My face is, in the words of the famous phrase or saying, no oil painting. Not unless it’s an oil painting by Hieronymus Bosch called Funny-Looking Grumpy Man with Wonky Face. Still as faces go it could have been worse. It keeps the front of my head warm and helps people pick me out in a crowd or a police line-up. It has a peculiar policy of hair placement opting to grow it in great lush quantities out of my nostrils and ear-holes rather than the more conventional chin and upper lip area, but women and children don’t run screaming from it exactly, so I’ll place myself comfortably mid-spectrum.

I am not good with faces myself. It was a curse when I worked in the bookshop. If I went haring off to a distant corner of the shop to find a book for a customer and came back to find that they had moved I was screwed. Unless they were wearing a brightly-coloured poncho or a jester’s hat or carrying a stuffed swordfish there was no way I was going to recognise them. I had to stand still with their book and hope that they recognised me.

Once my Mum and Dad turned up in Inverness unexpectedly and popped in to the shop to say hello, and for one dreadful, vertiginous moment I didn’t recognise them. I knew that I knew them really well, but I couldn’t quite place them in context. Dreadful. I really am a pretty rubbish son.

Facially I have only ever been compared to one famous person and that was when a girlfriend said I looked a bit like David Thewlis. Is that a compliment? I was hoping for better, but jeez, you know it could have been Peter Glaze or Otto Sump or Donald Sutherland or someone so I can’t really kvetch about it too much. And on this subject, how come Donald Sutherland’s son ended up looking so good? Ha, take that Mr. Darwin with your finches and your monkeys! You will burn in imaginary hell forever.

I like faces.

I like books too. I used to read them voraciously. And do we do anything other than read “voraciously”? Latin: vorare – to devour. I eat porridge and watch Italian zombie movies voraciously but it would seem a bit weird to say so. Voracious, in my mind, is stuck to the word reader or reading. How odd.

I made my living from selling books. I used to read books competitively and often got paid money for expressing unsupportable opinions about them. I’ve slowed down enormously since my career change two years ago. These days I dawdle through books slowly and ignorantly and look to other people for my opinions about them.

Books were in my head just now because I am dwelling on Apple’s recently revealed iPad. I’ve been uncertain about what it’s actually for. It looks pretty groovy and people tell me I’m suggestible so I suppose I want one but it doesn’t look like something you can work with or write on. No obvious keyboard or other information input mechanism. What a brow-furrower.

It took someone writing in The Guardian to make me realise that there are many, many more readers than writers in the world, and that the iPad is a browser’s dream. Movies, web pages and, it is suggested, ebooks. That would be quite exciting. Much as I love a big old paper book I have been quite keen on the idea of e-reading. I bought a Sony Reader when they came out, and I still think it’s a pretty tasty bit of kit, although it has already taken on that slight aura of the antique like my weighty, ancient white ur-iPod.

So I like a face, and I like a book, but put them together and what do you get?

Facebook, and I think I like that too.

I tried a bit of social networking a few years ago when Facebook was new but it didn’t quite click with me. There was a bit of clickiness, but not enough to keep me engaged. I was seduced back to it at the end of 2008 though and it’s been a bit more fun this time around.

I’ve met up with cool cousins whom I haven’t seen since the eighties when they were kids. They’re proper grown-ups now with wicked senses of humour and everything. It’s great. And two of my best and most constantly interesting friends on Facebook are people whom I have only met in person once, and quite briefly at that. Hi Michelle! Hi Dave! If I bumped into them on the street I doubt I’d know them – a bit like my parents, then. These wonderful folk would not be in my life were it not for Facebook.

There are one or two drawbacks with it. It does pander to my obsessive side and I spend a lot of time playing Scrabble or Scrabble-wannabes. Also there are silly time-sink games which fall into one of two camps. There are the nurturing, constructive, gentle games like FarmVille which appeal to one kind of person (let’s call them girls). And there are the violent, destructive games like Mafia Wars which cross mundane resource management with glamorised crime and these appeal to the other kind of person (I propose the name “un-girls”).

Oh, I hate FarmVille, but I’m in too deep to get out. Every day there is some point when I have to send my little Children Of The Corn avatar man running round harvesting coffee and pineapples and indulging in his own bizarre brand of animal husbandry. Farming kittens for fur? Jinkies. Don’t tell the RSPCA or Cats’ Protection League about that. Also I think there’s something inherently unpleasant about the phrase “Goat 89% ready”. And as for the massive scythe that hovers over your ducks when you’re harvesting feathers from them, well there is no agricultural business in the world where that’s all right.

Mafia Wars is slightly more rewarding in a dark and perverse way. I tried to lighten the mood slightly when I was being asked to name my “character” initially. Aha, I thought. My character is a Don so I shall give him a name I will always find amusing. And I called him Don Estella as a tribute to Don Estelle, the little man with the big voice and the absolutely massive pith helmet in It Ain’t Half Hot Mum.

