Wednesday, December 27, 2006

Cold Turkey at Christmas

This Christmas I have been cruelly yet consensually denied three of my favourite things: my mum, cigarettes, and sharing a double bed with my partner. Nothing sinister at work, I just spent my second Christmas ever at my boyfriend’s parents’ place.

Thankfully, his parents are pretty much my fantasy mum and dad. His mum insists on no television - just parlour games and conversation - and makes the gravy from the giblets. His dad gently teases everyone including his wife who he still loves dearly after nearly fifty years of marriage. Bliss.

I even went to a carol service and if anyone does then surely God knows I love belting out a few songs about mangers and virgins' wombs. It also provided the absolute highlight of my Christmas when a riot nearly broke out over an indestructible piñata presented by an earnest Sunday School teacher to the family service.

After informing us of the story of the piñata's origins (something to do with Marco Polo and the devil - Christmas relevance lost on all of us) she asked the children thronged on the front pews salivating for more chocolate and Skittles, "Can you see what it is?" and they, having built the thing apparently with Araldite and gaffer tape, wetly chanted "a star" only to have the vicar (who had fallen off his chair barely ten minutes previous to this), retort "It's a chicken!", to which it did bear a closer resemblance, to be fair.

Unfortunately, this was not a chicken ready to become an ex-chicken. Even after about twenty children had, in turn, had a go at bashing the hell out of the thing with what looked like Captain Caveman's club, it was still gleefully bouncing around the sixteenth century wood-carved chapel. It got a bit frightening when eventually some of the older kids started really going at it whilst the other ones shouted "Get it! Kill the Chicken!" A perhaps not-so-rare Lord of the Flies moment in a Devonian village.

Local Jennifer Saunders was in the congregation, can't help but wonder if it might turn up in Jam and Jerusalem (Rob's mum, a member of the local WI on which it is no doubt based, underwhelmed by it so far, I think it's pretty good in places).

And we were housed in the bungalow of a fellow kind lady of the village (not sure if she's another WI-er) who was whooping it up in a Saga hotel in Winchester over the festive period and had kindly offered two single rooms for us. Again, I could complain but it was preferable to the living room floor alternative which would have no doubt involved Rob’s dad tiptoeing over me to refill his mum's sherry glass in time for the Queen’s speech (that country air really knocks me out).

As for the fags, well it’s a dull but ongoing fight against these oppressors, my lungs the Middle East of my now-aging battleground of a body. I think the UN are probably about as effective as the grubby (nicotine) patch now affixed to my soft underbelly, but it keeps my baser instincts at bay.

Thankfully whilst denied my maternal fix for the most part, I did manage to see Mother Brown on Boxing Day evening for an enormous squeeze and lots of kisses on kitchen-ruddy cheeks. Truth be told, I do actually like cold turkey - alongside an enormous pile of my mum's bubble and squeak, stained with pickled walnut juice, of course.

Back to work tomorrow. Ah well.

Wednesday, December 20, 2006

Let's Have Some New Cliches

I was going to title this post "All I Want for Christmas" then realised it would be the same title of a million other entries simultaneously saved to blogger which may have caused the Internet to explode.

Anyway, what I wanted was the Internet back. And I just got it. Gawd bless BT. I also want one of those USB LP converter thingies for anyone who's interested. I realise I will, however, be getting a couple of varieties of unction, a stinky candle and possibly a not-quite-right book, same as I've bought for everyone else.

Have a smashing winterval.


P.S. Is Internet still upper case or am I showing my age?

Friday, December 08, 2006

One Cold Pontiff and Three Warm Old Ladies

As well as working on and at the fringes of various exciting projects, interspersed with whines about my lack of time (Balls It's F*cking Friday, I say) and my lack of broadband at home (dull poor customer experience post may be with you soon), I have managed to squeeze in a long weekend in Rome since I last wrote.

Without the time and materials, I have failed to get some nice pics onto Flickr, or my video of the inside of the Pantheon onto Youtube as planned, but here are some highlights to be getting on with:

  1. The emotional intensity of seeing St Peters and the Pope
    We saw Benedict XVI speaking to the crowd on Sunday, and whilst a lapsed Catholic it did seem pretty astounding (and to be fair, my travelling companion Tracy is Jewish and she was pretty impressed too).

    I was also moved wondering whether religious members of my family had ever been to Rome or seen a Pope speak, and was pleased/relieved to find out from Mother Brown that my nan had actually been to Rome although the pope she saw was nicer, the current one "not being what I call a warm pope" on Mother's popeometer. (Incidentally, have only just realised where the word pontificate comes from.)

    St Peters as a whole is awe-inspiring due to the beauty of its sculpture, art and architecture, humbling for the piety of some of the characters in the building past and present, but ultimately for me a little nauseating for the amount of decoration, ostentation and glamour.

  2. Food
    Includes: spaghetti cacio e pepe (goats cheese and black pepper); fig and walnut ice cream; deep-fried artichokes Roman-Jewish style; squid in a spicy tomato sauce; fritto misto (Italian tempura); coffee; sesame and honey ice cream; some sort of delicious tuna thing; linguine with lemon and sea bass.

    My favourite of all was a dense almondy cake rich with dry fruit and fresh from an oven from an unmarked bakery we'd been tipped off about by the Time Out guide. We nearly gave up on the place until I spotted two old dears feverishly scratching at the paper bag containing whatever they'd just bought - which I found out was this heavenly stuff. Now known by me as "old lady crack", if anyone can hazard a guess at what it's actually called, I'd love to find out. It tasted Christmassy and had lots of whole almonds in it as well.

  3. The Pride of Romans in their City
    We paused for a few moments in a (by Roman standards) non-descript piazza to admire the intense blue sky against the amber rooftops, and a little old lady walking across the square strode past us beaming and waving her hands in our direction, saying something along the lines of "Bella! It is beautiful, Rome, yes?" I'm not convinced it would happen in another city.

Wish me luck getting Tiscali to get our broadband up and running, I need my virtual life back.

Saturday, November 18, 2006

Too Damn B. & L.

I've moved house and work is nuts. This has left me with a racing mind, mentally spinning Welsh dressers full of plates and unfortunately dropping a few - of which my regularish updates here have been one.

I am now in Starbucks (no broadband at our new house yet), wondering why their wireless internet access isn't free, and hoping I don't have another accident on my laptop with my grande skinny latte.

I refuse to sound like one of these chaps, I've just been too damn busy and lively for my own - or this blog's - good. But instead of running away from the guilt that I feel about my lack of updates I've decided to share my confession of a selection of other things I'm feeling a whole lot guiltier about:

Not Having Flossed Regularly
This week saw the first in a series of industrial dental cleaning appointments due to years of having a literally dirty mouth. After a slightly traumatic appointment, I shopped in Hampstead (see below) talking like John Merrick as I drooled blood down my chin, one side of my mouth still frozen from the local anaesthetic. I managed to cheer myself up with the realisation that the shopping assistants of Whistles, Karen Millen and Nicole Fahri no doubt assumed I had had a bad botox job rather than the more plebeian truth.

