sweet pea, honey bun, sweetness, sugar dumpling, baby cakes, buttercup, cupcake, munchkin, petal, snuggle bear, sugar bun, soul mate

Names that don’t quite work:

Admirer, confidant, fiend, flame, follower, intimate, adherent, believer, fan, fancier, groupie, hound, junkie, nut, partisan, patron, rooter, supporter, idol, worshipper, number one, numero uno, rave, steady, fair-haired boy, passion, lover, desire, enthusiasm, fervour, fire, keenness, paramour, spark, Juliet, Romeo, courter, valentine, infatuate, petitioner, solicitor, suppliant, doxy, bird, cavalier, bf, confrere, fop, swell, blighter, familiar, sheik, cuss, gallant, buster, dandy, Casanova, Don Juan, amoroso, caballero, servant, esquire, philanderer, seducer, squire

Names that sound too adult for my liking and just don’t fit:

Fiancé, spouse, husband, sugar daddy, toy boy, old man, date, crush, the Mr, the Mrs

Names that are too generic or formal sounding:

Friend, man, young man, bloke, dude, lad, mate, colleague, comrade, associate, fella/ fellow, favourite

Names that are laughable:

Beau, steady, booster, buff, bug, cat, devotee, disciple, enthusiast, dear, prize, tootsies, idoliser, main man, young buck, gent, fashion plate, clotheshorse, cowboy, crumpet, the one, muggles

Names that have other inappropriate connotations:

Escort, partner, fiend, freak, courtesan, concubine, gigolo, lady-killer, lothario

Names that are too much of a mouthful:

First and last, love of my life, object of affection, one and only, significant other, apple of my eye, light of my life, life partner, common law partners (de facto marriage, informal marriage or marriage by habit and repute), Other/better half

Names a grandma or elderly relative might use:

Companion, suitor, young man, wooer, darling, dearie, gentleman caller, gentleman friend, chap, suitor

I have to confess that one word among these rejected names, is something that we both “ironically” adopted many years ago to refer to each other because we thought it sounded ridiculous – I will give you a clue… it is in the “Names that are laughable” category….

From this enormous list I am only left with five new names with some inexplicable appeal to try out and gauge the reactions of others when I introduce The Boy as my…

Swain, inamorato, intended, fancy man or main squeeze

Or perhaps I will go old skool and call him my “leman” or “lemman”, an archaic word meaning sweetheart or lover from Medieval Britain. “Leofman” (c.1205) came from the Old English “leof” (a cognate of Dutch “life” and German “lieb”), meaning "dear" and was added to “man” (In Old English “man” was not gender specific and simply meant “person"). This was originally applied to either gender, but usually meant mistress. As we frequently refer to each other as “bitch”, I don’t think “my Leman” will be a problem, although I am not sure if people will know what I am talking about!

If any of you, like me, suffer from this same problem and still aren’t happy with the above then for an amazing array of terms of endearment visit:

(All too ridiculous or suggestive to use, my personal favourites from here are: beard-splitter, cloth ears, clam digger, daddy mack, dreamboat, patootie and puddle-pooper)

If you want something with more glam and chic to impress others try terms of endearment from other languages at:

I’ll let you know how my experimentation goes…

Tuesday, 16 March 2010

Analytically Yours

The SarcMark (top) joins an earlier attempt at creating a sarcasm symbol (middle) and the little-used irony mark (bottom).

Everyone knows that “Hello” and “Goodbye” are the standard accepted way to start and end phone calls and conversations. For some, the formalities of letter writing is less clear cut, although the standard way is usually to start with "Dear" and end with "Yours Sincerely/Faithfully". I have never quite understood why using “Sincerely” when you know a person’s name is more familiar and friendly sounding than “Faithfully” but you are taught from such an early age that it’s the correct formula to follow and you will be committing a serious faux pas in doing otherwise, that straying from the norm isn’t an option. Personally, I think “Faithfully” suggests a more loyal light-hearted friendship and a kind of trustworthiness that the more serious “Sincerely” doesn’t, sounding much colder – after all the word can be used when sternly chastising someone. But I guess to some extent, that reflects upon my own experiences and the connotations that surround those words.

