Saturday, 21 February 2009

Part II: The Rise of Fantasy

It would be tempting to attribute the rise of fantasy simply to a ‘pendulum’ process in popular taste, where sci-fi and fantasy alternate each other in the preferences of the public. The decline of science-fiction could then be seen as a matter of fashion; people became tired of the genre and turned to fantasy to find entertainment elsewhere. There may still be some truth to this, yet as an explanation it is still insufficient to explain the impressive technical and thematic movement in cinema that we have been seeing since the turn of the millennium. Fantasy movies, we are going to claim, have exploded precisely because they stage the death of the medium (or, they offer a representation of the space that is created after the death of the medium). But if this is what they do, they are certainly not alone: in fact, their rise to prominence must be understood as only the tip of the iceberg in a general phenomenon comprising several other overwhelmingly successful films in genres far different from that of fantasy. A few examples: the new CGI animation films by Pixar and Dreamworks, the recent Marvel superhero movies, Zack Snyder’s Sin City and 300, the Pirates of the Caribbean trilogy. These are but the most notorious, and despite their belonging to a different 'genre,' they pertain to exactly the same kind of film as Lord of the Rings.

How are these films really similar? Let’s explore the question for a second.

One of the things that binds most of these films together is the heavy use of CGI. We may even call them a CGI-genre of their own, inasmuch as this technique, in them, transcends its status as a special effect and dictates the very vision of the movie. The claim that I would like to forward is that the unreal worlds generated by means of these CGI techniques function in the same way as the ‘beyond-the-borders’ space symbolised by the screen (as mentioned in the previous entry), and that it is on this account that we determine their success: fantasy films seem a more pertinent, more incisive representation not of an alternative reality but of our real world (at least in terms of how we visualise and conceptualise it) than the scenarios offered by science-fiction.

In part, this process begins with CGI itself. CGI is massively employed in fantasy films as the means to create a cogent world. It is not simply a corollary special effect, but it invades the entirety of the world of representation, as is most notable in 300, which exploits its effects in everything from the lighting to generating inexistent locations, or the Pixar movies, which are of course composed solely of CGI. CGI images exist on a plane which conforms to the rules of unmediated, simultaneous space which constitute the screen: even though their qualitative difference is retained, their value and function is homogenized: a dinosaur is recognizably distinct from a space-ship, but they are both perceived to exist on the same plane, as unreal to the same degree, with the same relationship to the characters, to the actors or to the camera, and generated by the same technique. In old special effects, the technical source of the effect was differentiated: mechanical engineering for robots, stop-motion for moving models, bomb-disposal teams for explosions, blue-screen for montage. When these effects were captured and translated into images, these images retained the differentiated value that they originally held when on the ‘other side’ of the camera. But CGI images have no ‘other side’ of the camera; indeed, they have no relationship with the camera at all, for they are never filmed, they are never actually with the actors or under the eyes of the director. Whatever the image being displayed will invariably come from the same source and correspondingly have the same value.

A real fake shark

An unreal fake shark

Yet the ‘source’ in question – the matrix of their virtual plane, the point of origin or reference which generated them – is not a different world in itself, but only another virtual plane. It is the world of computer programs. These images are a virtuality emerging from the same space of another virtuality; it is a world that generates itself, and no grounds for differentiation are given. Such a virtuality permeates fantasy movies to an unprecedented degree, no longer simply as a special effect, but influencing and dictating the very filming techniques.

