strange_complex: (Saturnalian Santa)
I have wanted to make this post for three days, but have been unable to do so until now because I could not load my LJ photo galleries. As multiple friends have noted, LJ has been shonky in a number of ways over the same period, and although it seems OK again now, the problems seem to be associated with a server move to Russia - and I must say I also feel very uncomfortable about relying on anything in Russia for the ongoing preservation of a journal I have been carefully curating for 13 years now. I've never felt so inclined to set up a Dreamwidth mirror... but then again something [ profile] nwhyte said in an entry earlier today made me doubt that Dreamwidth has proper picture-hosting facilities at all. It's all sadly ironic that this should happen just when people are genuinely popping up on LJ again, thanks I understand to a FB LJ-nostalgia community.

Anyway, here's what I actually wanted to post - a few pictures of our Christmas. We booked a cottage in the Cotswolds village of Bourton-on-the-Water this year - 'we' in this case being me, my Dad, my sister and her husband and children. None of us had ever done Christmas this way before, but we decided to try it on the grounds that it would be healthier and cheerier to do something new and different this year, rather than try to re-create our normal family Christmas but with one person missing. It would also allow flexible levels of participation for each person, in that everyone could choose whether to hang out with the other cottage residents, go out for a walk or simply lie on their bed reading a book. And I'm glad to say it worked really well. We did remember Mum of course, and Dad had a couple of tearful moments. But for a first Christmas without her, it was actually really nice and enjoyable and nothing like as difficult as I suspect it would have been in the family home, or even my sister's home (where Mum had also been for Christmas day a couple of times in recent years).

We arrived in the afternoon of the 23rd, in pretty rotten weather, and got settled in. We had brought a LOT of food, which took quite a bit of unpacking and putting away, while Christophe admired the (fake) Christmas tree which the cottage owners had supplied, and Eloise enjoyed The Snow Dog.

Pictures start here )

Anyway, here we are in the Festive Perineum (h/t [ profile] inbetween_girl), which I found boring as a teenager, but has now become one of my favourite times of the year. The obligations of Christmas are all fulfilled, my work email account is blissfully free of people demanding things, and it is genuinely OK to sit around in my dressing-gown watching a Buffy marathon on SyFy and ordering the unpurchased items on my Amazon wish-list. I wondered about driving up to Allendale for their New Year's tar bar'l procession this year, as 2016 is a year which I feel pretty strongly could do with a good burning out. But the weather reports say it will be raining pretty heavily there right over midnight, so maybe not. I am open to other suggestions, if anyone has any?

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strange_complex: (Saturnalian Santa)
Well, the little children slumbering upstairs do not know it yet, but Santa has been!

2016-12-24 22.27.10.jpg

Personally speaking, I'm hoping this will be the sort of Santa who comes down my chimney tonight:

chris santa.jpg

Look at his beautiful face! Such a fetching shade of green...

Merry Christmas, everyone. :-)

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strange_complex: (Saturnalian Santa)
The central conceit of this year's Christmas special was that Doctor Who is just as real, and just as unreal, as Santa Claus. In and of itself, I loved this. It was very meta, perfectly true, and extremely productive for bouncing the two mythic traditions off against one another. As the Doctor himself put it, "D'you know what the big problem is in telling fantasy and reality apart? They're both ridiculous." Maybe it was a slightly repetitive line to take, after having done much the same thing with Robin Hood earlier this year, but that's less of a problem for a Christmas episode than it would be a regular one, given that Christmas episodes tend to pull in a higher proportion of casual viewers who may not have seen Robot of Sherwood anyway. And there were lots of cool moments to enjoy, like the snarky Elves, Santa rearing up on Rudolph like a heroic knight, Nick Frost generally being completely brilliant, and everything about Shona.

But a week, much musing, and some re-watching of key scenes later, and I'm still both puzzled and bothered by the question of whose dream(s) we are seeing at any given stage in the episode, and where the dreams end and 'reality' begins. I realise that worrying about this at all is at odds with that central conceit, according to which it doesn't matter, since everything you're seeing is a story anyway. But the difference between Doctor Who and the mythos of Santa Claus is that Doctor Who is an ongoing, unfolding story presented by an identifiable single source (the BBC TV series), which purports to offer internal consistency of plot and character development. So while Santa Claus can merrily get away with being and doing many different and contradictory things, depending on who is telling him, Doctor Who cannot - or at least not if it wants to keep hold of viewers who care about what has and hasn't actually 'happened' to the characters they are following.

As far as I understand it, the official line on this episode is that everything we see is a dream (often within one or more other dreams), except for the final scene when the Doctor arrives at the large house in which a twenty-something Clara is now sleeping, rescues her from the last dream-crab, and they leave together in the TARDIS. This, at least, is what Moffat himself has stated. The problem is that this scene comes at the end of a whole story in which the Doctor has repeatedly insisted on applying critical thinking to determine the difference between dreaming and reality. "Trust nothing, interrogate everything", he says. But the 'waking-up' scene which Moffat insists is 'real' comes directly after the Doctor has voiced the wish to older-dream-Clara that he had returned to her sooner, so it is a wish-fulfilment scenario for him (the second chance he doesn't normally get, as he says), while the tangerine on the windowsill is a heavy hint that this is meant to have been set up for him by Santa. So everything that has gone before this scene should have trained us to spot the big red flags here, and recognise this as another dream. And yet Moffat is insisting outside the text that it is real, without having given us anything within the text to support that.

