The Girl with the Edinburgh Tattoo

The Street Charm of the Bourgeoisie

Sixty Glorious Years!

EurovishOnce upon a time it was terribly uncool to say you watched – far less liked – the Eurovision Song Contest. Now it seems the very opposite is true. So when BBC Breakfast presenters like Louise Minchin confirm with a snigger that they will not be watching, all us Eurovision lovers know we are on the right rainbow-coloured team.

So when did Eurovision get its credentials? It didn’t happen overnight, you know. From flickering b&w folks with evening dress and received pronunciation in the 50s. To candy-coloured childhood days of 60s innocence. Onto the difficult gawky teenage years of the 70s. The 80s and 90s were wilderness years in a way with too many nights lost to too much cheap alcohol and E Number snacks; such was the response to the increasingly ridiculous image of Eurovision which in turn was a therapeutic response to the increasingly momentous events in Europe. From New Romantics to Brit Pop Britain was far too preoccupied to be bothered.

A new millennium and a brave new Europe with Eurovision serving as a crash-course for those without a clue. Who knew there were so many countries that had previously been swallowed up by the Soviets? And – shock horror – they could do things cheaper and better. Okay, maybe there were still mullets and stone-washed denim – but they were getting there.

Now well into the 21st century, Britain – and the old Europe core of countries who always pay but never win – are pretty much nowhere. The vast majority are in it to win it; they put forward their best artists, they take it seriously and they work hard. Any parallels with Europe proper can’t be a coincidence.

As for tonight’s favourites – Sweden is indeed special with existential angst lyrics teamed with very clever visuals. Belgium also plays to type with a deliciously surreal feel that has Magritte written all over it. Australia is well crafted with a typically upbeat mood. Italy channel Il Divo, going all the way over the top and coming back for more. And whilst not a favourite, the UK also play to type with lyrics about catching nasty diseases, self-medicating and getting into fights – with a tune nicked from the potato waffles ad!

Whoever wins though it’s going to be a memorable night with the inimitable Conchita holding court. And with the (potentially positive) result of the gay marriage referendum winging its way from Ireland you can be sure Ms Wurst will put that centre stage – about the only thing that could grab the limelight from her!

So get the party started – and wish the old girl (I don’t mean Concheets!) a huge rainbow-coloured happy 60th!!

http://www.eurovision.tv/page/timeline

A Silent Pleasure

monellolargeYou may think that there would be enough outstanding experiences to pack into any stay in Rome. After all una vita non basta… You may think a trip to the theatre would be pretty far down the list. There are the practicalities – when your Italian barely stretches beyond ordering a meal and getting directions. Maybe the theatre would be a good way to improve language skills?  Hmmm… Buoyed up with the fact that I’m a veteran of many Edinburgh Festival (the official one, the international one) productions that have been performed in everything from Cantonese to Serbo-Croat with the inevitably non-working or non-visible super-titles. I’m used to not having a clue about what’s meant to be going on – the important thing is going along with the flow – just letting the magic wash over you. It also helps of course if there’s no dialogue and if you’re also familiar with the story…

So… imagine my joy when a friend pointed me in the direction of Teatro Vittoria in Testaccio where the current production is Il Monello which translates as The Kid. OK – you’re ahead of me already. It is The Kid as in the Charlie Chaplin creation. And it is (almost) completely silent. To explain – it’s a frame-for-frame recreation of the original film (well, I think so… it has been a few years since my last viewing… ) It’s the one where Charlie accidentally adopts a young scamp – the Kid of the title – and they rub along together on the lower edge of society getting into various scrapes until the inevitable revelation threatens to tear them apart. If you’re not familiar with the story I won’t spoil it by telling you the outcome. I will tell that you may need some hankies with Chaplin’s original music tugging at the heart-strings from the start.

The actors themselves are outstanding  – the lead player: Brian Latini – appearing like a Chaplin reincarnation. Every nuanced move drawing laughter, gasps and tears from the enthralled audience. The Kid (Gabriele Davoli) is suitably cute and precociously talented and inevitably elicits the biggest cheer from the predominately nonna crowd present on the Sunday afternoon we were there. Working hard are the remaining two members of the cast – Roberto Fazioli as the towering, glaring foil to the little tramp in the shape(s) of cop and local hard-man. Particularly good is Francesca di Franco who beautifully merges silent-cinema-luminosity with stark neo-realist angst especially in the heart-wrenching moments when she has to give up her child.

