Well hello there!

Wow, I have absolutely neglected this blog, haven’t I? And you may ask, why is that? Well, wonder no longer, dear reader.

Since my last post, things have changed quite dramatically. The main reason the posts dried up is because I got work authorization, and quickly found a job. Well, a job found me; my resume got noticed by my current boss, and after a quick interview process, I started work in April 2016.

If you’re interested, I’m an Administrative Manager for a staffing company, and I still work there to this very day. It was kind of weird at first, because I hadn’t worked for so long, and working for a university in the UK is incredibly different from working in a corporate environment in California. Whodathunkit?! There were even moments when I considered quitting, the change was so dramatic and traumatic. But thanks to my incredibly supportive husband, and a great deal of working-class guilt, I stuck it out, and have made a real impact at the company (even if I do say so myself).

However, a couple of months after starting my new job, I found out I was pregnant. Now, this wasn’t entirely unexpected. Will and I had decided to start “trying”, or as I like to refer to it, “boning with purpose”, in early 2016. We just didn’t expect for things to happen so quickly. I have some funny stories about this period, but that’s for another time. Most of them involve me not being able to aim when I pee.

I spent most of 2016 growing a human, not drinking, and working. Again, I’ll write about this in more detail some day, but I really enjoyed being pregnant. I had morning sickness a grand total of once. Turns out you don’t get a medal or anything for that, but you definitely should. And, you know, for the other stuff involved with having a baby.

Mary-Katherine Rose Thompson arrived on the morning of February 4th, after three hours of pushing and an intervention from Henry the Hoover. She is currently sat on my lap, missing one sock, and chewing on a monkey. She is hilarious and wonderful. And American! That’s weird.

So that’s what’s been happening. I’m now a working mother, wife, and green card carrying California pernament resident. Over the last six or so years, amazing things have happened, through a combination of bloody hard work and fortuitous circumstances. And now Team Thompson is stronger than ever, with a tiny little lady MVP. Bloody brilliant.

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An Open Letter to Alan Bennett

Playwright Alan Bennett.  Photo by Cato Lein.

*Warning – contains minor spoilers for The Lady in the Van*

I gather from your work that you don’t have a lot of time for sentimentality, so I’ll try to keep this mostly stern and brief. I may fail in this effort.

I moved to California last summer. For my first thirty years, I lived pretty much exclusively in northern England, mostly recently in Manchester. So while I love it (read, prefer it) out here, there are certain, specific, mostly art-related things I miss about England. The proliferation of your works being amongst these. So I was incredibly happy when the little independent cinema within walking distance of my front door announced they would be showing Lady in the Van. I have just returned from a screening, and felt compelled to jot my thoughts down.

I have admired your writing for about twenty years. I am forever grateful to my high school English teacher, Mrs. Marchant, for showing Talking Heads to a largely indifferent group of thirteen-year-olds. The monologue in question was Lady of Letters, and I was gripped by the dark humor. I was always considered a little strange in school, and quietly laughing at some of the lines didn’t exactly win me any credibility points. But I didn’t care; I had literally never seen anything like it before.

Another vivid memory associated with you is reading a copy of Talking Heads 2 at the bus stop near my sixth form college. I avoided the school bus, as my aforementioned strangeness often drew negative attention. I’d just started my A Level English course, and was handed a copy of Talking Heads 2. So propped up against a fence, a safe distance from pre-pubescent cries of “goth”, I quickly began devouring the monologues I wasn’t already familiar with. One of these was Playing Sandwiches. I will never forget reading the line… “So I took her in the bushes.” I don’t think I’d ever read anything so dark. To this day, both Talking Heads 1 and 2 are amongst my favorite pieces of literature. I revisit them every six months or so, and I always find something different.

While watching The Lady in the Van today, I was reminded of my teenage isolation for various reasons. Sitting amongst twenty or so elderly Californians, I was alone in laughing at jokes concerning M&S, MOTs and stairlifts, but my laugh was loud and proud. As I’ve got older, I’ve learned to embrace my weirdness, and it has won me some wonderful, lifelong friends, not to mention an incredible husband.

The film is a great adaptation. The story, of course, is beautiful. My heart soared every time a former History Boy appeared, and I have to admit I shed a little tear at the shot of the National Theatre (which remains one of my favorite places in the world). But when you wheeled up on a bike at the end of the film, it was like seeing an old friend. Your work has been with me throughout my adult life, and I’m glad you’ve been so prolific that I will probably never stop discovering new things.

