Spectre – an opinion

SPOLIER WARNING: If you have not seen the latest Bond film, Spectre, I would urge you to stop reading here. This blog post while it might not give away specific plot points, does discuss the film.

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I am not one for all those “dishaw dishaw” (as my aunt called them) action films. I generally don’t go in for film violence  and I wouldn’t choose to see them. Somehow, though, I make an exception for Bond films. Not hitherto a Bond superfan, I am rather partial to the Blonde Bond and I’ve really enjoyed the last three Bond films, even Quantum of Solace, which wasn’t really that good.

I was really looking forward to seeing Spectre, the latest Bond offering with the Boywonder who, like me, wears his heart on his sleeve and can barely conceal his excitement at Bond’s derring do. Sad, then, that he’s so far away, but we still all went without him this evening.

I’m afraid I was rather disappointed. Not just because it didn’t live up to the hype – I’ve largely avoided the hype – but because I found myself not gelling with the characters and not really caring very much so my disbelief was only partly suspended. Unusually for a Craig Bond film, I found myself regarding him and his latest venture with extreme scepticism. I’m sorry. No-one regrets this more than me.

There was none of the complicated plot, for one thing, of the previous films. OK, this meant that those as slow on the uptake as me were not left bemused and confused but it also means that I’d forgotten the film almost as soon as we’d left the cinema.

Where was the charm, the wit, the elegance of Casino Royale? Where were the moments of plot twist surprise that made us gasp in Skyfall? Completely missing. I felt that Spectre was pugilistic,  pedestrian and plodding, clunky in its attempt to tie up strands from the previous three films.

An awful lot more could have been made of the premise of the surveillance society and its dangers, of fighting technological robot warfare without actually facing your enemy. Obviously M and Bond represent the old-style human intelligence but I’m afraid M’s speech to this effect was unconvincing.

And what has happened to the women? I had high hopes for an expanded role for Moneypenny in this, and they were dashed when it became clear that she was simply a research assistant at the end of a phone; Madeleine Swann promised t be a complex character but quickly fell into James’s arms for no good reason. I found her admission of love and the bit at the end, I shan’t spoil it, utterly unconvincing, I’m afraid. As for Monica Bellucci, promising a glamorous, role for a slightly “older” (she is 51) woman: what happened? In the end she was just peremptory shag fodder.

What on earth has happened to Bond’s charisma, his allure, his seductiveness? They certainly weren’t in evidence in this film. I’ve often been caught saying that Daniel Craig as James Bond might be seen as my ideal man, but this mesmerising presence was almost totally missing from this film, I’m afraid. Where were the skis, the free running up ladders? The sexy bits just weren’t. To me they were animalistic, passionless and brutal. What has happened to the cheesy chat up lines of Quantum of Solace or the sultry cat and mouse flirtation of Casino Royale or, indeed, Skyfall? Women were very much incidental characters in this disjointed film and it’s the worse for it, in my view.

More minor irritations: where did he find the black plane? Are we to believe that planes like that are ten a penny on the average Alp? Where on earth did Madeleine Swann get that perfectly -itting satin evening gown? IN Austria or in Morocco? I’d like to know for next time I have a quick look around the Duty Free Shops at the airport. And why on earth were there so few other passengers on that train? This sort of stuff brings my disbelief right back down to earth.

Standing out from the mediocrity was Q, played by Ben Wishaw who, ironically, seems to be emerging as the techie hero of the piece, as sort of IT Crowd meets Bond.

I am so disappointed by Bond’s latest outing. Oh dear. Perhaps I’m just becoming a grumpy old woman.

 

Another day, another ballet

Another day, another ballet

This time it was a quadruple bill at the Royal Opera House, a compare and contrast programme full of delightful moments. How I love ballet, the pinnacle of human effort and strength and hard work and control. And it’s so beautiful.

The first in the programme was Viscera, a minimalist, plotless ballet with barely-there costumes that showed off the dancers’ honed limbs and total control. For me the highlight was when the principal dancer, Fumi Kaneko,  stood quietly in a white spotlight with the rest of the company in animalistic formation moving around her. The sweeping score, Lowell Lieberman’s Piano Concerto No1, was fantastic too. The thing about a ballet without a plot is that it gives you the space to focus on what the dancers are doing with their bodies in unison, in groups, in solos without having to try and follow their expressions, their gestures or the story. I have been privileged to see the Alvin Ailey Company a couple of times and this expressive dance reminded me of that.

