Saturday, October 29, 2005

Tired eyes meet a warm kitchen

To break the week up and give my eyes a break from this screen I left home on Wednesday for the greenery and clean air of Wimbledon. Our globe-trotting friends have a brilliantly sunny apartment on the top floor of a house just a stone's throw from the Common and I was invited to go and stay. She and I spent the afternoon a bit like kids in a candy shop, looking at toys for children. She had a long list of kids of all sizes and ages to buy gifts for and this was just the research run to see what was available. Wimbledon has every possible high street shop in its confines and we had a jolly old time ooohing and aaahing over adorable winter coats for kiddies, geomag, lego and leapad. All oohed and aahed out, research duly done, we headed to their home to a glass of fine fine wine, Faustino I.

We went to Cocum in nearby Raynes Park. We've been before a few times, V & I, with these friends and a few others. Cocum is an unassuming South Indian gem of a restaurant that makes a mean appam and Nadan meen curry. The Kathakali masks and other Kerala handicrafts suit the small space and make the restaurant feel cosy and inviting. An enjoyable evening was had by all!

Their home, in a very comfortable guest bed and after nights of strange insomnia I was out like a light (well almost - an hour of reading followed by 6 uninterupted hours of shut eye). Woke up to a bright, clear and sunny day. Sat on a swiss ball chatting away while my buddy, a fabulouso cook, dished out hot freshly made gobhi parathas from her tawa and onto our plates. There I was exhausted from sleepless-ness and staring at the computer and TV screen till my eyes smarted almost continuously, now tucking into a steaming delicious paratha in someones warm kitchen. How I needed that! Warm kitchen, the smell of freshly ground spices, a full tum and unseasonably warm sunshine for this time of year - all reminders of an Indian holiday.

Well, its back to reality now. My home. More applications. Still no V. But soon.

There is NOTHING on TV. Thankfully we live in a high-ish rise and from one of the windows (strategically, our sofa is opposite) of our living room there are continuous fireworks magically going off every few second - minutes. This is all practice, buildup to Guy Fawkes day which is round the corner. My refreshed eyes are still resting. Enjoying the starbursts and beautiful dislplays that ligt up the cold London skies. Ta da!

Cocum: 9, Approach Rd, Raynes Park, London, SW20 8BA. Tel: 020 8540 3250

Appam: fermented rice pancake
Meen: fish
Gobhi: Cauliflower
Paratha: Griddle fried Indian bread

Wednesday, October 26, 2005

Sleepless in London

My Other (and Better) Half is the other side of the pond, in another of the world's greatest cities, the Big Apple. Meanwhile I am still in London, having (stupidly) turned down the offer of holidaying for a week with him, in order to stay home and continue applying for jobs. How foolish am I!? Don't answer that, its a rhetorical q...

I won't say I was not tempted but common sense prevailed. Temptation was kept at bay by the hassle of getting a visa (high up on the pain charts) added to the tingles of guilt of not having a job for the last 6 months. It's been a productive few days though. I've spent the last two days fused to this computer churning out applications with supporting statements that make me sound holier than thou. I have a load of application deadlines to meet in the next few days, deadlines I would have missed holidaying, so I'm not feeling completely useless.

What I am though, is sleepless and sleep deprived. It's been 3 nights since I've had a good nights sleep. Applications all day and most of the evening, interspersed by plates of hot gyoza, followed by telly till midnight and then a book till about 4am. Dozing by 5am and sound asleep at 6am when I can see the first lights of day. Up at about at 9.30am and back at this machine. Whatever is the matter with me. I suspect it's a combination of missing V and all the shopping I could have crammed into my suitcases.

Went out to get some fresh air and groceries today. Both were first in a while and I had forgotten how refreshing cold air could be. Now I have chocolate to accompany the endless steamed gyoza!

I'm waiting for the applications to go, V to come back and my days & nights to return to a normal rhythm.

In the meanwhile I hope V goes and sees the Statue of Liberty this time round!

Thursday, October 20, 2005

Please, sir, I want some more

What better remedy on a Sunday afternoon after a partying Saturday night than the new adaptation of Charles Dickens classic Oliver Twist? A remedy it was not.

Roman Polanski's mastery with 'The Pianist' was not in evidence in this much awaited autumn release. My benchmark is certainly the 1968 musical 'Oliver!' which I have seen many a time and for me, brings to life Victorian England through the eyes of young Oliver.

The story is much the same: Victorian England and an innocent orphan walks 70 miles to escape his terrible fate in the countryside, only to become entangled in the dark world of London criminal named Fagin. Innocent Oliver yearns for a better life and a chance meeting with a learned gentleman Mr. Brownlow shows this to be possible. However, this chance and Oliver's life are both threatened as Fagin and his associates want him to be kept in their grimy sordid lifestyle. Fairy tale ending with Oliver escaping to the good life offered by the kind Mr.Brownlow.

Polanski's version is certainly true to the novel and depicted with the finest detail, costumery and sets perfectly rendered. What it lacks is warmth, character building. The decadence of class war and the exploitation of women and children is shown clearly but the film did little else to grip me to my seat.

Young Barnaby Clarke certainly had the fitting look needed for the role but his wide-eyed trembling lip underplayed the part leaving me feeling as though he was an incidental arm to the whole thing. Polanski fell short as a director for this child actor. It was not enough by far.

I liked Mr. Brownlow, well projected by Edward Hardwicke (a familiar face as Dr.Watson from Sherlock Holmes) but the artful dodger was hardly convincing or endearing as he has been in other versions of this film. I was looking forward to Ben Kingsley as Fagin but again this representation with too much make-up and a much mumbled accent left the character cold in his tracks.