Rash Purchases
When I find myself in times of trouble, large, stiff paper bags with soft rope handles call to me. In the past week I have bought trainers, a dress, a jumper, a shirt, a pair of shoes, two different kinds of over-priced moisturiser and a t-shirt. I realise I am lucky to have this disposable income but even I admit it felt like a bit of a problem when I described the collection of bags in the hall as "Presents!" and was then congratulated by my partner for my organisational skills. One pair of velvet gloves does not a Christmas make (the rest were for me, from me as a sign of my appreciation - of me).

Smoking (again)
The other night I found myself looking straight at the woman in Oddbins and as she handed over 20 Marlboro lights and a lighter saying to her "I am such a loser". I am also tending to smoke Marlboro Menthols in the desperate hope that my breath won't smell as bad even tho I think they gave me a nose bleed the other day as I was combining them in a lethal menthol cocktail with Airwaves gum (don't try this at home).

Reading Crap
This has included Heat, the National Enquirer (Go Britney!) and even resorting to reading free newspapers on the tube (the London Paper is my preferred option, it doesn't have offensive spelling as does "London Lite" and has at least two gay columnists - yes, I am that easily pleased). I also bought Private Eye the other day and only read the cartoons and letters.

Enough already. My latte has grown cold, I'm sure there are some pictures and captions in the Saturday Guardian I could manage (maybe just the wallchart), and the chemist in Golders Green has a good selection of makeup and perfumes I could be perusing. And I'm gasping for a cool menthol draw...

Can anyone absolve me?

Monday, October 30, 2006

Martin Amis - House of Meetings

I imagine being commissioned to write a review of a Martin Amis novel is as daunting as painting a portrait of the Queen. So for this post, consider me at best an amateur Rolf Harris.

My love of such masculine writers as Amis borders on pathological. It’s no doubt an extension of my child-of-divorce habit of picking up father figures as friends and confidantes (you don’t have to be older than me, incidentally, if any of you have just counted yourself out).

I’m pretty sure Amis mentioned the impact of his parents’ divorce being somewhat responsible for his own collection of fathers in Experience – the likes of Saul Bellow, Nabokov and another of my favourites, Philip Roth. His later books, including this latest - House of Meetings - feel a little like homage to this collection of fathers with their tales of Russia, immigrants, America, Jews. Ageing plays a stronger role here than in past books, too.

Still the biggest theme of House of Meetings and all other Amis novels – maleness – is the anchor. And as it’s addressed to a daughter, Venus, I found one of my literary fantasy fathers was finally talking me just as I’d always wanted.

The book explores the two sides of man (and Martin), the aggressive, single (one-track) -minded beast and the gentle, at times feeble, reasoning, kind intellectual. Each side is represented by one of two brothers consigned to over a decade of life in a Soviet gulag and their reactions both inside and later in life to the horrors and pleasures they witnessed and participated in (much more of the former than the latter).

Amis works hard to further expose the Stalinist regime (after Koba the Dread), and the horrendous conditions endured by the enslaved brothers are hard reading at times, at others barely comprehensible. It is akin to tales of the Holocaust, and I confess there were times when I really wanted to see a picture and look and look and look to ensure I had fully understood exactly what went on.

More than a tale of deprivation and violence, however, the depth of the book comes from it being a kind of fucked-up love story of power imbalance between all the major characters; Stalin and Russia, Russia and its Jews, Russia and Russians, man and woman, brother and brother, encapsulated by the main thread of the relationship – or lack thereof – between narrator and Zoya, the sensual “Jewess” he is obsessed with before and after camp, who he finds to his disgust has married his younger, feebler brother.

There is so much going on past and present throughout the novel, that it can be an exhausting read at times – although it picks up to a gallop by the end. But it’s how Amis writes, as ever, that still makes me sigh; I was so delighted with the following illustration of a handshake I looked up from the page, looked back down and pointed at it:

"White and humid, the flesh seemed about to give, to deliquesce. It was like holding a greased rubber glove half full of tepid water."

I noted tons more examples of wonderful writing that I would love to pore over as poetry, from descriptions of Arctic summers as anxious-to-impress late-running housewives, to scenes of extreme violence compared to the explosive snap within a reptile house.

Occasionally I find myself angry when he uses phrases that I feel like he’s been waiting to slot in somewhere – he describes American teens wearing “the shat-myself look they all favoured, with the loose jeans sagging off the rump” and despite its simple brilliance and accuracy my gut reaction was a strong desire to slap his smug face.

It was at times like these I wondered whether I heard too much of Martin Amis in the narrator to the detriment of the fictional character. I also thought there was something missing from the depiction of Russians and Russia somehow – in my experience of Russian ex-pats, there is always a bit more noise, absurdity and colour than you ever expect - although that could have been deliberately drained away given the extraordinary life experiences this story depicted.

But overall, whilst not the greatest of his books, House of Meetings is extremely good, and lots of the comments, themes, ideas and language will stay with me, some to positively haunt me (unlike, for example, Yellow Dog, which I enjoyed but haven’t really retained). Engendering sympathy for a rapist, for example, is no mean feat.

You can rarely knock the ambition of Amis’s novels nor his tactics. In House of Meetings, the enormity of subject matter coupled with some delicate portraits of brutalised individuals, makes for a rich – if, at times, depressing - feast.

Thursday, October 19, 2006

It's On.

We're moving on Saturday. I am surrounded by boxes. As detailed previously, we are moving to Hampstead Garden Suburb, and I've uploaded my first Youtube video to show you what the downstairs looks like when it's empty. Excuse very shaky camera work (this was done with my phone) but please enjoy the only slightly entertaining moment when Dolly Daydream here tries to turn the light on in the bathroom forgetting that no lights are fitted. (Chinese Backstreet Boys mime artist I am not.)

We are both petrified that we will ruin its perfect little loveliness by shipping all our crap in. But had a breakthrough moment when the carpet went in upstairs earlier this week i.e. this is actually our home and we will live there. So we're both a bit scared but mostly excited.

Monday, October 16, 2006

To The Loud, Offensive Boy on the Victoria Line at 7pm

At around seven o'clock this evening, two red-faced boys with puppyish hair fell through the tube door just as we pulled out of Victoria station headed for Walthamstow on the Victoria Line. They plonked themselves diagonally from me, the first loud and brave and slurping at a beer, his shifty sidekick stared at his knees, cupping his can. They sat like they'd arrived in a bar - loads of energy and self consciousness.

