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Film classifications should be expanded.  In addition to, say, “Suitable for audiences aged 15 and over” or “Contains strong language and nudity,” there should be other warnings.  Films could be preceded by notices such as “Less Enjoyable than a Root Canal” (my suggestion for The Ice Storm) or “Insidious mind-rotting consumerism dressed up as female liberation” (Pretty Woman) or “Watch with the sound turned down” (Titanic).  Other suggestions of mine would be “Have you seen Tootsie and Kramer v Kramer?  Then you’ve seen this already” (Mrs Doubtfire) or “If you’ve seen one, you’ve seen ‘em all” (any James Bond film).

Of course you can see how the movie studios might not appreciate this level of helpfulness.

And many films should have a warning that says “You are ruining a cinema classic by watching this first.”  The absence of this warning is the reason I watched Apocalypse Now and Citizen Kane in the wrong order.   Ditto The Truman Show and Citizen KaneNow I find I’ve watched Rear Window and any number of films the wrong way around.  If only I had a time machine.  I would return to my younger self as I was about to enter a cinema to see Manhattan Murder Mystery and scream Don’t do it! Eighteen years from now you won’t appreciate fully the remarkable cinematic achievement of Rear Window.”   It wouldn’t be solely altruism, though.  I’d also use the opportunity to tell my younger self to buy shares in Apple.

So, as you’ve doubtless spotted, I’ve yet again addressed a gap in my cultural life, this time by watching Alfred Hitchcock.  Rear Window is another example of a very prescient film.  It foretold our modern atomised urban landscape where many people don’t know another soul.  It laid bare the modern dilemma of the dual career couple trying to reconcile their conflicting lives.  And yet, in other ways, Rear Window is so out of touch with modern life that it becomes a window, if you’ll forgive the pun, on a quaint and distant past.  A guy plays piano all night and nobody complains?  I don’t think so.  With the standard of sound-proofing in some modern apartments, he’d annoy his neighbours just by rustling his sheet music.  A crime is committed and the police are there in seconds?  Eh, no.  In Rear Window 2012, Lisa would have been murdered twelve times over in Thorwald’s apartment while the police were still stuck in traffic.  A photographer and a policeman are best buddies?   That would be part of the Levenson Enquiry today.   A dog is murdered and everyone goes quietly about their business?  No, today there would be a mawkish shrine with flowers and balloons.  Probably a book of condolences and a Facebook tribute page.   A married couple sleeping outdoors?  They’d have their own Youtube channel.  And then lying on a balcony would become an internet meme like planking or owling.  Ditto “Miss Torso” – she would be a viral sensation.  Don’t even get me started on what would happen if a single, childless guy sat at his window all day looking out at his neighbours through an array of cameras.  Sex. Offenders. Register.   And, my personal favourite, an insurance company paying for a nurse to come to your home every day?  Purr-lease!  The only insurance staff to visit your home these days are wearing suits and stern expressions and telling you that your water tank bursting was an act of God and isn’t covered by your policy.  In a modern re-telling, Stella, the home-care nurse, would have to be replaced by a pizza delivery guy with poor interpersonal boundaries.

Nonetheless, Rear Window is a very pleasant way to spend an evening.  My only addition would be a film classification  warning that said “May contain scenes inconceivable and preposterous to anyone under fifty.”

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I’m starting to weep for my college education.  Really, what was it for?  Yes, I seem to have spent a lot of time listening to drunks singing the collected works of Leonard Cohen while playing out-of-tune guitars.  I recall a lot of tiny flats lit by old candles wedged into Chianti bottles.  And I met my Present Husband.  All life-changing experiences.  But other than that, what did I accomplish?  It may well have been a cultureless wasteland.  As I have already mentioned, I never saw Citizen Kane, I never saw an Alfred Hitchcock film, and now I have to reveal that I never drank tequila.    Oh, for shame.  Lets hope nobody tells the taxpayers of Ireland how I misspent their money.

