Beijing, China

Earlier this year I went on a tour of China, from Beijing down to Hong Kong, stopping off at the Great Wall of China, Shaolin Temple, Xi’an, Yangshuo and Longsheng along the way. I will review each place individually in order to not bore you to death. I travelled as part of an organised group tour with G Adventures with seven ‘strangers’. It’s been over a month since I last did a blog about China – Yangshuo was the last place and my favourite overall in the tour – so why not have this month’s addition as my least favourite place.

I don’t know if it was fair to say that this was my least favourite place on the tour, but it’s where the tour started and I was jet lagged and pretty stressed. My mum was due to come on the tour with me but was turned away at Heathrow as her visa wasn’t right.  I shan’t bore you with the details but in short ‘British National Overseas’ isn’t a recognised nationality by the Chinese, and I think it’s not a bad thing overall as my mother’s enjoyment of China probably would have been marred by its cleanliness levels and her physical unfitness. Onto Beijing:

I arrived at 5am and couldn’t find my driver. I found my driver. He did not speak any English so I had to get some help in explaining why there was only me there when it was down to have two people. He drove me through Beijing in an old VW, a terrifying ordeal both due to the driving and as the the city is pretty ugly and rough looking in some areas, so I was just praying that my hotel wasn’t nearby.

Unrelated: I queued for a solid minute to take this picture. #ForbiddenDittyInTheForbiddenCity

The area it was in was fine. The hotel was a Home Inn which is kind of like a dirtier, smokier Travelodge. I got to the room and there was no wifi. Confused at 7am and not knowing what was happening with my mother, I complained in “English abroad loud, slow English” about the lack of wifi. There was a screen next to them saying that there was wifi in the hotel, so they gave in quickly. So they gave me a convoluted dongle and I got wifi.

I Skyped my mum, received an update (she would fly out to Hong Kong the next day), and checked my emails. I then slept for 5 hours, got up for a walk at midday, was crazy tired and found it too hot for what I was wearing, then went back to the hotel and slept for 6 more hours. I then met the group and had dinner. The group were fine. I would recommend group travelling if you’re going to China.

The first proper day in Beijing was to Tiananmen Square. Tiananmen Street Market is quite nice and features traditional Chinese shops such as H&M, Zara and Starbucks.

Tiananmen Street Market

Look at these people walking on the tramlines like there are no trams.

Tiananmen Square (or “Tianaman Square” as I spelled it in emails) was huge. FUN FACT!: It is the largest city square in the world. Our guide didn’t really know what happened at Tiananmen Square, so good old Communism does have its successes. The air quality was pretty terrible and is even worse than these pictures suggest as it turns out that the UV lens filter has more perks than just acting as a lens protector.

Tiananmen Square

I like that the guy selling photos is wearing a mask. A lot of people wore masks. I would also wear a mask. I don’t quite know how everyone isn’t horrifically ill (or, frankly, is alive more generally), but between the air quality and the widespread smoking it goes some way to explain why so many people spit. Get used to the spitting. All hocking, all the time.

Chinese people aren’t really used to seeing white people. I’m half Chinese, so they were mostly fine with me. However, they insisted on taking pictures of the group.

Me taking a picture of them taking a picture of us

Me taking a picture of them taking a picture of us.

Next stop was the Forbidden City, which was also huge and impressive with poor air quality. My favourite facts about the Forbidden City include:

  • There were 15 layers of stone on the floor so that no-one could dig their way in.
  • There is a building just for the empress to open birthday presents
  • The emperor used to sleep in a room with twenty beds. He would change bed every night and 19 eunuchs would sleep in the other beds so that no-one could kill him in his sleep.
  • The emperor was clearly a crazy person. I respect that.

Forbidden City

Next was to lunch. This would be our most expensive meal of the trip, totalling around £8.50 per person for a full Peking banquet and including drinks (bottled water). I don’t know the name of the restaurant and I absolutely couldn’t tell you where it is as we had to get two buses – 2p a pop – then walk a while, but it was the tastiest crispy duck I have ever had, and I am quite the crispy duck fan. I am genuinely salivating while writing this. I need to get a grip. I didn’t take a picture. Sorry. It did happen though.

Touch dat bling bling

Next was on a cycling excursion through the Hutongs, or ‘old Beijing’. We went to a random woman’s house who told us about how it had been in her family for generations and that the value of the property was $2million if she were to sell it solely due to the location. Developers would knock the hutongs down if they could, and are trying to, and build high rises as far as the eye could see.

