Thursday, March 21, 2013

The Running Ham

What is it about Hollywood and running?

Why do movie advertisers think that we will be more likely to go and see a film if the poster features a freeze framed shot of the leading actor / actress in mid sprint?

I get the theory. The promise of action and dynamism. The attraction of a lithe, well-honed human body pushed to full exertion, pitched against the elements, stripped away from all mechanic help and motorized aid to pit itself against [insert generic forces of darkness here]. See our leading lady’s muscles tauten and flex as she runs gun in hand down the blazing sidewalk. Marvel as our leading man’s 6-pack ripples impressively as he runs a 4 minute mile to hurl himself over the bonnet of his assailant’s car and artfully wound himself – just a little – above his right eye so that the blood runs down and even more delineates his finely chiselled features.

Even better if there’s wind and rain. Running through the raw elements is always a winner. Or a spray of bullets. We love it when they run through a peppershot storm of lead and come out the other side totally unscathed.

Man. Running. I’ve got to go and see a film with running in it right now!

Except, I don’t. Not really.

Because running on a movie poster always looks a little bit stupid. And a whole lot contrived.

Let’s be honest, when a human being runs they don’t, as a rule, look cool. I know anthropologists make the case that human beings are designed to run (it’s all about our buns apparently) and certain individuals like Usain Bolt certainly manage to look magnificent when they run… but, by and large, the rule for the rest of us is: when we run we look like we really don’t want to be doing it and medically we really, really shouldn’t even have attempted to do it.

And that’s when seen at actual normal running life speed.

If you take a freeze frame of the average Joe (or Joanne) taken at full pelt, well, we just look like we are in pain. Like we are a huge chain of human sausage meat linked by a bizarrely jointed chain of hernias. Like our flesh is attached to our skeletons with cheap chewing gum and one more heavy footfall is going to see the whole lot slide off our bones with a wet ripping noise and ooze off down the nearest drain.

Depending on how much excess weight you are carrying you may even find your nipples have individually swung to different sides of your body. I’m not talking left and right, here, I am talking front and back.

We do not look pretty when we run.

Which is why movie posters have to lie about it.

But there is an art to this lying. If it is done badly, for all our leading man and leading lady may still look buff and muscle perfect, they will inevitably look ridiculous.

Take the movie image for Breaking Dawn Part 2. It’s all over the place at the moment. It features Kristen Stewart, Robert Pattinson and Taylor Lautner running heroically towards the camera.

At least, that was the brief.

They look like they are jogging desultorily. That kind of half-assed shambolic, scurry-run that people do when they half-heartedly run for a bus which is already pulling away and they know won’t stop. The run that is the start of a run but kind of runs out of momentum after the first stride. I’m going to run, I’m going to run, I’m going to… oh I can’t be bothered. They look like they were told to literally run exactly one step toward the photographer and then stop. Don’t move a muscle. Hold it right there. Make-up touch them up and sort out their hair. Hold it. Hold it. Pressing the shutter release button now. Click. And relax. Thanks guys that’s really nailed it. So much better than speedwalking.

Take a look at this image when you get the chance. They have created something quite unique. A “vacuous run”. A “non-committal sprint”. The kind of run you’d undertake when the person you hate most in the world is lying before you, being kicked by everyone they’ve ever hurt and betrayed and they’re calling you for help. Yeah. I’m coming. I’m getting there. I’m just going to take a very long time doing it.

This image doesn’t say dynamism. It doesn’t say action.

It says I refuse to look as sloppy and out of shape as every other human being on this planet does when they run anywhere very fast.

It says I can’t even act convincingly like I’m running despite moving my limbs like I am actually running and being paid a massive fortune to do it.

This, Hollywood movie poster makers, does not sell the movie to me. Not at all.

But it does make me want to run.

Just not to the cinema or the DVD vendor…

Before the starting pistol is even fired, somebody just lost the race.

