26 July, 2014

Le Weekend

My husband and I watched an interesting film, 'Le Weekend', this weekend (excuse the repetition!), starring the phlegmatic Jim Broadbent and the lovely Lindsay Duncan. This film is gentle and relatively slow-moving, but gives the viewer quite a lot to chew on.

Nick and Meg have been married for thirty years. They return to Paris, where they honeymooned, for their wedding anniversary in an attempt to reinvigorate their fading relationship. Things get off to a bad start when they find that the hotel they have booked (the one where they spent their honeymoon, of course), is not quite what they had hoped for -- shabby and run down, the bedrooms without a single view of any of the beautiful Paris landmarks. (I do wonder whether it is memory rather than the hotel which is letting them down -- and, of course, the fact that as you go up in years, your standards seem to rise at a similar rate!)

As the film unwinds and events play out, we see why their relationship is strained -- they are no longer physically intimate; Nick wonders whether Meg might be having an affair; Meg wants to enjoy herself and reinvent her life, whereas Nick is much more settled, only really wanting to be reassured that his wife still loves him. Despite their annoyances with one another, there is still something strong between them -- we see that they are capable of laughing and having fun together (successfully escaping from an expensive restaurant without paying the bill sees them running along the street together in stitches, every bit like a young, carefree couple).

Towards the end of the film, Meg makes a significant point. She explains how, one day when she was out with a friend, her mobile rang. When she hung up her friend asked her who was on the phone. 'Was it your lover?' she asked. 'You were laughing so much, having so much fun, that I thought it must be.' 'No,' Meg replied. 'It was my husband.'

And this, I think, is one of the fundamentals of a strong relationship. No matter what life throws at you, if you and your partner can laugh together and have fun, then you're still on track. It wasn't clear from the film whether Meg and Nick's relationship would survive in the long term, but it seemed to me that they were certainly still moving in the right direction.

19 July, 2014

A movie, and a concert in the abbey

We had an entertaining weekend last week.

Our youngest child was away at a sleepover and so we asked our oldest whether there was anything that she would like to do that her sister might not have enjoyed. She opted to go and see the film 'The Fault in Our Stars'. I had no idea in advance what I was going to see and assumed that it would be a kids' movie that I wouldn't much enjoy. I was wrong. It was a really interesting and moving story about two teenagers who have cancer and fall in love. It didn't end on a happy note. In fact, the whole film was pretty downbeat, really. But all three of us very much enjoyed it and were reduced to tears by the end. It's nice when your kids get to the age that they can show you really interesting stuff...

Then, on the Sunday (after the sleepover), all four of us went to see a classical concert at Abingdon Abbey. The abbey is fantastic--large parts of the original Medieval buildings remain standing and are used as  a venue for events throughout the year. We are very lucky to have it on our doorstep.

A cultural couple of days all round!

12 July, 2014

Wonder Woman and Feminism

Last week I heard an entertaining piece on the Today programme which debated whether or not Wonder Woman is a feminist. This whole issue arose because David Finch, the artist who is taking over Wonder Woman for DC Comics, has said that he wants her to be "strong" but not "feminist". The two women interviewed on the Today programme were in no doubt that Wonder Woman is feminist. She is an Amazon, hence was raised by women in an all-female society, she runs her own business, she slit Superman's throat with her tiara. How could she not be feminist, they quipped?

My overriding memory of Wonder Woman, never having been a comic reader, is the 1970s TV series starring Lynda Carter, which I grew up watching. Now that was cool. But given the era, I don't think there was much emphasis on Wonder Woman's feminist side. Certainly, there was a lot of emphasis on  her sexiness and there were an awful lot of dads (as well as sons) who fancied Lynda Carter rotten. But given the boob tube, shorts and knee-high boots worn by the gorgeous Lynda, rather than just drawn in a comic strip, who could blame them?

I don't think much has changed these days, either. You only need think of the utterly self sufficient but surprisingly scantily clad Lara Croft, or even the groan-worthy but addictive Xena: Warrior Princess TV series, to realise that, in the world of media at least, female strength is often painted hand-in-hand with sexiness.

And the same goes for (some) men too. The sister series to Xena: Warrior Princess, Hercules, starred the lovely Kevin Sorbo. Not only was he super strong, but his sexual image was all-important too. The long hair, the blistering smile, the muscles, the tight leather trousers, the sexy wristbands--all of this aimed to seduce the watcher.

So perhaps strength and sex simply are natural partners. Maybe we just do find someone--man or woman--who is in control, masterful, and their own person inherently attractive. And maybe the issue of feminism is irrelevant here, or a side issue at best.

05 July, 2014

Giffords Circus

We had a lovely, and rather unusual, birthday party for my ten year old last weekend. We took her, her older sister and three of her friends to see Giffords Circus.

Giffords is a small circus which tours Gloucestershire and the south west of England, setting up on local village greens. It was started ten years ago by Nell and Toti Gifford and is a little bit different from the other circuses that you can see in Britain. It is, I suppose, what you'd call traditional -- more like a travelling troupe than a Chinese State-style extravaganza-- and that's exactly what the Giffords were aiming for.

There are acrobats, fire jugglers, strong men, dancers, horse riders, a super-flexible gymnast... There's an absolutely brilliant clown -- the best I've seen -- not just hackneyed slapstick, but 'proper' funny. And there are various animals -- horses, dogs, doves, and even a turkey and a goose! The dogs, by the way, are dalmatians, which delighted my daughter, who is absolutely mad about dalmatians -- indeed anything spotty!

The show has an intimate, family feel. This is partly a facet of the small top, but it's also the fact that the performers clearly love what they do (we bumped into one of them in the loos, who remarked with a big smile on her face, 'It's not really work!'). You can also get a sense of just how hard it is to do the kinds of things that circus performers do -- one of the acrobats, who was trying to to do a backwards double somersault onto the shoulders of a tower of three of his fellows, missed first time. But they simply did it again, and it worked!

The show was beautifully produced -- very theatrical, excellent acting, gorgeous costumes. And the troupe is supported by a group of musicians who are extremely talented, including a singer with a fantastic operatic voice.

This was our first visit to Giffords Circus (I only found out about them because I happened to be flicking through a local magazine while I was waiting for my kids to have their hair cut), but I certainly don't think it will be our last. I'm already planning next year's outing!