Enough?

London

Pulp Fiction is a film of doubtless quality – it’s certainly among my favourites – but it has limited ambitions. Those ambitions are fulfilled perfectly; this is an intricately planned and beautifully made entertainment.

Many at the time criticised this. The violence should have more context, it was said. The vacuous, hedonistic life of the protagonists should be shown to have negative consequences. They missed the point, I think: this is entertainment.

But it’s not a film you’ll walk away from with any abiding questions. You’ll marvel at the plot, revel in the supremely quotable script, copy the style, wonder at the characterisations; but you won’t be asking yourself about the world-wide political crisis caused by the end of the Cold War, the end of apartheid, war in Yugoslavia, the Rwandan genocide, or any other contemporaneous events.

Why should you? This is entertainment.

It isn’t always that way though. Landmark films of previous decades did manage to entwine entertainment with relevance: Taxi Driver, Casablanca, The Public Enemy…


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Unraveling

London

Storytime. A man visits a young boy and presents him with his fathers watch, fulfilling a promise.

Early one morning, twenty years later, two gunmen walk into an apartment and kill three young men while narrowly avoiding death themselves. They leave, taking with them a briefcase belonging to their gangster boss, and another guy, who they accidentally shoot in the car.

Startled, they drive the car to a friend’s house where, with the help of a well dressed fixer, they clean up the blood and dispose of the car, and the body, and go to breakfast in a diner. While they eat, a later-day Bonnie and Clyde hold up the diner at gun-point. They escape again, minus their wallets but with the briefcase, and go to meet their boss in a nightclub. He’s busy bribing a boxer to fix a boxing match, but they wait and give him the case.

Later one of the gunmen, after a stop to visit his heroin dealer, takes the boss’ wife out to dinner, at the boss’ behest. She accidentally overdoses on his heroin and he drives her to the dealer’s house where he administers a shot of adrenaline direct to her heart. She survives.

Later again, it’s the night of the big fight. The boxer has double-crossed the gangster. Instead of taking a fall he bets on himself, knocks out his opponent – unintentionally killing him – and runs to a rendezvous with his girlfriend in a motel room, planning to abscond the following day and disappear. She brought his belongings, but omitted the most crucial thing – his father’s watch, given to him twenty years earlier, compelling him to return to the apartment he knows will be watched by the gangsters.

He returns, collecting his watch and killing a gunman. While making his escape he’s recognised and shot by the gangster boss, who pursues him to a pawn shop where they are captured by a psychotic rapist and his friend. While the gangster is being raped the boxer escapes and, to his own surprise, returns to rescue him.

In return, the gangster forgives the boxer’s double-cross.

Heard it before? I didn’t make it up; it’s the plot of a legendary film. Rightly legendary too. It is an astonishing piece of work, ground breaking and shocking in it’s day, and it confirmed the auteur as a great film-maker. Pulp Fiction by Quentin Tarantino.

Almost twenty-five years after it’s release it still feels contemporary; a film I can sit through again and again, relishing it’s affect on first time viewers.

But I’ve always been curious how it was plotted. On screen the narrative jumps backwards and forwards in time, and I wanted to see if I could iron out the wrinkles, lay it out flat, and examine the story to see if it still works.

I think it does, don’t you?


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Basecamp

Amsterdam

Thirty five years – I counted them – since the last time I sat in the Old Sailor in Amsterdam. It was basecamp for about a week back then.

I sought the place out as I wandered about the city today, thinking of a glass of beer and a jenever. The old adage applies though: never go back. The place is a shithole.

It’s very possible that it always was; my twenty year old self probably wouldn’t have cared. But the line of English drunks outside vomiting abuse at passers by was certainly new, as were the large football bearing screens glimpsed through the windows. Keep walking.

Favourite bars always change over time, it’s a law, and we’re forced out into the cold to forage for new ones. Fortunately, this is Amsterdam; around the corner I found Café Fonteyn. At first sight it’s pleasing, busy but not heaving. The chill damp evening propels me towards the door, inside it’s warm, a gentle hum of conversation over only just audible music. Gemütlich. There’s a table free. Perfect. And I like the wallpaper.

I have a new home.

There are a few places I like, dotted around the place. Café Lisboa in Valencia, Le Select in Paris, El Glaciar in Barcelona, Witzli Poetzli in Antwerp… Even fewer where I like the wallpaper.

