December, 2001

A Nearly Christmas Story

December 21st, 2001 December 21st, 2001
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Today I drive out to the farm to buy my Christmas Tree. They have several different types and I get a really bushy one which looks perfect, exactly the right shape, even if it is going to drop enough needles to hide my carpet for the next year.

“Merry Christmas!” says the man who sells me the tree. He actually sounds sincere. I am the lone buyer today. “Merry Christmas,” I reply.

On the way home I stop at Waitrose. Waitrose is an expensive supermarket where the food is always excellent. I hardly ever shop there but when I do, it really gives me a good appetite. And a large hole in my wallet.

The car park is packed and people are parking along the roadside but everyone in the shop is actually polite and considerate and it’s a totally refreshing change from shopping at the budget superstore where I usually go where I everyone is crazy and rude and jostles your trolley to get the last lump of cheap cheese or priced right pizza or bargain beers. I start to mellow out.

I’m cooking Christmas dinner for mum so I’ve stopped to buy a chicken. I think turkey is too dry and, hey, I’m cooking so my choice. I also pick up four different kinds of dessert and some decent vegetables. Then it’s off home to fight the tree into a pot, outside where I’ll shed less needles. Ha. A futile hope.

Nosey neighbour, Witchypoo, hears me hammering wedges in around the tree base and comes out to investigate. “Oh,” she says, “I thought you were taking care of that one!” pointing to the large conifer by my front door.

“It will have to come down you know. You should get someone. The roots grow out horizontally you know, under the house.” She pauses to peer over the fence and inspect my handiwork. “Are you sure that pot’s big enough?”

“Yes. It has legs that attach to it to keep it stable.” I crack the plastic ring that helps the tree support system and it veers to one side. Inwardly I groan but it’s not completely split apart and looks like it should hold.

“Well, Mr Postman left this for you,” says Witchypoo and hands me a parcel the size of a water bottle. “Merry Christmas!” and she disappears. I look at the label and see it’s ‘from Santa’. My bestest friend has sent me something! Ooo! I quickly come up with a cunning plan to get the tree wedged in using the trusty standby of brute force and ignorance, then I take it upstairs to my living room.

What’s in the parcel? I thought I’d agreed with my friend not to get anything else having already given each other gifts earlier in the month. ‘Oh’ and ‘but’ and ‘oh dear’ and I haven’t sent them anything else!

I cut open the parcel and find… a red and white Christmas Stocking with my name on it and with gifts and candies inside. And the presents are just so really exactly just right. This person clearly knows me. I am so touched I actually shed a tear. How beautiful!

I don’t have a stocking any more having given mine to my niece years ago. This is totally perfect. I hang it up on my bedroom door, pause for a moment, then go back to fighting the tree.

It takes no time at all to discover that a five foot tree is too tall to stand on my table so I put together a platform for it. The excess of cardboard cartons from the attic comes into it’s own, covered in wrapping paper. A mere ninety minutes later the tree is vertical from every angle, various furniture is up in the attic and I can rest.

I plomp down in my armchair and admire this newcomer to my home, hypnotically beautiful, defeated in its pot. I notice the random ways in which the branches have grown and sprouted buds and things like that. Restful fragant pine essence fills the room and relaxes me. Ahhhh….

You actually can’t beat a real tree, even if you do find yourself fighting it for a couple of hours. I smile. And I sit.

And as I sit there, the observation turns into contemplation, almost meditative. I think of the dear kind person who sent me the parcel and give a silent prayer of thanks for having such a wonderful and thoughtful friend.

And I think of how lucky I am that I have a very good life and many many good friends, who have done so many many nice things for me this year. The film making and dentist and mad neighbours fade into the background and I remember again what’s important. The people I love.

Bless you all and Merry Christmas!

