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Monthly Archives: August 2014

Boy on the beach

I spent some time last week looking at a photograph. It’s a picture of a boy, on a beach, turning around to face the camera. His hair is a huge blond bowl being scattered by the sea breeze; his skin is pale and white. His teeth aren’t all there, so I guess he must be somewhere between five and ten. But what struck me, more than anything, was his body language: he was stretching his arms and legs out as wide as he could, as if to say “Look at me! Look at me!” and his smile is so huge, his eyes narrowed in the sun. 

I wondered what had happened to that boy, over the next thirty or so years; I wondered what had changed him from that carefree, excitable, joyous little child into a sad, soft, gloomy adult. Where is the spark? Where did it go? 

I’ve written before about how hard it is to return home sometimes. There are ghosts there, wherever you go: each childhood street holds memories and faces, a slight imprint in the back of your mind about another time you were there, with other people, some of whom are still around and some of whom are gone. And others… well, others just changed. We all changed. But why? Where did it go, and why? And can we get it back? Or is it gone forever? 

I don’t remember that photograph being taken, not exactly. But I remember the feeling of my feet scampering over the warm soft sand, and the sand becoming stickier and wetter, then the foam of the water coming and covering it, and my feet getting cold and wet, and me still running, because it was the sea, and I wanted to be in the sea, and then my ankles and knees getting colder and wetter and me still running, into the waves, till I crashed into the water, upturned, salt in my nose and water in my eyes and mouth, but I could float, and I could swim, and I felt my freezing body falling into the water, but not being scared, just being happy, happy to be there again, back in the water. 

Since then, I’ve swum in the Caribbean. I’ve snorkelled in coral reefs in the Sulu Sea, watched brightly coloured fish and felt the breathing in and out of the ocean. I’ve put my feet and my body in the Atlantic, the Pacific, the Mediterranean. But it has never felt quite the same. You can try and recreate the circumstances, but you never have the same feelings. There’s just a fragment of the memory that might escape, like smoke into air. 

I remember stepping off the beach, onto a towel, back then when I was that boy on the beach, and feeling the warm sun against the seawater skin, and me lying in the sun, on a towel, with a towel over me. And a small glass bottle of lemonade with a striped straw in it, warm in the sun but refreshing. Closing my eyes and seeing the sun shine through orange and red through my eyelids. 

And feeling… like there was nothing to worry about. Nothing to complain about. This was where I always wanted to be. 

Summer holidays now are different, though of course I’m lucky to have them at all. But the weeks without something to do, or any way to get out there and work, change you. I find myself lying in bed until four in the morning, thinking, worrying. Worrying about the things that have gone wrong. Endlessly thinking about every small and large piece of criticism. All you get in some jobs is criticism, some of it helpful, some of it just insulting. Everything you could do could be better. Everything you do is wrong. Don’t do it like that, do it like this. Don’t do that. You shouldn’t have done that. You shouldn’t do that. You’re not good enough. You’re not as good as someone else. You’re not as good as anyone else. You aren’t doing what you’re supposed to be doing. Make it better. Make everything better. Change yourself. Make yourself different. Your personality isn’t right. You aren’t the right kind of person. You shouldn’t be yourself. Don’t be yourself. Be someone else. Be what you aren’t. The person you are is not good enough. Change. Change. Change. 

And before you know where you are, you’re analysing every little thing that went wrong and every little thing that won’t go right. Every criticism multiplies, every faint word of praise gets fainter and fainter. And it begins again. 

This pattern will be familiar to some of you. 

Somewhere between the boy on the beach and the adult lying awake till four in the morning, something was lost. Something that I need to get back. Not swimming in the sea, but the freedom of swimming in the sea. Not being able to run along a beach, but being able to run along, and not care, and not think, and not wonder, and not analyse, and not consider, and not compare, and not any of that: just run, and feel the sand on your feet. 

It’s there in me, somewhere. 

And the person I am? I am that boy on the beach as much as the gloomy, sad, grumpy person that other people judge and dismiss and belittle. I am both, and both are me. Change happens, but not because you’re told to change. You change because the things around you change. You change when you’re ready. You change when it matters. You change because you want to. Not every day. And not in everything. But it can, and does, happen. Not always for the better, but sometimes it is. Head back towards that boy on the beach. Head back there. Do everything you can to go back there, and be back there. It’s you. It’s me. 

 
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Posted by on August 19, 2014 in Uncategorized

 

Why it matters

Today’s front pages gleefully pick over the corpse of Robin Williams. Details of suicide method. Intrusion into a family’s grief. Speculation over “why” he did it, implying there was one specific cause.