The run of Il Monello finishes this Sunday (17 May) so you’ll have to hurry to catch it. Truly, it’s a real treat and the whole idea of taking the intimate magic of classic cinema and recreating it as an intimate theatrical treat is bold and very effective. If you can’t make this one please keep Teatro Vittoria in mind for a future visit. I noticed in ‘forthcoming attractions’ a production of Coriolanus which looks visceral and exciting enough to transcend any language barrier!

From Maw Broon to Nippy Sweeties

Maw BroonApart from the obvious benefits of spending time with friends in Italy, it’s pretty good being away from the whole sorry farce that is the British general election. In particular the tartan spin part which is like the school wallflower who’s had a makeover and suddenly can exert an unholy influence over the cool-set who never looked at her twice in the past. Trouble is there’s those dodgy neds who want to do her bidding but they’re neds who want a punch-up and not political debate. She should tell them to bugger off but it’s difficult, eh?

I was on the Frascati to Rome train on Sunday night and what should have been a relaxing half hour journey after a blissful day with friends turned into something quite different. A hundred or so Germans boarded the train and proceeded to carouse, stamp and sing for every second of the journey. They spanned a large age range and there were women in their number but they were all fired up by being in a group, a lot of beer – of course – and being German? That’s a bit unkind – I like Germany, I like German people – but there was something slightly threatening about the whole mob mentality bound together by a national identity. They stopped short of singing ‘Deutschland Uber Alles’ but the whole idea was the same. Funny then – but maybe not – when I heard the news from my homeland the very next day about nationalistic meat-heads storming a democratic meeting. The chill that ran down my spine was bigger than the one experienced on the train from Frascati.

Proud to be Scottish? Of course! Proud to be a Scottish woman? A thousand times yes. That didn’t start with Nicola Sturgeon though – from Annabel Goldie to wee Jimmie Krankie – we’re strong women who don’t take ourselves too seriously. Most importantly we’re tough and we know how to knock heads together. I’m sure Nicola knows how but it’s the when that’s a bit of an issue right now. Meat-heads have a vote – but for all their bluster they only have one vote each. Unless the marching and the singing and the shouting can convince good people to join their mob. I think – I hope – Scottish people, particularly women, are better than that…

Stunned by cucumber

I hope of all of you who have been following Cucumber on Channel 4 have recovered from last night’s stunning, heart-wrenching, totally I-feel-like-I’ve-been-hit-by-a-bus episode. I wasn’t too convinced at the start of the run with too much of Russell T Davies‘ trademark soapiness and middle-age angst screaming that it just isn’t fair getting old. Oh, and a bit too much camera time spent lingering on the ‘beautiful’ Freddie Fox (maybe you have to be a gay man or a daft little girl to appreciate… )

But – but – hats off to Russell T for producing one of the most beautifully written, heart-stopping, completely absorbing pieces of TV drama ever. In a week when the first series of Wolf Hall came to a close most people would be saving their plaudits and filling out their award cards for that. But – can I inject some of the Emperor’s New Clothes here? Wolf Hall came with solid gold literary credentials and while it did contain some great performances (Claire Foy in particular) it dripped with its own self-importance and lot of the scenes seemed to be set in aspic. Talking of credentials they don’t come better qualified than Mark Rylance and Damian Lewis but a lot of the time they seemed a bit swamped by the magnitude of it all.

I’m sorry, but compared to the beautiful nuanced performance by Cyril Nri that damn near broke my heart – and not forgetting able support from Vincent Franklin and James Murray – the Cucumber lads acted the history boys into a cocked hat. Final thought – Mark Rylance said that he watched a lot of Robert Mitchum and Brad Pitt for inspiration in his role as Thomas Cromwell – he should do himself a favour and study episode six of Cucumber for a real acting masterclass.

The Diana Redemption – be careful with the myth!

ImageI recently did this interview about The Rachel Redemption with my old friend Commercial Malcolm. Read on if you want to know more about the book, the film, conspiracy theories and more…

CM: Congratulations! It looks like you beat the movie ‘Diana’ to it with ‘The Rachel Redemption’.

SN: Well, strictly speaking RR isn’t the Diana story…

CM: Come on… we all know Rachel is meant to be her. Any regrets about not calling your main character Diana and starting from there?

