October, 2003

Keep Watching The Ships!

October 30th, 2003 October 30th, 2003
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Today, got up at 5.30am. Because I was worried that the alarm wouldn’t go off. Fed the barfy cats with a tablespoonfull of food each in response to their quizzical looks at the crack of dawn and off I headed into London. Destination: the US Embassy. Purpose: medical exam and visa collection.

First stop: St Albans City Station. Where the cost of a car park ticket has magically jumped from 3.20 to 4 in two days. Money-grubbing bastards. Does it annoy me more because it’s wrong or because I don’t have that much gall, I wonder? Well, at least they got rid of the gippos who were camped there the other day.

Medical involved having blood extracted for tests, chest X-ray, questionnaire about medical history (mine, not the profession as a whole), blood pressure, tapping my chest, poking light in my ears and eyes, opening my mouth and saying “Ahh!”. Yes, they did that. The doctor gives me a copy of the X-ray for immigration and the nurse gives me shots for mumps, measles, rubella and diptheria.

The nurse advises me to sit for a few minutes. Rest. That arm may sting later. This all costs 125 for the check-up plus 55 for the shots. I still have to find a Barclays Bank on the way to the interview stage to pay the 65 US Embassy fee. Ah, capitalism.

Visa bit at the embassy involved sitting around a lot and reading a book. It’s one of Mike’s. Decipher by Stel Pavlou, which ticks all the essential boxes on the ‘cracking yarn’ criteria checklist. Lots of action, lots of science, all conveyed with the necessary plausability that we want in a chunky novel.

When they called me up, they wanted various documents like my birth certificate and financial stuff, which I had. Then I sat again. Then I met someone else who asked a few questions. How did I meet Laura? How long have we known each other? Are the big Tweenies parents or teachers to the small Tweenies in that TV programme?

That’s not as bizarre as you might think, considering I’ve been working on CBBC children’s programming for the past year or so. And the immigration officer has a four year old. Then I read some more of Stel’s sci-fi while waiting for my medical results to come through. And…

And by 12.30, I had a visa–Fiance Visa, K1, good for one entry into the US to marry a US citizen within 90 days. Yay! My beloved. Somewhere, Beyond the sea, Somewhere, Waiting for me, My lover stands, On golden sands, And watches the ships… The wedding date is set for early January, in case you (dear reader) were wondering. And…

And now it’s time for a nap. Because tomorrow, tomorrow and tomorrow, I have no wings but I must fly. And later (later later later), I have to sell the car–cleaned, waxed and with the addition of new mats plus 10 hubcaps–to Jaffa, who is driving me to the airport. It is, as they say in so many parts of the world, a result.

Let’s Call It ‘Stuff’

October 30th, 2003 October 30th, 2003
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Shipping company came on Wednesday to take away all my worldly goods for the move to the States. It had taken over a month to sort out, whittle down and pack up. I called Dolphin Movers to check it was what they wanted on Monday. As a result, I then had to spend all of Tuesday daytime re-opening the cartons and logging the contents to draw up an inventory for customs.

Got up at 9am yesterday ready for the fun to begin but no sign of the shipping people. My friend Pete’s hallway was stacked up with boxes high enough to hide the coats. 9.30, still no moving men. 10am, still nothing. 10.15, Pete’s cats barfed up one too many breakfasts. 10.30am, twiddling thumbs.

11am, I called the shippers. They’d gone to the wrong address. My old address. Which I’d guessed. Even though I’d given them my new address. This should worry me but somehow, I am strangely unworried. 11.30, they appeared. One man, a van and a trolley. Fifteen minutes later, it was all gone.

In the end there were 20 book cartons containing books, comicbooks, files of paperwork, CD’s, DVD’s, cassettes, bric-a-brac and clothes. There’s an airpistol in there somewhere too. Not sure what they’ll make of that. There were also three cases of LP’s, including 12-inch singles, and three tea-chests of, well let’s just call it “stuff”, shall we? Plus five paintings.

We’ll see it all again in two months, just in time for Christmas.

