Monday, January 28, 2013

Saying sorry means being able to do it again

It starts in the morning with the automated announcer at the train station: 'We are sorry to announce the 8:45 train from Windsor and Eton Riverside will be five minutes late. We are sorry for the delay this will cause to your journey.' Followed a minute later by: 'We are sorry to announce the 8:45 train from Windsor and Eton Riverside will be seven minutes late. We are sorry for the delay this will cause to your journey.' The voice just doesn't sound sorry. At all.

When I was a boy I was always taught saying sorry meant never doing it again. Now it means the exact opposite – do whatever you like, apologise afterwards, then do it again, if you want (and apologise again). As both the BBC and The Daily Mail have recently pointed out, since Elton John sang Sorry Seems to be the Hardest Word in 1976, sorry nowadays seems to be the easiest word. (Word meanings are so relative: you can literally see my post about the word literally right here.)

Everyone's at it, not just automated train announcers. Recent celebrities, politicians (who, from Nixon to Clinton and onwards, have a fine linage of saying sorry) and sports personalities apologising include Justin Bieber, John Galliano, Charlie Sheen, Mel Gibson, Tiger Woods, Kristen Stewart, Arnold Schwarzenegger, Gary Lineker, John Terry, Steve Bruce, Liam Fox, Bryan Ferry, Ryan Bertrand and of course, Lance Armstrong.

Having to apologise can of course be for a multitude of sins, including lying, cheating, stealing, beating your partner or having an affair, but the biggest sin seems to be being found out. Without the getting caught, the apology wouldn't be needed.

A (usually forced) apology at a hastily arranged press conference or celeb magazine interview will more than do the job but many celebrities use social media such as Twitter and Facebook, where an insincere apology can be expressed in a matter of seconds. Apologies are so frequent in the media nowadays as to become meaningless. A recent study showed that the public only forgives celebrities and politicians their indiscretions if they say sorry with sincerity and without being forced to (actually doing the wrong deed in the first place didn't seem to prove a problem; we all make mistakes I guess).

But forced or not forced apologies, I don't know, people just seem to lack the courage of their convictions nowadays. Ok, you beat your wife/had an affair with a maid/made a racist remark/embezzled billions. You did it cos you wanted to, idiot. You may as well be proud of it. Get a backbone.

Wednesday, January 23, 2013

Phone numbers of the dead

I've been trying to clear out some of my old phone contacts – friends and workmates who I haven't called in years, people I don't like, and people who have died. In the end, I didn't delete any. Partly (mostly) because my list of contacts would dwindle and look less than impressive, but also because I think of my contact list as a kind of autobiography and actually like to be reminded of people from the past whilst scrolling through my phone numbers. With regards to dead friends and relatives, I don't know, I can't delete them. Not that there's a huge amount of dead numbers, maybe three or four, but even so, I get a slight shock every time I scroll past their numbers, as if suddenly realising I can no longer phone them and remember they're no longer with us. Ah, that's the key word: I remember them.

Tuesday, January 22, 2013

Name that name

People's names are pretty important. It's how we identify people, even though thousands of people have the same one, which is perhaps why there's been a disturbing recent trend of naming babies with a common name but with a slightly different spelling, such as Caryn (instead of Karen) or Bayli (instead of Bailey) or Giorja (instead of Georgia). Wouldn't it be easier if our names were all numbers? This way we'd all be unique and each name could represent the world's population at that second – though admittedly the name 7,092,903,482 doesn't have the same ring as Sophia or Isabella (last year's top two most popular girls names), but is perhaps better than Madison (#9 most popular).

Anyway, names are important but relative. Say I have a best friend called Michael (not real name) who I've known all my life. Whenever I hear the name Michael I think of him. But then we grow apart, and say I start work with a different Michael and start hearing his name all the time. I may not even like him that much. But still, my idea of Michael changes and now when I hear the name Michael I think of my workmate. But it's not just with common names. It happened recently with two people with pretty unusual names: Axel (not real name). I had always thought of Axel when I heard the name Axel, until I started working with another Axel, and now I think of him when I hear the name. At least he's nice, but none the less, it always feels like a betrayal of the old Axel, or the old Michael. Everything's just so goddamn transient.

