Some things

Pockets

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So nimble fingered is the child now that he can stow things away in his pockets. Up until this point, the pockets on his trousers were akin to the belly button on Adam – purely aesthetic, to make him blend in with the rest of us, to pretend he’s just like the rest of us. And now he is: collecting things he doesn’t need.

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Fast approaching two years of age (24 months in parentspeak) we received a form that allows the men in white coats to track the boy’s development. Of course we treated the questionnaire competitively and were almost gloating when he would over-achieve a particular goal.

Can he name 4 parts of his body?

Four?! Hows about: shoulder, elbow, eyebrow and thigh. Do one bell curve.

Then of course we were met by some that he hadn’t quite achieved, or we hadn’t even thought to put in practice. And these were, as it turns out, quite huge – maybe even fundamental developments.

Does he refer to himself as I/Me?

Shit. We’ve raised a psychopath. Or a guru – referring to himself in third person like our own little Mike Tyson.

Mulling this over these last few weeks it seems to be a lot more complex than I first thought. How do you teach someone perspective without your own interfering. You refer to yourself as ‘I/me’, and somehow he is supposed to pick up on the fact that he should refer to you as ‘you’ and himself as ‘I/me’. It’s baffling really. I don’t know I manage, let alone teach it on.

I realise more and more the linguistic tricks I take for advantage. The synonyms, homonyms and word games of everyday. Somehow the little one has picked up on the fact that people share names, a la Nanny and Grandad. And I’m certain that he understands both two and too (meaning ‘as well’). He has a fluidity in language and isn’t hung up on a word meaning one thing and one thing only. His sole principle is to communicate something, not dressing it up and following grammatical rules, and yet he seems to have formed an understanding of the rhythm of language that he hears from others.

At this point in time he is forming 4-5 word sentences, if the words are crucial. If he only needs two words to communicate what he wants, he will often fluff up the sentence with some gibberish – knowing that when we talk there is more going on and so offering some noise as filler. I guess that is what we do on some level.

If he were to say ‘Fly gone window’ I know exactly what he is saying. But in mimicking the manner in which we speak, he protracts the sentence unnecessarily to ‘Fly baderrrra ferrba daaferr gone window’. As if we wouldn’t pick up on the nonsense sandwiched in-between. Or maybe he’s mocking our needless waste of breath, satirising us – the little fucker.

At least I can speak in first person.

Do you think you and I are saints? An Interview with Cristiana Dell’Anna: Gomorrah Season 2

Written for Film and TV Now Aug 2016 (Available here)

With Gomorrah’s second season finally upon us, and with the Savastano clan in disrepair, the criminal empire of Naples is changing hands and making way for new faces. We will come to know fringe characters in more depth and be introduced to the relatives and relations of those we are acquainted with already.

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Expanding the universe of this Neapolitan underworld, the second series has many more female characters central to the story but don’t expect it too be any softer. “Women are portrayed just like men: brutally ruthless!” explains Cristiana Dell’Anna, one of the newer cast members who I was able to ask a few questions recently, about this series and the morally complicated character she plays in the show.

There were few female characters introduced in the first series and though most were voiceless trophies of their criminal partners, one of the most interesting breaks from stereotype was Lady Imma, the wife of Don Pietro Savastano. As captured in a decadent family oil painting, she stood beside her husband and supported him in his reign, but once imprisoned it was Genny – their spoilt and somewhat naive son – that was going to take over the clan. This was when Lady Imma started playing the game, a pretender to the throne herself she began to give orders as though from Pietro, preventing a takeover by Ciro and toughening up her son so that he was ready to fill the role of his father.

At the end of season 1 Lady Imma was killed, her death ordered by Ciro ‘The Immortal’ – whom she had always been suspicious of. Call it women’s intuition. This left a void of powerful female characters in Gomorrah, one that would soon be filled, and many times over.