For example: one of the most distinctive camera effects in fantasy movies is the ‘aerial’ sweep, a case in which the camera ‘unhinges’ itself and goes flying wherever it pleases, nullifying all practical problems of distance or perspective. It depends on CGI inasmuch as only through this effect it is possible not only to generate but also to choreograph the massive amount of detail being swept over. Occurring almost every time there is a battle or, often, when we are introduced to an important setting such as Sauron’s fortress or Saruman’s mines in Peter Jackson’s The Lord of the Rings, this technique has expanded well beyond the fantasy genre (see for instance Spiderman’s leaping between skyscrapers with the camera flying after him, or the perspective in 300 closely following the bodies of Persian guards as they fall down a deep well). While there are variations in degree and technique which allow for individual exceptions, still in most of these cases this is no-one’s perspective, with neither a stable centre nor a stable frame, with no point of reference or anchorage; we are not watching the action from a given location, rather letting the action magnetise the movement of the frame, following every single sword-clash and death. There are other camera techniques also which conform to these principles, such as the ‘spinning’ fight-scene pictures, as first seen in The Matrix: in the middle of a confrontation between two characters, the camera will suddenly enter slow-motion, unhinge itself from its original perspective, and spin freely around the two characters.

A brief note – is it a coincidence that there are a number of films which stand in opposition to the trend we are discussing and which base their appeal on ‘looking real,’ or on making a claim to some form of realism, simply by using the opposite cinematographic techniques? By this I mean not only ‘documentarian’ films like Moore’s Bowling at Columbine and Spurlock’s Super Size Me (another phenomenon which has exploded in popularity), or borderline titles like Cohen’s Borat, but also more common productions like the Jason Bourne trilogy (Liman / Greengrass), Reeves’ Cloverfield or the TV series 24. It is important to note that these films base their realism less on the plausibility of their representations than on exploiting camera techniques which are the opposite of those discussed above: they are meant to show not the real world (this we have forgotten how to visualize), rather something which we may call ‘real film.’ While Jason Bourne and Jack Bauer produce themselves in combat scenes often worthy of The Matrix, the camera which follows them is strictly in real time (24 especially makes a point of this), often fixed in incommodious locations like the top of a shower or a corner obstructed by furniture, and invariably lacking a stable tripod support. The resulting ‘shaky’ or ‘bouncy’ effect underlines precisely the limitations of the perspective, incapable of transcending its status as simply a (hand-held) camera following the events in the world. This too is a trend which occurs across multiple genres; the TV series Battlestar Galactica is rather far-fetched science-fiction, but it still uses the above techniques in its attempt to produce a ‘realistic,’ gritty, materially dirty, close-to-real-life vision of the future.

In fantasy films, by contrast, the ‘eye’ of the camera has been liberated from the referent of its perspective and can be anywhere at any time (or in any time). While it used to be that perspective determined the signs that could be seen, it now seems that the signs are foregrounded over the perspective – as though they had no medium. To put it another way, it seems that the view does not need to be mediated through the perspective.

Not that the dialectic between these two kinds of film is all-comprehending of course, but consider its implications: it's not a duality between realistic and unrealistic films, rather a duality where one kind of film uses unreal cinematographic techniques and the other uses real ones, but the world they represent is always unreal. Hence the point: we have forgotten how to visualize the real (or we are not interested in representing it, which amounts to the same thing). Hence, also, the rise of fantasy as a reflection of such a process in our collective imaginary. Much like, in The Matrix, the real is just a desert (an absence of signs as much as it is in absence of objects) and all occurs in the dialectic overworld - underground (skyscrapers versus tube stations, to make it clearer), so in our own imaginary there is no such thing as the real anymore, there are only variating forms of unreality.

The above is also the novel and binding feature of fantasy, Pixar’s and Snyder’s films which truly has them all as belonging to the same genre: the fact that the signs composing these films do not need any medium at all. No doubt this finds its best expression in the ‘Black Pearl’ ship in Pirates of the Caribbean: its capacity to sail with ripped sails is emblematic of the sign being sufficient, and its medium (the wind) being unnecessary.