I remedied the tequila part last night.  I’ll admit to being not entirely sure what the fuss was about.   I had what is termed “tequila cruda,” which for the uninitiated – or those who similarly wasted four years in college – consists of a lick of  salt from your wrist, followed by a shot of tequila followed by biting on a lime.  It’s possible I missed the point of the exercise because my first impression was of imbibing furniture polish with condiments.  I was reassured that the first one was bound to be dreadful but I’d acquire a taste for it.  So I tried again.  This tequila business does require a lot of coordination and, as I’ve recently demonstrated, that’s not me.  So I thought a second attempt with more deft execution of the three phases would do the trick.  No success.  Then I decided to consider the science.  I tried more salt.  No joy.  I tried less salt.  No success.  I tried more lime.  The same.  I tried less lime.  Again, no improvement, but I did grasp the role of the lime in inhibiting the resemblance of the tequila to drain unblocker.  As my various attempts unfolded, I was starting to be less bothered by my lack of dexterity in the execution.   So I suppose they did produce a bit of personal growth.   I tried again with different permutations in the quantities but the attraction of tequila did not reveal itself to me.  On the plus side, by the time I’d realised that this tequila lark was not worth getting excited about, I was starting to think my Present Husband was hilarious, wonderful and an all-round great catch.  I suppose that did reassure me that my time in college was not entirely a wasted enterprise.

So, in conclusion, I think we can agree that tequila is not for me.  It was a novel experiment.  However, the contents of my detergent cupboard would have been cheaper and more effective.  But I know it’s nice to be nice, so I’d like to accentuate the positive of the experience.  First, I’ve remedied another little omission in my cultural life.   Second, I’ve suffered for some time with low blood pressure, which I’m fairly sure the massive salt intake has now fixed.  Take that, bloated fat cats of the pharmaceutical industry!  And, finally, as a result of all the limes, I think we can agree that I have warded off the perils of scurvy.  It’s possible I have no tooth enamel left, but a long journey on an 18th century pirate ship is now an option for me.  And that’s also something I’ve never done.

A Postscript

Two things.  First, my next port of call in making up for lost time, culturally speaking, will be to watch an Alfred Hitchcock film.  Yes, it’s true.  I’ve never seen any of his work. I am very conscious that I’m exposing my vulnerabilities here and am likely to be taken for a knuckle-dragging oik, so be nice.  I blame my early childhood.  I remember my mother watching The Birds while ill in bed and very heavily medicated.  She seems to have suffered some sort of mind-altering trauma as a result.  That, plus I’m a snivelling wussy.  So if anyone would like to suggest a good starting point for a Hitchcock neophyte, fire away.

Second, my Present Husband has pointed out that I have in fact been to Ballyporeen.  I don’t remember it at all and apparently we were only there because we got lost after my poor directions.  Nonetheless, very disloyal of him to point it out.  Fear not, I’ll cook up some fiendish twist to upend him.  Hence my real need for a Hitchcock film.

I’m not a fan of New Year Resolutions.  There is something arbitrary about the whole process.  And the fact that I am not a size 10 should tell you how effective they are.  Nevertheless, I thought I would start the New Year by resolving to expand my horizons just a little. I’ve decided to explore some experiences that have passed me by.  I speak not of solvency or sanity, since seeking those really would be futile.  Instead, I’m going to concern myself with a few milestones that I seem to have skipped along the way.

 
Let’s not get carried away.  There are lots of experiences I haven’t had that I’m in no rush to embrace.  I’ve never broken a bone.  I haven’t had my tonsils or appendix removed.  In fact, all my original parts are still intact, except of course my marbles.  But, like tonsils and appendixes (appendices??), a person can live a long and happy life without them.  No, that sort of things doesn’t make me an oddity.  Nor does never having been to Minsk or Slough or Ballyporeen.   Or never having been arrested or divorced (although, I’d be prepared to give either a punt if I thought they would bring me a little free time).

