Sunday, January 29, 2012

The Second Installment of 7 films in 7 days

Saturday was a big day for me - two movies at different theatres. First was Puss in Boots, which has dancing cats and a zillion film references and Antonio Banderas. It was very good and also lots of fun. I came out and caught the tube to Canary Wharf, where a quick glance at Google Maps had shown me the theatre was quite close to the station. Unfortunately, for the second time in two weeks, Google Maps let me down.

There were two theatres noted on the map with the same name. I spent ages looking for the first, non-existent, one, and then realised that I had to get across a canal to reach the right place. I thought maybe the Docklands Light Rail could take me, because I couldn't see a bridge, but the DLR wasn't running. So I did a lot of running, mostly in the wrong direction.

Eventually I found a bridge and some signs pointing me in the right direction, and arrived out of breath twenty minutes late (I thought). Fortunately I had the time wrong, and the movie started twenty minutes later.

The movie was Coriolanus (just to mix things up a little). It was also very good, but in a very different way. I'd heard about it being a parallel for current crises in the world today, so for the first half an hour or so I was trying to recognise recent world events and ideas, but that meant that I wasn't really following the actual story. Once I forgot to look for parallels and got used to the Shakespearean language it was much better - moral: don't think too deeply about things until after the movie. Or maybe on a second watching. There was some incredible acting from Ralph Fiennes and Vanessa Redgrave (I'm glad I don't have a mother like that), and of course the requisite Shakespearian tragedy bloodbath.

This morning I went to see Hugo, which was probably the movie I most enjoyed this weekend. I read the book ages ago (long enough that I couldn't quite remember the story) and loved it, and the movie was excellent. Hugo's an orphan who lives in a Parisian railway station in the nineteen-thirties and keeps the clocks working for various very believable reasons, and who is trying to fix an automaton his father left him. There are various other stories intertwined with Hugo's, and lots of very big words (you'd hear 'Mummy, what does that mean?' from kids in the theatre at regular intervals throughout the film). I'd love to see it again.

I think my eyes are going funny. Too much staring at screens. Oh well, four down and three to go.

Friday, January 27, 2012

Foxes and peacocks and intrepid boy reporters, oh my

This is a random Friday post because I didn't do one on Wednesday.

I had today off work, so attempted to go to the Leonardo da Vinci exhibition. Unfortunately, to have a hope of getting in, you have to start queuing before 7am. Needless to say, I was not there at 7am. So I went to see Tintin instead.

My goal this week is to see Seven Films in Seven Days. This is inspired by the unlimited card you can get at some cinemas here – pay 15 pounds per month and you can watch all the movies you like. This is a pretty good deal, seeing as you can pay up to 12 pounds just to see one movie.

Did I enjoy Tintin? Yes. It was awesome. It has the most epic pirate ship battle I have ever seen. It has witty one-liners. And it has a crane fight. That is a fight, with cranes. I spent most of the movie grinning. It also has pretty impressive motion-capture animation and a good story (courtesy of Hergé). It took a bit for me to get used to Tintin’s habit of speaking aloud to himself/Snowy, but that’s what he does in the books and I’m sure some real-life intrepid boy reporters do the same.

Thursday saw two foxes – one in the morning and one at night. Behold a picture of the one in the morning (the fuzzy brown thing amidst the fuzzy brown grass). I was too slow to get a pic of it when it was sniffing around in plain sight.

And the peacock? There's one in the little fenced farm about three minutes walk from my house. I went to see it this afternoon, along with the deer and baby deer and horses and geese.

Sunday, January 22, 2012

The view out my window. And also, SQUIRRELS

So I was going to do this post about an hour ago while it was still light, but now it's mostly dark and I will have to rely on memory.

I have quite a nice view out my window. I live in a terraced house about six metres (six yards?) wide and twelve metres long, with the garden extending to the back about the same length as the house. When you look at the street on Google Maps, all the sections look very long and skinny, and when I look out my window into the back garden I can see the back gardens of the house next door, and the one next to that, and the one next to that. At the end of our garden is a park with lots of trees and brambles (so you can't really get into it from our garden, unless you wear heavy spike-resistant clothing), and lots of green.

