It’s been a long time coming…

Just over a month ago, I turned 30. I’d been watching it creep up for a while; looming ever nearer, whispering sneaky little comments about being too old, too late, too lost. The mere mention of it made me hyperventilate. You’d think by now I’d be used to getting a year older every, well, year, but each time I end up feeling like a tally has been rubbed off the chalkboard rather than added on, counting down the useful time I have left. That said, I never really felt different, exactly. Just more of the same.

When I was younger (by which I mean, when I was young enough to not have much occupy m y mind and all the time in the world before me) I had a notion that 30 was a grown up age. By the time you are 30 there are a good deal of things that should have been achieved. According to whom I’m not entirely sure, but I always felt quite convinced that grown ups meet certain criteria and grown up starts at 30. So when I woke up, never to be a twenty-something again, I definitely felt different. There’s nowhere to hide with 30. University is a distant memory (in most cases) and career paths generally well forged. I looked at the ceiling and thought to myself, as I’m sure many have before me and many will in the years to come: what have I done with my life?

At first, the overwhelming answer was: Nothing. Nothing at all. But that can’t be true, can it? Have I really spent 30 years achieving nothing? Surely not. Once I got a grip of myself, I reconsidered. It doesn’t necessarily match up with the checklist of adult musts I, almost instinctively, held on to for so long but I can claim a none-too-shabby list. When I was born, I couldn’t do anything. Now, just 30 short years later, I can walk (and rarely fall over), talk (both coherently and nonsense), read and write, tie my laces and boil an egg. I’m fairly sure that there would have been women my age just 100 years ago who couldn’t have done all that. I successfully navigated 16 years of education, held down jobs I hated without getting fired (or starting fires), moved house 8 times, taught myself guitar, went out with people, broke up with people, made friends and (I’m surprisingly proud to say) enemies. I’ve hurt so deeply I thought I’d never breathe again but I’ve loved and been loved too. I’ve been to three continents. I can programme a VCR (which, come to think of it, is something not a lot of adults can do) and use a mac and a pc. I even got married, although that one only just scrapes in under the wire.

In short, it occurred to me, I’ve been living. For 30 years. It’s quite a feat, whichever way you look at it. A lot of people don’t make it that far. Realising this leaves me with a different, different feeling. If I can manage this much, from scratch, in just 30 years (less time than the gap between man first reaching the north pole and man reaching the moon) what can I manage in another 30? I can’t wait to find out.

Drink and the devil had done for the rest…

Last night I started to watch the Sky 1 adaptation of Robert Louis Stevenson’s ‘Treasure Island’.  I say ‘started’ because I didn’t even make it to the end of the first show before I had to turn it off.  Now, I never turn things off.  I never walk out of the cinema.  I’ve sat through some atrocious movies, but this time it was different.  I turned off ‘Treasure Island’ because it wasn’t ‘Treasure Island’.

It seems fairly obvious that it’s not easy adapting a pre-existing work for the screen.  For a start, the unabridged audiobook of the novel is over 7 hours long.  Something clearly has to go. A lot of the meat of the story is contained within the narration, the descriptive text. When we read, we create the pictures for ourselves, but when we watch the production company has done a lot of the work for us.  So, this should cut down a chunk of the time taken to tell the story.  Sometimes, I imagine, it is necessary to chop the dialogue around in order that it makes sense in its new context, sometimes side stories need to be lost to make room for the main thread.  All of this I understand, accept and would happily watch.

But.

The Sky 1 adaptation of a classic work of children’s literature, a work that frequents best children’s book lists, changed the story. My issue with this is that I don’t understand why.

For a start, the book is aimed at children and anyone who’s read it can tell you that, even though it was published in 1883, it isn’t hard to follow. We follow young Jim Hawkins as he embarks upon the adventure of a lifetime in search of pirate gold and with him we met the morally ambiguous ship’s cook, Long John Silver.  As the tale unfolds we, along with Jim, gradually develop a sense of unease around ol’ Barbecue; we learn together, we are betrayed together and herein lies the mastery of Stevenson as a storyteller as his characters grow and reveal their depths.  As an audience (and remember this novel was aimed squarely at children) we are capable of following the ups and downs, the twists and turns, the deceptions, the motivations and the reveals.  In the end, it’s a simple story about pirates – pirates who want (as we know from all pirates) their treasure.

