Probably One of the Best Things Ever

Posted by Lou. The time is 11:57am here in London, UK.

The most wonderful thing happened last night. I was at Rebel Bingo discovering the dangers of revisiting something you hold fond memories of - this time it felt weird: the crowd were young, real young, there were the kind of dickheads they expressly used to ban from coming, and the person on the door was rude. But the bingo was still awesome, and the half-time entertainment was... well... The Best Thing Ever.

A "normal" guy came up on stage having "volunteered" to provide a distraction whilst they got rid of the "police" (obviously spending their Friday night trying to bust underground bingo rings). He disappeared behind the curtain then burst out in a white Elvis jumpsuit with a couple of hoola hoops...

And I freaked out, realising it was one of my heroes - The Guy Who Hoola'd Into the Air in Last Year's BGT Semi-Finals! Oh Em Gee!!!

Thanks to my mobile phone you can share in this moment via The Worst Quality Videos You Will Ever See (don't mind my screaming in the background).

150 year old modern masterpiece

Posted by Bel. The time is 10:30am here in Wellington, NZ.

There were so many things I liked about this book. I will not be at all surprised when a new film version of it comes out sometime soon, and they play up the 'Real Wives of Ye Olde France' side of it.

Despite the fact that "Madame Bovary" was first published in the 1850s, Flaubert has created a character that still resonates today - she is the prototype for Carmela Soprano, for the modern day woman shopping her way out of unhappiness, for suburbanites quietly suffocating under the routine of small-town existence.

This book reminded me a lot of "The House of Mirth", as they both have the same tragic arc and a compelling female lead who makes the wrong choices and essentially digs her own grave. Both storylines make apparent the patriachal framework of their lives and how their destinies are without escape, due to a complete lack of autonomy.

It felt like a great translation to read, with all the nuances and humour intact - unlike the clunky idiomatic writing in the version of Colette's "Earthly Paradise" I read recently. That had multiple translators, due to the piecemeal nature of the collection, and there were times when I thought 'Really? That's how she phrased that??'.

I shall give "Madame Bovary" very nearly 4 stars. Let's say 3 and 3/4. It's just that I heard that it had been banned when it came out and so I was expecting it to be a bit more raunchy than it was - however, of course, it is all discreet 'off screen' action [tragic that I use a filmic term to describe that]. What Emma gets up to is still scandalous behaviour, but I always find it very weird when you read these old-fashioned books and you finish a paragraph and then go, 'Huh. Oh! They did it... Did they? (scan back a bit) Yes... yes I think they did! Scandalous!!'

Awesome winter dessert recipe

Posted by Bel. The time is 6:56pm here in Wellington, NZ.

As soon as the weather turns crap, I start craving my mum's chocolate pud. It's of the self-saucing variety and is awesome. Here's the recipe she emailed through to me:

Self saucing chocolate pudding

4 oz margarine (or butter)
1 cup sugar
2 eggs
1 cup milk
2 cups self raising flour (or add 1 heaped teaspoon baking powder well mixed into flour)
4 dessertspoons cocoa (you may need more, today's cocoa is wimpy)
Some sultanas or raisins as you wish
vanilla ( 1 small teaspoon if desired)

Cream butter and sugar, add eggs, add milk, and add the flour, BP, cocoa and raisins (already mixed together)
Place in ovenware dish.

Mix together 1/2 cup sugar and 3 dessertspoons cocoa, sprinkle over the mixture.
Gently pour over 3 cups of boiling water (use bowl of spoon to deflect the force)
Do not stir, cook 30 mins in moderate oven or 6 etc mins in microwave.

I did a half batch for starters and it served four people reasonable portions (i.e. measly really, when all you want to do is pig out on the hot chocolatey gooey goodness). And also cold choc pud is the breakfast of champions, if you don't believe me then ask my two little brothers - both clocking in at over six foot.

One tip I would give, doyenne of cuisine that I am, is to "slather" rather than "sprinkle" the topping mixture and to not be hesitant about pouring the water over top before you put it in the over. It seems counterintuitive to tip cups of water all over your carefully prepared concoction - but this is what helps make the saucy sauce!

Also, I'm not quite sure if Mum actually means you should cook it for "6 etc minutes" in the microwave, for surely even the most nuclear powered of modern kitchenware would not be capable of this..?

Anyhoo... enjoy!

King Lear set on a farm in Iowa.

Posted by Bel. The time is 5:33pm here in Wellington, NZ.

When googling for an image to go with this book review, I discovered that "A Thousand Acres" by Jane Smiley had been adapted into a film back in the 90s. The ever-so-helpful plot summary on says "King Lear set on a farm in Iowa" which does pretty much sum it up.