Fate Goes To Pinewood

October 29th, 2003 October 29th, 2003
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British Society of Cinematographers (the people who put BSC after their names in the feature film credits) had a screening of Fate & Fortune at Pinewood Studios yesterday evening. Really cool to see the 35mm print projected up on a big screen. And Preview Theatre 7 is a huge screen. The sound is so much better than on video too. You can hear all the reverb and weird echo effects.

Pete’s girlfriend Kerrie was looking around at the assortment of high-powered old duffers and attractive young women. She turns to us and asks, “So… Who are all these people?” Pete, glances round, takes it in and replies. “Muggles.” Then they ran the films.

Q&A session afterwards. They wondered why I’d remortgaged my house instead of asking for more freebees. This is the film where the first sound editor missed out a load of effects, the original re-recording mixer took a year to do a stereo mix and one of the main actors died waiting for it to be finished. By then, I just wanted it done.

Great audience to screen for at the BSC as I consider F&F to be a filmmaker’s film. Andy the DP joined me for the Q&A, while Neil the focus puller kept spotting imperfections in things that looked perfect to me. Denise, the lead actress, brought a friend and they sneaked out when these high-profile camera types got into a lengthy talk about the merits or otherwise of shooting on video.

Twenty five people took a postcard away. No idea who but will check the latest hits on the website. Met Geoff Glover, who shot Last Train. He called me the next day to say he’d enjoyed it. Dennis Lawson (actor) had shot the other film of the evening with Ewan McGregor, Solid Geometry, which was produced on DigiBeta (and it showed). He said good things to me afterwards too.

Beers afterwards at a pub in the middle of nowhere. Lock-ins but they stopped serving. Got a ride in my friend Mario’s new BMW Z4. Chalk him up a few points for not living in the real world. Nice car, though.

Last Day At The Beeb

October 28th, 2003 October 28th, 2003
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Last shift at the BBC yesterday. An easy office day, updating a chunk of the intranet I’d been responsible for, followed by a trip to the bar. Can’t imagine an American company providing the perks of the Beeb. Seven weeks holiday (okay, that includes bank holidays). Final salary pension (mine got cashed in). Bar. Bar! That last is the most surreal.

Mmmmm… Bar…

Asked my line manager to let people know via email I’d be in the bar from 7pm. Unfortunately only asked him to do this on Saturay. Due to the nature of shift work–ie. not everyone gets to read an email in the first week you send it–only two colleagues made it, plus one former work mate. I got a lift home, though, which was nice.

Apparently there’s still a card knocking around at Television Centre with my name on it and many many signatures. Hopefully Greg Dyke popped a twenty in there too. I hear he does that a lot. Not.

Most amazing thing was leaving my car at St Albans City Station car park in the morning. It costs 3.20 to park there but down at the end was a complete gypsy encampment–mobile homes, brats, dogs and a no-doubt inconceivable number of burglary tools. I kept looking over my shoulder, wondering about the car.

This morning I woke up at the crack of dawn, 6am, wondering if the car would be a burned out wreck. It seemed a bit too obvious if I played the script in my head for an insurance claim. Yes, I am leaving the country. Yes, I haven’t sold the car. Yes, I did park it next to a gypsy site and leave it for the night. No, it never really occured to me that perhaps they’d torch it.

Somehow I managed to get back to sleep and Pete gave me a lift to the station around ten o’clock. And, wonder of wonders, the car was still there. Intact. Even with the aerial still attached. No sign of the gypsies. I guess more than one of the commuters stumping up 3.20 made the point.

The King Offa

October 27th, 2003 October 27th, 2003
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Pete and I rewired his living room the other day. Just the sound system. It’s taken me a few days to convince him that the centre speaker should go either over or under the television rather than on the windowsill. Now he wants to move the subwoofer from behind the sofa. I’m not sure this is the best plan but I have discovered that The Car isn’t funny when the soundtrack includes a disturbing subterranean rumble throughout.

Saturday we discovered this. After Kerrie’s friends had helped me stick labels on cassettes for festivals, cast and crew. We played the film and no one seemed to laugh. Must have been the bass. Yes, for sure. Or maybe their sense of humour is very different to mine. Like way out there. Lost. In suburbia.

