Wednesday, March 28, 2007

The Queen

Newsflash on my never-ending cinema visits: last night I saw The Queen. Despite the reviews, I had been sceptical because really, it wasn't very long ago, and I paid plenty of attention first time round (it was hard not to). However, much flimsier commendations would still have been pretext enough for ditching Ovid, and it was, as everyone knows by now, excellent. Much more suprising, I found several parts of it very moving and even shed a tear, which cannot be said of my 16-year-old self watching it unfold at the time. I was entirely dispassionate: my abiding memory of the day she died was that I'd just got a kitten (yay!). My abiding memory of the day of her funeral is that I was up late in the loft apartment of my brother's flat, trying, and managing, to cop off with his best mate (sorry about that). The only emotion I can recall summoning up was a faint sense of distaste for the all the undignified howling over the death of a woman these people had never met, and a vague feeling that the Queen was behaving oddly. Well done to the film makers, then, for the fact that I found the funeral stuff genuinely very sad, and also felt overwhelming sympathy for the Queen. And didn't Blair's government look like twits? I must say that I heartily enjoyed that aspect of it too. My only regret was that Blair himself wasn't made to look even stupider, but luckily he's achieved that amply without the help of filmmakers.
I fear that this all goes to show that I am getting old: the senile lability, the establishment sympathies, the disdain for the anti-royalism of my youth. I can of course see that they did a very deliberate job of making the royals dignified and wise and timeless and the New Labourites petty and irrational and uncharitable, and to that extent the thing was highly manipulative. I admit I bought it though: at least for the duration of the film, and very possibly beyond. Did you?
PS Honourable mention to the stunning Aberdeenshire countryside which stole the show and made me feel even more patriotic than homesick. Go Deeside!

Monday, March 26, 2007

Bad Username Indeed

I just tried to sign in to blogger but got an error message indicating a bad username, which would have been scottishmelanie had I not missed out the "c" . Avid readers of my blog will probably think the revised epithet not without justification. Anyway, it delighted my childish heart, firstly because this egregious manifestation of my in any case sempiternally cack-handed typing probably owes something to the after-effects of the impressive volume of whisky sour I sucked back last night; and secondly because the shortness and ease of the step from Scottish to Sottish spoke to me at a deep level. My love of whisky sours may be the ultimate expression of my ethnicity: what other confection combines an irrepressable enthusiasm for hard liquor with the thrifty instinct not to waste whisky too rough for drinking neat? They say you are what you eat, so better Scotch than Polish, I suppose.

Thursday, March 22, 2007

The History Boys

In another fascinating instalment of what I've been doing, I went to the Bloor to see The History Boys last night. I had been dying to see it ever since I spied the poster a couple of weeks ago, resplendent with Tom Quad as it was. Indeed, a handful of wist-inducing shots of Oxford quite made my day. There was also the usual witty Bennett dialogue and a thorough-going air of Britishness which was very comforting and funny. I would have liked more early 80s pop music myself (they tantalized us with the opening bars of Dead or Alive's "Spin Me Round" but never came good on the rest, damn them). More importantly, however, the transition from play to screenplay really hadn't been completed successfully. Lots of the dialogue felt declamatory, and highlighted Hyntner's failure to exploit the opportunities the screen offers for showing the audience something rather than telling them; set-piece dialogues and group scenes were stilted, obviously designed for the formal artifice of the theatre, but grating in the realism of film. And crucially, almost all the shots were far too - well, stagey. The most disastrous manifestation of this was the truly ludicrous way in which the Boys themselves roamed around in a pack - it looked absurd, like a herd of animals (which I appreciate is a not inaccurate way of presenting a congregation of adolescent males of any species, but it was still preposterous).

And why were all eight of them going for Oxford and none for Cambridge? I object solely on the grounds of realism, of course: the foregoing being, on my lips, the essence of the rhetorical question...

Wednesday, March 21, 2007

Farmyard animals

Who didn't have a toy farmyard when they were small? Well, Toronto has a toy farmyard with real live farm animals, and I went to it last Sunday. (Apparently there is also a big zoo somewhere for those whose childhood taste in toys tended in a more Noah's Ark sort of direction, but I am resistant to attractions which necessitate the use of public transport, which is why in seven months here I have never seen the lake.) Riverdale Farm is in a part of the city called Cabbagetown, which my guide, the incomparable Ms Guardiani, tells me is because it was first inhabited by Irish immigrants who didn't like to waste space and dug up their front lawns to plant veg. Now it is very chic, but also has a lot of quite low-rent and social housing behind the trendy main streets: a bit of an Islington, I suppose. (Though frankly this could describe virtually any suburb of London these days, since everywhere is "up and coming". Where on earth are the poor people going to live, that's what I'd like to know).
Here are some lovely baby cows, their spindly legs casting long shadows over the lingering snow in the late afternoon sunshine. They were very friendly. I liked them even more than the pregnant goats.

