Monday, September 8, 2014

Which Character From FRIENDS are you?

Are you black? You’re Aisha Tyler.

Are you straight? Thank God. Please proceed.

Do you lock up the coffee shop that you own in Manhattan every night, wondering why love continues to elude you, why you remain friendless and scorned every day, when all you have ever wanted to do is bring happiness and joy to people, which you consider, after all, that you have succeeded in doing in this friendly, colourful establishment that you own, with its large cups of coffee, its comfortable seats and musical guests –and do you then go home to your perfectly agreeable apartment in Brooklyn, which no-one condescends to visit, in which you have not received a single unpaid-for sexual favour in the last five years, and do you stare at your now-thinning hair in your bathroom mirror and recall your teenage years in Düsseldorf, how happy you were as a perky young punk, hanging out in the park with your friends and your dog, Hanno, and listening to Die Toten Hosen on a big boombox for which you had saved up all your earnings from your weekend newspaper round, and do you then remember how one afternoon in the park as night was beginning to fall and there was a throng of red cigarette ends lighting up the faces of your classmates, you smoked a joint with Lotte and she told you, you know what, you’re actually a really sweet guy, and after locking eyes for a second you shyly leaned in for a kiss which she did not refuse you, and how soft it was, how lovely and warm to kiss her, and how touching, between kisses, to feel her smoky breath on your face – and do you then masturbate sadly while wondering what your future holds, and then order some pizza and text your mother? You’re Gunther.

Do you drive your kids to school in the morning feeling full of a jumpy sort of energy, a tingle of excitement at something or other that you cannot exactly place but which, you realise when you think about it long enough, is merely the rush of happiness, of pure contentment and exaltation, and do you feel so overwhelmed with luck that you, yes you, Janice, were blessed with so many and such kind friends, and children so beautiful and inquisitive they make your very heart leap at every minute of the day, and a husband whose calmness and consideration for you are matched always by what seems to you a still undimmed beauty, a very male gorgeousness that kindles desire in you to this day so that when he comes through the door after work and his face brightens to see you feeding the kids in the kitchen and babbling away with them so merrily, you think that if the children weren’t around you would probably jump his bones right then and there in the lobby of this light and airy house you simply cannot believe you own? Do you reflect on your life ten years ago, when you were still searching for your thing, for that breath of life to animate your existence, when every day you felt for some reason belittled and cursed, and do you wonder, good Lord, how did you turn it around, and what might you be doing now if you had not escaped to Boston and married Jeremy on so foolhardy a whim, and reflect that, not to be immodest, but perhaps good things really do happen to good people, and do you laugh your head off to think that it happened to you, to simple, little old Janice? You’re Janice.

Are you in your sixties and still in possession of a luxuriant moustache, and do you sometimes still catch sight of yourself in a car window by accident and think, “Wow, who’s that?” and then realise it’s you and, heck, you’ve still got it? You’re Dr Richard Burke, the character played by Tom Selleck as a recurring role.

Are you currently studying for a law conversion course after having changed your name – you always had an obscure feeling that ‘Tag’ had ruined your chances of projecting the gravitas to which you aspired – and revelling in your newfound abilities, which tend towards negotiation and summation? Did you bump into your old girlfriend, whatshername, Rachel, just the other day in Central Park, walking with her moody daughter by the pond, and did you consider going over to say hello but then notice that she looked harassed  enough as it was, checking her outmoded telephone and snapping at her daughter that they could not go rowing because she wasn’t dressed appropriately, and did you then decide not to say anything but simply walk past, only for her to notice you, recognise you, and give you an odd look that afterwards you remembered as being almost pleading, and did you wonder briefly what had become of her and that goofy gang of people she hung out with way back when, before returning to the warmth of the library to get out some books on Torts? You’re Edward Jones.

Do you have a completely different set of friends now and thank your stars that you only have to see Rachel twice a year for things she invites you to, Ross never, Monica and Chandler never, and Joey never? You’re Phoebe.

