THAT Speech In Full: Shawshank Redemption

I wish I could tell you that Nicky fought the good fight, and the Downing Street Sisters let him be. I wish I could tell you that – but Westminster is no fairy-tale world. He never said who did it, but we all knew. Things went on like that for awhile – Westminster life consists of routine, and then more routine. Every so often, Nicky would show up with fresh bruises and shame. The Sisters kept at him – sometimes he was able to fight ’em off, sometimes not. And that’s how it went for Nicky – that was his routine. I do believe those first two years were the worst for him, and I also believe that if things had gone on that way, that place would have got the best of him.

I’m A Celebrity, Get Me Away From The Microphone

I’m Samuel L. Jackson, muthafukka!!  Sit the fuck down and shut the fuck up!!

That Romney reptile muthafukka wants you to make him president, well NOT!! TODAY!!!!

We gotta get these muthafukkin snakes AWAY from the White House!!!…VOTE!! 


Oh I’m sorry…did I wake you the fuck up?


Quick march, to the USA presidential elections.  The internet tells me that Samuel L. Jackson is recording a film urging the masses to vote Obama.  Said video is being funded by the same Super PAC that paid for Sarah Silverman to offer a free lesbian sex show to Sheldon Adelson, billionaire, if he stopped supporting Romney.  Apparently it’s due on Youtube on 24 September.  I’m excited.  You are too.

Nothing to do with the relative merits of Obama and Romney, you understand.

Car insurance spokesdog Winston Churchill famously said of democracy that it’s the worst form of government except for all the others.  Rather less famously, he also said that a compelling argument against democracy is a short conversation with the average voter.  If he were alive today, and enjoyed the privilege of watching the USA presidential elections currently unfolding, he’d undoubtedly have replaced the word ‘voter’ with the word ‘celebrity’.

I had intended simply to list all the celebrities I could remember and faithfully record their execrable public remarks so that we could all share a good laugh at their expense.  But that would require some semblance of balance, and most of the truly laughable stuff has come from the mouths of Republican leaning ‘celebs.  Besides which, we know ‘em all by heart.

One might suggest that the only reasonable response to it all is to sigh and move on; we are all, after all, entitled to the free space between our ears in which to have thoughts.  And Americans have a constitutionally protected right to voice said thoughts, even if basic decency suggests that one perhaps ought to bite one’s tongue on occasion – ‘Muslim’ is not and should never be used as a pejorative term, Hank Williams Jr.

Nevertheless.  Voting Obama won’t condemn your children to 1,000 years of darkness, Chuck and Mrs Norris.  For a start, I doubt your offspring or those of other Americans will live that long.  Referencing a Reagan speech was a nice touch though.  Socialistic isn’t a word, Jon Voight, and Obama isn’t pursuing a Marxist agenda; that’s an unambiguous misuse of ‘Marxist’.  As for Romney intending to start (technically) illegal wars on dubious pretexts in part to enrich his corporate chums, Alec Baldwin I believe you’re confusing the terms ‘Romney’ and ‘George W Bush’.

Roseanne Barr, unsuccessful Green Party presidential candidate, is upset on account of how Obama’s federal troops have been nicking her (medical) marijuana, or are trying to do so at any rate. 

Did you also just picture the wrong kind of Green Party?

To be clear, the standout aspect of Romney’s persona thus far, other than his remarkable ability verbally to kick himself in the balls, is that no one is remotely sure where he actually stands on anything at all.  There’s just some guff about you and your family and here’s that Ryan fellow to reassure you hard-line social darwinist wannabes.  By the by, Romney’s record as governor reveals him to have been rather more moderate in practice than the GOP campaign debates might lead you to believe.  His critics are hell-bent on pinning on him the worst elements of the rabid fringes of his party, however misleading that might in fact be.

And while Romney may share 99% of his DNA with a 1920s fat cat from a political cartoon, Obama ain’t exactly a pauper.  Other people who weren’t paupers: JFK, both Roosevelts, the Bushes, Ronald Reagan, Bill Clinton.  The President is almost invariably rich enough to be completely out of touch with everyone who isn’t also a potentially viable presidential candidate.  And the reason for this is simple – getting elected costs a lot of money.  This requires having rich friends and acquaintances to give you money, and said rich people trusting you with their money, because no one stays rich for long by throwing money away frivolously.  Rich people are infamously loath to give money to people who aren’t rich in their own right, if only because people who aren’t rich might have funny ideas about wealth.

