“I don’t want to be worshipped. I want to be loved.”

Whilst on tour in Ireland this month, we were blessed with several days off. Rather pleasant, to find oneself on a sort of holiday with good friends, especially a holiday in a secluded cottage with a stunning view of the sun setting each evening; burnt orange flooding the endless sky.

Being ever the traditionalist, one Wednesday morning ~ seeing a fire lit and tea poured ~ I decided to settle under the duvet (for that, read hog the sofa to the sighs of castmates) and watch an Old Film. I had brought The Philadelphia Story with me, the George Cukor classic, based on Philip Barry’s play. Katharine Hepburn had starred in said production and did the same in the film version. It ultimately saved her career, following her unfortunate moniker of ‘box office poison.’ We meet Tracy Lord (Hepburn) on the eve of her wedding to newly monied business magnate George Kittredge. She was previously married to CK Dexter Haven (Cary Grant) but their tempestuous partnership resulted in divorce when her “disregard for human frailty” exacerbates his drinking problem. This new union excites the American media and they send over reporter Macaulay ‘Mike’ Connor (James Stewart; him again – incidentally he won an Oscar for his performance. He plays an hilarious drunk and manages to make Cary Grant corpse) and photographer Liz Imbrie to cover the wedding. Dexter, helping them to gain access to the family, accompanies them. Over the course of the day, Tracy finds herself caught between three men – her fiancee, her ex-husband and an increasingly smitten Mike. Who will she wind up with?

The three men treat Tracy utterly differently. Mike, the cynical poet, sees her as an earthy intellectual with a spark that matches his own “There’s a magnificence in you, Tracy. A magnificence that comes out of your eyes, in your voice… you’re lit from within. You’ve got fires banked down in you, hearth-fires and holocausts.”  George sees her as a far off Goddess, to be worshipped. “You’re like some marvellous, distant queen. You’re so cool and fine and always so much your own. There’s a kind of beautiful purity about you, like a statue.” However, just like a 20th Century Angel Clare, once Tracy’s own frailty is uncovered and his view of her purity dispelled, he promptly loses interest. So who does Tracy end up marrying? The man who knows her faults and loves her anyway. The man who sees her as a human being. CK Dexter Haven. As Tracy herself says, she doesn’t want to be worshipped. She wants to be loved.

This, unsurprisingly, set me to thinking. Many of my friends – and indeed my own – relationships have ended because one party believes the other is not the person they fell in love with. But what if they are? What if it is simply a case of falling off a pedestal once frailty is uncovered? They begin as a deity; lofty perfection to be worshipped. Then soon, they find themselves scrambling in the dust like other mere mortals. Seemingly no middle ground. Simply to be adored or to be dumped. While in some relationships people can change to the detriment of a coupling, in others it is simply the beholder that sees their partner differently.

I have been in relationships where I have been properly adored at the beginning. Not going to lie, there is something lovely about someone viewing you as an angel, but goodness me, it’s hard to live up to. And doesn’t the halo lose it’s shine quickly? Seemingly overnight, I dropped from the pedestal from which I’d been placed onto the muddy ground below and I was never sure why. Is it because of my selfishness? My horrible ability to cry easily? Am I just plain annoying? Veiled insults begin, eyes rolling at every word I say, running me down in front of friends under the guise of banter ‘Why are you being so sensitive? It’s just a joke.’ Gone was the girl who warranted love notes, hushed work time phone calls and adoration. I didn’t think I’d changed at all and it baffled me. Like Desdemona “What shall I do to win my lord again? … I know not how I lost him” none of us who have ever experienced this will know what we can do. But we will try to placate and work our way back up to that pedestal if it takes all of our self respect. Shutting up about our job if it bores you, not nagging, keeping opinions to ourselves. But the pedestal cannot be reached, no matter how hard we try. Once knocked off, it’s a no go area. But is this us genuinely turning into co-dependent shadows of our former selves, or is it that we are no longer the untouchable bronze statue to be admired from afar? I have seen vibrant, brilliant friends – both male and female – reduced to quivering wrecks trying to live up to the impossible bar their partner has set for them. I should mention here, in my past matches, I don’t place the blame completely at the other person’s door. I know I was not perfect. I just wish I knew what the trigger was, so I could fix it.

I must admit, these experiences have made me wary of relationships and I think go part of a way to explain my current single status. If someone is to nice to me, I don’t trust it ‘oh yes, you like me now – but how long before you discover how annoying I am?’ And I am far too sensitive about gentle mocking of me – ‘oh, it’s begun again, has it?’ I never wanted to be someone who loved warily, but I fear that is inevitable for most of us who have the baggage of previous relationships.

