Ms Rods ‘n’ Cones (2)

Reappears in January …

She’s back. Rods ‘n’ cones lady comes in with two blue large handbags of equal size but different texture. Are her eye’s rods ‘ n’ cones powerful enough to tell that they’re slightly mismatched shades of blue, coming too close to a clash? But rods ‘n’ cones makes her own distinctive point. And maybe, I suspect, for her the point is not co- ordination, but boldness. She stands out in her crookedness . The impossibility of her as a continuous, surviving being is manifest in the way that her ragged trunk weighs down on a pin- thin sharp pointed kitten heel. The shoe is like a derelict casino, crushing down on its supporting slither of column. Like the relationship between body and shoe, Ms rods ‘n’cones’ whole being sways, teetering on the edge of chaos. 

So at odds with herself, she holds a mismatched half moon and sun high on her face. Here is another impossibility that rods ‘n’ cones rises above: Her day/ night eyes beam out across the cinema foyer. She’s enlightening everyone with some pointless facts and questionings; “can you believe it that she’s never been here before?! It’s only down the road from the library where we spend all day. You must have seen this woman before?!” 

Rods ‘n’ cones is pointing to her new found companion from the library : a short , plump, draggy dressed Indian woman. I do believe that this woman has not been to this cinema before because she’s on a photo taking frenzy. Even the grubby fake plants and menu holders are being snapped at and stored by this woman’s camera. So Intense with her photo action I thought; ‘is this the old blind friend?! Could she have been given the gift of rods’ n’ cones and newly entered the world of the seeing?!’ 

Desperate to preserve all of her visual ‘moments’, Rods n Cones’ friend valued the look of that menu holder, the beer mat, potted plant, and plate of chips more than any other customer did. Possessing an instant awe and fondness for things that she could see held magnificence, where others would disregard them for their dullness. 

To be a friend of Ms Rods n Cones, I believe you don’t need to be blind. Just numb to ‘the normal’, with a dulled sensitivity for the absurd. 


Messy Popcorn 

Customers are messy creatures with slimy habits; they love to litter. Amongst the weirdest and most horrible of the discarded belongings are: half a boiled egg, a piles cushion, toffees chewed and spat out, and a poo! A festering turd, a frikkin poo!! Someone took a dump in their seat and just left it for the usher to find. It was a secret shitter scandal! Who is this outlaw? A podgy, pongy woman with shark eyes and a jellyfish body was discussing ‘whether just to leave it?’with her sidekick friend as she skulked off to the NO EXIT.

It’s funny what people choose to do in that big dark room full of silent strangers. If it’s not totally silent we sometimes get complaints:

 “why do you sell that God awful popcorn??! People crunching to my left, munching to my right … I couldn’t concentrate on the film! It’s ridiculous that you sell tickets for a show and then also something that will completely ruin the experience you twits!”

This was an old man customer, ranting and all in a rage. Some people are all chewed up and ugly. When customers are spitting and heaving and clenching their fists and tut –tut- tutting their vicious tongues at me, I start to pop inside. ‘I’m a human being too!!’ I think. “I’m sorry you feel like that Sir/ Madame” I say.

I enjoy a moment alone in the dark of the cinema. I weave in and out of the rows of red velvet chairs, sweeping up the popcorn and picking up the coffee cups and empty glasses that have been left after a show. ‘Eurgh Apple core!’ When the credits are rolling and the customers have gone; it’s my time to be entertained. Now that it’s as quiet as it is dark; I can sing out the catchy theme tune of ‘A Bigger Splash’ (It’s ‘Emotional Rescue’ by the Rolling Stones). This song gives me that shimmery super star rush of good feeling! Ten minutes later when I go to clean the other screen, the melancholic soundtrack of ‘Youth’ is haunting the room. I’m ‘la la la – ing’ along, but oops! I’m not alone: A lady sits in the back corner, she pops up to help me pick up wrappers and crushed cans.

Customer : “I don’t know why people don’t stay to watch the credits anymore. In arts cinemas they always used to stay and watch all the names, right until the very end.”

Me: “yes I suppose people nowadays are all too hectic and in a rush.”

Customer: “No it was more that they would stay and read all of the names out of respect for everyone who was involved in the making of the film.”

As this stranger helps me to pick up the discarded bits of rubbish, I think; hey, here’s a heap of junk that doesn’t belong anywhere… ‘Where are your belongings Mr. customer?’

