Troublemakers? – Ruby Wax: Sane New World

22 May

At the beginning of May, a friend asked me if I wanted to see a live show with Ruby Wax at the Bishopsgate Institute.  I’ve never been the biggest fan of Ruby Wax – I am quite picky with comedians and I’ve never found her really funny – so I wasn’t sure, but when I found out that the topic of the show was ways in which we let our brain sabotage our sanity in he 21st sanity, my interest was piqued.

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Firstly, this was not meant to be a comedy show per se.  Ruby Wax has just finished a Masters at Oxford in mindfulness-cognitive based therapy so I was interested to see if I could glean some insights from her studies.

I was pleasantly surprised by the first half.  While some of the content I felt was too simplified, I guess it must be difficult tailoring information to a mixed audience and keeping everyone entertained at the same time.  She talked about how we associate ‘busyness’ with ‘happiness’ and this is slowly killing us.  This made me reflect on the truth of this for me – whenever someone asks me how I am, I feel an irrational desire to give them something concrete, something more than ‘I’m fine actually’ or ‘Things aren’t going so well at the moment.”  I will usually go off on a tangent and mention things like ‘Oh I had a good weekend, yep, got lots of work done so am on schedule.. and I went to that play the other day, have you heard of it?…’ and often they just stare at me blankly – quite rightly too – because that wasn’t what they asked in the first place.  I just feel that if I answered the question they asked, it would be inadequate, underwhelming and well.. boring.  And that’s something Ruby Wax’s show made me mull over.

She also talked about the chemicals that are produced when we have certain thoughts and how some of these chemicals aren’t meant to remain in us for extended periods of time.  Take the fight-or-flight response. Our ancestors would have that response as a means of survival, if they were hunting for food.  However, now we don’t need that, our fight-or-flight response is triggered by the barrage of depressing news we see on the TV and read in the papers.  Ruby emphasised that it didn’t matter where logistically the threat was; our mind deals with it as though it is directly facing us and therefore we live our lives feeling threatened, and fearful.  This, quite logically, wreaks havoc with our bodies and can help contribute to various illnesses and diseases in later life.

So, I enjoyed the first half – it was informative and Ruby was likeable, although I had to force myself to laugh at some of her jokes, given that I was sitting in the third row and I didn’t want to look rude.  (And faking laughter is a surprisingly tiring thing to do…) Her talking about mindfulness as a way to combat depressive thoughts was nothing new, but nevertheless it was good to hear and be reminded of the principles, within her personal context.

However, what I did not enjoy was the second half which she opened to the audience (there were probably about sixty or seventy of us in there) and sold as a ‘discussion’ or a chance for anyone to ask her questions.  Perhaps I’m just a grumpy old woman but this led to people “asking  questions” that weren’t actually questions at all, rather excuses for them to get on their soapboxes about issues in mental health and encourage Ruby to try and join in and moan with them.  I was watching grown men and women seeking validity, one even spent about five minutes ‘asking a question’ i.e. gushing about how great Ruby was while clasping her third glass of wine, and calling her our ‘tribal mother.’

I get that people should be able to express their thoughts and relay their experiences about mental health but after the tenth person putting their hand up and saying ‘I just want to say, I work in mental health’ and expecting a round of applause and nods of admiration, and then making a point about young people with mental health problems, and don’t you think mindfulness should be taught in schools? and then Ruby murmuring in agreement, I just kind of wanted to get up and shout, ‘what about OLDER people with mental health problems?  do they not matter?!’ but I refrained and sat, and smiled and practised some of the mindfulness the show was really about in the first place.

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Under the Skin – film review

24 Apr

Last month I went down to the Curzon in Soho – who wouldn’t want to eat a cheeky Konditor & Cook brownie before a film? – to watch the indie flick, ‘Under the Skin.’  I’d briefly looked at reviews, most of which seemed to be positive, and I thought the premise sounded interesting:

