Sunday, December 21, 2014

Now I know what it's like to be The Queen

In our household, December is always the busiest month. Not because of Christmas – we’re of the “let’s do all the shopping in November” school. To be more accurate, my wife is the one from that school, which also teaches: “Don’t dare buy me anything that I haven’t written down on this list, unlike the electric toothbrush you bought me last year”. I thought it was quite a nice electric toothbrush. 

Actually, I’m happy to take a back seat, leaving the whole Christmas nightmare to her. As a result, my diary this month is clear, apart from one enormous band of red: every spare night is taken up with what we call the Thumbdance Film Festival. 

Like all BAFTA members, I get sent a huge pile of movies on DVD and have to watch as many as I can before casting my votes at the end of the year. So throughout December, our next-door-neighbours bring lasagna and red wine, and we thumb through the pile of blockbusters. 

We usually play the 15-minute rule: if a film doesn’t grab us in the first quarter of an hour we assume it probably never will, so we hit the eject button. It’s the fastest way to get through the list. 

Boy, have we ejected some turkeys. I reckon North Korea’s hacking experts could turn round their country’s ailing economy by offering their services to longsuffering film audiences in order to block the worst movies from distribution. Much as I squirm to read of each new embarrassment at Sony, and I certainly detest and fear cyber-terrorism, I suspect North Korea may have saved us another fifteen minutes of disappointment. 

I’d hazard a guess that, if we ever get to see it, The Interview isn’t going to be up for Best Film. I do like the (presumably hoax) rumours that were floating around yesterday morning, which claimed the hackers have now given Sony permission to release it, provided they do a quick re-edit: 
  • Rule #1: no death scene of Kim Jong Un being too happy. 
  • Rule #2: do not test us again.” 
I have a suspicion that Rule #2 ought to have been: “make it a lot funnier,” but as the film probably won’t feature at Thumbdance, we’ll never know for sure. 

As well as the DVDs, we also get invited to special screenings. Izzy loves them. At the premiere of Paddington Bear, she wore her party frock and tiara, and we dodged the paparazzi (actually, tourists with their iPhones) outside the cinema. Izzy nearly fell off her chair when we saw Nicole Kidman. 

At the first showing of Penguins of Madagascar, a movie I confess I found less than whelming, she was bribed by the publicist with penguin balloons and as much penguin-shaped ice cream as she could eat. As a result she pronounced it the best film she’d ever seen. 

I hope she doesn’t get a taste for celebrity premieres. Yesterday afternoon I had a tiny, but bizarre glimpse of what it must be like to be the Queen. Walking up from Newcastle Central Station to St James’ Park for the Tyne-Wear derby, I noticed something strange about the police officers lining the route. 

Clutching their newly polished riot helmets, every single one turned to me and smiled as I walked past. It was bizarre, and quite wonderful. Of course, I instinctively nodded and smiled back, just like The Queen does. About a hundred times. 

After a while I thought: Her Majesty must get very bored with this. Finally, curiosity got the better of me. 

“Excuse me,” I said as politely as Paddington Bear, “Has someone high up told you to smile at every football fan?” 

The policeman blushed, then conceded: “Yes, we’ve been given special instructions to smile today.” 

Mind you, on the way back to the station, after Newcastle had been beaten by a late Sunderland goal, none of the officers raised a smile at anyone. I guess that was an order too, so they wouldn’t be taken for smirking Sunderland supporters. 

I’m pretty sure the police aren’t ever allowed to smile in North Korea, except perhaps when Kim Jong-un’s team wins at football. But then, I guess they’re also never allowed to lose.

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