Perhaps – like Tracy and Dexter – the best match for us all is our best friend. No worshipping, no pedestal, just entering into a union with a clear knowledge of the other’s frailty and loving them for that as much as their shining qualities. Tracy may be an “unholy mess of a girl” and Dexter a recovering alcoholic, but they know each other inside out. And they are human.

Annex - Hepburn, Katharine (Philadelphia Story, The)_06

 

 

She’s a Little Runaway

I must credit my very best pal with introducing me to the film that inspired this post. Monday night saw us on the sofa, halfway through a bottle of wine, jacket potatoes and coleslaw on lap. On plate, on lap, obviously. Rather a mess, otherwise. We were talking of Audrey Hepburn and she happened to mention her love of Roman Holiday and I had to admit I’d never seen it. This came as a great shock; coleslaw dropping from fork as she held it to her mouth. I don’t know how I’ve managed to miss it; I think Gregory Peck is a paragon of all that is handsome and wonderful (I always imagine he smelled lovely. A mixture of pipe smoke, tree bark, cologne and man) and Audrey Hepburn… well, that’s self explanatory. The woman was a gentle sylph goddess. Luckily, I happened to have a copy: a newspaper DVD I’d picked up in a charity shop in Ireland some months before in an effort to instill a love of old Hollywood in castmates.

So, potatoes eaten, wine disappearing before our eyes, we switched on Roman Holiday. Set in Rome (really? Hadn’t guessed?) It tells the tale of young Princess Ann (no, not that one), who, stifled by her royal duties and desperate to experience real life, escapes one night onto the streets of Italy. There she meets newspaper reporter Joe Bradley (Peck). He soon finds out who she is, but doesn’t let on and so ensues a wonderful day of freedom, hijinks and general merriment. Night falls and love blossoms between the two, but duty calls. Wiser, happier and brimming with confidence, Ann returns to her post. “Rome. I will cherish my visit here as long as I live.”

Ann’s escape from reality into a world unknown, full of colour, noise and life, saw her grow from a pampered child to an articulate, self -assured woman. And I can’t help but wonder – trying and failing to avoid Carrie Bradshaw’s trademark  – do we all need to escape at some point to become the person we’re supposed to be?

When does changing your life dramatically become running away? What is the difference between escaping for a while and starting afresh someplace new? I have wonderful, brave, friends who have hopped and moved all over the world. Started new lives, new jobs, new relationships far away from the land they began in. And yet, I know some have been accused some of ‘running away,’ ‘You can’t run away from life… it’ll follow you wherever you go.’ But isn’t the point that you are making a new one, somewhere new? Life doesn’t and shouldn’t begin and end in the place we were born.

I find myself musing on this greatly, at present. The past few years have been a steady and trustworthy routine – living with friends in London, temping, touring. Money is a difficulty, but so it is for the majority of us. I must mention now, that my little group of friends are the kindest, funniest, silliest, most wonderful people I know. To segue into Spaced territory for a moment, they say the family of the 21st Century are made up of friends, not relatives. (Although my relatives are also absolutely bloody fantastic. This is really turning into a lovefest, isn’t it? Move on now, silly wench). But as I get older and my routine of London, temping, touring stays the same, I can see them moving on. New relationships, new homes, new jobs, marriage and – heavens – babies. The last thing I want to be is a small little person in the corner, shouting ‘hey! Let’s all stay the exact same way we are now! Let’s never change! Let’s go to the pub!!’ because I am so very proud of them all for their journey. But, perhaps, soon… it is time to do a Princess Ann (again, not that one) and step away from the conventional itinerary I have planned for myself. Although I do hope a pub will still be involved, somewhere.

If I didn’t stay in London, If I stepped away from the cosy hole I’ve made myself; where would I go? Devon, Cornwall, Bristol, Ireland? Overseas? What would I do?. Perhaps it’s time to rip the schedule in half and see just how much things can change if I do.

And so I stand at a crossroads; security, friends and the status quo in one direction. The unexplored possibility in another. Where do I turn? Do I have my own Roman Holiday and return, hopefully rejuvinated, ready to slip back into my old life, or do I abdicate and see what adventures the Great Unknown holds for me?

Please forgive me this rather boring batch of ennui, but I have such remarkable respect for those that have had the bravery and gumption to begin again. I would love to hear from you if you have. What was the catalyst? How have you found it?

Let’s hear something from the beautiful Audrey herself. “As you get older, you will discover that you have two hands, one for helping yourself, the other for helping others.” This doesn’t really have anything to do with what I’ve previously said, but Audrey really was lovely, wasn’t she?

