Drug Story

December 31, 2008


This is Badwater. It is 282 feet below sea level. It is the lowest point in America. I have been this low three times in my life. I took this photo last year when I was last there. I usually send a postcard to someone or other saying something like “Hi, I’m at a really low point etc.”

We place our feelings geographically. One minute we’re low, we’re in a hole. The next, like Jimmy Cagney or Karen Carpenter, we’re on top of the world.

In America they advertise drugs on the telly. No! Not like crack and coke and dope, you dope. Proper drugs. Like you get from the doctor. But the adverts don’t work. They scare you to death. If you saw one, you’d most likely never pop a pill again for the rest of your days.

You know in the UK, how when you get your tablets, there’s a little leaflet that folds out and folds out and folds out, and eventually becomes a really big leaflet, a pamphlet, a book, a bible? And on it in really small print are listed all the possible side-effects of the drug you are taking? And you don’t read any of them? Because they are scary? Well…

On a short telly advert they have to read them ALL out. You see one thing, and hear another.

There’s an advert (oops! Maybe that’s commercial) for a drug for people who are bi-polar. A woman looks glum, and the weather suits her mood; all clouds and grey. She takes the tablet and then she’s walking along cliff tops (no desire to jump), smiling, hand in hand with the one she loves. And it’s sunny.

It’s a lovely image of perfect happiness. And over it a voice races and races and races through the side effects; increased risk of death or stroke; can increase suicidal thoughts; alert your doctor if you develop very high fever, rigid muscles, shaking, confusion, sweating, increased heart rate or blood pressure; if you develop abnormal or uncontrollable facial movements; other risks may include lightheadedness upon standing, seizures, trouble swallowing; common side effects include nausea, vomiting, constipation ,headache, dizziness, akathisia, anziety and insomnia.

Oh, and avoid alcohol. Damn!

You get the idea. And drug companies, don’t sue me. All of the above info is admittedly abbreviated and from a printed ad in Esquire, but as far as I can remember, it’s the same info blasted out on the TV commercial. And I haven’t named names.

When watching the ad I feel a little like Alex in A Clockwork Orange, being subjected to the Ludovico Technique. I see an ideal life; love, holding hands, sun, beauty, wonder, oceans. And I hear arghh, arghh, arghh, arghh.

Oh, Happy New Year everyone.

Bedtime Stories wins.

Plot spoiler

December 31, 2008

Last night I watched “The assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford”. Now there’s a plot spoiler for you. It’s like calling some other films “Big Ship Hits Iceberg and Sinks”, or “Tom Cruise Tries but Fails to Kill Hitler”, or “Yes! He Was a Ghost All Along”; instead of “Titanic“, “Valkyrie” and “The Passion of the Christ”. Ok, I cheated with that last one but I didn’t want to mess up “The Sixth Sense” for those who haven’t seen it.

Except, in the case of “The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford”, maybe all isn’t as it seems.

jesse-james1 That’s the real Jesse James on the left. The one lying down. In a coffin. Dead. After he’d been shot by the “coward” Robert Ford. I pinched the pic from the Encyclopedia Britannia. Find their Jesse James stuff here.

“The assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford” was written and directed by Andrew Dominik and I’m thinking I need to watch out for this guy, in a Paul Thomas Anderson kind of way.

(Little aside; I’m scared by how good Paul Thomas Anderson is, writing and directing Magnolia at the age of 29… that’s knowing things no 29 year old should know).

Now, Mr. Dominik is older and he’s only made two films; this and “Chopper”. (I find out all these things after the fact; I’m just a film fan with access to Wikipedia). So then it clicks, sort of, because years back I saw “Chopper” and it had an affect. If there is a link between these two films, and I am reaching far back in time and memory here, it is that they both took iconic figures and did a bit of a job on them. Maybe Mr. Dominik, with his mildly sinister spelling, is a bit of an iconoclast.

