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Jesus was born at Christmas, and died at Easter: what’s the odds?

hugh

Of course, you’re all a-blubbin’ watching festive favourite Love Actually, and by the film’s finish in Heathrow with “God Only Knows” on an endless loop, and all the happy folk hugging and crying you’re a cheerfully sodden mess.

Me too.

My first story is also set in Heathrow and features not one but two, sodden messes.

Many hate it, but for me, London’s biggest airport’s a place of excitement and marvel, forever connected to the thrill of exploring Europe. 700,000 people fly out during the holiday week.

Christmas Day, 2005 was our final day living in England, and having visited the Cathedral in the morning to hear the carols, and taken our last lunch at The Spotted Bull we speared down the M25.

In one of many airport queues they presented themselves quickly. Two women: stinking of smoke, shitty wine and undying stupidity, attracting the attention of Terminal 2 with their selfish behaviour. Let’s nod to Dr Seuss in calling them, with appropriate affection, Slapper 1 and Slapper 2.

While they unknowingly auditioned for Heathrow’s Most Horrific Harpies (coming soon to Channel 9) I whispered to the wife, “Gee, I wouldn’t want to be on the same flight as those two.”

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Boarding our overnight plane to Bangkok we left S1 and S2 to their unholy squawking and drunken flailing. I anticipated a meal and a beer, a film, and a long sleep as we slipped across Eastern Europe, Turkmenistan, and India.

I heard, and then smelt them before I saw them. Not only were they on our flight, but they were in the seats directly behind us, now an aeronautical Ground Zero, and dumping their fetid carcasses the trouble, as the English say, kicked off, when S1 thought it within her Lutonian rights to not only bang our chairs, but having detached her grog-soaked shoes, she plonked her gangrenous feet on top of the wife’s seat, right by her ear, and asked to remove these hoofs, both S1 and S2 made some throaty, threatening remarks infused with toxic spittle, tooth decay and, at least to my mind, a lingering, unconscious displeasure at their own massively moronic selves.

This continued for several horrendous hours.

Flying over the Black Sea, after BA belatedly moved us for our own safety, the flight attendants mentioned potential police action so I can only hope both were booked into a Thai prison with cockroaches for festive company. Cheers!

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At 4am we’re all awake. Our Singaporean body clocks reckon it’s midmorning. The room in Munich is tiny and we’ve enjoyed more space on a Tiger flight, despite it being a well-known chain I won’t mention, but I’ll give you a hint- it rhymes with Novotel.

To sedate the boys, we try TV and of course flick past innumerable soft-porn channels so beloved in the Fatherland. I take them to the hotel playroom, but their noise and energy are seismic. Continental Europe seems too small for us.

After a Bavarian week, it happens. Is anything better than falling snow? On Christmas night, after an unusually warm spell, it cascades down, and bedspreads the city and us. It’s bliss.

Rushing down to the carpark there’s dancing flurries, and these swirling, silent flakes form a carpet across the pavers. All is now magic. The boys shape a snowman. We heave some snow about, and at each other beneath the tumbling sky.

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We’re a long way from baking and dusty Australia, and getting here has been significant, but for this enchanted hour, in the dark of a Munich Christmas, it’s simple, joyous fun. I hope the boys remember this. I will.

Later, with Alex and Max asleep, Kerry opens a window, thrusts her paw at the ledge, and makes a vodka and fresh snow! You can’t buy one of these from a Peel Street mixologist. Our snowy pilgrimage is complete. It’s the perfect coda to our week in Munich.

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Christmas across the globe can be memorable, but back in Australia I’m especially looking forward to this one. Stretched, languid days; too much ham; staccato splashing from swimming pools; a good book; backyard cricket with a fuzzy tennis ball; kindly blue sky; and afternoon naps as the Boxing Day Test wanders along.

love actually

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Film Review- The Trip to Spain

The-Trip-to-Spain-poster

Enticing Spanish food, gorgeous cinematography and two actors playing fictionalised versions of themselves perpetually engaged in battles over career, family and who does the best Michael Caine impression.

Yes, Steve Coogan and Rob Brydon have returned with the third in director Michael Winterbottom’s now anticipated film series.

With a typically thin premise- Coogan insists he’s writing a book inspired by Laurie Lee’s As I Walked Out One Midsummer Morning along with the usual contract to write a set of restaurant reviews for the Observer our team departs from Plymouth by overnight ferry for the north of Spain.

The comic energy of the film comes from the endless cockfight between the characters over their impersonations of actors and celebrities. Their stable includes Michael Caine, Robert De Niro and celebrated BBC Radio announcers Terry Wogan and Ken Bruce. Brydon’s impersonation is so uncanny- “Up next: The Doobie Brothers! – that he once took over Bruce’s Radio 2 morning show and most listeners only knew what had happened when the real host appeared at the end!

Mick Jagger is a welcome addition to their repertoire, having snuck in following Coogan and Brydon’s early discussion of older men having kids. He stunningly captures the Stones’ front man and his nasal almost public schoolboy tones, along with the hysterical clapping trope associated with Jagger’s onstage performances. It’s funny, and early on we have Coogan 1, Brydon 0.

Beyond the aural fun it’s also an essay on middle-aged masculinity. The ebb and flow of careers- Coogan now sees himself primarily as a writer, and the scenes with him sitting morosely at his laptop indicate how dismally this is travelling, through to meditations on death and the struggles with family and love. Coogan’s Dad-joke-sad attempts to flirt with an attractive ferry attendant establishes this middle-aged loss early. Happily, Steve later announces that “Fifty is a sweet spot” but of course there’s an underscored doubt about his optimism.

With Emma, Steve’s assistant and Yolanda, the photographer, joining them late in their journey a shared lunch gives the leads the attractive female audience they need for a final showdown in which Coogan and Brydon duel over who can do the best Roger Moore with the Welsh star taking this to maddening yet terrific excess. It’s magnificent.

In the previous films we had literary assistance in Keats, Shelley and Bryon, and here in Spain it’s Don Quixote and his assistant Sancho Panza which somehow reaches its ridiculous zenith in them duetting on “Windmills of Your Mind” as their Range Rover speeds towards Malaga.

The film is part travelogue too with the countryside as well as the restaurants in luscious prominence. The Alhambra is used to highlight Coogan’s latest existential crisis as he wanders through this stunning palace, his haunted, hunched self in contrast to the natural and Moorish architectural wonder.

“She was only nineteen years old!” is the overdue vocal joust- I thought Michael Caine might be unforgivably absent- at their final restaurant in which their shouting match somehow remains unheard by those at the surrounding tables. This impossibility adds to the film’s absurdity.

The Trip to Spain is huge fun and already I’m guessing where they’ll next venture. I suspect a French tour.

Regardless, I’m sure that Caine, Moore, De Niro and co will be along too.

The Trip to Spain is in Australian cinemas now.