Tuesday, March 19, 2013

Quick On The Draw

It’s too easy to make snide comments these days. To throw a disparaging remark into someone’s path. To toss a hand grenade of insult over the shield wall of “constructive criticism” and watch it explode from a safe distance.
The people that sow such barbs with impunity rarely seem to fear reprisals or even the possibility of being taken out by their own shrapnel. Of course, cowards that they are, they stand too far back. They stand fully enveloped in their Kevlar suits of “only being helpful”.
Don’t get me wrong. This post hasn’t been inspired by anyone or anything specific. People have taken so many pops at me and this blog recently I have got completely used to the detonations.
And it is that which has inspired this post.
You see, it’s too easy to take pot-shots these days. We all do it without thinking. We all do it as natural as breathing. Open our mouths, type something, and let the sting fly to its target. Bang. Gotcha. Onto the next one.
Why has abuse become such common currency?
The internet, the workplace, the press are all rife with it. Comedians take cheap shots at anyone who has fallen foul of the law or public morality just to get a laugh – people they have probably never met or had any personal dealings with. Our colleagues assassinate each other in whispering huddles that may or may not include you… and you are damned either way.
And this is just the way it is.
I find myself wondering if people were politer in (paradoxically) less enlightened times and places? In the Dark Ages, say? Or Mediaeval Europe? The Wild Wild West? Times when the common man went about armed and tooled up and ready to answer even the slightest insult with a red smile or an invasion of steel to the gut?
Did people watch their P’s and Q’s more? Dot their I’s and cross their T’s? Save their insults and barbs for under the breath mutterings that harmed no one and kept the water source from which we all drink free from poison and contagion?
Or did that length of steel at their side or that iron strapped round their waist make them feel they had the right to sneer even more? Make them feel they could say what the hell they liked and if the target didn’t like it, well, they could choose between swallowing it or sleeping the sleep you never wake from?
I suspect weaponry merely separated the truly arrogant from those who only pose. The true bastards from those merely trying to be. And at the end of the day too, there would have been polite, peacable men who kept their mastery of the martial arts under their hats until pushed to extremis. Maybe, sometimes, justice was done? Maybe for every insult made grosser with violence there was an insult met with a righteous meting out of pain that made some cocky loudmouth think twice before opening his mouth again?
I can’t work out which is better or which is worse.
Only that while sticks and stones may break my bones, a bullet to someone’s crust is going to shut them up forever. In which case, insults suddenly become completely unnecessary.

Monday, March 11, 2013

Reactolite Rapide

In many respects I was the author of my own uncoolness at school. It was at those times when I made a conscious effort to be cool that the gods of style and grace were laughing most loudly up their sleeves at me.

Take 6th form.

For the first time ever free from the stylistically limiting potential of standard school uniform and feeling confident enough finally to not let my mother buy all my clothes for me I made some unfathomably bad choices.

Corduroy trousers in blue, green and black. The black, colourwise, were probably the least offensive but nevertheless the auditory properties of corduroy meant I was accompanied by a “fwip-fwip-fwip” backing track wherever I walked. And I walked everywhere.

Blue and green corduroy also did not do much for my vaguely burgeoning goth tendencies.

And then there were my glasses.

I’d gone through much of my school career (a)stigmatized by the good ol’ never-let-you-down NHS spectacles that all children grow up hating. Even those who never have to wear them. Of course, Jarvis Cocker made them trendy years later but for me, with my school career firmly ensconced in the eighties, years before Pulp made a name for themselves, they were another burden on young shoulders already weighed down by the cheapest Burton shirts I could find.

But when I started 6th form I was given the opportunity to cast off the yolk off NHS speccyness for good. I could go for some proper metal framed grown-up ones.

My innocence and unworldliness meant I was easy fodder for the advertising industry and before I knew it I’d been taken in by those awful eighties adverts for Reactolite Rapide glasses. Spectacles that become prescription sunglasses the instant they are hit by even the tiniest light wave from the earth’s nearest star.

On the telly this was fine. Chisel jawed models sunbathing on yachts in the Med or quaffing Bacardis from the roof-top garden of a skyscraper in Madrid.

But not so fine on a white skied day in Leamington Spa.

Because what the adverts didn’t tell you was that Reactolite Rapide glasses could not be seasonally adjusted. You couldn’t turn off the ability to sun-glassify in winter. Or even when you were indoors and happened to be sat near a window allowing access to direct sunlight of varying degrees of intensity.

Because of Reactolite Rapide I was the one kid in my 6th form who wore shades in December. Who wore shades inside the classroom. Who wore shades even when it was raining and overcast and the sun was obliterated by atmospheric precipitation.

Reactolite Rapide glasses were not cool and never made me cool. They just highlighted and drew attention to my fundamental uncoolness.

To be frank, wearing a brown paper bag would have had the same effect but at a fraction of the cost.

Do girls make passes at boys who wear sunglasses?

No. They do not.

Not ever.

It took me another decade to finally rid myself of hang-ups about not being cool, to stop trying to be anything but myself.

Once I managed that things came a lot easier. And not wearing corduroy helped too.

But even now, even on genuinely sunny days when I can feel my retinas crisping beneath an ultraviolet barrage, I still cannot bring myself to wear sunglasses.

As affectations of coolness go, it is an affectation too far.

I would rather squint like a nerd and not see properly at all.

Weirdly, the world is much better that way.

Thursday, March 07, 2013

Book End

Despite not having wall cavity insulation the family homestead is always a toasty sanctuary even in the deepest cold of winter.

This, I am sure, is down to the sheer number of books that line our walls and bookshelves. Both Karen and I love books and, when we threw our lot in together, we found that we both gained through the other’s avidly acquisitional nature the equivalent of an entire rain forest’s worth of books.

I swear to God we have so many books it is probably not worth us ever buying new wallpaper. You can’t see the bloody walls so why bother with a nice bit of William Morris?