This feels lazy to me, as well as like Moffat is trying to have it both ways. Within the story he's saying that the distinction between dreams and reality doesn't matter, yet from outside the story he is still leaning in over our shoulders anyway to tell us which bits are dreams and which 'real'. If that distinction matters to him after all, couldn't he have put the effort into making it clear from within the story itself? Like a lot of Moffat stories in recent years, what this all feels like is that he had a promising idea for what could have been a really great episode, but in practice it didn't go through enough rewriting drafts, so that we have something nearly-brilliant, but which kind of flakes out at the last hurdle. And what really bothers me about all this as a viewer is not so much not knowing which scenes are dreams and which 'real' per se, but the fact that a knock-on consequence of this is that we don't really know whose dreams we are seeing at any given time either, and thus whose subconscious we are being granted an insight into. These are the various different possibilities which could apply, as far as I can figure them out:

1. As per Moffat's Diktat, "Everything except the very last scene is a dream". This means that dream-crabs really exist, since we see the Doctor removing one from Clara's face, and I think we're meant to understand that both were attacked by them (the Doctor in a mysterious cave and Clara in her equally-mysterious house), and were somehow experiencing a shared dream from their different locations. Under this scenario, then, the Doctor and Clara have both effectively told each other that they were lying about Gallifrey and Danny respectively at the end of season 8, because they did this in a dream which both were experiencing. Both have also effectively admitted to each other that they really just want to keep on travelling together. But, as I've said above, there are pretty hefty in-story reasons to view Moffat's Diktat as bollocks and read the last scene as just as much of a dream as everything else. In which case, they possibly haven't shared these emotional breakthroughs after all.

2. Even if we accept Moffat's Diktat, the roles of Shona, Albert, Fiona and Ashley remain unclear. By "the very last scene", does he literally mean the last scene with the Doctor and Clara, or does he extend that to mean each of the other characters' last scenes as well? (Well, except for Albert, who doesn't get one 'cos 'e snuffed it.) I.e. is it a shared crab-induced dream with input from all of them, which began for each character in the various different real-life locations where we see them waking up towards the end of the story? Or not? Do the other characters even exist, or are they dream-inventions of the Doctor's and / or Clara's? After he rescues her from her dream-crab, the Doctor tells older Clara that "The dream crabs must have got to me first and then found you in my memory. The others were collateral damage." But this doesn't really clear things up. Does it mean they were in his memory too? Or hers? And are they present in the dream as the Doctor and / or Clara's subconscious memories, right down to dreaming happy endings for them where they awake back into reality, or are they there as real people who are dreaming too, and really do wake up back in their own realities? When Albert, who put his hand on Shona's knee during the briefing process, is sucked into a security monitor and never seen again, is that Shona's sub-conscious wish-fulfilment? Or Clara's? Or the Doctor's? Or what?

3. Another approach is to ignore Moffat's blethering, and rewind back to the end of the last episode of season 8, where we saw the Doctor nodding off at the console of his TARDIS, before being rudely awakened by a knocking at the TARDIS door and Santa coming in declaring that he couldn't leave things with Clara like that. Everything Last Christmas has shown us should signal this, too, was a dream, and one which we never see the Doctor waking up from throughout the entirety of the Christmas special. Under this scenario, we can actually forget about the dream-crabs, and read the whole of Last Christmas as a perfectly normal non-crab-induced dream of the Doctor's, and his alone, within which he has presumably invented (or subconsciously remembered) a character, Shona, whom he imagined in turn inventing both the crabs and Santa Claus out of a combination of her favourite movies. This is actually what I think is the most plausible reading of everything we've seen on screen - but it does matter quite a lot for ongoing character development purposes whether or not it's correct, because under this theory, the Doctor and Clara haven't admitted to each other that they've lied, or that they want to keep on travelling together. In fact, they still haven't even seen or had any other kind of contact with one another since parting in the café.

I don't really know why I'm worrying or puzzling over any of this, because I am 99.9% sure that at the beginning of the next season, Moffat will carry on regardless. We'll never really know whether any of what we saw 'happened', and thus what the Doctor and Clara have or haven't said or revealed to each other, and it will all just become yet another unresolved plot string to trouble us vaguely in the background even while we're being asked to follow another. But the fact is that the weight of those loose strings is bothering me, and making me more and more jaded about each new one that follows. I wish we could find some way to cut free of them all, so that I can get on with enjoying what are otherwise still a lot of awesome stories and great characters.

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strange_complex: (ITV digital Monkey popcorn)
I saw both of these with [ profile] ms_siobhan as a New Year's Eve double-bill at the Hyde Park Picture House yesterday, from our favourite seats on the left-hand side of the balcony.