I love my life in California. I have the opportunity to explore my capabilities, and start an entirely new life for myself. And as someone who sincerely wishes people “a great day”, I’m received pretty well over here. But today, for a couple of hours, I was reminded of who I used to be, and how my love of your writing has helped me to develop into a woman who northerners might describe as “alright, you”. I would love to thank you in person, but I don’t imagine you Skype very often. And that’s one of the many things I love about you.

With eternal gratitude,

Tracey

Photo by Cato Lein

A Positive Tuesday

imageI had an immensely positive day yesterday, and I just wanted to briefly share my experiences with you.

As some of you may know, I’ve been tutoring a Korean student in English for a while now. Just before Christmas, she had an unexpected death in the family, and I didn’t see her for a while. However, we’re back into the swing of things now, and yesterday we had a lesson I’ll remember for a while.

In the previous lesson, my student had been explaining some Korean Christmas and New Year traditions to me, which included some board games. So this week, she brought some games along, and explained them to me. Then, she pulled out a long piece of looped string to show me something. I could tell what she was going for, and I took it from her hands and started the game that a lot of people have unknowingly stored in their minds, Cat’s Cradle. My student was totally shocked that I knew how to do it. But then, a library staff member came over and commented how she had played it as a child, and joined in! So we had a Korean, a Brit, and an Italian American sharing an almost-forgotten childhood game that requires no words. It was a really lovely moment.

But after that, my student said she wanted to speak about the aforementioned family death, as she was now ready to talk about it without getting emotional. I won’t share the details, but she spent over an hour speaking about what happened, and I was incredibly happy to listen and make the occasional comment. She mentioned how she was so happy to have me to speak to, because she doesn’t have too many friends out in California. It was a very moving experience, and I feel very lucky to be a willing pair of ears to this wonderful woman.

And if that wasn’t enough, I didn’t have to correct her English once. She didn’t stumble, she knew what she wanted to say, took her time, and was confident. That was especially rewarding for me, as it seems I’m not a terrible tutor!

Volunteering was something I rarely did in the UK. There isn’t really much of a system that enables people to do it easily. But thanks to fantastic sites like Volunteer Match, I’ve had some of the most rewarding experiences of my life in the last few months. I’m not saying it’s something that everyone should do, I’ve just really enjoyed my time helping others. I’m sorry I didn’t make the time for it before.

The Oscars – My Thoughts

The lack of diversity in this year’s Academy Award nominees has created a lot of noise, to the point where the Academy has finally agreed to do something about it. In a statement from the Academy, they said:

“The Board’s goal is to commit to doubling the number of women and diverse members of the Academy by 2020.”

You can read the whole thing here, but the whole joining process sounds a little strange. Surely, if the Academy really wanted to change things, they could do it by 2016. It would seem they care more about taking prestige, and more importantly screeners, away from aging white men rather than engaging active, creative, diverse artists.

But it’s short-sighted just to blame the Academy. This is also about the lack of quality, high-profile roles for non-whites. This Buzzfeed article sums it up better than I can.

It will be interesting to see how the next year pans out taking all of this into account. However, this doesn’t mean I won’t be watching the movies that have been nominated. As with previous years, I’m working my way through the Best Film nominees like a cinematic checklist. Below are my thoughts on this year’s crop, but some others that I feel should have been included.

imageThe Big Short – I have to admit, I wasn’t completely drawn in by the trailer, or the concept. When I worked in finance I was exposed to some absolutely detestable people, and wasn’t too keen on watching a film featuring dramatized versions of these complete douchebags. However, this movie is about the good guys. Kind of. Steve Carrell is awesome, and I’m a bit annoyed that Christian Bale got nominated for Best Supporting Actor over him. But this is an ensemble movie, with some fantastic surprises. Give it a chance.

imageBridge of Spies – Will and I saw this on a whim, and it turned out to be one of my favorite movies from last year. It is absolutely not the kind of film I would actively choose to see (Cold War thriller? No, but thanks). But it is genuinely exciting, and I’m so glad the genius Mark Rylance got nominated for Best Supporting Actor for his extraordinary performance.

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Brooklyn – I cried at the trailer for this, and the story of a girl moving from where she grew up to America obviously resonated with me. I loved this film. Saoirse Ronan is one of my favorites (I will even defend Peter Jackson’s adaptation of The Lovely Bones until my last breath), and if either she or Brie Larson win Best Actress, I’ll be happy. But Julie Walters should have been nominated for something, because she is hilarious.

imageMad Max: Fury Road – I’ve already blogged about how much I love this movie. And Charlize Theron should have received a nod for something. Or the flame-throwing guitar dude. Another exciting film. And absolutely batshit crazy. If this won I would be extremely happy.