I remember when I wanted to be a journalist: I could really make a difference, I thought; I could really change lives. There was a time when I felt that wasn’t possible, but I think it is. Those people who yesterday ignored and dismissed the Samaritans guidelines on reporting suicide might be in that position: they might change lives. For the worse. They might even… Well, there is an obvious conclusion. I hope more than anything it doesn’t happen.

Why it matters is because the guidelines are serious. They’re there for a reason, namely to prevent suicide. Because there is no one immediate cause of suicide: the factors are many and varied, from individual to individual. Research is ongoing, but woefully underfunded. And because of the individual nature of a suicide attempt, it’s incredibly hard to analyse what made one person survive and one person not.

But. It matters. What we do know is that research shows that if suicide methods are revealed in newspapers, or any media, they go on to be imitated. Not by everyone considering suicide, but by some.

It’s really important to stress something: shrugging your shoulders and saying “they’d have done it anyway” isn’t accurate. That simply isn’t right. Suicide is intensely complex. Introducing an idea can change ideas or plans or make new plans. If you introduce a method to someone that is more likely to succeed than that which they were already contemplating, they are more likely to succeed. That’s down to you. You did that.

Ah, but they would have looked it up anyway, everything’s on the Internet. But that’s not accurate either. There are different levels of curiosity and different levels of investigation from people who might have suicidal ideation. Not everyone looks up everything. Some people are susceptible to triggering. If you provide that trigger, you did that.

There are reasons why some medicines are sold in small doses. Think about it. It’s not because the nanny state is being overly cautious; it’s because it might really save some lives. It’s not done for fun.

It matters. If you ignore or dismiss the guidelines from experts in suicide, based on the best research we have available, to flog a few newspapers, that’s up to you. But remember: you did it.

 
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Posted by on August 13, 2014 in Uncategorized

 

Life and depression

hotdog

When a famous person dies, there’s always interest. When a comedian takes that final regrettable step and takes their own life, it’s easy to fall back on the ‘tears behind the laughter’ cliches. But depression is not a straight line from birth to self-inflicted death. It isn’t always a downward trajectory. It needn’t end that way, though sometimes it does. 

Depression isn’t just about death. Depression isn’t about death although sometimes it ends there and sometimes people die because of it. But being depressed is about being alive, feeling alive, struggling sometimes with that feeling of being alive; always life is there. Depression is life. That’s not a negative statement: it’s the ability to be at peace with depression, to live with it rather than trying to fight it or get rid of it altogether, that so many of us are looking for. 

strange

People have said it’s a ‘battle’ with depression. I don’t know if that’s my experience. It’s more of an existence. I don’t battle. I think there was a time when I did try to battle, but I don’t know if that was healthy or unhealthy. I tried to battle because it seemed like the best thing to do. You create in your mind an idea that one day you will be free of depression; that if you can ‘beat’ it then you will be free of it. I don’t think, now, that’s a realistic ambition. I don’t think you can win, but that’s not to say you have to lose either. You don’t have to fight. Part of it’s acceptance: accepting that this is how you are. 

It affects you when someone famous ends up hurting so much, especially if you feel that you might have some kind of insight into that hurt. Of course everyone’s life is different and we’ve all been through different things and parsed them in different ways. There is no common shared experience of depression, just as there’s no common shared experience of anything. All the same, you do wish there was some way people could reach out to one another. 

If some crumb of comfort could be taken from a sad prominent death from depression like this, it’s the idea becoming more widespread that depression isn’t something that only happens because of a sad event, or because of a spiral of disappointing things. Sometimes people with the best lives or the most material possessions can be depressed – though that isn’t to dismiss depression as a luxury of the ‘worried well’ either; there are many thousands of depressed people who are unemployed or barely scraping a living. The latter category of people are the ones who are most at risk, since they are the least able to access private therapy, relying instead on the ever-slowing machinery of state healthcare, which, cut a thousand times in recent years, struggles to process people and offer them the best help. 

There is help out there, but it often comes too late. Often you have to wait until you are in crisis before your mental health is seen as something that requires care or treatment. We need helplines and we need places to go in a time of crisis, but we also need the day-to-day help. We need to be reached out to, not always do the reaching out when we are at our weakest. 

Events like this do make people look into themselves and think about their own experiences of depression. All we can do is keep living. Depression is life. Not an easy life, but life worth living. Always worth living. Always, always, always worth living. 

* You can speak to the Samaritans on 08457 90 90 90

 
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Posted by on August 12, 2014 in Uncategorized

 

I’m chicken art

Author’s note: I’d been meaning to write about Die Another Day for years. It was like some kind of suppressed bad memory that I couldn’t escape. Every time, it was too raw to go back and visit. But now, maybe now is the time. It’s late, it’s on ITV2 and there’s no escape. 

