Flag Day Brings Out the Chameleon in Me

“There’s a whole lot of people don’t seem to understand that you have to talk to a man in his own language before he’ll take you seriously.”

(Coker – The Day of The Triffids by John Wyndham)

A word of explanation to start. 

In Ireland, a ‘Flag Day’ is when you go out onto the streets and collect money for a particular charity or club.  The little sticker you get for your lapel after contributing is called a Flag.   Okay?

I have a particular trait which I think most people possess a little bit of.  It’s just that I seem to possess an awful lot of it  It’s not a conscious thing by any means but I am a naturally self-aware person so I often catch myself doing it and then I actually hate myself for doing it.

It’s just this: 

I like to give people what they want.

If I’m talking to a bunch of guys in a pub, I can be crude and conspiratorial and enormously politically-incorrect.  If I’m talking to a little old lady, I can be sympathetic and saddened and dismayed and supportive, as required. 

I tend to give people the ‘me’ which I think they might best like to see.

I know we all do this to some extent.  I even said it earlier (read back).  Maybe I don’t even do it any more than others but I think I do and that’s enough to annoy me.  Why can’t I just be myself with everybody and let them take me or leave me as they choose?

I remember finding the character of Coker in the novel ‘The Day of the Triffids’ and immediately identifying with him for his trait of changing his manner of speaking depending on who he was addressing.  It’s the closest I’ve come to finding myself in a fictional character.

This habit of mine is bad but it gets infinitely worse whenever Flag Day comes around.

Every year, I stand outside my local Supermarket and ask people to help towards the upkeep of our local tennis club.  It’s there that this ‘Coker’ quality of mine reaches manic and exhausting proportions.

Standing in the lobby of the store, I see whoever is coming towards me and, in order to extract a little funding – or at least not get beat up – I give each one a little of what I reckon they might want.  I look sad for the old ladies, pissed-off for the guys, funny for the kids, businesslike for the shop-manager, friendly for the emigrants, small for the police, big for the pretty gals…

It’s completely and utterly bloody exhausting.  I would imagine if a security camera caught me, it would present a bewildering array of attitudes, stances, facial expressions and movements. 

Kid Chameleon, in full flight.

Of course, I’m not like that all the time in real life.  Mostly it’s very subtle and I doubt many would even notice it.  But, like the title says, flag day and its peculiar requirements brings it out in me.

Confounding all this disgraceful emphatic posturing is the manner in how I deal with people who might challenge or attack me in any way.  I cannot bear to be messed with, disrespected, or maligned.  Those people – and there are always a few on Flag Day – may be surprised at the passion and vehemence of my response to them.  That, perhaps, is when I am closest to being that elusive character – the ‘real me’.

So perhaps I wish I could be the ‘real me’ a little more often.  But who is the real me?  The ‘me’ who exists when no one else is around is a rather silent and deflated sort of a fellow.  Not someone you’d jump to spend much time with.

I sometimes think the best description of me would be as a sort of a mirror – when nobody’s in front of me, there’s not all that much going on…

Perhaps the ‘real me’ really is this hybrid mimicking fool who alters himself to suit whatever background he currently occupies.  Perhaps I should just accept that fact and move on.

What do you think?

Whatever you say, I’ll probably agree.

On 3D TV, Grand National Day, and General Disbelief

Ever since I’ve been around the Internet, whenever Grand National Day arrives, I usually say pretty-much the same thing on some forum or another.  This year it was Twitter.

I usually say, “If you’re bored watching the Grand National on telly, put your sunglasses over one eye and it will be in 3D.”

The reaction to this little nugget of information is invariably the same.  People take a ‘Yeah, sure… pull the other one” approach and I suppose I can’t really blame them.

This year, as I sat with my sunglasses watching the race in 3D, I was longing for someone to try it out and come back and confirm that I was neither a raving lunatic nor an inveterate prankster.  Of, course, as we know, I am both.  But not in this instance.  This really works. 

But nobody would try it.

Of course it doesn’t work for just the Grand National – that would be silly – it will work for practically any horse race or anywhere else on telly where people or things run around a track. If the action is moving from right to left on the TV, put the sunglasses over your right eye and/or vice versa.

Why doesn’t anyone believe me?

It’s a widely known effect but I like to think I put the spin on it of using it to watch horse racing.  I’m probably wrong, it’s a big old world, somebody else probably did it first.