As if to test that last statement, Pete insisted we all go to the pub round the corner–the seventies nightmare pre-fab construction that is The King Offa. Who was King Offa? Who cares? It was an Offa I could have refused (but a pun I couldn’t prevent) and, well you’ve just got to know haven’t you? No, actually. You haven’t. Pete won, though, because he’d just cooked the curry to end all curries. You can’t really argue with good food, can you?

Here’s what I’ll be missing when I drink in American bars: Firstly, a large empty room on a Saturday night with a fruit machine at one end, a quiz machine at the other and a pool table in the middle. Four kids aged roughly seven to 11 surround the fruit machine and are feeding it with coins. Three others, aged about the same and equally as rough are gambling on the quiz machine. Their parent or parents are nowhere in sight.

The only people of legal drinking age (just) are the couple in the corner, he with shaven head, her huddled close, out of the light, sharing a corner. We cross the chipped tile floor (all the rage here in nomansland) and wait for the bar-girl, who eventually appears and is clearly modelling herself on the latest household name from reality pop television. She’s got the spikey hair and she can pour beers. Nearly there then, isn’t she? Somewhere. Success? Just round the corner.

As the theme from Deliverance strikes up, Kerrie and Pete proceed to demonstrate that they’ve played pool before, deftly avoiding whacking shaven headed pre-pubescents with the cues, which is the main skill in this bar. Four badly-drawn regulars with faces scribbled sketchy in dreariness sit propping up the bar in the room opposite ours. They share half a bottle of charisma while looking through to our side, no doubt acknowledging our talents in this area, this arena, this pool pit.

Eleven o’clock clunks around in the palace of fun and a barman appears with the inevitability of the costume store owner at the end of an episode of Mr Ben, an old childrens’ cartoon where the hero went on a magical adventure each week only to be brought back to reality in the last minute. Now there are three phrases in the English language which go hand in hand with our whole culture. The three phrases which say service will always be anathema to the British psyche. The King Offa barman rings the bell and rattles his lines off like a true pro.

“Can you start drinking up now, please?”

“Can I have your glasses now, please?”

“Can you start making a move now, please?”

In other words, sod off. We eke out our welcome to the last minute, thirty minutes past eleven. Thirty minutes past even the hour a rather worn-out looking young woman with greasy hair of indeterminate colour had come in to collect her offspring. But surely the hour was yet early for them to be up and around, frolicking, gambolling and gambling the night away? Maybe they were off to joyriding class next. Maybe some fireworks.

Fireworks. Yip. Three weeks to Bonfire Night but the UK has to be subjected to a bombardment of explosions every night before and after for at at least two months because, well, yer gotta, aintchya? It’s fun. No, it isn’t. It’s tragic. And it’s tragic because it lacks magic. The smiles are all on the surface, expected because someone is holding up a big cue card for them, telling them how to behave.

Concorde flew it’s last passenger flight on Friday. For the regulars of The King Offa, they’ve got just as much chance of flying on it tomorrow as they did a month ago. Actually, it’s not so much that. They probably had as much chance as I did of travelling around the world. It’s more the oppresive feel of the place. Joyless? Soulless? No, just sad. It’s the thought that those kids will never dream of creating something like a Concorde while their brains are being turned to mush by gaming machines.

That’s the real horror of The King Offa. Television shows them they can have it all, large it up, expect it as birthright and big up themselves. But there’s no satisfaction in getting it large or otherwise. High expectations. Low challenges. Credit card lifestyles in the making. Bang! Whizz! It’s your birthday. Sparkle sparkle. Here’s the world! Can you start making a move now, please? No. Because no one really means it and you don’t really care.

From nowhere obvious, a subterranean rumble continues all along the street.

Screening – The Long Hello

October 25th, 2003 October 25th, 2003
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Dateline: London, October 6th 2003. No matter what anyone may say, chocolate fondue *is* a proper meal. I mean, take a look at me. Am I not the epitome of health? No, take a proper look.