The Vanishing Editor And Other Mysteries

December 19th, 2001 December 19th, 2001
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I know you’re just dying to know if the EDL got finished last week. I know I am. I phoned Answerphone Editor just now and she told me that Alistair–the editor with access to the all-important Avid Film Composer–has disappeared. Much like my Gieves & Hawkes collection of formal wear, Kirstie Alley’s svelte figure or the Taliban’s luck. There is no sign of any of them. Apparently several messages have been left with Alistair but he has not responded so is presumably out of the country with the Major Motion Picture that currently pays his wages plus my EDL (which does not).

There is much rolling of eyes and shaking of fists in the Ascalon household although I don’t quite feel like wearing the hair shirt just yet. Nevertheless, split infinitives aside, until this little project is finished, I remain stuck in the proverbial rut. All those dreams of getting a top-notch super-dooper dope-fly agent have to stay on the shelf where they gather dust and a team of industrious spiders liberally applies cobwebs. Still, there’s no flies on me. Ho ho ho.

To add to my Yuletide joy, I went to the dentist yesterday morning. This is my new dentist who I’ve only seen once before. The previous one–the nice woman dentist with the cornflower blue eyes peering into my yawn over her surgical mask–moved on earlier this year. I liked her and not least because she never gave me a filling in seven years but simply polished my teeth a little whiter each time. Bleem bleem!

Anyway, I have a deep mistrust of dentists and the reason isn’t to do with pain or fear or things like that. It’s to do with the fact that they get paid for the actual work they carry out. I always suspect that fillings are a way of earning a little extra cash to pay for a holiday in the sun or installments on a new sports car or Christmas. Blue-eyed Diana never succumbed to these temptations.

Imagine my delight then when Mr New Dentist–who peers into my yawn through something resembling a compact telescope–tells me it is time for new X-rays and these should be taken every two or three years. I actually find that hard to swallow (pun intended) as X-rays cause cancer, or so I’ve always been led to believe. Anyway, he’s the qualified one with all the letters after his name so I chew on some film for a few seconds–the closest I’ve got to having celluloid images in my hand this month–and he takes his snaps.

Then he discovers a chipped filling and a tiny amount of decay. “Nothing to worry about. We’ve caught it early,” he quips with the same casual tones as a man who’s just netted the crocodile that ate his mother-in-law. Nothing to worry about for him, he means. He doesn’t have to endure some wild-eyed technician sticking a small vacuum cleaner in his numbed mouth while he drools unattractively for twenty minutes. He’s just paid for his kids to get that all-important PlayStation2 system (or maybe he wants it for himself). And I don’t have insurance.

Oh, happy happy joy joy.

Yes, ’tis Christmas, folks, and still no sign of Fate & Fortune. My teeth are gleaming and perfect, however–which despite my complaints I’m actually extremely grateful for–and my larder is stocked to bursting point with goodies, nibbles and seasonal beverages. The shopping is done, the cards are sent, the decorations are out of the attic (where do all those old cardboard boxes come from?) and I’ve only to get the tree.

I feel ready.

Bleem bleem!

December 21st

Still no EDL. Still no returned phone calls from vanishing editors. Still no second film. Still no earth shattering move forward in my career, merely the same kind of delays you’d expect if it was run by a French trade union. I practice my meditation. Apart from that, this…

…I always suspect that fillings are a way of earning a little extra cash to pay for a holiday in the sun or installments on a new sports car or Christmas…

I turned up early at the surgery today and listened in to various conversations between other patients and the receptionist. These were along the lines of, “Why has my monthly insurance gone from �21 to �55? When I haven’t had any treatment done?” and the receptionist saying, “Well, I just work here but lots of people have been complaining.”

Mr New Dentist, the faux-jolly receptionist elf confided, has actually been doing a LOT of work on nearly every patient. Then satan’s little helper smiled sickly sweet as she charged someone �7.50 for painkillers and put the boot in by saying the previous dentists used to give them for free. Luckily the reading materials on offer were still free and I buried myself in something suitably deep and intellectual. Deep in the pages of a story about the effects of food colouring on eating habits, I continued my covert listening activities.