 
But missing out on some experiences does seem to mark one out as a sort of socio-cultural deviant.  And so I thought I would begin my project today with one such experience, which was to watch Citizen Kane.  No, seriously, I’d never seen it.  I don’t know how you accumulate decades of adulthood, incorporating four years of college life with some incredibly pretentious bores, without having see this cinematic classic.  But I hadn’t.  Until today.

 
I wish I’d watched it years ago.  It’s a remarkably achievement.  Everything about it is just right – cast, dialogue, lighting, sets, editing.  And so prescient.  It predicted so much of what is insidious and wrong in modern society – venal bankers, gutter journalists, megalomaniac media barons, rampant consumerism, the great heights the mediocre can reach with the media behind them and the erosion of all manner of personal liberties.  Is it possible to see the megalomaniac Kane, manipulating public opinion for his own ends, and not think of Simon Cowell?  Is it possible to look at Xanadu, that empty shrine to the worst excesses of an amoral businessman, and not be reminded of countless zombie estates in Longford?  Is it possible to see Susan Alexander, a mediocre singer with a media machine behind her, and not think of Jedward?  But for all their faults, the characters are possessed of occasional wisdom.  Kane was right about news becoming a twenty-four hour business.  He was also right about the relationship between politicians and journalists and about the pointlessness of jigsaws.  Susan Alexander was right about the compulsive need for love in those who are fundamentally unlovable and also about the awfulness of picnics.

 
Not only do I wish I’d watched it years ago, but that I’d done so before I’d seen any number of later films.   The Godfather, The Truman Show, loads of Simpsons episodes, Pinky and the Brain,  Apocalypse Now and Blazing Saddles, to name but a few.  Yes, you heard me.  I now know where Hedley Lamarr comes from.  (Ooops, that’s Heddy!)  This process I’ve embarked upon strikes me as something like filling in the blanks in my cultural worldview.  Or, if I may extend the Citizen Kane metaphor, completing a jigsaw.  Except, like Kane himself, I think they’re pointless.

Ignominious Injuries

There are many adjectives that could be used to describe me, but graceful is not one.  Nor is slick or well-coordinated.  Anyone who spoke of me as being nimble or gazelle-like could certainly be sued under the Trades Descriptions Act.  I am a bit of a klutz.   You are doubtless shocked at this revelation.  It may take you a while to accept it as true.  Unfortunately, this is no idle hyperbole on my part.  I am not even a bit of a klutz, but quite an accomplished klutz.  As we head towards the end of another year, I thought I would impress you with a list of some of the real injuries I have inflicted on myself in the last twelve months.

1. I hurt my arm from catching my sleeve on my kitchen door handle.

2. I’ve done this several times.

3. I bashed into my shopping trolley because I caught a button of my coat in a part of the metal.

4. I put my back out while putting recycling into the green bin one Sunday afternoon.  (This just goes to show you the evils of recycling.   I’ve never been injured by anything going into landfill.)

5. As a result of this injury, I found it very hard to get up from a sitting position, therefore I mostly stood upright for the next few days.  This left me with incredibly sore feet.

6. I limped for hours last week from the pain of nicking off skin while clipping my little toenail.

7. I regularly turn my ankle walking down stairs.  No, I don’t know how I do that.

As an aside, I think it’s clear that in addition to being a klutz, I also have whatever is the opposite of a foot fetish.  I seem to despise my own feet and everything they stand for (sorry, couldn’t help that pun, no more than I could help the falling).  I seem to wish them no end of pain and indignity.  But more likely, I suppose, is that my feet have latent masochistic tendencies.  That would certainly explain how they ended up adhered to me.)

8. I regularly fall up flights of stairs.  No, I don’t know how I do that either.

Let’s pause at this juncture to restore my dignity by watching someone more awkward and unfortunate.  This adds nothing by way of content.  It just to make me feel better about myself.

So, back to me.

9. I gingerly negotiated a patch of ice at the end of my road in the recent bad weather and then slipped on a stretch of path where there was none at all.

