When a film triggers a memory

Last weekend I went to The Phoenix cinema in East Finchley with Michael to watch Philomena. The Phoenix is one of the UK’s oldest purpose-build, continuously operating cinemas according to its website. The vaulted ceiling dates back to the early 20th century. It’s an amazing venue, and quite the place the Boulevardier should frequent.

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The film itself was wonderful and thought provoking, albeit rather harrowing. Towards the end (and I won’t give plot away) there is a scene with an aged and retired nun. She belligerently defends her actions fifty years previously which materially affected Philomena’s life. Philomena remained calm and said she forgave the nun for her actions.

As we left the theatre my thoughts turned to my school days and as we walked back to our cars I told Michael a story about my first few days at school. Some of the detail had faded with time, and as I was meeting my parents for lunch two days later, I decided to ask Mum what she remembered.

After a morning coffee in the Boulevardier’s lounge my parents and I walked the short distance to The Maynard where we were booked for Sunday lunch. After we had ordered our roast chicken, roast beef and a beef and Guinness pie, I asked Mum what she remembered. I was unable to take a long and dramatic sip of sherry or red wine as I was rather dehydrated following a brilliant Halloween party the previous evening, and had decided to abstain.

‘Of course’ said Mum, ‘as if it happened yesterday.’

When I was three years old and not a London Boulevardier but a country boy, I went to playschool. There was no playschool in the village in which we resided and I had to go to the one in the next village. The first morning passed without incident, but on the second Mum received a call as I was distraught. Playschool was held in a timber annexe known as The Scout Hall on the outskirts of the village and one of the older children came in wearing a scary mask! This had almost traumatised me and it will come as no surprise that I didn’t want to return.  I asked Mum why she didn’t make me go back.

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‘There is no choice on whether or not you go to school but there is a choice with playschool’ Mum reasoned.

School soon came around and I was extremely excited and enthusiastic to go. It was six weeks before my fifth birthday. Mum thought she might have a problem leaving me there, but I was positive, took off my coat and ran to a table and sat down. Mum said I was proud as a peacock to be at school. Flamstead JMI was the only education centre in our small village and it felt massive. Its five classrooms and over one hundred pupils were all new to me and daunting enough on their own without the additional punishing circumstances.

The morning passed and Mum came to collect me for lunch. We lived close enough to the school to take luncheon at home. My mood had drastically changed and I did not want to go back to school for the afternoon. Confused, Mum asked me what had changed and I told her the teacher had smacked me. Mum didn’t believe a word of it as a teacher couldn’t smack a child – or could they? I didn’t settle at school as well in the afternoon as I had in the morning and Mum struggled to get me to stay. It was all rather upsetting.

When Mum returned to the school gates at the appointed afternoon time she encountered one of Dad’s sisters, Auntie Ann, and explained the rather odd events of the day. Auntie Ann said she would ask my cousin Lorraine who was also in my class what had happened.

Lorraine confirmed that Mrs S. had smacked me as I couldn’t hold my pencil properly and had tried to make me write with my right hand rather than my natural and favoured left. I hadn’t yet learned to hold my pencil between my thumb and second and third fingers, but rather held the pencil between all my fingers.

At this Mum went straight round to the classroom and demanded to speak with Mrs S.. She denied administering corporal punishment and held her position regarding changing the hand I wrote with. This was the mid-1970s, not the dark ages, in case anyone was wondering. Mum left the classroom and walked to the Headmaster’s office; he listened and confirmed he’d look into it.

Mum came home uneasy and hoped that all would be sorted. The next lunchtime she asked me which hand I had used to hold my pencil, and I indicated I had to use my right. I of course didn’t say right as I was too young to know the difference but rather showed Mum.

We walked back to school for the afternoon session and Mum went straight to the Headmaster who was apparently still looking into it. Mum wasn’t having any of it and told Mr Ashwood, the Headmaster that she was going to see the GP for a professional opinion.

Mum telephoned Dr Coombes that afternoon and he confirmed that there was no way the school should continue trying to change the hand with which I wrote. He suggested that Mum should notify the school of his opinion and if there were any more problems he would come to the school. Mum relayed the message to Mr Ashwood and I was suddenly allowed to use my left hand again.