You might be the bestest and greatest presidential candidate the world has ever seen – not hard given what the GOP nomination process vomited up this time around.  But if you don’ts gots the greenbacks to buy the airtime, no one will hear about you, and even the hard of thinking are unlikely to vote for someone they’ve never heard of.

Ironically enough, there’s a good argument in the book Freakonomics that beyond getting one’s face out there, money doesn’t actually significantly shift election results despite what candidates and the general public are led to believe.  This is to say that however much money you spend, if you’re unelectable, you’re unelectable und zo weiter.  See also: Robert Dole.

But back to this Sam Jackson video business and why it’s great news.  I imagine that Sammy J won’t be messing around pretending like he has a full grasp of reality unlike the efforts of most other celebrities.   He’s made approximately 500,000 movies in his career to date; the man clearly doesn’t have the time to dick around what with all those Marvel film cameos to timetable.  No, instead he’s going to shout and swear and rant and rave and it’ll be mighty impressive and people will lap it up.  The reason I know it’ll be awesome?  There’s a legal principle called res ipsa loquitur, which is a pompous way of saying the facts speak for themselves.  You don’t have any bad Latin with which to rebut me, do you?  No you don’t.  As they say in How I Met Your Mother, you just got lawyered.

Put another way, Jackson was even watchable in Jumper, which is a movie otherwise lacking in any positive characteristics whatsoever.

If money doesn’t shift elections, then this celebrity junk certainly doesn’t – no one listens to Joan Rivers telling you to pay for your own damn medical care and thinks “golly, Joan, you’re not just a gifted stand-up, you’re also right.  I was going to vote Democrat, but I shall change my voting intention forthwith.”  Don’t believe me?  The philosopher Hume used to say “you can convince me of whatever shizzle you want, G, in half an hour I’ll just go back to believing whatever I already did anyhow.”  You just got philosophered.

We could get self-righteously angry at all this lunk-headed posturing by people who play make-believe for a living or otherwise flail about in the shallower end of the culture pool.  Instead, for the sake of our collective blood pressure, I suggest we simply sit back and relax.  Let’s enjoy the few genuinely entertaining moments like S.L.J.’s promises to be and smile indulgently at the sillier ones, all the while consciously ignoring the glaring fact that these people not only have but presumably exercise the right to vote.

Dear Americans, sorry for writing about your election.

Remaking Paul Verhoeven Without A Hint Of Paul Verhoeven

So you wait for a Paul Verhoeven remake for years, dagnabbit, and then three of ‘em come along all at once.  Give or take a year or two.  First there was Total Recall, in which Arnie ‘the Governator’ Schwarzenegger has a brain fart during a memory implant procedure and wakes up wondering what’s up with that Sharon Stone all of a sudden and then something happens in Mars and maybe it was all in his head.  Philip K. Dick’s short story, We Can Remember It For You Wholesale, was a thought provoker of sorts concerned with the notion of the human self, and whether you’d still be you if you had different memories.  Verhoeven beefed it up with an act set on Mars and a bird with three knockers, then decided to build the movie around Arnie’s idiosyncratic acting qualities, in case anyone had worked out what they were. 

Obviously it was a film clamouring for a remake – who wouldn’t want another instalment of such a camp classic, all testosterone and shouting and buckets of claret?

So was the remake any good?  Colin Farrell.  ‘Nuff said. 

Did you see him in that one with the future-telling mutant people and Tom Cruise as a predictive-text detective who locks people up before they commit crimes but it’s ok because it’s a Spielberg film and besides they were preordained to do the crime anyway because it’s a deterministic universe, yo, until it got predicted that Cruise would off some guy he’d never even met?  Minority Report, that’s the puppy.  Colin Farell + same look from Minority Report + Jessica Biel in typically smug form + no humour – Arnie = Totall Recall 2012.

And then there was Robocop, Verhoeven’s anti-corporate morality satire in which the police is being privatised, ED-209 gives you 20 seconds to comply and LOTS. OF. SHIT. EXPLODES.  With adverts and everything.  The film is ostensibly about Peter Weller’s corpse becoming a cybernetic policeman with repressed memories, but really it’s about cheap laughs and cartoon violence.  It’s essentially a fairground mirror held up to the 1980s, but with less taste and more people with bits being shot off in widescreen.  Totes amazeballs, I think you’ll agree.  The advert in which a would be car hijacker gets electrocuted is a personal highlight.  

The remake’s scheduled for 2013.

Have you seen the new Robocop outfit?  Go on, Google it.  I’ll wait.

Looks like a Power Ranger, right?  Only worse.


