A Rabbit Caught In Several Headlights #filmreview #jojorabbit

I realise I hate trailers. They’re either utterly useless, pick out the only good bits and leave you gnawing your seat with frustration when you realise you’ve been had or, as with Jojo Rabbit, leave you expecting one film only to get another.

And even that’s not totally true.

If you go by the trailer I saw you are expecting a comedy, mostly satire and undoubtedly tasteless (the hero is a ten year old member of the Hitler Youth with his imaginary friend, one A Hitler). Okay, what with all the recent sensitivity over antisemitism raising its very ugly bug eyes during the recent election and me living in a hand-wringingly woke, wishy washy liberal part of South London, seeing a film that even warns you at the start – alongside the usual guff about violent scenes, strong language and sexual references – that it contains discriminatory material is going to be a challenge. You know, given how tasteless is my sense of humour that any laughs will be accompanied by a quick scan of the audience to see if there are any disapproving looks.

I consoled myself with the notion that any tastelessness will be played for laughs, poking fun at the undoubted baddies in this story. And there are laughs, both verbal and visual.

But there are also some ‘woah, wtf was that?’ moments too. There’s a scene where Jojo is with his mum, played with gusto by Scarlett Johanssen chatting distractedly about life when they enter the market square and are confronted by five hanging figures, clearly punishment killings by the local Nazis. This is a 12A film and it knocked me, so goodness knows what a ten year old might make of that. The tentative laughs that came from Rebel Wilson’s hard eyed psychotic camp leader suddenly didn’t seem so funny. And when Stephen Merchant, playing a perma-smiling Gestapo agent terrorises Jojo and the 17 year old Jewish refugee who’s living in his loft and pretending to be his sister, it really is neither funny nor comfortable.

But these moments of genuine awfulness make the satire and farce all the more powerful in their way. They say, in ways it is often difficult to get across that this behaviour would be funny if it wasn’t so awful (not the hangings obviously – you can’t play hangings for laughs).

It almost felt like I didn’t know how I was meant to experience the film. A serious drama about the Nazis and I’d know how to react; a comedy and ditto. But this? I learnt early that I had to be sure where the scene was going before I knew what my response should be. And even then the director caught me out again and again.

Basically I had to work hard at this, had to be ready to take the laughs but also turn them off pretty much instantly depending where the story went.

It’s not exactly thought-provoking; the story line isn’t novel. But I left the cinema wondering what I’d seen and what I took away from it.

And twenty-four hours later….

The child actors are excellent

The ensemble does a great job especially the known comic actors subverting what you expect

The core theme – about wanting to belong, even if the only club is the Nazi party – is put across well

But it’s not a comedy because it’s too uncomfortable. See it for yourself. I’ll be interested in what others think; it’s probably a film that will divide people with haters and lovers. I’m just not sure which I am. Yet.

PS I read an article today about a trip to Amsterdam and the Resistance museum. It would be understandable for the City to big up the resistance to something so abhorrent, but apparently the Dutch give equal time to the three categories of citizens during the occupation: the collaborators, the acceptors and the resistors. There was a significant Dutch Nazi party as well as a resistance and the majority were neither, just accepting their fate and trying to cope. Some 34000 Jews were sent from Amsterdam to the camps and 18 survived. You need local actors to achieve that. The point of the article though wasn’t to criticise or patronise but rather to wonder what would have happened here had we been occupied. Much the same of course because most of us would either want to try and belong or at least duck and dive and the courage to resist would only fall on a relative few. Like Jojo, it seems the most obvious thing to do, to get by, to be something. He’s only ten but even so…

It’s too easy to let things slide, to accept, isn’t it? Maybe that’s the take away. I know that I’ll keep wondering about Jojo Rabbit for a while yet.

Posted in Film, review | Tagged , | 20 Comments

Economic Realities #writephoto

Ariadne Grumble played a small if largely unheralded part in the rise and eventual fall of capitalism in the second half of the twentieth century. Without Ariadne’s commitment to creating shortages of inessentials the retail market is unlikely to have been quite so buoyant for so long.

Ariadne inherited a significant fortune from her uncle Mussen Grumble who’s invention of the homing truss gave new hope to all herniated agrophobics. She used her new found wealth on the excessive acquisition of products as diverse as scented candles, nodding dogs and disposable fire irons. By so doing she created panics in certain sectors of the consumerist economy, leading to scurrilous and sensationalised headlines by bored tabloid business writers that induced other panic buying with initial boosts to the economy but eventually creating the conditions for a spiralling decline into debilitating financial despair.

