Tuesday, 18 October 2011

Courage in the face of adversity

I never buy the weekend papers, but if I'm ever in a coffee shop or other places that leaves them lying about for people to pick at should the mood take them, I will always make a bee line for the Times Magazine.

For there is one particular article within it's pages which never fails to inspire and move me, because it is the ongoing tale of one woman's courage and her triumph (however small) over a tragic accident that has shaped her life, perhaps forever.

Melanie Reid is a columnist with a difference. Over a year ago now, she fell from a horse and broke her neck and back, sustaining terrible spinal damage. I have no idea what she wrote about before this happened, but now her weekly article details her struggle to overcome the damage. There is no forced cheerfulness to her writing. If she's had a terrible week, then by god you know about it; if she is frustrated by the system or by what is happening in the outside world, then she does not shy away from revealing her feelings. Equally, though, she shares the small triumphs and the happy family times that she experiences.

This past Saturday's piece (15th October 2011) was one of the triumphant ones. There is movement to report - tiny, but significant - and her tone is upbeat throughout the article, even though the message she gives on the pace of this improvement is bleak to a reader. 'The received wisdom' (she writes) 'on nerve regrowth is that, if you're going to get any - and not everyone will - it will happen at a rate of about one millimetre a day. Which is about one inch per month. Which puts my feet at least five years away from my neck.'

That's staggering. And the fact she keeps on writing through all the pitfalls and setbacks is equally so.

My one regret is that with the Times requiring a subscription for its website, I can't go and look up all the back issues I have missed. I hope, one day, that someone will think to collate them into a book, for they really are inspirational, and not something people should miss. Now, if all the copies of the magazine disappear from the coffee shops of Oxford, I'll know why!

Sunday, 16 October 2011

Midnight in Paris

Woody Allen has always been something of an enigma to me - in fact sometimes he seems like a riddle wrapped in an enigma. His films are an acquired taste, and sometimes appear to have no discernible plot, but there is always the direction of his camera which draws the eye and pulls one into the film regardless of whether or not Allen has anything to say. It is rare in this era of blockbusters to find someone who makes films purely for the love he has of the process.

Allen has always been regarded as the portrayer of New York, with his works being love letters to that city. Now, with his latest film 'Midnight in Paris' he appears to have transferred his affections and sets about showing his audience how truly beautiful the capital city of France is - especially in the rain.

This is a film with a message which doesn't truly present itself until almost the end. At first you are simply presented with an American couple about to be married, the man a Hollywood script writer with desires to be a 'proper' writer. Here he is, in this beautiful and inspiring city only to find himself stifled by his fiancee and her pedantic friend (played brilliantly by Michael Sheen) who appears to be an 'expert' on everything.

Only when, slightly drunk and declining to go dancing, he stumbles off into a nighttime Paris and is 'picked up' bu a vintage car full of champagne quaffing revelers does the adventure begin. For suddenly, as the clock strikes midnight, this man finds himself thrust quite unexpectedly and implausibly into 1920s Paris keeping company with F. Scott Fitzgerald, Picasso, Gertrude Stein, Hemingway and Dali. This midnight era becomes a refuge for him, as his relationship with his fiancee breaks down and he becomes drawn to a beautiful woman (captivatingly played by Marion Cotillard) the muse of Picasso and who is in thrall to an earlier 'golden era'.

And here is the central theme of the film: this artistic yearning for a lost time which has come through the years to inspire and enthrall. For Gil, it is the 1920s, for Adriana, the woman he is falling in love with, it is the belle epoch. As with the 1920s, this earlier time opens itself to these tow, and there they are in the Moulin Rouge, deep in conversation with Toulouse-Lautrec and Degas, who declare the Renaissance to be the golden era. Enthralled by what she has seen, Adriana decides to stay in her ideal time, but Gil cannot bear to leave the 20s behind. Returning to modern day Paris, he loses the woman he loves, but gains the determination to change his life.

This idea of an era holding special significance for people except those that live in it is fascinating. I cannot imagine anyone sighing with desire to live in 2011 and calling it a golden age - but given time it will surely happen. It is an impossible dream - to go back and experience life as one's role models and heroes have done and yet Woody Allen makes it happen. And he treats the dream with such a cavalier attitude - shrugging his shoulders at almost every scene, seeming to say 'well, you've met the Fitzgeralds and Hemingway, why not T.S.Eliot, why not Dunja Barnes or Matisse, and hey! meeting Man Ray is perfectly possible in this best of all possible worlds!

I hesitate to say this is Woody Allen's best work, because I've not seen everything he's done, but I think this has to be my favourite!

Monday, 10 October 2011

Poem of the week

On such a windy day as this, who better to turn to than a Bronte .....


by: Anne Bronte (1820-1849)

MY soul is awakened, my spirit is soaring
And carried aloft on the wings of the breeze;
For above and around me the wild wind is roaring,
Arousing to rapture the earth and the seas.

The long withered grass in the sunshine is glancing,
The bare trees are tossing their branches on high;
The dead leaves beneath them are merrily dancing,
The white clouds are scudding across the blue sky

I wish I could see how the ocean is lashing
The foam of its billows to whirlwinds of spray;
I wish I could see how its proud waves are dashing,
And hear the wild roar of their thunder to-day!