Go Wes, young man. Or indeed, don’t.

Some years ago, I watched the film Rushmore, an early film by the writer-director Wes Anderson. I’d heard good things about it – quirky, idiosyncratic, funny. I didn’t really enjoy it. I found it a cold, sterile watch, in which a group of implausible characters did unlikely things without any real wit or empathy. It was a film without warmth or humanity.

A while later, I watched The Royal Tenenbaums, Anderson’s follow-up to Rushmore. I’d heard very good things about it – quirky, idiosyncratic, funny. I didn’t really enjoy it. I found it a cold, sterile watch, in which a group of implausible characters did unlikely things without any real wit or empathy. It was a film without warmth or humanity. I started to wonder what was wrong with me, that I wasn’t enjoying these acclaimed films by someone working on the fringes of populist cinema, where I naturally belong.

A few years on, and I watched The Darjeeling Limited, another Wes Anderson film. I hadn’t heard many good things about it, but I figured since I hadn’t really enjoyed the ones I had, maybe I would start to understand why people so rated him. I didn’t enjoy it at all. I found it a cold, sterile watch, in which a group of implausible and incredibly irritating characters did entirely unrealistic things without the merest hint of wit or empathy. It was a film without warmth or humanity, and it made me wonder if it wasn’t me at fault after all, but Wes Anderson.

Time passed, and I heard glorious reviews of another Wes Anderson film, Moonrise Kingdom. Not only quirky, idiosyncratic and funny, but also warm and touching. Aha, I thought – he has realised what has been missing from his films and put it right. I hated it. I found it a cold, sterile watch, in which ludicrously artificial characters did absurd things in a world entirely devoid of wit or empathy. It was a film so empty of warmth or humanity it made me question whether Wes Anderson is actually a sentient being. I realised it wasn’t me at all, it is entirely Wes Anderson.

Which brings us to The Grand Budapest Hotel. Everyone loved this one. Widespread critical acclaim, typically like this, from Todd McCarthy of The Hollywood Reporter:

In a very appealing if outre way, its sensibility and concerns are very much those of an earlier, more elegant era, meaning that the film’s deepest intentions will fly far over the heads of most modern filmgoers.

How I despise that sort of review – “if you don’t get it, it’s because you’re too stupid to”. (And yes, I say that sort of thing about music all the time, and it’s one of the many things I simultaneously like and loathe about myself.) I had no intention of seeing it, but then my wife did and said it was great and that I would like it.

I hated it. A cold, sterile watch, and you can do the rest. Wes Anderson can be added to the long list of things about which my wife is wrong (see Appendix 1 below). Tonight, I am going to see Oxford Utd v Sheffield Utd, while my wife is going to take the opportunity to watch The Darjeeling Limited for the first time. One of us will be experiencing genuine passion, the vicissitudes of human interplay, emotions that will set the heart racing… Can you guess which?

Appendix 1
Maybe I should do a 28 day challenge of Things About Which My Wife Is Wrong. Day 1: “I don’t think I’ll ever be able to have children”. Good shout Nicoladamus.

Appendix 2
Further to Appendix 1, keen readers will have observed that I regularly refer to the fact that I never planned to have children, and that it happened by accident. They might imagine that my children, in some way, feel unwanted or unloved as a result. So let me share with you an email I sent to all of them back in January:

Hello children

I just wanted to take a moment to say with all my heart, no sarcasm, no silliness, basically none of the stuff which makes me who I am, how massively proud I am of all of you and how much I cherish the fact that you are in my life. As a young man I never dreamed I would have the fulfilment that I get from being responsible for bringing you into the world, and playing a small part in helping you turn into such bright, diverse and wonderful human beings.

Love you kids.

Dad

Brings a tear to the eye, doesn’t it? Do you know how many of them reacted? One. One of them said he’d read it and it was lovely and he was touched. My guess is that of the others, two of them shrugged, and one removed his shirt and took a selfie.

