Sunday, 19 May 2013

What to do with your free time...

...if you still have any.

I can't remember the last time I fell as completely and utterly in love with a film as I did with Mud, which I saw on Wednesday evening. It certainly wasn't the last time I made it to the cinema, to see Les Miserables - the only bit of which I didn't find glaringly underwhelming being Eddie Redmayne's face. I spent most of that genuinely concerned that Hugh Jackman was going to do serious damage to his vocal cords: "he's not going to go for that note, is he? No, he'll never make it. Oh, he is...? Brave. Very brave."

But anyway. Mud. Set along the Mississippi, in Arkansas, two young teenagers find a man hiding out on an island near their riverside homes. He goes by the name of Mud, and is waiting for a girl - a girl he's been in love with for years, and whose violent ex he killed - and is trying to stay off the radar of the dead man's family, and the authorities. The two boys get drawn into his story, and begin to help him - the sensitive one, Ellis, more readily than his brilliantly-named friend Neckbone. Ellis is having problems of his own; his parents are on the verge of splitting, and he's got a crush on an older girl. He's amusingly given to throwing punches when frustrated in his endeavours - I kind of wanted to ruffle his hair and tell him that in four years' time, he'd probably be needing two sticks to fight off the ladies. And then I remembered he's a fictional character.

It's achingly middle-class to get gushy about cinematography, but Mud definitely warrants it. Thanks to its glorious, wild setting and Steadicam camera work (I've been reading everything I can find about this film; can you tell?) it's a film you want to step right inside and explore. I've also had the soundtrack on repeat for the last few days; it's as country as you'd expect, with some really nice guitar work going on. In particular, the track called "Snakebite" (which doesn't give away any major plot points, not at all), with its spiky guitars and menacing drums, makes whatever you happen to be doing while listening to it feel like The Most Important and Epic Thing You've Ever Done. I was proofreading the absolute shit out of my work on Friday to it... (You can find it on YouTube if you want to see what I mean.)

There is nothing about this film I did not love - the plot feels like it could have been adapted from a classic American novel, and it doesn't descend into cliche. Even Ellis' dad, who could be your standard emotionally-unavailable hard-ass, has his softer moments. Everything wraps up quite neatly, sure, but thanks to the story-telling and really good performances from Matthew McConnaughey as Mud, Tye Sheridan as Ellis and Ray McKinnon as Ellis' father, you don't feel short-changed. And plus, who doesn't love a sort-of-coming-of-age film that ends in a shoot-out?

I mentioned in the last post that I'd wanted to include something about the new Thea Gilmore album, Regardless, but that I'd run out of words. So while I'm on the topic of nice things to see and listen to, here goes. In several reviews of the album, much was made of how Ms Gilmore has reached musical maturity and finally found her "place" in the British talent line-up. Biased though I may be, I think what's actually happened is that British music has finally found a place for her. Presumably she has, more or less, always made the music she's wanted to make, and for any artist, that's going to change between the ages of 23 and 30-something. It's probably true that in Regardless, Thea Gilmore has struck her best balance yet between finely-articulated rage against injustice and apathy, and writing about more universal themes of love, family and loss. Stand-out tracks include Start As We Mean To Go On - my new drinking song, surely - Something to Sing About, and Spit and Shine. And if you manage to listen to My Friend Goodbye and remain dry-eyed, then you're a robot.

And so to reading material. On my desk, there's a stack of things I should get on and read, one being The Second Coming, by John Niven. It's the sequel to Kill Your Friends, a book so sharp you could hurt yourself on it. With a protagonist so vile you finish the book and feel a genuine need to read the Bible - but he has such a strong voice you find yourself slipping into his thought patterns. It's funny, but black comedy doesn't begin to cover it. It's a triumph of a novel, but God, you feel dirty afterwards. I'm both nervous and sceptical about the sequel - it's got so much to live up to.

To lighten the mood, I've also got Hadley Freeman's Be Awesome. It's not a self-help book; it's closer to a more balanced How To Be A Woman. I worship at the altar of Caitlin Moran as much as the next 23-year-old upstart who thinks she's cool, but her first book probably should have been called The World According to Catmo. Freeman writes in a similar way - it's like having a long, putting-the-world-to-rights chat with your best mate - but her arguments seem slightly more measured. And it's worth reading for the chapter entitled "A day in your life in Daily Mail headlines" alone.

That's all for now. Have some... oh God, I'm struggling for musical recommendations... Oh, this is quite Sunday-ish, that'll do.

Monday, 13 May 2013

Not really part of the plan...

It's common knowledge by now that being a university-educated 23-year-old, in the UK in 2013, is no picnic. (And if you're the aspiring-writer girlfriend of an aspiring musician, you should probably face facts and admit that you're totally fucked, really.) Someone - not me - really needs to remind my mother of this; part 436 of the "why haven't you got a proper job yet?" conversation happened the other day, and ran thus:

Me: "[insert girl's name] has just got a job with Easyjet- she didn't get onto the course she wanted to do, so she's going to work for them for a year."

Mum: "Oh that's good. [Pause.] Why don't you try and get in with an airline for a bit? Just for a while, so that you have a proper job?"

I'd like to say I bit back the exasperated, "because about the very last thing I need right now is another job I don't want to do and that doesn't even have anything to do with what I'm good at", but because I'm a mouthy little shit all of the times at times, I didn't.

