Tuesday, 25 March 2014

I Know Where I'm Going, And I Know Whose Going With Me.....

"I've never seen a picture which smelled of the wind and rain in quite this way nor one which so beautifully exploited the kind of scenery people actually live with, rather than the kind which is commercialised as a show place." – Raymond Chandler

This year it is the 69th anniversary of  Michael Powell and Emeric Pressburger's romantic film, I Know Where I'm Going and the BBC is celebrating the milestone by showing the film on BBC 2 and a documentary about the making of the feature. I don't actually own a TV but I do have access to BBC IPlayer so I can watch programmes after they have been broadcast without having to buy a TV licence. (for all of those you who live outside of the UK - in Britain you need a licence to watch 'live' TV).

Anyway I jumped at the chance to watch this film again. I actually already own it on DVD and have seen it a million times, but I love it. Like Casablanca, it is a classic, albeit less well known. The film tells the story of a young woman called Joan Webster (played by the lovely and lively Wendy Hiller), who thinks she knows exactly where her life is headed and has everything planned out for her future down to the minute detail. She is ambitious and independent and has decided that the best thing for her future is to marry a much older industrialist, Sir Robert Bellinger who has rented a small Scottish Island for them to get married on. As she travels up to the island to meet and marry him, she encounters bad weather and is forced to remain on the Island of Mull while she waits for the ferry to take across the bay her to her fiancé on his own little island. While on the Isle of Mull, she encounters the Scottish community and is immersed in their values, which are very different from her own. She meets several local people as well as the local Laird Torquil MacNeil (played by Roger Livesey, who I was surprised to recognise from The Palliser TV series that he starred in many years later) and his free-spirited friend Catriona. As Joan finds herself becoming more attracted to Torquil and the no-nonsense and down-to-earth people of Scotland, she struggles with the weather and constant storms that seem to be against her and her own ambition and thirst for wealth, that she begins to suspect will not lead to her happiness.

Torquil MacNeil: She wouldn't see a pound note from one pensions day to another.
Joan Webster: People around here are very poor I suppose.
Torquil MacNeil: Not poor, they just haven't got money.
Joan Webster: It's the same thing.
Torquil MacNeil: Oh no, it's something quite different.

The wonderful Wendy Hiller flashing one of her intense looks at the camera
You can guess what happens next. Of course she falls in love with Torquil, as he does with her. But being proud, fiercely independent and probably a little scared of emotion and sentiment, Joan is determined to get to the island across the bay and even goes so far as to bribe a young boatman to take her out on to the sea during a particularly bad storm. It is an extremely nasty thing to do, because she knows the boatman desperately needs the money in order to marry his childhood sweetheart and that taking the boat out in such conditions will alienate his father who is a fisherman and potentially end up getting him and Joan drowned. Ah, the course to true love never did run smooth!

Sailing on stormy seas
There is a lot more story contained in the movie, but I would not want to spoil it for anyone who is going to watch it. Suffice it to say, there is an ancient Scottish curse, lots of traditional folk tunes, some bagpipes and amazing dancing, a romantic scene on a ladder and a missing eagle accused of some nefarious deeds. And a big kiss. Don't you just love how people kissed in 1940s movies? Passionate and all consuming, as if their lives depending on kissing. I guess I am just a romantic at heart!

Obviously the entire cast could use a good old fashioned cup of tea while they wait for the storm to pass
And then there is all the scenery, which will make you want to book a holiday in Scotland immediately and the stormy scenes of the sea that are so well filmed and majestically portrayed that you can almost taste the salt spray on your lips. There are also delightfully written ironic scenes such as the three pipers that were hired for Joan's wedding but cannot make it to the island because of bad weather, playing instead at a party during which Joan dances with Torquil and falls even more in love with him. Or the scene where Torquil and Joan overhear locals chatting about the absurd and pretentious actions of her fiancé, Sir Roger - acting like he owns a Scottish island rather than the tenant that he is, building a swimming pool on his island rather than swimming in the sea, buying salmon rather than fishing from the streams on the island that are prolific with wild fish. All the while Joan fights against her doubt over her impending marriage to Sir Roger.

Torquil uses the positioning of a ladder to get close to Joan. Most crafty use of a ladder EVER!
And then there is the weird dream scene set on the sleeper train that Joan takes up to Scotland, during which the folk song, I Know Where I'm Going plays in the background. Weird dream scenes like this never appear in contemporary films. They seem to be a product of old black and white films and are not just but beguiling but also utterly charming.

