A Kaleidoscope of Christmas

| Posted by Lou | The time is 6.00pm here in London UK |

I had a wonderful Christmas and hope you did too! Here is a chronology of my highlights. There were also plenty of dvds, games, laughs, and oh so much booze.

Eggnog - so gross!! Don't do it!

The performance of Di's life - giving a rendition of Fairytale of New York in order to win a mystery gift (a Corrie apron):

The HUGE Christmas Tree (at Cara and Chris'), bursting with gifts:

Best Thing Ever - a musical cake server with Christmas, Birthday, Wedding and Congratulations songs (from Chris):

Di's lovely new t-shirt (from Chris), my awesome cat hat (from Cara), and Chris' new tatts (from Ruthie):

Chris with his new nerd literature (from me) and tatts (from Ruthie):

The succulent chicken that died in order to make our Christmas Day a gluttonous one:

So much food! So much yumminess!:

Five very full, very satisfied people:

The pavlova, which had slumped in the middle and thus had cream, coulis and choccies applied to try and disguise the horror:

Does this count as White Christmas?? Random patches of leftover frozen snow??:

Ducks and swans enjoying their Christmas dinner:

Greenland Dock's frozen head as it tries to reach the strangely silent Thames:

The ladies posing in front of Canary Wharf:

That elusive Christmassy feeling

| Posted by Lou | The time is 9.50pm here in London UK |

I'm trying really, really hard to be Christmassy.

I psyched myself up from a long way out, planned my "12 Days of Christmas" feature... and... it's just not working.

I started with an advent calendar - though made the mistake of buying it to be a prop for my Beatles birthday party, so getting a thoroughly unthematic Thomas the Tank Engine one.

It has made me feel nostalgic for back when I was little and we would get a glittery nativity picture that had cute little depictions of Christmas and the story of Jeebus' birth behind every window.

Previously I'd just remembered the excitement of when advent calendars evolved to have chocolate behind each door, but alas not even that is getting my enthused with many of the chocolates remaining unopened and uneaten.

I have of course also tried the obvious route towards Christmas excitement by buying and wrapping gifts. I've gone for quantity over value or quality, and they have sort of worked a little bit.

At the very least they make my barely-decorated £3 tree look a lot more festive than it otherwise would!

And in broadening my Christmas horizons, I have done a weekender to German Christmas markets.

Unfortunately of course the Christmas markets occur at Christmas time, which is peak wintertime, which means that the cold and snow makes the temptation to go inside and drink German beer and eat German stodge far too great to resist.

However I did do a markets round and picked up a couple of gifts, and got myself this little traditional decoration to try and bling up my tree.

There have also been drunken Christmas parties and the boozy Christmas lunch... but I think the problem is that I'm missing the one key element to that Christmassy feeling: a week off work to look forward to. When one is unemployed, holidays just don't have the same irresistible appeal.

But there are things on their way to help: it looks like being a White Christmas (it will be white with a thick layer of snow and ice on the ground, but may also be actually snowing); I have charades and egg-nog planned; and tomorrow I'm going to go out and try and get me the world's most hideous Christmas jumper.

Watch this space.

5 Rules of Redundancy

| Posted by Lou | The time is 9.30pm here in London UK |

1. Where previously 6 hours of sleep was perfectly sufficient, you will now need 10 hours at least. And probably want to have a nap as well.

2. You will develop a sudden and strange interest in antique and property television programmes. A format combining both will feel like a work of genius and become your new favourite show.

3. Activities which would take one minute to do in the middle of a busy work day - such as calling the power company - will now require a whole afternoon to be planned around them.

4. A trip to Tesco to buy a few groceries counts as a busy afternoon.

5. You will look back and wonder how you managed to work at your former company for so long and think that being made redundant was the best thing that could have happened.

A really tactical person

| Posted by Bel | The time is 4.09pm here in Wellington NZ |

Him: Yeah, so then, like, I applied for the Peace Corps.

Her: Oh wow, I thought you had to be American to serve in the --

Him: Except you have to be American to get in there, so I'm kinda scouting around now.

Her: Right, seeing what to do next?

Him: Totally. I got put in touch with the UN, but I just don't think that's my thing.

Her: No, of course not. Um. Why not?

