Sunday, 30 November 2008

Gabriel Yared Came to Wales

Gabriel Yared performed a concert at the Millennium Centre on Friday night. Accompanied by the world class BBC Symphony Orchestra of Wales, Gabriel played a selection of his beautiful scores for films such as The English Patient, Betty Blue, Cold Mountain and my personal favourite, The Talented Mr Ripley. It was a heartfelt tribute to the late film director Anthony Minghella, who collaborated with Yared for many films.

When I first became seriously interested in music, it was through film and soundtracks that this love grew from. I must confess I was never much of a classical music fan either, until I started watching more films. One of the first classical composers I began to appreciate was Beethoven, (rather alarmingly you might say) because of Kubrick's A Clockwork Orange. I guess this makes me rather Alex-esque. But I promise I am not into 'ultra-violence'.

But soundtracks awakened my love of music. Which had always been there, but had been lying dormant. The Talented Mr Ripley holds a special place in my heart, both the film and the musical score. I saw it in the cinema four times, the most I've seen any film. I loved it. I loved everything about it. I was still relatively new to the whole film studies world at the time of its release, still in school, and had only been watching Hitchcock films for a few years. I saw a Hitchcock film in The Talented Mr Ripley, the themes, the imagery, the characters. It also introduced me to the books of Patricia Highsmith, whose novels on cold, calculated yet charming villains struck something within me that I liked. She is my favourite author, a master of suspense - in book form. And of course, Hitchcock turned Highsmith's Strangers On A Train into a wonderfully enjoyable film, still one of my all time favourites.

Anthony Minghella was a very good director, and it is sad that he died so young. The Talented Mr Ripley was Anthony's best film in my opinion. The English Patient won all the Oscars, Cold Mountain probably had all the hype but it's Ripley that's the most interesting and striking. The critics didn't always like it, and most people I knew who saw it hated it. But it had a superb cast; Jude Law and Matt Damon are fantastic, the Hitchcock type blonde in Gwyneth Paltrow, the ever brilliant Cate Blanchette; it was fairly and well adapted from the novel, and above all was lusciously directed by Minghella. His love of Italy and music seeps through into the film, drenching it with his passion; you'd need to have a heart of stone not to appreciate it and feel that too. Minghella was a talented director, and passionate about music. He was, from all accounts, a thoroughly decent and nice guy too. It is tragic that he died so young when there was so much more he could have created and brought to the world.

Yared created a beautiful soundtrack for Ripley, one that was perfect for the film. I would love to know if Yared was or has been influenced by Hitchcock's collaborator Bernard Herrmann, as the use of violins and strings for the Ripley pieces evoke that sense Psycho did. Perfectly apt for characters losing their minds, striking and cinematically effective. But Yared also captures Italy so beautifully, in particular the Sorrento-type coast where the film is set, just as much as Minghella did with the visuals. Close your eyes, the music takes you' dreamily back there. Both the film and the music had a huge influence on me. Along with David Lynch's collaborator, Angelo Badalamenti, Yared is one of my favourite film score composers.

It seems incredible, to watch Yared play at the piano, such fantastic music, to think he is also a self-taught musician. A seemingly humble and modest guy, Yared came on stage in jeans, a crumpled shirt and trainers, hardly looking like the Oscar-winner he is but it did not matter. He spoke so eloquently about Anthony Minghella, about how close they were and what a loss he was when he passed away in March.
Yared ended the night with a small independent piano piece he wrote for Anthony, and it was emotionally charged and heartfelt. He said Anthony was his soul mate, played the piece, took his applause and left the stage in floods of tears. I hope he comes back to Wales, and I look forward to his future film scores. For Anthony Mingella's watching parents, it would have been a fitting tribute of beautiful music; the combination with film that has such a power to touch people everywhere. It is an over-used cliche, but Anthony Minghella does live on through his films.

Wednesday, 26 November 2008

Bearded Man



Sat right across from me,
Drinking hot, steaming tea,
Munching on a tasty bun,
Whilst reading pages of the Sun.
Blackened fingers and thumbs,
Covered the table with crumbs.
Forgive me whilst I scan,
Every detail, Bearded Man.
Letting out a disgruntled groan,
Trying to text with his phone.
And another long, wary sigh,
The cake-counter catches eye.
Right now I'm your biggest fan,
You there Mr Bearded Man.

