Category Archives: ongoing saga

(All You Can Do Is) Step Back In Time

This is going to be a rushed post, because I get the feeling that if I don’t pull the trigger on it fast, I won’t pull the trigger on it at all.

Recently – through tragic circumstances that would make anyone think about the unflinching passage of time, memory and mortality – I reconnected with an old university friend on Facebook.

(Any time I reconnect with someone on Facebook from a very long time ago, it makes me think about memory, time and dying. I am not the person Friends Reunited was invented for.)

SO ANYWAY, that got me thinking. And then a new acquaintance from Twitter – take a bow, Rachael Burns, who is now ancient at thirty years old – was gifted with a lovely collection of vinyl, among which where some albums by the Cocteau Twins.

I’ve been thinking a lot about the Cocteaus in the last couple of weeks – eight straight hours of Sigur Ros while chasing down a deadline recently got me thinking a lot about the benefits of ambient, emotional music with nebulous lyrics – and the combination of all these things made me ask this old university chum whether any of the videos we did for our Media course still existed somewhere.

I skipped ahead a bit there. One of our big group projects at uni was to produce a music video. I may be misremembering some of what follows, but I feel the need to share it before I show you what I’m going to show you.

The remit was to make a music video to accompany a song of our own choosing. We had access to pretty up-to-date technology, which at the time were these bulky video cameras – that had a few in-camera filters and effects that were pretty basic by contemporary standards, but addictive as hell, as you’re about to see – modern editing equipment – which at the time meant VHS I think – and we had zero budget.

As I recall, I pushed for the Cocteau Twins, because I loved the Cocteau Twins – I have vague memories of subjecting the group to a battery of songs for tone, most of which were totally unsuitable – and as a group we decided on a music video with a narrative. Both of these things were totally out of step with what the other groups were doing, we would later find. Everybody’s work looked pretty good, but ours was the most swoony, pretty, least heavy song, and the most visceral and horrible video. I have memories of Metallica to swishy shots of autumn trees, and then our melodic scenes of death and destruction.

I felt pretty good about the early stages of the project. I’d got a decent amount of input on the song, and the story – areas I was confident in – but we had to decide on someone to go in front of the camera, and nobody wanted to. I think I may have been out of the room when it was decided that I’d be the central protagonist.

I can’t act. After three years of podcasting, I can still barely deliver a pre-scripted line. I didn’t have a very good self-image at the time, so couldn’t be objective about how I looked on camera, but then maybe that was true of most twenty-year-old media students at the time.

That’s the preamble, which I’ve included because I feel the need to apologise for every damn thing I’ve ever done, and offer CONTEXT. The truth is this was a successful project by most metrics, but I can’t get over how weird it feels seeing myself centre stage at that age, and how much the means of production have dated.

 

Other useful notes:

  • It was all filmed in central Southampton and Bitterne Triangle, mostly in the parks opposite what is now Southampton Solent University, but also in the alleyway near the back of Primark.
  • The make-up effects were entirely provided by McDonalds, which used to be around the corner from our alleyway location.
  • The story, in case it isn’t clear, is that the protagonist lost his girlfriend in horribly tragic circumstances, and is torn up that the last time he saw her they argued. He is drifting around, sullen as fuck and disoriented. People keep disrupting his day, and he has dark fantasies about violent responses. This was that nebulous period on the cusp of the eighties and nineties, pre-irony – girlfriends were always dying, leaving trails of revenge and regret.
  • Yes, he does get himself straightened out in a church at the end. Pre-irony, remember? That church is on my way home from work now. I don’t think we asked for permission to film in there.
  • The bits in daylight are supposed to be real. The bits at night are the fantasy. We decided that this wasn’t a clear enough visual motif, so someone decided that the protagonist should wear different clothes in each, which meant jacket off in one, jacket on in the other. Someone decided that the bits shot at night in Autumn should be the bits where I was in a tee-shirt. That someone wasn’t me.
  • I’m also dismayed to see that the boyfriend/girlfriend bits aren’t as prominent in the cut as I remembered. This is upsetting because a) the happy-couple bits got quite cool and intense and b) because my video-girlfriend felt weird slapping me – I know, right? – I had to get her real-life wound up at me, so when she slapped me on camera, she really slapped me. It seems unfair that our method acting and my pain didn’t quite make it in properly (it probably looked shit).
  • Yes, I know, I was dreamy. I don’t understand how I never saw it before. Sigh.

So, yeah. Time to post this, I guess. Remember, kids: never let other people humiliate you. The only person you should allow to humiliate you is you.

