Sunday, 28 June 2009

The First Goodbyes

Parc Güell in Barcelona. Guess which is me...

Before one goes on a Year Abroad (capitalisation for emphasis), one is all too aware of certain factors. It's a great time, and you will meet great people from all over the world; many of whom become friends - or even partners - for life. However, for a period of study which is so very clearly defined, the most forgettable aspect of it is its duration. It is only one year: as you live it, it seems as though it is constant, interminable, and you love every moment you live of it. Towards the end, a realisation begins to creep up on you, and the fear sets in. Afterwards, when you return to your normal, dreary, monotonous life, you remember, and only then do you truly come to terms with the fact that it was such a short amount of time. One year out of sixty, seventy or eighty.

As for the end, itself, there are a series of stages. First come the exams; then the results; then the slow, trickling process that is saying goodbye to as many of the wonderful people you've met over the course of the year as you can; next, you frantically try to do as much with whoever is left as is humanly possible; finally you realise that everyone has gone, and it's your turn to let go of the fantasy that you'd be enjoying this life forever. I'm currently passing from Stage Three to Stage Four.

I say "passing", because by the end of this weekend I will have said goodbye to most of my best friends made while here. One of them is my housemate and constant companion, Lauren. We both came from the same university in the UK, we're both Londoners; we both came to Madrid; and we both studied at the Complutense. It made sense to live together, since we already knew - and didn't dislike - each other fairly well. Such decisions often have one of two distinct results: either we would grow closer and enjoy the company, or we'd never speak to each other again. Let's just say she isn't on my Chrismas Card List. No, I was close to tears when I accompanied Lauren and her mother to the airport (I wasn't living with Celia, as well, by the way; she'd come to help her daughter pack up and go home). The best thing about our getting to know each other is that we've decided to live together next year, so in that way something of the year will stay with me.

Next goes Nicolette. Where do I begin with this girl? Born and raised in California to an Argentine father and a hispanophile native US mother, I met her in the second or third class of one of the most disappointing subjects I have ever had the misfortune to study, with the only academic I would happily say I hate. luckily for both Nicolette and myself, we found each other. We even lived on the same street. What the hell am I going to do without her? I've pretty much spent all my time with Nico: we studied together in four classes over the year, we went out together, we went on trips together, we ate, drank and on several occasions slept together (in the non-sex way, of course). Through her I met a whole host of American students, all of whom I loved in equal measure: Ariel, Meghan, Natalie, Victor, Blake, Gittel, Bryce, and an innumerable amount of others. Just names to my readers, but all with some very smile-inducing mental images in my head. All have already gone or will soon leave.

Another person I'll miss is Marco. We met in the Hispanoamerican Theatre class, in the second semester, before lunch. It became our little tradition to spend lunch breaks talking about travel, films, history, culture and Silvio Berlusconi. I'd often pop round to his place for a movie and a meal. Right before he left, he even took the time to give me a present from home.

Those are only the other foreign students. There are the multitude of Spanish friends I've made, either through Spanish friends I already had, met in class, or even friends of both. Luckily, they are all still in the country, but with vacations come periodical disapearances. At least they'll have the courtesy to come back to me.

Thank goodness for the French, eh? Now, there's a phrase I never thought I'd say. With my change of scenery comes new housemates. Four French boys and girls, who are staying over Summer, like my good self, and who share my obsession with the theatre and literature. Small though they may be in number, they will at least help extend the pretense that I'll never leave Madrid.

I suppose I'm saying all of this because of the aforementioned dawning realisation of the end being nigh. I know I've written about all of this before, and you're probably bored of the repetition. Well, tough. Now comes the time to write about my memories - both sweet and sour - of this most enjoyable of years, because the truth is that I need to hold on to what I have had, and to what little is left. I have plans for my future, but no one knows how one's life will end, and so the past can often be a good marker for the present and the future, or it can be a place of comfort.