Next up was, for me, the highlight of the afternoon. Debussy’s lyrical, mystical Prelude à l’après-midi d’un faune set to dance showed off the serenity, the strength in stillness of Eric Underwood and Lauren Cuthbertson. The stillness of her first lift resembled a helium balloon, set free by a child, and floating gently into the sky. I loved and adored it and the dancers justly received huge applause for this surreal and minimalist, yet emotionally stirring piece.

Next up, and a complete contrast, was Pas de Deux, a movement of classical ballet to Tchaikovsky’s music, a supplementary dance for Swan Lake. Though it was a great and contrasting example of the exigencies of traditional ballet, to me it came over as a little contrived and formulaic when contrasted to the fluid modern movement of the other items, and therefore a little out of place here.

Finally the piece that had attracted my attention in the first place: Carmen, choreographed by the great Carlos Acosta. As background, Carmen is, has always been my very favourite opera. Oh, I know snobby people denounce it as too popular because of its accessibility but I absolute adore its stonking musicality. To me it’s a precursor of musical theatre with a cracking plot, filled with psychological observation; with sexiness; with joie de vivre. Every single time I see a bit of Carmen, I’m left wanting to watch or listen to it again. Incidentally, when we lived in Paris we used to pass the house in which Bizet wrote this masterpiece every day on our school run down the N13 west of Paris overlooking the Seine in Bougival.

It was against this backdrop of anticipation that I eagerly awaited this afternoon’s ballet trip. And it was good, yes, but….it didn’t quite do it for me.

The thing is in my opinion the original Carmen is pretty damn perfect. the three hours of the opera are jam-packed as it is without Acosta’s minestrone soup additions of flamenco; Afro-Cuban drumming; ballet; bar-room scenes of strip poker, perhaps; the bull of Fate; even L’Arlèsienne at one point. MsDD disagrees with my opinion: apparently Acosta wanted to modernise the opera, make it more accessible through dance but I think he’s tried to pack far too much into just under an hour, skipping through the plot at breakneck speed in a version that threatens to be more of a pastiche than a serious alternative to the original opera. Sadly one of my favourite parts, where Carmen sees her death in the tarot cards, was sung by an older mezzo accompanied by a guitar. It fell short of the powerful moment of the opera and, to me, didn’t add much to the ballet.

Nevertheless, there was much to like in this dark, sultry spectacle, overtly erotic and sexual in places: I particularly enjoyed the scene where Don José and Carmen are in her prison cell after she has been arrested for a stabbing after a jealous fight. Carmen is chained to the bars but it is clear that Don José has also found himself imprisoned in a cell of seduction. Carlos Acosta’s swaggering Escamillo was fantastic too: he really does command and light up the stage and I did enjoy the idea of Carmen fighting to the death with Fate. It was an interesting twist on Carmen but I was left wanting more.

Nonetheless, I left the Opera House as emotionally drained as usual: I really wear my heart on my sleeve when it comes to music and dance performances. It’s as if they reach into my body and pull apart my bones to get a reaction. I know this seems strange to many, but there you go. Perhaps I’m strange. And perhaps, on reflection, if we can spend gem-filled afternoons like this, I’ll keep on my Friend Membership of the Opera House.

Some loose ends

Hm. Well tonight I had been hoping to showcase shots of my newly installed kitchen appliances. Sadly, though the electrician DID spend four hours here this afternoon, the only thing he actually fitted was the coffee machine, and very nice coffee it makes indeed. As it should. So I am not yet @MsAppliance. I’m beginning to wonder if this project will ever be at an end. There are 10 days to go until the formal completion date and a seemingly unending amount of bits and bobs yet to be sorted out. My patience is wearing thin.

So instead I’ll take this opportunity to tie up a few loose ends. I find that, since I have been blogging every day, I no longer keep things in my head to fester. Once they have been committed to laptop, I tend to forget about them. Which is essentially a good thing for me but which means that I can get a little disorganised and confused if someone questions me about something I wrote last week, for example. I have no idea what I wrote about last week.

A few posts stick in my mind if I’m particularly proud of them, but only a few. I’m very pleased at how interactive this blog has become. It’s more of a conversation than a broadcast and I’m happy to encourage that: this is, after all, where I put things that I cannot express fully in 140 characters. If you have any suggestions or questions, I’m only too happy to hear them. If nothing else it means I have a few readers, for whom I’m most grateful.