A voluptuous woman of unknown origin combs the highway in search of isolated or forsaken men, luring a succession of lost souls into an otherworldly lair. They are seduced, stripped of their humanity, and never heard from again. Based on the novel by Michael Faber, this film examines human experience from the perspective of an unforgettable heroine who grows too comfortable in her borrowed skin, until she is abducted into humanity with devastating results.
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The thought of Scarlett Johannson as this ‘voluptuous’ woman (for some reason, it tickles me that this word is included in the description) roaming the grim landscape of Glasgow intrigued me.  I’m not a huge fan of her acting; I thought she was great in ‘Ghost World’ and ‘Lost in Translation’ is one of my favourite films, but since then, her sex-bomb Marilyn Monroe-esque image hasn’t really captivated me in any way (perhaps this is due to the fact that I am not a young, hot -blooded male).  Anyway, I’d heard that some of the scenes where she goes round to pick up men are real, filmed with hidden cameras, and that was definitely one of the better aspects of the film.  It was something of a novelty to watch Scarlett Johannson, an A list movie star, driving around in a van, trying to pick people up – it was interesting, awkward and comical at the same time.

What I had an issue with was the slow pace of the film.  I am usually a fan of slow films, lingering moments, and unspoken words that add something to the scene (for how to do this well, see the aforementioned ‘Lost in Translation’).  However, with ‘Under the Skin’ I felt that this was all there was – shots of Scarlett looking dazed into the distance, putting on lipstick, the beautiful but grim Glaswegian landscape etc – to the point that it started to dull any poignancy or impact it initially had.

The scenes where the men found their humanity stolen consisted of a naked man walking in slow motion into a black pool which ends up enveloping and trapping him.  I understand the significance of the image but found that the repetition of these scenes, accompanied with the dramatic music, unintentionally comical.

That aside, I did enjoy the second half where Scarlett the alien-type creature, has a touching moment with a severely disfigured young man, and starts to become more human, and there was a genuinely tense moment at the end when she is chased by a man in the woods and you see her emotional advancement.  However, I felt these parts were overshadowed by the fact that the film was too long and overly repetitive making what sounded like an amazing plot into something that was often dull and tedious to watch.

 

Post-holiday blues

21 Apr

I just came back from a packed, fun-filled trip to stay with my best friend in Sri Lanka so I am curled up like a hermit, readjusting to being back in the UK without another sunny holiday to look forward to for a while.

I have been a bit behind with my reading and writing.  I don’t know why exactly that is other than I’ve been feeling rather uninspired lately which is something I need to sort out pronto.  How is it nearing the end of April?  I’m having one of those ‘Christ, it’s nearly May, what have I done with my year?’ moments so no doubt I’ll fill my diary with lots of ‘educational’ activities – i.e. frantic attempts to make me feel semi-cultured so I don’t feel like I’m completely wasting my life.

But for now – see the pretty pictures of elephants I took when I visited the elephant orphanage in Pinnawala, Sri Lanka.  I’ve always found elephants amazing before -they are probably the most emotionally sensitive animals, just look up the way they mourn and grieve for the dead – but after my visit, I love them even more if that’s even possible.  Seeing these majestic creatures up close was breathtaking, although I couldn’t help but wish they were able to roam free as nature intended, even though I know they’re probably better off in the sanctuary which houses orphans and injured elephants.

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Broke in London

24 Mar

It turns out being broke can be something of a nuisance when living in London.  This month, I forked out a ticket to visit my best friend in Sri Lanka and while I’m incredibly excited about it, it has meant that I’ve been living on a bit of a budget.  And as luck would have it, March is turning out to be a very long month.  I’ve also had lots of coursework, mid-term exams and internship applications so I haven’t been able to fulfil my goal of doing something ‘semi-cultured’ every fortnight.  I think it’s a bit of a neurotic thing really that makes me feel less like I’m wasting my early twenties away.  But – it turns out many things I want to explore more (immersive theatre, philosophy workshops, bungee jumping…) all have a price attached to them.

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So I’ve put together something of a guide (some might be more useful than others but this of course is subject to interpretation) to avoid slipping into insanity when you find yourself strapped for cash:

Visit libraries.  This month I’ve found myself drawn to visiting different libraries in London.  I have moments where I’m such a crazed proponent of libraries and I visit them all the time, and then I sort of forget about them until I find myself bored and needing some sort of stimulation again, and then I’m back in love.  Sure, the library I go to often stinks of stale urine and you can usually find some eccentric – and often, ripe – characters in there but I think it adds to the experience… or at least, that’s what I say to convince myself.  Personally,  I always feel much calmer after a few hours spent reading the blurbs of books I’d never heard of.   Plus, free books and free (or very inexpensive) DVDs to borrow is amazing and something to be taken advantage of.

