The Rules of the Kitchen

Vol XXXIX, Filmography



People often say life doesn’t happen like in the movies, and I always believed this to be true. They fall in love in the most banal way; people die, dull and pointless; they make jokes which are funny, but miss the perfect slapstick timing, which is only achieved after serious redrafting. I knew all this, until I met her: Erin Jones.

We met at a generic coffee shop in London city centre. I had just got a job writing for the BBC, and ended up lost and parched on my lunch break. I first saw her through the plate glass of the restaurant window , she was laughing at something a co-worker had just said, and when she swung back her long red hair and smiled it seemed as if she were in slow-motion. I sat at a table and prayed it would be her that took my order. She came over and smiled, her eyes were the colour of cornflowers. I spluttered something about coffee and instead of being put off by the ridiculous yank on table 12; she brought my cappuccino with a heart dusted on in cocoa. I wrote my number on the bill. Two months later we were married. It was on our honeymoon in Greece where she told me about her FDD.

Fictional Displacement Disorder. There have only ever been three recorded sufferers: The first was a general in 1647, diagnosed posthumously, whose life unconsciously emulated Jacobean Tragedies. He was killed in a battle, which looked as though it was about to be lost: the general was hopelessly outnumbered. His son arrived with reinforcements, just in time to turn the tables. Unfortunately, the General had been forced to use one of the enemy’s helmets, as his had been damaged. As he went to embrace his son for saving the day, the young hero ran his father through with his sword. The mistake was discovered just as he hit internal organs, and the young man held his father in his arms as he died (tragically).

The next case was in 1913, which was when the disorder was officially recognized by Dr Braithwaite of Bond Street, London, in a young man who constantly lived out social comedies (which were very popular at the time). Unfortunately for this guy he was cast as the unfortunate down-at-heel younger brother, so he was surrounded by japes and comedy and was always blamed for the ensuing chaos. He took a pistol to his left temple after dinner with his would-be-in-laws was ruined by a hilarious mix up over the tripe. Even the sound of his fatal gunshot caused a young woman, having cucumber sandwiches with her auspicious father, to spill tea on her gloves. In her haste to remove them she revealed a wedding ring (she had been married to a charming but inappropriate young man the day before, who was also present). The poor dead man was forgotten in the ensuing commotion, where the young lovers were chased down the street by the fat father (to be fair the father had a very impressive moustache, which became doubly so in the rush along the London high street).

Erin had luckily been affected by an easier genre: she was living in the constant throes of romantic comedy. Her first boyfriend had been the captain of the rugby team, the golden boy. She left him when she fell in love with a slightly nerdy but sensitive guy, when they were cast as the lead roles in the school production of ‘Romeo and Juliet’. Then, when she went on holiday before college with her girlfriends, a handsome older man saw her walking down the beach in front of the hotel, and had heard the swell of a violin concerto in her graceful walk. She had been swept away by his suave charm and experience, and left her high school sweetheart. And so on and so on. Until she met me. It explained why, when I’d met her I had had a bizarre flashback, complete with commentary where I saw a teenage Erin leaving the cinema with her girlfriends, saying:

  • Why is it that there is always a transatlantic relationship in romantic comedies? I just don’t understand what is so great about an American guy and English girl falling in love.

  • And her, slightly less good-looking, friend says:

  • It’s the accent, maybe? They are really dreamy.

  • And she wittily replies:

  • Still, it’s starting to become creepy. Maybe it’s time England took out a restraining order on the US!
    And then a cut scene to me, a similar age and wearing shorts and a band t-shirt, leaving an American cinema with my friends – maybe we even watched the same movie. As I sip from an enormous Coke my friend says:

  • What is it about English chicks? They are so hot.

  • And I reply, not so witty:

  • It’s the accent.


As we struggled to enjoy our honeymoon, as Greek matriarchs scolded us for making love too loudly; when I lost my swim shorts in the ocean leading to hilarious misunderstanding and strategic positioning of potted plants and wine bottles on the way back to the suite; when her Rugby playing ex (now inherited his father’s fortune, and with chiselled good looks) turns up at our hotel and set out to break us up, I began to wonder if we could make this work. We were constantly close to finishing, only for circumstances to throw us together at the closing minute where we would have a teary reunion and finish (usually in the rain) in a heady clinch.
When we got home (and after we had visited both sets of parents – I’m not sure I will ever fully regain the use of my left arm or look at handcuffs in the same way since I spent the night cuffed to my ex-MI5 father-in-law) I took to writing emotive speeches on my lunch breaks, planning in advance for the tearjerker moments in our plotline. Every picture in our photo album looked like we were posing for the promotional poster to our life. Things began to slow down, eventually. I was hopeful that we were learning to manage her condition.
We even moved to a nicer area, got a Red Setter and named him Buck. Then the day I hadn’t realised I had been waiting for arrived. She had taken our dog to the park, and a ruggedly handsome guy with his (female) Red Setter and she had got their leads tangled. It turns out he is a charmingly hopeless single dad, which apparently trumps funny American writer in the Romcom stakes. Poor bastard doesn’t know what he’s in for.  Roll credits.