Of course, the image is not ‘wilfully’ symbolic – it is supposedly justified by means of ‘magic.’ But this is precisely the point. Magic is supposed to be the contemporary deus ex machina by which fantasy justifies the levelling of the value of its signs into the space of the screen (the fact that everything in that world, all of its signs, can be arbitrarily ‘changed’ or made to follow arbitrary rules) – or, the equivalence of value by which they become immediately and mutually exchangeable, or unreal. To further explain (and clarify, since the above few sentences must have sent the brains of almost anyone in my readership into overheating): much like everything in fantasy worlds is touched (or ‘touchable’) by CGI, so everything can potentially be affected by magic: when Gandalf loses his temper in Bilbo’s home, the world suddenly turns dark around him and he augments in size; when one of the dark riders approaches Frodo on a country road, the whole road seems to expand and contract (this too was pre-empted by The Matrix, the last great science-fiction film which announced the very death of science-fiction; immediately after Neo assumes his prophesised identity and destroys Agent Smith, he flexes and the corridor around him contracts with him); when elves such as Arwen or Galadriel enter into scene, they do so shining in a sort of tunnel of light. None of these details are present in Tolkien’s original book, or not nearly so explicitly. What we are witnessing is magic used as an alibi for the immateriality of these fantastic worlds; worlds which are immaterial inasmuch as they are not burdened with questions of history, geography, science – in brief, they are not burdened with reality. They are light, like helium, bearing no weight of their own at all.

Yet magic’s role of pretence as such has already decayed. Zack Snyder’s 300 is not a fantasy film, and has no ‘magic’ in it at all (if anything, its portrayal of the oracles as well as some of the Spartan claims to ‘reason’ suggest a certain hostility towards mysticism). Nonetheless, it boasts a plethora of lavishly unreal creatures which matches anything in Jackson’s movies, from the initial wolf with disproportionate body-features and glowing eyes all the way to the impossibly deformed Ephialtes, the ‘orc,’ the mammoth-sized elephants, or the gigantic executioner. These creatures are patently free from all referents of reality: the wolf is not meant to look like a wolf at all, nor even to have any connection to a real wolf whatsoever. Yet there is no ‘magic’ to excuse this disassociation of the sign from its material referent. It is simply a given premise of the film – more than that, it is part of its appeal.

In fact, even in something like Lord of the Rings, magic can only account for part of its simulacral order of signs. The heightened use of lighting is employed for much more than the introduction of the elfin characters: from the Edenic Hobbit-shire to the overdrawn shadows in Moria’s caves, the entirety of the film appears set in locations too ‘shiny’ or intense to be real. The council at Rivendell, for one, sets such a glow on the frame that it almost anticipates the techniques in 300. As importantly, the ‘Black Pearl’ tendency to foreground signs over their mediums is not restricted to magic at all, and it is this tendency which truly binds all of these films together, from the pirates as representatives of a Disneyland simulation rather than murderers and rapists to the 300 Spartans as mythical identities consuming themselves in their own spectacle.

The similarities in the presentation of these concepts suggest that these films are much closer than their differences in genre would lead us to believe. They all represent in common a space where everything is instant, simultaneous, equal in value – immediate, and by extension unmediated. By this representative register do these films better reflect the reality of our world than science fiction, and for this reason they have a greater appeal. But the implication of their belief that all that is interesting, good, dramatic or valuable must occur within the confines of an unmediated space (a space which I have called the screen in our previous essay, but which may go by any other name) is, of course, a very preoccupying one: for in such a scenario, any ideology that is expressed outside that space appears impoverished. In other words, we are looking at a world where the only ideologies which function are those which are unreal, existing only in the neutral space of the media. This may be the driving force behind anything from Yathzee Croshaw’s Zero Punctuation to the ascent of Barack Obama. But until we learn how to visualise the real again, rather than exiling it (in our imaginary) to the style-less, sign-less deserts of the out-world of the Matrix, fantasy will remain the only genre that we deserve.