The lyrics to the song are:

I know where I'm going
And I know who's going with me
I know who I love
And the dear knows who I'll marry.

....all of which is ironic, because Joan does not know where she is going and who she is going to love or marry.

Torquil tries to keep Joan on the Isle of Mull and away from the unpleasant death of drowning, while they both sport rather fashionable weather-proof clothing.
Of course, I am not the only person to think this film is 'a classic.' The Guardian website, famous for its film reviews, also asserts that film is fantastic, although the reviewer finds the tone of the film darker than I do:
But then it is fashionable nowadays for film reviewers to find a dark subversive side to every movie. And indeed a lot of films and TV series do have a cynicism to them that I think was not so fashionable in the films of yesteryear. I love this sweet little film and I could gladly watch it over and over again.

Thursday, 20 March 2014

Spring Happiness here we come!

“Ever since happiness heard your name, it has been running through the streets trying to find you.” 

~ Hāfez 

Today is the official International Day of Happiness! What better way to celebrate it than by compulsively smiling at everyone like a crazy person. Funnily enough I have a job interview today, not an especially happy event, but one I am determined to do my very best at. Which is all you can do I guess.

Not only is it an extra happy day, it is also the spring equinox (AKA the First Day of Spring!) As the Independent website stated:

During an equinox, the Earth’s north and south poles are not tilted toward or away from the sun. This phenomena occurs twice a year: on 20 March and on 22 September.

English Heritage have confirmed that, weather permitting, Stonehenge will be open from the start of the equinox at 5:45am until 8:30am, to allow Druids and Pagans to gather and see the sun rise above the ancient stones, according the IB Times.

Druids and Pagans will celebrate the ancient Saxon goddess Eostre, who symbolises fertility and new beginnings.

I must confess I have always been curious about what it must be like to watch the sun come up over Stonehenge. I have never fancied the idea of getting up before dawn and driving down to the country to camp outside the hallowed stone circle. It is not that warm enough this time of year for such shenanigans.

Anyway the internet is filled with happy images today. Everyone is producing cartoons and graphics with groups of smiling people. A lot of these themed days appear to be bigger in other countries than the UK. The British seem to have a cynical suspicion of 'National' or 'International' memorial days, except for St.George's Day, Boxing Day and Remembrance Day or any day that might actually warrant an official Bank Holiday and therefore a day off work. We love a day off work! But I like these themed days. I like International Women's Day, International Happiness Day, National Doughnut Day and British Pie Week.

My favourite happy cartoon of the day is from the homeware company Isak. Isak was created by Sandra Isaksson, an illustrator and graphic designer who grew up in Sweden but now lives in the South of England. I love her graphics and over the years have bought mugs, a bread board and cups with her illustrations on them. Her designs just make you smile and there is such a witty liveliness to her style. They also seem quite Scandinavian to me.

So while I was feeling all positive and happy yesterday, I decided to prepare for my interview and then to cook something special for dinner. Nothing like positivity to make you a little hive of activity. I cooked Scrunchy Crunchy Chicken, which is basically a cream chicken, mushroom, bacon and green bean casserole covered in scrunched up filo pastry (great fun to 'scrunch!') and then I proceeded to make puff pastry marzipan heart shaped fruit tarts. The only problem with my cooking (other than the over large quantities I make and all the kitchen implements I use - huge amounts of washing up), is that it looks weird. It tastes good, but looks....well.....weird, as illustrated below:

Nailed it! Almost! Not at all.....
I am never going to be one of those amazing wives that produces cook-book-worthy visual treats. When I have children I will definitely be a 'slummy mummy' rather than a 'yummy mummy.' Ah well, at least my family will have lots of fun sipping hot tea out of Scandinavian Tupperware and eating marzipan tarts while watching the Spring Equinox sun come up over the dancing druids at Stonehenge.....

Monday, 17 March 2014

Spring has Sprung!

Okay, so maybe it is a bit early to claim that Spring is here. There is still a lack of leaves on the trees, but the sky is blue, the temperature is warm and the sun is shining! At last!

