Monday, August 28, 2017

No Carnival. No Julia.

Having listened to ‘mixed reviews’ on the Notting Hill Carnival since arriving in London (these fluctuate between an aggressively traumatic war zone or the best street party of your life, nothing in between), I felt a tickle of compulsion to see it for myself this year. 

I shoved my proper camera into my bag, always an act of faith that I am about to bear witness to raw brilliance, and set off on the twenty minute walk towards Notting Hill. On the way I passed a few stray souls who were struggling to stay vertical. Usually dodging eye contact with the dangerously pissed might be unnerving but when on the way to a festival it seems to have the opposite effect - a preview of upcoming attractions. My anticipation buzzed for those electric pushy crowds, belly-vibrating music, and sun-sparkling costumes. 

I arrived to find street sweepers, confused tourists, graffitied wooden panels being pulled from shop windows, and nothing else. Kerbside plastic cups and cans marked the empty shell of a party long over. It transpires Carnival is a day event. It was now almost eight in the deep evening. I put my camera back in my bag. 

As I trundled towards home I passed a Mediterranean family who were not sure of where they were going and were very tired of not getting there. The father took charge as he asked me in hard-fought english if there was a ‘typical’ street nearby. ‘Typical’ was a key word he’d learned and so kept repeating it in a variety of tones. ‘Typical? Typical… Typical!… a TYPICAL street?’ 

I directed them to Portobello road and tried to explain it was the one from the film - which I had presumed was what led them to this part of town. But their faces remained clouded. I ploughed on. ’Hugh Grant? Julia Roberts?’ 

‘Ah Julia Roberts!’ the father’s face leap from question mark to exclamation and he checked the directions again - ‘The second road on right? The second!! Ok we go!’ He lead the kids and wife away, now strengthened by his mission. It was only when they disappeared from view that I realised I was not the only one who would be sorely disappointed by Notting Hill that day. All they would find there were street sweepers, weary shopkeepers, and equally confused tourists - perhaps ones who had also been sent on a misguided hunt for toothy Hollywood royalty. 

I'm on Twitter @theroryjohn

Saturday, August 26, 2017

My Secret Passion for Old People on 'First Dates'

Our vexed TV hero, who has likely been ‘taken off the case’ for their maverick ways, slowly draws their hand over their lips, stares into the injustice of systemic corruption/middle distance, and reaches for that bottle of whiskey clanking around in the top drawer. 

I do much the same when office life deals me a deathly blow (eg there's no clean mugs left and all spoons have disappeared yet again) but instead of a opening a bottle of whiskey I open up a new tab and watch clips of old people on ‘First Dates’. Oh the sweet relief of listening to the aged chat about death and disappointment over a prawn starter.

If watching twinkly old people and cute young people (eg 'The Secret Life of 4 Year Olds') is the new opiate of the masses then Channel 4 is the Walter White in the supply chain. They recently combined these powerful strains of the drug in the almighty ‘Old People's Home for 4 Year Olds’ (still on All4).  Such a powerful hit of life-affirming joy that one can easily become completely incapacitated with happy-sad tears (“Are you okay?!”, “No. A grouchy old man is pretending to be a bear… *sniffle*… so he can make a child laugh.”)

But back to ‘First Dates’ and what I believe the older folks can teach those of us who are relatively young about dating and decent conversation. 

First off they don’t immediately discount people if they don’t look like they’d be Insta-compatible.  Instead they just want to share and listen to stories, compare battle-scars, laugh and sigh over this joyful, cruel, daft life. Twice the age of those who might feel jaded by the terror and tedium of ‘making new friends’, they always seem to find something sparkling and fascinating in the other. Perhaps they don’t always end up ripping (or carefully unbuttoning) each other’s clothes off but as they wave goodbye to Fred they seem to be happier and lighter for having made a new connection.

What I most admire is not only their lack of shyness about asking direct questions (usually along the lines of ‘Wife dead?’, ‘Any kids?’, ‘Aren’t you sad?’) but also that they never seem embarrassed or phased by the direct answers. They genuinely want to hear about the other person’s life and want to get to the heart of that story even before Cici is looming for their drinks order. 

They listen intently to each other’s gentle adventures, the oft-rehearsed funny anecdotes, and tales of deep sorrow (always accompanied by a softly faltering piano). When told something starkly sad they don’t nervously nudge things back into the shallows or offer empty platitudes, instead they listen. Really listen. 

It seems to me they to usually come to the unspoken agreement that ‘This life can be shit but it’s also utterly brilliant… despite being mostly shit’ - which is perhaps why the rest of us take such comfort and joy in watching them. 

For example take this couple on First Dates who popped up on my feed today, she doesn’t become shiftily awkward when her date reveals his son died tragically - instead she keeps looking into his eyes and really listening. 

Now if only the staff were replaced hyperactive 4 year olds who want to build forts under the tables we’d be in TV heaven*. 

*Apologies to Fred, Cici, Laura, Merlin and that bloke who fancies Cici, I do love you. 

I'm on Twitter @theroryjohn

More older folk on 'First Dates' after the jump!