Monday, March 24, 2008

How come you and mom don’t sleep in the same bed anymore?

Two hours and three minutes into David Fincher’s ‘Zodiac’, the son of Jake Gyllenhal’s character, Robert Graysmith, asks him that very same question.
The story of an obsessed man letting his relationships with his partner and family slide is a familiar one in cinema.
Broken relationships became more prominent in film as they did in life, with Kramer vs. Kramer perhaps being the most prominent in the 70s as the event of divorce was on the rise.

The subject has always been one of the cornerstones for the conservative argument that society's morals and values are in decline, whereas in reality the means of obtaining divorce have become easier. The likelihood is that the instances of divorce as a proportion of marriages has risen over time chiefly because the law has changed and become more lenient, particularly towards women in terms of assets and custody of any children. Alongside this, the social stigma on unmarried couples has lessened over the decades meaning that it is hard to gain statistics on those who live together as husband and wife and whether they later split up.

Whether divorced parents are worse for a child than parents who remain together unhappily is much harder to measure than raw divorce statistics, and arguably it’s one of the key issues related to the argument for moral decline. Various statistics are flung about related to the proportion of children with lone parents getting involved with crime, but these figures are often taken out of context without looking at the social background involved – the proportion of middle class children with lone parents turning to crime could well paint a different picture.

My parents never married, so yes I’m a bastard, but they still split up. As is usual in these situations it wasn’t a solution that was reached quickly and rationally, instead being preceded by years of arguments that led to a number of evenings when I would sit near the door of my bedroom, wondering what was going to happen.
I’ve never been a very sociable kind of person, even within my own family, so most of what I know happened comes from my own experience – my dad was becoming more and more of a drunk, obviously making my mum unhappy up until the point where she threw him out. He lived in his car for a while, definitely months and possibly over a year, but eventually he got it together and bought a flat a few minutes away from us. Shortly afterwards I went to live with him, leaving my younger brothers and sister back at the old flat with mum as it was too small for us all. I lived with my dad there from thirteen to nineteen, going back to my mums virtually every evening to have dinner with her and the kids. My youngest brother and sister would often come over to stay on weekends, but dad was still drinking and only drank more as time went on, eventually kicking me out of the flat a couple of months before I turned nineteen. Thankfully I had got into university by that point, though, so after a few months sleeping on the front-room floor of my old home I went and lived in halls.

It was hardly the worst of experiences as I was never beaten or abused, but with separated parents living so close and yet rarely communicating I became the go-between as I would literally go between the two homes, having to occasionally absorb the bile that either parent held for the other.
Ever since then the most important thing to me has been security, a home with a sense of permanence, and perhaps this has led to my low ambition as all I’ve really wanted is somewhere I’m happy to return to every day.

Apart from the line in Zodiac the reason this has all come back to me is the flat I am in now. Besides the insecurity and anxiety I get from living somewhere impermanent, a place I know that I will soon move from for the reasons I’ve mentioned before, there are the neighbours.
Among the list of inconveniences that come free of charge with this flat – the floor so uneven that I prop the fridge with a piece of wood to stop the freezer unit frosting up in one corner; the leaky cistern; the badly wired cooker – are the noisy neighbours. With two young kids the family upstairs really can’t help being noisy, especially in a building as rickety as this. Judging from my own floorboards I’m sure that I would drive people downstairs mad, if it weren’t an empty shop. However, it’s not really the kids that get to me as they find new and exciting games that seem to involve dropping weights many times their own size from a considerable height and such. It’s the parents.
On a fairly regular basis they have a screaming match with each other, loud enough to make out every single word they say meaning that their kids can too. Except that unlike their kids, I’m not fluent in French (the family is Algerian). It makes me wonder what’s best for them – do they sit in their room in the dark at night, frightened as their parents scream, or have they become accustomed to it now, developing coping mechanisms like the bright-eyed little girls on a recent channel 4 documentary about the state of Iraq, who described how men came in to their home and shot their father in his stomach.
Would they be happier if their dad wasn’t around? It has to be said that each situation is different - I have good memories of my dad when I was little, of going for a walk to the shops at night and going on holiday around England and Wales, but the drink took that all away, or rather his weakness for it and unwillingness to stop. As it’s French for all I know they could be arguing about who loves each other most.
Probably not.

There aren’t any answers here and I don’t have any special insight, but two of my friends have got married and had kids in the last couple of years, so I not only hope that they become part of the statistics of those that don’t get divorced, but also that they never want to.
Love and luck to both those new families.


Thankfully season 12 of South Park has started well with ‘Tonsil Trouble’, infecting Cartman with HIV, but it has really taken off with episode 2, ‘Britney’s New Look’, mixing commentary on the cult of celebrity and the menace of paparrazi with Omen and Invasion of the Body Snatchers references. This season has a lack of concurrent sub-plots so far, but in episode 2 there is repeat mention of Butters dressed as a squirrel.

