Monday, 31 May 2010

Battle Of The Pen Pushers

I'm sitting in the darkness, pen in hand distracted by the person sitting next to me. I should be focusing on the film I'm due to review but I am preoccupied by the gentle sound of the pen gliding across the page. I've never been in a cinema before and seen another person making notes while watching and I'm mesmerised by the novelty. Cinema note-taking has become second nature to me.

I've always been a fast writer and able to write without looking at the page – whether I do or not in fact makes little difference to the appearance of my characteristic messy scrawl – indecipherable boy's spider writing. I've always comforted myself with the belief that illegible writing is supposedly a sign of intelligence.

At school I took pride in my writing being like a sort of code to crack but as I got older it posed a problem in the exam hall. Somehow my English teacher managed to get me extra time to make my letter formations clearer linking my appalling handwriting to my equally terrible eyesight. I've always been a bit of a perfectionist, often obsessively thorough but this has never really extended to presentation – something I have never had much talent for, at least not without the aid of a computer.

Reviewing films I like to have detailed notes of quirky character traits, stand-out sequences/camera shots/scenes, poignant/ridiculous/humorous/terrible lines and of initial reactions I may forget later. The first time I took a pad into the cinema it felt like a way of justifying my presence – the paper pardoned my lack of companion. Now biros and paper have become essential film-watching equipment like binoculars at the opera. I feel naked without my pen and a slight panicky sensation as I worry I'll forget some detail I'll deem vital later. Sure, I've written reviews without notes and will if necessary but the perfectionist inside me laps up the sight of the reassuring pile of scrawl snaking across the back of now redundant print-outs.

I'm unable to start a book without reading all the blurb, any review excerpts included and any background notes about the author or novel first. For this same reason, walking around galleries and museums with me can be an infuriating experience and a friend recently pointed out why I don't cook. I've always said I can't be bothered cooking and would rather spend my time doing something else but when I did cook for friends a few weeks ago, this same obsessively thorough compulsion came out to play again as I meticulously chopped up the herbs - no wonder I have no time to prepare everything from scratch!

Unable to resist the temptation of glancing over at the pen-pusher next to me, I'd unintentionally pitted myself against him – every time he wrote, if I wasn't writing too, I couldn't help but wonder what I had missed. As the credits started and the room got brighter, I froze in my chair. Although, I enjoyed the film (and thoroughly), it's not this appreciation that holds me in my place but the inexplicable urge to speak to this possibly equal-minded fellow reviewer. Seeing a likeness in someone that is so rare prompts the desire for communication but I can't see our conversation going beyond:

So you take notes too.


So instead of possibly making a fool of myself, I linger, exit the building, indecisively pace outside for a few minutes and walk away, wondering if he is as obsessively thorough as I am and whether he sees it as a blessing or curse?

Monday, 24 May 2010

The Trouble With Russell

“A leopard can’t change it spots” but this Leo’s opinions and tastes seem to be able to inexplicably and suddenly change. I haven’t been to the cinema in over a week now. Normal for some but entirely exceptional for me. Since moving to London, re-training and starting my painful and currently unfruitful job search, one thing has kept me busy and sane – my beloved cinema visits. However much I may slate Cineworld in Wood Green, I can’t deny the hours of distraction and vast amount of saved money Cineworld’s monthly pass has provided me with. When you have little money and a limited and random array of London based friends, life isn’t lived in the social fast lane. Since last September when I signed my Cineworld contract, I have seen approximately two to three films every week but this last week nothing.

Russell Crowe falls into my category of unfathomable dislikes alongside Hugh Grant, Mcdonald’s, Beck, The Levellers and Radiohead. I can’t quite pinpoint where or when my aversion to these people or things began. For some bizarre reason for a few years when I was about fourteen, I decided Hugh Grant was cool. I have no idea why but this misguided appreciation was there until I abruptly decided one day that he was an appalling actor and no longer wanted to watch anything linked to him. Lucky for Hugh, this phase passed and I’m now open to his films again.

Beck, The Levellers and Radiohead were all bands I used to love – I remember bobbing away to Beck at V97. Now I find The Levellers and Beck highly irritating while Radiohead just depress me. Mcdonald’s was a treat as a child, something I would beg for, normally spilling strawberry milkshakes all over myself but for the last decade I can’t go near the place. I am no activist – the Mcdonald’s smell alone is enough to put me off and make me feel mildly nauseas.

