Sunday, 18 March 2018

Any Human Heart - The Film Series (2010)

It could be any human heart. That's what comes to mind whenever I rewatch the series
based on William Boyd's novel Any Human Heart, although the title is apparently taken from a quote by Henry James.

I have searched high and low for a second hand copy of the film tie-in edition of the book and have only just this week been lucky in my search. Therefore whilst I have watched the series three times, I am still to read the novel. It received mixed reviews but that never bothers me because any artistic rather than mainstream writing will get that reaction. Rather, I look forward to reading what has been described as an erratic narrative, in keeping with the idea that the story is seen not only through the eyes of the protagonist Logan Mountstuart as he goes about his life, but also in journal format so that the present is always that which matters, sometimes totally disjointed from the past and with a changing agenda. Unlike a memoir, a journal also allows the narrator to focus on the now without knowing the future yet, whilst the memoir would be reminiscing and comparing and contrasting or looking at things with a view to what will come next.

As always, I tried to do some research prior to writing this piece and it was interesting what info came up in my search. It seems like the writer Boyd and myself have one fascination in common, both of us being intrigued and enamoured of the idea of the life of any human and how it can be explored in writing. Boyd uses the journal style to give the writing the immediacy of present happenings, therefore bringing us closer to the protagonist.

The well-known phrase 'we are all human' implies that we all make mistakes. Humans are flawed by nature. Maybe the real appeal of this series is that we get to see Logan blunder through life from the safety of our own seat. We are privy to his disasters and achievements, lust and love and sadness, without being affected ourselves by the multiple decisions he takes along the way.

SPOILER ALERT FOR THIS PARA! The plot, if you can so name it, spans the lifetime of a person whose legacy, ironically, is only sealed after his death. He is a writer, one that toyed with writer's block more than actually wrote books it seems, and yet at the end of it his life proved to be his biggest masterpiece.

However even as I state that the series is about a man's life first and foremost, I can't but comment that Logan's life was full of 'love' if we could call it that. There seems to be a recurring theme in films and books that once yo've found your one true love, no one else will ever come close and this mirrors reality in my opinion. SPOILER ALERT THIS PARA! So Logan loses his virginity to his best friend's girlfriend then beds Land, marries Lottie before finding his one true love in Freya and eventually must deal with the tragic end to his very dear marriage to this second wife. He goes into a disastrous third marriage with a cold American woman, one that is short-lived in part due to the ongoing effects on his mind from losing his treasured Freya and their daughter Stella whilst he was a prisoner of war. It is at this point he lets go of looking for love and instead turns to Monday and eventually Gloria for something that is passionate and glorious in its irresponsability and finds peace in not looking for a replacement but embracing instead the fact that he'd lived his one big love story already.

I am sure that once I read the book I will find that there are variations in the film series to the original text. Having viewed before reading this extraordinary tale, I am free to give my opinion on the script and screen interpretation without being hindered by the comparisons and contrasts that will surely cloud my opinion once I have also read Boyd's novel. Therefore I will allow myself to say that, as a stand-alone series not reliant on any previous written version, Any Human Heart strikes me as a well-thought-out and gripping tale that any fan of artsy films will surely enjoy, especially those of us who love to examine the average human life.


Wednesday, 14 March 2018

On The Death of Stephen Hawking

On days such as this many articles and comments appear all over the internet about the deceased. Some are intelligent observations, others merely thoughts that people post because after all, media is about freedom of speech. I will personally not be writing a eulogy as I don't believe in writing about people, things or situations I am not familiar enough with.

However I am very familiar with the film The Theory of Everything (2014) that strives to present the story of the man and the genius and spans decades of the scientist's life. Based on Jane Hawking's Travelling to Infinity, it deals not only with the professional achievements but also the personal life of Professor Hawking. About this film I have written two articles so here are the links to a) a review about the film and b) a clarification of deviations from the original facts to the ones in the film.

Review of The Theory of Everything:

Inaccurate facts in the film The Theory of Everything:

Monday, 5 March 2018

Update to my February Cash-Only Experiment

So February has ended and with it my experiment for a cash-only month. I have to admit I cheated a little bit but learnt a lot too.