Governments flailed against her malign influence of which she was initially largely unaware. When, after the thirteenth Grumblebust as the collapses of economic activity were known she was banned from shopping she became a recluse and went online using a series of cunning aliases.

The public, who initially saw her as a sort of Robin Hood – George Soros combo turned against her. Campaigns were launched to ‘Get The Grumble’ but these were unsuccessful until a persistent hack, Fay Queues uncovered her lair. Fay, a chain smoking lay preacher for the Church Of Curious Intolerants set up her hide to study Ariadne in her natural element before determining the best strategy for her expose.

It took a while to realise that Ariadne had a weekly plan of concerted purchasing then disposal of whatever it was she had bought before the buying started again.

Faye reported to her editor who, appalled at the gratuitous waste involved told Faye to contact a film crew to capture the moment when Faye confronted Ariadne with her crimes against consumerism.

And so it was that Faye, her trusty assistant Corpulent Fossil and the film crew camouflaged themselves and crept into position for that week’s wanton disposal.

‘Here she comes’ hissed Corpulent as he wiped his boss’ visor of the blackout paint and held back the branches to allow Faye a passage towards the heinous evildoer.

Ariadne, for her part, was unaware of what was transpiring. As Faye crept stealthily forward and the cameras rolled Faye extracted her lighter and flicked the wheel with a practiced roll of her thumb to light up the twenty ninth cheroot of the day. At that same moment Ariadne released the pressure on two hundred and seventy boxes of salon hairspray.

The resulting conflagration vaporised Ariadne, scorched Faye and in the process removed from her the need ever again to depilate her top lip and created the most effective health and safety campaign video on the dangers of naked flames near lacquer that had ever been devised.

And the economy? It tanked anyway because that’s what economies do.

This was written in response to this week’s #writephoto prompt

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Waiting

‘Hello. Lovely evening.’

‘Yes.’

‘Balmy. Given the time of year.’

‘Indeed.’

‘Mind if I…?

‘Sure.’

‘Funny, isn’t it? The sea.’

‘Funny?’

‘You know. How it looks, you know, not like water.’

‘No.’

‘No?’

‘Yes.’

‘Ha! I suppose I should explain.’

‘Ok.’

‘To me it looks like Mercury.’

‘Mercury?’

‘The mineral, not the god.’

‘Thermometers.’

‘That too. It’s so slow. What do you think it looks like?’

‘Cellophane.’

‘Really?’

‘No.’

‘Ha! Joke.’

‘Maybe.’

‘Can I ask a question?’

‘Sure.’

‘You only ever answer with one word.’

‘Yes.’

‘Is there a reason for it?’

‘Yes.’

‘Are you going to explain?’

‘No.’

‘Can I guess?’

‘Sure.’

‘New Year’s resolution?’

‘Kinda.’

‘Isn’t that cheating? I mean, ‘kinda’ is really ‘kind of’.’

‘No.’

‘No, it isn’t, or no it’s not cheating.’

‘Either.’

‘Or both.’

‘Perhaps.’

‘So a resolution? What kind? To be, you know, mono-thingy?’

‘Sorry?’

‘You know where you only use one word?’

‘Monosyllabic?’

‘Yes!’

‘No.’

‘No?’’

‘Yes.’

‘We’re back in one of those yes-no loops, aren’t we?’

‘Suppose.’

‘Must be tricky, though, only using one word. I mean, at work say.’

‘Retired.’

‘Or at home.’

‘Single.’

‘Shopping.’

‘Online.’

‘Isn’t that two words.’

‘Polyphonic.’

‘You sure?’

‘No.’

‘What then?’

‘Portmanteau?’

‘I thought that was luggage?’

‘Maybe.’

‘Still, it’s a lovely evening, isn’t it?’

‘Yes.’

‘I’m Chris by the way.’

‘Gustang.’

‘Unusual.’

‘Grandpa’s.’

‘Apostrophe’s ok, are they?’

‘Sure.’

‘And are you here for a reason, Gustang?’

‘Yes.’

‘What’s that?’

‘Waiting.’

‘Waiting? Like, for Godot?’

‘No, waiting until you bugger off so I can watch the sunset in peace. Geez.’

Posted in creative writing | Tagged , | 14 Comments

And So It Ends… And Begins #garden #growth

Yesterday the Lad and I did a lot of tidying up as a change from digging…

That will continue as I clean the slope of weeds as best I can.

As we pulled leaves out of corners and cut back dead growth from the summer two things struck us.

