Wednesday, August 25

Brave New World

Wow, it's been a while, but a lot has happened in the intervening time and while the length of time between this and the last post does not mean I had nothing to rant about, it does mean I have been quite busy.

I  am not entirely sure what this rant will be about but I was going to start with the countryside and it's people, I am amazed that for a place that is so continuously changing the people in it are such inflexible and un-progressive fools.

Also and this might just be a sign of me getting older but why do so many of them behave like kids with beer bellies and expensive make up? It seems to me that for most people growing up stops when they think they are old enough to be treated like a grown up.

Well ok a bit harsh maybe and I will grant you that for the most part there is still some improvement after that, like better dental hygiene and and fashion sense, although this seems to start regressing later on, where it goes from trying to dress like they dressed 20-30 years ago only to be followed by the traditional old persons dress of floral/paisley bibs and sleeveless V-neck jumpers over checkered shirts and corduroy pants).

Back to our dear countryside folk then, isn't it odd that considering that the views of most of them  place them in the realm of medieval folk with cars and mobile phones, a great many of them have probably never heard of the great medieval ideals of Honour, Valour, Integrity, and a few more that I will leave to you to extract.

It seems to me even the ideals of the renaissance have been long since forgotten as for the term gentleman it now seems to refer to a bloke in traditional English costume at best, long gone are those philean ideals by which one is to conduct one's journey through this realm. Why, where have they gone, did they just suddenly not ring true anymore, did someone deliberately discard them, did they get forgotten or just thrown out with the trash of an antiquated system as is about to happen with the ten commandments?

I suppose that the good thing about humanity is that we are a forgetful lot and easily bored which means that while the great ideals are experiencing a bit of an ebb we will inevitably grow tired of this and a new set of ideals will soon appear on the horizon, ushering in a neo-renaissance full of courteous behaviour and great ideals and we will leave the footballer's wives barbarians behind to progress onwards to a brave new world populated by a better class of peoples, facing the world armed with their Iphones and Ipads, protected by their Chucks and their Kickers and their Crocs and mounted in their Volvo XC90s, their BMW X3s, their Range Rover Sports and Audi Q7s.

These are our new Knights and Damsels fighting for a better world with brave and determined looks on their faces. Their homes like the fortified bastions of yonder, unreachable behind the high gates and fences, the glass topped walls and the high cost of living in the area. Protected by their pedigree hounds and the blanket arrogance they surround themselves with.

-'Rejoice friend for we are over the hill, the safety of the new world beckons'

says I, as we are making our way along this windy road. And Lady Fortune must have been listening in on my musings because at that very moment coming round the bend is a valiant XC90 steed mounted by one of the very great men I have been musing about.

-'Wait!' I says 'Let us pull over into yonder ditch and let this nobleman pass!'

He passes us, his face set stern his eyes mere slits of sheer determination, a flash of steely red and chrome glinting in the sunlight. Nothing can stop him or deviate him for his path, he is a messenger of righteousness, a harbinger of justice, a vision to behold!

-'He does seem in an awful hurry, no doubt he is on his way to right some dreadful wrong, did you not see him using his iphone, no doubt to call the other noble men to his side!'

-'Let us wish him good fortune on  his trail and a hasty execution of his duty!'

-'Goodspeed! You cunt!'

Saturday, October 24

Wake up!

There have been a few items that I thought might be worthy of me penning a few words about but last night a topic jumped up and bit me on the nose, stole two hours from my life that I will never get back (and cost me £7 to boot).

I am talking about a film,movie if you prefer but before I tell I want to clarify a few things: I love movies, I like watching them, I like discussing them afterwards. Entire swatches of my teenage years were spent staring at the cathode ray tube until the wee hours of the morning.

Last night then we watched two films, it being the weekend and a drab rainy sort of night, it seemed the right thing to do.

The first one was 'Barton Fink' by the Cohen Brothers. This is very well directed and wonderfully shot and the script is great/dialogue and the acting is brilliant. The story leaves you feeling mildly dissatisfied because it leaves some questions unanswered and the plot is actively simple and vague. This gives the film intrigue and everything here has a lucious depth that only begs to be re-watched as is generally the case with Cohen Brothers movies.

