Tuesday, 28 May 2013

The Great Gatsby

2013; five years after Australia, twelve since Moulin Rouge and seventeen since Romeo and Juliet, Baz Luhrmann returns with another dazzling creation. This time he takes on the brilliant, classic novel, The Great Gatsby.
     Now we all know that critics don't generally like Baz or his style and there have been the usual comments on his lack of subtlety, but I think this is an old story that can take a modern makeover. The song choices were superb and matched the feel of the Twenties, showing that as humans we really don't change that much. Indeed I think the story of J. Gatsby could easily be set now. A world of consumer culture, unchecked wealth and greed building up to a recession, with politicians, bankers, celebrities and rich landowners mixing together at massive parties, making us all wonder who is actually in charge.
     The movie is beautifully shot, making excellent use of the two mansion houses around which most of the story is set, while also capturing the sounds of New York and the parties exquisitely, building right up to the gun shot, which is guaranteed to make you jump. The cast in turn enhances the film with DiCaprio delivering a quick thinking and yet nervous Gatsby, while Carey Mulligan is both delicate and powerful in her portrayal of Daisy. Maguire, Debicki and Edgerton were less memorable, although still good, but in the minor roles it was nice to see Isla Fisher playing a more serious part.
     All in all The Great Gatsby is a stunning movie and makes an interesting connection between the past and present. As Gatsby speculates, the past can be repeated (although sadly not begun over).

Tuesday, 14 May 2013

An Unexpected Journey

It had been planned that all those who wanted to would meet at 2pm on Saturday, 11th May, not far from the centre of Bath. Together we would set out on an adventure that would take us under mountains (hills) and along the shores of rivers (canals) to the ancient city (town) of Bradford-upon-Avon, where there had been reports of a dragon. (Okay, I made the last bit up).
   Anyway, what I'm getting at is that a group of students decided to go for a cycle ride and on returning (Bilbo's story was of course alternatively known as 'There and Back Again') would watch the first instalment of The Hobbit on DVD. It was supposed to be a light-hearted and relaxing afternoon, but of course adventures are never so easy.

As it turned out thirteen of us showed up. Gandalf was missing, which turned out to be critical, but we set out regardless.
   The first leg of the journey was a pleasant ride up a wide path past trees and houses. It was an old railway line, long disused, which maintained a gentle ascent. Barely half a mile in, however, we lost our first rider. I hung back to try and help her catch the peloton (not that we were doing Tour de France pace or anything), but it was to no avail and she turned for home.
   The early set back didn't halt us though and we pressed on to the first tunnel. The path continued to rise as we sped through and out the other side. Quickly we approached the second and much longer tunnel, dimly lit and occasionally issuing gentle muisc from the walls (no joke). Finally we again emerged into the light, now near the top of the hill. Here sadly our second member left us, finding a quick way home. Perhaps this should have worried us, but we didn't think anything of it.
   Now we left the path and took to back roads and country lanes as we wound our way (mostly) downhill towards the canal and the next stage of our journey. Cutting past a school we came out by a glorious cricket field on the outskirts of a village named Monkton Combe. I could not let such a scene pass without taking a picture (albeit a poor one) which you can see here.

Having taken the picture I found myself alone, the others having gone on ahead and so I decided to really stretch my legs and race to catch them up. The track was flat but turned very rough. I consider myself to be a good cyclist, and, with my heavy duty mountain bike, pressed on.

Meanwhile the other ten members of our party had reached the canal, coming out by the Dundas Aqueduct, and, not realising I wasn't there stopped to take a few photos before going on. I must have been more delayed than I thought because by the time I reached the same spot they had disappeared.
   The ten remaining riders soon became nine when disaster struck in the form of a puncture. Those with road bikes, so good in the early part of the journey, were now suffering on the rougher canal path. Further on, as the group approached Bradford another tyre was struck and the cyclist forced to run the last part of the way into the town.
   The nine slightly weary cyclists then stopped in Bradford for refreshment and a chance to reflect on the jouney so far. With time moving on, however, they'd couldn't stay long. The punctured bike and cyclist departed for the railway station and with him went another member, who was too tired for the return trip. The team, now reduced to seven, set out once more, this time for home.

What of me though?
   Ignoring the ruts and bumbs of the track beside the cricket field I raced on but then came something I could not avoid. A narrow speed bumb, steep and vicious, lay across the road. I saw it too late and hit it at full tilt. I tried to keep the bike under control but knew it was useless. As I catapulted over the handlebars I tried to tuck myself in but of course instinct takes over and as I hit the ground my left arm shot out to break my fall. As it turned out the fall broke my left arm. My head also hit the earth but fortunately my helmet saved me there. I rolled and finally came to a stop and lay still for a minute thinking, Why does no one ever see the dramatic moments of my life? (I was alone when I broke my right arm at the age of four, too, but that's another story).
   Naturally I was dazed and bleeding in a few places but nothing I was overly worried about. My neck was sore but soon felt better and after getting my breath back I felt pretty good. I got up, checked my bike, which was of course absolutely fine (what a beast), and got back onto the saddle. Only then did I realise I couldn't put any pressure on my left arm. I felt it and rubbed it and bent it but realised I couldn't use it. I must clarify that I did not think it was broken, but I opted to head for home anyway.
   As I mentioned, in this time the others had reached the canal and moved on and when I arrived they were nowhere to be seen. So I sent a quick text saying I'd fallen off I was going home, but that I would see them later, (by which time my arm would, obviously, by pain free and in full working order).
   So I headed for Bath, legs pumping, right hand steering and, at first left arm by my side. Then common sense kicked in and I remembered that you should hold an injured arm across your chest. That return journey was tough. Cycling with one hand is fine for a little while but eight and a half miles is too much, especially into the wind. Your legs are forced to work much harder and on reaching the centre of Bath my muscles gave out, they would not move any further. So I lay down beside the road for a few minutes slowly stretching, all the while keeping my arm bent, although still convinced it could not be broken.
   Eventually I was able to continue and sometime later reached my house. Somehow, from falling off to arriving back only took me an hour and twenty minutes, although I wasn't thinking about that. The next three hours were spent trying to loosen my arm, which had now seized in the position I had been holding it. Having a bath did have the desired effect, partially, but only for an hour or so. Eventually it became clear that a trip to the hospital was necessary and so I went. Mercifully it was almost empty and it took just two hours to go in, get checked and x-rayed and informed that I had indeed fractured my radius just below my elbow. A cup of tea was issued followed by a sling and then I was dispatched for home.
   Sadly it was by now too late to join the DVD watching party and instead I returned to my house to take painkillers and sit in bed not falling asleep. I did eventually, although only for two hours at most, but when I woke the pain had gone.
   That then was the story of our very Unexpected Journey and it only remains for me to congratulate the hardy seven riders who successfully made it back in one piece. Well done everyone!

Wednesday, 8 May 2013

Still Our Problem

As the death toll for the building collapse in Bangladesh passes 700 I think it's important to remember that this is our problem. Our demand for cheap clothing has put the workers in this terrible situation. Just because the clothes are not made here, does not mean that we should get away with it. We got rid of awful working conditions like these in the UK decades, even centuries, ago, but sadly have then recreated them overseas.
     'Made in China' has become something of a joke to us, but it's true that a vast amount of the things we buy are produced there, and mostly by young people. We have been aware of and buying fairly traded food for years now, but I think it's time this extended to other things, such as gadgets and clothes. We should question Who made this? How long did they work for? How much did they get paid? The western world works on Supply and Demand, but we should not demand cheap things but fairly paid things.
     We can try to hide what we don't want to see, but it will continue to show itself and remind us that this is still our problem!