‘One adult for The Hobbit in 3D, please,” I said, thus setting the bar pretty high for the Saddest Thing Uttered in 2014 contest. It can’t be helped: a residue of youthful Tolkein geekdom means that a part of me will always yearn for the world of dragons and pointy-eared arrow flingers.
What a weird piece of work Peter Jackson’s Hobbit is turning out to be. He has Tolkein’s mix of the cosy (inns, pipes, sing-songs by the fire) and the horrific, but, just occasionally, while gaping slack-jawed at the unfolding panoramic orc holocaust, one wonders why the horrific has to be quite so horrific. Especially in 3D: slobbering, snarling goblin-heads bulge forth, only to be swiftly lopped from their shoulders by a dwarvish axe. Split splat splot go the orcs as the goodies lay into them, severed arms and legs flying in all directions as we hurtle down a river in one stupendously daft sequence in the middle of the film. The slaughter is more or less continual, and quite why such fare qualifies as a ‘family’ film rather than an X-rated horror I’m not entirely sure (although the same could be said of Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom, one of the most revoltingly violent movies ever made).
The concluding scenes with Bilbo nattering away to the dragon (much as the same two actors converse as Holmes and Watson) were very pleasing, but it occurred to me as I left the Vue that The Hobbit was the movie equivalent of Nando’s: enjoyable upmarket junk with a lovingly detailed but contrived ‘authenticity’. Mind you, that analogy probably occurred to me because Nando’s is exactly where I went next, for an early tea. And like the cinema, you can just about get away with going there by yourself. ‘Table for one, please!’
With a bop and a bip and a bip and a bop, a wardrobe with three little owls on the top.
So begins Three Little Owls by Emanuele Luzatti, a current favourite book of E, and I’m sure you’ll agree that as an opening line it knocks ‘Call me Ishmael’ into a cocked hat.
My fellow editor Gaw sends me this article about Schopenhauer’s views on writing for money. The commentary rightly critiques the Buzzfeed traffic-grabbing style of so much web guff, but it is also interesting to read Schopenhauer’s thoughts in the light of the Nick ‘I only write for money’ Cohen ding-dong of the last Dabbler Diary:
There are, first of all, two kinds of authors: those who write for the subject’s sake, and those who write for writing’s sake. The first kind have had thoughts or experiences which seem to them worth communicating, while the second kind need money and consequently write for money. They think in order to write, and they may be recognized by their spinning out their thoughts to the greatest possible length, and also by the way they work out their thoughts, which are half-true, perverse, forced, and vacillating…
The author is cheating the reader as soon as he writes for the sake of filling up paper; because his pretext for writing is that he has something to impart. Writing for money [is], at bottom, the ruin of literature. It is only the man who writes absolutely for the sake of the subject that writes anything worth writing…. It seems as if money lay under a curse, for every author deteriorates directly [whenever] he writes in any way for the sake of money. The best works of great men all come from the time when they had to write either for nothing or for very little pay.
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‘I’m bringing sexy back, yeah!’ boasted Justin Timberlake in his hit song Sexyback, this inevitably popping into my head when into The Dabbler’s Twitter timeline popped a picture of 1950s pin-up Vikki ‘The Back’ Dougan, famed for… well, her sexy back. Google yields a host of shots of her showing it off. Such saucy people, those mid-twentieth century Americans, yet so discerning. Not for them the limited bodypart preoccupations of today: in those days a man could feast his eyes on such a person as Ms Dougan – apparently the model for Jessica Rabbit - and pick out the specific erotic appeal of her back. ‘I’ve always been a spine man,’ one lounge lizard might drawl to his buddy, as Vicky makes her showstopping entrance into the nightclub, backwards. ‘Guess I’m more of a kneecap kinda guy,’ comes the cool reply. These are real men, Everything Men, know how to appreciate the female form in all its aspects. ‘Show us yer shoulderblades!’ some rube might yell from near the cloakroom, before being rightly given the bum’s rush by Italianate bouncers.
A culturo-historical study of sexy backs, encompassing The Rokeby Venus, Ary Scheffer’s Francesca da Rimini, Degas’ After the Bath, and of course Vikki Dougan, surely waits to be written. The Erotic Review would lap it up.