I did manage to keep myself from buying anything online and therefore with a credit card. Except for one little thing. My son asks for many things and I often refuse to give him what he wants unless it is an actual need. However as a treat for respecting my decision to say no to most of his requests, I finally allowed him one purchase I knew would mean a lot to him. It was close enough to the end of the moth that the item arrived in March and so in a way I did stick to the no credit-card February as I actually paid it in March. Add to that, I do keep a small budget for treats so as such I did not go out of line of the budget.

Meanwhile, I did say last time that I intended to avoid using even a debit card at cash points for the month of February, excluding for biggish purchases. Well I stepped into a JB Stores to get thick coat hangers and voila' I was out of there with a bagful of stuff. Meaningful stuff mind you, that I would definitely be using in my new home, and yet stuff that I didn't have enough cash in my purse to pay for and so out came the debit card. As you might remember, I had said that I never carry much cash on my person and so it is only obvious that I do use my debit card here and there but still my purchases were not budgeted for in this case.

Other than for these two 'mishaps' if they may so be called, I have to proudly advise I used cash extensively through the month. Yet I don't think I can really report having bettered my savings in so doing. If anything, it is more of a headache to need to keep cash on hand at all times as I am not often aware from the morning as to when I am actually going to stop for groceries or need to buy a lunch or even when I will need a trip to the pharmacy.

On the other hand, I did find it easier to not have to continually update my spreadsheet with money taken through using the debit card and needing to keep track of the bank's updates since they don't post such transactions on the same day they are made, therefore leaving me with a bigger balance showing than the one on my spreadsheet and unable to reconcile properly.

Now that we started March, I have decided to pay cash whenever I can in order to avoid this problem with the bank balance updates and yet won't be going out of my way to pay cash at all times.

Monday, 26 February 2018

Watching A Classic - Forrest Gump (1994)

It created a lot of hype when released and went on to gain Tom Hanks his back-to-back Oscars in 1995, a feat no other actor has managed since. The film itself beat Four Weddings and a Funeral to the Best Picture Oscar and gained 45 awards in all, from Golden Globes to a BAFTA, a Screen Actors Guild Award to an Amanda Award from Norway.

Despite being a classic and one that outdid my fave of the year Four Weddings and a Funeral to the Best Picture Academy Award, I had none the less got through my years since without so much as a peak at this positively-reviewed drama (if you may call it that?)

It all changed this week when, on someone's recommendation, I watched it for a first time. I started out expectant, lost interest at its long-winded narrative and then ended in buckets of tears as Forrest and Jenny's star-crossed lovers plot reminded me very much of my biggest love story. Which is to say, at the end of it, the film was a success in my books.

It has been defined as satire, suggested to be a story through the eyes of innocence in the form of a simple man and even described as a walk through of the USA's historical events and fads of Gump's and Jenny's lifetime. I believe that above everything else, I would call it a character study that incorporates life's possibilities, probabilities and hinderances in an experiment to see what Hank's Forrest would do with them all.

SPOILERS ALERT - I mentioned earlier Forrest and Jenny's romance, if it could be so called as long as it was one-sided. From their initial bonding over being different to their prayer in the field as they hide from Jenny's dad, from Forrest's protectiveness towards his sweetheart to his naming the whole fleet of shrimping boats 'Jenny', this was one love affair that was sure to succeed at the end. Even as Jenny sank further and further into a life she felt made her unworthy of her childhood friend's unconditional love, an invisible string seemed to keep them coming back to each other to cross paths again, at times coincidentally and at others out of their own sheer will. Even from the beginning, as Hanks sat on the outdoor bench relating his character's story through the eyes of one with an IQ of 75, that box of chocolates sitting in his lap attracted my attention time and again, not for his borrowed phrase that life is much like a chocolate box, with a surprise taste with each choice you make, but rather because it had to signify something.