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Hill of Beans

It’s been a veritable age since I last put pen to paper and contributed to this blog. When I say pen to paper, I mean of course fingers to keyboard – but the latter fits in less with my romantic sensibilities. I have finally been back with the theatre company, larking about in the Emerald Isle for a couple of weeks. Now I’m back in London, I find myself wondering how quickly I can escape back, open a small seaside shop and live Happily Ever After.

But I digress.Today’s post comes courtesy of one of the most beautiful films of all time: Casablanca. Incidentally, one of the most stirring scenes of any movie ~ in my opinion ~ appears here – “Die Wacht am Rhein” drowned out by “La Marseillaise;” a heart rending show of loyalty and patriotism that would have hit a nerve with the audiences of 1942 – three years before WWII ended. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=HM-E2H1ChJM I dare you to watch and not feel a thing.

Casablanca. We’re in Vichy controlled Morocco and embittered nightclub owner Rick (Humphrey Bogart) owns the Café Américain – a melting pot of refugees, police, German officers and those desperate to escape overseas. In  sweeps the beautiful Ilsa (Ingrid Bergman) and the reason for Rick’s bitterness is revealed. “Of all the gin joints, in all the towns, in all the world, she walks into mine.” Some years earlier their passionate love affair in France was cut short when Ilsa left suddenly and without explanation. She now arrives in Rick’s cafe with a husband in tow – Victor Lazlo (Paul Henreid) – a famous fugitive resistance leader. Their only hope of escaping and carrying on their fight against the Nazis lie with Rick. Will he help them? Or has he been too damaged by the past?

I shall not reveal more of this story, or any of the details – as I always say, I urge you to watch. Part love story, part war tale, it is one of the all time greatest. However, I must hint at the end; for this is the point of this post. Rick stands with Ilsa at the airport, Lazlo waiting for her on the plane. Should she stay in Casablanca with her great love? Or leave with Lazlo to continue the fight? Despite his heart breaking, Rick urges Ilsa to get on the plane. “Inside of us, we both know you belong with Victor. You’re part of his work, the thing that keeps him going. If that plane leaves the ground and you’re not with him, you’ll regret it. Maybe not today. Maybe not tomorrow, but soon and for the rest of your life.” 

So I find myself wondering; is true love really about self sacrifice? I don’t necessarily limit this to romantic relationships, but love in all its guises. If you truly love somebody, do you always put their happiness before your own? Parents of children – I have heard tales of people losing the sense of who they are once they give birth, giving their whole being to the person they created, losing closely held dreams in the process. But is this right and to be expected? Is this the ultimate self sacrifice?

I have no experience of this, although as stated in previous post, I desperately hope to some day. I have experience only of romantic love, and it is on that I muse now. When you truly love somebody, the urge is to put their happiness before your own. How often have we heard the mutterings ‘as long as they’re happy, I’m happy.’ But at what point does this become destructive? Do we have the right to wonder when our own feelings are going to be tended to, or is this just too selfish? Is true love the abandonment of our own needs and the taking on of another’s?

Truthfully, I don’t know. In relationships, I have often wondered if my wanting the same care and attention I have tried to bestow upon my other half is indicative of my own selfishness rather than anything else. Surely, if you love somebody enough, you wouldn’t be worrying about how you are feeling? Or is this utterly naive – if we are prepared to sacrifice our own happiness for somebody else, shouldn’t we expect the same thing from them?

But then again, perhaps the thoughts of a twenty-something blog writer don’t amount to a hill of beans in this crazy world. I paraphrase, naturally.

Image: FILE PHOTO: 70 Years Since The Casablanca World Premiere Casablanca

 

