Content Note: infertility, miscarriage, suicide
A little over a year ago, singer-songwriter Georgia Train (formerly of Bitter Ruin) opened up to her fans about struggling with fertility treatment and IVF. Having done so, the devastation when the process was unsuccessful was atypically public. When faced with any tragedy, the best thing we humans can do is use it to fuel art, sharing that pain in a way that can connect us and make a stranger feel a little less alone. The result is her latest album, Needles & Pinches, which contains a beautiful outpouring of grief and hope. As well as recommending that you listen, I would like to use its release to discuss some of its subject matter, issues from which we typically shy away. The photographs illustrating this post are publicity shots for the album taken by Scott Chalmers.
“I’ll never forget the dayGeorgia Train, Needles & Pinches
They told me you got away
From it all.”
The title track opens the album and is a statement of intent: brutally honest and hauntingly beautiful in capturing the weariness from gruelling fertility treatments, and then the overwhelming rage-inducing grief from the loss of a child. Conventional wisdom (at least in the Anglosphere) advises parents not to discuss a pregancy until 12 weeks in, since most miscarriages occur before that date. Whilst it is of course a personal choice for those involved, the default approach leaves parents who do experience miscarriage to deal with the anguish alone and with little support. Since it is so little discussed, many people are not even aware of how common it is, with 10-15% of known pregnancies ending in miscarriage (a figure that, along with the volume of unknown miscarriages, ought also to feature more heavily in the discourse around abortion).
It may seem odd that I have particularly strong opinions on this, but I am fortunate that a few friends felt able to open up to me about their struggles with having children, and what I saw above all was the crippling isolation they felt in not being able to talk freely about it, whilst going through an experience that permeated every part of their lives. There was a visible flood of relief simply in being able to talk about it with someone other than their spouse.
“And I know it’s easier to let goGeorgia Train, Pain Beneath The Best
To let the fire leave your chest
In exchange for deeper rest”
The fragile piano beneath the plaintive vocals on Pain Beneath The Best marks Georgia coming to terms with a friend’s suicide attempt. Lyrically it feels like an understanding embrace, accepting the truth of the pain but reminding you that the world would be worse without you in it. Yet her voice also echoes that personal hurt and the fear of being left behind. It is a pleasing balance to find, with many songs touching on this subject matter leaning more heavily into the anger at wasted life or expressing only the pain rather than the love which causes it. Discourse around mental health has improved immeasurably over the past decade but I feel a lingering sentiment that remains is the idea that suicide is a selfish choice rather than a last resort for those who can see no end to the pain they have endured for too long, and who genuinely believe others will be better off without them. It is only by starting from a place of understanding that those drowning deep within suicidal ideation will ever feel comfortable in revealing it rather than concealing their struggle until it is too late.
“I don’t to want to talk about it nowGeorgia Train, The Who
I just want to be the who when they
Point the finger and the who you say
This is the common thread that I see through these particular trials — that they are so often concealed rather than shared. Particularly in our fragmented modern communities, where family and friends may be separated by miles or even oceans, it is vital that we are able to talk openly (whether the restriction comes initially from a personal choice or an external stigmatisation). Art like Needles & Pinches can reach us over those distances, so that we know we are not alone, but that is only the first step. I previously said that I felt fortunate to be able to support some friends through these agonising experiences, but I also worry about those I could not reach and mourn the ones I never can. As I often tell friends: you don’t have to talk to me about it, so long as you have someone that you’re talking to. And if you don’t, you know where I am.
The night before last in Soho, just round the corner from Haymarket and Café de Paris which feature prominently in the film, director Edgar Wright attended a Q&A following a screening of Last Night in Soho. It is the first such event I have been able to attend in over two years, so I’m glad to be able to share it with you.
Last Night in Soho originated from an idea voiced in the film by Eloise’s landlady when asked whether anyone has died in a room: “This is London. Someone has died in every room in every building and on every street corner in the city.” Wright doesn’t seem entirely convinced by the existence of ghosts, but he is drawn to the idea of psychic residue imbuing the walls of most of this city in which millions of souls have lived and died.
The plot for Last Night in Soho has existed for around a decade, during which time a researcher has been collecting stories from Soho residents. These tales of coercive manipulation of the young and naïve were “harrowing reading”, and what Wright found particularly depressing was how similar the experiences were. The world may have moved on, but these issues remain far from fixed, as highlighted in the past few years by the #MeToo movement and the litany of allegations against Kevin Spacey in the London arts scene.
