Wednesday, 28 March 2012

in which cute kittens are cute

Cat. 
What are you doing, cat?
Stop it. You are not a hamster. 
You’re a cat.

May The Odds Be Ever In Your Favour



 
I was excited, and I was worried, that knot in the tummy that screams ‘I will hunt you down and I will yell at you, filmmakers, if you have destroyed a book I love’ because it’s always a fear, that the film will ruin the story. Helen whispered to me before it started ‘I have that funny feeling in my tummy’ right before she started to hum Hedwig’s Theme which made me laugh in a nervous ‘why are we here’ kind of a way.
My problem is and always has been that I love the books and the characters I love so much that it almost becomes personal and actually kind of hurts when the film destorys them [yes, The Golden Compass. I’m looking at you] and in the wake of the whole Twishite thing, I was a little bit worried about what might happen to THG because what if they tried to appeal to that fandom? That would be disastrous and there would have been nobody to blame but Stephenie Meyer

I need not have worried. The Hunger Games is such a good book, and it made for an equally good film. It was unrelentingly tense and I am still drained this morning. I was sat with my knees pulled to my chest and holding my breath the whole film, it was not the best of times but at the same time it kind of was.

There were things that niggled, of course there were. For example, the whole Mockingjay issue. The Mockingjay storyline is so so important in the books, particularly later on and whilst the scene with Katniss giving the pin to Prim was touching beyond belief and was super effective at showing the relationship between the two sisters, [and oh my WORD the stuff with Prim, every scene with Katniss and Prim all but broke my heart] I missed the whole scene with Madge giving it to Katniss, and learning what it signified and why. As far as anybody who has only seen the films knows it’s just a pin that Katniss picked up off a stall, but in reality it’s so much more. I’m interested to see what they do about that in the future films.

I wasn’t happy about Katniss not drugging Peeta to go to the feast either, she just lied to him and went and that didn’t sit right with me because it’s a scene in the book that I think said a lot about their relationship and about them individually. It might seem a little niggle in the grand scheme of a 2 and a half hour film,  but it’s indicative of what is perhaps my biggest bugbear regarding the whole film: Peeta.
The film just didn’t go deep enough; enough wasn’t said about their relationship, about Peeta’s feelings for Katniss and hers for him; about the set-up with Haymitch; about Peeta’s heartbreak at the end when he realises Katniss’s feelings were all for show, and there is a scene in the book, at the end where Katniss is in the hovercraft and she is screaming for Peeta and banging on the glass when he’s being resuscitated, a scene that [I think] is later played to the Capitol to reinforce the star-crossed lovers story that I think the film really really needed. That whole chapter actually, after the end of the games with them being taken from the arena and their recovery and the ensuing conversations Katniss has with Cinna and Haymitch about the Snow being pissed about the ‘fake’ suicide and how to play it and her asking Haymitch if he’s given Peeta the same speech. I think they should have found a way to include that, and that more should have been made of the victors interview with Flickerman and that moremoremore should have been made of Peeta’s feelings at the end of the book, and probably about Katniss’s too.
I don’t feel that the whole love story issue was properly portrayed as a whole actually – not from Peeta’s side and not from Gale’s and certainly not from Katniss’s. I am so far on Team Peeta that Team Gale is barely a speck in the distance but it’s book Peeta, who is brave and clever and tender and who loves Katniss wholly and selflessly and not film Peeta who [should have been hotter, albeit in an understated way] just seemed like a boy with a crush and because Peeta and Katniss weren’t properly explored and because Gale wasn’t much more than a pretty face, I think it was hard to feel a connection to either or to understand Katniss’s conflict. I also don’t think Peeta was particularly well cast although he had grown on me by the end.

There was so much that I loved though. The Games themselves were exceptionally well done. From the long silences to the fast moving action scenes, from the violent deaths [Clove] to the tender ones [Rue] the tension in the air was palpable and it didn't let up, not even for a second. This was not easy viewing and really brought the message home I think, about just what The Hunger Games are: these are children, killing children, for the viewing pleasure of the people of the Capitol. They were watching what we were watching, it felt real. The whole film was really well shot and the camera work was so effective, it was violent enough to get the message across without being senseless; people died but it never felt gratuitous although I think maybe Peeta’s leg and Katniss’s hearing should have been more of a plot point. I actually don’t think I took a proper breath from the second the tributes made the dash to the Cornucopia [which looked so much grander in my head] to the end of the Games. I was so so tense, despite knowing the outcome. Helen turned to our friend Kez at the end, who hadn’t read the books and said ‘how did you cope’ and I have to admit, I was wondering the same thing because the fire, and the tracker-jackers and the mutts and the way Katniss seemed to spend so much time not running when clearly she should have been doing exactly the opposite, it was hard to watch for somebody who knew how it ended, nevermind somebody who had zero clue.

