Tuesday, 27 January 2015

Hello Neverland: Dr. Lecter, I Presume.


My intention was to study on the flight from London to Charlotte, Virginia, but despite nine and a half hours in which to do so, the environment inside a plane isn't most conducive to having textbooks out and making notes on the Romantic poets. Besides, I had an entire season of Hannibal to watch.

The first time I'd even known that the exploits of Dr. Hannibal Lecter had been made into a television show was seeing an advert on the side of a van announcing season two. The only thing that piqued my interest was they'd managed to cast a quirky-looking Hannibal and strayed from the path that Hannibal Rising had taken. 

Charming as the character is, and Gaspard Ulliel being a good actor, the two just didn't meet in the middle and mostly due to a lackluster script, the film had tanked.
I can't say I'd been terribly enamoured of any film adaptation of Thomas Harris' books. Hannibal, the 2000 movie that saw the return of Anthony Hopkins to the lead role, hadn't exactly set my world on fire. Controversial as it may be, I had watched The Silence Of The Lambs around the time I was sixteen years old and found the book to be infinitely better.

I was about twelve when I first heard the mention of Dr. Lecter himself. My aunty had been reading The Silence Of The Lambs during a family camping holiday. I was only briefly aware of what the film phenomenon consisted of, in that it was a scary film with a profoundly disturbing poster. Even the name unsettled me, were all the lambs dead? During a beach outing, my aunt made a joke about my father being like Hannibal Lecter.

"Who is Hannibal Lecter?" I asked, wanting to know why my father would be anything like a man with such a strange name. 

"He's the cannibal in Silence Of The Lambs. He eats people". she answered.
I wasn't the most conventional child. Although my parents were strict with what I could watch and listen to, they seemed to think that any book was within limits, seeing as I was reading and that could only mean good things. Maybe it was an act of rebellion at not even being allowed to watch Dirty Dancing, but the more disturbing the book I could find, the better. I quickly grew out of Goosebumps and Stephen King, starting on true crime books, especially as a pile of them had appeared in our hallway after my father had brought them home from work.

There must have been not only rebellion, but some affinity towards my father's job, which probably explains my wonderment towards superheroes to this day. My father was a policeman, and as far as I was concerned, he went out at night to solve crimes and save people.

So I begged my aunty to lend me the book with the terrifying cover, and I spent the entire night in my tent reading it at the speed of fever, because she was leaving the next day and wanted it back but mostly because I was gripped. I don't know what a twelve year old nerdy Gibraltarian boy and a twenty-something American FBI agent had in common, but I fell hard for Clarice Starling.

 I loved her courage, her intelligence, her strength and her morals. I adored this world Thomas Harris had created that seemed believable but also had an edge of urban magic to it, a place where all the serial killers I had read about existed in a tiny geographical map of the imagination and the elegance was in overcoming and saving the day. I was captivated by the sick intelligence in devising things such as a well to hold people in and a suit made out of a body.

I reluctantly gave the book back the next day and that was that for about a year, because the internet was in its infancy and I lived in the back of beyond. I told everyone I wanted to be a forensic scientist even though I was terrible at science and not exactly resilient when it came to blood and guts. I found library books on real serial killers and pursued other crime books. I felt an ecstatic sense of triumph when browsing through a second hand book store the name Thomas Harris flashed into my eyes.

 I read Red Dragon and although Francis Dolarhyde was suitably macabre, I didn't love Will Graham as much as Clarice Starling (sorry Will). I finally picked up my own copy of Silence Of The Lambs with an elegant black and gold cover, and I read it until it very literally fell apart.

So it wasn't only the sub-par movies or my feeling uncomfortable at poor Clarice's final, passive fate. The years passed and other things came into my life that interested me more. I had real contact with death and that made me a touch less fascinated and less disconnected at the experience of death and murder. Victims no longer felt like simply collateral to a narrative, it happened in the world. (Not that this stopped me spending my 29th birthday in a Paris cemetery).

