Sunday, 13 April 2014

Sunday Summary

This week, I have mostly been...

Reminiscing | on Four Weddings...



Four Weddings and a Funeral was released... TWENTY YEARS AGO.

That is right.

Two whole decades have slipped by in the time we've taken to recover from those 15 weeks spent at the mercy of Love is All Around.


SCARY.

At the time the film was out I was a lank-haired, spotty, bespectacled 15-year-old, albeit one enjoying the heady freedom that came after sitting GCSEs.

Look upon my 15-year-old self and be bemused, friends:


I saw the film at least three times at the cinema and it truly was the most hilarious thing my friends and I had seen, at that time.

Hugh Grant was still a cute, posh, bumbling romantic back then (pre-*cough* Divine Brown *cough*) and we crushed on him for a while in the aftermath. (Or was that just me? Don't worry, I recovered. At least until About a Boy and Bridget Jones: the Edge of Reason and then I had to wean myself off him again...)

It was hilarious that Fiona only ever wore black.


It was hilarious that Scarlett rocked this look as a bridesmaid:

{Screengrab from DVD}

It was also very cute hearing her explain 'bonking' to a young bridesmaid.

It was hilarious that Rowan Atkinson's trainee priest Gerald couldn't pronounce 'St John'. Sijjun... Sijjun... 

{In the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spigot...}

And even now I can't go to a wedding and keep a straight face whenever the 1 Corinthians 13 reading is given:
If I speak with the tongues of men and of angels, but have not love, I am become as sounding brass, or a clanging cymbal.
Good point. I also anticipate the reading to be followed directly by a folk duet murdering Can't Smile Without You...


Anyway. I digress. In honour of this dubious anniversary I decided to revisit 4WAAF. These days I tend to emit a wry knowing smile at the moments above, rather than a 15-year-old's guffaw of naive laughter.

But over the last twenty years, and maybe in the last two of those years in fact the film has taken on new resonance.

It's flawed -- of course it is. For one thing it plays up to the myth of British film identity that we Brits are all very well off and very posh (and all Caucasian for that matter...) and we all live in grand houses and can afford to marry in cathedrals and invite the mayor along.

For another thing, the more I watch the more it seems Carrie's dialogue was not written for an American actress -- some phrases cloy a little. Or maybe that's just the fault of A MacD's static delivery. (Miaow.)

But, that aside...

It is a truth universally acknowledged that Gareth's funeral is The Very, Very Sad Part. But only now can I appreciate that it is handled with great empathy not just towards Gareth, but towards Matthew, even if the vicar at the funeral refers to him only as 'Gareth's closest friend' -- even in 'progressive' 1994 acknowledging Matthew directly as Gareth's partner or lover seems to have been a step too far...

{The adorable John Hannah., making grown men and women everywhere cry...}

It also occurred to me watching the film yesterday that while I labour under the potential misconception that most wedding films portray a bride (and often groom) in the flushes of 'youth' in their 20s, as if this is the prime time in which to conjugate, Charles, Carrie, Fiona, Matthew, Tom, and certainly Gareth, are all in, or past their 30s. 

Actually, their ages are never referenced, but I'm going on the ages of the actors at the time: John Hannah was 32, Hugh Grant and Kristin Scott Thomas were 34, Andie MacDowell was 36, James Fleet as the ever-hopeful dolt Tom was 40 (all according to IMDb anyway!).

And while the focus of the film is Charles' reluctance to commit to marriage until he meets Carrie, neither he, nor Carrie, nor Fiona or Tom for that matter, are shown to be excessively pressured into marriage because they're a certain age. It's irrelevant. What's shown to matter is that this group of friends are looking for that one true love.

And that for me, now, twenty years on, is refreshing.

I will never, however, favour Carrie for Charles over Fiona. C'mon. She's insipid. She's ruthless. She's a tease. I'm Team Fifi all the way. This fleeting moment of vulnerability after Fiona admits her love for Charles? Just... g'argh. So many feels, as the young folk say.


(Never let it be said that I can't overanalyse a rom-com...)

Reading | two books on the go again...

I'm keeping this brief this time (for your sake, Alun!):

My commute read:



My (slightly less cerebral) bath-and-bedtime read:



Watching | George and Jason's villa and cabin on t'telly!

Yes -- at last, my friends Georgina and Jason's most excellent Chulilla villa (which only slightly rhymes, sorry, Evie!) was featured on BBC2's Escape to the Continent last week, presented by Anita Rani (who favoured G & J's property over the others -- rightfully!). And the house and grounds look terrific. If my previous photos and George's previous short feature weren't enough to tempt you (and why the heck not?), do watch the programme on BBC iPlayer here.

