View from my room.

In a week I’ll start my second year at UCL.

This means it’s a year since I packed my books, clothes and other miscellaneous shit and zipped down the M1 to start a new chapter in my life.

We’re all aware that time goes up about 3 gears for each year we’re alive, but this one has been extraordinarily fast. I remember vividly opening the door to my room in student halls and smiling as I took in the space that was to be home.  From my window I could see the back of Euston Road O’Neills, but beyond that stood St. Pancras in all its majesty.

It’s interesting the relationships we build with the spaces around us. St. Pancras, more than any other building in London to me, symbolises coming home.  Stepping out of King’s Cross after a trip home or to Newcastle, the clock tower and gothic facade of the hotel is the first thing to which I look, the first assurance that London has still been here while I’ve been away.

In a lot of instances throughout my first year, the St. Pancras clock has been my timekeeper, a quick glance out of my window would tell me to get my arse in gear, grab my rucksack and head over to tutorial, or that there was an essay deadline in a couple of hours.

Not to romanticise the whole thing too much, but I even had a favourite time of day to look at that clock face. It was afternoon in Winter, getting later as the seasons moved through Spring into Summer. As the Sun took its place low in the western sky, the clock face of St. Pancras that faced my room would glint in the sunlight, shining beautifully and proudly.

The beauty and stability of this sight is a contrast with the otherwise dull, loud, constant movement of the Euston Road, and that served to exaggerate and embellish the loveliness all the more. I sympathise with John Betjeman…

“What the Londoner sees in his mind’s eye is that cluster of towers and pinnacles seen from Pentonville Hill and outlined against a foggy sunset, and the great arc of Barlow’s train shed gaping to devour incoming engines, and the sudden burst of exuberant Gothic of the hotel seen from gloomy Judd Street.”

My halls were on the corner of Judd Street – it’s not all that gloomy, but he makes the point better than I ever could manage.

So if you’re ever walking along Euston Road late on a sunny afternoon, look eastward towards the stations and hopefully you’ll see what I mean.

It’s nice, honest.

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For anyone unfamiliar with what I was just badly describing

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Sudoku

I never used to be able to do Sudoku puzzles, namely because I never applied myself to them.  I just looked at the crazy boxes with seemingly random number combinations in them and my logical powers would pack up and swiftly vacate my brain.

In lieu of more productive things to do this Summer, though, I’ve gotten good… well, capable, at doing Sudoku. Every day with the paper – a nice daily ritual with a cup of tea.

The worst thing about Sudoku though is failing. It’s not like failing at a crossword where you can just rub out the mistake and retry another word.  99% of the time, if you fail at Sudoku you don’t realise until too late. It’s brutal, ego-crushing, sometimes soul-destroying. Something doesn’t fit, two sevens have to go in this box or you can’t put that three where you wanted to! JESUS.

At this point you feel like the Sudoku gods are looking at you, pointing and laughing at your lack of basic logic. YOU MORON, how did you not see that was a 4 and not a 9?! As if you didn’t feel bad enough having failed in the simple task that was your charge, you are then presented with the issue of the evidence.

You don’t want anyone to see your failed puzzle attempt lest they laugh at your ineptitude. The only option is to furtively rip it out and throw it away, eat it or burn it or some shit.

Because I am still awful at Sudoku this is something I find myself doing often.

I will get better.

I will.

The Great Gatsby at The King’s Head, Islington

Not too long ago my partner and I went to see a musical adaptation of The Great Gatsby. This is a book I studied at A Level and like many things you study at school it’s quite close to my heart.  So much so actually that I feel a bit precious about it. I’ve already written a prissy post for a friend’s blog about Baz Luhrmann’s forthcoming A-List-3D-money-spinning-garishly-ridiculous-looking adaptation.

A musical adaptation, then, is a very, very risky move. So often musicals strip literature to the bare bones of story, sucking out the real substance – things go from being literature to skeletal narrative with some shit songs thrown in (and I like musicals).

Nonetheless, The King’s Head theatre pub has a pretty commendable reputation and independent theatre is always worth supporting so I booked tickets, hoping for the best.