I once saw Don Estelle in the Bond Street Shopping Centre in Leeds. This would have been in the early nineties and the world of racist BBC sitcoms looked light years away. He was singing into a karaoke machine and selling what looked like homemade tapes of his songs. It was an oddly melancholy sight, and it was hard not to think that maybe life hadn’t quite worked out for him the way he thought it would. He was smiling and giving it a million and ten percent though and I admired him for that.

Turns out that ninety-nine out of each hundred of the un-girls playing Mafia Wars opted to call their character Don Corleone. Of course. Of the remaining one percent the mix is roughly equal of aggressive Mad Dog, “I-Rode-Your-Mom” type names and Don Estelle variations. I have no originality about me at all.


Friday was very much a screen day. Work. Facebook. A great deal of Batman Arkham Asylum on the PS3 (of which I can highly recommend the first 5% – I’ll blog more when I’m further through it). And then some movies, but I was fairly tired and can’t give them very well-judged reviews.

Satyricon is Federico Fellini’s 1968 free adaptation of Petronius’ work of prose and poetry. There’s a visual brio to it and a nice pre-Godfather soundtrack by Nina Rota, but it’s a fragmented and elusive bit of film-making which I felt intellectually ill-equipped  to be watching which isn’t a good thing.

The Wackness (2008) could hardly be more different. A cautious coming-of-age tale it follows a young high school drug dealer through the summer of his graduation in 1994. He forms a peculiar friendship with his counsellor (who is also a customer) and has an affair with the shrink’s step-daughter before getting his heart broken. It’s not bad but, given the kaleidoscopic background the film plays out against, it’s a shame that you only really get the privileged, white, male side of the story. Good 94 hip-hop soundtrack though.

That the film works as well as it does is largely down to Ben Kingsley’s terrific performance as Dr. Squires, a once free spirit regretting his lost youth and missed opportunities. He got nominated for a Razzie that year as worst supporting actor, so what do I know? Kingsley is an amazing actor (Gandhi, Sexy Beast, Schindler’s List, er, Species), but what I find most amazing about him is his apparent personal fragility (which never shows up in the roles he plays). He apparently insists on being credited as Sir Ben Kingsley, which strikes me as astoundingly insecure given his obviously high level of life achievement.

3 comments on “29/01/10

  1. Aw thanks, it’s nice to be called interesting without “looking” after it. Like “sir” without “your making a scene”. We’ve met more than once though, and you did appear to recognise me but it might just be because Shiv didn’t hug every customer.

    Absolutely everyone I know has had to go to Facebook twice. The first time it sucks. I hated it. But when I came back a while later I really liked it

    And Sir Ben probably has the strangest resume of anyone. From playing Ghandi to Tugginmapudda in The Love Guru is quite a career…

  2. I’ve been thinking about the “Sir” Ben Kingsley comment. It cannot have been easy to grow up biracial, especially 50-60 years ago. We can’t know what effect that had on his self-image. However, his requesting his title be used may also be meant to make a statement.

    After I was ordained, I made sure “Rev.” was on our checks and all our address labels, etc. I signed things Rev. Michelle…. It probably looked like I had something to prove. Well, I did/do. I’ve mellowed in 20 years, and I’m not so adamant, but the title is still on our checks.

    I grew up in The Roman Catholic tradition where I wanted to be an altar boy. (I know, I know. I just wasn’t the priest’s type.) The thing is; when you say “minister” or “priest” I bet the image that pops to mind in most cases is a 45 year old white guy. I was intentionally attempting, in my own little way, to add a new and improved picture to what the title might look like in the world. I don’t necessarily think the priest/priestess archetype is a bad thing, and it’s worth it to try to take it back from the hands of the guys who use it to terrible ends. Waaaay back (and in some primal cultures still) priests were healers. That’s how I look at the role; a kind of spiritual comforter or counselor. I like the idea of being a healer, just like my brother Barry, but without the blood and guts which make me want to faint.

    Do you have Unitarians in Scotland? We’re a very liberal bunch here in the US, where we are called Unitarian Universalists. I think we could be characterized as a denomination dedicated to healing the spiritually damaged. (Most UUs come from another faith tradition and 10% of us are atheist, if you can believe it?!) We have no creed, except to say that we are an interconnected part of the web of all existence. Anyway, I’ve run off again, tilting at church steeples.

    So maybe Sir Ben is trying to make a point. Or maybe he’s just a dink.

  3. I think that you’ve just demonstrated that you’re a much more generous person in your assumptions than I am in mine Michelle.

    I assumed he was being a dink, particularly as it seems to be his habit to use the title to confer a specious air of superiority on himself and implicitly belittle other people.

    They are a funny thing these titles. The UK is still quite class conscious as a country and there is an (I think) outdated tendency to defer to anyone with a title. A lot of the people who have honours bestowed on them do good and valuable work without any thought of a reward. Brilliant.

    Unfortunately a lot of people have awards that I just can’t fathom. What is Sir Ben’s contribution to the world? Standing and talking while wearing funny clothes? I probably couldn’t do it. Maybe he couldn’t compile crosswords. Maybe neither of us can build a set of shelves from a lump of wood or clean a toilet professionally.

    Celebrate everyone, I say.

    I am a hippy.

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