10. I closed a laptop on my fingers.  In my defence, I mostly did that to give my feet a break.

11. I broke a kitchen chair from tilting backwards just a smidge too far.  For the uninitiated, “a smidge” is a unit of measurement equal to the distance from your home to the nearest IKEA. You can never have too many Ingolf kitchen chairs.  And if you tilt backwards too far on enough of them, you can’t even have any.

12. In the midst of ranting at my kids over the encroachment of their trains and tracks into the living room, I slid on one of the trains and landed knee-first on the self-same track.

Why am I like this?  Nature, nurture, who knows?  I feel it’s most likely rooted in my generous nature.  I like to give amusement.  So I do these things for the sheer cartoonish, Home Alone quality.  (It would take stunt coordinators on a movie set weeks to set up what I can improvise in seconds.)  Sometimes I do it because I feel a desire to enrich my children’s vocabularies with the addition of some judicious profanities.  The first time I heard my then two-year-old saying “Cheeses Crites” was a moment that will stay with me forever.  Often, I am trying to figure out what ludicrous contortion I have to get myself into to stop my Present Husband laughing at the time I managed to stumble, double myself in two and hit my head off a mattress. So far, nothing has topped it but I’m ever the optimist.

Mostly, however, I think I would love to go viral on YouTube.  I could be an internet sensation in 2012 if I put my mind to it – or not, as the case may be.  I could easily go toe-to-toe (battered ones, in my case) with a clip of a cat singing “My Way” or a montage of babies eating lemons.  Who knows what might be captured on film? Me walking into an eye level cupboard, maybe me going head first off my bike or possibly me walking down the stairs carrying laundry and not noticing the toy cars on the step below.  All with hilarious consequences.  I think I’d love that.  All of me would.  Especially my feet.  They would love nothing more than a bit of pain and humiliation.    Oooh, bring it on! 

Coping with Christmas

How complicated is the process of changing one’s name by Deed Poll?  Because I’d like to change my middle name from – plain, uninspiring and not remotely descriptive of me – “Teresa”  to  – what is that sound?  Why, it’s the nail being hit on the head!  – “Helpful.”

The festive season is upon us and so too is the stress that inevitably accompanies enforced contact with one’s nearest and dearest.  If it’s not possible to avoid this and to spend time instead with one’s furthest and cheapest, then here are some hints to help you navigate this fraught period.

First of all, frugality is your friend.  And the kind of frugality that is above and beyond the demands of any mere recession.  To begin with, appalling standards of hospitality – half a stale Ferrero Roche, anyone? – are a must.  So too are miserly gifts.  Should you choose to have one, your Christmas soiree should include guests who have outrageous and inflammatory opinions coupled with poor personal hygiene norms.  Your entertainment for this event should incorporate slides from your holiday touring the factories of Citywest and also showing off your collection of Nazi memorabilia.  (Accumulating a collection of Nazi memorabilia at short notice will probably take up all of your time over the next week and a half but it’s the gift that keeps on giving)  All of this should be accompanied by the aroma from your backyard meat rendering operation.

If this is too much of a long-range solution – and I’m not sure about the meat rendering plant, viz a viz health and safety – you will have to consider more extreme measures.  Fall out with your relatives.  Become a Jehovah’s Witness.  You’ll lose out on your birthday too, but you could just convert back then.  You are probably not the kind of person who likes to stick with things, so it probably won’t last.

If you are not a commitment kind of person, explore nudism, Satanism or telling people you work for the NAMA.   However, nudism at Christmas is really more of a southern hemisphere option.  There are those dreaded health and safety implications to starting fires in a pentangle, so Satanism might not be for you.  Check your house insurance before you try this.  And again afterwards if you can find the policy documents in the charred remains of your house. Bear in mind that burning your house to the ground at Christmas will cause your obliging friends and family to invite you to spend the whole season with them.  Strategic thinkers like myself would call that “Square One.”

As far as telling people you work for NAMA, this might work too well.  What you are going for is an Amish-style shunning, not a Biblical-style stoning.   You just want to spend Christmas alone, not in traction.

