Thursday, 26 January 2012

Happy Australia Day Mate!

The 26th is Australia Day. An Aussie national holiday consistently celebrated since '94 in every state and Australian territory. Community festivals and fireworks; live outdoor concerts; picnics, parades and parties. Citizenship ceremonies. Canberra raising the national flag with a 21 gun salute and aerial flyover. Celebrating what's great about Australia.

In the UK, the other side of the world has always held a fascination. The convicts and the £10 Poms started us off, paved the way to emigration. Sun, surf, and barbies. Coast, city and country. The Australian twang with their “G'day mate”. The cosmopolitan vibe and laid-back hospitality. For Poms the attraction to a better life is overpowering. Australian imports have for years tempted us, programmes in particular. Neighbours, and Home and Away hitting our shores, offering us a taste of Australia. There, the grass always looks greener, the sun shines even in Winter. The Australia Effect: a lineage of boomerangs that don't come back. Otherwise known as relocation. C4, ITV, and the BBC have caught on. Channel surf and I guarantee you'll see those two magic words, “Down Under”.

Who wouldn't jump at the chance to live in Australia? To test out the quality of life before giving everything up? Jobs, homes, and activities scored. The big question asked: Will we be better off down under? For the most part, the answer is yes, but there are pros and cons. The dream life may not materialise as anticipated. Relocation is tough. Our expectations are unrealistic. In Australia, the sky's the limit. A large house complete with swimming pool, or perhaps some land and horses. Working less, earning more, less time poor. The lifestyle will be cheaper. Pom standard criteria. The bubble burst as soon as the plane touches down. The distance's too great, homes are open plan, and potential income does not bowl people over. The gamble will not pay off without research. Surprised by many who haven't done their sums, searched the job and property market.

Successful ex-pats transplant their roots to Australian soil with determination. A better life achieved with dedication. Australia is like everywhere else, just bigger. What us Brits need to adopt is the Aussie bravado; that sunny outlook, no worries. A daily dose of Aussie soap is far better than Eastenders. Celebrate this slice of Aussie life brought to us by Fremantle media. Make this the day to turn to our Aussie migrants and say “Happy Australia Day Mate!”

Thursday, 19 January 2012

What's The Story?

The lights go down. The screen extended. Voices hushed, conversations ended. Silence... Huge speakers amplify the sound. The picture flickers into action. Ads and trailers blasted out. Please turn mobile phones off. The main feature is about to start. Ssh, ssh. Twitter. Giggles stifled. Popcorn munched, drinks slurped throughout 90 minutes. Paid to be entertained in this rustle-disturbed environment.

At the flicks. Going to the movies, the cinema. Films projected on a big screen. Black and white, colour, 3D. Animated, silent, talkies. An adaptation from a book. Dramas based on true life experiences. Like everything else, our hunger voyeuristic. From books to stage to film. Originality lost as more scripts are adapted. A book cannot just be a book. It has to be a film, a musical, a game. Get your posters, sweat shirts, and sound track. Own the film on DVD. Copyright sold to meet all niches. Is this marketing madness or creativity at its best? Perhaps a bit of both? What's wrong with milking success? People keen to buy the merchandise; click “Like” on Facebook. I take note of public interest, but don't attempt to follow this insaneness. Wary this gap is being filled up in the market. Are we entering an abyss of no imagination? A bottomless black pit where if a book's not turned into a film we can't imagine it?

A film brings a novel to life doesn't it? No need to read words when you can watch the scenes played out in front of you. The characters fleshed out by actors. If the script is true to the book, I applaud it, but if not I'm left feeling disappointed. Angry that corners were cut. The sequence of events out of order. Some didn't occur. Some have been invented. The interpretation was too bleak or light-hearted. The beauty of the book has not transferred to the screen. Who cares when it's been rated as a box office smash? Nominated for awards; touted as a blockbuster.

I care. Probably a bit too much. Are movie or stage adaptations really necessary? Why this sudden phenomenon where every book or real-life event is ripe for production? A biopic of J K Rowling, last year's riots filmed as a drama, Austen and Dickens adapted to screen many times over... Are we choosing to live voraciously through the camera? Witnessing events or living our own day-to-day life not deemed exciting enough activities. The question on a lot of people's lips: Who would play me in a film version of my life? Does this way of thinking affect our creativity?

I think it does. Our imagination stunted by too many images. Our original thoughts eroded. The story's already been figured out. Beamed directly ahead, projected straight in front of us.