One was that the lawn needed a trim… according to the Lad, he of the Lawn Skills. Yep, 30th December and it’s still growing.

The second was that there is so much new life poking through in anticipation of the spring. I hope the winter doesn’t take a turn for the totally totalitarian. Here are some pictures of optimism that the new decade won’t be dominated by wonks, wokery and Wokington Man

Of course, we have some hellibores and cyclamen and even, weirdly. some sweetpeas…

Hope also appears in the guise of buds on the replanted shrubs and roses that followed on from the recent excess of digging.

peonies

And today, as the misty murk clears there’s a chance of an alien invasions if this is anything to go by

which is an interesting precursor to the new decade.

May your twenties be roaring and roistering, no ratty and raddled. Chin chin everyone!

And remember this decade’s motto is

Everything will be alright in the end

and if it’s not yet alright, it’s not yet the end!

Posted in gardens, home, miscellany | Tagged , , | 39 Comments

Pettifore And The Duster Of Doom #writephoto

Pettifore Ptarmigan entered adulthood on the 27th February via a set of steps and a badly painted door. He knew he was finally a grown up because the crowd in the small poorly lit room – which oddly smelt of cardamom and his Grandfather after his annual deforestation – merely made space for him to sit and then ignored him. Before this moment, the usual reception on his entering a strange room was either ‘what do you want, kid?’ Or ‘put the pizzas over there’.

No, Pettifore was now an adult, he just knew it; after all wasn’t being treated with indifference by strangers and being able to drink tea without sugar the two badges of his much awaited and much delayed maturation?

The reason why Pettifore had chanced into this throng was to hear Dr (self-styled) Robinia Bellibrace discuss her latest theories on the existence of a previously undiscovered race of two dimensional beings she had dubbed the Flatians with a depressing lack of imagination. Flatians, so the good Doctor posited were able to avoid detection by turning sideways on being disturbed thus rendering themselves virtually invisible to the unquestioning eyes of mankind. The crowd murmured its apparent approval at this explanation for the centuries old ignorance of the Flatians’ arrival and colonisation of a small and rather moist suburb of what later became Ruislip. Pettifore who was still slightly stunned about his accession to the land of men missed the start of the sparse applause and, in an effort to catch up, did what he wanted to avoid: brought the room’s attention to his presence by an over vigorous clapping.

Dr Bellibrace leant across the lectern and peered at him with a predatory glint in her eye. ‘Yes, exactly. We need such obvious enthusiasm if we are to obtain compelling evidence of the Flatians existence. Let’s follow this young man’s lead.’

Pettifore concentrated on the ‘man’ rather that the ‘young’ and nodded hard.

‘Who will join me,’ Robinia intoned, ‘in setting a trap for a Flatian?’

Pettifore, new and naive as he was shot his hand in the air sure that he would be one in a sea of limbs. It took him several moments to realise he was alone and the crowd about him had begun to ease away from his seat. An elderly man sporting MacDonald spats and a octagonal squint sighed. ‘Brave, but really?’

Robinia could barely contain her excitement. She jabbed her finger at various parts of the crowd. ‘You will see. We will have our proof.’

When Pettifore and Robinia arrived at 27 The Pleasants, Pettifore’s home, Mrs Ptarmigan answered the door, apparently quite flustered. She had her hair held in a knotted scarf and wore rubber gloves that came up to her armpits. ‘I’m trying to unblock your grandfather, dear. He’s superannuated his grublings again. You make yourselves comfy in the sitting room while I make tea.’

While Pettifore sat nervously on a novelty canon, Robinia prowled the small room. Finally she announced, ‘This place is perfect. I’ll set up a trap.’

Before Pettifore had a chance to conjugate amo, his default calming chant, Robinia had triangulated the chesterfield and armoured her strobing kaleidoscope. As Pettifore watched, entranced, gradually the reflection of a vibrant scene of shimmering ephemeral figures in dazzling primary colours appeared on the glass of the French doors. A beautiful woman with hair to spare offered a bowl of succour to an unseen underling.

Pettifore gasped as Robinia smiled. ‘With the two of us,’ she said, ‘we can capture this image and consign the cynics and nay-sayers to the pit of humiliation. Come, boy and hold the trap.’

To Pettifore the trap appeared to be a plastic sleeve but he was too polite and, in truth a bit narked at being called a boy to much care.

He stepped forward and together with Robinia he leant towards the glass.

