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Literature Travel

Fun-times for Flora

I know this is the place for culture arts discussion on Film, Literature and Travel, but all I’ve got to write about this week is a boozy trip to the Forest of Bowland.

[I’m sorry Herr Madelung, I know I promised you that I’d be going to see some live music whilst I was there, but I didn’t. Even if I had, I don’t think I would’ve remembered it anyhow.]

merkelI’m a hard working German person, the living embodiment of the national stereotype – serious, efficient and almost always sober.

However, it does grow tiresome having such a consistently outwardly serious persona for so long a time – so every now and again, I like to really let my hair down and get wrecked.

I’ve been living in Crook for the last 6 months, around 10,000 people live here, but it feels more like 100. The average age of residents here lies between 45 and 60, so it’s perfect if you’re interested in playing bridge and watching day-time TV, but not so good if you just want to get hammered and have a dance.

As I’ve mentioned, I’m usually a somewhat serious person. In fact, I’ve been told on several occasions that I need to lighten up – that’s usually by the older members of the community here as well. When you get told that you’re taking life too seriously by some one who might literally be knocking on death’s door within a matter of months, it tends to make you reconsider your lifestyle choices.

So when a friend from university said that they had a spare bed in their holiday home for the night, I jumped at the chance to escape Crook and get an eyeful of somewhere new.

bowland-fell-park-placeJust a 2 hour drive from our pleasant valley of Weardale, Bowland Fell Park is right on the edge of the Forest of Bowland—an often overlooked Area of Outstanding Beauty.

My friends were already there, unpacking the food and booze they were hoping would sustain us for a weekend away.

The stationary caravan they had rented (you can take a look at it here) was pleasantly roomy on the inside, but it wasn’t the interior we were interested in.

The reason I’d driven 100 miles or so away from our dear Pennines was to experience somewhere new – a landscape fresh to my own eyes. The Forest of Bowland definitely didn’t disappoint.

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Even though it’s just a short skip away from Crook, the thick forests of conifer and broad-leaved trees that blanketed the landscape made it feel like half a world away. We set out for a hike straight away, deep into the depth of the forest. A large network of paths and trails wind their way through the forest floor – there are maps you can use, but we decided (wisely?) to go without.

Taking a few bottles of locally sourced ale and a hefty rucksack of picnic-ready goods – we set out just before midday, planning to get a good head start and really cover some ground.

It didn’t work out that way.

The beers were cracked early, the food did get pillaged and we found a gorgeous glade to settle down in. So we only made it about a mile and a half – so what? In just a few hours, I’d found the right combination of friends, environment (and beer) to feel like I had sufficiently bucked the national stereotype.

Out amongst the stars and trees, with the comfort of a caravan to look forward to, I felt a long way from Weardale – and that’s OK.

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Literature Travel

Magda’s Evening With Anthony Horowitz

As as a working writer, I’m always reading and always fascinated by the output of new and old authors.

The Durham Book Festival, which ran from 7th-16th of this month was a fantastic opportunity to get back into the literary scene that I’d, by and large, been avoiding for the last year or so.

It’s been a while since I’d returned to the heady world of books, publishing agents and journalists – thank God my pen name has left me with the autonomy that allows me free movement. I wouldn’t say I’ve got a particularly striking face, but had it been printed in any of the 20 or so books I’ve written over the years, then this would be the place where I’d be recognised.

Author Anthony Horowitz

Thankfully, the contract that I made with my publishers a long, long time ago, stipulated specifically that my image or real name was never to be used in connection with any of the material that I’d written over the years. My privacy is something that I prize very highly and we live in a world today where the most minor of celebrity can thrust you into the path of hundreds, if not thousands, of possibly malicious trolls.

It was with little envy then that I applauded International Bestseller and writer extraordinaire, Anthony Horowitz to the stage.

magpieHorowitz, a man who has  sold literally millions of books, is one of the most successful writers that this country has produced – the ovation he received was indicative of the acclaim he has received over his 30 year writing career. From critically acclaimed TV Drama to Children’s Horror to creating new stories for legendary characters such as James Bond and Sherlock Holmes; Horowitz has flexed his considerable writing skills over thousands of pages to the delight of millions of readers.

