One thing they don’t warn today’s prospective parents about with sufficient urgency is that you’ll have to spend a great many precious weekends going to children’s birthday parties at soft-play areas. Some of these are hellish. Indeed, crouched recently in a padded tunnel amidst the howls of hyped-up and miserable infants I actually said to myself, “If I’m bad, this is where I’ll go when I die.” I can’t understand why some parents think that two and three year-olds need large, expensive parties in hired venues. Nobody remotely enjoys them, least of all the child in question. Toddlers just want to be surrounded by family and to blow out candles, they don’t need all their little nursery so-called ‘friends’ there ruining it. At the last party we attended the mother was actually in labour throughout proceedings. I’m not kidding. She was having contractions every eight minutes, yet was still fussing about in the chaos, cutting the cake and organising the photographs. When we went to collect our party bag it was down to six minutes. “I just couldn’t miss his birthday party,” she said. I could summon no reply.
Last week I suggested Martin Amis no longer really understands the world he’s trying to satirise. If one is baffled and frightened by technology that other people are using, it’s tempting to make judgements about the nature of those people and assume that since they are diverging from oneself (by definition the pinnacle of civilisation) then they must be in a state of soul-corroding decline. I reckon the Boomer generation is the most polarised between techophobes and ‘philes (one key indicator I’ve noticed is that there are those who ‘get’ an absolute basic such as the way files are stored within folders and subfolders in Windows; and those for whom the location of a saved file is essentially a mystery, even if they put it there themselves). I’m not sure the Amis syndrome is inevitable but I did feel a shiver of doom when I found this. Since when has a man completing a video game been worthy of a BBC News story? Are we heading for a time when the sports pages contain Pro Evolution Soccer match reports? In which case, at that point can you please stop the world because
If you’ve not yet been initiated into the world of Wes Anderson then I can recommend Moonrise Kingdom as a good introduction (now showing at arty cinemas nationwide, including our local, Bristol’s Watershed). It’s more focused, sweet and LOL-funny than his previous films, all of which I love dearly and never tire of re-watching. The Yard does a decent job of explaining Anderson’s ‘quirky’ style in a recent interview piece (bad word, ‘quirky’, but a better one seems to be missing from the language). But one important element missing from Bryan’s analysis is that each of Anderson’s films has the same basic formula: there is a central male character of indomitable will, around whom a colourful cast of oddballs revolves. Bill Murray in The Life Aquatic, Owen Wilson in Bottle Rocket and The Darjeeling Limited, George Clooney in Fantastic Mr Fox and Gene Hackman in The Royal Tenenbaums are all variants on the same man. Rushmore and now Moonrise Kingdom depict him in boyhood. His characteristics are selfishness, kindness, ingenuity, deviousness, phenomenal charisma and an uncompromising determination to plough his own furrow. He is the captain of his soul, and a right awkward bugger. Without getting into Freudian psychotwaddle, this, presumably, is the man Wes Anderson aspires to be.
Talking of quirky oddballs, do you know I feel an obscure affinity with this goddamn idiot who goes about Britain licking cathedrals. Work takes me around the country and if I have a little time to spare in a place and a cathedral is handy, I will usually visit it. So far in this calendar year alone I have toured the cathedrals of Gloucester, Worcester, Wells, Salisbury, Exeter and Canterbury. I have not licked any of them but each undeniably has its own flavour. My favourite is Gloucester, an awesome (in the true sense of the word) building in an otherwise hard-to-love town. Wells is a reverse-Tardis, much bigger on the outside than the inside, but with those fantastic sci-fi scissor-arches that look like they come from the distant future rather than 700 years in the past. Worcester is perhaps the oddest, with an organic, insecty feel. At Canterbury I caught an exceptionally beautiful choral evensong when I was tired and tipsy and I suffered a nasty little attack of religion. These entertainments are free and available to all, though of course our cathedrals do request a donation with varying degrees of aggression.
In Salisbury Cathedral, walking around, open-mouthed as usual, I overheard a man talking to his young daughter. He said, “You know what’s great, Indigo [yes, really], is that 800 years ago people built this place, and now here you are today, standing in it.” Which, I think, neatly encapsulates the critical point. The consolation of Christianity’s great English architectural manifestations is that your brief mortality, and the self-indulgent terrors that come with your awareness of it, are placed in the perspective of the centuries. The unchanging atmosphere of the cathedral walls and the ceremonies conducted within them have seen countless people like you and will see countless more after your time is up. I always donate the ‘recommended amount’ because what could be more important than preserving something that’s already very old?