(Drawing and poem by me)

Monday, 24 November 2008

My first portrait

A drawing of me by my good friend.

I've never had anyone draw me before.

Am I really that bizarrely bug-one-eye-bigger-than-the-other!?

Sunday, 23 November 2008

TV, well it's a bit boring isn't it?

I was channel hopping the other night, which sadly doesn't actually involve any hopping, because if it did it might help solve the obesity crisis across the country/globe.
Since the birth of digital boxes, ITV, BBC and Channel 4 now seem to have 34985793487 begillion extra channels. But there still never seems to be anything on TV. Other than reality TV, Jeremy Kyle-style chat shows, cookery shows, house/DIY series and er soaps. I remember back in t'day *cue Hovis ad music* when there were only four channels (well, five really we had S4C in Wales), and I used to manage to watch a considerable amount of televisual delights. Admittedly most of that involved Scott & Charlene in Neighbours. And Mrs Mangel. I loved TV. It was the first thing I thought about waking up, and the last thing I thought about going to bed every night (apart from rugby of course).

But in my channel hopping daze the other night, I am sure I found on separate channels, on the same time, about five different Police shows. I mean real Police. Not Heartbeat, Midsummer Murders or er NYPD Blue (is that even still on!?) type "dramas". So, we had Police Interceptors (eh? What are they intercepting?), Traffic Cops, Cops on Camera, Police, Camera, Action!, The World's Scariesty Scarified Police SCARY Videos of TERROR to SCARE (or something, the guy had a very scary dramatic voice anyway).

I was thinking if I hung around long enough I'd see 'The Antique Cop Show - Where aging ex-policemen are valued by Fiona Bruce' and 'Songs of Police - Graham Norton presents Andrew Lloyd-Webber's new search for a lead in his new WestEnd Police Musical: 'Clink-side Story''. Or 'I'm A Celebrity Policeman Get Me Out of Here'. Hang on, that's already on....

But where's the choice? I'm turning into my father when I pleaded to him to get SKY TV back in the 1990s. "You get more channels, but it's just more bloody rubbish!" he moaned, sounding like one of the Old Gits on Harry Enfield. He was being more Larry David than well Larry David. Maybe I'm just getting old. But still not old enough to enjoy Last of the Summer Wine.

Thursday, 20 November 2008

Christmas is on its way...



I knew Santa had extra help, not even Usain Bolt could get around the world that quick. Are we all to be taken for fools?!

Monday, 17 November 2008

Worse Things Happen At Sea

Do they?
Well actually, they probably do. Look what happened to Titanic.

Now, I like boats and I love the sea. We went out on our friend's motor boat on the weekend, one of those rib boats that zip around fast with the air blasting your face. It's all rather a lot of fun. Or can be.
Safety first Captain, always; our friend is ultra prepared and he does all the safety checks - lifejackets (aye aye Captain), GPS (aye aye Captain), waterproof radio (aye aye Captain), ipod player (an essential! Aye aye Captain)...ecetera and so forth.

But sometimes you just cannot prepare for the unexpected. Unless you're that psychic scouse guy Derek Acorn (or something) on Most Haunted (maybe). We were pootling around Cardiff Bay - speed restrictions in some of the areas naturally, so nothing too fast. We motored over to Penarth, we motored over towards the sailing club, we motored around the barrage. All lovely, all rather nice and refined. We pass many sailing boats (many of whom the sailors give us stern -no pun intended- looks...there's a certain expression of distain. We have a mototboat, we are not *real* sailors, which is probably a fair comment). We pass small trawler contraptions, which look like they're about to fall apart, the weathered old men on them are sat there smoking with their woolly hats on; they resemble meaner Compos and Foggys off Last of the Summer Wine. Without the bicycle polo.