In comparison to telephone calls and letters, e-mail and text message are still in their infancy, meaning that they lack these set of regulated rules, so embedded in society. Both e-mails and text messages normally include the name of the sender and recipient and it’s hard to separate the text body from its addressing information, making it even more difficult to decide whether a greeting and closure are necessary. This week I found myself in conversation with a friend grappling with this all-important decision. Having just had a blazing row with someone, she was struggling to decide on the best way to end a text message to this same person. Finding the balance between sounding appropriately cool without sounding hostile is difficult. After lengthy discussion on the merits of using “See you later”, “See you” and just “Later”, she finally suggested “Regards” and we agreed to disagree.

I have often marveled at some of the closures I have received in work related e-mails from strangers. I will never understand what “Kind/Warm/Fondest Regards” actually means and if I should feel insulted when receiving an e-mail just concluded with a simple “Regards”, clearly less friendly than when used in combination. The absence or presence of some form of salutation and the one chosen set the tone for the e-mail showing a level of warmth or distance, to some extent giving clues to the writer’s feelings about and relationship with the addressee, their social standing and their professional identity. However a person signs off their e-mails, can help to construct and maintain the type of relationship they will have in future communication. It is interesting that so few words can reveal so much.

The immortal linguist, David Crystal (2001), has also noted that between people who know each other, "Greetingless messages are usually promptly sent responses, where the responder sees the message as the second part of a two-part interaction (an adjacency pair), for which an introductory greeting is inappropriate."

Email is often seen as being less personal than face-to-face or telephone communication because without intonational clues, body language and physical presence, it is much harder to read underlying feelings and the intended tone. I guess this is why emoticons came into play and the sarcasm symbol or “Sarcmark” was invented. One definite advantage of using emails is the opportunity they present of having more control over their planning, composing, editing, and delivering than face-to-face communication or phone calls, enabling time to think things through and try to help create more polite messages.

The results of an analysis of requests made via email and voicemail made by Duthler in 2006 showed that overall email requests are more polite than voicemail requests. Sherblom (1988) studied the email files of a large organization and found that relative social position in the organizational hierarchy influenced the use of signatures. None of the messages sent down the organizational chain were signed, whereas one-third of those sent upwards had signatures. Jessmer and Anderson (2001) found that messages were viewed more favourably if they were polite and grammatically correct, interpreted as having been written by a more friendly and likeable person than impolite messages.

So now we find ourselves juggling a whole host of possibilities that could make or break a relationship. With the uncertainty e-mails create, some people favour using automatic sign offs, sometimes ending with a quote, proverb or animation, while others even pay for specially designed sign offs. For those particularly paranoid few, at you can even test the effectiveness of a salutation.

Finding the perfect greeting is a less difficult decision (Dear, Hi, Hello, Good Morning…), while the best solution to ending an e-mail is often trickier. Keen to broaden my options, after a little research I came across,with a whole plethora of suggestions grouped into formality levels.

The most formal were the dreaded:

• Best regards/ Wishes

• Confidently yours

• Kind regards/ Wishes

• Many thanks/ Thanks

• Respectfully yours

• Warm regards/ Regards

• With anticipation

• Yours respectfully/sincerely/truly

Ones expressing “the warmth of friendship” but still showing respect and a “well-wishing air” were:

• Cheerful greetings to all

• Hugs

• Kind thoughts

• Take care

• Wishing you the best

• Write soon

• Your friend

• Have a good day

• Yours in friendship

More colloquial conversational suggestions, adding “a little more life”, were:

• Be good/well

• Cheerio

• Cheers

• I’m out

• More to come

• Smiles

• Ta ta for now

• Take care

• Take it easy

• Until next time

And finally some examples of the outright zany letter closings and e-mail salutations, made popular from TV and film are:

• All you need is love

• Happy trails to you

• Hasta la vista, baby

• Keep your stick on the ice

• Kiss kiss bang bang

• Live long and prosper

• May the force be with you

• Over and out

• Over to you

• Peace, love, and unity

• Start the engines

• Stay tuned

• Tag! You’re it

• To be continued…

• Yabba dabba do

After all this, if you are still not sure, you can go to:

and see the handiwork of a particularly paranoid and analytical individual who has actually formulated a chart of what to use from the first message through to the fourth e-mail.