I don’t know the story of Jesse James and I don’t know if the truth matters to appreciate this film. Here’s a simple approach to that plot spoiler of a title, and making it not so much of a plot spoiler as you might think; Robert Ford isn’t a coward. He’s sweet, he’s troubled, he’s young, he awes, he’s bullied, he creeps. He’s a mess of a 20 year old who worships every inch of a very unlikeable Jesse James. And the Jesse James we see… shooting people in the back, mentally and physically torturing the young, and then crying over every part of himself that he knows is wrong… is played by Brad Pitt. That’s brave casting. I’ve not seen every Brad Pitt film, but I know his iconic status. I know his Tyler Durden, his Benjamin Button, his J.D, his Floyd, his David Mills, his Jeffrey Goines, his Joe Black, his Rusty Ryan… even his Achilles… and if you recognise some of these parts, you also know how rarely he plays a heel (Oh, I am so sorry.)

But it’s true; all men may not want to be Brad Pitt, but I bet they would like to be the parts he’s played. And so Jesse James is a problem. A “hero” of the Old West who… well…

And the assassination? Technically, true. But Jesse needed to die. He’d had it. He’d had enough. You may despise him in the film, and you may be confused because “that’s Brad Pitt.” But looks at those eyes; not only does Jesse despise himself, but even Brad seems to despise having to play him. Eyes, windows, souls, blah blah blah, but I challenge you to watch this film and not see it to be a truth.

This is a long film. And maybe when words (let alone film titles) become unreliable, you need long looks to tell the story. Early on in the film Dick Liddel, the poetically inclined womanising member of the James’ gang, observes that “you can hide things in vocabulary.” And late on in the film when the the “assassination” comes the narrator talks of Jesse’s final moments thus; “the light going out of his eyes before he could find the right words”.

A long film. A leisurely film. A long goodbye. And beautifully shot by Coen Brothers regular Roger Deakins (without realising this connection, my mum likened the look of the film to Fargo). Epic landscapes; interior and exterior.

If you like long films where you know the ending, but you hated Titanic, then this is the film for you.

Oh, and in keeping with a theme of the film, a motif, I’ve unwittingly let Casey Affleck go unmentioned. He played the coward. He played Robert Ford. Again, watch those eyes work. Or not work. There’s no big acting here, but there is time on the side of the actors, time to look in as they look out. And he’s an Affleck who can act.

Making tea for the kids

December 30, 2008

If anyone is reading this to keep up with my antics in the States, I apologise for not writing much today. My sister and her husband have gone off for a few days break in San Francisco, leaving me and my mum in charge of my niece and nephew. Earlier today I made soup for them. My nephew doesn’t like soup, so I drained off all the liquid and just gave him the bits. There were lots of bits; turkey, potatoes, onions, carrots, mushrooms, broccoli… toast… turkey… nachos… Quality Street… anything I could find to chuck in. Now it’s bath time. Then tea. Then Batman (not the new one, they’re only 10 and 6)… The Tim Burton one. The nice one where Jack Nicholson squirts acid into Jerry Hall’s face. It’s a PG13 so maybe I’m breaking the law. Or maybe they are. My nephew, 6, was disappointed last night because we wouldn’t let him watch Death Race!

Ok kids, bathtime!

Here’s a pic from last year; a van parked by the Golden Gate Bridge.


In that bath! Now! Or… No soup for you!

No soup for you… like the Soup Nazi. I showed my niece the clip. She laughed. Watch it now! Then bed. Yes, you! Stop reading. Put the light off. Go to sleep now! I command you! What? No! Not daft Uncle Simon! Not silly Uncle Simon! Serious Uncle Simon! Bed! Ok, five more minutes. Then bed. Maybe ten. Don’t tell mummy and daddy.

Time passes, then… You’re supposed to be in bed. You want a glass of water? Ok, I’ll bring it to you.

I creep in a few moments later but you are asleep.

