Monday, February 22, 2010

I don't eat tomorrow

Season 198 of The Amazing Race began last week. I think it is the Dumb-Stars edition as it features lovable dolts Jeff and Jordan in a reality tv cross-over from last year's American Big Brother. Somehow Jordan managed to win Big Brother, despite not knowing how to tell the time. She is the luckiest blonde in the world. The pair have continued their lucky streak by somehow managing to win the first leg of the race. I think God has a plan for them, although I'm not sure I want to know what it is.

The Amazing Race is one of those tv shows that despite having a simplistic and repetitive formula, is constantly good. I'm kind of a super-fan, having seen every season (they're actually on season 16 now). The premise is this - 11 teams (always consisting of a pair of people with a pre-existing relationship, except for the much-maligned family series) are sent to carry out a series of tasks that involve them catching planes and trains, visiting well-known landmarks and doing weird challenges at them. The last team to cross the finish line of each leg is eliminated until the last episode when only three teams are left, who get to battle it out in an asthma-attack inducing endgame. The winning team gets a million dollars. The challenges are often bonkers - involving herding animals, learning a national dance, eating gross local food or having to search for a tiny clue among thousands of boxes. They are designed to be difficult and frustrating, often resulting in teams facing major melt-downs, as even the most placid and well-balanced relationships are placed under enormous amounts of strain with a life-changing amount of money at stake. Couples often end up screaming abuse at other teams, or more often - each other.

As the episodes progress, and the old, unfit, thick, unlucky and naive teams get eliminated, it is difficult to watch without developing an intense hatred for certain teams, while rooting for others to do well. Despite having a notable quota of attractive model/actor dating teams, there is usually a reasonably balanced and diverse set of people representing all American life on display - something for everyone in other words. It is basically Wacky Races for grown-ups.

My favourite team (or rather, an anti-favourite) were crazed cousins Charla and Mirna. They were so popular that they came back for the All-Stars series. Here they are in an early episode of All-Stars - wasting precious time by squabbling with the Beauty Queens team and their taxi driver as all the other teams whizz by, putting them into last place. Listen as the music builds into a crescendo of anxiety. Watch in horror as Mirna plays up her East European accent and throws money at their confused, non-English speaking taxi driver in a psychotic attempt to make him feel guilty "Here take all of it! What do you want? Twenty dollars to eat food. I give you. I don't eat tomorrow. Muchos Gracias amigo, God help you!"

"I don't eat tomorrow?" The Amazing Race is full of little tips like that, that you can apply in your own life in order to get the best out of your holidays.

Sunday, February 14, 2010

So how are your resolutions working out?

I had two resolutions this year, both designed to get me away from the laptop. The first one was to take swimming lessons. The second was to try to cook more - with ingredients.

So far I've had three swimming lessons, should have been four but I missed the first one as I was in Belfast. I'm taking a class for "improvers" as I can already swim but want to work on my technique. Most of the other people in the class are women in their 50s. There is also a guy who can't put his head under water. The instructor uses the word "fabulous" quite a bit.

During my first class, after ten minutes, the instructor took me to one side and said "You're better than the others in the class, are you sure this is the right class for you." I had to assure him that it was only because we were doing front crawl which is the only stroke I can do. Sure enough, by the second week, when I couldn't get the timing right for breast stroke, it was clear that I was in the right place. And in the third week, when we tried diving, I was both terrified and hopeless. Diving is unnatural. We do not jump head-first into things. I'm sure there's a gene in us that's evolved for us to avoid head-dives for a reason. My diving involves me standing at the side of the pool, shivering in a crouched position, and then falling into the pool, usually feet first. I was the only one in the class who couldn't get it even half-right. At least I am learning how to improve my technique on the other things. After a lot of practice by myself I got the breast stroke figured out. And I can do a "tumble-turn" which involves doing a somersault in the water when you reach the end of the pool. It hurts your head as water goes everywhere so even though I can do it, I'll probably not bother with it.