Reflections will be exactly that. A month-by-month look back at this crazy, fun, exciting, pedagogical and bittersweet experience we in the business call The Year Abroad. So, to Lauren, Nicolette, The Americans, Marco, The Spaniards, The French and all the rest, thanks for the memories.

Goodbye To All That


Part One
Summer and September 2008

The Spanish Consulate in London: My Home, after The Rubble-Pile and the Robinson-Tilletts'

Summer was a personal hell, and I don't even believe in Hell. Nevertheless, Summer was horrific. Now I understand the meaning of the word "stress".

Not only did I have a mountain of administration to deal with, in order to get to Spain, and enroll in my host University, I had exams at home, one play to help organise and another to peform in. It was a wonder I got through it at all. Then came Edinburgh.

Instead of being sensible, and working over my three-month break to make some money and have something to pay for, oh I don't know, flights, accommodation and food, I decided to go and be in a wagless play in the Edinburgh Fringe Festival. That's right, I committed myself to a month-long run of a show which would be performed 535 km (332 miles) away from where I should have been in order to sort out my visa issues. The play wasn't even any good, and I think I can safely say I was not going to win any awards for my performance, but I won't go into that. Let's just say that during July and August I was more interested in getting away from where I was than joining in the "fun". That said, I wasn't always miserable, just most of the time: I did see a few good shows for free, got friendly with the ladies in my cast (ooh-er), met a few cool people, and even made a couple of professional contacts. It still wasn't worth the penniless misery, though.

The poverty continued into September, as I desperately tried to wrap up the visa business, scrape some money together, and somehow get my stuff over to Madrid from Brighton. Meanwhile, I was lodging rent-free at the Robinson-Tillett family home, since my own house had become not much more than a pile of rubble. I owe more to that family than thanks. When I did eventually find a job, it was in telephony (see Hell, above), and I lasted two weeks before I had enough and begged to be let go or shot in the head. By this time, the Student Loan and Grant money had come in, and it was a matter of days before flights were booked, bags were packed, and I disappeared into the air.

Arriving in Madrid was a relief, not just because of the objective being finally reached. I had made friends from this city from years back, and my first night was something of a reunion. I was also pleased to be back in the city I'd previously visited four times already. Despite the problems, I had made it - with plenty of help from my friends - and I was not going to let the year go to waste. This would be a chance to relive some old memories and create a whole host of new ones...

Movin' On Up

M People. Where are they, now? What kind of name is "M People", anyway?

I love that song. A woman is fed up of her boyfriend, and leaves him, claiming to be "movin' on up, [...] movin' on out." Why? "Time to break free", for "nothing can stop me." How inspiring...

I, myself, am going through a similar experience; but no boyfriends. In fact, I've used the fact that I'm simply moving house as a great big excuse to stick that song on the blog. Have you ever seen such a conceit?

Anyway: yes, I'm moving. After nine months in the haven you see to the left and right of these paragraphs, I'm upgrading to a new pad for the summer. The main reason is the cost. I can't afford such a champagne lifestyle on the beer money I receive as a wage. Now that summer has come, the Student Loan and Grants people go on holiday (actually, they don't: they spend summer processing applications, the poor sods). All this means that the five-star-Michelin Restaurants and High-Class Hookers are no longer available to me. Instead it'll be movie-and-a-microwave meal and anything I can pick up in the nearest burp bar.

I jest, of course: I've been extravagant but poor all year, using the student loan money to pay the extortionate rent, while living off my earnings as an English teacher. The only difference, now, is that I'll have more students to look after. I was sensible enough (for once) to have the foresight to save money, and can more or less pay off the summer rent in one go, and enjoy a stress-free house life with no money-grabbing landladies to worry about.

You may note that the room seems to look as though there are no plans to move at all. That's because I took the packing boxes out of the room before snapping away. DUH! Come Tuesday, the place will just be another empty husk, filled only with air, heat and the musk of memory. To misquote an insignificant regional poet, "Farewell, sweet room", "parting is such bloody hard work."