Style of thing.

And then finally, stepping lightly round Showgirls, we come to Starship Troopers, the Hugo Award-winning Robert A. Heinlein military novel about future soldiers fighting an interstellar war against big-ass insects.  Heinlein wrote about the delights of an arguably fascistic, definitely militarised society and the joys of war as seen from the perspective of someone who’d never actually experienced active combat duty.  Naturally, Verhoeven read it and thought to himself “A-ha! This is so camp and child-like it must be an ironic satire!  Better get on the phone to my fake blood man; I feel a film coming on.”  Even if he didn’t think anything like that, that is in fact what he did with the film.  Here’s a clue for the dubious non-believers of that claim – it’s got Neil Patrick Harris in it.  And he’s clearly having a blast.  

The film’s a beauty – Denise Richards and Casper Van Dien competing to see who can play the less convincing human being, the simple-minded politics played so straight you can’t help but laugh at them (which is, you know, the point), the simple, boorish gore, Neil Patrick Harris explaining the mathematics of shooting a bug – shoot it in the leg and it’s still 86% effective, or whatever; Michael Ironside, Clancy Brown.

The remake is rumoured to be a more faithful adaptation of the original novel. 

Assuming that’s true, nothing more need be said.  Except that I for one hope it loses its financing.

But here’s the question that everyone’s already asked and answered ages ago.  Did we want any of these remakes in the first place?  Obviously no, but if we are to be subjected to them, what’s the value in stripping all the Paul Verhoeven-ness?  Because let’s be honest here, none of these vehicles would be much cop if they hadn’t had Verhoeven’s clenched fist at the wheel.

It is of course unfair to stick the knife into Robocop and Starship Troopers given that they’ve not been finished, and chances are that Starship Troopers will be quietly shelved after a period of pre-production purgatory.  On the other hand the reason I started writing this in the first place is because I saw the Robocop pictures about four hours ago and I’m still laughing.  

 And from everything we’ve read, heard and seen, it seems likely that Robocop and Starship Troopers will follow Total Recall’s lead, will be similarly ‘updated’ and anodyne.

Total Recall looked tired, ditched the sense of mad-cap fun, toned down the blood and was ultimately anonymous.  It needed a pungent, highly individualistic director to break it out of the mouldy, safe sci-fi mould.  It needed someone who speaks in outrageous visual effects.  It needed someone to give it some energy.  It needed someone to give a potentially worthy subject a sense of fun.  It sickens me to say it, but maybe it needed Michael Bay. 

 And on that chilling thought, it’s time to take one more look at the Robocop snaps.

Reaching For The Cloud Atlas

Double dip recession, industrial strike action, prominent feminist publishes a book about vaginas…Yes sirree bob, these 1970s sure are bleak.

Different times, similar experiences – the human condition is essentially universal, which is why Shakespeare is still relevant today and why the Wachowski’s Speed Racer will never be relevant.

This essential universality of the human condition, and humanity’s will to power as a constant facet of said condition, represents the general thrust of David Mitchell’s Cloud Atlas.  Cloud Atlas is a sprawling novel, more a series of novellas, that was short-listed for the Man Booker prize.  My copy makes a big noise about Mr Mitchell’s dazzling linguistic proficiency and the headache-inducing list of genres his book crashes, mashes and splashes across each scented page.  

Suffice it to say I bought the damn thing because I saw ‘David Mitchell’ and got confused.  Peep Show it ain’t.  In fact it’s precisely the sort of book I detest –  ‘dazzling’, funny (it’s not), awards-baiting, temporally disaligned narrative structure that’s just so ‘in’ right now, by which I mean from shortly before it was published to now, because more standard narrative structures can’t reveal the underlying TRUTH in everything as though such a thing existed.  It doesn’t.  The word zeitgeist doesn’t actually appear, but you can bet that it was a sore temptation.  I assumed, incorrectly as it happens, that like most such hi-falutin’ novels with such a prosaic theme, Cloud Atlas would be a novel with delusions of depth.

I agree that ‘disaligned’ probably isn’t a word.

Books that are listed for awards tend to preen about how challenging they are on the basis that elitism for its own sake is somehow something to boast about.  And to be fair, Cloud Atlas is challenging, for two reasons.  First there’s the structure, which means that by the time you get into each story’s style and characters, it ends.  This can be jarring.  Secondly, the plots are mainly, objectively speaking, atrocious. 

