herald

Thursday 16 August 2018

Bittersweet tale of family life

granny's moving in (BBC2) gok wan: made in china (ch4)

THE blackly comic documentary Granny's Moving In, by Paddy Wivell, who made last week's excellent Two Jews on a Cruise, was about a mother and daughter, Peggy and Sue.

But in a way it was about all parents and children, and how the inevitable wretchedness of old age reverses the traditional dependency roles.

Peggy is 83.

When we met her, she was on the verge of leaving her own house to move in with Sue and her husband Phil in their new place, which would have a granny flat -- a luxuriously converted garage -- in the garden.

"You can't describe Peggy, she's one of a kind," said Sue.

"She's not your typical sit-in-a-chair-and-knit kind of old lady." She's certainly not.

She's prone to do her own thing, which includes hopping on a train from Essex to the centre of London, sometimes seven days a week, to walk around chatting amiably to strangers.

She also loves to dance, although her dancing partner of 20 years, Bill, is 90 now and his legs aren't up to it anymore.

Sue didn't seem to worry too much about these excursions, even though Peggy frequently returns home hours later than she said she would and occasionally gets into awkward situations.

"But you couldn't put her in a home," she said. Sue and Bill's friends think they're crazy to take Peggy in, and you can understand why.

She's suffering from vascular dementia.

During the course of the film, her doctor told her it had progressed to Alzheimer's.

"Basically, she's 10," said Sue. "She sees the world through the eyes of a child. Dementia patients wind you up all the time."

Peggy can be hilarious -- as when she got an uncontrollable fit of the giggles while trying out a new bed in a furniture shop -- but she can also be exasperating, continually frustrating Sue during the packing phase and later, as the dementia became more intense, hurling vicious verbal abuse laced with F-words at her.

Peggy was always fiercely independent.

She toured the world with her second husband, staying two years in New Zealand, while Sue, 19 at the time, remained at home.

Behind the curtain of Peggy's dementia, you could see her relationship with Sue has always been fractious.

"We've always been very different people, we've always had a very difficult relationship," said Sue, "and I regret that."

Wivell asked what she'd liked most about Peggy when she was in her right mind.

She couldn't think of anything specific and suddenly caved in to tears.

"Do you love her, do you think?" asked Wivell. "I think I must do," she said.

"There are times when I'd like to strangle her and throw her out the window, but I wouldn't do this for anyone else."

A perfect little film about imperfect people that never felt the need to sugar-coat its bittersweet story.

In Gok Wan: Made in China, the stylist (who was born in England but has "Made in China" tattooed on the back of his neck) travelled to the land of his father to find out "what it means to be half-Chinese".

He visited a factory where workers hand-sew designer jeans at incredible speed for around €10 a day, and another that makes perfect replicas of black London taxi cabs. He bought fake goods, including an "eye phone", and -- in a Chinese custom honouring ancestors in the afterlife -- burned paper imitations of luxury products like trainers and DVD players at his family's burial shrine.

He stumbled into a bizarre replica English village called Thames Town and even met a flamboyant designer who looked so much like Gok, he could have been cloned from his genes.

This wasn't a great film, yet the fact that Gok left China feeling just as alien and bewildered as when he'd arrived made for a refreshing change from the usual "journey of self-discovery" nonsense.



granny's moving in HHHHH gok wan: made in china HHIII

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