Thursday, 12 January 2012


Cee Lo sparked controversy on New Year's Eve. Performing Imagine, changing a word or two. John Lennon's lyrics didn't need tweaking, so I'm not sure why he did it. I'm not incensed by this deliberate and public act. Words get edited, distorted, censored all the time, just like Chinese whispers. An old tune sampled, different lyrics attached. I used to sing “Every time you go away, you take a piece of meat with you.” Singing the line with gusto, believing I was right. A childish error, but I wasn't admonished for it. Now I'm doing it again, only this time with intent...

Imagine books, no pages. I wonder if you can.” John Lennon fans hunt me down, batter down my door. Too late to imagine. The page-less future, my worst nightmare has arrived. When Kindle burst onto the scene, I thought it won't last. The trend will boom and crash. Prices are coming down, but electronic reading is here to stay. Incapable of using a finger, a thumb to turn pages. The smell of musty books relinquished. Well thumbed pages. Printed word and illustrations faded. Reading from a screen you'll never again be able to sniff the ink, feel the texture of pages.

The library, the home of books, is to me sacred. No initiation required to be accepted as a borrower, a browser, a reader. An intrepid explorer, gazing up at the mountainous shelves of books. Where to begin in this temple of knowledge? Fantasy, romance, adventure... Like Roald Dahl's Matilda I was a girl devoted to books. A bookworm, head permanently stuck in a book. Reading aloud to myself and the dog. Held captive by the characters, the plot. Every page devoured. The beginning, the middle, the end. Books are my guilty pleasure. Sneakily read when they shouldn't be. Moments snatched for another paragraph or two. The escape too brief to this mind's eye view.

A flickering screen can never replace the feel of a book. Holding it aloft, a fingertip tap to turn the pages. Scrolling down, nothing solid to grip or to flick through. A paper saving device. Pleasure removed from reading. Imagining a future where I might tell aloud this story; “Once upon a time, great buildings stood, which were lined with shelves of books. There were fat books, thin books. Large books, small books. Shelves marked from A to Z. Everyone had a pass, to borrow books for free...” Children absorbed, their eyes opened wide in disbelief. A little boy piping up at the back, “Miss, what are books?”

Thursday, 5 January 2012


Fit to burst. Bloated. Stuffed from the Christmas and New Year festivities. Too many biscuits, mince pies, chocolates and tea. All consumed sitting down in front of the TV. Endless re-runs of movies, images flashing, sound blaring out. Mastermind, University Challenge, Come Dine With Me... Mindless telly. Numbness from the excess of Christmas. Board games played, books read to mask the hunger. All other activities considered, pursued. A little aerobics, a stationary bike ride, some yoga... Anything else to pass the time, to avoid that dreaded word: SHOPPING.

The rush to hit the Boxing Day and January sales completely bypasses me. The mad dash to join in, participate, get involved, queue. A rugby scrum of people and clothes. The scrabble, the search for a bargain. To turn round, say “Look what I got! 25% off too!” A glimmer of pride, satisfaction playing across the lips, in the eyes. A game for the cash-strapped, not the starved. The West is not in the grip of a global recession, but is besieged by mad hungers that grow more ravenous as we feed them. We have to have what we want because we want it. Kindle, smart phones, and plasma TVs... A keeping up with the Joneses. A Dragons den of every conceivable accessory. New technology. All deserving of these goods, to not feel left out, regardless of cost or amount in the bank account. Aren't we?

Am I missing a trick? Refusing to stay in touch with this 24/7 society? In all probability, yet I remain unconcerned about falling behind with the times. My life sated with old fashioned pleasures. An old Motorola mobile, a second-hand laptop, an assortment of well-worn clothes, and books with pages.“Living in poverty” is not a term I'd use to define us. Yes, we might not be able to have what we want when we want it, but we're not destitute. Stricken by disease, a bundle of rags to our name. We live beyond our means. A system where being in debt or claiming benefits is accepted practice. A land of plenty. More than enough to go round. The kind of luxury the third world will never know.

A “famine” has been brought upon us, we moan. The bankers, the government, caused the crash. We're pawns in this economic cycle. Perfectly happy to flash the cash. Spend what we can't afford to. A tsunami of cuts resulted in shock. Mass protests at the unfairness. We all need to tighten our belts. To value what we have, not regret what we have not.