We were all so jet lagged by this point that we had no idea what was going on

We were all so jet lagged by this point that we had no idea what was going on

This woman’t husband also took a photo with me which was odd (ly exhilarating. Ah to be a homewrecker).

Cycling through the hutongs started my now favourite hobby of cycle-tography, that is taking photos with a DSLR camera on a moving bike. The hutongs seemed pretty shitty on the whole but there’s history (!) there so you’ve got to respect the residents for holding onto the area so persistently.

Cycltography

We then cycled to the very hazy river which had the first instance of an outdoor gym that I ever saw, but have since seen several in China and also in many an English park. Other attractions were a sax band playing ‘Auld Lang Syne’ (the Chinese freaking love ‘Auld Lang Syne’. I heard it at least five more times during my March-April trip) and these sexy papas (I have no idea what the occasion was. Do you need an occasion to frolic in your underwear? No. brb.):

Ohhh sexy girlfriend!

Ohhh sexy girlfriend!

Then we wandered round the tacky markets and got several buses home. Having caught five buses in a day which would have got me change from 10p – step it up England! – we ate at McDonalds as restaurants shut at 8pm in China so your only choice is street food or McDonalds. Either way, you’re probably eating the wrong part of a chicken.

To end the night I bought some overpriced fruit (£1 for bananas? I just caught 5 buses for 10p!), charged my many devices by borrowing a charger, and found out that my mum was flying to Hong Kong.

I slept fitfully and had sweet, baked goods from breakfast, neither of which was conducive to the 15km hike that was to follow in the next episode of The Full Bodied Chinese Adventure of a Half Chinese Misanthrope During Spring in the Year of Our Lord 2014 (title pending).

The Chinese are known for their quiet contemplation

The Chinese are known for their quiet contemplation

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‘Scatter My Ashes At Bergdorf’s’

Having watched Bill Cunningham New York I decided to watch Scatter My Ashes At Bergdorf’s as, who knows, maybe I do like fashion after all.

The film is basically a brief history of Bergdorf Goodman, the famous department store that takes up a full block on 5th Avenue. There are a lot of talking heads from all the bigwigs in the fashion industry as well as people that have worked n Bergdorf’s over the years. The most fun fact that I took from the film was that a successful personal shopper can make in excess of $400,000 pa. I know the dollar is pretty weak at the moment, but that’s still a substantial amount especially considering that some retail managers in the UK only earn around £18,000 pa.

The film is split up into ‘chapters’ which include: The Designers (which I found to be the most interesting part of the film. Even though I’m not particularly interested in fashion, it is still interesting to see how Bergdof’s affected some very successful designers including Vera Wang, Dolce and Gabbana, and Oscar de la Renta), The Building (again interesting as I have a proclivity towards architecture and space. Another fun fact: the top floor is a sixteen bedroom penthouse apartment that to live in, Goodman had to claim to be a caretaker of the building due to city planning laws), The Shopping Experience (follow a great personal shopper. I say great because I wish I had the confidence to exert her personality type), The Window Displays (an ongoing arc), and probably some other chapters (I grew bored towards the end so did some online banking).

It also featured the late, great Joan Rivers in a few segments which is always welcome.

If you’re interested in fashion, this is probably for you. If you’re interested in history, like me, it’s also kind of for you up to a point. After about the hour mark it feels very much like more of the same. Also they use voiceover several times which I’m not a fan of as it just feels like they couldn’t find a better way to give this explanation. When you’ve committed to talking heads or vérité, damn well commit to it. Voiceover in feature documentary is usually lazy and hack and dampens an otherwise okay film. But that’s just me being mildly crazy.

Fine. Not a bad way to spend an hour and a half. I’m through with my fashion films for now.

6/10

Netflix prediction: 5*. Stop predicting everything 5*, Netflix

‘Bill Cunningham New York’

I’m not entirely sure what drew me to watching this film as I’m not a big fan of fashion. I suppose  I’m interested in photography and also in people. On with the watch.

Bill Cunningham New York follows Bill Cunningham (shit the bed, didn’t see that one coming), the famous and original street style fashion photographer who photographs for the Times as well as previously working for Details without remuneration and Womenswear Daily, which made him decide to no longer be remunerated for his work.