Further eavesdropping revealed that the previous two dentists had been seeing many many patients for the past five years and longer and doing very few fillings. Just check ups and teeth polishing. (Bleem bleem). Mr ND has been catching up with what he thinks is a backlog. Now how come two dentists give a clean bill of health and another one tuts and doubles his income overnight? Very very suspicious, if you ask me.

My filling is done. My mouth aches from being injected, drilled and filled and my bank manager winces from this month’s cash hemorrhage. I sign myself up for various overtime stints over the Christmas period (in accordance with the latest Motley Fool directive for staying sane and solvent).

Meanwhile, having had the nice dentist for seven years, I am wondering if Mr Entrepreneurial Dentist is actually a real dentist with real qualifications and stuff. I once had a dentist told me that stealing dental equipment was actually surprisingly common because it’s worth so much money. Erk. My suspicious mind has conjured up this scenario where a dental school dropout sets up a bogus practice with stolen kit. Surely only a deviant would have ‘Green Eggs and Ham’ in their waiting room?

Bleem bleem anyway. Now I must dash to find somewhere to trash this stash of chocolate wrappers from the cache of Christmas goodies I’ve just raided. Back in a flash.

Neighbourhood Watch

December 19th, 2001 December 19th, 2001
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It’s eleven minutes after midnight and my neighbours have been having a screaming match in the street for the past hour and a half. The police have been. Twice. The second time they blocked the road and spent a lot of time with the mad couple. I’d just got back from work and had to drive across the kerb to get to my house.

The police calmed everyone down and left. Soon after, just now in fact, I heard a car rev up and then a loud crumping thump–the kind a vehicle collision makes. I look out of the window and see the silly bitch who’s been screaming–and I mean screaming liking a mental patient–get out of the car she’s just reversed at high speed into someone’s front door. Both the back of the car and the old lady’s porch are smashed up pretty bad.

Drivergirl’s friend/sister was outside going, “What the fcuk are you trying to do?” Mad bitch replied, “I’m trying to kill myself. I don’t want to live with you any more. I’m going to kill myself.” Then she ran off towards the field at the end of the street repeating, “I’m going to kill myself.”

The sister stood there in tears and various neighbours are now standing in the street phoning emergency services. I know exactly who they’re calling and what they’re saying because they are doing it at the tops of their voices. No one seems able to talk in a normal voice. The self-absorbed suicidal bitch looked to me like an attention seeking spoilt brat. Now the blue flashing lights are here again so I’m off to have another look.

00:13 hrs:
No less than four police cars this time blocking the whole road. She’s going down, I guess. If they find her. Shouldn’t be too hard the amount of hysterical shouting she does.

00:21:
We’ve got an ambulance too.

God I hate these people. The stupid neighbours, that is. Anyone who screams hysterically like that should have just been sectioned–taken off to the loony bin and kept in a straightjacket. Now they’re wasting valuable police time–those are probably the only three cars in this area–and the ambulance crew’s night.

For perspective, one ambulance covers a population of around 120,000 in this area. So while they’re dealing with this silly little twit, someone in serious trouble might be dying. It makes me really mad.

Sheesh.

00:24:
I hear sirens in town, so maybe there are other police cars on duty tonight after all. It’s that crazy time of year.

Sheesh again.

00:30:
We’re down to two police cars now and no ambulance. Plus they’ve got the SUV out of the neigbour’s front door and off their garden. You already knew it was an SUV didn’t you? (Rhetorical question.)

She was thinking that she’d fcuk with her boyfriend’s/family’s head/s and get some attention. I suspect she’s on something. And it’s not decaff.

00:45:
They all need to mellow out. They set fire to the stolen truck that was parked here last week and the fire brigage had to come and put it out.

We’re down to three police cars again and the neighbours can’t open their shed door because the wall is buckled inwards. Charming.

No sign of loonytunes herself yet though. Her cat’s around somewhere, going through trashcans, ripping binliners and strewing rubbish around the street. Nice. They say owners grow to look like their pets, but tonight is a step beyond.

