OTWAG: Library

Once There Was a Girl. It was a book, of fairy tales she thought, that sat on Tina’s bookshelf. Amazingly, enough tattered remnants of the jacket had survived, held together as much by faith as by fabric, to read the name down the painfully broken spine. The brown bindings beneath were dully unimpressive, but patches of curling paper were patterned brightly with watercolour splashes which might have been trees or rainbows or maybe just random marks made of pigment and joy.

If Tina had ever thought about it for more than a second, she might have wondered just how it had got so battered, given she hadn’t touched it for the better part of a decade or maybe longer. But maybe it had arrived old and torn, her mother’s before her. She couldn’t remember, and she only really gave it more than a moment’s consideration when she was wondering whether or not to chuck things out. But she never really felt comfortable binning books; even books she hadn’t picked up for years.

If it hadn’t been for the flu, it might have taken several more years before it had been picked up again. But Tina felt absolutely rotten – alright, it wasn’t flu flu, but it might as well have been – and she was in that horrible state where she felt too gummed up to be awake but too fed up of being asleep to nap. She had been in the middle of reading a new book but her appetite to finish it had waned since she she found herself reading every third sentence at least six times to make sense of it. Maybe something easier. Maybe something familiar… Maybe something within easy reach of her sweaty pile of sheets.

The book felt small and she turned it over slowly in her hands without opening it. She thought about just taking the sleeve off altogether to preserve what was left of it, but it seemed to be glued to the hard covers. There was no author listed anywhere she could see – maybe on a torn section? – and no blurb or publisher’s mark. Now that that she came to think about it, she couldn’t really remember what it was about, either.

As she lifted it to open it, she was suddenly stopped short by a surprising scent. She was expecting must, old paper, the smell of books that people went on about as if it was the smell of church for people who had forgotten how to pray. Instead there came the odour of… leaves? Or possibly leaf mould. Sort of like being in a canopy of trees. Like that school trip they took to Parsonage Woods once, when she’d managed to get away from everyone for a few minutes and sit alone and forget about bloody Kasia and Mrs. Flynn and that stupid thing about the History test.

Her raging headache and red-raw nostrils all but forgotten, Tina cracked open the cover. She was presented with a blank page.

She turned it over. Another blank page. She started to flip through, and every single page was plain, ivory, perhaps faintly yellowed around the edges but definitely, unquestionably, blank. She pulled it up further towards her face, pushing up her glasses, and peered straight into the middle of the book. The scent of woodland was almost overwhelming now, and seemed to surround her. It was so strong it pierced her blocked nose like she was fit and healthy. Which, it suddenly occurred to her, she actually felt. Her eyes weren’t watery and sore as they stared fixedly at the crease between the pages. Her nose was full of the scents of spring. Her head felt shockingly clear and her ears no longer felt woolly as the sudden sound of birds filled them.

Tina suddenly, sharply dropped the book. And found herself sitting with it in her lap, still in her bed, still wearing her grotty old spaceship pyjamas and surrounded by a dense copse of thick-leaved trees.

This is the fourth attempt in a writing challenge I have set myself.

OTWAG: Am (Not) Writing

“Once there was a girl…”

And that girl, somehow, was always nothing like me. I mean, when was the last time you read a fairy tale where the girl was like anyone real? Half the time – more than half the time – they’re blonde. Do you know what percentage of the female population is naturally blonde? Well, no, I don’t either, but I know it’s a minority. But you’d never believe that if Goldilocks has her way. (And even when you don’t actually know for sure they were blonde, like Cinderella or Rapunzel, they sort of end up blonde anyway; though in that cartoon film Cinderella was totes a ginger).

I remember even as a little kid thinking that only Snow White was anything like me – and she ended up with, let’s face it, a creepy necro-thingummy. I had that really dark hair and pale skin, anyway. Really pale skin. But real pale skin is nothing like porcelain, is it? It’s more pink than white, more mottled (good word!) and blotchy than silky and smooth. At least mine is. With stretch marks to boot. And while I don’t think my visage would crack a magic mirror, I can certainly imagine a caustic laugh or two (another good word, that. Must make a note…).