Waterloo Bridge

Confession time. I have no real reason to post this today, apart from to reflect on the virtues of one of my favourite films of all time ~ Waterloo Bridge (1940). As usual, I’m sure I will find a tenuous link that will enable me to preach acceptance or love or something ,but bear with me. I’ll get there. 
Waterloo Bridge was Vivien Leigh’s first film after Gone With the Wind. She had wanted Laurence Olivier to star opposite her, but he was off being Mr Darcy. Along came Robert Taylor; the heart-stoppingly handsome movie star known more for his good looks than his acting talent. It tells the tale of Myra Lester (Leigh), a young ballerina for the corps de ballet. She meets soldier Roy Cronin (Taylor) in an air raid shelter and over the course of the next few days, they fall hopelessly in love. There is a beautiful scene with almost no dialogue; the two of them dancing at the Candelight Club. Hardly any words are spoken, but by the time the last candle goes out you know they belong only to each other. They very quickly get married, just before Roy goes back to the front. 
Upon learning of Myra’s marriage, her boss fires her from the ballet company for conduct unbecoming. Myra and her best friend Kitty struggle for money in their tiny flat, trying to make ends meet, when Myra reads devastating news in the paper. Roy has died. Heartbroken and utterly destitute, she turns to prostitution to support both her and Kitty. She has nothing left to lose. 
One fateful day, Myra waits under the clock at Waterloo station, dolled up, turning tricks for the soldiers as she has been taught to do; when Roy walks through the gate. There was a misunderstanding, a mistake. He is still alive. Convinced she was forewarned of his arrival, he embraces her joyfully. Her whole world crumbles. 
I’ll sum up the next part briefly: Myra is taken to Scotland to meet his family. (something that always tickles me, Robert Taylor made no attempt to hide his American accent). They are old money and are ecstatic that Roy has found somebody pure and without taint to carry on their family line. Myra cannot live with the guilt of what she has done and can see no other way out to escape her past. She throws herself in front of a car on Waterloo Bridge. 
It doesn’t sound the most joyful of films and it isn’t; but it is beautifully shot with the lovely crackle of early 1940s audio track. Leigh and Taylor have never looked better and their chemistry is undeniable; they have both said this is the favourite of all their work. The soundtrack is stunning, with a faint Russian theme (I’ve never been able to find out what it is) underscoring Myra’s guilt when she relives her shame. It is one of my favourite movies of all time and I urge you to watch, if you can find it. I don’t think it’s available on DVD anywhere other than Korea; so I’ve had to rely on repeat TCM viewings. 
Ah, I’ve found it. The link. Other people’s expectations of you; a thing that has been bothering me for a while. Myra ended her own life because of the weight of expectation from Roy’s family ~ her shameful past couldn’t possibly live up to their shining aristocratic reputation. Now, I have nothing like prostitution in my back catalogue – I’m an actress, yes, but this isn’t the 17th century and I’m very well behaved. But there is one thing that is expected of a woman closer to thirty than twenty; when is she going to get married and have a family?
Since I turned 28 last year, this has been notched up to eleven. I’ve had it from the strangest and most random of people, taxi drivers “My wife’s 26, just had our third. You’re how old? Better get started, love. Time will be running out soon.” Sainsbury’s employees ID’ing me “Ooh, nearly 30? Horrible age. You married? No? Oh.”  TED Talk – “30 is not the new 20” which I think was meant to be inspiring, but actually terrified me to death, and older family acquaintances “So is Emily married? Got any children? She’s single? Lives in a flatshare? Oh.”  The worst, however, comes from doctors. Like many women, I suffer from Endometriosis and PCOS. I have spent the past ten years in and out of surgeries having been asked the same question “So, when are you going to get pregnant?” Ooh, I was thinking May sometime? How can I possibly answer that? It scares me to my soul that fertility is probably going to be an issue for me. I want nothing more than to be a mum. But I can’t make any plans for this at all, not yet. 
But you see, if it weren’t for all these people constantly checking to see when I’m going to get settled down and knocked up, I wouldn’t care. Truth is, I like where I am now. I get lonely sometimes, but that’s not exclusive to single people, is it? As I said, I would love to be a mother, but now really wouldn’t be the right time.It would be incredibly selfish of me to bring a child into the world before I could give my whole being to them… and before I could afford to feed them. I love the fact I can get up one day and decide to go to Hertfordshire (I did that once. My friend had a car. We went to the pub and played Scrabble). I love the fact that I can spend all day in bed eating chocolate watching old episodes of Poirot. I love the fact that I can go out with my friends as and when I want. I love the fact I can go touring round the country for six months a year and not have to worry. If, just for a minute, we decide to ignore society’s expectations of us and take a look at what we have; isn’t life pretty good?
Also, watch Waterloo Bridge. It’s a great film  
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Manic Pixie Dream Girl

I preface today’s blog with two disclaimers. 

1) I am under fairly strong medication at this moment. There is a chance I may go off on a tangent about dragons, or seeing a colonial woman churning butter outside my window. Please forgive me if this is the case. I will edit said ridiculousness at a more sober time. I should probably be sleeping it off, but I seem to have experienced a pill related burst of creativity. I imagine this is what The Beatles felt during the sitar years.*

*Author not comparing herself to John Lennon. Or Jesus. 

2) I am going to deviate a little from the usual today and touch on – gasp – modern films. Ish. I know, I can’t believe it either. 

I am going to talk of a woman. You know her. We all know her. She is beautiful. She is quirky. She likes whatever underground music you like. She can quote lines from that French film you love. She dresses like a princess and smells like patchouli. Probably. She takes your life and she makes it that little bit better through her manic love of the world and never wastes a day and wants to make all of your problems go away blah blah blah. She’s the girl who jumps on tables and dances because she’s a free spirit. 