45. Some Like It Hot (1959), dir. Billy Wilder

First of all, it does have to be acknowledged that this one particular film probably bears about 90% of the responsibility for the transphobic myth that trans women are really just straight dudes who want to infiltrate women-only spaces and ogle cis women. It didn't invent that idea, and nor is it now necessarily the direct cause of most people absorbing it, but it is a major theme of the film, and must surely have given it a very big cultural boost. So I think it's important to say that whenever talking about this film, as a small way of helping to chip away at the real-world potency of that very damaging myth. On a similar note, I also found the scenes in which Tony Curtis' character, in persona as Shell Oil Junior, coerces Sugar into sex by pretending to be sexually unresponsive and in need of 'help' to fix him pretty gross as well. I get that disguise and deceit are ancient staples of romantic comedies, and never more so than in this one, but she was totally into his Shell Oil Junior character anyway. She would very obviously have willingly and enthusiastically have had sex with him without that extra layer of lies and manipulation, so to me they broke through the romantic comedy genre conventions and out into some distinctly rapey territory.

But I am perfectly capable of separating out those things from the rest of the film in my mind, and seeing it for the of-its-time romantic musical comedy it is meant to be. As a star vehicle for Monroe it is magnificent, with her performance of "I Wanna Be Loved By You" capturing her appeal perfectly. Tony Curtis and Jack Lemmon are perfectly paired as the two protagonists, the Chicago gangsters are brilliant, the music is great, the physical farce fantastic and the witty dialogue to die for. Plus, for all my reservations above, I also think that by showing male characters experiencing male treatment of women at first hand, and by including scenes with strong homosexual overtones (both lesbian ones between Sugar and Curtis-as-Josephine and the famous "Well, nobody's perfect" ending between Osgood and Lemmon-as-Jerry), it probably helped to achieve some social steps forwards as well as backwards. So, if the movie isn't perfect either, that doesn't mean it isn't still a great watch.

46. The Apartment (1960), dir. Billy Wilder

Part two of the double-bill was the next year's follow-up movie from the same production team, which brought back Jack Lemmon as the leading man. It's still a comedy, and starts out looking for all the world like a farce, but it has a dark undertone from the beginning, because of the way it portrays sleazy executives laughing it up together as they coldly conduct affairs in Lemmon's character's apartment, and him conniving in it for the sake of material promotion, while at the same time being very obviously strung along and exploited himself. Then, half-way through, the darkness bursts violently to the surface when one executive's to-him-casual (but to her serious) fling attempts suicide in the apartment. The overall arc is actually very moralistic - Lemmon discovers his moral compass and is rewarded with True Love, the chief sleazy executive gets his come-uppance, and the young lady (Miss Kubelik) rediscovers her sense of self-worth. But gosh, you do get put through the wringer along the way.

This made it a good second film for the double-bill, though. It felt a little more 'cerebral' than Some Like It Hot (if that's quite the right word), which worked well for its early evening slot once you'd been warmed up by the comedy first. It was certainly more moving, anyway - I found myself sniffing back tears as the end credits rolled, which you just wouldn't get from Some Like It Hot (unless, of course, Chicago mobsters had killed your grandmother, you insensitive clod). But it has in common with the other film all those classic qualities of slick pacing, seemingly effortless photography and of course a brilliant cast. Though his character isn't very nice, I actually thought Fred MacMurray was absolutely brilliant as Sleazy Executive Mr. Sheldrake, hitting that perfect note between oiliness and plausible charm which seems to be so characteristic of American Presidents (Nixon and Regan particularly spring to mind). It is essential to the whole plot that we should be able to believe Miss Kubelik might attempt suicide over him while simultaneously being able to see that he's a schmuck, so MacMurray had an important job to do there, and did it really well. I'd like to see more stuff with him in now on that basis. I also loved both the characterisation and the performances for the two Jewish neighbours, Dr. and Mrs. Dreyfuss - relatively small roles (especially hers), but ones which felt very human and three-dimensional al the same.

While Some Like It Hot has fun playing up the glamour of the 1920s jazz age, The Apartment is now just as fascinating for being set in its contemporary present day. I particularly enjoyed seeing how large-scale corporate office culture might have operated in 1960s America, complete with lobbies, elevators, desk diaries, rotary card index files, calculating machines and telephone exchanges. And I liked the insights into Lemmon's bachelor life-style as well, which was so close to and yet not quite the same as its equivalent today - frozen meals for heating up in the oven rather than microwave meals, a TV remote-control unit with a dial on it fixed to his table, and of course the time-honoured pokey apartment for one. In less cheery news from the 1960s, though, I was disquieted to realise that Miss Kubelik is obviously at risk of getting into trouble with the law for having attempted suicide, so that the whole thing has to be hushed up. We have moved beyond that, suicide-wise, in both the US and UK since, but that is still exactly where we are with drugs, leaving addicts unable to seek help for fear of punishment (not to mention at risk from unregulated products), and it's about damned time we sorted that out.

Back to The Apartment(!), it also turned out to be a Christmas / New Year film, which I guess was yet another reason (on top of release-date chronology and the tonal move from pure comedy to black comedy) why it needed to be the second half of the double bill. Miss Kubelik makes her suicide attempt on Christmas Eve, spends a few days recovering at Jack Lemmon's apartment, and then finally dumps her Sleazy Executive in favour of him on New Year's Eve. Not quite the Christmas-to-New-Year experience I would wish on anyone in reality, but still in its own way something to get us in the mood for our own NYE celebrations which followed.