The loud one started to swear loudly about the attractiveness of another passenger, and once her beau was established, they both began to bark at each other about what the lucky fella would be doing to her later, their faces grimacing towards the squirming couple, eyes and voices askance. Their palpable angry nerves suggested they had never done what they were loudly detailing.

The couple got off at the next stop, the guy grinning whilst he apologised to his gorgeous girl. The boys repeated what they had been saying for a few minutes after their departure, like a dying echo, until the shifty boy doled out another can from a blue plastic bag to his superior and the slurping recommenced. Two teenage girls opposite me tittered.

The loud boy's eyes darted around the carriage looking for his next victim, our next entertainment. He motioned between two men in front of them, then mumbled something punctuated by the words "Muslim" and "killed" spoken in a slightly shriller tone.

I looked to see the person they were referring to. An Asian man in his late twenties/early thirties sat reading a London Lite. He looked like he could be a sweet person, possibly a bit boring.

Then the loud boy said something truly horrible, really loudly, fired at the sweet-but-boring looking passenger. The shifty boy flinched at his partner's words, the passenger didn't - I hoped he didn't notice but doubt that was the case.

The loud boy drew breath and looked around the carriage. I stared at him, wanting to know what to say to make him stop. I shot a glance back at my fellow passenger to let him know that other people on the carriage did not agree with the boys; he didn't look up from his paper.

In the end, I ended up locking eyes with the loud boy, and tried to look as angry as I could to stare him down. He looked at me, cheeks burning with beer, and he stayed silent. Whilst I'd love to think differently, I don't think there was any causality between my glare and his silence. In summary: I did nothing.

I reflected on their words, thinking I almost wished that he had started on me, so then I would have been really justified to say something, and maybe then could speak on behalf of other people on the carriage too nervous of repercussions or maybe just too tired of similar incidents to speak up for themselves or defend others.

Then I started worrying that maybe other people did agree with them, which was why they had been bold enough to speak up. I'm pretty sure some other men on the carriage would have had the same lewd thoughts about the gorgeous girl, for example, and even her boyfriend had just shrugged his shoulders.

It reminded me of when, as a young teenage girl again on the tube, I found myself grinning and fluttering my eyelashes at three men sat opposite me who were winking at me and discussing how pretty I was. Then they turned on the Asian girl who was sitting next to me and started saying how much nicer I was than her because ... you can fill in the rest. I didn't say anything to the men that time either, I just stopped smiling and blushed for a different reason. But at least I got off at the next stop with the girl and apologised to her in person for not saying anything and, I suppose, their behaviour.

It's hard to hold onto the thought that both times I was really justified to say something because I was offended, and I don't like people feeling scared who sit with me on the tube. Did I really need to be scared of two slightly drunk teenagers? They were the ones who ran off at the next stop this time.

I'm still none the wiser as to how to handle such a situation in future, but a trend possibly reported from Japan a while back came to mind, when women take pictures with their mobile phones of men who have touched them up on the train and publish them to a website to denounce them and warn others.

Maybe we could start a movement here - take a photo of someone who is being racist, homophobic, sexist or just generally obnoxious on the train and publish it - hey, send it to your local paper. I would actually love a column like that, an alternative lonely hearts "To the loud, offensive boy on the Victoria Line on Tuesday night at 7pm: you are a horrible person who deserves a big smack in the mouth and to learn that no one wants to hear your idiotic views on sex you've never had and politics you don't understand."

Wednesday, October 11, 2006

Schoolboy Terrors

Yesterday, without having seen The Sun's headline or this excellent post about it (link courtesy of Tom Coates), I started to write a post about how strange it was that Kim Jong-il has been consigned, not only by the South Park fellas, but also the mainstream British media, to a comedic figure teetering around North Korea in platform shoes, high on brandy and Elnett.

Admittedly, there is something odd about the Korean leader from the reported stories - and the quote on the BBC article above, "I know I'm an object of criticism in the world, but if I am being talked about, I must be doing the right things." seems wildly Wildean given recent actions.

Evidence above would suggest it's clearly not just a British trait to use playground tactics in political commentary, but my next example of how ridiculous British politics actually is was when listening to yesterday's exchange between Cameron and Blair in the Commons.

Cameron totally out-Blaired Blair in terms of wit and polish but at the end of the day it was like listening to kids from rival schools trying to outdo each other. It ended up not seeming to have all that much to do with politics, which, to be fair, Blair tried to spit out. But then it became mostly about this strange teenage obstinacy of Blair not wanting to be open about wanting the leadership contest to be a bit more open.

But worse was to come today. I challenge ANYONE to sit through Sion Simon's spoof Cameron Youtube video - it is truly hideous, a total misfire that makes me feel comparative affection for Cameron's calculated but earnest efforts.

I realise that some of the language in the Youtube comments is hideously offensive, some of which I'm about to quote, but totally in keeping with this schoolboy toss e.g. "you spasticated gaylord" seems a fair criticism. The Tory anger is clearly misplaced, if I were a member of the Labour party I'd be demanding Simon's head on a stick.

Later Note 16:30, 13th October: Simon Video removed.

Sunday, October 08, 2006

Back in the Saddle Again

In the past month access to computers and connection to the Internet have been intermittent, and latent anxiety levels have crept up. Now Toshiba has handled the tea incident for me and I've returned home after dog sitting in an internet-free Essex house, I feel a lot more relaxed.

Here are some of the things that I have written about mentally in the past month and may expand on at a later date:

  • The RSC's latest production of The Tempest - I've never seen the play before and was really moved. The set is incredible and the portrayal of Ariel as a tragic Nosferatu character inspired. It's coming to London next year.
  • Banana Yoshimito's Hardboiled Hard Luck - clean writing portraying complex emotions. My second Japanese author after Murakami and one I will read again.
  • Understanding philosophy via In Extremis - a poignant and thrilling love story with more enduring lessons than the handful of lectures I sat through at university
  • Is email the new fax? Interested to read this story about how the preference for instant messaging and social networks may sound the death knoll for a technology that my age group and older thought revolutionary
  • Whether or not to start driving - after discussion with a fellow non-driver, I am considering a one-week residential crash course to get me started.

More in the coming week. I'm drooling over the new Martin Amis book on the shelves and will be purchasing this week, so they'll be a no-doubt adoring review coming soon.

Tuesday, September 26, 2006

Good for me

When I explained to someone that I had spent my two weeks off pottering around our flat, and staying for a few days each in the Cotswolds and Devon, their response was the limp "Good for you". Faint and damning maybe but also correct - it was good for me.

During the first couple of days, still buzzing with surges of stress-related adrenalin, I ended up transferring all work energy and anxiety into bizarre creative personal projects including the pointless ambition of the development of a new literary form - the cross-genre review mashup.