‘GETTING EXACTLY WHAT YOU WANT’ A study of Narcissism in Film

At the beginning of the 21st century Hollywood attached itself to the belief that what the audience really wanted was to see their own lives suspended on the silver screen. No matter what movie was showing, people transposed themselves within the plotline, claiming that such and such a character was just like them, or that a particular scene could have been taken straight from their life. Individualism had reached megalomaniacal levels and was combined with a huge boost in the economy after the depression.  In spite of the heady abundance of wealth among young LA professionals, piracy was at the highest level it would ever reach. To combat this, an ambitious young director, Andy DeMartino, began a project which is now widely referred to as ‘The Blockbuster Files’.

DeMartino theorized that people would pay over the odds for a film made about their own lives, and that this would negate the need for writers and even casters – the customer could pick the actors and even provide clothes and sets for a ‘realistic’ effect. The popularity of the customizable movie sky-rocketed within a year and the price rose from around $35,000 to close on $100,000 for a feature length film.  (The sudden interest is possibly due to the fall in the number of people paying for tourist trips to the moon after the Richard Branson crash in 2028 – narcissism had become the new escapism).

The films had an unusual effect, which could not have been predicted by DeMartino or any of his imitators. The number of divorces and suicides after viewings of the films was staggering – only when their lives had been rendered in ‘electric shadows’, as the Chinese once called it, did it really highlight the futility and insignificance of their unromantic existences.

After the trend was revealed by an investigative journalist from the Washington Post, after his own movie caused a split from his partner of 12 years, the Government passed legislation to force cinemas to have on-site psychiatrists to offer counselling after the brutal revelation of the customer’s mundane life had become apparent. Nevertheless the demand for the movies was insatiable.

DeMartino’s films began to have a direct and quantifiable effect on the job market and economy. One in three customers who watched one of his films quit their jobs and left to ‘follow their dreams’ – which explains the huge spike in the number of amateur baseball players; children’s book writers; unsigned bands and  yoga instructors. Wall Street and the City, in London, were hit by mass resignations. Unfortunately for South California, Hollywood was also seriously affected– apart from a few generic and inoffensive actors who could represent as many customers as possible in the ‘customized’ movies, actors were widely made redundant.

Finally an emergency summit of the G8 called for serious action to be taken against the threat, which now seemed to eclipse the problems of terrorism, the hyper-inflation of the dollar, and even climate change (this period precludes the Atlantis Disaster in London, where the city had to be sunk to its current location after the rapid construction of The Great London Shell.). Under international pressure the US Senate voted unanimously to ban cinema and film of all kinds. DeMartino retired disgraced, and was eventually bankrupted by the vast raft of Law Suits.
The ban lasted 60 years and during this period film production did continue, underground and illicit. Critics have called this the ‘Secret Golden Period of Film’ – the calibre of material seems to have flourished by being pushed underground and writers and actors who had been forced into redundancy were suddenly free to practice their craft without the insatiable self-centred desires of the general public to interfere with their art.

While film will never again return to the colossal cultural dominance of the first half of the 21st Century, we have seen a revival of this antiquated art form in recent years. Like the Greek Goddess of Prudence, however, we ought to keep both the past precedents and the future consequences of our actions in mind – and try not to take film, or ourselves, too seriously.




From an early age I had placed a lot of importance on the apparently trivial. I decided to take my teacher training degree when the prospectus fell open on the program’s page; I moved to Brighton when ‘Location Location Location’ and ‘Antiques Roadshow’ both happened to be filmed in the city on the same day while I was at home looking for teaching positions. If the girl at the coffee shop I go in on a Friday morning smiles at me I will always buy a muffin – if she asks me a nice question about my day I will have whipped cream on my hot chocolate. So far it’s worked out very well. Ask yourself if the choices you make about your life really make more sense or whether careful planning actually gets you the things you want – my way works just as well.