On the outset he’s just a bit of a kook. He himself is pretty unfashionable, wearing a blue smock and a black poncho that he’s taped together; he cycles everywhere; he has bad teeth; his bed is a filing cabinet, and so on. However, he has a lot of heart and a lot of talent and passion, and this is what makes him such a captivating subject. He has chronicled New York street style throughout the latter half of the 20th century through to the present day, and is arguably the foremost documentarian of street style fashion, or fashion in general, in this period (hey-oh! history reference).

He claims he’s not really a photographer. He photographs all the time but I suppose he’s right: he isn’t a ‘traditional’ photographer. Photography itself is not what interests him; it’s the fashion featured in his photographs that he wants to share. And he has done a lot for the fashion world, I learned: Cunningham was awarded the  Officier de l’ordre des Arts et des Lettres by the French Ministry of Culture during Paris Fashion week. A large number of fashionistas and New York society give testimony to what a treasure Bill is, and he really does seem like a truly likable guy.

It seems that his personal life is somewhat waning, or that his working life very much is his personal life. He claims to have never had any relationships ever. His family probably thought he was gay (it is never clarified whether he is or isn’t). He doesn’t like food. He’s happy living in a cramped apartment in Carnegie Hall – which he is later forced out of, along with several other artists and personalities. And he goes to church every Sunday. Aside from this, we know that he was in the army and used to work as a milliner.

The filmmakers, Richard Press and Philip Gefter (a former picture editor at the Times), clearly care about and respect Bill Cunningham to make such a beautiful and captivating film. As several of the talking heads say, Bill never takes a picture with bad intentions; he just takes it to celebrate fashion and to celebrate people. I hate the word ‘inspirational’, but it is pretty inspirational to see someone so dedicated to their craft and so kindhearted. The world needs more Bill Cunnighams.

9/10

 

KimYe’s Wedding

The picture for our header is not ironic, we both are actually fans of Keeping Up With The Kardashians and its spin offs. No, really. While I would never want to actually be or be like the Kardashian-Jenners, they are still for the most part pretty enjoyable to watch – there have been some dud seasons and there tends to be lulls in each season where they make up fake and pointless stories like “Kim Gets A Butt XRay” – but you should still appreciate that there is a reason that the Kardashian shows are now in their seventh year with no signs of stopping.

Without a doubt, my favourite episodes are always the weddings. I only watched part of one other episode this season before deciding that it was probably a bad season, I had outgrown the show, and that 40 minute episodes were too long. Still, I can’t resist a good wedding!

The episode opened by saying that it was filmed by the friends and family of Kim and Kanye. I don’t know how true this is, as, aside from poor sound quality and slightly grainier picture quality, the shots themselves were fine. Also there was a lot of stock footage of Paris in there. I’m being pedantic.

I really like Kim and Kanye as a couple, and generally the Kardashians as a family. A lot of people don’t, but those people usually don’t watch the show, or have real opinions about real things. I like Kanye West’s music, and I admire Kim for achieving such sustained success following a sex tape. As a couple, neither of them is particularly “winning”: they are both wealthy, good-looking (Kim is better looking), with success in their careers. They seem to like each other as much as they like themselves, and have similar interests in fashion. Also they both agreed on calling their child North West. That two people agreed on this as a name for a real human being shows that they must be pretty compatible if not moderately insane. In clips where they are together, they seem to genuinely love each other and show a different side to Kim Kardashian and Kanye West that is portrayed in the media. Additionally, since dating Kanye, Kim, who has long been my least favourite Kardashians, has matured and grown to be a more likeable and fun-loving person. More like Kim-yay!, amirite?!

You get to see none of the wedding – the episode is purely build-up.

Kim’s friends all seem to like Kanye and have lovely stories about how obsessed with Kim he was. This was actually very sweet and nearly moved me to tears because I am an unstable person who just loves love!

Drama came in the following forms: Kourtney is pregnant but nobody knew apart from close family and friends. Related to this, the bridesmaids didn’t like their dresses, but luckily Kim found some new dresses. Kanye didn’t like the ‘vagina slit’ in the new dresses but the bridesmaids did; Kanye won. Khloé had a hangover. Kylie had blue hair. Rob didn’t show up to the wedding.

Some of this, as in the bridesmaids dresses, was probably contrived, but that’s TV baby! Also, Kylie’s blue hair was no match for Jaden Smith turning up dressed as white batman.