SN: No, that would have just been too tacky! As we can see from the reaction to the film and other works that have referenced her directly it hits quite a raw nerve with people particularly in this country.

CM: Why do you think that is? Is it cos we’re all royalists – closet or otherwise?

SN: Not at all. The whole relationship between Diana, the British Royal Family and the British public was – and continues to be – a complex one. Say what you like about her – she changed the British royal family forever. They were nowhere when she came along, a complete PR disaster – they probably thought she was going to give them a bit of a boost by being this sweet, shy young thing, good breeding stock who may sell a few frocks for the UK fashion industry. Little did they know that she would become this incendiary device positioned at their very heart!

CM: So you were a fan then?

SN: Again that’s a complex issue. I remember at the time her whole love/hate relationship with the press… wanting their support one minute and then complaining about their intrusion the next. And then that whole Charles and Diana soap opera, trying to get one up on each other with those interviews. It was priceless! I think most people at the time thought it was hugely entertaining – we had never seen the royals like this before… airing their dirty laundry in public. In the end it didn’t really matter whether she had planned it or not – she was bringing the British Royal Family to its knees…

CM: And then the crash…

SN: Yes, the crash. Like the last act in a tragic opera. And at the point of the funeral we all thought that this was the end of the British Royals but they pulled it back, they actually pulled it back! And here they are – stronger than ever – their position is pretty unassailable these days, what with the new generation of royals – that’s her legacy I suppose. So hugely ironic that someone who was so close to destroying an institution ended up being its salvation.

CM: So, very different if she had lived…

SN: Well, exactly, that’s why all these conspiracy theories are so popular. People didn’t want the crash to be the final act, they wanted the whole saga to continue. It’s always the same when someone famous goes before – what most people believe – is ‘their time’. From Elvis Presley to Michael Jackson people want to believe that they are happily living their respective lives out somewhere – away from public scrutiny. I guess it makes people feel better, helps them cope with things. Of course with Diana there was the added dimension of her being at the heart of the British ‘establishment’ and being a thorn in its side. Perfect conspiracy theory fodder.

CM: Just like Marilyn Monroe and the Kennedys

SN: Exactly!

CM: So, you reckon that most people just ‘can’t handle the truth’ then?

SN: Well… it’s a bit dismissive of most people to paint them like that. Fiction, art generally – and with that – people’s imagination has always been about ‘what if…?’ So while we probably all know that certain people have indeed left the stage for good, it’s nice – and comforting in a way – to let our imaginations run riot…

CM: You take some liberties with the Diana story so it was probably a good idea that you didn’t do the ‘faction’ route.

SN: Absolutely! I liked the freedom of my main character having a twin, being married to the Prime Minister, having political influence, being at the centre of major news events, finding love…

CM: A bit like fan fiction then, but with real people?

SN: Yes, but using real people as inspiration in fiction is not new – I can’t claim that one! But I like the ‘fan fiction’ point – it’s like, well – you had this life but maybe I could have written you a better one…

CM: I got that. Plus, another thing I liked was that you didn’t shy away from the more ‘difficult’ aspects of Rachel/Diana. But the Prime Minister/Tony Blair character comes in for a bit of a pasting.

SN: And so he should! A major inspiration for writing the book was how TB will always be tied up with the whole Diana myth – with the on-the-spot eulogy and the whole ‘people’s princess’ thing, but the huge irony is that she would have been horrified at what he went on to do. I like to think she would have become a thorn in his side as well… getting involved with Middle East politics and becoming more and more vocal in his condemnation…

CM: Maybe it was Tony Blair behind the crash then…

SN: I couldn’t possibly comment…

CM: Well, whatever your beliefs I think The Rachel Redemption is a bloody good read and I’ll bet – more entertaining than the Diana film!

SN: Thanks for that.

CM: Finally, I must ask you – you wouldn’t have cast Naomi Watts, would you?

SN: Well, I must say that I think Naomi Watts is a terrific actress and has an amazing CV up until this point… but taking on a role like this… she was always going to be on a hiding to nothing. It could be the most wonderful film ever made – and I believe there is some doubt on that one – and deliver the best performance ever but she would still be vilified. So I can’t understand why she took it on. It was one big brave – or possibly misguided – decision!