Rue’s death and District 11’s reaction [which we never got in the books, and I thought it was a really clever move to let us know now that the Uprising starts in 11 – as a reader you don’t learn that til Catching Fire] KILLED ME DEAD, I was almost in tears from the first shot of Rue at the beginning, and oh my LordyLord, Katniss covering her in flowers and then doing the salute was just so moving, although I have to admit I missed them sending the bread to Katniss, I don;t really see why that had to be cut...

Haymitch was amazing, so good and I loved all the extra stuff with him sweet talking the sponsors and the scenes with Seneca Crane. Also his ‘loosen your corset and have a drink,’ to Effie.  Stunning. I think good ol’ Woody was perfectly cast and Haymitch perfectly played. I loved him, I do wish he’d been drunker though – his alcohol problem really hammered home the emotional effects of the games on the victors and in the film he just seemed like a guy who liked a drink and not a guy who’d been to hell and back, had to keep sending people to follow in his footsteps to never return and drank to try and escape that. Haymitch is much deeper than he appeared on sceeen. I did love him though. A lot.

Presidents Snow’s rose garden *shudders* setting the scene for the rest of the saga. So creepy but so relevant, I liked that it was in there although whilst I think Donald Sutherland was a great Snow I hope he creeps it up a bit in the next two films; just thinking about book Snow is enough to make my skin crawl. There was a lot more Snow than I expected and a lot more Seneca Crane, I can see why though and I thought it worked well, the scenes involving Crane and the game control table were very effective –Kez seemed to be particularly horrified by those parts, the perfect illustration of just what the Capitol is capable of.

Cinna. I adore Cinna in the books and Lenny Kravitz? No words, there are not enough words to express my love for him. Helen wasn’t convinced [I think she actually used the word ‘shit’ but I love her too much to hold that against her] but as far as I’m concerned it was flawless casting. Flawless. So much love. And I literally had to swallow down a sob at the ‘I’m not allowed to bet, but if I was I’d bet on you.’ Gah. Are you trying to kill me, are you? I thought the relationship between Cinna and Katniss was perfectly perfect.

And Katniss, oh Katniss. Jennifer Lawrence was incredible. So so good and just so exactly like Katniss was in my head. Her every line, her every move, her every damn facial expression, she played that part so so well.

Flawless casting, flawless acting, touching, exciting and so well done. I am pleased, in an emotionally-drained-my-heart-just-went-through-the-actual-wringers kind of a way. I want to read the books again and I can’t wait for the second movie. Amazing.


Tuesday, 27 March 2012

Weird Things Customers Say In Bookshops



Lalalalaaaa!! I shall post this now and get it out of my system. Are you ready? 

I am lucky enough to have in my possession an advance copy of the fabulous ‘Weird Things Customers Say in Bookshops’ by the equally fabulous Jen Campbell. Looky looky, I have my own copy and it’s so beautiful. It also has Jen’s writing in it. I have lots of letters and cards and stuff all over my house with Jen’s writing all over them because Jen is the queen of snail mail but this is special because this is a book and Jen wrote it and I have all the proud friend feelings right now.

Jen, if you don’t know, is a very talented writer, she has had both short stories and poems published, had a poem animated for the recent Smile London campaign, has a full poetry collection awaiting publication later this year and also has a short story collection and a novel in the works. She’s awesome. I’m telling you now, this girl is going to make it big and you read it here first [unless of course you are here because Jen tweeted about Herman theGerman, in which case of course you didn’t read it here first at all, you already know.] If you’re interested in reading her fictional writings then go here because this story, Second Skin, is one of my favourite pieces of hers ever.

Weird Things is Jen’s first book – due for release on April 5th this year– and whilst a far cry from the stuff I’m used to reading from Jen, is no less fabulous. 

I feel I really should point out that I am not only blogging about this because Jen’s my friend. I promise. If I didn’t think the book wasall that great then I’d have mostly just sent her a ‘oooo you wrote a book, yeah for you and thanks for the copy’ text and left it at that, but, I do think it’s great and I can pretty much say that even if I had zero idea who Jen Campbell was I’d pick this book off the shelf and I’d love it. It’s eye-catching for starters, it’s a pretty book and I love pretty books. It’s illustrated by the super cool Brothers Mcleod and they’ve done a wonderful job:the cover is bright and attention grabbing, it has an actual bona-fide quote from Neil Gaiman [how cool is that] and it’s funny. 

