Sunday, 30 October 2016

Halloween, and rattling those bones....

Here's a nice little question for Halloween. What do you think happens to us after we die? Oblivion? A reunion with friends? Fluffy clouds, harps and angel wings? Possibly starting all over again, somewhere else? Your answer (if you have one) could affect the way you approach Halloween.

The festival's changed a lot since I was a kid. Yes, I remember bobbing for apples, but the pumpkin-and-dressing-up business only drifted over here from the USA when I was a teenager. (Blame Stephen Spielberg's 1982 film ET. Lots of British children saw the trick-or-treating going on there and said, 'I want some of that.' Thanks, Stephen. Kindly trip over your Oscar.) But the skeletons and gravestones and Things That Go Bump in the Night are all playing with our fears of the grave, the supernatural and other things we can't control. And that brings us back to the big question that we don't like to talk about. What happens to us after we die?

Thursday, 27 October 2016

The Troubling Genius of ‘As long as he needs me’

Every so often, a piece of popular art crafted for the mass market hits the big time- which is why one song from the musicals is still a masterpiece study of human psychology. Lionel Bart’s ‘Oliver’ turned one of Charles Dickens’ darkest stories into a musical that families would go to watch. It’s got poverty and shame, child abduction and exploitation, extreme violence and intimidation – perfect for a night out with the kids. Bart had to make changes to the story, of course. Fagin’s devilish nature was turned into Ron Moody’s adorable scoundrel (In the original story, he was hanged.) Bill Sykes became even darker (In the original, he saves victims from a house fire whilst on the run.) But then, rising above them all, comes Nancy.

Monday, 24 October 2016

Wishing I was lucky...

It’s strange how folk religion survives.

Vancouver airport must be one of the most pleasant airports, ever. Parts of it serve as an art gallery, featuring stunning sculptures from their greatest First Nation artists. The souvenir shops have genuinely good stuff, reasonably priced- and the food on offer is remarkably good. Pride of place in one section is a massive aquarium full of creatures from the North-East Pacific Ocean, fronted by a large fenced pool preventing people from putting their sticky hands on the glass. And guess what’s lying there at the bottom of the pool. Money, lots of it, hundreds and hundreds of coins from all parts of the world, thrown in by travellers waiting for their next flight.

Friday, 21 October 2016

‘The Girl on the Train’ vs. ‘Under the Shadow’

How can you make a film about women resisting violence, without wallowing in the experience of the violence itself? Two new ‘thrillers’ set me thinking. ‘The Girl on the Train’ and ‘Under the Shadow’ both share a feminist sub-text, but one was infinitely more successful at exploring the dilemmas without brutalising the senses, although you’ll have to search hard to find it at your local cinema.

Tuesday, 11 October 2016

Lovelocks and Moral Idiots

They’re everywhere we go. Well, everywhere scenic, that is. You’ll find them by stunning natural wonders, architectural marvels, and poignant memorials to the fallen.

And they have got to stop.

Saturday, 1 October 2016

And Then Our Money Disappeared… (A Warning)

Small print, we all love reading it, don't we? We’re into buying something online, but at the last moment there’s a little box saying that ‘Terms and conditions’ apply- so do we accept? Yes. Of course we do accept them, stop wasting my time, I want to buy that thing. We tick the box, because checking out every ‘Terms and conditions’ document would fill our days with trying to understand all sorts of legal gobbledegook (understandable only to lawyers, accountants and other Higher Beings), and nothing else would get done. So we tick the box for Yes, and hope that the people in charge have our best interests at heart. Which they do, of course. Every time. Of course.

But sometimes, not reading the small print can get you into trouble. So allow me to share a true story that might serve as a kind of warning about what can go wrong...