This girl is known as MPDG ~ Manic Pixie Dream Girl. She exists in the mind of sensitive writer/directors who make films such as (500) Days of Summer, Garden State and Elizabethtown. (I should say, I like the first two films. Elizabethtown was just awful. What were you thinking, Cameron Crowe? You used to be so good.) But this girl is not real. 

She has existed in some form throughout film history, although the phrase wasn’t coined until 2007. Men who are undergoing some sort of existential crisis, or who have accidentally paralysed their mother, or have just lost a family member, or who are being kept by rich society ladies while they struggle to get their novel published – (that was a long sentence. Does that make sense? Things beginning to get slightly fuzzy) – fall for this mysterious, otherworldly woman. (Wow, the sentence got even longer). 

This woman may have her own issues, but we don’t need to think about those. She is there to fix your problems and sometimes do a little tap dance. She’ll play her ukulele to you on a windowsill. She’ll put some headphones on your head and tell you to listen to The Shins, because ‘they’ll change your life, I swear.’ Now, I really like The Shins. But so far, they haven’t changed my life. 

As I said earlier, this isn’t just a modern concept. Holly Golightly (Audrey Hepburn) in Breakfast at Tiffany’s is an early model. C-razy and quirky, this beautiful slip of a thing lives a life of giant sunglasses, telephones in suitcases, long cigarettes and wild parties “She isn’t a phony because she’s a real phony. She believes all this crap she believes.” and brings happiness to tortured writer Paul Varjak (George Peppard). Now, I let this one slide slightly, because Paul saves her as much as she saves him, in the end. Holly admits she has constructed another life to escape her real one. But she remains a template; an early prototype to later, less developed female characters. 

Sugar Kane (Marilyn Monroe) in Some Like it Hot as been quoted as another early MPDG. Another mentioned is Susan Vance in Bringing up Baby. (I don’t agree with this. Katharine Hepburn does not serve as any man’s saviour; she is far too excellent and rounded for that). But it is in the past ten years that the MPDG has really pulled herself out of the cocoon and emerged as a stunning, zany butterfly, ready to make any man throw away their anti-depressants and climb on top of a crane and scream. 

Quick thought ~ if a MPDG isn’t hot, isn’t she just an annoying, loony bint? But, no. They’re always hot.

My point is this. Sorry to all you fragile, tortured men out there. Especially those with a love of 80s underground music and shoulder bags. We girls aren’t here to teach you lessons about life, love, moving on or acceptance – just as you aren’t here to teach us those, either. We are all human; we have problems and issues just as much as you do. We can’t abandon our own state of mind to take care of yours. I’ve tried it before. It’s rubbish. As Clementine (Kate Winslet) in Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind says: “Too many guys think I’m a concept, or I complete them, or I’m gonna make them alive. But I’m just a fucked-up girl who’s lookin’ for my own peace of mind; don’t assign me yours.” Isn’t the whole point of a relationship  to share each other’s thoughts and pain? It’s not fair if one is the garden and one is the hoe (I got that quote from Will and Grace. I am really pushing the boundary today)

Another thought: is there a male equivalent? Genuinely would like to hear thoughts on this ~ perhaps the Darcys of literature? Grumpy, arrogant men who are actually filled with soft warmth and somehow save the day at the end of the book?

I should probably go now. There is a colonial woman churning butter outside my window. 

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Hitchcock Blonde

She must be sporty. He must be fun. She must have red hair. He should be a blonde. She must know how to cook Italian food. He should have a good job. She must want to give up her job to look after the children. He must be creative. She must have an accent. She must have enough money to live, but not enough that it emasculates me.   

As I have got older, I have found that so many people I know have a picture of the Perfect Person in their heads. The one that would complete them and fit into their lives like a missing puzzle piece. If we find somebody that differs from this slightly, well that’s OK – as long as we offer chances at ‘improvement,’ right? Gym classes, haircuts, film suggestions?

But some of the happiest couples I see around me went completely against their usual sort. A girl who I expected to end up with an older, tortured, multilingual, patches-on-elbow professor, has just married a city banker, three years younger than herself. When I asked what made her step out with him in the first place, she replied ‘I thought it was time to start saying yes.’ 

I do find myself saying ‘no’ a lot, although I don’t really have a type. Funny, kind and intelligent. As long as those three attributes are present, I am breezy. Although he must be taller than me. Creative. Generous. Likes old films, obviously. Arrogance is a particular turn off. So, humble. Dark eyes, maybe? A soft accent is always preferable. Nice arms. A sense of romance. Optimistic by nature. Gentle sarcasm is attractive. Must like the country. And the pub. And dogs. But I reiterate, I don’t have a type at all.