When he talks about filmmaking, Wright unassumingly reveals an encyclopedic knowledge of film history that is Tarantino-esque in the ability to draw from from the work of past directors. Mark Kermode has described his movies as “haunted by the ghosts of other films” which seems particularly fitting for Last Night in Soho, its views of London pulled not just from history but from our collective cinematic memory of the era. Wright also mentions his love of the Reelstreets website, an Internet rabbit-hole with a searchable collection of locations that appeared in films alongside how they look now.
Filming on location in the centre of London requires immense preparation, with three months’ notice needed to close most Soho streets, and even longer for the incredible shot that transports Haymarket back to the 1960s. “London can’t be tamed,” Wright comments, “you have to flood the shot with your own stuff”. That included not just period cars but wholesale recreation of 1960s storefront and venue facades. The resulting moment as Eloise first steps into the 1960s, combined with a surge of vibrant colour from the film’s initially desaturated palette and a soundscape that suddenly expands into Dolby Atmos surround, is intoxicating.
Wright has worked with the same editor, Paul Machliss, since Spaced. With Baby Driver he had Machliss on set during filming because of how precisely timed the cuts needed to be in order to match the music. He has continued that approach in Last Night in Soho and explains that he didn’t want anyone but Machliss to see the rough cuts during shooting. The biggest new name in the crew is Chung-hoon Chung, who has been Park Chan-Wook’s cinematographer since Oldboy (Wright complains about now having to refer to it as “the first Oldboy“, in reference to the ignominious Hollywood remake). This provided a South Korean eye on London, which in turn helps to sell Eloise’s view of the city as a newcomer.
During the course of filming, Wright spent a lot of time with Diana Rigg and he continued to visit her up until her death last year. You can hear the emotion in his voice as he describes how grateful he is to have known her, and she seems to feature in his favourite anecdotes. He shares her prepared response to brush off questions about her past that she didn’t want to answer, “Oh, I don’t remember the 60s, darling. I was too busy shooting The Avengers!”
Café de Paris is meticulously recreated as a set on a soundstage because of the complex camerawork required for those scenes. It was strange to walk past the venue later that evening, frozen in time since its closure during the pandemic, yet brought magically to life on film. It was when Wright took Rigg to visit the set that her guard slipped, recalling a memory:
“I remember walking down those stairs with a lot of rheumy-eyed men looking me up and down like a piece of meat.”Diana Rigg
This perhaps best encapsulates the danger of which Wright warns in even his own nostalgia. “The further you get away from it, you can choose to romanticise it, just remembering the music and fashion.” He explains that he used to imagine himself as a “cultural time traveler” taking in gigs and experiences from the past. But you can’t be selective about the past in that way, and in that sense he sees Last Night in Soho as “a cautionary tale to time travellers”.
It will be of little surprise that the director of the musically meticulous Baby Driver had most of the 1960s soundtrack selected long before filming. He knew that he wanted it to reflect the women of the time, performers like Cilla Black (who is portrayed in the film), describing their songs as “streaked with tears”.
However, one late addition is arguably the film’s best. When Anya Taylor-Johnson was cast, Wright didn’t know she could sing. On discovering this, an audition scene at the Rialto was added. He knew immediately that “Downtown” would be the perfect song for Sandie, with Taylor-Johnson’s a capella delivery pure and fragile. It also gifted us with a fully orchestrated downtempo version of Downtown that perhaps captures the film’s tone better than any narrative trailer could. Now that you’ve read this, it is well worth five minutes of your time.
You have probably noticed the distinct lack of blog posts (or perhaps you haven’t — there have been some other significant things going on in the world); I have essentially managed four since the start of lockdown over a year ago, and nothing in the last five months. At the start it was easy to explain: I didn’t want to post positive platitudes that I barely believed, nor did I want to wallow self-indulgently in my own lockdown malaise when everyone was experiencing their own difficulties, whether living alone or in claustrophobic company. The real reason ran deeper: my focus was shot, and my thought processes had become so fragmented that the sheer effort required to compose more than a paragraph of coherent text at a time seemed impossible. So, what would I have said?
