I continue to torture myself with travel books, and this one was especially masochistic as it deals with a long term US road trip, which is on my bucket list.
It’s an interesting read, with Thompson, a former foreign correspondent deciding to hit the road as he gets older. The trip is inspired by his increasing boredom with his quiet life and realization that he doesn’t know much about his homeland.
What follows are his short recollections of the trip, the sights he sees and the people he meets along the way.
At times he can be a crabby old man (not a fan of women with tattoos) but Thompson is always entertaining and clever in his writings, capturing his love of the America he discovers and the renewed energy the trip gives him. He also reflects on how America has changed, the way travel has changed and the towns which have become empty and forlorn as the road tourism has dried up.
Along the way he has brief liaisons with women, gets stoned and chats to random folks he meets, all of which he recounts in short, entertaining entries. Thompson seems to embrace the life on the road with gusto, enjoying the nature and solitude, but also using the skills of his former job to coax life stories from strangers and go off the beaten track.
Funny, touching and extremely honest it’s also a pleasantly quick and easy read, and I’ve spent my lunchbreaks this week tearing through it, losing myself out on the road with Thompson and torturing myself with dreams of being far away.
Verdict: A really good read, Thompson is a skilled writer and he meets fairly interesting guide. The only downside is that it’ll make you wish you were on the open road too. 9/10.
Any thoughts? You know what to do. BETEO.
Josie Cunningham, the notorious “NHS boob job” girl, has continued to haunt the tabloid press, and her newly arrived daughter has been born into a crazy world. Having narrowly avoided having her entrance into this world attended by four strangers, her daughter’s now unwittingly become part of the tabloid circus following Josie’s latest Twitter blunder.
Josie was asked by various people on Twitter if she was breastfeeding, and her response was, shall we say, unexpected:
wish people would would stop asking if I’m breast feeding like Kimberley Walsh! No I’m not! I think the idea is vile and borderline incest
She later stated to The Sun that her “breasts are for my partner, not my child”, which is just lunacy. She then stated that while it may be “natural” but people need to move with the times. Hmmm.
I get that breastfeeding isn’t for every mother, and pushing it as vitally important merely serves to make mothers who have problems doing so feel bad about themselves.
Josie seems to have forgotten that breasts served a purpose before they became sexualised, and that was feeding infants. She seems to have got mixed up on this.
It gets even weirder, as Josie has decided not to share the milk with her partner instead choosing to sell her breast milk.
She isn’t the first to do this (I wrote about another case here) and interestingly, Josie has proven to be slightly savvy in this new business. She plans to sell to other parents for £2 an ounce, but will charge £10 to milk fetishists.
Yes, milk fetishists.
Some might feel this is a little gross, but the world don’t move to the beat of one drum, and there are probably stuff we’re all into that others don’t dig or find odd.
In his second autobiography Russell Brand spoke to involving it in his liaison with a new mother, so it may be more common than people think.
I can’t lie I’m rather curious about how it tastes, having not had any since my own childhood and I don’t remember much about that. Of course, if I ever do try it again it will most likely be provided courtesy of MWG should we have kids, and hopefully free of charge. This would also allow me to explore my attraction to pregnant women.
Whether Josie finds a buyer or not remains to be seen, but there’s probably a market, so she might make a small profit.
But this latest, bizarre plan, coupled with her daft views on breastfeeding is making it harder to defend her as she continues to hand ammunition to her numerous critics. However, I wish her and her new baby well.
Any thoughts? You know hat to do. BETEO.
As a bookaholic, I love charity shops. I get to give to a good cause and load up on random books. Taking advantage of a 3 for £1 offer I picked up this book, which I’d never heard of before. It turned out to be an interesting read, and not the kind of thing I’d normally go for.
In the Ukraine, Viktor is a struggling author, unable to finish a novel and with his muse only sticking around long enough for short stories, he’s in hard times, living alone with only Misha the penguin he’s adopted for company. However, one day he is offered an odd job- writing obituaries in his philosophical style, for subjects still living.