One name brought everything back, Bryan Fuller. When I was in my early twenties, living back at home and getting fat while hiding from the world, I watched a lot of TV shows. I related to Jay from Wonderfalls and Ellen from Dead Like Me. Headstrong, smart, sarcastic, angry, completely lost. The concepts were genius, the writing was fantastic, and of course Bryan Fuller was much too smart for television. 

Both series were cancelled before their time, Dead Like Me being an especially bitter story of what happens when idiotic studio executives get in the way of good writing. I found out Bryan Fuller had also been part of the writing team on Star Trek Voyager, another show I had watched religiously growing up.

What's more, he sparked a flame in my little head that said I could be gay, quirky, a little lost, a little nerdy and comfortable in the craft of writing as a way of seeing and being in the world. I didn't have to chase the vision of a gay man as simply an empty-headed MDMA freak forever attending circuit parties. Not that I know the first thing about Bryan Fuller's life, and now that I'm older and wiser I see that people can be whatever they want and we can all live on the same planet, but something about knowing you could be smart and gay and successful just blew my mind and redefined me as a more confident person.

So when I heard Bryan Fuller was attached to Hannibal, I knew it would be more than just a vapid cash-in. Binge watching on the plane, it was more than just an entertaining show, it was a writer at the height of his powers forming a complex and emotional narrative that looked fantastic and had become incredibly successful. I was heartened, I was inspired all over again, and I am incredibly happy watching this show.

Now that twelve year old nerdboy even has a name. Fannibal.

Monday, 12 January 2015

Hello Neverland: Goodbye Charlie

There was no other way for the morning to be but overcast. It had quickly evolved from not just a tragedy, a series of murders, a terror attack or even the ideas surrounding censorship, cartooning, or free speech. The event, gunmen had stormed the offices of a Parisian satirical newspaper and executed members of staff, had become the dirt into the hole some people needed to prove their theories correct.

The most burdened thing being, this was no longer just some crazy right-wingers calling for changes to immigration, or racist religious bigots trying to convicnce everyone that an Orwellian Christian state was the solution to the Orwellian Islamist state they swore was coming. Everyone seemed to be joining the debate, placing their soapboxes on top of a dozen corpses to make their ideas heard. Islam is a violent religion. Muslims should apologise. Maybe the cartoons shouldn't have happened.

Everyone's screaming, everyone's right on their little wooden box. Yet it sounds to me, like the very thing they are condemning is the thing coming out of their mouths. It is a frustrating mindset where argument is redundant, and there seems to be no escape from the headlines and the people sat around throwing out dangerous opinions like those words don't grow and fester.

I have the day off and I walk towards the centre of London. Everyone has come back to London after the Christmas holidays, while most tourists have gone home to live out their January blues. There's a change, where early morning are full of people running before work, or running to work. Where the hours between nine and ten give you elbows of crowds holding coffee cups, wearing trainers with their business suits and rushing with purpose in their glazed vision.

I'm walking just a little after ten, and London's  about the quietest you'll ever see it. You don't have to fight to get across the bridge on St. James' Park which offers one of the city's best tourist views. Buckingham Palace on one side and The London Eye flanked by Horseguards Parade on the other, framed in the relative tranquility of a royal park river scene.

Trafalgar Square greets me with more grey than usual. The area is usually covered in people, but tourists are smaller in volume and late to wake. The lions seem to yawn and Nelson is somehow more pensive than usual, he's had enough time to think about his actions leading to the way the world is today. It must be lonely, forever stone atop the heights.

My plan was to visit the British Museum. I am studying Wordsworth and he was inspired by one of the sculptures contained there to write his poem "Ozymandias". It is a bust of Ramesses II, from a time when world powers were very different in their geography. There is nothing more humbling than looking into the past, and perhaps nothing more depressing. Mighty empires fall, they are not untouchable, and the conflicts between ideologies are the basis of humanity. Perhaps the museum is not the best place to be today, and the National Gallery tempts me in.