Thursday, 19 February 2009

The Decline of Science-Fiction

Once upon a time, Hollywood was the land of science-fiction. More so even than in literature, the big screen gave us visions of the future capable of haunting the dreams of generations. The incredible decade ’77-87 gave us, in succession, the Star Wars trilogy, Alien, Blade Runner, The Terminator, Aliens and Robocop. And even the ages before and after that, which graced us with sagas like Star Trek and Planet of the Apes on one side, and Jurassic Park and The Matrix on the other, left a more or less permanent mark on our collective retinas. Yet those times appear completely gone: for almost ten years now (since The Matrix, 1999) there has been no truly groundbreaking science-fiction film, and the genre is left to recycle its own myths in products which range from passable (War of the Worlds) to disappointing (the new Star Wars trilogy, Terminator 3) to downright trash, from the Alien versus Predator bastardisations to the remakes of Rollerball and Planet of the Apes – and all while fantasy blockbusters like Lord of the Rings and Harry Potter dominate the scene. It appears that for the entire first decade of the 21st Century, the big screen has been incapable of visualizing our future.

I want to expend a blog-post to explore the reasons why.

So. The big screen is incapable of visualising our future, we said. This is ironic, because the only interesting thing in science-fiction for a while has been the mutating representations of the screen. To further the irony, it is precisely a recent science-fiction film which best captures the importance of the screen to the imaginary of contemporary culture. Consider the opening (and most memorable) scenes in Spielberg’s Minority Report, a film whose abortive ambition was that of being a new Blade Runner or its equivalent: Tom Cruise, playing a ‘pre-crime’ agent in the future, needs to analyse the visions of a number of oracles to find clues about murders yet to be committed. This process is dubbed ‘scrubbing the image,’ and it involves the character standing before a giant, enveloping screen where images freely pass by. Cruise manipulates these images with no keyboards or other external implements; instead, he wears a set of special gloves and then proceeds to handle the images with his hands. When an image has to be saved, a sheet of glass is connected to the original great screen, then removed with the image on it. It turns out that these sheets of glass which everyone works with are themselves independent, self-sufficient screens, which can be integrated or disconnected at will with other screens.

What is the real meaning of all this? Is there one? Yes – the scene is important because it stages the main theme in our (new) vision of the future, that is to say, the collapse of the notion of border. Look at the scene itself. The room’s main screen slopes gently around the edges, it curves around its user – it is very unclear where it ends (or begins). Simultaneously the manual handling of the images breaks down the distance separating Cruise’s character from the signs he is handling.

This striking vision, possibly the only truly important one in a film which for the rest came short of almost everything it was trying to be, turns out to be quite pertinent in the light of how we interact with our own screens in real life. A dramatic leap now: consider digital consumer products. The iPhone is fundamentally a large pocket screen, all the functions of which are activated by tactile interaction with its surface (as an aesthetic offspring of the iPod, it is the natural evolution of a system which was already starting to do away with buttons and keyboards). Similarly, the Nintendo DS (‘Double Screen’) portable game system is based around interacting with its videogame worlds by means of a touch-screen, for instance by petting a virtual puppy or drawing shapes directly on screen. Nintendo’s equivalent product for home-use, the Wii, does away with the medium of the joystick and employs a motion-sensing controller which translates hand movements directly onto the screen, reproducing the swing of a bowler or tennis player.

Yadda yadda yadda. So what am I getting at? Well, I’m saying that at the heart of all these products we see a common principle in motion: our ways of interacting with the space behind the screen are being deprived of all the material items and equipment of mediation which separate us from it. This is what it means to see the future now. To collapse our distance from it. Our own external space and the unreal space within the screen are made to collide. Even to correspond: when the border is broken, and mediation ceases, that is when we have a truly pertinent sense of ‘the future,’ one strong enough to get people off their sofas (for a moment) and buying products from the shelves. (I do wish to stress that these are not niche products for an elite consumer base, but true global phenomenons; Nintendo’s systems currently enjoy an overwhelming dominance in their respective markets, outselling the combined efforts of all their competitors put together, and the touch-screen is becoming a standard feature for the latest mobile phone models designed by Sony Ericsson, Nokia, Samsung, and Motorola).

So we’ve got a couple of sketches relating to borders (material or virtual) which smell of the future, but we still don’t understand why. Let’s try taking the question from another perspective – since we are talking about representation here, how do we represent borders? What is the sign of a border, or how do we conceptualise a border?