What I saw in the adaptation was a disregard for the intelligence of the viewer.  One of the best things about the novel is our first meeting with Long John – we don’t know him then; who he is, where he’s come from, what’s he wants and what he’s capable of.  Sky seemed to think that we needed a prologue, which (and I appreciate that 99% of the population are probably aware that Long John’s not a nice guy) ruined the character.  He’s a pirate. A devious, underhanded, cruel and manipulative pirate who wants the treasure Captain Flint owed him.  His plan is carefully laid and brilliantly disguised.  Sky spelled out every motivation and in presenting Silver so quickly lost the essence of the character.  This, of course, is not to take away from Eddie Izzard’s performance – the man was made to play a pirate – but it left me feeling that if this was someone’s first experience of Treasure Island they had been denied the brilliant nuances of the classic.  Silver is not the only character to be tampered with, either.  The brave, forthright, gentleman Doctor Livesey is portrayed as weak and bumbling; the overenthusiastic Squire Trelawney’s role apparently being exchanged with the Doctor.

Here we come to the crux of my disappointment. I don’t understand why these changes needed to be made.  Nothing is gained by reversing the characters of the Doctor and Squire, nothing gained by force-feeding a back story for the pirates down the throats of the viewers, nothing gained by parading Silver in front of us as a caricature of himself and inventing scenes at the Admiral Benbow and with his wife (as if he’s not in it enough!).  The novel is a classic for a reason.  It has remained a classic for over 100 years because it’s well crafted and well told, so why does it need to be over adapted?  Is it because the writers don’t think the audience can work out that pirates are bad guys?  Are the viewers incapable of understanding a (let’s face it, not desperately complex) character?  Do we now find that pure greed is not a powerful enough motivator?  And, even if this is the case, do they not believe the work stands up for itself?  Surely, a novel does not count itself as one of the greatest stories, most recorded and dramatised of all time and the origin of our idea of pirates without doing something right?

Treasure Island is not alone in being a great work, not good enough.  The Lord of the Rings movies managed to throw in an entirely fictionalised sequence with the elven Arwen, for what can only be described as ‘no reason whatsoever’ and it appears an character in The Hobbit has been invented specifically for the movie.  I wish I knew why these ‘adaptations’ have to be crowbarred in when translating beloved classics for the screen.  I wish I knew why they aren’t good enough as they are.  I wish I knew why the writers, directors and producers aren’t able to work with what’s there and why we aren’t doing more to protect our literary heritage.  I wish I knew what is so wrong with staying true to the work of another person.  If it’s not good enough or it doesn’t work for the screen don’t do it.  Write something else.  If it is good enough, let it be good enough.  In a period of our history where creativity seems to be dying (last year, according to the BBC, there were 28 sequels released, not to mention the ever increasing list of remakes, prequels and reboots) If you want to make a show that’s like Treasure Island, but isn’t Treasure Island, write it.  If you want to make Treasure Island, make it.

Perhaps it’s our fault as the audience.  Perhaps we have grown lazy, we don’t want to think about why the character is acting as he is, we want to be told.  More than that, perhaps we want characters we already know, story lines we’re already familiar with.  Perhaps we don’t want to imagine, we want to be shown.  Perhaps we’re so overstimulated that we crave the familiar and the exposition and someone to do the work for us.

Perhaps Treasure Island just wasn’t good enough for the team from Sky.  I wish I knew why.

— “‘Sir,’ said Captain Smollett, ‘with no intention to take offence, I deny your right to put words into my mouth.’” (Robert Louis Stevenson, Treasure Island)

Read and the world reads with you

Aside

I went to the library today.  I’m ashamed to say I can’t believe how long it’s been since I was last there, but I shall certainly be back.