I took this photo on Friday last week after an impromptu visit to The Science Museum. It is a view of the side of the Prince Albert Memorial in Hyde Park, a hideous structure containing a large gold statue of Queen Victoria's dead husband (which doubtlessly he himself would have hated). But it does cast the most magnificent shadows. I snapped this little child and father soaking up the warmth of the foggy afternoon sunshine. They looked tiny next to the huge monument, yet also oblivious to it.

Friday, 7 March 2014

The Friday Video

So Friday is usually the day when most people relax. Not me. Oh no, I normally have bucket-loads of work to do (I write a weekly newsletter at work on a Friday and a whole host of other boring things). How do I keep myself going? I listen to great music on my ipod. And some of these great songs have great videos attached to them. I am not a massive music video person, I prefer to listen to music than watch it (unless it is being played live), but I did like this video, Sara Bareilles - The King of Anything:

For those of you on mobile devices and who cannot see videos on blogger (do not ask me why - it has something to do with some complicated computer software/coding problem), you can view the video using this link: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=eR7-AUmiNcA&feature=kp

I think the song is nice and the lyrics rather witty, but I think the split screens and the imagery is what makes the video special. I especially like Sara playing a pretend cutlery piano right at the start of the video.

I thought it might be nice to post a video each Friday. Just a little nice tune and visual to start the weekend off.

Wednesday, 5 March 2014

Third Best Day in the World....

Yesterday was Pancake Day! AKA Shrove Tuesday. Pancake Day is the third best day in the world, the first being 'Talk Like a Pirate Day' and the second being my wedding anniversary. Who doesn't love a day devoted to food? I was going to include 'Nutella Day' in my catalogue of great days, but I believe it was only recently invented and frankly it was probably devised to sell more Nutella rather than bring people together in the spirit of cooking and eating. Pancake Day does so much more. It ticks all the right boxes: indulging in the joy of eating, trading hilarious pancake stories, smothering carbohydrates in chocolate, flipping flat things in frying pans and trying to eat floppy food off a fork while syrup dribbles down your chin.
In honour of Pancake Day, I devoured the above pancake complete with caramelised bananas and dark chocolate sauce and...then...ate my salad for lunch. It is rare that I eat desert first, but this was the day to do it. Ah, what a day it was! In the UK, not only do we eat pancakes, but we throw them up in the air and race with them in frying pans as illustrated by the annual Parliamentary Pancake Race in Westminster:
Who doesn't love their politics mixed with some frying pans? And while we are flipping those bad boys, how about devising a formula for the perfect pancake? Because we love combining pointless academic study and deserts:

Other than just enjoying pancakes this week, I have:

  • Imitated a Swede and eaten a Semlor. In Sweden, people celebrate the start of Lent by eating a brioche-like-bun filled with sweet almond paste and cream (like the one pictured below). Luckily I have a Swedish colleague and she brought some Semlor for us to sample yesterday morning. I loved it and I found that the best way to express my joy was by barking 'S'E-MM-LORE!' in a loud Swedish accent much to the hilarity of my colleagues.