Tuesday, August 12, 2014

Robin Williams In Neverland



Mrs Doubtfire was an important film for me because it was the first film I saw in a cinema that I recognised not to be very good. When you're a child, everything you see at the cinema, pretty much, is brilliant - or at least, it was for me. How could it not be? Getting your ticket, finding your seat, the lights going down; then, the curtains would part, then there were always the same adverts, for ice-cream and popcorn, a couple of trailers, and then the lights went back up, briefly, and then switched off, and the cinema screen seemed to re-jig its size. A lion roared, someone whispered shhhhh!, and you were off. You're ten. Ah, Wayne's World. This is going to be brilliant.

Mrs Doubtfire was a huge success at the time and everybody in my school had seen it, and so I was naturally very excited to see it at the cinema. I was twelve. From the start something seemed wrong in the film; it was tonally adrift. Robin Williams was presented as a cool Dad and Sally Field as the standard, drab mother-wife figure: but when she asks him for a divorce very close to the start of the film, without us having met either of them for very long, the suspicion was born in me that the Robin Williams character was probably a bit of a dick. The film had perhaps not foregrounded his loveliness and excellence well enough. Things kept going awry: scenes kept happening that prevented the film from being enjoyed as a delicious romp. The Williams character would speak poisonously of his ex-wife's new partner (Pierce Brosnan!), and for some reason the scene where Williams' eldest son discovers his father has been masquerading as Mrs Doubtfire by accidentally walking on her (him) pissing standing up, failed to make me chortle. I suppose the idea of recognising your dad's cock in the hand of the kind old woman who has been looking after you felt like a little too much to take. At the end of the film, having generally made a mess of things and somehow belittled his wife (the film is one of those "men can do whatever women can - but better!" films, with Sally Field reduced to saying "Mrs Doubtfire, what would I do without you?" over and over from the midway point), Robin Williams is gifted a heartstrings scene where he begs to be given his children. Call me a bastard, but at twelve I was already a little tired of this Tootsie meets Kramer vs Kramer situation and didn't care if he got the kids or not.

Something about Williams' relationship with the kids felt queasy somehow. There's a good scene in the film where, in the guise of the kids' father, and not as Mrs Doubtfire, he exhaustedly loses his temper with his children, who reel in shock. That moment felt real - like a real father. The rest of the film felt far too like an old man trying to act pally with a younger generation. I didn't realise at the time that this was the M.O. of Williams' career. In film after film, he played an exuberant loose cannon who was too anti-establishment to fit into the straitjacket he found himself in, but inspired children or younger people to dream and/or be happy. In Good Morning Vietnam it was the army that couldn't contain him; in Dead Poets Society, the rigid private school; in Mrs Doubtfire, Sally Field; in Aladdin, the lamp. In those films he inspired soldiers, students, his children, and Aladdin, with his overblown shenanigans, funny voices, his we're-all-in-this-together attitude, his fuck-'em-all vibe. This is Robin Williams' mid-career, the height of his fame. This Robin Williams type reaches its apex in Hook, in which he literally plays a grown-up Peter Pan, who goes back to Neverland to help the Lost Boys out and rediscover his own childlike joie-de-vivre. It felt like a sort of summation of his career and character. He would return to this benevolent-shitstirring-uncle figure for Good Will Hunting, in more sober mode, later on.

