Archive for the ‘ NaBloPoMo 2010 ’ Category

Silent hallows


Last night I went to see Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 1 with my housemates.  Others who are much more qualified than I to talk about film have commented on the many things to like, dislike and puzzle over, and I am sure fan sites are full of people comparing every line of dialogue, item of clothing and significant glance to the book.  However, one thing really struck me, and that was a particular brilliance in the soundtrack.  In terms of music, a good job was done throughout.  However, I did not often notice the specifics of the music in the score (other than a particularly apt use of Hedwig’s Theme), but I did notice that somebody – perhaps Alexandre Desplat (the composer), perhaps David Yates (the director), perhaps someone else – displayed great wisdom about moments when the score was not needed at all. So many films and television shows these days have constant background music, and in some cases it threatens to overwhelm the sounds in the foreground, including unimportant little things like dialogue.  Doctor Who is particularly guilty of this.  Murray Gold’s music in the episodes is uniformly brilliant, but it’s often very obtrusive to the point you wish it would just stop (which, in one episode where we had a view from the vacuum of space, it did). 

In Deathly Hallows, the score is used sparingly, and is so much more effective for it.  Poignant and scary moments are not telegraphed to the viewer, leaving us to decide how to react.  Film scores can often tell us, generally subconsciously, how we are supposed to be feeling at any given moment – tense, excited, elated, depressed.  But some of the most effective moments in the film were carried out in silence, or at least with no intrusions from the invisible orchestra.  Footsteps, breathing and real background sounds came through with unusual clarity in these moments.  I found that the silence somehow added to the tension in a certain scene set at Godric’s Hollow, and at other times the emptiness of the soundscape echoed the way in which the characters themselves felt spent and empty.  The film is a perfect example of the ‘less is more’ maxim (or at least, less can be more) applied to movie music.

When the film comes out on DVD, I would be quite tempted to watch it through paying particular attention to the score and the moments when it is not present.  This would, I believe, be an absolutely fascinating experience.  If I took nothing else away from it, Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 1 showed me that silence really can be golden.

Arbitrary list of books


Well, I haven’t done one of these in a while, and having been tagged in a Facebook note thing with this particular variation of the meme and then seeing it come up on Reed’s blog with an interesting extra twist, I thought I would participate. 

A list of 100 books, which may or may not have come from Auntie BBC.  The idea is to put those you have read all the way through in bold, those you have read a bit of (like I read the first 1000 pages of Clarissa before giving up in sheer boredom) in italics, and put an asterisk after those you have seen adaptations of (I have included the stage as well as the variously-sized screens).

1 Pride and Prejudice – Jane Austen * [Big screen and small screen.  The BBC’s version wins hands down.]
2 The Lord of the Rings – JRR Tolkien * [Seen on screen and on stage.  The films are better than the musical.]
3 Jane Eyre – Charlotte Bronte *
4 Harry Potter series – JK Rowling *
5 To Kill a Mockingbird – Harper Lee
6 The Bible [I *think* I’ve read it all – I certainly did a ‘read the Bible in a year’ thing, though it took me nearly two years.  But as I can’t be certain I’ve really read every word, I went with italics.]
7 Wuthering Heights – Emily Bronte
8 Nineteen Eighty Four – George Orwell
9 His Dark Materials – Philip Pullman
10 Great Expectations – Charles Dickens
11 Little Women – Louisa M Alcott
12 Tess of the D’Urbervilles – Thomas Hardy
13 Catch 22 – Joseph Heller
14 Complete Works of Shakespeare *
15 Rebecca – Daphne Du Maurier
16 The Hobbit – JRR Tolkien
17 Birdsong – Sebastian Faulk
18 Catcher in the Rye – JD Salinger
19 The Time Traveler’s Wife – Audrey Niffenegger
20 Middlemarch – George Eliot
21 Gone With The Wind – Margaret Mitchell
22 The Great Gatsby – F Scott Fitzgerald *
23 Bleak House – Charles Dickens
24 War and Peace – Leo Tolstoy
25 The Hitch Hiker’s Guide to the Galaxy – Douglas Adams *
26 Brideshead Revisited – Evelyn Waugh
27 Crime and Punishment – Fyodor Dostoyevsky
28 Grapes of Wrath – John Steinbeck
29 Alice in Wonderland – Lewis Carroll *
30 The Wind in the Willows – Kenneth Grahame *
31 Anna Karenina – Leo Tolstoy
32 David Copperfield – Charles Dickens [I’ll finish it one day.  It still has the bookmark in it, though it is back on the bookshelf.  The same fate has happened to The Count of Monte Cristo.]
33 Chronicles of Narnia – CS Lewis *
34 Emma -Jane Austen *
35 Persuasion – Jane Austen *
36 The Lion, The Witch and the Wardrobe – CS Lewis *
37 The Kite Runner – Khaled Hosseini
38 Captain Corelli’s Mandolin – Louis De Bernieres
39 Memoirs of a Geisha – Arthur Golden
40 Winnie the Pooh – A.A. Milne *
41 Animal Farm – George Orwell *
42 The Da Vinci Code – Dan Brown [Twice.  Why?]
43 One Hundred Years of Solitude – Gabriel Garcia Marquez
44 A Prayer for Owen Meaney – John Irving
45 The Woman in White – Wilkie Collins [My favourite nineteenth-century novel.  So why didn’t I get around to seeing the musical?  Because the music I heard left me cold.]
46 Anne of Green Gables – LM Montgomery
47 Far From The Madding Crowd – Thomas Hardy
48 The Handmaid’s Tale – Margaret Atwood *
49 Lord of the Flies – William Golding *
50 Atonement – Ian McEwan *
51 Life of Pi – Yann Martel
52 Dune – Frank Herbert [This is in the mountain of Books To Be Read].
53 Cold Comfort Farm – Stella Gibbons
54 Sense and Sensibility – Jane Austen *
55 A Suitable Boy – Vikram Seth
56 The Shadow of the Wind – Carlos Ruiz Zafon [Read during West Side Story rehearsals – I wasn’t needed much during dance sessions.  What a magnificent book!]
57 A Tale Of Two Cities – Charles Dickens
58 Brave New World – Aldous Huxley
59 The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-time – Mark Haddon
60 Love In The Time Of Cholera – Gabriel Garcia Marquez
61 Of Mice and Men – John Steinbeck
62 Lolita – Vladimir Nabokov
63 The Secret History – Donna Tartt
64 The Lovely Bones – Alice Sebold
65 Count of Monte Cristo – Alexandre Dumas
66 On The Road – Jack Kerouac
67 Jude the Obscure – Thomas Hardy
68 Bridget Jones’s Diary – Helen Fielding *
69 Midnight’s Children – Salman Rushdie
70 Moby Dick – Herman Melville [I have the cast recording of the very strange musical based on the book, but that’s as far as it goes.]
71 Oliver Twist – Charles Dickens *
72 Dracula – Bram Stoker *
73 The Secret Garden – Frances Hodgson Burnett *
74 Notes From A Small Island – Bill Bryson [Why haven’t I read this?  Hmmm.]
75 Ulysses – James Joyce [I’ve read Portrait…  That’s quite enough Joyce.]
76 The Inferno – Dante
77 Swallows and Amazons – Arthur Ransome
78 Germinal – Emile Zola
79 Vanity Fair – William Makepeace Thackeray
80 Possession – AS Byatt
81 A Christmas Carol – Charles Dickens * [I have seen so many adaptations.  The best one really is the Muppets one.]
82 Cloud Atlas – David Mitchell
83 The Color Purple – Alice Walker
84 The Remains of the Day – Kazuo Ishiguro *
85 Madame Bovary – Gustave Flaubert
86 A Fine Balance – Rohinton Mistry
87 Charlotte’s Web – E.B. White *
88 The Five People You Meet In Heaven – Mitch Albom [Hated this one.  Hated it.]
89 Adventures of Sherlock Holmes – Sir Arthur Conan Doyle * [I think I’ve read the entire Sherlock Holmes canon, but most of it a long time ago.]
90 The Faraway Tree Collection – Enid Blyton [She was on drugs when she wrote this, surely?  Weird stuff.]
91 Heart of Darkness – Joseph Conrad
92 The Little Prince – Antoine De Saint-Exupery [I have never seen an adaptation of this, but largely because I can’t see how you could adapt it without completely spoiling the book’s beauty.]
93 The Wasp Factory – Iain Banks
94 Watership Down – Richard Adams *
95 A Confederacy of Dunces – John Kennedy Toole
96 A Town Like Alice – Nevil Shutwell
97 The Three Musketeers – Alexandre Dumas *
98 Hamlet – William Shakespeare *
99 Charlie and the Chocolate Factory – Roald Dahl *
100 Les Miserables – Victor Hugo *

There are some puzzling things about the list – the Complete Works of Shakespeare are listed, but so is Hamlet as an individual work.  Likewise the Chronicles of Narnia and The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe.  But any list of 100 books will be somewhat, if not entirely, arbitrary.  How many books by the likes of Austen, Dickens and Hardy should be included?  What sort of balance between English, American and ‘foreign’ literature?  How about books written for children versus those for proper grown-up people?  How much genre fiction should be allowed in, and is there room for anything other than ‘the classics’, whatever they are?  Compiling lists of this type becomes more a question of what to leave out than what to leave in. 

So I have read just under half of the books on the list.  My reading displays, just like the last time I did something like this, surprising gaps.  Some of them are particularly shocking as they have been read by my book group, but at times when I was very busy and just skipped the books entirely.  I do very much want to read the rest of Jane Austen’s novels, as I have loved those that I have delved into.  And both Dune and Catch-22 have to be done, really.  But then, I clearly haven’t given French writers enough of a chance.  I have neither read any Hugo or Flaubert, nor finished anything by Dumas.  I’ve read quite a bit of Leroux, though.  Does that make it better?  Ultimately, I suppose, everyone likes different books.  There’s nothing wrong with Pratchett, or Jeffrey Archer, or even Mills and Boon as a choice of reading matter.  I just wish there was enough time to read everything I want to read.  Each book I finish leads to a quite agonising decision – what to read next?  Whatever I choose, there’s always a new world to explore.  You just can’t beat a good book.

Smells like the past


Smell is a strange sense which has a power we often underestimate.  Today, I went into a room at the library, and after inhaling one lungful, I was instantly transported back in time over 10 years to the home of a childhood friend.  I can’t work out exactly that it was, but some combination of paper stock and cleaning products must have emulated the mix of smells found in his hallway.  That room has not affected me like that before, and may well not do so again.  Naturally, I texted him to tell him of this event, and may have unsettled him for the rest of the day – certainly he said it was the most random text he’d ever received!

Other smells do that to me, but in ways that I can pin down far more easily.  The smell of Pears soap takes me back to summers at my grandparents’ house in Norfolk, but then Pears still is Nanna’s brand of choice.  A particular tree transports me to my first year at university, but only because the very odd-smelling tree had a relative very close to my halls of residence.  Various food smells as well can spark reminiscences as the cooking aroma wafts past.  It is always the smell of something cooking, not something on the plate – perhaps because most food-related memories worth keeping happen in homes, not in restaurants.  Certain places punch you in the gut as soon as you breathe in as well – hospitals most obviously.

Music is usually what sparks my synapses most readily, but today was a reminder that our noses have a mysterious power which easily beats our eyes, ears and hands.  Smells can make us nauseous or induce ecstasy, or they can take us back in a fraction of a second, in a most unexpected way.

Tree of life


I don’t often speak very directly of my faith on this blog, nor of what I get up to at church.  On some Sunday mornings, I sing with the worship band.  Sometimes I am ‘merely’ a member of the congregation.  And on other weeks, I am involved with the children, either helping with or teaching one of our Sunday school classes.  At the moment, the group I am involved with is (with the exception of me as a leader) entirely female.  Quite how the members of my church manage it, I do not know, but children seem to come in gender waves – a year or two of boys, followed by a year or two of girls.  We’re currently in the ‘girls’ part of the cycle in the crèche as well as in my group.  But that isn’t really relevant.

For the last few weeks, my group has been looking at bits of the book of Revelation.  Not my idea, and not something that happens very often in Sunday school, really.  We (or rather they, as I haven’t been there every week) haven’t been examining tribulations or battles, but some of the images from the last few chapters, which have been getting both the kids and the leaders thinking.  My task this week, one of my rare weeks of leading rather than helping, was to look at the last chapter (number 22).  As we also have preparations for the inevitable nativity play under way, I didn’t have very long, so the focus was essentially on verse 2 of the chapter.  In the King James Version (which I love for literary reasons but don’t use for my own devotions, normally, and definitely not for Sunday school), this reads :

In the midst of the street of it, and on either side of the river, was there the tree of life, which bare twelve manner of fruits, and yielded her fruit every month: and the leaves of the tree were for the healing of the nations.

I was struck by how awesome an image this is.  A tree that is in fruit all year round.  In the context of eternity, this means a tree which never stops bearing fruit.  Whether this is different types of fruit or not, this is a beautiful picture of heaven – never-ending provision and abundance, a constant knowledge of God’s presence, care and love.  And leaves for the healing of nations – an end to every ill and wrong, whether that be physical, mental, emotional or physical.  And for everyone – the nations means the whole world, with no barrier of race or gender.   In this world, I can doubt God’s love so easily, but in the world to come, there will be no doubt.  Not ever.  What a mind-blowing thought.

The godfather


Today, I hosted my godson’s 1st birthday party.  Or rather, his party was held at my house, with most of the actual party arrangements being made by his parents.  I contributed some cheese straws and currant cakes to the food table and did plenty of hoovering both before and after the event.  The trail of destruction left by 12-month-old children and their relatives is quite something!

I have a biased perspective, but I think my godson is an absolutely delightful child, full of smiles and with a very cheeky face.  One current idiosyncrasy which I particularly like it that he will bounce up and down when something takes his fancy – a quite charming way of expressing excitement.  The last time I saw him before the party, he bounced up and down with glee every time I started a Newton’s cradle going – who would have thought that a few metal balls on wires could provide more than a moment’s interest for someone so small?

At the moment, being a godfather is a particularly strange thing, and until the young man is, well, a little closer to being a young man, I am not entirely sure what it means.  I pray for him regularly, but as I already prayed for his parents regularly (and indeed used to pray regularly *with* his father when we lived a little closer to one another), this is not exactly surprising.  Even when he’s older, I believe that his faith is his own choice.  I will talk to him about Christianity, as I’m sure his parents will, and I will do my best to model my beliefs in my speech and behaviour, but even if it were possible to force him to make God a part of his life, I wouldn’t want to do so.  For now, I can offer cuddles and the occasional random present.  Later, I can offer a listening ear (as his mother puts it, I can be ‘Switzerland’, neutral territory for him in all matters) along with the occasional random present.  I hope to be able to share my love of theatre with him as well as my love of God.  But ultimately, my role is to love him and to support both him and his parents in whatever ways become relevant as the years go by.

In defence of Footloose


As one of the 1980s film ‘musicals’ which have been steadily appearing in stage adaptations in recent years (Dirty Dancing, Fame and Flashdance being others), Footloose has come in for a lot of criticism, being for some people an example of all that is wrong with contemporary musical theatre.  I have both seen and performed in Footloose, and although it won’t top my list of favourite musicals (though my role in it will rank as one of the performances I’m most proud of, I think) any time soon, I like the show a lot.  I hadn’t really thought about why until I read some comments on the blog Everything I Know I Learned From Musicals which spurred me to examine why I liked the show – is it actually good?  Or does it match my reaction to Starlight Express – awful, but very entertaining?

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Chip shop etiquette


The British do not like to complain.  There seems to be something in our national psyche which makes us prefer to put up with things than to lodge any form of complaint.  If we do speak up, we tend to apologise, no matter how little blame can really be attached to us in any given circumstance – “I’m terribly sorry, but my vegetarian soup has chicken drumsticks in it.”  We love to grumble, whinge, whine and moan amongst ourselves, but actually complaining, engaging with the source of our frustration in any way, well that seems to be beyond us.

I found myself in two situations in fish and chip shops recently which made me think about this strange national characteristic.  On the first occasion, I asked for a plain sausage and a portion of chips.  Come to think of it, I almost always ask for a plain sausage and chips, being a creature of habit.  I was therefore vaguely surprised when a battered sausage appeared, but I chose not to say anything.  My mind merrily started justifying this – I don’t actually dislike battered sausages, they only cost marginally more, and I probably ought to be less predictable.  Any reason not to say anything about it – why complain?  More recently, in a different establishment, I had the usual exchange.  The sausage (plain, this time) and the chips appeared, and the man behind the counter asked “salt and vinegar?”  “Just salt, please,” I replied, as I loathe even the smell of vinegar.  “Just salt?  OK, boss.”  The salt was shaken, but then as fast as lightning, the vinegar came out and the vile acid started to spread across my chips.  Alarmed, I cried “no, just salt!” but the damage was already done.  The man stopped in his tracks, murmured an apology and started to wrap the chips up.  I think I must have gone into full-on panic mode at that moment, and was unable to keep my horror from registering on my face and a further squeak from escaping my lips.  The man looked up at me, and our eyes locked for a while, before he eventually asked whether I wanted a new portion.  I was deeply relieved, and assented.  Of course, in true British fashion, I also proceeded to stammer some sort of apology and found myself nervously laughing about how much I hate vinegar.  I thought it best not to comment on the fact that my new portion was somewhat smaller than the original one had been.  And I couldn’t get out of the shop fast enough.

Isn’t it strange?  I truly cannot stand vinegar at all, but if he hadn’t asked if I wanted a replacement portion, I would probably not have challenged it, and would have walked out of there with a portion of chips which I wouldn’t want to smell, let alone eat.  We really are deeply programmed to avoid confrontation.  And yes, I did feel guilty over the wasted chips, even though it was not my mistake.  I really am exceptionally good at feeling guilty.

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