Remembering Stonewall: 40 Years On

Ladies and Gentlemen, We have arrived...

Being a young, senseless naïve little thing, I know knothing of cultural history. I'm a fabulous little gay boy who spends his days reading Perez Hilton, and worrying about why people think cerise is a good idea. I also make sure I look hot by keeping up to date with the latest trends in fashion...

Well, that isn't me, but it is several young gay men and boys who wouldn't be lucky enough to enjoy such a lifestyle if it weren't for a group of people who stood up and said "No more!" In the decade of sruggling to achieve rights for all sorts of minority groups, a bunch of LGBT men and women reacted against an unfair raid on one of the bars in which LGBT people felt safe. The result was the Gay Rights Movement in the USA.

Now, it may have escaped some of my dear readers that I am not actually a US citizen. I've never even been to the States. However, as we all know, what happens over there reverberates over anywhere else. Interestingly, though, LGBT people in the UK have a leg up on our American cousins, when it comes to this issue. For, you see, homosexuality was decriminalised in the UK in 1967, two years before the Stonewall riots. Nevertheless, had it not been for the political, sexual, and cultural re-evaluation which occurred during the sixties we may not have had as many freedoms we enjoy today. Where would our bars, clubs, hook-up websites, intellectual forums, and blog debates about cock size be without those pioneers of our rights back then?

My housemate is also gay, by chance, and he still argues that politics means nothing to him, and therefore it doesn't affect his daily life. He's 30, and really should know better. Next week is Pride Week in Madrid and the rest of Spain, and something more of a political issue, despite all the seemingly hedonistic street parties and wild club nights. Open homosexuality is relatively new to Spain, since a certain General Franco only stopped being dictator thirty-four years ago; and the new democratic constitution, decriminalising homosexuality, only being thirty-one years old. This blend of old and new has been nothing but a benefit for Spanish LGBT people, since the country was keen to modernise itself, and a large majority of Spaniards are accepting or even proud of their country's leniency towards homosexuality, regardless of their own sexual orientation; same-sex marriage has been legal in the country since 2005, almost two years before civil partnerships were introduced in the UK. My housemate is actually from Argentina, but it really doesn't matter. If he were from the moon, he's only able to live his lifestyle openly and freely here in Spain because people who were unable to do so became fed up, politicised and fought.

I'm hardly a loud and proud activist, but I am more than grateful to the Stonewall rioters and other poineers of LGBT rights all over the world for their courage, their enthusiasm for a better life, and their activism, in order that I might enjoy my life wherever I please.

Ladies and Gentlemen, thank you.

Elsewhere: New York Marks 40th Anniversary of Stonewall Riots,

If you are LGBT, you may not want to fly it out of your window, but fly it in your heart and mind, and never forget its significance to you and the rest of us

Friday, 26 June 2009

Goodbye, Mr Jackson

Michael Jackson, Entertainer. Born 29th August 1958; Died 25th June 2009

I can't say anything which won't be said on a million other blogs and news websites. Here is The Guardian's report; here is the BBC; here is El País; and here is CNN.

No matter the scandals and the eccentricity, he gave us forty years of great music. I along with mllions all over the world grew up with him as The Pop Star of Them All.

Mr Jackson, you will be greatly - and very sorely - missed...

Thursday, 25 June 2009

Goodbye, Ms Fawcett

Farrah Fawcett, actress. Born 2nd February 1947; Died 25th June 2009

Today, another icon of the 70s and 80s lost her life. Farrah Fawcett, one of the original Charlie's Angels team, lost her long battle with cancer.

A sex symbol, due to her perfectly-styled hair, her charming smile and curvaceous body shape, Fawcett was not just a pretty face. An accomplished actress, she received critical and popular acclaim in several television dramas throughout her career, garnering several Emmy and Golden Globe nominations.

The BBC News report of her death is here, while her obituary in The Guardian Online is here.

Ms Fawcett, you will be greatly missed...