‘Right ho, who takes milk?’ Mrs Ptarmigan bustled in and stopped. She took in the unlikely scene of two people apparently rapt, gazing at one pane of glass. She came to a hasty conclusion, pulled a duster from the pocket of her pinafore and pushed past Pettifore. ‘I’m so sorry,’ she apologised to a startled Robinia, ‘but grandfather does tend to leave residues in the most unexpected places.’

With a swift and decisive rub she decimated the small colony of Flatians and set back intergalactic anthropology several minutes. ‘Tea?’

Robinia nodded, her energy levels dropping.

‘And maybe a chocolate hobnob. You look like you need a sugar boost.’ She held out the plate.

This was written in response to the latest #writephoto prompt

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What Brexit Will Do For Our Bread

This is another story from the upcoming collection of 2018 short fiction

‘Gah.’

‘I’m sorry Your Crustiness, but he insists on seeing you.’

Cob, The Arch Dough of Bakersville hung his head. He looked around the Palace, with its columns and pillars, a confection of support, standing proud, like the ultimate wedding cake. Just when everything was going so well and now he had to deal with a neurotic Head-Baker. How had it come to this? They shouldn’t have recruited from abroad, they should have stayed with what they knew.

‘What’s he want?’

‘He…’ the page-bap sagged in the middle, a little underdone. ‘He won’t tell me.’

‘Why can’t he just do what he’s paid for? He’s here to bake, not bend my ear.’

‘You know what he’s like, Your Enrichedness. It’s a cultural thing. With him, everything’s on a knead the dough basis.’

Cob felt his crust begin to crack. ‘Alright, show him in. But I’m not happy. Not happy at all.’

A tall floury man with a multi-seed complexion slipped into the antechamber. ‘Allo.’

‘Beurre. Good to see you. Everything going well?’

Beurre put down his spatula. ‘I need help, Your Doughiness. We are heading for disaster.’

‘Oh I’m sure that’s a bit of an exaggeration.’

‘You pay me to create sumptuous breads, tasty buns, melt in the mouth cakes. If things don’t change it’ll be all pitta and pancakes.’

‘What’s going on?’

‘The kitchen has been infiltrated. I’m sure some of the baking powder is actually a raising agent, spying for a foreign power. The eggs have started self-separating and it’s really no yolk and well, the yeast…’

‘Yes?’

Beurre looked around as if the room had ears. ‘Our usual supplier has changed. Now all our yeast is from the east and it’s beastly. We tried a batch today. We did everything according to instructions but instead of the yeast being fermented the dough just threw itself at the walls and began rocking about in the mixing bowls.’

‘You mean it’s demented?’

‘Precisely. I can’t work in these conditions. I mean at least in France, it was fun making bread, but here it’s just a pain.’

Posted in humour, short story | Tagged , , | 8 Comments

Life As We Know It

Another story from the upcoming collection of Life Sentences…

‘Hello?’

‘Hello?’

‘You need to open the door.’

‘Door?’

‘Can you see it?’

‘Yes, But…’

‘Pull it open and I’ll explain.’

‘But who… why? My dog. Where’s Bonkers?’

‘Please, just open the door.’

Carol-Ann Strudel looked around. Her eyes must be off. There was a door and… nothing else. Now she looked not even a wall… or a floor. Weird. She pulled the door open. ‘Wow! That’s…’ she pulled the door back towards her and looked behind it. Still blank. In front there was a beautiful path through the woods. Like the one she and her dad…’ she stifled a sob.

The same soothing compelling voice spoke, like a mix of Peter Ustinov and that bloke who did the voice overs for the Milk Tray adverts… ‘In you come… that’s it.’

As soon as Carol- Ann stepped forward the door… she didn’t know how to describe it.

‘Dissolved? Most people think of it as dissolving.’

‘How did you know I was thinking about the door?’

‘Everyone does. They latch on to the familiar. ‘Latch?’ Door?’ Get it?’

‘I’m sorry but this is all a bit weird. Can you just tell me why I’m in this wood?’

‘Here’s the thing. While I explain, can you walk towards the beginning?’

‘The beginning?’

‘The path. Ahead.’

‘How can I be walking towards the beginning? And where are you? I can hear you as if… as if…’

‘I’m inside your head?’

Carol-Ann spun round. Nothing there. Actually even the path was gone, just thick wood.’

‘You’re creeping me out. I’d like to go home. I’m not going anywhere until…’

‘But you are.’

And she was. Even as she determined to stand still her feet kept moving forward.

‘If you cast your mind back you might recall the stairs, the loose tread… yes?’