{Been there! Screengrab via here}
{Swum in there! Screengrab via here}
{Slept in there! Screengrab via here}


The prospecting couple also favoured the property over the others they were shown ... yet it didn't meet their exacting requirements. Hmm.

Keep up the good fight, guys, the right buyer will come along.


And now... for Stuff Found on the World Wide Web

Tracey Emin to design a Collector's Edition 'Books Are My Bag' bag

Gillian Anderson reads Katharine Hepburn's letter to Spencer Tracy (have the tissues ready)

Behold: a whole book full of photos of cute sloths


I want a go on this waterfall swing!



And finally...

Hedgehogs with funny faces

{Nuff said.}

Have good weeks, friends!

Sunday, 6 April 2014

Sunday Summary

Y'know, people* often** ask me, QB, how long does it take to write your Sunday Summary posts?

Hours. It takes hours. No word of a lie.

This is largely because I'm flitting between Blogger and my source files/sites on a laptop going at the speed of a stationary tortoise, but also because I get distracted b--ooh, Pinterest! Ooh, look! A minimalist Scandi living room! Ooh, a vintage Blyton edition! Ooh, another photo of Marianne Faithfull in the 1960s -- sorry. Back in the room.

{Ah, c'mon, she's awesome.}

This is also largely because by 5.30 on a Sunday evening I've been to church (yes, I do that!), vaguely considered lunch, spoken to my mother, done some arbitrary paperwork, scoured the hours of my day for something worth posting to my Photo a Day feed, failed, taken a photo of my feet and a record player spinning some Piaf:


vaguely considered dinner and thrown together something pasta-based instead or made a mercy run to Co-op for another of their excellent Kashmir butter-chicken pizzas and some discounted Ben & Jerry's, come home, and gone, basically, a bit catatonic after a week of work/choir/work/swim/work/choir/work routinitude (no, that's not a word but it should be), interspersed with a bit of reading, writing and 'rithmetic***. And all of the above of a Sunday.

So if sometimes I don't deliver, it's because my brain has actually emptied by this point in the week. Imagine, if you will, me. Wearing this expression (but without all the blinking):


There ya go.

(And, OK, sometimes my week has been so dang ordinary and uneventful there really isn't anything to report. Unbelievably.)

* I say people, I mean one person
** I say often, I mean once
*** I say 'rithmetic, I mean Excel.

I had a brief moment earlier of Sunday-night ennui/panic in which I thought for one terrifying second that I might not be able to deliver this week's SS.



{Yes, that is Jenna Marbles again, of 'You are welcome' gif fame.}

NOT POSSIBLE. I can't let my readers down.

So, here it is, merry Sunday, everybody's having fun...

This week, I have mostly been:

Reading | The Universe versus Alex Woods by Gavin Extence


I have only just forgiven the author for a) being younger than me and b) eliciting this very public reaction from me:

{Sorry. I couldn't not.}
So, the upshot of the book is this: Eponymous hero Alex is a national treasure -- and consequently epileptic and slightly socially awkward with his peers -- after having survived a direct meteorite hit as a child.

Alex finds himself hiding in the garden shed of cantankerous American veteran Isaac Peterson after running from school bullies -- subsequently Alex and Mr Peterson strike up a friendship that lasts six years and survives one dog, and the entire back catalogue of novelist Kurt Vonnegut. Alex and Mr Peterson's friendship is put to the test when Mr Peterson is diagnosed with a rare neurological disorder with an unhappy prognosis.

I won't disclose too many spoilers. I will just say that both Alex and Mr Peterson are expertly crafted as characters, there is enough 'science' around Alex's meteorite hit to take it from far-fetched flight-of-fancy to credible occurrence, and the medical scenarios (of which there are many) are brilliantly researched and played out to avoid melodrama. There are quite a few echoes in Alex of Nick Hornby's About a Boy (or, to be fair, the film adaptation) -- Mr Peterson is a father-figure to Alex in the same way Will comes to be to Marcus; Alex's mother is an alternative-living 'clairvoyant' and single mother in the same way Marcus' mother Fiona is slightly alternative, and both Alex and Marcus befriend a feisty, slightly older girl named Ellie.


The Universe versus Alex Woods is, ultimately, about friendship. But it's also about physics, religion, ethics, mortality and (OK, spoiler alert...) euthanasia. And all of these factions are knitted together into a tragi-comic novel that, yep, made me cry brazenly in public. And I haven't done that since Harold Fry.