Resignation Fuelled Gardening – Ripening Indoors

Way back in Spring, when the first few seeds were sprouting in the propagators on our spare-room window-sill, someone on Twitter encouraged me to blog about my gardening efforts.

It seemed like a good idea, but my attempts failed at the first hurdle, when I realised that the only camera I had available just wasn’t going to cut it for close-up pictures of seedlings and hoped-for fruit. Luckily, this summer was such a bloody awful one for growing fruit and veg round these parts that none of us missed much as a result of me failing to pull together any sort of blogging discipline.

It wasn’t a complete disaster. We got quite a few courgettes out of the vegetable patch, and a lot of fresh basil – the source of my only real achieved growing goal this year, because I wanted to make fully home-grown pesto, although I still had to go elsewhere for pine-nuts. Where the hell do pine-nuts grow, anyway, Narnia?

Potatoes and carrots earlier in the season did well, too, but as usual I timed things badly and we got them all at once, and the truth is we probably don’t eat enough carrots to make the haul we got worthwhile. We ate the four small cobs of sweetcorn with our lunch this week, and as tasty as they were it was a bit depressing that that’s all we managed to grow. The peas were disappointing.

Our broccoli got totally wiped out by caterpillars – the leggy terrorist bastards – and despite early signs that we might get a lot of peppers – sweet and chilli – a lot of fruit early on grew to a decent size and then just sat there, failing to ripen.

Most depressing were the tomatoes. After deciding early on that I wouldn’t be going as crazy with tomatoes this year as I did in 2011, an impulse buy of a pack of six varieties of tomatoes I’d never seen before meant that decision went out the window soon after I made it. Yellow tomatoes, though! Orange tomatoes! Why wouldn’t I want to grow those?

In the end more than twenty viable tomato plants went into the vegetable patch – two each of the peculiar varieties, and a few standard and cherry plants. After a promising start inside the house, the plants took a while to take hold in the dry and cool early summer, but eventually fruit appeared and it looked like we’d have another late season on our hands. We found and used a few green tomato recipes last year, but a late flurry of ripening meant we eventually did pretty well.

I had high hopes, and my inability to throw anything away meant we had a bunch of pepper and tomato plants in planters scattered around the garden too.

Then a few weeks back we had a sharply cold, wet weekend, and overnight I lost all but two of the tomato plants in the vegetable patch to blight. Some of them hung on for a week or so – a mathematical approximation of “hope that it might not spread if I worked hard” – but basically the tomatoes were buggered. Lucky that I’d had a few in the more protected planters, but even so, we only got a handful of lovely small yellow fruit before it got too cool for even them.

Last year, I had a little luck with ripening off tomatoes indoors at the end of the season, but it’s a tough decision to make, because once you decide it’s time to do it, you’re basically admitting that no more growing is going to happen outdoors, and essentially the season is finished. It’s also a hard call because it’s a gamble – the plants will always do better outside rooted in soil if conditions are even remotely favourable. You’re unlikely to get extra growth by pulling plants inside; you just get nicer colour from the fruit you manage to salvage.

Once it starts getting cold enough at night indoors that you need to double duvet, though, you just have to make the call. Autumn in the South of England will always throw you a few glorious sunny days, when out of the shade the sun on your neck feels like summer, but to a gardener those days are a vicious lie.

So on Sunday I pulled up our garden. The basil is still out in the greenhouse, and I’m going to leave the courgettes to their own devices because we might get a few more small ones. There’s also one final broccoli plant that I’d planted out near the courgettes as a kind of joke at my own expense, expecting it to die, but I’ll leave that to hang on because the caterpillars don’t seem to have found it yet. But everything else has been yanked up.

This meant a lot of tomatoes and peppers that either need to be eaten green, or that I need to ripen off inside. As I mentioned I had a bit of luck with this last year, but one of the problems with the posh tomato varieties is I have no idea what constitutes a normal size for them, and so can’t make a decent guess at which fruit are actually likely to ripen.

And I’ve never grown peppers before. They seem oddly alien to me, and I’ve no idea how to get them to bloom.

There are a few different techniques the internet suggests, and I failed to take any notes on what I did last year, so I had to pick through the Google results again this year. The two most popular ones are:

  • Leave the fruit attached to as much of the plant as possible, and hang somewhere light and warm.
  • Put the fruit in a paper bag and keep them in the airing cupboard, preferably with a ripe banana or apple in there.