Of course as you grow older your tastes are supposed to change and your opinions “broaden” but I can’t help but question when and how some of these changes came about. As a child I loved fake transfer tattoos and clearly remember carefully placing a giant black skull along the length of my sister’s neck – as someone who detests tattoos, describing them as “common”, mum wasn’t best pleased. Now, I have no desire for any form of tattoo while my sister has three – relievingly none are giant skull tattoos or cover her entire neck!

One aspect of my life that has remained consistent is my attitude towards my friends. As children, it is common to fall in and out with people and bicker and as an adult, it is easy to lose touch. I remember only three Russell Crowe moments involving “friends”, all of which I can at least justify. I recall one friend coming to stay at my parent’s house for a weekend – the first time I had ever spent such a long period of time with him. By the end of the weekend his sycophantic ways had charmed my mother but failed to impress me. After Big G asked him to stay longer and join us for dinner, I burst into uncontrollable tears. Not a tearful or particularly emotional person, his slimy moves, snide competitive remarks and attempts at ingratiating himself had driven me beyond my limit to a point where I could no longer tolerate another minute with him.

My year of travelling has caused observable changes – I am no longer so interested in clothes/shoe shopping and don’t view wearing the same outfit two days running as a crime. I am still a hoarder but I’m more open to some de-cluttering – if I don’t like a book why keep I, eh? Unlike with Russell Crowe, I can pinpoint the reason of all of these changes.

Poor old Russell Crowe is somebody I have just started disliking. I’ve read through his back-catalogue but still can’t pinpoint the moment or film release that made me so against him. I was never a huge fan but wouldn’t actively avoid a film merely because he is in it – something I now find myself doing.

Having seen everything I particularly wanted to see, this last week I was left with the choice of Miley Cyprus’ first big feature role in The Last Song (widely panned but need I even tell you this?) or yet another Robin Hood film. A fan of Cate Blanchett, I’d have given Robin Hood a go if it wasn’t for Crowe’s involvement. Just watching trailers makes me sink into my chair. I’m not sure if all this is the result of press coverage presenting Crowe in a negative light, his choice of films having no appeal to me whatsoever or some other undiscovered cause – the more I reflect, the more I start to think Mel Gibson should be included in my earlier list. I know I’m not the only person who feels this way about both these actors so perhaps some of you guys can help me out? Whatever the cause, I blame Russell Crowe for this week’s film famine.

Thursday, 20 May 2010

Reunited With An Old Enemy

I’m not one for pastel colours but I like my sports mixed. Bastardised blended “sports” are the way forward. Aside from swimming, forget straightforward aerobics, running, tennis, circuit training…and think fusing two “disciplines”. This month has been a month of vouchers again so my body has been subjected to a sudden excessive burst of exercise.

On several occasions, I self-consciously sneaked up to the reception desk at "Ironmonger Row Baths" and swiped copies of the gym group’s free magazine in order to utilise the back cover vouchers to the max. Nearly three weeks later and my fitness frenzy is unfortunately coming to an end as the date on the remaining vouchers has nearly expired.

Last time I put my body through a sudden bout of intensive exercise, I sampled aqua aerobics, pilates and Iyengar yoga. This time, I decided to try out some of the bizarre combination activities like reggae aerobics (as it sounds), street dance (incorporates hip hop and funk dance moves set to R & B and hip hop from the 70s, 90s and present day), boxercise (a mixture of boxing, as the name suggests, with circuit training and aerobics moves) and soca aerobics (nothing to do with football as I had at first suspected but moves set to Calypso music fused with elements of soul).

While I enjoyed all four activities, boxercise flew by the fastest; street dance wasn’t as terrifying as I has imagined and had me silently chuckling to myself; reggae aerobics left me aching for days afterwards and soca aerobics was the most fun but turned me into a glistening beetroot. All four highlighted my appalling lack of coordination and reminded me of my contempt for that well known aerobic dance move “the grapevine”.

I had a phase during my A’levels where Jane Fonda and the cabbage soup diet ruled my life. Prancing around the front room on a daily basis, despite doing the same work-out repeatedly, I could never quite grasp the footwork of “the grapevine” or understand its purpose – doing the move just felt like I was parading around looking stupid rather than actually sweating it out.

For years now, I have managed to avoid being reunited with the dreaded “grapevine” until this recent attack of voucher madness. It fascinates me that in every class “the grapevine” seems to be this legendary move that needs no introduction or explaining. I mean, where the hell did it come from and why the name?