Mrs S. was in Mum’s words ‘as sweet as apple pie’ thereafter with no further incidents. Years later when Mum would bump into her she would always ask after me. Mum would always give a curt ‘He’s fine’ response.   

I can remember being smacked across the left hand, which knocked the pencil from my hand, and being aggressively criticised for using the wrong hand, holding the pencil incorrectly and not being able to write my name. My memories are in flashes and evoke somewhat unsettling emotions of panic and despair.

I thought we went to school to learn?

I can also remember being told that I was far too naughty to go out to play in the afternoon with the rest of the children and being made to sit on a chair outside the staffroom as Mrs S. watched me. I was terrified and so upset. I can remember being really excited about growing up and being old enough to attend school, and things unravelling and going so wrong so quickly and it was all too much. I made a dash for it but S. caught me before I could get out of the building and make the short run home. She smacked me again and chastised me for being so disobedient

Years later when I was in my late teens this incident used to haunt me and I wanted to go and speak to the teacher, dominate her, and see how she felt. I decided not to and I am glad I didn’t.

We finished our lunch. Mum was too full for dessert, aside from a spoonful of my sticky toffee pudding. Dad had some bread and butter pudding. We chatted more about old memories and I connected on Facebook to one of Mum’s cousins whose new address she didn’t have. It was a lovely afternoon. I always enjoy my parent’s visits to Crouch End.

Did Mrs S. ever look back and realise she had acted so wrongly? I have no idea. However, at least there weren’t any long-lasting or adverse consequences, and I really enjoyed school. In fact, aside from the first few days, I would go back and do it all again at the drop of a hat.

The consequences on Philomena were substantially more severe and in fact incomparable. It’s really amazing sometimes how a really old and rarely thought of memory is triggered. As I reflected I am glad I didn’t confront my teacher, and like Philomena, maintained my dignity.

TNW

Here come the Fash Pack

The Boulevardier is displaced. This sometimes results in attempts to navigate the unfamiliar waters of advancing years while trying to retain cool, trend and panache. The days of uber fashionable parties filled with the fash pack of London were behind me. Or so I thought.

I rather fortuitously landed an invite to a rather fashionable magazine party in East London several weeks ago. I was pleased to see that my networking with media types still had bite when it was required.

First and most major consideration was what to wear. Leatherette jeans would have been perfect. However, they were snug when purchased, and with too much fine dining of late, the snug has developed into too tight. A trip to Brent Cross was required. I had ideas.

I wanted to achieve a hybrid of fashion and smart casual. And I am not talking about the boring smart casual of the corporate (non media) world i.e. keep your suit on but whoop-e-doo take your tie off.

I wanted a smart jacket perhaps with a 50s edge which I could couple with dark jeans and T. When combined with the quiff and jewellery I hoped I could pull it off.

I had seen some jackets which were varying shades of blue with a darker velvet(ish) lapel and collar. However, they only came in children’s sizes, well young men’s perhaps. The male body shape changes so much from mid 20s onwards. This idea was thwarted.

Fashion and grown up or bigger than sample sizing can create quite the challenge.

I looked in a number of establishments, but nothing said ‘Statement Jacket’. I finally found a black corduroy blazer with pink visible stitching around the collar and pocket flaps which was indeed unique, in Jeff Banks. Who knew the presenter of The Clothes Show still had ‘it’. I thought the jacket represented a portent for the impending autumn and would contribute nicely to my smart, casual, cool look.

New simple black jeans and an array of potential T shirts were purchased from All Saints and H&M.

Brent Cross has the ability to solve serious problems. It was like Breakfast at Tiffany’s but less glamorous.

Foresight works so well for me, and with the planned outfit on, complimented by blue and silver Prada trainers I set off. As I approached the venue with my good friend Justin it looked like an old man’s pub on a main road north of Hoxton. We double checked the address but it appeared correct. We were expecting a private members club. We strode ahead with confidence, as you do in these circumstances, and the doors opened and presented a wonderful oasis of vogue and elegance.

The ground floor was sumptuous with rich red velvet booths and banquette seating. There were chandeliers at every turn, and an intricately designed pewter ceiling. 90s swing was pumping from the DJ which is ironic as this was the music de jour when I lived in East London. An enormous stuffed taxidermic tiger pounced from the centre of the bar.

A winding Victorian staircase with heavy flock wallpaper led to an enormous lounge with further stuffed creatures in the shape of a massive polar bear and peacock.

We continued our journey upwards and found a flock of tropical stuffed birds perched on a wooden roost on the landing. I have a ridiculous and irrational fear of birds, which was heightened by the peacock a floor down, and dared not look up for fear of running from the building screaming.

We were unfashionably on time. The venue was more or less empty. We had broken the first rule of fashionable parties and not arrived several hours after the start time. Even the hosts didn’t arrive until 45 minutes after us. There was only one thing for it and we sunk into a red velvet booth seat and a quenched our thirst with a few Tanquerays.

The chic of London started to arrive from 9, from the trendy Hoxton/Dalston boys in tight chinos with baseball caps and sockless loafers to the artists, photographers, djs, drag queens and transsexuals, muscle boys in t shirts, fashionista females who only eat once a week draped around designers and even a couple of infamous 1980s party people.

There was no keeping up with this crowd. There were a few of similar age to me who were trying, and squeezed into child sized clothing. Maybe it’s ok to try when surrounded by your own peers, but not when attempting to play this uber stylish fash pack at their own game. Several other slightly more mature gents, of a similar age to me had opted for the jeans, suit jacket and t shirt and we looked cool damn it. We would look unique and original in our own peer circles and here we wished the young would look at us and hope they still had this degree of ‘it’ when they matured.

I headed out into the crowd, networked and made new friends. Even met a fantastic trendsetting and beautiful DJ known for her unique and outrageous fashion. Amy has already made a massive name for her Sink The Pink brand, and incidentally dates someone I knew when I was much younger and lived out in the provinces. He is cutting edge artist now.

I was really starting to believe that it’s distinguished to be a ‘displaced’ Boulevardier. I don’t need to wear clothes three sizes too small to be somewhat ahead of the pack. Those times have passed.

However with displacement came an early call for bed, and at 11.30pm my yawning had increased (been there since 7pm) and I decided to head home. As I exited the venue I rubbed shoulders with another of the moment Drag Queen DJ who just arrived to take to the decks. Unlike many of the young attendees I could afford more than the night bus, flagged down a black Hackney cab and headed back to the warmth and protection of Crouch End knowing that here I am the fashionista and Boulevardier combined.

TNW

You say tom-ate-o and I say tom-art-o

Arguments have long endured between the British and Americans concerning correct class, etiquette pronunciation and tradition.

I certainly held my sword aloft to this debate when I recently hosted a good friend Joe for a couple of weeks. He is American.

I quite happily quoted Downton Abbey, Tea With Mussolini and other worthy and valuable rules books at him when it suited my purpose.

Did not the Dowager Countess profess in Downton Abbey ‘You Americans never understand the importance of tradition.’

I somehow can’t remember Shirley MacLaine’s response.

I have a great greeting card which questions

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Cher was not invited to the picnic in Tea With Mussolini, as according to Maggie Smith, the ‘Americans simply don’t understand picnics’, and was criticised for buying a knickerbocker glory or ‘that American Monstrosity’. Maggie confirmed that ‘they (Americans) can even vulgarise ice cream!’

I love America and have spent significant time there over the years and enjoy immersing in their culture. However, they do get rather antsy when talking about tradition. Great Britain has been great for a long time and had opportunity to develop, enhance and refine tradition. Perhaps our friends from across the pond should look and learn.

Is the difference in language? We seem to speak the same words but in different order and with apparent misspelling (theirs).

From their fannies (our posteriors) to our fags, (their derogatory word for gays) to our vest (their undershirt or wifebeater), to our wifebeater (a slang term for Stella Artois lager). American vests are our waistcoats, and our braces their suspenders, and our suspenders their garter belts.