Posted in Uncategorized | 1 Comment

Judgement day

For the first time in my working life, I’m about to be involved in recruiting someone. It’s a very strange thought. For years I’ve been saying to people that it mattered to correctly punctuate their CV, because what if one day they got interviewed by someone like me, and now someone will be. By someone exactly like me, in fact.

Now, needless to say, I’m not going to refuse someone employment if they put an apostrophe in the wrong place. (Which, incidentally, the person we’ll be seeing first has, although in an understandable and non-catastrophic way.) Although I do really love the idea of saying to someone “Sorry, did you just say ‘haitch’? This interview is over. Goodbye.” But on what do you base it? If they are qualified to do the job (and the bloke we’re talking to next week looks over-qualified if anything), then to what does it come down? A gut feeling? How you hit it off? I don’t hit it off with anybody. Even the handful of people who like me, it takes them years to get there. I’m the human equivalent of olives, or free jazz. You have to build up tolerance over a prolonged period.

One thing’s for sure, I don’t want to work with someone who is like me. I don’t mind if they’re like me a little bit, but that’s about my limit. Too much of me is insufferable – I should know, I’ve been living with me for nearly half a century. But at the same time, I don’t want to work with someone who is nothing like me. I’ve had 16 years of a bloke who thinks that everybody who likes football is a moron, for example, when some might have concluded at some point in that 16 years, what with me sitting here with my polysyllables and all, that perhaps there was a smidgen of evidence to the contrary. Somewhere between the two, I guess, is workable.

In terms of gauging a personality, the CV of one of the people we’re seeing is quite funny in this respect. Needless to say, I need to be circumspect, but his work history is a succession of stuff for which I hold something close to contempt. Which means nothing – he’s looking to get out of it, isn’t he? More amusing is that included in his list of interests are two activities which within the last week I have mentioned on this blog, wondering aloud which of them is more tedious. Ah well. It will be different, anyway. If nothing else, someone attempting to impress me will be worth experiencing for novelty value alone.

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Unlock the Cage

Sunday evening, 10.55, and I suddenly remembered I’m supposed to post something today. Remind me to never do this again.

We watched Trapped In Paradise earlier. It’s about three criminal brothers who rob a bank in a town called Paradise, from which they then can not escape. Clearly influenced by, although obviously nowhere near the quality of, It’s A Wonderful Life, it nevertheless contains a good few laughs.

It’s a Nicolas Cage film, one of the dozens which never made much of a mark and of which most people have never heard. He’s an odd phenomenon, Cage – a major film star in spite of the fact that lots of his films are terrible, and lots of the ones which aren’t he is nevertheless pretty terrible in. Anyway, here are a handful of Nicolas Cage films you may not know, but which are definitely worth seeking out.

Birdy (1984) was the first film I saw him in, I think. It’s a coming of age tale about a young soldier trying to get through to a friend of his whose PTSD is causing him to sit in permanent silence. More fun and uplifting than it sounds.

Red Rock West (1993) might be my favourite of his films, a modern film noir in which he is mistaken for a hit man. It slipped completely under the radar at the time, but is now considered a lost gem.

The Family Man (2000) is a somewhat sentimental tale of a bachelor Wall Street financier who is offered a supernatural glimpse of how his life might have turned out had he not broken up with his girlfriend. It is a sweet, warm, feelgood film about which I struggle to be objective since the girlfriend is played by Tea Leoni at her most… watchable.

Matchstick Men (2003) is one of Ridley Scott’s better films of his later period, a black comedy about a couple of con artists. It got many positive reviews but was largely ignored by the public.

Joe (2013) is a tiny independent film (its budget was $4 million) in which Cage plays a foreman with a dark past who takes a 15 year old under his wing to protect him from his violent father. It is a welcome reminder of just how good Cage can be when he puts his mind to it.

So there you go. Clearly there are other good ones, but you’ll know those (Moonstruck being the most obvious). I am here to shine a light into dark corners.

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Ready, steady… what?

“People of Oxford, get ready for something amazing.”