Personally, I will stick to the safest and most cowardly option in formal and first-time communications and always use the most formal linguistic marker to close the first line of communication and then mirror whatever the recipient sends back from there on out – however ridiculous and vague I think that may be. So after a possibly rather dull rant, I shall sign out with my “Kind Regards” to you all.

Sunday, 14 March 2010

Death Of A Double Act

I have to confess, I never saw The Two Coreys (2007-2008) but out of all the celebrity deaths, Corey Haim’s is the only one to stir me enough into writing about it. He was an 80s legend, starring in one of my favourites as an adolescent, that over the years hasn’t lost any of its appeal.

After watching Lost Boys (1987) far too many times to mention and buying the cassette tape of the sound track, years later fondly reminiscing, nostalgic and perhaps, trying to rekindle my youth, I started trailing market stalls buying ex-rentals of some of his back catalogue – Lucas (1986), License to Drive (1988), Oh What a Night (1992) and Just One of The Girls (1993). Many of them are contained in those fabulously over-sized old skool video boxes and all of them have that cheesy 80s feel, even the two from the early 90s. Corey Haim will never be remembered for ground-breaking high-intellect genre-challenging art-house films but he had an endearing charm and energy about him, coupled with an acting friend conveniently also called Corey that made him legendary to 80s teens – after all, even The Thrills wrote a song about him years on in 2004 (“Whatever Happened to Corey Haim?”).

Corey squared starred in seven films together (Lost Boys, License to Drive, Busted, Dream a Little Dream 1 & 2, Blown Away and Lost Boys: The Tribe) and 19 episodes of The Two Coreys, following their adult lives living together. Haim struggled for years with drug addiction, culminating in the third series of The Two Coreys being cancelled after his substance abuse reportedly caused a rift between the life-long friends.

The child star was found dead on Wednesday (10th March) at his mother’s Californian home and died upon arrival at St Joseph’s hospital in Burbank shortly after 2 am, allegedly of an accidental overdose of prescription drugs. His death is particularly tragic as not only was he nursing his cancer-stricken mother but had also three completed projects yet to be released, was in the process of filming and had a further five projects in the pipe-line all pre-production (although the fountain of all film knowledge that is IMDB, has since removed these 5 never-to-be-made Corey films from their listing). Anyone, as saddened by Corey’s demise as me, can faithfully trawl through the channel 5 listings in anticipation of Decisions that boasts the amazing tag line: “Sometimes the voice of reason comes in a gruff, dirty package.”

Sadly now we will never get to see the two Coreys reunited as had been planned. A devastated Feldman talking to U.S. talk show host Larry King revealed: "Just three weeks ago, I sat at his apartment with him. We started talking about wouldn't [it] be a great idea to have a third season [of] The Two Coreys? Not only were we negotiating [doing] a film together, but Corey had a concept to do License to Fly, which would have been a sequel to License to Drive. We actually had a series of meetings this week. Both of us would have been in it. He would have been one of the writers, I would have been one of the producers and we wanted to do a trilogy, which was all his concept - License to Fly and License to Dive. It was going to be caper movies."

In License to Drive, a teen decides to go for a night on the town with his friends despite flunking his driver's test. One can now only imagine what genius the two Corey’s would have created in their sequels over twenty years after the original. If they are still injected with that 80s magic then I can only hope their vision was something akin to a modern Ski School. Unfortunately, we will never know.

Times were a-changing for 38-year-old Haim, who with age lost the baby face and boyish charm, strangely resembling Billy Idol in this humble writer’s flawed opinion. His agent, Mark Heaslip, has disclosed he was signed up for movies opposite Mischa Barton (The Science of Cool) and alongside pop star-turned-actor Luke Goss (The Throwaways). Heaslip said: "He was starting to get movie after movie, starting to book up this whole year and he was excited. He actually had a chance to direct his first film this year."