There’s a problem I have with modern tv and films that I can trace back to Die Another Day. There are many faults with DAD – its lack of directional quality; the poor performances; the unconvincing villains; the presence of Madonna; the tsunami kitesurfing in front of the least convincing background in film history, CGI or no CGI; THE FUCKING INVISIBLE CAR, FOR CHRIST’S SAKE – but at its core there’s a kind of rotten, knowing wink. Not the raised eyebrow of Saint Roger – you knew and he knew he was camping it right up – or even George Lazenby, breaking the fourth wall, but something more tedious, more irritating, more anti-fun, anti-creativity than that. 

This was a Bond coincided to hit the box office at the same time as Bond’s 50th anniversary, so there was a lot of goodwill around. Goodwill that was sucked dry by the time you make it through the awfulness to the end credits. Since it was an anniversary, why not refer to a few previous Bonds – after all, each and every Bond refers to the others in a variety of ways? But DAD does this in a way that’s so clunky, so cynical, so vile, you’re yearning for a bit of good honest product placement to take your mind off it. There’s a space station covered in diamonds, for heaven’s sake, basically the whole point of Diamonds Are Forever. There’s self-referential and then there’s just copying. 

Somewhere along the line, someone forgot that films and TV and books and whatnot are meant to entertain you first. That’s the primary purpose of any piece of art. Make you enjoy it, in and of itself. With DAD, like the modern Sherlock or Batman, it seems to be written for ultra fans rather than the general public. It doesn’t seem to have been made to be a good film, but rather to fulfil a set of criteria and to be like other Bonds. It’s got all the ingredients of a Bond, just nowhere near in the right order or at the right pitch. 

Die Another Day is the worst film ever. No, not worst Bond film. Worst film. Actually, it’s probably the worst thing ever, if we imagine – and I do – that Country House by Blur never happened. Die Another Day is shit, but, more than that, it’s hurtfully shit. It’s the sort of thing that insults you for watching it. It’s hateful, hateful slurry. It’s not designed to be any good. It’s designed to make you nod and think, oh, clever. Bugger off! Entertain me. 

This isn’t entertaining, though. This is empty. All the wit and danger that ever made Bond any good is absent. It’s just a series of setpieces – not cracking ones, at that – glued together. 

Don’t get me wrong, I like Bond, even the crap ones. And I like Brosnan as Bond. Goldeneye is terrific. But this. This one. This. This heap of shit. 

Madonna’s miserable title track notwithstanding, things begin promisingly enough. There’s a daft hovercraft chase and Bond gets captured and tortured. Brosnan attempts an approximation of acting. It goes bad, quickly. Brosnanbond stops his heart – that’s right, stops his heart, by thinking of bad things – in order to lure doctors into his hospital room, beat them up and effect an escape. Mumbling the reasonable tagline “I’m checking out” in an accent so obscure it manages to miss every single country on earth, Brosnan gargles “I’m chicken art”. And chicks art. That’s the first warning, and we’re about twenty minutes in. But it gets deeper. Worse. 

Brosnanbond glides over to Cuba, via Hong Kong. He totally unnecessarily gawps over Halle Berry, who is delighted to be gawped upon and ends up fucking him in a scene of such mediocre intimacy that you’d be less squirmy sitting through hardcore fistfucking with your mum and dad over Christmas dinner. 

Via a pisspoor promotional video for British Airways, we’re transported to London, where villain Gustav Graves drops in via union jack parachute – as annoying a nod as possible Alan Partridge’s favourite bit in The Spy Who Loved Me – and proceeds to hold the worst press conference in film history. 

“SO, MR GRAVES, ER, BACKSTORY AND PLOTPOINT?”

“Yes, I intend to be QUITE EVIL HAHAHA oh er I mean yes.”

Madonna arrives, as if she’s been wheeled into place. Bond and Graves have a snarling and grunting competition in the form of a dismally unhomoerotic swordfight, in which a sword is thrown into a wall and actually makes – actually makes – that boingy twanging noise you get when you hold down a plastic ruler and wallop the end. 

No, we cannot avoid it any longer. We must talk about the fucking invisible car. 

CGI was in its prodigal stages back then. We’d seen the delights of greenscreeen brought to the fore in the beloved Star Wars prequels, so the Bond people must have thought: that’ll do for us. How can we use this technology in a way that can only enhance the franchise? Ah yes, a fucking invisible car. 

Don’t do it. You’re saying to yourself. Don’t do it. Don’t do it. Do anything but that. Don’t do the fucking invisible car. 

But they do. They do it. From the moment the Aston Martin flickers into life, you know this Bond has gone way beyond acceptable silliness, into the realms of “what the actual fuck am I watching? And why?”