So said the sign I cycled past on my way to work yesterday. Sounds exciting, doesn’t it? Oxford has a long history of amazing somethings, and now a new one is apparently going to be added to the list.

First off, there is a little known university here, the oldest in England, founded in 1167. 27 Prime Ministers studied at Oxford – some of the greatest leaders the country has ever had, and also Margaret Thatcher. Other eclectic alumni include Tim Berners-Lee, Stephen Hawking, Hugh Grant, Ken Loach (no wonder he ended up making the films he did), Rupert Murdoch, Michael Palin, Rachel Riley, JRR Tolkein, Oscar Wilde, Edmund Halley, Samuel Johnson… I could go on.

Queen Mary had Thomas Cranmer burnt at the stake in Broad Street, and in the Civil War, Oxford was the royalist headquarters. In 1651 the first coffee house in England opened in Oxford (they can’t have dreamed that 366 years later every other establishment in the city would be one). The Holywell Music Room, the oldest purpose-built concert hall in Europe, followed in 1748. Methodism was founded here.

We’ve got the celebrated High Street, described by the esteemed historian of architecture Nikolaus Pevsner as “one of the world’s great streets”; the Bodleian Library, second only to the British Library in size; the iconic Sheldonian Theatre, designed by Christopher Wren; and the Ashmolean, the world’s first university museum.

So it’s safe to say that the people of Oxford have a pretty high benchmark when it comes to getting ready for something amazing. What, then, could possibly live up to this exalted standard? Who could be confident enough of their undertaking to promote its imminence in such a fashion? Just what forthcoming event is it that can whet the appetites of such an expectant public?

There’s a new Aldi opening on Friday.

Posted in Uncategorized | 1 Comment

China in my blog

Today is my 20th wedding anniversary. Hoorah!

Wedding anniversaries have always been somewhat problematical in my house. My wife, I think, just likes to see them as days when we can say “I’m glad we have been together for a long time”. But I, understandably I feel, always think back to my wedding day, which is not an occasion I remember with much fondness. The basic concept – to get married quickly, simply, and in the most basic way possible to avoid complicated issues regarding my wife’s family – was a good one. But the execution was not. In hindsight, we should have gone down to the registry office, grabbed a couple of witnesses off the street and only told everyone when it was a fait accompli. But what we actually did was invite one friend (and their partner) each, and tell my family in advance. Which included telling them that they weren’t invited. For me, it went downhill from there.

Sadly, my abiding memories of the day are:

• My friend had not actually taken a day off work, and was somewhat anxious about being caught skiving off sick

• At the lunch we went to afterwards, his French wife decided this would be a good time to adhere to the stereotype of her nationality by sitting rudely in silence at the far end of the table, making no attempt to converse with anybody

• For reasons I can’t begin to understand now, I ducked out of the meal briefly to nip round to my office to tell my colleagues I’d just got married

• We felt obliged to go to my mother’s for an afternoon get-together with all my family, completely missing the point of why we’d arranged a small event in the first place

• We spent the evening with my wife’s friends watching Independence Day on video. It was awful. (I’ve never seen it since, but if I recall correctly the aliens are eventually brought down by a computer virus loaded into their systems by Will Smith. Because while it’s impossible to get a PC to run something designed for a Mac, alien computers are apparently susceptible to earth technology.)

If further wistfulness is required, neither my wife nor I are any longer in touch with the friends we invited, having drifted apart with varying levels of acrimony. In fact, the only people who were at the wedding we still know are our two eldest children.

Which brings me to my other problem. It wasn’t like it was the start of a new chapter of our lives. For those unaware of the sequence of events, I met my wife when I was her boss. (At this point you might expect me to include some joke along the lines of “If only she still did what I tell her!”, but she never did. I was a terrible boss and she was an almost as terrible employee.) We knew each other for a year or so, and then started umming and ahhing about whether to be a couple. First we were for a few weeks, then we weren’t. Then she got pregnant. Turned out she could have children after all! Then we bought a house and moved in together, then we had another baby (turns out there is no safe time of the month!) And then at some point it became evident that this was going to work out and we were in it for the long haul, so we got married. The first three years of our time together were lived like Memento.