It’s no wonder conversations are oft difficult. It reminds me of spending afternoons drinking with a group of Glaswegian friends, whose accents grow stronger and they talk faster with each passing drink. After a short time I always hope I am nodding and smiling in the right places.

So I asked Joe for his 5 points of commentary on the differences or challenges he faced while in England. I will try and offer a suitable answer to each.

1)      Air-conditioning: Admittedly, I grew up in the Southern US and always seem to find myself living in places that are warm and muggy, except during the deep freeze of February. So, I like my air-conditioning. Unfortunately, the London Underground and other enclosed public spaces don’t seem to share my love of things cool. It’s about time that England joined the rest of us in the 21st century and condition the air supply. I’m not saying they have to crank the thermostat down to sub-arctic conditions, but a little cool air is refreshing when one is packed into a carriage with 100 other sweaty people. I was there in September, and that was bad enough. I can just imagine what it’s like at the peak of summertime with tourists so thick you can’t swing a dead cat without hitting 50 of them.

Boulevardier: It is rare that air conditioning is necessitated in the United Kingdom. For the few days a year when it would be useful we would rather protect our atmosphere rather than risk contributing to the ozone layer. But fear not Joe, we are always cool. Rest assured that our styling is carefully plucked and arranged to ensure cool at all times.

2)      Ice: Water, water everywhere, and nary a drop frozen. The US traveller will learn very soon to ask for “extra” ice in their drinks. Otherwise, you’ll just get a cube or two. I’m surprised pubs and the like haven’t caught on that there is less liquid poured into a glass that’s full of ice. Less liquid, higher profit margin; it’s simple economics.

Boulevardier: As a frequent visitor to the USA I am overwhelmed with the amount of ice in drinks. I can barely get to the drink sprinkled lightly between the ice cubes. Perhaps this is why Americans are quite quick to involve support organisations such as AA. I mean if you are able to actually get to the drink between the ice you must have a problem.

3)    Language: George Bernard Shaw purportedly said, “England and America are two countries separated by a common language.” Don’t even try to call out an Englishman when he’s made a grammatical gaffe; it’s a battle you will never win, even if you are correct. It is, after all, “their” language. I mean who cares if the major contributors to modern English were the Angles, Jutes, Danes, Norse, Romans, and French? Sadly, the original inhabitants’ Celtic has long been phased out of modern English vocabulary, with only traces of its syntax remaining. However, I digress.

The English know everything there is to know about their language; and other speakers of English from, say, the US (aka speakers of English as a foreign language) will never be able to comprehend the complex nature of the language. Just smile and nod.

Boulevardier: I think you make my argument quite succinctly. Unlike you and your fellow countrymen I do know when to keep quiet.

4) Tipping: Don’t tip in pubs, unless you have food. Round up to tip the cab driver unless he/she assists you with your bags, then it’s a pound per bag. Some restaurants include the tip on the bill, some don’t. Look, either do like the US where everyone sticks their hand out for money regardless of how much or how little service they have provided, irrespective of the quality, OR just do away with tipping all together. Who can remember all the rules for how much to tip because of convoluted tipping customs that would require a dissertation to explain?

Boulevardier: On this point I am happy to agree. Tipping here is confusing. Perhaps we should not have attempted to mimic your ways.

5) Public Transportation: I know I’ve been winging (that’s ‘complaining’ for you non-native speakers) about things I feel would improve England, but I have to say London’s public transport has got it right this time. Convenient, efficient, and for the most part, timely, London’s underground, rail, and bus service is on the mark. I never had to wait more than a few minutes for a train or bus, and it’s fairly simple to navigate. Although a bit pricier than public transport in the US, it’s well worth the little extra cost. I was never more than a few minutes’ walk from a station or stop. I think almost every major city in the US could learn a lesson from London, if they could only get that air-conditioning issue sorted out.

Boulevardier: Agreed. We agree on two of your five points. It was rather lovely when you even knew the times of the W7 bus to and from Crouch End. They come every few minutes so we natives just turn up and ride.

So the war is far from over and Americans may have size, voice and an air of entitlement but it’s no match for our class, style, tradition and age. All in my own humble opinion of course.

TNW