Let’s deal with the second point first.  Cloud Atlas is a book about many things, which we can succinctly categorise under the umbrella term ‘showboating’.  That’s not a criticism, in fact it’s the novel’s greatest asset, utilising motifs, different forms of writing and syntax, genre-splicing and time hopping to decent effect.  It’s completely over the top, which is presumably why so many people insist, erroneously, that it’s funny.  This should mean that it’s doughy and turgid, but in fact it’s a veritable soufflé of light fluffiness.  Or a cloud. 


What it’s not about, blessedly, is realism.  Realism in novels with pretensions to literature fell out of fashion a long time ago, Grandpa.  This is why it doesn’t matter that the sleazy 1970s portion of the novel reads like a bad Jeffrey Archer ‘thriller’ and this is why it’s ok that the Carry On At The Retirement Hell farce wasn’t edited out entirely.  It also explains why there aren’t any real characters, simply skinbag ciphers that aim to reflect archetypes of reality and fiction from their various eras.  

You could, of course, read it as a straightforward novel.

In other words, it’s multi-layered.  Like an onion.  Only you read it.

As to the first point about the novel’s structure, it is at first an enormously irritating but hardly new-fangled conceit, after all, William Faulkner was pissing people off with the educationally–subnormal-first-person-protagonist-with-no-concept-of-linear-time in the first tranche of The Sound And The Fury.  Cloud Atlas pulls off another trick, in that the structure (and the title) is reflected by one of the characters, which should be pretentious, but somehow works.

Basically, I can’t recommend it enough.

So obviously, when it comes time to adapt such an ambitious tome, it needs a deftness of touch, the surest of hands; the word you’re looking for is ‘subtlety’.  But of course the world is in a parlous state and devoid of logic or justice, so the Wachowskis got the gig.  And that Tykwer fellow. 

Anyone who saw the second Matrix film or, worse, Speed Racer, knows that the Wachowskis have an instinct for visual excess that is distinctly, uh, excessive.  Perhaps they were victims of their own success with The Matrix and its bullet time technique, but the scene in The Matrix Reloaded where Keanu Reeves and his stick and the bazillion cameras fight 18,000 Hugo Weavings became immediately self-parodic.  And then there’s Speed Racer.  Incidentally they also produced the distinctly whiffy V for Vendetta and Ninja Assassin.  Didn’t see Ninja Assassin, did you?  Me neither.

The second two Matrix films and V for Vendetta also reveal an affinity for the sort of superficially ‘deep’ po-faced intellectual vanity that is unbecoming in a first year arts undergrad, let alone a one-time globally vaunted pair of visionary film makers.

Tykwer by comparison is largely blameless as a film maker but did jump off a cliff critically with his first big Hollywood feature The International.  He also submitted a film starring Natalie Portman to Paris Je T’aime.  On the other hand, he did give the world Run Lola Run and Perfume, which is better than you think it’s going to be even if it doesn’t quite work (hint: it’s actually not really about perfume at all).

So between the three of them, Tykwer and the Wachowskis offer something of a mixed bag.  From the above it’s easy to infer that Cloud Atlas will be sumptuous to look at but risks being over-saturated and saccharine, with its themes and morals crudely drawn in the cinematic equivalent of crayon.  So take sunglasses and painkillers with you to the cinema and drink plenty of water. 

But, I hear you shout (oh dear, am I hearing voices again?), The Matrix (the first one) and, say, Avatar, were also self-important, preachy and intellectually vacuous.  Additionally, they were visually a touch de trop, if you’ll pardon my English.  And they were massively successful, groundbreaking movies that earned far more adulation than opprobrium, even from the critics, even from the snootier broadsheet critics who only like esoteric monochrome arthouse movies from the Czech Republic.

The difference is that those films didn’t over-reach themselves, that is to say their ambition and self-regard didn’t outstrip their ability to deliver the goods.  And I’m speaking as someone who hated every minute of Avatar and didn’t understand why everyone thought The Matrix was the second coming of Star Wars, enjoyable though it was.

Over-reach then, I reckon, is the biggest risk Cloud Atlas will take.  Funnily enough, I don’t think that the book’s structure will have posed too much difficulty for the directors; after all, cinema has a long history of cutting and splicing between scenes and time periods.  Might be a bit confusing but it worked in 21 Grams.  But setting itself up as a coherent think-piece with pretensions of profundity while offering a new level of spectacle and being an enjoyable romp?  That’s the challenge.

Well that and betting $100m+ and marketing costs on a relatively little-known, heavily stylised and somewhat off-putting novel, the main quality of which (the prose) can’t easily be realised on screen, and the gist of which can’t easily be boiled down into a short trailer likely to attract the casual cinema goer.