True enough, he was on the way to Jenny's even as he related the tale. I never expected Gump to be her son's dad, especially since the film only hinted at and never revealed did Jenny and Forrest sleep together on that last night before she disappeared from his life again. Which leads me to what was for me one of the most moving moments in the film. When Forrest finds himself alone again after that special night with Jenny in his arms, he is unable to take the normality of his life any more and so he runs; maybe not runs away exactly, but runs without direction nonetheless. Truly, any of us who have lost the love of someone that meant much to them would know how directionless and haphazard our life becomes after that.

I mentioned that this is satire, a story about innocence, a character study, and a historical walk of events. Above all else, in my opinion, I would class it as a love story that will remain relevant through the years. Gump might serve in Vietnam, win at ping-pong and run across multiple States of the USA, but it is all done through his love of Jenny and for his love of Jenny; the one meaning in the chaos of life. Could that be why he bulldozes Jenny's father's house at the end? More than to destroy that place which had caused Jenny not only pain but a life of regret, maybe he destroyed it to remove that one thing that had led her astray from his arms for so long.

I would above all else, call this the eternal romance of innocence and experience intertwined. After all, that is why it probably resonates with viewers to the point of being still remembered twenty-three and a half years later as soon as I mention it by name. Forrest Gump will never die in film-goers' hearts.

Tuesday, 20 February 2018

More Tips to a Confident You

A few weeks ago I posted a link to my article 'A Resolution to Look and Feel Better Every Day' and today I will be linking another article that also talks about simple tips that will make a huge difference to a girl's confidence. So here it is, my Part 2:

Wednesday, 14 February 2018

Alone on Valentine’s Day
It’s a day for chocolates and roses, cards and gifts. Or for those of us who are Minimalists at least a romantic day set up beforehand to make more time and give more attention to our better half - a reminder really - of something we should strive for daily anyway.

All the above however count only for the couples, and not me for the first time since 1999. So this is going to be one dedicated to singletons rather.

I used to be a smug married, as Bridget Jones would say. Jokes apart, I have to admit, I really was! Somehow, for good or bad, being married meant having another half with whom to share it all. Now I am on the other side of the table and the phrase that comes to mind is from The Wedding Singer (1998) where Adam Sandler’s character, newly dumped at the altar, sings ‘Love Stinks’. Oh how it does!

When it goes wrong, it stinks worse than cigarettes and onion breath rolled into one and dumped on a Maltese bus seat amid the sweat and stink of socks. Because it leaves you all alone, regretting or craving it, maybe even both all at once.

Yes I am single but I am here writing on behalf of all those going through the five stages of grief following a breakup (or even two!)

All the happy photos of couples that I scroll through on my Facebook make me want to make a mental note to avoid mindlessly hitting the app icon for the day. Probably even Google will have to be avoided if their illustrator comes up with something soppy enough for the main page of the search engine.

Bitter? I ain’t, not really. I am trying hard to get comfortable in my own skin after almost two decades of sharing it with someone and wearing their own skin on mine. I am also trying to be objective about the most irrationally subjective topic in life:
LOVE. Is it only a four-letter word? Or is there more to it? As they say in my language, the dog that’s already been scalded will think all water is boiling hot. Or a more apt way to put it would be to use the English equivalent of ‘Once bitten, twice shy’.

Will I find love again? After all, what is love really at the end of it? Some think of it as companionship, stability, trust. I am more passionate than that and I mean this character-wise, for passion is not always about sex. I need something more than to just settle. I need to look into someone’s eyes and ‘know’ it will work, or at least can work, if we both want it to.

Thursday, 8 February 2018

Books Worth Your Money

For the first ever time on my blog, I am actually selling something. I currently have quite a few books to sell as I slowly pack up all my stuff from our current matrimonial home and start my new life as a single mum, temporarily at mum's with very little space to put my things. However, as some of you who follow me might know by now, it is very usual for me to part with books once I am done with them, simply for the reason that I always live lightly and have no need for books that will sit on my shelves unless I plan on reading or re-reading them. I have to admit sometimes I part with books before even finishing them because one of my rules is to never waste time on anything that I do not believe to be useful or interesting. Unfortunately sometimes it is also the case that despite actually being interested in the book, I might anyway not have time to go through it as I struggle to get caught up with other books that I might need to read to a deadline or that I need to re-read as research before writing some article. You might wonder why I don't keep such books to the side to read some day and my answer to that is very simple. I very much agree with Marie Kondo's remark that unless you read a book soon after it reaches your home, you likely never will. Unread books tend to blend in the background yet still constantly send us warning signs that we are yet to give them the attention they deserve, causing unnecessary clutter in our minds despite not being important enough for us to have given them more attention.