It’s April 2020 and the reduction in my meat intake over the last two years has almost entirely reversed only a month into lockdown. I had cut my meat in take by around 50% before the pandemic, primarily because of the hypocrisy of espousing environmental concern given the carbon footprint of a borderline carnivorous diet. Abandoning this was less a conscious choice than the ease of and desire for the comfortingly familiar. That, and take-away delivery. During the first lockdown I cooked almost entirely for myself. By the second lockdown, Deliveroo and Just Eat were regular features, with the dual middle class guilt of relying on someone else adopting the risk of infection outdoors whilst I remain home, and the disposing of armfuls of single-use food containers. But hey, I haven’t flown in two years so overall my carbon footprint is way down.
It’s May 2020 and I’ve been consuming a lot of TikTok. The target demographic may be younger than me but there are increasing numbers of older content creators. Most importantly, there’s plenty of creativity and – as far as social media goes – it’s far healthier than hours of doomscrolling through twitter or Instagram. For related reasons, I refuse to watch the Government’s perfidious press briefings on the pandemic: reading the news coverage dissecting it afterwards is probably more informative and certainly less draining on my mental health. Consumption is far easier than creation; I can’t write anything of significance (much as I want to contribute to the dialogue around structural racism), so digital illustrations have been my outlet, whether they are simply portraits or more meaningful. They may take a dozen hours to produce, but at least it can be done whilst binge-watching a TV series.
It’s June 2020 and I haven’t interacted in person with anyone who isn’t a grocery store clerk for two and a half months. It is definitely the lack of social — and physical — contact that I find the hardest. Being in the flat for around 9 days at a time between trips to restock the fridge is weird but has not left me feeling particularly caged as I can still journey into all manner of worlds through videogames and films. Meanwhile my hair is nearing a length one might consider “grown” rather than merely uncut. My goal is to avoid getting it cut until we reach the inevitable second lockdown, which should allow it to reach a length where I can tie it back neatly. This is the only time it is socially acceptable for me to grow out long hair in my line of work, so I may as well take advantage of it. A boar bristle brush and Moroccan Oil have been vital tools in taming the longer locks.
It’s July 2020 and my concentration is shot. I seem just about able to function for work, though working from home and living alone has blurred any distinction around the end of the work day. Which is not to say it’s bad — saving hours of commuting a week and never worrying about being late are serious benefits; the issue is more the general expectation that you’re contactable most of the time rather than when in the office. Plus there’s the matter of air conditioning. I want to write more, to engage with our shared experiences worldwide through this pandemic, but I can’t. QuickViews are about all I can manage. At least that means I’m still producing Content™. That’s important, right? I remember Content™ being important.
It’s August 2020 and I find myself helplessly torn between the desire to contribute to small businesses told that they can reopen and the personal conviction that the Eat Out to Help Out scheme is dangerously ill-conceived. I made a joke about it not applying to strip clubs which was uncouth but also probably the best thing I’ve written this year. It seems that there is a desperate desire for a return to normality shared by the entire population but the looming disaster of a worse collapse if we reopen too early is only recognised by half. That is not nearly enough.
It’s September 2020 and spending one day a week in the office (primarily to ensure I can provide a better training experience to my trainee) has finally reduced the extent to which the days and weeks merge entirely into one another. It’s a welcome change, even if it can’t last.
It’s October 2020 and we’re preparing for a second national lockdown. Only six weeks late. The fixed 2nd December end date is worrisome as I suspect Johnson is determined to reopen no matter the circumstances in order to enable several weeks of pre-Christmas shopping, even if it forces us straight back into an even longer lockdown. How some people still support these self-serving clowns is beyond me, with literally billions wasted on failed test and tracing and openly corrupt contract awards. Oh, and the dead, who are becoming almost a footnote.
It’s November 2020 and this lockdown has been far more bearable with weekly visits from my sister and nephew. When others reminisce nostalgically about the first lockdown, it is very clear they did not live alone before “social bubbles” were permitted.
It’s December 2020 and I hate being right. After a few pointless weeks out of lockdown, I will be spending Christmas alone, although I will get to see my sister’s family on Boxing Day. A care package from a partner at work filled with gin and old fashioneds definitely makes me feel appreciated. It’s better that it’s me rather than anyone else — after all, I have had to do it before, exactly ten years ago. Let’s hope Christmas 2030 fares better…
It’s January 2021 and my concentration is shot. Did I say that already? I have started world-building as a creative outlet, fleshing out an alternate version of London or fantasy kingdoms for use in roleplaying games. The advantage is that I can produce just a single card at a time and gradually build things out over weeks and months. I don’t know that I will actually run games using these worlds. Perhaps later I will write stories using these settings; for now, the act of creation is the goal in itself.
