Saturday, 30 April 2016

Armchair Entertainment

Caffè Nero branch number 3,423 boasts an enviable situation on a corner of St. Peter's Square. Its huge windows afford a panoramic view – perfect for people-watching and surveying the work-in-progress on the new tram station and the adjoining building. But last week they spoiled it by sticking posters in the windows to advertise latte frappe grande. Disgruntled, I broached the obvious blunder with the charming mid-European girl who appears to be in charge. She sympathised with me but said the posters were ordained by head office and she had no say in the matter.
"Perhaps you could raise them a little, out of the eyeline?" I suggested.
"I'll see what I can do," she said. She was smiling but, as my partner pointed out, that was probably just to humour me.
"It's important they get feedback," I said.

Having done my public duty, I went off to see the film The Jungle Book (in 3D) which, considering I am a fan of the 1967 version, was a risky thing to do: there was a possibility that I might end up unhappily nit-picking over comparisons with the original and whingeing about how 'they' should have left well alone. Far from being disappointed, however, I found it very enjoyable and was therefore disinclined to make critical comparisons, conscious or otherwise. I have no idea how they make the animals look so real—something called CGI?—but I am concerned about the effect this might have on small children. If they believe the animals are real, won’t they be upset when they get home and can't get the family pet to have a conversation with them?

I suppose the kids will grow up to accept that it was all a fantasy, just as they do with Santa, but what about that nonsense concerning the man-cub found and raised by wolves? Will they continue to believe that is real? The recurrence of similar stories over the years, some of which have been presented—by adults—as factual, would suggest not. It was a coincidence, but the next thing I watched was Mary Beard's Ultimate Rome: Empire Without Limit, an historical account, except that the beginning is predicated on wolves raising the human foundlings Romulus and Remus who, despite having no toilet training, go on to found a mighty empire. Even though formal education does present this story as a myth, it wasn't until Mary's revelation that the Latin for wolf, lupa, also translates as prostitute that a more plausible version of the twins' early upbringing dawned on me.

Actually I watched only the first ten minutes before taking against the style of presentation which I found too intrusive: it gets in the way of the real meat, the history. I switched over to watch the semi-final of Caravanner of the Year, a programme which I imagine is a source of mockery for all but those who, like me, embrace the concept of mobile living. Competing with the caravanners were a motorhomer and a campervanner (which, for the benefit of the uninitiated, are rival sub-species). Much as I despise tribalism, I could not hide my disappointment when my fellow-campervanner was knocked out.

Campervanning is a joyful experience: a feeling of freedom envelops me as soon as I get behind the wheel and head for the open road. But yesterday, stuck in grid-locked traffic just a hundred yards from my fixed residence, the very opposite feeling prevailed. It was all getting very stressful until I noticed, while inching past Caffè Nero branch 3,423, that the latte frappe grande posters had been raised up. Cheered by this small victory for common sense I determined that next time I get coffee there I will make a generous—and conspicuous—contribution to the tip cup.

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