Films watched 2014 round-up )

And now I believe it is time to get started on my films watched in 2015. :-)

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strange_complex: (Saturnalian Santa)
Rewinding a few days here to the pre-Christmas period, I went to see this at Leeds Town Hall with [ profile] ms_siobhan, [ profile] planet_andy, [ profile] nalsa and Mrs. [ profile] nalsa in honour of [ profile] planet_andy's birthday. I've never been to a film screening at Leeds Town Hall before, so that was fun in itself, and nor had I seen Die Hard in spite of its classic status. It is an action film after all, which is hardly my genre, but going to see it in its reinvented pomo guise as a 'Christmas film' - now that, I could handle.

It is, of course, masses of fun. Indeed, I might well have gone to see it earlier if I'd cottoned on to the fact that it has Alan Rickman in it being deliciously villainous. His character even got in a Classical reference, too:
"And when Alexander saw the breadth of his domain, he wept, for there were no more worlds to conquer." Benefits of a classical education. [Source: IMDb]
Obviously, that actually boils down to your standard use of Classics to denote morally-bankrupt posh people, and is thus exactly the sort of thing which puts people off the subject, but never mind! It's still good to hear Alex getting a name-check, and it's not like it was a mainstay of the plot. Other things I particularly liked included McClane's message on the first terrorist victim's shirt: "Now I have a machine gun - ho ho ho!", Johnson & Johnson the ineffective FBI agents and Argyle happily living it up in his limousine while blithely unaware of the major terrorist incident going on in the building above him. I assumed for ages that he would spend literally the entire film like this, and just drive out the next morning wondering what was going on, but it was also cool that he got to play his part in overcoming the bad guys too.

I do realise that this bit is going to make me sound like Noam Chomsky on his day off, but gosh - you really couldn't present a more fully-developed fantasy of hyper-masculinity as a response to male anxieties about successful career-women than this film, could you? That is literally how McClane wins his wife back after their marriage has been broken apart by her promotion to Director of Corporate Affairs at the Nakatomi Corporation. But anyway! Helicopters and explosions and cool one-liners and stuff! Yay.

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strange_complex: (Lee as M.R. James)
Just realised that my Christmas write-up did not include this classic exchange of dialogue between me and my Dad:

DAD [conversationally, in response to my various Christopher Lee-related presents]: I saw a Christopher Lee film on telly the other day.

ME: *instantly narrows down Christopher Lee's 280 screen credits to those which I know are shown regularly on satellite and cable TV channels*
*further cross-checks this list against my knowledge of films my Dad is likely to watch*
*says* Was it Battle of the V-1?

DAD [moderately, but not excessively surprised]: Yeah, it was actually.

Oh yes, I am that good.

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strange_complex: (Eleven dude)
OK, yes, internet. I think we are all agreed that that wasn't the best episode of Doctor Who ever. But that's OK. Not every episode in the world's longest-running SF show can be brilliant.

The basic problem this time is that Moffat pretty much just put up on screen all the notes he's been keeping about how the time crack, the Silence, the question hiding in plain sight, Trenzalore and the Lore of the Twelve Regenerations should be resolved, without troubling to knit them into a coherent story or to give them any emotional weight. They were all there, all answered - tick, tick, tick - and it's nice to get the twelve regenerations thing sorted and out of the way especially. But they came too fast, devolved into rabid canon-fodder, and most of us ceased to even care because there wasn't enough of a story to bind them together.

Still, there ya go. Tasha Lem was pretty cool, although considering she was the most fleshed-out newly-introduced character of the entire story, I could still have done with a bit more time getting to know her. I hope we might see more of her in future, anyway. Also nice to meet Clara's family - and perhaps we'll see more of them, too, now that Moffat has gone to the trouble of inventing them? It's not like they were really needed for this one episode, so I hope they have a future in some others. And I did very much like the idea of the Doctor growing old in Christmas town, knowing that he can never leave and never win, but fighting off enemy after enemy all the same, and counting each one as a victory. In some ways it reminded me of The Last Doctor, a short story which Paul Cornell wrote for Christmas 2009 - except that Cornell's story is much, much better, because it has characters and emotions in it, and a still small calm at its core, rather than just a whole shopping list of enemies and plot elements.

The small things:
  • When the Doctor talked about making an invented boyfriend, and said that there was "no easy way to get rid of an android", was that seriously a shout-out to Kamelion? A genuine question - I still haven't seen any of his episodes, so can't answer properly myself.
  • Or maybe he just meant Handles, who was excellent, and a lot like K9?
  • I'm no Strictly Come Dancing fan, but I liked that it was on the telly in the Oswalds' flat. That's the kind of ordinary lives touch that RTD used to be so good at, and which I miss sorely - not to mention a lovely cheeky BBC bit of self-inter-textuality.
  • The people in Christmas town telling the Doctor to "be happy here" reminded me of the creepy villagers in Children of the Stones wishing each other 'happy day' all the time. Except that that came to nothing, because the locals weren't actually creepy at all. Pity, really.
  • I liked the idea of the Silence's true purpose being to act as confessional priests, with everyone forgetting what they have said to them. That gives them a depth they've never quite had before for me.
  • And yeah, the poem which ends "Eleven's hour is over now, the clock is striking Twelve's" was nicely used.
Otherwise, that's it. I have nothing more to say about this episode. On to a proper Peter Capaldi story, please.