At first the job works out fairly well, with Viktor digging into the lives of notable figures, originally picking them from headlines before getting files of new subjects from his editor.
Things start to get shaky when Viktor is visited by an old man, Misha-non-penguin, who offers vague hints and a shady background. Then people he’s written about start dying, and Viktor begins realizing that he might be part of a bigger plot.
I have mixed feelings about this book it’s pretty short but in some places well written. Kurkov balances the mundane with the absurd, as Viktor stumbles through his life, often in denial and unable to comprehend what he’s involved with. The conspiracy theory unfolds at a leisurely pace, although it is a tad predictable, and at times the length of time it takes for the penny to drop is a struggle.
Viktor is an unlikable protagonist, self obsessed, selfish and slightly dim, but the story moves along fast enough to hold your attention. Kurkov’s weakness seems to be his character work, as none of them, not even the penguin seem developed enough and they don’t react in natural or believable ways.
There are few jokes but there is some absurd and dark humour throughout, some of which works, some of which doesn’t, and the ending feels fitting for the downbeat world the novel takes place in.
The problem is while it was a fine way to spend the time I’m struggling to keep a clear idea of the book in my head and the overall impression is that of disappointment.
Verdict: An interesting, darkly comic conspiracy theory. The protagonist is deeply flawed, but it’s a quick read and keeps you interested even if it won’t stick with you much. 4/10.
Any thoughts? You know what to do. BETEO.
Okay, right at the top I’m going to say I’m not one of those older people who has a snobbish, negative view of selfies and those who take them.
Sure, when I saw four friends cram into a portaloo to take a selfie on their camping trip I thought “what’s wrong with you?!” But that’s an exception.
I read something recently about how it’s wrong to slam selfies as vain or self absorbed because its better to have a generation of people who love themselves and are comfortable with how they look as opposed to the “I hate having my photo” taken anxiety. I’m paraphrasing badly, but I hope you get the point. That you can view the selfie as being a tool for confidence building and self expression.
Why all this selfie talk? Well, as written in the previous post, I went to see Lady Gaga this week and there were lots of pictures being taken.
For me this is a bugbear, because I think some people take the piss a little. One or two snaps, fine but don’t record for minutes at a time or snap away like the paparazzi.
Some of the photo taking at gigs, particularly Gaga shows, is kinda sweet. The Little Monsters are stoked to be that close to their idol, or proud of their homemade costumes. As I waited for MWG at one point I saw two strangers having a picture together because one dug the other’s costume, how can you not think that’s good?
Selfies at gigs are weird, I get the “stage behind” ones or a quick “me and my mates” shot, but most will be blurry, dim or unflattering. Sure the odd person lucks out like the Beyonce fan at the top, but most won’t.
Three girls in front wanted a photo to remember the show, but due to height differences and short arms it was a struggle.
Call me old fashioned but at that point I’d have asked someone nearby to take the shot for me.
Not these girls. Nope, one produced a “selfie stick”. I’ve never seen one of these in real life before and watched in intrigued horror as they extended it and held it aloft.
It may have resulted in a beautiful shot, but it seemed a bit of a stretch just for a photo. And it was up in the air, blocking the view and swaying around with reckless abandon.
I snapped a quick shot, hypocrite that I am, and luckily after a quick photo shoot it was folded away.
The selfie stick is a bridge to far for me. If your arms aren’t long enough or there’s no mirror handy, you should bite the bullet and accept it’s not going to be a selfie, and just have a regular, old fashioned photo taken.
Gods, I do sound old.
Any thoughts? You know what to do. BETEO.
As the rain lashed down on a miserable day in Birmingham, making everything washed out and grim, but for the thousands of slightly damp little monsters gathered in the NIA it was a far brighter, more colourful evening, because Lady Gaga was in town, and she was amazing.