The building is normally extremely crowded, and famous paintings are sometimes hard to get to. I am able to glide through rooms, think of myself in times when art was practically sacred or not at all. When subversion was punished by death and torture, and artists were sly in their rebellions.

I can stand by a painting of Cezanne's father, composed by the artist on the wall of a kitchen in France, now framed on the wall of The National Gallery. I can stand in the relative silence, the thickness of reverence that happens in galleries and libraries and anywhere that demands quiet. I imagine the tiles on the floor of the kitchen, the brushstrokes that grew and formed into image. A relatively innocent figure by comparisonm to Cezanne's later works, with The Bathers now taking up the wall opposite. Visitors smile and pose with the painting, mostly unaware that when this art movement came into being, the artists were seen as perverted and scandalous.

There's nobody around and I can take in a private moment with Van Gogh's Sunflowers, which I normally peer at behind the back of everyone else's head. The simplicity, the light and the silence, it's like seeing this oversaturated work of art for the very first time. I never particularly liked it, I found it too pedestrian to mean much of anything. I understand, in this private moment, that there's refuge in the yellows and oranges, in the plain composition of a vase of sunflowers amidst a world heavy with politics and conflict.

It's a fleeting luxury to be able to lean on the railings outside the entrance to The National Gallery. They are normally congested with tourists taking photos, and for the first time since I have been in London I can see why. It's a particular view, the back of Nelson's Column with a partial view of Big Ben in the background, teased by the entrance to Whitehall. I feel proud of the city I live in, I don't know what feeling this is, but I just feel connected. I look down  at the makeshift memorial to Charlie Hebdo on the Square, and can't help but feel outrage. I imagine what it would be like if London would be like, it would feel like a home invasion. It reminds me of what the writer Poppy Z Brite said when asked about leaving New Orleans after Katrina. "If you’re ever lucky enough to belong somewhere, if a place takes you in and you take it into yourself, you don't desert it just because it can kill you".

I walk through Trafalgar Square every morning on the way to work. There's a person who dresses in a long black tunic and hood and covers their face with a mask. All they do is sit on a taped-up black box all day, not even begging for money. The night before, there had been a gathering of hundreds of people, holding "Je Suis Charlie" placards and candles. A simple, peaceful vigil of solidarity and compassion. The leftovers are now in a circle on the floor. Signs, candles, a plastic figure of the Eiffel Tower, copies of Charlie Hebdo stuck to the floor. The hooded figure sits close to the memorial, with a black umbrella, shielded from the rain. They look fitting to be there, like they suddenly found a purpose, the shadow of death.

People carry on with their day, after a moment of reflection by the memorial. I don't know what thoughts go through their heads but I'd like to think there's more empathy than hatred. I still want to believe that most people are good, that they would like to lead a decent life and value the lives of others. The sun peeks out behind a cloud, the rain stops.

Monday, 5 January 2015

Hello Neverland: There You Are.


My New Year's Eves have always been dramatic affairs, and I have preferred them to Christmases. They have tended to involve big parties, staying up until 8am, writing long letters or promising myself a dozen resolutions. There have been tears on the stroke of midnight, and the anticipation of leaving everything behind to start over.

Except intentions may be as pure as you please, things don't get wiped away with the gongs of the clock.

This isn't to say travel as a form of escape isn't a great idea, but I've lived most of my life on the basis that if I had to pack a suitcase and leave town tonight, I could. I still don't feel comfortable with the idea of having too many material possessions but that has more to do with not having any real use for them than thinking they weigh me down somehow.

My resolutions were grand, and the sweeping changes in my life were biting. I would move country, change job, lose touch with a plethora of people, delete my Facebook account, change e-mail and phone number like someone working their way through a hostage program with a particularly adept stalker.

I believe those changes were necessary to get me to where I am at the moment, but this year felt different somehow. I didn't feel a need to dance out my year, or cry it out at midnight. I remember, or not as the case may be, getting so incredibly drunk in 2006/2007 that I woke up in my own bed, a trail of clothes leading out to the hallway. Except I hadn't been at home, I had been at a house party. I dislike getting drunk and not being in control, this is the only time I don't remember getting home.