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strange_complex: (Saturnalian Santa)
Dracula is hoping you will join him for Christmas day this year.

Dracula Scars Santa hat

It'll be just you and him. He doesn't actually have any friends, you see. Or family. Unfortunately, he killed them all.

There's also no food as such. He's a bit confused about how that works or why anyone might want it.

The wine is the best you will ever have, though. Rich, full-bodied... and still warm.

Merry Christmas!

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strange_complex: (ITV digital Monkey popcorn)
I went to see this this morning amongst one of the fullest houses I have ever seen at the Cottage Road cinema. I've watched and reviewed it twice before in this journal: once in 2010, when I found James Stewart's profile pleasing, but just couldn't buy into the sentimentality or the idealisation of small-town America and its reactionary values, and again in 2011, when I had moved on to considering James Stewart 'fab' and noticing the meta-referentiality of the first half of the film, but also expounded further on the racism and sexism - especially the scene where we are supposed to find the spectacle of a young George Bailey pressing his advantage on Mary while she hides naked in a hydrangea bush romantic and funny.

This time... I don't know. Maybe now that I've articulated how I feel about both the sentimentality and the various -isms embedded into or even celebrated by the story, it's easier for me to separate those out, treat the film like the curate's egg it is and enjoy those parts of it that are excellent? Or maybe it was just the large audience in a festive mood, who laughed along appreciatively to what are actually a lot of very funny lines - not to mention the mince pie and mulled wine which I bought during the intermission. It being my third time round I also spotted various small things which I don't think I've noticed before, like the large bust of Napoleon on the windowsill in Mr. Potter's office, which nicely symbolises his aggressively imperialising approach to business. That kind of attention to detail always helps me to warm towards a film.

I also thought properly for the first time about why The Adventures of Tom Sawyer is so important to the story that the angel, Clarence Odbody, goes round clutching it throughout the entire film, and then gives it to George as a Christmas gift at the end. In part it must be because the book puts such emphasis on the friendship between Tom Sawyer and Huckleberry Finn, which fits nicely with Clarence's inscription on the front page at the end of the film: "no man is a failure who has friends." But (having just re-checked the plot on Wikipedia), I can see now that more important is probably the episode in which Tom, Huck and their friend Joe run away for a while to an island in the Mississippi, and have a wonderful time until they realise that their families back home think they have all drowned in the river. That resonates with two key notes in It's a Wonderful Life - not prioritising your own desire for adventure over other people's happiness, and (because Tom secretly observes how his family are responding to his absence) getting to see what the world would be like if you weren't in it. So, yes, I see how that's an important inter-text.

One more thing - it occurred to me this time that since the angel Clarence watches the first two-thirds of the film from heaven as though on a film-reel before he goes down to Earth and meets George Bailey, he should have seen exactly what happened to the $8000 dollars which Uncle Billy misplaced, and have been able to tell George where it was and who had it. Obviously, that would have scotched the sentimental ending in which everyone chips in to help George cover the loss, and as it has taken me three viewings to even notice it, I guess it isn't really a problem, plot-wise. Plus Clarence is characterised early on as a bit dim, so maybe he just didn't even realise himself that it might be helpful to explain to George what had happened. But still, it would have been nice at least to know whether Mr. Potter ever got his comeuppance for keeping it.

I probably wouldn't ever bother to watch this film again in my life if it weren't a regular fixture on the Cottage Road cinema's Christmas programme. Indeed, that was already true after only one viewing of it. But since it's there, and since after three viewings now it has effectively become a Christmas tradition for me, and since James Stewart... I guess I won't go out of my way to avoid future viewings in the same setting.

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strange_complex: (Saturnalian Santa)
OK, last meme entry. And again, although Boxing Day was awful, thankfully Christmas Day itself was all right, so I can describe it fairly normally.

I actually began Christmas Day at my sister's house in Warwick, because she had invited me and her old sixth-form friend Duncan over for the evening to keep up our old tradition of toasting in Christmas together at midnight. We had a lovely evening of canapés, drinks and chat, and did our little toast together at midnight (me with raspbery and cranberry juice), even though we were all yawning by that stage. Then Duncan and I bid them goodnight and headed off in my car, under a bright starry sky and taking care to avoid the (very few) other cars and people whom we saw pursuing their own rather drunken-looking paths home. I crept quietly into my parents' house with the benefit of much practice acquired during my teenage clubbing years, and sank into bed.

The next morning, we all got up, had breakfast, got ready and headed back over again to my sister's house in Warwick for Christmas Day itself. We arrived around 11am, and sat down with a round of coffee while we showered Eloise with presents. She is one and a half now, and has very definitely become a little girl rather than a baby:


She also genuinely manages to get even cuter every time I see her. The picture doesn't begin to capture that, because so much of it is about her lovely smiling animated face and her increasingly eloquent chatter, and nor does it even really show off the growing mass of blonde curls hiding at the back of her head. But I hope it gives some idea at least.

Eloise's presents )

Christmas dinner )

Adult presents and Christmas TV )

A decent day all told - and a jolly good thing too, given what followed. :-/

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strange_complex: (Saturnalian Santa)
OK, so my Christmas experience this year may have been pretty miserable, but I answered 23 out of 25 questions on this meme before family dramas intervened, and now I am damned well going to finish it.