Tuesday, March 20, 2007


I am unable to resist the temptation to post this picture of Alessandra, because it made me laugh. And for those of you who find baby photos boring, I can assure you that this much more interesting than anything I have done in the last two days, unless you are desperate to hear about such riveting things as which words I had to look up while reading the eighth book of Virgil's Aeneid, or how I ate some pasta and then got drunk. Honestly, I'm doing you a favour.

Monday, March 19, 2007

Evenings In

I have had another fine weekend, this time of Evenings In. I like Evenings In a lot: slopping around someone's flat doesn't make you feel glamorous, it's true, but while the small at-home gathering furnishes little occasion for truly fabulous heels, there is equally little occasion for taxis, having to work out the bill, drinking drink you don't really like because it's all they have, shouting to hear the conversation, etc. Besides, for someone so fond of shoes, I must confess that I am never happier than when barefoot, and one of the failings of bars is that taking off your shoes and curling your feet up under you while you sip your wine just isn't quite the thing. Other advantages of people's homes are that there are no queues for the loo, or queues for the bar, and you can listen to whatever music you like. And you are guaranteed only the company you like: since it's not as though I ever talk to stangers in bars anyway (what are street corners for?), the noisome proximity of other people's inane conversations has limited appeal.
Of course this is all rather predictable from the transient perspective of a rather downcast Sunday evening: ask me again next Friday night. If I am making myself sound geriatric and proving that I am lazy as well as stuck in my ways, this will come as no surprise to anyone, especially considering that by my calculations I have not been clubbing since approximately April 2004. I got bored of it when every night seemed to turn into a rerun of my pretty gay friends telling manky straight chancers please to leave me alone. Sometimes you don't know a good thing, eh?

Tuesday, March 13, 2007

Tempting Fate

On Friday night I had some beers and a bite to eat in a cool little bar along my street, and then to hear a band, chosen according to the time-honoured but highly unreliable rationale that someone's friend was in it. Not only was the band pretty good, but the act which came on afterwards was hilariously, uproariously and unintentionally stupid, which provided a comedic as well as a purely aesthetically satisfying aspect to the evening (the female lead singer kept doing these faux-naive baby-doll stylised dance moves, shaking her hair over her face, and, alarmingly, screaming; the guitarist, dressed in a Where's Wally?-style top and pudding-bowl fringe, would periodically shimmy to the front of the stage and back in a wide circular movement while exaggeratedly lip-syncing to the girl's lyrics with a deadpan face. Fantastic.) Then we went to another bar where I had fizzy lemonade (a drink which with my terrible lack of sophistication I frankly prefer to beer) and a good old blether with the ladies.

Alas, as I walked home I began to fear that I had jinxed Saturday night's dinner party by foolishly contriving to enjoy myself on Friday night, when, as any fule know, you can't have both. So I slept in till 11.30am to give myself minimum time for worrying (highly effective, no one frets while asleep). Then I shambled out into the mild midday to do my last-minute shopping of a) bread and b) wine, a combination which made me feel very wholesome and eucharistic. I will admit I felt less wholesome when I finally went to bed drunk at 6am, and not at all eucharistic when I subsequently missed Mass, but other satisfactory sensations arising from these divine substances were amply forthcoming: I don't complain about an 11-hour dinner party with a bevvy of charming gents, especially one that ends in hours of idle gossip, costly chocolates and bourbon.

Rising at a godless hour on Sunday (is it really breakfast at 1pm, even if it's toast and coffee?) I knew at once that I was bound, after such accumulated delights, to have a dismal time on the third and final day of the weekend (please don't anyone write in about how the weekend is only meant to be two days long - being an impovrsished student has to have its compensations). However, my coffee was interrupted by a phone call inviting me to the petting zoo, where I saw pregnant goats and funny chickens and a lovely cow who reminded me why Ox-Eyed is such a complimentary epithet in Homer, all in the new spring's glorious sunshine which justified (nay, enabled) a long bright walk there and back. To be whisked off to another dinner party afterwards, especially one hosted by a dashing chap with a dab hand in the kitchen who insisted on making us cocktails before, during and after every course, was surely more than anyone has a right to hope for.
I woke up puking at 4am after a bad mussel. Sigh. I suppose it wasn't the weekend any longer.