This is how I came to decide the fate of my relationship with Adrian on our 12th date, based on his movie selection. We’d been set up on a blind date by mutual friends, and on the whole it had been rather fun: he insisted on paying for dinner; he was always on time; we had the same favourite band and liked the third album best. Nevertheless I remained unconvinced. He tucked in his shirts and watched football. He liked cats. I decided I needed to either commit or get out, and it all hung on tonight’s date.

I arrived at his flat around five minutes late, which was pretty good timing for me. It was a fairly neat one bed in a nice part of the city, decorated with a level of neutrality that struck me as close to psychotic. I began to wonder if it was a show home that he had rented for the evening.

He poured me a glass of wine and I had to mark him down for choosing a red when I had mentioned on every date so far my preference for white – I didn’t like to eat or drink anything that might stain my teeth. We made small talk for about 10 minutes while he bustled round his galley kitchen microwaving popcorn. I always liked the idea of popcorn – the violent transmutation of something dry and hard into a fluffy and frivolousoodstuff. I had been waiting for this to happen to me since I was about 15, without any sign it was on the way. In any case if I had to be superheated or flung about inside a paper bag I wasn’t sure it was worth it. The flat filled with the smell of the popcorn, which always reminded me of hot pressed cardboard or fresh sawdust layered over the faint caramel scent of burnt sugar. It was a smell of childhood visits to the funfair and one’s first gawky teenage dates with boys who would try and put their hands up your skirt – as if the price of two tickets to a Julia Roberts film and a bag of Malteasers was a fair trade off.

Adrian led me out of my day dreams and into his small living room. He left the main light on, which was not as bad as turning all the lights off (why do people feel the need to do this when they are at home? Where does this desire to sit silently in a dark room come from?). He left me stranded on the three-seater sofa and went to the T.V.

He inserted the DVD and with a soft click and whir it began to revolve inside the machine. The lion roared and the opening credits rolled. This was the final straw. This was the clincher.

“Adrian.” I said, as he came and sat beside me “We need to talk, darling.”





Rolling over in the early morning sweat and dream soaked heat of just-before-waking, Tom checked the time and groaned. He was running later than usual, and would probably have to sprint for the bus. He pushed himself out of the snare of duvet and down the hall to the bathroom. With half his mind still in bed he switched on the radio that and methodically brushed each tooth as the news reporter described the ongoing rebuilding of New York after last month’s extra-terrestrial attack, and the high likelihood of a comet strike on Washington DC within the next twenty four hours.

“Tom? Are you up?” Tom’s mum, Vivien, managed to make this both a question and an accusation. When Tom replied in the affirmative she added, “Your breakfast is getting cold!”
As he climbed into his trousers and stuffed his shirt under his waistline Tom’s mind ambled aimlessly between how it was possible that his mother could be both pleased and disappointed whether he was failing or winning; why she insisted on pressing lines down the front of his work trousers, although he only did Saturday shifts at Tesco; why she also insisted on putting lines down his jeans; and why aliens only seemed to land in North America. Tom’s dad was in construction and was always complaining that a little more extra terrestrial activity in the London area would do him and the building trade a world of good.

Tom scuffed downstairs in socks, yawning and pulling absent-mindedly at his mussed hair. His mum had made toast around twenty minutes ago, and it was stone cold along with the tea. He pulled up a chair to the kitchen table and chewed it half heartedly. Vivien was ironing and watching the weather report. “Better take your umbrella today; the weather girl says it’s going to rain this afternoon. And they say there’ll be another zombie attack by the end of the week – I do wish they’d get these mutant viruses under control! I haven’t scrubbed all of the brain matter out of the patio yet.” Tom made a non-committal noise. “Oh Lord! Look at the time. Better get a move on!” Tom’s mum whipped his plate out from under him; half-eaten toast included, and began scrubbing it in the sink.

Even running full pelt, his bag trailing behind him like a lazy dog, Tom missed his bus. This meant running the extra half mile down the main road out of town to the retail park. He arrived about 4 minutes late, which was better than usual, but he was soaked in sweat and gasping for breath as though he’d been drowning all the way along the A-road and had straggled through the shallows of the super-sized car park to wind-up half dead in the staff room. Chantelle, his manager, shot him a filthy look as he clocked on.

“You’re late. Again.” She stated, loading each word with a double helping of hate. Tom apologised and tried to look truly repentant, but this was hard when the feeling was thoroughly mutual. “Well, Catherine isn’t coming in today so you can cover her shift to make up for it.” Tom nearly replied with an expletive, but slammed his locker shut instead and headed out to the check-outs without saying a word.

He lifted a hand casually to Sarah, his only ally. She smiled grimly – her first customer of the day had bought half a pound of blood oranges which he had put in individual plastic bags and a jumbo pack of liver snaps, and was insisting on paying in coppers. After a couple of hours of miserable repetition, pushing club cards and BOGOF deals, Tom and Sarah were sent to the staff room for lunch.

