Train experience to Winchester

The journey begins. Coffee in hand (coconut latte from the local independent), heading off to Victoria station on an unusually sunny October Saturday morning. Lots of families with young children on the Victoria Line, probably looking for a green patch in… Green Park?

Arriving at Victoria Station was an easy affair. As I came out of the tube, the smell of bacon butties and pastries engulfed me, but alas, my priority was getting the ticket first. Coffee still in hand, I fumbled around with my purse, finally managing to dig out the email with the booking number. 
There was no queue at the self-service machine, but a massive queue of people with trolleys at the standard (traditional) ticket desks. Side stepping that, still fumbling in my bag, careful not to spill any coffee on myself, I made my way to a self-service ticket machine to be greeted by a message saying “please choose railcard type”. No railcard type here, so I pressed to start again and choose my prepaid tickets. 
I was a bit disconcerted by a message “please enter the card you used to pay for the ticket”. I did not have that card so I restarted my journey, thinking I might have missed something. A second attempt and I entered a card, not THE card, praying it would work. It did! They finally asked for my booking number and the tickets were swiftly printed. As soon as that was done I could hear the PA: “the 10:25 train to Horsham is departing from platform 11. First stop Clapham Junction”. Knowing I had to stop at Clapham Junction and change for the South Western Railway to Winchester I hurried. With only 5 min to spare I made my way to the platform and onto the train. It was the Southern line. Fairly clean and not too packed. Wi-Fi picked up almost immediately and good connection too.  Across the aisle, a French group were chattering deliciously about food, whilst eating bread rolls. My stomach grumbled as I realised I had skipped breakfast again. 
At Clapham junction I was met with a bit of a difficulty, which was promptly solved by good old Google who knows exactly what platform the train to Winchester was leaving for. Platform 9 (unfortunately not 9 and 3/4). And I have 10 min to spare. What Clapham junction lacks in terms of notice boards (either that or I didn’t look hard enough) makes up for in bagels and pasties. However, I had little time to deliberate and I chose a massive salted pretzel, which made me very thirsty indeed.
The train arrives with a gentle puff and the red upholstery of the seats which can be seen from outside gives it a posh appearance indeed.
As I take my seat (unallocated seating) I notice there are no charging sockets on this train. The trays are a bit small so I can only place my laptop on them. The coffee cup will have to sit on the tray belonging to the seat next to me. The Wi-Fi is a bit slow but at least it’s there. It’s taking me to the South Western Railway website which is a very colourful and animated experience.

I discover with a twang of disappointment that this seat makes it rather hard to do any work on it. The trays are definitely not designed for any laptops or work to be done on them, as the laptop keeps sliding off. But I don’t like to complain too much. The train carriage is very quiet and pleasant. A young lady is enjoying her yoghurt granola breakfast across the aisle, while on the seat behind her, a man in his 60s is doing the crossword puzzle. There’s no chatting among friends (yet) as this carriage is mostly filled with lone travellers. So far. This works for me as I managed to fill the empty seat next to me with my belongings. 

the Wi-Fi isn’t strong enough for me to upload my lovely pictures onto captureme, but I will make another attempt shortly. As we arrive in Farnborough, attempt at decency prompts me to clear the empty seat next to me. 

The train carriage is a bit livelier now, with 3 blokes having some breakfast beer (Kronenbourg) a few seats in front of me. Place has got a bit chattier but around me, the same quiet people are reading the paper and doing the crossword puzzle. we’ve left Fleet and are approaching Basingstoke. Outside my window things are getting greener by the minute. This pleases me. I spy some beautiful cows basking in the sunshine and I smile. It’s the little things. 

A lady with a food cart came by at Basingstoke. Alas, my coffee had finished and snobbery didn’t allow me to follow it up with the instant coffee served on the train. I was also disappointed they didn’t have Bertie Botts Every Flavour Beans. After Basingstoke, the next stop Winchester. This has been a short and pleasurable train journey. the end destination is Poole and I am half tempted to stay on and visit this city. my eyes had lingered on the name on the map a couple of times. it will have to wait till next time though.

Winchester, we have arrived.  Papier mâché pumpkins greet me from a window with a smile. The journey took 2 min less than expected. The 11:49 train to Poole arrived at 11:47. Winchester is sunny and friendly and I’m looking forward to vising the City Mill and the cathedral.

Bohemian Rhapsody – glorious yet shallow flattery

Anyone with a true passion for film would say that a great film stays with you long after you’ve seen it. In one way or the other. By that token I consider Bohemian Rhapsody a great film. However, it is not a great film from a cinematic, or even storytelling point of view. There are a few carefully chosen angles and camera pans that did make me stop and admire its cinematography.  It is a well executed film, but one would struggle to find more than two truly memorable scenes which would resonate with both film lovers and fans of the band alike.