The truth about Robin Williams is that if you were my age you got the very worst of him at the cinema, with intermittent flashes of the comic talent that, older people assured you, he had in droves. All his films contained a sentimental, not to say mawkish streak - and there was often a sense of desperation in his performances, of a need to be loved that went beyond his characters. He went on, after the height of his fame in the late eighties and early nineties, to make a series of staggeringly bad films (Flubber, Jack, Patch Adams, What Dreams May Come, Bicentennial Man) that gave a sense of someone not particularly in control of his career. He belonged in this sense to that lost generation of American comedians whose talent was much vaunted by all but was clearly wasted in films: Eddie Murphy and Steve Martin were also beginning to busy themselves, around then, with gross comedy and children's films that departed radically from their alt-comedy origins. I think there may have been a problem in Robin Williams's case with how to grow up, how to continue to be funny as an adult; how to persevere with your maniacal act after you have ceased to be the young person tearing the world to shreds - and perhaps that problem was there for Murphy and Martin. Bill Murray got around the problem because he was always world-weary in the first place, and he made very few films and seemed not to give a shit. But your more lively comedian has a hard time making himself at home in the world.

The best of Robin Williams came when he was allowed to either give full rein to his excesses (as in his beautiful cameo in The Adventures of Baron Munchausen) or when on the contrary he was made to pare his excesses down and he became almost alarmingly creepy (One Hour Photo, Insomnia - both in 2002). Those last two films seemed to show something magnetic about him, but something haunted, too, like an empty fairground. All his other films showed flashes of his talent: his now almost cliché dancing-while-cleaning as Mrs Doubtfire is beautifully understated in its grace, just before he begins to rock out; at one point he does a drop to his knees before dusting the floor with pernickety elegance, which shows how precise and modulated he could be as a comic actor, and in Good Morning Vietnam there are traces, although the film is too written, of his broad and generous madness.

In the end, it was the person who somehow counted for people: something in Robin Williams shone out of his dismayingly patchy career. His appearances on chatshows and his acceptance speeches are all now being paraded as examples of the Robin Williams talent, the high-energy spirit: clearly this spoke to generations. But in the end it was our determination to love and to feel ourselves entertained by that slightly melancholy figure of the ageing older brother that made him who he was.



Thursday, May 29, 2014

Lee Mead: One Year On

Rejoice! Today we celebrate the one year anniversary of  this interview with actor Lee Mead - quite possibly the funniest thing I have ever read. I feel about this interview the way I used to feel about Alice Munro ten years ago: why don't more people know about this? Something this wonderful and brilliant can't be allowed to stay so little known - it should be shared; its brilliance should be shouted from the rooftops; we should be talking about this every day. I don't know how I will celebrate future anniversaries of the publication of this interview with Lee Mead. Perhaps there could be a staging of the events described in his answer to the final question (for this is the pot of gold at the end of the interview rainbow). Perhaps we could all tweet catchphrases from it. Maybe I could go to schools and give lessons about it to some eager children, who will always remember the interview thenceforth and talk about it glowingly to their own children and grandchildren in years to come. The possibilities are endless.

Do please read the interview yourself. What counts, in your first reading of it, is to drink in its all-conquering, almost zen inanity. I particularly savour this bit, for instance:

So I auditioned for Triple 8, didn’t get it, went back on the ferry and a few weeks later, there was a picture of them on the back of a cornflakes packet. I thought: ‘If I’d done better in that audition things could be a bit different to how they are now.’

Several things contribute to making this so delicious. First there's his majestic use of the bathetic, as evidenced in his three-part deconstruction of failure ("Triple 8"/"didn't get it"/"ferry"). There is also his pleasingly vague narrative style: "the ferry"; "a few weeks later"; "a cornflakes packet". (A lesser storyteller might be tempted to tell you which ferry company he was working for, to tweak that timeline, to say Frosties.) Here, too, is a gratifying ambiguity: is the gist of this anecdote that he is pleased he didn't make it into Triple 8 because he wouldn't want to be shilling cornflakes, or does he in fact aspire to the sort of success that Triple 8's cornflakes packet photograph bespeaks? It's hard to tell, precisely because of Lee Mead's appealingly dingy anecdotal style. Finally, the icing on the cake is his qualifier: "a bit different". It may be that you had to be there, and that in person he put a sarcastic emphasis on 'a bit', implying that he bitterly wished he were in Triple 8, whom he considered to be lightyears ahead of him - but in my reading of it, he is merely stating a fact in his pleasantly bland way, namely that things would only be slightly dissimilar if he were a member of popular boyband Triple 8.

