Monday, September 10, 2007

Fortune's Favours


James McAvoy gets a fate makeover in Atonement

We are all hostages to fortune, who would appear to be a halfwit sitting in some remote call centre mismanaging a giant repository of life opportunities for those of us who are not governors of our own destiny. The week before last when I discovered that my sold flat became miraculously unsold, I immediately contacted employment agencies to try to pick up a three month contract so that I can repeat the whole tedious process of selling House of Pants and repatriating to a remote corner of my native land.

As luck would have it, one agency found a vacancy in a place I’d worked before. These days there’s a central clearing house for all local government vacancies. Meant to challenge the practice of managers hiring their friends as ‘consultants’ this organisation is essentially just another collective of middlemen top-slicing the meagre amount of money allocated to cover essential work. What happened was that I didn’t get an interview for the post which upset me because I thought I’d done a good job and been well liked. Apparently they hated me, or so it seemed. It didn’t look that good from the perspective of the recruiter who didn’t think being rejected by a previous employer was much of an endorsement of my abilities.

Then last Friday, this job came to me anyway through an entirely different route with no middlemen taking a third of the money. The dual recruiting system that was intended to keep everyone honest rejects those who are most qualified to take on these vacancies because the profit margin isn’t as great. So, the employer gets sent a dozen CVs belonging to people with an NVQ in Horticulture. They'd not even been shown my CV. I am now not destined for the poor house and, best of all, I only had to live with the thought that I was so awful and crap that people I’d liked and worked hard for couldn’t stand the thought of having me back for a week. It wasn’t a great week I can tell you. My economic viability was at the whim of an incompetent puppeteer.

House of Pants is now in the hands of a different estate agent. I finally parted company with the old ones, to whom I’d remained absurdly loyal when the young, inexperienced agent on whom I’d been palmed off was rude to me on the phone and informed me she’d not managed to arrange a single viewing in a week. It was ‘too short notice for people’ she snapped. I’ve never understood the propensity of the British to turn the purchase of a home into a life’s work. To my mind you decide to buy, you look at half a dozen suitable properties and pick one. You move, noting it is horrendous and you never want to do it again and then get on with the rest of your life. It is a blip, not a vocation.

In any case, even I know that London is a seller’s market. I asked to speak to one of the partners. He assured me that buyers pulling out didn’t happen all that often. Be that as it may, it happened to ME and I informed him that situation still needed to be adequately managed. Then he flippantly suggested that since they’d ‘sold’ the flat once they were more than capable of doing it again. That’s when the ideological atom split I’m afraid. If we couldn’t agree on a common definition of the word ‘sold’ then we probably didn’t have much chance of a completing a transaction to our mutual satisfaction.

I found a different agent, one who managed to locate a whole lot of people who didn’t need quite as much notice to look at property they might want to buy. This is how I ended up at the cinema yesterday afternoon watching Atonement. As a trail of strangers tramped through House of Pants, I grabbed the opportunity to further contemplate the fickle forefinger of fate. Tom Paulin got into trouble from Kirsty Wark on Newsnight Review on Friday for revealing an important bit of the plot which seems odd given that it’s a more or less faithful adaptation. Anyone who’s read the book will know what happens in it. There’s not a lot of point in tediously rehashing that anyway as most of the reviewers have already done so in suitably florid prose.

I loved it. I wasn’t around in 1935 but if I had been, I’m sure I would have recognised the colours and sounds and manners, the torture of being born into a powerless class and the callous fatuousness of the gentry. The wonderful device of using a typewriter to convey the pivotal event which freezes the course of action is genius. It’s that way in the book but dramatised exquisitely here. Typewriters appear throughout, tapping out rhythms of suspense, driving us incontrovertibly forward. They are the tools of investigation as well as fantasy and also in war where they constantly bang out grim reports and casualty lists.

Director Joe Wright seamlessly shifts us from the country house on that blistering summer’s day to war ravaged France and London four years later. The sense of being swept up in the global turmoil of war is palpable. James McAvoy and Keira Knightley are enigmatic to just the right level of individual and joint perfection. Believing that the relationship between spoilt rich Cecilia Tallis and housekeeper's son Robbie Turner can withstand his criminal conviction is easily the biggest ask in the book. In lesser hands it might have been a disaster. They make it look simple. A clever solution is found to the time and perspective shift that closes the book. Vanessa Redgrave is stunning as the atoning novelist being interviewed by the real Anthony Minghella. Lovely.

So next week I rejoin the working classes as my blog friend J so sensitively put it. Wish me luck. At least they don’t hate me. At the moment, the world and House of Pants are peacefully co-existing. So behave yourself world and no more of those messing with my head moments for a little while, if you would be so kind…

14 comments:

J said...

Hi Pants,

Agencies are pernicious things. They ask you what you can afford to pay and then send you cvs of people you can afford but who can't do the job, or people who can do the job but you can't afford... *shrugs*

The good thing about local government is that opportunities come along like buses. You wait for ages and then three come along at once - and sometimes the second is a better one than the first!

I'm really glad you get to join the madhouse again. I'm sure it's even more mindblowing now than it was when you were there before!

J. x

Reading the Signs said...

I went to see the film today and loved it too. Didn't realise that the interviewer at the end was Anthony Minghella but anyway, yes, Vanessa Redgrave was wonderful.