CM: But of course, if anyone wants to check out your ‘fantasy casting’ of The Rachel Redemption they can do so by visiting http://therachelredemption.wordpress.com/

SN: Thanks for the plug. All the best with your current project and maybe I can return the favour by interviewing you soon?

CM: Cheers! I’ll keep you posted.

The Casual Shoo-in

When the anonymous launch of The Casual Vacancy happened there was barely a flutter of interest.  Of course the launch wasn’t totally without help from a whole team of publishers, publicists and PR people. Even then, there was probably little to distinguish it from the hundreds (thousands, if you count self-publishing) of books released every week. When word got out (I wonder how that happened?) it was penned by none other than JK Rowling it started flying off the shelves. Phew! So glad! I hate to see publishing companies and billionaire authors losing money… So, I guess it was a no-brainer to get it adapted for the screen PDQ. Even though, by all accounts, it’s a pretty slim tale. Again, so glad – I hate to see the BBC spending out too much money – those quality foreign dramas can’t come cheap!

It’s similar to the whole 50 Shades hype-machine – and I must repeat I’m not bitter. (methinks the lady is saying that a bit too much lately… ?) In a blatant attempt to draw attention to my own work – I’ll mention ‘Edinburied‘ which features a fabulously wealthy and internationally famous author who just happens to reside in Edinburgh and gets targeted by an unhinged Welsh writer who accuses her of plagiarism – the results are explosive! The question is – is Jolly Rowntree based on JK? I couldn’t possibly comment…

My Bloody Valentine

It’s Valentine’s day! And if the best romantic gesture you can think of is a bottle of cheap prosecco, a bunch of service-station roses and some Asda lingerie which – coupled with the candles – really will set the bedroom on fire – think again. This time of year is also when poetry gets a look in. However if you want something more than the old ‘Roses are red…’ stuff you could do worse than check out the works of my own bloody valentine Richard Mulvey.

Surreal, sardonic, funny, sometimes angry, sometimes romantic. The poems aren’t bad either!

An unusual gift  – for relationships that can take it…

Happy Valentine’s, go for it!

ImageLooking forward to another overblown, over-hyped, commercial exercise in flogging more tat? Aw, don’t be so cynical…  maybe that’s the only way that some people can express themselves! If you do want something a bit more heartfelt than an Asda valentine’s card roughly the size of wee Jimmy Krankie here’s one of the most romantic and sensual poems ever written: To his Coy Mistress by Andrew Marvell. Many think that it’s about wanting to desperately get into someone’s pants, which it is, albeit expressed very eloquently. However, I think it’s also about getting on with it generally and grabbing your chances when you can. So whether it’s in matters of romance or other things – go for it! We tend to regret the things we don’t do rather than the things we do (maybe apart from having those six extra Jagerbombs…). Anyway, here it is:

To his Coy Mistress by Andrew Marvell

Had we but world enough, and time,
This coyness, lady, were no crime.
We would sit down and think which way
To walk, and pass our long love’s day;
Thou by the Indian Ganges’ side
Shouldst rubies find; I by the tide
Of Humber would complain. I would
Love you ten years before the Flood;
And you should, if you please, refuse
Till the conversion of the Jews.
My vegetable love should grow
Vaster than empires, and more slow.
An hundred years should go to praise
Thine eyes, and on thy forehead gaze;
Two hundred to adore each breast,
But thirty thousand to the rest;
An age at least to every part,
And the last age should show your heart.
For, lady, you deserve this state,
Nor would I love at lower rate.

But at my back I always hear
Time’s winged chariot hurrying near;
And yonder all before us lie
Deserts of vast eternity.
Thy beauty shall no more be found,
Nor, in thy marble vault, shall sound
My echoing song; then worms shall try
That long preserv’d virginity,
And your quaint honour turn to dust,
And into ashes all my lust.
The grave’s a fine and private place,
But none I think do there embrace.

Now therefore, while the youthful hue
Sits on thy skin like morning dew,
And while thy willing soul transpires
At every pore with instant fires,
Now let us sport us while we may;
And now, like am’rous birds of prey,
Rather at once our time devour,
Than languish in his slow-chapp’d power.
Let us roll all our strength, and all
Our sweetness, up into one ball;
And tear our pleasures with rough strife
Thorough the iron gates of life.
Thus, though we cannot make our sun
Stand still, yet we will make him run.

