Kooky horror show: Tilda Swinton and Ralph Fiennes in Wes Anderson's Grand Budapest Hotel
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What’s the secret to a long and happy relationship? Disagree about everything

My friend Emma worships Wes Anderson; I can’t stand him – so we were looking forward to a good row after The Grand Budapest Hotel

I went to the cinema this week with my friend Emma Kennedy to see the Wes Anderson film. He only makes the one – the one in which the characterisation consists of giving an actor glasses and a moustache, the plot is someone telling you what happened in their dream and it all takes place in a world where everyone is kooky so no one is.

Now this is where Emma and I differ, Anderson being her favourite film director and my least. You have never heard two people argue about a film until you have heard Emma and I argue about The Royal Tenenbaums. Still, I am always willing to be persuaded and I thoroughly enjoy disagreeing with Emma, so on that basis we went to see The Grand Budapest Hotel.

It was as I feared and I spent a bleak hour and a half clutching a glass of wine for comfort while all around me people linked arms and chuckled warmly at the wry cleverness of it all. Oooh, a pink hotel! Look at their lovely suits! Oh, he’s drawing on a little moustache, how delightful!

As we leave the cinema, Emma is lit up with joy, while I am basically Muttley from Wacky Races, head down and muttering incomprehensible syllables under my breath: “Grrr, effing nimby-namby nonsense . . . Whimsical piles of tosh . . . Grrr . . .”

Emma is unperturbed, gleeful even. “Look at you, you’re like the dad in Steptoe,” she says happily. And I scowl at her happily. Neither of us budges an inch.

You see, I think it’s good to disagree. I’ve always hated that Kenneth Tynan quote, “I doubt if I could love anyone who did not wish to see Look Back in Anger.” I picture poor Mrs Tynan, trying to stick up for herself: “Darling, I just don’t fancy it, all that complaining and self-pity. Can’t we go to see something funny instead?” Or even: “Look, I’ve read the reviews – this Jimmy Porter sounds like a shit and the women have no good lines. For those reasons I’m out.” Nope, it wouldn’t have washed in the Tynan household.

It’s an attitude I see all the time on Twitter, which is usually one of my favourite places. People are forever banging on about how they couldn’t love anyone who didn’t appreciate this particular film or record, as if that were a very grown-up marker of taste, or passion, or commitment, or something or other. Whenever I make a disparaging remark about a new movie, I am unsettled to get a flood of replies saying, “Thanks, I’ll save myself the ticket price,” or, “Phew, won’t be going to see that then!”

“No!” I want to shout. “Do go. Don’t take my word for it. It’s sweet that you value my opinion but it’s more than likely that on several things – possibly even important things and very possibly this film – we might disagree.”

I’ve told this story before but it bears repeating. On one of my first dates with Ben (who I’ve lived happily with for over 30 years), we went to the cinema but, failing to agree on a film, went in to different screens: he to see Southern Comfort, I to see Tess of the d’Urbervilles. That might strike some as unromantic or revelatory of a deep incompatibility but to me it says the opposite: if there is a key to the success of our relationship, it’s been our ability to agree to differ. He loves football, I like the garden; he adores University Challenge, I prefer Strictly Come Dancing; he runs, I walk. We’ve learned not to recommend a book to each other, counting on the fingers of one hand instances when we’ve both enjoyed the same one. It’s almost as if we’re different people or something.

But this just won’t do nowadays. We live in adversarial times, in which we’re encouraged to look at a thing, come up with an opinion and stick to it. When we encounter the opposite view, we’re supposed to throw stones at it and then run away. Not me, buddy. I’m proposing a greater, Zen-like tolerance for all the foibles and failings of those we love, so that we reach a higher plane where we can even allow for the continued existence of people who like Wes Anderson films. Peace.

Tracey Thorn is a musician and writer, best known as one half of Everything but the Girl. She writes the fortnightly “Off the Record” column for the New Statesman. Her latest book is Naked at the Albert Hall.

This article first appeared in the 14 April 2014 issue of the New Statesman, Easter Double

Photo: Getty
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Radio as shelter: Grenfell Tower was too frightening to look at

No song seemed to fit the mood on Hayes FM.

“Amidst all this horror, I hope to bring you some light relief. Here’s James Taylor.” Two days after the Grenfell Tower fire, a popular community station a little west of the incident was uncertain what note to strike.

The repeated ads for alarms detecting carbon-monoxide leaks (“this silent killer”) and tips on how to prevent house fires (“Don’t overwhelm your sockets and cause a spark”) sounded perhaps a little overassertive, but then the one for a day-long course focusing on resisting gender stereotyping (“Change the narrative”) felt somewhat out of place. And no song seemed to fit. James Taylor’s “Shower the People” turned out OK, but the Cranberries’ “The Icicle Melts” was unceremoniously faded out mid-flow.

This does often happen on Hayes FM, though. There are times when the playlist is patently restless, embodying that hopeless sensation when you can’t settle and are going through tracks like an unplugged bath – Kate Bush too cringey, T-Rex too camp – everything reminding you of some terrible holiday a couple of years ago. Instead, more ads. Watch your salt intake. Giving up smoking might be a good idea. Further fire safety. (“Attach too many appliances and it could cause an overload and that could cause a fire. Fire kills.”)

Then a weather report during which nobody could quite bring themselves to state the obvious: that the sky was glorious. A bell of blue glass. The morning of the fire – the building still ablaze – I had found three 15-year-old boys, pupils at a Latimer Road school that stayed closed that day because of the chaos, sitting in their uniforms on a bench on the mooring where I live, along the towpath from the tower.

They were listening to the perpetual soft jangle of talk radio as it reported on the situation. “Why the radio?” I asked them, the sight of young people not focused on visuals clearly unusual. “It’s too frightening to look at!” they reasoned.

Radio as shelter. As they listened, one of them turned over in his hand a fragment of the tower’s cladding that he must have picked up in the street on the way over – a sticky-charcoaled hack of sponge, which clung like an insect to his fingers whenever he tried to drop it. 

Antonia Quirke is an author and journalist. She is a presenter on The Film Programme and Pick of the Week (Radio 4) and Film 2015 and The One Show (BBC 1). She writes a column on radio for the New Statesman.

This article first appeared in the 22 June 2017 issue of the New Statesman, The zombie PM

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