Wednesday, March 19, 2008

Euthanasia, The Last Starfighter, Monty Python and the Sony PSP

It's getting on for nearly three months since I last posted here, or blogged as is the parlance of our times.
It's a keen indication of the state of my self-discipline; if I get out of the habit of doing something I find it hard to get back into it. Thus I go through phases of watching DVDs, socialising and writing. For example I had a review copy of Exiled, the Johnny To Hong Kong action/arthouse flick, since late 2007, and had already seen it in the cinema, but as many familiar with writing will recognise it's often hardest to get started. Once I finally persuaded myself to knuckle down, I enjoyed it as I always do, and immediately afterward I watched a Japanese horror flick that was gathering dust in my collection and promptly reviewed that too (Exiled link to the right with the others, Premonition will be up in the coming weeks for the benefit of those few who would ever come back after getting this far).

It wasn't just sloth or a vague reluctance induced by fear of failure that curtailed the blogging habit (which was hardly prolific in the first place). In January and continuing on into February, I found myself incubating a lovely strain of the flu which I suffered with for no more than a week, but which led to a lengthy recovery period in which I didn't feel like much of anything. During the Fun Flu Week 2008 I found myself subject to a hair-trigger cough which would induce fits of hacking at the slightest movement and which were impossible to halt at will. I have had the flu (as opposed to a bad cold) once before, and whilst I remembered the woozy, dizzy and weak status that the condition provided me with, the coughing was new and I was mostly surprised that it didn't rend my throat into shreds. As the worst of it passed and I started to slowly get back to normal, I realised that the superhuman coughing efforts had had some sort of effect on the muscles in my torso, resulting in the feeling that I had recently been beaten by a small group of people wielding bats, unless I didn't move or breathe too hard. For a few weeks afterward I was barely able to keep up a brisk shuffle, and I found myself reminded of old age and the fact that, yet again, I shouldn't take my health for granted but instead be grateful for every day that passes where I can see, hear and walk up the road with little difficulty.

Having worked in the retail industry for over a decade, I am painfully aware of some of the more astoundingly petty little grievances that people hold and are unable to put into perspective, so I feel that I always start out with an advantage in terms of optimism over the next man-on-the-street. It's for this reason that I am logically, rather than reactively looking to move out of my flat, photos of which long-time readers will remember me posting at the tail end of last summer. It's not because of the guts of the bath being permanently on display as the landlord hasn't had it fixed. It's not because the toilet cistern leaks or because the upstairs neighbours have noisy kids or because I had to keep taking days off work to let engineers in to look at the washing machine that was meant to have been fixed before I moved in (5 visits and still broken). No, these are little problems that I could easily live with and ultimately do not really cause me any pain or much inconvenience. The problem is that the windows are so badly fitted that when it is windy, the frames emit the sound of an elephant playing a harmonica, loud enough to interrupt anything you may choose to do, including sleep. As having the windows re-fitted would be two tasks, firstly getting the landlord to do it in the first place and secondly having to put up with the sodding building work involved, I'm not exactly mad about the idea. The only alternative is to open the window, which stops the elephant but unfortunately reminds you how noisy it is with the window open.
Ah well, all it means is the inconvenience of packing up, moving on and doing all the admin involved in moving house, daunting from this end but it will all be over a couple of weeks afterwards. Plus, the handy bonus and raise that I recently got a work will make it that much easier to find the next flat.
Which is nice.

Minor inconveniences no.279367: seemingly having no hash key on this bastard ibook.
Minor inconveniences no.283749: having my rechargeable hair clippers run out mid-shave, and realising it doesn't function whilst plugged in.

I'm still having trouble understanding how South Park Season 5 came out on DVD in the UK a few months ago, passing effortlessly under my radar, and no-one thought to inform me.
I have been a South Park fan since the first few episodes, after I realised there was more to it than the gimmicky adverts which ran hourly on Channel 4 for a few weeks before the first screening. I was working at the Bond St. HMV before it moved to the other side of Oxford St. back then, or at least it hit UK TV soon afterwards which would put it at around 1998.
I followed it regularly and bought the series once they were available on DVD, but for some reason they mysteriously stopped at Season 4. The release date came and went for Season 5, and Season 6 didn't air in the UK. Luckily, I first got myself the internet in 2001 so I was able to find episodes that some kind Americans had captured and released on the net, and it was at this point that I became a Big Fan, when they began mixing the skewed humour with detailed pop-culture references and political commentary. It was possible to 'get' the episodes on a number of different levels which made for a satisfying as well as sometimes laugh-out-loud hilarious watch.
The Season 6 episode 'Scott Tenorman must die' became the highlight for me, and began a golden run which remained unbroken for at least three seasons, with only blips in those to follow.
Season 12 has started over in the US, and I am looking forward to some more classics akin to the clash between Heaven and the forces of evil (Best Friends Forever), or the time when the boys tried to send a Killer Whale (Free Willzyx) into space.
But I didn't know Season 5 had been released, and worse still Season 6 came out on Monday, but i can't afford either until I am paid next week.
This is worse than not being able to sleep when it's windy.

Thanks for those of you who read to the end. In case you're wondering, I got out of the habit of socialising about three or four years ago, and I've yet to get back into it.
I blame Davey for coming down to London and stealing all my charm.

Yes I could have bought the region 1 DVDs of South Park which have been available for maybe two years now, but I had an irrational fear of my ancient DVD player packing up and not being able to find a decent multi-region player to watch my beloved South Park with. We can't be rational all the time.