Seven Steps to Happiness – steps 1 – 7

I have a new book out – book 4, hurrah!

It’s called Seven Steps To Happiness – an ironic title – and it concerns itself with many things – technology, adultery, friendship, the odious Jeremy Kyle, Vincent Van Gogh, Uber, vasectomies, meditation bores, the tyranny of our culture of happiness – and also, cheese toasties.

In honour of this, most noble of sandwiches, I bring you a few highlights from my Hall of Fame…

 

 

Octoberfest, and a bit of Novemberfest too, while I’m here…

My first draft of book four is due in any day now.  It has to be because:

a) The sooner I see the back of it, the sooner I can start that weird process of distancing – and only then can I see it with any sort of clarity for round two.

b) I’ve gone and got myself another Christmas job, in a cheese shop – partly because I’m skint, partly because I like cheese, and partly because I find being a full time writer can be isolating and weird and lonely.  And also by the time I’ve done Christmas in a retail environment, getting on the tube at 6am, and standing on my feet in basically a fridge for 12 hours a day, I am profoundly thankful to be a full time writer and I can stop moaning about it for another 11 months.

So this is my way of saying I’ve been working hard, and haven’t had time for much culture.  What I have consumed in the last six weeks has been mixed.  The new Bond film – obviously nonsense, though quite enjoyable for the first fifteen minutes.  Also, Crimson Peak.  I love Guillermo del Toro, and this film at times looked beautiful – but we laughed an awful lot, and I’m pretty sure this film is not a comedy – so make what you will of that. Also a terrific musical called In The Heights, at the King’s Cross Theatre.  And the awesomely clever and hilarious Stewart Lee, doing his show A Room With A Stew – the stuff he was saying about James Corden was worth the price of admission alone. Happy Hour – I’ve already spoken about here.

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There is still nothing on the internet about what happens at the end of this film, so if there is anyone out there who did sit through it in all its ‘five hours and then some’ glory – please do drop me a line…

Happy Hour…Caveat emptor…

Picture the scene – I’m trying to be more engaged with the world / do more in London / watch more films at the cinema.  I’m flicking through the London Film Festival brochure and everything I want to see is sold out (Anything with Blanchett or Fassbender.)  Instead, I find a film that sounds interesting – Happy Hour.  It’s foreign (Japanese) – it’s about four women’s lives – it has the suggestion of happiness (probably ironic) – and booze (happiness and booze being two of my specialised subjects.)

I book a ticket.  I feel mildly excited and satisfied.  On the day of the screening – a blazingly beautiful sunny October day – I turn up at the BFI.  In front of me in the queue is an idiot.  He moans to the woman at the counter that ‘the computer didn’t warn me that my two films overlap – so now I’ll miss one of my films.  The computer should have warned me one of the films is five hours.’

After he has had his moan, I roll eyes at the woman on the counter.  I make a hilarious comment about what a douche the man is for blaming a computer for something that is entirely his own responsibility!  Seriously, can you imagine?  It’s the computer’s fault?

I take my seat in the cinema.  I am already slightly hungry – the screening starts at noon – but not to worry.  My seat is not very comfy.  It’s too close to the front and I have permanent neck ache from working-from-home on a chair that cost £20.  I am overly-sensitive to smell and the man to my right is wearing stale-sweat clothes and needs a hair wash.

The film starts.  It is a quiet, slow film.  Very slow.  There are hints about unhappy relationships and marriage, which sound intriguing.  About an hour in, the four ladies go to a ‘Physical / Body Workshop’.  In the scene, a group spend time trying to communicate non-verbally.  They do things including sitting back-to-back on the floor while attempting to stand up together.  And also walking slowly round in a circle.  I checked my watch three times during this scene – I think it lasted 35 minutes though it felt like 50.

After this scene, the group go for drinks – aha!  Is this the Happy Hour of the title? We’re nearly two hours in?  There is talk of adultery and there is a row during the scene and I think again, aha!  This is the heart of the matter!  But then the group go their separate ways and nothing has really happened.

It is only two and a half hours in, when still nothing has happened, that I realise THIS is the five hour film, the title Happy Hour is heavily ironic on both the Happy and the Hour front – and more to the point, the biggest idiot in the BFI that day is me!

So yes, reader, I walked.  If anyone out there has seen the entire thing, please, do tell me what happened!  Because I kind of need to know, but I cannot sit through the second half, I simply can’t.  The only film I’d be willing to watch for five hours is Bridesmaids.  (Actually I’d watch an extended five hour cut of the food poisoning scene in Bridesmaids, but that’s just me probably.)