On the plus side, at least we know that the film won’t culminate in Keanu Reeves literally turning into a Jesus Christ metaphor.

James Bond: Evolution vs Revolution

The UK doesn’t have a written constitution, something it has in common with New Zealand, Israel, Saudi Arabia and Canada, sort of.  Instead, the powers that be like to talk airily about the ‘uncodified’ constitution and the flexibility an unfettered Parliament provides, the ability of the government to adapt to meet the new challenges of the day: ‘evolution not revolution’.  These smiling apologists occasionally refer to the USA’s 2nd Amendment, the point being that King George is long gone and it’s pretty unlikely that the British Empire will be invading the USA any time soon. The 2nd Amendment, so the argument runs, is well out of date on that basis but can’t be removed from the statute books, despite being partly responsible for far too many tragedies, because it is part of a written constitution specifically designed to resist the mere whims and follies of governments. 

That the 2nd Amendment was drafted to enable the American people to defend themselves against a tyrannical (American) government, of the sort that proliferated most everywhere else in the world at the time, and which must be forever guarded against, is neither here nor there.  After all, why let facts get in the way of a good slice of conventional wisdom? 

In any event, the portion of the 2nd Amendment that refers to ‘a well regulated militia’, hereinafter referred to as the prefatory clause, is to be understood as more the expression of hope rather than something with genuine legal weight, which is reserved for the bit that says you can have a gun, AKA the operative clause.  Thanks for clearing that up, Supreme Court!

Personally, I’m thankful that where I come from most of us don’t get to have guns, but we do get to have James Bond boxsets.  James Bond gets to have a gun and voila the special relationship betwixt Brits n’ Yanks is strengthened.

And one thing we know from our Bond collections is that some day sooner than you think Daniel Craig will hand back his licence to chillax in sunnier climes and turn in the keys to the company Aston Martin.  At some point there will be a question on the lips of the people who bring us our favourite gentleman spy – evolution or revolution?

The evolution argument is a strong one – Daniel Craig’s grittier, more realistic Bond has been accompanied by serious talent behind and in front of the camera.  The franchise has been totally revitalised: there are no more invisible cars, Madonna theme tunes or campy world domination plans involving news conglomerates.  Instead we have Bond driving Fords, the Casino Royale theme tune and campy world domination plans involving the corporate buy-up of water.  

Don’t throw the baby out with the bathwater, so they say, if it ain’t broke deregulate it – no one wants to see Bond using a mobile phone to drive a middle manager’s BMW, wearing safari suits or a kilt or reminding his secretary that he took a double first in Oriental languages.  Or doing something that Timothy Dalton did.  Oh yeah, that whole thing with the Mujahedeen in Afghanistan looks mildly ill-advised with hindsight.  We like gritty Bond who bleeds freely but uses puns sparingly, we like that Bond is a well-programmed psychopath and that, unlike Pierce Brosnan, it doesn’t take a gargantuan suspension of disbelief to imagine him actually doing all the physical, violent stuff.

Therefore, Tom Hardy should be the next Bond.  Evolution not revolution, besides which, Michael Fassbender’s already appearing in everything else from here to eternity, including a probable remake of From Here To Eternity (they’ve remade everything else).

My two word rebuttal: George Lazenby.  On Her Majesty’s Secret Service has enjoyed a renaissance over the past few years, or a rehabilitation, reappraisal, whatever.  It’s actually pretty good as Bond films go, but even so, as an actor, Lazenby makes a good wardrobe.

Lazenby famously got the role vacated by Connery after he was seen in an advert.  He wore some Bond clothes and accessories and punched the stunt co-ordinator in the face during the audition.  Because he didn’t know how to act fighting.  That would have been my first red flag, but I wasn’t alive in the late 60s, so I couldn’t warn Broccoli. 

Lazenby’s Bond is fairly similar to Connery’s Bond, too similar in fact, which is problematic, because his spin is a poor facsimile even in a film that sees Bond break new ground by getting married for five minutes.  The reason for Bond’s longevity is that his is a character with very few concrete traits, which makes him elastic enough to comfortably house various different iterations.  Timothy Dalton’s burned out, serious killer, just about capable of one final mission if he drinks enough to numb the pain, is arguably closest to Fleming’s Bond, but that makes his no more definitive a take on Bond than the others’.  Roger Moore’s Bond has to be experienced for itself, like Keanu Reeves’ ‘acting’ in the Matrix trilogy.  Brosnan’s is suave and easily the one you’d most want to be if you could be Bond, if only so you could say “and I thought Christmas only came once a year” with impunity, while Connery’s misogynist thug is the gold standard each new Bond aims for. 