Take advantage of Netflix/ LoveFilm’s free 1 month trial.  The majority of the films on these types of sites are pretty questionable -I didn’t even realise there was a film called LOL with Miley Cyrus and Demi Moore before I signed up to Netflix – but there are some gems on there if you know what to look for.  For Netflix, I’d recommend reading this article for some good suggestions on what to watch – http://www.telegraph.co.uk/culture/film/filmreviews/10465196/Netflix-30-best-films-on-Netflix.html.

Try your hand at cooking new, exotic dishes.  Go for the dishes with reasonably priced ingredients and have fun pretending you’re a gourmet chef.  You can even start narrating to a pretend camera as you’re cooking.. or not, if that’s not your kind of thing.  You could also invite friends round which is great because a) it’s cheap, b) you can get your friends to make dishes and 3) seeing people is good so you don’t start going crazy a la Catherine Deneuve in ‘Repulsion.’

Sell everything you own on eBay.  My friends tell me off because I am one of those erratic eBay sellers that will sell a jumper I bought for £50 for £2 (including postage and packaging) when times get tough.  I’m pretty sure I’d sell my soul on this site if I had to but luckily things haven’t come to that yet.

Tidy your room compulsively.  This is something I do when I want to feel like I’m being productive but am too lazy to actually be productive.  Plus, it gives you a tingly sense of accomplishment.

Watch random videos on YouTube.  And then spend ages reading the comments and wondering whether 99% of humanity are really that thick/ ignorant/ racist/ bigoted.

Click ‘Random article’ on Wikipedia.  Strangely addictive and educational.  And completely standard behaviour for a 24 year old.

The Final Revelation of Sherlock Holmes at the Pleasance Theatre

4 Mar

It’s been some time since I’ve written on this old blog.  I’d love to say it’s because I’ve been too busy with an array of exciting social engagements but that would be a lie.

However – I did go to the lovely Pleasance Theatre in Caledonian Road on Sunday to watch Tim Norton’s play, ‘The Final Revelation of Sherlock Holmes’, directed by Danny Wainwright.  There seems to have been a lot of Sherlock hype recently, what with Mark Gatiss’s BBC adaptation winning record viewers, and the series in the US with Johnny Lee Miller as Sherlock and Lucy Liu (really?!) as Dr Watson.  And of course, Robert Downey Jr in those actiony Hollywood flicks.

So I was kind of intrigued to see what more could be done with the Sherlock – Watson pairing.  The play looks at Sherlock and Watson at a time when both have seen better days.  It’s 1930; they haven’t taken a case on in years and are falling behind with the rent.  Watson is rummaging through old cases to see if he can sell them to The Strand magazine so basically, times are tough.  And made even more so by Sherlock’s drug habit which seems to be spiralling out of control due to a lack of intellectual stimulation and the need for something bigger.

The entire play consists of only the two characters – Watson (played by James McGregor) and Holmes (Nico Lennon)- and the dialogue can get a little tedious at times, becoming almost a caricature of itself in all its Englishness.  The plot line is a little confusing to follow – perhaps more so, as I was watching the play while unknowingly enjoying symptoms of food poisoning from some dodgy oysters from the uncharming Bodo’s Schloss (more on that another time perhaps).  It explores the murky depths Holmes is willing to tread in to find some sort of solace in an empty world that doesn’t excite him any longer, as he talks to Watson about his ability to commit The Perfect Crime.

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What I enjoyed most about the play was the emotionally affecting moments – the determined attitude of Watson to pull his dear friend out of the depression in which he has fallen, and the troubled, melancholia surrounding Holmes.  In this respect, the script is very true to the original stories, and it is almost heart-breaking to see Holmes disintegrate into his cocaine-fuelled, depressive cloud in the second half.  In conclusion, a rather confused narrative that won’t be to everyone’s taste but a genuinely touching exploration of Watson and Holmes’ relationship.

1980, A Piece by Pina Bausch at Sadler’s Wells

16 Feb

I just came back from Sadler’s Wells after watching a performance of ‘1980, A Piece by Pina Bausch’ and I am still not entirely sure what I feel about it.  Before tonight, all I knew was that Bausch was a famous German choreographer and I’d seen a clip of her choreography from the Spanish film, ‘Talk to her’ (‘Hable con ella’), which is probably my favourite Almodovar film.  And from that short clip, I was introduced to Bausch’s whimsical, highly emotionally charged contemporary dancing, so I was looking forward to lots of that tonight.