Anyway, like I said, if you have seen it all the way through, please do drop me a line…

August / September…

Yes, clearly distinct months and yet to me they were less so.  I’m trying to finish off a first draft of novel four – and it’s hard work.  (Not actually hard work like being a nurse or a soldier – but hard for me because it makes my brain hurt to think so intensely.)

So I didn’t do much in the way of culture / stimulus.  I tried!  I saw a poster on the tube for a new Mark Rylance play – I’d pay to see him in anything, so I booked a £10 ticket to see Farinelli and The King.  But I have developed the amazing ability to walk away from certain things I’m not enjoying – it’s taken me many decades to learn to do this.  I guess it’s down to that terrible fear of missing out (not using the abbreviation of that unless forced to ironically.)   Plus it’s easier to walk away when you’ve only invested £10.  So yes – I saw a fiver’s worth.

I did sit through all of another film – a little known arthouse number, you might have heard of it?  Ghostbusters? It was playing at Hampton Court – which for future reference is an awesome venue to watch an outdoor film in.  I hadn’t seen the film (nor Hampton Court) since I was about eleven – and was amazed at how funny and sharp it was (er, the film, not the palace, although the palace was beautiful and had lovely flowers.)

Also I’ve been listening to Elizabeth Gilbert’s podcasts, after I bought her latest book, Big Magic.  Gilbert is a major heroine of mine – not for Eat, Prey, Love, which I have to admit I’ve never read – but for everything she says in conversation about the creative process, and being a human who is trying to be a more at-peace-with-themself human.

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July!

More than half way through this year already: scary.

I’m on a short writing break at the moment so have been doing / reading / watching quite a bit, namely:

Films

22 Jump Street – totally dumb in a good way

Ant Man – fun, sharp script, charming, great effects, super entertaining

TV

Bloodline on Netflix – thirteen part Florida noir – you think your family have some arguments?  Check this out.  Terrific.  (Plus stars the delightful Kyle Chandler.)

Theatre

High Society – The Old Vic – fantastic music, great staging, kind of cheesy but that’s the story.

The Motherf**ker in the Hat – The National – hilarious and original and dark and funny.

Seven Brides for Seven Brothers – Regents Park Open Air Theatre – pure feelgood hot bearded men dance-a-thon – thoroughly recommended.

Art

Carsten Holler – Hayward Centre – A giant slide and goggles that make you see the world upside down – what is not to love?

Books

The Girl on The Train – Paula Hawkins – so many people I know have said it is disappointing – but I enjoyed it – possibly due to my lowered expectations.  I don’t believe the denouement for a heartbeat, but in the current vogue of psychological thrillers, I find I never, ever do (Before I Go To Sleep, Gone Girl, Her, etc.)  This used to bother me significantly but now I’ve learned to just sit back and enjoy the ride.

Talking It Over – Julian Barnes – One of those books where I wish I’d trusted my gut and stopped reading after three pages.

May, June…

So I missed updating my cultural high and lowlights in May: various excuses – a book to launch, another book to finish, I was quite ill, I spent three days on a brainwashing course, it’s been rather hot, etc.  (All true.)  That’s ok, because my mum and my ex-boyfriend’s mum are the only two people who read this but still.  Better late than never.

What have I loved?

Game of Thrones – Season 5

This is the show that makes me happy to be alive.  I know that’s a tragic admission – but I’m all about the tragic admissions, read to the end of this paragraph!  Obviously any detail might plot spoil so I shan’t – nonetheless, the last three episodes were relentlessly adrenalin-busting works of insane drama.   My friend who I’ve watched the show with for the last three years has promised his new girlfriend that he will only watch it with her. I don’t need to add any narrative to the above sentence, as it’s clear from outer-space what an utter bell-end act that is; however, it has left me watching the show solus.  In a way it’s more intense when you’re alone.  More intense / more lonely.

House of Cards – Season 3

Everyone moaned that this season wasn’t as good as the first two: folks are so demanding.  Had those who quit early stuck with it, they would have been rewarded by some awesome subplots with the female characters, and a final episode that was hideously painful to watch (in a good way.)

Diana Rigg

Diana Rigg did a charity event for my local library at my local hospital – a performance of her one-woman show from Edinburgh, reading from her book No Turn Unstoned.  The woman is a legend – sharp, witty, warm and smart.  Inspiring.

Waiting for Godot – The Barbican

I have never seen or read Waiting for Godot, as in my mind it was a slightly intimidating play that the most pretentious people I’ve met in my journeys have raved about, in a way that made me think they didn’t actually understand it.  Regardless, I thought it was time I tried to smarten up my act.  And it was great!  Very funny, brilliantly acted – by Hugo Weaving and some other fine Australian actor – I don’t know if I ‘got’ it or not but it made me laugh and frankly, what else matters?