So I’ve been sitting here for about four hours trying to write my own fairy tale and put a girl in it who could be like me (or at least, not like the others), and it is simply not coming out. Alright, it’s been about forty minutes, and half of that was very slowly drinking a cup of tea while staring out of the window. I’d imagine that’s great inspiration to authors who live in the countryside, gazing on grazing sheep and misty, rolling hills. Or even to those who live in a flat overlooking a dark and seedy metropolis. But when your view is a suburban street where Mr. Andreou from four doors down is shuffling towards the corner shop in a pair of slippers that went out of style (if it was ever in style) in 1946… Let’s just say I’m not sure the best stories come out of watching next door’s kids wondering if anyone can see them pissing behind the recycling bins. (Yes, obviously).

I’m not even sure I wanted the cup of tea, but it seemed like a writerly thing to do, you know?

Anyway, forty minutes later, all I have to show for myself is the first line. I’ve decided not to go for “once upon a time”, because I’d really like this to be all about the girl and also there’s inspired by being old-fashioned and then just being old-fashioned and I think I’m already a bit close to the line.

I’ve written down a list of things I’d like the girl to be. Bear with me.

– Fat. Like, not just “she had ample bosoms with a tiny waist” fat, but actually some curves in the so-called bloody wrong places, thanks so much.

– Not blonde. I’m open to pretty much anything else.

– Smart. Like, not just sassy but properly nerd-smart.

– Real. Not, you know, just the ‘strong’ thing where they’re strong by literally being strong (could I say ‘strong’ some more? I can try…) but a mixture of stuff. Fallible. But brilliant. But real.

Wow. With clarity like this, it’s a total shock I don’t have a story pouring out of every orifice. Which is a lovely thought, let me tell you.

I have no problem thinking of scenes. Does anyone? I mean, I think of my life in scenes. The scene when the story is being written (montage ahoy!), and the scene when they story is finished – and for some reason, even though I know it will never, ever happen that way, I see it being printed out with a top sheet, like some kind of modern Jo March. Oh, that girl has a lot to answer for. She told so many stories some of them were rubbish. I can’t seem to help myself tell enough…. and I suspect they might all be rubbish.

But you’re supposed to push on through doubt, right? Right.

Okay, well, I’m not drinking what’s left of this tea. It’s cold, and that’s just disgusting.


Once there was a girl. A real girl. With curves in at least some of the wrong places. And a few bad habits to boot. But she was interesting and funny and nerd-smart.

And I reckon she deserves to have a story told about her. Right? Right.

This is the third attempt in a writing challenge I have set myself.

OTWAG: The Thunder Tree

Once there was a girl, and she lived in the roots of a tree. That is, no-one ever saw her leave her spot, nestled in the base of a vast oak, in a hollow just big enough to curve around her and provide a woody, earthy nest.

Yet they knew that leave it she must, because she still appeared to live. No-one in the village brought her food or clothes, yet she was not starved and seemed to be wearing clothes. In fact, no-one in the village dared approach the tree, so no-one had really ever seen her up close, but they swore up and down she was there – even if they never saw her move.

The problem was, the village was extremely prone to thunderstorms and lightning strikes. Not a single other sapling seemed to survive more than a few years before wilting or dying of some rotten disease, so this tree was the only one in the entire area; more crucially, it acted as the sole lightning rod for the village. Whenever there was a thunderstorm – once a month in winter, at least once a week in summer – the inhabitants of the village felt safe because the tree continued standing. While it was battered by strike after strike, barely a leaf was shaken to the ground. And as the rain fell in torrents that rattled roofs and flooded streets, no-one could see the girl in her tree. But when the skies cleared and the people ventured out again, someone – usually a child – would run past the last house, to the point by the last fence, where it felt safe to stand and observe. And they would see that the girl was there, appearing peaceful, in the roots of the tree that protected them.