The cover says 'Pulitzer Prize winner' but they MUST be referring to the author in general and not this particular novel, because, um, well, it kinda read like an trashy epic. I did like that it was so female-centric but I did not like reading so much about farming and fields and machinery and crops and harvesting and SO ON.

I have detected a distinct BIAS in 'The List' and I must confess to inwardly groaning when I realised I was to read yet another book about the American Mid-West. As important as it is to document the workings of hog farms in the 80s, I do prefer the more wide-reaching samples of 'The List'.

Not to write off "A Thousand Acres" completely. The characters were enthralling and grew beyond their Shakespearean inspiration, and I loved the plot developments - which were at times breathtaking, even though in theory I knew where it was all headed.

This is book #25 crossed off 'The List'. As you will note from the recent proliferation of reviews posted, I have been charging through all reading material lately. Woot!

as Precious as fleuroscent beige

Posted by Lou. The time is 5:53pm here in London, UK.

The title of this could just as easily refer to the film itself. It looks to be one of those rare gems that come along and blow those lucky enough to see it away with its unique voice and insight into characters all-too-seldom seen on the big screen.

Big ups to Oprah and Tyler Perry for backing it and hopefully getting it the sort of release it deserves and needs:

I'll be taking a box of tissues.

(do you reckon Bel's brainy enough to get the YouTube clip displaying the whole width?)

"Like Life": Like, not too bad.

Posted by Bel. The time is 2:30pm here in Wellington, NZ.

Lorrie Moore's collection of short stories "Like Life" definitely rates above downerville "Bad Behaviour" (see previous book review) but it is nowhere near by All Time Fave short story collection The Girl's Guide To Hunting & Fishing.

It had chimes of both, and although there were some scenes which really grabbed me, it's been a day and I'm struggling to recall anything overall. It was as if the stories were shirking away from being too much of a statement in themselves. Perhaps it's symptomatic of the speed I'm reading at the moment (all this free time! whee!) and the head cold that's making everything fuzzy round the edges, but I'm not taking all that much away from it - except perhaps that people are somewhat humourous but pretty much all horrible.

Colette's "Paradise" not my idea of heaven

Posted by Bel. The time is 2:11pm here in Wellington, NZ.

"Earthly Paradise" is a memoir of sorts, pulled together from lifelong writings by Colette. One of France's heralded novelists and literary icons, she was a contemporary of Marcel Proust and is often spoken of in the same regard.

An unconventional autobiography, this was very easy to read, because each sections was at the most a few pages long. The episodic nature of the book suited well her highly evocative style of writing, meaning you were drawn into a location, a time period, the reminiscence upon a person - without it being drawn out.

I particularly enjoyed the first third of the book, which brought to life her idyllic childhood and brought to mind so many strange details of my own. Her tales of occupied Paris in WWII were also incredible, telling how chic French women redecorated their complusory gas-mask cases to match their outfits - or carried them empty to bring delicious treats back from the markets.

A lot of the time, however, I found myself skimming over sections - as it was easy to pick up again a few pages later - and so much of the book had seemingly dated. Many of the people that were featured were unknown to me (my own fault, I know) and as I have little knowledge of her other works, there wasn't the same thrill of reading along with her career trajectory.

Much of the book felt like a peek back in time, and was an interesting perspective on standards at the time - but perhaps her writerly tone gave me too much of a feeling of passivity time and again.

The photo of the cover of the enormous beast of a hard-cover I had from the library had her posing with her cat, but I couldn't find that online, so have gone with a supplementary image of her wearing this awesome suit.

Campion repping it

Posted by Bel. The time is 3:43pm here in Wellington, NZ.

Hat tip to Lou, who first discovered the blog Women & Hollywood, where there is a new post up about Jane Campion.

Her film, Bright Star, is screening at Cannes, though this article focuses less on that and more on her role as a female director in general.

Campion is quoted as making the comment that she would like to see more female directors represented and that women need to "put on our coats of armour" to succeed in a male-dominated industry.

And in other Cannes-related news, a bonus point for guessing which new NZFC film gets the piss taken out of it by the Guardian in this slideshow of posters for movies in the Cannes market, "far away from the arthouse films being unveiled in competition".

Current Workplace Obsession

Posted by Lou. The time is 12:42pm here in London, UK.

Yesterday I wandered into the office of two female colleagues and they clutched my arm and said "you must hear our favourite song!" and put on Peggy Lee's Is That All There Is?

