Seniors in film

There is not much of a market for films about the elderly. At least not much of a market for films that even vaguely attempt to portray the truth about getting and being old. However, every now and then there comes along a film that is worth watching for the way in which it captures the human spirit with all the frailty of old age. I know of only one film that I can wholeheartedly recommend in this genre and one that has moments of beauty and an acting performance worthy of the Oscar nomination that Peter O’Toole received.

I’ll start with Venus. It stars Peter O’Toole and even in his old age he is still as mesmeric on screen as ever (well almost, advancing age has taken its toll somewhat).Without giving away any of the plot, the story shows how two old men are accepting of their decline and at the same time they rail against it. How they need each other for support and find comradeship in people of the same age, whilst  one of them in particular yearns for the love and company of the young.

This relationship in particular brings the level of discomfort that both brings the real drama and also prevents the film from reaching the heights of The Straight Story. The Straight Story was directed by David Lynch, he of Eraserhead, Blue Velvet and Twin Peaks fame. Which is what makes a story about an old man and his estranged brother all the more touching. The pacing is slow, as befitting the movement of the lead actor; the action is small scale and the denouement so subtle as to leave you feeling that you missed something. But as with Venus the performance of the lead actor, in this case Richard Farnsworth, is outstanding. There is no overarching intention of the film, just a simple, honest story that should warm the heart of even the most jaded cynic.

We all get older each day- some have the grace to accept old age and some fight against it. But finding films, in particular The Straight Story, that show a possible vision of all our futures and still bring a tear to the eye, a warmth to the heart and a smile on your face; well that is a true demonstration of the arts of story telling and film making

Food and the reactions we have

There is (at least I hope I can still talk in the present tense) a radio show called “I’m sorry, I haven’t a clue” that has been running on Radio 4 for over 30 years. The premise of the show is that the 4 comedians will be ‘given silly things to do’ and will largely improvise the results. The games are legion and varied, frequently made up and usually fully in compliance with the objective of the show of being silly. Each listener will have their own favourite game, moment or line from the show- one of my favourites comes from the game where the contestants had to (incorrectly) complete a well known phrase: The expression supplied was “Too many cooks …” and most english speakers will correctly complete this as “spoil the broth”, but not on ISIHAC: the expression that is now indelibly imprinted on my mind is “Too many cooks …. on television”

Which is not to say that all cooking shows are bad or that many of the cooks on television are not engaging characters, but the wall to wall exposure to cooking shows does tend to dilute the fact that in many cases they are serving a very valuable public service, as well as entertaining us. In the UK Jamie Oliver is as well known for his campaign to improve the quality of food served to our children in school as he is for his restaurants, Delia Smith has taught a nation to cook and Gordon Ramsey has… well OK, Gordon Ramsey is a bit of a tosser, but you get the idea. What this massive exposure to all these cooks has done is improve the awareness of good food- as far as I can tell this is happening all over; certainly the UK, Canada and Netherlands now have far more restaurants serving quality food than ever before (Of course, with the impending economic crisis that statement may not be true for much longer, but that is the future- I can only comment on what I see)

I have eaten at a handful of high end restaurants, a whole load of middle range establishments and my fair share of places that may provide sustenance but really do little to provide a pleasurable, sensory experience. Which makes it all the more wonderful when you try something new and are stopped in your tracks. Now this is nothing like the experience that Julia Stiles had: She had been a vegan for a while but then reverted to omnivore. When Conan O’Brien asked her what the first post-vegan bite of a hamburger was like she responded, “The word orgasm comes to mind.”

My experience was not so earth shattering (or should that be earth moving?) but I certainly uttered a moan of pleasure this evening: I was doing my duty to my body and eating some smoked, oily fish (cold smoked mackerel for anyone interested. Nope, thought not). Not a great delicacy by most peoples definition, but this one was seasoned with honey and soy. Not only was I not expecting it but the mixture of these two tastes on the fish was outstanding.

And that is all I have to say on the matter; hey, what can I say? It was a slow news day

Internal economies and large companies

Life as an independent contractor is going to be a whole lot more ‘interesting’ for the next few months and possibly few years. The credit crunch (cue bad joke about the ‘credit crunch’ sounding like a bad breakfast cereal) has been having an effect on the wider economy for a number of months and from my personal survey it appears to be hitting the technical community and big companies. It may simply be that November/ December are simply exhibiting their usual end-of-year slow down and that activity will pick up again in 2009, but I don’t think so.

I have been more active than usual in monitoring job vacancies on account of the fact that a major contract ended and I had no immediate opportunities. As the financial markets started to resemble a roller coaster (up and down, but far more down than up) there were many, many contracts advertised in the financial services sector. Now I don’t have any experience in financial services, but when you don’t have any other work, you start to consider other possibilities. Of course as the financial meltdown continued the possibility of turning up on a Monday to start work and getting terminated 24 hours later grew and grew. So maybe financial services wasn’t the way to go for me, but that question became moot as within a couple of months there are almost no jobs being advertised in financial services. The companies have closed down all recruiting activity as they try to work out what on earth they are going to do to weather the storm.

Fortunately for me I managed to get a new contract with an existing client but this got me to thinking as to why I was having difficulty finding new opportunities. Obviously, the credit crunch is not helping, but I also realised that as a small contractor my network is very dependent on the people I meet. I have had a contract at a large company for over two years now and I realised that my network of contacts is actually almost exclusively internal to the company.

The company is so large it is functioning as its own mini-economy- people change jobs, move, have health care and many the other benefits that are typically assigned to a government. And they do all of this without ever actually leaving the company. Even more bizarrely is that different departments start poaching people to server their own means and consequently even turf wars erupt. When people are looking for a new role they have to advertise their own services to the rest of the company, just as you would in the ‘real world’.

I have no idea if this is the same in all really large companies, but I can imagine that it is. And here is my point- although this company is exhibiting many characteristics of a country, a government and an economy, it is not a totally related to the world outside the walls. The closest analogy I can come up with is the artificial economy that was put in place by the Soviet Union: I can clearly remember having a discussion in the early 1990’s with an ethnic Russian in his late 50’s who was convinced that the West was forcing up the price of bread. I never did work out if he thought it was all part of the closing stages of the Cold War or just some capitalists playing with his mind. What became clear was that under the soviet system he had been paying far, far less for his loaf of bread: the system was determining the price to pay, not external factors such as the price of wheat in Canada or a rise or fall in the price of oil to transport the oil.

What I find most interesting is that the very companies that are the basis of the whole free market system are functioning internally in exactly the same way as a system that they brought to its knees. I think it is going to be one hell of a ride to watch how this plays out over the next few months. But in the meantime I am going to put much more effort into developing an external network. So look out for me at a few more conferences in the next few months- I’ll see you there.