Learning to count

Last week in a cafe, as I was having lunch with a friend, a couple sat at the table beside us with their baby, whereupon the infant began to stare and stare at me, looking away and then looking back over and smiling, and gurgling, and laughing - and I, naturally, being a person of immense dignity, responded by courting the baby's full attention to the max, grinning and making faces and playing peekaboo behind my hands. Babies and children tend to like me, and I like them back: if I'm at a wedding I'll spend a good long time cuddling any attendant babies rather than making conversation with besuited elders; and if your small child should challenge me to a race in the park, of a fine summer's day, you can bet your last penny I'll lead from the front and then stage a pratfall on the final lap. My dad has five younger siblings, most of whom had children as I was growing up, and so throughout the 80s and 90s there was always a succession of tiny cousins to hold and make

Thoughts on The French Dispatch

 I saw an infuriating tweet last week that I can't find anymore, which said (and I'm obviously paraphrasing, since I can no longer find this tweet): "Hating on Wes Anderson is completely over. If you hate Wes Anderson, good news: you won. Every American film now looks exactly the same." It's a worthy sentiment in defence of a fine cinema stylist - but bogus, since it wasn't Anderson-haters who won the battle for cinema, but Anderson-ignorers; everybody else lost. That we now find ourselves in a landscape where many films are visually monotonous is attributable mostly to the Disney monopoly and in part to the rise of Netflix, which has contributed to squeezing out a good few auteurs, and creating a recognisable 'film-as-content' aesthetic, where photography, decoration, blocking, design don't detract from an easily managed storyline that you can half-watch while texting.  But this perception of Anderson as representing the last stand of a certain ty

An Anniversary

This week I have decided to mark an anniversary that means a great deal to me, and practically nothing to anyone else: 25 years ago this week, when I was 15 (I will save you the maths: I am now exactly 30 years old), a film came out in which I held the title role. It was a little, eccentric film - an adaptation, in French, of Henry James's short story 'The Pupil' - and it emerged to somewhat polite reviews, performed middlingly at the French box office for a few weeks, then disappeared from screens entirely. As far as I'm aware it never had an international release of any sort, meaning that its viewership is still mostly confined to a small bubble of people who caught it on screens in 1996 or on one of its spells on television in the two or three years that followed. (There are also, it seems, a small number of paedos or paedo-adjacent people who still watch it and share it online) For a while though - well, throughout the whole of 1996, as we shot the movie in February

How wild swimming helped me come to terms with my past

In November of 2019 I got caught in a current that swept me out to sea, in the icy waters of the channel at Cayeux-sur-Mer in Picardy. To begin with I fought back, even taking a certain pleasure in pitting my body against the sea's relentless churn, but eventually realised I was no match for the great swell that surrounded me, and let my body drift along, looking back towards the beach's pearlescent grey shingle in the distance, and the cheerful row of beach huts beyond the boardwalk. I checked myself for signs of fear: no palpitations, no shiver; my mind was a peaceful void and I felt, as did the poet Giuseppe Ungaretti before me in his poem 'Rivers', at one with water and the world. In that instant, finally, I was able to forget the agonised screams of the customers I had air-rifled to death in my local post office the year before.   Perhaps I should skip back a little. How did I get here? Was I always destined to become an adept of wild swimming?  My chief memory of

Text of my letter resigning my Labour membership

 I wish to leave Labour, in protest at what I see as the lack of direction in the party, the lack of communication, of cut-through to the electorate, and more importantly the apparent lack of any leftwing political convictions with which to oppose Tory misrule. How can we be trailing so badly in the polls afters years of austerity, over 120,000 dead of Covid, Brexit, Grenfell, the Windrush scandal, stealth privatisation of the NHS, increased child poverty - and what now seems to be the next Tory scandal, the cronyism & corruption of government. Why is Labour out of step with public opinion on corporate tax? Why are we concentrating wholesale on a wretched campaign to renew patriotism, when this will increase already rampant nationalism? I also believe that the party's authoritarian streak, its big talk on cannabis and policing, errs towards dogwhistle racism which is wrong and which will do us no favours.  Finally, our leader, Keir Starmer, appears to lack the moral compass we

Thoughts on It's A Sin

Perhaps the biggest gotcha in cinema - or the most famous - comes in Pretty Woman, after Vivian (Julia Roberts) has been refused service in a high-end shop. Returning to the shop the next day, she decides on a whim to confront the snooty saleswomen who had spurned her, showing them the money that they missed out on. “Big mistake. Huge!,” she crows before waltzing off again, leaving the two women gobsmacked. Pow pow! It’s a little like a scene in a western, where the cowboy disarms an enemy and then saunters off into the sunset.  Russell T. Davies’ new TV show, about five friends in London at the height of the AIDS crisis, features what feels like dozens of these scenes - big heartswelling moments of characters smartly putting people in their place, before walking off, leaving their antagonist open-mouthed and speechless. One such moment comes when the gang employ a lawyer, Lizbeth Farooqi (Seyan Sarvan), to get their friend Colin out of medical imprisonment. At this point, the programm

This is 40

I turn 40 soon. It's an age that I can easily recall my parents being; in fact, my mother would have been not much older than 40 around the time her father died, which I remember all too well, as I was 11 or 12. It felt like she was about the right sort of age to have a parent die. My parents, then, felt like fully settled figures, with a car, reliable jobs, a mortgage, three kids - these markers of grown-upness and stability that I have barely begun to match. I only found out what a clutch pedal is two months ago. My parents' friends were the same age as them, or older, and they smoked, and didn't interact with children much, except in a fairly distanced way; these friends also had mortgages and cars etc etc. There was something unplayful about many of these people - who were usually fun and intelligent and witty in their adult way - that marked them out as being, by this stage of their life, fully formed. Of course, I know that part of this is my childlike projection onto