Theatre Review: Death of a Salesman (Muerte de un Viajante)

Death of a Salesman (Muerte de un viajante), by Arthur Miller; translation Eduardo Mendoza; directed by Mario Gas

I don't like Willy Loman. He's a loser. That might sound harsh, but it's true: he can't face up to the fact that, like most of the population of this godforsaken (and I really mean that) planet, he amounts to nothing. Nevertheless, despite this self-deception - indeed, precisely because of it - I can't help but feel sorry for him. He buys into the American Dream wholesale, despite the fact that no one around him, least of all his customers, will. Willy Loman is not a tragic hero, he's a tragic failure, and that is part of why I love this play. The thought of seeing it in translation was an attractive prospect.

The first thing I noted, and therefore worth commenting on, was the staging. It was beautiful. Rarely can that be said of a play which flits back and forth between the road, a house with three levels and a garden, two different offices and the various spaces recreated within the protagonist's mind. It's a difficult feat to accomplish, but with a large stage, three projection screens, lights and very effective use of platforms and furniture pulled across on-stage tracks the production provides its audience with an endless stream of spaces, both indoor and outdoor, which blend into each other seamlessly. Seamlessly.

The feel of 1950s America was very much in place, actually. A short (untranslated) propaganda film promoting the "Happy, Healthy American Man" was used as a sort of prologue, and the production crew worked very hard to collect obscure hits and radio clips which served to hold the audience's interest during scene changes and interludes.

Now, on to the acting. My housemate, who saw the show with me, said that the play would still have been good with bad actors. He's wrong, of course, a good production relies on all components working together, and the acting in this production was top notch. I could write an essay on how well Jordi Boixaderas played Loman, but I'm feeling lazy, so just know he was fan-bloody-tastic. Rosa Renom ans long-suffering Linda was not particularly impressive in the first half, but something happened to her character in the second, which proved just how well she'd been up to that point. I imagine it was a subtle decision made by Gas to underplay Linda's role in the family - and indeed, in the play - until Loman's mind begins to rapidly deteriorate. Pablo Derqui was a good Biff, but Oriol Vila let the team down, unfortunately. There's always one, and Vila was playing with his voice to such an extent it became slightly irritating. He was also slow on the old reaction-times, turning his head, or moving some part of his body about half a minute after everyone else. I can only assume he was having an off day. It does happen to all of us. The supporting cast were all ranging between good and very good, with special mention going out to Víctor Valverde, who played the spectre of Loman's obscenely rich brother Ben. His laugh - both comforting and mocking - still haunts me as I write.

The direction was, at points a little too strong: by this I mean several moments felt a little forced, or perhaps "wedged" into the flow of the action, as if Gas was out to do something which he felt may underline the tragedy: some of the blocking puzzled me, for intsance; but I'm picking at tiny insignificant hairs. Overall, the experience was very enjoyable, and a recommended one.

Four Stars.

Book Review: Winter in Madrid

Winter in Madrid, by CJ Sansom

What do you do if a student of yours - whom you respect and whose company you enjoy, mind - gives you a present? Why, you express your gratitude and make use of it, of course. Now, here's the conundrum: what if that present is a book you've never heard of, and which upon reading the first chapter you know you will dislike? I'll tell you what I did. I soldiered on out of respect for the fact that someone cared enough to think of me and part with his money to show it.

After reading this book, I now know I have a lot of respect.

Where do I begin? The clichéd use of an historical setting for a love story? The predictable plot? The charicatured portrayal of English and Spanish alike? The unnecessary descriptive language? Or the fact that it was just boring?

Europe. 1940. Dunkirk veteran Harry Brett is called on by His Majesty's Government to spy on his old schoolmate Sandy Forsyth, who appears to be profiting from the Fascist regime in Franco's newly-established Spain. Britain wants to keep Spain out of the war, and if they can find anything which they can use against the Spanish Government they will. Meanwhile, Sandy's commonlaw wife Barbara Clare is looking for her missing-believed-dead ex-boyfriend who was an International Brigadier fighting for the Republic, and who is being held illegally in a concentration camp on the outskirts of the city. Love, war and politics merge in this unexciting wannabe epic which smacks of mundanity.