The Martian – Still haven’t seen this. It was an option on a flight but I watched Icelandic film Albatross (which was brilliant). I got about 40 pages into the book and got bored of the potato talk. I’m guessing the film isn’t so tuber-centric.

The Revenant – Again, haven’t seen this one yet. From what I can gather, it will probably be the movie to finally get DiCaprio that elusive Oscar. But it’s not even close to passing the Bechdel test.

imageRoom – I cannot say enough good things about this movie. It’s based on one of my favorite books, it is directed by Lenny Abrahamson who made the incredible film Frank, and the two central performances (Brie Larson and Jacob Tremblay) are just mind-blowing. Before this film was even released, I joked about putting money on Larson to win the Best Actress Oscar for this. I really, really wish I had. Go see it now, if you haven’t already.

Spotlight – Again, another great ensemble performance. The story is very compelling, but the lack of a meaningful resolution was very disappointing, but not surprising.

Best of the Rest

imageThe Danish Girl – Beautiful film. Eddie Redmayne entrancing as usual. But two minor gripes:
1. How is Alicia Vikander only nominated for Supporting Actress?! She didn’t support anyone in this film; she was a major presence in her own right.
2. One of the leitmotifs sounded like The Jam’s Eton Rifles and was a little distracting.

Carol – Again, absolutely stunning. Blanchett and Mara both gave fantastic performances. And the last ten minutes or so were very moving.

imageAnomalisa – I can’t really top Matt Patches’ review of Anomalisa. But it is the most raw, honest movie I have ever seen. Don’t underestimate it because it looks like something your kid would watch. Seriously, you do NOT want your kid to watch this. So much puppet wang.

Book Blog!

I’ve decided to shift all my book-related mumblings to their own little blog. It’s called California Reading (do you see what I’ve done there?!), and there’s a link below.

California Reading

Give it a quick squizz, if you fancy.

I’ll still be popping stuff on here, and hopefully continuing my 26 Foreign Films project (I let that one die quite quickly, didn’t I? Awful).

Bye!

Things From My Trip Back to the UK for Christmas

  • I will never fail to go to pieces in the presence of comedy legend Chris Morris (spotted in the National Theatre, wearing shorts. I didn’t say anything).
  • Star Wars: The Force Awakens is amazing. The moment when I got completely consumed by excitement was (SPOILER ALERT) when Poe and Finn stole a TIE Fighter and did a runner from the First Order. I had a manic grin for the rest of the film.
  • I spotted Cara Delevingne in the BFI lobby. A quick Google would suggest she is 5 ft 8. I’m not saying that this may be untrue, but I didn’t have to raise my head to look at her iconic eyebrows (I’m 5ft 2 on a good day).
  • My young nephews are developing wonderful personalities. One is turning into a mini evil genius, the other a reluctant superhero. They’re bonkers and I love them.
  • Christmas weddings are lovely. Especially so when they involve a young friend tying the knot with a gorgeous woman. I was very honored to be part of such a beautiful day (thanks, Barry and Cat).
  • Mother of aforementioned groom commented at the wedding that I haven’t changed since I was a teenager. Not sure whether this is a good thing or a bad thing.
  • Manchester is basically the same as when I left it. Well, maybe a little bit more damp (RIP, the Mark Addy).
  • My friends are still absolutely amazing, and are doing incredibly exciting things. Thanks to you all for making time to see us.
  • Byron Burger isn’t as good as everyone says it is.
  • I was very excited to be reunited with Monster Munch, Vimto, and Jaffa Cakes. They weren’t as amazing as I’d remembered. I didn’t even end up bothering with Jaffa Cakes.

This final part deserves a bit more explanation. Will and I spent Christmas Day with Will’s mum, Pauline, and her partner, John. We were very well looked after. However, Pauline shared a story about how her and John had recently been to Denmark, to meet up with one of John’s old school friends. This school friend had moved to Denmark a few decades ago, and found quite a unique job. Below is a picture (he’s the one sat on the log).

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Turns out, John’s schoolfriend has found a great deal of success dressing up as a chicken on a low-budget kids TV show in Denmark. It’s called Bamses Billedbog, and if you fancy a laugh I’d highly recommend checking it out on YouTube (the one I fired up around the kitchen table had the unsettling title of “Bamses Billedbog Baby Kylling“. Not even the frightful description could prepare me for the horrors within).

Happy New Year, everyone!

My Favorite Books of 2015

I’ve felt extremely fortunate for various reasons this year. Not only have I been granted the rare luxury of free time, I’m also lucky enough to live across the road from a ridiculously well-funded library.