Things could not have been more different with our second watching, 's. Darko' a sequel which made fans of the original quiver with anticipated excitement and a slight wonder as to how this might be achieved. Slight scepticism when reading the back cover failed to turn up imediately discernible pedigree but we liked the original so we gave it a chance.

'OMG!!...WTF!!' to put it in the target audience's language. This film seemed to be made from the cuttings of the editing room floor, with some rehashed Donnie Darko effects, half a lingerie advert and a borderline pedophile video. It sets a new benchmark in how not to do a sequel, one not seen since Danny Devito donned a penguin costume. Whole treatises could be written about the skillful omission of talent at every stage and how to throw away money in the most convoluted way possible.

As the film went on I imagined a Barton Fink sort of character, arriving fresh faced in Hollywood and being given the chance to write a script only to be told he had to assist the producer's nephew in writing. The studio owner's daughter got the lead role and the casting agent was the local pimp. So our Fink-alike tries to pen a story all the while having to battle with the nephew's powertrip and the daughters constant demand for more screentime while trying to keep some Darko semblance (I pity the poor editor who had to work on this and give him credit for trying to hide much of the assembled inaptitude here with seemingly interminable shots of Daveigh Chase in her nightdress and timelapse skies). In fact the motley crew of pundits here upon closer examination reveal themselves to be nothing more than the children and friends of Hollywood 'Also Rans', being pushed for or into acting roles to keep them quiet and hopeing all the while that practice will turn them into at least enough of an actor/actress to take over from their parents playing two bit TV parts. A sort of modern day equivalent of taking over the family buisness or nepotism and while 90%+ of good acting is down to talent this is not genetic and any amount of hard graft will barely keep you at the bottom of the food chain. So these hapless kids get to try their hand at everything form acting to directing.. and our poor Fink-alike writer, forced to start at the bottom of this chain, to accomodate the wishes of the parents and the whims of the kids, he might as well cut off his own head and stick it in a box for all the free reign his talent is given. The one big difference being Barton Fink is a good writer, not so Nathan Atkins.

The few characters with a hint of potential (the sheriff, the bartender and the priest's wife, the waitress) are like rats trapped on a sinking ship and while they try their best in the few scenes they are in the lack of direction kills them as it does the rest of the movie. I hope for their sakes this didn't kill their careers too, as for the rest of the people involved, I hope it does. Moviedom would benefit from it. Do go and read the reviews on Amazon and imdb though as they provide much better entertainment.

"I wish I could do the time travel thing and go back in time and NOT watch this film."

" What? Oh S Darko? I thought you said Donnie Darko. Oh...well that changes things. Um... Let me take all of that back then."

"The only good thing about this film is that it ended."

As films and production deals are increasingly signed on a one sentence pitch, the ability to tell an actual story in words or images is slowly dissapearing.

There are other areas where Hollywood has now become it's own incestious enemy. The stars and wannabes despearately trying catch someone's eye, the surgically 'enhanced', make-up perfection lurking, working everywhere, from supermarket tills to waffle waitresses, pizza delivery boys to pool cleaners, all look like (or aspire to) airbrushed models in the magazines. Hollywood reality has been freshly squeezed through a trouser press every morning, producers, casting agents and directors have lost touch with the rest of the world, the look and feel of real people. The characters in their films all seem like pastel coloured versions of real people, faded, washed out, unreal and herein lies the crux of their problem if the characters are unbelievable they will not hold audience interest and that is that.

Now if one were to say all of this to a producer the answer would most likley be 'But that is all I can get here in Hollywood' and it quite possibly is if you then ask the agents, they will tell you nobody wants to hire 'imperfect looking people' and thus the vicious circle is complete. Why do you think the characters that have to be beliveably hard/real, the vilains of so many films have been foreign, German, English...Real people make for real characters. Real characters make a story believable and a believable story has the power to move people. So Hollywood is slowly loosing it's touch, foreign movies are taking an increasingly big share of prizes and deservedly so.

Wake up!

Sunday, October 18

Love thy neighbour..

How are your neighbours? Interesting question, isn't it? One that will inspire some of us to clench our fists and grind our teeth muttering expletives under our breath. As is the case with our friends Fran and Reggie we visited today. Their neighbours of three years are enthusiastic DIYers and have been at it nearly every weekend for the past three years as they both have full time jobs. They also have two kids complete with their own quantity of associated noise.