Developing an ear for these almost effortlessly banal replies, delivered in a touchingly winsome and artless manner by Lee Mead, is crucial because you need to be prepared for the thrillingly thick and pointless anecdote he unfurls in answer to the final question. Because you have worked through the whole of the interview with mounting amusement, with a giggly exhilaration that builds with each thudding observation about showbiz, musicals, and what it's like to work with Mat from Busted, you arrive at the last question in a state of huge excitement. And there it is - the final question. 

Have you ever had a supernatural experience?

You may want to take a little pause at this point. It's a great question, and you already know from everything I have told you, and from Lee Mead's careful answers to such questions as Are you surprised articles have been written about your childcare arrangements? and What were the highs and lows of singing on a ferry? that Lee Mead isn't going to mess this up. Take a deep breath. Enjoy the moment. OK, we're going in. Says Lee:

My family stayed in a big manor house hotel for my parents’ wedding anniversary a couple of years ago. We were outside my mum’s room and I saw this white light at the end of the corridor. I said: ‘Is that you, Nan?’ because she’d passed away not long before. My mum couldn’t get into her room with her card, it stayed red, but every time I used the same card, it went green. It went on for ten minutes. It was bizarre. Eventually she got in. It might have been my nan having a laugh but who knows?

And there you have it. I count this paragraph as one of the very funniest things, if not the funniest, that it has ever been my pleasure to read. Read it again! I return to it every now and then and it never fails to bring forth a guffaw. It starts low in my body and rises gradually throughout me, filling my chest and then my head with a kind of airy hilarity, an addictive lightness, which finally emerges in the form of a hooted laugh, a sort of incredulous, slightly breathless, almost entirely helpless chortle.

There are many wonderful things about Lee Mead's reply, and I must be careful not to spoil the exhilarating delight that his answer procures by analysing it to death. A few things do stand out however. First of all, my heart is flooded with compassion when I consider that this event happened "a couple of years ago" and that it has remained with Lee Mead for all this time, that he has mulled this over and considered, more than once, whether a faulty lock in a countryside hotel might in actual fact be the post-physical incarnation of the spirit of his grandmother. This makes me feel full of fondness towards Lee Mead.

Another thing that leaps out at me is, again, the gnawing vagueness of the story - the elements that he has cleverly omitted in order to leave you wanting more. I hunger to know why, once his mother had been unable to enter her hotel room using her card, and Lee Mead had helped her enter her hotel room, they carried on trying the lock out between the two of them - she failing to open the door and he succeeding - instead of just going into the hotel room as any normal person would do. That they carried on experimenting with the door for a further ten minutes and proceeded to establish through a presumably forensic elimination process that the fault resided not in the door or the card itself but that the problem was to do with a physical or psychological difference in the person attempting to open it, tells me volumes about the relationship Lee Mead has with his mother. Perhaps they already had an inkling that the phantasm of his grandmother was responsible for the issue, because of that mysterious apparition in the corridor (note how Lee Mead has already set the scene!), which was then seemingly corroborated in the very first moment that Lee Mead's mother failed to open her door, and therefore had to carry on experimenting with the lock for ten minutes in order to verify this hunch.

My favourite bit of the story, and probably yours, is of course Lee Mead's helpless cri de coeur, "Is that you, Nan?" Again, note his mastery of the bathetic, in his appending clause "because she'd passed away not long before", which may be here in order to puncture any too operatic quality the story might otherwise have. The dubiousness of the causality means that the reader is immediately inside Lee Mead's mind: we are with him all the way as he takes us into the second episode that leads him to believe he may have had a supernatural experience. You need to imagine, properly, being in the sort of state of mind that would induce you, upon seeing a light at the end of an empty corridor, to voice out loud your suspicion that this is your grandmother. I struggle to imagine saying "Is that you, Nan?" in an empty corridor. What if one of the people in their hotel rooms were to overhear me and come out into the corridor to see me talking to to a wall? I couldn't bear the shame. But I'm not Lee Mead. A simple man perhaps, his affectless mind means that he isn't afraid to ask the question, nor to recount the story in a widely read newspaper.