00:58:
We’re down to zero police cars and a group of old women standing around the neighbour’s broken front wall, gossiping and tutting. The neighbourhood witches. They’re probably passing the eye from one to another so they can scry it all out better. The SUV hasn’t moved, so I presume it’s fcukd. I’d laugh but it’s probably not the mad bich’s and no doubt belongs to someone else.

It’s started raining. End of excitement. Bed time for the sane people.

*****

Next day (December 19th, morning):
The builders came at the crack of dawn, fixed the neighbour’s door and cleared away the rubble. The SUV has vanished and all that remains is some broken (tail light) glass and a rather short wall. Plus some tutting old women.

*****

Two days later (December 21st):
I saw the aforementioned SUV today, parked in the loony neighbour’s drive. The rear is all smashed in with the window smashed and the driver’s door is buckled in too. It seems they successfully drove diagonally sideways into a low wall while they were reversing into someone else’s front door. Their insurance is going to be so extortionate that they may never drive again.

It is right to laugh now. In fact, it’s unavoidable.

*****

Three days later (December 22nd):
Today I drove out to get a Christmas tree. I took a shortcut through a nearby council estate (read ‘housing project’ for the US, although the houses are actually pretty decent). I drove past the run down shops and, lo and behold, there was the wrecked SUV–dumped there with ‘Police Aware’ stickers all over it.

The useless bags of siht who live near me have driven it a mile down the road and walked away from it, or more likely driven away in one of their other cars. No doubt they’ll claim the damage was done by joyriders and at some point they’ll torch it for the insurance. The fire brigade will be called out at the expense of local taxpayers (eg. me).

The police will do nothing–I seriously doubt they’ll have even cross-checked their records to bother seeing whose car it is and how the damage occured. The fiasco the other night will have been written up as ‘a domestic disturbance’ and buried in a file.

The council will tow away the wreck, again at the local taxpayers’ expense. I doubt those responsible actually pay any local council taxes with four adults living in a one bedroom apartment, all of whom seem to own a car (four in the drive).

Moron woman will not only continue to scream at her boyfriend in the street and threaten suicide but also she’ll continue driving. Worse, having wasted a night of police time and caused considerable trouble and expense to the whole community, she’ll collect a big fat check from the insurance company.

I doubt her insurance will be affected except for an annual increment. Meanwhile honest people’s local taxes and insurance premiums will go up to pay for thousands of similar scams across the country.

These parasites make me sick. It’s not so much the damage and the insurance scamming. It’s the screaming at each other because they can’t communicate. It’s the way they involve a whole street because no one matters except them. It’s the inability to behave like adults; to take responsibility for their actions and respect other people.

End of rant.

Those Who Cannes… Do!

December 10th, 2001 December 10th, 2001
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No, one hasn’t finished one’s second film yet. Please keep asking, though. One needs all the motivation one can get.

Today I phoned The British Council, a useful organisation that can pay for shipping costs when sending one’s films out to international festivals. They can also contribute to printing costs and the person I spoke to also mentioned something about helping with travel expenses if the producer or director gets invited to the festival. That’s if a film is accepted by them and acceptance takes six to nine weeks.

That means the deadline to get Fate & Fortune finished in time for Cannes grows shorter by about two months. Cannes is like a key to the year because they won’t accept films that have been shown elsewhere before them.

Incidentally, Fate & Fortune is too long for the short film category at Cannes as it has a running time of 16 minutes. Their max duration is 15 mins including credits. Bastards. However, I notice on the Cannes website something about special waivers and invitations so I ask The British Council folks if that’s the sort of thing they’d be able to arrange. I drop into the conversation that Fate & Fortune is excellent (and other superlatives). They’ll call me back.