I’d never been to Harrods before, partly due to the association with the Phony Pharaoh but mainly due to the fact that I didn’t really know where it was. When Laura suggested we go, it seemed like a fine plan. And it was, as Laura plans so often are. It really is worth a look, especially the place where they serve chocolate for dinner and the food courts where I wasted too much time staring at things. This resulted in us getting back to the hotel slightly behind schedule. My fault.

We raced to get ready. For some reason Laura wanted to leave her passport safe in the hotel room. Not in the room safe because I’d already broken that on the first night. How was I to know that it only wanted the credit card one way up? And not the normal way up? So we took out the passport and left it with the other bags, in a pocket. We also changed the chip on Laura’s camera for a fresh one. There were photo opportunities approaching. This shuffling of essentials turned out to be almost prescient.

By now, I was fretting that we’d be late for my own screening evening for The Car and farewell to the UK party. I’d scheduled everything so tightly between 4 and 6 that I wasn’t sure I could squeeze it all in if people were late, so I was worried. I made us run, well walk very briskly, to the train. Never a good idea because it makes you all hot and bothered, a bit too flustered, which makes it harder to relax. We arrived at Soho House in good time, slightly breathless.

Our projectionist for the evening, Paul, took us up to the tiny preview theatre which was through a maze of doors like a series of airlocks. We spoke of sound and ships and sealing wax (delete where not applicable) and he ran through the tape. It looked good. A little private screening just for two of us. Nice. Perks of the job. Then I went to greet guests. They were nearly all late. Or early. Or not there, where they were supposed to be at the time and place I’d set for them in my head.

I spent the first three hours of the evening saying, “Hello,” to people, worrying about where the missing ones were and trying to circulate. Must speak to everyone if you’ve invited them. Must also get them in and out of the tightly scheduled screenings. And introduce the films with some kind of shpiel. I didn’t even get to sit in again and gauge the audience reaction. I spent the next hour doing a combination of “Hello” and “Oh, are you off already?”. Then the last three hours saying, “Goodbye!”

In short, it felt like I never really got to talk to anybody. A lot of speaking, very little talking. Hello. Goodbye. Thank you for coming. It’s good to see you. There were some really good people turned up and I think I had a chat with most but I kept moving before the conversations developed properly. Always someone else coming or going. It’s hard being the host. Sixty two people, at the final tally, came. And went. I hope everyone had a good evening and enjoyed the films. The feedback has been very positive, so fingers crossed for a good response from festivals.

Our evening ended with Laura somehow losing her bag with digital camera and other personal effects. We think it got left in the taxi. Dark, gloomy places, those black cab interiors. Full of other people’s misplaced property until a nasty tea leaf gets in and no Sherlock Holmes to be seen for miles. To say the least, this was a bit of a downer but survivable with travel insurance–especially as we’d done the chip changing thing. Pure fluke. We still have all our pictures of a wonderful weekend’s holiday break in London, another fine plan in which everyone should indulge themselves.

I tried the London Transport Lost Property Office several times after, but alas, the poor bag was never seen again. There is a rumour, however, that London’s walking guides are planning a tour to commemorate it in years to come… Fog swirls in from the Thames. A boat with raucous guide calls out the landmarks. “This is one of the most important bridges on the river,” he shouts, “it stops the trains falling in.” Lights speed past our cab in a blur and I hold my most precious treasure next to me. Shops. Museums. Castles. They come and go. My love remains, as sure as day follows night.

====

This coming Tuesday is a screening of Fate & Fortune hosted by the British Society of Cinematographers at Pinewood Studios. Very exciting. Especially as I don’t have to be the host.

The Five Illogical Arguments

October 20th, 2003 October 20th, 2003
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Rediscovered these today written on the cardboard backing of an old college writing pad. Worth remembering.

1. argumenta ad hominem (personal abuse)
2. guilt by association
3. prophecies of consequences
4. appeal to authority
5. truth by repetition

Cat Proof Door

October 18th, 2003 October 18th, 2003
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Yes, since you’ve been wondering, I did go down to Gary and Terry’s the week before last. And, yes, I did get horrendously inebriated. “Bolly or Mumm’s?” asked Gary. “Or perhaps the Veuve Cliquot?” “Stop showing off,” growled Terry, heavily pregnant and not able to drink. “Sorry, darlin’. It’s alright, Keith. I’ve got four bottles in the fridge. I walked out with it from a club a few months ago. Haven’t been back since.” We drank the lot. Then we had a few vodka slammers.