Canadian-born Haim was optimistic about his future: "I want to be the guy they talk about when they talk about comebacks," he said three years ago. "I want people to learn from me, see I'm human, and understand that I make mistakes just like they do, but it doesn't have to consume you. You've got to walk through the raindrops, and that's totally what I am trying to do."

After 42 films, in death he has still managed to have the last laugh. Memories of his relationship with fellow teen-star, Drew Barrymore, are probably something distantly lingering in the back of your memory or at least sound plausible but fashionista twiglet, Victoria Beckham? Reading some of his obituaries, I discovered that the two were an item back in 1995 and Corey reputedly said that she was a bad kisser and bit his lips. Poor Victoria is even able to attract bad press from somebody’s grave.

Another week, another dead celebrity. Somebody ought to teach these guys how to read the instructions on prescriptions and that prescription drugs, when abused, can be as equally dangerous as the illegal kind - after all, enough talent has been lost to this reckless disregard, there has been enough family suffering caused by this faux pas and it has been publicised repeatedly in the press for people to take note.

Wednesday, 10 March 2010

Trial By Reaction

Sometimes you can tell a lot about a film from the calibre of its audience. The trailer for Legion suggested it would be nothing more than utterly ludicrous entertaining trash, hilarious for all the wrong reasons, but my admiration for the audacity of a bold plot premise surely set to rile up religious folk and my monthly Cineworld membership drew me to Wood Green’s finest cinema – seriously understaffed as always with frustratingly enormous queues (frequently resulting in the panic setting in as I fear missing the film’s start) and home of the permanently broken elevator and staff with the slowest reaction times I have ever seen.

Easing into my seat, as the film is about to start, I get a whiff of urine that becomes more potent throughout the film and seems to be emanating from the people seated in front. Throughout the film ‘movie lovers’ talk loudly to each other, the people behind launch missiles and a constant flow of viewers trickle in and out of the screen buying more snacks or announcing to the rest of us their need for a toilet break. Clearly Legion was a film they were desperate to watch and had successfully captured their imaginations and attention.

Sick of all mankind’s “bullshit” a traditionally merciful God implements mass extermination, instructing his angels to possess humans and pit themselves against each other. Michael (Paul Bettany), an angel and general in God’s army, is given an order he does not believe in and becomes “the rebellious son”, going down to earth to save mankind, voluntarily cutting his wings off and boldly declaring: “He lost faith, I didn’t.”

Meanwhile, on their way to Scottsdale the Anderson family’s car breaks down and they wind up in a New Mexico desert diner where waitress, Charlie (Adrianne Palicki), works. Eight months pregnant, Charlie nearly aborted her baby and still smokes heavily. Simpleton Jeep (Lucas Black), the diner owner’s son (Dennis Quaid as Bob Hanson) dotes on Charlie and will do anything to protect her.

Queue Gladys Foster, affectionately named “Grandma”, a seemingly nice old lady who walks with a zimmer frame and beams at the diner customers, delightedly announcing: “It will all be over soon… I said your fucking baby is going to burn. All those little babies are going to burn. You are all going to fucking die.” A foul-mouth is not all Gladys has as she hungrily bites Howard Anderson before spider-pigging it along the ceiling slack-jawed with her shark teeth on display.

The gang are fearful and confused; the TV, radio and phone are down and dust clouds seen in the distance are in fact huge insect swarms - “a mother-fucking pestilence” preventing their escape.

Just as chef, Percy (Charles S. Dutton) announces, “I’m going to get my bible – somebody’s got to start praying,” the mysterious Michael shows up to explain the apocalypse is upon them and that the birth of Charlie’s baby is the only hope for humanity.

With the eerie sound of an ice cream van approaching, they prepare for battle, lock all doors and barricade themselves in. The rest of Legion sees the diner gang fight “malicious gatherings” with one wave of the Pac Man jawed spider-like possessed testing their strength followed by a second test of weakness by an onslaught of cars containing juddering people shaking demonically, possessed like characters paused in a computer game.

Legion turns into a race against time for Charlie to give birth to the redeemer and re-write the future. A good old circular ending with the same voice-over story (“When I was a little girl…”) juxtaposed with the heroes driving off in a car full of ammo rounds off a pretty abysmal hour and forty.