There's a NZ native cabbage tree in the next garden over, poking its spiky leaves in all directions, and behind that the skeletal branches of some English natives. The skeletal branches mean you can see where birds have set their nests, and sometimes movement catches my eye and I stare to see what's moving in the trees. (Today I stared for over two minutes trying to see if the small grey thing was a squirrel or not. It was a pigeon.) As the sun goes down, the scene takes on the qualities of a silhouette against the sky.

London has five airports, and one of them is quite near me so there are always planes going overhead and making tracks in the sky (as I write I've counted five in the past thirty seconds, though most of those are quite high and only sparkling lights). Birds sing in the mornings and I go past a small 'farm' with a rooster on the way to the bus. Invariably it's crowing mightily. I wouldn't like to live next door to it in summer, when the sun rises at a quarter to five.

I've got a nice sun crystal hanging in my window, which is a bit futile because the window is north-facing and the sun is unlikely to shine through the crystal and make pretty rainbows on my walls. The window itself is an old-style two-panel-with-panes where the bottom panel is on ropes and slides up. Of the twelve panes of glass in the windows, two are original or at least quite old (I can see because the glass is all squiggly) and it makes me wonder what happened to the other ten panes of glass that they had to be replaced.

I happened to look out my window yesterday and see a squirrel attempting a daring raid on next-door's bird feeder. It ran along the fence line and then spent quite a while climbing all around the bird feeder and inspecting it from every possible angle (twitch, freeze and stare, twitch, move, twitch, move, freeze and stare), trying to find chinks in the mesh armour. Another squirrel took exception, however, and entered from stage left with determined ferocity. The first squirrel gave up on the bird feeder and disappeared from my view.

The episode inspired a dream with two rival squirrels. One of the squirrels was luridly red and had a punk fur-cut.

My brain works in strange ways.

Have a good week!

Wednesday, January 18, 2012

Rant on situations that are too easy

Right. Tonight I was going to get a lot done and move ever closer to the end of this revision. There's so little left to go! It can't take much longer, can it?

But the scene I'm revising had other ideas. Maybe I'm being too hard on it, but I kept thinking 'no, that's not likely', or 'come on, they'd try harder than that' and so decided to rewrite. Too many things were being forced to go one way, when really the most likely action or reaction was something else that would solve all the problems in one go. But the problems have to last the entire scene.

You see my problem.

Ah the joys of rewriting. I've discovered a secret passageway (because you've got to have a secret passageway) that may or may not be integral to the scene. Now I just have to figure out how my protagonists get out of their situation without it seeming too easy. Where's the balance? I think I need to heighten my antagonist's ferociousness and limit his ranting. Or I guess I could add a fluffy white cat for him to stroke and embrace the cliche.


*seriously considers the merits of adding a fluffy white cat to the mix*

Saturday, January 14, 2012

It's cold, but there is ballet.

Hello all.

This morning we had a hoar frost that lasted the entire day in the back (north facing) garden, and beautiful blue skies (side note: why can blue skies be plural?). Here is a picture of a rose in our garden at 11am. The sky, though it seems white, is actually blue.
So it is getting colder, and I am sitting with my blanket and my beanie and waiting until the radiator comes on at 10pm, at which time I will sit against it.

I love my radiator.

On Wednesday night I was riding a tube escalator and saw a sign for Strictly Gershwin, put on by the English National Ballet and finishing soon. As soon as I was home I checked for seats and got one of the last ones up in the balcony for £10 on Thursday night, and went along.

It was amazing.

I was a bit disappointed at first because the seats were only half-depth (well, I did only pay £10) and the orchestra pit was empty. In NZ ballets they sometimes won't have an orchestra, and I thought this might be the same, but when the curtain went up the orchestra was there on the stage! The conductor was conducting and doing Charlie Chaplin impressions at the same time! The dancers came on in beautiful dresses and suits and danced beautifully, and then there were singers, alone and in harmony, and sometimes ballet to go with it and sometimes only the singing. One particular piece began with a woman singing in the corner of the stage, and a dancer appeared beside her to tell the story of the song with dance. I loved the way the story was passed from the singer to the dancer and back again.