{Incidentally I also had this reaction to this news about one of my favourite musicians L :}
{That.}
Singing | at the Southbank Centre

Yesterday {Saturday} my most excellent rock/pop choir, Voicerox Choir, sang a twenty-minute set at the annual Chorus Festival at the Southbank Centre. It was only slightly blighted by a few sound hiccups (loose connections, thundering bass, that sort of thing) -- but in spite of that apparently we sounded great, especially when the sound cut out and, with nary a flinch, we segued into a quick a cappella moment. We're so versatile.

Oh look, here we are:

{Some of the most awesome people I know are in this photo.}

This week's interweb finds

New Mr Tickle app launched this week -- voiced by David Walliams! Check out the trailer here:


The ban on sending books to prisoners may be illegal -- here

This writer chose to be happy

The Australian cast of The Lion King treat fellow passengers to an impromptu performance

What, there's a stationery trade fair? Why wasn't I there?


Tatty-bye for now! I'm off to make this face again (and I may even turn the telly on to give the face some focus):

Sunday, 30 March 2014

Sunday Summary

I'm missing an hour. Anyone seen one?

This week, I have mostly been:

Reading | Paper Aeroplanes by Dawn O'Porter


Some 'celebrities' write novels and surprise me with their wit, insight and literary talents.

...Sadly Mrs O'P is not one of them.

I'm slightly baffled by how many positive reviews this book has generated. I found it cliche, I found both 'heroines' non-distinct, fairly unlikeable and actually could not tell one from the other after about two chapters. I found the secondary characters unsympathetic and downright evil in some cases. The one positive aspect was that while the book was set in 1994 (when I was the same age as the 'heroines', by the by...) it was not overloaded with cultural references to attempt to create a sense of place. But that's really it. I haven't been so annoyed by a book since The Da Vinci Code and that's saying something.

So now I'm reading the far more gratifying The Universe versus Alex Woods by Gavin Extence. I'm only about ten pages in but already it's so much better than Paper Aeroplanes.


Seeing | Jesus Christ Superstar on stage


JCS is the latest production by ESOS (East Surrey Operatic Society), performed at the Harlequin Theatre in the cultural hub that is Redhill. My friend Fiona, she of Jane Eyre fame, was in the chorus which gave me added incentive to see it.

I feel particularly tied to Superstar for two reasons: one being that I performed in JCS in my first year at university (in 1997) as part of the Musical Production Society*.

The other that, rock music references and excessive use of cheesecloth aside, it was the most accessible entry to the Bible that I had come across at that time, and I fell in love with the 1973 film as a result. And cheesecloth.

{Not sure how this video will show -- do take your chances, though}

Of course Superstar has its moments of enormous irreverence (Herod's Song, anyone?) but it is also a considered re-enactment of Jesus' last days, not just from His perspective but also that of Judas.

Anyway, I digress.



I went to the Wednesday showing of the ESOS production, and was impressed -- there were some seriously powerful performances on display, emotionally and vocally.

Jason Lines played Jesus with great humility and humanity, some blinding vocals -- and some seriously scary-looking welts after the whipping scene. Likewise, Jamie Thomas as Judas maintained a vocal and emotional intensity throughout the whole show that made me realise what an emotionally exhausting role that of Judas truly is on many levels.

All the performances were stellar, really, but one of the standouts was Tony Lee as Pilate -- Superstar has always depicted Pilate with a considered (and maybe controversial?) amount of sympathy, and it's a delicate balance to portray that aspect of Pilate, rather than that of executioner.

The fire alarm during the interval didn't dampen anyone's enjoyment of the show either!

I've subsequently been listening to the film soundtrack on a loop. And singing the whole thing. All parts. Yep. #Whaaaaat do you meaaaaan by that? That... is not an answer...#

* 17 years later, I am totally over the fact I wasn't chosen to be one of the 'hot' dancers in Herod's Song back then. Totally. No, really. It's OK: I wasn't one of the hot ones, or a good enough dancer. That's fine, I accept that. Totally;-) #issues #letitgo #noseriouslygetoverit #itwas17yearsago #moveon


Listening | to old vinyl

On Friday I picked up this bargainous little LP-to-MP3 converter turntable at Maplin:

I'm still working out how I can rig it directly up to my stereo but for now I'm enjoying some of my long-neglected vinyl played, somewhat crudely, through my PC.

{I took the plastic needle protector off right after I took this photo...}
{Picked up these little gems for £1 for 3 in the charity shop.
The Kids from FAME | Simon & Garfunkel | Dusty Springfield}

ICYMI** << g'argh, yes, that acronym is hugely pretentious. I promise not to use it ever again

I posted this little epic Contemplation on Thursday night on the dilemmas posed by the #nomakeupselfie trend. 