The main sensation, while struggling through the dull prose, was that of having seen, heard and read it all before, and by far more capable writers. The plot works to a love-story-in-times-of-war-by-numbers format, and Sansom seems to delight in describing every last detail of war-torn and impoverished Madrid to remind us that 1) this is history; 2) this is grim; and 3) Franco was bad. Apart from such simplistic setting, the reader finds himself not caring one iota for any of the characters: are we really expected to believe that Bernie, Barbara's republican lover, fell in love withher after a week? Then Sansom has the tumerity to repeat the rapidity of feeling between Harry and Sofia, his Spanish girlfriend.

Don't even get me started on the nationalistic representations. I can only hope I missed the surely ironic references to stiff-upper-lipped english diplomats and military types, haughtily efficient Germans, and sadistic Spanish concentration camp officers, or fierce and fiery Spanish women. It's like the literary equivalent of watching a poorly-made propaganda film. Sansom also enjoys reminding his readers that the characters are spanish by littering their speech with familiar phrases in the language. My personal favourite was his liberal use of the term "Madre de Dios", prefixed before most sentences, regardless of which particular Spaniard was supposedly speaking. The only really interesting character was the main antagonist, amoral and greedy Sandy Forsyth, who manipulates everyone around him by playing on their insecurities and using them to advance his own financial status.

Nevertheless, I was entertained by the book, not least because I recognised so many clichés. It almost got to the stage in which I was enjoying how badly it was written. Almost. The "shock" ending is somewhat satisfying, denying the reader the entirely happy ending he so richly deserves; but even this is a familiar technique of historical novels, and it is at this point the novel finally falls into the trap of thinking more of itself than it really is. So, everyone is left unhappy (or dead, in one particular sequence which can only be described as disturbingly Tarantino-esque) but Sandy, who worms his way back into the UK under the guise of an argentine businessman? Yeah, right...

The quote on the cover (from The Daily Express, no less) boasts that "[i]f you like Sebastian Faulks and Carlos Ruiz Zafón, you'll love this". I can't work out who should be most insulted: the authors cited for having their names associated with this drivel; the reader for being so fooled; or Sansom himself for having his ego stroked in such a manner one wonders if this is some sort of joke he has failed to get. Unless you have to, don't read this book.

No Stars.

Film Review: Im Winter ein Jahr (Last Winter)

Karoline Herfurth in Caroline Link's Im Winter ein Jahr (Last Winter, 2008)

I wonder if anyone remembers Robert Redford's film Ordinary People, about a middle-class American family who lose one son in a boating accident and the other son suffers from a painful survivor guilt which pushes him to attempt suicide on various occasions? If you haven't seen it, you should: it won an Oscar, so it must be good, right?

Earlier this month, my housemates and I went to watch Caroline Link's Im Winter ein Jahr (Last Winter) which was being shown as part of the 11th annual German Film Festival in Madrid. Pretty much after ten minutes I was thinking about Redford's piece. This is by no means an imitation: several differences mark this film out as a far more chilling story. However, the idea of how a family reacts and attempts to move on after the death of one of its members is central to the action, characterisation, emotional weight and the themes of loss and unity.

All the actors were phenomenal. Karoline Herfurth sublimely plays Lilli Richter as the surviving sister who wrestles with her grief and resentment against her brother, Alex's, inexplicable suicide. Herfurth drifts through the film in a state of indifference to everything round her, while her on-screen relationship with Josef Bierbichler's Max Hollander, an artist commissioned by Lilli and Alex's mother, Elaine.Corinna Harfouch is possibly the actress in the film most reminiscent of Mary Tyler Moore's mother character in Ordinary People. Unable to come to terms with her loss, and failing to repair an already strained relationship with her remaining child, Harfouch elegantly projects the fragility of her character without seeming obvious or overtly cold. At one moment, when she lays into her husband out of the blue, she repeats the same phrase - "you pushed him too hard" - with so many subtle differences, one feels she cannot escape the inner torment she must feel.