It’s February 2021 and I can feel myself starting to unravel with built-up stress from work and no way to blow off steam. I haven’t been drinking excessively at home (my overall intake has dropped rather than risen over the past year, the opposite of my expectation given that the flat is very well stocked with booze) and I don’t think it would help. My sleep cycle remains pretty broken. I have fully grown into the “lockdown Jesus” look.
It’s March 2021 and it has been the best (worst?) part of a year spent inside. The vaccination rollout provides a reason to be optimistic; the COVID variants appearing do not. It’s a good thing that Brexit was all about taking back control of our borders so that, a year into a literal global pandemic, naturally the Government is only now discussing the feasibility of closing the borders, the one thing any casual player of Plague, Inc. knows is incredibly effective for an island nation. It has been a long and exhausting year and yet, through the repetitive monotony, I struggle to recall much at all beyond the shared cultural touchstones like The Tiger King. Perhaps if I sat down and tried to diarise it…
I think we can all agree that the season finale of 2020 was rather underwhelming, offering little levity after a decidedly subdued Christmas Special as a result of last-minute cast and location changes. The vaccination storyline is the most promising going into 2021, and hints at a return to regular programming later in the year. My concern, however, is that many people have allowed themselves to fixate upon the end of 2020 as an end to problems that plagued it. 2020 may have been awful from the start, but the arbitrary marker of 1 January 2021 is not a hard reset, and the reality of continuing to deal with 2020’s issues is likely to be a hard realisation that crashes down later this month, consciously or otherwise. Please keep an eye on each other.
My camera remained holstered for most of the year (though I remain proud of the desolate London in Lockdown shoot in March) so there won’t be the usual lengthy photographic rundown of 2020. There are, however, a few things worth sharing.
The bulk of updates to the site have continued to be QuickViews, which grew by 43 new films in 2020. Whilst not inconsequential, that is around half the rate of the previous the two years. I had rather expected that lockdown would cause this number to rise rather than to fall. The best explanation I can provide is that my ability to concentrate has been greatly diminished by the tumultuous year and so I have probably been drawn more toward shorter television episodes that require a shorter attention span. I have noticed a similar shift in videogaming where, unusually, I am now more likely to indulge in familiar, repetitive gameplay (like Destiny or Assassin’s Creed) than seeking out fresh new experiences.
I have been hosting a sporadic virtual movie night, dubbed COVIDeo Club, which provided a more social and structured way to force myself to carve out time for films. It is partially democratic, with films selected by a vote from a shortlist I circulate in advance. The highlight was The Peanut Butter Falcon which many of us might otherwise have missed.
Also, for those who may have missed access to Reeltime Harry Potter (due to a broken liveblog plugin that is no longer maintained), I have now formatted them by hand so that you can revisit them once more.
As readers will know, many of my friends are artists and performers who have been particularly hard hit by lockdown. They are smart and adaptable, of course, but by far the best way to support artists is — ultimately — purchasing their services. I have tried to do so during lockdown, though I could probably do more.
Translating real world experiences to virtual platforms has been an inconsistent affair. A tasting, for example, loses any real sense of social interaction, but can still be fun for enthusiasts if you have an engaging speaker. Aside from regular D&D sessions led by Ben, which have become considerably more frequent without needing to align calendars so that we can be physically in the same place, my tabletop games have gone largely untouched over the past year, even as more arrive from Kickstarter campaigns I backed in 2018 and 2019, as if to taunt me. Playing a few online alongside Zoom calls has been fun, but there is definitely space for an online substitute with greater verisimilitude.
During the first lockdown I managed largely to avoid the Zoom quizzes that seemed to entertain and then infuriate. I did however end the year with a couple of virtual escape rooms with work (in lieu of a Christmas party, with riddles that played very much to my skillset) and with friends (on New Year’s Eve).
Early during the first lockdown, I said that my goal was to avoid cutting my hair until the inevitable second lockdown in order to grow it out. It seems to be the one social acceptable time for me to experiment with long hair. It has certainly been a learning curve, particularly as I discovered my hair is extremely wavy at length (controlled with a boar bristle paddle brush and a Moroccan Oil lotion). My current intention is for it to reach shoulder length, though I don’t know how long it will last. Reviews have been largely positive…