Fact of the matter is most of us cannot and will not ever escape having neighbours. Now if you are lucky, you either have none (hurray!) or you get on with them very well. At the other end of the scale, we have the poor people that live in appartments, high rise buildings, surrounded by neighbours on all sides and those whose relationship with their neighbour could only be defined as a temporary stalemate (or more like a ceasefire in some cases..) We only have to turn to the news to find plenty of examples about how wrong it can all go but aren't we forgetting one fundamental thing here? Aren't we all human, in the same boat and trying to get on and live our lives in relative peace? 

As the World has grown faster and louder so our control over our private world inside our homes has gained importance. This is where we retreat form the hustle and bustle, where we are the masters and nobody should dare interfere. 'An Englishman's home is his castle' the saying goes. Nice and good and were it only so, as castles have seriously thick walls (think feet rather than inches) and noise then is rarely an issue. I can't really imagine any castle owner even realizing their neighbour was doing a bit of DIY in fact next door's cannon practice would most likely be identified as distant thunder. The reality however consists more often than not of badly built partition walls and un-insulated floors (not really put up with peace and quiet in mind) rather than foot thick piles of rock.

What to do about forced coexistence? Should we be tolerant or should we arm for war? The answer is not clearcut as in some cases the opposing party might simply not have the intellectual muscle or the altruism, nor the empathy required for enlightened coexistence. Best we can do is get on with it, be the neighbour we would like to have and don't rise to the challenge. Don't forget that our freedom to do whatever we want ends where our neighbours freedom begins (and vice versa)and all too often we are taking away someone else's freedom in the exercise of our own.

To make a case in point, imagine next door wakes you up with an almighty crashing and banging in the middle of the night followed by some shouting and screaming, now you can let that put your nose out and start retaliating by banging on the wall or slamming the door or turning up the music and leaving the house next Sunday and no doubt such behaviour would have an effect although it might not be the one you really want (well next door would most likely be annoyed and that might make you feel better but they might also respond in kind which might make you feel worse).

Turn the whole scenario around and presume you get up to go to the toilet in the middle of the night. On the way you trip up and fall down the stairs spraining your ankle. You can't get up and despite the noise and your swearing your partner is still fast asleep and you have to shout to wake him. Your ankle turns out to be broken and you get a couple of weeks home sick which turn out to be not very relaxing because for some reason next door has taken to slamming the doors and banging on the wall at the slightest sound... Get the point?

I suppose this is turning into quite the Christian message of 'love thy neighbour' and 'turn the other cheek' but whatever problems there are with organized religion the philosophical precepts are common sense.

As for Fran and Reggie, well they have bought a yurt which they put up on the parents' farm and where they spend their weekends away from it all, hoping that they will return one Sunday evening to find next door have moved out!

And finally I bet you want to ask me: 'How are your neighbours?' - Well, one lot has two noisy babies and they have lost the power of coherent speech, all we can hear is ooohing and cooing and when we see them out and about the town they always look a bit sleep deprived and ill and the other one has a bad habit of slamming doors and can be a bit of a dick, I can't wait for us to move!

Friday, October 16

On agents and houses..

Buying a house is as nerve wracking an affair as is selling one. We have seen a great deal of houses this year and dealt with a lot of estate agents and it struck me that here you have a substrata of humanity that has carved out an existence between two groups of potentially permanently stressed people. One would think that it takes a very special kind of person and indeed as one of them put it 'You can't help but it (your buisness - ed.) rubbing off on you..'

So here we have someone stuck between people wanting to make money and people wanting to make a bargain, someone who puts himself professionally between a rock and a hard place trying to convince the rock that the place is actually just hard enough and trying to convince the place of the rock's malleability.