That is not to say that I am only selling unread books right now, as I tend to read most books only once and rarely do I feel any of them deserve a place in my Hall of Fame, ie a shelf/cupboard space in my home. As I said, I feel better when I live lightly and in order to do that, I must let things go. It also helps that the less books are on the shelves the less tiring it is to dust both the shelving and my book collection. So here are a few of the books I am currently looking to part with. I am not in a position to ship abroad due to ridiculously high postage costs so this offer is only for people living in Malta, pick-up only. Here goes:

goodbye, things (Fumio Sasaki)
I have read this one through and would suggest it to a budding Minimalist though as I once mentioned in another post, this is not one for those who've been on the journey to living with less for a long time already.
Selling for EUR5

The Productivity Project (Chris Bailey)
I looked up and bought this book after being inspired by the author's TEDx Talk. However, a TEDx Talk is only 17 minutes whilst his book is one long read with a heavy subject so I unfortunately had to leave it on the back burner for so long it lost its allure. I can confirm however that what little I read of it was quite interesting and never left my mind.
Selling for EUR5

Bridget Jones's Baby - The Diaries (Helen Fielding)
I reviewed this one on EVE a while ago, giving it a positive review (which you may read here: I may be selling this one, but not exactly parting with it! The one reason this is on my to-sell list is because the copy I own does not match the other three books I have in the series so I would like to sell this hardbound copy to replace it with the paperback version.
Selling for EUR9

Send me an email on if you would like me to reserve any of the above-mentioned books. However pick-up needs to happen by end of February latest.

Meanwhile, since we are on the topic of books, here is a link to my ever-growing page on Facebook about totally anything book-related:

Thursday, 1 February 2018

A Cash-Only Month

One tip I have read about over and over that helps save money is to ‘pay by cash not card’.

I live in a country where the use of debit rather than credit cards is still widespread and so it must seem that this tip might not exactly apply to Malta. After all, credit allowance in Malta is very limited as I learnt just by trying to get another credit card from a different bank, whereupon I was asked for proof that I lowered my limit on another bank’s card just to be allowed to apply to get a credit equivalent only to that amount!
Truly, I don’t even use my credit card for its intended purpose much, preferring to own one solely for ease of online buying. However, there are always pitfalls to buying by card, be it debit or credit, should you be trying to save rather than spend.

To start with, a credit card WILL let you use more money than you have, whether you’d like it or not. And with that in mind, it is easy to buy something ‘this month’ rather than the next, knowing you can pay it later,  even at no interest if you are diligent with paying on time. Which leaves only the problem of having already spent some of NEXT month’s pay, right?!

When it comes to using a debit card, there is less danger of overspending as you are required to actually have money in the account to make a transaction. Still, this method of payment does not hold us accountable like good old cash does, simply because signing on the dotted line else putting in that password is much easier than counting out the money.

I have to admit that when the cashier asks me for the money, I barely register the amount he is asking for when I am paying by card. When I do pay in cash, however, I need to count out the money and even check do I have enough in my purse! Using a debit card will easily allow me access to money put aside for something other than the purchase I am making, as the purpose of the bank account is actually to keep our money safe and put aside.

I am not one to carry much cash and I would not prefer to withdraw more instead of using my debit card at EPOS for bigger purchases. Meanwhile it is not always possible to use a debit instead of a credit card online either.

Even with these limits in mind, I decided to give this ‘buy cash only’ idea a try, making allowances for cards in two instances only:

I will still pay by card at the supermarket when the bill is big, ensuring to reduce my groceries budget from my spreadsheet workings as soon as I am home on the same day. This will ensure that I do not overspend anyway in the one given area, for the month.