‘I fell?’

‘Indeed.’

‘So where am I? Where’s my hall? What happened?’

‘Your Hall is still in East Lothian. You, well, you transitioned.’

‘Transitioned? Do you mean died?’

If a voice could cringe, this voice cringed. ‘We try to avoid such finite expressions. You’re moving to the next phase.’

‘The afterlife?’

‘In a sense.’

‘Sorry. Can I sit down?’

‘With what?’

‘With what?’

‘You’ve nothing to sit on?’

‘I’ll perch on a log. I’m not proud.’

‘No I mean you’ve nothing with which you can sit.’

Carol-Ann looked down again. She wasn’t there. Specifically her bum wasn’t there.’

‘Where’s my body gone?’

‘It’s where you left it. East Lothian Royal Infirmary. We trialled a Bring Your Body With You a few years back and to be fair the folks quite liked it but it sort of freaked out those remaining. So we had to stop it.’

‘So what am I?’

‘What you’ve always been. You.’

‘No come on. I was born and I had no clue who I was. I just became aware of it as I grew up.’

‘Yes?’

‘So I can’t have been me. I really would like to stop. The trees are making me feel giddy.’

‘It’s the shadows. They can do that.’

‘Does everyone use this path?’

‘Everyone has their own bespoke transition to the beginning.’

‘Is this the Shadowlands? I heard about them at…’

‘No.’ The voice wrapped her in tiredness. ‘Sorry but if I had a… hang on… a pound… I can’t keep up with all the new currencies … for every transitioning spirit that’s come this way and said Shadowlands, I’d have a mountain of useless notes to…’

‘Coins. They got rid of the notes.’

‘They did? I’ll make a note. Ha! ‘I’ll make a note…’ good, eh?’

‘Can you cut out the puns? I’ve just died…’

‘Transitioned…’

‘… and I’m being made to walk down this bloody path….’

‘… track…’

‘Stop interrupting. What’s going to happen to me?’

‘Same as last time.’

‘Last time?’

‘When we reach the beginning, you’ll spend some time with a counsellor, running through what went right and what went wrong with your previous choice…’

‘… you debrief the dead?’

‘… more a review of the accumulation of your experiences. It helps us try and find you another role that suits you.’

‘I get to go back?’

‘It’s up to you really. You can hang around but…’

‘But…?’

‘Do you want to stay on this track for eternity?’

‘Eternity? What is eternity?’

‘It’s like any grotty Monday without the prospect of a Tuesday…’

‘Ok, so I can go back. Is this like a Buddhist thing?’

‘You mean you get another existence as a species higher up the pecking order?’

‘Yes.’

‘No.’

‘No?’

‘We have quotas. If everyone wanted to be a royal baby or dictator’s offspring things would be a bit out of kilter. It’ll depend what credits you’ve earned.’

‘But no one told me about credits. Why wasn’t I told about credits?’

‘If everyone knows about credits them everyone will be end up fulfilling the same criteria. You’ll forget.’

‘I’ll forget.’

‘You said it yourself. You were born, and you knew nothing. It’s only here that you’ll remember your previous existences. In a moment you’ll get your folder and you can see what you’ve been before.’

‘Do you know?’

‘Oh yes. Perk of this job.’

‘And?’

‘My lips are sealed.’

‘What lips?’

‘Good one. You’re getting the hang of this. Shall we find a counsellor?’

‘No, hang on. Isn’t this a bit discriminatory? I mean if someone’s been say Mother Teresa then they’ll get another plum role. Should we really be defined by our past lives?’

‘Very profound. Now Miasma Thomas in booth 4 will sort you out.’

‘But surely it’s unfair.’

‘I only said you accumulate credits. I never said they’d do you any good. And anyway it might not be human. Off you go. Sounds like there’s been a tsunami and we’ll all be needed.’

Carol-Ann felt the voice begin to fade away, before it returned. ‘Oh, word to the wise. They’re offering a special on endangered species…’

‘Like elephants?’

‘I was thinking more along the lines of dinosaurs…’

‘But they’re extinct?’

Carol-Ann heard what sounded like a rustling of paper. ‘You sure?’

‘Absolutely.’

‘Bloody hell… I’ll have a word with management. They really need to update these notes.”

‘But what should I do?’

‘What everyone does when they’re not sure.’

‘What’s that?’

‘Come back as a tree. We’ll have updated things by the time you’re back with us. Happy germination.’

Posted in flash fiction, short story | Tagged , , | 8 Comments