I became immediatey obsessed. I have downloaded the song, memorised the good bits, and had it firmly embed itself in my brain.

Today I wandered up to a different female colleague and said "Is that all there is?" and she immediately launched into the chorus.

I think we might start a fan-club and I invite you to join.

You must download the Peggy Lee version to your hard-drive.

You must immediately love the song.

You must want to clap your hands in glee at the way she says "But I'm not ready for that final disappointment". (Bonus points if you do clap your hands in glee.)

You must find yourself randomly saying "is that all there is?".

You must then watch this YouTube clip of Bette Midler performing it.

You must find it moving.

(It is voluntary whether you then click on the Chatanooga Choo Choo link and love that too.)

Done and dusted.

Posted by Bel. The time is 7:30pm here in Wellington, NZ.

I spent all of this afternoon asleep in the sun on my couch. And if you're thinking, 'Jeepers! You sound like a lay-about bum!', well, that's because as of 5pm yesterday, I officially am.

On Monday, I was given a letter which made clear my "options". Apparently there was the choice of "redeployment", which sounds quite exciting - however in one concise paragraph it was elaborated that due to the small size of the organisation and the specialised nature of my role, there wasn't actually any other roles for me to fulfill. So scratch that. Redundant it is.

I went to work on Wednesday (yesterday) feeling apprehensive about the as-yet-unconfirmed meeting that was supposed to happen, to discuss the terms of the redundancy. But I got some great advice from my manager (who is also being given the chop) and preemptively emailed through my terms: three month's pay, all leave and days-in-lieu owing, the bonus I have coming up and for them to pay for sessions with a counsellor as well.

Nerve-wracking as it was going into the meeting, it all went well. The CEO agreed to everything, and offered to write me a reference too. At that point I said I would finish on Friday, but after having a sunny lunch in Civic Square with a friend, I came back and said "how about I finish at 5pm today?". And did just that - though it was about 6pm by the time I was done having an impromptu glass of wine with some of my workmates.

I'd cleared my desk out on Monday, already pulled all my photos off the wall by my desk, had clocked out mentally. On one hand, it seems strange to have wrapped it all up so quickly, but on the other, WHOO!!

Yes, Telecom, you suck.

Posted by Bel. The time is 9:51am here in Wellington, NZ.

I usually immediately delete all the forwards my dad sends through, because the only thing worse than a forward, is a forward one of your parents thinks is funny.

But who of us has not been dicked around by Telecom over the years, or recently infuriated by their incredibly stupid 'teaser campaign'? It stars that stumpy guy off Top Gear who is best known for his near death experiences on supposedly high tech equipment - quite fitting really. Cue parody:

Belephant in the room

Posted by Bel. The time is 9:15pm here in Wellington, NZ.

It has been an awkward week at the office. Literally one person has spoken to me directly about the fact that I've been told my department is being laid off. There has been lots of breezy "Good morning!!"s as people hurried past on seemingly urgent tasks, making not a lot of eye contact.

I don't blame them really, I mean, unemployment's like swine flu: the new plague. Unpleasant to dwell on and infectious by association. We've all heard about people being made redundant - maybe there's even someone in your family, you know, without a job - but who really wants to hang out in the corner of the office that has had the X metaphorically slashed across it?

Award-winning photos

Posted by Bel. The time is 4:30pm here in Wellington, NZ.

Overseas Press Club Winner of The John Faber Award: Roberto Schmidt

A girl runs past a store reportedly owned by a member of the Kikuyu tribe and set on fire by members of the Luo tribe during ethnic clashes in the Githima slum of Nakuru on January 26, 2008.

Pulitzer Prize Winner for Feature Photography: Damon Winter

Barack Obama was joined by his family on stage during a campaign rally in Springfield, Missouri on November 1, 2008.

Click here to view full galleries of the award-winning photographs - it is a pretty amazing slideshow.

"Pet Kisses". Kinda just gross really.

Posted by Bel. The time is 10:02am here in Wellington, NZ.

The LIFE website is probably one of my favourite in the whole world. I mainly use it to spend hours oogling the old movie stars I adore, like Audrey Hepburn, Sophia Loren, Marilyn Munroe and Brigitte Bardot. (Before she turned into a crazy racist bitch that is.)

But there are photos galore there, including this charming gallery called "Pet Kisses: Kinda Cute, Kinda Gross". Mostly celebrity snaps, you can judge for yourself how cute it is to be sharing salivia with something that has the tendency to lick its own butt. And I am referring to the dog here, not Will Smith.


Big (breasted) action

Posted by Lou. The time is 5:36pm here in London, UK.