My second concession will be to allow myself the use of a credit card should I finally find to buy online a copy (new or second-hand) of the film tie-in edition of the book Any Human Heart. This because I have been on the lookout for it for long months now and it is very difficult to come by.

With these two exceptions in mind, I hope to try this experiment for a whole month, starting today. I am skeptical as to the extent of a difference it will make and will keep notes too, giving my feedback on here once the month is over. So keep tuned, till next time.

Friday, 26 January 2018

Their Finest (2016) - A Film Review

Due to circumstances, I was unable to go watch Their Finest at the cinema when it first came out which was already a tantalising few months after it first previewed at festivals in 2016! Then I had to wait patiently for the DVD to be released for my first glimpse of Lone Scherfig’s war comedy/drama.

I approached my first viewing with mixed feelings, because despite that the film stars three actors whose other works I love, this was undermined by my questioning whether Scherfig’s latest would be a masterpiece else a dragged out unimpressive feature, given I had seen one of each by this same director.

The intro to main character Catrin Cole (Gemma Arterton) is unnecessarily drawn out and it took two viewings of those first minutes for me to really get into the story. However the film gains points for putting the audience in the correct historical scenario from the outset. Meanwhile, whilst I do know that this film is based on the book Their Finest Hour and a Half by Lissa Evans and therefore most of the production was based on this same, it is nonetheless worth praising the production effort involved in juxtapositioning the ‘real’ world against that of the propaganda film in such a way that the stories blend together to offer the viewer not one but two stories to follow. For even as the characters write the script and film the story of the twin girls who help with the evacuation at Dunkirk, they are themselves living out another drama called ‘life’. For war and work aside, they all have feelings and dreams, some of which must get put aside.

For ageing Ambrose Hilliard (Bill Nighy) acting jobs are scarce and he is less than pleased with playing the part of Uncle Frank, which in his opinion is ‘a corpse role’. Catrin needs a job and is up for a challenge, yet just for being a woman she is being paid less and told so at the outset. It doesn’t help that when she finally warms to the work and her senior Tom Buckley (Sam Claflin) her partner tries to pull her away from it all. As for Buckley himself, who is very much at ease being in charge, he is too much of a loner and also grouchy, till Cole bursts his protection bubble with her soft ways.

War stories are usually sad dramas and comedies have happy endings as a rule. In this film, the norms are twisted to present to us a comedy with war for a backdrop, whilst adding an unexpected love story to the mix. So we see here a subdued colour scheme that corresponds with the air of depression that accompanies war-torn London, that is further enhanced by a blast that Catrin finds herself in the middle of, looking around at a nightmare of bodies scattered everywhere just seconds after they were alive.

Despite the constant fear of bombing, Catrin refuses to leave when her artist partner wants her out of London and in a safer place. Maybe like Buckley, who believes in his work and does so with a passion, she too feels she’d found her purpose in the job of script-writer, which seems to give her new life. After all, as Buckley points out, “The work is good Mrs Cole, you’re doing a good job.” Tom Buckley, surly though he is, becomes quite likeable in the company of Catrin and that is where the behind-the-scenes of the film gets more interesting.

However, this is a war film we are talking about and one directed by Scherfig, which in itself hints at a more intricate ending than simply a happy one. Unfortunately for me, studying writing has stripped away from me the joy of being surprised whilst reading books and watching films most of the time. Throughout the last quarter of the film, I started sensing an air of finality in the love story that would not allow me to believe in a positive end. So whilst probably most viewers would be rooting for Tom’s character and spurring Catrin on, I sat back in my seat and waited for the inevitable; I felt that something would go wrong. I won’t say whether it did, or whether the film surprised me by proving me wrong, as that would spoil the ending for those readers still to watch the film or read the book. What I can definitely say, is that Lissa Evans’ love story provides a twist that will shock even thought of us who already felt the foreboding finality to Tom’s and Catrin’s ever-after.