It included the Grumpy Cat meme so if nothing else incites you to read it, surely this will?



Now, if someone could help me down from my moderately high horse, that'd be fab, thanks...!

** ICYMI = 'in case you missed it'

Featuring | in my friend George's fabulous promotional video


Georgina and her husband Jason rent out their gorgeous cabin retreat in the mountains of Chulilla, Valencia. Their visitors are many and varied, and get up to all kinds of antics, and George has captured just a few of these folk (moi included -- I'm book-and-tapas Beth...!) in this lovely little video that makes me want to jack in my whole working week and fly back to Spain, like, NOW (with a pile of books, natch).
You understand my predicament, right?




G & J truly are the hosts with the most...s...! Easter dates still available!




And now... YOUR INTERWEB LINKS OF THE WEEK

(With special thanks to Clare, David, Evie, and the Press, PR and Marketing wizards at Egmont for much of this fodder)



Find out what happens behind the scenes of a dynamic YA book imprint -- follow the Electric Monkey Tumblr

On a far more serious note, sign the petition to ensure prisoners are not denied access to books and gifts from family


Following last week's uh-mazing Bibliochaise, check out these excellent IKEA hacks!


{© 2013 Andrew Whyte}


Man sings 'Let it Go' in 21 different Disney voices (I think Dug from UP is my favourite!)



Stay epic, friends.

Thursday, 27 March 2014

Contemplation: Charity and Selfie-less Acts

[This is a long 'un so I have interspersed it with lighthearted gifs and other pics.]


Now that the #nomakeupselfie craze has subsided a little, and I've seen more photos of my beautiful bare-faced friends (and one or two bare friends, kudos to you) than I may ever see again in my life, I thought it fit to put in my tuppence-worth. As I say with alarming regularity on my social media outlets these days:



As far as I can remember in the time span of social media I've been a conscientious objector to the numerous 'cancer awareness campaigns' that circulate on Facebook.

My least favourite of these is the obscure "I do it on a Friday with a blue handbag on my left foot" status updates that are supposed to be shared by women only to keep men in the dark but also to raise awareness of breast cancer. Word to the wise: men get breast cancer too, so isolating them from this little crypto-joke is futile. Maybe it is just a bit of fun but as a rule I like my fun to be non-exclusive.

I refuse to respond to posts that instruct me to Like a certain photo if I hate cancer. It's actually insulting.

I am also anti-war, but I don't see any benefit in confirming my stance by Liking a photo of a soldier cuddling his baby daughter for the first time.

...I hope this doesn't mean you all have me pegged as a callous, hard-hearted wench -- I just don't respond well to this approach to generating awareness and empathy for causes.



I also consciously avoid 'chuggers' ever since one corralled a far more naive little me, on a pittance of a first salary at 22 years old, to donate £5 a month to the Red Cross. Harsh? Maybe but I will not be coerced bullied into charity in this way. Or in fact into giving my bank details out to a stranger on a crowded high street. (Again.)

When the first few no-make-up selfies appeared on my Facebook Feed, I admit, I was cynical, as those posting them made reference to raising awareness -- and stopped at that. One of my friends who, much like me, will not be swayed by pseudo-cryptic methods of awareness (those blue handbags again), made the valid point, on that same media, Facebook, that the act of posting the selfie alone was not actually raising awareness of cancer – just raising awareness of what a difference a little warpaint might make.

Before long, however, the selfies kept appearing -- but this time with a link to a number to text to donate to Cancer Research UK and other such charities, and in some cases, ways to be made aware of less publicised forms of cancer.

And within just a few days, Cancer Research UK had benefited -- to the sum of £8m. £8m!!!


Finally, quantitative evidence that when done with purpose and context, social media campaigns can do good. Read more here.

Admittedly, a handful of polar bears also benefited when people mistyped 'BEAT' as 'BEAR' and donated to the WWF instead but hey. The polar bears also need our help.

{with thanks to AJ for flagging this up!}

On the flipside, the argument has also been made that the no makeup selfie craze is a vanity project, a way for participants to gather compliments on their appearance under the guise of doing something charitable:

It was hours before the selfie mob questioned what they had actually taken part in beyond a mass exercise in narcissism greeted by adoring comments saying "you still look hot hun".

But for a good number of the people I know (and it is mostly but not exclusively the women!) their makeup is a defence mechanism, a mask, that inspires in them confidence that facing the world barefaced doesn't always allow.