 This refers to personal dealings with the agents, looking at property advertizing we have a completely different picture, suddenly this professional tightrope walker with well honed negotiating skills (well the better ones anyway..) turns into a clumsy daydreaming simpleton, forgetting to mention things like road proximity, cutting off the attached neighbours house (complete with car wrecks and caravan in the front yard) on the photo, accidentally taking a picture of the council lawn abutting the garden and getting utterly perplexed by the digital camera's image settings and ending up with pictures grossly stretched out of proportion. I can only imagine that the initial visit of a property puts our agent in a sort of rabbit in the headlights stupor, making him (or her) completely unable to complete even the most basic of tasks. We can see this by the verbal descriptions subsequently put together when the poor soul gets back to the office, here the council estate becomes a 'sought after area', the main road two steps from the front door becomes 'good access' and the DIY hell becomes 'benefitting from considerable updating by previous owner', any room 1,90m by 1,40m becomes a double bedroom, every broom cupboard a pantry and every garden shed a workshop/office. Then of course there is the delirious visions of extensions, conversions and great potential (subject to planning of course) so that by the end of it all most of the agents must find it hard to recall anything accurate about a property at all.

This does not bode well for our buyer or seller, it is in fact a bit like going sledging, blindfolded, at night, down a wooded mountainside, in the middle of an avalanche, with all your money tied to the back with a old bit of string.. Ok so that might be exaggerating a bit but I was quite enjoying that metaphor but the sweat soaked moments where you find yourself waking up in the middle of the night wondering whether you are doing the right thing might well make you feel like you are on that sledge.

So getting back to our agents, it is no small wonder then that the profession is filled with a right motley crew of characters. Ranging from the guy that only takes on properties he knows will sell at the asking price or above, so cocksure of himself he doesn't mind telling you that the original owners committed sucide there.. Then there is the agent complete with office junior prancing about like the wreck he is showing off will sell by itself or the agent discovering the house with you 'Oh, I've never been here before so I don't know what to expect' followed by hugely exaggerated wide eyed oohs and aahs as they make their way around the house.

Some are very quiet, too quiet so that when one subjects them to careful questioning suddenly they remember the problem with the drains, the right of way across the back lawn, the footpath on the migration route from the school to the local shops or half the garden being rented of the local council not to forget he total chauvinist, gold ringed, tanned, arrogant and racist to boot, an office staffed by blondes young enough to be his daughter that he slobberingly leeres at and behaving as though being careful with your money and trying to get the best deal possible is a personal insult. Best avoid him.

It must indeed be a very hard profession to be in, some of these agents, started in the glory days where the world was full of fast bucks and the buildings from the housing boom were not yet falling apart, seem to spend quite some time over lunch trying to forget the harsher times they have arrived in, so preoccupied and sometimes inibriated are they that they completely forget their lines and statements like 'We have had quite a few offers' and 'It's been on the market for a while but I have/had 2 more showings this week' then slip out randomly and completely out of context.

How to conclude this rant (as that is what this seems the little post about stress involved in buying a house has turned into..)?

  • There are a few pointers I would give to anyone finding themselves at this juncture, if you think you might want to buy, you should have started looking and going to look at houses yesterday. Go and see as many as you can that way you get a feel for properties and the market as well as getting used to estate agents and their ways. 

  • Seeing houses with the owners is a tough one, always compliment them on how nice they have the place, never commit to anything, don't get their hopes up in vain and never ever discuss changes or building work you might have in mind with them (they might not want to sell to someone that is going to 'tear apart' their home). 

  • Take along a friend or colleague (don't go to see properties on your own) and make sure they chat to the agent while you have a good look around (an overly chatty agent might well be trying to distract you attention from details that would make the property unsuitable for you). 

  • Try your best to avoid group showings, ask if there will be other people seeing the property before or after you and be late or leave early accordingly as agents try to group viewings like that to make it seem like there is greater interest than there really is. 

  • If the agent does not accompany you into the house then it most likely is as good as sold already and seeing it will be a waste of time (apart from practice). 

  • Don't ever let the agent know how much (or little) money you have be vague about the price range you want to look at (they will always try and get you to spend more otherwise). 

  • Don't be afraid to make offers, in fact I would go as far as recommending you to practice making offers (in the UK if you make a formal offer the agent has to put it to the seller) and it takes the stress out of it, we had great fun making very cheeky offers on overpriced properties we liked and wanted (try some between 30% and 50% off the asking price) When it came to the crunch we had an offer of 20% below asking accepted, if we hadn't practiced we would have never dared making that offer. 

  • Read up on your rights, the sellers rights and the agents obligations, that way you know exactly where you stand and no agent can bully you into offering more or moving faster than caution dictates. 

  • Don't fall in love with places this only leads to stress and heartache. Always tell yourself that if you don't get the property you want at that moment, another one will show up, also remember that if it seems too good to be true it probably is. 