Let’s invite another source in here through Marshall McLuhan. Who is this McLuhan? Briefly put, he is a guy who has become famous by studying a very simple concept: the medium (actually he became famous by writing a snappy sentence, ‘the medium is the message,’ which caught fire and set ablaze the entire intellectual world and the meaning of which he didn’t really understand, but let’s leave that aside). So before I go waaaayyy too far out on a limb, how does this McLuhan relate to our studies? Well, the guy stated that ‘all media are extensions of some human faculty – psychic or physical. The wheel is an extension of the foot. The book is an extension of the eye… clothing, an extension of the skin… electric circuitry, an extension of the central nervous system.’ Try extending this reasoning to our scenario: the keyboard is, of course, an extension of the hands. Yet the implications of this line of thought are much more far-reaching. For it suggests that the concept of the death of borders which we experience when handling our screens is translated in the imaginary (and in representation) as the death of the medium – and my claim is precisely that it is the death of the medium which has caused the (temporary) death of science-fiction.

The future used to be seen as an amplification of the medium. Classic visions of the future included flying cars, spaceships, robot domestics, fantastic weapons and expansions of ordinary objects (for instance, bathroom utilities). In other words, the future seen as an explosion of the medium of transport, or of warfare, or the instruments for labour or everyday life. As French critic Jean Baudrillard once defined it, the imaginary of science-fiction is ‘an unbounded projection of the real world of production, but… not qualitatively different from it. Mechanical or energetic extensions, speed, and power increase to the nth power, but the schemas and the scenarios are those of mechanics, metallurgy, etc.’.

But Baudrillard’s points, and sci-fi’s cinematographic potential as well, only go that far. In our contemporary imaginary, an item of the future is not one which explodes but one which implodes the medium; this is the principle upon which digital consumer products base their appeal (the same principle which inspired Minority Report's vision): the iPhone and the Wii are sold as advanced, cutting-edge technology because they multiply their functions while nullifying the elements of mediation by which we interact with them. This is the great paradigm shift in terms of how we have come to conceive the future: through the principle of the annihilation of the medium, not of its amplification (or, not anymore).

This is why science-fiction in cinema has given way to fantasy over this decade which is almost past. Sci-Fi’s visions of the future have simply become obsolete.

Perhaps the only recent science-fiction film to have understood this – the only film which truly stands up to the heritage of the great science-fiction films of the past, at least until we see what James Cameron’s Avatar is like – is Pixar’s Wall-E, whose polished satirical bent also touches on all of the above concepts. For, the relationship between the two protagonist robots is (among other things) the juxtaposition of two visions of the future: the mechanical, materially scarred Wall-E, composed of different extensions which he physically replaces (for instance, his ‘legs’), against the unmediated, Mac-looking, flying Eve, whose head, arms and fingers all appear to ‘float’ around the main body without the medium of neck or joints and which can effortlessly be changed into other functions (weapons, scanners) with barely a sign of transition. Eve’s future is the future to which, in Wall-E, humanity belongs: one invaded by screens with simultaneous functions, where all mediums (particularly physical mediums: legs for walking, eyesight, physical contact, not to mention labour and production) have been erased, and all is pulled together and homogenized into the polyfunctional, floating armchairs.

Would people like those depicted in Wall-E understand science-fiction? Could we imagine any representation being displayed in their little screens – anything, that is, except for fantasy?

Coming up part II – an account of the rise of fantasy.

Thursday, 12 February 2009

A hiatus as I head off to Paris

Am off to Paris tomorrow morning, fellas. Can't damn wait. I'm sleeping off at a friend's tonight who lives close to the airport, and then it's up and away to the country of the intellectuals.

There's just so much stuff I want to do down there. I hear they even have open lectures at the universities, so I might go and check those as well. And I hear the food is gorgeous, which would be a welcome change.

