Friday, 10 July 2020

Back to the Movies!

I’ve missed going to the cinema. A lot. In early 2020 it was unusual for a week to pass without my seeing five or six showings – sometimes at an Odeon (limitless subscription), sometimes at The Prince Charles (my spiritual home in London), sometimes at an occasional freebie screening courtesy of a friend who works in film programming. And then, on the 20th of March, all cinemas across England were ordered to close their doors. It was a gut-wrenching suckerpunch. Of course, more severe developments were to come, like the unprecedentedly draconian stay-at-home orders, but the forced closure of cinemas hit me hard. In the days leading up to the announcement, all major cinema chains already closed, all blockbusters postponed, I still clung to the dream that my beloved Prince Charles would keep going. Surely they would. But it was only a dream. A few days earlier, on my second trip to The Lighthouse (extraordinary and terrifying, mainly for the insight it gives into what it might be like to be trapped on a tiny island with Willem Dafoe), unable to stem the quiver of nerves in my voice, I asked the always-lovely staff, “you’re not planning to close, are you?” They reassured me that they had no plans to, but of course had to listen to daily government advice, which was continuously changing. But I could feel it in the air and in my heart. The rumblings were there, Boris was going to make an announcement. It was only a matter of time. I cycled to Leicester Square for the last time to watch The Godfather. Somehow it was a fitting last drink before the drought. There were only a handful of people in the audience. Cycling home, I was simultaneously elated and depressed. It was going to be a tough spring.

I am obsessed with cinema-going as opposed to watching films on the telly. It took me a long time to work out why, but a move to Japan (and the lack, therefore, of an all-you-can-see monthly pass) prompted me to examine what it was about actually going to the cinema that I loved so much. After all, I could have saved a few hard-earned Yen by frequenting the Toho multiplexes less often. But once settled in the cosy darkness – often alone, yet together with the crowd – I know what the next 100 or so minutes of my life is going to consist of. It’s a lock-in, a plan, and my attention will be focused on the film, I’m committed. If I put on a film on Netflix, or even chuck in a DVD or VHS (yes, I do that sometimes), there’s always the possibility that something else will come along and I’ll pause the film to finish later. I try not to do this, but the possibility is there. In the cinema, it isn’t. The only film I can ever remember leaving is Ip Man 4 and that wasn’t because I wasn’t enjoying it, it was because I had a friend arriving at Victoria coach station and I mis-managed the timing. Also, all-day film marathons at a Cineworld in Ashford, perhaps after a particularly beer-filled Friday night, (a different) friend and I would occasionally program films to sleep through (our second viewing of Quantum of Solace comes to mind). But generally speaking, if I start watching a film at the cinema, 99.9% of the time, I’ll finish it. I’ll take in the whole experience. Then there is the atmosphere, the sound quality, the immersive darkness, and the big screen. I even like the smell of popcorn (but not the extortionate price). To quote Christopher Moltisanti, “I get high off that shit”. TVs are also great, and of course a cosy marathon with home comforts has its own allure, but for me the gold standard method for imbibing movies must be at the movies. My brain operates differently at the movies, my antennae tune in more acutely, my frequencies more prone to absorption, more likely to glean that coveted ephemeral magic of cinema. And there’s always the chance you might get chatting about the film with other patrons or staff. I’ll do another piece on my favourite cinemas around the world at some point, there are some wonderful cinemas where this is always a possibility. So I suppose the last point is a feeling of community that can come along in a cinema, and this can happen in multiplexes as well as repertory cinemas or arthouses.

So the big cinema closure of 2020 was a great sadness, not just because I was temporarily unable to go, but because I feared (and still fear) for the very survival of the small cinema as a viable business model.

Today there is a lightness in my heart, and it has something to do with the beautiful string of oldies The Genesis cinema has been showing. And people turned up, hungry for the big screen, delighted to be back. The Prince Charles isn’t open yet, but I feel confident it will survive. I am less sure about other small cinemas, but I was delighted to see a full house at The Genesis for Back to the Future and The Goonies. What’s more, they’re only charging a fiver without concession, not at all bad for London. Something they (along with other cinemas) need to do now is make sure their websites don’t still say “closed until further notice” in the search result descriptions! Surely this is not good for business… Last night I watched Black Water: Abyss – a (gasp!) newly released film. It was terrible. I like the crocodile sub-genre of the monster movie, but this was not a good entry. Dull characters and dialogue, and duller scares. Just good enough to miss the so-bad-it’s-good category, though it raised the odd chuckle. Still, my spirits soared as the credits rolled. I was back.