Top five alternative love songs

Five tracks about love you may not have thought of:

The Jon Snows – She’s Mine

Hypnotic, compelling and just a little creepy.

Ed Kuepper – Everything I’ve Got Belongs To You

How many songs begin with a line like: ‘I’ve designs on you that come from dirty books’?

Scott Walker – Mathilde

The sheer exuberance of a man anticipating the arrival of his woman – ‘tell them to change the sheets on the bed, Mathilda’s come back to me!’

The Coral – Dreaming Of You

A passionate – if confused – affirmation of falling in love with someone you shouldn’t’ve.

Gnarls Barkley – Who’s Gonna Save My Soul?

When you would – quite literally – pull your own heart out for someone.

Five anti-Valentine songs:

Dr Feelgood – That’s It, I Quit!

‘You just look dirty, say you’re twenty but you’re thirty’ school of splitting up.

Peter Cook – Bedazzled

Super cool detachment – contains the classic line: ‘You fill me with inertia’!

The Stranglers – Shut Up!

When all’s said and done… why dontcha?

Cud – I’ve Had It With Blondes

It opens with ‘I was a teenage stamp collector, I’d lay on my back and you’d stamp on my face’ and gets even better!

Kelis – I Hate You So Much Right Now

Says it all really.

Happy Valentine’s day!

Muppets eat Bologna!

I can’t believe it’s been two years since the cheesy bromance that is Italy Unpacked first hit our screens.  (see my original review below) Apparently there are still acres of la bella Italia to be subjected to the over-ripe patter of this pair. This time around it’s the turn of the east coast which includes (in the first episode) the particularly bella regione of Puglia. Which puts me in a difficult situation – wanting to see the old country but having to put up with the Top Gear meets Brokeback Mountain nonsense of the presenters. True to form A G-D has helpfully offered some ‘essential’ tips for visiting Italy by way of an aperitivo to the series. Let’s see – ‘don’t ever order a cappuccino after 11am’ … right… Apart from losing count of the number of times I’ve heard that one – it’s absolute garbage. Ask anyone in Italy and you’ll get a look like the one we Scots reserve for when we get asked about the Loch Ness Monster. Which makes me think that this whole confection is the worst kind of Italio-travel-porn made for people who either – love the idea of Italy but have never gone there – or – had a city-break or a quick whizz-around on a tour bus. So here’s my bit of advice – get yourself over there, spend a decent amount of time and engage with the people. Loosen up and you’ll find yourself part of a marvelous and maddening family full of the warmest and most brilliant people in the world. And further more – they are REAL – and not bit-players in a travelogue created by ‘The Chuckle Brothers with an art history degree’. p.s. I will watch it but thank God for recording and the fast-forward button!

Muppets unpacked

Muppets unpacked

What is it about the BBC and their fondness for the ‘bromance travelogue‘? Back on our screens this week – a little aperitivo for the chattering classes as they plan this year’s trip to Umbria or Emilia Romagna (Toscana is so twenty years ago) – is Italy Unpacked, featuring that right pair of muppets: Giorgio Locatelli and Andrew Graham-Dixon. The premise is ‘uomo macho’ Locatelli swaggers and sweats his way around the old country, as ‘uomo colto’ Dixon simpers and sweats even more. (What is it about Dixon and perspiring? He’s presented countless other programmes in countries hotter than Italy and appeared daisy-fresh – is this applied neorealism or does Dixon merely melt after a whiff of Locatelli’s testosterone?). I’m sure the BBC is thinking Boswell/Johnson, Quixote/Panza, Crosby/Hope but quite honestly the structure of Italy Unpacked makes ‘The Road’ films look like John le Carre! The action goes something like this: Locatelli cooks up some dodgy dish, usually involving something pulled – Hemingway-like – out of the sea, serves it up to his adoring pal; they engage with some dentally-challenged locals – with Dixon looking even more uncomfortable at this point; they both then visit some nearby fresci, do a bit of oohing and aahing while they play creepy art teacher and naughty boy kept back for detention. They speed off – Top Gear-like – into the sunset, e finito – another one in the can. Where is Francesco da Mosto these days? Surely this kind of travel porn is best done by the formaggio-maestro himself and not two charisma-free dads exploring their mid-life crisis. The campaign starts here: ditch the bromance and bring back da Mosto!!da mosto

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