Sunday, October 30, 2011

Autumn means new tv

The Staghorn Sumac tree in my garden has gone bright red, while the apple tree's leaves have fallen off. The clocks just went back (for the last time if the government manage to convince Scotland to stay on BST all year round), and everyone I know has flu. It's autumn again.

At least it means better tv, as we all retreat indoors. I'm watching the second season of The Walking Dead - having been to Atlanta a couple of weeks ago, and seen where it was filmed (and the street where a poor horse got mauled by a zombie horde), it helps to add a frisson of realism. My fella (always a strategist) watches it scornfully, mocking the poor decision making and lack of an overall plan of the main characters. If there was ever a zombie virus, I'm sticking by him.

He can't stomach American Horror Story though, declaring it to be "sick" after one episode. So I have to watch it alone. Just as the Walking Dead takes a film convention (zombies) and stretches it out into a long-running series with proper character development, American Horror Story takes the "family move into Haunted House film" and serialises it. Every previous tenant of the home (and there have been many) met with a sticky end, and so back they come (in lovely period costume) to shake their chains and go bump in the night. Actually, as my mother used to say "It's not the dead you should be afraid of, it's the living", and much of the horror doesn't come from the ghosts. As expected, the family are full of angst and issues (lots of guilt over a miscarriage and an affair), the teenage daughter is a surly emo and in episode 2, a group of murder re-enactment fans invade the home, wanting to restage a murder that took place in the 1960s. The ghosts rather kindly help to see them off. The best character is a weird next-door neighbour played by Jessica Lange, who steals things, makes inappropriate remarks and gives gifts of poisoned cupcakes. She has a previous relationship with the maid of the house, who she once killed and threatens to do so again. And it seems that the male lead has it written it into his contract that he must appear shirtless for at least three full minutes.

That contractual clause seems to be quite common at the moment - the Dad in new sci fi drama Terra Nova also takes his shirt off a lot. Terra Nova is even sillier than American Horror Story, charting the adventures of a sickeningly all-American family who flee the pollution and strict rules of the 22nd century to go back to an Earth of dinosaur times. We are supposed to be sympathetic to the family because they have been persecuted for having a third child which is against the law. However, it's never explained why they get to break the rules, and when Daddy gets broken out of prison and then illegally manages to get to Dinosaur World, there's no punishment waiting for him at the end other end. The message seems to be that as long as you have a square jaw, a big chest and an urge to procreate, then you can do what you like. And there's also a British scientist who talks in clever-jargon speak and is marked out as the villain. Actually, it's not very good. When does Summer happen?

Saturday, October 22, 2011

The Black Lizard

My fella has glandular fever and has been signed off work for a month. Poor him - he's tired all the time, has no appetite (he's lost half a stone already) and alternatively hot and cold. It's no fun for him being stuck inside for a month. Fortunately, I am on hand to provide painkillers and cups of tea, and the cat seems to be strangely aware that something is amiss and refuses to leave his side. I think I had glandular fever when I was 18 (I vaguely recall feeling rotten in my first year at university for weeks but not really knowing why). I don't seem to have caught anything from him yet anyway.

We watched The Black Lizard last night (on youtube).

It's a 1968 Japanese cult film about a drag queen night-club singer who is also a jewel thief and kidnapper. She kidnaps beautiful people in order to get jewels, then kills them anyway and spirits them away to her Pacific island lair where she turns them into sex-dolls. The screen play was written by Yukio Mishima, a prolific bisexual Japanese writer who became infamous for a failed coup in 1970. He then committed ritual suicide. He has a brief cameo in the film as a body-building sex-doll (he was also in a relationship with the drag queen black lizard in real life). The film is strange enough, but the off-screen lives of those involves sounds even weirder.

The film doesn't seem to be easily available on DVD, and the youtube version is rather dark (though watchable). A great version of the theme tune is available from Itunes, by Pink Martini. The Black Lizard herself (Akihiro Maruyama) is the best thing in the film. She's completely mad and a slave to overwhelming campy emotions (it doesn't help matters when you fall in love with the detective who is trying to capture you). And she manages to evade capture by simply switching gender when she has to.