This was inspired by a conversation I had with some colleagues where, possibly through the medium of wine, we seamlessly moved between chatting about the amazing online game/experience/community/world Second Life and a book I'd started to read, Michel Houellebecq's The Possibility of an Island. Before I embarked on my ambitious plan, which I may attempt at a later date if the idea isn't manic nonsense, real life got a hold of me and my virtual creativity occupied less and less of my headspace.

I confess, even when real life did kick in, my boyfriend and I still couldn't shake work ways. On Day 3, we sat gazing at the view from Parliament Hill, the remains of a picnic in front of us, then proceeded to fill out coloured pieces of paper with "what we want to achieve during the rest of the holiday" - one idea per piece of paper, all ideas are valid - and then prioritised our list by scoring for urgency, impact and ease on a criteria grid. And before anyone anonymously comments "you are sad" - yes I know, that's the point of confessing this.

So what did we achieve? In descending order: 6 nights away from home in a good hotel and with family; 5 ok books read (between us); 4 mostly terrible films watched; 3 great walks (5 miles +); 2 good plays seen; and 1 great meal out.

We might not have purchased a sofa, gone to the chiropodist or plastered the ceiling in the spare room, but I think we prioritised ruthlessly and effectively.

Friday, September 08, 2006

More Worry, Less Posts

Ah, the irony of the emphatic end to my last post "Worry less, post more". Within 24 hours how I had learnt to rue those words.

It started with a colleague telling me how a random person had told him they'd enjoyed my blog. I was ecstatic to learn that someone who wasn't a relative, friend, or colleague past or present, was enjoying anything I'd written. All this talk of only posting for friends and colleagues went out the window: I had a fan!

When I found out the next day that this person had enjoyed my Channel 4 insider's insight so much he had included a link in a newsletter, I became hysterical, worried that I might have broken a cardinal rule of employment in an attempt to make my mates laugh.

The thing I'd missed in my last post on the relevance of daft blogs was that the most interesting and relevant thing about my daft blog for a certain group of people - and that might keep them reading - is the fact that I work for Channel 4.

I told my boss about it straight away, and he was supportive and relaxed as were the few colleagues with whom I confided my concerns. But as I suspected there were some things I should have been more careful and thoughtful about mentioning it seemed right to review past posts.

This led to a night of the long knives for Busy and Lively, with the culling of one post and some judicious editing of others. The only irritation for me being that taking out some of the detail made it well, a bit less funny (if a bit more accurate).

Reflecting on my extreme reaction, with a boss relaxed and colleagues supportive, why was I so worried? Let me give you the back story: just under a year ago, I left the company that brought you the monkey dance and went to the company that brings you Dispatches (I might watch Big Brother more, but that's not the point).

(Ok, I admit it, when I watch that video of Ballmer - I was there at the conference when it was filmed - I actually get happy shivers, it was like being at a rave but with fewer whistles and more pocket protectors. The only problem was, when Ballmer boomed at the end "I - LOVE - THIS - COMPANY", that's when I shrugged my shoulders, looked at the floor and thought "meh".)

It's hard to explain how much happier I am since changing jobs without sounding weird, but, rest assured, work feels like something very different now and not something I want to put at risk for a mention in (the) Metro.

Most usefully, this mini saga meant I was spurred on to be more proactive about working to set up a corporate blogging policy in order to avoid future panics for me and others by laying down some ground rules - like reinforcing little principles like accuracy and respect that are remarkably easy to stretch for the sake of a gag.

Once that's sorted, all I need then is to persuade Andy Duncan to come on stage at our big internal meetings to Eye of the Tiger or similar and life would be perfect. If I do manage to keep hold of my job and am called upon, I've already got my entrance music sorted (not sure about the outfit, mind).

Tuesday, September 05, 2006

The Relevance of Daft Blogs

I learnt recently about a technique of online community management called "speed bumping" whereby users are prevented from posting comments more than once every few minutes. The result is that whilst reducing the sheer number of posts, it also encourages more intelligent, thought-through contributions, and less entries that consist solely of either TLAs (three-letter acronyms) or bizarre combinations of punctuation marks ;-) (LOL).

I've been hoping that this might be the effect on my blog due to the indefinite inaccessibility to a laptop in the wee small hours (incidentally, Blogger doesn't work with my Nokia N70 despite my previous positive posts). Theory was less quantity, more quality. In actual fact, I can't help but feel that it's had more of a negative effect - I'm finding this first post in over a week much tougher to compose.

Perhaps it's because quality of blogging has been on my mind since Rachel Cooke's article in The Observer last Sunday "Who's to judge? Better an eminent critic than a daft blogger" about bloggers being oh-so-wrong about Snakes on a Plane and other shit films that daft bloggers have made a fuss about.

Personally I'm a bit tired of the argument about whether journalists and critics are better writers and judges that bloggers - of course they are. Most journalists who earn any kind of living have to fight through an enormous amount of competition, may have a training/education in their chosen sphere, are likely to have amazing amounts of experience and unquestionably better prose styles than your average blogger. On top of this, the professional hack has a commissioning editor to confirm what they're writing about is worthwhile, subbing teams to pick up their split infinitives and editors and designers to aid presentation and layout.

But this article and some mainstream press miss the point about why it's ok for people to get excited about crap films like [m*therf*ckin'] Snakes on a [m*therf*ckin'] Plane.

In a media landscape where there is an embarassment of content riches to be had, what you need is relevance - not just relevance to the task in hand (where Google cleaned up) or to your particular industry (digg, Media Guardian) but also relevance to your life and tastes. It's why I know that a bunch of you are still reading my views on blogging (you're the work people) and why hopefully the rest of you are still reading (you're the people that like me - oh yes, you do, don't even try to deny it). Most bloggers only ever write for a bunch of friends and/or close colleagues as I do (great US report from a few months back on this here).

A lot of the content "long tail" is shit, if your definition of "shit" is never forming part of any canon or even appealing to the majority. But then, is there nothing that you love in your life that does not stand up to critical scrutiny?

I, for example, will always treasure the memory of Rupert Everett's performance of his first (and only?) single "Generation of Loneliness" on the Wogan chat show. (Had I just managed to find it on Youtube I may have ripped my top off in the office.) Others, possibly including Rupert himself, may cringe at the thought of it. But he was my ultimate pin-up during my teenage years and anything that he was involved with I consumed with a ridiculous amount of subjectivity (although seriously, he was robbed of a career as an international pop sensation).

Similarly I will endure sentences with the poorest construction in the world ever and even; the misuse of punctuation in some blog entries! As have you. Because the writers themselves are interesting and relevant to my work, my life or my beliefs. Bloggers may appear to be a barmy army, but mostly they're just people keen to share their particular interests and passions - Samuel L Jackson starring in ludicrous movies being one of them that quite a few shared.