The script is liberally peppered with appalling one liners - far too many to catalogue as either Michael spouts inspirational macho talk (“He can handle it, he doesn’t have a choice.”), Charlie muses nonsensically (“This can’t be happening to me, I’m a waitress. I do not even own a car.”), Percy makes supposedly clever observations (“Those people aren’t exactly our regular customers.”) and the intentionally sinister Gabriel (Kevin Durand) with his metal wings and laughably gruff Terminator voice, sternly announces: “You wanted to live like one of them but now you will die like one of them.”

Set to cheesy angelic sounding music, much of the final fight between Gabriel and Michael as they grapple with each other, looks more like a gay love scene than mortal combat; Charlie’s labour is conveniently speedy and the miraculous survival of the baby after a severe car crash with no booster seat, carrier or seat belt is entirely implausible.

Legion is Scott Stewart’s second outing as Director - his background is in visual effects so where Legion fails miserably to satisfy in script and plot, it certainly doesn’t in vision. Sadly, looking pretty isn’t enough to save Legion from its consistently poor characterisation and dialogue, making it nothing more than something to laugh at.

Wednesday, 3 March 2010

Hope For An Enterprising Future

Clutching my head in my hands and grimacing in disbelief, I can feel my face screwing up as I watch the Green Zone trailer. Again Matt Damon is releasing yet another appallingly painful Bourne film that looks to follow the same formulaic pattern as the previous brainless predictable mind-numbing franchise offerings, except this time under another guise. Jason transforms into Miller, yet another force to be reckoned with. If you ask me Damon's role in Team America was more captivating but I have to admit at least watching the Green Zone trailer is the lesser of two evils.

Just as Danny Glover is hauled into an elevator by the eternally unfunny Orange duo, a guard walks into the cinema with a torch peering around suspiciously before exiting. Having been subjected to the incredibly humorous Dial Hard Orange Gold Spot ad campaign countless times over the last few months, I am more interested in what the guard is looking for and grateful for the distraction. Moments after the guard's head disappears around the corner two children far too young to be admitted to this screening appear giggling, sneaking off to front row seats.

However much it may have annoyed me as a teacher, undoubtedly annoys overbearing parents and occasionally irritates the general public, I feel bound to admire their sense of spirit and enterprising nature, having often mused at how easy it would be in some cinemas to buy a ticket for one film and sneak into another or pay for one ticket and orchestrate watching two films back to back.

On two occasions standing in Entertainment Exchange, I have been reminded of myself. Two girls who are clearly far too young hide behind a rack and stand in an aisle marvelling at the horror film selection, pretending to choose a film but really arguing over who looks old enough to buy it or who should be nominated to approach a stranger to ask to buy it for them. Their love of horror films is what reminds me of a younger version of myself, not their indecisiveness and inability to act the part. When a teenager approaches me offering me money and asking me to buy them cigarettes or alcohol, it is not just the principle that it is wrong that stops me but also my disappointment at their laziness and lack of invention. I think back to all of those times when I was knocked back and had to persevere by trawling shops until I found the "right" shopkeeper or when I wore glasses just to look older when purchasing my magnum bottle of Lambrini from Iceland. I was no problem child, just quietly scheming, minding my own business, but at least making the effort.

I am more impressed by my second Entertainment Exchange trip down memory lane. I watch as a young boy approaches a couple standing in line asking if they will swap his shop credit voucher for cash. He is a fine example of that inexplicable thing that happens with nerves – he is talking far too much, explaining how he needs the money for the bus. Unfazed, like me, the couple are impressed by his guts and allow him to wait with them to check the voucher is real before handing him the money. If he had asked me I would have also obliged because I remember all of those times I was given a Marks and Spencer's voucher and psyched myself to do exactly the same thing.

Talking to a friend, I learn of one of her clever childhood routines – she used to collect "kids go free with an adult" vouchers for Alton Towers and then select couples for her and her friends to latch onto. It warms me that others were just as devious and enterprising in their ingenious ways to save and make money. I remember trawling local antique shops with "precious" items my nan no longer wanted and had given me to try and sell. As I got older, helping to remove unloved belongings from family members and sell them at boot sales was a slightly more respectable way to make extra cash.