It was winter, and the last thunderstorm had been at least three weeks ago. The children were skittish, and could smell the change in the air, the thick weight of the water in the atmosphere. The adults went about their tasks a little faster and a little more nervously, keeping the roaming packs of playing youngsters a little closer to home. They were checking the watertight doors on their bolt holes, and ensuring the shelves were stocked. Even though they had absolute faith in the tree’s protection from lightning strikes, every year for as long as anyone could remember there had been at least one tragedy in the rushing waters. Only the substantial vigilance of the nervous parents had prevented this, for many years, from being a child.

The rain tended to start deceptively gently, and this storm was no different. As the first drops eased down, the streets gradually fell silent. The youngest were swept into houses within seconds, older children issued dire warnings if they did not follow within minutes. Babies were welded to the breast – as much to calm their mothers as themselves. One by one, doors slammed and locked, and finally the cluster of houses, stalls and stores and the blocky, battered village hall became totally still. All except one.

In the little blue-doored house at the furthest point south of the central street, two parents were slowly losing their minds. Their son, a small-built, tousle-headed boy with hazel eyes and long, nimble fingers, had vanished without a trace, and the time was coming when the door needed to close against him to prevent them all being swept away.

Under the tree, the girl sat, as ever, with her eyes closed, as the rain’s rhythm began to beat stronger. No-one had ever seen her move because most of the time she didn’t. No-one had ever seen her eat, because she had no need to. No-one had ever stepped close enough to examine her clothes, or they would have realised that they weren’t exactly what they might have imagined.

At length, the first rolling rumble echoed in the sky, and with it the deluge began in earnest. In short order, the downpour formed a curtain around the tree, shielding it from view – were there anyone left trying to see it. With hearts more shredded than broken, the boy’s parents had barred their damaged family into walls that had never before seemed to press so hard on their skin. When the tree was almost completely invisible under sheets of hammering water and as the first fractured bolt came zig-zagging from the sky to slam, sizzling, into the canopy overhead, the girl opened her eyes. And looked directly into a pair as clear and hazel as her own were clouded and grey-green.

The girl didn’t move, but her eyes widened, just a fraction. The boy was pressed as close as he could be without touching her, crouched awkwardly in the circle of completely dry ground that extended just a foot from the roots of the tree, all around it. For a moment, the pair stared at each other, without exchanging a word, and then the boy wobbled on his narrow ankles and fell, so that his head slipped out into the storm.

In a moment, the rest of his body slid forward, ready to be sucked away. He gasped and his mouth instantly filled with water, his eyes blinded by the cascade and his ears filled with a roar that rapidly deafened him. As he tried to breathe his nose flooded. His fingers clawed and his legs shuddered; his chest buckled and his back arched. And then, as suddenly as it all began, everything went black.

The storms were violent, but short. Once the rain stopped, it was usually necessary to wait for an hour or so until the waters receded from the streets; though the ground never fully dried out, they eased away as easily as they arrived, streams that sped away south and carried the fears of the crowd with them until the next storm began to build. This time, the blue door opened before the waters had fully ebbed away, and they swirled across the floor of the house as two parents burst out, one with a baby strapped to his back, the other with a young child clutched to her hip. They began to call out a name – the children, even the baby, uncharacteristically silent – repeatedly hurling it into the air as if the sound itself was a hook that could drag their lost cargo back to the shore.

Bit by bit, as the ground around them cleared, doors opened, and sad-looking adults and wild-eyed, overexcited children joined the parents. They kept perhaps a foot’s distance from the frantic family, but moved in concert with them, flowing like a shoal of fish around each building and easing first north, then south, until all the ground in the village was covered.