I hope the world and House of Pants continue peacefully (or even fruitfully) co-existing for the next few months. I remember Hackney estate agents well - wonder if the same cowboys are there, if that's not too nice a word.

That's so pants said...

Hi

Somehow I have a feeling you know of which you speak.

xxx

Pants

Hi Signs

Glad you enjoyed the film too. It's nice to know that somewhere in the world expertise is producing lovely things for us hapless mortals.

xxx

Pants

Minx said...

I remember wanting to dig my estate agent's eyes out with blunt spoons when he had carelessly lost us another sale.
I realised later that fate had stepped in and eventually moved us to where we were supposed to be.
All things happen for a reason. Well, mostly - I am not sure why I can't find my toothbrush today.

That's so pants said...

Hi Minxie,

So it's not just me then. Honestly, they'd have you believe everything is all your fault. Actually I am sanguine about it for the most part. I could do with a little less of the Russian roulette and a little more of honest, up front competency but the world malfunctions as it does and there isn't a lot one can do about it.

I fall down on the Ben Goldacre side of 'things happening for a reason'. There's no logical sense in it of course because the things that are supposedly conforming to reason are invariably unrelated so cannot form part of a cohesive theory.

However, I am capable of Pascalian conjecture and I tend to think it is much better to expect a change in the course of events in your favour than to project your fortunes spiralling forever downwards, if only for the sake of a good night's sleep. You may also like to note that I am a late convert to the power of drunken prayer.

xxx

Pants

NMJ said...

hey pants

am annoyed i missed tom paulin, he hasn't been on newsnight for ages.

'antonement' hadn't appealed to me - mainly because i am not an ian mcewan fan, though i love james mcavoy - but since you enjoyed it so much, i may just see it.

fingers crossed for the house! my mum & step-dad are having a crap time, they've bought a house but can't sell their own ... but the estate agent told them it would be snapped up. the very first viewer (in june) made an informal offer, but they were advised not to take it as the house had literally just gone on market (in scotland it goes in at the lowest acceptable price & you get 'offers over'). in june and july, viewers traipsed through oohing & aahing but never made an offer. in august, viewers dried up altogether. they have been told it is slow everywhere, not to panic, but they are panicked.

x

That's so pants said...

Hi NMJ

I know! I love Tom Paulin - I want the old team back including the Greer sisters (Germ and Bonnie). Actually I do a passable impression of Tom Paulin.

The film works even if you aren't a fan of McEwan, I think although I am a fan of most of his books. The screenplay by Christopher Hampton incorporates all the best and most important dialogue - which is excellent in the book - and adds a couple of lovely and clever filmic devices. McAvoy is superb - worth the price of admission. I think you'll like it.

I've become incredibly superstitious about the House of Pants sale so I'm not going to report on it again until its all over but things have improved since I got the new agent. I'm sorry your folks are having a rotten time of it though.

xxx

Pants

Wisewebwoman said...

Hi Pants:
All good Karma goes your way on the sale of House. It will sell. At a very good price.
I'm very mixed on MacEwan didn't like 'Atonement' but adored 'Saturday'.
I will see the movie based on your recommendation even tho not a fan of Keira.
God, I sound like a picky bee-yotch today tho, don't I??

That's so pants said...

Hi WWW

I loved 'Saturday', although I admit I skipped a lot of the intricacies of the brain surgery business. The 'Dover Beach' caper was enough to rekindle my interest. 'Atonement' is the better novel in my view. My favourite is 'Enduring Love' but it made a horrid film even though it had Daniel Craig in it. I hope you enjoy it.

xxx

Pants

Bwca said...

whoever called them 'cowboys' in a comment above, is being far too reserved. here it's LAND RATS.


and "How can you sell it again if you haven't sold it yet" said Alice to The Queen Of hearts.

NMJ said...

I think Ian McEwan is a writer you definitely love or definitely don't - I definitely don't. I can see he is highly skilled and all the rest of it but his style bores me, I just don't have the patience. But he is one of my friend's absolutely favourite writers.

I'm with WWW on Kiera, she is undoubtedly very beautiful, but I just don't find her very watchable.

But I will still prob try & see Atonement, only cos you recommended it so highly. See, Pants, I trust you more than paid reviewers! I've read only good reviews but they wouldn't make me want to see it.

x

That's so pants said...

Hi BWCA

That REALLY made me laugh, thanks.

The problem was that these were nice people who simply couldn't adjust their procedures to deal with events. That was what I struggled with. If they'd been arseholes, it would have been easy. I was trying to help the inadequate help me. It's one of my great failings in life and won't be easily turned around.

Hi NMJ

I think all the reviews are good for Atonement - except Julie Myerson on Newsnight Review - but she writes rubbish books and her reasons for not liking it weren't any better.

I haven't read Chesil Beach yet - on which I gather the jury is very much out. I'm undecided as far as McEwan is concerned.

xxx

Pants

Tai said...

Greetings, Pants. I loved this novel. The film isn't out here in my backward part of the Western world, but I can't wait to see it.

That's so pants said...

Hi Tai

If you loved the book I'm sure you'll like the film. McEwan is listed as one of the producers. Usually novelists loudly disclaim film adaptations of their books so it's not a bad place to start.

xxx

Pants