Him: Awh, man, I would just hate that, you know. Working for the UN is an office job, man! You're in New York, you're tied to a desk, that's just not me. It's all strategising and I'm a really tactical person, you know? I need to be on the ground, making the plans, making it happen.

Her: Yeah, wow, of course. So what will you do next then?

Him: What? Um, I dunno aye.

A true story, overheard by Bel in Satay Kingdom today.

12 Days of Christmas

| Posted by Lou | The time is 7.20pm here in London UK |

I had really thought my status as a redundasaurus would leave me posting away like a maniac, but instead I have been beyond useless due to the combined effects of the flu sapping all shreds of motivation and increased laptop usage triggering my RSI.

But perhaps if I write this introductory post it will prompt me to start posting some Christmassy things?

As I have time on my hands and am in London for it this year, I thought I'd go all out for Christmas and try to do a bunch of traditionally Christmassy things. This will include eggnog, carol singing (maybe), German Christmas markets, crafts (perhaps), and lots of food.

Upfront I'd just like to acknowledge upfront that yes, I know that the 12 Days of Christmas are the 12 days after Christmas. This is quite convenient actually as it allows me to procrastinate and spread it out a bit longer...

As ever, suggestions and/or requests welcome!

Book review: The Adderall Diaries by Steven Elliott

| Posted by Bel | The time is 11.37am here in Wellington NZ |

I'm going to blog soon with an update about The List and my abandonment of it and what my new reading project has been (for most of the year), honest. But in the meantime, here's a teeny-tiny review.

Lou and I are both fans of James Franco. If you actually went and watched that NY Times slideshow of actors acting I blogged about earlier, you would have seen the weirdly erotic film of him seducing himself. Being as well as being hot sauce, Franco is a talented actor who chooses interesting projects. Bit of installation art here, some Broadway rumours there, signed to host the Oscars over there - and his films vary from challenging and critically credible, to, um, dumb.

The Adderall Diaries came to my attention after I read that Franco had optioned the book to direct, also planning to write the script and potentially star. The author of this memoir, Steven Elliott, runs the website The Rumpus where you can read his short story, Where I Slept. (Seriously, go read this, it's pretty amazing.)

Intrigued and on a year-long bender of memoirs and autobiographies, I grabbed the book from my beloved Wellington Central Library. It was the exact same cover as pictured here! Should have got a real life pic, especially as I am rocking some glitter nail polish. Yes, I succumbed.

The writing is raw and confessional but still poetic, in the vein of Dave Eggers but without the distraction of his memoir's structural quirks and linguistic acrobatics. Chuck Palahniuk also comes to mind, though there is a relatable aspect to Elliott's writing which I've always found lacking even in books such as his Stranger Than Fiction.

The storyline weaves together what is a relatively simple murder case complicated by an unsolicited confession of guilt to other murders by a connected party, with Steven's own knowledge that his father may have killed someone when he was younger. The themes of deception and self-deception become entwined with his attempts to overcome writer's block and his self-imposed drifting in life.

A confronting aspect of The Adderall Diaries is the way Steven's sexual relationships and encounters are presented. His involvement in the S&M world means that sexual pleasure is interwoven with violence, a concept which can be hard to reconcile. There are graphic descriptions, not just of the surroundings of bondage dungeons that he visits, but of the way he feels during the experience. This can actually be revelatory, especially later in the book when he talks about the joy of feeling pain in this context as being a refuge from the terrors of his younger years.

(PS yes there were moments when I went "Oh lordy, Franco, really?!" at the thought of how sequences of the book would play out on the big screen.)

Summary: The Adderall Diaries by Steven Elliott gets a THUMBS UP and a recommendation if you are into reading about kinky stuff or true crime.

Actors acting for the NY Times

| Posted by Bel | The time is 9.36am here in Wellington NZ |

Oscar buzz already? Oh yes, folks. The NY Times has cranked up a notch with a 'Hollywood Issue' which includes an online album The Scene Makers which translates to their endorsements for Oscar acting nominations.

The accompanying video gallery called Fourteen Actors Acting  [NSFW if you count Natalie Portman taking off a dress to reveal underwear as NSFW, but you could just skip that one] is a big scale production, featuring minute-long performances from each in stunning black and white with an orchestral soundtrack, recorded in Prague. Classy!