One final mention ought to go to guest actor Misel Maticevic, who plays Lilli's brief fling Aldo, and who manages to make himself utterly hateful within the span of a few seconds, after being so utterly charming for ten minutes. Of course, any good actor is capable of a shift in tone and mood, but to hide a second character beneath that of his character's own creation takes a skill which Maticevic doubtlessly has and which he impressively employs.

Im Winter ein Jahr is not a happy film: it is dark and tragic, but the ending evokes such a life-affirming sentiment one might be forgiven for thinking it a feelgood film upon leaving the cinema.

Five Stars

Also: Celuloidiva , Harald Schleider (2008)

This short film was shown before the main feature, and was an homage to the great film divas and starlets of the Hollywood "Golden Age". A fun ten minutes was had identifying the actresses and the films in which they performed, and the audience was reminded of several great lines. My personal favourite was Mae West's "When I'm good, I'm very good; but when I'm bad, I'm better."

Four Stars

Book Review: El cartero de Neruda (Neruda's Postman)

El cartero de Neruda (Neruda's Postman), by Antonio Skármeta

My keen readers may remember I had breakfast with a genius a while back. Well, he and I weren't alone, it was a class, and it was 11am, but you get the picture. The next day I went out and bought a cppy of his own recommended favourite novel. I finished it within two weeks (yes, late Sanya strikes again). The words "Bloody", "Good" and "Read" come to mind.

Let's push the fact that I'd happily chat with the author until Armageddon to one side. Let's also try and pretend my criticism isn't highly biased based on such admiration. The book is still very good.

It's all about poetry, you see. Specifically, the poetry of Pablo Neruda, and how it affects a group of provincial islanders in a remote corner of Chile who make up the poet's neighbours. Through the eyes of the fictional youth Mario Jiménez, we meet an older Neruda: fat, tired, lazy but not disillusioned. Ready to allow himself to be pestered by the young postman who has never heard of him, Neruda teaches Jiménez the ways of the world: how to enjoy life, how to seduce the object of his affection, Beatriz, and run rings around her mother, doña Rosa; and of course how to read and write poetry. Set against the political backdrop of the election of Salvador Allende's socialist government and the resulting coup d'etat headed by General Augusto Pinochet, the novel deals with life, love, growing up and political upheaval.

The pervading tone of the book is that of admiration and wonder. Jiménez is intelligent but naïve, and is drawn to "don Pablo" because of the latter's unwavering belief in the power of youth. Upon learning in the prologue that Skármeta himself met Neruda when a young journalist, the paralells between the reactions of Jiménez to the man and the author's own are no surprise. Apart from the authority that such knowledge lends to the portrayal of the poet, Skármeta is perfectly capable of avoiding any hero-worship (unlike your poor reviewer). Neruda may be a great poet, and a friendly man, but this reader had the sensation that, perhaps because he was nearing the end of his life, the character of Neruda was that of someone who saw life as a game. He indulges Jiménez because he is bored, and the postman is one of the few people around who hasn't heard of him; when he tires of the game, he is visibly irritated, but by this time, he is still capable of evolution, and comes to embrace Jiménez' presence as if he were his own son. Indeed, the similarity between the mentor/prótege and father/son relationships does not go unnoticed, even within the narrative.

As far as the language is concerned, it is unsurprisingly poetic. The setting of Neruda's home in La Isla Negra, a fishing port, allows for the use of the sea and the isolation of the location for several metaphors: the sea as a means of achieving liberty; the movement of the waves juxtaposed with the frantic fumbling sex Mario has with his lover; the geographical, cultural and political distance of the setting from Santiago, the capital. Certainly, knowledgable readers are constantly aware of the political goings-on which surround the novel's events, but Skármeta manages refer to it without focussing on it or the effects it has upon the characters until the very end, soon after Neruda's own death. Of course, the tragic ending is a direct consequence of the coup d'etat, but one is not left with a political tract upon closing the book.

