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Imagine it - the sky weighs down oppressively, thunder has been growling around overhead, then suddenly a lifting as wind whips through the terraced streets, and then they fill with rain heavier than you've ever seen. I love thunderstorms. I've always loved them, especially at night. I'd lie in my bed by the window watching the sky light up and counting the miles between the flashes and cracks above me. One, two, CRACK! Getting closer...suddenly it sounds as if someone has flicked a giant whip and I jump, feeling a shiver of excitement and wondering whether something nearby has been hit. I've just got in at the tail end of Jill's favourite thing write-off. I had decided fairly early on that I wanted to try and write about childhood memories as a favourite thing. This is hard for me as I have a lot of very un-favourite memories of being a child, and have often struggled to accept the child I was as any kind of OK person. Why do it at all? Because it seemed so appropriate to Jill's celebration of life to try and celebrate not only the adult life I have now (which I mostly find OK) but the life of that child who made me that adult and who I have frequently wished had not survived childhood at all. I began to think I might not take part after all, that I'd set a challenge for myself that I was not a match for. I don't know what the weather was like in other parts of the UK last night, but here it rained spectacularly. My garage was ankle deep in water (no point trying to rescue anything, it was filling up too fast) and my garden flooded. I'd just been to the hair-dresser, was dressed in a pretty floaty summer dress and strappy, high-heeled sandals ready to go out to a party and ended up wading ankle-deep in water to rescue two dripping wet baby guinea pigs. The torrential storm suddenly brought back some memories I do want to remember. Memories of magical storms and the day we
swam in the street. It was a sultry summer day which ended in a storm like last night's. Living in a terraced city street with no gardens, we couldn't splash around like my kids have loved to do in puddled grass, and no-one had lawns let alone sprinklers, but the word was soon out on the street that one of the neighbourhood roads had flooded deep enough to swim in. Sure enough the sound of delighted shrieks echoed around the road as all the kids from the neighbourhood jumped in. Cars were turned back, adults were drawn into the excitement of it all, and we played until the stars came out. Somehow the magic of swimming in the street still lingers. I wonder if all the children who were there that day remember it as I do? It never happened again, and as I tell my own kids about it, it has the air of one of the stories my own mother and grandmother used to tell of days long passed. I wonder if my other love, the Flower Fairy books, were also a result of not having gardens around us? Flowers were special, magical. Trees the same, and it never seemed too much of a leap to imagine each flower having its own beautiful fairy curled up asleep at dusk or lying gazing up at the sky or (my favourite picture!) swinging from delicate green larch-tree branches. I still find I have to stop and touch and smell larch branches and like the fairy of the scarlet pimpernel flowers, I spent many hours in childhood lying on my back watching the clouds drift by. So very many of my happiest memories are of being out alone in the countryside or climbing the rocks on the wild Atlantic coastline of one of the remote Scottish islands. Sitting watching crashing waves foaming, discovering a tiny deserted chapel perched precariously on the side of a cliff, watching a herd of red deer or tracing the path of a stream through heather-covered hills. Something about nature and being alone in its wildness was hugely comforting and always mad
e me feel that somehow I was touching something stronger and bigger beyond myself. Warm sand running through my fingers, cold sea-water dripping off skin warming in the sun, sliding down sand-dunes and picking wild dog roses. Holding buttercups under your chin to see whether you liked butter, lying in the long grass listening to a lark singing. Armfuls of fragrant bluebells, Waterfalls among mossy rocks and hunting for conkers which never quite fulfilled their battling potential once dried and pierced. Indoors and people never quite felt safe. Outdoors and alone did. " Where do fairy babies lie Till they're old enough to fly? Let us peep now, gently. Why, Fairy baby, there you lie! Kicking there, with no-one by, Baby, dear, how good you lie! All alone, but O, you're not - You could never be - forgot! O how glad I am I've found you, With forget-me-nots around you, Blue, the colour of the sky! Fairy baby, Hushaby! The Song of the Forget-me-not Fairy. Cicely Mary Barker. It's been good to remember that there are parts of childhood I want to still hold to myself and treasure. Thank-you Jill for reminding me of that. I also want to celebrate my son's 13th year of cancer-free living and the fact that the baby I wasn't sure I'd ever see grow up, run or jump, has become a swift-footed, tanned lover of all things sport-related! "Jill Murphy asked me to write about one of my favourite things to help her celebrate her fourth anniversary of cancer-free living and to remind ourselves of all the nice things in the world. It takes more muscles to make a frown than a smile you know. If you'd like to join in, whether you've only just joined dooyoo, or you've been here ages, you're more than welcome. Just write about one of YOUR favourite things, make your title "A Favourite Thing: [your choice]" an
d include this paragraph at the foot of your opinion. And post before Friday, 9th August
It's now 10 years since the events of The Phantom Menace took place and the Galactic Republic is breaking down. Even the Jedi Knights are aware that their power is weakening and the Dark Force is clouding the awareness of even Yoda. Those who have even a little knowledge of the original Star Wars trilogy will be aware that this prequel trilogy charts the course of young Anakin Skywalker, an exceptionally gifted Jedi paduan, as he turns from Knight of the Good to the ruthlessly evil Darth Vader. We met 9 year old Anakin in Phantom Menace showing no sign of being anything but, as Lucas puts it, "normal and good" and have since been waiting for "The Attack of the Clones" to show the beginnings of the turning from good to evil. This, according to Lucas, is the story. "The whole point is that Anakin is a normal, good kid" says Lucas. "How does someone who is normal and good turn bad? What are the qualities, what is it that we all have within us that will turn us bad?" It doesn't take long to see that Anakin, who has been trained for the last 10 years by Obi Wan Kenobe is dangerously headstrong and undisciplined in his pursuit of Jedi knighthood. What will happen when he is given his first individual assignment - the protection of Amidala? Amidala is now Senator of Naboo, having served her time as elected queen and passed the mantle on to Jamillia, and, as beautiful and elegantly dressed as ever, has captured the young Anakin's heart. Attachment and romance are forbidden for Jedi, and to succumb to Padme's charms would mean negating his calling as a Jedi, or living a lie. Will the one believed by many to be The Chosen One of ancient Jedi prophecy subjugate personal desire to his calling or will he and Padme allow themselves to fall in love during their time together? This story underpins the bigger story of events in the Republic. Meanwhile (!) Obi Wan (Ewan
McGregor as gorgeous as ever) is flying from Coruscant, the central world of the Republic and home to the Senate and Temple of the Jedi, across the Galaxy to the Outer Rim, in pursuit of Amidala's would-be assassin. In the process he discovers an enormous army of clones apparently ordered by the Republic many years ago and not yet commissioned. He also uncovers more than even wise old Yoda had been able to sense. This Star Wars movie moves across vastly different worlds and peoples, from the city-covered Coruscant, rather like a humongous New York with a never-ending airborne rush hour, to the calm classic beauty of Naboo and Kamino, an ocean-covered world lashed by gales which is home to a nation of cloners. From Tattooine, the desert-covered land on the Outer Rim, home to Crime Lords and slave traders to Geonosis, a barren rust-coloured land inhabited by termite-like aliens who delight in executing criminals in gladiatorial combat with monstrous beasts. There is plenty of scope for imaginative screenplay and mind-boggling special effects. The Attack of the Clones is well worth seeing for the special effects alone - they are both incredible and wholly believable. Phantom Menace had some great effects, this one is even better. There are, however, times when it feels like the characters are part of some giant computer game, and at least one point where the similarity between the events on screen and a particular scene in Monsters Inc. make suspending disbelief more difficult, but overall the sheer scale of the scenes can be breathtaking. As for action, well, it's pretty much non-stop from the opening minutes until the end. I looked at my children at one point and found them quite literally sitting on the edge of their seats. There are scenes which could potentially have proved too intense for younger children (and still may for the more sensitively inclined of them) but these are often eased a little by the inclusion of humour, main
ly from the ever-present R2D2 and C3PO. There are in addition the inevitable Light Sabre battles which are on a bigger and better scale than ever, although perhaps less gripping than the epic battles with the Dark Side in some of the previous movies. I have once again, as an otherwise fairly sane adult, been left wanting to own a Light Sabre, and my kids are at present battling it out on Jedi Knight 2 on their computers. I leave it to you to decide whether we enjoyed these scenes! I would definitely recommend this movie if you are a Star Wars fan (although if you are, I guess you'll have seen it already like us!) and as worth watching for anyone who enjoys a bit of action and some stunning special effects. Don't expect a deep or particularly moving storyline, despite the moral ponderings of Lucas, but it does make for a good trip to the cinema and has to be seen on the big screen rather than on video. As for the ending, well I couldn't possibly tell you, but it left me feeling quite irritated that we were going to have to wait so long for the next instalment. Begun the Clone Wars have, but ended they most definitely have not.
Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone is as star-studded as the Hogwarts' ceiling, which, incidentally, is one of the movie's most impressive special effects! From Robbie Coltrane to Richard Harris, Zoe Wanamaker to Maggie Smith and Julie Walters, Alan Rickman and Richard Griffiths, the cast has more big names than a London phone directory. Whether this is enough to make the movie is a moot point. The children are the main characters in this, the first Potter production and sadly they lack the acting panache of their adult counterparts. Daniel Radcliffe, whose face is going to make him the most famous child in Britain by Christmas, previously played David Copperfield in the 1999 BBC production, but although he looks the part of Potter, his acting talents fall far short of Jamie Bell of Billy Elliott fame and Osment the Sixth Sense boy. Director Chris Columbus (his parents must have had a sense of humour!) says " Dan walked into the room and we all knew we'd found Harry." It's interesting to compare this to Stephen Daldry's comments on Jamie Bell which were to the effect that the "Eureka!" moment just doesn't ever happen in casting this kind of part. Daniel looks the part, and plays the surprised innocence and paradoxical normality of Harry rather well. It's just that this is really the only emotion he plays well. This character lacks the very real depth of Rowling's writing, as sadly do most of the others. For those who have never read the books and who have been locked away under the stairs for the best part of the year, the storyline is basically as follows : **Harry Potter, a much neglected child in a horribly "normal" family discovers he's a very famous wizard on his 11th birthday. He is whisked away by Hagrid, the gamekeeper at Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry to said school where he makes both friends and enemies and ends
up getting involved in a rather major adventure.... ** Ron Weasley, (Harry's best friend) played by Rupert Grint, again *looks* the part (although there was really no sign of the tatty robes Ron is so ashamed of in the book) but lacks real depth, and his sacrificial act of the final scenes seems to come from nowhere as the character has never really been built up effectively. Grint had done local theatre, but found the part through an appeal on Newsround. Perhaps the only real surprise comes from a total unknown. Emma Watson plays Hermione in the most part perfectly, but until this movie had acted only in school productions. Hermione comes across as even more of a know-it-all in the movie than the book but shows perhaps more character development than the other children. I had been looking forward to this movie as much as my kids, I am a huge fan of the Potter books, we watched part of the movie being filmed, and after hearing that the movie had had a 10 minute standing ovation after premiering in the US any fears that it might not live up to my expectations after reading the books were allayed. Sadly I was disappointed. The 2 ½ hours in the cinema seemed long and yet despite it's length, the movie still inevitably missed many scenes we were expecting. The special effects are impressive, but not the best we've seen, and overall we were left with a sense that this was a very sanitised version of Rowling's story. Rowling's writing is gripping, funny and at points very moving and profound. The movie was none of these. Much of the humour has been edited out (Rik Mayall as Peeves doesn't even make the movie and John Cleese as Nearly Headless Nick gets a few seconds)and the horror of the scenes with Voldemort has given way to something more akin to ET or a kiddy version of "The Mummy". Even the Bloody Baron is reduced to a rather safe-looking spectre. "Harry Potter and The Phi
losopher's Stone" is very much a children's movie in a way that Rowlings books are not simply childrens' books. Rated PG, there is little here that would scare little ones (depending on their level of sensitivity) but this is very much at the cost of the tension and drama so present in the book. "Harry Potter and the Philosoper's Stone" as a movie has become like an Enid Blyton book. None of the reasons the children get involved in such a dangerous adventure are adequately explained, and of course everything is all right in the end in a way that Rowling never quite succumbs to in her writing. Malfoy is simply a bully, Crabbe and Goyle scarcely appear, and Snape looks almost friendly at times. Above all it's difficult to imagine why everyone would be afraid to even whisper the name of Voldemort after his disappointing representation here. The snake-like red eyes and horrific lack of human form described so vividly by Rowling are perhaps more akin to what we might see in a higher rated movie, but this offering remains essentially for the little ones. Evil never quite makes a real appearance and so good never shines as brightly as it otherwise would. I don't want this to be an unremittingly negative review, and I'm sure that many people will find the movie as amazing as those who gave the standing ovations at its premiere. It was a pleasant afternoon's entertainment, but the anticipation was probably the most exciting part. It is often my experience that the most hyped movies disappoint the most, and this is no exception. I've a feeling that those who will enjoy this most are the people who have never read and loved the books and have no expectations of the film. The setting of Hogwarts is impressive and the Quidditch scenes are some of the best in the movie. My personal favourite scenes are the ones we watched being filmed in Bracknell (home of Privet Drive, which is call
ed Picket Post Close in real life!) It's amazing to think that we were actually there watching owls being flown onto (fake) chimney pots. 3 days of filming there produced just a few minutes of film. I also recognised Alnwick Castle from many of the Hogwarts Quidditch scenes which are definitely one of the movie's highlights. The Hogwarts' Express is wonderful too, and there is a real sense of expectation as the train races North to the mystery location of the school which will become Harry's home. There is much more I could write about. Coltrane, for example, plays an admirable Hagrid, who somehow does appear as if he might have giant blood in his veins, Dame Maggie Smith is perfect as Mc Gonagall, and David Bradley a particularly nasty Filch. My feelings are somewhat divided as to Richard Harris as Dumbledore. Somehow the eccentricity has not been captured and some of both his hilarious and most profound lines are sadly missing. For me, the movie has a feel of an essay which has had chunks cut out in order to fit into the prescribed word limit. For example we have Dumbledore "saying a few words", but the comic follow up to that completely missing. Poor editing to say the least. Despite all this, do take your kids to see the movie, it's worth the price of the ticket, but don't believe all the hype, and if you're a huge fan of the books, prepare for at least an element of disappointment. Personally I think the Potter books would do better serialised. Too much that matters is missing here, with next to no character development its' greatest flaw. This is built over a longer period of time in the book than a movie is ever going to have. I'd love to know if there's a sense of tension and drama there for people who don't know the final outcome of the story, but for me it was missing. If it feels such a lack in "The Philosopher's Stone", what will
it be like in Rowling's epic volume "The Goblet of Fire" ?! A final thought - if you want to liven up your time in the cinema, take a pack of Bertie Bott's Every Flavour Beans and eat them during the movie in the dark...I bet you you won't be able to resist at least an agonised whisper when you find a tomato or horseradish flavoured one!
People like me don't get depressed. That's what I'm told. That's what my mother believed and for years I believed it too. People still tell me that now, that I'm lucky because people like me don't get depressed. If only. <I feel like I'm treading water just out of sight of land, and the waves are so high, and I'm getting so tired. I just don't know how long I can keep it up. I swim well, but right now I've done it for so long that it feels like I'm a hairsbreadth away from drowning> I grew up in a family where it wasn't OK to be weak, it wasn't OK to need anything emotionally from someone else, and it certainly wasn't OK to be scared or sad. Problem was that most of the time I was scared or sad, on the inside at least. On the outside I was a very bright, rather difficult school kid who grew into an even more difficult teen. Much to the disgust of the headmistress this rather less than charming girl walked off with all the prizes for her subjects together with the best scholastic record and a place at Cambridge. To everyone else she looked like she had everything. Only she knew different. I don't want to get into childhood sob stories, although I now think the tendency to depression was something which has far more to do with that than anything which has happened since. If a child never learns about dealing with difficult emotions, but is instead told that they don't feel them, eventually something is going to give. <how do you get help when everyone thinks you're so strong and you can't express pain the way normal people do? I want to hide away, I want the mask up so bright and so hard that no-one can hurt me again.> Nothing gave very spectacularly until I'd been in a pretty abusive relationship for about 11 years. During this time I'd succeeded in most things I'd attempted, even getting a Europe-wide award
for some of my work. I looked pretty good on the outside, but inside I was breaking up. No-one knew about the violence and abuse, and no-one knew what was really going on inside me. A friend later described my life as "too good to be true" others thought we had the perfect marriage and everyone thought I was as strong as I seemed. How can you write about depression? I could list the symptoms, talk about treatment and skate over how it all felt. I don't want to do that, but at the same time I know that whatever words I choose aren't going to even begin to paint a picture of the desperation and pain I was feeling. I was getting to sleep OK but waking very early and being sick. I'd had phases of that as a child and had even as a teenager had a friends dad who was a consultant and whose family I was on holiday with, be convinced I must be pregnant. Now I'd spend the morning in bed throwing up and wanting to die and struggle through the rest of the day sometimes as little as a minute at a time. I hate being depressed. Once I'd started admitting to myself that I could no longer survive living as I was, pretending everything was fine in my relationship when really I was terrorised in my own home, and never admitting to my pain, everything started collapsing inside me. I still couldn't admit I was depressed though. People like me didn't get depressed remember. My mother said only weak people got depressed and I certainly wasn't going to be called weak! <so tired, tired of fighting, tired of trying, tired of always being the strong one that somehow has to perform beyond what is expected of anyone else... not sleeping or eating..no energy, and the kids are home and the energy has to be found somewhere...and I want to give up. And all I want is a shoulder and some arms around me and just to cry, but even my domestic violence worker says I give anything but that impression....and how do you s
top being the one everyone relies on?> I couldn't bear to eat, was losing a huge amount of weight, and when I wasn't pacing the garden because I couldn't bear not to be moving around, I was contemplating how I'd far rather be dead and playing with the idea of driving my car very fast into a tree. Suicide, although an attractive thought, stayed just that because I always knew I could never never leave my children that way. <I want to be dead. If it wasn't for them I probably would do it, but I can't for their sake. The logical part of me can't ever do it. I don't feel like I can do all of this any longer....hold together and try and earn and survive the pain and the memories and the tiredness> Despite all this, only one or two people had the slightest clue what was going on with me. I was still pretty good at hiding. Eventually, when I'd not eaten at all for days and was struggling to even walk down stairs without shaking because I'd got so weak, someone threatened me with the unthinkable - that they'd tell my doctor if I didn't eat. It took me a whole morning to consume half a currant bun, but I was determined not to see a doctor and still convinced that I was definitely not depressed. < I want to hide away for ever. I don't want to face people. It's all too hard. They talk about situations I face in my everyday life and have lived for years as if they are terrible things which happen to people "out there" and I sit there thinking " that's me they're talking about, it's just that they don't know it." They go home to their lives and families and I go home as a single mother to decisions that could end my marriage to my abusive husband who I love, to kids who have watched their father assault their mum, to a household where anger is a terrifying and life-threatening thing because of the past, and they envy me my ability
to express anger. Apparently people like me don't get depressed! What would they think if they knew that this confident woman who expresses herself so well is one of those people who are abused as kids, who cut themselves, who have lived abusive marriages for years and cowered in corners trying not to even breathe too loudly in case they get found and hurt?!> It took me a very long time to accept that what I struggled with really was depression. When I was growing up it had always been a label which applied to weak people, and, like my mother, I'd always looked down on people who got depressed. I can't begin to describe how frightening it was to contemplate that label applying to me. It's been about 6 years since I began to realise I was battling depression, and 4 since I started counselling/therapy to deal with all the underlying issues which still provoke it once in a while. It's been unspeakably hard to look at the years of abuse and the family patterns which set me up to walk into an abusive marriage and stay there for so long, and I know that I still have a long way to go. A particularly nasty bout of depression was provoked when memories of the abuse I'd suffered as a child surfaced. I'd managed to block them for years along with all memories of that particular uncle, and when I began remembering, I had flashbacks which made me think I was going mad, nightmares which left me too terrified to sleep, and all the old familiar depressive symptoms. I hope never to visit that particular place again as long as I live. My therapist asked me what emotion I'd felt most as a child after I'd told her I'd had a perfect childhood, and remembering the terror and ever-present fear triggered the memories. <so many nightmares..it's getting hard to distinguish what's real from what I'm dreaming. Had friends over last night, they commented on how happy I seemed.> One of the
ways I would deal with emotional pain was self injury, but even that is now fading into the past as are the physical scars it has left me with. I've written elsewhere about that, and about the domestic violence...but I want to just leave you with a poem I wrote a few years ago. For me it says it all. I wrote it the first time I really felt that someone might listen. I think that's been the most healing thing. Having someone listen and realising that I might still sometimes get depressed, but I've never been "mad". It doesn't have a very positive ending, but I'm beginning to believe that even that may change. ~~* ~~* ~~* ~~* ~~* ~~* ~~* ~~* ~~* ~~* ~~* Supposing I'm acting, suppose that I'm mad, Twisted and crazy, or hopeless and bad. Perhaps I am lying , and what if that's so? If I'm good at pretending, then how will you know? Can I trust you to see what is false, what is true? And I can't believe me, so why put hope in you? That you'll be there to guide me, and help me be strong, I think that I'm right, but then what if I'm wrong? And what if they're truthful, and he really was good, And kind, warm, and funny, and I've misunderstood? And what if that child, whose "truth" I've denied, Is a liar, a mad thing, best silenced inside? Why should I trust her? She's not safe, she's not calm, And she fills me with fear, and she bleeds from *my* arm And I can't bear to see her, she's hurting too much, And I silence her screams as I shrink from her touch. I hate her with passion because she was hurt, Little and helpless, a temptress, a flirt I hate her with strength that no words could express, Hate that sweet pretty face and the littl
e pink dress. A vulnerable female, just right to abuse. Love was the gain, but what did she lose? Safety and happiness, a sense of what's real, Innocent trust, being able to feel. Except for the fear, the terror, the pain, Running away just to feel it again And again it repeats in her mind, in her heart Ripping and rending and tearing apart. No escape and no healing, no motherly arms To hold and keep safe and protect from these harms. Nowhere to hide, nowhere to go No one to tell, 'cos who wants to know? So she cuts and she bleeds, and she shows them she's hurt, But still no one listens, they treat her like dirt, Because NOTHING is wrong with her, grown-ups know best, So nothing is asked and no secrets confessed. Until many years later the secrets burst out Not wanted, not planned, full of fear, full of doubt. It couldn't have happened, it cannot be real She's a liar, a mad thing, but starting to feel... And again as she bleeds and asks herself why, And thinks she's gone mad, she makes herself try To listen and make sense of the voice of her past, And finds too that someone else listens at last. So I'm screaming inside, "please don't listen to me! What if you believe me, then where will I be? Please don't trust me, don't listen, the story's not true! No one listened before, so why should it be you ?" "I'm so scared and so frightened, is it worse I should be Twisted and crazy, or truthful and free? Is it worse you believe me, or worse that you doubt? That I'm upright and honest, or that you find me out?" One voice
cries, "Believe me! Truth begs to be known!" The other cries " Silence! Just leave me alone!" And I want truth to win, and the coin has been tossed And whichever side's chosen, I know that I've lost.