In that respect, then, I was disappointed.  There was very little ‘dance’ but had I read up on the performance, I would have been prepared for that so perhaps that disappointment is invalidated.  Instead, what I experienced was over three hours of a surreal exploration of the innocence of childhood and the strange superficiality of adulthood.  The stage became a meadow, complete with real grass and flies, and the actors/ dancers (it’s hard to know what they should be classed as) switched from children playing games to adults competing in beauty contests.

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The performance had that strange combination of humour and lingering sadness, a kind of wistfulness or regret.  I enjoyed the acute observations on society, for instance, the numerous meaningless platitudes that adults dole out every day that serves to highlight how disconnected we are.  Even the explorations into childhood seem to be tinged with darkness, and the vision of fully grown adults acting as children is strangely peculiar. Then again, the adults acting as adults often do, can seem even more bizarre and comical at times, such as the sunbathing scene where everyone puts on a ridiculous display to catch some rays.

Although I did enjoy the performance, I didn’t love it.  I understand the need for repetition to emphasise the main themes in the piece but I think some of it was too drawn out and excessive, especially for a performance that is well over three hours long.  Also, a lot of the time, it seemed like the dancers were just walking slowly and sombrely around the stage, and at times I wanted to shake them into something more.  Yes, the soundtrack was great and atmospheric, but I felt that some parts of the piece relied more on the quality of the soundtrack rather than the content.  The actors/ dancers were amazing and it was obvious they were putting their heart and soul into the performance.  However, for me, too much of that performance required walking slowly around the stage and delivering repetitive monologues, some funny, some thought-provoking but some bordering on the pretentious.  A dreamlike experience that I found perceptive, confusing, comical, melancholic but ultimately very frustrating.  One thing’s for sure though – it’s definitely not to everyone’s taste and at the moment, I’m still trying to decide whether it might be to mine.

Big Brother by Lionel Shriver

29 Jan

I just finished Lionel Shriver’s latest novel, ‘Big Brother’ and it was one of the most moving books I’ve read in years.  I suppose I didn’t expect to like it too much – having read Shriver’s well-renowned ‘We need to talk about Kevin’, which I thought was clever and provocative but not as moving as I had anticipated, I prepared myself for what I thought would be another ‘issue’ book and I’ve always been a little sceptical about books that are dominated by a contemporary issue in society, in this case: obesity.

I don’t know if it is because the characters in the novel seem so real and true to life, especially Pandora, the protagonist who has to deal with the shock of seeing her older brother lose himself and his motivation in life; or whether it’s the knowledge that Shriver is clearly writing from the heart (her older beloved brother, Greg died of obesity a couple of years ago) that makes the story so readable and so moving.

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Perhaps it’s even closer to me as I have experienced what it’s like to see someone close to you eat themselves to death (my late father) and how it’s easy for the average person to take the moral highground, wagging their finger and condemning those who are fat.  We often ignore the multitude of factors such as depression, disillusionment and inadequacy that can lead one to pile on the pounds and focus instead on the aesthetics of it.  But the truth is, a significant number of obese people who undergo gastric band surgery regain the weight within a few years which suggests there’s something deeper here, and the main goal isn’t to get slim, or what many would deem a ‘normal’, ‘functioning’ member of society again.  Shriver’s writing made me loo really look at our complex relationship with food and how we often associate eating very little with purity or cleanliness, a way almost to feel superior, better, holier than fat people.

I’ve read many reviews of this book that complain about the twist towards the end, saying that they, the reader, ended up feeling manipulated and that ultimately it fell flat.  I don’t want to ruin it for those that haven’t read the book (and I would urge you to do so) but I completely disagree with these reviews.  Instead, I found the twist actually enhanced  the story, making it even more believable and bittersweet, and our understanding of Pandora as well as making us question how much influence we really have over our loved ones.  Pandora is an amazing protagonist – likeable, flawed, conflicted and fallible and her relationship with her brother who has spiralled into a cycle of self-destruction feels all too real.  Haunting stuff.