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!

Odious ads and Radio Balm

                I always consider we are lucky, here in the UK, to have a commercial free broadcaster. Yes, I know that the BBC has had to take some stick for transgressions lately, both current and historic, -but during periods of travel, when we have had to digest news alongside adverts, I’ve found the TV almost impossible to watch. You get one, aggressively hyper story, delivered in a full-on, excitable manner, followed by what seems like half an hour of fragrant persuasion on the subject of Durex condoms or haemorrhoid cream. The adverts are always much louder than the programme itself, which to me is a most annoying, cynical and patronising ruse.

                Though I seldom watch commercial channels, when I do I am able to appreciate the artistry, irony or wit of the entertaining advert. Many, such as the Cadbury’s Smash ads for instant mashed potato in the 70s, or the Guinness ads of the 90s belong to a kind of commercials ‘hall of fame’. Many, like the Meerkats ‘Simples’ begin by being entertaining and become increasingly tiresome as time goes by.

                One thing I find hard to understand is how advertising can possibly work. I cannot think of one single commodity that I’ve bought as a result of watching a TV commercial. I can see how children become ensnared by their wiles, but fully functioning adults should be able to resist, surely? Or are we all prey to some underlying, subconscious thread that works away when we are unaware or asleep?

                Then there are all the annoying, animated ads that dot the screen when we’re attempting to undertake a serious Scrabble move, share what we are cooking for dinner on FB, look at a news website, forward a funny email or put in a bid on Ebay. They are there, flickering and buzzing away off to the side or on top. Sometimes a little delicate scrolling can put them out of sight, or there is a chance to ‘hide’ them, but mostly they continue to blemish the screen. Heaven knows what any of them are for-I certainly don’t look and I don’t know anyone who does.

                Most of all I’m a fan of talk radio. I can get my regular dose of a ‘soap’, news updates, documentaries, comedy, comment and debate, magazine programmes, consumer programmes, quality plays and literature without any kind of interruption from anyone trying to sell me anything. And all of this can be delivered while I’m occupied, undertaking the sort of menial tasks that might otherwise be quite tedious, such as ironing, washing the floor or peeling potatoes. The visual image, I feel is overrated, just as books, for me are generally superior to their film versions. I expect it’s a generational thing, setting me, as usual, amongst the dinosaurs of the world!

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].