Who knows how many of them will still have a pulse if I ever visit them again.


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Right coffee, wrong cup

Antwerp

When did doing things differently become more important than doing them well?

A coffee in a cafe this morning; first things first – the waitress was lovely. Second: the coffee itself was fine.

But.

It came in a sort of stoneware-pottery-cup without a handle. Aesthetically not my thing – each to their own – but who thought it was a good idea to un-invent the cup handle? This cup contained very hot liquid. I couldn’t pick it up.

Did the person who chose this vessel for coffee think a handle was superfluous? Simply unnecessary decoration? An optional feature on a coffee cup?

While sitting there patiently waiting for the dumb thing to cool sufficiently for me to pick it up, I had visions of a future tv antiques program, a man in a bowtie holding up cup with handle: “Ah yes, an early twenty first century coffee cup. In those days they still used handles!” cue applause and laughter from audience with thick skin on their fingers. And scald marks.

At least the coffee was hot, which it had to be to dissolve the lumpy brown sugar they gave me; de rigueur these days but utterly useless in anything smaller than a mug And certainly no good in an espresso, a fact which has escaped all the twenty year old guys in check shirts and tattoos who think they invented coffee.


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Get ahead, get a hat

Antwerp

Time was, in my youth, that my hat habit engendered derision among passers by – while the late 70s and early 80s were certainly something of a sartorial kill-zone, it’s also true that the young are exaggeratedly sensitive to criticism, so it’s very possible my recollections are clouded.

There’s also the remote chance that I looked like a twat.

Nevertheless, I persevered. I may not be an everyday hat wearer – in a world unused to hats they can be an inconvenience; have you noticed that hat racks and hooks have disappeared? – but I’ve always had hats and I do wear them, so it’s good to see something of a hat renaissance occurring.

Granted, most of today’s gents, if they wear anything, wear a cap; but it’s still a step in the right direction, and it’s led to a headwear rehabilitation. How much of this is due to Peaky Blinders is unclear.

My most recent hat is definitely not a cap. It’s the aristocrat of daytime hats, distinguished by association with the likes of Winston Churchill and Al Capone: a homberg.

It instills nothing but awe and admiration in today’s passerby.


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The unforgivable sin

Brussels

There must be people who can speak with authority about railways. State owned? Private? Build more? Subsidise fares? Rip them all up?

I’m not one of them; all I can offer is opinion. Although clearly my opinion would be more important than anyone else’s.

But one thing is obvious: without exception privatisation has led to visual cacophony. Each company tries to out-dazzle the last and the result is the only unforgivable sin: crafted ugliness.

I had the privilege to stand in the concourse of Brussels Central Station this morning. A beautiful piece of modernism from, I assume, the 1950s – several squadrons of British and American bombers having conspired against the previous building. In its proportions, scale and fabric; a building of stature. A confident building, proud of its purpose and of the railway it represents. Built to last by a company thinking of the long term, not of the next quarter’s balance sheet.

And beautifully free of garishly competing corporate identities.


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Knowing

Brussels

I bought a pair of gloves today. From a glove shop. That would seem unremarkable enough, but it’s an impossibly in London.

Specialisation has disappeared from most aspects of life now. Retail workers are not employed for their knowledge of merchandise – in fact any understanding of what they’re actually selling appears to be irrelevant. I recently asked for a polar-neck jumper in a clothes shop on Regents Street only to be met with a blank, slightly frightened expression from the South American teenager purporting to work there. He was pretty enough, which seems to be enough to get the job. That and a willingness to work for minimum wage.

But strolling through the grey insistent rain in Brussels, feeling the chill breeze and remembering I needed new gloves, I wandered for all of 10 minutes before finding what I suspected I would: a shop that sold gloves.

Just gloves: masculine or feminine. Staffed by a woman who knew about gloves, about the relative merits of the various leathers available, the different linings, who could tell my glove size just by looking. A professional.

Not gloves with a logo; there’s no branding involved here. No labels to be seen. Just knowledge, understanding, humour and polite efficiency.

I was close to tears.

On the other hand, central Brussels is devoid of cafes. Seriously. Kebabs and pizzas I could have had surfeit of; but a good old cafe, with tables and waiters? You’d have better luck in London.


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