 I suppose the 10 wasabi peas that missed your mouth – their dispersal is not really your responsibility. Wine glasses: those that look maybe more than half empty rather than half full must no longer be yours. Ice cream mini tubs and mini spoons, dropped on purpose now that you’ve licked up all the cold deliciousness, and let that ‘ginger spice’ ‘ choc chip’ delight drip onto the floor. 

You abandon your disposable belongings by wedging them down the armrest or kicking them under a cushion. Please just put them in my hand and meet me in the eye. When a licked wrapper falls on the floor it seems to instantly fall out of your possession. Its an MC wasteland.

 With all this rubbish deliberately dumped at my feet; and the conversation with the kind customer at the back of my mind, I think: yes, it’s respect that has been crunched up and strewn across the floor.

Ms F6

Ms F6 ‘has a system’ when she comes to the cinema. This system is a kind of self- organisation, a preparation for the two hours of inactivity ahead. Using the bench in the corridor as a handy prop, she first removes and then folds her lilac overcoat. Always sleeves, halves, quarters…. Repeating this method for her two jumpers. She then stacks the coats so they form a kind of soft tray to rest her 3 plastic bags on. These bags lose an edge of their purely practical identity; because they only carry one small item each, they are collectively superfluous. 

She’s Skinny and Scottish, and always alone. An old blue bucket hat attempts to contain a  frizzy fountain of hair. The hat flaps up at the front so grey spurts shoot out across her eyes. She’s alert! With a springy step and brisk rhythmic hand gesture, Ms f6 conducts her own conversation. She’s “Sylvia! One of Shakespeare’s girls”. A Scottish purr and a whisker moustache : Does she feel or think about those bristles?

F6 is Sylvia’s favourite seat; “ it was made for me” she believes, even though in each screen F6 is at a completely different angle and distance to the action. The day that Sylvia came to watch ‘The Lady in the Van’ I tore her ticket at the entrance. She told me “oh can you believe that I was in bed half an hour ago? But I suddenly decided that I must see this film today, so I jumped up, and here I am on time! And this must be my lucky day, because I have my favourite seat: F6!”

Sylvia is like an old grandfather clock. She is fragile, but not frail. she ticks on through the day in the same rhythm and routine, because it has worked so far that the tick should always be followed by a tock. The cinema has always preceded a trip to sainsburys, and sitting in F6 has always been followed by a sense of stability. Sylvia has a round faded clock face, with a murky sheen. All of the features are laid out in the uniform, practical way; so when you glance down at her, she can be read quite clearly. Sylvia must be some family’s inherited relic, but maybe they have no need for an old clock in their digital life.

Sylvia ‘f6′ easily winds back time with her memory. When I went to clean the auditorium after ‘The Lady in the Van’ I found her organising herself in her favourite seat . “How was the film?” I asked . “Oh Maggie Smith is a wonderful actress. I read the book when I was snuggled up in bed on the 8th January 2003. As I was reading, a flat in the same block as me had their Japanese parcels stolen by thieves. Parcels that had been delivered and were waiting in the hall from the Christmas period. So yes, I always remember ‘The Lady in the Van’ with mixed feelings.”

Ms F6 ‘keeps a low profile’ at Christmas. She told me that “your values change as you get older. I used to put a lot of effort in but now it’s all too materialistic for me. I celebrate advent more. I like the lights, the shop window displays, and I went to a Christmas concert last week. I had a big family gathering in 2005 when I announced that I wouldn’t be doing any more of these gatherings. All this present hunting that I used to do, well, I can’t be bothered with that anymore.’

I once complained to Sylvia about the repetitive nature of the job at the cinema; tearing tickets, directing people to the toilet, standing at the ushering station waiting for customers to come etc.. Sylvia said that she had a quote for me that had stayed with her for years: “He (or she) also serves those who stand and wait”. (My dad later explained that this was Milton, writing about soldiers who were enlisted in the First World War as watchmen, who waited to be called up to fight. These soldiers would also be watched over and ‘served’ by the Angels / God because their patience and will was significant, even though they were not doing too much.) 

Months later I passed by Sylvia on my bicycle. She was standing by the war memorial on the main road. stooped over reading the inscriptions, here she was giving her attention to the names of all the people who served, and suffered in the war. The restlessness of the street seems to be irrelevant to her. Unlike most of us who pass by, Sylvia stands, she observes (and serves) the significance of this statue.