I’d kinda forgotten she was touring at the moment. When the artRAVE dates had come out I’d been broke and so not being involved it fell out of my mental calendar. Then on Monday MWG told me she had a surprise for me on Wednesday afternoon, the only hints she offered was that we’d have to drive somewhere and I’d need to dress tidy-ish. Being naturally suspicious and someone who isn’t too keen on surprises, I thought of Joe Pesci in Goodfellas, where they tell him he’s going to be made but instead winds up whacked.
No prying could get MWG to budge, but she insisted I’d like it, so I just asked, as a shot in the dark, “Are we going to see Lady Gaga?”. She probably could have styled it out, but MWG’s poker face is atrocious and I knew right away what was going on (she’d bagged a couple of tickets that the original owners couldn’t use). I think she expected me to have a meltdown, but I’m British, dammit, so I kept a lid on the excitement which grew all through Tuesday and Wednesday.
I freaking love Lady Gaga. MWG is a fan too, and between us we’ve seen both of her major UK tours (MWG saw Monster’s Ball in Cardiff, and I went to Dublin for the Born This Way ball). It was really cool to go see her again, and especially cool that I got to be with MWG for it.
Even a downpour couldn’t dampen my spirits and I filed into the NIA with the other little monsters, once again feeling that I was probably one of the bigger monsters and feeling slightly underdressed in my t-shirt and 3/4 lengths. I marveled at the costumes some of the fans had crafted for themselves and took my place for the opening acts.
First up was Breedlove, a singer/MC who was alright but seemed terribly out of his depth. With no accompanying band or dancers he was just a loan figure on a vast stage, singing to a largely disinterested crowd. He’s probably quite good in a smaller venue, like a club or bar, but here he just didn’t seem to have the presence to convince, although his songs were fine and catchy pieces.
Next up was Lady Starlight, who hadn’t impressed me in Dublin but was better here. She seemed really into her techno set and there was something endearingly gawky about her dancing, she also looked like her costume was inspired by those collectible dolls you get representing countries. Austria maybe? It wasn’t really my bag but got me bopping away and was kinda fun.
And then, after a lengthy delay, the main event!
Gaga emerged, adorned with wings and played the title track from the ARTPOP album, followed by “G.U.Y”, one of my faves from that album.
It was everything you expected from Mother Monster, a show of campy excess, fantastic vocals and her own, captivating, individual presence at the centre. I said of the Born This Way show in Dublin that at times it felt like a cult meeting at times and that was evident here, with the charismatic singer holding the audience in the palm of her hand throughout the gig.
It may have lacked the prog-esque concept of the previous tour, but the set was a triumph, with some of the big hits mixed with lesser known songs from the most recent album. In between songs Gaga spoke to the audience, in a mesmerizing mix of earnest expression, foul mouthed humour and tongue-in-cheek posturing.
The theme here was for her fans to direct their emotions into art and her own journey and growth as an artist. She talked to the crowd about self expression, addiction, self harm and self-acceptance, always with a feeling of genuine sincerity and care. The cynical may see it as Gaga playing the ally card, but it felt real to me (gods, I sound like that wrestling fan don’t I? “It’s still real to me, dammit!”) and must be extremely powerful for her younger fans who may be struggling to accept themselves and their place.
But beyond that it was just a triumph of pop art. OTT costumes, sexualized dancing and banging tunes, it supplied each in spades and was incredibly fun. I sang along, bounced about and while I may not have descended into the screeching raptures of the woman a few feet across from me, I was thoroughly entranced and loved every second.
I probably preferred the Dublin gig overall, but then Born This Way is an album I love and have listened to more, but in the run up to this gig I listened to ARTPOP a lot more and it’s better than I originally gave it credit for, and I suspect that Lady Gaga is going to be on hard rotation on my iPod for the coming weeks.