It will be a few days of break before I can post back here again though, so you guys hold your breaths for a bit. Need to get my stuff sorted et all. Apparently the accommodation for my job is basic student rooms (I simply can't get away from the academic world, it seems). As soon as I'm well established I'll post something -- within a week most likely. In the meantime, bye!!

Sunday, 8 February 2009

The Return Journey

First things first: thanks to those who have voted for my video for the Best Job in the World. At the moment of writing it's holding four stars and a spectacular place in the front page of the site. It's going to be very hard to keep it there, but I think you can vote again every twenty-four hours, so keep 'em coming fellas! (for those who need it again, the link is HERE).

Now onto our own business. I realise I've written quite a bit about my experiences in the Caribbeans, and I think it's time to close the saga. I've got quite a few more things to say about that time, but I'll go back to them for the middle-term future and renew this place with normal rants for a while.

Since I'm off to (temporarily) closing the saga, though, I thought there could be no better way of doing so than by telling of how I came back.

So let's talk about the return journey. I had been astonished, when coming to the Caribbeans, by the fact that the plane was virtually empty. I would have thought that every rich human being in the world and their dog would have wanted to come to this tropical island for their holidays, but it might as well have been a carrier-plane taking volunteers to the Bermuda triangle. So I book the flight leaving at 11.30 p.m. with the cunning plan of extending myself on the seats once more and sleeping all the way through it.

The day before leaving – it goes without saying – there was the goodbye party, where we filled up what was basically a canister intended to store a week's worth of water with a cocktail of rum, pineapple juice, tropical fruits, and a little bit of vodka for good measure. I almost drank the whole thing on my own. I was so drunk by the end of it that I tried making out with the ugliest girl in the entire Erasmus group (possibly the only one I hadn't made a pass on yet). To be fair to myself I wouldn't have done it if I hadn't spent the chastest and most Christian year of my life on that island, but I was given the two of spades by her as well. I guess it's true that permanence in heaven comes at the expense of never, ever – but really never – having sex.

The next day I had stuff to do of course, so I had to wake up comparatively early. I made my luggage while hungover, got to the airport and queued for check-in behind two extraordinarily boorish surfers. They were Italian. I normally strike up conversations when I meet fellow nationals abroad, but these two guys were patent idiots and I wanted to swat them with their own surfing boards. Never mind.

So I get on the plane, expecting nothing – and I get the holy masses. You'd have thought Pope John Paul II was flying on that plane. There is not a single free seat on the aircraft and I'm surprised I can't see anyone sitting on the floor. It was a giant plane too, so this is all the more unexpected. Maybe all the people were waiting for me to join them before coming back home from the Caribbeans.

I sit down – and instantly feel exhausted. The journey to the airport has already drained me of what little energies I was left with, and now the impelling need to sleep brushes over me like a moribund electrical wave. Inside me I see images of a slew of Labrador puppies snuzzling each other, two horses aslumber in a hot summer field, a class on Keats' 'Ode to Autumn,' seventy-two hippos sleeping, the most pointless meeting of the students' union, and even a slowly imploding star. My eyelids become leaden and, as the plane takes off, I lay my head back and try to sleep.

Now, my body appears to be structured according to a singular blueprint which dictates that it will always be absolutely impossible to sleep while sitting down. It's something which drives me wild. Whenever my dad sits down in the car, he lowers his chin, closes his eyes and starts napping. He's so peaceful about it that he once started snoring while a friend was in the middle of an eager conversation with him. For my own part, however, the moment that I close my eyes while sitting down, an enzyme of some kind appears to be released within my organism which bars my brain from slipping out of consciousness. And even when it does succeed in this normally most quotidian of tasks, a safety lock kicks in and the muscles of my neck begin aching like hell. I have a very delicate neck, and cannot twist it in my sleep, and since I'm not a Tibetan monk, I cannot sleep with my neck straight: it follows that I cannot sleep while sitting down at all.