Thursday, October 13, 2011

Back from Atlanta

With the conference ended, I had a day in Alanta, although it started raining and as I didn't have a coat, I ended up stuck at the airport for rather longer than I was expecting. The journey home seemed designed to test my patience at every stage, and by the time I arrived through the door, almost 20 hours after setting out, I wasn't feeling very good.

Here are some of the photos I took anyway.

Graffiti wall

Street market

Martin Luther King eternal flame momument

We are the 99% protest camp

Grid-iron building

Saturday, October 08, 2011

(Conference) Friends

I am in Atlanta, Georgia for a conference. I gave my talk yesterday so can enjoy the rest of it without having to feel much pressure to perform. I always get exhausted by conferences - I can assume the personality of an extrovert, but it's hard work, like holding my breathe, and I usually need to lie down with the curtains drawn afterwards.

I quite like having Conference Friends though. These are people who you meet at a conference and end up hanging out with for a few days. Then you leave and they're out of your life apart from an occasional email, until the next time you see them. Sometimes you never see them again. It gives you a chance to reinvent yourself, and if you screw up socially it doesn't matter because it's not long-term. So after the conference ended for the day, I ended up with a new bunch of Conference Friends and we went for a meal at a Turkish restaurant. (We had been invited to an "after party" which involved a hookah, but none of my Conference Friends wanted to go.) We sat outside the restaurant - because we could. (I often wonder if I would be a more gregarious person if I lived somewhere with better weather.) There were six of us and I felt like I had been cast in an American sitcom. There was a very hip black straight Canadian man, a beautiful Jordanian/American woman with strong opinions, a football-loving gay man from the same place where the southern camp vampire tv series True Blood is filmed, a very liberal straight guy from a place called Hicksville (literally) and his wife. And I was the British One. We made an unlikely set and the lively conversation felt like there had been a team of script-writers behind it.

And just over the road from the restaurant in a small park, a group of people had gathered, holding placards and chanting. And suddenly we were in a fully-fledged demonstration. It was one of the 99% protests which are taking place all over the US at the moment. There was a celebratory atmosphere, people honked their horns (presumably in support) as they drove by. Someone got a banjo out (it is the South after all), and even by American standards there was a sense of cameraderie and willingness to talk to complete strangers which I always find faintly horrific.

The protest carried on for some hours, and I was woken up from my hotel room to the sound of police sirens in the night and shouting. There was a loud crowd of people outside my hotel, the police had closed off roads and were telling people to disperse through a loud-speaker. I wondered whether the crowd had turned nasty (like in the British riots), and deeming my hotel to be home to the hated 1%, had decided to burn it down.

But I was very jet-lagged, and managed to get to sleep, even as I heard the loud-speakers shouting "Move on! Move on!".

Thursday, October 06, 2011

My new hobby?

My fella was away in Ireland on an annual teaching thing that he does. He'd taken the car with him so he could stay in some isloated cottage in the countryside and look at stars through his telescope without having light pollution. He's very good at "hobbies". I don't really have the personality for them. I always dropped out of university hobby societies after the second week. The people in them tend to talk obsessively about that one thing they're doing (photography, being LGBT etc).

But after five days of just talking to the cat (who does his best but isn't as witty as my fella), I was getting a bit (stir) crazy, so accepted an offer from a friend to go bell-ringing. I live about a minute's walk away from the local church, and know a couple of people who do it.

My friend is a "key-holder" to the local church, and he picked me up early so he could show me around. Have you ever been in a deserted church at night-time when there are no lights on? I kept expecting Evette Fielding to jump out at me while screaming about ghosts. We climbed a windy staircase then went up a ladder, then another staircase, then another ladder until we were in the bell tower, and I saw my home town from a different perspective. I don't know why the church doesn't get a lift fitted and then they could charge people a fiver to go up there and look at the view.