Sure it has got tougher to buy alcohol, cigarettes and films when you are underage (after all I still occasionally get asked for ID at 30 so what hope have the kids got?) and earn fast money, legally that is, but something about the spirit of these kids gives me a feeling of hope. Society is becoming more health and environmentally conscious, banning fatty or sugary foods in schools and workplaces and introducing fines for wasted fuel consumption and dropped litter; as the obsession with political correctness and health and safety gets out of hand, children are moving on and inventing new ways of making cash. A friend who continues to brave teaching tells me of a pupil in his school who was excluded after accidentally exposing his sweet dealing business by making a poor judgement call and trying to sell some to an unimpressed dinner lady. Unfortunately it would seem kids certainly learn from an early age that you can make money from illegal activities. Still, you have to salute their gusto.

Now, after rejecting a life of crime and months of scrimping and eventually having to submit to being an exceedingly reluctant and hopefully temporary kept woman, I almost wish a few boot sales would solve my problems but have to remind myself that in those days when rent, bills and living expenses were unheard of, the little money that I earned meant much more.

Monday, 1 March 2010

A Hole Lot Of Misunderstandings

Over the last few months I can’t seem to escape glory holes. Wondering around Amsterdam’s Red Light District as part of a tour, our guide asks if anyone knows what one is. I have been brought up with the phrase bandied around and two of my friends house shopping recently struggled to stifle amused giggles when a well-spoken lady showed them around her house pointing out the glory hole. I half wish my mum had been present to confidently explain to the tour group what a glory hole is.

It seems to me that many misunderstandings are the result of conflicting generational understanding; word meaning extension; contextual confusion; a gap in cultural knowledge; under-exposure to the word/phrase and sometimes just plain stupidity, like the story of the girl at a party who was told bread would soak up alcohol so drunk just as much but inserted a slice of bread into her mouth each time that she swallowed a mouthful and spat out the alcohol soaked bread afterwards, only to repeat the whole futile cycle for the duration of the party.

Hearing the tale of my mum’s friend going to a Chippendale’s show, innocently believing it to be a furniture exhibition, or that Sadler’s Wells Theatre supposedly once booked Spandau Ballet, thinking they were a dance act and that someone interpreted the acronym BTW as “Before the War” thoroughly tickles me.

I thrive on lexical nuances and word creation, experiencing a geeky form of exaltation when I hear new blends in use – edutaining and bro-mance/bromcom are two favourites. I often find myself accidentally creating new blends, like the sports journalist who recently slipped up when discussing John Terry’s well-publicised sordid actions as “interfected”, combining interfered and intersect.

So to put you out of your misery, in the eyes of the dapper lady trying to sell her house and my mother, what are glory holes? Wikipedia would tell us that a glory hole can be:

  1. (Name is thought to originate from Mining) A hole in a mineshaft where an orebody is mined upwards until it breaks through the surface into the open air.

a) A deep mine shaft.

b) An open-pit mine.

  1. (Slang, sexual) A hole in a screen or wall big enough to allow an erect penis to be stuck through, made to have anonymous sex with another person. Glory holes are often found in public toilets and are likely to be used for gay male activities.

  1. (Slang) A military trench.

  1. (Glassblowing) A hole in the side of a furnace used to heat glass held on a metal rod.

  2. (Naval slang in the merchant and Royal Navy):

      1. In the navy this refers to a place for general untidiness.

      2. On passenger liners the Stewards' mess is referred to as the 'glory hole'

      3. On coal-burning tramp steamers, the stokehold was referred to as the 'glory hole'.

So it would seem that even the mighty wikipedia doesn’t cover the full range of meanings. The initial thoughts of my two friends trying to hide their laughter was of the kind of glory holes found in a toilet cubicle or one of the many slang words used to describe the anus, while the lady showing them around was most likely using naval slang to refer to a cupboard to untidily throw things into that have no obvious home to make the house look tidier for visitors.

So perhaps it can be concluded that sometimes misunderstandings and misinterpretations are also dependent on the field of reference, occupation of conversational participants and the degree of how dirty the mind is of each person involved in the conversation.