Writers should stop worrying about lunatic bloggers taking over the media asylum, and think of them as more akin to influential pressure groups - sometimes crazy, sometimes a little over-excited about the power they may or may not wield, but always relevant and valid to a certain group of people and on the whole an excellent conduit for ideas and opinions to surface.

Note to self: worry less, post more.

Tuesday, August 29, 2006

The Hazards of Earl Grey

Tea spilt on laptop. Now making beeping noises that sound suspiciously like an alarm designed to communicate to the laptop user to switch it off. Might not be posting for a while.

Tuesday, August 22, 2006

When Was the Last Time You Danced?

One of my (and plenty of others') favourite bands du jour, Gnarls Barkley, has a great track, The Last Time, which starts with these lines,
All work an no play
That’s the way it is, aint it
There’s rhythm deep inside of you
And you must get reacquainted

With the chorus led by the title of this post. Last night I was reacquainted with my inner rhythm. I was invited to the Big Brother wrap party and they played my favourite kind of party music (funky happy hits) and served my favourite kind of wine (free) with the added entertainment of watching fledgling wannabe celebs on their first flights. A lot of fun was had (photos courtesy of hilarious team member who is the star of the last links).

Photographic evidence might dispel a little of my mental recollection of how hot I looked as I sashayed, boogied and vogued but despite that I have been left with a hangover, achey thighs, and a big smile when I recall the feeling of freedom that sometimes only shameless dancing gives you.

I've been obsessed with going for a dance for a while. "You are young at heart, aren't you?" was one incredulous response I received to my birthday invite email suggesting dancing was what would be on the cards. I failed to find a suitable venue, however, with my what-seems impossible criteria of funky music, mixed/gay-friendly crowd with no dress policy or
membership required and where I wouldn't feel like someone's mum or one of those creepy old clubbers I remember from my youth (any suggestions in comments please).

What we actually did on the evening of my birthday was had a curry and then sang songs in the Soho karaoke bar that smells of damp and serves beer in cans (but has rooms available at much shorter notice than Lucky Voice) - thanks to all those that enjoyed it with me, you made it count. I did manage to dance a little, but not as spectacularly as I did last night.

Now I have been reacquainted with the rhythm deep inside of me I intend to air it much more frequently than I have been for the past year and I would strongly encourage you to as well. Never underestimate the joy to be had from stirring your hips to funky tunes.

P.S. There are some issues leaving comments because I've migrated to the new blogger beta. If you do spot that you've left a comment anonymously without intending to, please add your name afterwards, it gives me a warm feeling to know who it is that's out there reading.

Monday, August 21, 2006

A Whiter Shade of Beige

On revealing that I'd been seeing a therapist every week for the past three years, a friend of mine commented with glee "You're like a proper American!". For those of you that don't know, I'm not American at all, but her comment related to the bemused incomprehension of a British person towards the investment in self development that is more commonplace in the US.

I'm calling to mind her reaction due to the similar response of shocked hilarity that I have received more than once over my employment, on my birthday last week, of a colour consultant to advise on the colour of my walls. "More money than sense", "Couldn't she do this herself?" seem to be the thoughts communicated by the raised eyebrows and accompanying shakes of heads.

Firstly, yes I may well have more money than sense (my stock in both fluctuates wildly) but, in this respect, I feel it was a wise investment. For example, earlier in the day I had spent £30 on a facial at local beauty salon "Goddess" that everyone seemed to find much more socially acceptable. It was very relaxing, relatively cheap and only took an hour out of my day. But a facial is a bit like the amyl nitrate of stress relief. One quick hit, you feel mildly euphoric, but all you're left with at the end of the day is a bit of a red face.

Whereas my colour consultancy, at around three times the price, has removed weeks of uncertainty, months of doubt and - potentially - years of regret. Ok, so I'm not aware that Joa (unique name, unique skills) has any formal qualifications, but I was impressed by her efficiency, responsiveness and insights.

Could I have done this myself? This argument against the expense of going to an expert feels like when people say about therapy "Can't you talk to your friends and family?" - of course the answer is yes, I could, but there's something so calming about going to an expert who is just interested in getting the best result for you. Who knew you could paint your woodwork the same colour as your walls? Or even a darker colour? Not I. And none of my friends had suggested it either. Ok, so the colours she chose were variations on a pretty mild theme - white with a whiff of colour, which mostly, even at my most adventurous, I could only describe as beige.

Yet still I would recommend this service, especially for women who find themselves in the position of having to have an opinion on colours because that's what the woman does. I may be addicted to responsibility in my job but I have a tendency, despite my gender, to be workshy when it comes to household chores. For me, this was executive stress relief of the highest order and a fine birthday treat.

Later thought: maybe colour therapy is the way forward for me?

Thursday, August 17, 2006

Birthday Bleatings

I feel like the kid whose parents forgot to buy the batteries on Christmas Day. I have a spanky new iPod nano for my birthday from my lovely boyfriend who listened repeatedly to my heavy hinting - but it's not working.

The CD that came with it is split and there weren't any headphones in the box. Then I find the screen is already scratched. Insult to injury: when I tried to download all the software online and then charge it, all the screen did was show a message saying "contact support". Grrrreat.

Whinge over. We'll replace it and all will be well. I can get over using my embarassingly teenage shuffle (hey, it was free) for a couple more days.

I've got the day off, so I shouldn't really be online at all. A whole day of flicking myself off to Trisha awaits.

Tuesday, August 15, 2006

Work-Life Seepage

Sometimes I receive emails from friends in my work inbox. Sometimes I receive calls at nine pm on a Thursday night about a work issue. I worked on Saturday and Sunday nights on a strategy document I can't find the headspace to concentrate on at work, but then earlier today I nipped off at the end of a meeting at three pm and spent the rest of the afternoon in the pub.

A lot is talked about work-life balance but not enough, in my opinion, about the creeping crossover between the two. Whether through incessant crackberry usage (at its most infuriating intra meeting - work/work seepage at its worst), or the now ubiquitous loud personal call taken in the office whether to partner, "hilarious" friend or needy relative, the lines have been irrevocably blurred.

Mother Brown, in her role as secretary for an international shipping firm, never took personal calls unless it was an emergency and certainly didn't take random time out of her day to choose paint colours (as I did last week). Where your attention was devoted during set times of the day was black and white. Yes, there were times when Mrs B invented an extra relative that had to die in order for her to take a day off at short notice, but this was before the right to parental leave.

Who loses? Who gains? Have family-friendly policies and technologies enabled our company gang masters to leave us stranded on the cockle beds or do we not know a duckdown duvet when we see one?