I’d definitely go see Lady Gaga again, which would make her the second artist I’d have seen 3 times, after Motorhead. Heck, I might even dress up a bit next time, really get into the spirit of things.
Any thoughts? You know what to do. BETEO.
Warning! Spoilers ahoy!
So I missed this movie when it was at the cinema due to being a poor student but MWG grabbed it on DVD and I finally got to see it. I’ve always been a fan of Captain America, which is weird as a Brit, because he’s probably the most patriotic of the Marvel heroes, but I think it’s because since WW2 they’ve been careful not to use him too much for propaganda and actually use him as this kind of noble, moral standard of what America should be, not what it is, often opposing or becoming disillusioned with his homeland.
The movie picks up after the events of The Avengers, with Steve Rogers (Chris Evans) living in Washington, where he befriends Sam Wilson (Anthony Mackie), a veteran of the Afghanistan war, who can relate to Steve’s problems with reintegrating back into “the world”.
Steve continues to work for SHIELD, carrying out missions with Black Widow (Scarlett Johansson). On one mission he discovers that Nick Fury (Samuel L Jackson) has given Widow a different mission that he’s kept secret from Cap, and reveals that SHIELD have built massive helicarriers that can target specific individuals using long range weapons and spy satellites, which is something Cap objects to, feeling that it isn’t freedom but fear that Fury is providing.
Fury can’t decipher the info that Widow’s recovered and so talks to senior SHIELD official Price (Robert Redford) about delaying the project. Shortly after Fury is attacked, and narrowly escapes after being attacked by a mysterious masked figure. He hides at Steve’s apartment, and the mysterious attacker strikes again, gunning down Fury and evading Cap, at one point catching his shield before throwing it back.
Following this Price asks Steve for any info that Fury had, and after he refuses Steve is attacked by his former allies and flees, uniting with Widow and going on the run to investigate who betrayed Fury. Widow reveals that the masked man is the notorious Winter Soldier, an assassin who has been active for many years.
Cap and Widow discover that SHIELD has been infiltrated by Hydra, the Nazi faction that Cap fought in WW2 and that they have long established double agents within the organization. Their plan is to cull mankind, using the helicarriers to eliminate people who may become threats to Hydra and their goals.
In need of help THEY recruit Wilson, who they give a set of robotic wings to wear to help in their mission. The Winter Soldier attacks them and during their fight Cap removes his mask and recognizes him as Bucky (Sebastian Stan) his old childhood friend who he believed had died in WW2. This throws both men, Cap as he realizes his friend isn’t dead and the Winter Soldier, who is confused by his opponent’s reaction.
Will Bucky remember who he is? How far does Hydra’s infiltration go? Who can they trust? And can the three of them reveal the conspiracy and stop the launch of the new helicarriers?
I really dug this movie, which kinda merges superheroics with some conspiracy theory stuff. It also raises interesting questions about governments spying on their citizens, and where the line lies before security becomes fascism. Captain America is the perfect superhero to deal with this issues, with this definitely not being what the shield slinging Avenger signed up for and it not sitting well with his moral outlook.
In the lead role Chris Evans is again impressive on his third outing, manage to capture Cap’s morality without ever becoming overly cheesy or preachy. Thankfully the writers have made sure to give Cap a sense of humour and not just be an overly serious square jawed hero. His easy banter with Sam and Widow ensures he feels like a real character and there are some nice touches along the way, such as Widow trying to matchmake for him and a notebook of things he has to catch up on.
They also make sure they highlight that underneath the star spangled uniform he’s a genuine badass, you don’t fight your way through occupied Europe without knowing how to handle yourself and there are some fantastic action sequences, with Cap displaying some fantastic close-quarters moves and a sequence where he finds himself surrounded in a lift is magnificent, fast and brutal, akin to something from a Bourne movie.