Moving house when you are severely hungover is the worst experience in the world. All you want to do is curl up in bed and sleep it off. But that’s not possible because you don’t live either here or there. You don’t live anywhere. God knows what Gary and I found to talk about for all those hours. Maybe that’s why I drank so much. It was easier than talking. “You gotta invite us ter the weddin,” said Gary enthusiastically, “‘Asn’t ‘e, darlin’?” Yeah, sure. Like I could ever get that pissed.

Actually, Gary and Terry were generous hosts and pretty reasonable neighbours, on the whole. As long as we discount the whole parking across my drive business and that thing with the bin on the garden, they were pleasant enough. And if we forget about the leaking pipe episode which I had to pay a plumber the best part of 100 to look at, I can note to his credit that Gary not only helped me with the tree but also never attacked me with a samurai sword. And Terry only ever played the hi-fi loud maybe three times. Two less times than me, in fact.

No, I have no reason to be nasty to them. Terry even cooked up chicken and rice for us which was nice. Well, it was the first time I saw it. I’m just thinking that I won’t be seeing them again as they head for their dream council house on a housing estate fit for heroes. Or something like that.

One of Gary’s bouncer friends turned up at about two in the morning and helped us out with the last bottle of bubbly. I think I went upstairs to bed about three. Four hours later, confused and head spinning, I woke up and looked at the bucket beside the bed. Not good. Then I went to the bathroom and threw up. Veuve Cliquot, Bolinger, Mumm’s. It wasn’t pretty. Drinking. It’s not big and it’s not clever. I was, as we say in the trade, completely fucked. The Garretts were coming and I hadn’t even finished packing.

Fuck. Packing. Fuck. The Garretts. Fuck fuck fuckity fuck. I did my best to shove anything left laying around the flat into cardboard boxes and suitcases, then I crammed them into the back of my car ready to drive round to Pete’s. That’s Pete the photographer who is putting me up in his spare room while I wait for my US visa to come through. My host for a month. By about 9.30am I’d done a reasonable job of stuffing the car and a very poor job of sobering up. I’d almost managed to keep down a mug of hot tea but it was a sorry attempt.

I was stuffed. Everyone was at work and there was no one to call on to help. I tried ringing Pete but he was on a job. His girlfriend, Kerrie, offered to help us unload when I arrived. My brain swam in lazy circles around my skull and I just had to sit quietly and mark time, counting the circuits. You’d think I’d know better at my age. More tea. Yes, that might help.

At 10am, Andy, the director of photography from Fate & Fortune came round to buy my TV and video. “God, Keith, you reek of booze,” he said with his characteristic diplomacy. “Thanks, Andy,” I managed before running to the bathroom again. I reappeared with a pale sheepish grin. “Oh, God. There’s no way you’re driving,” said Mr Martin. “Hold on. I’ll put off what I had to do and help. You are in no fit state to drive.” Oh, God, indeed. As unlikely as it seemed, my saviour had arrived.

Somehow I survived the morning and we got the first carload of stuff over to Pete’s house. Andy took me back to Richard Stagg Close and told me to wait. He had an appointment to keep but would come back. “You definitely shouldn’t drive,” he said. “I can still smell the alcohol on your breath. Go and have a lie down.” “But the Garretts will be here at midday to exchange contracts.” “Sod ’em. A few hours won’t hurt. The world will keep turning. Have a lie down.” It seemed an eminently sensible plan. I lay down on the bare bed and the world indeed kept turning much as I tried to stop the room spinning.

An hour passed. Two hours. Sunshine. Bird song. Traffic sounds. All somewhere nearby, a million miles away. Voices. At the door. “Hello? Mr Jefferies?” Ah, The Garretts. Parents of the new owner, James. “Come in, the door’s open. I’m just packing a few last bits.” I struggled into the living room and started chucking stuff in boxes again. Then I struggled down the stairs with it and filled up the car once more.