Engaging, charming, and at points very funny (doña Rosa is the most grotesque stereotype of a hispanic woman of a certain age, and a mother-in-law to boot), El cartero de Neruda is an excellent novel. Short, too, at only 130-odd pages, if you can find this in English, it is well worth getting yourself a copy. Otherwise, learn Spanish: it will be worth it.

Five Stars.

Friday, 19 June 2009

"Honey, I'm Home!"

Fred Flintstone (but, of course you already knew that...)

Well I'm finally back from exams and essay-writing. Did you miss me?

Once I get my results, in a week or so, my spanish university experience will be well and truly over, and I'll be forced to think about the academic future: my gradutation year at university looks like I'm in for some fantastic reading, but also lots of hard work. One of my freinds who has just finished described writing her end-of-degree dissertations as "a test of character"; and this coming year will not be the type of test you find on Facebook, that's for sure. Furthermore, the year will count for 50% of my entire degree! Half! That's a very big chunk of four years' worth of progressive study. I'm determined to get a good grade, so it will be a matter of applying myself or failing after all that time and energy spent on it.

Being in university in Spain has been a very interesting experience. As a foreign student, I've probably had a very different experience to that of my spanish counterparts, but living here as a student has certianly given me an insight into life here in general.

Anyway, this is all stating the obvious, and I haven't much more to say on the matter, really, since I'm not back home yet and won't be for a while. I leave Spain in late August or early September, and I'm looking for a few people who want English lessons, to prop up my bank balance while I'm here. Don't think it'll be all lazing in the sun on beaches: Madrid doesn't have any beaches, anyway, so I'll have to go to my friends' places in the coastal towns and cities. I intend to make full use of my remaing months here, and you can all expect to seeregular updates and commentary on my mundane little life.

Happy, now...?

Saturday, 6 June 2009

A Sign of the End Times?

Life Imitates Art?

I hate the TV series Lost. I think it's an insult to its viewers. Apart from being a conceptual rip-off of the far superior Lord of the Flies, written by William Golding in 1954, it makes for what I like to call "Thrill TV". It provides the thrills, without the need for thought; or provokes pseudo-thought. I mean, come on: a plane goes missing somewhere over the Pacific Ocean, and crash lands on an island, stranding its survivors on a deserted island, on which they must face their fears and their true natures? Who'd even believe that happening, nowadays, anyway...?

And then, all of a sudden, it actually happens: a commercial aircraft goes missing while in flight! No record of how it happened or where it could be now. Even the debris found near the suspected crash site turned ut to be totally unrelated.

We all know I'm not a religious man, but I am a little superstitious at times, letting my fear of the unknown get the better of me. I can't help but wonder what caused this mystery. My grandmother would say it was God's way of reminding us of his existence. Or something. Personally, I think this is some terrible - potentially tragic - mistake. Let's not forget that, unlike in Lost, there were actual people on that flight, and each of them has relatives and friends fearing for their safety.

I just hope this is resolved as soon as possible; and when it is, some very serious questions will need answering.

However, let's not give up on the airline industry just yet (goodness knows they need our help): as Superman reminded us after saving Lois Lane in the first and latest films, statistically speaking, flying is still the safest way to travel. Then again, as Kenneth Williams' character says at the end of Carry On Up the Khyber, I dunno though...

Goodbye, Mr Carradine

David Carradine, actor. Born 8th December 1936; Died 4th June 2009

Two days ago, the actor best known for his roles in 1970s cult TV series Kung Fu and the two Kill Bill films was found dead in his hotel room in Bangkok. David Carradine had a career which lasted over four decades.

Best known for playing Kwai Chang Caine, a Shaolin monk wandering the American west, and more recently Uma Thurman's former-lover-turned-nemesis, Bill, Carradine clocked up performances in over 200 films and television series. Though never a star, he was always working, and was respected by many in the film and television industry.

