Thursday, 16 November 2017

Entertainment and purgatory

She could have been such an interesting travelling companion.

When I first saw her, sitting by the window across and empty seat between us, on a flight back to England from Munich, she was frenetically taking selfies of herself. She lowered the window blind, she turned one way then another, she seemed far from satisfied but she was in a hurry to text the photo away before the flight attendants told us to switch phones to airplane mode.

She’d spotted that I was interested.

“It’s a film role,” she told me in a distinctly East European accent, “I need to get a selfie to my agent.”

Was I sitting a seat away from a star? I didn’t recognise her.

“It’s the Ridley Scott film about Getty. Because of Kevin Spacey. They’re filming scenes with a new actor.” “Yes,” I said, “Christopher Plummer.”

From revered icon to unperson. In next to no time
A curious business. Kevin Spacey had gone in the space of a few weeks from much-admired, much-loved international star to non-person following a series of sexual harassment complaints. So much of a non-person that the Scott film is having to be reshot with him out of it.

An insider’s view could have been intriguing.

Of course, she wasn’t a star, but an extra as she quickly explained to me. She showed me pictures of herself in police uniform or as a paramedic, or just as a member of a crowd in costumes of various periods between the nineteenth century and today (including some from previous Ridley Scott films).

She does stunts too, and that sounds even tougher than thought.

“You have to have six skills. Like riding, and not just ordinary riding, but jumping bareback which is hard without stirrups, or riding two horses and going from one to another; I do rock climbing too, and water stunts, but it’s all getting tough as I get older.”

She showed me a pay slip and that was certainly an eye-opener: in three days she’d earned little more than I do in a day. Not everyone in film is a millionaire, it seems.

“This will not make me rich,” she earnestly assured me.

Now if only the conversation had kept going down that road, I’d have felt my original evaluation was right. Unfortunately, that wasn’t things were going to turn out. She had other subjects she wanted to talk to me about.

First was the two days she’d just spent in Munich, at a spa. The saunas were wonderful, apparently, but I’ve been to German spas before so I wasn’t really learning very much. Apparently you can to the spa from the hotel where she stayed by cutting across a field, something she told me three times, though it left me less than wholly fascinated: I’d never been to the hotel, the field or the spa and don’t currently plan to visit them any time soon.

She then chose to give me the compelling news that she plans to fast for forty days. Momentarily I wondered whether she had a Jesus Christ compulsion, but it turns out she only does these fasts to flush her system of toxins. Sometimes she doesn’t manage the Christ-like forty days but stops after twenty.

I’ll spare you the details of what she eats over this period, where she buys the vegetables and the lemons for her lemon juice, how much they cost, and how hard it is to find the time to cook the damn stuff (especially when her husband is eating food that she finds far more appetising). I spare you those details, but she didn’t spare me.

From there it was but an easy step to the enthralling subject of her health.

When I was studying French, one of the pronunciation exercises told us that an Englishman asked “how do you do?” replies “how do you do?” A Frenchman, on the other hand, asked “how do you do?” starts to talk about his health.

Well, the stereotype isn’t wholly false. As a service to any non-native English speakers readers of this post, let me make it absolutely clear that there’s only one English answer to the question “how are you?” and that is “fine”. Even if the person asking is a visitor to your hospital bedside, and you’ve just been told by your doctor that there is no further treatment for your condition, so from now on you’re getting palliative care only for the last few weeks of your life, the answer is still “fine”.

Sadly, despite her twenty years in the country, my travelling companion had clearly not managed that step in cultural assimilation. She delivered her health woes to me in full and graphic detail. By the end, I was leaning so far out into the aisle that I couldn’t hear over the engine sound.

But as well as the English reluctance to talk about health, I suffer from the English inability to find a polite way of telling someone to put a sock in it. I’d slept badly the night before and was desperate just to read a little or even sleep, and here was this woman talking to me endlessly about her health (at least, I believe she was, though I could no longer tell). And instead of telling her to stop it, for God’s sake, I was just saying “yes”, “no” or “indeed” at random, without it apparently having any effect on stemming her flow of words.

I was reduced to just longing for the wheels to touch down. That gave me the opportunity to interrupt her and suggest that she check her texts for an answer from her agent. But that only opened another floodgate: I get all her troubles with technology, how phones never worked for her as she expected, “more than six buttons and I’m lost”.

Eventually, though, she got her texts. Sadly, she hadn’t had the call.

Sadly, I say and, strangely, sadly I mean. I might have seen her failure to secure the job as karma for turning a short flight into a taste of purgatory. Instead, I felt sorry for her.

On the other hand, I didn’t hang around to hear just how upset she was. By then, I really felt I’d given enough. I’ve seldom left a plane so fast.

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