With ‘impeccable’ logic then, I say vive la revolution.  I want to see Bond as scalpel not sledgehammer, unruffled; taciturn but with a cruel wit.  This isn’t year one any more – Bond doesn’t need to smash through walls or kill every single person he comes across.  And he shouldn’t fly any damn planes, either, like in Quantum of Solace. 

In Casino Royale, Craig’s Bond pledges whatever’s left of himself to Eva Green, in Quantum he’s driven by a grief-stricken berserker rage.  We’ve yet to see what approach they’ll take in Skyfall, but sooner or later they’ll have to let go of the Bond emotional journey angle, or else show Bond losing more and more of his recognisable humanity until he becomes a self-hating film noir detective, replete with trenchcoat and drinking problem.  Let’s face it, he’s already halfway there.  Actually, film noir Bond sounds pretty good to me.  

But the fact is that while gritty realism is fashionable now, it may not be in a few years time, and while Craig has been a breath of fresh air in a stale franchise, he can’t do it indefinitely.

If I were king of the world, and obviously the world would be a better, happier place if I was, I’d cast Idris Elba as the next Bond.  He’s shown himself to be a highly capable and versatile actor, he looks not just good in a suit, but comfortable, he’s smooth with a nice line in sardonic looks and he looks like he could beat seven shades out of you and then beat them back in without creasing his shirt, let alone breaking a sweat.

Yes, the internet racists would be up in arms like they were when Thor came out.  Yes, Daniel Craig took a lot of flack because his hair was the wrong colour.  Yes, morons would shout ‘stunt casting’ or ‘political correctness gone mad’, but none of those seem like good enough reasons, to me at least, to simply give the job to Christopher Nolan to direct in the expectation that Henry Cavill gets the coveted Walther PPK with Michael Caine as M, Q or any other letter of the alphabet. 

Henry Cavill, you read it here first.  Unless Man of Steel bombs of course, but in that case Nolan’s got Christian Bale on speed dial.

At any rate, Pierce Brosnan’s Irish, and no one seemed to have a problem with an Irishman playing one of the UK’s best-loved characters despite the acrimonious history between the two countries, an acrimony still playing out in bloodletting fashion when Brosnan was cast.  We were evolved enough to cope with that, I think we’re evolved enough to cope with Stringer Bell as Bond, James Bond. 

Turns out I was in favour of evolution all along.


The following was uploaded about 30 minutes later than intended.  It’s a little trite, but sincere.


Where were you when the fires came down and blew us all to smithereens?  When acts of unforgiveable violent martyrdom caused global suffering that echoed and continues to echo down the years.  Man’s inhumanity to man is a perennial reality.  I don’t mean to sound so Kurt, but we are all complex machines.

On this day 11 years ago, I went on a school trip to see a performance of Macbeth at the Globe Theatre.  There was talk of cancelling the trip in light of the news, but it was felt that a distraction from having to discuss and attempt to make sense of the senseless events of the day was the right decision in the circumstances.  We were British after all, and stereotypes exist for a reason.

Memories are unreliable things, but I recall a plane flying overhead during Lady Macbeth’s grand soliloquy – the actress’ big moment was blithely ignored as the audience stared up at the sky as one, frozen to the spot.

Vonnegut was profoundly affected by his experience of Dresden towards the tail end of the Second World War.  His novels such as Cat’s Cradle are largely concerned with the notion of man’s technology as the cause of man’s demise.  And perhaps we will burn in hellfire of our own devising as the technophobia writ large in much twentieth century film and literature suggests.  But the obvious point remains that each generation has its struggles, its moment or moments of horror that shift the direction of history – an Archduke is assassinated in Sarajevo, a group of men in St Petersburg with terrifying clarity of purpose are inspired by the work of a German and a Briton/German to overthrow a decrepit Romanov regime.  Uranium ore is stockpiled by Nazi Germany leading to an Allied project codenamed ‘Manhattan’ and a fat man and a little boy silence Imperial Japan; the Americans send ‘technicians’ to assist the South Vietnamese.  The public lexicon grows to include the terms ‘Agent Orange’ and ‘fragmentation bombs’.