Jesus’ Brain

December 28, 2008


These pictures were taken in St. Joseph’s Cathedral in San Jose.

This morning I was at St. Jude’s in Cupertino. I went for communion and my six year old nephew knelt by me. He took a wafer, but no wine. As we left the altar he dropped the wafer; he doesn’t like them.

Back at home we talked of the dropped wafer; who would eat it; would it get picked up?

This wafer was part of the body of Christ, I’m told. I asked my nephew what part of Jesus he had dropped on the floor. He said, “Jesus’ brain.”

Could have been worse.

st-josephs-cathedral-21 st-josephs-cathedral-31

There is no raccoon here.

December 28, 2008


This was one of my Christmas gifts to my niece and nephew. There is no raccoon here. I took a photo of it. Look! You can see it. But if you try to pick it up, it isn’t there.That’s because there is no raccoon here. It doesn’t have to be a raccoon. You can choose whatever you like to not be here. What you choose will be somewhere else. But you’ll see it here, even though it’s not here. And that is the explaining about it.

Christmas candle.

December 28, 2008


On Christmas Eve I found myself in St. Jude’s. My sister and my mum sing in the choir. My niece was the Angel Gabriel, and my nephew was a lamb.

I lit a candle and thought of my friends at home and three people in particular; Tudor, Jack and Ella. A belated Happy Christmas to you. My thoughts are with you and your families.

Hopper’s Hands.

December 27, 2008


So yesterday we stood beneath the Golden Gate Bridge. It looks in pretty good shape considering only the other night me, my niece and nephew saw it ripped from it’s moorings and carried across the bay to Alcatraz by Magneto in X-Men 3. What? It’s just a film? It wasn’t true? Next you’ll be telling me that our Christmas day treat, Elf, was all made up.

As you walk by Fort Point, along the thick chain fence that stops you falling into the sea…


… but failed to stop Kim Novak in Vertigo


…it’s a good job Jimmy Stewart was on hand to jump in… as you pass this Point, you eventually reach a chicken-wire fence. Here, you can go no further. And on the fence is a plaque, showing Hopper’s Hands. Who is Hopper? And why does every jogger who reaches this point touch the hands before turning and heading back?


The best way to find out? Ask a jogger. The place is full of joggers, running up to the plaque, touching it, then stopping to catch their breath, have a drink, do a few stretches. And most of these joggers are very attractive women in fancy pastel outfits and sun visors who somehow or other seem to run in slow motion. Either they’re the only ones I notice (likely) or they are running in slow motion because they are damned lazy (unlikely).

So, let’s ask a jogger. We approach one who is midst touching her toes. We being me and my niece. When talking to strange women (as in women you don’t know, or, come to think of it, women who are intriguingly strange) always be accompanied by a child. This way they’ll talk to you, rather than think “who’s this weirdo with the funny accent?” The downside? Once they’ve talked to you, they jog off.

So… she stands up, takes out her earphones and we ask her why she touched Hopper’s Hands. Hopper once talked a potential suicide down from the Bridge. And now joggers touch his hands. It’s a tradition, a superstition. And dogs touch the paws below (as in the photo). Thank you. A smile and she’s off.

There’s more to this story. Ken Hopper works on the Bridge. He has stopped over 30 people from jumping to their deaths. And, sadly, on a couple of occasions, he has seen people fall. You can find out more on this wonderful page.


p.s. There wasn’t a plan to make my photo of the Golden Gate Bridge mirror the still from Hitchcock’s Vertigo. If there was I would have been more exact. I’ve only just noticed, a few hours down the line, how similar they are. Doh!

p.p.s. Nor was there a plan to make this look like The Birds.

Christmas in miniature.

December 25, 2008

The lobby of the Fairmont Hotel in downtown San Jose had some miniature railways on display in glass boxes as part of their Christmas decorations. Here’s some of the lesser seen moments.






So here it is…

December 25, 2008


Merry Christmas, one and all!