At last, there was just one place left the group had not searched. One by one, the children looking up first, each one turned in the direction of the tree, and a gasping ripple swept across the crowd, reaching the parents on a wave of incredulity. The whole village fell into a shocked silence as they gazed on the their monolithic protector.

The tree stood as tall as ever, and one side was as proudly untouched by the storm as had ever been seen before. On the west side of the tree however, a deep scar had been gouged into the leafy canopy, and a thick branch was hanging from an open gash where it had snapped under the force of the winds, partially obscuring the roots as it draped down. Leaves littered the ground beneath the damage, and the only thing that could be discerned from this distance was that the shape at the base of the tree was bigger than it had ever been before.

It was the boy’s father that made the first move towards the roots, but it was his mother who was the first to cross the furthest point that anyone had ever stood at before. As the pair of them raced towards the tree, still clutching their youngest children, a breeze shook the branches and another small shower of leaves hit the ground to the western side.

At the roots of the tree, the girl was finally fully visible to the villagers who felt brave enough to approach. Her arms, flaking and rough as bark, were wrapped around a small, wet figure, who shivered with his eyes shut but was clearly breathing. Her fingers were locked under his ribs, and her eyes were clamped shut. As their footsteps approached and the mud churned, the hands slowly let slip from around the boy, and she seemed to gently push him away from her onto an oddly dry patch of ground. He instinctively turned towards the girl, but his mother pulled his arms towards herself before he could complete the movement.

In the fuss to bring the boy home, revive him and heal him, no-one looked at the girl. A few children who tried to gaze, frankly, on her were ushered away in embarrassment by their parents. The day was rapidly darkening into night, and the villagers wanted to return to their homes and count their blessings. Without a word, without another glance, they turned away from the girl and scurried back to where they belonged.

In the morning, the sun rose on what promised to be a dry, cold day – a typical lull of a fortnight or more between storms. But in spite of the promise of respite, a few villagers did look towards the tree to reassure themselves that when the storm did come, they would be safe from lightning.

And perhaps they would have been, if the tree had still been there. Instead, all that remained was a circle of rough, dry ground and a single, perfectly green oak leaf.

This is the second attempt in a writing challenge I have set myself.


Once there was a girl.

Every morning, her dark eyes opened and light poured into them. Every day, her full heart opened and light poured out of it. The light touched everyone around her; this happened whether she wanted it to or not. The girl swam in her light, and danced down the road ahead. She skipped over pebbles and skipped towards the skyline, never once glancing at the road.

And every day, the light kept spilling out. Sometimes it would illuminate a path ahead. Sometimes it would blister the skin – her own, or that of others. More often that not, she turned it on herself. She could tolerate much, raise her brown arms to the sky and soak herself in brilliance from any source.  But her own questioning glow could be enough to strip away a layer, to sear like frostbite and leave a mark. On those days she needed healing; wounds had to be licked. And every time that happened, the girl would feel the road ahead shorten by a few steps – yet at the same time, the planned destination seemed to creep further out of reach.

Bit by bit, the bad days seemed to happen more often. And with every burn, her strides seemed slower. Her limbs felt weighted, her brain waterlogged. At first she was able to shake her head and march on, but as the stripes on her flesh grew longer, deeper and more clearly visible, her footsteps began to falter. Her eyes, always fixed on the horizon, began to flicker downwards, more and more frequently. After a while, she spent as much time looking down as she did ahead. Eventually, her eyes lifted only occasionally. Finally, they barely looked up at all, lingering instead on her wound-patterned limbs and stumbling feet. The path grew muddied under her scuffing toes; where once rocks she could, with some effort, scale popped up here and there, now smooth boulders blocked the way and she laboriously edged around them, unsure whether they were sending her in a direction she had not intended to go.

The light kept burning, and the clouds that were gathering offered no cool breeze.