But he scuppers us in the final part of his answer, by becoming the voice of reason itself. Again, his winning modesty is at play as he says "but who knows?" Indeed.  Lee Mead knows that his story is not proof that he has had a supernatural experience, merely a very solid argument that can never be entirely refuted. He never says, "Yes, I have had a supernatural existence": it is this doubt, draped over his story like a fine gauze, that lends the episode its charm.

So today we celebrate Lee Mead. In part we celebrate him for the wonderful, glorious dumbness of his story about the ghost of his grandmother fucking about with a hotel card-lock, but mostly we celebrate him for his gentle, sweet nature and for the true beauty of a mind that would dare to tell such a tale. 

Thursday, March 6, 2014

The Black Sheep, by Joanna Newsom

T’was a humdrum, cloud-bespotted day
Rumblesome skies unfurled, turbid and grey
And the air was charged with smoke, was charged with sulphur and with hay
As I tripped like a sea-washed shingle down yon rocky terrain

The whippoorwill cawed slyly in the sighing willow trees
And the long grass heaved with the bulk of the breeze
And as it blew, it grew, and drew toward my feet, toward my knees
So I hummed like a mariner; chanted my larky, garbled refrain

And as to pick some dandelions and mint and sage I knelt
I chanced upon a woe-behobbled beast, upon whose charcoal pelt
The brunt of weather and of hunger was sorely felt
I asked him whence his wool had gone, and sadly he did explain:

“Aye sir, nay sir – I do shiver verily to tell
This coat of mine, my garment, my friend, was taken for to sell,
By my master and his cruel dame, and the little boys who dwell
In the crumble-down cottage, down the honeysuckle lane”

We cleft our ways; I watched the path he took
As he limped amongst the poplar shadows, by the stagnant, mellow brook
And rehearsing his tale, my fundament, my heart and soul were shook
And I felt a jarring needle, a kick, a stab, the punch of pain.

Baa baa baa baa baa
Baa baa baa baa baa
Baa baa baa baa baa

Monday, February 17, 2014

Where AMERICAN HUSTLE Fits in the Pantheon of American Things

1.  Tune
2.  Boy
3.  Pastoral
4.  Airlines
5.  Psycho
6.  Apparel
7.  Beauty
8.  History X
9.  Hustle
10. Woman
11. Pie
12. Idiot
13. Idol

Not ranked: Express; Graffiti


Thursday, December 5, 2013

AMERICAN HUSTLE

On the X Factor this year there was a contestant called Tamera Foster. Sixteen years old, blessed with  breathtaking beauty, confidence and passable pipes, Tamera was deemed early on to be a favourite to win the popular karaoke competition. And so it proved for a while: like the other contestants, she would come out on a Saturday in front of the four judges and warble her 'version' of a popular tune, and it seemed fine: she looked amazing, her vocals held up, she was classy and game, like a decent Beyoncé tribute act. But after a while, a weird frailty started creeping in: two weeks in a row, half way through a typically barnstorming performance of some hokey standard, Tamera completely forgot the words. It produced a strange effect, since an ordinary singer in a normal gig would either start again or sing a lalala to cover it up, or do something: but Tamera Foster was on prime-time TV on a Saturday night, and being judged on her performance, and she was an amateur and didn't know what to do. So she didn't do anything: what she didn't know, she left out. So there were weird silences in her songs, where words like 'love' or 'back to you' or 'tell my why' should have been: it made the songs sound like ghosts, and was oddly revealing of the fragility of the performer and the songs themselves.