The Kardashians and Kanye West are very rich. This episode really proves the point. They also know a lot of famous designers, and have the power to shut down Versailles, “which like has only been done once before in history.” They visited Valentino’s house, which is very nice:

And the venue for their wedding was more nice:

This was the best picture I could find.

I agree with Kourtney, as I often do, that I prefer Florence to Paris and could happily live there. Kourtney is my favourite Kardashian and the one that I most relate to. I think it has something to do with our birthdays being one day apart and us generally being quite similar people. Khloé has gone down in my books since her split with Lamar, but clearly she’s dealing with a lot of things and you’ve got to admire her for being strong. Something weird does seem to be happening to her face, and Kylie’s face: lay off the fillers Kardashians, you’re attractive people but you’re teetering on the side of bizarre.

I liked Kim’s wedding dress, others did not. It’s not a regular wedding dress and I like that. Also her veil was “like the biggest veil ever made.” These quotes are not verbatim.

If anything, Kim Kardashian is too good looking. I realise she has a team of hair and makeup people, but girl’s doing it right!

My single favourite line in the episode was said by Kim, who deduced that someone would be singing as she walked down the aisle and declared her two favourite singers as Kanye and Andrea Bocelli. Now there’s a woman with no discernible taste in music. (Turns out Andrea Bocelli did sing as she walked down the aisle)

Another episode highlight was the decision of how to kiss during the rehearsal:

 

Ah, young love.

Kim and Kanye are infinitely better together than Kim and Kris Humphries: “the bump and the hump”. I am hard pressed to think of two people better suited to each other than Kim Kardashian and Kanye West. Khloé and Lamar were very sweet, and their wedding episode will always move me to tears as I am still an unstable person, but drugs are a shame.

The day after watching the episode I spent several hours pointlessly trawling the internet in what was one of my most unproductive days in years. Maybe watching the Kardashians does rot the mind.

 

‘Freedom’, Jonathan Franzen

 

The first time I came across Jonathan Franzen was at 1am in JFK in 2010. My friend and I had a flight at 6am so decided that it would be better to just spend the night in the airport than pay for a hotel room that we would only have to use for half the night. The logic is there. The night itself was still pretty uncomfortable. In the six hours or so I was waiting in the airport – at night it’s a pretty strange experience seeing so many people sleeping on the floor or on their luggage – I read the first few hundred pages of The Corrections. It didn’t particularly grab me, but I was inordinately tired. My friend offered to lend me the book to read at home but I figured that it was too bulky so gave it a miss.

Four years later, I read Franzen’s newer (2010) bulkier (and hardbound) book Freedom. My three main criticisms of the book are as follows: I wasn’t a big fan of Walter’s environmentalist storyline and mostly skimmed these chapters and passages (although I do largely agree with the views about overpopulation. A rock concert still could never make this issue seem ‘cool’ as it seems more misanthropic than most people would care to be. Maybe that’s the point); the word ‘freedom’ or occurrences relating to freedom can sometimes be a bit overdone: they’re getting freedom and that’s the title of the book, how exciting; the book was too heavy and so I couldn’t take it out with me.

For however heavy and irritating I find the weight to be, Franzen is a great writer – this sounds like a dumb criticism but it’s my day off so you can take it. He writes character extremely well. I would expect that most people have a leaning towards preferring story or character. I am a character fancier (it mildly amused me to write it like that so character fancier it is!), and as long as the characters are relateable – that is, you can understand their actions based on the circumstances, rather than thinking ‘she is so like me! I bet she wears Uggs too!’ – and what they are doing is not completely dull (or, for me, political) then I could happily read about their lives forever.

On relateability, I found myself often identifying with Patty too much and as such I really need to work on myself.

Here’s the synopsis of the story from Wikipedia: Freedom follows several members of an American family, the Berglunds, as well as their close friends and lovers, as complex and troubled relationships unfold over many years. The book follows them through the last decades of the twentieth century and concludes near the beginning of the Obama administration.

Normally I’d try and write it myself, but it’s more of a character study so there’s the plot and that’s nice.

The main characters in grammatically poor sentences:

  • Patty: former-athlete, current housewife, depressed but not unremarkable.
  • Walter: smart, working husband, opinionated, passionate, “crazy person”.
  • Richard Katz: Walter’s best friend, object of Patty’s affections, rockstar, bum, attractive.
  • Joey: son, precocious, lucky.
  • Connie: Joey’s wife, moderately intelligent doormat.
  • Jessica: daughter, largely overloooked.
  • Eliza: full blown crazy person and drug addict, later puts on weight.