His talk, rather than being a cloying retrospective of his glittering writing career, instead focused on the important lessons he could offer writers. Rather than coming off as condescending, Horowitz had an uncanny charm to keep the audience in good humour – clearly working with the sheer volume of adoration that hung heavy in the air of the Gala Theatre.

I’ve been writing crime novels for a similar stretch of time that Mr. Horowitz has.

My popularity is relatively dwarfed by his (my books sell mostly in my home country of Germany and, for some reason, the North-East region of Belgium) however, the lessons he gave to aspiring writers that night, seemed to me, as incredibly succinct and full of truth. Even a experienced and somewhat beleaguered writer such as myself, found inspiration in his words.

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Although I wouldn’t dream of paraphrasing him line for line, I can attempt to give the general gist of his rhetoric.

Other than reading and writing as much as possible (practice does always make perfect!), Horowitz felt that the power of self-belief was something that should be harnessed as a supreme source of power for the writer. After all, many writer, many of our great works of literature, would not exist today without it.

Without the conviction and confidence to put pen to paper, your literary journey can never begin.

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Travel

An Invitation to a Wedding – Benedict’s Tale

Although the first couple of years of living in England, as a German National, were a little lonely; it didn’t take me long to make friends in the village.

England may have a reputation throughout the rest of mainland Europe for being a somewhat frigid and unsociable place to live, but the opposite is really true.

laundretteThe real satisfaction of getting to know the people of England lies in breaking through their thick skin of awkwardness (that stereotype is at least true) and finding the good-natured centre that, this travelling salesman, believes lies in the heart of every man and woman.

Maive Atkins was one of the first people I met in my first few years in Weardale – a kindly mother of two, her children were just finishing secondary school at the time when we met in my Rookhope’s adorably small laundromat. There was only 6 machines in there at the time, and conversation was essentially forced on the few women and (even fewer men) that gathered there on a weekly basis.

I usually used this time to catch up on some reading, but feeling particularly alone that week (a visiting friend had just flown back to Germany, leaving me a little morose), I thought I’d make the effort with my new found neighbours.

There was conversation and friendship to be found in Rookhope, it just needed to be discovered.

B8AXB8I’d seen Maive there a couple of times before, usually bubbly and chatting with the other women, however this time she seemed somewhat subdued, gazing through the translucent windows at the grim November day outside, whilst the gentle chugging of the machines filled the room with a light steamy mist.

Her smile, when I asked to borrow her detergent, was one that was tinged with sadness. After a brief chat, I discovered that she was also feeling a little melancholy. Her children were growing up – although they were still only in their mid-teens – that was the age that she was when she left home. I consoled her with the truth that all children grow up, but they will always need their Mother in some shape or form – and that her job was never truly done.

It was a frank and honest conversation, something us Germans specialise in. Although I’d been in a little melancholy mood myself before we had this conversation, by the end were both laughing, whilst she regaled to me stories of her children, telling me all about their little idiosyncrasies, the kind that only a Mother would know.

That evening helped me make the transition from foreign outsider to local neighbour, and I’ll always be grateful to Maive for treating me with such kindness – although she always maintains that it was me that helped her that day.

wharram-percy-deserted

Maive and her family moved away from the area before her children had a chance to leave home. So, I was pleasantly surprised to receive a wedding invitation through the post a few weeks back to her oldest daughter’s wedding in the medieval village of Wharram Percy.

Now owned by the English Heritage, the village was wonderfully decorated for the event – with bride and groom, and all in attendance, dressed in plain cotton or hemp clothing; the whole thing would have come off as  gauche had it not been for the sincerity and warmth which the whole day was imbued with. In addition to a wonderfully authentic banquet with a whole roast ox as it’s centre piece, provided by Apex Catering, there was also a stunning piece of ice sculpture by Glacial Art depicting a grand icy replica of our meal, rearing up on it’s hind legs.

Although it had been quite some time since i’d seen Maive, I recognised her winning smile from across the room – filled with pride and devoid of the sadness that I had seen on our first meeting.

roast-oxThe wedding was a triumph. A glorious day, one of the last few remaining in this year’s Indian Summer – the ceremony, a non-faith based one, was held in the ruins of St. Martin’s church – with the roof open to the glorious sunshine and the interior wonderfully decorated with flowers of the season.

