Five Things to Sing About

It’s easy to get caught up in the panicky bad news cycle, scrolling blindly on Twitter to see if London Book Fair is still on, what the latest spread of the virus is, speak to the phone with worried elderly parents (and be secretly relieved that they’ve decided to cancel their trip to the UK next week, as they would fall into the vulnerable categories), try and plan summer holidays for the boys with an ex who tries to sabotage you every step of the way. More than ever, we need to remind ourselves of all that is good and lovely or even just OK in our lives. So here are five things which gave me joy this last week or so.

This kimono looks like something out of Genji Monogatari

Anne Enright in conversation with Andrew O’Hagan about her new book Actress (which has just been longlisted for the Women’s Prize)

I’ve only read a few books by Anne Enright, and haven’t read this one yet (but am eager to, it sounds exactly my sort of thing – tricky mother/daughter relationship, the dangers of celebrity culture, theatre world etc.) The author in person was very funny, very opinionated, not at all shy and does not suffer fools gladly. I think quite a few people would describe her as spiky and remorseless and are slightly afraid of her. At which she rather brilliantly replied: ‘Why are writers described as ruthless? We just sit (and observe) and write.’ Another thing she said also struck me: that England is currently going through that nationalist rhetoric and identity trumpeting that Ireland went through in the past century… and we all know what that led to.

The perfect kimono for a crime writer, translator and publisher

Watching and debating films with my boys (OK, mainly the older boy who is getting very ambitious about his viewing of classic films, but the younger one occasionally participates too) – this weekend it was La Haine (which the older one is studying for A Level French) and One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest (which instantly made his top 10 list). The frightening thing about La Haine (made in 1995) is how little things have changed for the banlieue and its inhabitants since then, although the French PM at the time made his entire cabinet watch it. I’d love to see Johnson getting his cabinet to watch a Ken Loach film!

A kimono combining two of my greatest loves: the silk manufacturers of Lyon produced the material, which was given as a present by the French ambassador to a local daimyo after the opening of Japan in the Meiji era.

Analysing The Great Gatsby with my older son while working out at the gym. He borrowed it from my bookcase on Friday afternoon, had read it by Saturday evening and, knowing that it’s one of my favourite novels of all time, was keen to discuss it with me while we were puffing away side-by-side on our cross trainers. I have to admit that this comes pretty close to how I thought parenthood might look like ideally before I had children! (It has seldom lived up to that level of expectation.)

Not to neglect the younger son, who also suprised me very pleasantly. Just as I was moaning about him not doing enough reading and that I wish he would read anything, comics, non-fiction, I’m not fussy, as long as he reads rather than just plays computer games all the time etc. etc., the doorbell rang and it was a delivery for him from Amazon (well, we’ll work on the buying from independent bookshops angle later) of a trilogy of books Bakemonogatari (Tales of Monsters) by Japanese author Nisioisin. He’s been busy devouring these ever since and I am tempted to read them myself.

Wedding kimonos – the white at the start of the ceremony, the red outer kimono at the end.

The Kimono Exhibition at the Victoria and Albert – there are no words to describe how happy this made me! I studied Japanese, taught Japanese anthropology, cultural history and literature for a while and have spent several (sadly, far too short) periods in Japan at summer schools etc. I always meant to buy a kimono but could never afford a proper one. I could have spent hours analysing every single pattern, weave, material, detail. I photographed nearly every single one of them and two thirds of the pictures are utter rubbish, but I’ve used some of them, no matter how rubbish, to illustrate this blog post.

My kind of kimono: I rather like monochromes and this has the elegance and modern look I would wear regularly.

Finishing the translation of Sword – I still have to get a third-party edit and proofreading sorted, but I’m pretty pleased with how it turned out. This is going to be such an exciting political thriller, unlike any other the English-speaking world has seen so far!

It’s Not All Books: The Films I Love

A little twitter conversation with the delightful Janet Emson (if you haven’t discovered her book blog yet, it’s highly recommended, not just by me) had me uttering the words: ‘Dammit, Janet, I love you!’ This, in turn, led me to ponder which films I have really, really loved and watched again and again. The problem is, I love films (and books and songs) for different reasons.

For the subject matter and/or atmosphere:

The Department of (Mis)Information from Brazil.
The Department of (Mis)Information from Brazil.