Although I’ve shed a few books over the years (half-hearted attempts at life laundry) I have on the whole always regretted such endeavours. A book is for life, not just for Christmas. They are old friends. Old haunts. Places of comfort, recovery and healing.

And when a book is particularly good I always plan in my heart to read it again. To pass that way at least one more time.

But you know what it’s like: there’s always a backlog of new books to get through – a most pleasurable chore if ever there was one – the chances of me re-reading the majority of my favourite books is a slim one at best but I’ve always lived in hope.

It is surely a sign of increasing agedness that that hope is beginning to wane.

I’m actually re-reading an old favourite at the moment – the first in a series of 14 that I plan to plough all the way through in an orgy of escapism – a book I first read 22 years ago. The final part was only published last year – a couple of years after the author’s death. This huge epic tale was the last story he ever wrote so it all gives my return to his world a certain frisson.

To sink into a familiar world with characters who are old friends is as comfy-making as drinking hot chocolate in bed and watching an old movie. It is good for the soul. And it makes me think how right I was to hang onto these books and not pass them on or sell them or throw them out. And it confirms in me the stance that I shall never be parted from these books because I would love the opportunity to read them again one more time.

But then it hit me.

If it’s taken me 22 years to re-read the first am I ever going to re-read them again? In another 22 years? In my sixties? If I’m lucky I might manage another rendezvous in my eighties but, really, how likely is that? I might be reading The Lady at that point – and that only for feeble titillation purposes.

I was a young na├»ve man when I first read this book. And now I’m a middle aged slightly learned man. Certainly I’m grumpier and more cynical.

And life seems shorter.

Too short to read all the new books I want and certainly too short to re-read all of the old ones.

I have to face facts: there are books within my horde that I am just never going to get to read again – no matter how much I might wish to and no matter how much I might try to never buy a new one (that would just be a fool’s labour).

But still I can’t bear to part with any of them.

They don’t just keep the house warm, you see… they keep me warm too.

Sunday, March 03, 2013

White Bait

I've never eaten much red meat. There's no moral stance to that I just prefer chicken (no jokes about cock, please). I am suspicious of beef pies and stews - I invariably find that the one bit of gristle in the whole ensemble ends up on my plate - and the thought of steak just does nothing for me. Burgers I had a brief affair with when I was a teenager but as soon as I became socially conscious they went over to the dark side under the rippling banners of McDonald's, at least in my mind anyway, and thus my palate railed against them.

But I eat mince regularly. Homemade bolognese and chili. I do a lot of that kind of thing.

It seems a foregone conclusion then, the more that horse-gate unravels, that I have partaken of equine flesh at some time or other. Porbably enough that I ought to set up a direct debit to Redwings horse sanctuary to attone for my glutinous sins.

I can't help wondering though how long this cutting-beef-products-with-horse-products has been going on (at least they're not cutting it with talcum powder or Ajax). Probably years.

And I can't help wondering if it warrants the furore that has been grinding on and on about it.

Don't get me wrong. I love horses. I really do. Though in this context I'd like to state that, by choice, I'd much rather not eat one.

I'd like to live in a world where food manufacturers were honest and open-handed and listed accurately the ingredients in their wares. I'd like to live in a world where the constituent ingredients in a beef pie were simply beef and pastry. Or the constituent ingredients of a pork sausage was simply pork. Because to slip other stuff in there and not declare it is fraud of the worst kind. It is lies and deceit and leaves the backdoor open to talcum powder and Ajax and perforated septums.

But then again, have we not long lived in a world where chicken is pumped with water and chemicals to make it look plumper on the supermarket shelves? Have our eyes not surveyed rank upon rank of pork sausages that strictly speaking do not contain pork at all but in fact contain breadcrumbs, pig lips, pig trotters, pig arseholes and the stuff the farmer has wiped off his boots? How many of us have bought fishfingers thinking it was cod when in fact we have been slathering our mushypeas over generic "white fish"?

Unless you go out, hunt it, kill it and gut it yourself you have no way of knowing if the food on your plate is actually the food the supermarket label says it is.

We, all of us, could as well have eaten camel, kangeroo or Great Dane over the last few years and merely commented that for once the beef was exquisitely tender.

But of course this fraud is not right.

But who to blame?

All to easy to blame the abbattoir owners and their ilk - they, after all, are literally at the sharp end of the food production chain. Sorry, I say "all to easy" like they're being blamed unfairly... they're not. The guilty ones have committed a criminal act and must be punished.

But ultimately I blame the supermarkets. I blame the competition of super food corporations that push and push for cheap meat and cheaper meat that, yes, is kind of great for the consumer, but inevitably squeezes the meat producers and the farmers to the point where it does not make economic sense for them to produce the meat that the supermarkets want to sell to us with their own labels stamped on top.

Cheap invariably means dodgy and adulterated.

You get what you pay for.

Now if the supermarket labels merely said "cheap meat" we'd probably all have a much better idea of what it was we were eating...