Although there is perception of England, mottled by fiction and television, of a grim grey land of dour faced individuals – this is not the truth.

The smallest of conversations with these wonderful people can lead to the most spectacular of days – if you’re a foreign national residing in the UK, I recommend you get out there and talk to your native hosts, you never know where you might end up.

If you’d like to visit Wharram Percy, it’s open to the public all year round – and there’s an mp3 audio tour that you can download here.
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Film Travel

Back on the Road with Torsten

The life of a travelling salesman is not one that should be taken on lightly.

You sacrifice a lot for the job. Due to your constantly changing surroundings, it can be incredibly difficult to keep close friends, let alone develop any kind of romantic relationship.

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With a life spent on the road, you also lose the advantages of having a home. Sleeping in the same bed every night, caring for your home and feeling comfortable.

You trade these standards for the imitations of comfort that various Budget Hotel companies offer around the world.

Instead of a welcoming family waiting on your return, you are received by a practiced smile that exists out of necessity. Rather than your own bed, enriched with your own scent, you have a sterilised and starched linen cot – clean but not comforting.

What do you get in return for these sacrifices? You get the opportunity to travel the world, like the nomads of old. Sampling the local traditions, customs, delicacies and quirks of every small town and village that you visit.

My recent trip to Wales, for pleasure now rather than work, reminded me of the joys of travelling – and had me almost yearning to call up my old company and get back on the road again.

road-mapsIn the old days, we didn’t have GPS systems or mobile telephones to aid us in our travels. As a result, our jobs were made easier and harder in turns.

Driving through the winding roads of mainland Europe, it could be incredibly difficult to simply travel from one town to another.

However, once you arrived, some places were so remote that not only would the entire community buy from you, but you’d also be put up for the night there.

Now, of course, there are a myriad of tools to aid you in planning and executing a road trip. Thanks to my laptop and mobile phone, I could easily book the accommodation I wanted to stay in (using http://www.visitnorthwales.co.uk/), find a few restaurants that were worth eating at (if you eat anywhere in Wales go to Sosban & The Old Butchers and indulge in some outdoor activities that might have been a little too extreme for this 57 year old.

wales-landscapeWales is a worthy place to visit for anyone living in the UK.

For a seasoned traveller like myself, the 7 hour drive from Weardale was a more of a joy than a chore – I’d recommend leaving yourself plenty of time for stops – you never know when you might pass a place of interest on the way down.

To really make use of your time whilst your there, you should aim to at least drive through Snowdonia National Park. The roads are scenic, the mountains are stunning and (if you drive from North to South) you can pop out at the charming seaside town of Aberystwyth.

Although I don’t like to stay away from my home of Weardale for too long, Wales provided me with 3 days worth of scenic driving, wonderful food and exciting activities.

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Film

Valentin’s Three Must-Watch Foreign Horror Movies

As a lover of languages and film, I’m in the unique position to be able to watch many more than other people.

Of course any dedicated cinephile will make a point of watching the hot new independent foreign film, but many people will have to settle for watching subtitles. As much as these achieve their goal of informing the viewer on what is going on, there is a certain amount of focus that is inevitably drawn away from the images on the screen, to make time to read the endless reams of text.

The genre of Horror films particularly suffer from this problem. Although, each year, there are always a handful of Horror movie success stories at the Box-office – it’s very rare that these are written in a foreign language.

In the lead up to the Bram Stoker International Film Festival, held annually in Whitby (just under a 2 hour drive from our valley here in Weardale), I’m going to be looking at 3 of my favourite foreign language Horror movies.

Let The Right One In

Back in 2008, The Twilight Saga had just begun its loathsome journey on the multiplexes of the World. After the books had sold in their millions, a movie adaptation of the entire series (following in the footsteps of Harry Potter and laying the ground work for The Hunger Games) was almost inevitable.

Those lucky enough to avoid watching that particularly dry and joyless first entry in the series, might have also been lucky enough to catch Tomas Alfredson’s stellar adaptation of the less known Let The Right One In.