That’s not to say there aren’t big sequences and OTT flourishes, including Sam Wilson’s Falcon dipping, diving and swooping around blasting away at Hydra goons and avoiding missile fire. Cap’s shield throwing is also stepped up, with him using angles to get his targets and using it to destructive effect.
The other characters are all done well, Johansson impresses as Widow, showing great chemistry with Evans and relishing an expanded role. The best feature of the character is her intellect and slightly murky past, she’s the bad cop to Cap’s good cop, and exhibits a real ruthless streak, and their growing bond is one of the film’s strengths, with Cap slowly coming to trust the former assassin, and Johansson does a great job of showing that this trust really means something to her character.
Similarly, Mackie is on fine form as Sam Wilson, from his introduction where he is repeatedly overtaken by Rogers while jogging to donning the wings he’s a quick, heroic figure and despite different backgrounds forms a solid bond with Rogers based on their shared experience of combat and returning home. Mackie makes the character extremely likable, and I’m hoping we get to see more of him in future Avengers films (I’m not holding my breath, War Machine/Iron Patriot vanished from the team up).
Samuel L Jackson is impressive as usual, making Fury a tough, cynical leader. Veteran performers Redford and Jenny Agutter both do well too, and after a blink and you miss it cameo in Avengers its nice for Agutter to actually get to do something this time right.
The only weak link really is Sebastian Stan, who admittedly has a challenge on his hands as Bucky/The Winter Soldier. He’s meant to be brainwashed and almost robotic, but when he does finally have doubts Stan never quite convinces, being a bit too blank for my liking. It’s a tough role and maybe he’ll return, but on this showing I won’t be heartbroken if he doesn’t.
All in all it’s a gripping, well written superhero flick which is what we’ve come to expect from Marvel. It doesn’t quite match the original in the fun stakes, but the slightly darker storyline works and leaves the character in an interesting place, now a solo operative planning to take on Hydra with just Falcon as back up.
Verdict: Lots of fun and a gripping story, a few developments are easy to spot but Evans is great in the lead and the supporting cast is generally on fine form. Good exploration of surveillance politics and Cap’s place in the modern world. 8/10.
Any thoughts? You know what to do. BETEO.
End Credit Sting: Pretty cool, introducing a few more Avengers into the mix and definitely beats Guardians‘ Howard the Duck cameo.
Disclaimer: In this blog I’m going to talk about mental health and self harm. If either of these is problematic for you I advise you don’t read on. Also, it is not my intention to offend anyone and I am trying to word it as carefully and sensitively as I can, however, if it does offend or upset someone I apologize wholeheartedly.
Today I had a job interview and signing on. The interview went fairly well and I figured I’d earned a treat so I stopped at Costa’s for a coffee. On the table next to me was a young mother and her adorable toddler. The toddler, who was an almost unbelievably cute little girl giggled at me when I smiled and proceeded to pulverize a cookie while staring at me.
I have this effect on small children, as they always seem to find me fascinating. Sometimes I understand why, I’m towering over them or one time I was wearing a Superman t-shirt and with my glasses I think the little kid in the restaurant was thinking to himself, “Crikey, Clark Kent’s let himself go!”
Anyway, I resisted my urge to pull faces at the kid (this my go to move for entertaining children) and just smiled back, which prompted more giggling.
Her mother turned to see what her girl was laughing at and smiled at me. It was a minor, friendly encounter and I was soon caught up in my book and coffee, although I did occasionally look over as the kid gurgled and clattered about in a high chair.
On one of the glances over I noticed the woman’s tattoos, which were extensive forearm pieces. I’m a massive tattoo spy, and I regularly look at what ink people have go. I spent the entirety of a walk to lectures last year trying to work out what quote the lady in front of me had tattooed on her calf.
Whatever, I should probably get to the point.
Below the tattoo were a lot of scars. They were too neat and ordered to have been caused by accident, and I realized that they were self harm scars. I have some experience with self harm due to my old job as a support worker, and so I made sure not to look again, knowing that catching me looking might cause this young woman embarrassment or discomfort.