Previously on Barnflakes:
Rebekah Brooks resigns over her name

Monday, January 21, 2013

Baths vs showers

The idea of total immersion in a bath is an attractive proposition during these cold days, so I've taken to having the odd one. It feels like such an indulgence, I love it. I remember the days, years ago now, when my bathing ritual (and it is a ritual) used to involve lots of bubble bath, lighting numerous candles, having a book and music playing, a G&T and cigarettes on the side of the bath. This proved annoying for housemates when I had four of them and only one bathroom; I liked to spend over an hour in the tub.

But the bath has fallen from favour and been replaced in popularity by the shower. Who has time for such an indulgence as a bath nowadays? The shower is symptomatic of modern life: quick, practical and efficient (it uses less water than a bath). The bath is a quaint anachronism, something to take ones time over, to lie down, reflect, indulge, a retreat from the outside world. Yet it has powerful ritual and religious significance; babies in the womb are surrounded by liquid; once born, babies and children are always bathed not showered. In Christianity, the baptism is a rite of admission.

The bath vs shower debate (which is non existent, I realise) reminds me of the coffee vs tea debate. Coffee, like the shower, appeals to people on the go, whereas tea has a more ritualistic, quaint, old-fashioned aura to it (like a bath). However, as no doubt I've mentioned before, coffee actually takes longer to make than tea, and the huge cup sizes in the like of Starbucks take about an hour to finish (and tend to give me an upset stomach). In sexual terms, the shower is the equivalent of a quick screw; the bath is like long, sensual love-making. Remember the Flake bath advert from the early 1990s (pic above)?

The public bath, most popular during ancient Greek and Roman times as well as during the Ottoman Empire, was the inspiration for the Islamic hammams, which translates as 'spreader of warmth'. The bath took on religious significance, with cleanliness being next to godliness (a phrase not actually found in the Bible). But also the hammam was – and still is – a place to socialise. Men and women have separate hammams, naturally, and especially for women in strict Islamic countries, perhaps, it remains one of the few places for them to gossip without men around. So important was this for women that a husband not allowing his wife to visit a hammam was grounds for divorce.

But over time the public bath became a private, individual bath. In recent times, this has been a common general trend in society, mainly due to technology. Once communal events such as music, performance and film have become individual, even anti-social (even, or despite, the rise of social media), and we immerse ourselves in our inner world with our laptops, smartphones, iPods and iPads, where we listen to music, watch film and TV, read books and newspapers, and supposedly communicate, somehow thinking we are being more social and more informed by glaring and typing into a small, electronic device.

Sunday, January 20, 2013

RIP Nagisha Oshima, 1932-2013

Nothing that is expressed is obscene. What is obscene is what is hidden.
– Nagisha Oshima

At work on Friday we were talking about Oshima's most famous, or rather infamous film, 1976's Ai No Corrida (no, we don't just talk football and sex, though the film, translated as In the Realm of the Senses, contains plenty of the latter). I first saw the film with my brother in a double bill with Woman of the Dunes in the old Everyman Cinema in Hampstead. I was about 18 years old, my brother only 14. We had no idea what to expect (we went there mainly for Woman of the Dunes); certainly not a relentlessly sexually explicit exploration of obsession which makes Bertolucci's Last Tango in Paris (1972) look like a CBBC production. We emerged from the cinema speechless, mortified and quite possibly blushing profusely. (I was about the say it remains the only time I've seen hardcore pornography (cunningly disguised as art) in a public cinema but then I remembered seeing Thundercrack (nowhere near art), equally sexually relenting, though at least it has some jokes.)

The Japanese director Nagisa Oshima died last week on 15 January, aged 80, in a career spanning fifty years which included films and TV documentaries. His early films exposed the conservatism of Japanese society and politics in which he borrowed stylistic innovations from the French New Wave to suggest the sweeping away of the old order. But it was In the Realm of the Senses which immediately caused worldwide controversy, featuring unsimulated sex, strangulation and castration (sorry for the spoiler). 1978's Empire of Passion was a less explicit Ai No Corrida, and won the best director prize at Cannes. Oshima's most commercial hit and his first in English, Merry Christmas, Mr Lawrence (1983), was set in a Japanese prison camp and featured David Bowie and Tom Conti. Oshima's most bizarre and Bunuelian film (notably featuring several Bunuel collaborators) was the 1986 Max, Mon Amour starring Charlotte Rampling and her lover, a chimpanzee (the DVD states it's 'the greatest ape romance since King Kong', obviously not having seen Thundercrack).

In his last years Oshima worked as a translator, translating into Japanese books including John Gray's hugely popular Men are from Mars, Women are from Venus. A suitable coda to Ai No Corrida, perhaps.