Friday, March 09, 2007

The Departed

I have just come home from seeing this film and it is absolutely superb. I have rather let the Oscars pass me by, so I only discovered this evening that it is the Best Picture winner, and I don't know what else was nominated and almost certainly haven't seen any of them, but a piece of me is still determined that this justly won. I suppose I could spout a lot of my usual pseudy rot about how it was so ingenious and thoughtful and well crafted. But in truth what struck me about The Departed is precisely that it wasn't that "hmm, how though provoking" sort of film: it was in the vein and tradition of the simplest, most formulaic good cop/bad cop/ganster plot-driven efforts of which we've all seen hundreds. It was just immeasurably better. It is a little violent, I'm afraid (though I've seen worse: Scarface, anyone?), but it is also tremendously moving. I actually wanted to cry towards the end, but the friend next to me is the kind who would mock me if I did, so I didn't.

Highlights, surprisingly, included Leonardo diCaprio, the appeal of whom as either thespian or pin-up has always resolutely passed me by, but whose character was so involving that for 150 minutes I became one big ball of heart-wrenched attraction and sympathy and hope. No adult woman should admit this, but there was a point when someone ran her fingers through his hair and I wished it were me. (It reminds me of when I went to see Baz Luhrmann's Romeo and Juliet at 16 and found myself hoping it would work out for the pair of them at the end. Durrr...). The Departed also has some excellent tragi-comic and meta-cinematic moments. There's some pseudery for you to counterbalance the hormonefest. What did others think?

Wednesday, March 07, 2007

Man shall not live, etc.

Last night I had a very delicious dinner in a French restaurant, complete with stinky garlicky snails and lovely pink rack of lamb and dense brambly Southern Regional wine. Yummy. I think there may have been two bottles of the vin, actually, but that only occured to me afterwards, since my powers of perception had already had the dampeners put on them by a couple of pre-prandial pints and a good sniff of gin and tonic. Once we had had our snails and lamb and pudding (delectable white chocolate mousse cake, I grieve to confess; the boys were classier and had the meltiest tarte au citron) we decided not to let the pre-dinner pints get lonely, and sent a couple more down after them. It was quite a night.

None of this, you will all be rushing to remind me, is very Lenten. Alas, you would be right. Now I realise that the tale I have just told is not exactly good evidence of this, but it is really not when I am out with the crowd that I find it difficult to stick to my Lenten disciplines. Nor is it when I am really hungry, nor when perusing the supermarket shelves, nor when it's cold outside (25 below yesterday and you could feel it too: thank goodness for the thock of the cork and a glass or two of Nature's Insulation). No, the time when it is hardest is when I have had an uneventful day and work has been a bit dull and I have no plans for the evening and I am missing people in Blighty (comme toujours) and I think "Oh, I'll just stop off and buy a sweetie (bottle of beer/doughnut/bag of crisps), then I'll have something nice to look forward to." Oh no you don't! Home to lentils and an apple, and be grateful, my girl!

Of course the whole reason for making eating a focus for Lenten privation, apart from tradition, is that since I for one am almost permanently either eating or thinking about eating, every time I do either of those things I shall be made to think of God. All very sensible, and indeed, it works. It must be owned, however, that after a long day in the library, contemplating the majesty of the divine Creator of the universe, while highly satisfying on one level, is not quite as immediate a comfort as, say, sitting in your jimjams guzzling a big bar of hazlenut chocolate. Festive occasions such as last night don't get a look in: if I get through an evening like this one without a trip to Dominion for a packet of biscuits I shall consider that a far greater temptation has been far more impressively withstood.

Sunday, March 04, 2007

The Book of Alternative Services Rite wrecked my Sunday

I had not realised how steeped in High Churchery I had become until I arrived at Mass this morning. "Hmm," I thought, "no incense, how strange." Then I thought " What on earth are they doing with this psalm?". And then "These reponses are all wrong... hang on... NOOOOOOOOOO....! It's the modern rite!" Absolutely horrible, I could barely listen. And what on earth have they done to the Lord's Prayer? I'm afraid that at about the time they announced the peace (complete with ghastly stilted handshaking and forced uncomfortable smiles), I was forced to leave. This put me in a bad mood. At least I got some extra Horace reading done, I suppose. Now I will have to go to Evensong to get my weekly dose of solemn ritual. I should add that there was no warning at all in last week's intimations that the slight change of the Mass time would also involve a very major change of Mass liturgy, and I'm sure I can't be the only person whose Sunday has been ruined by this bit of sneakery on the part of the Rector. I do hope they aren't trying to convert us to these barbaric services: give me incense or give me death, oppressors.

