See me now

Trust Hollywood to give Nosferatu a heart.

I write as one of the greatest fans of Frances Ford-Coppola’s gothic romance, Dracula, released in 1992. Phil and I were on a weekend in our beloved Hastings when we went along to the crusty old cinema there to see it.

At that time we had not read Bram Stoker’s gothic masterpiece. If we had, I feel sure we would have berated the film soundly. With stagey sugar aquatint sentiment, it paints the whole story in perfect Victoriana: and it excuses the actions of the horrifying creature at the story’s centre.

Once upon a time, says our modern-day storyteller, Coppola, Count Dracula was a great warrior, and his most prized possession was a beautiful wife.

In an inexcusable mix-up in communications, she threw herself (fetchingly) off the battlements of their Transylvanian fortress under the mistaken impression that her husband had been killed in battle. He arrived back and the priest told Dracula, in the midst of his grief, that she could not be buried in consecrated ground.

This is not what the Count wanted to hear.

And thus began a centuries-long life of crime de passionel – crimes of passion.

He did it all for love of a woman: stabbing crucifixes, enslaving his fellow humans as undead, locking up lawyers in castles and fraternising with nasty wolves.

Enter Mina- the wife of lawyer and Dracula’s victim, Jonathan Harker. She also happened to be the wife, reincarnated after centuries. The Count found her and told her: ” I have crossed oceans of time to be with you.”

Cuppola allowed two snatches of breathtakingly theatrical monologue to be spoken by the undead gentleman.

There is a great storm early in the story, and Lucy Westenra begins to sleepwalk: in the book, she wanders into Whitby. But in the film she treads dreamily onto a big tomb-like monument just outside the back door of her considerable estate.

Mina wakes and sees the empty bed: she tears off looking for her friend, and finds her lying on the monument under the control of the count. He has not looked after his appearance and looks the closest to a monster one could ever find in a British back garden. Shocking stuff.

Mina is stunned: and the count looks up and meets her eyes. And he is ashamed. He says: “Don’t see me…”

Later he has an undead makeover. Dapper and top-hatted with rather lovely blue spectacles on he passes her in the street. “See me now”, he commands. And, Reader, she does.

It is good to choose when one is seen. To be entirely ready for the good opinion of one who, for whatever reason, is significant.

Someone in our country chose to be seen in a very particular way: and had us all, adults and children, on the edge of our seats towards the end of February.

We all grew up watching a famous children’s programme called Blue Peter. Now our children watch it. It has always been written into the contract of presenters that they must undertake daredevil tasks. But one of the current presenters, Helen Skelton, has outdone all her predecessors.

Last year, she kayaked the 2,000 miles down the Amazon to raise money for our national fundraising day, Sport Relief. It was an inspiration: aged 26, her wisdom and perseverance was striking. Now, Helen, the nation thought, follow that.

And for this year’s comedy fund-raising day, Red Nose Day, she did just that.

She has never tightrope walked in her life before this experience: and she has just walked across a rope strung between the chimneys of Battersea Power Station, 150 metres above the London land mark.

We watched her face real terror that day. Phil peered from his office at Vauxhall and watched a tiny figure move painstakingly from one end of the rope to the other.

See me, now, she said: and we all watched spellbound. On television; from the ground; from offices across the London skyline.

Where does someone get the resources to face a feat of such magnitude?

Helen had her motivation. He is sitting somewhere on a Ugandan street. She visited Kampala to see the conditions in which street children live: and she responded to the powerlessness of meeting 12-year-old Hansa by spending 24 hours with him.

Alongside him, she had street rubbish swept on top of her; she was robbed; she collected plastic bottles for money for breakfast and she tried the thin gruel which goes by that name there.

Because now was Hansa’s moment. If people saw him now: then just perhaps help would arrive for him and the 2,000 others who sleep rough on Kampala’s streets.

Now. See me now. The good opinion of a nation is important when you are 12 and homeless.

It is inevitable that we arrive, finally, at an island in the Pacific which has suffered the stuff of nightmares.

In the last few days, even reporters have been reeling from the impact of the tsunami on Japan. The scale is biblical, and we watch on television screens and words desert us.

As I write in the UK, we have been shown the scale, but not yet the people.

Very soon it will be their time to be seen, for all the very worst of reasons, these people who a week ago were living quiet lives just like us.

We cannot grasp the whole nettle: but I know there will be a moment when someone looks out from that screen and says wordlessly: See me now.

I’ll be waiting.

Watch Helen on the wire here

Learn more here


19 thoughts on “See me now

  1. Oh Kate, this is so powerful.

    I have to confess that my heart goes out to the Japanese people, one moment going about their lives, the next shaken, thge next flooded. Such happenings as we would never want to experience

    1. I know, Sidey. We feel our hands are tied by the distance between us and the enormity of what has happened. I hope there will be a way to help, and stand beside these families in some way.

    1. It has been quite a week. Exhausting in many ways. Lets hope we can find some way to help our fellow man.
      Hope the job is going well, Sunshine. And lunchtimes continue to be a joy.

  2. Shaken by the quake then wiped out by tsunami – a double whammy, I believe that it called. It is so terrible.

    I hadn’t seen the tightrope walking, but have been to Uganda… so can understand why she’s doing it

    1. To be honest, Pseu, it was her decision to spend 24 hours with Hansa which really stunned me. She found it impossible to leave him. HIs face was so hopeless. By the time she left him he had made the decision to come to the night shelter she is funding with the walk. Both of them were overjoyed when he turned up there.

  3. Thanks for a great post Kate.
    Nicky and I went to see Dracula at the cinema in Oxford. Don’t know how I managed to persuade her to go – I think that plus Silence of the Lambs means that she now flatly refuses to go to anything remotely scary!
    Heard about Helen’s amazing feat, but haven’t seen it yet. No doubt they will show a clip on Friday when we will be glued to the screen, alternating between tears and laughter.

    1. Well put, Miff. That’s just what Red Nose Day does to us…you’re in for a treat. It’s a feat of true bravery.
      Bet Nix didn’t sleep for a week afterwards 😀

  4. Sad that it takes tragedy to shine a light on the things on this planet that need to change. But then again, maybe that’s why tragedy exists–to remind us to work for each other, and to strengthen humankind as a united force.

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