You can read the BBC News report of his death here, and The Guardian's obituary here.

Mr Carradine, you will be greatly missed.

Goodbye, Ms La Rue

Danny La Rue, entertainer. Born 26th July 1927; Died 31st May 2009

Six days ago, Britain's best-known, and arguably best-loved "comic in a frock", hung up his dresses for the last time.

Danny La Rue made drag performance "acceptable" (not that it ever needed to be accepted, of course) by a mainstream audience, reminding them that, for all his glamour and style - not to mention his humour - he was indeed a man in woman's clothing and make-up. He was a true inspiration for later performers such as Lily Savage.

Read all about Ms La Rue's success in the Guardian's tributes to him: the report of his death is here; his obituary is here; Michael Billington's summary of his style here; and a life of performance in photographs here.

Ms La Rue, you will be greatly missed.

Goodbye, Ms Dean

Elizabeth Gladys "Millvina" Dean, youngest survivor of the sinking of the Titanic ocean liner. Born 2nd February 1912; Died 1st June 2009

Five days ago, the youngest and last remaining survivor of the sinking of the Titanic died peacefully in her home. Elizabeth Gladys - known by many as "Millvina" - Dean was only a few weeks old when her family decided to up sticks and leave the UK for the USA. They chose to sail on the maiden voyage of the Titanic ocean liner.

You can read the BBC report of her death here.

Ms Dean, you will be greatly missed.

We Love Pussy!

Click on the image to be redirected to PUSSY's blog

It isn't everyday an old friend invents a magazine named after an affectionate term for cats.

So, imagine my surprise when I discovered on my Facebook feed that my one-time partner-in-crime at Sixth-Form (pre-university school, for you non-UK-ers), Helen Gibson declared herself Editor-in-Chief of the new PUSSY Magazine.

Now, I wish I could tell you why you ought to have a look at the site, but it might be better - and easier - for you to simply click on the links above and to the left of the posts, or click here for redirection.

All I can say is that, if you knew Helen, you'd know this came from her head. Enjoy...

Hold the Front Page! Homophobic Rapper Gets Ass in Face!

Watch the Saga in All its Ass-Face Glory!

The famous prank-filled MTV awards did it again. I wonder how much planning went into getting an intelligent straight satirist who impersonates a gay television presenter to "accidentally" land on top of a well-known rapper in a 69 position in such a way as to have his bare bottom directly in front of said rapper's face. According to Perez Hilton, of all people*, the "hitch" was indeed a stunt, but one wonders what the aim of the MTV people was.

Of course, the whole thing looks staged - the landing was far too clean and slow enough to avoid any health and safety issues - but how does Eminem benefit from it? He has made his views on homosexuality clear enough over the years, and we all know Bruno is a character creation of a provocative performer who often goes out of his way to show up the prejudices of those surrounding him. Looking at Eminem's face, I don't get the impression he is particularly enjoying the ordeal. After all, he stormed off in a huff after the event. Which leads me to two conclusions.

First, if the stunt were completely accidental - or if Eminem had no idea of what was about to happen - then he comes off as looking just like possessing that humourless self-important ego we all expect such famous people to have. Eminem, known for satirising other performers and public figures in his songs and videos, can't take his own medicine.

However, if he was in on the joke, how does Eminem look like a good sport? He still swears, grunts and looks disgusted at the idea of an ass in his face; and his bodyguards are still rough with Cohen/Bruno, shoving and punching him off their beloved benefactor; and Eminem STORMS OFF. He looks just as homophobic as ever.

In neither circumstance does Slim Shady come out well. I'm not too concerned with how much of an insult this stunt may or may not be to the gay community - my fellow bloger Don Diego deals with that - since you know what? I know how to laugh at myself.

I also know how to laugh at celebrities. Ha. Ha. Ha.

*Please Note: I'm not a regular Perez reader, he came up on a Google search.