The actual book itself is laugh out loud funny, at the sametime as having you roll your eyes in despair and it’s great because whilst sometimes you can’t quite believe people have said these things at the same time you totally can because everyone has met someone like the characters inside these pages; everyone has had some kind of encounter that has left them despairing for the human race, that they’ve related to their friends and family over dinner, those stories that you can’t believe are real but at the same time you couldn’t ever make up and what makes this book so special is that Jen has managed to turn what would have most of us tearing out our hair and saving snippets for later conversation, into a book – she was savvy enough to write everything down and even before the book-deal her Weird Things  blog posts were exceptionally popular. 

Weird Things is chock full of perfectly comedic exchanges between bookseller and customer, and I mean chock full and what makes it better is that these stories all took place in bookshops: in TheEdinburgh Bookshop where Jen was a bookseller whilst at university, in RippingYarns which she runs now [both of these shops are amazing. I can tell you that from experience] and in bookshops all over the world – from England to New Zealand to the USA, people say Weird Things in bookshops the whole world over and the best of them are collected here, in a pretty pretty package for you to read from cover to cover or to dip into at will, to chuckle about to yourself or to share with friends. 
If you like books and like bookshops and have a senseof humour then you ought to read it. 

You may consider this a recommendation.

Wednesday, 14 March 2012

You Got A Friend In Me


“I have a friendship cake that I think I might have to bake during our stay at Jane’s – is it acceptable to take cake batter on a road trip?”  Helen asked one day, via email.

“What on earth is a friendship cake?” I replied.

Her answer didn’t really clear things up, “Herman is a friendship cake – he’s German.”

‘”I’m so confused right now” I told her, “you don’t even know.”

A few days later, with my own little [gooey] Herman and a set of instructions it all became clear. Herman is a chain letter. Or rather he’s a chain cake, a sour dough cake in fact,  and he comes with no horrible consequences but rather a lot of responsibility [if you put him in the fridge he will die; if he stops bubbling he is dead; some days he gets hungry and eventually, no matter how much you feed him, he winds up starving.]

I poured him into a mixing bowl and poked at him with a spoon. He didn’t look well. I worried the outlook wasn’t good. Still, God loves a trier. “This is Herman.” I told Ian as I covered him [Herman, not Ian] with a tea-towel, “We have to look after him.” I patted the bowl and adjusted the towel,  “I hope you’ll like it here Herman.”

That of course was my major mistake. Herman, along with my cars and my camper and several other objects in my life had been anthropomorphised and as such as I was obviously about to form an attachment to him– yes, my vehicles all have names and yes I refer to the garage as the car hospital and yesyesyes I got a little teary last week when Ian talked about cleaning Karina Camper ready for sale [‘she doesn’t want to be sold,’ he told me, ‘she just stopped working when I was cleaning her, like she knew….’]

So there I was forming an attachment to Herman the German, responsible for his health and wellbeing and then after ten days expected to cook him and freeze his fingers.

This was not going to end well.

And so it began.

I stirred Herman religiously, watching him worriedly immediately afterwards [should he be bubbling? I can’t see him bubbling…oh god, he isn’t bubbling, is he dead? Ian, does he look ok to you? WHAT DO YOU MEAN YOU NEITHER KNOW NOR CARE YOU HEARTLESS B*****D]; I fed him when he was hungry with a muttered “I hope you don’t mind semi-skimmed Herman” and a last stir for luck; I got a text message off Ian one day when I was at work [it has become pretty clear to me over that past 4 and a half years that whilst Ian may at times mock me for my quirks, there is no denying he is a total enabler] Herman has had an accident….opened the cupboard for a vimto.. And all the bags of crisps and delicately balanced mugs all fell.. Now I caught the mugs.. But a bag of crisps got away and hit Herman bang on his bonce …. Oh Eck.. to which I hurriedly replied asking whether he was ok and forcing myself not to berate my boyfriend [can you not be more careful damn you. How would you like it if I dropped a load of stuff on your head] – he was fine, thank goodness – and when, halfway through my 10 days with Herman I went away for the weekend I left Ian with very strict instructions to ‘look after Herman’ rather than just to ‘stir the cake mix.’

