Sweet Swan of Kennet

Ramblings of a crime writer

Monday, June 19, 2006

Film Diary: Don't Look Now (Nicholas Roeg, 1976)

I've got a bit of catching up to do. This was the first film I watched after the move, back at the end of May.

They say you shouldn't go back, and perhaps this film is the one to prove me right. I had very fond memories of it, not least because Julie Christie is in it, and Donald Sutherland, and the lovemaking scene is legendary (when I was talking to Julie Christie on the phone once, as you do, I asked her about that and she giggled and said what a lovely man Donald was). But also because I recalled a film full of quiet menace with a shocking dénouement. A little surprising, I always thought, that it came froma short story by Daphne du Maurier (Ian McEwan's The Comfort of Strangers isn't a million miles away, either.)

It was a little disappointing, really. Julie Christie looked gorgeous, of course. Donald Sutherland looked preposterously 1970s, and the whole thing looked dated in a way that much older films don't. Ah well, let's write this one off to experience. And it wasn't that bad...

Wednesday, May 31, 2006

A new home, and a shameful confession

The shameful confession is that I have caved in to the inevitable and purchased a digital camera. It's a Nikon Coolpix L3 and I suppose it's convenient for everyday work. The big Nikon is still there for special work though.

And the reason I've taken this disgraceful step is so that I can take lots of pictures of my new house:

and my new environment.

You can see pictures of the house and its surroundings here.

Thursday, May 18, 2006

What a miserable way to say goodbye!

There are few things more dismal than a running track in heavy rain. Of course, when I was a teenage runner this didn't happen to the likes of me because the Gosling Stadium in Welwyn Garden City (home of Verlea AC of which I was a junior member) couldn't afford a "Tartan" track and you couldn;'t run on cinders in heavy rain. Now every self-respecting facility has an all-weather track and that means we poor sods have to go out on it.

So it was that yesterday, in teeming rain that would do credit to my new home (the wettest town in Britain!), I made my final appearance at a Reading Roadrunners track night at Palmer Park.

We were scheduled to do hill work at Kendrick Road, as it happened, bt nobody had the heart for that. So I did a six-lap warmm-up, a set of six fastish 400m reps with 200m recovery, and finished with two warm-down laps. In pissing rain. I was sodden! And then to add insult to injury, hill training was replaced by leg work, up and down the stand, in betwen the reps and the warm-down.

So it was quite a meaty session really, and despite the rain I felt good after.

I don't yet know where I'll be able to do track training again. Lots of scope for running on hard wet sand though.

Sunday, May 14, 2006

Rosie by the River

Friday's scheduled half-hour got missed again, because of a pile-up of things to do in the morning and a friend coming to visit in the afternoon. So it was all the more satisfying that today's attempt at 5 minutes continuous running went exceedingly well. I took it slowly at first and, once again, I found I'd unconsciously worked up to a good pace by the end. I felt strong when I finished, too!

I went right down to the Cunning Man at Burghfield, did a little circuit around the pub car park to turn round, and finished off returing downstream. The last bit was carefully calculated so that if the towpath was still blocked above Southcote Lock, I would be finished without having to stop to clamber round the detour. It was just as well - the fallen tree was still there and although I'd cut myself some slack, with the increased pace at the end my 55 minutes took me right up to the blockage.

Now if the tree had fallen across the IDR it would have been cleared away pronto, wouldn't it? It seems that between them, Reading Borough Council (highways authority responsible for Reading PROW no 2), Sustrans (responsible for NCN strategic route 4) and British Waterways (responsible for maintaining the towpath of the Kennet & Avon Canal) lack any sense of urgency in clearing this important right of way. Just because it's closed to powered vehicles. Pah!

Wednesday, May 10, 2006

Film Diary: Caché (Michael Haneke, 2005)

In 2005 the banlieus of Paris erupted into riots as the frustrations of the sidelined Arab and African communities boiled over. It came as a shock to the bourgeoisie Parisienne, which had drawn a veil over the suppression of the Algerian Liberation movement, forty-five years earlier.

Caché opens with a shot of a comfortable suburban neighbourhood. The shot lingers and lingers, people pass, cars come and go, it's just an ordinary day. And then, just as we wonder what's going on, the shot is revealed as a video, shot by a CCTV-like hidden camera and left on the doorstep of the house at the centre of the camera's vision. The house is the home of Georges Laurent, a presenter of literary television programmes, his wife Anne and their talented but restoless 12-year-old son Pierrot.

More of these videos keep arriving, showing scenes from Georges's life and accompanied by childlike drawings of violence. Georges, who is accustomed to being under the scrutiny of the camera, is nonetheless terrorised by these banal images, and the strains begin to show. Can the videos be awakening memories of a dark secret in Georges's past? And what has this to do with Majid, the Algerian boy adopted by Georges's parents when he wasa small child.

This is a film where very little actually happens, yet it is full of significance. When something dramatic does happen, it sends a jolt through the audience (and this is a film which really needs to be seen in a cinema). Though on the surface the events depicted affect only a few people and yet, through the medium of the big-screen television, we are reminded of the wider context: the earlier brutality shown to the Algerian demonstrators, and the ongoing conflict in the Arab world.

Those who need the quickfire cutting of Fight Club and the soupy scoring of Gladiator will no doubt find this film baffling. Much of the film is made up of long, lingering shots like that opening one, of noting very much. You are expected to work quite hard, however, because there's more going on in thise shots than you might first realise and there's a wealth of detail to take in. Hint: This is especially true in the very last shot. There's a lot going on but you need to be watching out for somebody you will recognise.

I found this showing at the Reading Film Theatre, tucked away in the middle of the University campus where townies such as I seldom venture. It was very well-attended but I was disappointed and a bit annoyed to hear that the RFT had cut its showings from three a week to two a week, and dropped most showings of non-English Language films. This one was an exception, and the policy of Anglo-hegemony is ironic given the underlying message.

I doubt if you'll find this at the local multiplex, but if you do appreciate good cinema it's well worth finding somewhere that's showing it. Cracking stuff!

What a difference a day makes

After struggling for 30 minutes yesterday, today I cruised comfortably for 40 minutes, right down to Burghfield Island.

I did the loop beyond Southcote by the longer, more winding route along the Kennet rather than the straight route long the canal. It was just as well as there was a tree fallen across the towpath as I discovered on the return walk. I can't think how a tree would have come down in recent calm conditions, I suspect foul play.

The only difference I can think of between yesterday and today is that it wasn't overcast. Quite the contrary: it was a gloriously sunny morning and in fact getting a bit warm for running.

Tuesday, May 09, 2006

Running out of puff with Rosie

It wasn't a great run this morning. I still can't undersatnd how, just two days after flying effortlessly for 45 minutes and could go on and on, I'm puffing and panting and stumbling for 30 minutes, however slowly.

It was overcast and humid, and the instects were bothersome again. I suspect also that the air quality wasn't too great. The sun has come out since then and it's a lovely evening.

And I did finish my 30 minutes without stopping to walk. Even if it did take me a long time to get my puff back.

Monday, May 08, 2006

Literacy in the Landscape

Spotted in Elgar Road, Reading, yesterday:

Oh dear...