When Don Salvator Conte returns to his hometown, the remaining members of the Savastano clan, the survivors, come together to form a mutually beneficial democracy: The Alliance. One such member is Scianel, sister of Zecchinetta who was the first to be killed by the alley kids, in what would be a rise of reactionary chaos. No stranger to this game, Scianel is hardened, an intimidating presence who seems to be permanently repressing rage. We will come to know Scianel through visits to her son in prison, with a reluctant daughter-in-law that she practically holds captive in a neighbouring room, as well as her frequent visits to a clothing store.

It is here that we first meet Patrizia. A clerk and personal shopper for Scianel who knows to be respectful and stay in favour. As it turns out she has her own ties to the underground – “Patrizia happens to be born in the wrong family. She is the niece of Don Pietro’s right hand, Malammore, who recruits her to work for the Savastano clan, giving her no choice” Cristiana explains. Patrizia is perhaps the closest we have to an audience surrogate, she has a life independent of the crime syndicate and she is reluctant when her uncle finds her a job as the eyes and ears for Don Pietro. As with most, money holds some allure but Patrizia’s motivation seems a little more unclear, perhaps through her connections she knows that there is no point fighting, that her fate has been decided.

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Gomorrah has a whiplash inducing pace, jumping forward through time characters will change suddenly, their loyalties will shift along with their manner and demeanour. In the case of Patrizia, we are able to see a more gradual change as the dark side of the city will get it’s hooks in her and reveal what she is capable of. Cristiana continues, “She is brave and very intelligent, and will soon find out she has the skills to become a dangerous criminal, capable of scheming and ready to betray her own blood.”

One of the shows defining features is its relentless brutality. No-one is safe from the horrors of mindless violence and no time is spared to mourn. There is a moral dividing line that separates those involved from those on the outside, but this line is blurred in the case of Patrizia. I asked Cristiana if it is difficult to get into the mind of someone morally questionable – “Do you think you and I are saints? would you say you are unquestionably good? Or am I? All the time, unconditionally? Of course not!” Explaining that her process is intimately personal, and delicate, it is this grounding of the darkness in all of us that seems to come out in the complex inner-workings of Patrizia. The religious comparison is fitting, considering the ubiquity of Christianity in Naples and the hypocrisy that it is constantly highlighting.

The gritty unforgiving world of Gomorrah is based in reality, adapted from the expose of the same name and written for the screen by its author Robert Saviano. It was this renowned book that Cristiana returned to for her research but also the memories and stories that she would hear about crime in Naples when she was younger. But it still goes on today and Saviano has spent years since the books release under protection. It is this pervasive element of the crime syndicate in Naples that is captured so well in Gomorrah, the threat is so inescapable and unpredictable that the tension never lets up.

Cristiana acknowledges that the story is the most important part of the show and that the characters are servants to the narration. “The real protagonist in both seasons is ‘the system’. The cruelty of the system, how spread around the world it is. How unaware of this power we all are.” Asked about the future of Patrizia, Cristiana references this cruel and volatile system “I will be there. But you know, I could be shot in the first episode… who knows!”

The first and second season of Gomorrah are available on Blu-Ray and DVD now and plans for the third and fourth seasons have already been set in motion.

the greatest pretence

Being a parent has thrown me through a number of existentialist ponderings.

All it takes is to recognise a small gesture or expression in the little one to make me realise that parts of my personality are merely biological quirks. I see the science-fiction philosophies of clones and time-travel bubble up in this version of me. Blended with another variable (she prefers Nicole) and placed into different circumstances, I realise that as much as I like to think that I am the thoughts behind my eyes, I am the product of my genetic make-up, and by extension so are these thoughts. From this crumbling perspective I watch as this 2ft replicant finds his own voice – both literally and figuratively.

I got to a point a couple of years ago when I started taking life seriously, acting more serious, pulling the appropriate serious faces and everything else it tells you in the pamphlet. I’m handed a child by fate (she prefers Nicole) and am expected to impart what little I think I know into this human child.