Patriotism. Songs have been written to stir it, flags waved to demonstrate it and enemies killed on the pretext of it. So what is it exactly? Although the reply you might be given by different people and races might be similar in encompassing support for one?s homeland and the demonstration of that support in some way, an understanding of what patriotism actually is will differ from person to person and country to country. For me it might be a feeling of belonging when England are playing (and preferably winning) a World Cup match; for someone else it might be feeling stirred when the strains of God Save the Queen or Land of Hope and Glory fill the air of a football stadium or the Albert Hall on the last night of the proms. This is flag-waving, foot-stamping patriotism at its best and possibly least threatening form. Perhaps in some ways it might also be seen as its most meaningless representation. Does it really matter if someone waves their Union Jack and sings along at the top of their voice to ?Land of Hope and Glory?? What does this really mean? That somewhere deep in the national psyche there is a desire to belong, to support and to demonstrate that support for something bigger and better than oneself, something in which we are a small part of a much larger whole? I remember the World Cup matches last time round. The kids and I went to watch them at a private bar along with some friends and a whole lot of people we didn?t know, but the atmosphere was electric. We were on our feet yelling and shouting, sighing and, when Beckham was sent off for his unforgettable foul, almost crying. It mattered to us that England won those matches, and for just that moment in time, it mattered more than almost anything else. We were united with complete strangers, part of something exciting, and along with millions of others, we were in some way supporting our homeland. During the World Cup matches t
here were Union Jacks everywhere, English flags everywhere. I remember sneaking out of a counselling training session far too early because I couldn?t bear missing a whole match. As I drove home there were people wearing flags, others with their faces painted singing and shouting in the streets. I felt part of something big. In the US one of the things which struck me on my first few visits were the huge number of American flags waving everywhere from the local car salesroom to on the top of school flagpoles. I was amazed. It felt strange. In American schools they have to pledge allegiance to the flag every morning, hand on heart. What does that mean? What kind of culture does that create to have such obvious patriotism taught to children from such a young age? Now please don?t misunderstand me. I am not anti-American. My husband lives over there and we have grown to understand more about the US over the years which has lessened our natural British cynicism, however some cynicism still remains. When I hear President Bush declaring that he loves America because he loves freedom and telling the world that the light of freedom shines brightest in the US, I quite honestly feel sick. For me this kind of patriotism has crossed the line into an arrogance which wins the US few friends abroad. In 1982 my husband and I spent some time doing relief work in Lebanon. It was during the war with Israel and we were involved in distributing food and in helping families and schools clear rubble after the heavy bombing the area had sustained. We were the only British people among a largely American group and in the end were asked to leave because of commenting on the appalling behaviour of the Israeli army who had bombed schools while children were in them and had used phosphorus bombs outlawed many years previously. In the eyes of the Americans we were working with, Israel were God?s chosen people and rightful owners of South L
ebanon. As such they were entitled to bomb and kill the Palestinians who they believed were trespassers in their God-given land. We supported neither the PLO or the Israel-allied Sa?ad Hadad but could not be accepted as neutral. We were, in the eyes of our co-workers, necessarily supporting the Palestinian Liberation Organisation if we were not Zionists. We were forced to leave because we were unwilling to adopt a pro-Zionist stance. Perhaps it came easier for the Americans to do this in an unquestioning way coming from a culture which is so pro-patriotism. We left to work in an Arab community centre in Jerusalem and shortly after we had left, Sa?ad Hadad massacred hundreds of people in Lebanese refugee camps. We wondered how the workers we had left managed to carry on supporting his actions after that. The real danger of an unthinking patriotism is that we will end up supporting something our country becomes embroiled in which should never be supported. We could end up creating an enemy where really there are just people like you and me. Our family was personally affected by the events of September 11th. We have grieved and are continuing to do so. Our lives have been changed and things will never again be quite the same. I needed to say that to say the following. I have felt sick watching some soldiers in the US army writing names on missiles. ?This one?s for New York?s finest!? one man said. This is revenge, not justice. Someone else has become the enemy and all our feelings of anger and outrage and grief are vented through violence and death. Please hear me that I am not delivering a judgement on the pros and cons of the so-called ?War against Terrorism?. What I am saying is that we need to be very wary of any kind of support of our country in which someone else becomes the enemy. Supporting our country is one thing. Supporting it against someone else in a situation other than a game is something quite different. Let?s be pat
riotic, but let?s be patriotic in a thinking, considered way. People have many psychological defence mechanisms to protect themselves against attack, whether real or perceived. We all have them ? we?ve all learnt them from babyhood up and they?ve served a purpose in our lives at some time. One of the most primitive is called ?splitting?. ?Splitting? is believed to stem from the time when a baby has not yet learnt to tolerate the presence of both good and bad in one person (usually the mother) Some people never quite manage to achieve the mature position where they can tolerate both aspects in someone, and most of us revert to splitting (all good/all bad) from time to time. The danger in war is that a whole country can revert to splitting as a psychological defence. Suddenly we and our country are ?all good? and the ?enemy? is ?all bad?. This is how some Arabs could rejoice at the terrible carnage and death in New York. Americans have become ?the enemy? ? they are all bad and an evil to be destroyed. Conversely this is how many Americans are regarding Arab Muslim people, particularly the fundamentalists in Afghanistan. Both sides have depersonalised the other so killing has lost its meaning in terms of taking another human life. I am happy to be patriotic if it means appreciating the good things about my culture and the people group I belong to, but when patriotism begins to mean that I hold someone else, their life and culture as inferior to my own, then I am in danger of becoming less of a person than if I can accept and embrace difference. I am appalled at terrorist acts but am struggling to remember that these too are people with loved ones and children. People who are not completely evil any more than I am completely good.