All the music was Gershwin: twenties and thirties jazz (check Youtube for 'Rhapsody in Blue' and 'Summertime' if you don't know it).

And then the dancing drew near to ballroom! My favourite dresses of the night were white sparkly dresses with heavy hems that swirled and draped to perfection, and had twenties-style black decorative belts that seemed somehow art nouveau.

And then there were tap dancers! Two men, very good, who were later joined by half the rest of the company with walking sticks and awesomeness.

And then there was tango!

And then there were can-can dancers!

And then they all got together on stage at the same time, dressed as nuns and sailors and soldiers and flower girls and nannies and someone rode a bicycle around the stage and tringed their bell and I wondered if it was all over. If it is all over, I thought, I have done well out of my £10.

But there was more to come. In the second half, there was more dancing, more singing, more ballet, more Charlie Chaplin impressions and... rollerskating.

I couldn't stop grinning. It's incredible the vitality and talent you see on stage, and when there's so much of it, and it's all so different, and they put it all together, the effect is incredible.

My favourite bits in musicals are the songs where they have a few (or most) of the main characters singing different parts and gazing off into their own middle distance as the tension builds - I'm thinking One Day More from Les Miserables and El Tango de Roxanne from Moulin Rouge. The final scene of Strictly Gershwin was the dancing equivalent of this - all the different dancers on stage at the same time, all dancing their own style but coming together as a cohesive whole.

Despite the uncomfortable seat, I would gladly go again. If only the season weren't finishing...

Wednesday, January 11, 2012

Rant on One-Dimensional Characters

In my editing adventures I’ve renewed acquaintance with my main bad guy. He is a bad guy who has done many bad things and thinks he’s awesome, and as I read back over everything I have been thinking ... but, what if he’s too evil? What if the only facet of his personality is his evilness, apart from his two-facedness? Do I need to make him more three-dimensional? Do I need to give him better, more understandable reasons for his evilness?

This way lies (further) further revisions and woe. But possibly a better story.

But is it really a better story? My character already has a few facets to his personality (I guess I’m selling him short by listing only two), and he has back story and everything. And in real life, people do terrible terrible things and other people don’t understand the reasons. Other people spend years studying and experimenting to try to understand the reasons, and still give up and say things like ‘well, it’s just like this.’

Real life often makes for unbelievable stories, though. So where is the happy medium between real-life one-dimensionalism and literary three-dimensionalism?

I guess the difference between a one-dimensional character in a story and an apparently one-dimensional person in real life is that, for the real life person, there really are other dimensions to them. They have an entire life history before they burst onto front pages of newspapers. Characters, however, only have the life history that we give them before they burst onto the front pages of novels. We must create the illusion of other dimensions, even if they are never mentioned, and this is difficult to do if your character’s actions only show one dimension. One-dimensional characters work as clichés and jokes, but not much more.

IMO, anyway.

ETA: Currently rewriting/editing scenes as if from Bad Guy’s point of view. Genius! I should do this for everything!

Saturday, January 7, 2012

Adventures in Ikea and a meal in GBK

Today I went to Ikea.

It was my first time. I had heard of Ikea, seen it in movies, but we do not have them in NZ and I had never actually been to one. I insisted on entering through the exit, then spent quite a while wandering around the self-serve area and wondering what the fuss was all about. Sure, they had pretty pictures of beds and wardrobes that you had to strain your neck to look at, but otherwise it was just a huge warehouse full of boxes.

Then I realised that, as the aisle I was in was labelled 53, the store must be quite a lot bigger than I'd first thought. I followed the aisles around and around, and, low and behold, mirrors! And plants! And travelators! (Going down to my floor, with none to get me upstairs. They seem determined to guide customers in one direction. There are even arrow painted on the floor. Of course, having come in at the exit, I determinedly ignored the arrows throughout my visit).

On the next floor was the Market Hall, with just about any smallish household thing you could think of (not the kitchen sink - that was the next section). I went past candles and vases and photo presentation solutions and sheets and pillows and curtains and cups and plates, until finally I saw a map.