In true Leo style I decided to do a little research and unsurprisingly found very little – after all everyone knows what it is so why write about it? One website tracing dance steps through the ages, amusingly ascribed the move to my ex-work-out hero, Jane ( Good old Wikipedia, describes it as “the name of a dance figure, which may look different in various ballroom, club, and folk dances, but shares a common appearance: it includes side steps and steps across the support foot” and is used in the Foxtrot, Polka, Electric Slide and Hustle, suggesting it has much older routes in the dance hall rather than the gym. Various links did at least explain that its purpose is more to link moves and keep limbs moving than produce an instant burn. As for the name, I can only assume the shape of the move has some resemblance to the intertwining of grape vines.

For those who haven’t experienced the joys of “grapevine”, teaches you how and stomps on my already deflated ego misleadingly describing it as a “moderately easy” move “easily mastered in a few sessions”. Apparently “once you get the hang of the grapevine it can become very addictive.” Not an addiction I’ve ever suffered from!

Tuesday, 11 May 2010

My Twenty To Ten

Shopping in Morrisons this evening reminded me of club nights, especially cheesy student ones. I recall that end of the night crazed desperate look of the most wasted who have suddenly realised the time and are seeking an unsuspecting victim to prey on – someone oblivious to the time and who doesn't realise what any last minute advances actually signify. I am not sure if I ever carried out a “panic pull” or was on the receiving end of one but I certainly recall wearing high prescription beer goggles at times (perhaps cider/spirit goggles is more appropriate) and may well have been a “10 at 2 and a 2 at 10” myself.

Having already been into Morrisons once tonight, I couldn't resist popping in on my way past walking to the tube station – you see, like those drooling sickos scanning the dance floor from the side or pretending to strut their stuff while checking out the left-overs with their peripheral vision, I wanted to win my pre-closing prize – my “twenty to ten”.

For some reason, I didn't discover the benefits of super late shopping until the combination of travelling on a tight budget and no longer having to fit a million things into my day meant I found myself in an Australian supermarket late one night and came away with a bag of extremely cheap reduced goods. Always the bargain hunter, while away I convinced myself that certain foods were cheaper in the UK and much to my horror, on returning discovered either my perceptions had been warped, my memories faded or the “recession” had actually struck us pretty badly. Doing my weekly shop, I can now no longer afford most fresh meats or vegetables and often shop in three different supermarkets, getting the cheapest items from each.

I am not often in Morrisons as late as tonight's visit and was thoroughly amused by the antics at the cooked meat counter. At 9.20 the man behind the counter got his sticker gun out and started to bag up and label any remaining food, placing it on top of the counter in an attempt to entice customers – an unnecessary act. I look but I'm unimpressed so retreat to the magazine aisle and from here can hear two women loudly asking when he's going to reduce the whole chickens still unsold. I listen to him tell them that the shop doesn't shut until 10, explaining that any final reductions won't occur until immediately before closing. The women walk away loudly planning their return once they have finished the rest of their shop. Still browsing through magazines, I hear a whole array of voices all querying the same thing.

Officially all out of time wasters and realising the time, I decide to go over for one final look. Around the counter stand five shoppers and two are loudly arguing with the man in charge, trying to persuade him to drop the price of chickens. As I approach what was beginning to sound like an auction descends into hostility. One of the men swears at the chicken keeper and storms off noisily, leaving the rest of us in wide-eyed disbelief, listening to the complaints of the wounded worker.

My desired meaty treat has dropped in price but not enough for my liking – starting at £3, it's down to £1.99 but I've seen it for £1 before so know to hold my ground. I make a mental agreement with myself to wait no longer than a further five minutes. In the meantime I witness more shoppers pacing in front of the counter, eyeing up chickens and trying to cut a deal but Morrisons have trained this stubborn member of staff well and he knows how to milk the full price until the bitter end, convincingly telling these newbies it's the supervisors job to decide clearance reductions and that said supervisor may decide not to significantly drop the price anyway. As he spouts out this nonsense, he has the price gun in his hand and just as they turn away shaking their heads, he fires at my target. Having just put the onus onto the supervisor, he has cut my price to just over £1. I grab the goods, remembering my personal promise and take one final look at the seven remaining whole chickens and group standing around hungrily eyeing them up. Victory is mine.

Back at home, I open up the sealed bag and discover my very own “10 at 2 and 2 at 10” in now cold food form and increasingly disappointing over a much shorter time period. Still, it's the hunt that's more enjoyable than the prey, right?