Shortly after London’s 7/7 attack I was on the train to Luton airport with my then girlfriend when an Asian man with a stuffed backpack came on board.  To my enduring shame my mouth went dry and my heart rate leapt.  In the grip of adrenalin and paranoia I came close to moving down the train to imagined safety.  To be fair, most of the other people on the carriage soon became conspicuous by their absence until there was my girlfriend, me and the man at one end, and the smallest handful of people remaining at the other.  To the eternal shame of my country, I imagine it took him considerably longer to get through security at Luton airport than it should have. And so it is that this, and countless other tiny inconveniences, injustices and small tragedies feed into reservoirs of tension and eventually explode into great tragedies.

I was reminded of all this not just by the date, but also by an episode of Aaron Sorkin’s The Newsroom that aired not too long ago, which portrayed the impact of the death of Osama Bin Laden.  Now this isn’t the place to consider a TV show, but nevertheless, it seems appropriate to touch on the events of the previous decade given the date.

Bin Laden’s death, while no doubt providing some element of closure, despicable word that that is, is not the end of the matter.  The scars and shattered lives of the conflicts of the previous decade will live long in the memory. However, in the same way that the First World War was not caused by the assassination of Archduke Franz Ferdinand, merely sparked by it, the seeds of the events of 11 September 2001 and the wars it bequeathed were sown long before.  And as with the First World War, there is the question of how to move forward, the question of what we actually do with the memories, with the horrors we have come through and the horrors still to come.  To clarify, when I say ‘we’, I mean all of us regardless of nationality, political or spiritual affiliation.  People are more alike than they are different, wherever they were born.  Good guys vs bad guys might make for good copy, but reality is more complicated than that, and crimes have been committed by and against all sides.

As I’ve suggested, memories are deceitful things, and of course history is infamously written by the victors.  A painful memory nursed and nurtured in a person risks becoming an all-consuming poison, the bitterest gall. In a nation the effects are that much more catastrophic.  And the truth of 9/11, or rather its repercussions, is that it caused those of us in the West to face not just the fact of the attack itself, the death and destruction, but also the darker side of our nations and governments.  It forced us to confront the nature of the true cost of what JFK so memorably called the burden and hardships to be endured for the success and survival of liberty; of the American way of life.  In the past decade the public lexicon has grown to include the terms ‘covert war’ and ‘extraordinary rendition’.

I’ve referred to each generation’s struggles, to moments that divert the course of history.  In my own lifetime we have seen the fall of the Berlin Wall, the end of Apartheid in South Africa, events of equal importance, and events which are equally worthy of remembrance.  And perhaps it is healthier for us to concentrate our attention on the more positive events we collectively experience, to wave our flags and cheer our victories.  But we mark the anniversaries of terrible events for a reason, to never forget, to hope to avoid repeating the mistakes of the past.

As for Vonnegut and his contemporaries, finding ways to remind us through fiction of the shadier parts of man’s nature, to warn us of the dangers of our technology and rhetoric in light of this fact, it might be glib to say it, but we’re still here as a species. And if we weren’t capable of learning the lessons of the past there’d be no value in reminding us what those lessons were.  I choose to believe that this means there’s some hope for us yet.

For its part 9/11 should be remembered for the tragedies of those who perished, and of those they left behind.  It should be remembered for its part in causing myriad tragedies across the globe for the following decade and perhaps beyond.  We should honour the dead, whoever they may be, in humble ways, and with dignity.  But we should guard against the temptation to continue using these memories of the dead in order to add to their number.

Perhaps that’s a little idealistic, not to mention naïve, but as a teacher from that old school of mine once remarked, those are hardly terrible qualities.

Punch Me In The Face

“Grey will see you now.”  I am ushered into Grey’s presence, still unsure as to the chain of events that led me here and now to this dingy inner sanctum.  The beads of sweat gathering in audience upon my brow betray my turmoil.

“My name is Fifty Shades, perhaps you’ve heard of me?” the voice is rasping and papery “You need to know that I am a sadist of the worst written kind, and eventually you will give in to my will.”

“What is your will?” I stammer the words, overcome by the strength of Grey’s certainty.  I know I cannot, I must not give in to Grey’s brutal font.  But I am but an innocent, too shy and meek to refuse outright.  I remain silent and lower my eyes demurely, trying to avoid the sleekly jacketed Grey.

Grey ignores my question, demonstrating even now the power imbalance between us – Grey wants me to give in, but also to know that in so doing I will gain nothing for myself.  I will only suffer through the experience.

“You may be shocked to learn how quickly you submit, how quickly we’ll form an understanding.  Maybe you’ll read me as an Ebook in a futile attempt to mask your disgrace, but whatever happens, soon I’ll be beating you with my inept but graphic depictions of kinky sex.”