I am a sucker for imperfect characters and crazy people, so maybe this is why the book really resonated with me. Aside from this, it also serves as a pretty solid commentary about American middle class life, I would imagine, knowing very little about the specifics of American middle class life.

While regarded by some as overlong – it is 560 pages – I found it an impressive read seamlessly chronicling the lives of a family, and one friend, and the number of pages kept me interested enough. Just cool it with the environmental stuff, yeah, I just like drama because I’m a girl and can’t deal with real issues.

8/10 – worth the hype

 

 

‘The Queen of Versailles’

The Queen of Versailles is a documentary about the Siegel family, particularly husband and wife Jackie and David Seigel.

David founded and is CEO of Westgate Homes, the world’s largest timeshare company which made him a billionaire. His wife Jackie is a former Miss USA who is thirty years his junior, and together they have three biological children plus Jackie’s niece.

I first took interest in this film having seen it on a ‘Documentaries That Didn’t Turn Out How They Were Intended’ list. The film sets out to follow David and Jackie as they build ‘Versailles’, which will be the largest residential home in the US. The family and business are however greatly affected by the 2008 economic crash, so the second half of the film follows the family as they cope with downsizing and staying afloat in stark contrast to the first half’s excess.

The first half of the film could probably be compared to ‘Real Housewives’ or ‘The Kardashians’ in which viewers would be gained out of morbid curiosity and the desire of social emulation. The size of the house that they are building is incomprehensible, I certainly wouldn’t know what to do with that amount of space, and they were to include a bowling alley, a baseball field, a roller/ice rink and thirty bathrooms, among other things. Finished, it would have been worth $100,000,000. You also get to meet the family who mostly seem to be spoiled – apart from the niece who previously lived on the streets, teaching the other children an important lesson about what they have.

The first half also follows Westgate Resorts during its boom years as it turns over millions per year by getting people suckered into the timeshare pitch. The sales force are peppy and happy, and the clients buy into the luxury that they are shown in the apartments.

“If you can’t be rich, you want to feel rich. And if you don’t want to feel rich, you’re dead.” – David Siegel.

The second half starkly contrasts to the first. The financial crash really hits real estate, and Westgate has $1.2billion tied up in bank mortgages and loans. Construction on Versailles is stopped. The Westgate – and Siegel’s personal – workforce is drastically cut. Westgate Resorts are at a minimal capacity with the banks threatening foreclosure and not allowing Westgate to sell any more units.

For the family, Jackie continues spending in denial while the house becomes increasingly dirty and unloved: the skeleton staff can’t cope with the size of the house and scale of the mess being created by the number of people living in it. In one passage, a pet lizard dies.  In another, David has an argument with his family about wasting electricity – a far cry from the thousands that used to be spent willy nilly in their financial peak.

Interviews with Jackie and David individually shows how un-united this couple were and how wildly different their lives were from each other. Jackie had no idea about the extent of David’s financial troubles, for instance.

Other parts of the film followed David’s son from another marriage who also worked for Westgate as he struggled with their downsizing, and a short biography of Jackie’s life is given. It also interviews some of the housekeepers and nannies which again gives contrast to the lives that the Siegel’s live.

However much empathy you have for them at points, you are also taken over by how ridiculous and excessive they are, such as when Jackie takes a limo to McDonalds.

This is one of the best documentaries I have ever seen. It is by far the best documentary I have seen about the recession as it shows the impact that it had on all of us (I have seen a lot about lower classes but to see how it affected the rich is very interesting. Call it schadenfreude) and the way that it has changed our attitudes. I was talking to my friend the other day about how Sex and the City has aged horribly post-recession due to our changing ideas about excess and want.

The film-makers may have lucked into the story of the final film, but they showcased the material enviably.

9.5/10 – Watch it now

 

Performing Comedy

Yesterday I performed stand-up comedy for the first time ever. It went okay. I got some laughs. I didn’t die. I’d like to think that “don’t die” is the comedian equivalent of “break a leg”, and if it isn’t already I’m totally laying copyright to it.

I’ve wanted to perform stand-up since I was about 15, so good for me for only taking eight years to realise that desire.

This is a way longer article than what I had anticipated it being, so click ‘continue reading’ if you want to continue reading.