One man who definitely had a type was Alfred Hitchcock. His preference for blonde, classy willows is of legend. They appear throughout his films: Tippi Hedren, Eva Marie Saint, Grace Kelly – these untouchable glass beauties clad in Chanel and Edith Head. Stories have surfaced recently of his amorous attentions on these leading actresses. How these ladies feared a decline in their career if they denied him.

Hitchcock’s Vertigo (1958) is almost an allegory of his fascination with this woman; a tale of obsessive love. Based on the novel D’entre les morts, it tells the tale of John ‘Scottie’ Ferguson (James Stewart… told you he’d make several appearances on here), a former detective suffering from a crippling fear of heights owing to an accident on duty. Scottie is hired by an old friend – Gavin Elster – to tail his wife Madeleine (Kim Novak) after she begins to act oddly. After watching the disturbed young woman from afar, Scottie falls in love with her. Thus begins his downfall.

I refuse to give anything away of this film ~ the beauty of the twist and the denouement is too good to give away if you haven’t already seen it. The image of Madeleine is an iconic one; chances are you’ve already seen it, even if you weren’t aware. A beautiful woman in a grey suit, nude make up, platinum hair swept back, green light surrounding her like a ghostly halo. But there is a scene that I must mention, without revealing too much of its place in the film. 
Madeleine is no longer around. Scottie, having suffered a breakdown, finds a young woman who bears a resemblance to her. Judy Barton is brunette, brassy and untroubled ~ the complete antithesis of Madeleine. She is clearly desperately in love with him. He clearly cannot get Madeleine out of his mind and starts to mould Judy into a copy of her, like a 1950s Galatea. She resists at first, “Couldn’t you like me, just me the way I am?” but gives in under his staunch insistence. “If I let you change me, will that do it? If I do what you tell me, will you love me?”  She dyes her hair blonde and pins it back. She wears the grey suit he picks out for her. She changes her make up. She walks out of the bathroom to Bernard Herrmann’s stunning theme (have a listen here, the music for this film is unparalleled in its brilliance: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ObbHRxvpLJ4), a carbon copy of his lost love. He cannot believe Madeleine has come back to him. 
If you’ve seen the film, you know this does not end well. I shan’t say anymore. But what if Scottie had decided to accept the advances of the lovely (but decidedly not Madeleine-esque) Midge (Barbara Bel Geddes) instead?
It is easy to have in our mind’s eye the type of person we should be with. This is either based on former partners – the one that got away- film stars, Austen heroes (I am particularly guilty of the latter. Northanger Abbey’s Henry Tilney has a lot to answer for) or just simply an ideal. But is true happiness only possible once we let go of these prerequisites? And once we find ourselves in a relationship, why do we try to change our partners? Surely the point of being with somebody is that you love them for them, right? 
(I still think buying clothes for your other half is a Good Thing. Moulding them into something they’re not is bad. Improving their dress sense… well, that’s just kindness, isn’t it?) 
I’m joking. A bit.
 
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You Mean, All This Time We Could Have Been Friends?

Happy International Women’s Day!

I was out for dinner last night with two lovely ladies, friends from my temp job. After pizza and rose wine (possibly the world’s best combination?) one of the girls turned to us and said “You are both brilliant. None of my friends realise how great they are.” 

How nice. Not because of my own vanity (although you know, warm fuzzy feeling and all that) but because it is a Rare Thing. Now, this does not relate to everybody, not at all. But there is a small group of women out there who are quicker to make a nasty remark about one of their own sex than to offer them a compliment. Competition is rife. We compare ourselves to our friends ‘She is slimmer than I am’ ‘She has a better job than I do’ ‘She is in a happy relationship and I’m not’ or in some cases, ‘I am slimmer than she is’ ‘I have a better job than she does ‘I am in a happy relationship and she is not.’ I will admit, I have done it. Occasionally, when I’m feeling very sorry for myself, I will lament my lot in life and wish I were as happy/slim/successful/loved as a friend. And I will find myself making a snide remark to placate my own sense of failure. But shouldn’t I – and we – fight against the innate temptation towards comparison and competition?

Oddly enough, this got me thinking of that 1962 classic thriller Whatever Happened to Baby Jane? The fact that I write of this film whilst extolling the virtues of female solidarity is dripping with irony. As is widely known, the film’s two stars Bette Davis and Joan Crawford had a bitter rivalry that lasted through their Hollywood careers and to their deaths. Davis, having studied acting and honing her craft on the stage, resented chorus girl Crawford for ‘sleeping her way to the top.’ But, as ever, it was a man who put the final nail in the coffin ~ Franchot Tone. Davis, hopelessly in love with the elegant actor, could only watch as he married Crawford.