But I refuse to accept that I will allow myself to be debased by Grey’s regrettable prose style.  I beg Grey not to be so cruel and try again to work out how we got to where we are today, but my thoughts are interrupted by Grey’s sneering “In time you will be a glutton for poorly written shag books rushed out by greedy publishing companies.  I am a cultural phenomenon, you can’t ignore me.”

I will do what I can to resist Grey, but I can’t fail to be impressed by the journey Grey took from humble beginnings as a piece of Twilight-derived fan fiction to world-beating pandemic of shoddy metaphors and viscous bodily fluids, porno Mills and Boon for the masturbation generation.  Apparently it’s outselling the Bible.

“I’m not going to force myself upon you without your consent, especially when we don’t have safe words in place, so I won’t force you now.  No, I’ll let you come to me, and when you do, you’ll beg to get underneath my covers.”  Grey turns, the susurration of loose pages almost too much to bear. “Now leave me.  Until next time.”

I turn to the door, but find myself pausing.  To my surprise I find the temptation is too great and I can’t turn the handle.  I realise that from now on every time I see someone blithely flipping through a ball-gag romance in a cafe or on the train the screws will tighten a little more.  I take a deep breath and face burning with shame I turn to Grey once again.

“M…my, my safe word.  ‘Dan Brown’.  When I say that, you’ll know you’ve gone too far.”

Grey contrives to smirk in smug fashion; I feel regret twisting in my guts already, but am shocked that I don’t feel more embarrassed.

“Excellent.  You’ll be surprised how little you regret this decision.  Now tell me, how do you feel about ass to mouth?”

Cultural phenomenon my puckered rosebud.

Holiday In The Sun

They come for us in the night, a horde of dive-bombing, biting fighters, flying in formation.  The screaming kamikaze whine of Messerschmitt mosquitoes that tell of raids by darkness, of a toll paid in blood.

The seaside in day time, lapping waves, broken glass on the concrete boardwalk, separated by a stretch of sand that burns in the midday sun and erodes the skin on my feet.  I escape the glare of the sun, floating saturated with the history in these waters.  The jellyfish hang suspended and tranquil, ethereal against the inky depths.

Clear skies and clear minds, lazily contemplating the mountains in the heat-hazy distance.  Time is even more relative on the Med, no demands no alarms, no CCTV or injury lawyers 4 U adverts.

There’s a lot to recommend structureless boredom.

The beach is fortified with fat old men in speedos, deep-fried with sopping great man tits on prominent display.  The tourists complain of the heat and their sunburn and insect bites, leering at the local girls – the young and the desiccated alike in sweaty lack of dignity.

Gentle breeze carries the scent of the sea, of suntan cream, sweat, cigarettes, wild flowers and food.  The freshest seafood I’ve ever tasted, plump seabass, pig cheeks slow-cooked and peeling off the bone, calamares, carpaccios beef and cod.  All with a side order of fries, washed down with the local poison in an icy glass – a typical Brit abroad with a livid-pink nose and sunglass tanline.

A beautiful girl in a nasty dress playing violin in a bar in Valencia.  A whiff of perfume leaves me mildly homesick for someone I used to know.  I can’t get enough of Seville; it’s surprisingly Moorish.  Catalan waiter speaks Spanish like a militant Welshman speaks English.  The untamed tourist, savagely drunk spitting out English for foreigners: loud and slow and slurred.  Muscular macho local men wind up the holidaying girls and ladies – curious how the concepts of ‘machismo’, ‘body hair removal’ and ‘tacky fake diamond earrings’ are so interconnected.  Gaudi would be appalled at Spanish workmanship – his buildings appear to be melting in the Barcelona afternoon.

Strange disturbing dreams of rabid cats shredding my feet and ankles, I draw accusing looks from the locals at this stranger in a foreign land.  I wake up, heart pounding I lie here drenched on sweat-soaked sheets.  Unable to get comfortable, incapable of sleep.  I get up and stalk round deserted, filthy streets.

Divorced from the news, detached from my phone, unplugged from the internet I’m blissfully alone.  But time is less relative on the Med than you might think – all too soon it’s time to pack up and face the ordeal of the airport.  As the plane lands at Heathrow I feel a profound sense of the loss of decent sunlight and lunchtime drinking.

The vacation from real life is all well and good, but there’s some small relief when it’s done.  I couldn’t live there, but for a while it was fun; this holiday in the sun.