The building is light, words buzz just out of hearing.  People study the shelves with interest, confusion, excitement.  Fingers reach, hesitate, reach again.  Covers are scrutinised, sleeves skimmed, first pages begun.

Suddenly, a memory floods back to me.  Mum is producing the book bag when I get home from school.  She’s been to the library.  She’s chosen books for me.  At this moment, anything is possible.  I could be a princess, a pirate, a hero, a villain.  I could learn, explore, discover, I could laugh, cry, grow.  With each book comes a wealth of words, experiences, challenges and joys and book by book the possibilities wind around each other, freeing my mind and opening doors I didn’t even know where closed.  Long after the book returns to the shelf the stories stay with me.  There’s a bond between me and everyone else who’s read this book now, especially those who held this exact copy.  We’ve been on this adventure together, we’ve held our breath, clutched the pages so they wrinkle, become so engrossed we’ve accidentally squashed the remains of a chocolate biscuit between the pages.  We’ve held it under the covers and tuned out the world around us, we’ve saved the world together and we’ve never even met.

The library welcomes us all.  It doesn’t care if we are rich or poor, it doesn’t judge us and it doesn’t want anything from us but our presence.  The library will teach us, comfort us, entertain us and guide us.  We can experiment and ask, share and engage.  We can download a book, sing with our children and meet with our heroes.  And all for free.  Like the books themselves, I think that’s worth holding on to.

You’ve got to know where you’ve come from…

It’s been a bit of a mad house ’round here lately.  Perhaps it would be more accurate to say ‘mad houses’…

There was a setback a month or so ago with the loss of a beautiful, furry little friend.  She was a very old rat and, after hanging on in there for a good month longer than her sister, she finally let go.  My heart was broken.  For now it’s tacked back together, with tiny paw-prints etched on it forever.

Since then, moving has begun in earnest.  It hasn’t been easy.  Shipping a life in different directions takes a certain amount of attitude adjustment; what do I physically need? what can be easily replaced? what can’t I live without?  Each object is considered in turn – from the pots and pans in the cupboard to Jeremy Bear, who, if he were a person, would be drawing his pension.

Unpacking at the in-laws poses challenges of its own.  It’s not easy to fit a two-bed house into one room and two attics.  Things are going to stay in boxes for a while, which may help when it comes to shipping them to the USA.  Of course, it may not and there could come a time when the contents are strewn across the floor as further decisions are made about their future.

At the same time, wedding preparations have continued at a fair pace.  Checklists are being checked off, purchases are being made, threats are being made and sanity is being questioned.  According to The Boy, ‘it’ll all be fine’.

The dates draw nearer, decision making scenarios are more frequent and conclusions are reached with by bouncing back and forth between brash confidence and resigned uncertainty, with minds being changed at least once a day.

It’s reassuring to know, then, that in all of the madness, one decision has been made and the answer is certain: Jeremy is coming with me.

Shall we dance?

When I was at school I dreamt of throwing those awesome house parties you see in movies.  Parents out for the night, open house, let’s break the lock off the drinks cabinet and have some fun, right?  It never quite happened.  Sure, there were evenings when the ‘rents would clear out (with full disclosure, of course) and I’d dutifully await the throng of teens eager to get this party started.  It’s not like nobody ever came, but it’s definitely like not everybody came.  My big moment never quite materialised.  I was never the hostess with the mostest.  It turns out I’m a better guest than a host.  But now I’m getting married.  Suddenly, the true significance of what I’m about to do has dawned; getting married means I’m throwing a huge party.  A party people are obligated to come to.  And will expect not to suck.

The ceremony is easy, given that it’s pretty much taken care of in its entirety by the registrar and the venue.  Sit guests in room, play music, walk in, ‘ooo’ ‘ahhh’, I do, he does, done.  But what do you do next?  Photos, apparently, which should take some time.  A few drinks, some milling about and congratulating one another.  Then what?  The wedding breakfast will certainly kill some time and if you throw in the speeches, you should have secured everyone’s attention for a good few hours by this point.  And then it’s on to the reception proper, which begs the question: what makes good wedding entertainment?