Cutting to the chase, it was very good.  The small theatre was heaving and the atmosphere heady – it was a sweltering evening and the humid room channeled the feel of the dog days of a New York summer. The music I found to be very fitting. The Times reviewer said it needed to be truer to the jazz age roots of the work but I found the pieces perfectly measured to the tone and feel of the story.

A small cast made for actors doubling as musicians, and there were fewer of what you might call “showtunes” than in your average musical and much more dialogue. Whole sections were lifted from the novel and this is no bad thing. Fitzgerald’s prose is so poetic and measured, to not use it would be to bastardise the thing.

One of the most striking scenes was Wilson’s descent into murderous madness following Myrtle’s death.  The actor sat on stage plucking eerily at a cello describing his suspicions, the notes he played gradually became more unhinged as he did. It was haunting and beautifully directed.

There were no weak performances and, crucially for me, Meyer Wolfsheim’s voice was delivered with the Yiddish inflections that it needed. I still remember 30 minutes before my exam reading passages from the novel entirely in a New York-Jewish accent in order to memorise them. Takes all sorts, I guess.

Crucially, the production stayed true to Fitzgerald’s vision. This was a paired down affair, as one reviewer said, the staging reflected “the sadness behind the parties”. By the looks of it, this adaptation is the perfect antithesis to what Lurhmann’s appears to be – in other words, good.

London Film Festival

Throughout October I’ll be working at the BFI Southbank during the London Film Festival (hold tight for blogposts during the festival) but this post is more of an “I’M EXCITED” than anything else. Let’s be honest, it might also be a tiny bit of a humble brag, but it’s okay because I’ve admitted it.

At any rate. I figured I’d give my picks of some of the cool films that are going to be shown while the festival is on for any interested parties. It’s a great time to visit the BFI, there will be so much going on and it’s open to the public so there’s no excuse not to have a mooch.

Amour dir. Michael Haneke (Trailer)

Movie buffs will already be well aware of this film. It won the Palme d’Or at Cannes this year and follows an ageing French couple whose relationship is tested when the wife suffers a damaging stroke. It doesn’t look like a barrel of laughs, but undoubtedly great cinema.

Blancanieves dir. Pablo Berger (Trailer)

Hot on the heels of The Artist’s success. This silent, black and white, Spanish adaptation of Snow White will surely be popular.  Expect fantastical imagery and a healthy dosage of gothic strangeness.  I’m trying hard not to mention a certain director who notably collaborates with Johnny Depp and Helena Bonham-Carter. If you like him – go and see this.

Argo dir. Ben Affleck (Trailer)

It’s not all auters and arty shit!! Ben Affleck, always Hollywood’s bridesmaid, never its bride, directs films! Remember The Town?! And you can see this one at the festival! It’s a true story about a CIA mission to get six American hostages out of revolutionary Iran after their embassy is stormed. Ben Affleck grew a beard for it and everything. I’m sure that means he’s serious.

 

There are a whole host of other great films and events going on other than this teeny little taster. Look at the link at the top of the post and see for yourself! It will be awesome! Go, London! I implore you.

Breaking Bad: what’s so special?

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Breaking Bad is, as anyone with a Netflix account knows, brilliant.

It took me a long time, however, to watch it and realise so myself. A television programme about Hal from Malcolm in the Middle with terminal cancer dealing meth. Really? Isn’t it just going to be Weeds but with Methamphetamine and set in fucking Albuquerque? Where’s the fun in that?

Eventually, though, I jumped on the bandwagon after one too many glowing reports for me to just ignore. This wasn’t going to be The Wire all over again. I’ve never seen The Wire, and I if there was ever a time I was going to, it has long since passed.

So yes. It’s probably one of the best programmes ever made, but why? I won’t be able to offer anything particularly original here and these things are so subjective, but it must be to do with the character development. Yes, the acting is brilliant. Bryan Cranston and Aaron Paul are revelations, but Breaking Bad’s characters, these two especially – though not exclusively, are so skilfully crafted and three-dimensional that they put a lot of literature to shame, according to Noah Charmey, and I can’t help but agree.