Herman was happy I think, with us. Ian complained that he smelt bad, which, let’s be honest he did but it wasn’t his  fault and it was pretty mean of Ian to keep commenting on it  because other than that he was the perfect house guest, and despite my initial worries it became increasingly obvious that he would survive his time with us.  This was an achievement on my part – I can’t even keep a cactus alive usually.  So Herman lived,  until day 10 of course, when he wouldn’t but I chose not to dwell on that.

Last night was D-Day for Herman, and I felt a little melancholy as I added the final ingredients and gave him one last stir before transferring him to a roasting tin and then, feeling rather like the wicked witch from Hansel and Gretel, into the oven.  
‘Poor Herman.’ I said to Ian as he leant against the kitchen counter, dipping his finger into Herman’s uncooked remains . He laughed and held out the bowl. I shook my head: I couldn’t.

But then, like a sign from the Gods there was the most delicious smell, a smell of apples and cinnamon and yumminess; a smell of home and of love and of happy ever after that permeated our house and from upstairs in the bedroom I called down to Ian ‘he smells amazing.’

He smelt amazing, and, when we placed still warm hunks into bowls and ate them with ice-cream whilst curled up on the sofa watching Glee, he tasted amazing and when I had a fully cooled slice with my coffee this morning he still tasted amazing and I figured this was Herman’s way of telling me it was ok.  It was okay that I cooked him and ate him because I didn’t let him die, instead I allowed him to fulfil his cakey destiny and, it’s not like he’s gone; his children and his brothers and his cousins live on in the homes of friends all over the country, maybe even all over the world and how amazing is that? [A tiny bit of me really hopes one of them winds their way to me because seriously. YUMMY.]

So here’s to you Herman the German, you’ll always be my favourite friendship cake.

Friday, 9 March 2012

Afternoon Tea, but what’s the twist?


 Last weekend Helen and I jumped on the Groupon bandwagon with what [on paper] seemed a very exciting deal: afternoon tea with a twist, [from the Groupon ad]
“adding a twist to afternoon tea, Beluga's version of the pre-dinner pinky lifter eschews warm beverages in favour of the more exciting cocktail. Bellini cocktails will be poured from a teapot and served with a selection of sandwiches, such as cucumber, smoked salmon, and cheese and ham. Scones with clotted cream and a cake stand flanked by teatime treats will also be included for duos to feast on.”


Hmmmm. Well. I’m not sure I’d call it Afternoon Tea but there was certainly a twist, if the fact that is was potentially the worst dining experience of my life counts as a twist.

We had a table booked for 5pm and arrived at about 4.55 where we were kept waiting for almost ten minutes, the waiter, when he finally arrived glanced at his watch and snippishly told us we were late. Actually, no, we were on time. Black mark number one, then.
The dining area was split into two: a low-lit area of cosy tables for two and big comfy booths and a smaller area near the kitchen. Our table was near the kitchen. Oh hang on,  I tell a lie, our table was all but in the kitchen. In the kitchen and in full view of the chef who had a plaster on every finger and the kitchen staff who sauntered through the restaurant with bags of food from Macdonalds and the trays of ready prepared sandwiches only partly covered with clingfilm.  Appetising. Almost as appetising as the lingering smell of chips and gravy, which is a lovely aroma in my dining room when we’re having a chippy tea but less lovely in what is supposed to be one of Manchester’s up and coming bar-restaurants.

We were given a piece of A4 paper, printed with [slightly smudged] details of three cocktails and left to choose. That took all of ten seconds – there were only three choices after all – and we both went for a pornstar martini, having had one before at a nice cocktail bar before and knowing we liked it. It took 20 minutes for anyone to come and take our drinks order which was rich, considering the attitude we’d gotten for our allegedly tardiness upon arrival. 20 minutes for our drinks order to be taken and another 20 minutes for our drinks to be poured from a jug on the bar and into a teapot and brought to us and here’s a note Beluga if you’re reading this: a pornstar martini should contain  vanilla sugar, vanilla vodka,  passionfruit and a shot of champagne, not just vodka and J2O. You might want to bear that in mind. Oh and serving drinks in chipped glasses is pretty bad form. AND, the flyer clearly stated 4 cocktails. We only got two. We would have complained but to be honest we couldn’t wait to get the hell out of there.