At the time of writing this, I’ve read 99 books this year, and working my way through two others. I’ve collected an interesting batch of stats on what I’ve read, but we’ll save those for another day. Below are my literary highlights of the year, in no particular order. Some were published in 2015, some were not.

Patrick Ness
2015 was the year I finally got around to appreciating the genius of Patrick Ness. I’ve got through three of his books this year, two of which I completely adored.

A Monster Calls may be the book that made me cry the most this year. It was so beautiful and so human; it just ripped a hole in me. On the surface, it’s a story about a young boy dealing with his mother’s cancer, but the story is completely unconventional. It will take you about two hours to read it, and the illustrations are beautiful. Just brace yourself to be quite severely moved.

If that doesn’t convince you, here’s a trailer for the forthcoming movie.

Ness’s 2015 release was The Rest of Us Just Live Here, which is a fantastic spin on the onslaught of sub-par zombie, vampire, werewolf movies which have popped up over the last decade or so. Except this book focuses on the “normal” people in these crazy scenarios, and how supernatural warfare can effect “the rest of us”. It’s insanely brilliant and very clever.

Horror

I devoured A Head Full of Ghosts (Paul Tremblay) in a single day. It was like Ghostwatch meets The Exorcist, but with a very modern twist. It was absolutely terrifying for various reasons.

The Loney (Andrew Michael Hurley) is such a perfect British, unsettling novel. The whole thing is just tinged with a sense of unease that you can’t really explain. It’s been nominated for various awards, for good reason.

The Boy Who Drew Monsters (Keith Donohue) has been on my radar since last year, and I’m so glad I finally got around to reading it. It’s so bizarre, and I couldn’t really work out what was going on most of the time. But when things became clearer, it was just so perfect. And one of the best endings I’ve ever read. Haunting.

I’ve also been reading a lot of Shirley Jackson, and the short stories of Daphne du Maurier. Du Maurier’s story, The Old Man, instantly became my favorite short story ever. Seek it out if you can.

Graphic Novels
I’ve read more graphic novels than I normally would this year, largely due to the fantastic selection at the library. Highlights have been Wilson by Daniel Clowes, who I have loved since I was a teenager. Clowes’ sense of humor is just so bleak. I appreciate him more than older I get. I’m very excited for his new book, Patience, which will be released in a few months.

I have also discovered the wonderful artist Lucy Knisley, and have managed to get hold of three of her books this year. Displacement, about a cruise she took with her grandparents, was very sweet and honest. And An Age of License is about Knisley’s travels around Europe. Knisley’s illustrations are colorful and clean, and she’s a hell of a writer.

Offbeat

IMG_0183I’m drawn towards odd fiction. If a book review contains the words “unsettling” or “unnerving”, there’s a chance it will make it onto my “to read” pile at some point. Here are my favorite weird books of the year.

Whilst reading Eileen (Ottessa Moshfegh), I spent a lot of time not really knowing where the book was heading, but very much enjoying the ride. The eponymous character is such an enigmatic misfit that I was happy to follow her.

I’d attempted to listen to the audiobook of Wolf in White Van (John Darnielle) a few times, but for some reason found myself tuning out. So I’m glad I was finally able to give it my full attention. It’s like a dramatic monologue, requiring your full concentration to follow the twisting plot. The intentions of the protagonist aren’t always very clear, but it’s one of those books where everything just falls together, and you want to go back to the start and experience it all over again.

Our Endless Numbered Days (Claire Fuller) is about a young girl, Peggy, who is kidnapped by her survivalist father to go and live in the forest. Peggy’s father convinces her that the world has been destroyed, but Peggy soon finds evidence to the contrary. It’s very weird, and quite similar to Room, and I still think about parts of it now.

The Best of the Rest

IMG_0184A Little Life (Hanya Yanagihara) – Epic, heartbreaking, completely engrossing. The author created a world I didn’t want to leave. Not for the faint-hearted, but definitely worth the effort.

Redshirts (John Scalzi) – I almost described this as a Star Trek parody, but I think that devalues the beauty of this book. It’s funny, with lots of sci-fi references, but very moving in places.

Not My Father’s Son – I’m not too keen on autobiographies, but I made an exception for cheeky Scot Alan Cumming. Plus, it was about two quid on Audible, so definitely worth a punt. It’s such a shocking and intensely personal account of Cumming diving into his uncertain family history. It’s incredibly well-written, and consistently surprising.

A Girl is a Half-Formed Thing (Eimear McBride) – Poetic, disturbing, vital. I have a quote from this saved in my phone because it’s just so beautiful.

What a fantastic year. What have your favorites been?