Then I play the ‘phone up the editor’ game. I am tired of this game. Even after ten hours of soul-enriching sleep I am tired of it. I punch the numbers and today’s result is ‘Answerphone.’ I leave no message. Instead I ring another neg cutters, Sylvia Wheeler, and tell them of my plight. Would they be able to cut the film based on the videotape I have rather than using an EDL? They ask for the details to be emailed to them which I’ve just done.

After that, I call the original neg cutters, True Cut, who have all the cans of negative and they are happy and friendly to the point of me feeling a touch of guilt about taking the neg elsewhere, yet I know they will only work with an EDL. I tell them I’m worried about the cans sitting there–they’ve been there for nearly a year now!–and maybe it would be better if I pick them up. They go off to check where they are and they’re calling me back in ten minutes.

In the hope that one will soon be collecting heavy film cans, one braces oneself for driving into central London, which is loosely based on Dante’s final circle of Hell but with more traffic nightmares, and one waits for the phone calls to come back.

True Cut call me back and let me know my eight cans of negative are sitting in their vault. I think to myself, ‘Hmm, do I really want to store them on the staircase in my centrally heated flat (apartment)? Or would it be better to leave them where they are?’ I opt for leaving them where they are and wait for the call from Sylvia Wheeler’s.

So I call my cousin’s husband to see if there’s any chance of getting into an edit suite where he works but it’s Christmas and it is the maddest time of the year. So, no. However, he suggests that I can call up the EDL on any machine and simply edit the numbers rather than loading up the whole project. This sounds promising.

I call the other editor. Answerphone again. I leave a message suggesting this idea of just altering the list. Can we do that on any Avid or does it have to be a computer specially set up to deal with film? I wait for the call back.

I call Andy, the composer from Last Train because, well hey, he’s an editor! We chat, we laugh. I suggest something about skating pigs as an idea for a video for his CD. He chuckles indulgently. I tell him of this EDL idea and he says he will ask, although he doesn’t use Avid personally. Also, again, it is the run up to Christmas and the busiest time of the year.

Interesting sidenote: Andy has a week off and is spending it down in Devon, in the countryside. Why Devon? Because he gets away from the city and feels inspired to be creative. He’s currently surrounded by music, rhyming dictionaries, recording equipment and who knows what else and writing lyrics for two songs that already have the music finished.

This getting away from the regular environment to be creative strikes me as an extremely good idea. I’ve been thinking over the weekend about the importance of having a creative environment and people around you to bounce ideas off and all of that. I’m one of those people who needs a bit of competition to propel me forwards.

Along those lines I was also thinking that I seem to be a member of various professional bodies and never attend any meetings or social gatherings. I should do that as a New Year’s resolution. I bet, for example, that someone in the Director’s Guild knows an editor with Film Composer.

Anyway, for today I think I can do no more. Then a friend I work with calls to ask if I can cover for them so they can go out partying. I remember that they know a few editors. I’ve even met one of them. I mention the EDL thing and they say they will ask around.

Now I really have covered all the bases for today so I go out and buy cake.

Answerphone editor calls me back. Uploading the EDL into another Avid isn’t as straightforward as that, which is what I thought. There are two types of Avid–Avid Media Composer, which is used by loads of people and is for television, and Avid Film Composer, which is used for film (surprise!). Of course, we edited on the latter and hardly anyone has it. However…

I am told they are going to sort out my EDL on Wednesday night.

Oh, please please please please please let it be so.

Of course, once this is finished I will immediately go out and shoot something else and start the whole nightmare again. But still.

PLEeeeeeeaaSE!

I finish all the cake in the house now and pass out.

Oh, yes, other high points of the day have included buying a new suit, paying my phone bill and convincing the bank to refund some bank charges they were going to slap on me. Just in case you thought it was all cake and Cannes here.

December 12th

I am told they are going to sort out my EDL on Wednesday night.

Of course, they phoned me. Today is apparently the day for moving the server so there is no edit facility available and it won’t be today after all. This week is also what’s known as the ‘final lock’ on the feature film the editor is working on so time is even tighter. They’re going to try for Thursday. Or Friday. Honest.