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Let us start then with the faulty pump on the Hourglass Veil Foundation bottle. I tweeted Hourglass, who (almost) immediately sent me a replacement pump. The problem is that their Veil foundation is too thick for their pump. Apparently they will be revising the packaging at some point soon. I bought the foundation through Net-A-Porter and they immediately sent me another bottle. So now I have two bottles of foundation and two working pumps. Which is nice as I’ve decided that it is really my favourite foundation so far. I am somewhere between a Light Beige and a Beige colour, which is a tad disheartening. I’d much rather be something that sounds nicer like honey or caramel or perfectly done toast instead. Does that verge on the racist? I don’t know.

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At the weekend I told the sorry tale of my Clinique Purifying Cleansing Brush. After several tweets and emails to various branches of this Estee Lauder brand – and the customer service email is elusive on their website – I received a somewhat garbled email and a couple of follow-up phone calls. Apparently the crazy behaviour is a known fault with these brushes, which has since been corrected, but the customer service person I spoke to was unable to help me ascertain why this was happening. Apparently they have rectified the situation now. So today I received a product recall Jiffy bag and apparently they are sending me new brush in the post. I haven’t received that yet though.

I must admit that I was surprised by all this. I would have expected a huge multinational like the Estee Lauder Corporation to have a more professional system of handling complaints but in a way it was quite sweet that they were obviously not used to handling calls such as mine. Perhaps it indicates that they don’t receive that many complaints. Or perhaps I’m being optimistic. Whichever way, I’m surprised not to have seen a general product recall if this was a known fault. You only have to look at the reviews on the John Lewis website to see how their brand is being damaged by this faulty product. I feel like adding my own review with a YANBU (You Are Not Being Unreasonable) explanation.

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Finally tonight I’ll post a reply from my MP, Colonel Bob Stewart DSO etc, to my plea to him to vote against the laws on fox hunting being changed to make it easier to hunt foxes with multiple dogs. I was quite cross with his response to me. I found it rather patronising. Here it is:

Dear Mrs Beecroft

Thank you for your e-mail containing your views on fox hunting and any changes to the law concerning how it is carried out if and when the House of Commons takes up the matter again. I have received a huge number of e mails on this subject. To be honest I am rather surprised and a little shocked too that this subject has raised far more e mails than matters like child protection, female genital mutilation in the UK or modern slavery for women. However it is clearly a matter of great concern to you and I wanted to say where I stand on the subject – at least right now.

To be honest I wish the whole subject had not been introduced by the Government as I feel we have other massive problems which are a priority first. But I suppose that’s life!

I suspect you may know that fox hunting in the traditional way with hounds was banned in Scotland in 2002 and within England and Wales in 2004. However in a modified form hunting with hounds and subsequent shooting of their quarry, foxes, remains within the law and certainly destroying them as vermin is still lawful. Personally, despite having been an infantry officer with some combat experience, I have never hunted or shot any animal as a sport. I simply don’t like the thought.

I was not an MP in 2004 but I recall thinking at the time that there was an element of political nastiness (dare I say class envy) about the law changes in England and Wales. As I recall the House of Lords revised the bill to make it easier to apply and more sensible but many in the House of Commons simply wanted to make a point without regard to the real mechanics of enforcement and operation. So the House of Commons rejected the Lords’ amendments which were, I thought, more humane and practical.

Actually the current proposed adjustment of the law was not its repeal or indeed a gateway to the law being scrapped. What was being suggested is far more about farmers, particularly upland ones, having the ability to flush out foxes as pests which take their livestock. Traditional hunts would still have to kill their quarry with a shot rather than hounds.

I must say we here in South East London are flooded out with foxes which some people encourage even further by feeding. There are too many foxes around us – existing largely on scraps and rubbish that we humans either discard, throw away or give them. I wish we could reduce their numbers as they are starting to be a menace; brazenly coming into people’s houses – and they may even have attacked a couple of children. However the urban fox around us here was not what this revision of the law is all about. It is about foxes in the countryside.

The last hunt which took place in the constituency area apparently took place starting at Beckenham Junction Station in 1901! So in truth this matter has little impact on our lives here on the borders of London and Kent. But that is not the case of many who live in the countryside proper. They feel that they know best about how to manage foxes and I acknowledge their primary right to that view.