I thought of Tamera Foster this morning as I was attempting to collect my thoughts on David O. Russell's AMERICAN HUSTLE (eurgh, that rhyme). The film plays like a bold, talented young upstart - full of vigour and brashness; it looks the part. But soon enough holes start appearing in its fabric: little gaps where it misses a comedy beat, or where a dramatic moment fizzles out because an editor didn't know how to end a scene. Russell appears to have seen a fair bit of middle-period Scorsese. All the surface elements are there: the tracking shots, the slow-mo, the freeze-frame, voice-over, the use of music, the heightened acting, Robert de Niro. However these tics do not add up to a classic film, and actually undermine any originality the film might have had. The effect is an odd one: you find yourself watching a film that constantly shouts at you that it is a romp and a blast, but which is actually overlong, a touch uncertain, and I'm afraid to say rather boring. 

The film is about two grifters who are also lovers, Irving and Sydney (played by Christian Bale and Amy Adams), who accidentally end up on a con job orchestrated by a cop (Bradley Cooper), designed to bring down corrupt politicians and mafiosi. Jennifer Lawrence plays the dumb wife yin to Amy Adams' brassy moll yang. From the outset, the film is highly stylised: the tone is knockabout comedy, as Christian Bale's character readies himself for a con, meticulously arranging his fantastical comb-over and putting on his gaudiest purple suit (one of many instances in the film in which 'the 70s!' is a joke in itself). Amy Adams and Bradley Cooper join him in their equivalent 70s finery, and the three trade some roustabout lines before entering the con-job: the camera films them in slow motion as they walk down a corridor to the sound of America's 'A Horse With No Name' (one of many instances in the film of musical-pictorial disconnect). The con goes wrong of course, and then the film heads off into a de rigueur 'how we got here' segment, complete with voice-over by Adams and Bale detailing how the two met and became lovers and co-racketeers. He was a fast-talking, lowly crook; she was a beautiful, unfulfilled fashion assistant looking for something better - of course they were. 

Bizarrely, the job that the film starts on isn't the crux of the film at all, but a fairly routine plot point beyond which the film carries on for another hour and a half. It's as if a by-the-numbers filmmaker (which Russell has never been until now) were ticking off a checklist and putting in a false start purely because it is part of the tradition to which he is paying homage. This rather tired narrative ploy in a film otherwise full of razzle-dazzle is matched by other weird-out combinations of success and failure: in particular, the way the actors struggle to get a handle on their characters, veering dangerously from exalted, out-there screaming and laughter to a much more subdued, even somnolent tone, often within the same scene. There is a scene between Bradley Cooper and Amy Adams that emphasises this: their characters are attracted to each other, and have promised to be honest with each other, and at some point to sleep together. Adams and Cooper at first play it larger-than-life, with some saucy pulling up of her gown on her part and a great deal of huffing and puffing on his - but then the tone shifts as she cries and reveals her actual identity; a suitable reaction from him is missing; the scene carries on regardless, sex is once more on the table, she hits him with a hard object - cut to him looking a little stunned, with only a couple of bruise marks. They have gone from lovers on the brink of sexy sex to devastated people who don't know each other - but all of the dramatic elements along the way have felt weak or contrived, and each narrative turn unbelievable. It feels like a scene that hasn't been properly blocked, where the actors have been left on their own, crucially under-directed and unable to find points of connection between each other, and between one moment and the next, as the scene develops. 

Another scene that isn't blocked properly: Jennifer Lawrence listening in on Irving as he conducts a shady business deal on the phone. Irving can hear her on the other receiver in their house and shouts at her to get off the phone: the camera instantly swerves to the other side of the house, to reveal... the huge gag that she is listening in merely a few metres away from him! And Jennifer Lawrence hangs up, saying, "What? I wasn't doing anything!" - so far so comedic. But Lawrence utters her line a full second after she should have, because the camera movement was so fast from one character to the other, resulting in a scene that ends in a sort of white noise, a puff of nothing. 