The food [and I use that term loosely] when it eventually arrived was not served on a lovely cake stand as promised but instead on a chopping board. This wasn’t altogether unusual; I’ve eaten in several places where the food is served on wooden slabs instead of plates. Those wooden slabs though, aren’t usually used. Yes, that’s right, our selection of cakes and sandwiches came to our table on a chopping board complete with grooves from the knives used to chop whatever the hell they chopped. I’m trying hard to convince myself it wasn’t raw meat. The bread was stale due to the aforementioned pre-prepared sandwiches only partly covered with clingfilm and the sandwiches a little warm, the cakes seemed to us like the ones you buy at Iceland, you know the type? They’re frozen and come in party-packs of 40 and they tasted like shite.   The scones were not home-made, the cream was whipped and not clotted and there was something on that chopping board that I could not identify and that I had to force myself to swallow. Forget Revels Roulette, this was Afternoon Tea Roulette and it was a whole other ball-game.

The place was freezing cold, there was food spatter down the backs of the chairs, one big table in the corner was separated from the kitchen by only a black velvet curtain, I’m not even kidding, the toilets smelt like sewers, and there was a hole in the wall covered over with parcel tape. The icing on the cake though was this conversation, overheard between another diner and a waiter:

‘Could I please see the wine list?’
‘We don’t have a wine list, it’s either white or red.’

I will never go back to that place not ever, not if you paid me. If I’d paid full price I’d have lodged a complaint: I was tempted to do so anyway. The only saving grace was that……actually there was no saving grace; it was utter shite.

Worst dining experience ever.

Thursday, 1 March 2012


March, already? Seriously, how did that happen? I can't believe we're at the end of week 9. I'll be retiring before I know it - a girl can dream, right?

Yesterday was the 29th of February.
A leap year.
Now now, calm yourselves down please! This girl did not celebrate in the traditional sense by asking her boyfriend to marry her. No she did not. Call me traditional but if he likes it then he can jolly well be the one to put a ring on it. Beyonce had a point, people.

Instead, I went to the gym and gave myself a stitch on the crosstrainer and had a swim and spent longer in the jacuzzi than I'd spent exercising because,well, because I wanted to and I offer no excuses or apologies.  I then went home planning to eat peanut butter on toast [crunchy, always crunchy] only to discover Ian was cooking pasta.
Bless him I hear you say. Yes, that's what I thought.
There then followed a scene that I'm pretty sure wouldn't be out of place on some comedy sketch program wherein I went bright red and got tingly lips and a burny tongue and downed a pint of vimto and he laughed til he cried and then confessed that he'd accidentally put half a bottle of chilli sauce into the pan. Fabulous.
I have been pondering this and have decided that either a: he was so heartbroken by my failure to propose that he decided to exact his revenge or b: he was so petrified that I might that he tried desperately to put me off. [Of course, it could always have been an innocent mistake but that then begs the question, why the hell did he still feed me the damn sauce?!]

So yes, that was my last night. I almost lost my mouth to pasta, finally managed to eat the toast I had wanted all along, watched some TV [this is a good week for TV actually, The Vampire Diaries came back on Tuesday and Glee is back tonight] and went to bed with my book.

I'm reading Helen Dunmore's The Siege at the moment as recommended by my Granny. It's set in the siege of Leningrad in WWII, and I've already read its [Booker longlist 2010] sequel, inadvertantly - not realising it was a sequel I mean, not that I didn't mean to read it - and so I know I am a fan of Dunmore's style.
I also know that this book will make me cry.
This is a problem actually because I promised myself I'd read happier stuff this year. Why oh why am I compelled to read books that will make me hurty inside?? Whoops.
However, it's a period of history that interests me, it's a fictional story based on very real events which it seems I am a sucker for and Dunmore, if The Betrayal is anything to go by at least, has an almost poetic writing style and a a knack at characterisation, plus, my Granny liked it which makes it a no-brainer really. So yes, I'm reading that and then then I will read something funny or fluffy or both. I will.

In other news I am totally going to Wimbledon!! I'm not even kidding. Helen and I both entered the draw last year, I heard nothing, but Helen has got two tickets for Centre Court in the first week! Colour me excited!!! Me, Helen, WIMBLEDON. I can totally see it now, we shall eat strawberries and drink champagne and concentrate totally on the tennis and not at all on the legs of the players and as it's Centre Court there's every chance we shall see somebody amazing and it will be so much more fun that watching it on the TV and following the action from work via Twitter or the iPhone app [yes, I know, we only have tickers for one day and will still have to do all that stuff but still. EXCITING!!]
Roll on June.

 And because I didn't propose on a leap year and because of Beyonce and because I re-watched the 'Preggers' episode of Glee last night [featuring Single Ladies] and think season1 Kurt might be one of my favourite things [because he's pretty] I hope you appreciate these little video clips of the aforementioned 'Single Ladies' from Glee Live [I think]


I bid you goodbye