Wednesday, 27 June 2012

“Still A Weirdo” (Magnet)

As a teenager my parents used to accuse me of attracting strange characters; As the lights dimmed in screen 8 of Cineworld in Bradford, I couldn't help but agree. The large cinema was almost empty with a few couples dotted around. As normal, I'd managed to avoid the mandatory 20 minutes of adverts and trailers in order to skip the infuriating Orange intro. I'd chosen to sit centrally near the back and was just getting comfortable when a heavily laden figure entered the cinema. The film had just begun and rather than quickly finding a seat, the latecomer snaked between rows, occasionally stopping to look at the screen. I could have predicted his next move.

Despite their being dozens of empty rows, he walked towards the back and rather than selecting an empty one, chose mine. To top this, he decided to sit one seat away from me, loudly sharing his thoughts about the film. After about 10 minutes of maniacal laughter and commentary, he abruptly got up, leaving his coat behind. Having read enough "report abandoned item" signs before on trains and in the tube, warning alarms began to ring and I wondered how long is customary to wait before alerting staff. 

I'd just managed to settle back down when a man near the front shouted at the parents to my right to silence their children or leave. The unexpected bravery and drama of his complaint momentarily distracted me from the problem of the coat but then he returned. I tried not to look at him but could see him nodding and smiling at me from the corner of my eye, adding to my already growing discomfort. 

Having seen the film years ago, I'm finally reading John Irving's excellent The World According to Garp and can't help but think of Jenny Field's cinema incident. In the book, Garp's mother, Jenny, is hit on by a soldier in a darkened cinema and ends up stabbing him with a surgical knife when he fails to take the hint. I don't carry a knife and even if I did, I doubt I'd use it but I'm still slightly fearful of this man's intentions. Thankfully, he suddenly gets up again, leaving a pile of bags. I'm still trying not to look at him but then he speaks. "Can you watch my stuff?" he unexpectedly asks.

This altogether peculiar behaviour doesn't go unnoticed. As he leaves the cinema, I make eye-contact with a sympathetic looking couple sitting to my left and they seem just as confused. When he re-enters the room moments later, we look at each other again, knowingly sharing a moment before he's close enough to spot us.

It's not long before I sense movement next to me and I instantly think of Jenny Fields again. After all, I have had Italian men expose themselves to me when asking for directions in Rome and suffered through an uncomfortable National Express journey from Leeds to London as the man next to me masturbated beneath a newspaper. I sneak a look and I'm grateful to see he's merely draped the offending coat over the chair next to me, rather than moved closer. His bizarre to-ing and fro-ing in and out of the cinema continues for another half hour and it's only when he speaks again leaning nearer to me that I smell the unmistakeable stench of booze breath. As the film credits start to role, I propel myself from my seat and I'm out of there before he has time to collect his many bags, keen to avoid any further communication.

Tuesday, 19 June 2012

Exceptions Do Exist

Some time ago, I reflected on how my tastes seemed to change almost overnight for no obvious reason; I went from liking McDonalds to never eating it and listening to Radiohead to finding them depressing. Certain actors like Russell Crowe and Mel Gibson also triggered similar feelings of disdain. In his early years before Scientology and splitting from Kidman, I was quite a fan of Cruise but these days I'm more wary of him. Returning from my mini break in Sweden and Lithuania, I was in desperate need of a film catch-up, having shamefully still not watched Avengers Assemble. A triple bill later and I've seen a glimmer of the old Cruise again.

These days, I'm unable to bring myself to watch anything with Crowe or Gibson as the lead but occasionally and somewhat apprehensively I make an exception. The last Gibson films I genuinely enjoyed were Braveheart and The Man Without A Face back in the early-to-mid 9Os. Although it received a mixed reception, Jodie Foster's The Beaver is my exception to the "no Gibson rule" and I have to say reminded me Gibson was once a great actor and could play sympathetic characters before he started displaying hateful personality traits. Early Crowe (Romper Stomper) clearly indicates talent and films like A Beautiful Mind show he can in fact pull-off non action roles but I am yet to see him release anything that will convince me to watch him again on the big screen.

Actors like Simon Pegg on the other hand are incredibly likable but as much as I want to root for his films, he does seem to make some appalling career decisions (Burke and Hare, Paul...). My triple bill begins with his latest film, A Fantastic Fear Of Everything. About twenty minutes into the movie, I know I'm wasting an hour and forty minutes of my life and this is undoubtedly the worst film Pegg has been in. It is also bizarrely the debut of Crispian Mills as writer/director - once front man for 90s psychedelic rock band, Kula Shaker, and the son of Hayley, who I'm a huge fan of. Before seeing the film, I'm already suspicious but an Empire review suggests it could be quirky so I decide to give it a go and immediately regret the decision.