Sylvia F6 and I always chat, but she’s never asked me my name. Once She let me check her ticket without even hinting in her expression that’s she recognised me. After completing her folding routine Sylvia came back up the corridor, bringing one of her plastic bagged items for me. It was a box of ‘Dean’s mini shortbread bites- history in the baking’. It came With a a note ‘ a taste of Scotland to wish you good luck in 2016’. Ah this made me smile! So she does remember me from one cinema trip to the next.

On a Wednesday afternoon in January, after watching ‘Sunset Song’ ( a romantic film set in Scotland) Sylvia makes her way to exit the cinema. But here comes a fat swell of video gaming employees carrying their beers and the smell of sweat up the stairs. (They’re here for their company’s Christmas treat: a private screening of ‘Star Wars’.) Sylvia grabs the bannister with one hand, leaving the other to rest in her comfort position: she tucks it in through the gap between the buttons of her lilac coat, pressing her palm flat against her heart. I go over and lead Sylvia F6 to the other staircase. She leaves and then returns to tell me ‘wow! The stairs used to be so shabby. Now it’s like walking down the red carpet!’ This is another hint that Sylvia F6 has a very unique view of the world. She sees rich luxury , she sees colour, when everyone else sees crumbly dank grey. We see ‘given up’ where she sees ‘glamour’. We complain where she compliments. “Merry Christmas!” She chimes, and then like the cuckoo of an old grandfather clock; she retreats, as is her set routine, and disappears.

Aspiring Popcorn

Since I started working at the cinema I’ve begun to mark time differently. The films currently showing act as dropped pins, temporal markers. significant life events correlate with significant film releases:

Stopped seeing Nico: ‘the Martian’,                                                                                                                          

Jen came to stay: ‘Brooklyn’,                                                                                                                                 

Applied to the civil service: ‘Suffragette’,                                                                                           

When I had a gushy hopeful feeling about Jonathan: ‘Carol.’ 

My parallel existence is this tracking device unreality of entertainment. As the cinema draws in the crowds for the dark winter, and the big screen thrives with spectacle and glamour for Oscar season; events in my day to day reality pitter away.

Maybe it’s time to move on. Gotta make a film poster for myself: advertise my good bits, my intriguing bits…. where are my sensible bits? Spinning off CVs for ‘bigger things’ I’m not sure that I want to do. Because what will they say about me when my credits roll? Cinema is an escapism, but sometimes when I’m working here I feel a little bit suffocated under a pile of other people’s popcorn.

Ms Rods ‘n’ Cones (1)

Ms Rods ‘n’ Cones

Appears on Boxing Day ….

Here comes a wild eyed lady. Parading the suave grizzly bear style of matching manky coat, hat and hair -all matted together and stuck in greasy clumps. She’s 20 minutes late for ‘The Lady in the Van’. Plonking herself down on a stool in the corridor, she drops her wheezy wheely suitcase and 4 massive shopping bags full of xmas gift wrap tat. (We’re talking  zoomed in reindeer face portraits on A3 size gift bags).

“It makes me very sad to come here alone. You see I used to come here every Wednesday with my blind friend. But she’s cut me out. She’s dumped me. We had a routine on a Wednesday. I’d pick her up from the home, we’d come here, then I’d take her out on my taste card. I was her only connection to the world of the seeing. She has no one. No you couldn’t give her those rods ‘n’ cones! Rods ‘n’ cones are what make up the eye you know?! If she got the operation and the gift of sight, that’d be it! She’d go over the edge. Couldn’t cope with colours and things. She’d kill herself ! Like her sister did!”

The thoughts of death and colour made Ms rods’ n ‘cones flash suddenly more sparky and wild! She sits and chats, and chats, and ruffles and forgets about her film. I offer to store her bags of shopping in the cupboard. “Oh no! Need to keep them safe with me, there’s millions worth of stuff here. My son has made it big time as a rapper!! He’s got a CD! helps me out. No leave the goodies!”

I imagine the tacky reindeers on the shopping bags raising a questioning eyebrow to this comment, scrunching up their polystyrene coats. She shuffles into the screen 40 minutes into the film. “oh shit!” she’s shouting “Is this the movie?! Is this it?? Oh  put me at the front!” Here is a moment when the real life person in front of me eminates the character on the screen (Maggie Smith playing a crazy old cantankerous woman who lives in a van). Wow meta reality maaaan? Popped out and multiplied did this magic wizard whiskered lady. What a woman! “No you couldn’t give her the gift of rods ‘n’ cones. The old rods ‘n’ cones would tip her over the edge!”