Thursday, March 01, 2007

Dydd Dewi Sant

That's "St David's Day" to us poor non-Welsh-speakers, and today is the day. I am half Welsh, but you wouldn't know because I don't sound Welsh at all: what I call Stealth Welsh. With a little investigation one discovers an extraordinary number of us Stealth Welsh around the place; so many, in fact, that Rhodri Morgan, the First Minister of Wales, has sweetly sent a Festive Message (hyperlink) to Welsh people living overseas. He says "Dydd Gwyl Dewi hapus a llwyddiannus dros ben i chi gyd", which translates roughly as "Isn't this Labour government just perfectly marvellous?"* which I'm sure is exactly what I and others had been longing to hear on this day of national pride in our ancient culture.
Elsewhere I found a website usefully informing me that "the celebration usually entails singing and eating". This knowledge made me feel very proud and loyal as I was able to reflect with satisfaction that I both sing and eat every single day, and not only on St David's Day itself. What patriot could do more?
My favourite fact about St David is that his mother was called Non, a name which to my puerile mind has almost inexhaustible comic possibilities (quite incidentally, the philologically minded may care to know that Welsh doesn't really have a word for "no". Instead you negate the sentence you're replying to, truncate and restate it). I was delighted, however, to discover the motto associated with this 6th Century Abbot: "Gwnewch y pethau bychan", or "Do the little things", which is a fine thought to take away on a Lent day. Do the little things, indeed. Mony a mickle maks a muckle, after all.

*It actually reads 'I wish you a happy St David's Day', though if you read the rest of his touching missive you will see that my cynicism is by no means misplaced.

Speaking too soon

Remember that thaw? Hmm, not so much. In fact there is a blizzard blowing so severe that I have just taken the tube home although it is only one stop (and a stupidly short stop at that: none of your end-of-the-Metropolitan-line 20 minute jobs), and although it is only 5pm. The speaker-meeting at the department has been cancelled because the speaker can't get in from the airport. The university has officially closed as of an hour ago. The tube was so packed I had to get the second train, a thing which has never happened to me here (and evidently never to any other Torontonians, either, judging by their bemused and stilted inefficiency at packing into tube carriages: move down, for goodness' sake!). Annoyingly, yesterday was glorious, with dazzling sunshine and a blue and perfectly cloudless sky, whereupon I made the hasty judgement that it was spring. Which it's not. Spring, you see, would involve the kind of weather which makes going out in a mini-skirt and open-backed shoes perfectly reasonable; freak blizzards exist to teach the vain and optimistic that moonboots will be necessary till June.

Anyway, I don't know why I'm posting all this, since if you are in Toronto you probably don't need my blog to alert you to the dense and whirling snowstorm outside, and if you're not in Toronto (and congratulations on that, by the way) then the transport difficulties of a remote colonial settlement are simply so much otiose confirmation of the superiority of life in the Old Country. Apparently we're getting torrents of freezing rain later. Yum.


Apologies for silence - the web interface of this blog failed me for a few days, as did anything at all to report. I had a rubbish weekend, in which I went to bed with Sophocles (not a hot lay) not only on Friday night but also on Saturday, which was like taking a slightly sore spot and whacking it with a mallet. To add a salt and vinegar crisp to the cold sore of this spurning, among the excuses proferred was one which confirms that I am now officially more boring than Ovid. Good grief. This is what happens when, however nice your friends are, you only have twelve of them. At home in Britain I used to lament that I had so many friends I didn't always see them all in a year. I don't think we're in Kansas any more.
Anyway, Saturday was the kind of dismal solitary evening for which, as any single woman knows, the only remedy is a huge bar of chocolate and a bottle of wine. Even recourse to this was barred me, however, as it's Lent, and I have renounced that sort of splurging, so I satisfied myself with some psalms and an early night. It's really not the life I imagined for myself at 26, to be honest. It's not that I resent the Lenten business (I find it very invigorating, in fact, and it's astonishing how easy it is to old back from the pasties when you have A Reason), but I do think I ought to have more of a social life at university than I did when I lived and worked in a small girls' boarding school in rural Oxfordshire.
My very old and very dear friend James rang on Sunday night and we spoke for hours and hours, which made me as happy as I'd been all week. And also twice as sad. Why am I here again?