No, not the kind of culture I should be enjoying. No museums, galleries or cathedrals here. Not the stuff that’s right in front of me and that I’ll probably not have a chance to see again. Nope not that.
Instead, here’s a list of what I’ve been reading, listening to or watching with the hours of free time I have every week while you are working! I won’t bother listing podcasts, because there are too many, although they make up the bulk of my entertainment on the bike. This is basically me venting. Probably 50% of my UK-based conversation revolves around this kind of stuff, but it doesn’t really come up organically in conversation with random foreigners.
Under the Skin, Michael Faber – the film takes only the barest principles of the book, which was probably for the best.
Wool, Hugh Howey – apparently a ‘self-publishing sensation’ but I tried twice and only got about a hundred pages in before I got bored. So, so long-winded. Reminds me of my own crappy writing.
Saturday, Ian McEwan – solid, good characterisation. Refreshing and enjoyable after Wool, but felt like a well-trodden path, thematically.
Remains of the Day, Kazuo Ishiguro – lovely prose and characterisation but I think I missed the point.
The Kite Runner, Khaled Hosseini – I got a bit bored halfway through, and the style annoyed me. First few pages were very welcome when I didn’t have toilet roll at the Lisbon botanical gardens though.
Better Call Saul Season 2, Authorship debatable – well, I really enjoyed the first 8 episodes but now I’m in Spain I can’t watch the last couple. Maybe Netflix will let me when I get to France. Much better (more focused, more dramatic, more compelling) than the first season I thought and I think the characters are s0 strongly written and performed.
Gosford Park, RobertAltman/Julian Fellowes – I liked this the first time round and it was even better in a rainy campsite with unexpected wi-fi. Stephen Fry upstages a hitherto incredible cast and I didn’t even know that bandstands were used for sweet mid-hunt buffet lunches. Makes me want to go hunting. And lunching. In the 30s, or whenever… And be an aristocrat.
Best of Enemies, Robert Gordon/Morgan Neville – I’m glad they got Kelsey Grammar to voice Buckley because it made the character even more Simpsonian. I love how restrained and mannered their evident rage is, and how self-tortured Buckley became for what is a pretty tame outburst (TV cameras and huge reputation-damage notwithstanding). Vidal’s poetic preening poshness is awesome and Buckley’s weird tics make it seem like he is really a Republican T-1000 trying to escape a fleshly host.
Look Who’s Back, David Wnendt – (you’ve no idea how many times I had to battle auto-correct to let me write that surname; how the hell are you going to pronounce ‘wn’ at the start of a word?) I’ve heard many nationalities complain that Germans ‘have never really come to terms’ with Hitler, and this high-concept Fuhrer-com goes some way to disproving the sentiment. The lead is really watchable, but about 10 inches too tall. Why did they do that? I’m not sure how many of the set-pieces were Ali G-style covert ad-libs, but a few of them really felt like it. Which is terrifying. Which I guess is the point. But it also makes the valid point that ‘democracy’ is a joke, so all the (presumably real-life) Nazi nut jobs will continue to glug pints of pilsner rather than unify to threaten the status quo. Phew!
The Witch, Robert Eggers – the terrifying trailer nearly put me off, but I’m glad I went to see it. Presumably period-correct dialogue (I don’t know any pioneers to validate it I’m afraid) and grim, drizzly backdrops add to the authenticity. But the too-quick conclusion is almost comedic, which I don’t think was intentional. Ralph Ineson (The Office’s ‘Finch’) is wiry, well-cast and worryingly realistic as a well-meaning but totally whack-job Puritan.
Truth, James Vanderbilt – ’twas alright I suppose. Not much to say except I think journalism is not as rich a dramatic furrow as it was in the 70s. Even if this one is about its own death. Needed higher stakes, like 1000s of Catholic priest nonces in that other journo-thriller that came out a few months ago and had everyone in but which I can’t even muster the energy to Google the name of. And they say this generation has no attention span!
The Propaganda Game, Alvaro Longoria – Spanish North Korea documentary probably only available on Netflix over here. Different to others I’ve seen in that it’s a bit more ‘balanced’ (you’re left with some feint hope that maybe it’s all a Western conspiracy and actually a lot of people over there are doing alright – the rotund Spanish defector certainly is). Pretty current too. I really want to go to North Korea. I wonder if they’d let me do a cycle tour there (with a guide/helper/brainwashed guard/overlord, obvs)?