Despite their long standing hatred of one another, Davis and Crawford agreed to team up for Baby Jane after a shift in the times had both left them as ‘box office poison.’

Baby Jane Hudson is a child star of the vaudeville era, spoiled and adored by her doting father. Her elder sister Blanche stares from the shadows, ignored and unwanted. Fast forward twenty years, and Jane’s fortunes have fallen. She can’t get work for love nor money and drinks to hide her pain. Blanche however, has grown into a successful and beautiful actress, one of the stars of her age. One fateful night, they return to their mansion and a car accident snaps Blanche’s spine, leaving her paralysed.

1962, and the two aged women still share the same home. Blanche (Crawford), wheelchair bound, watches her old movies on repeat, tended to by Jane (Davis) who believes her own drunkenness in 1935 caused her sister’s paralysis. Jane drinks excessively and cakes on stage make up in an effort to recapture her younger self, repeatedly singing her signature childhood tune ‘I’ve Written a Letter to Daddy.’ When Blanche suggests selling the house, Jane, teetering on madness and desperate not to leave, veers into disturbing territory, terrorising Blanche with cut phone lines and dead parakeets.

I shall not reveal any more, for the ending has a delicious twist; suffice to say the two Hudson sisters’ rivalry is proved pointless at the end. As Jane says sadly “You mean, all this time, we could have been friends?”

My point is this; women have a hard enough time in the world. Even though things have moved on incredibly, it is a harsh truth that we still have to fight to be treated the same as a man. Let us stick together, hold each other up, celebrate our achievements. Let’s not tear each other down. The temptation to ‘bitch’ about another woman, to passive aggressively ‘dig’ at her if we are threatened, is something that happens all too often.

To my fantastic female friends: I am so proud of you all. For your brilliant new jobs, for being brave enough to start new lives in New York and Australia, for volunteering, for growing in your relationships, for building a life on your own, for studying for a second degree and working full time, for your wonderful generosity. You are talented, funny and brilliant and I’m sorry if I don’t tell you this often enough.

(I should mention that I also think my male friends are also pretty great. But today isn’t your day. I will get to you all soon enough).

Let’s be good to each other. Go on. Go and tell a woman in your life how special she is today.

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Every Time a Bell Rings

It has been said that the streets of London are paved with gold. I disagree with this statement; the streets of London are paved with dog poo, angry commuters and deserted cans of Strongbow. And loneliness. Now, worry not ~ I am not about to break into a Ralph McTell number, nor am I about to expound on the evils of city living. For a gigantic, cosmopolitan, melting pot of a place, with thousands of blurred faces passing us each day, it is so very easy to feel alone here.

We wake up, we grunt at the ticket master, we wobble on the tube, we tut as a stiletto heel pierces a toe, we work, we eat lunch, we work, we wobble, we drink, we sleep. A day rushed, with the vaguest possibility of losing who we are with each passing moment.

I think many of us have had that thought ~ if I were to disappear, would it make any difference? Would anybody notice? I have vibrant, wonderful, intelligent, kind friends who suffer with crippling bouts of self doubt and helplessness and I can see them fading before me in this busy world of rushing and expectation.

But. I was chatting today with a friend of mine, a friend who has never seen It’s a Wonderful Life. This film to me, is more than a sentimental Christmas tale; it is a message of hope.

I’m sure many of you know the story. But indulge me, I’m going to tell it anyway. George Bailey (James Stewart ~ an actor who will undoubtedly make several appearances in this blog. He is my very favourite) lives his life selflessly. Keeping close to his heart a dream of travel –  “I’m shakin’ the dust of this crummy little town off my feet and I’m gonna see the world. Italy, Greece, the Parthenon, the Colosseum. Then, I’m comin’ back here to go to college and see what they know. And then I’m gonna build things. I’m gonna build airfields, I’m gonna build skyscrapers a hundred stories high, I’m gonna build bridges a mile long…”  – he ends up stuck in the small town of Bedford Falls, helping out with his father’s ailing business. He gives up his college opportunity to his younger brother and he gives his lovingly saved honeymoon money to the citizens of the town after a run on the bank. He stays in Bedford Falls, he marries, he becomes a father. He takes over the business upon his father’s death. He doesn’t travel.