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Based on the Swedish novel from 2004, this movie made a small storm upon it’s release, because of it’s brutal portrayal of gore, violence and sexuality – all involving children. Far from being a gratuitous splatterfest, the film adaptation treads the right line of tension, tragedy, humour and horror – to wonderful effect.

Ils

ilsA film less concerned with meaningful character development and more interested in scaring the living daylights out of the audience, Ils is an underrated foreign language gem.

Although the home-invasion genre is one that was growing slightly tired by 2008 – there was still room to innovate, and that’s exactly what French writer-director team David Moreau and Xavier Palud.

The title card of the movie claims that it is ‘based on real events’, but the truth of the matter is not the source of the horror here. The violent, destructive nature of youth is on display here. A Mother and Daughter are laid siege to in their remote country house by a group of silent, aggressive youths – the results are not for the faint hearted.

[Rec]

rec_posterOf course, no horror movie list would be complete without a selection from the found-footage genre. Although the genre feels like it’s reaching the end of it’s tether, with shaky cameras and loose story lines losing the novelty that they once had, the Spanish team of Balaguero and Plaza hit the nail on the head with this Zombie Horror-Faux-Documentary mashup.

The premise is simple, a local news team riding with the Fire Department on a routine call out to an apartment building, become trapped inside a quarantine and must fight to survive an onslaught of the undead.

The film is a master class in tension and mystery. Instead of feeling forced or unnatural, the handy-cam footage serves a purpose in the plot and Manuela Velasco’s award-winning performance as journalist Anna is truly convincing.

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Music Travel

Benedict’s Guilty Pleasures of the 80s Incarnate

Throughout my 25 year-long career in the Security business, I’ve had to hide the passion I have for the Arts.

Working internationally as a security expert throughout the 70s to the 90s, the notion of divulging my love for Romantic-Comedies, Modern Paintings and Pop Music seemed insane – a form of professional suicide.

My secret shame was in direct violation of, what was at the tine, a certified standard of masculinity. Especially amongst middle aged men, who either remembered those lost in the world wars or had been directly involved in it, the idea of revealing my obsession with Prince would’ve seemed almost disrespectful. As if I was dishonouring those that had died in the Wars that engulfed our planet, only a handful of years ago.

There remained in Germany and America, where I did most of my work, a gold standard for the way men are suppose to live. It often meant open enthusiasm for sports (which I’ve never enjoyed) and women (whom I love but have never been in love with), usually in the form of some kind of debauched display of ‘locker-room talk’.

madonnaHad I been born a few decades later, I might well have been able to express my love for all the guilty pleasures that I was forced to accumulate – especially during the 80s. So many wonderful female singers came to prominence during this time. Instead of being able to buy tickets for their shows, or proudly display their posters in my home, I had to settle for surreptitiously tapping my toes whilst in a restaurant or café.

Idols such as Madonna and Cyndi Lauper, although heavily sexualised for a male audience, were not the kind of music that men openly listened listened to at the time. So, it was with a heavy heart that I missed seeing wonderful female performers in there prime – such as Whitney Houston and the irrepressible Kate Bush, when they came to the towns I was working in.

Thankfully I had the chance to see the next best thing this evening at the Georgian Royal Theatre.

maaikeMaaike Breijman is a performer from Haarlem in the Netherlands, a beautiful country that I’ve had the good fortune of working in before. At the theatre, where I had the good fortune of meeting my fellow writers just a few months ago, I saw her and her band perform songs from Kate Bush’s back catalogue – complete with costume changes, scenery and props to match.

Breathlessly transforming from one song to the next, Maiike embodies what I remember seeing of Kate in the music videos of the time. Often overly theatrical, interweaving Bush’s rich narratives with an inventive and varied stage performance, Maaike understands how to make the most of her source material.

A dark intensity emanates from her eyes as she roams the stage with her backing band playing the role that they’re meant to: providing note perfect backing, whilst allowing Maiike to take centre stage and slip into the role seamlessly.

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The stage show, taken as a whole, is almost cinematic in it’s scope. Considering the relatively small size of the space here in Richmond, it’s truly impressive to see what this small company can achieve on, what we presume, is a pretty tight budget.

Leaving the theatre tonight, I was struck my a number of emotions.

Elation was the chief of them.