Wednesday, October 10, 2012

Bleak House

Bleak House has been defeating me for 20 years now. I guess I was spoiled by the amazing television version with Diana Rigg and Denholm Elliot:

I think it was on in the same amazing year that gave us Twin Peaks, GBH, and, er, Star Trek TNG Season 2. But I remember how great it was.

So, I remember how odd I found trying the read the actual book before going to University, how I abandoned reading it at university, and how I've picked it up ever since, read those first few pages about fog, and then put it sadly down. I've even bought repeated copies, as though somehow owning more and more would allow me to read it by osmosis. They all remained unread.

Every time I picked up another book, and I'm not kidding, I've always felt that tiny guilt that I wasn't finally getting on with Bleak House. I've not had this problem with other Dickens books - but there's something about this one. Perhaps it's that the title and the atmosphere are matched to a plot that (for all it's grubby tangles) is really quite simple.

Earlier this year, I tried again. I got quite far, then suddenly found myself reading half a dozen Perry Masons and thinking "Perry would have solved Jarndyce and Jarndyce in an hour and then gone out for cocktails and dancing with Lady Deadlock." Ever since, I've picked it up, got a little further, and stopped.

Finally, wonderfully, I found this:

I'm not sure entirely what to think. It's kind of cheating, especially when poor Hugh Dickinson is doing so much work (he really do do the police in different voices, he do). It's about 30 hours long, and I dread to think how long it took to record. But it means I'm whipping through it.

I am finally going to finish Bleak House.

Sunday, October 07, 2012

Expensive Farts

It's our anniversary. Yes, two years since this blog stopped being fun.

We celebrated by going to a Vegetarian restaurant. I hate Vegetarian restaurants. There are exceptions, but, by-and-large you find yourself smugly overcharged for chickpea curry. I decided to be cunning, and asked friends on Facebook. I then presented my boyfriend with the crowd-sourced list and said "pick one".

He picked the wrong one. It was a bland shed lit by tea lights. In one corner a man read a Russian novel. In another, two women talked church politics ("I always find that black women, when you're dealing with them...", "Well, I'm black, and I never-", "That's you, dear."). We sat in a corner and looked at the menu. It was depressingly uninventive. He ordered the chickpea fritata. I ordered the chickpea curry.

We ate in glum silence. It was kind of like prison food, give or take a human ear. The whole dreary process lasted less than an hour and cost over fifty quid. We then went and bought anniversary gaviscon.

The shoddy horror of the whole experience is that there is fun vegetarian food. Inventive, exciting stuff - raw burgers, tofu fantasies, seaweed surprise. Not stuff worse than you could make at home. The shocker was the mark-up. Half a tin of chickpeas each is not exactly wild truffles.

We then went to a party (pausing only to stand outside McD's and sigh) and got talking to a beautiful Frenchman, who said "Me and my boyfriend, it's only been two years, but I tell you, you know after a few months. I knew immediately. I'm going to propose. Seriously. Here's my mind map for how it'll work." It was pastel-coloured. We said nothing.

After that we went home, watched a Hammer film about incest and drank scotch. Happy anniversary.

Tuesday, October 02, 2012

Your bacon isn't smuggled

One discovery of my flight to Berlin is that you can take bacon in your hand luggage. You do get a funny look from the x-ray lady, but no-one has yet discovered a way of weaponising bacon.

Monday, October 01, 2012

Don't Mention Berlin

I'm standing in a flea-market in Berlin. A young American girl walks past, dragging her hot German boyfriend.

"Oh wow, this stuff is amazing," American girl enthuses. "We have a wonderful word for this, you know. Kitsch."
"Yes," says her boyfriend, "we have that too."

Going to Berlin is a little bit like going on holiday to the Death Star. You can try very hard, but you can't quite forget that something dreadful happened here. There's still an abundance of wide-open spaces, leafy gaps appearing in rows of houses, sudden wastelands glimpsed as your train crosses districts.

You're even reminded of it in museums. I went to see the Pergamon Museum (do go - there's almost an entire Greek Temple and the Gates of Babylon. Indoors. Amazing), and even there there's a small exhibit explaining how the temple was damaged during the bombing, taken by the Soviets, and grudgingly recovered. It was then that they realised that still more bits went missing, and someone had the job of touring the home counties, visiting members of the English army who had taken away the odd souvenir.

The on-trend thing to do if you're a hipster is to break into the Spreepark and then announce that it's so over. The Spreepark is a theme park that went bust a few years ago. Its owner absconded to South America - not the first time someone from Berlin's done this, but he did take the rides with him, which must have been quite a unique DHL phone call. He and the rides returned, but customs discovered he'd stuffed the rides full of cocaine. So now the park remains, a creepy ruin, chained-up... with fences just begging to be climbed, and a giant ferris wheel spinning in the wind, making the sound of the screaming of a thousand souls. We broke in, and it was enormous fun.

It's a curious sensation - amusement parks are designed to give you safe, exciting thrills - and you get a similar sense of artificial danger sneaking around a closed one, trying to avoid the security company. We dodged one patrol and fell through some bushes onto a forgotten railway track. It is, actually, quite hard running on a railway. We ended up crouched by a stagnant log flume as a police car and a bicycle patrol went past our heads. It was at this point I said to my boyfriend, "Well, we've climbed over a wall and we're being chased by guards. In East Berlin." Hipsters have reinvented the cold war.

We left, feeling very daring. We then passed a crowd of American tourists kicking a padlock before clambering through a massive hole in the fence. They strolled around, taking photos with the flash on and laughing about how, if they met any guards, they'd just bribe them.

Later on, we went to a bear bar. Two giant screens hung over the bar. One showed bear porn. The other showed The Muppet Show. The bears stood around trying to be serious and growly (although one tried to chat another up by pointing at the Muppets' guest star and cooing "That's Gilda Radner. She's fabulous!").We stood around laughing at the terrible carpet in the porn.

When we left, my boyfriend complained "It's weird knowing everyone's looking at you working out how much you'd cost." He paused. "I'm sure you must have felt that way once."