V was in office and I watched it with two friends. At the end both declared their love for the movie and quite evidently enjoyed it. I'm the more cynical type. I expected far more from Polanski than sets, costumes and depiction, especally since he chose to make yet another version of something that has already been rendered so well in the past.

I wanted more. I wanted to be transported to another time, to feel the vulnerability and care about the outcome. This was a mere storytelling, jumping from incident to incident without much fire in its belly.

Please, sir, I need more.

Sunday, October 16, 2005

Where did all the good news go?

Maybe this is me being morbid.

Or maybe this is a reaction to just sitting at home and filling in job applications that make me sound holier-than-thou with no real results.

Or maybe I need a bit of sunshine through these grey skies.

Everywhere I look the news is bad. Everyday and night I watch the news and keep thinking that the next story will be one of joy, sheer unadulterated happiness. It is yet to happen. Most often the only cheery face is of the BBC weatherperson smiling at the prospect of a sunny day. That even makes me smile, often through a sheet of tears. Take your pick amongst the possible bad pieces of news;
Man-made: invasions, civil war, acts of terror, arson, murder, theft, muggings, cheating...
Nature's wrath: tornado's, typhoons, hurricanes, volcano's, earthquakes, tsunamis, floods, drought, famine...

Whether manmade or natural all this bad news is bearing down upon us. It's a miracle anyone on the news can smile anymore. In such a vast diverse world you would expect that some of the news filtering through would be good. So is it the media or the media-watchers (TV, online, newsprint) who want to know only about the usually terrible, often dramatic scenes that errupt daily somewhere on the planet.

And here's how the projected good news - keep faith - have hope - stories work. The good news is qualified by how good it is in the face of something bad. Like a vaccine for a disease that's killed millions; this cure may or may not work. Or weapons being put down to help people over the line of control because of an earthquake in a region where peace is a rarely used word. In my mind it's all too little, too late.

I'll be the first to admit that maybe I'm just a bit cynical because I intersperse job applications (even that is all horrible news, much closer home) with watching the sensationalist news. One way to feel a bit more cheerful might be to find good happy moments in my own life. That is all I have, the life around me, that's all I can somewhat control.

So here is the last picture I took that makes me smile. Maybe you'll smile too....or maybe you'll share a bit of good news from your own world!

being grown up is a terribly hard thing to do. its much easier to go from one childhood to another - f scott fitzgerald (& V agrees!); this is his birthday cake (from Paul) with a sugar tiger (from Patisserie Valerie) gleefully smiling in the centre.

Tuesday, October 11, 2005

Before the Booker

For lack of money time and space I rely on Random House’s Borzoi to keep me up to date on what authors are saying, reviews of new books in multiple categories and simple inspiration to read even though I can’t seem to write.

I read about John Banville in passing last year and it somehow stuck in my head that he had been nominated for the Booker Prize in 1989. A short while later, for lack of anything to read on a train journey to Leeds, I wandered into a WH Smith just before and bought Shroud’ (Book 11).

The narrator is Alexander Vander, an elderly professor of literature with an international reputation of being one of the greatest scholarly writers of his time. Early in the novel he admits that his life is a lie: an identity from a friend of his youth, that friends’ bourgeois family in Antwerp that he has claimed as his own, an education fabricated. Alex fled Belgium during the second World War and established himself in California with his wife, whose recent death has brought on the new waves of guilt about his life. He is an unhappy old man, given to a violent temper, alcoholism, rudeness and self-destructive behaviour. His deception weighs heavily and is not helped by a letter from Cass Cleave, a young woman claiming she knows all his secrets. Knowing he must destroy Cass to save his past he meets he in Turin only to discover that she is slightly unhinged herself. His conversations with Cass in a Turin hotel room explore the morality of identity theft, sacrifices people in his life made, the enormity of a life of lies and the path to redemption.

This is an intelligent and detailed novel to say the very least, and it required much more attention than my train journey could possibly give it.

A few weeks later I found 'Eclipse' (Book 12) in a Greenwich bookshop for a fraction of the cost and bought it. What I had not realised is that in 'Shroud' I had inadvertently read the second of the Alex Vander novels. So, upside down I shall continue.

Alexander Cleave faces collapse of his 30 year career, both physically and psychologically. He retreats to his childhood home, now abandoned, in the hope of redeeming his life and being himself rather than all the parts he has been forced to play to the world. Simply be, rather than be for an audience, as it were.

Unfortunately, his abandoned home is full of memories, of his childhood years, his crumbling career and marriage, his estranged relationship with his daughter and his fathers suicide. Also in the house are a strange caretaker and a teenage housekeeper. Memories, inhabitants and apparitions of a woman, a child and a third figure all intertwine to make it a struggle for Alex to confront his own problems. Challenging himself to figure out exactly what has gone wrong with his life Alex comes to realise the ways in which things, time, events and people are not always what they seem and how in time they reveal their true colours.

I wish I had not read them upside down because I knew what to expect with 'Eclipse'. Banville’s prose is brilliant, almost poetic. In both his books he is a bit like a magician, wandering around, setting the scene before with one flash revealing a most amazing trick.

Banville has just yesterday been declared the winner of the Man Booker Prize 2005 for his novel 'The Sea'. This interview with Banville by a brilliant lit blog is evidence though that it takes getting nominated for a Man Booker (as Banville was in 2002) to jump from 4000 copies to 100,000. I’m thrilled Banville got this far. He is a treasure.

I do wonder though, how many brilliant writers are languishing in anonymity, waiting for a literary nomination. If you read something good please buy it, lend it, suggest it, gift it, blog about it.