Here’s a little of the science.  We’re talking about something called ‘The Pulfrich Effect’ which refers to lateral motion of an object in the field of view being interpreted by the visual cortex as having a depth component, due to a relative difference in signal timings between the two eyes.

In simpler terms, if you delay the light coming into one eye – by the use of, let’s say, sunglasses – then the object can appear to have some depth.

“But if this is the case”, you cry (I know you don’t really), “why don’t all 3D glasses just have one eye darker than the other?”

Good question.

The problem lies in the phrase ‘Lateral Motion’.  You see the depth perception trick only works while the object is in motion. When it stops, the effect stops too.  So, unless Avatar was going to be a constantly whirling extravaganza, this technology would not work for it.

But it does work for horse races…


But none of you are ever going to try it out, are you?  It sounds pointless and stupid and, in truth, that’s exactly what it is.  It’s rather a weak effect and it gets tiresome awfully quickly but my refrain is, it does work and nobody will believe me.

So maybe you’ll have a look at this…

The BBC tried to use this Pulfrich Effect in their 1993 Children in Need programming.  They even produced a dreadful Dr Who short, touting it as a 3D episode, they even issued glasses, which were just one lens darker than the other, as described above.

And here it is.

Humour me.  Cover your right eye with your sunglasses, sit a little back and give yourself a minute or two to become accustomed to the effect.

There’s another example here.

I don’t expect a plethora of in depth comments on this dodgy post.  I just wanted to explain my annual announcement.  Maybe, though, someone could just confirm that it works.


And if you want to move on to a televised horse race, please, be my guest.

Contemplating Eternity

I got plenty of religion when I was very young.

I was taught, in those formative years, in schools run by nuns and Christian brothers.  I was an altar boy and also a highly-regular mass-goer, whether anyone pressured me to or not.

Advancing years and logic has dispatched much of my earlier naivety but you can’t do all that stuff without something or other becoming ingrained.

Once such thing is the concept of Eternity.

When I was young, in Mass and bored, my mind would sometimes turn to this idea of Eternity.  I think the schools had gone beyond the 'Fire and Brimstone' teaching by the time I got there but they were very good at pushing the idea that, wherever you went after you died, it went on for ever… and ever… and ever.

This didn’t seem so very bad when one was thinking of a cool place with soft drinks, penny chews and matinees all of the time.  But it was a rather different proposition when you were threatened with being put in a bad place.  As I said, not necessarily a 'Fire and Brimstone' sort of a place, more a dark, cold, lonely place with nobody nice around and nothing nice to do.

So there I would be, regularly, in Mass, contemplating Eternity – an Eternity of not-very-nice-ness.  My method was not terribly sophisticated – I would say to myself, “When you die, you might go someplace dark and horrible… and you might stay there forever.”  And then, crucially, I would repeat this last thought over and over in my head, “for ever… and ever… and ever… and ever….”

After about 30 seconds of doing so, a strange thing would happen.  I would start to feel disorientated, dizzy and sick.  At some point in the repetition, instead of just repeating words, my mind would start to grapple with the concept of something which actually has no end.  No end at all.  It was the oddest thing, I would feel my consciousness almost literally founder at the thought.  It would reach out, disbelieving, thrashing to get to an end which must somehow be there.  The more I thought, the worse it got.

My childish mind, I discovered, could not seriously engage with the concept of Eternity.

I had forgotten about all this, as I do, until recently.  Something must have reminded me, I can’t remember what.  I started to wonder how my adult mind would be, playing the same game.  I am now a  good deal less committed to the practices of my youth and, without delving too deeply into matters of belief, the concept of Eternity should now hold considerably less awe for me.

So I gave it a go…

I was walking along somewhere when I deliberately started that childish thought process all over again:

“When you die, you might go someplace dark and horrible… and you might stay there forever... and ever… and ever… and ever… and…”

And after a time, I needed to find a wall to lean against.  The old inability to cope with the concept of Eternity is still in there, doing fine.

I know I’m odd but the question is am I alone?

Would any of you care to engage with the concept of Eternity and tell me how you get on?

It’s not enough to simply think the word ‘Eternity’ and say, “I’m fine with all that.”  If you want to know if  you can handle it, you have to give yourself a full sixty seconds of thinking along some eternal line, “for ever… and ever…”  Can you cope or does your mind too start to reject the idea.  Does it demand an end be found somewhere, somehow, down the line.

I’d be interested to know.

And, if there is actually something eternal waiting after we croak, be it good or bad, however am I going to cope?