Sometimes I feel like the acceptance of personal life intruding into work hours is like an updated version of the once-a-year Mothers Day home visit that servants once enjoyed - something that makes us feel better that we're actually in touch with our home lives when all the while we're actually tied physically, and perhaps more importantly, mentally, to our workstations. But read that back, these people saw their families once a year - so what the hell are we complaining about?

OK, times aren't as hard, but I have to support the fact that the demarcation that my 9 to 5 mother enjoyed had its strengths, maintaining boundaries for both home and life surely the path to sanity. But then, being able to be in touch with work allows us the sanity of more flexible hours, some peace of mind for control freaks like myself, and does loosen the ties from our actual desks. It's just that life for us guilt-ridden-kinda-Catholic-but-gotta-whole-lotta-Puritan workaholics now involves desperate over-compensation for the time spent at work on personal matters.

I suggest we all take an audit of the time we spend on work whilst at home and vice versa and then actively readdress the imbalance - and communicate acceptable boundaries - in order to to minimize work/life seepage.

What I do need help with, however, is quite how to classify the grey area of beer-sodden conversations in the pub that are solely about work (which may be responsible for any lack of clarity/slight ranting tone in today's post).

Tuesday, August 08, 2006

Brown Paper Packages Tied Up With String

As I walked out of my house yesterday morning, I took a deep breath of the morning air, listened to the birds, saw a gorgeous blue sky and genuinely thought "It's great to be alive". Then I realised I was still a bit drunk from the night before.

With that (albeit intoxicated) inspiration I've decided to give you a quick injection of positivity. It's actually Friday today (not sure how to fix the date published thing on this post) and I've got the day off work (ok I did just spend the morning on email trying pathetically to help out in a crisis that I couldn't really help - as managers do) and later on tonight I will be enjoying an evening of one of my favourite past times.

For your light entertainment, a few more of my favourite things:

  • When my foot hits the kerb at a pedestrian crossing and the little man goes green, right on cue
  • Silly comments that tickle me so much, I'll recall them weeks afterwards and start spontaneously smiling and giggling (am recalling a meeting when someone on discussing Channel 4's radio strategy, managed to wangle singing the "woo Gary Davis" jingle into the discussion)
  • Happy text messages received the morning after outrageous nights
  • The moment right at the end of A Room with a View when Helena Bonham Carter walks up to the back of the horse and cart that Maggie Smith is in ("Wait, I think Lucy has something to tell us") smiling and crying with happiness having realised she's going to shack up with Julian wotsisface after all
  • The picture of my mum's dog, Gus, that is on my phone - and now on my moblog*
Right, I'm off to apply a bit too much make up for a Friday afternoon, dance around with a towel on my head then get a bit sweaty and cross trying on 8 different outfits.

*Not sure who these people commenting are or who they think I am, but it's nice to be made welcome - it's certainly an active community. But now I've worked out how to update this blog from my phone, not sure I'll last very long on there. The future is mobile, however - it's dead easy.

Saturday, August 05, 2006

Identity Crisis

This train of thought started with a question that pops up from time to time when worrying about what others think of me, namely, am I cool?

Excruciating isn't it? You're very likely to have wondered about yourself as well - hopefully not frequently or often - and I'd like to apologise for bringing it up, as it's likely that if you're a friend of mine then you believe, to paraphrase Sartre, cool is other people, anyhow.

It came from what I've been banging on about lately. As soon as you put your taste out there - the colour on your walls, the bookmarks you share on, whether you wear a hat, the music you've recently listened to - you create an identity open to others' reactions and whether they embrace, reject, or ignore you, it's all a bit scary to find out where you fit in the community.

For certain aspects of life at specific times and certainly by accident rather than design, I'd say I've been within spitting distance of cool, nearly at arms length, but only ever close enough to tickle it with the tips of my fingers. Like when I nearly saw Public Enemy or when I nearly featured in a short film about night buses. Close but no banana.

At my lowest ebbs, I have described myself as feeling like the gap between other people - an empty space, a true cypher. Now through contributing and sharing more online, I've gone from a big fat zero to having created something semi-solid, something akin to a cultural skeleton. But evidence of cool?

Some of the tactics that have contributed to this structure such as using usernames that are related to my real name and being open about who my employer is, mean that I am leaving traces of reality behind, that someone with the inclination could start piecing together to put flesh on the bones, maybe track my movements and decisions and make judgements on them, damning or otherwise (and have forced me to consider a disclaimer as seen below my profile - hopefully a simpler version will be pushed out v soon).

Which leads me to consider the discussions around identity cards in the UK. As we are sharing more and more information anyway with multinationals, entrepeneurs and Tom, Dick and Harry 2.0, are identity cards issued by a democratic government really the end of the world?

But then the reason I am happy for companies like Amazon to know stuff about me is because it benefits me. It makes my life easier, and makes a chore more enjoyable. (If you haven't read the milk reviews, please do take 5 minutes out of your day.) Whereas I don't think the benefits of id cards are so clear cut.

Do countries with id cards really have fewer terrorists and smaller/less problematic immigrant populations (not that I think our immigrant population is problematic I hasten to add)? I did, despite myself, sympathize with Roger Scruton for the first time ever when listening to Any Questions on Saturday when explaining the resonances with Nazi Europe. It's true, id cards remind us of other countries in times of duress, and at times when such systems have been abused, rather than a practice of the most progressive and enlightened of societies.

For one who is so free 'n' easy with my personal information, I also feel uneasy about it opening up possibilities of identity theft. Despite their reassurances that it will help this growing crime, everyone knows that Government IT projects are notoriously problematic, overrun, and go over budget - look at the NHS patient records scheme. With this in mind, I don't feel inclined to give the government a huge amount of money for something which will no doubt be slightly crap for at least the next ten years and of dubious benefit, which could then be hacked by some bored teenager trying to prove he's cool to his mates.

Which brings us full circle. In these meandering thoughts, did I find an answer to my original question - am I cool? I can't really get past the fact that as one asks the question, one answers it - but hey, maybe if someone stole my identity they might inadvertently make me cool.

No, I am not cool and I'm content to be officially sanctioned and identified as such. But right now, naive as it may be, I trust Rupert Murdoch with that information more than I would some basic personal data with Tony Blair.

Wednesday, August 02, 2006

Making a Bad Impression

Whilst I loved the launch ads for free FilmFour (in the right-hand column here) , the accompanying internal promotion that involved moviestar lookalikes roaming around Horseferry Road interrupting us office civilians whilst we were happily going about our duties was decidedly strange.

The first indication that something was up was when Samuel L. Jackson walked past my meeting room. Given that I had to stuff my entire forearm in my mouth when I spotted Russell Brand striding around reception, it took all my energy to remain calm and focussed on the matter in hand. When later I heard one of the marketing assistants sigh "I know this sounds silly, but I've lost Sharon Stone and Robert de Niro" I smelt a rat.