“Did you still want to go for that drink later?” Sarah flushed pink and furiously stirred her instant coffee to try and dispel her embarrassment.

“No, sorry – Chantelle is making me stay and cover Catherine’s shift.  What’s happened with her anyway?” He unpacked his lunch, which consisted of a neat white square of sandwich wrapped in cling film and then encased in Tupperware. He warily checked the filling – ham and cheese. He smiled. His mother wasn’t so bad after all.

Sarah was attempting not to look crestfallen at the cancellation of drinks, and ended up almost snapping as she explained Catherine’s absence: “Oh, you know her Dad was never around? Well last Thursday this old lady in a designer frock and this little fella in a black suit and sunglasses came and asked at the information desk for a Katharina. And Shelly, you know Shelly at information? Well, she says: ‘We haven’t a Katharina, but we have a Catherine on checkout 7’ So this old lady wings it up to the checkouts and waits in line until she can get to checkout seven – are you listening Tom? You wanted to know.” She sulked.

Tom was quietly gagging on his sandwich. His mother had hidden gherkins between the ham and cheese. He hated gherkins. “No, no – I am listening. What did Catherine say to this old bag, then?” He walked up to the bins and threw out his sandwich, mentally vowing for the millionth time to make his own lunch from now on.

“Well, Catherine starts her usual spiel – you know: ‘Are you collecting school vouchers? Have you considered a Tesco credit card? Etc etc.’ And this woman interrupts and says she’s only her grandmother! Anyway it turns out her Dad was like second in line for the throne, or something, and now so is Catherine! Last I heard Catherine had got on a private plane – private! – and was flying off to Moldavia or somewhere. She’s being sent off to some finishing school in Switzerland in September, and not Beauty College at all.”

“Is that so?” Tom felt slightly disappointed. Catherine had been really pretty, and Jasmine, a girl he’d gone to school with and been about to ask out, had just been proposed to by an undercover Prince from Abyssinia or something. He was slightly sick of royals.

They ate in silence for the rest of the break, and returned to work the rest of their double-shift. Several grinding hours later they were released from the tills and went to the staffroom to pick up their bags.

“We could still go for a drink: it’s not too late for last orders.” Sarah mentioned hopefully.
Tom was looking up at the sky as it darkened under the weight of the summer evening. “Sarah, you know those guys in Star Trek with the redshirts? The ones who are totally expendable?” Sarah nodded sulkily. “Do you ever worry that you are one? I mean, that you are just in the background of a bigger story. Just crowd filler, in the back of the scene.”

“No.” She took a small step towards him and looked boldly into his eyes. “I guess what I’m most worried about is that I might miss my cue. I might miss the perfect moment, and lose out on my own story”. She pressed her lips together and swallowed nervously.

“Huh.” Tom nodded slightly. “Well, guess I’ll see you next Saturday, Sarah.” He began to move away.

Sarah turned sharply and began to walk away without replying. Out of nowhere it began to rain profusely. Damn pathetic fallacy, thought Tom.




“And I thought why don’t people make films like that? Why don’t we write screen plays about ordinary people, doing ordinary things? That’s what matters – you know?”

I make a non-committal noise in the back of my throat. I know what’s coming. Sam is rushing about the room, collecting notebooks, pens in a variety of colours and sizes as well as his camera gear. We’d lived together since University, and both landed badly paying jobs as screen writers for the ITV drama department. In this time I had heard him come up with a million ideas for ground breaking work, most of which he began with the same manic energy as this and trailed off after a few weeks. It didn’t help that his girlfriend, Mandy, had just taken a job in Peterborough and had told him she wanted some ‘space’ from their relationship. Sometimes I wished I could have a little ‘space’ from our relationship.

“I’m starting shooting tomorrow morning – can I borrow your soft focus lens? Thanks. I met this guy who’s just perfect for the role – he’s so ordinary. His name’s Dave. Dave. You can’t get more perfectly ordinary than that!”

I make the same noncommittal noise, this time varying it by ending on an up note. I give this to the end of the week.

The next morning is a weekend one and I wander downstairs in sweats and grope blindly for cornflakes. I check the fridge and find that Sam has drunk all the milk and forgotten to replace it. Again. As I stand speculatively pushing my hair into odd spikes and eating dry cereal, debating over how to spend my day off, I notice I’m not alone. There is a man, around five ten with mousy hair of average build sitting on my sofa wearing jeans and a t-shirt which read ‘Nice legs! What time do they open?’

