Sunday 2 March 2008

The gesture of love

So, here's a question for you: which product has the tagline 'the gesture of love you can trust'? So many, many answers. But I'll bet any amount you won't guess.

I've been writing this dratted blog in my head for some time but not actually getting as far as typing it. Life has been hectic: lots of work on, switching days and pitching for new business, and the Cambridge NCT magazine to lay out again. Fifty-six pages, which takes a fair amount of time. It's quite fun, but I'm beginning to wonder...

A friend emailed to ask if I was going to review the BBC Ballet Shoes. Which was rather flattering, as is the fact that someone actually reads this stuff! There's glory for you. We're both Streatfeild fans - and Jill, I still have your copy of Saplings... I missed the broadcast but saw it all on iPlayer, which had launched shortly before. I also found an article by the person who'd written the adaptation, in which she avowed that she'd adored the book as a child and had been determined to secure the job so as not to change a thing and prevent anyone else changing it.

Given all that protestation, it was a bit of a shock to find Garnie apparently dying of TB and falling for a dashing Mr Simpson -- Mrs Simpson having been done away with. But then Mrs Simpson always gets written out, not having enough lines to make the actress worth the money.

The real problems, I thought, were actually the ones you get through knowing a book too well (and not being properly edited). Things didn't get properly explained: why is Sylvia called Garnie half the time, and what does GUM mean (I don't think he was ever referred to as Great Uncle Matthew)? (And by the way, does anyone believe that Richard Griffiths would be capable of walking any distance to find a fossil? He seems barely mobile these days.) On the larger scale, though, because the focus was on incident not on daily life, there was so sense of the Fossils actually practising: in the book, it's the relentless grind of their daily lives that's emphasised. 'The Fossils became some of the busiest children in London.' They work.

On the other hand, there was also the odd lapse of comprehension. I'm with everyone who thought Victoria Wood's wig was just ghastly, but part of the reason was that it was so unsuitable for the character. Nana is nothing if not pragmatic. Is she really going to have a hairstyle that requires her to thread clips all the way through the stuff every night, and then spend all day flicking the ends out of her eyes? I don't think so. The smart outfits seemed all wrong, too, especially those high-heeled lace-ups. Remember Pauline asking,
' "Have you pretty feet, Nana?" She looked down at Nana's square-toed black shoes which she always wore.' Nana is not glamorous.

The bit that made me really squawk, though, was Petrova washing Mr Simpson's car in her Mustard-seed costume. Remember the hoo-hah when Pauline gets above herself acting Alice in Wonderland? What precipitates the showdown is Pauline going off-stage without her wrap. The wrap is an overall that you wear so that your stage costume is protected every moment you're not on stage in it. My goodness, you wouldn't be allowed to go outdoors in it, let alone picking up an oily rag and polishing a car bonnet. That was a very odd lapse.

The biggest blank, I think, was that I didn't get any sense of the dedication of the girls: Pauline's vocation for acting, or Posy's virtuosity. Petrova's boredom and frustration they could do, but they really missed the commitment, the work, the gaining of professionalism: which is what made, and continues to make, the book special. It's not about daydreams and fantasies: it's about hard graft. All the Angelina Ballerina drivel that's about now entirely ignores the fact that nobody, nobody attains proficiency in this kind of thing without a lot of bloody hard work.

And finally.... bet you didn't guess. The picture showed someone in bed with a cat. The ad was for Frontline, which is a catflea repellent that's semi-permanent: you dot liquid of the back of the cat's neck. But the gesture of love you can trust? I can't think of any explanation except real, deranged weirdness.

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