Hurled into the deep end and held under for a few seconds just so I know whose boss, I kick into gear and generate enough power to keep afloat. And then remembering I’m a legal guardian I kick a little harder for the extra weight and pretend I know what I’m doing – which from a distance can look like lot like flailing. Aerobic drowning maybe.

But that’s one lesson you pick up pretty early – everyone is pretending. As I heard one mother put it recently ‘life is the greatest pretence’. You pretend until you get a steadyfooting, before you`re hopscotching your way to the next thing, off balance but straightfaced and faking confidence until it becomes real confidence. The two actually aren’t that far apart.

Up until this point I had liked to think myself lucky for the temperament and general charm of the little one. Although quietly and in the privacy of my own mind I’m sure I put it down to a natural flair for parenting. Well that’s being tested now and I’m fast blaming the generic biological functions that all babies go through rather than my own shortcomings. Still, I’m not going to use the responsibility-relieving mantra ‘terrible twos’ – but it does seem awful convenientlike that on the brink of turning two he has started to test his boundaries and punch his keyworkers.

Now is the point where we impose boundaries and the proper way to be. Whilst I’m still naively challenging the status quo and questioning the system, I’m having to teach that self same system and impose it’s rules and regulations. It’s quite baffling really. I celebrate the little clone’s lack of inhibition and yet impinge on it with indoor voices and sensible attire. And who am I to say that his keyworker wasn’t asking for it.

Beardlessness

Now I’m quite a hairy little person. Particularly when concerned with my head. More specifically the top half of my head. I have a dark prominent brow, which I sever in the centre like a worm in order to make it appear like two separate entities. Above this expression-magnifying mantelpiece, I have a thick fluffy nest of black hair that grows as soon as threatened by a pair of scissors. I combatted this for a large period in my youth by shaving it off. Often.18080_102858833070002_8015363_n

In my teenage years I began to shave, like most boys my age, earlier than I needed to. The only parts that really needed attention were the aforementioned monobrow and the newly developed moustache. It’s as though my hair was dividing my face into thirds, making me easier to draw or photograph maybe. Next in were the sideburns, and gradually it crept around my face so that in my early twenties I could maybe get away with wearing stubble in order to try and look more mature. A chin-strap, evidently, would show my lack of maturity and limited space in which I could grow facial hair and if I attempted to let it grow more than a couple of centimeteres it would turn red in patches – thanks to my Irish heritage I am, it turns out, a chinger.

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Skip forward to the last few years and I’m somewhat able to grow a very low grade but face-covering amount of hair – that’s not to speak of the desperate attempt my eyebrows are making to connect to the larger body of hair above (a legitimate concern). I’ve played around with different styles but now I fear I’ve missed my chance.

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About 6 months ago I noticed a penny sized bald patch under my chin. Written off as the wearaway of pretentious chin-stroking that graduates are prone to do once back in the real world, I have noticed in the last few weeks that it has spread –  that is to say I’m going bald from the bottom of my face up.

Now with a 2″ x 1″ stripe beside the initial penny I look for answers online. In this the age of the hipster there are plenty of beard maintenance sites and forums apparently, so I skip through a few and find the diagnosis of Alopecia Barbae. All the information amounts to – it’s hereditary, maybe, and can come and go over a day, month, year or never. Oh yeah and it can spread. So right now I’m just hoping it stays under my chin, because if it goes near my eyebrows I might lose my sense of self entirely.

Here’s something I learned recently that kind of relates: Roal Dahl, the children’s author and playboy content writer, hated beards. Didn’t trust people with them and saw them as unhygienic. Mr Twit is essentially the personification of a dirty beard. That’s not to say ol’ Dahl was always right on with his hate, I mean for an anti-semite who reasoned that “even a stinker like Hitler didn’t just pick on them for no reason”… A stinker presumably because he had facial hair.

Leave It To Beaver

It’s funny how some films are released in accordance with a date on the calendar, embedding itself into the present and thereby gifting itself with some sort of temporary relevance. I mean not funny ha-ha,  just amusing maybe. Like Christmas or Halloween films, except more obscure or oddly specific. Like New Years Eve. Or the recent Mother’s Day from the director of Valentine’s Day.