“Hello.” He says neutrally, he seems to have been waiting for me to notice him.
My mouth is full of cornflakes, so I just open my hand in a minimalist wave. Sam rushes in, carrying a camera stand.

“Oh good you’re up!” He beams at me. “This,” He adds importantly, as if it ought to be self-evident.

“Is Dave.” I nod. Yes, this man on the sofa was undoubtedly Dave the Ordinary Guy. I decide I will go out.

I mooch around town for most of the day, buying dental floss and socks; drinking over-priced and rather disappointing coffee and looking in estate agents windows. This is one of my favourite games. I spot a likely looking loft apartment in North London. In this flat I put an imaginary me, one that wears black turtle-neck sweaters, and reads Sartre. I have a girlfriend name Saskia who is a graphic designer and gives fantastic blow jobs. We have very trendy friends who wear skinny jeans and come over and drink coffee sitting on our ‘genuine hardwood floors’.  I get distracted by a large town house on the edge of some park somewhere in Kensington and picture myself with a blue-blooded girl named ‘Arrabella’ or something equally ridiculous. We have two kids, a boy and a girl who are perfectly behaved and spend most of the time with the rather pneumatic au pair. The au pair definitely has a thing for me, but my wife is so gorgeous I can rise above it. We have a big golden lab which sprawls artistically in front of the fire place most of the time, and fetches the paper and rarely needs walking. Or maybe we have someone to do that for us.

I break out of my reverie and head home, picking up some tomatoes and bread and milk, since I remembered that Sam drank it all. When I get home Dave is in front of our TV, and Sam is filming him watching a film. I decide to ignore them and fix a sandwich, which I eat in my room. To spite Sam I take the new bottle of milk and drink the whole thing. I feel smug and then remember that the point of buying it was to have it on cereal, and now it was all gone.

For the next few weeks, most weekends are like this. I avoid being at home; Sam sits and films Dave doing ‘ordinary things’. On a Tuesday lunch break Sam runs me through some of his ‘highlights’ which include Dave staring out of a window, eating some crisps and going to the bathroom. I tried to stop him showing me this but he only exclaimed “Don’t you see? They never show characters going to the loo in films. Never!” When I ask him about plot he scoffs and tells me not to be so passé.

On week five I come in to find Dave and Sam arguing. “Don’t you see?” Sam is asking, his manic smile encouraging Dave to follow him on his illogical mental journey. “Money would spoil the artistic purity. I want the audience to really believe you are unemployed. We can talk about splitting the rights after the movie is wrapped up.” Dave shakes his head and storms out of the room, fumbling in his denim jacket pocket for a packet of cigarettes. I decide not to intervene and go up to my room.

The next day was a Saturday, and I had a date. She wasn’t called Saskia or Arrabella, but I was prepared to overlook that for now. I went out to buy new aftershave and a bag of oranges, and only really noticed something was off when I pushed the door to the flat open without having to unlock it.
“Sam? Everything okay?”  I hear the fuzzy sound of a TV not tuned in to a channel coming from the living room, and muffled shouting. I open the door with some difficulty.

“No, I don’t SEE!” Dave fumes as he stands over Sam, holding what looks like a real-live hand gun. I feel very calm, but notice I have dropped the oranges and they are rolling all over the floor. “This isn’t real! I haven’t done anything in weeks! You know what – life has stuff in it! Fuck your ‘realism’- why haven’t you paid me yet?!” I can see now that Sam has been shot. The camera is still filming the sofa, which has Dave’s packet of cigarettes on it. I reach into my pocket for my phone, and call emergency services at which point Dave notices me. “Oh, hello.” He says neutrally.

“Hi!” I smile brightly and put the kettle on. “Tea? I’m just calling the ambulance.”

When the police arrive they take everything into evidence, including my oranges and Hugo Boss aftershave. The video was leaked, however, just before the trial – it was being used by the defence as proof of provocation. It became most watched video on YouTube, followed closely by a rollerblading nun. It was 93 minutes long and finished round about the time the ambulance crew arrived to bandage Sam’s arm, which had been nicked by the bullet.

Fox have announced a film dramatising the whole thing, and they cast Ashton Kutcher as me, so I can’t complain. It has three gun fights and a car chase, as well as scenes of ‘sex and nudity’ – I really hope the Ashton version of me is the one getting some, and not ‘Dave’. Mandy decided that Sam ought to go and live with her in Peterborough for a while, and I decided that it was about time I moved out anyway. I’m writing a screenplay for a movie being made in Mexico City, called Legend of the Two Brothers, or something similar. Roll credits.