Some thoughts:
  • Michael Douglas looks like a character from a David Lynch film. I mean that in the very best way.
  • The word 'rapture' came to my mind when watching Tilda Swinton's performance. Interesting to read that it was an interpretation of Joan of Arc.
  • Javier Bardem can smash my crockery any day!! Mmm-hmmm! *snaps fingers*
  • I cannot waaaaaait to see Black Swan!! It's showing at The Embassy. Yuhessss.

This project made me think of Sam Taylor-Wood's photographic collection Crying Men. I was unimpressed when I saw this at Wellington's City Gallery a few years back (loved her other work), as none of the emotion supposedly being expressed in the images had any integrity. You knew it was all actors, so of course all the crying was just... actor crying.

Whereas these 'short films' or whatever they are, embrace the medium and the art, as the title evokes. It is reminescent of Andy Warhol's Screen Tests, which was recently developed into 13 Most Beautiful, a stage show with live music.

Book review: Zeitoun by Dave Eggers

| Posted by Bel | The time is 10.15am here in Wellington NZ |

Yesterday I promised you lazy. How lazy? How about a blog post copy and pasted from an email I wrote to Lou earlier this week??

If you haven't read Zeitoun, please taihoa because we are chock full of SPOILERS below. Oh and rampant hating on the administration of at-the-time-US president George W Bush.

From: Lou
To: Bel
Subject: Zeitoun
Date: Sat, Nov 27, 2010 at 9:18 AM

Thoughts please!

Did you know about the parking lot prison when you read it? I didn't and literally felt like a cartoon when I got to it - like my bottom jaw literally fell to the floor and my tongue rolled out and I made the Scooby-Doo "huh" noise. It has been in the media a couple of times in the past year but I was hoping you wouldn't have seen so as to get the full impact!

FYI: did you see that George W recently said in his memoirs that his lowest moment was being accused of being racist during the Katrina aftermath. Not the aftermath itself... I saw this on the TV in Vegas and was shouting at the television.

From: Bel
To: Lou
Date: Mon, Nov 29, 2010 at 10:16 AM

I had my usual cultural context/current affairs amnesia take over me as I read the book and was so caught up in the narrative that everything came as a surprise.

Like, to the extent that when the storm passes and it's bad, but not that bad in terms of their experiences of hurricanes, I was like "aawh... yay..." and totally FORGOT about the whole FLOODING thing. Shame.

Okay. So.  Here are some of my thoughts:

  1. Fuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuck.
  2. And then at the end, it mentions that the other three guys all spent, like, 6 months longer in the maximum security prison than him!! Fuuuuck!!
  3. But assumedly not in solitary confinement. Did I tell you (or link to) this article I read about solitary confinement?? It was about this guy who was wrongly imprisoned for like 35 years and spent most of it in solitary (yes, in the USA, of course). There's all the psychiatric studies now about how the worst prison treatment is not being beaten or starved, but solitary. It's pretty much actually guaranteed to send you mental and make you incapable of returning to a normal life elsewhere in the prison, let alone 'outside'. [ETA: this isn't the article I originally read, but there is a great series here on NPR if you want to bone up on this subject.]
  4. Nope, no idea about the Guatanomo style prison. (I think I just thought he'd been locked up for ages bc of the paranoia that terrorists were 'around' post-Katrina. No actual idea of the content of the book, thanks to some effective paranoid skimming of articles in the past hehhee.)
  5. That bit where he does the construction-business-man style calculations in his head, and figures out how it must have taken them literally days to build it all, with supplies trucked in, while people were literally drowning in the neighbouring suburbs, is so gut-wrenching.
  6. I thought it was very restrained the way the book doesn't actually point any fingers. (See George W Bush rant below.) It mentions that all of the funding and administration of FEMA (that's their equivalant of our Civil Defence, right?) had been sucked up into the new formly Dept of Homeland Security (gaaawd that name is sooo ridiculous), but doesn't actually say "Worst. Idea. Ever." and instead just let's you see how that plays out.
  7. Same with the military forces in the book. Whenever they appear, they're always these cyphers, nameless, featureless, adbrupt and brutal. They have been trained into machines and they have no humanity.
  8. Complete contrast to Zeitoun, who seems to be pretty much the best person in the world.
  9. I cried when he got out of prison. I also found it really affecting how Kathy removed her hijab that time and realised chunks of her hair had turned white. (Perhaps bc of my recent hair-related traumas?)
  10. I loved the way the book presented spirituality in general. How it strived to show why being religious was an important, integral part of these people's lives. How it was just normalcy for them. I think that for some who views Muslim as 'other' it would have been a good way of bridging that difference, and seeing it as another facet of the same kinds of beliefs for conventional Christianity. I.e. not actually part and parcel of being an evil bloodythirsty terrorist.
  11. I thought at first they weren't going to tell the story of how Kathy converted, but rather sort of leave it as just an implict background thing, that that was just part of their normal lives, that this Southern white woman is a Muslim, yeah what of it. So when her conversion story did get told, I was like oooOOOOOoooh. (Crack up that it was her and her Japanese-American friend. Are there ANY proper Muslims in America??)
  12. Weird how the book talks a lot about the three daughters, but not much about the older son (from a previous marriage) Zachary. I assume this was intentional....? Like how in AHWOSG he downplayed his older sister (bc she was battling w depression) (the one who was then acrimonious about being left out of the book, who he then made up with, who then killed herself) (sob!).