Cooking has been a bit more muted. My fella is the cook in our house. I am the one who makes the cups of tea after the meal. When we first met I was a student living on microwave food and very underweight. But over the course of 18 years I've rarely had to cook for myself (and have 'filled out' as my parents congratulated me last year). My fella actually likes cooking and is good at it, so I haven't really seen the point of learning. But, I thought it might be worth giving him a rest, so I've bought a Mexican cook book and have tried a few things in it. Unfortunately my cook book was bought in New York, so it is written for an American audience and has brand names of stuff I've never heard of (Velveeta!) I'm having to improvise. My salsa dip was pretty horrible, although my fella bravely ate half of it. Whenever I go to New York, you get amazing salsa dip in the Mexican restaurants. I only ever get to taste it once or twice a year, and when I'm at home I crave it like a drug. Anyway, my attempt at salsa dip was dreadful. It wasn't even red. It was pink and watery, and so hot that a mouthful made you want to throw up. My burritos were a bit of a let-down too. They were incredibly complicated to prepare - and then tasted bland and nasty. I was so angry. All that work chopping things - for that! My vegetarian chilli has been more successful (I've made it twice and it worked both times), although here it is easy to diguise any short-comings with sour cream and grated cheese. I doubt I'll ever be able to hold a dinner-party, but I feel that at least I can do something other than heat stuff up now.

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Oh Jennifer Jones

Continuing with posting of rare cult films, here's the trailer of Angel, Angel, Down We Go. A late 1960s Charles-Mason inspired tale about a pop star, a fat rich girl, her mum and sky-diving (!) Jennifer Jones, who was a proper actress, somehow got caught up in this. I wonder if she knew what she was getting into. Maybe she was reassured by the presence of Lou Rawls and Roddy MacDowell. She was mistaken.

The film has a languid, surreal, druggy quality to it, and is full of camply quotable lines. I especially like (and identify with) Jennifer's assertion: "I was born poor, but I have class". But there is also "Black is better baby", "God is America fat!", "In my heart of hearts I'm a sexual clamp" and "I have been finished at finishing school...and untouched by human hand."

I do feel I missed out by not experiencing the 60s first-hand.

And here's the dream-like key scene in the film, when our Tracy-Turnblad-esque heroine is gobsmacked by the subversive pop star who's hired to perform at her coming out party. Fascinated, yet horrified, she backs away after the camera zooms in on his black leather trousers. Then it's off to eat her feelings...

Tuesday, February 09, 2010

Who Killed Teddy Bear

Rare and cult film fans may have been excited by the release on DVD of Who Killed Teddy Bear last year. Instantly banned in the UK when it came out in the 1960s, it features telphone heavy breathing, fetishism, lesbians and pornography addiction. I was kind of obsessed with this film about 6 years ago. There is a storyline, but I've forgotten most of it - it's the dark atmosphere of the film that I remember, almost like grime is seeping out of the celluloid. Elaine Stritch (her of all those Sondheim musicals plays a lesbian!) Sal Mineo - little Sal Mineo from Rebel Without A Cause is all grown up, and hangs out round seedy Times Square and gyms getting into trouble.

It also has two great songs - the title sequence, a languid refrain played over what looks like Sal Mineo fondling himself:

And towards the end, a frenetic dance-off between Sal and Juliet Prowse (Juliet wins though only because Sal is wearing tighter clothes and he gets heat exhaustion). Sal dances like he is one of the thunderbirds and all his strings have gotten tangled up (I dance in the same style - a 1960s gay man trying to pretend he isn't and failing). Juliet is always the professional - she looks like she should be working in a bar with the words pussycat and gogo in the title.

Bootleg versions were doing the rounds of places like Kim's videos in New York City (which has not closed down Dan - it's just moved a few blocks, I found it in January). But they were incomplete. The infamous scene where Sal body-builds was considered too homoerotic by censors. But it's now back in the film.

Oh if you must..

Thursday, February 04, 2010

Crazy Consequences of Being On Tv for 20 seconds

My very brief appearance on The One Show seems to have made everyone around me INSANE. My mother phoned me the next day and said "We went to Asda in Hartlepool on Saturday and I felt like a celebrity, I kept expecting people to come up to me and say 'I saw your son last night on tv.'" Not really sure what to do with that.

My fella's mother (who saw the tv clip by accident and freaked out), announced that I was "so handsome that he'll be on Holby City next." The fact I have no acting experience doesn't seem to be an impediment at all. Maybe it isn't - I haven't seen Holby City so I can't say. "Oh don't encourage him", said my fella's eldest sister. "He's vain enough!"

One of my sister's friends gushed that I was a "family man" (I think she was expecting me to be wearing full make-up or something), whereas another friend made my sister a DVD of the episode, with a photo of my face on it.

I have received emails from people from my past. And emails from people who would like to be in my future. An online "community" that I am a member of started a thread about it and my profile got more hits in one evening than it had had in the entirety of last year.

I get the feeling that this is the tiny tip of an enormous iceberg, and that actual famous people must feel as if the whole world has become a mental asylum. No wonder so many of them end up a bit bonkers themselves.

Thankfully, everything has returned to normal now and I can go back to watching tv and feeding the cat.