I've given some indication of my answer to this question in the post for Day 15, where I explained the religious element which Christmas has for me, through the syncretism between Santa Claus and Saturn. It feels important to have a midwinter festival to cheer up the dark days of winter.

Christmas is also important to me because it is important to so many other people around me. I like it for the same reasons as I like the monarchy, and in fact looking for past LJ posts in which I have explained my reasons for liking the monarchy, I find that I have actually drawn the comparison between it and Christmas before. Whether we like either or not, and however we choose to relate to them, all of us in the UK (and many of us beyond) have those things in common. I don't think that means we need to treat them as sacred cows, but I do think it is valuable and useful - for example by giving us all a central point around which to position ourselves in relation to the institution itself and the other people who also feel some sense of a relationship with it.

Finally, Christmas is important to me because it is something we do every year, in more or less the same way. That makes it comforting and familiar, and helps me to maintain a sense of connection with my own past. The last few Christmases may have been pretty grim, but they haven't all been like that, and I want to remember the ones which were good by continuing to celebrate the festival. Also, the unchanging and cyclical nature of a festival like Christmas helps to set off the gradual changes which take place between one iteration of it and the next. Sadly for me, what it has shown this year is a sharp reflection of how much and how badly things have changed in the life of my family since Mum became ill - but while that has been painful, I think it is something I needed to see.

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strange_complex: (Saturnalian Santa)
As [ profile] foxy76 pointed out yesterday, the original list which I gathered for this meme had a repeat of day 16's question listed for day 23, so I Googled around for some similar memes, found a different question which I liked instead, and am using that.

The answer's pretty simple for me, though. I had a fair number of Dr Seuss books as a child, but the Grinch never crossed my radar until 2000 when the Jim Carrey film came out. Scrooge, meanwhile, I've known about properly since we read A Christmas Carol at school when I was about 11, and in a general cultural references way for longer than that. So his story has much deeper roots in my psyche.

Besides, I've always absolutely loved all the different ghosts and spirits which appear to him - I remember being absolutely fascinated with the description of Marley's chains, and his face appearing in place of the door-knocker the first time I read the story back at school. Clearly gearing up to be a proto-goth right there.

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strange_complex: (Farnsworth don't aks me!)
Er... Donner, Blitzen, Dancer, Prancer, Comet, Cupid, Dasher, Rudolph...

Dammit, I have eight but cannot get the ninth!

Oh well, that's a pretty good head start for anyone else doing this meme today.

Christmas kisses for anyone who can tell me the ninth in a comment while likewise respecting the 'no search engines' rule.

(They're a very weird set of names anyway, aren't they? When I have pressed 'post' on this entry and can look at search engines again I am going to search out where the hell 'Donner' and 'Blitzen' in particular even come from. Crazy mid-nineteenth century clerics!)

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strange_complex: (Saturnalian Santa)
I'm answering this for my parents' house in Birmingham, because that's where I have always usually spent Christmas Day - although in fact this year we won't be doing so, as we are going to my sister's house in Warwick instead. I don't normally decorate my own house, although I did buy a wreath for the door last year, and will probably put that up tomorrow.

We usually have a tree in the front hall, standing on top of a side-table which is there throughout the year. This gets set up and decorated by me and my sister on Christmas Eve, except in the years when we have hosted a Christmas party, when we set it up in time for that instead. On the same day, I go out into the garden to collect sprigs of holly, ivy and other ever-green shrubs or winter-flowering plants, and then slot them into holes drilled into a log for me by my Dad, which is then set up on top of the mantelpiece in the lounge to create a wintry display. As it happens, I took pictures of both our tree and the mantelpiece display in 2006, so can show you what those look like:

My Dad also has two sets of those Swedish candle bridge style light sets, which he likes to set up in the windows half-way up the stairs and on the upstairs landing, and which do a great deal to make the house look cheery and festive from the outside. The upstairs landing window doesn't actually have a proper sill for them to stand on, so this involves some quite elaborate jerry-rigging with string and blocks of wood to support them. But in all honesty, I think that inventing clever methods to get the lights to sit where he wants them to in defiance of the design of the house is half the fun of those lights for my Dad.

Other than that, we put cards up on bookshelves, dressers and plate rails, occasionally put a wreath on the front door, and that's about it really. We did have some streamers and other paper decorations when I was a child, but those have long since outlived their natural lives, and I don't remember any member of the family protesting when they were quietly retired some ten or fifteen years ago.

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strange_complex: (Augustus)
Above all, that at least one of the funding applications which I have currently in the pipeline or in the process of being written comes off, so that I can relax about my prospects of carrying out my Augustus project successfully. Ideally, I need funding for both a) the bimillennium conference and b) further sabbatical time, so my big Christmas wish is for any combination of research grants which achieves that. But if I must choose, I would prioritise the conference funding, because I already have some sabbatical time - but I have nothing for the conference yet (eek!).

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strange_complex: (Sebastian boozes)
I get the impression it is more of a north American than an English thing. Our trans-Atlantic cousins' equivalent to mulled wine, I suppose. In fact, the only time I can recall actually drinking any was at a Christmas party hosted by the lovely [ profile] redkitty23, who is indeed American. It seemed OK, but I haven't felt inspired to track any down since.

In the course of a quick Google to remind myself of what is in it, though, I stumbled across something called the Eggnog Riot, which was apparently sparked off in 1826 after some hot-blooded young cadets smuggled whiskey for making eggnog into an American Military Academy. I do feel that knowledge like that ought to be shared.

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strange_complex: (Chrestomanci slacking in style)
...with whomever you want, where would you be and who would you be with? (late)

Written last night, but unposted because LJ was down.

Well, first I need to explain for context that I am exhausted beyond coherence at the moment. That's no surprise - it's been a very tough term, and I knew that at the time. I'm pretty sure I have adrenal burnout - it would be surprising if I didn't, really. Certainly, I feel physically leaden and just like curling up in bed all the time, and mentally dull-witted and utterly incapable of making plans, organising what I want to do with my work or anything like that. Again, no surprise. In simple, human terms, I have had my efficiency, motivation and intellectual engagement cranked up to the max for the past three months. Of course there's nothing left.

Anyway, this means that basically my vision for an ideal holiday currently revolves around the maximisation of opportunities for rest, relaxation and recuperation - with a little dusting of Christmassy goodness on top. I see some sort of hill-side lodge, surrounded by pine trees and snow (of course!). On offer in the premises are hot tubs, comfortable sofas and arm-chairs next to a roaring fire, a plentiful supply of good books and DVDs (with a lovely big telly to watch them on), and huge warm soft beds which feel like nests for hibernating animals - and which there is no particular reason to get out of in the morning. The place is kitted out with appropriate Christmas paraphernalia, including a tastefully-decorated tree with lots of presents underneath it.

In the surrounding area is beautiful winter scenery - snow-drifts, frozen streams, hedgerows full of holly, etc - which might be explored during pleasant wintry walks. But it can all be seen perfectly clearly from balconies and large plate-glass windows in the lodge anyway, and no-one is pressuring me to actually go on a walk. It's just a thing that's available for the doing if I decide one day that I feel like it. Similarly, there is a stack of sledges in an outside shed, some ice-skates and a suitably-frozen pond to use them on, and a cheery village complete with a traditional English pub in the valley just below the lodge. But no obligation whatsoever to make use of them.

The lodge is staffed by quiet, undemanding, efficient people, who just run the place smoothly and without issue. They don't insist on being able to come in to clean my room at a certain time each day - they just slip in magically while I'm not in it. They are totally happy to serve up meals at whatever time I feel I want them. They keep hot-tubs bubbling, fires burning and beds plumped up at all times, without me having to ask for anything. Trained experts are on hand to administer gentle soothing massages and other relaxation / beauty treatments whenever they are required, and the kitchen staff are Michelin-starred chefs. They will, of course, serve up the best Christmas dinner I have ever experienced on the day itself.

As for people to share this with me, I think if I can only have one person, it would be my sister. But this is a lodge, with plenty of rooms presumably. So I could very easily come up with a list of about ten or so friends - some ones I see regularly anyway, others I don't - whom I would also like to be there. We'd all go with the shared assumption that when we wanted each other's company, we would find each other in the public lounge, hot-tubs, dining room etc, but that anyone who preferred quiet and solitude would be very welcome indeed to pursue it. Each room would be equipped with its own fire-place, arm-chair, television, dining-table and jacuzzi-bath as standard anyway, and people would bring portable massage-tables up to your room at the simple push of a button if you wanted one.

So - who's coming to my fantasy lodge, then?

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strange_complex: (Me as a child)
Day 09's prompt was 'Best holiday traditions', and I was really pleased about the plural form of 'traditions', because it meant I could just list everything I liked, and didn't have to choose. Now, I do have to choose!

So I have looked over my previous list, and with due consideration I am going to nominate the process of getting all the presents out from under the tree and sorting them into big piles for each person as my absolute favourite moment.

In part, I'm sure I still like that bit simply because as a child the presents were very straightforwardly the most exciting bit of Christmas, on a basic "yay new stuff!" level, and that excited child still lives within me. But I can appreciate the more adult aspects of the ceremony now, too. Like the fact that piling up the presents signals the start of a good two hours where as a family we are all basically focused on expressing our affection for each other and making each other happy. That's nice. And I've always liked the way they come from under the tree, too, like a sort of magical fruit which has grown there over the previous few days.

I'm sure things won't be anything like so ordered this year, with a one-and-a-half-year-old running around the place making mischief! But I'm pretty sure she will be her own compensation. :-)

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strange_complex: (ITV digital Monkey popcorn)
This film was the annual festive Cottage Classic - which I was rather glad about, as I feel I have seen their alternative offering, It's a Wonderful Life, enough times for a lifetime over the previous two years. I went along with [ profile] ms_siobhan, [ profile] planet_andy and a packed house-full of other cinemagoers on Wednesday evening, to enjoy it along with mulled wine, mince pies and the usual opening reel of vintage adverts and shorts. To suit the time of year, several of these were festive, including one of a mad old couple cooking with Paxo and another made up of nostalgic shots of churches, snow and a room full of diners with streamers and balloons, designed to wish cinemagoers a happy 1947. We were not wished a Gay 1964 in the medium of tinsel this time, but we were informed of the availability of Wall's Gaytime ice-creams in the foyer. Sadly, however, the kiosk seemed to have run out of them - some time in the late '60s, I suspect.