Re George W. He said that the lowest moment in his whole presidential career was being called racist after Katrina. My god. I have SO MANY issues with this:
  1. I am conflicted, bc it was Kayne West who called him out on this, and Kanye West is pretty much cuckoo for cocopops....
  2. ....and yet when he made this statement [ETA: man, I love watching that, the best jump cut since Goddard was at his peak], it was bang on the money. Hence, why it got censored and hence why it actually did hurt GWB's feelings. THE TRUTH HURTS, BUDDY, IT HURTS.
  3. Bush's comment in his memoir seems to be one of those "I'm sorry if you took that the wrong way and you decided to feel hurt by what I said" apologies, you know? When someone weasels their way out of actually acknowledging being in the wrong at all?? (Fuck I hate when people do that.)
  4. Not to downplay Katrina and its aftermath at all, but really, George, really?? Of all the shit that went down, that is what you think back upon?!
    1. Not that bullshit with the fictional WMDs;
    2. or the thousands of civilians who died in various countries bc of your and Condelezza's constant hawking;
    3. or the spread of HIV/AIDS throughout Africa bc of your refusal to fund health programmes which supply condoms;
    4. or the recession brought on through your administrations mismanagement of the economy;
  5. He has now actually done some really good work in Haiti (with Bill Clinton) and one part of me is like "yay!" and the other part is like "are... you... fucken... kidding... me?? do... you... want... a... medal...??"
  6. Last 2 paras of this are HILARIOUS in illustrating the differences btwn the two presidents and why Bush suuuuuccckkksss:

From: Lou
To: Bel
Date: Tue, Nov 30, 2010 at 11:52 AM

Yep. To everything.

I would like to see an earlier draft - I would imagine that Dave probably literally sat down with the manuscript and went through it purely to remove any statements that could be seen to be political against GWB (or military) specifically so as to remove any ammunition for people to disregard the story as being "liberal propaganda". The story so speaks for itself that it doesn't need anything more anyway.

And yep, re: GWB. But he'd have to admit that any of those other things were wrong to name anything associated with that... And I think within the American cultural framework of being "WOO AMERICA YEAH US AGAINST EVERYONE" the way he completely fucked over Americans during Katrina and its aftermath is actually probably the most damaging and telling thing against him from the perspective of Americans (who are obviously the only people he cares about).

FYI: you should now get your hands on the doc Trouble the Water:

It has the documentary footage/ firsthand accounts of the abandoned people to accompany the book and provide the sort of "every(wo)man" experience of the situation.

From: Bel
To: Lou
Date: Tue, Nov 30, 2010 at 12:20 PM

The draft version where the footer on each page was PS fuck Bush!!!!!!

You are right about how the story speaks for itself. It didn't need any (leftist/liberal) trimmings - in fact, it was almost infuriating how Zeitoun is still so pro-America at the end and has all this belief and hope and crap and you're like 'but whhhyyyyyyyy?????'.

Trouble The Water! Yes. I was trying to think of that, but could only remember the name of the Spike Lee one. (I nearly wrote Spike Jonze just then. I don't imagine his take on Katrina would be quite the same.)

From: Bel
To: Lou
Date: Tue, Nov 30, 2010 at 12:29 PM

Just watched the trailer. EMOTIONAL.