Sunday, February 03, 2013

Train Tales #1*: the nipple-tassled French woman

It's true that the woman is beautiful with long black hair and full red lips. But she's breathless and in a hurry. We're sitting in a train carriage, drunk, opposite the toilet. She stops in front of us and tells us she needs the toilet. There's one behind her, we say, but apparently it's occupied. She pouts and speaks in a French accent. She says she works in a cabaret (did she say in Bristol?) selling nipple tassels. My boon companion gently mocks her and can't work out if her accent is genuine or put-on; she says she only needs the French accent for her job – my companion notes she's still in character so must take her job seriously (she doesn't get the joke; she must be French). I think she says she lives in Brixton. She leaves us to find another toilet and is back minutes later, explaining she can't stay, a man she doesn't trust is looking after her bag. There is much mirth on our carriage once she's left, and debates as to whether her accent was genuine or not. Most think not. My boon companion was on a winning streak; earlier on, a random (drunk) woman (who he quite fancied) on the tube platform had called him 'dashing'. He was dead chuffed; stopped dead in his tracks and said 'thank you very much'. No one's ever called him that before (or since); we put it down to the fact he was pulling a suitcase on wheels and wearing a suit. If I was being honest, I'd say he's not not dashing anyway.

*Don't get your hopes up. There's unlikely to be a #2. It was going to be about a Ray Winstone-type cockney geezer who sits next to a drunk American guy opposite me. The American was enjoying a hamburger but was very drunk and each mouthful resulted in small bits of the burger falling onto his shirt. The cheeky cockney geezer noticed this, found it amusing and would tell the American some food fell on his shirt every time it happened. He wasn't being helpful though, more sarcastic and condescending. The American ignored him mostly, occasionally muttering, 'it's my shirt, it's my shirt' and continuing to eat. This went on for some minutes until a man sitting next to me sided with the American, pretending to be his friend, and told the cockney to leave the American alone. This the cockney found even more amusing. There was also a younger guy who'd got on with the cockney, I don't think they knew each other but were engaging in some banter, trying to suss out where the other lived. Anyway, just as it was getting interesting, I had to get off the train, so it would have been a bit of a non-story really.

Or it could have been about the woman who just brushed another woman's bag as she was sitting down. This resulted in a heated argument and one of the women storming off. Again, not great. Or it could have been about the young woman I saw on Christmas Eve on the tube. She was kneeling on her seat, her back towards the carriage, face against the window, hands over her face, crying, I mean really wailing, almost hysterically. No one looked at her let alone attempted to comfort her. I think of her sometimes, all dressed up she was too, her crying so despairing I've never heard anything like it. I wonder what had happened to her. Someone died, her boyfriend left her? I like these half-finished train stories, really, a slight, sometimes mysterious, glimpse into a stranger's life; events and dramas unfolding on public transport. Life is a cabaret, occasionally.

Saturday, February 02, 2013

RIP Stefan 'Nagra' Kudelski, 1929-2013

Bit of a late one this, but I've just found out Stefan Kudelski, the man who invented the Nagra series of audio recorders, died last Saturday aged 83. The Polish Kudelski invented the portable reel-to-reel recording machine whilst studying engineering at a Swiss university in 1951. Nagra is Polish for "will record". It was the Nagra III (above), created in 1958, which revolutionised audio film recording at the same time film cameras were becoming cheaper and more lightweight with the development of 16mm film. This combination was seized upon by French New Wave auteurs such as Godard and Truffaut and documentary filmmakers including DA Pennebaker, who used the Nagra in his classic Dylan documentary Dont Look Back.

The Nagra became obsolete in the 1990s with the introduction of DAT tapes followed by digital recording. I used a Nagra at film school in the first year but by the second year we'd got a few DAT recorders, which were admittedly a lot easier to use. Needless to say, Nagras are now highly collectible, a quick look on eBay reveals several selling for hundreds of pounds. Even if they do look a bit like a tank, they are beautiful machines.