Continue reading

‘Garfunkel and Oates’

Garfunkel and Oates are Riki Lindholme and Kate Micucci, stars of internet videos and now the IFC series Garfunkel and Oates. You may recognise them as being Raj from The Big Bang Theory‘s ex-girlfriend (Micucci) and “oh I think she might have been in The Big Bang Theory as well, right?” (Lindholme). As is very “in” right now, the series follows them as fictionalised versions of themselves interspersed with songs from their internet heydays and possibly some original songs as well – I don’t know, I haven’t Googled it. They also use their actual full names, which provides some comedy from the surname “Micucci” (pronounced “my coochie”), which is quite rare as most fictionalised versions give fake surnames in order to distance the actor from the character somewhat.

Comparisons are being drawn between G & O and Comedy Central’s Broad City as they both feature two women as leads and are on cable so that’s a good enough reason for comparison. I prefer Broad City, but they are pretty different comedies so which you prefer is more down to your own sensibilities. Also, I think Broad City is more consistent quality-wise.

I am not a big fan of singing. Sometimes it makes me feel downright uncomfortable. I also find musical comedy to be the lowest form of comedy, a fact that is addressed in the episode ‘Road Warriors’ which makes me like them a bit more. The theme song is too twee and I wish I could skip it, and some of the songs are just shoved into the episode so they can include a song, but it’s fine. They’re pretty short songs, and it’s not Glee-level la la la. My friend showed my the Youtube videos a couple of months ago and I tuned in to see what a full sitcom would be like, so really the songs are just things that I ignore while the rest of the episode carries on.

The majority of the episodes are funny, and most have laugh out loud moments. This is important for comedies and there are quite a few comedies out there that are laugh-free, so that Garfunkel and Oates makes me both laugh on the inside (which can sometimes be an intellectual “that was clever. I would be happy if I had written that”) and outside means that it appeals to my comedic sensibilities and that it is generally well written.

The episodes can be quite variable in quality. Confusingly, IFC put episode 3, ‘Speechless’, as a preview episode about one week before the premier of the pilot. Having watched the first three episodes I can see why they put episode 3 as a preview as, to date, it has been the strongest episode and gave me some big laughs. From good to bad I would rate the episodes as follows:

  • Speechless (ep 3) – this is also the only episode written by Lindholme and Micucci
  • Hair Swap (ep 5)
  • Rule 34 (ep 2)
  • Road Warriors (ep 4)
  • Third Member (ep 6)
  • The Fadeaway (ep 1)

All of the characters are well defined and are likeable, or not, as desired by the writers. I like Lindholm and Micucci as well, maybe because they sort of remind me of myself and a friend, and partly because they are funny, relateable people to a 23 year old. The supporting cast changes every episode, and I guess it is because of this that results in the quality variation. Generally, though, the supporting cast is strong.

7.5/10 – Good summer watching

 

 

‘Dreams Of A Life’

 

 

Having recently moved to a new house, I was suddenly reminded of the film Dreams of a Life, but more on that later.

Dreams of a Life is a documentary about a woman who was found dead in her flat three years after she had died. The film then goes on to interview a number of people that were close to her in the past – she was well-liked, fun, had a lot of friends and a number of boyfriends, but then she fell of the grid. Nobody exactly knew why: she had some bad boyfriends, she moved around a lot, but then what?

She also used to be a singer so there are a number of jarring re-enactments which, I believe, are overdubbed with actual recordings of her. This may just be jarring for me as I’m not the biggest fan of re-enactment, singing or fun, but it does feel like it goes on for a bit long and it is mostly being used as filler as there isn’t enough content. Then again, it may just be to add a bit of variety to the film. Ah, documentary theory.

Of course, the main takeaway point from this film is “how can someone be dead for three years without anyone noticing?” Considering I watched this film two years ago and still remember it quite vividly goes to show that it really does stick with you. The interviewees all, understandably, seemed very guilty that they lost touch with her and were sad/surprised to hear that this was how she was found dead.

Today it’s seemingly more difficult than ever to really go off the grid because of the good old internet, but, almost paradoxically, it can become easier to go off the grid as people no longer want to make the effort to remain friends as there is such an immediacy to social media, etc. What? As there is such a saturation of information available about people that you know, people are less likely to actively search you out. Likewise, social media is predominantly about promoting your own personal brand and so people are becoming more self-involved (HISTORY FACT: people have always been self-involved but there are now more platforms for people to exercise this trait) and thus less concerned about other people. I can see how it would be possible for someone to completely fall off the grid and lose touch with all their friends and family, but maybe that says more about me and explains why this film stuck with me so much as I can see myself dying that way.