April is the cruellest month

Well it is if you’re trying to broaden your cultural horizons by reading and watching movies and good TV*  (Antigone at the Barbican has put me off theatre for life.)

I did almost nothing except work and eat and run, till I realised running is affecting my toe nails adversely. I figured I’d rather be curvy and have toenails than Strong Not Skinny But Skinny Really with no toenails.

The one book I did read – Anne Tyler’s A Spool of Blue Thread – I absolutely loved.  There is so much heart in this book, such lovable characters, such sadness so lightly handled.  I wanted to start re-reading it the moment I finished but had another rather urgent appointment, with….

SEASON 5 – GAME OF THRONES!  The friend I watch this with, who has Sky, refuses to pause the show at any point while we’re watching an episode, to help remind me who a character is, what happened to them last season, or ultimately wtf is going on.  Fundamentally that doesn’t matter as this show continues to be the greatest mix of panto, soap opera, soft porn and brilliantly written characters ever.

*Worthwhile (or not) stuff this year…

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March movie madness…(the continuing adventures of what I watched / read in 2015)

Not madness as such – in fact only three films, and only those because I was stuck on aeroplanes, but anyway – here they are:

Nightcrawler

Brilliant, creepy, horrible – not the right film to watch before going to a secluded hill top house in LA to stay on your own (especially when you’re naturally pre-dispositioned to imagine you’ll be murdered in your bed every night.)  Gyllenhaal is mesmerisingly sociopathic, and the script is terrific – dark, twisty and original.

This Is Where I Leave You

Urgh.  I so wanted to love this film as I love most of the actors in it (Tina Fey, Jason Bateman, Kathryn Hahn from Transparent, the hot dude who plays Russo in House of Cards, Jane Fonda -star of Jane Fonda’s Workout my most-watched VHS of the 80s aside from Caddyshack) but it was very, very meh.  Maybe the book is better, anyone?

Wild

Oh but I love Reese Witherspoon.  A great, super-simple, moving story – which will make me read the book.  In fact it made me want to do the 100 day hike – in the right shoes though, so my toe nails don’t fall out (plot spoiler / not really – it happens in the first sixty seconds.)

I also went to see Antigone with Juliet Binoche at The Barbican – probably the worst play I’ve seen in ten years, let’s just leave it at that.

And I’ve started reading Anne Tyler’s A Spool of Blue Thread, and wish I could spend every waking minute with it.

February culture

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January culture

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February: input

It’s been a quiet month on the ‘feeding my brain’ front.  Partly because I’ve been writing book four but mostly because I’ve been in Cornwall – stuffing my face – and then at Juice Camp, unstuffing it.  I meant to read the new Anne Tyler but instead found myself reading – and getting annoyed by – books about how broccoli can cure cancer.

Nonetheless, things I did watch are below:

Happy Valley on Netflix

Oh if ever a valley were ironically named…This harrowing six part BBC police drama kept me in a state of high anxiety throughout.  Brilliant.  I am rather out of the loop and had no idea who the actress Sarah Lancashire was – but am now officially obsessed.

The rest of Wolf Hall

I could watch Thomas Crumuel and Ann Boleyn sparring for-evah-evah – shame history got in the way.  I’d like a spin-off show with the two of them, in much the same way as I’d like one with Arya and The Hound from Game of Thrones.

Bitter Lake on iPlayer

A fascinating documentary by Adam Curtis about Afghanistan.  Hypnotically edited, this film slightly fried my brain.  It explains a complex history in a way that is clear, fascinating and profoundly depressing – and utterly essential.

A View From The Bridge starring Mark Strong, at Wyndham’s Theatre.

Hmm.  Not as amazing as I’d been led to believe by the reviews.  Shame, as I love Mark Strong, and I also love the actress who plays his wife, Nicola Walker, who was in Babylon, one of my favourite shows of last year.

I started to watch Frank but couldn’t make it past the twenty minute mark.  Perhaps if Fassbender wasn’t covering his head for the majority of the film it might have been less unwatchable.

Oh, and then of course the shameful 50 Shades – the premiere, no less.  I hated this film on at least fourteen different levels, a deeply unsexy bad daytime porno meets Cinderella.  However, I do believe life is too short to slag stuff off on the internet (I’m willing to make some exceptions: Kanye West ).  The only good thing about the whole experience was getting a pack of Lindor milk chocolate balls, free, on one’s seat at the premier.  And getting to walk the red carpet two metres in front of Jamie Dornan himself.  (Yes, much smaller than he looks on the telly…)

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Now on to March – and House of Cards Season 3 on Netflix – can almost not contain my excitement, even while I’m typing this…