What the film does well is preserve the legend of Freddie Mercury, and there’s no doubt as to why that is. Brian May and Roger Taylor made sure that everyone attached to the project played it safe and showed respect to the source material. This might not have been the best idea. I couldn’t help wonder what the film would have been like if it had been directed by a true fan of the band and of Freddie. True fans would accept the darkness with the light, champion it and stylise it. That light does shine through in this production,or part of it. It cannot be kept away, for Freddie’s light shone very bright indeed, a force as great as rock music itself. Fortunately for us viewers, Rami Malek managed to capture a glimpse of that light and show it to the world. It left us wanting more. It left me wanting to discover more about Freddie’s extraordinary talent and his controversial life. Hence, weeks after having seen the film, it is still with me. I find myself wanting to watch it again, to see if any hints, innuendos or references to the musical genius might have been missed. On first viewing one feels they are shown a show reel, a best of of a best of. It is an ordinary presentation of an  extraordinary rock’n roll band. We all know from the very beginning that the story and more importantly the music was anything but ordinary. We are still waiting for the goosebumps we know good cinema undoubtely give.

What the film failed to capture, whilst busying itself with being as PG and PC as possible, was both the essence of the band’s musical legacy and the complexity of Freddie Mercury’s tumoultuous life. We can’t tell for sure which film Bryan Singer would have ended up making, had he finished the production. Fans of both the band and cinema itself would want either one of those, not both crammed up into one, without doing justice to either. The source material is too vast, too sagaesque both in terms of music and the private lives of the musicians to be made into one film. As someone who has now researched their music extensively, it is my belief that Bohemian Rhapsody only manages to show a glimpse of the kaleidoscopic narrative that is represented by the two titanic entities: Queen and Freddie Mercury.

Vice – an exquisitely pretentious piece of cinema

The story goes that when Dr Strangelove was first conceived, it was conceived as a dramatic script. Somewhere during the writing process, a funny idea came to Kubrick’s mind. And then another, and another, until what emerged was one of the best political satires of the 20th century. Adam McKay, the writer-director of Vice is no Kubrick. He is by no means a bad director. He is probably an even better writer.

However, the impression that Vice leaves with the viewer is that the idea of turning this political drama onto a satire seemed to have sprung up on him during post-production, leaving us confused as to what we were watching. He seems to have whipped up ideas as he went along while editing the picture and attempted to gloss over any inconsistencies through the use of fishing visual metaphors.

At times it felt like we were being privy to an avalanche of sensitive information regarding the way the free world is being run. This, I must confess, brought on a feeling of physical discomfort. It almost instinctively made me think that there are levels of corruption that we, as regular folk can only imagine. Either that or Adam McKay is very good at imagining and filling in the blanks left by the Bush administration by using private email servers.

While busying itself with painting a demonic picture of Dick Cheney, the film manages to dehumanise him, thus almost excusing him from all the machinations and Machiavellian dealings we see him carry out in the film. Christian Bale’s performance is an almost perfect representation of what Cheney looked like, spoke and acted in front of the cameras, but there is little depth to it. The monster is one-dimensional and thus less believable and less feared. At the beginning of the story we are told that it’s the quiet ones we should fear, the men in the shadow of those in power, thus giving Cheney an aura of insidiousness. However, there is nothing insidious about Bale’s performance as Dick Cheney. We get very little insight into what his driving force is, other than the all-encompassing American love for his family and his country. Protecting his family and his country gives Cheney carte-blanche to go off starting wars in the Middle-East. And yet, that motive isn’t as well defined as one might have hoped. There’s an indication at profit to be made from the oil in Irak, but that is also quickly swept under the carpet.

While the film is very rich in ideas as well as modes of execution, what it is lacking in is the consistency to present a story. It may even be accused of suffering from the ‘Bohemian Rhapsody’ syndrome, which makes the subject matter alone deserving of respect, regardless of the way it is presented to the public. After all, a biopic about a hated man and a crucial part in American history should have the same gravitas as a biopic about what is arguably considered the best frontman that has ever graced the music stage, and thus get as many accolades. While neither film manages to truly earn its Oscar worthiness, the saving grace for Bohemian Rhapsody was Rami Malek’s astonishing performance. In the case of Vice, Christian Bale’s central performance might have driven the film too far into caricature territory had it not been for the supporting performances of Amy Adams, Eddie Marsan, Justin Kirk and Sam Rockwell, the latter’s portrayal of a buffoon president being welcome with a knowing grin. After all, it’s hard to imagine G W Bush depicted in any other way. Amy Adam’s Lynne Cheney almost succeeds to be a well-rounded character, despite a few far-right outbursts that come off as a bit too much for a 2019 audience.  

All in all, Vice is a passable film that raises as many questions about American politics as it answers, and which could have probably been even more enjoyable had it fully embraced the Brechtian aesthetic it merely toyed with.