As time wears on, the business becomes further and further in debt and through several misadventures, George ends up being arrested for fraud. In sheer desperation, he stands on a bridge, staring at the waves below, wishing he’d never been born. However, as he is about to end his own life, an old man appears to fall into the river. George jumps in, fishes him out, takes him to shelter. The old man – let us call him Clarence, for that is his name – tells George that he is an angel, and that he has granted his wish. It was just as if George had never been born.

George stumbles through the town. His brother is dead. The town has been turned into a seedy underbelly by Potter, the corrupt spider-like businessman. His uncle is in an asylum, his childhood friend is a prostitute. His wife is – shock horror! – a spinster librarian. George Bailey gradually comes to realise that his own life has touched many others. The difference he has made just by being alive is invaluable. He has not achieved everything he has wished to achieve, but he is loved, he is treasured and he is indispensable to those in his little world.

My point is this. You, there – you, who have felt worthless and useless. You, who think the world would not miss you if you were to disappear ~ you are so wrong. You have touched a hundred odd lives, just by being here and being you. The difference you have made cannot be counted with what you consider achievement. Each and every one of my friends, my family… I would not be the person I am today without a contribution from every single one of you. You are all amazing and if ever you feel that you are insignificant, take a look at what you’ve done, who you have met, who you have loved and who has loved you. The world would not be the same if you were not here.

As Clarence himself says, ‘No man is a failure who has friends.’

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The Blue Danube

I write this sitting in the kitchen sink. No; I jest ~ that would be eminently impractical and wet, seeing as ours is currently blocked. I write this sitting in my North London flat. My flatmate is working in the kitchen. The sounds of his 100 Wartime Memories album float through the divide and I note with slight amusement that I know all of the words to these songs and yet remain wholly ignorant to the current top ten. (Steps aren’t cool anymore, are they? Do people still say cool?) (Is the top ten still a thing?)

How odd it is to be twenty-eight and have a frame of reference at least seventy years out of date. I often find myself feeling a sub-intellectual dolt when topics of current affairs arise, but I can chat for hours on Hitchcock’s use of mise-en-scène or Hepburn and Tracy’s love affair. (Note – if you haven’t read Katherine Hepburn’s Me, do so. Her frank revelations of their relationship are beautiful).

I was on a date about a year ago, a twenty-something London tradition I do not look upon with great fervour. Unless sparks fly, it becomes a formulaic box to tick off – ‘at least I’ve tried, nobody can say I haven’t’ – with too much talk of siblings and television and not enough connection. This chap however, was fairly pleasant and the evening didn’t involve as much clock watching as per usual. (This sounds bloody awful, but I’m not a hideous date. I don’t sit there tapping my foot, or anything. And I always offer to split the bill). It culminated in a walk along the Southbank, an area of London I actually adore.

The night before, I’d watched Goodbye Mr. Chips for the fiftieth time. The 1939 version that is; don’t get me started on Peter O’Toole (God rest his soul) and as for the Martin Clunes version… no, this is the solid gold Robert Donat and Greer Garson original, based on the book by James Hilton. Hilton writes beautifully and optimistically; his Random Harvest is wonderful (I will talk of the touchingly romantic film version another time) and he won an Oscar for his Mrs Miniver screenplay ~ clearly he and Greer Garson made a wartime Dream Team).

Donat’s Mr Chipping and Garson’s Kathy only share a relatively small amount of screen time. They meet and fall in love whilst on a mountain – he: shy, reticent and courteous, her: vibrant, chatty and personable.They continually bump into each other around Europe whilst both on biking holidays – “We always seem to meet in a mist!” – until the inevitable happens and they marry. Unfortunately (SPOILER) Kathy and their child both die a year later… but we shan’t think of that just now.

Whilst bound for Vienna on a boat, both Chipping and Kathy both comment on the brilliant blue of the river. Their companions point out wryly – “The Danube is only blue to the eyes of people in love.” Strauss plays on and a beautiful romance is born.

Anyhoo, I’ve digressed. There I was, with this perfectly lovely man, walking along the river in London. We stopped and consider the river in silence and he steals a look at me. I think this is the bit where a kiss happens, or something. Oh dear. I glance at the Thames and it is dull, grey and milky. I understand there is no Strauss legend connected to it, but surely this indicative of something? Wouldn’t it at least be all shiny if I were meant to be with this nice man? I laugh awkwardly, slip away and say I have to be in an early meeting. I don’t have meetings. I run off and don’t call him again.

My point is, have old films and their idea of romance tainted my view of modern relationships? Is it possible that there is no ‘Here’s looking at you, kid’ no ‘You want the moon, Mary?’ no Blue Danube? Did I let go of a thoroughly decent bloke because of Robert Donat?

Probably, yes. But I’m quite happy with my incurable romanticism. Life would be a little duller if it weren’t in black and white.

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