Maps in Ikea seem only to show the section you are in. Thus, if you are in the Market Hall, a map will show you only the Market Hall. If you are in the Showroom, it will show you only the Showroom. There may have been hints as to how to get from one to the other, but I wasn't really paying attention, so I kept wandering and finally entered the Showroom.

My goal was to find a bookcase/bedside table that I would be able to carry home on public transport. This proved difficult, probably in large part because I wanted my exact previous bedside table, bright blue and NZ$10 at The Warehouse several years ago. I wound my way through the living room section, some of the bedroom section and the kid's section, against the arrows, and didn't find anything that was exactly right.

At one point I found myself standing in front of a bookshelf four times too big and more suited to dividing a room, but that really was a very good price and I'd kinda always wanted one and it would be quite nice... I could use it to divide my bedroom!

In the words of a guy to his girlfriend (overheard while I considered a stuffed toy broccoli sitting on a shelf) "Step away from the exciting storage solutions." My bedroom, while reasonably big, does not need dividing.

There were some scary things too: cupboard doors that opened and closed every two seconds in an exhibit about quality testing, and a bedside table thing that looked like it could be used to imprison someone (imagine one of those tea-trays with legs that sits over your lap for breakfast in bed. Now imagine it GIGANTIC and touching the floor on both sides of the double bed).

In the end I found a kitchen cabinet thing that seemed to do the job, so I got it and some pretty stick-on mirrors. I've now assembled it and placed it beside my bed, ignoring many of the instructions because I am not using it as a kitchen cabinet, and I'm quite pleased with it. Must find some way to brace it, though, because not attaching the backboard means it doesn't have anything but screws to keep it square...

Ikea is where you mix and match your life.

My next stop was Gourmet Burger Kitchen, which is a chain started by Kiwis. This was immediately apparent on walking in - tomato sauce bottles in the shape of tomatoes at each table, retro-bach-mismatch-chic chairs and a huge bowl of Minties on the counter. It was understated, nostalgic kiwiana, and it worked really well.

My burger was very good, and came with the skinniest fries I have ever seen. They were just about Borrower size. My L&P (World-Famous in NZ) was also very good, and the milkshakes they were serving came out in silver metal cups. The chill factor looked satisfactory - the metal was all misty up the side. If only I drank milk...

Anyway, a good day. I've decide I like Ikea and GBK. Next time I will try the Wellington burger and report back.

Wednesday, January 4, 2012

Impressions of the French Riviera Haiku

So I thought I'd attempt some more poetry today...

Many pigeons sit
On statues. Many dogs are
The size of pigeons.

Bonjour, ca va, oui.
Oui, bonjour, ca va bien?
Must think of more words.

Sun ripples on sea.
People clutch coats against cold.
I wear a T-shirt.

Sea and Boats and Stones
And Castles and Towers and
Hills and Mountains and-

Step by step, the climb.
Lost: shuttered windows, blue sky.
Destination X.

I just thought: Haiku are perfect for Twitter! You may be subjected to more...

Monday, January 2, 2012

The First Day of the Last Year of the World (Happy New Year everyone!)

I'm now back in London - I trudged back to my flat from the bus stop in the drizzly dark, dragging my suitcase and looking forward to spaghetti bolognese. Then I sat with my blanket and slurped noodles, watched Sherlock (which is awesome, by the way) and went to bed very tired. But, wonder of wonders, it's sunny today! Much colder than Nice, though.

My Finnish friend and I spent midnight of the New Year in la Place Masséna with thousands of other people. There was lots of champagne and cigars and low-flying fireworks (but no public display, which disappointed us both) and people casually dropping small coloured explosives and sidling off before they went bang. At midnight the floodlights pulsed and everyone cheered and wished each other bonne année and bonne santée.

I slept in on New Year's morning, but was up in time to stuff everything back into my tiny suitcase while having a French conversation with a retired lady who was going to climb the mountains of Nice. She was very helpful, correcting my grammar and giving me tips on when to use which word. After a breakfast of apricot jam on potato bread (not French bread this morning... wonder why?) I set off for le Promenade des Anglais, where I sat and read my book in the sun before I had to take the bus to the airport and then board my plane back to Londres, Angleterre.

The sun was just setting as we flew over les Alpes, so I took a few photos.

Happy New Year!