San Miguel de Gove has been lately vindicated on academies (you probably missed that, the BBC whispered it here), but now finds himself roundly traduced for criticizing the ‘Blackadder’ version of World War I as universally taught in British schools. They even wheeled out Baldrick to have a pop. Gove is hated for being the boy who points out that the Emperor isn’t wearing any clothes. Also for his specs and for his weird mouth which when he’s talking or even listening seems to alternate between S- and O-shapes, as if he is send coded distress signals. Yet I examine my own education and find that Gove’s aim is once again alarmingly accurate. Everything I was taught at school about the Great War came from the War Poets and, yes, we were indeed shown episodes of Blackadder Goes Forth in class. First rate poets, excellent sitcom, of course, but it was never hinted that there was more to the story than a bunch of upper class General Melchett-types callously sending ignorant men to their slaughter for no good cause. It would be tempting to conclude that we live in a sort of reverse North Korea, where British history is rewritten to show how beastly we are, but World War II education is much more positive (one came out of school with the general impression that we decided to fight Hitler in order to liberate Auschwitz, which, of course, we didn’t).
On Thursdays C has started an after-school club called ‘Fun and Famous Art’. I gather the general idea is that as well as painting their own pictures they will learn about famous artworks. So when C came home with her drawing of Mickey Mouse I was a little underwhelmed but thought, oh well, they’re breaking them in gently. ‘So did you learn who it was that drew Mickey Mouse?’ I asked. ‘Yes,’ said C. ‘Was he called Walt Disney?’ ‘No.’ ‘Yes, yes he was. Walt Disney…’
‘No, Daddy,’ said C kindly, ‘he was called Andy Warhol.’
For virtually the whole of my life I have played football at least once a week, with the consequence that most of my muscle mass is in my calves. And the consequence of that is that the current trend for skinny-legged trousers is a personal disaster. It’s not just that the shops are full of skinny-legged trousers, it’s that they only stock skinny-legged trousers. When trying on a pair in the changing rooms I literally cannot pull them over my legs, even when the waist is plentiful. In fact, since waistlines are not generally shrinking but growing, I can only conclude that the sedentary 2014 lifestyle means that even as the British male’s stomach grows rounder his leg muscles are wasting away, and the country must be full of fatties tottering around on absurd narrow pins like so many Foghorn Leghorns.
Needing some new jeans, therefore, I decided to skip the tedium of trying new brands and go straight for something reliable and timeless, so I made a beeline for House of Fraser, grabbed a pair of Levi 501s and marched confidently to the changing room, where, a few minutes later, I could be found almost weeping with rage and frustration as the denim resolutely refused to squeeze past my shins. ‘Et tu, Levi?’ I cried, and, dressing furiously, did what I should have done in the first place, which was go to TK Maxx. Amongst the crowded rails of that glorified jumble sale I found some candidates, including, funnily enough, a pair of Levi 501s. And do you know, of all the ones I tried they were the only perfect fit? Not just that, but at £35 they were a full forty quid cheaper than House of Fraser’s skin-hugging imposters. Imagine my smugness as I queued to pay.
I wore the new jeans on Friday, and at lunchtime took a walk up the hill in them. It was a cold afternoon with a glum slate sky, although far across the fields a curtain of sunlight was draped over distant Somerset. Very comfy these jeans, I thought, right pleased, but at the top of the hill the wind picked up, and all of a sudden I felt an ominous chill down where it was least wanted. Reaching below, I felt the awful truth: the discount Levis were afflicted with a dodgy descending zipper. The wind sighed in the trees. Nasty, twisted trees with trunks like tortured spines. All broken, deformed backs. Vikki Dougan is long dead and the worms have eaten their fill. One winter on this lane I came across a dead wolf, splayed and rotting in the sludge. Closer inspection revealed it to be in fact the greyed corpse of a deer, struck by some vehicle, churned up by scavengers, innards splattered about like orcflesh. Ashes and dust. Bloody TK Maxx. As I turned to go back down the hill the air was ripped open by the unspeakable howl of a warplane on exercises, which came straight over my head and down into the valley, heading for Somerset like Smaug bringing death to Laketown. Down, down, heading to blot out the last of the light, beating its wings, flying low.