“Everywhere the land stands against a dazzling light. In the distance…lies the faint suggestion of mountains. The sun, a smear of bronze, turns the light of the world a cruel metallic yellow in the furnace-hot time of the day. Now there is a harshness and a hardness in the land that foretells little sympathy for the weak.” This book is quite unlike any I’ve ever read before. Not one which would ever have been likely to make it onto my “to read” list. It was a lucky find in the local charity shop where amazingly just that day, someone had donated boxes and boxes of yummy, shiny, crisp newly-published books. I staggered back to my car under the weight of a huge box full of them bought for between 20p and 60p each and, disinclined to search through too deeply for one to read, found this near the top. “Time of the Butcherbird” is described by “West Africa” as “ A most readable and moving book.” While I’m not sure this is quite the assessment I would make, it was a fascinating, if sometimes confusing read which sheds a harsh light on the battles faced by blacks living in South Africa just a few decades ago. Apparently Alex La Guma has been likened to Dostoevsky in his “intense and sombre vision” (Obituary, The Times) It’s again not a likeness I would have spotted as the styles are so very divergent, but intense and sombre it certainly is while never becoming overwhelmingly depressing. Somehow, in the injustice and blind ignorance, hope is never quite lost. Alex La Guma was one of the leading figures in the black South African liberation movement. Born in 1925 his political career was dotted with imprisonment and solitary confinement until his escape with his wife to the UK in 1967. They moved to Cuba where he was the ANC representative and in 1984, a year before his death, was appointed Officer of Arts and letters by the French Minist
ry of Culture. “Time of the Butcherbird” was published in 1979, a product of his many years spent fighting a cruel and inhuman regime in South Africa. “Time of the Butcherbird” lurches from person to person and so story to story. The main character appears to be Edgar Stopes, although he is very much an anti-hero – a nobody caught up in a time and place which have simultaneously made him what he is and which he has helped in his own apparently unimportant way to shape. What happens to him is both irrelevant to the big political picture and completely connected. In fact, the connections which are invisible on a first reading spring out at you the second time you read it, and what has seemed disconnected and disjointed suddenly impresses you with a tightly woven fabric which seemed as insubstantial as the fabled Emperors clothes the first time through. I have wavered from a place of wondering at how this particular author had received so many accolades, to beginning to grasp the cleverness which is so well hidden. Lives in snapshot. This is how La Guma chooses to show his characters and tell their separate stories, which slowly gather together toward their inevitable but unpredictable climax as a single bigger story. A story which could belong to almost anyone in that culture or time. Edgar Stopes is a travelling salesman. Stuck in a backwater town while his station wagon is repaired and everything is closed for a day of prayer for rain to end the long drought, his mundane existence unwittingly becomes permanently and inextricably linked to the lives of Shilling Murile, back from hard labour and out to avenge his brothers death and Hannes Meulen, the son of a rich Afrikaner sheep-farmer in town for a couple of days. The reader is thrown into the life of each one of them in turn, sees their family histories – the things and people who have combined to make them who they are, and then t
hrown back into an overarching story which isn’t seen or understood until the final pages. The backcloth to the scene we see is the struggle between black and white. Between those whose ownership of the land is ancient and ancestral and those whose ownership is based on force and a justice system which sees itself as second only to God’s own laws but which ignores all but its own culture and beliefs. The particular backdrop is a story played out between the Bantu who are being coerced to leave their home and the white Afrikaners who want the land to mine. La Guma’s language is highly descriptive and atmospheric. It captures both the Black and White worlds in distinctive and evocative imagery. “ It was a country of flat, weary distances…The green or brown mamba still slithers here among the prickly-pear cactus and the strewn ironstone, with the red spiders that blend into the parched dust from which the scrub and whitethorn sprout as if in defiance of the remorseless sun….In the good season the rain came quickly, like a gesture from the spirits, bearing down on the camelthorn trees, the milkbushes with their long leaves like spearblades, the Stone Age bread trees. Then the rain was gone and it would be the time of the honeybird and the dringo and the wagtail; of thorny aloes, cycads and the common sunflower.” That description of the land of Madonele and Shilling Murile contrasts with the home of Stopes and his dissatisfied wife Maisie. “ Now there was this bungalow of orange brick which with its corrugated roof and twin front windows, gave the impression of a flushed face angry-eyed under an iron vizor. They lived in the middle-aged part of the city, a sort of no-man’s-land between the concrete towers of adulthood and the flaking ruins of infancy. The jacarandas lining the streets did not relieve the atmosphere of embattlement which metal guards – ornate in plac
es but still protective – gave the district. Bungalows where nervous ladies viewed the black houseboys and kitchenmaids as potential outriders to hordes of rampaging barbarians. Apprehension scuttled like micce behind the decorative curtains, and each creak of a floorboard, the crack of a loose parquet, was a peal of alarm bells summoning the paranoia of perpetual siege.” Aside from the descriptive passages, dialogue can sometimes be hard to follow as the text is liberally scattered with the words and sentence structure of the Afrikaans language. A similar use is made of Bantu phraseology. Although most of the words are explained by the context, this can seem stilted and at times artificial as the word is first used and then explained in a somewhat unnatural fashion by the second speaker, eg “ Keep away from the ‘Kloof’, she advised her son. “What ravine?” the boy asked with curiosity.” While using native words and phrases sometimes adds authenticity, the awkward explanations can detract from this, adding to the apparently broken nature of the structure of the novel. I found “Time of the Butcherbird” well worth the effort it took to read it. It is challenging, different and uses language both unforgettably well and frustratingly inefficiently at times. It is never an easy read, but will reward the more persistent forager.
?Oh my God! There?s another one!? The phoneline went dead. I was left sitting in the car in the playground of my kids school not caring that tears were streaming down my face and that people were staring at me. My mobile phone had just connected me to events thousands of miles away, and another explosion had suddenly disconnected me. Yesterday started pretty much like any other day. I?d worked all day and had a physio appointment before picking my kids up from school in the afternoon. As I turned my radio off after parking my car to go to my appointment, I?d heard that there had been "a dreadful plane accident in the US." When I turned the key in the ignition after physio the radio came back on. ?We are just receiving news that terrorists are believed to have crashed planes into the World Trade Center in New York? ?Oh God, please don?t let him have been in there, please God!? I grabbed my mobile and dialled my husband?s office number in the World Trade Center. It didn?t even ring. I dialled again. And again. In a complete daze I drove to my kids school and parked in the playground, still dialling. ?Please God let him not have been there.? What was I going to tell the kids? I?d have to tell them Daddy?s office in the World Trade Center had been attacked by terrorists in hi-jacked passenger planes, but could I keep from them that I thought their dad was likely to have been at work at 9am New York time? They?d guess, they?d see I?d been crying. Could I hide the tears from them? I tried his mobile number again. Suddenly against all hope the phone was answered. ?Thank God you?re OK? I sobbed. The woman in the car next to me stared blankly at me. ? Are you OK?? I asked. My husband?s voice was the most welcome sound in the world & #8220; The Trade Center has been bombed, I think they flew a helicopter into it, I was on my way to work and I saw it exploding.? My hus
band?s office was in the World Trade Center. His apartment was 5 minutes walk from there. Battery Park City is my kids? second home. The kids and I had spent many happy hours in the Trade Center ? in the mall, sitting in the Plaza by the fountain and in my favourite place in the entire world ? up on the top of the tower itself. Terrorists had flown aeroplanes into the Trade Center and it was a fireball. I told him that it was a terrorist attack, they were passenger planes. The Pentagon in DC had been attacked as well Over here in Berkshire, listening to local radio, I knew more than my husband who had watched the second impact take place and was in the road just minutes from his offices in the Trade Center. ?Oh my God, there?s another one!? The phone went dead. The kids got into the car and I told them the World Trade Center had been attacked by planes. As we drove to my youngest child?s school we heard that one of the towers had collapsed. They struggled to believe it was happening. We all did. My call to my husband had been cut off by the Trade Center falling. I'm grateful I hadn't then realised he was out in the street still. We spent the rest of the evening watching the news, answering the endless phone calls from concerned friends and family and waiting. Waiting to hear from him, hoping he was OK, wondering where he was. Occasionally trying to call but without much hope of success as all lines into NYC were jammed. At about 6pm I thought it was about time I made some food for the kids. We?d all just sat there in front of the television for hours. We couldn?t believe this place we knew and loved so well had been wiped out, we couldn?t even begin to get our minds around the scale of the human tragedy. I stood in front of the fridge wondering what I was doing there, feeling sick and not being able to think about what on earth I could feed the children with. My eldest child was ly
ing shaking on the sofa. Even after we?d had our car accident I?d never seen him like this. Life was never going to be the same again. About 10pm the phone rang for about the 15th time. Again I jumped to answer it. ?Hi, it?s me!? He was OK. He?d been late for work and had been walking to the Trade Center when the first plane hit. He?d seen the second one and decided to get out of the way of all the burning papers which were raining down from the Manhattan sky. He?d tried to catch the subway, but it was closed so he?d walked to China Town. He?d eventually got to a friend?s place up in Upper Manhattan where he was going to stay. Everyone in his office was accounted for bar one. No-one had realised the sheer scale of the tragedy unfolding around them, one PA had stayed behind to shut down all the computers. Our wait was over but amidst our enormous relief was a terrible grief for all the children whose fathers and mothers weren?t late to work that morning. The ones who had died in the building we loved so much. Today has passed in a daze. All through the night I woke to pictures in my head of the twin towers falling. I heard a plane and it felt strangely threatening. My kids had heard planes and been terrified. They say they never want to go to New York again. They feel terrified of flying ever again. Every television picture of the scene of the atrocity in Manhattan brings back memories of how life was there before it happened. We can't believe it. Life is so fragile, and if the children?s dad had been at work a little earlier, they might never have seen him again. There is so much more to say. My kids have been horr ified by scenes of celebration elsewhere in the world. They have wondered, like so many others, how one human being could possibly inflict such appalling suffering on others, they have asked, ?Mum, will there be a World War now?? I?ve had to explain how some people believe they?re doi
ng ?God? a service by killing those they hate. I?ve had to enable them to get through a day at school by telling them to think just about the fact that Daddy is OK and try not to think about the people that aren?t - just for a few hours. Of course they think of them as well. Our story could have been one of the tragedies. It wasn?t. We know many others were, and we weep. I know this story is a personal account. I?m aware that it doesn?t answer the big questions, but maybe it puts a human face on what?s happened in some way in which it feels closer. Each story for each person affected by the terrible attacks on Manhattan and elsewhere in the US is another personal story like this one. These people who died aren?t just statistics, they?re dads like the one my kids still have, they?re mums like me, they?re people?s sons and daughters, husbands and wives. Kids like my kids are now fatherless. It could easily have been my kids. Any of this could have happened to us. No useful conclusions right now, just a huge sadness, a gaping hole in our hearts and a hope that violence such as this will not be a gateway into still more violence. Maybe when the dust settles I?ll have something more political to say, but right now this is a personal story for me, and for many thousands of others. *Update* 15/09/01 We got an email today. Phonelines are virtually impossible to get out of the city, but emails are arriving still. My husband tells me that his apartment building has been declared unsafe and in danger of collapse, and no-one is being allowed into the neighbourhood at all. The street outside his apartment is apparently under 3 feet of dust. The police say that it will be at least 5 days before they will even know if he can get back to his home. He says the Millennium Hilton has gone, the places we used to buy donuts and sit by the fountain are gone,parts of the beautiful North Cove by the Hudson r