Sometimes it seems so difficult to create big change on the big issues that it becomes the little steps that matter, and I just love this little step one woman is taking on behalf of the large breasted women of Britain:

Battle over bras for bigger bust

Here's a salute to Beckie Williams, and all other people like her who stand up for fairness on the little things.

Wolverine and Friends (or Enemies, as it were)

Posted by Lou. The time is 5.52pm here in London, UK.

When you find yourself on holiday in a ye olde towne of England that has been suddenly overrun by very drunk, very hideous, unbearable late-teens/ early-20-somethings there is little else to do than retreat to a darkened cinema and hope to make it home afterwards without standing in vomit. Unfortunately – though perhaps in the end fortunately – ye olde townes have very little choice and so you inadvertently find yourself spending the Sunday night of a long weekend watching X-Men Origins: Wolverine. And loving it.

We all go to X-Men films to see Wolverine, right? He’s certainly worth it, with Hugh Jackman having perfected the combination of dry wit and physical prowess to be able to kick-arse and make you laugh out loud while watching it. In this he has a couple of one-liners that actually even made me forgive him for the shameful mess that was Australia. However, surprisingly he is almost upstaged – Leiv Shreiber is awesome. My opinion of him before this film was limited to “oh, he directed that rather bland adaptation of Everything is Illuminated (mmmm Eugene Hutz, mmm)” [that is a literal transcription of my thought process]. My opinion of him now is that he’s fucken’ awesome.

If those two don’t provide enough drool-worthy entertainment, there are also several tasty morsels in the supporting cast (I was particularly excited to see Dominic Monaghan’s name pop up in the credits). Okay, so you’re thinking that I’m being a leery hypocritical pervert, but it’s high time that Hollywood realise that women go see action films too, and that it wouldn’t hurt to pack the male cast with a wide variety of man candy for a change. And it's not like they're all rippling muscle and buffness (just Hugh and Ryan Reynolds) - we're much more subtle in attraction than that.

Yes, yes, there are some entirely unnecessary scenes that tip over into slapstick farce, but for the most part I thought the action was awesome (and admired the audacity of the setting upon which they partake in the climactic fight). Long live Wolverine.

Crocodile Redundee

Posted by Bel. The time is 3:00pm here in Wellington, NZ.

I got made redundant yesterday. In fact, the whole marketing department at work is being 'disestablished'. Due to the Current Economic Climate (c) TM (R), it's been decided that it will be more economically feasible to outsource all the marketing and comms services to an agency rather than keep me and my manager on board.

Obviously, I think this is a shithouse idea, but I'm not going to 'submit feedback on the proposal', as we've been asked to do, since the CEO is new to the company and clearly has been hired to do a hatchet job. This recession has everyone running for cover and some financial decisions are being made that don't necessarily make a lot of sense in other way.

I'm not exactly an unbiased commentator on the situation however. There'd been no rumours of restructuring or cutbacks that I was aware of, so it came as a shock to know that I was being pushed overboard. As the meeting wound up, I said, "um, I think I might go home now" and bunked off for the afternoon. I have very little desire to sit behind my desk and continue working on something that I'm not going to be part of. It's like that feeling you get when you hand in your notice, of all the responsibility and motivation sliding off your shoulders - except with a nasty aftertaste of humiliation and, well, redundancy.

Over the last 24 hours I';ve experienced a mixture of feelings (and some mixed drinks). At times I have actually felt quite thrilled,'liberated from The Man', on May Day even - how appropriate. To have my hand forced like this gives me the momentum I haven't had in the job hunting I've done lately. Because, let's face, the job wasn't all it's cracked up to be - and rather than continue to suffer through and only enjoy the days when everyone's out of the office, I can seize the opportunity.

Other times, I've felt really despairing. There has not been a worst time to be job-hunting in our lifetimes. We've all watched the 'Vacancies' section of Wednesday's Dom Post dwindle down to barely a double page broadsheet. It's a ruthless market out there and employers are in the power position. I feel like I've always lucked it with my jobs in the past and right now it seems like a time when that isn't enough to cut it.

But fact of the matter is, I'm one of thousands, if not millions, facing this right now. People are being laid-off around the world and throughout New Zealand and many of them are in far worse situations than me. That doesn't mean I'm not having a total pity party right now, but somehow I'm taking comfort in knowing that this is part of what seems to be a great inevitable wave.

This is me, waving, not drowning - I'll keep you posted.

Um, the photo is not that relevant but I wrote that goofy title and when I googled 'crocodile being attacked' that image came up and, come on, i had to use it.