Everywhere this absence, this void is felt: it's there in the oddly lacking rhythm - the way a joke often fails to land; in the hokey characterisation - the way Jennifer Lawrence is signified by a particular brand of nail varnish; in scenes that tail off; in the constant and often clumsy use of music (at one point, David O. Russell uses merely the muted introduction of Ella Fitzgerald's 'It's De-Lovely', cutting the song off just before it gets to the spangly, brassy verses - which produces an odd sensation of petering out, where you might have thought the scene was gearing up to something). 

This isn't to say that the film doesn't have its moments - there are some good jokes, enjoyable outfits, some beautifully shot sequences and a couple of moments where the actors find something compelling in the rather hollow shells of their characters - but the film has a strange tone throughout, as if a robbery had been conducted in which burglars came into the film and stole some of its jokes, its sparkle and characterisation. 

At one point in the X Factor, Tamera Foster's mentor advised her to stop trying to sing like Beyoncé and be herself. Word to the wise, David O. 

Friday, October 25, 2013

The Gull - A Short Story

Jane was sitting on the terrace of the Italian villa that she and Bob had hired for the week. She was eating a combination of breakfast foods and lunch foods, at a time of the morning somewhere between the two meals.

She sighed and stretched her body out in her wicker chair as the sigh turned into a yawn. Morning sunlight glinted off the glass table, and she briefly caught the slightly acrid, sweet smell of the cypress trees nearby that were swaying gently in the breeze.

Bob was still in the shower; she could hear him singing a tasteful slowed-down version of the Macarena. He would come and join her later, or she would shower when he had finished. They would walk together down to the lake, through the pine forest.

Suddenly a massive gull landed on her breakfast table, making the coffee pot rattle. One of its talons, or is that just for eagles?, landed in her bowl of Mulino Bianco.

Jane shrieked, but not loud enough for Bob to hear her. "Heeey - Macarena, wah HAI", he trilled in the distance, blithely.

Jane was now sitting deep in her seat. She studied the bird, which looked right back at her with a 'Don't fuck with me' expression. It was very menacing, and reminded her a bit of her uncle Arthur. It hopped a little closer to her on the table, sliding a bit on the glass. Jane tried not to giggle. She didn't want to piss the gull off any more than it already was.

The gull kept staring at her. It had beady, stupid eyes with a glazed surface, and its beak was brown and curved downwards, all the better to shuck oysters with. She shifted in her chair, and extended a leg towards the French window leading back into the villa, tentatively trying to make a move away from the gull and its inquisitive face. Face? Not face. Maw? No. Anyway, she was trying to escape.

The gull looked at her again with its 1930s gangster expression. Very suddenly, it lunged at her and attempted to peck her right eye out. Jane quickly moved a hand up to protect her eye, and caught a sharp nip across her knuckles, which immediately began to bleed.

"What the fuck?" said Jane, out loud. The gull didn't say anything.

Jane's whole body was still shaking from the shock of having been lunged at by a massive bird, but she nevertheless steeled herself and tried to whoosh it away. She imagined the bird would get out of the way of her whooshing gesture, as pigeons do before oncoming cars, or if you run up to them at Trafalgar Square or in Piazza San Marco, or other great city concourses where pigeons congregate. But the bird was too slow and thick - or perhaps arrogant - and Jane's big shooing movement caught it right across the face. Face? Head.

The bird looked shocked and wounded. Upset, more than anything. It gazed at her with a now-disappointed expression, took a couple of steps back, u-turned, and flew away.

Jane shuddered. She went to drain her bowl of cereal at the kitchen sink. Bob emerged from the bathroom, still humming. He had a towel tied around his waist - a touchingly prudish gesture given that Jane had seen his penis and testicles well over a thousand times by now.

"Alright darling?" he said, and kissed her on the forehead.

"I'M NOT IN THE MOOD FOR SEX RIGHT NOW BOB," Jane screamed at him.

"Jesus! I was just asking!" said Bob.

"Well don't," said Jane. "You'll ruin the holiday."