As a result, today feels like an anniversary of an almost arbitrary day. Which is not to say that (stand back and marvel as I attempt to turn this tanker of a posting around) spending the last 23 years with my wife hasn’t been the most extraordinary, fulfilling, exasperating, wondrous, riotous experience a man could choose to have. These days, I could no more live without her than I could without football. [Yes, I know that doesn’t sound very romantic, but you try finishing the sentence “I could no more live without her than I could without…” It’s not easy. The natural course to go down is something like “… my right arm”, but the difficulty there is I could live without my right arm. It wouldn’t be much fun, and it would make playing pool tricky, but I could do it. So then you think, OK, what could I literally not live without? First thing that came to mind was my pancreas. I would argue that that’s even less romantic than football, plus I’m not sure whether it’s true. For all I know they can fit you with an artificial pancreas now. So then I thought, what I need is something which is the essence of my life, which really brings joy and quality to the mundaneness of existence… Laughter, that’s what I should have said. “I could no more live without her than I could without laughter.” Damn. If only it was possible to edit these things.]

So that’s my 20th anniversary message. It might not be conventional, and it might not be sentimental, but it’s honest and it’s got a couple of laughs in it, which is pretty much who I am. Happy anniversary Jeffy. I’m glad we have been together for a long time.

Posted in Uncategorized | 1 Comment

Each what she passes?

I was listening to my iPod the other day when The Girl From Ipanema came on. I have an issue with this song.

Tall and tanned and young and lovely
The girl from Ipanema goes walking
And when she passes, each one she passes
Goes “Aaah”

“Each one she passes goes “Aaah”?” What the blazes are you on about? In the first place, “each one she passes” is terrible English. There’s no excuse for it, because the original was in Portuguese, and this English version of the lyric (by Norman Gimbel) bears almost no relation to that. So if you’re going to completely re-write it, you’ve got carte blanche to come up with something which doesn’t sound like it’s been spewed out by Google Translate.

And in the second place, “Goes “Aaah””? In what way? “Aaah” like when you watch a video of a cute kitten? “Aaah” like a TV detective working out why the victim was found wearing shoes but no socks? My suspicion is that what he’s trying to evoke is a polite, poetic way of saying “Every bloke she walks past goes “Phwoar!”” Less eloquent, perhaps, but it gets the point across.

Personally, the main time I say “Aaah” is when I ease myself down into an armchair at the end of a long day. So that’s the image I’m taking away from this song – a tall, tanned, lovely young girl walking down a Brazilian beach, with dozens of middle-aged men exhaling with satisfaction as their creaking bones take a break.

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

No offence, but…

There’s a running joke in my house, which is that you start a sentence “No offence, but…”, then conclude it with something to which it would be impossible to react with anything other than offence.

The origin of this was about seven or eight years ago, when I was stood at the sink washing up while my second eldest was drying. He would have been 12 or 13 at the time. I was idly commenting on the extraordinary changes society had undergone in the previous 50 years – man had landed on the moon, the cold war had ended, the internet had come along and transformed all our lives – and saying that it was quite strange to think that in the next 50 years, there would be equally seismic developments, some of which we wouldn’t even be able to imagine at this point. There followed this exchange:

Him: “I’m looking forward to 50 years’ time.”

Me: “Really, why’s that?”

Him: “No offence, but you’ll be dead then…”

Goodness knows what he was planning to go on and say. I don’t think he actually meant he’s looking forward to me dying, but obviously that’s how I chose to interpret it, and I have never let him forget it.

And before anyone accuses me of jumping on a single instance of a faux pas and making a meal out of it, this was not a unique occurrence. My wife was on the receiving end of the equally charming “No offence, but none of my friends like you.” It’s probably just as well he’s good at all that prancing about, because he’d never have made it as a diplomat. No offence.

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment