Thursday, 25 July 2013

Sighs



Sighs.

A clapped out fifties coach, no doubt designed with daytrips to Denbigh in mind, coughed and spluttered through the rain to the village to pick us up. We were stood outside the shop, me and my sister, detached from the other kids.  Mutes in any language; refusing to betray our strangeness by speaking.
We got on after everyone else and sat quietly at the front, heads bowed in submission. There were whispers amongst the catch up conversation from the weekend.  I could make out the occasional English word in the vaguely threatening broadcast taking place behind us. One word kept falling from the crowded noise like a reluctant volunteer pushed forward by an angry mob. “Size” “Size”.
The journey to Tregaron only took fifteen minutes or so, the mechanical asthmatic dipping with the road in and out of the tired looking valley, all bleak fields and dying fences. Occasionally a leafless branch would reach out from the roadside and crack its dead knuckles against my window and wake me from my dream. The bus struggled with the last steep hill and sighed as it came to a halt outside the uninviting concrete school. “Size” “Size”. Maybe it was “Sighs.”
We followed the other children through a little door into a corridor typical of any school on a Monday morning, jostling shoulders and bobbing heads, locker doors being banged shut, the hormonal drone of teenage chatter relating weekend gossip. I located a teacher who pointed us to the secretary’s office up a little staircase. The secretary, a thin but kind-faced woman who looked a little bit like Gladys Pugh in Hi-De-Hi, led us back downstairs which had suddenly and magically cleared in the interim. We were led down a corridor so thin it may have been designed with the secretary in mind. Stopping outside a classroom, the secretary led my sister in, a brief moment of noise and then silence as the door closed again behind her.
Then it was my turn. The secretary explained to me that there were lots of English children at the school now, and that each year in the school had a form for these children, one for Welsh speakers and one for children who needed extra help with their lessons. Rhyd, Bont and Llan.
We were making our way into Rhyd 3. The third year for English kids. It was chaos. The room was packed and the teacher was struggling to make himself heard as he opened his register book.
The secretary told him my name. The teacher looked at me and said “We’ve got 42 in here now. You’ll have to go to a different class. Take him to Bont.”
Any relief felt at not immediately being categorised as someone with learning difficulties evaporated in the instance I entered another class on the far side of the school.  The secretary was clearly explaining the situation to the new teacher, a Miss Jenkins.
Miss Jenkins seemed nice enough, told me to grab a seat and smiled. It was the last smile I’d see for a while. The room was suddenly filled with hateful grimaces from the other children.  The teacher took the register; I noticed they didn’t do it by surname like in London but by first name.
“Llyr. Rhydian. Bedwyr. Angharad. Sioned.”
These names sounded like some mad spell designed to raise the dead.  Soon everyone was on their feet and I followed blindly, guided by magic to a school hall for morning assembly.  Ours was the last form in, no doubt my fault. A hymn sheet was stuffed in my hand as I entered. The headmaster took to the stage, dressed in his graduation gown.  At the moment he reached the lectern, he nodded to the pianist to cease her playing.  There was silence save for the frantic panic of my heart trying to jump free from my chest and return to England. 
This was Dr. Rees, the headmaster. He spoke almost entirely in Welsh; no doubt he was instructing the Welsh speaking children that both I and my sister would be stoned to death in the quadrangle this afternoon and that this feature would replace the swimming gala.
Another nod from the head and the pianist resumed her work, accompanied on percussion by the flapping of a hundred hymn sheets being unfurled. I glanced at the sheet. Laminated anagrams. My eyes traced the letters across the page but I couldn’t work out what was going on. 
“Efengyl tangnefedd. O rhed dros y byd.” The chorus of an old song was being worried in a couple of hundred ways.
I felt as though a thousand burning eyes were melting holes in the back of my head. Even the teachers who flanked the hall seemed to be shooting me glances of contempt. No point in me trying to sing along, not even worth lip synching. My eyes carefully navigated the hall until I saw my sister, suddenly looking much smaller, staring at her own hymn sheet; listening to her own homesick heart.

An old Mr T thing

Because I need to link to someone else...


Sunday, 21 July 2013

Toy Story Trilogy - the meaning



The final segment of Pixar’s generation-spanning Toy Story trilogy has rightly attracted a great deal of praise for pulling off the rare feat of making a heart warming film that stays just the right side of sentimental without ever veering into histrionics or cliché. A number of theories have sprung up on what the stories themselves actually symbolise. In The Guardian, respected film critic Peter Bradshaw suggests that the discarding of one’s childhood toys represents our mordant fear of being rejected by our own children in our twilight years.

Elsewhere, some people seem to think it’s an endorsement of the pro-life, Papal approved side of 21st centuryliving.

With the kind of what the heck enthusiasm I used to reserve for swallowing shit E’s in the 1990’s, I’ve decided to throw my own two pennorth into the ring. Never mind the fact that with my paltry A-level in Film Studies (grade A, suck on that Kermode) and a knowledge of cinema summed up by only six visits to the pictures (the pictures!!) this century, I’m as well-qualified to comment on film theory as Martine McCutcheon is on the Korea crisis. That doesn’t matter. For, as Simon Cowell surely said of Amanda Holden, “qualified, schmalified”

My theory is basically that Toy Story is essentially a film about the mortality of masculinity. It’s a theory that evolved over a number of half-drunken minutes contemplating the marketing possibilities of my almost-written film Titantric, in which Leonardo Di Caprio fucks a boat for hours without coming. Don’t tell me that won’t work, he’s in a film where he walks around in people’s heads right now. Ludicrous. And don’t tell me you’ve never found yourself looking longingly at a catamaran and found yourself in a need for a cold compress.

Basically, how it works is this. Andy is the modern American male in crisis, we barely hear him talk but we do hear the voice of that most recognisably Everyman of contemporary American culture, Tom Hanks. Tom is the voice of a cowboy, Woody. Now we can all go on about Woody representing some kind of homespun version of traditional Americana but he’s not. Woody is a penis. He’s Andy’s favourite toy in the first film, always playing with him. But what comes along to threaten his love of playing with his old chap. Buzz Lightyear. Buzz is drink, Buzz is drugs. Buzz is the distraction, the shiny new plaything. Andy  goes from thinking about his old chap all day to reaching for the stars. There’s probably something important here about all of this being meta-textual and what have you but I’m on a roll now, this bong is starting to kick in and you’ll just have to bear with me.

Woody’s not physically attached to Andy but he might as well by, his dilemmas all spring from separation from his owner. Fear of castration and all that, a fear better symbolised by Woody’s continual losing of the hat. Yeah, yeah it’s Indiana Jones again I know but Indy’s hat symbolised a longing for being buttfucked. I read it in Take A Break. When Woody loses his hat, it’s a metaphor for being castrated.

Buzz is so clearly a cipher for hedonism. Like the erectile pun of Woody, Buzz’s name springs from the spine-tingling adrenalin rush one can only get from sitting around in the same clothes for five days straight smoking something you think might have been called “Summer Storm” but are now beginning to wonder if he didn’t actually say “Domestos”. Who in all three adventures goes mad, Buzz does. Buzz is the one who most clearly wrestles with his ego, his id. Buzz is the one who gets to go all Mexican, express his feminine side, and of course, convince himself of his ability to fly. He’s a space cadet.

Back in a sec, I just kicked over some Lilt. Fuck it, I’ll do it tomorrow.

The trilogy is basically still a story about growing up but it’s not so much the transition from childhood to maturity, as the rite of passage we must all make in between impregnating our first wanksock and gassing ourselves in a garage before the grandchildren come round for tea. It’s the hell of domesticity that Woody and the gang find themselves in constant battle with, despite the fact that that gang contains Mr and Mrs Potato Head whose love for each other is depicted in an endless display of self-harm, accidental disfigurement and transubstantive tortilla-based shape shifting. Suck on that, Mike Leigh, suck on that.

Anyway, that’s it. Andy’s toys represent all the conflicting fun urges he could be acting upon. Apart from Woody and Buzz, there’s cars (Bullseye), girls (Jessie), munchies (Ham), erm green dinosaurs. Look, I know I’m right. Science is just what they think they know and all that. And the journeys the toys make in each film represent the various forces stopping Andy from getting as much drunken action as he can be. In the first film they have to escape from the neighbours (SOCIETY) the second they have to escape from a wicked businessman (WORK) and the last, they have to escape other toys (PEER PRESSURE). When Andy says goodbye to the toys, it is a genuinely sad moment, because Andy is basically finished as a human being. He’s off to college. He’s off to get a mortgage, a middle management job with Pepsi Burger. His life is over. Cry much? I know I did.

And where's Andy's dad in all this? That's right, he's absent. Missing, presumed extinct, like those other great American male icons - the cowboy and the astronaut.

Next week, I’ll be discussing The Cannonball Run with a view to expounding on my theory that Burt Reynolds moustache grew thicker and more lustrous after Deliverance and that’s because he basically liked the squeal piggy bum rape stuff.