  • This week I witnessed around 300 people take Gynaecological and Obstetric exams. Like you usually do. Ah, nothing says fun fun fun like Gynaecology! I work at a prominent business school which just happens to be right next to a prominent college of Gynaecology and Obstetrics (right across the street in fact). Every week our students have lectures in this hallowed hall of reproductive learning. Partly because there is not enough space on our campus to house all of our hundreds of business students. This means that twice a week (sometimes twice in one day) I am required to go sort out our rather demanding lecturers and sleepy students in a building that contains not only endless photographs of new born babies and bronze statues of breastfeeding women, but a whole exhibition of cases containing ancient birthing equipment such as surgical saws and massive forceps. It is enough to put any women (childbearing age or otherwise) off the idea of childbirth or cervical smears. This week the building was populated by hundreds of anxious nurses, doctors and medical students all taking exams to pass their courses in gynaecology and obstetrics. I wish them well. Never have a I seen so many OBGYNs in one place. I hope they all pass those tricky exams, since I might find one of them treating me one day and I want to feel confident in their abilities. 
  • I learned this week that I am shit at football. In fact I already knew this from previous years of crap kicking and once trying out for the school football team when I was 9 years old. On that particular occasion I missed the goal, kicked the ball over the school wall, broke a car window and started off a car alarm. More recently my complete lack of eye/foot coordination has reinforced to me how I am never going have a career in the famous sport or earn the ridiculously inflated sums of money that professional footballers do. Ah well, at 30 years old, it was a bit late for me to become a professional athlete anyway. And at least I don't have to sell my soul to whatever little devil really inflated rich people do. But I do feel I could improve. It is hard to stay motivated in doing something if you suspect you may never actually get more skilled at the task in question. Are my kicks not getting a little better? Am I spending less time running after the ball, arms and legs flailing like a victim desperately fleeing Godzilla? My husband has wisely stayed quiet on this subject. He keeps trying to teach me how to do a 'header.' I have no desire to pitch my forehead at a ball of tightly compressed air, covered in mud hurtling towards my face. Instead I assume the protective foetal position and run away from the oncoming football with my head in my arms. To be fair to my husband, he is also shit at football and spends most of his time running after it himself (is that fair?!). Since my other half did not grow up with brothers or sisters (except for some distant much older half-siblings), I feel obligated to tease him mercilessly now, so that he can have the full authentic ball-game experience, and so every time he runs after the ball I yell 'Run Fat Boy Run!!!' Which is ironic since my husband is pretty skinny. He has now taken to kicking the ball high into the air and crying 'Run Fat Girl Run!' as a form of revenge. Unfortunately he badly times this by accidentally yelling at me whenever nice bystanders jog/walk/amble by. The look of horror on their faces at a man yelling abuse at a mud covered football chasing woman...is priceless. 
  • I learned this week that I am shit at knitting. Like football, I have done knitting before and have only just recently started again. Unlike football I think I could improve at this hobby. I find the whole experience very relaxing. I like to knit while watching House of Cards or Star Trek DS9 (strange choice of TV I know, but I am geek). I love all the different coloured wool and I think I might actually be able to get better with practice (see below my current project - a long knitted thingyamajig  - note the holes which are accidentally dropped stitches that I can't figure out how to patch up). In fact my desire to improve at this woollen life-skill is so great that I have allowed myself to be recruited by my colleague Anna to knit jumpers for Penguins. Yes, you read correctly. Penguins apparently need knitwear. These poor little sea birds, who get caught up in oil spills across the world, need jumpers to prevent them from grooming their oily feathers and poisoning themselves. 

So here, I finally did it. I managed to write a blog post that contained a picture of a penguin....in...a jumper. Surely I deserve some kind of award for that. Anna has promised to help me learn how to knit these tiny jumpers. If anyone wants one of my creations for their own penguin or possibly a red wine bottle (they seem about the same size), I am at your disposal.

  • I also learned this week that apparently the newest theory regarding Stonehenge is that it was built to be some sort of giant xylophone. How historians know this is a mystery. I assume some academic or archaeologist has run around the site while banging on all the stones with some drumsticks in an attempt to play a stone-age version of Twinkle Twinkle Little Star. Personally I like the idea that Stonehenge's purpose remains a mystery. It is this alluring unknown puzzle that fosters such creativity as Ylvis' (the Norwegian musical duo) famous Stonehenge song:

(For those of you on a mobile device: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=mbyzgeee2mg)

  • It was revealed this week that Nigella Lawson is going to be on the cover of the April issue of Vogue. Without makeup. Yep, that is right, the famous baking Venus has posed for photos sans facepaint in a bid to show off her natural beauty. Personally I don't care what Nigella Lawson does and I have not formed an opinion on her appearance. Surely there are more important things in the world to think about (Pancakes people! Pancakes!). But I do object to Vogue treating us (the rest of humanity) as idiots. Take a look at these photos: http://www.theguardian.com/fashion/fashion-blog/2014/mar/04/nigella-lawson-makeup-vogue-cover?CMP=fb_gu - now, let me ask you, does that look like someone without makeup on? Please! Of course not! She at least has eyeliner, mascara, blusher and lipstick on. Trust me! I am woman. I don't wear much makeup. I see my face every morning when I brush my teeth and dribble toothpaste on to my clothes! I know what an unmade face looks like! And she is wearing a push-up bra too! Maybe if women's' magazines started showing realistic and truthful images of natural beauty, we would have a lot less inequality in society (for instance I don't see men spending hundreds of pounds on make-up each year) and more confident women and happy teenage girls. And we might all be judged more on what we do and how we act rather than how we look. After all beauty is only skin deep and make-up is not even THAT deep.
On that note, I am going to go smother my face in another pancake....for as we know, youth and beauty is fleeting but pancakes are forever.