Just as we are heading homewards towards Mermaid Quay, we faced the sea's peril. Well, another motor-boat's wake in fact. I've been in rib boats before. Half the fun is zooming over the waves and ship wakes and the boat jumps up. Such tremendous larks. Only the larks got a bit too larky for my liking. The boat hit the wake and rose out of the water. I mean rose. High. The boat bashed back down onto the water with a hard smack and we were all thrown forward...."Eek!" we all cry. But before we even have time to think, the boat smashes into another wake and woosh - the boat is up higher than before. It must have looked all rather James Bond for anyone watching. Only it's not so amusing when you're actually in it. And Daniel Craig wasn't in sight.

The boat crashed back to the water and threw us in the back of the vessel forward with a violent force. I was lucky (no really) enough to hold myself up somehow and I only smacked my jaw on a metal bar. It hurt, but no big deal. My dad sat next to me though....he was bent double with blood splurting everywhere. At first I thought he was just throwing up (much joking had gone on prior leaving as he has a tendency to get sea-sick on round-abouts). He had hit his head and cut it open. There really was blood everywhere. My endless watching of TV hospital dramas must have had an effect because I didn't feel squeamish at all - who said TV isn't useful? The gash was nasty and we needed a first aid kit....but alas! There wasn't one on the boat! The one thing that wasn't on the boat, I hasten to add. So we had to use a glove to stem the blood flow. Make-do-and-mend, that's was what they used to say during the War. You live and learn.

So off to A&E, where I must praise the NHS for being quick and effective. No, really. For once I am not being sarcastic. There was no wait, we went straight through, had excellent service and brilliant doctors and nurses. The NHS probably does its job like this every day, and yet there are no Daily Mail headlines declaring: "NHS DOES JOB WELL". Shame. Dad was treated by an Iraqi surgeon, who was excellent. He told us how he was working out in war zones, and came to Wales because he had treated Welsh patients out in Africa (I love the idea of the Welsh Tourist board out in War Zones telling people to come to Wales, wait until they see Newport...). He was very experienced but had to work his way up in the NHS, pass more exams, including English tests. I wonder what the Daily Mail would make of this great guy, who was working his arse off; to be polite, courteous as well as perform a begillion tasks at once. Well, they wouldn't be interested in something so positive.

Oh what Navy Larks....I wish we had been going Dead Slow though....

Friday, 14 November 2008

Missing

He left the house on one dark day,
On his mind perhaps things did weigh,
Maybe not and his life did glow,
He never returned, we'll never know.

He looked older, but was only a teen,
At the chippie, he was last seen,
Grainy video shows him alone,
He disappears from frame into unknown.

Photos remain of his handsome face,
Last movements are a subject of trace.
Memories from those who loved him most,
His image, his person, is now a ghost.

Questions his family always do vow,
Just what does he look like today & now?
They suffer in their constant reviewing,
For not knowing what he is doing.

Amongst all that, dark thoughts of wrong,
Someone's foul hand, he is forever gone?
Nothing is answered, things left to rue,
What happened to him, I wish I knew.


(Many people across the country go missing every week. If you have five minutes to spare, please check out the Missing People charity web site here)

Wednesday, 12 November 2008

Bad Graffiti



Read what?

It seems bad form to instruct someone to read something, only then to spectacularly let them down by not providing any reading material. It's a broken promise, it's an anti-climax. Most of all, this is just plain bad graffiti. Does the author not realise the graffiti etiquette that must be strictly adhered to!? At least throw in a trip-esque mural representing a mis-spent youth.

Could you imagine the uproar if I did such a cruel thing on this blog? Demand my legions of readers here to read my musings, only to go all minimalist, and just leave an empty space. There would be chaos. The internet would probably implode with the huge weight of apocalyptic disappointment. (In my dreams)

But bad graffiti grates like a giant grate at a grating convention. I'll forgive incorrect spelling, and even *shock horror to the teachers amongst us* the misuse of the dreaded apostrophe (There's no excuse for signs and supermarkets though, but I'll stop there before I sound like a complete nerdly pedant, which I am, but don't tell anyone).
Bad Graffiti - don't do it kids. Just say no.