500 Days of Summer – My Review

Sorry to do review posts twice in a row. I won’t make a habit of it but this was an opportunity too good to miss.

I only really bother with a movie review when I get to see a film I know practically nothing about.  It gives me a chance to give a clean unprejudiced view.  I haven’t always been great at confidently forming my own opinions on things but I’ve got better at it, this last few years, and this kind of thing is good practice for me.

I’ve been aware of this film for some time but didn’t know what it was about – so that’s a good start for wanting to review it.  But the thing that sets this one apart, the thing that made me rush out and rent it, was quite unusual and a bit fascinating.

You see, this film split my friends right down the middle.

Half of them love it and half of them hate it.  There was very little of that ‘it’s okay’ or ‘it passes a few hours’ type of thing.  It seemed to polarise people into extreme camps.  I’m talking here mostly about Twitter friends because they are the wonderful folk who still engage and argue and josh about things like music and movies and such… is it any wonder that I love them so?

I have to confess that there was a little interest too in what I might think of this film.  Which camp would I align myself with?  I wanted to find out.

So it was for this reason that I sat down to watch this film - a film which I might never have otherwise got around to watching - to see what I thought.

For starters, my preconceptions were all wrong.  I had sub-consciously placed the film in the same bracket as another one called ’50 First Dates’, probably on account of the number in the title.  That one was a rather charming and totally easy-going romantic comedy starring two immediately recognisable leads.  I saw it on telly and quite enjoyed it. I expected very much the same here.

But the moment the ‘Fox Searchlight’ logo came up, right at the start, I realised that I had been on the wrong track.  Fox Searchlight is the more ‘leftie’ wing of the organisation, providing some of the more off-the-wall content.  So, what had we here?

If you know how I review stuff, you’ll know that I don’t tell you the story of the movie, you can find that all over the internet, although I was pleased to come to this one knowing so little.

All I’ll say is that it’s the story of a relationship – all 500 days of it - and that the narrative 'cherry-picks' its way erratically through this 500 days in an off-beat and rather individualistic fashion.

It uses a device that now seems increasingly common.  Whenever the hero goes off  into any kind of reverie, this gives the director an opportunity to throw in a little surrealism, a cinematic-in-joke, or just a different coloured film stock to show us how just clever the whole thing is.  It’s an ‘Amélie’ sort of a thing.  I think I first noticed it in ‘Ally McBeal’, where they always seemed to be literally ‘going off on one’.  More recently, ‘Pushing Daisies’ did it a lot too.

And that’s what this movie is really, it’s a sort of a big screen ‘Pushing Daisies’.  The same themes of ‘The Ache of Love’ and ‘Not Being Able to Get What You Most Want’ are explored herein.

Okay, I’m a page into this review, did I like it or not?  Get off the damn fence Ken.

Well, yes, I did like it.

Yes I did.

It’s smartly made and touching and the leads are good to look at and convincing.  It charts a Metropolitan Romance which is something I’ve been lucky enough to experience in my time.  The movies, the museums, the Sunday afternoons, the rows… (ahem)…

Without giving too much away, it also succeeds in doing something I haven’t seen done before.  It shows us a basic, fairly-obvious truth about relationships which just about every other movie before this has shied away from.

For that alone, I’ve got to give it a thumbs-up.

Failings?  There are some.  We see here the single most misguided use of a narration since the original Blade Runner cut. This truly awful voice-over absolutely reeks of the Studio saying, “The audience won’t get that bit, tell them, tell them…” but we probably would have got it and you should have let us at least try, Mr Film maker, you really should.

The music too is all a bit random and ‘sound-tracky’.  It grates in places.

As with every other film ever made, apart from perhaps, ‘The Fountainhead’, this film has no idea what an Architect really does.

And, once, just once, it breaks the fourth wall.  And that one breaking of the fourth wall is nearly enough to ruin the whole film.  Really. 

You know what ‘breaking the fourth wall is’ right?  It’s when the actor looks right out of the screen at us, the audience, and tips us a knowing look.  Burt Reynolds used to do it a lot.  There’s a reason it isn’t often done and this film give possibly the best reason illustration of exactly why it shouldn’t be done.  It breaks the illusion, spoils the magic, cuts the bond.  It was a bad mistake here, a very bad mistake.

But, hey, here’s where I lose half my friends.  ‘500 Days of Summer’ is a light, funny often-touching little film which strives for an avant-garde sensibility and delivers a small truism before the credits finally roll. 

So I commend it onto you.

And now I have to go and hide.