An invisible car. They made an invisible car. They did a film with an invisible car. You can’t get around it. I mean, there’s a certain sackload of salt you have to take on board with every bit of Bond, and you know you’re a willing participant in the suspension of your disbelief, but how far are you meant to be able to suspend it? As far as a fucking invisible car? I can’t even. How can anyone? Brosnanbond had managed to (just about) get away with a big remote controlled car in Tomorrow Never Dies, and we winced along but carried ourselves through it as best we could, but a fucking invisible car. A. Fucking. Invisible. Car. How? Why? Who? I want names. Give me names. I want to go around to their houses – nice houses, I bet – and ask each and every single one of them just what they thought they might have been playing at when they agreed to this travesty. 

Bond has his own holodeck – of course he does – and walks through a series of clunkily-placed props from previous films on his way to getting the invisible car. In fairness, the appallingness of what’s about to happen is foreshadowed a tad. But nothing can prepare you. Nothing can make you steel yourself enough for the invisible ruddy shitting fucking Jesus Christ Mary Mother Of God car. 

Bond drives it to Iceland. There’s an ice palace. An ice palace! In most films (yes yes, except Superman), the presence of an ice palace might be the very worst thing, the thing to end all things, the thing that makes you think this film is beyond salvation. In Die Another Day? Not even in the top three. Invisible car > tsunami kitesurfing > iceboatplane > villain parachuting into press conference outside Buckingham Palace > ice palace.

We must move on again, now to the kitesurfing tsunami CGI debacle. I mean, you always knew it wasn’t Roger Moore skiing down a mountain, and the back projection was pretty rudimentary, but somehow it didn’t seem as bad. While attempting to escape the villains’ space station laser weapon in an iceboatplane, Bond falls a million miles down off a glacier – but luckily eludes the ensuing tsunami by MacGuyvering a parachute into a piece of kitesurfing equipment. This isn’t a couple of seconds quickly forgotten about: the sequence goes on for ages. As if they’re proud of it, or something. Everything about this sequence is so bad-its-good-it’s-bad, I remember howls of laughter in the cinema. 

Howls that quickly turned to groans when the Invisible Fucking Car rolled into view a couple of minutes later. This was it. We couldn’t take it. We had been saturated with the terribleness of it all, and now we could withstand no more. I think a couple of people walked out of the cinema at that point. Whether they were bored or disgusted is something that history doesn’t recall, but either way, I knew how they felt. How could it have come to this? Where did it go so wrong? 

There’s an ending to the film, of course, but it’s hardly worth describing. It’s all over by then. Your loyalty to Brand Bond is undermined, quite fatally. Daniel Craig would come pouting out of the sea in a pair of Speedos to try and resurrect it, but by then I think the damage was done, and I didn’t like his tedious solemnity. No, DAD is what killed off Bond. Killed him forever, as far as I’m concerned. 

 
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Posted by on August 8, 2014 in Bond, films, Uncategorized

 

Poppies

The last time I wrote, it was to say how uncomfortable I was about the graphic images of death, suffering and violence in Gaza. But something has changed my mind since. It’s the sanitised, safe, sombre politicisation of the 100 year anniversary of the start of the First World War. 

We’ve had ceramic poppies tipped out of the Tower of London. We’ve had ice sculptures melting on steps. We’ve had a big blade of light shining into the sky. We’ve had tealights in jamjars. It all makes lovely broadsheet photos. We’ve had royals laying wreaths. We’ve had politicians making speeches and laying wreaths. We’ve had politicians politicising wreaths, days after complaining about politicians politicising a political war. 

It all seems so squeaky clean, these feeble gestures. But the young and old and rich and poor men who died in the First World War were not little poppies or glowing candles. They were blood and bone torn apart by shells, decapitated by explosions, buried in filth, shredded by machine guns, poisoned by gas, shot through the skull and brain by their own side for suffering trauma.

It seems we are too squeamish to think of their deaths as being human experiences. We prefer to present them as tokens. Never forget, we say, while forgetting the agonies they went through. Never again, we pretend, while romanticising the war machine. We will remember them, we say, while doing an injustice to their memory by denying them the reality of what happened. They are just dots in the distance. We keep on making the same mistakes, making and exporting weapons, deciding that war is just and right if we really believe in it. 

No, we need to see the horror of war. We need to know what it means. We need to be reminded, constantly, what happens to the human body when it comes into contact with today’s modern weaponry, just as we should remember what happened to those souls who were ripped apart in 1914-18. If it’s uncomfortable, it should be. It needs to be. Sitting through awkwardness is the least we can do. If it makes us feel terrible, it should. It must be. 

 
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Posted by on August 5, 2014 in Uncategorized