Self harm is something that I think is hard for people to understand. Public awareness of mental health in general is depressingly low and often terribly outdated and stereotypical. What I write isn’t about everyone who self harms and draws only on the reading I’ve done on the matter. For more detailed discussion you’re probably better of going to something like the NHS site.
For someone who feels under pressure or stressed self harm gives them a release. When you get hurt there’s a small rush of endorphins and adrenaline, and that little buzz can provide a brief release from tension or stress. It’s not the ideal way to experience it, exercise can also give you a rush of endorphins, but for some self harm fulfills this need.
Another reason for it is control. If you feel as if everything is too much, or that you have no control over your life the one thing you do have control over is your body. You control the wounds you give yourself, and it can be habit forming, the ritual of self harm can become an oddly comforting thing for people.
I wonder what reactions this woman gets to her scars.
Do people ask how she got them, or do they recognize them for what they are right away? If you do recognize them should you ignore them? Or mention them? I suspect in our British way most people she meets, if they do know what they are, will ignore the topic, out of fear of offending or causing upset. This is fair enough, and understandable in strangers, but one hopes that she has somebody she can talk to about it, or that her friends ask her how she’s doing. Sometimes people can bottle stuff up and just need someone to offer them a chance to talk about things.
Talking about mental health is something we’re still not good as a society, and I think it comes down to three things:
- Fear of causing upset or somehow “making it worse”
- Lack of knowledge. Your man or woman in the street doesn’t know much about mental health, and probably doesn’t want to get into a conversation where they feel out of their depth.
- Fear- Sadly a lot of stigma and ignorance surrounds mental health. It’s startling to hear some of the ideas people have about mental health.
Public understanding and information on mental health needs to drastically improve. On a recent episode of Gogglebox, the elderly couple June and Leon watched Mrs Doubtfire, and Leon commented about Williams’ suicide and depression and his wealth, and June argued, correctly, that money has nothing to do with it, and that depression is an illness that can strike anyone.
This sounds like common sense, but there are far too many people who go with the “pull yourself together!” attitude, as though someone can just snap out of it. I’ve luckily never struggled with depression, the closest I’ve come is a period in my second year at university where I had a massive crisis about whether I was wasting my time (I was doing Film Studies, so in a way, yes, I was) and fell into a bit of a funk. During this time I skipped lectures, lost interest in assignments and covered it up by getting extremely drunk on a regular basis (to be fair, I did this before and after this period, but even at the time I was aware that I was drinking to quiet the doubts). It lasted a couple of months and as suddenly as it had arrived it left.
While unemployed I got into a similar state, but the prolonged inactivity of life on the dole, coupled with being skint and getting rejected for work is bound to make you feel down. It was more like ennui than depression.
I’ve been lucky but I’m not immune, none of us are. Here in the UK mental health is incredibly popular as the below image shows:
That’s pretty damn high, and yet people still don’t know what they’re dealing with. The fact is increased understanding would benefit everyone- we’d understand those going through it, they’d know more about how to access the services they need and we’d actually be able to talk about it to someone who might need conversation.
I hope that woman has the support in place that she needs, and that she’s safe. Its been a couple of hours and I still wonder if I should have said something, if not about her scars then just in general. Sometimes you just need to talk and for some mothers it can get quite lonely, as their only company is their kid, and that doesn’t really count, because they’re tiny idiots.
Of course, she could have a loving partner at home, a big network of friends or a supportive family and just wanted some peace to drink her coffee, and might have been uncomfortable or annoyed with my lame attempt at being a White Knight.
I think I did the right thing, and left her be, but there’s a little voice of doubt nagging away at me. It’s the not knowing that kills you.
Sorry, this was kind of a rambling post, and I might not have expressed myself very well. Apologies if I offended or upset anyone.
Any thoughts? You know what to do. BETEO.