From memory, they never actually find out how she died as the body was too badly decomposed, and the TV was still on when they found her. It was bailiffs that found her. Direct debits had been going out of her account for three years (I guess it doesn’t pay to save) and finally went looking when the payments stopped coming. I wonder if there’s anyone living out there now who is super rich and aren’t found for fifty years because of the steady flow of direct debits coupled with having no-one to care for them.

Screen Shot 2014-09-16 at 09.49.07

Here is the house that I can see from my back window. Terraced housing is a treat. I miss the view of fields and woods from my parents’ house. As you can see, this house is not a very attractive house. I have no idea why it has a double wooden back gate that is three times the size of everyone else’s; the windows and doors look like it’s trying to stop the world from seeing  a cheap meth lab and it’s moderately terrifying that they have cages outside the windows. It could just be a poorly kept house, but what is particularly concerning is that the two pairs of trousers on the washing line have been there since I moved in several weeks ago. Is someone living there? Is someone dead? Did someone just move out and leave their trousers? The trousers really aren’t that bad. I wouldn’t leave them: waste not, want not.

Last time I thought that someone might be dead – they were lying on the street not moving in the middle of the day – it turned out they were just drunk and I felt guilty about wasting an ambulance’s time. So while the thought has crossed my mind that I should phone the council (is that the right person to phone??) I’m scared that they’ll call me a busybody, I’ll be wrong and it’s just some dirty old man, or that they actually will find a dead person. People like to keep to themselves, and maybe a couple of years from now it will turn out to be a dead person there as a person braver than myself reports the above.

I don’t know if Dreams of a Life really has a lesson to take from it. Maybe it’s “love each other”. Maybe it’s “keep in touch”. Maybe it’s “is your neighbour dead?”. Either way, I haven’t learned anything.

6.5/10 – worth a watch as it’s an interesting story. Not the best-executed documentary in the world.

Dreams of  a Life is available to stream on Netflix and 4OD.

EDIT: Yesterday when breaking styrofoam and putting it in the bin I saw someone looking from behind the curtain of the decrepit house. Opposite neighbour may be a curtain twitcher, but they are definitely alive. It freaked me the hell out. At least they aren’t dead and I didn’t call the council.

‘One Hundred Years of Solitude’, Gabriel Garcia Marquez

Gabriel Garcia Marquez died recently. Upon hearing this news I remembered that I had long been wanting to read One Hundred Years of Solitude, mostly for advice on how to live my life alone. Also I had heard that it was a classic.

If you didn’t know already, which I didn’t, the book charts seven generations of the Buendia family who founded Macondo, which Wikipedia tells me is fictionalised Colombia which was Marquez’s home country. The family repeat their mistakes across generations, as humans are want to do, and the novel touches on historical events that affecting Colombia, such as the fruit strike and various wars, and also refers to a number of magical phenomena in a rather blase way.

“INCEST! WAR! LONELINESS!” If OHYOS was a Michael Bay movie, this may be the logline on the poster.

I’ve clearly been out of university for too long, or wasn’t concentrating on the book enough, as it got confusing at points keeping up with all of the characters, many of whom had the same or similar names and personality traits.

 

The family tree which I had to regularly refer to

Most of the characters ended up in desperate or sad situations, living the majority of their lives in seclusion. The poignancy and sadness was broken up with sex or magic scenes: it pays to change it up a bit. The only real exception was Aureliano Segundo and Petra Cotes who in the end find joy from helping others, although he lived most of his life in excess (hence the lovely fat illustration, above). The family line then ends with a baby being eaten by ants, as described in a non-chalent, almost throwaway line (I say this as I often skim books and could have missed this line).

In some ways, it’s surprising that this novel has become such a classic when looking at the bare bones of the story. Thinking deeper about the characters, symbolism, and mirroring of actual historical events, this is a complex and moving story that offers some insight into human relationships, both inner and outer, and fatalism. It stays with you, if not just making you wondering about what such an incestuous family would actually be like. Also, deeper things. It never did teach me how to live alone for one hundred years though.

8/10 – Everyone else has told you to read it, and now so have I.