This year didn't feel that way to me, it was a comfortable, gentle evening. I finished work in a job I adore, I came home to a beautiful apartment. We went for dinner to a neighbourhood Thai restaurant and sat in the basement under an arch which hundreds of years ago could have housed any conceivable thing. I live in London, a year and a half of living in this dream city so full of possibility and wonder.

My walk home had been stifled by the ridiculous queue of ticket holders waiting to be let into Whitehall to watch the fireworks, a whole six hours previous to the event, in a freezing line that stretched from Trafalgar Square to the Mall. It meant having to walk up the Mall and past Buckingham Palace instead of through St. James' Park. I don't know how to emphasise that sentence. I can, if I ch
oose, walk past Buckingham Palace every day on my way home. I walk past Trafalgar Square every day, one of the centres of the world. The person I greet every day on my way into work is Admiral Horatio Nelson, a figure of history I am obsessed with, standing on his famous column looking out over this capital.

We watched the fireworks from our balcony, the entirety of the city of Westminster alight with the bursts of colour from The London Eye. The world seemed to cheer harder than ever this year, after planes crashing and militant extremists, Ferguson and UKIP and the erm, The Interview debacle. We are still here, we are still alive, and we can celebrate, we can shout. I no longer felt like this was a hurry to wipe anything away from the previous year, but an anticipation of the year ahead of the joy and success humanity is capable of.

This isn't a gloat, and I can see how it would sound like one. In 2005, at the age of 20, I had been to London a total of three times. The majority of my life had been spent in two square miles of fenced-in land with only the tease of the ocean and Africa on the horizon. There was promise in escape, there was freedom on the other side of that gate. I had spent a year in Cardiff, so overwhelmed by the idea of freedom that my life, as most 20 year olds probably, was just a card's wonky placement away from falling apart. I had quit university, was on the verge of breaking up with my loser junkie boyfriend, profoundly overweight and with absolutely no idea of what came next.

A friend invited me to London to see Live 8, and we stayed in the Docklands. I looked out at Canary Wharf from the middle of a bridge that night, at what felt like an endless river. I could see young professionals in their suits sitting in restaurants drinking wine. There was something here, this city had something to offer me I just couldn't even grasp yet.

Three years ago I was in Copenhagen, practically forced into exile into a job that was supposed to have taken three weeks and ended up taking three months. I was living in a hotel, as I had for most of that year, waking up each morning wondering what country I was in again before opening the curtains. My relationship had gone beyond hanging by a thread, I was already free-falling into a ravine and the person that was supposed to love me the most was standing on the edge telling me it was my own damn fault, instead of offering me a parachute.

I had begged him to come and see me, and it took spending about £500 of my money to get him over for the weekend. He sat across from me in the hotel bar while we had a coffee.
I'd had a lot of time to think. "I've been thinking, maybe I could get a less intense job and carry on with my degree. By the time I'd finished, you could support me in a second career, the way I'm supporting you now".
The stare I had back made it look like I'd just told him I wanted to start my own band despite having no musical talent whatsoever.
"Well, that's a nice little dream isn't it, but not exactly a practical plan".
I had never felt so alone in my entire life.

I started my degree last year. I was two months into my relationship with John and we'd gone away for the weekend. I mentioned, in passing, that I had started a degree and abandoned it after the foundation course. He told me to go ahead and start again.

It's funny that I feel so secure, because it's been a year for jumping. I quit a job I hated, I took an unpaid internship for a month to see if it's something I wanted to do, and chased a job I had dreamt about since it had first been mentioned. Yet it's not funny at all, because through it all I had someone telling me "Jump a little higher, jump a little further, because no matter where you land I'll already be there to catch you".

I don't feel like I have to have a gypsy life anymore. I can be rooted, I can put down my suitcase and my sword and I can still have adventures. This life, this love, this city, there's still so much left to explore.

Happy New Year.