Friday, 19 January 2018

Minimalism - Love Your Socks!

Minimalists don't own stuff. Or at least, they do but less than the norm. And so they tend to love what they own more, simply because everything they own is functional or beautiful to them. Some Minimalists try to merge the two.

On a page on Facebook last week, one woman asked for ideas on how to not hate washing the dishes. My suggestion, which got some laughs but also the approval of the person asking the question, was simple enough: I said 'Buy dishes you like!'

For when we own things we love, we take better care of them. And without useless junk distracting our eyes and minds from what is important or lovely to us, we live solely with things we appreciate. Yes, even socks! I love my socks. I mostly buy socks with designs I love, rather than plain ones. As a result I always love putting on my socks in the morning.

See, being Minimalist can be lots of fun. ;-)

Friday, 5 January 2018

A Coffee With a Difference, From Jacob with Love

Jacob’s Brew has been open only a few months yet everyone seems to have heard about
it. For Jacob is the boy who lived (and he is very real unlike Harry Potter!) Time and again, his story was shared on local media and he has by now become much like a star, including having his handprint set in Baystreet’s Walk of Fame.

He suffered through a serious brain infection, hemorrhages and a coma, as well as four brain surgeries, yet Sarah and Sam Cachia’s then fifteen-year-old son came out a winner, striving to live as best he could instead of feeling beat. Together with his very supportive parents, he started a Facebook page called Survivors Malta that eventually turned into a group that even outgrew the confines of a chat room and spilled into the real world. In time, Survivors Malta became a fully-fledged NGO (Non-Governmental Organisation).

Having spent so many hours a week meeting patients, survivors and supporters in the ITU and other places over coffee, Jacob, who resumed his studies following his illness, decided he might like to open up his own coffee shop. He could then provide a much-needed place-to-go, not only as an informal and homey headquarters for his own NGO but also for anyone else that needed support, for who better understands pain than those who have been through it?

At first Jacob’s was a distant dream, which I remember reading about at As dreams do sometimes come true, this one very fortunately did and Jacob’s Brew opened up in Marsaskala in the summer of 2017.

My interview at the café was set for the 30th of December so the shop was still decorated for Christmas, simply and in good taste, including a homemade flat Christmas tree on one wall, twinkling slowly, radiating calm.

In fact, everything about Jacob’s Brew exudes an aura of peace that I rarely feel elsewhere. Maybe it is the fact that I know the background to the story that makes me feel so happy in this place. For Jacob’s Brew, run by Jacob (aka Titanium Man) and his parents, is a café with a difference. It thrives not only on its inviting atmosphere and delicious meals but more so on the well-known fact that it is a Pay-It-Forward business.

It helps the NGO Survivors Malta through donating part of the profits from the business and at the end of 2017, the coffee shop presented the charity organisation with EUR500 to kickstart the project Jacob’s Coffee Run, whereby sandwiches and beverages will be delivered to families of patients in the waiting area of the ITU.

However, the Pay-It-Forward motto of the coffee shop extends to non-monetary help so every cash receipt at Jacob’s Brew is stamped with the shop logo and can be passed on to anyone going through a rough time for a free coffee and listening ear when they visit.

The coffee shop utilises its back room for support meetings as well as NGO activities and as a meeting hub for other local groups, always with the theme of charity and giving at heart. Community-based projects like the Tessie Montebello Book Club and Craft&Coffee For Charity are welcome regulars at the coffee shop’s book corner and meeting room respectively.
Me at Jacob's Brew

Meanwhile, for those of us lucky enough to be looking for coffee more than support, the shop makes a mean hot chocolate drink and rainbow cake, takes bookings for High Teas and provides breakfast and lunch worthy of five stars on Trip Advisor, so if you haven’t already you really should pop into the coffee shop that will ensure to Pay-It-Forward on your behalf.

Link to Jacob’s story:

Link to Jacob’s Brew’s Facebook Page:

Links to Facebook group and pages mentioned in the article:

Survivors Malta

Tessie Montebello Book Club

Craft&Coffee for Charity

Monday, 1 January 2018

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