Just to get a feel of what most constituents – not just those that e mail me normally as part of a campaign – felt about fox hunting I asked 130 constituents a few days ago whether they supported changing the rules on fox hunting or not. By a large margin most people asked thought the rules should be changed and not left as they were. Some people admittedly didn’t care less. At least that snap poll, imperfect as it was, gave me a feel of what those constituents felt about the subject.

I understand those who argue for revision and I have listened to those who think fox hunting should not happen at all. My rough and ready opinion poll also suggested that the people I asked favoured a change to the rules. Based on that I should favour revising the law.

However, as your MP, I am a representative and not a delegate – which means I am elected to make my own mind up. I have promised to do that many times to constituents over the last year or so when I have promised them that I would think hard about hunting.

With best wishes

Bob

Now, I wasn’t entirely surprised by this reply, though I did find it rather patronising: him wondering why I should worry my pretty little suburban head about an issue that didn’t really concern me. And I was incensed at his comment about his surprise that he had received more correspondence about this than child protection; female genital mutilation and modern slavery for women. Does he mean that these are the issues with which women should concern themselves?

I’m afraid I could not let that pass so I replied briefly saying that obviously these matters concerned me but that I had assumed that his views would not differ from mine (and those of all right-thinking people) on these subjects. I also reminded him of the widely-cited BBC poll suggesting that 80% of country people are against fox hunting. To date I have received no reply. The fox hunting vote was shelved until the autumn, as we know, but I’m glad I had my say.

As I said, if there’s anything you want to ask me, do. I could do one of those Ask Me Anything things, couldn’t I?

Clinique Purifying Cleansing Brush – A review

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Clinique Sonic System

 

Well, how utterly annoying!

I bought the Clinque Purifying Cleansing Brush for a smidgeon under £80 in April. I couldn’t really afford it but the vastly extravagant Eve Lom cleansing balm and washcloth method wasn’t sufficiently clarifying for my combination skin when compared with the Clarisonic brush I’d used before.

I stopped using my reluctantly-sent Clarisonic review freebie because I found it really difficult to clean the bit behind the brush head. The brush didn’t ever dry out properly, and mould would grow if I didn’t make sure I cleaned it every week. It’s the sort of thing for which Lakeland designs specialist cleaning gizmos and, let’s face it, you don’t want to be putting a mouldy vibrating brush on your skin every night, do you?

I admit, my inquisitive, acquisitive nature makes me a marketing person’s dream: I love gadgets and, partly due to this blog (or using this blog as an excuse, if I’m truthful,) I like to try out new things to review them honestly. So imagine my unalloyed joy when I came across this brush at the Clinique counter of John Lewis. OK, so it was Clinique and therefore hardly a niche luxury brand but all those white coats and dermatologically-tested pictures of water splashes caught against a pristine background are persuasive in making the poor customer think that this company knows all about skincare.

I used Clinique in my 20s when I had rampantly oily combination skin. It was fine, I used it for years but, in truth, I became bored of using such a vanilla product. Blame my infamous #lowboredomthreshold if you like. For this reason it was a little retro and comforting to return to Clinique: like some long lost Auntie who brews tea in a brown teapot with a cosy on it and produces a lemon drizzle cake whenever you pop around to visit every 20 years.

Now, I’ve had the Clinique Cleansing Brush in mind for a blog post ever since April because I’ve loved it so much. The charge on the brush seems to work forever, which is just as well because it’s difficult to see the little light that tells you whether or not it’s fully charged. It’s compact enough to fit into my make up bag for India without worrying about taking the charger and, with its Foaming Sonic Soap wingman, it’s a pretty cool and effective product.

I have found a real improvement in the general squeaky cleanness of my skin, although I admit that the foaming sonic soap does leave it a little dry. Using the No2 Clarifying Lotion was also a bit of a step back in time for me, but a welcome one given the improved state of my skin. Turns out Auntie Clinique knew best all along.

As I say, I’d been meaning to review the brush and its mates on this blog for ages and was about to do it this weekend when a very strange thing happened. I was sitting in my bedroom hiding from the allergen dust of my building work on Friday when I heard a strange drilling noise. After a while I realised that it was emanating from my bathroom and when I investigated I realised that my Clinique brush had switched itself on and was buzzing way like an unsophisticated sex toy on top of my wash basin. “Buzz!” it went. “Buzzzzzzzzz.” As I am Queen of the Unnecessary but Desirable Gadget, I took this as a clever warning that I should charge my brush forthwith so I placed it in the cradle of its charger, checked that the orange charging light was blinking – it was, intermittently – and left it.