One thing is certain.  When at a wedding, people like to dance.  There aren’t many opportunities in life for a good old shindig where the assembled masses can shake their thing from dusk ’til dawn.  There’s a snag here, though.  Our guestlist ranges from 7 – 70.  Unlike my imagined house parties there’s no predetermined style – the kids might be happy dancing to Hannah Montana, but I doubt the grownups will.  Likewise, there are some grownups who would be content with nothing but The Rolling Stones, others who love a good old seventies disco, those whose loyalties lie with Lady Gaga and even one who can regularly be found spinning for the Dubstep scene.  Whatever that is.  Apparently you can’t please all of the people all of the time.

I pondered this thorny issue for not very long at all before settling on at least one definite: there will not be a DJ.  The thought of ‘Oh What A Night’ and ‘Dancing Queen’ being inflicted on the eardrums of my nearest and dearest fills me with dread.  As does the prospect of the dancefloor being hijacked by an over-zealous Alan Partridge wannabe armed with a microphone and a copy of ‘Love Shack’.  Factoring in the eclectic range of musical tastes making an appearance leaves the horrifying thought that each person might only end up hearing two songs they like and covering their battered ears for the rest.  I’m probably overreacting, but this kind of uncertainty very nearly brings me out in hives.

We’re left with a choice: live entertainment or DIY.  DIY has its own raft of issues, ranging from sound system to playlist and while I’m happy to spend time creating a set for, say, a car journey I think the stress of creating a smooth, flowing playlist for 3 hours of wedding reception might do me in.  So it looks like the decision is made by default.  It’s got to be live entertainment.

I’m not suggesting this doesn’t come with its own back catalogue of difficulties.  Not by a long shot.  First, we need to narrow down the genre.  A Kings of Leon wannabe act isn’t going to cut it (too high school), nor is a harpist (too pretentious).  Guests need to be able to dance to it, recognise it and also leave it in the background while sitting in the bar.  The Boy came through with words of wisdom.  “It’s our wedding,” he said.  “Let’s have what we like.” What do we like?  A whole range of things, but for this I think we like something that crosses generations, has a broad spectrum of sounds and tempos and that people can dance to.  A jazz band it is.  Hours were spent trawling through the not insignificant number of duos, trios and quartets available for hire.  Too slow.  Too obscure.  Don’t like the vocalist’s sound.  Too expensive.  Sounds like a cheap hotel bar.  The list of ‘no’s goes on and on.

Eventually we settled on a trio with a vocalist, piano/guitar and double bass.  Will people dance? I’m hopeful.

Here we go…

I’m Q.  Not the all-powerful Star Trek favourite; the 29 year old living in Kent.  In six months, I’ll be married, living in San Francisco and turning 30.  I’m not sure which one freaks me out more.

This is the story of how I get there.

I guess I should start with the story of how I got here…

I was born on a winters day in…. nah, I’m kidding.  Most of that is irrelevant.  Needless to say I grew up in a very loving home with a wonderful family who managed not to mess me up too badly, which is all we can really hope for in a childhood.  I went to a school I actually liked and made some fantastic friends worthy of keeping forever.  I did a degree in the cold, rainy north of England where I developed a tolerance for bad weather and a love of good beer.  While I was there I met a boy, affectionately known as The Boy by the friends, who turned out to be a keeper.  We got engaged within the first few months of being together and then successfully managed to stave off the mental and financial nightmare that is getting married for 8 years.  Until now.

Two months ago The Boy was given the opportunity to relocate to the San Francisco office of his company.  It would have been insane to turn it down, even though this was one week before we were due to exchange contracts on a house and would have to get married if we both wanted to go (we did).  Still, an unmissable opportunity is an unmissable opportunity so we said yes.  Yes to pulling out of the house purchase, yes to getting married within six months and yes to uprooting our lives and moving 6,000 miles away.

Here’s hoping that sometimes the maddest ideas are the best ones!