See images I took of good graffiti in Cardiff here

Monday, 10 November 2008

Cafe Melancholy


The cafe in the rain,
The people all the same,
Fixed seats to the floor,
Menus make my heart sore.
Tables coated in ancient grime,
It's really going back in time.

Come to Cafe Melancholy,
Serve with a smile and trying jolly.

Yellow pictures on the walls,
An old man to his paper, drawls.
Young worker dreams of being sacked,
Handling china already cracked.
Italian owner makes a sigh,
Of things and changes that go by.

Come to Cafe Melancholy,
Neon sign, attempt at jolly.

Sunday, 9 November 2008

It's Only a Game...

I hate losing. I am a bad loser. Losing is terrible. Wales lost to South Africa at the rugby yesterday. And yet...we should have won.

Whenever Wales lose, I always try to work out what is best/worst: to play well, compete and lose to a good team who had that more luck; to get well beaten by a team far superior; to narrowly lose playing badly and beaten by a better team; to lose by 60; to lose to a criminal piece of despicable refereeing.

Definitely the latter is the worst way. Possibly even worse than losing by 60 points. So I take crumbs of comfort from this moldy old biscuit of hope that is my optimism when it comes to Welsh rugby. It's somehow gutting to lose a match when you create opportunities but fail to take them though. Which is why I feel particularly peeved this morning, on reflection. All the Ifs and Buts come flooding out, but it's pointless. We lost. At home, the Millennium Stadium. End of. No loss is good in my eyes, no matter how many positives there are.

I still can't fathom why Wales losing feels so personal, so against the grain of the natural order. If you are Welsh that is. I am sure my English rugby fan friends are chuckling into their cornflakes this morning. Just like we do when England lose.

Friday, 7 November 2008

Waiting

She stands at the window, outside looking in,
She watches the world, her head in a spin.
The people, the lives, are bustling en masse,
She wants it so bad, but can't break the glass.

She stands at the window, outside looking in,
The glass at her touch, feels cold to the skin.
She catches her reflection, a double-take glance,
Who is this person, who never had the chance?

She stands at the window, outside looking in,
Her decay is shrouded by a face mask grin.
No body knows of her utmost fear,
Concealed, frozen in an eternal tear.

Her demons, with their bony grip are rife,
As is the realisation, she's scared of life.
Tomorrow she'll return again, alas,
One more futile effort to break glass.

She stands at the window, outside looking in,
She watches the world, her head in a spin.
She watches. Watches. And Watches....
But never goes in.

Thursday, 6 November 2008

Gym Exploits

Dear reader, as you may know I spend rather a lot of time in the gym. So much time, I will soon be charged rent and will end up paying their council tax.
Anyway, I’m going to the gym today and I have to walk through the main hall to get to the gym itself, and there’s some bowls going on. Indoor bowls. I try to walk through. Big mistake. BIG MISTAKE. Forget hoodies, it’s grannies playing bowls you have to be scared of. ‘Cardies’ - call the Daily Mail, it's the new scare that will hit Britain! It is, apparently, the worst crime imaginable to sneak past at the back whilst a game of lawn bowls is continuing. By a fat old woman on a motorised scooter. I was stared out and feared for my life. They may have been carrying knitting needles and knuckle-feather-dusters.

Saving Bletchley Park

I read this news article this morning on the BBC web site on Bletchley Park

It's sad to hear Bletchley Park needed emergency funding. Bletchley is such an important part of British/European history - it was here famously that the German enigma code machine was cracked, a crucial twist in favour of the allies during World War II. Wars can turn on these kinds of efforts, and this was utterly integral towards achieving success. It also saw huge developments in the technology of computers; Alan Turing, the legendary Cambridge mathematician working there.
I have always thought something so important to our heritage should be protected and looked after so that future generations can visit and learn what people did for us and our freedoms. It's also a matter of respect of what people had to go through so that we could enjoy these freedoms too. Let's hope Bletchley continues to get the funding it needs to preserve an important part of our history.