iver have been destroyed, the lovely buildings of the Financial Center are decimated and all he has are the clothes he left for work with on Tuesday. You can't help wondering where all the "refugees" from this disaster are staying. It seems most who can't return home have been taken in by friends. Almost a wartime camaraderie seems to exist amid the horror. I guess an event like this makes us all realise our lives are so transient and that to get through it we all need to help eachother. *Update 16/09/01* He was allowed back yesterday just for 15 minutes into his apartment to get essential personal items and a few clothes. They climbed in through a broken door at the back under police escort, just 8 of them at a time, having waited 3 hours for their turn. They were warned that if they overstayed the time or went anywhere but their apartment they would be immediately arrested. They had to use torches as they climbed the stairs - there is no electricity, gas or water any more and there are no windows to let daylight in on the stairway. The area looks like a war zone - he sent me pictures - upturned cars, debris, and everywhere dust, just feet deep dust. He'd left his window open as Tuesday dawned a beautiful fresh and sunny morning so everything inside is also covered in dust Discoveries on the roof of the apartment have been altogether more gruesome. Outside he found papers from one of the companies which occupied the higher floors of the WTC. He's gone into Lower Manhattan today as a volunteer to clear rub ble. Things are hitting home now the shock is waning. I think this is true for many survivors. Most have lost people they know, many have no place to work, and large numbers are at least temporarily homeless. The smoke continues to rise, filling the air with acrid fumes and there is a worry about the effects of the asbestos used in the building of the WTC. Where the stree
ts are usually filled with cars and yellow cabs there are only fire trucks and police cars with eerily flashing lights. White dust covers the ground like dirty powdered snow. Phonelines are still a problem as connections are hard to make and drop easily, and even emails are not as reliable as they were at the beginning now. If you pray, please remember all the survivors and their families as well as the bereaved. I wonder if the developed world has ever seen so many people homeless? *Update 19/9/01* Relatives of the missing British people lost in the Trade Center collapse started arriving in NYC today. I can't help thinking "that could have been me" and wondering how you survive the not knowing for over a week and carry on living life. Suddenly the theoretical knowledge of how awful these situations must be for people has been changed into something a lot more personal. I don't know how I would have got through this week if my husband had been missing still. I will never forget how unbearable the not-knowing and fearing the worst felt. *Update 21/09/01* I'm worried about him. He's definitely traumatised. He was supposed to go and see "terror stress counselors" (!) yesterday - compulsory apparently (although research shows that traumatic stress is not always helped by counselling and can sometimes be made worse) He didn't feel up to trekking back into Manhattan again so he called the special phone number they were given. Advice? To surround himself with familiar things, get on wit h his normal daily routine, go to work, have breakfast and exercise as normal, oh and to stop watching television news. Any problem with that? Sounds like good advice. Well just that his neighbourhood is destroyed, his office is in a million pieces along with everything that was in there, and he is forbidden from returning to his apartment. Exercise? Well he
used to run along the esplanade between his home and the Trade Center. As for breakfast, a bagel at the Trade Center every morning. He's now staying in a hotel so he can work out of his company's New Jersey office, but is worrying how long they will pick up the costs of that. It's his birthday tomorrow and we have no address to even send cards or presents to. Why is no-one talking about or addressing the problems of New York's new homeless? 8/10/01 He's back in his apartment, but the stench, he says, is unbearable. No friends are allowed to visit as only Battery Park residents are allowed back into the area, and most are staying away if they have anywhere else to be. the place is like a ghost town. No local shops any more, nowhere to buy a loaf of bread or a tube of toothpaste. The community has been destroyed along with the focal point, the towers. The smoke continues to rise and through the night he's woken by the sound of police moving barricades and shifting the tons and tons of rubble. Apparently that part of New York (Battery Park City) was built after the towers were completed because it was thought that no-one would want to live so close to such an immense building site. Now people are moving out. To Lease signs are everywhere in what was once one of Manhattan's premier districts. Everything has changed. I feel sick that violence has led to more violence. My kids are flying out to the US alone this month to see their dad, and I can't help but worry, even though they are not flying to New Yor k. Where does it all end? **Christmas 2001** Few people returned to Battery Park City. In my husband's area only around 20% of the apartments are still inhabited. Only people like him who are legally tied into lease contracts seem to have stayed. Many of them are taking the property owners to court on the basis that the area has become uni
habitable. There are unacceptably high levels of asbestos and toluene in the air and absurdly the area's trees have been dug up and removed as the area is considered too unhealthy for them while people are still being forced to live in this same area. I look at pictures of my kids among the fabulous Christmas decorations in the twin towers last year, there are magical cascading lights in the background and huge smiles on the children's faces as they pose next to snowmen in drifts of sparkling unmeltable snow. It all still makes me cry. I keep coming back to the realisation of the beauty and fragility of our human lives and the need to enjoy and appreciate the moments of happiness which touch them. PS thank you so much for all the comments, they mean more than you know. 31/08/02 My kids wanted to watch the first of many programmes tracing the human stories around the tragedy tonight. I was surprised at how much I did not want to watch with them, although I watched, feeling that it was better for them for me to be there than to refuse. I was getting to the point where my memories of the Trade Center were happy ones once more, but reaching the anniversary it seems the press are intent on reviving the pain. It amazes me that watching events unfolding on my screen again affects me as powerfully still one year on. I feel lost for words, torn between feeling that these stories need to be told and wishing that the events of Sept 11th 2001 could be relegated to history, which is, of course where they now belong. Listening to a mother talking about how it felt to begin to realise that her husband and her child's father would not be returning home still connects me with those terrible feelings that I might have to tell my children that their father was missing or worse. As so often has been the case with this tragedy, I feel at a loss to communicate the depth and breadth of my
feelings around these events. I still feel complete horror that the place we loved so deeply and knew so well saw such unbelievable human suffering and like so very many of those whose lives were tied up within its boundaries, did not itself survive. I thought I was "over" this. Maybe I never will be. As for the children's dad, he could no longer bear living in Battery Park City once its heart had died, and in January he defaulted on his lease ( as did so many others in the final reckoning) and moved to the other side of the US, thousands of miles away from his home by the Trade Center.
If, like me, you enjoyed the first two Crocodile Dundee movies, and, let’s face it, with their box offices having grossed $360,000,000 and $250,000,000 apiece we’re not the only ones, you might be looking forward to seeing Mr Dundee in his new American Adventure. After a long break and statements from Paul Hogan himself, saying that he would not do another Crocodile Dundee movie, you’d be forgiven for believing that there was not going to be a number 3. In Mr Hogan’s own words however, “ for the last 3 years I’ve been saying that if I woke up with a really good idea I might do a film.” So this, apparently is his good idea. It’s giving nothing away to say that the movie begins in the Australian outback where Mick (Crocodile) Dundee and his girlfriend of the previous movies, Sue Charleton have set up home in Walkabout Creek. Out of the blue her dad, a newspaper tycoon, calls his ex-journalist daughter to tell her one of his newspaper bureau chiefs has been killed in an accident and to beg her to fill in for him for a few weeks in LA. Sue agrees, Mick thinks it’s a great idea and that he’ll tag along too and of course bring their offspring born since the last movie and now aged 9. The movie follows a very similar shape to Crocodile Dundee 2 and is based around the outback crocodile hunter and his attempts to fit into LA movie society rather than the New York newspaper world of 2. To supposedly add interest to the storyline, Mick gets involved in uncovering a major scam going on under cover of a movie studio while acting as an extra. Does it work? Well, to be honest, if you’ve seen movies 1 and 2, 3 will be very predictable. A lot of the earlier gags have simply been re-worked. Let’s face it, however different Hollywood thinks it is from Manhattan, the outback man arriving in the big city has already been done. What I found particularly difficu
lt to suspend disbelief over was that after 9 years of living with an ex-Manhattan journalist you’d expect Mr Dundee to be a good deal more cosmopolitan than he actually is in this movie. Surely they’ve visited the US in those 9 years? Didn’t little Mikey ever visit his rich New York grandparents? The official movie site effuses “ The big challenge will be not how American TV contestants survive the Australian Outback, but how a simple Aussie survives the City of Angels. Wrestling crocodiles is nothing compared to swimming with sharks in LA.” I’m sorry, but the whole “Outback Crocodile Wrestler visiting City for the First Time” can only be done once with any vestige of realism. LA is one city too many. There is in addition, a particularly unpalatable scene which left me wondering whose idea it was and why. Mike Tyson is shown meditating in a park. His acting is dire, (imagine bad and multiply it!) and throughout this scene where the apparently gentle Tyson is seen as a contemplative man I couldn’t help thinking about the many accusations (and a conviction I believe?) of rape against him and feeling slightly sick. There are some funny scenes in this movie, but fewer than you’d hope for, and if you’ve seen the trailers, you’ll have probably seen all the funny bits already . Some of the humour is very slapstick – even more so than in previous movies, and this admittedly had my 10 yr old almost rolling in the aisles, but if you’ve seen movies 1 and 2, I think this one can’t help but be a disappointment all the same. Paul Hogan (Crocodile Dundee) and Linda Kozlowski (Sue Charleton) have aged since the last movie, and while Paul Hogan still looks pretty good, Kozlowski has filled out noticeably and lost the young almost innocent beauty she had in the first two movies. Still, at least that’s realism! The two first met and fell in lov
e in real life on the set of the first movie and have been married for some time now with offspring of their own. Their child of this movie, Mikey, was found after a huge round of advertising in Aussie newspapers and is a complete unknown. My feeling is that this will not be the case for long, as Serge Cockburn is a complete natural and has an excellent camera presence with a wonderfully expressive face. The movie is co-produced and co-written by Hogan and directed by Simon Wincer. It was filmed principally in Queensland, with some scenes made on location in LA. The people most likely to enjoy this movie are kids (or possible even some adults) who didn’t see the first two. My kids enjoyed it enough to watch it twice, but that’s not a thought I’d like to entertain myself! Once was most definitely enough. The most worrying thing about it is that when I read the official “Crocodile Dundee in LA” website, this is billed as a “widely popular comedy series”. I’m hoping that doesn’t mean there are going to be any more!