Monday, 8 July 2013

Tiger Man


No one escaped the clutches of Tiger Man.
            Tiger Man, with his striped face, and his orange cloak. Tiger Man, with his monkey sidekick and deadly foes; his array of weaponry and gadgets, his vehicles and accessories.  
            That song.
            Malcolm and Arthur, eight and six, sat in the back seat; each clutching a Tiger Man, each of them lost in some private Tiger Man game for they had long ago realised that, even in the seemingly limitless world of imaginative play there was only one Tiger Man.
            The city’s a jungle and the people are scared. They need a hero, a man who’s prepared.
            Tiger Man was going to be at Fairleader Shopping Centre from noon. Half hours drive, piece of cake.
            Can we please go and see Tiger Man?
            We have to see Tiger Man.
            Are we going yet?
            Are we there yet?
            Why aren’t we moving?

Their mother, Karen, sat in the front passenger seat. 
            Bill was driving, though he hadn’t actually trod even slightly on the accelerator in ten minutes.
            All because of a fucking cloak.
            If we hadn’t had to go back to get Tiger Man’s cloak we’d be there now.
            It was Arthur’s Tiger Cloak.
            No it wasn’t.
            It doesn’t matter.
            Look what you’ve started.
            I’m just saying.
            Are we going to miss Tiger Man?

That question hung heavily in the stale air of the car. Bill exhaled heavily knowing any answer given was a potential minefield.
            No, we’ll get there.
            Karen shot her husband a look. She had lots of those. Like Tiger Man and his endless conveyor belt of merchandise, her face was a smorgasbord of expressions, an unfathomable sea of glances, nods, frowns and winks that no one could ever truly be certain of navigating safely past.
            This particular look was somewhere past agreement but a little south of outright reproach, Bill felt. A tightening of the lips, a slight hooding of the eyes, but yet something sympathetic might be discerned by an experienced and optimistic traveller in those lands.
            To take on the forces of darkness and greed. Tiger Man’s the one that the villains should heed.  
            You can’t make Tiger Man fly.
            This was Malcolm.
            Yeah I can.
            Where’s his booster boots?
            He doesn’t need them in this game.
            He can’t fly without the boots.
            He can.
            No he can’t.
            Mum.
            Can you please be quiet please?
            There was beeping from up ahead. Distant but persistent, like a brass band at rehearsals.
            He’s quick to the chase and he doesn’t know fear, Watch Out Hoods! Tiger Man’s here!
            Why don’t you get out and have a look, see what the problem is.
            Bill closed his eyes and let out a sigh. He knew he shouldn’t but it was all he could do.
            One day, he thought, one day I’ll get out.
            Because by the time I get up to the end, the traffic will start moving and I’ll cause another hold up.
            I’ll go. Is that it? Do you want me to go?
            No. Just. I’ll go. Just hang on a sec.
            It had begun to rain. There was nothing on the radio about a hold up. Bill glanced to his right, to the car stuck in the same direction as his. A far more expensive car but the same dynamic within, two boys off to see Tiger Man, the tense parents up front.
            Bill wound down his window. In the other car a button was pressed to the same end.
            Do you know what the problem is?
            The woman spoke.
            There’s an accident up at the next junction, bad one. Radio said there’s a three mile tailback. We’re going to be here a while, I think.
            I hope not. We’re off to see Tiger Man.
            And us. Well, we hope.
            Silent looks of concern were exchanged, sly diagonal looks across the tarmac. They were strangers, united by a longing for Tiger Man. 
            Bill undid his seatbelt and turned to look at the boys. Malcolm was reading the ingredients off the side of a Tiger Juice carton. Arthur was whispering quietly to his toy.
            Are we going to miss Tiger Man, Daddy?
            I don’t know. We’re stuck here.
            We’re going to try, ok, kids?
            Why don’t you get out and have a look?
            It’s Tiger Man. It’s Tiger Man.
            Bill felt a tension rising in his chest, a raw congestion in his entire being. What to do, what to say? To lie, to guess, to give them hope, to take hope away. Life is a series of failed appointments and missed opportunities, he said to himself.  There was no way they would be seeing Tiger Man now. Their hearts would be broken. They'd get over it eventually. After a long teary drive home and some ice cream.
           
He closes his eyes and remembers a film he’d seen once, a long time ago, where a man floated up into the sky out of a traffic jam. He can recall nothing else about the film, just that image.  
            It’s Tiger Man. It’s Tiger Man. 
           He grips the wheel and begins to scream.