At last the day came when the girl felt like she could no longer take another step. She stood, staring at her feet, willing them to move forward, but all that seemed to happen was a hesitant sway. Her fingers traced the lines down her arms, across her chest; her eyes traced the marks down her shins, across her knees. She gazed at them for a long time, so long that everything around her seemed to fall silent and still under a dense cloud. She studied the pockmarks and examined the patterns, until they seemed to swim in front of her eyes in dots and lines, spelling out words that were hard to read and painful to accept. She blinked them away, washing them with tears, trying not to read them. But still they flew at her, and still she stood without moving.

The girl never knew how long it took before she let herself read the words. She could never quite remember when her eyes cleared. She wasn’t entirely sure at which point she began to take them in. Bit by bit, however, as she stood, she let them wash over her and acknowledged them. She was able, for the first time, neither to bat them away nor to let them bloody her. The scabs and scratches still stung and glowed, but in a strange way, she realised, this could be powerful. They were not beautiful, in the way that she had understood beauty to be found. She was almost surprised to find that they did not fade away with this realisation, and actually surprised to find that she didn’t care either way if they did.

From that moment, she found she was able to walk again. Her footsteps were never again as carefree and unhesitant as they had been when she had stood in the full glare of day and simply absorbed the rays. But now she halted only to allow the path ahead to clear, and to pick her steps with more certainty. Now she kept her eyes neither downcast nor rigidly fixed on a single spot, but instead allowed them to roam a few feet ahead; she surveyed what she saw, and picked a path that pleased, excited and scared her. Now she understood that neither the length of the path, nor its end point, were her goal.

Once there was a girl. But she couldn’t stay a girl forever.

This is the first attempt in a writing challenge I have set myself.

Once there was a girl… a challenge?

Last night I had dinner with Rochelle, which is always a sensible thing to do. Not only is she lovely and very funny, she never fails to be inspiring. She’s had about fourteen careers already, and she’s not even quite in her mid-30s, and she just doesn’t let things hold her back. Sure she feels fear, and has the occasional wobble, because she’s human. But she also sees something she wants to do, logically works out how to achieve it, and then just does it. Given I’m still learning how to ask for stuff, you can imagine why seeing her always feels like a shot in the arm.

We got talking about challenges, and I bore everyone to tears about make no secret of the fact that my #100forchildsi challenge really changed me. Since then, I’ve kept drawing, and even experimented with putting one of my designs on a t-shirt. I’ve got vague but gradually coalescing plans to do more with this, and another design developing in my head. I really do want to progress this to the point where there is an actual physical product available, potentially even to sell. Whether or not anyone wants to buy it, well… that’s another issue.

But before I was drawing, I was writing. And I still write. But not nearly as often as I could or should. But a blogging challenge just didn’t appeal somehow. I liked the idea of a theme (getting too nebulous creatively can be as problematic as being too limited), but I also wanted to stretch my fiction-writing muscles which are seriously flabby and creaking, but for the occasional stretch.

So I thought, what if my theme was ‘once there was a girl*’? If that was the first line of every story, and each story was maybe a tiny complete tale or a short fragment, and I tried to do it every day for, say, 30 days? I have the feeling I should do it sooner rather than later, so maybe I’ll start this weekend. And this time, I’m not accountable to people raising money for charity (though if you’d like to support Childsi anyway, my JustGiving page still exists). And I am really going to have to put my money where my mouth is on the asking front, because I’d be asking anyone who’s sweet enough to read this blog on occasion to spend time looking at stuff that would be quick and unpolished, and that I wouldn’t feel very confident about. And that’s terrifying, though here I take inspiration from another marvellous woman, Jenni, who recently launched her fab book vlog.

So… I think I’m going to do it. It might be soon. It might be very soon. And I invite you to gently take my hand and give it a squeeze and be constructive, but kind. Because you’re wonderful and I have faith in you. Yes, you.

*Yes, always a girl, I think. Don’t get me wrong, I love Tom and his paper cats, and he came into my head as a man, and a man he should stay. But while I’m challenging myself, why not add a more female voice among the many, many male stories? I might change my mind and bend my own rules, but we’ll see.