Passion for Chocolate. That's what the Lindt "Maitres Chocolatiers" (Masters of Chocolate to us!) are expressing in their "Excellence" range. Apparently. *All* of their passion for chocolate no less.... Having tasted the wonderful creamy but slightly crunchy " Coconut" white chocolate bar by Lindt, the passion is palpable... Now apparently dooyoo only have the one category to cover all Lindt chocolate. Big mistake - how can you describe in any detail the delights of each Lindt bar in one opinion? Right now I'm a one chocolate woman and the one I'm going to write about is Lindt's "Coconut" White from their Excellence range. <Note that under the competent leadership of that Murphy chocolate-loving woman this has now changed to there being a particular category for Lindt white chocolate!> You know by the Lindt label that you are selecting a serious chocolate when you first pick it off the shelf. All those years making chocolate don't count for nothing. They've been doing it since 1845 you know, and from what I've tasted in this amazingly sensual bar, doing it rather well. I'm afraid I found it rather difficult to piece the wrapper together once I'd consumed most of the bar...ripped it off I'm afraid -no delicate unwrapping this time, no peeling the paper and foil delicately apart. *Oh* no! This was a rip-it-off-and-let-me-taste-it moment. A moment of desire..of fantasy and of ecstatic fulfilment.. Did you know that the description of the bar in Italian reads "cioccolato bianco con fiocchi di cocco" ? Try saying that in your best sexy voice. Ever seen "A Fish Called Wanda"? Remember the effect on Jamie Lee Curtis of John Cleese speaking a foreign language? Say no more. It comes in a shiny golden-coloured wrapper embossed with gold foil and with a picture
of a square ( nothing so common as a piece with this one! ) of this delectable confection nestling among juicy slices of coconut. Speaking of squares, after my orgiastic feasting on the bar, I've just one square left to savour as I write. The bar is divided into squares which snap more satisfyingly than... ooops, nearly forgot this is a family forum...well, they snap very satisfyingly. Choose your own image at this point. The squares are smooth and slim but a very satisfying size and bear the imprint "Lindt" so there can be no doubt about what you're slipping into your mouth. As you bite into it the taste floods your senses as you're aware of a delightful crunchiness hiding inside that smooth sleek exterior. Now I'm not a Bounty woman myself. Nice ads if you like the idea of tropical paradise, but I've always found Bounty just that tad difficult to swallow. To be honest I'd rather just spit all that coconut right out. Not so with this naughty Swiss delight. It melts in the mouth, and leaves only a little firm crunchy coconut behind for you to play around your tongue. This is a chocolate to be reckoned with. "An exotic chocolate with flakes of coconut enrobed in smooth melting white chocolate" as those Chocolate Masters put it. Forget the Milky Bar kid, this is real grown up's white chocolate. What is it they say about the French? I think I just found my new passion.
“ They thought we had disappeared, and they were wrong. They thought we were dead, and they were wrong. We stumbled together out of the ancient darkness into the shining valley. The sun glared down on us. The whole world glistened with ice and snow… Who could have known that we would walk together with such happiness, after all we’d been through? It started with a game, a game we played in the autumn. I played it first on the day the clocks went back.” So begins David Almond in his inimitably evocative and powerfully descriptive style. “Kit’s Wilderness” is the second of David Almond’s wonderfully magical children’s novels. Having read his first and third thanks to their excellent reviews (read them!) here on dooyoo, and loved them both, I was half expecting “Kit’s Wildernesss” to be somehow disappointing. To say that both “Skellig” (his debut novel and winner of both the Carnegie medal and the Whitbread Children’s Book of the Year!) and “Heaven Eyes” were un-put-downably readable is to understate their raw but beautiful power. For me, however, “ Kit’s Wilderness” out-magics them both….. David Almond grew up in a small pit village near the river Tyne. It was a place of “ancient coal mines, dark terraced streets, strange shops, new estates and wild heather hills” to use his own words, and a place which finds its echoes over and over again in his work. The words and the local dialect are wound seamlessly into stories which are both ancient and yet very much of today. Like a rich coal seam, they shine in the darkness which lurks at the edges of this story perhaps more than the others, waiting to be brought up and turned over and used as a source of warmth and wonder… “We came to Stoneygate because Grandma died and Grandpa was left alone. We bought the house at Stoneygate’
s edge, one of a long line that faced the wilderness and the river.” So Kit tells his story. In Stoneygate he meets Askew, the local wild boy from a family whose name has been linked with trouble for generations and begins to play the game called “Death”. Unlike his new friend Allie Keenan, who plays the game simply to learn about life for her future career as an actress, and for whom it is all pretend, Kit plays the game in earnest and begins to see the things that Askew and only a few others see. Ok, so this is a kid’s book? None of my children have read it yet, and when I’ve been asked by them what it’s ABOUT, I’ve told them they need to read it to understand, so I’m not really about to tell you what it’s about either. That’s one of the beauties of Almond’s writing – to simply recount a basic narrative falls so far short of his story-telling magic as to be almost a waste of time. He is a true story-telling genius. A real story-teller. His stories have the powerful magic of tales containing essential truths and questions. About life and death, darkness and light, goodness and badness and the meaning of collective experience and understandings crossing history and race. The power of any truly great story is to be found in what it says to the reader about themselves and their lives, in what it evokes of their history and future and the thoughts and dreams which are given flight by the words and concepts portrayed. Almond’s stories have the depth of myths and legends, stories which are told for us to wonder at and never quite be able to put into neat and definable boxes….. I love David Almond’s books. Only my 12 year old has so far caught the same magic that I see….these are books for older children. The children in Almond’s stories tend to be around 13, and the concepts are beyond what most children under 10 or 11 would be able
to understand. I think it’s a shame to label these books as books for kids though. They’re some of the best books I’ve read in a long long time, and “Kit’s Wilderness” feels, perhaps more than any other, like it’s a part of me. My history too began by the Tyne. As kids we talked like the kids in this story, we lived like them in many ways, and forever I had felt somehow linked to the mining community in a strange and inexplicable way. There was a sense of belonging. I never understood this feeling until I was sorting through my father’s papers after he died. Among them I found my grandparents’ birth certificates and found that his grandfather had been a miner from a mining family – something no-one among the generations I grew up with had ever known. Dismiss is as pure coincidence, explain it away as mere wish-fulfilment, but for me there’s a link as mysterious but as real as any in Kit’s story, for this is what Kit’s story is about. The links drawing us back and simultaneously pushing us on. The links between us and our history, us and our ancestors, the ones who bore our family name, and the ones who didn’t, the ones in the stories we heard as children, and the ones in the stories we made up in our heads…. David Almond says he believes stories are living things. This one is vibrant while in part dark and repelling, sad and yet full of joy while it draws us ever on to who knows what conclusion…. Of course you could begin imagining the conclusion and what has gone before it from the first paragraph of the story which is the one with which this review begins...
I’ve been driving for about 17 years now and have had my own car and been responsible for my own insurance for the past 7 of those years. Despite this, I think I’ve learnt more about car insurance and the possible pitfalls in the past month than in all those 17 years put together. Why have I learnt more? Sadly it’s because my car has just been written off as a result of an accident which was not my fault and which happened a month ago as I was driving my children and a friend to my eldest son’s birthday party. I’ve always shopped around for the cheapest insurance deals I could find. I was particularly pleased with the deal I got from Dial Direct (not to be confused with Direct Line!) last year and duly changed from my previous insurers to buy a policy form them. The problems started immediately, although I’ll save those for an opinion on Dial Direct. What I want to talk about in this opinion are some things I wish I’d known and which I’d like to pass along as tips when you’re next looking to buy car insurance. What price you are quoted depends on many variables such as your age, no claims bonus and the area you live in, but are you getting the best deal by going with the cheapest company? Check exactly what your insurance will cover in the case of a claim. Did you know, for example, that although the insurance company will tell you that they’ll provide you with a courtesy vehicle should your own be off the road, they will in all likelihood not do so should your vehicle be a write off? I found only one company which said they would cover a hire vehicle in the case of your own vehicle being written off. If this matters to you, ask this question when finding an insurer. What about buying legal protection? Many companies now automatically include this in their initial quote, but do you need it? I bought separate legal protection with my insurance from Dial Direct, but found
when it came to the crunch (pardon the pun!) that in fact I was covered by the RAC as one of their members, and that the legal company they use and from whom I have free cover, were far far better and quicker than the one whose cover I had purchased with my insurance. Think about checking whether you already have cover with (for example) the RAC and in exactly what circumstances they will cover you. Will they offer you protection if the accident is your fault, or just if it isn’t? You may also feel you don’t need legal protection – I can only say that I have been and still am extremely grateful for the free RAC cover which I have. As I mentioned above, you will not tend to get a courtesy car if your car is written off, and at least legal protection can arrange hire for you in a clearly non-fault incident and so get you mobile again. It takes a day or so, and they do not tend to work weekends, but within a few days I was in a hired vehicle which I kept for a month while I sorted out a replacement vehicle. The costs of this have been covered by the legal company until they can be reclaimed from the third party insurers. I will also be making a claim for personal injury and for all my uninsured losses, eg cost of physio etc, and this is all taken care of by the legal service who put you in touch with a solicitor who will handle your claim. All the costs are claimed from the third party insurers, and you do not need to pay any legal charges. If this had been a fault accident, I’m guessing that I could have needed the legal protection to defend myself if a claim such as my own had gone to court, however you would need to check this out. A friend of mine who used to own a car yard told me never to accept the first amount proposed by an insurance company in a write-off claim, but to send copies of any documents relating to any work, especially recent work you have had done on your vehicle to them. I kept phoning the in
surance company to ask whether they had had a chance to look at the documents, and found that they upped their initial offer on my car from £800 to £1000 over the phone without having even seen the documents. At this point it’s worth noting that you may lose the hire car unless you accept the initial offer. A way around this is to say that you will accept it as an “interim payment” but wish to continue to negotiate. Apparently the second offer is usually the best you’ll get, but the insurance company further upped my offer to a final one of £1200. If I had not persisted in negotiating I would have had 50% less than I finally accepted in settlement for my vehicle! I refused to allow them to take my vehicle for salvage until I had agreed a settlement for the claim. The disadvantage of this is that I have had my damaged vehicle on my drive for a month now, but I’m told it’s being collected tomorrow! The hire vehicle can be kept until the day when the cheque paid by the insurance company in settlement of your claim is cleared by your bank. All of this must be a lot easier if you have access to another vehicle or are not car-dependent, but living where I live we need a car for almost everything, and the written off vehicle was out only car. It can therefore take quite a bit of juggling to find and put a deposit on a vehicle while waiting for the insurance cheque to clear, knowing that you need to be ideally driving your new vehicle by that day. My car insurance expired a week after my accident and I was sure that I did not want to renew with Dial Direct, so I have been calling insurance companies only to find that because the claim has not been settled as non-fault yet, despite my protected 6 years no-claims bonus, many treat it as a fault claim and so it affects the premiums I’m being quoted. I’ve found that this does differ immensely and that there are companies who will treat it as a non-fault claim if
this seems obvious by the circumstances. Again it seems to pay to shop around. If you are unfortunate enough to have a car written off as we have, be aware that you can claim a refund of road tax paid for that vehicle. You can not transfer remaining paid road tax to another vehicle, but can claim a refund for each whole month remaining on your disc. In addition ask the RAC (I presume it’s the same for the AA) to suspend your membership until you need it again on a new vehicle. You can add this remaining RAC membership onto a new membership on your new vehicle or even transfer it to another family member should you wish to. I realise that this information may not seem very relevant to many of you reading this, but the whole point of insurance is to cover yourself for unforeseen circumstances. I wish I had been better prepared for the consequences of having my car written off, and should we ever be unlucky enough to be in this situation again, at least we will be well-informed and know our way around the system a bit better. My hope for you is that you will never need this information, but if you ever do, you will at least have been better informed than we were.