Recently I visited a place called Rhydymwyn Valley Site, which is almost Wales' Bletchley Park, albeit of a different nature. Deep in the Welsh countryside near Mold in North Wales, Rhydymwyn is a small place but holds it's own importance to British war time history. It was at this site during the Second World War, that the British Government built a Chemical weapons plant. It was all kept such a secret, the area didn't feature on maps and workers were sworn to secrecy. It is now open to the public, having remained shrouded in mystique for so long, even after the war ended. It holds the rather amazing accolade of being the only British wartime installation that the German intelligence never ever located.

It is a fascinating place to visit; a large industrial area in the middle of rural landscapes. The long roads, now silent and empty, the overgrowing trees blowing in the winds...not only can you imagine the over 1500 people going to and fro their work, but you start to envision the small little 'town' feel the place must have evoked - not just the factory buildings themselves, but the canteen, railway station and other various buildings. You can see graffiti on the walls, names of workers, chemistry equations scribbled away because workers weren't allowed paper...If those walls could talk, you imagine the walls would have some incredible tales to tell.

But the plant has an important place in world history and scientific fields. Work here (research into methods of making enriched uranium for an Atomic bomb) involved some of the scientists who were later working on the Manhatten Project.
For a short while during World War II, Rhydymwyn was the most cutting edge of world atomic bomb warfare science. This is one of the many reasons there was such sworn secrecy surrounding the events at the plant.

It is chilling to think that factories with the intent of building chemical warfare were built, with the intent to cause much destruction and death. But sadly, that is the reality of war. But the fact this happened in Wales, to me, brings it all rather home to me. I find it incredible to imagine such a sleepy area was so crucial to the world's precarious predicament for that short period during WWII.
Rhydymwyn, like Bletchley is significant to our history and heritage, and these areas need to be preserved for future generations, reminding them of the cruelties of war, of our past, and essentially teaching the destructive way humans can treat each other. Teach, and learn from these mistakes of the past, so that they won't be repeated.

The rest of the Rhydymwyn photographs can be seen here.

Wednesday, 5 November 2008

Remember Remember the Fifth of November

Bonfire night. A celebration of a foiled plot to blow up Houses of Parliament, and we do this by...setting off fireworks! An intriguing tradition if you think about it, a free reign to act as roaming pyromaniacs for the night. It's not like we celebrate catching murderers by....well killing things.
As a kid, I loved Bonfire Night. One my favourite days of the year. I used to love making a 'Guy' to burn on the bonfire - usually raiding my dad's wardrobe for clothes to dress the Guy up in (often without permission). A strange tradition really, teaching kids to burn effigies on fires. One year I collected a load of  clothes and then thought it would be funnier to dress up in my dad's clothes and pretend to be him all afternoon instead. Luckily I didn't end up on the bonfire. 

One infamous bonfire night, my dad was letting off fireworks in our back garden. In my parents' infinite wisdom, they had planted a huge tree in the middle of the lawn (ruining most games and other jollies), so finding the right spot to set off fireworks wasn't always easy. Now, my dad, full of the joys of the occasion, had had one or two shandies before the firework festivities. Not really recommended. We used to have a children's plastic slide in the garden. Dad had a brain wave. So that all of us could see the fireworks properly, he would put the firework on top of the plastic slide, elevating the view, and set it off from there.

I am no science expert, but even I know plastic and fire don't always go well together. Dad set the firework off and it proceeded to set the slide on fire. He of course, was watching our faces up at the house and we were all shouting and pointing at the slide - which he took for a sign that we were enjoying the show. Luckily he soon noticed, the pungent smell of burnt plastic that now engulfed the Cardiff suburbs sky, was probably a give away. He had burnt a large hole in the slide. It had that wonderful melted plastic consistency - a bit like Michael Jackson's face if he stood too closely to a spotlight. The slide was never replaced, and remained a childhood staple for years; I used to get my leg trapped down it on regular occurrences. I think dad was secretly proud of this burnt monument - a testament to his skills as an firework entertainer.

Of course this November 5th, we wake up to a new President in America. Despite what some think, it matters very much here. We breath a collective sigh of relief as we welcome Obama into the Presidency, although part of me (the sadistic part) will miss Palin's Pearls (of Wisdom).