The former seems to be an attempt to try and eke as much out of the departing summer’s sun as possible, whereas the latter is a way of keeping the fruit dry, while also cycling any ethylene created by ripening fruit through the bunch, which encourages the rest of the fruit to follow suit.

I had a lot of fruit in different states of growth or blight, so I tried a couple of different methods.

I had a few plants that had a lot of tomatoes or peppers that I didn’t think were quite ready to ripen, or where I still had a lot of undamaged stem attached. In these cases, I got it into my head that they might benefit from a little more food. I filled a couple of jars and a bottle with water, and put in a decent dose of tomato food, and arranged the fruit like flowers, keeping as much of the stems and where possible some leaves as I did.

There’s absolutely no science – that I know about – behind this. It just made sense to me that it might be beneficial to let the “plants” have a little more water and sun. At least, it probably couldn’t hurt – as long as I kept an eye out for mold – and if I didn’t do this I’d probably end up throwing the fruit away anyway.

So far, in the short time that these have been on the shelf in our morning-lit bathroom, you can see that some of the chilli peppers are changing colour already, and at least one of the sweet peppers is clearly starting to turn a bright red. The bigger sweet peppers are confusing, because they shifted from dark to light green a while ago, and have looked like they were ready to eat for a while, but just weren’t going all the way.

The chilli peppers have been that deep green for months, and showed no sign of brightening, except for one solitary fruit that did so months ago. I really wasn’t sure what would happen when I brought those in, but wasn’t expecting a change so quickly. I can already feel the pain when I forget that I’ve just been chopping them and rub my eyes in a week or so.

So the window-sill method certainly doesn’t seem to hurt. Those fruit may have been about to change anyway, but dipping them in water didn’t stop them, and after a couple of weeks of losing a plant-full of tomatoes a day, the fact that the tomatoes I’m keeping this way didn’t deteriorate makes me happy.

With the loose fruit, I opted for the more traditional method of a paper bag in the airing cupboard. However, I didn’t have a paper bag – I don’t know who keeps a store of them in their kitchen, to be honest – so I used sealed plastic tubs with a layer of paper towel underneath and on top of the fruit.

The only preparation you need to do in this method is make sure your fruit are clean, and if you have to wash anything off them, make sure they’re fully dry. If any of them have really long stalks attached, you should clip those shorter, too, because anything that can bruise other fruit will compromise them.

You have to leave enough room for the fruit to breathe a little, so I didn’t fill them up too much, and because there wasn’t room for a banana, I made sure that each tub had at least one pepper or tomato that looked promising.

The photo shows the pros and cons of this method, and also my biggest error. In the top tub some of the fruit has already ripened nicely – that pepper wasn’t that colour when it went in. However, the bottom tub showed how much of an issue moisture can be – you may need to look at the full-size version to see how much condensation there is.

The fruit sweating is an issue, but I didn’t help matters by leaving the ends clear of paper. I didn’t think it’d be a problem, because I assumed that light was the biggest issue, but in the bottom tub a quick check showed that where the fruit were sweating, and too close to the edge and each other, a few tomatoes had gone to mold and blight. Again, maybe they always would have, but in case not, I replaced the kitchen towel and this time made sure each end was covered up, too.

So, anyway, that’s where we are with our tomatoes and peppers. Most sources say that it can take a couple of weeks to see real results from ripening indoors, so early signs are pretty positive. It’d be nice to close the season out with some good news and productive gardening, in time for all the grunt work of late autumn.

Impulse Buys for Early October

I am buying the heck out of these things right now. Total pay-day treat.

Each thing comes with my absolute recommendation, and yeah, if you buy using the linky things, I do get a little kickback. Microscopic, actually, but still kinda lovely, so I’d really appreciate it if you did!

 

This was one of a few films I saw in the last few months that I really thought wasn’t as well received as it deserved. It seemed to struggle on three fronts: incredibly badly marketed from the off, it was fighting against such terrible word of mouth and low public awareness even before release that it was probably always going to open badly, and then when it was released, it was such a loving adaptation that it didn’t offer anything beyond what we had already seen in the hundreds of movies inspired by it.

However, after a slow start, this won over everyone in the large group I saw it with at the cinema. The director shines when handling the CGI characters, who out-real central actor Taylor Kitsch until he finally catches his stride around the beginning of the second act. I liked it.

 

This is pretty much a straight-up fight movie, in the same vein as Rocky, but the emotional core of it is so well-crafted and sincerely delivered, and the actual scenes set in the ring so beautifully choreographed and shot, it totally knocked the wind out of me.