Terry Gilliam’s Brazil – for the zany, frenetic way it makes fun of dictatorships and the inability to acknowledge any mistakes

Ridley Scott: Blade Runner – for its despairing and visually unforgettable view of the future

Tarkovsky: Stalker and Andrei Rublyev – for showing like no other the pain of creativity and of a demanding God/or authority figure or simply the fear of the Unknown (and self) – we must have had endless discussions about what these films actually mean when we were students (having watched them on pirated copies, as they were banned at the time)

Kieslowski: Three Colours: Blue – for its lyrical depiction of grief and loss

Pretty much all of Hitchcock, with a penchant for Vertigo, North-by-Northwest and Rear Window

rashomonKurosawa: Rashomon – such a revolutionary way of showing different points of view, but also for the expressive face of Toshiro Mifune

Carol Reed: The Third Man – Vienna, black-and-white, whom can you trust and that zither… need I say more?

Robert Mulligan: To Kill a Mockingbird – did anyone not want a father like Gregory Peck?

Michael Curtiz: Casablanca – ties for one of the best end lines in films (see below), plus the luminous glow of Ingrid Bergman and the wit throughout is just wonderful

richardbeymerWest Side Story – no matter how many times I see it, it still makes me dance, sing along and cry – plus I wanted to be Natalie Wood and Tony (Richard Beymer) looked uncannily like my first boyfriend

For the male lead:

The English Patient- Ralph Fiennes to look after me when I am dying in the desert

plein-soleil-delonLe Samourai and Plein Soleil – Alain Delon as ruthless and dangerous to know (Plein Soleil is the French version of Ripley)

La Beauté du Diable – Gérard Philippe to sell his soul for me

judelawThe Talented Mr. Ripley – Jude Law steals the show as Dickie Greenleaf and makes us condone what Matt Damon is about to do next…

For sheer fun:

Rocky Horror Picture Show – my coming of age film

Some Like It Hot – I can still quote more than half of it, plus the best end line in all of film history (tied with Casablanca)

Bringing Up Baby – absurd but the wittiest dialogue between two of my favourite actors: Katharine Hepburn and Cary Grant

The Ladykillers and Kind Hearts and Coronets – the darkest, funniest Ealing comedies, I merely have to see Alec Guiness’ eyes to start laughing (not so much in his more serious roles later on)

The Time Warp from Rocky Horror Picture Show - besides, I've got relatives in Transylvania, so there!
The Time Warp from Rocky Horror Picture Show – besides, I’ve got relatives in Transylvania, so there!

And there are so many others, too many to mention. So, which films have you loved? Which films can you watch over and over again? Or are there any films that you only watched once but which left an indelible impression on you?

TV Series Old and New

Aiden Turner, from Falmouth's The Packet.
Aiden Turner, from Falmouth’s The Packet.

I was one of those who watched the first episode of the new adaptation of ‘Poldark’ on the BBC last Sunday with bated breath. Ready to reserve judgement and not wallow too much in the nostalgia of the original series. While I can think of more painful things to do than to watch Aidan Turner smouldering prettily against a backdrop of Cornish places of outstanding natural beauty, I do wonder why it is necessary to reinvent the wheel each time instead of just doing reruns of old series?

Original series of Poldark. From poldark.activeboard.com
Original series of Poldark. From poldark.activeboard.com

Why can we not see ‘Poldark’, ‘Upstairs Downstairs’ (another one that was remade in recent years) or ‘The Onedin Line’ as they were? I didn’t grow up in England, so I didn’t see these series when they were first aired, but caught them later on in the 1980s. I would come back from school, have a snack and rush through my homework so that I could settle down to watch one of these series (or an old black and white film – I know most of the Hollywood productions of the 1930s and 1940s) in what seemed to be an endless series of reruns on Austrian TV.

onedinlinetvradiotimes
Cover of the Radio Times.

My point is not that I should have been playing outdoors (I did my share of that, too), nor that my TV viewing was not monitored by my parents, but that these were quality films. They fostered my love of storytelling, drama, setting and beautiful costumes. I used to painstakingly draw some of the most glamorous dresses and dream about wearing them some day (although in real life I was a tomboy). I used to discuss character development and plot with my friends. They were the soap operas of our days, but there was a much neater story arc and not quite so much ‘shocked face’ acting.

From IMGKids.
From IMGKids.

At the risk of sounding like an old codger, daytime TV nowadays seems to be all about inane game shows, Come Dine With Me or depressing and bitchy reality TV. I know these things are cheap solutions to 24 hour programming, but surely reruns of old series are cheap too? My children are bored of CBeebies or CBBC, but there doesn’t seem to be much else on offer to capture their imagination. They equate ‘black and white’ with antiquated and boring, but I’m not sure that everyone needs fast, furious new adaptations to appreciate the classics. Could we at least have the choice?

P.S. And yes, that scar on Ross Poldark’s face in the new version? It does look like mascara running… The make-up of make-up artists is letting them down on this occasion…