Although I approach the euphoria with a wary heart; it is not that dissimilar to the hype surrounding Tony Blair in 1997, and with all the emotion after that incredible night when New Labour finally ended 18 years of Tory rule, it does feel now rather a let down. But let's hope Obama can change some things around. He will be a breath of fresh air. Good luck to him.

Monday, 3 November 2008

It Smarts

Despite the humour I did feign,
I cannot deny you caused me pain,
Time moves on and you don't care,
Yet hurt is still very much there.

The wound feels like it's rubbed in salt,
And yet I don't feel it's your fault,
You had the head fuck to a tee,
But the problem here has to be me.

You have moved on with life's flow,
The sadness I feel you'll never know,
I'll slap you but also won't,
I hate you but also don't.

The pain you caused can never mend,
And this you'll never comprehend.
For in this mess I do drown,
And worse of all I let you down.


Sunday, 2 November 2008

Today's photo of the hour. 
It never ceases to amaze me the courtesy people have for one and another...I was rambling along a lovely woodland on Caerphilly Mountain and stumbled upon this delightful message to the masses. How poetic. Future generations are left with this heartfelt and in-depth prose. Unless a Gary Glitter-y personage wrote this and it has an entirely different meaning...

And now that means I have to tag Gary Glitter. I never thought that would occur in a hurry.

Saturday, 1 November 2008

Pinch-Punch-First-of-The-Month

Another month is over, another new one begins. 2008 is entering it's twilight weeks, soon destined to nothing more than the dust of history books. The year has, and is, going fast. But on the other hand, it seems like a millennium ago when Big Ben chimed twelve and we welcomed in the new year, and all it's anti-climaxes. The summer never really got going, the sun refusing to leave its blocks, whilst the bitter cold has gripped our skin and bones with its icy claws over the past few weeks, reminding us we really are in winter now.

I used to love this time of the year as a kid. Hallowe'en, Bonfire Night, then the always enjoyable run-up to the madness of Christmas festivities. Yet as time passes they all fade into insignificance; a barrel of anti-climax, which I always felt but always managed to conveniently forget. 

One Hallowe'en in 1992, we visited my Nan in the midlands, and it is still possibly the most terrified I have ever been in my life. I had always been convinced this large, spacious, cold house on the top of a hill was haunted. Ever since I had known it. It looked slightly odd, looming, had a spiky feel. We visited that Hallowe'en and it was even colder, darker, and more atmospheric than ever. And this was before I had seen Psycho to corrupt my young mind. 

During the evening, my sister played the violin - a violin that had once belonged to our dead grandfather. My Nan made a passing comment that she hoped he could hear it...she thought he could. A passing comment became cemented in my brain, filling me with an excitable terror, and I became convinced he was there. Haunting. 

Later that night, with the eerie echo strains of the violin still in my ears, I snuck downstairs and put on the TV. The BBC were showing Ghostwatch - a now infamous TV programme, that convinced a nation that Michael Parkinson had become possessed. Of course, we all know now it was not real. It was the Blair Witch Project of its time. But as a 10 year old, already scared by the idea of ghosts and ghouls, I was petrified. But I couldn't stop watching. Car-crash TV. I believed everything - here was a real life ghost vigil on TV, a scary ghost named Pipes terrorising. It could happen here. To me.
I scampered up to bed and hid under the duvet covers. I was shaking with fear. I honestly do not think I have ever been as scared as that since, not even when I saw Celebrity Re-Hab on cable. I didn't sleep at all that night. I was convinced there was something in the room with me (there was....my sister, we shared a room). There were shadows crawling the walls, knocks and bumps on the floorboards; the wind was howling around the house, engulfing nooks and crannies. I could still hear the echos of the violin, straining from somewhere in the pits of my fear.

In a way, I miss that. I miss believing. The utmost terror wasn't admittedly, fun, but at the same time it was more excitement than being a boring skeptic. A skeptic's world is rather flat and colourless. I try to believe sometimes, but...it's just not the same. I miss a good haunting. Do ghosts exist? I have yet to see any hardcore evidence. I saw a 'ghost' once, and it was a bizarre experience, but was it real? Was it actually a ghost? I cannot trust my own foolish imagination. But there's a lot about the world, our brains we still do not understand....that's a given...