In a previous post (the ranty Iain Duncan Smith one), I mentioned that a Times columnist had written a light-hearted piece about all the menial, brain-meltingly dull and unfulfilling jobs he'd had in his time, and what they'd taught him. During a particularly long and boring afternoon at work the other day, I started compiling my own list.

My first job, aged 14, was a complete gift, and really brought me out of my shell. I worked here (you'll know it if you're from Sussex), and most of the time it was an absolute joy. Running round after animals and children all day? Nice work if you can get it. I shovelled a lot of shit, chased a lot of goats, looked after, rode and fell off some beautiful but sometimes temperamental horses and ponies. I got chased by a belligerent turkey, chased the odd cow through the car park, failed to get alpacas to go where they needed to go, had to shovel up sheep placenta during lambing season (ewww, that was grim) and judged a lot of people on their parenting skills. I worked almost every weekend and school/college holiday for four years, and then worked one last summer after my first year at uni.

I made some great friends, admired some hot boys from afar, and learned to drink at the staff summer parties (which tended to be when the admiration of hot boys could happen at much closer quarters). And all that shit-shovelling gives you a seriously flat stomach. Even if, when combined with falling off a horse, it also results in being frogmarched to an osteopath, who doesn't believe you're only 17 because "your back is awfully... um, how to put this... stressed. You're going to have to sort this out before you have children." Yeah, but I had abs of steel, who needs a correctly-aligned spine?

Next up was a summer behind the bar at a village pub. Which terrified me initially, as I don't love being the centre of attention (...much...) and when you're serving, you're on display all the time. And when you're not serving, you're probably passing through the kitchen, being shouted at by a chef. (I used to be overly nice to him whenever I saw him outside of work, mainly to kind of disarm him/weird him out. I don't think it worked.) I'm not what you'd call a natural at waitressing, so in my first week I think the only thing I said was "Sorry!" and every time my boss walked past me, he'd say "Kirsten, you look worried."

"No, Alex, that's just my face."

University had me doing the odd strange thing for money. There was the two days I spent sticking address labels on the alumni newspaper, for which I was paid about £100. I'm not kidding; I can't have done more than six hours' work. And they say universities don't have money to burn...

I worked in a university office for a few months - the QUB School of History and Anthropology. That was ok, until the last few weeks, when all the staff began taking their summer holidays and I was pretty much on my own in the History office. Which would have been fine had it not been the end-of-exams and pre-graduation bit of the year, so we were getting a lot of students calling up in a panic about resits and registering for graduation, and all they were getting on the other end of the phone was me. Who didn't have the first idea of what to tell them, because no-one had told me anything. I just used to say, "Erm, yes, I think the best person to speak to would be Frances, as she's the school manager", put them through and carry on faffing about on the internet. And then Frances would come in and I'd have to pretend to be doing something other than going through every comic on this website.

Sometimes I'd be over in the Anthropology office, which was smaller and quieter, perhaps because it was populated by men - one of whom did stand-up comedy in his spare time, which was pretty cool, especially as he'd sometimes leave his gig notes on his desk. While working there, I was having a bit of a trying-to-break-up-with-someone problem, while almost getting together with someone else, via a third person. No, I'm not proud of it. "You should have your own show," said the non-comedian guy once, after I'd given him the full run-down of my romantic situation(s). Well, he asked.

I also worked briefly as a Kumon assistant - I pretty much nicked the job off my flatmate - and I can't think of anything remarkable about that, except having to sneak off to the loo to text the Boy whenever a kid asked me to explain something Maths-related. An actual message I sent him was: "I've forgotten how to do long multiplication. Help!" Luckily for me, he obliged.

Which brings us to proofreading, and tanning-salon-minding. (Oh, the thrilling life I lead...) I remember being jobless and bored out of my skull once I'd come back to Horsham in the post-graduation comedown of summer 2011. I was just getting desperate and staring down the barrel of having to do something waitressy when I got an e-mail inviting me to Uckfield, which I'd vaguely heard of, to do a proof test. I had no recollection of applying for the job, but off I went. And found eleven mistakes on a ten-mistake document, much to the amusement of my friends when I proudly relayed that fact to them later on. "Can you start tomorrow?" said my interviewer.

And I'm still there, when I'm not at the salon. (Except on Sundays, when I refuse to un-cling myself from the Boy, because it's the only day we're both off.) I'm still proofing guide dog obituaries and insurance policies, and overhearing conversations that both amuse and appal me. It's not news, but boys aged between 18 and 21 are disgusting, hilarious creatures.

You get a lot of weird and wonderful characters in a tanning salon - a real cross-section of people. Loads more men than I expected, and what's more, loads more straight men. I've had the line "so, can a man and a woman fit on a sunbed together?" used on me more than once, which is nice, and the creams that we sell to prolong/enhance your tan have names you wouldn't believe if I told you. I've had to try and explain Morris dancing to our lovely Hungarian nail technician, and have acquired an admirer with the most beautiful Scottish accent I've ever heard. As Fran says in that episode of Black Books: "It just... does things to me."

I really need to stop now, this is far longer than planned. I was going to include something about the new Thea Gilmore album, "Regardless", as it's the only thing I've been listening to all week, but I'll be straying into e-book territory if I type any more words, and none of us need that.

Have this. The Boy keeps playing it, and as a result it keeps getting stuck in my head.