Living in a Cultural Desert

The time has come to finally accept that summer is now over for this year. We managed to extend it by a month or so by nipping off to warmer climes, but even there autumn is nudging in. I tend to go through a period of mourning at this time-not being a fan of winter, the cold or the dark. We also have to turn our attention to all the outstanding chores that are necessary when one takes up residence in a new abode-a list that is lengthening as I write.

In our absence an invasion of a miniature sort has taken place in that the outside and all its mini creatures has invaded the space. Chez nous has become spider haven, with a spindly arachnid lurking in every conceivable corner. Going to the study to get a pen [with which to redirect a pile of wrongly addressed mail-some of which had already been redirected here] I made the mistake of reaching out only to find I was plunged into an Alien-like scenario, my hand ensnared in a gargantuan, cloying candy floss of gossamer. Ugh!

Outside, much of the stalwart inroads that had been made before departure in taming the rampant ivy, brambles and unwanted interlopers is now rendered inadequate by their enthusiastic return. October is the month I’ve allocated for planting the climbers I’d brought with me when we moved so time is of the essence. Accordingly I’ve now crippled my back and various other parts with a marathon session of planting. Re-acquainting myself with the garden has only served to demonstrate how much work there is to do in it.

This is also the time when I turn my attention to cultural life and begin to cast around for entertainment to fill long, dark evenings. Those who’ve read these scribblings before will know how much I abhor musical ‘shows’ and how much I love a good play. Here in the provinces, however we are not well served. My own small, local theatre has a programme of events that includes a few broadcast screenings but is dominated by tribute acts, mediocre musical soirees and the odd has-been. The venue is run by volunteers, is a cosy and welcoming space with an art deco façade. It should be a magnetic powerhouse of activity.

A little further afield, in the seafront, tourist metropolis only a bus ride away there are two large concert venues, both touting…yes, tribute acts, has-beens and performers I’ve never heard of. There is nothing for it but to go to the movies. The critics have done a hatchet job on ‘The Girl on the Train’ [a novel I enjoyed] so I may have to try Woody Allen’s latest offering.

After much searching I discovered that Nina Conti-a comic genius with puppetry-is on at the end of the month; on I went to the seating plan. Nothing in the circle except for single seats or restricted view. Nothing in the stalls except for single seats or restricted view. It’s no surprise. I’m not the only person starved of quality live entertainment!

TV-the opium of the masses…

                When you consider how long ago television was invented it is surprising how little about it has really changed, especially the world’s love affair with it. I imagine you could go into the most deprived, squalid hovel in the most impoverished shanty town on the planet, with ten people sharing one crowded room to sleep, cook, eat and bathe and there would be a TV rigged up somehow with scrumped electricity, the only prized item in the family. What will they be watching? Football, adverts for cars and reality TV shows; Botswana ‘X Factor’ or Delhi ‘Big Brother’.

                A month’s trip to traditional holiday destinations off season demonstrates how reliant so many are on television for their entertainment needs. No matter what nationality-Swedish, Dutch, German, British-one of the first items to be organised once they have positioned the motorhome within the emplacement is the aerial, or the satellite dish. Our own entertainment was partly addressed by watching the Austrian couple next door spending several hours attempting to place their satellite dish in a location that would offer them Austrian TV. Austrian TV? A version of ‘Masterchef’ with viener schnitzel, perhaps, or ‘Austria’s got Talent’ with lederhosen-clad dancers and an oompah band? Early next morning the Austrian couple voted with their wheels, presumably returning to their homeland in disgust and hopes of watching ‘I’m an Austrian Celebrity [?]-Get me out of Here’ in the comfort of their living room.

                I understand why this is. Much of the South of France is still closed, especially in the evenings. You can spend hours tramping the streets searching for a bar that has not yet pulled its tables off the pavement and closed its doors. We rely heavily on the PMU bars-open for gamblers; as long as the racing lasts. In the malls and the streets leading to the promenade the cafes and bistros sport faded scraps of paper scrawled with the same message: ‘Fermé. Ouvert Marche’. But none of them is. Elsewhere there are signs of opening-roofs being repaired and signs getting spruced up, though as yet no pressions getting pulled or vats of moules steaming.

                In our wondrous van there is a TV, a novelty for us and with an aerial that can access whatever local TV stations are broadcasting. In a rush of excited enthusiasm we sat down to watch French television, pretending that it would be helpful in improving our French conversation skills; but interest in the news channel’s grindingly tedious coverage of Nikolas Sarkozy’s inflammatory remarks comparing France with East Germany soon began to pall and we returned to our usual in-van activities of internet, novels, music, writing, cooking, eating and assessing the local wines-punctuated by forays into the neighbourhood to scour it for some evening life.

                Better. Better than slow death by TV. Maybe one day we will succumb…but not yet…



The Worst of Both Worlds

The film, ‘The Life of Pi’ has been given nine BAFTA nominations. I went along to see it this week, curious from having read and adored the book, and was thrilled with the film adaptation, so the nominations, as far as I am concerned are justified.

                Whilst in the cinema we were subjected to the usual run of trailers for coming films, including the also nominated ‘Les Miserables’-a film of a musical of a book. Hmm! How has this fashion for making films from stage musicals become so popular? Is there really such a dearth of original stories and ideas that producers and directors are forced to plunder the West End theatres to come up with new projects?

                I have to confess to an enduring dislike of ‘musicals’. I am usually able to become absorbed enough in a good production and story to forget I’m watching a play, but my suspended disbelief hurtles to the floor with a stinging ‘ouch’ the second that anyone bursts into song. There are a few notable exceptions [‘My Fair Lady’ comes to mind] but any performance tagged with the loose term ‘show’ is an out and out no-no for me. Eulogies for ‘shows’ such as ‘Cats’, ‘Phantom’ or the cringingly nicknamed ‘Les Mis’ commonly praise the costumes, the set and the spectacle. Fair enough-if that is what one goes to see.

                Don’t get me wrong. I love good music and regularly attend live performances of a variety of genres. I also love a well written, directed and acted play and would certainly be inclined to see a lot more of these if there were more on. [Those of us who live in the sticks don’t have easy access to the plethora of cultural delights London offers]. But good, plain drama is a rarity, probably due to the number of ‘shows’ doing the rounds instead. ‘Shows’ are worthy vehicles, I’m sure, but to me it is dumbing down culture-a presentation with humdrum writing, mundane music and so-so acting.

                Worse still are the ‘shows’ being made into films! Watching the trailer for ‘Les Mis’ I felt, why not make a serious, non-musical movie from the book [as in ‘Life of Pi’…I shudder to think what a mess that would have been in musical form]. The last simple film of the story was in 1982, a French, made-for-TV version.

                There is a wealth of new writing, and under-represented writing out there. Come on, producers and directors! More plays and films of books please! [But cut out the singing].