Within one hour that I've been on that plane, I realise that this will end up being the worst journey of my life. I feel that I need sleep the way that roses need the rain, the way that rivers need to flow, the way that birds need to fly. I lift one leg up and extend my foot out through the walkway and onto the armrest of the person at my right (she is sleeping, lucky soul, so I'm hoping she won't notice). I rest my forehead on my knee and try to sleep. Five seconds later I am being practically bitch-slapped in the face by an angry hostess and I need to sit down straight again. Oh God help me – I'll sleep on then wing of the plane if they will only allow me to!

Over the course of the next three hours I try every single position possible with the human body and a chair. I turn around facing the back of the plane and put my face on the headrest while crossing my legs in front of me. I sit down on the floor and put my forehead on the seat. I curl up egg-style with my back on my seat and my feet against the back of the seat in front of me and my head pushed inbetween my knees, but it feels like a medieval torture.

When you're that tired, you cannot read. You cannot watch a movie. You just sit there, watching minutes going by like you're watching the continents being transformed.

It was the longest trip in my life, literally and metaphorically. Once again, the only real interruption was a trip to the bathroom, a matter I undertook when I reached the conclusion that washing my face would wake me up a little. I go there, and there's a queue of nightcrawlers waiting in front of the toilets: mostly they are women. They appear to have met another party who were there to stretch their legs, and now they are having tea-time or something together, so the group is double-sized.

I go into the toilet and wash my face quickly with the hand-soap. Once I'm done, I turn around to grab a towel: my hands feel nothingness.

They have no towels. How the fuck can you not have towels in the bathroom? It is, you know, a bathroom? It's the only place you could possibly be using water on the whole plane? Are they afraid I'm going to use the towels to strangle the pilot and fly the plane into the Twin Towers? Holy shit, now there's something the terrorists must have been planning on day in day out.

The only thing they have is toilet paper. I'm dripping like the shores of the Danube and I don't want to go back like this, so I decide to dry my face with that. It turns out to be biodegradable toilet-paper. What this means is that this is some wacky kind of toilet paper which is made to break down spontaneously when it comes in contact with water (presumably part of the waste-disposal on a plane). It disintegrates the moment it touches my face. More than that – it adheres. I throw away the handful I'd taken and feel my face; there's white strings of toilet-paper hanging from all over it. Naturally someone chooses that moment to knock. A signal of impatience; I have obviously been in there too long. I glance at myself in the mirror: I look like Jack Nicholson in Batman, in the scene where he has just ripped off his bandages from his head and what is left is a messy scalp. I can't walk out like this. There's a whole congregation of women out there and they're going to be wondering why I've been brushing toilet paper against my face.

Another knock. I feign acute diarrhoea and start removing the toilet-paper thread by thread. It's not coming off at all. My face isn't even dry yet. Maybe I need a razor. Eventually I end up washing my face again as a way of solving the problems which had come to me from washing my face.

This time I do walk out dripping. The women look at me, as women always look at me whenever I'm doing anything other than flexing my muscles, but the most that they can chat about is a face that's raining. Not as bad as all that.

I get back to my seat and enjoy the moist face. At least it keeps me awake – for ten minutes. Tiredness soon kicks in and it's back to the yoga.

When I got to Paris, I fell asleep at the airport. If I hadn't been so neurotic, I might even have slept till I missed my plane. Fortunately I didn't and, with the chappy taste that an hour's sleep at an airport leaves in your mouth, I climbed onto the plane to Rome.

I must have slept twelve hours when I got there. I'm grateful I even managed to wake up at all. In fact, writing this has made me tired. I'm going for a nap.

Tuesday, 3 February 2009

The Best Job in the World

This one's just a contingent post. I'm not unemployed so any of my other applications have been frozen, but there's one I happen not to have given up on. One, in fact, which I would love to do more than any other thing in the world. It's for a job called The Best Job in the World - and it really is the best job in the world.

They're asking for video applications and I could really do with a few views and, if you fancy, some generous ratings! Find my video THROUGH THIS LINK and give it a good deal of stars!

For more info on the best job in the world, including how to apply yourselves, the link is here.