After thoroughly enjoying Avengers, my final film for the night pitted my patience against two actors I often dislike: Russell Brand and Tom Cruise. Rock Of Ages is a return to less glamorous roles for Cruise like his brief but hilarious stint in Tropic Thunder as Les Grossman. Although those less than keen on musicals may not enjoy the film, rock lovers will appreciate the soundtrack, romantics its cheesy plot line and Cruise is undeniably great in this feel-good air-pumping flick. It's predictable and Brand as usual quite obviously plays himself but thankfully a less irritating version, making Rock of Ages an all round winner.

Thursday, 14 June 2012

Celebrating Successful Survival

As we land, a fanfare is played and relieved passengers cheer and applaud our safe arrival. The last two Ryanair flights I've survived have followed this same somewhat worrying and predictable pattern. On the surface Ryanair may indeed be a budget airline but in order to get those cheaper tickets you have to keep your wits about you.

When initially booking tickets, it's necessary to tolerate the lengthy process of checking boxes to confirm you don't want to pay additional fees for priority seating or for car hire. Travel insurance is carefully hidden as an added cost sneakily concealed between options - you must scroll down a daunting list of choices to select the "No Insurance Needed" option carefully sandwiched between nationalities.

If you plan on taking any luggage with you, Ryanair also charge extortionate fees per check-in bag, rapidly increasing the price according to weight. We've opted for one check-in bag to share, in addition to our "complementary" hand luggage and struggle on the return flight. Travelling out to Stockholm we flew SAS and were impressed by the efficiency and ease of check-in. Flights cost a little more but if booked in advance were reasonable and included generous baggage allowances with no extra hidden costs. I practically walked through the check-in and security desks in a matter of minutes and once in Sweden collected my bag from the conveyor belt immediately after leaving the plane. Returning to the UK from Lithuania was a whole different story.

Kaunas airport is pretty small and seemed to be dominated by Ryanair with bizarre pictures of rowers in company uniform adorning the walls. Once we'd established our one check-in bag was overweight and had stuffed more into our already borderline hand luggage, I suspiciously eyed the narrow metal structure check-in bags are supposed to neatly slot inside. Judging distances and measurements has never been one of my strengths but I was sure my "carry-on" would be deemed too large. Gingerly attempting to fit it into the regulation-sized frame, my fears were confirmed, despite pesky Aldi describing it as "check-in baggage-approved".

We made it through security, marvelling at the inconsistency between airports. On the last flight I had to remove my shoes and on this trip, for the first time ever, my hair slides seem to set off the scanners. 

On the other side, a disappointingly compact room houses a series of seats near to "gate" doors, two over-priced cafe-bars, a book sellers and a small duty free shop. The predictable occurs when we're perusing the duty free. Every holiday we attempt to use the majority of our currency before leaving and hold back a tiny amount for emergencies. Thankfully we never seem to need this "emergency money" and at the end of every trip, we end up challenging ourselves to get the most out of this paltry sum. Despite counting up this modest stash and precisely working out how best to spend it, we always discover a hidden note at the last moment, just as we're about to pay. This trip is no different and we end up frantically and apologetically grabbing items. Our flight is called and a line grows behind us.

Having nearly got our money's worth, we join fellow passengers in the enormous queue that seems to snake around the airport. As we move forward, we're frustrated to see the queue has inevitably split and Ryanair staff seem to condone this. A uniformed representative helpfully informs me all duty-free must be put into carry-on baggage in order to be allowed on the flight and we're once again fighting for space, forced to wear more and more layers in the already stuffy airport lounge. Nearly at the gate, baggage is checked again and mine is weighed. I'm relieved they don't also attempt to squeeze my bag into the narrow metal frame but end up wearing yet more clothes and start to resemble a bag lady.

Finally outside, there's the routine rush towards the steps as friends and family keen to sit together try and secure seats. Once on board, the chaos of the gangway is reminiscent of a school corridor as passengers battle to get their desired seat configurations while others search the already limited overhead luggage lockers for space.

Our flight leaves on time and is thankfully uneventful until we land and the laughable fanfare is heard, celebrating "another on-time Ryanair flight". After our shambolic and frankly anal boarding experience, I can't help but wonder what targets Ryanair set themselves? Do they anticipate poor organisation by allowing eight hours to arrive at a destination a mere two hours away? The sad reality is, however much I moan about travelling with Ryanair, I know in the future I'll have little choice but to book with them again.