When many of us (and I do count myself in this number) only post those photos on social media that paint us in a moderately flattering light, to post a photo of ourselves without our armour on is actually quite a big deal in terms of how we manage our self-esteem.

But, and this is another layer of the aforementioned flipside, it has been said that losing makeup for a moment is a confusing gesture in the effort to show solidarity to those with cancer:

Baffled by the trend, a backlash began in earnest. One confused tweeter posted: "Because not wearing make up is like... having cancer? I hope I'm missing the point here." Another said: "I don't get the #nomakeupselfie for cancer? How does it help? I'd rather donate money towards it that take a picture."


Which is also a fair point.

At this juncture I have to say, I've never been so torn over an issue as I have been over this. Every argument I hear carries an element of validity and I have been back and forth in discussion with people over this. Hopefully I'll have come to some conclusion by the end of this post!

And to add a little more fuel to this fire, while the selfies are not exclusively raising awareness of breast cancer they are primarily a female-led endeavour, potentially another campaign leaving most men out in the cold, until they are persuaded to donate as a direct result of seeing the females in their life sans maquillage.

Now, in case you're wondering, I haven't posted a selfie (yet). This is for two reasons:

1) I'm not making live, personal posts on Facebook during Lent (my Twitter and Pinterest output have however increased -- I need to reflect on that, I think)

2) Given I don't wear much, if any, makeup daily, the gesture would be futile. Everyone's seen my bare face.

But, in case you're also wondering, I have donated.

And here's where things get sticky again.

There's an unspoken (or maybe it's spoken, I don't know) moral code about charitable giving and it sounds a little like the over-quoted Fight Club quote:

The first rule of charitable giving? You do not talk about charitable giving.

It inevitably leads to social awkwardness:


{Screengrabs from Bridget Jones: The Edge of Reason}

When mechanic Neil Trotter won the EuroMillions recently (like, all the EuroMillions, all £108m of them...) I found myself scouring the news coverage for any evidence that Mr Trotter was siphoning off any of that money to charity (after he'd bought his partner a horse of course!).

It was only much later, after the articles I'd scanned made no such reference, that I realised that it's none of my business or anyone else's how he spends that money. It's his money, his choice. And it may well be that he has donated, oh, let's say £100m of that to charity. He just hasn't felt the need to tell people about it. And maybe that's as it should be.

We don't automatically cement ourselves as good people by telling other people of the good things we've done.

But most of you know what I've got up to, so I will mention this here!

Since 2003 I have walked four MoonWalks (26.2 miles a pop):

MoonWalk 2007 | {Blimey, that's a nearly-bare selfie, surely?!}
and one Weekend to Breakthrough Breast Cancer (40 miles over two days punctuated with a night spent in Finsbury Park and about one hour's sleep...):


I've done a 10k walk to help raise money for Mouth Cancer.

In my teens I did a couple of sponsored 24-hour famines for World Vision.

I've also sponsored friends to run and walk marathons, climb mountains, shave off their hair and swim various distances.

I'm not saying this to boast, please understand. If you know me, you'll know that I'm not a boastful person, for the most part. I have many faults (!) but I don't think boastfulness is one of them.

Most recently, with the choice to take on the MoonWalks, I do so because that is my challenge, my gesture.

Same as for many of my friends, showing themselves without their makeup is their challenge, their gesture. It's symbolic, it's not literal.

We all have our causes and we shouldn't judge each other on what those are.

When we take on these challenges for charity and make these gestures we're not saying that it equates in any way, on any scale, to the challenges faced by the people in our lives for whom we're raising funds and awareness. We know it doesn't.

I try to avoid mawkishness in my social media brainfarts, but I will say, what I do in the fight against illness and injury is the least I can do. Every day I am genuinely grateful to be physically sound enough to be able to walk long distances, so to take part in challenges like the MoonWalk is my way of raising both awareness and funds.

Maybe the #nomakeupselfie trend didn't start out with the most obvious and altruistic of intentions but let's recap, it's now inadvertently raised £8m and raised the requisite awareness.

Job done.

And, if I may say, job done by some seriously beautiful people.

I don't mean that on an aesthetic level.

qb xx

---

If you feel you'd like to donate to, or to fundraise for, any of the other causes mentioned in this extensive blog post, please follow these links:

MoonWalk/Walk the Walk

Breakthrough Breast Cancer

Mouth Cancer Foundation

World Vision

British Red Cross

These two charities are also important to me and to friends of mine:

Multiple Sclerosis (MS)

ME/Chronic Fatigue Syndrome