Edit 08.02: Well, it looks like we’re off and running! I’ll add pieces below as they appear…

1. OTWAG: Once
2. OTWAG: The Thunder Tree
3. OTWAG: Am (Not) Writing
4. OTWAG: Library
5. OTWAG: Holding the Leash
6. OTWAG: Resolution
7. OTWAG: Bedtime Story
8. OTWAG: The Pink Paper
9. OTWAG: Watching
[Edit 19/02: A slight interlude of fail. I my defence, I’ve been working full, long days and then had evening plans that have seen me busy until at least 11pm. Yes, if I was really dedicated I’d get up even earlier than 6am or write until 2am, but I’m clearly doomed to eternal lack of ‘really wanting it’ or something when it comes to the decision between writing and seeing my child, or sleeping. I shall return this weekend, however, with a genteel, finger-tapping vengeance.]

Afternoon tea at the Buddha Bar, Knightsbridge

IMG_4667In case it’s not obvious, I really, really, REALLY love tea.

So, when it came time to choose a fun thing to do with my friend K to belatedly celebrate her birthday, afternoon tea ticked the box. She’d mentioned that she’d enjoyed an Asian-inspired tea at the Buddha Bar before, and wanted to go back, so when a Time Out offer dropped on our laps it seemed serendipitous.

What was rather nice was that during the booking process the very helpful woman I was emailing spotted my blog link in my signature and, just for the hell of it, added an extra glass of champagne to our booking on the house. Which was very sweet (the gesture, not the bubbles) and much appreciated. Even after I managed to knock the second glass on the floor… but I’m getting ahead of myself.

IMG_4659The tea itself is four savoury and four sweet bites each. The fusion flavours are unusual for afternoon tea, but not so brave that they’ll put off the conservative-minded. Savouries were a hoisin duck bun, a deep-fried seafood wonton, tuna tartare on crisp crostini and a crunchy vegetable summer roll, with a couple of dipping sauces. I launched in with the summer roll first, and really enjoyed the tuna, which had a welcome hint of spice; the bun was lovely but the real star for me was the wonton. I could frankly have just gone for a bowl of those then and there…

The sweet half was a rare sugary departure from my usual diet these days; as such the pistachio macaron seemed insanely sweet to me, but with a lovely gooey texture. The dense chocolate mouse was more like a rich truffle cake; this was balanced out to some extent by the light, fruity passion fruit tarts with pastry cases so crisp we gave up on spoons and used our fingers to avoid the inevitably flying bits of dessert hitting anyone else in the room. The winner for me though was the green tea cheesecake; a light whipped topping on a just-held-together crumbly biscuit base. And not achingly sweet (or at least it didn’t seem so after my tongue had been numbed by the other three).

IMG_4671Canton Tea Co. jasmine pearl tea (loose leaf in pyramids) made for a lovely fragrant accompaniment, too. The two glasses of champagne were delicious… right up until an enthusiastic Greek gesticulation from me sent one flying. My appreciation for the incredibly attentive and sweet staff extends to the waiter who was at my elbow in seconds, towels in hand, being generally pretty charming about the whole thing. Luckily, it’s also pretty dark in there…

Speaking of dark, the way to the loos caused considerable hilarity, including one moment where the mood lighting was so… moody… we couldn’t see the door handle to let our way out of the bathrooms. The rest of then space is, as you might be able to tell from the lighting, a fairly exotic surrounding – an unrestrained yet pleasing mashup of Far East, Christmas lights and an incense-laced North African souk.

Would I go again? Yes, though it would, I think, be for an entirely savoury meal. This is in part because of the sugar thing; I found the savoury the part of the tea that I really wished there was more of. The balance was naturally in favour of cake – and large servings of it, at that – whereas my preferences increasingly lie in the other direction. It’s also I think because with a traditional afternoon tea there’s the sort of transitional point of the scones – they lead you from sandwiches to pastries via the gateway drugs of jam and raisins – but here it was a pretty sharp jump from chilli-flecked tuna to chewy meringue.