I had been increasingly worried about an austere and unappealing “new normal” of moviegoing – separation, the stench of disinfectant, mandatory masks. My fears were allayed, and it was pleasantly traditional (apart from a temperature check, which I’m willing to put up with, although those infrared sensors are apparently wildly inaccurate and therefore basically useless.)

I am completely sympathetic to anyone suffering from any malady, but at the same time I fear that when data is properly analysed, and the efficacy of the measures taken soberly scrutinised, it will turn out that the world went mad and we’re in danger of losing some pretty important stuff, including independent cinemas. I also worry about anyone suffering from any illness that is not “the illness” we have been told we must all worship and fear on a daily basis – the UK alone estimates over 30,000 cancer patients will die due to delayed treatment. I hope not. My experience this week was uplifting. If you want to see smaller cinemas survive, I urge you to go out and support your local cinema.

Considering the current climate, I feel compelled to make two things clear. Firstly, this has been a difficult time for everyone, and I don’t want to leave the impression that I am callously indifferent to the plight of the victims of the illness which led to such drastic change in our society. I see the blunt instrument of lockdowns as a misguided and catastrophic mistake which will cause far more harm than good. I could be wrong, this is simply my opinion. Here are two regularly-updated resources for anyone interested in an alternative perspective on the seemingly widely-supported lockdown measures:,

The Prince Charles Cinema is just off Leicester Square, London, and I look forward to its reopening.

The Genesis is on Mile End Road, London, and is open.

I’ll leave you with a list of films which came to mind during the lockdown. They Live, Network, Paris Belongs to Us, The Matrix. All essential.

Wednesday, 4 December 2019


Nearly summer.
In the morning there was black tea, loud kitchen.
Later, we're lakeside.
Dusk isn't here yet, but it's in the post.
Lunch good, but not recent.
Grass fragrant, insect life set on comfortable hum, honey.
Yellow fruits nestle in some trees.
Ratty, browned, horror novel nestles into the ground.
Dress rustles, bare heel lazy on top of my calf.
Bottle of ale.
No work tomorrow.

Thursday, 24 October 2019

My granny

My granny, who died in 2015, taught me how to play a frenzied, raucous game called Bagatelle (she seemed to like frenzied, raucous games - also being a demon at Racing Demon). She taught me how to open a bottle of wine, and introduced me to a bewildering array of terms coined by her family, many of which she had invented herself. She was someone for whom the preservation of English and its correct usage was of great importance (a value I believe she passed on to me, much to the chagrin of my friends), and yet she also revelled in her own phrases like the "bus conductor" lunch - meaning a lunch where she put out the cheese box (the bus conductor itself, I believe) and various bits and pieces like ham and Marmite (which she called "Mar-meet" for some reason best known to herself) with a loaf of bread, and you helped yourself to what you wanted. She had her idiosyncratic and traditionalist beliefs on "the proper way" to do things, but she was warm, and open, and she valued people. My granny was someone special, and as a young boy, as well as loving her unconditionally, I intuitively knew that she was an unusual, powerful person. She had a fiery spirit, and a gleeful zest for life which seemed quite rare for someone of her age. She outlived two husbands and though she did give up on romantic life after that (despite a few suitors), it didn't dull her enthusiasm to engage with the world and the things she loved - literature, sports, cinema, her family and friends, conversation, Strictly Come Dancing and The Weakest Link, a whisky at six o'cock and a bowl of salted almonds. She relished life, she was thoughtful, kind, and her mind was sharp. I loved talking with her, because unlike many adults I had encountered she was never, ever patronising. She treated me as her equal and took me seriously. I would count down the days to my visits with Granny with great anticipation, for they meant a week of fantastic fun with a caring, energetic, faintly eccentric old soul whom I loved dearly. My first night would always entail fish fingers, pasta and peas, and when I got a little older, a can of stout, cider or ale. She would listen with great care to the most outrageous ramblings of a young child, and give her honest opinion. Of course occasionally I would go overboard and get a "what rubbish!" as a wry grin spread across her face, knowing I was trying to get that very reaction, but she would never, ever dismiss me outright, she listened carefully to my wildest dreams and considered them carefully. I felt completely at ease with her. We watched The Simpsons, James Bond, Woody Allen and Hitchcock movies, and in the newly reopened Rex cinema in her town of Berkhamsted (an event for which she had vociferously campaigned), our old favourite, Some Like it Hot. During a lengthy speech the artistic director of said cinema made, her voice clearly rang out across the auditorium - "what a pill!" I shrank into my seat, hoping nobody would see me. She was my granny, but she was also my friend. I miss her.