“No word from the estate agents yet?” asked Mrs Garrett. She knew I wasn’t handing over the keys until the legal work had been completed. “No. I’ll give them a call shortly.” I tried the phone. BT had already disconnected it. Bastards. Another hour passed while I continued somnabulantly packing and drinking water and the Garretts waited. Still no sign of Andy, I decided to risk driving and puttered round to Peter’s very very slowly. Unloading seemed to take an age. I rested every trip up the stairs. If I’d gone any slower, I’d have been going backwards.

An hour and a half later, the car was empty. I phoned the estate agents. “Oh, your estate agent’s in a meeting,” I was told. I was not best pleased. They had been less than useless throughout the whole sale process. The Garretts had actually found the flat while driving past. “Well, get her out of the fucking meeting and put her on the fucking phone. I’m fucking moving today and I’m paying you fuckers nearly two fucking grand. You’d better start acting like I’m the fucking customer.” I think I said words to that effect. She still didn’t appear on the phone. I puttered back to Garretville, not feeling too perky.

The drive back was not pleasant. I felt every bump and sway. My brain struggled to keep up. Eventually, by sheer force of will, I arrived back on what was still technically my drive and I made a dash for the stairs. “Would you like a cup of tea?” offered Mrs Garrett. I kept my lips sealed and shook my head as I bolted past her into the bathroom to “talk to God on the big white phone” freshly bleached to a reeking new holiness by the would-be owners. I was a sad sad character. God frowned at me. God only knew what the Garretts were thinking. I went to lie down on the bed again.

This was getting insane but after half an hour I felt a bit better and the offer of a cup of tea was taken up. Somehow I kept it down. I called my estate agent again on Mrs Garrett’s mobile phone. “Oh, yes,” said the voice, “It’s been logged as completed two hours ago.” I could have screamed. “Well, don’t you think you should have told us? You know, as I’m paying you?” “Well, er, yes. Your solicitor should have told you too. I can only apologise.” Great. Big deal. Two thousand pounds buys you a lot of muppetry.

I got carload number three packed and ready, then abused Mrs G further by calling Andy on her cellphone. “Hello, Keith. How’s it going? I should be back with you in a bit. There was something else I had to do.” “No worries. I’m almost ready to go again.” “Well, hang on a bit. I’ll try to be there in half an hour.” I went and sat in the chair again, sipping water while out of nowhere a van full of carpet fitters arrived and closed in on the bedroom. Holy shit. I didn’t charge these people enough. They had enough change for carpet!

No sign of Andy, so I do trip three, once more in slow motion. This time I have Mr Garrett in convoy helping me move some small items of furniture. The other bits I’m selling to them as part of the deal. At last my old house is clear. Pete’s spare room is full. So is Pete’s living room and Pete’s hallway. And his shed. Late in the afternoon I get back to the flat and park up to sell Andy the TV. He shakes his head at me and stifles a laugh as I tuck a few more bits of junk in the car.

Mrs Garrett has already started repainting the living room for James, who’s at work. I try to ignore the six shades of magnolia she’s painted as swatches on the orange wall. I thought James actually liked the orange. Poor old James. He may have thought he was leaving home, but his mother clearly has other ideas. Talk about under the thumb.

It’s been a long day. It’s not quite over.

This has got to have been the worst plan ever for house moving but I’m almost there. James shows up just as I’m leaving. “It will feel much more like home the first time you put your key in the door and open it,” I tell him. Then I head off. Pete and I drill holes in the wall and fit a curtain rail. All that’s left to do is buy curtains and cat-proof the spare room. One trip to the hardware store, driving through McDonald’s on the way. Quarter pounder with cheese. Kids run around the cars in line as if dodging vehicles is the funniest game in the world. I try to ignore them. The world has gone mad. Don’t try any of this at home kids.

By 9.30pm the spare room has curtains up and there are latches on the door. I can breathe easy without small furry characters shedding hair in my bed. Time to sleep. It’s been a loooooong day. Too long. But I’m halfway home. Because home is where the heart is. My heart. My Laura.