With that balance restored and a slightly more varied tea menu, I’d sing its praises anywhere; if you’ve more of a sweet tooth than I do and you’re tired of the usual, this is definitely somewhere to try.

Thoughts on The Theory of Everything and Only Lovers Left Alive

Aside from an abundance of English accents, the above have little in common. However, I happened to see them in the same week and while one is too old to review and I probably don’t have enough to say about the other to warrant a whole post, I had a few thoughts about each I wanted to set down.

First, the Hawking movie. It would, I think, simply be silly to be remotely critical of Eddie Redmayne here; he was as close to perfect, and as far from impression or parody, as anyone could ever ask him to be. I don’t for a minute question whether he deserves all the accolades heaped on his head; with that in mind, I also think there’s a great deal to be said for the direction, at least from a performance perspective. However, I was left feeling largely like I’d missed the point. Usually with a biopic there’s an arc, a focus – an overall reason for telling this story, at this time and in this way. Unquestionably, Stephen Hawking has led a life that is out of the ordinary in a number of ways, and that makes it a compelling proposition. But where the oft-compared The Imitation Game largely focussed on a particular period in Turing’s life, and came with a healthy dose of social justice polemic to boot, The Theory of Everything is essentially a greatest hits of Hawking’s life from MND diagnosis to the end of his marriage to first wife Jane.

Of course the primary reason for this time span is that the source material is Jane’s book (and how good to see a woman’s story and perspective for a change). But in trying to summarise everything it feels like a thread has snapped somewhere along the line. Perhaps because both are still alive, and in spite of Felicity Jones being marvellous, Jane seems oddly airbrushed; actually, the whole film has a soft-focus, with any sexual or gory medical detail much more inferred than displayed. Again, I think, a side effect of choosing a living subject – a largely private one, at that.

There is, thankfully, no hokey disability narrative; the Motor Neurone Disease Association appeal shown just before the film deftly made the point that Hawking’s length of life post-diagnosis is pretty unusual and the film, to its credit, doesn’t try to imply that there’s any special strength of spirit that is the cause of this. It actually does an admirable job of acknowledging the considerable challenges of living with MND, whilst allowing a full characterisation of the subject as a complex – and obviously hyper-intelligent – human being. Still, there was one moment where Hawking imagines stepping out of his chair to pick up a student’s dropped pen – one of those inescapable cure-fantasy moments that seem to come built into any story where disability is an essential part of the story.

A little soft-focus, a little abbreviated, a little airbrushed… is it better, perhaps, to be as accurate and respectful as one can be about reality than to basically make bits up for dramatic effect, as The Imitation Game has been accused of? Perhaps for the subject; but I can tell you which makes better cinema.

And yet, having just complained about the lack of structure in The Theory of Everything, in the same week I hugely enjoyed a film with absolutely no real plot to speak of, Only Lovers Left Alive.

I’ll generally watch any old vampire crap as long as it’s not full-on horror, and there is something wholly irresistible about the idea of Tilda Swinton as the undead. Throw in John Hurt – as Kit Marlowe, no less! – and Tom Hiddleston (finally out-manoeuvred on-screen by his manifestly more experienced colleagues, but still very good), and I’m already sold. But I generally have little patience for excessively self-indulgent faffing, and the first few minutes of the film, beautiful though they were, threatened to annoy my short attention span. And yet… touches of unexpected humour, jarring references to YouTube and Apple product placement, captivating moodiness and just the right touch of self-aware silliness… altogether, frankly, it was a little gem. Every so often, a burst of activity threatens to add a storyline, but then it just sort of rolls on – as well life might if you’ve been alive and married for centuries.

Perhaps that’s exactly the difference between a biopic that rattles from station to station with no clear destination and a drive through the desert with no road at all.