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Beyond the cynical reading of studios simply trying to cash in on that immovable but very much reliable cycle of time, a film that reflects or feeds into the context in which it is presented has a special quality to it. A heightened, permeating immersiveness that transcends the confines of the film and places it in your world at that moment. I mean it isn’t strictly holiday based films and it may be personal to you as an individual, but when this synchronicity occurs in any medium it shapes your opinion and anchors it to this moment in time.

(Sidenote: This incidental synchronicity has spawned some great reads that I hold dear, influenced I’m sure by the context in which I read them. I read Bukowski’s Factotum just as I started temping, and happened upon Post Office whilst working in a Post Room. One of the most uniquely structured pieces of fiction that I’ve ever read, with footnotes larger than passages, Mezzanine by Nicholson Baker – a book that obsesses over the trivial mundanity of corporate life – I stumbled upon after giving over to the long term tedium of office work.)

The recent number of superhero civil war, pick-a-side films, appeared around the same time that Bernie and Trump were defining the dichotomy of the American peoples. And now we have this new old sequel, Independence Day with a 20 year resurgence, but for some reason or other it lands a couple weeks ahead of July the 4th. An opportunity missed? But fear not it ends up having some cultural relevance in my neck of the woods.

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London in bits as prophesied by ID:R

So today the island on which I was born, the United Kingdom, has lopped itself off of from the neighbouring countries with which we used to form a union – we’re now fully independent like. Well we were before, we just have less friends now. The band are still together mind, we’ve just decided to go it alone. And though the majority (of those that voted) wanted to leave, they aren’t really the circles that I roam about in and so when I heard the news and discussed the news and wallowed about in the thoughts of what this news meant, I actually just felt a bit sad.

Like many others I hadn’t actually thought this was going to happen. It felt like a joke, even when it was on my doorstep. A Vote Leave sign found it’s way up on my street, but some swift comic justice adjusted it to read Vote Beaver. Excellent. Well, the Beaver’s have only fucking done it haven’t they. We’re Beaving. We’ve Beft.

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Expecting to have a relatively quiet Friday morning contemplating this turnout, my time was cut short by crowds of children all off to see The Secret Life of Pets. An inset day evidently, and a break from the generous dose of sunshine that was being offered to them skyways. They’ve got no clue and sadly they’ll be the ones most affected. Well I say that, one of them’s called Octavious. These children will all look back and say – ‘I remember when we left the EU, a gorgeous day, we went to see a film together, such fun it was – and then just flames for 20 years. Now I have to drink battery acid just to fit in, what with that Prince Octavious upping the taxes again. I wish we could go back to that day when we were watching that film and end it all’.

Probably unfair to push my suicidal thoughts into the minds of these gleeful children, I’ll just let them enjoy the talking animals.

2 legs good, 4 legs bad.

On Call

Work messages have bound me to the workplace from home, or wherever I may be, ripping me from the zen of my safespace and forcing me to constantly think about work on my own time. An alert on my phone now has me anxious as to what the news will be and where it is coming from. No longer do I want to hear my phone chirp or feel it vibrate in my pocket, I’d much rather it just laid still and unmoving. Maybe this is better for me…

When you receive a text message, or any notification on your hand-held pocket-stored mobile device, you also receive a hit of dopamine. The vibration gives you a rush. Whether someone has liked something of yours, tagged you in something, or noticed you in any capacity – this feeling of being affirmed or acknowledged is addictive. We chase this rush in every form we can, so that we have multiple channels through which we can receive these microdose braingasms. A drip feed of feel good hormones that don’t fill us but stimulate us for the moment and make us crave more.

It has gotten to the point for me now where I have cut down the channels of contact so that I receive a balance of alerts that I want and that I don’t want. Ones that make me feel good and positively stimulated, and ones that make me feel bad, almost anxious in anticipation. I wonder if I am messing with the dopamine system, if I’m making it better or worse.

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