I was reminded, given the Hollywood angle, of the scary crowd that hangs around outside the Grauman's Chinese Theatre in Los Angeles. I found street-level LA petrifying and depressing most of the time, but my lowest moment was outside this theatre, being hassled by a man resembling a strung-out roast chicken who insisted he was "Crackadile Dundee" and demanding $50 for a photo of the two of us that his buddy "Jock" Nicholson would take. You can spot a (likely methadoned) Marilyn in the photo link above.

On the entertainment evolutionary scale, I would rate the stars of air guitar slightly above lookalikes, with office impersonators above them (think any man who has done the Joe Pesci "Am I a comedian? Do I amuse you?" lines at any stage other than when Goodfellas was first out) and impressionists only slightly above them in terms of the sophistication of their chosen talent.

Yes, I confess I have occasionally been heard to do a mean Kath and Kim "Look at moi". But these are at appropriate moments before Kath Day-Night has truly hit the mainstream, and has little to do with these seedy parasites of light entertainment. (You really should watch the new series if you haven't before.) Such impressions have a shelf life, as the poor person who did a Frank Spencer impersonation close to me in the office the other day found out to his cost.

Despite my prejudices, I know I should feel grateful to Channel 4 for laying on something special for staff. And I should also feel a little bit sorry for these out-of-work actors having to spend their lives pretending to be someone else.

Saturday, July 29, 2006

The Internet is Just a Great Big Pencil Case

You may have noticed that I've added a badge to this blog and if you haven't it's the thing on the right-hand side underneath the heading "I'm listening to" that lists which musical tracks I've been listening to lately.

I deliberated over whether to add it or not - do I really want people seeing my eclectic - at times immature, others pensionable - musical tastes? Not sure, but I thought personalising my blog in this way would be a good thing to do - at work we're always trying to think of the next big thing, so I need to make sure I'm at least in step with the kinds of things the kids have been up to for quite some time now.

My annoyance that it's not updating regularly aside, it's another level of self revelation that you can take or leave, but I'm putting it out there in the same spirit that I'm publishing my random thoughts. It might prompt a connection between us, maybe indirectly by encouraging you to sign up to and find me there, or directly by a laugh or look of disgust (some of my taste really is that bad).

I've been thinking about what a brilliant time to be a teenager this is. In the past, the only way to make a connection with like-minded teens was to wear a badge on your lapel, or scrawl something on your pencil case in the hope that the sixth former in the art room might notice that you had cool taste and you could be worth talking to. He never did.

But now, as your fragile sense of self develops, as your tastes develop, there are thousands of others out there that you can find interested in the same things as you at the click of a badge or a feed or a button. Surely with some careful management this could have a positive effect on teenagers' mental health, letting them know that they're ok even if they feel like they don't fit in with the other kids at school? I shudder to think quite how whey faced I would be if a teenager nowadays, I'd never get away from the screen, but I really think I'd be having a lot of fun.

Even now, with a relatively robust sense of self, I have benefited from a connection. It turns out one of my "neighbours" is a 21 year old Finnish man who has a similar love of classic soul anthems, slightly obscure rap and indie tunes who has introduced me to some new classics through his well-tagged tracks. In this case, due to the non-intrusive nature of some of's features, I haven't had to force myself upon this chap like a cyberspace Mrs Robinson, I can just rifle through his recently played tracks and I'm the only one who's any wiser. Which still makes me feel a little grubby, but I'll get over it.

You'll find me by clicking on the list to the right. I'll be the one listening to the Gnarls Barkley and Thom Yorke albums - both excellent. And a couple of tracks by Jedi Mind Tricks, courtesy of the Finn.

Tuesday, July 25, 2006

What Would You Rather Do?

I have to change my mobile phone number. This is mildly traumatic. I am getting a phone from my employer which means work calls will be paid for and I can finally check the mobile portal and tv channel that my team has various elements of responsibility for. Apart from the fact that I am still a PAYG CHAV which means that I cannot keep my number this is a very good thing.

Changing number brings to mind those press releases that end up as newspaper headlines at this time of year where our survey says that people would rather have a sex change/walk over hot coals/go nude snow boarding than change their bank account/messenger client/email address/mobile phone number in order to justify the impediments the banks/software companies/telcos put in our way. There are a few games I've played with friends from late teens onwards that I've been reminiscing about when considering what I would rather do than put myself and all my friends and colleagues through the hassle of changing my number.

I'd rather
"I'd rather" was a game from my teenage years where someone would state something gross like eating a whole jar of Marmite that the challengee would have to trump with something equally heinous but somehow more acceptable to them personally - in this case, I might venture licking all the dirt off a potato a suitable replacement. A game for purists.

You have to choose
Student life introduced a game called "You have to choose" where the stoned and/or drunken player would be forced to choose between unattractive elderly celebrities e.g. Bruce Forsythe or Jimmy Tarbuck. One for lazy deviants. (I would plump for a Brucie bonus.)

My last job introduced a similar game called "Shove/Shag/Marry" where you would be given 3 people (friends, relatives, colleagues, celebrities) and be forced - metaphorically - to shove one off a cliff, have sex with another, and marry the other one. The most extreme version of this game tended to happen on business trips, several all-expenses-paid apple martinis in, and would rapidly ascend into incredulous screeches as we chose between our poor colleagues back at base. I always joined in, only once startled when a colleague triumphantly whispered to me "a pig, a dog and a cat!?" Best for hopped-up office workers.

I digress. What would I rather do? In the last year I've nearly moved all my pals to using my gmail address rather than my hotmail address as well as changing work emails and it was easy. On the other hand, the bastard bank has got me with the same account since the days when I would be summoned to the bank manager's office in the Southampton University branch and be warned that my unauthorised borrowing was tantamount to stealing. And bastard Microsoft have still got me hooked on MSN Messenger although I'm proud to state that since just under a year ago I'm a social Messager rather than the compulsive I was for about ten years.

In fact, the only thing coming to mind that I would rather do than change my mobile number is lick the dirt off potatoes, which, to be honest, I've always quite enjoyed. I'll just get on with crafting the email, global text message and ordering the new business cards shall I? Watch your inboxes.

Wednesday, July 19, 2006

A Load of Meatballs and a Cathedral

Albóndigas (meatballs) was one of the first words I learnt in Spanish, forever etched in my memory due to a mix up during Spanish oral with albogodones (cotton wool balls). Since then, every time I find myself in a tapas restaurant whether in the UK or in Spain I insist on ordering the little meat treats with the loud confidence of someone with limited yet precise language skills (as beaten into me by Señora Scott).

Accordingly, our long weekend in Palma involved a hell of a lot of meatballs alongside heaps of pimientos de padrón. We spent most of our time between meals wandering along narrow cobbled streets, our walks punctuated by stop-offs for reviving glasses of Mallorcan rosé and pauses at shop windows to marvel at the whorish shoes that only rich women - and whores I spose - love. We also managed to pass Palma Cathedral at least three times a day but, am sad to say, never made it inside.