On top of this, the show deals with big philosophical issues of morality and ethics – whether it’s possible to do bad things for good reasons and how far our deeds and choices change us as people. Breaking Bad essentially shows Walter White in a tailspin, physically and morally. As he becomes more and more successful in the shady underworld of meth manufacture, he loses more of his integrity and humanity. It’s an interesting juxtaposition, but he is simultaneously rising and falling by different estimations, trading one for the other.  As creator Vince Gilligan notes, by the fourth season, Walter has become more of a badass than anything else.

I appreciate this post has little substance and is rambling, frankly I just wanted an excuse to post the brilliant picture above.  But if you haven’t watched Breaking Bad, do. You won’t regret it.

On Facebook’s creeping “integration” into real life

Earlier this year I saw a YouTube video in which a man walked round New York doing various jobs and wearing a pair of glasses. Ordinary enough. Except, NO. The errands he was running were all perfectly normal, but his glasses -his glasses were magic.

I’ve broken to another paragraph now to heighten the amount of time you thought that a man actually possessed magical glasses.  These weren’t really magic, these were glasses whose lenses were also clever screens connected to the internet. The video was shot in first person, so this man is helped around the streets of Manhattan viewing maps and taking photos on a pair of glasses. He tries to go into the subway and receives a notification that the line is suspended. RATS! Crucially, though, this guy is connected to a social network, Google+, which helps him avoid the catastrophe of having to stand somewhere on his own waiting for a friend.  The glasses are made by Google and might well become something that idiots actually go out and buy at some point in the not too distant future.

This is just one example of how social networks, mostly Facebook, are trying to muscle in on real life. First came the website, a dedicated space for connecting with those you know in a variety of ways. Fine. Next came the mobile applications. Again, fine. You are out and about, you want to check Facebook. I get it. Hell, I use it. Here, still, Facebook is still a well cordoned off section of your mobile space.

Not for much longer. In his first public appearance since Facebook’s hilariously bad Stock Market flotation in May, Mark Zuckerberg has stated that he wants Facebook to become “deeply ingrained” into all devices.

I cannot be the only one who finds this this statement more than a tad ominous. Firstly, what on earth does The Zuck mean by “devices”? Is this just internet enabled pieces of technology like iPads and Smartphones, or does the Machiavellian nerd (a la The Social Network) want to create Facebook implants to solder into our retinas?

The latest version of the iOS software that will soon run on your iPhones and iPads is gladly helping Marky Z achieve his goal of omnipresence by integrating Facebook more, they might say seamlessly, into itself.  This signals the end of Facebook as a definite online social area, always a click away but which apparently is now a bit too 2005 for the tastes of Silicon Valley execs.

We have to step back for a minute and ask what this means. On the whole, I like Facebook, I guess. I certainly use it enough and no one can doubt its usefulness.  What I really like(d) about it, though, is that I can leave it be if I want.  What Mark Zuckerberg wants to do, it would seem, is to make it nigh on impossible to ignore Facebook. This is bad, and not because it means kids will do worse at school or anything moral.  This is bad because it means it’s harder for people like me to ignore those niggling Facebook messages to which we can’t be arsed replying. If you have an iPhone, it’s already hard enough to make the excuse “I haven’t checked my notifications” fly because the software dutifully informs you of even the most minor update to someone about whom you know little and care less’s profile. If Facebook is no longer a standard application from which we can just log out my entire operation goes tits up.

You’re right, I should just appreciate the wonders of 21st century connectivity and actually respond to my friends when they make the effort to contact me. But we all know that sometimes it’s just easier to leave someone hanging. My own niggling grievances aside, it’s pretty transparent that this is a move that seeks to make Facebook more indispensable to 21st century life than it already has become, by making it harder to get rid of.

It’s not a move made out of any real desire to connect humans further. It’s honestly really easy already, try it. This is a move carefully orchestrated in order to entrench Facebook’s market position and to inspire some confidence in its bankability after a rocky IPO. I’m not saying it’s useless, but from where I’m standing it seems a bit cynical. I just want Facebook to stay in a tab on my computer, not take over my life. But what do I know? By my age Zuckerberg was wooing Rooney Mara with his knowledge of Chinese IQ scores… and doing other stuff, too…