But just as I was enjoying things, the bells all chimed bong at once, and I practically fell over. Then the other bell-ringers started to arrive. There were two distinct groups - the experts, who were mainly men in their 50s and 60s with beards and not a lot of conversation. And the beginniners, who were mainly women and younger men, some of whom were in a state of anxiety about bell ringing.

Because I learnt it is very complicated. It's not just a matter of pulling a rope willy-nilly. The ropes have to be pulled in various complicated sequences. And also (and I probably understood this wrong), first, the ropes had to be pulled in a certain way so that the bells were all upside down, balancing precariously the wrong way round. This was called "bringing the bells up". Each round of bell ringing had to end with them being upside down, and this could be difficult to acheive as you had to give the rope exactly the right amount of pull. One poor woman couldn't get it and she was stuck there for ages, trying and trying.

I had a brief lesson from the Head bell ringer. I am not a quick learner, and I often confuse left and right if I'm in company, so I looked like an idiot when he said things like "grip the rope with your left hand as high up as you can and then put your right hand above the left". He had to say it about ten times before I even got that bit right. Then I had to pull the rope. And not look up. "You're doing it too hard" he said on the first two goes. Then I either got it right, or he gave up.

My friend said afterwards that I seemed to be picking it up more quickly than everyone else he'd seen. But I think he was just being kind.

I don't know if I'll do it again. Someone told me about a beginner's class at another place, and I was invited to go along. Do I have the personality for a hobby though? And does it matter that I'm a screaming atheist? I think they kept the believing in God thing a bit on the DL, but I noticed that the one good-looking man there had a Christian fish tattoo on his wrist. I'm sure they won't mind me being gay (apparently the vicar is gay too), but being a filthy heathen? I'm not so sure.

Tuesday, October 04, 2011

Why I hate buses

When I was much younger, and asked what I wanted to be when I grew up, I used to say "a bus driver". My Dad was one, and children tend to copy what they see. Gradually that ambition morphed into lawyer then journalist then lecturer then retire as early as possible. Seeing my Dad get up at 4 in the morning to start the early shift, or getting in after midnight, upset because various drunks had threatened him and refused to pay, was enough to put me off.

These days I try to avoid buses as much as possible. We didn't have a car when we were growing up, so we went everywhere by bus, and I've had more than my fair share of riding on them. But today, my fella had the car so I had to catch one to work. I always dread those rare days because I never know the rules and invariably end up humilating myself. Last time the driver refused to let me on because I tried to pay with a £10 note. This time, the humiliation began when I got on the bus with a Cafe Nero drink. I put it on the ledge by the window as I fished the correct change out of my wallet.

"That had better not be a hot drink!" the driver scolded. "You're not allowed to put it there."

So I had to pick it up and then use one hand to get my money out. The driver scowled at me the whole time, drunk on power. Everyone else glared at me, as I held up the queue. I wanted to give her some sort of passive-aggressive parting shot like making an allusion to insane health and safety laws or the Third Reich, but knew that she'd throw me off for insubordination, so I just skulked to the first empty seat in shame.

Apparently I got off lightly - some drivers won't let anyone on the bus if they have coffee.

Then the other aspect of buses that I hate kicked in. All these people I know from work got on, and then we all pretended that we didn't see each other so we wouldn't have to make polite conversation the whole way. At least I didn't have to face Lancaster's new scourge which has been reported in our local newspaper - religious militants getting on the bus, sitting next to people and then trapping them into conversations where they try to brainwash you.

As the bus lurched off the main route to enter a confusing housing estate, adding another ten minutes to the journey, a hand tapped me on the shoulder from behind. I looked round. A wizened face wearing a rainhat (it wasn't raining) beamed at me.

"Are you a lecturer?"

"Yes," I said. Everyone looked at me again.

"So am I!" said the face.

"That's nice," I replied.

That was the extent of our conversation, although about ten minutes later I heard and felt him give a terrific disease-ridden cough onto my neck.

My fella actually likes getting the bus. This is one area where we are very different.