Is that tropical holiday just beyond your reach? Are you pining for the sounds of gently falling water while you sit among vibrant exotic blooms and allow the warm humid breeze to waft away all the cares of work and everyday life? It could all be a lot closer than you think. It might even cost you less than a tenner for you and your whole family to enjoy an afternoon of tropical temperatures and sweetly-scented flowers not to mention watching the most beautiful and fragile of creatures flit around sucking nectar from the blossoms and occasionally landing on you for a few moments rest before fluttering across to the red hibiscus or tropical lilies? The London Butterfly House is an absolute must for a Summer holiday visit. Situated at Syon Park in Brentford, the Butterfly House is a haven of tropical colours, scents and heat even when it's cold and rainy outside. You'll find yourself transported to a magical world where blue tigers and orange dogs flit around your head and suddenly you understand, when you watch the Indian Moon Moth drinking nectar from a flower, how people once believed in fairies. I can almost hear those of you with boys muttering "all very nice for girly families!" under your breath as your sons hurtle around the living room pretending to be express trains or to kill eachother depending on their age and the mood of the day, but believe me, the boys will love it too! We discovered the Butterfly House, or rather Alexander discovered the Butterfly House thanks to a wonderfully enjoyable school trip where they got to pet pirhanhas and tarantulas as well as learning about butterfly life cycles and watching leaf-cutter ants (who can, of course, carry 5 times their own body weight!) The pirhanhas we haven't yet seen as they're part of the aquatic centre which is a separate place although also situated within Syon Park. The tarantulas we also haven't seen, although we did see som
e bird-eating spiders (only baby birds I'm told!) and some stick insects which looked as big as a log! The Butterfly House does have a separate annex for insects, so if you hate the things (apart form the pretty ones like butterflies!) you can steer clear and send them in there while you sit in peace and quiet and enjoy the sounds of the fountain and the bee-eaters and dream of having a garden in a climate hot enough to grow the amazing red, fuschia, orange and purple blooms. I took my 3 boys age 10 - 14 for the afternoon and found the Butterfly House to be one of only a few places they have all been able to visit without asking when we could go home. It isn't particularly large, and I wonder how pleasurable it would be to visit if there are a couple of school trips in there, but over the holiday, and certainly today, it was far from being too busy. Syon House (a National Trust property) is next door, and is only open for part of the week (Wed, Thurs and Sat I think) so I also wonder whether the Butterfly House might be less busy on the days when Syon House is closed. Alexander assumed we would visit the Butterfly House more than once during the Summer holiday, and I must admit, that despite a 50 minute drive to get there, I think we will be becoming regular visitors. There is something completely magical and unexpected about having a delicate Swallowtail flutter by you and if you stand still enough you may well have one or more beautiful butterflies land on you. We observed that light clothing appeared to attract them more than darker colours, with white being the apparent favourite, so if you're planning a visit and you like the idea of having butterflies rest on you for a while, wear white or something very light. I could wax lyrical about the amazing iridescence of their wings, astound you with facts about the sheer size of some of them - the Owl Butterfly and the Giant Atlas Moth are so enormous that you wonder at first
if they can be real - and try to describe the breathtaking moment when the first one settles on your arm, but words just aren't going to do it for you. The Butterfly House just has to be experienced. Make it a must this holiday. If you've never been here, don't miss the chance. This experience is unlike any we've ever had. It's engaging, enthralling and entrancing as well as being extremely educational. Did you know that there are butterflies with wings which you can see right through? Amazing, awesome and utterly utterly unforgettable. All 4 of us have had a fantastic afternoon, we all want to go back, we all have learnt something, although the sheer delicate beauty of the butterflies is worth far more than any useful knowledge your kids might manage to accumulate about the difference between moths and butterflies or the stages of a butterfly's life cycle. After exiting the Butterfly House you walk through the insect area (complete with African snails and scorpions, not to mention the cockroaches and giant millipedes) and the through the gift shop. The gift shop is on the tacky side, but will have plenty for little ones to spend their pocket money on should that be a consideration! Toilets are over by Syon House and there is also a restaurant there. We did use the restaurant, but found it stank of fish and were extremely grateful to be able to eat outside. We also cheated and brought our own drinks as theirs seemed hugely overpriced. Hot food is served up until 2.30pm, but looks fairly unexciting and again seemed overpriced. We paid £2.60 for packs of sandwiches (which were OK) and £2.50 for Covent Garden Soup with a nice fresh roll and butter. There was an interesting selection of traybakes at £1.60 a time, but although I liked the interesting-looking choccy ones, my kids were less than impressed and found that they were created with adults in mind rather than kids. A carton of 5 Alive will set you back 90p, although
a kids meal (hot only) will set you back only £2.50 and include a fizzy drink. The restaurant was clean (but very smelly) but the toilets were horrible. If Syon House is closed you can still visit the gardens and gift shop, and if gift shops are your thing, the Syon House one sells National Trust items and so is rather more upmarket than the one in the Butterfly House! Next door to this is a big Wyevale Garden Centre. All these places share the same large free car park, so parking is not a problem. Finally, if you're so taken by the insects in the Butterfly House that you just have to have one, or you're looking for that rather unusual present for the person who has everything, you can buy giant African Snails and stick insects at the Butterfly House (live!) I got my kids out of there just in time!
It all started with an argument. The kind where someone gets hurt. In this case it was Alexander, and when his older brother slammed the bedroom door, Alexander’s toe just happened to be in the hinge. The door broke, the toe, thankfully didn’t, but a bigger, bluer, more painful toe it’s difficult to imagine. The day after the toe incident we were due to be going to Thorpe Park - a treat which had been promised and looked forward to for a long time – and it was the last day of the holidays so postponing it didn’t look like a good option. Mum being an enterprising type of person, decided that the solution would be to find either a small wheelchair or a very large buggy at Thorpe Park. *** The beginning of this review is the tale of the toe. It’s important because we saw a whole different view of the park, but if you want to skip to the more general park info, I’ve included that further down. *** It didn’t begin too well. Having got Alexander to hobble painfully across the vast expanse of car park, in through the entrance, and across the bridge to what looked like a promising place to find Guest Services, we then looked for somewhere to hire a buggy or wheelchair without success. Eventually we discovered someone who looked like they worked there who told us that we would have to walk all the way back to the entrance and find one there. By this time the toe was already making its presence felt, so the nice young man agreed to go and find one for us. We waited. We waited a long time, eventually the nice young man came back and very apologetically told me we would have to go back out of Thorpe Park to a hut before the entrance where apparently they would hire us one. Back we went, into the queue for Guest Services which was outside of the park itself (yes really!) Here they told us that they only had full-size wheelchairs, and that it would cost me a £50 deposit for one. As I
didn’t actually have £50, they took my credit card number and gave us a large, heavy adult wheelchair. Thorpe Park is definitely not 100% wheelchair friendly. We discovered kerbs we would never have even noticed before, we struggled with restaurant doors while people stood and watched, and then quite by accident we discovered that wheelchair users get preferential service on all the rides! At last the toe had come into its own and my kids were ecstatic at being able to ride Detonator and Thunder River without a minute’s queuing. Having said that we had no queuing, be aware if you are going to Thorpe Park with someone in a wheelchair, that although you will get preferential treatment, actually getting on to some of the rides through the exit (which is used by wheelchair users to bypass the queues) is a bit of a trial. Thunder River is definitely not suited for someone who has serious problems walking as the walk onto the ride is long and includes a number of steps. The Flying Fish is extremely difficult to manoeuvre a wheelchair up to and we have all learnt a lot from this particular visit about how difficult and frustrating it must be for a family visiting this kind of attraction with a wheelchair user.(By the way, I just spelled that “hellchair” – do you think that was Freudian?!) . If you are visiting with a wheelchair user, and have a disabled car sticker, there is disabled parking near the entrance. I think you’d need to ask a parking attendant about parking there. The wheelchairs Thorpe Park have available to hire are extremely heavy and cumbersome to manoeuvre. Be aware of that if you are thinking of visiting with someone who has poor mobility. I am very grateful I only had a child to push around. To get onto the rides through the exit, there are special phones near the rides. These don’t always work, so you may struggle to get someone’s attention. This was far from our only v
isit to Thorpe Park, and I will go on to talk more generally about the park in a minute, but it was by far the most educational. A final plea to end this section of my review – please be aware of people with wheelchairs. It’s a completely different experience, and we found it quite shocking how people stared at us, especially at Alexander, and how some people watched us struggle with doors without offering to help. Please think of holding doors, please don’t stare, and please remember that people who use wheelchairs are just like you and me. Ok, I’m off my soap box! As for Thorpe Park generally, well I’d thoroughly recommend getting a season pass if you live in the area, as this will cover Thorpe Park, Chessington, Alton Towers, Warwick Castle, The London Eye, Madame Tussauds, the Planetarium and the Rock Circus. A season ticket for myself and my 3 boys cost me £220 and lasts for exactly one year from the date of issue. Since entrance to just one of the parks will cost a family of 4 approximately £60 for a day, if you live close enough to any of these attractions to make a few visits possible, a season ticket offers excellent value for money. Thorpe Park is one of those rare parks which really seems to have something for everyone. From Thorpe Farm, which is open again now after the foot and mouth crisis, and is a little haven of countryside idyll away from the crowds on the other side of the lake, to the new rides Vortex and Zodiac which are not for the faint-hearted, Thorpe Park has variety and space. Thorpe Farm can be accessed from Model World by waterbus which runs every 15 minutes over the Summer. It has been a working farm for decades and retains a real country feel to it. Here kids can see everything from llamas to the more traditional ducks sheep and goats, not to mention our personal favourites, the guinea pigs! Due to foot and mouth, the farm animals can not be petted at the moment, but thi
s will go back to normal once the risk of an outbreak is past. You can take a steam train back from the farm to Canada Creek where Loggers Leap is situated. Remember all the TV footage of Princess Di at Thorpe Park? This was one of her favourite rides. We used to know the director of the park who had an autographed picture of himself riding Loggers Leap with the princess and her boys hanging in his hallway. Apparently she loved it. All the more so as she skipped the queues! Canada Creek is one of my favourite areas of the park and there is a Burger King nearby so you could sit and enjoy watching people getting soaked while you eat. As you enter the park, turn left out of the Atlantis dome and you will find the 2 newest rides alongside the beginnings of the world’s first 10-looping coaster which is due to open in 2002. Watching the coaster being built has been fascinating for my boys as one of their favourite PC games is Rollercoaster Tycoon! They have astounded me with their rollercoaster knowledge, and it really is strange watching the new coaster take shape just as theirs do on screen. Both Vortex and Zodiac involve rotating at high speeds, so avoid them unless you have a strong stomach! Like the other “intense” rated rides, Vortex can only be ridden by those over 140cm in height. Zodiac, however, can be ridden by kids over 110 cms if accompanied by an adult. We rode these rides early in the afternoon and hardly had to queue at all – worth seeing if that’s a quiet time for them. Oh, and when I say “we”, I mean my kids rather than myself! There have been a lot of complaints that Zodiac and Vortex have been closed rather a lot, and Zodiac did have problems the day we were there. I think the ride reliability has improved, and from what I hear, they are more likely to be open now than they were earlier in the season. If you have little kids, there are a lot of tamer rides in the Octopus’s Gar
den. You could let them ride these and sneak off for a quick doughnut. Fresh, hot and crispy (forget the calorie-laden) they are a real treat and come at £3.99 for 10 or something like 60p each. If the weather is nice, there are quite a few water rides in addition to Logger’s Leap. Thunder River isn’t too wet even on a cold day, but I’d dare you to try Tidal Wave if the temperature isn’t soaring. There is also a beach area and some water slides, so you could just spend an afternoon pretending you were at the beach… One show you really shouldn’t miss (unless you have very sensitive young children!) is “Pirates 4D” which we have seen twice and one of my kids has seen a good deal more than that. As an added bonus, you can watch people dropping down the Detonator while you wait to get in. Detonator is one of the only “intense” rides you won’t hear people screaming on….it’s too quick and too scary for that. Alexander’s face was a picture when he rode it – eyes wide open, mouth wide open and no sound coming out! You can ride this one if you’re over 130cm tall. Thorpe Park is a great place for a day out. Definitely better if the weather is hot because of the preponderance of water rides, but since the addition of Detonator, Zodiac and Vortex this year, X-No Way Out is no longer the only exciting ride to do if it’s cold. To be honest though, my kids do not rate X-No Way Out very highly at all. It’s a backwards rollercoaster in the dark, but the queues are among the worst in the park (approx one hour or more if you can see the queue from the outside!) and we reckon it’s vastly overrated. Forget it unless you feel you absolutely have to do it once, or the queues aren’t too bad. Plenty of food to be bought throughout the park, but a nice place to eat is the Farm as it feels more like you’re eating out in the countrys
ide than in the middle of a theme park. All in all we rate this for a visit, it’s easy to find – signposted off the M25, and has improved vastly over recent years. If you buy tickets and then decide you’d like a season ticket, you can upgrade you daily pass for a yearly one and take the day’s cost off it. A pretty safe way to decide if you like the place enough to want to come back again. We definitely do.
