Friday, May 09, 2014

Catching up on 3 years of Game of Thrones

I was put off watching Game of Thrones for the last three years, thinking it was a rerun of formulaic 90s shows like Xena Warrior Princess. This fan-made video of the opening credits confirms exactly what Game of Thrones is NOT about.

The actual opening of Game of Thrones is a great big complicated map, with the camera whizzing all over it as buildings explode up out of the ground. It’s wise to keep an eye on that map because it acts as a key to all the different locations in the imaginary country of Westeros, which is actually the United Kingdom. It even has Hadrian’s Wall to keep out the Scottish (called Wildings here). Except rather than being made of a few stones, it’s a gigantic wall of ice. London is represented by the capital city of King’s Landing – bathed permanently in sunshine, its inhabitants doing the dirty on the more innocent and trusting northerners of Winterfell. There’s even a “foreign” bit over the sea which is a cross between Africa and the Middle East – replete with exotic bazaars.

Game of Thrones is more akin to a complex political drama – more House of Cards than Hercules. True, it has dragons and jousting and zombies, but it’s really about power and what people will do to get it. And unlike Xena, it doesn’t play fair. Characters you can get to know and love can be winked out of existence in the most shocking cruel way imaginable (cf the infamous Red Wedding episode).

The character I identify with most on Games of Thrones is not the wisecracking “imp” and everyone’s favourite Tyrion. Nor is it plucky gender-non conforming little Arya. It is not Jon Snow, the shaggy haired brooding bastard son. And it is certainly not sadistic Prince Joffrey. Instead it is spoilt princess Sansa, who gets by on her looks and by not speaking out of line. Sansa is a pretty unsympathetic character at the start of Game of Thrones, her head full of fairytale weddings and lacework. But quite quickly the fairytale becomes a nightmare and she is a permanent hostage/houseguest at Castle Crazy, forced to watch her father’s execution for treason and only allowed to survive by holding her tongue. She is constantly acted upon, no mistress of her own fate, with the whims and political schemes of others deciding who she should marry. I’m not totally a Sansa of course, but I do feel I lead a privileged life with many of my (largely inconsequential as it happens) problems solved by people around me who care for me. And at times in my life I’ve felt that my only course of action is to shut up and smile like I’m enjoying things.

We’ve just finished watching the first 3 seasons, and there’s now that awful sense of emptiness when something good is over. There’s nothing for it, I’ll have to just start watching it again.

Thursday, April 17, 2014

Mid-life crisis

This time last Easter I had an operation to solve some sinus problems I'd been having, and then the resulting 2 weeks spent in bed exacerbated 2 slipped discs I have in my back. So most of last spring and summer were spent in quite a lot of pain of one sort or another. Fortunately, physiotherapy and swimming sorted out my back and my sinuses are fine now. This Easter I've had more of an existential crisis. In some ways it is no less painful than last year.

I've always been happy with what I see when I look in the mirror. But as the months and years pass, you start to notice changes. There are the physical ones - many of them involving hair appearing in all these places you don't want it to, and disappearing from the places where it should be. And even the ones who are kind enough to stay in place can change colour, to a sickly translucent shade, or going boldly white. Then there are lines which start to thicken, little downturned ones at the sides of your mouth, and longer ones which run down the sides of your cheeks, making you look like Deputy Dawg. And there are the dark circles under your eyes which refuse to go away as deposits of fat start to congeal under your eyelids.

You realise you can't do as much in the gym as you used to. Your relationship with food becomes a wary series of negotiations, occasional truces and all-out war. I have a fast metabolism and used to be able to gobble up as much chocolate and chips as I liked without having to worry about putting weight on. Now I have a stomach which no amount of exercise or diet is going to shift. It can be maintained in its present state, but only if I permanently reduce my calorie intake and swim three times a week. Otherwise, it is just going to get bigger and bigger. And there's sleep. As a teenager I could easily sleep for a 12 hour stretch without waking once. Now I struggle to get to sleep, on the worst nights I have to make use of whiskey and Nytol to help. I usually wake up after 2 hours, and then again after another 3. I'm lucky to get 6 hours a night now.

And as well as all the physical changes there are the social ones. Especially around younger people I increasingly feel like the uncool, out-of-touch Dad figure, at best a kinder version of Alan Partridge or Jeremy Clarkson. I unironically say things like "of course, bike technology's improved considerably in the last 20 years." Bike technology?! I get annoyed when young people broadcast their every movement on twitter and facebook, or when you're in a conversation with them and they get out their mobile phone and start a lengthy texting interaction with someone else. I find their lack of interest in politics irritating, their attitudes towards safe sex horrifying, their view of immigrants and the poor depressing. Of course all these are over-generalisations. I think the pop music of today is awful - nihilistic, celebratory of a pointless consumer lifestyle that sexualises women and embraces gangster violence. Everyone is auto-tuned and its all presentation rather than substance. Give me the wry social commentary of Pulp's Common People or Blur's Girls and Boys or even a good tune like Definitely Maybe by Oasis. I'm sure there is better stuff out there now, but I don't know about it, I'm so disengaged.

Of course, there's not much you can do about it. Raging feebly against the younger generation and bemoaning your lost youth is one of those cliched rites of passage. I think you are allowed to do it for a few months, and then you have to just get over it, accept your new position in society and count your paycheck. It's a consolation that the people older than me felt the same way, and that it will happen to the younger ones too. If they're lucky enough to live that long.