At about 4am, I was woken up by a very plaintive “Buzz!” The brush had turned itself on and was vibrating away like something from Lovehoney on my bedroom floor. I’m not going to elaborate further on that mental picture. And so it continued throughout yesterday. I thought perhaps that it had exceeded its charge so I removed it from the charger and placed it back on my wash basin. The next time it switched itself on, it buzzed its way into my basin, more lemming than Titanic survivor.

I was out last night but the startled OH was so disturbed by the highly charged buzzing that he secreted it deep in the ottoman, which served as an amplifying soundbox. In the end, he wrapped the amorous brush in a towel, thrust it deep into a bag and left it downstairs to calm down.

So, with some difficulty, I eventually tracked down the Customer Service number on Clinique’s website to find that they available to their customers only on Mondays to Fridays. I sent them an email and I tweeted them with this video of the machine but as yet I have heard nothing back from them.

To add insult to injury, I am told that this is a common fate for these nifty little machines. Plenty of reviewers on the John Lewis site and others report marvellous effects on the skin until one day the brushes turn themselves on and cannot be turned off or cannot be recharged; or cannot be turned on again because they have died. For some reason this scenario reminds me of the fate of Nana the courtesan in Zola’s eponymous novel: fantastically high class while she lasted but ultimately fated to return to society’s dustbin after a short, glittering career. £80 is a lot to pay for something that dies after 4 months. As I write the brush is sitting plaintively in its charging cradle. We shall see if we can bring it back from the dead.

For this reason it is with great and extreme sadness that I cannot recommend the Clinique brush. If Clinique ever bother replying to me, I shall post their response here.

Update 29/10/2016

I have sent my fourth Clinique Sonic Brush back to the company. The other three went nuts after charging; the third one took until its third charging session before it went the way of the others. I bought a replacement and charged it only for it lot lose charge after 10 days.

Estée Lauder, Clinique’s parent company, have been more than gracious in their speedy refunds but I wish they had tried this product BEFORE putting it on the market. My experience seems typical. Instead, I’ve bought a Clarisonic Mia Fit, with which I’m very pleased even though it seems to be drying my skin a little. We shall see.

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Cleaning your makeup brushes

You can scroll on down right now, @Casserly_Rock. This post is not for you.

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Cleaner wars

A while ago I discussed taklon make up brushes and, specifically my new, expensive Hourglass ones with which I am replacing the Bobbi Brown ones I’d had for years and that were starting to show their age.

If you use a foundation brush, it’s important to cleanse it after every use not least to prevent a build up of dirt and bacteria but also because a gunky foundation brush, clogged up with foundation goo is really, really icky, to use the technical term.

What do we use to clean it, however? Well, Bobbi Brown used to make two different sorts of makeup brush cleaner, a spray one for a quick fix temporary clean and disinfect and a more detergent-like one, washing up liquid for brushes. I’ve used both. I rejected the former pretty much straight away because I don’t think it cleans much at all. I used the latter for years but recently found that it was not so effective at removing non-Bobbi Brown foundation from brushes. Or perhaps that was just me.

When I bought the Hourglass bushes I asked counter staff what they used to clean them and they replied that they used surgical spirit. Rubbing my hands with glee, I purchased a 5ooml bottle from Boots for about £4.95. It does work up to a point, yes, and it’s cheap but I soon found that my expensive new taklon fibre foundation brush was disintegrating on my face and had become a #minsgame chucking candidate.

It’s all very well for Hourglass sales reps to say they use surgical spirit: when their brushes start to fall apart, they can just unpack a new brush and use that.

Now, I’ve heard that people use shampoo to clean their brushes but I’ve never found it that successful at removing even oil free foundations. Following the shampoo logic, however, took me to the Aveda counter, where the assistants immediately told me that their Scalp Benefits shampoo often went missing, taken by all the cosmetics counter sales staff to clean their own brushes. So I bought a bottle.

I can categorically say how delighted I am with my purchase. I don’t think my make up brushes have been this clean in months: every last trace of foundation; long wear concealer; blush has been categorically removed from my brushes. At £18 for a 250ml bottle, it’s considerably cheaper than the Bobbi Brown stuff and also the surgical spirit, once you factor in the cost of a new foundation brush every month.

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