Cats and Dogs – another movie I got dragged along to see by my kids. In fact they needed cheering up yesterday, and they’d been asking me when we could go to see this, so I psyched myself up for a boring afternoon (never trusted their taste in movies since having to endure Good Burger!) and off we went. I’m thankful at this point that I didn’t get to read the newspaper reviews until after we’d seen it because we probably never would have gone! From the look of the dooyoo ratings, and from our own enjoyment levels, however, the newspapers got it very wrong! Cats and dogs have been warring since the beginning of time, so the adverts go, a war which is going on under our very noses, and one which we think we are all aware of…. The movie begins with a sequence where a perfectly normal cat is chased by an apparently perfectly normal dog who belongs to an apparently perfectly normal American family, the Brodys. Cat evades dog, dog looks stupid, but barks and attacks in all the right places…it’s funny, it’s exaggerated, but it’s also very normal….that is until we discover that the cat/dog war is much more sophisticated than any of us mere humans have ever imagined…. Exit perfectly normal dog (who was in fact a highly-trained secret agent and has been captured by the cats) and enter an ambitious adventure-loving beagle puppy who sneaks his way past the selected replacement agents (Not Good!) and into the affections and household of the Brodys. Professor Brody is, in fact involved in an all-encompassing search to discover the cure for his (and so all humankind’s) dog allergy and is therefore the target for the hatred of the cats and the protection of the dogs. Jeff Goldblum (Independence Day, Jurassic Park – archetypal distracted professor-type) plays Professor Brody while his long-suffering real-estate agent wife is played by Elizabeth Perkins. Inevitabl
y there is a Brody child - Alex (neglected by the father, needing the dog for companionship) who is played by 11 yr old Alexander Pollock from Vancouver. To be honest, the human actors, although acceptable, are completely overshadowed by the animals, and quite rightly so, I guess, in a movie of this name. Plot-wise, there is much that is predictable, and it doesn’t take a genius to figure out the ultimate denouement which is completely formulaic. There are, however, so many genuinely funny moments that the predictable sentimentality which the reviews I’ve read in the papers object to becomes almost irrelevant. If you’re prepared to adopt a less than sophisticated mindset for this one, then you will be rewarded. So it’s a predictable plot. So it follows many movies before it in the climactic denouement. So what?! This movie is genuinely funny, hilariously tongue-in-cheek and brilliantly choreographed between real animals, puppets and computer imagery. I laughed more than I have done in a long time, my kids giggled almost non-stop, and we are still quoting lines from the movie and will be for some time yet! We laughed from the point of view of dog lovers. Dogs are the heroes. They are faithful, brave and intelligent. The cats, however have the funniest characters without a doubt, and most of the belly-laughs were down to the evil Persian Mr Tinkles with his plans for World Domination. I could quote him verbatim, but I really don’t want to spoil it for you, let me just say that there is a point at which he is pretending to be his owner Mr Benson, and imperiously informs “his” factory workers “This is your manager, Mr Benson, not some evil cat bent on world domination!” All this after ordering sushi and a quart of cream from Mr Bensons bemused secretary. Mr Tinkles is voiced by Sean Hayes. The dog and cat breeds used have been chosen as having characteristics appropriate to thei
r characters. Lou, the Brody’s pup and the hero of the movie is in fact a pocket beagle – only 10” high and chosen for its playfulness alongside its size which makes a full-grown dog appear very puppy-like. 5 dogs and one puppet were used in the filming of Lou, and more than 2000 hours were put into the training of the animals. Apparently with Lou, much of this involved play! Susan Sarandou voices Ivy the “domestically challenged” saluki while Butch, the experienced agent watching over and non-too-amused by Lou is voiced by Alec Baldwin and played by an Anatolian Shepherd dog, which is a new one to me, but is a breed which seems to be well-suited to Butch’s character and role. A mention must be given here to Peek, a Chinese Hairless who plays the electronics expert and to the fact that Michael Clarke Duncan (yes, he of Green Mile fame!) is the voice behind Sam the Old English Sheepdog... As for the cats, well, prepare for Ninjas and a Russian “kitten” who coughs up the most interesting furballs you’re ever likely to see. See this and laugh. Don’t expect a storyline which will hold together under scrutiny, but do expect a lot of fun and some truly hilarious scenes which you’ll be reminding eachother about for weeks to come and maybe even longer. Cats and Dogs is very very witty. It’s funny for kids and it’s funny for adults. I saw it with my 3 boys age 10 – 14 and we all rated it around 9/10 for watchability and hilarity. This may not be a potential classic like Shrek, but it’s a movie I predict we’ll be watching again, and one which I find it difficult to imagine not being enjoyed by your kids! Definitely one to see.
It’s got it! Real Shrek’s appeal. Whatever you need to keep yourself amused for a few hours over the long summer holidays (not to mention the kids!) is here. Oooops, I’m beginning to sound like Sexy Kay, better get back to the movie… Shrek is one of the few movies to succeed in amusing both parent and child, not to mention the teen who thinks kiddy movies are just SO uncool. An animation in the tradition of the Toy Story movies, Shrek promised much and doesn’t disappoint. While kids will laugh at the large dose of toilet humour, there are moments of hilarity which have only the adults with tears running down their faces. Clever, isn’t it? Have the kids laughing and then sneak in a few more grown-up funnies which I don’t think even my playground-wise 14 yr old understood. This is a real quirky fairytale, one by virtue of its medium best seen, although you can imagine it being read and appreciated by future generations, such is the age-old mythical portrayal of the realities of the human condition. A morality tale with a kick and a healthy dose of tongue-in-cheek humour, Shrek succeeds in the challenging task of poking fun at fairytales while retaining a truly fairytale quality itself. Shrek is a giant green ogre. His toilet habits are quite frankly repulsive while his taste in food has you cringeing. He’s supposed to be ugly and unpleasant, and unlike Dr Seuss’s Christmas-loathing Grinch, he struggles in convincing the audience of this. Perhaps part of the struggle lies in the gentle lilting Edinburgh accent of Mike Myers and part of it resides within the extremely attractive facial features of Shrek. He reminds me of Lenny Henry – gentle eyes with a twinkle of wicked humour I think! Eddie Murphy is very appropriately cast as a verbose talking donkey who attaches himself to Shrek after all fairytale creatures are exiled from the kingdom. After they all find their way to
Shrek’s lonely swamp, Shrek and the donkey take on the quest to reclaim it from Lord Farquaad and end up having to rescue a rather unusual princess (Cameron Diaz) from an enormous fire-breathing dragon. Disney-lovers (and haters) will find much to keep them smiling – or otherwise- but look out for the many twists and parodies of beloved Disney tales! There are a myriad of familiar creatures and characters here with a slightly wicked twist. Katzenberg, an ex-Disney mogul produced Shrek while Aladdin’s scriptwriter Ted Elliot co-produced. I doubt that the connections are purely coincidental… Adamson and Jenson, a relatively inexperienced team directed and must be patting themselves on the back after their huge success here. Adamson was visual effects supervisor for the last two Batman films but otherwise they seem to have somewhat appeared out of relative obscurity for this one! With next year’s Oscars first to include an animated feature category, those involved in Shrek must be feeling hopeful of recognition. It’s already the highest grossing movie of 2001 and has apparently been sold to NBC for over $30 million. I think Shrek is destined to become a classic. We all loved it and the movie has a great message told the best way – through humour, adventure and romance. Go see it, don’t even bother feeling you have to round up a few kids to accompany you – this is a return to happy memories of childhood tales with a decidedly wicked but rather nice twist.