The film itself tells the time-honoured story of a bunch of people putting on a big show, complete with all the song and dance opportunities which that normally affords. The two main characters are army buddies, whom we meet for the first time putting on a show for their division. Ten years later, they are a hit Broadway double-act, and the main thread of the story sees them hooking up with a pair of duetting sisters and following them to a small ski-town in Vermont. There, they find their former army General running a ski-lodge which is in financial trouble due to a lack of snow, and resolve to bring their whole Broadway show up into the mountains, put on the biggest extravaganza the town has ever seen, and do their General proud. Along the way, of course, there are comic scrapes and tragic misunderstandings; romances and reconciliations. And I probably won't be giving too much away if I say it snows at the end.

The song, 'White Christmas', was treated in the film as an established hit. Bing is singing it right in the first scene for his army buddies, which you don't really do with a headline number that you have written specially for a new film. Rather, the film is capitalising on the established success of the song. According to Wikipedia, it was first recorded in 1941, and [ profile] myfirstkitchen was right to say in a comment on one of my earlier 25 Days of Christmas posts that it was originally written for Holiday Inn. I can't say I think it is that great, to be honest - like most of the music in the film it is just straight-up schmaltzy sentiment without any real sense of fun or irony, and that doesn't really do much for me. Properly sad songs full of aching loneliness, yes. Outright happy songs revelling in the joys of life, yes. But I can only buy sentiment if it is packaged up with a really good tune - and it almost invariably isn't.

That said, some of the performances which accompanied the music were fantastic. Top of the list was Bing Crosby and and Danny Kaye doing a sort of sub-drag act, in which they mimed to a recording of the duetting sisters, wearing make-up and carrying large feathered fans, but without going the whole hog and wearing wigs and dresses as well. Danny Kaye in particular clearly really enjoyed that, camping it up to the nines, and I can well see why rumours that he was gay or bisexual persisted throughout his life. Vera-Allen, one half of the sister-act, also showed off some pretty amazing dance moves - especially in an early duet with Kaye which saw them twirling around poles on a fake studio jetty, but also later in some of the big set-piece numbers from the show they put on in Vermont.

But my favourite acting in the film came from Mary Wickes, whose name I didn't know before this Wednesday, but is that woman who plays a stringent, non-nonsense housewife in everything. Trust me, you have seen her in something. She's playing very much to type here, but damn she does it well, and stands out a mile as one of the least-sentimentalised characters in the film.

White Christmas isn't trying to tell such a complex story or to build such three-dimensional characters as It's a Wonderful Life. It stays at the level of simple romances and good deeds, whereas It's a Wonderful Life is a close study of a single character (George Bailey), exploring his flaws, self-doubts and sense of identity in a much richer detail. So it isn't fair to compare them, really. White Christmas is perfectly inoffensive, but only because it doesn't take any risks or attempt any real depth. All in all, then, although I find a lot to annoy me in It's a Wonderful Life, I'd probably still rather watch that next Christmas than see White Christmas again, as at least It's a Wonderful Life gives me something to engage with. That said, here's hoping that the Cottage Road management will hit on something other than either of them instead for this time next year.

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strange_complex: (Barbara Susan planning)
As an adult I'm pretty good at waiting, because I know how nice it is to have a lovely big pile of presents to open on Christmas day. That said, nowadays I often know what is in half of them anyway, because we tend to share present suggestions and requests around within the family in order to ensure that we're all buying things that the recipients will want. The only presents I really have to exercise self-control over are ones given to me by friends, students or colleagues, which are a) a genuine mystery and b) often presented to me quite a few days before Christmas itself.

Like most kids, though, I often peeked as a child. I seem to have known from quite an early age that birthday and Christmas presents were always stashed in the cupboards above the (fitted) wardrobes in my parents' bedroom, and would regularly take advantage of any opportunities which arose to climb up on a wooden stool and find out what I could expect on the day itself.

Most of the time, that didn't really cause any problems. I managed to keep my secret knowledge to myself, and it wasn't usually a problem to look suitably surprised and pleased when I got the gifts themselves, because I was a child and all gifts were exciting anyway, whether I knew what they were in advance or not. But I guess over the years I learned that a genuine surprise was more fun for me.

One year, though, I did get myself into trouble for it. Not by being found out in a straightforward way, but because I gave the game away myself while basically trying to do my Mum an emotional favour. I already knew that she was 'Santa', so when I found what were obviously destined to be our stocking presents one year a week or so before Christmas, I decided to write a letter to Santa asking for exactly those same things. In my childish mind, this was intended to be lovely for my Mum, as it would reveal to her that she had managed to buy exactly what we really wanted, and she would feel a glow of warm satisfaction. And I'm pretty sure I did throw in a few random other items in an attempt to make my letter look 'realistic'.

But it obviously didn't convince, because she sussed what I had been up to straight away. I don't remember being told off hugely for it - perhaps she realised that my intentions were generous, even if they were based on me looking in places where I knew I wasn't supposed to look. But I did feel pretty ashamed of myself afterwards, and I think I pretty much figured out for myself after that that I really shouldn't look in the top of the wardrobe any more.

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