Now I just have to see whether it has the same impact on me in front of my wife as it did watching it in the house on my own with her away for a week.

The truth is I’m generally a little under-fed and over-tired when she’s away, so I may have been in an emotionally weakened state.

 

Nobody pays enough attention to Tarsem Singh.

Admittedly, this may be because his interests as a director run more to aesthetic and artistic beauty than coherence or emotional characterisation, but his movies really are so beautifully made that he should command a much larger audience than he does.

That said, The Fall manages to hit all targets that I require to consider it a damn-near perfect film. It’s an amazing combination of Tarsem’s incredible eye for location and spectacle, two beautifully natural central performances from Lee Pace and Catinca Untaru, and a narrative that weaves fantastic flights of childish whimsy and real-world melancholy into something utterly satisfying.

Not everybody will love this film, but if you still love The Princess Bride, this is a brilliant companion piece for it in your grown-up film collection.

 

For a while now I’ve been reading Avatar’s sharp and horrific web-comic “Crossed – Wish You Were Here”, but Kieron Gillen’s recent interview with the writer Si Spurrier (on Gillen’s podcast Decompressed, which is must-listen for people interested in creative process) reminded me that I wanted to own it, now that it was in print.

The whole thing is already available online, and you can read it all here, but be warned: while Spurrier and Barreno do a great job of tempering the horror with creeping mundanity, the grotesque moments are really very, very grotesque, and as much as I hate the concept of trigger-warnings, Crossed as a comic franchise should probably come with a dozen of them.

Especially if you like dolphins.

 

I’ve only read one issue of Wolverine & The X-Men, but it’s one of two X titles – X-Force is the other – that leaves an incredible impression on me whenever I catch even the shortest excerpt.

I think it’s down to the addictive mix of Jason Aaron’s tightrope walk between lightness and X-mutant melodrama, and Bachalo and Bradshaw’s cartoony and rammed with detail art.

The bits I’ve read remind me of the best of Chris Claremont’s later 80s work, when he’d team-up with Alan Davis or Art Adams for absolutely screwy but paradoxically high-stakes mutant mayhem, but without the over-written excesses that re-reads of those comics tend to reveal.

Basically, I’ve been looking for an excuse to pick up more since reading that one issue a few months ago.

 

This final one is a bit of a surprise for me.

I bought the first volume of this as part of a batch of similarly spontaneous purchases, from Amazon sellers who had it cheap.

I’d liked the look of odd issues of Marvel’s Stephen King adaptations when I saw them on the shelves, but suspected that they were a glossy but flawed endeavour. After all, why bother doing a good job of an adaptation, when King’s name would sell the books whatever the quality?

And having read The Stand nearly twenty years ago, I had my doubts as to whether it was even possible to adapt such a huge work well, or if King’s original book would even stand up to that much scrutiny so many years on.

Revisiting the story does show that like John Carter, King’s work sometimes doesn’t fare so well alongside the more modern stories that he influenced, and Aguirre-Sacasa and Perkins haven’t helped that mildly anachronistic feeling by fixing the work in the period in which it was written. However, with the writer’s well-measured and well-achieved mix of prose flourishes and comic looseness, and the artist’s beautifully drafted location and character work, that slightly off period feel has the odd effect of really grounding the narrative, and giving it a creepy and portentous atmosphere.

I’m really looking forward to finally reading this next volume.

Movember 2011

Oh, also:

I’m doing Movember again this year. Mainly I do it because when you’re as beardy as I am, just having to shave down to a mo for a whole month is a hell of a novelty, but it also happens to be for a really good cause. I’m going to do the whole thing whether you donate or not, but it’d be a super-cool thing if you sponsored me.

(Also, if you believe in an afterlife, there’s a good chance that one fiver toward this will get you at least twice as good a place in paradise as judging people who have sex before marriage for a year, or a WHOLE LIFETIME of tutting at same-sex kissing in public.)

My page is here: http://www.movember.com/m/762526, and I’ll be tracking my progress there, and probably on Flickr.

Also, the good people at Lomography have lent me and some other lucky chaps one of their ginchy Diana cameras to document the whole thing daily, so at the end of the month there’ll be that to look forward to.

(You know, there are some people who only met me at Thoughtbubble who actually thought I had a ‘tache all year round – I wish!)

To give you some idea of how weird it is for me to be shaving daily for a month, this is what I normally look like these days, and what I look like at the moment:

So anyway, good luck to anyone else doing this, and any of the brave people doing NANOWRIMO this year.