Monday, 9 September 2019

Chopping Garlic

Chopping garlic with Ken’s professional kitchen blade
Ken’s a farmer, moving into cheffery
I put the knife down for sudden mosquito combat
Clapping maddly
Too late - a tiny, rotten needling

An anonymous Wednesday, but in mathematical terms
A very special day
Where a cloud of quarks, or waves, or matter
Shuffles across a small, humid kitchen in greater Tokyo
In search of Tobasco sauce
Because it wants to

Mushrooms sliced now, ready to fry
Pasta simmering

Time to eat

Wednesday, 10 July 2019

And now for something completely different.

The other day, as I was unpacking my Pokemon bento box to chow down on a squashed pickled-plum rice ball and radish salad, I had a sudden yearning for a good sandwich. After moving to Japan I realised that I couldn't really manage to replicate any of the sandwiches I enjoy, as the bread is sugary and soft, the lunch meats intolerably expensive, and the cheese isn't really cheese. My state of lament was such that it inspired me to write this blog entry - my favourite sandwich I have invented (of many). I am sure it closely resembles the famous "tuna melt", which ironically I had always avoided as it sounded unappetising, and I was not consciously aware of how it was made.

This is perhaps the most important sandwich to me, as I invented it in my second year of university, and it remained a staple the whole year, I loved it so much. It also went down well with my housemates and girlfriend. Goes nicely with a packet of plain crisps and a bottle of ale.

1. Slice a good, mature cheddar finely (but not too much, this shouldn't be the main flavour in the sandwich, two or three very thin slices only).
2. Chop olives and pickled gherkins (I used to use green olives, but black work too). Chop them up roughly, but into fairly small chunks. If the pickles are large, cut into two or three length-ways sections first, before slicing.
3. Put a generous couple of tablespoons of good-quality mayonnaise into a bowl, and grind in pepper quite generously, as well as a small dash of Tabasco and a tiny splash of Lee and Perrin's. No salt required as ingredient are all salty.
4. Drain a can of tuna fish.
5. Add pickles and olives and tuna to mayonnaise and mix thoroughly.
6. Toast a bagel lightly.
7. Add cheese to one side of bagel so it melts a bit.
8. To the other side of bagel add salad leaves - like lambs leaf lettuce or something with a bit of crunch, but only a few, don't cram them on.
9. Spoon mix onto cheese side of bagel, and close bagel.
10. Eat straight away while warm. Fantastic!

Unfortunately, there's no way I can eat this until I leave Asia, but you enjoy.

Monday, 8 July 2019

Deafening silence

Deafening silence, and when good men do nothing, evil triumphs.
But here a fearless warrior, cheerful in her fiery tirade, splendid in her call for revolt.
The time is now, she cries!
And the famous podcaster's eyes glaze over dully, full of warm admiration but child-like terror, he is cocooned in a safe space of ambivalence, a facade of ignorance.
But she shouts out what he knows in his heart: the world is burning, and it's up to us all to put out the fire.

Tuesday, 21 May 2019

The man under the tree

Today I saw an old man napping under a tree.
He was wearing short black rubber wellington boots.
After a while he woke up, propped his head on one hand, and lit a cigarette.
When he finished his smoke, he got slowly up, rolled up his mat, picked up a bag of rubbish, and headed towards a van, which had another old man in the driver's seat.
Before getting to the van, he asked a fat man with a clipboard something.
The clipboard man had been striding around importantly.
The clipboard man prodded a phone and put it to his ear.
Lots of old men in short black or grey rubber wellington boots, some of whom wore brightly-coloured green or red safety hats, were standing or walking around the flower garden by the river. One was taking pictures. Two of them were chatting and a loud chuckle rang out.
They were having a good time.