All this will make sense if you practice looking and dealing with agents, looking at properties and making offers for slightly less than the asking price not what the agent/owner thinks it is worth or might be worth. After all a house for £200k that would be worth £250k with a new kitchen/bathroom etc is still only a house worth £200k needing a lot of work and the hassle of that has to be factored into the price, a house that would be worth £ Xk if it where somewhere else is not somewhere else.. So many things and factors go into doing this that a complete guide as to how would be futile but practice will train your instinct and help you make the right choices so last of all remember that you always have a choice!

PS: One tip I almost forgot was don't buy anything you would not be able to sell again, this one helps keeping an objective head when trying to come to a dcecision.

Wednesday, October 14

Corduroy Day

Today hangs grey and colourless in muted tones, people quietly rushing, trying to get the day over and done with, commuters walking, phones to their heads, all buisness like no ambling glance to spare. A mother and child shout across the street and the old lady with a perm like the tower of Babel scraping at the grey sky waves back can't stop she says, gotta go.

Today is too bland to hang about anywhere but in your own head, people walk oblivious like ghosts or zombies.The council has removed the last flowers from the flowerbeds and the barren brown earth echoes the celestial monotony.

A new traffic warden, pale skinned and fresh faced, red faced in his blue uniform, still getting used to his kit, adjusting straps and hanging ticket dispenser, keen and eager he circles the block, checking the same cars he checked a couple of hours ago, trying to keep himself busy on this uninspiring day with gulls wheeling off into colourless distance overhead, quietly as if muffled by the lack of contrast and sunshine.

A chap from the waterboard, his luminous vest in stark contrast with the world walks up to the first house across the way and lifts an inspection cover. He is carrying his kit, a pipe extension, and a long tap wrench. He sets to with well practiced moves, the water gushing brown first then clear from the pipe extension as he leans over for the briefest of instants to read the note stuck to the door of the house alerting any delivery persons to try the pub rather than the old lady next door. Then the tap is off, the cover back on and with his kit in hand the lad is striding on not the time or the weather to hang about today, and he too is gone, moved on.

Sunday, October 11

The autumn walk

We took a nice autumnal walk to the shops yesterday, the sun was out, the leaves are turning and children are running around either vastly underdressed or crazily overdressed for the season. The ducks are hanging out together in the sunshine now that the fighting for space and mating partners has stopped and some guy was sitting dipping the end of his fishing rod in the pond while having a loud phone conversation with the phone wedged between the ear and shoulder. People were walking their dogs, getting their children out of the house, squirrels busy collecting all the food they can get their little paws on.

Down by the river a group of middle to old age men are busying themselves pulling rubbish and scrap out from under the bridge. On the opposite verge is a skip overflowing with mudcaked dripping shopping trolleys and old bicycles, there is a little makeshift table and people are standing around coordinating having cups of tea and generally keeping their spirits up in the unshakeable belief that they are doing a good thing. Three blokes on the bridge with a hook and a rope are heaving at yet another trolley slowly rising from the Ouse, the water dripping from it forming a glittering chain of droplets like a sparkling diamond necklace.

A tween is walking across the bridge, head sunken deep into his hoodie with the knowledge that he too contributed to that pile of trolleys, some dark nearly forgotten night with his mates thinking that throwing the trolly from the bridge was the best this town had to offer at that precise moment and the fact is it probably was.. just like today standing there and watching the old best come back up and become the new best the town had to offer again.

Fifteen years from now that same tween might be standing on this bridge, holding the end of the rope and taking his turn in the great shopping trolley migration again, having a cup of tea and a triangular sandwich, not a beer and a spliff. Or maybe he'll be the guy up to his armpits in the Ouse, fishing about in the murky waters for the next bit of scrap to hang on the hook, having long since given up the hope that the waders would stop him from getting wet, or maybe he'llbe the guy on the riverbank, dripping in his muddy trousers and asking around for a hanky to dry off his mobile phone...

The shops were busy, much busier than any of this activity that all seemed to be going down in a quiet muffled contemplative way but then capitalism always was more slash and burn, more swashbuckling than environmentalism. However, we all slow down eventually, it's just that some of us manage to do it early enough to enjoy this life, in all it's wonderous complexity.

Photo by plurabella © 2009