There is the ever-popular option of vegetarianism, which at Christmas is regarded as a mental illness.  The downside to this is that people may just ignore it.  Worse, if you go through with it, you may end up with that scourge of modern medicine, low cholesterol.  I am still on a cheese toasties and Dorritos diet.  Good God, when will it end?

Finally, you might have to go for the nuclear option of telling your children the truth.  It’s a brutal but unerring ploy.  It will horrify your children and everyone else to such an extent that they will run from your presence never to return.  Telling the truth is always a very serious step, not to be taken lightly – sometimes not to be taken at all.  But desperate times call for desperate measures.  And there is no time more desperate than Christmas.  So tell your children the truth.  It will do them good in the long run to get over the fantasies and you will be liberated from the burden of maintaining an absurb, infantile charade.

Don’t sugarcoat it.  Just say it straight out.

“Kids, we are potless.  There’s going to be no college and there’s no inheritance.  This is as good as it  gets!” 

It can’t have escaped your attention that the Presidential election has come and gone and I am not your First Citizen elect.  The contest was won quite convincingly by a man we can certainly say was the least objectionable and most inoffensive of the seven candidates.  That’s not an unprecedented outcome in Irish politics.  But it has led commentators – well, one at least – to ponder where it all went wrong for one election campaign that began with great brilliance and no small promise of glory.   That would be mine.

If a method existed to quantify such matters scientifically, politicians would be found to be the most self-serving individuals on the planet.  Left to their own devices, they would never arrive spontaneously and unaided at a conclusion that was likely to offend their own sense of self-worth.  The reasons they give us for their failings are usually filled with delusion and hypocrisy and lend nothing to our understanding of political developments.

No such difficulty with me.  I will tell it like it is.  And it is this.  The reason for my failure in the presidential election is that I was too much of a maverick.  It was immediately clear that I was a threat to the political establishment with my potent mix of charisma, erudition and popularity.   The elite of this country had nothing to gain from admitting into their ranks someone with drive and purpose who would have shamed them with an over-abundance of intellect and idealism.     That’s to say nothing of the threat I posed by virtue of my having the common touch and a homespun charm.  And my gravitas would have shown them up as deluded imbeciles.  And there’s nothing less attractive in public office than a deluded imbecile, I think I we can all agree.

My campaign never even got out of the starting blocks.  In some respects, though, that may well be for the best.  The mind boggles at how they might have crushed my candidacy if I had, say, added money to it.  Or if I had devised a slogan, printed posters and sent out leaflets.  Or if I had canvassed people, bought advertising space or participated in media interviews.  (I did spend quite a lot of the campaign kissing babies, but they were overwhelming my own and therefore predisposed to vote for me anyway.  If they had been old enough to vote.)  You can see how the delicate flickering flame was snuffed out so quickly.  It’s just as well I am a person of such integrity that I would never engage in a vote-buying sham.  And also that my credit card was maxed out at the time.

But today is not the day for bitterness and rancour.  The day for that is November 11th, inauguration day.  All the possibilities of my vanquished presidency will finally reveal themselves to the nation  – the lovely new outfit by Louise Kennedy I won’t get to wear, a spin in Dev’s Rolls Royce I won’t get to have.  Then there will be tears at the sight of me not rubbing shoulders with luminaries such as Seamus Heaney and Mary Robinson.  Later there won’t be wry smiles and some rueful tittering at the sight of me running amok in Áras an Uachtaráin shouting, “It’s mine, all mine!”  It’s a tragic loss for the nation.

Until that day, as I said, no bitterness.  For now, I wish our incoming President my warmest congratulations and hope that his time in office is a happy and propitious one for him and the nation.  I hope he enjoys his last few days in private life before the heavy mantle of office comes to rest on his shoulders (it wouldn’t have bothered my shoulders in the least, but then I’m young).  Again, I don’t wish to seem bitter but I would delicately suggest that he also use this remaining time to check the brakes on Dev’s Rolls.

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