Tourists to Mallorca tend to be on a sliding scale from fluent golden yachties to fat pink men in England shirts shouting for LARGE beers. I would put myself and most tourists to Palma slap bang in the middle of the two groups. For example, I enjoyed smoking too many Fortunas, drinking too much booze, playing rummy and reading Jackie Collins' latest (Lovers and Players involves the Russian mafia, one of whom murders someone by suffocating her with a quite unorthodox instrument of death), but then most nights was to be found in dank cellar bars amusing the locals with my linguistic efforts. Grey meatballs with an insipid-looking gravy cooked by one patient abuela (in a tiny bar called Bregor, if you ever go) turned out to be the taste sensation of the trip.

Palma is reminiscent of Lisbon and Barcelona due to the gothic architecture and abundance of bars and restaurants, but with a more laid-back feel; somehow island races like the Mallorcans end up a bit less up themselves (I really tried to find a nicer phrase then, but it's late). And I am assured that the cathedral is well worth visiting - all good reasons for me to return.

For now, back to the reality that is Louise's Kitchen Nightmare - choosing cupboards and tiles and cookers not my idea of fun. On a lighter but nonetheless scary note, I have been much amused by the Blair/Bush exchange - the thing amazing me is that you could actually transport them into any corporation's boardroom and the same blokey wankish chat would fit just as well.

Thursday, July 13, 2006

Off on hols

Off to Palma for four whole days. No time to write much, just to muse on my favourite, John Prescott, taking over whilst Tony's away. Oh yeah, I'm sticking by him through thick and thin.

And I'll be spending my time at the harbour sipping a cool jerez and nibbling on a salted almond, dreaming up the laws that Prezzer would pass if he really did have all the power. See, in an alternative universe - when they didn't cause havoc, destruction and heartache to all they touched - I'm all in favour of compulsory intra-office relations.

¡Hasta luego!

Friday, July 07, 2006

Things that Karaoke Has Taught Me

A friend of mine once said "Planning karaoke is like planning sex". At the time she meant it took the joy out of it, the spontaneity, the thrill. But as we get older, planning activities such as these can become an important way of making sure you get an appropriate outlet for the most fundamental of urges.

Last night between six and ten pm, I was to be found in a small, darkened room here singing a variety of show tunes, soul anthems and jaunty sixties tracks to an old, very close friend ("just the two of us"). Yes, I was left with a stinking hangover but a few insights have stayed with me.

Know Your Instrument
If your voice varies in quality, it's best to aim low and pick songs by others with similar issues, e.g. my most successful song last night was "Pull Up to the Bumper" by Grace Jones although admittedly I did accompany myself with some over-ambitious dance moves involving a touch too much "booty" than was appropriate given dimensions of said booty.

Remember to Breathe
Which brings me to attempting any Beyonce numbers... That woman should be applauded for more than her usually admired asset, she clearly has a fine pair of lungs. On attempting to sing her latest hit "Check on It", the lyrics for which translate as "Look at my bottom. Look at my bottom. You know you want to. Go on, look at it, I might let you touch it later. Look at my bottom.", I nearly fainted.

Singing Loudly is a Great Alternative Therapy
As old school friends singing songs from their youth whilst being regularly attended by barstaff bearing house white tend to, we had some tearful moments. The only remedy for such a moment is to grip the other round the shoulders, plant a big kiss and sing loudly through it. I have also found this technique to work at funerals and weddings.

Percussion Instruments are Harder to Play Than They Look
I never imagined you could ruin a song with some ill-timed flicks of the wrist, but my tambourine technique was truly terrible. Thank god they didn't leave the bongos in our room.

I realise I now have some strange addiction to this form of karaoke; I've already got my next session booked. Partly it's got to be an endorphin rush, but also it's about those moments when your head is down between chorus and third verse and you hold the microphone with circled thumb and forefinger and tap it with your other straightened fingers, and for a few glorious moments are as cool as you always hoped you would be. Then, of course, you open your mouth ...

If you're at all tempted by my glowing report and thinking about going along, I must emphasize that, rather like LSD, it is advisable that your first time is only ever attempted with a very select group of close, trusted friends in order to avoid any adverse psychological reactions such as paranoia, excessive comedown or a permanent loss of grip on reality - remember, you're not really nor ever will be that cool.

Tuesday, July 04, 2006

Ultimate Tube Survival Guide

With commitment to Zone 3 comes commitment to the tube. A good half hour every day to read a chunk of novel or listen to music (for some reason Philip Roth was followed by a Blackalicious phase) is fabulous for my mental health, but when I have to start fanning myself like a Les-Dawson style geisha and I start getting paranoid about not beads but rivulets of sweat made public I can feel my enthusiasm waning.

I was, however, meditating and bearing it; I can highly recommend an alternate nostril breathing exercise I picked up during a fortnight's flirtation with Buddhism that has proved invaluable when travelling to Morden via Charing Cross. But after Ken Livingstone's death knoll for tube travellers I'm not feeling quite so sanguine.

Whilst the tube must witness illness and old age deaths over a year - you know, your heart attacks, your aged winos, your heroin overdoses - the fact that Ken is saying that we may not be able to fix either the congestion and/or the air conditioning points to either some monumental responsibility shirking or more climate change than I've comprehended.

Before anyone suggests it, please remember I have never learnt to ride a bike, and have tried to learn within the past few years and it ended in a few tears, a few bruises and a lot of humiliation. The only option I can see is to forget family and happiness and go balls out for one of those fat media jobs that comes with a chauffeur-driven limo.

Tuesday, June 27, 2006

Suburban Life with a Capital "S"

As you may have picked up, I struggled growing up in Essex surrounded by ordinary boys, shopping precincts and the temptations of Raffles cigarettes and deodorant abuse. Later I struggled in different ways when I lived in Soho - night-time screaming (mostly outside the flat) and the tang of urine in the air (ditto). Through it all one thing I was sure of was that I would never settle for life in the suburbs; no child of mine would be exiled to the limbo of not city, not country, just there.

Plans change and so on Friday we "complete" in Hampstead Garden Suburb. Completion smacks ominously of a final solution when all it actually means, I have to keep telling myself, is that we are finally purchasing a house. A house with a garden, with 3 bedrooms and with downstairs toilet (I would say "loo" if I wanted to impress, but I'm feeling obtuse). But there really is no escaping the fact that we are settling down to life in the burbs.

Don't get me wrong, I love our bijou cottage - I'm just a bit uncomfortable with how the name of the area sounds. It reminds me of when I was a teenager and hated my too-common surname and, after dipping into one of my mother's romantic novels (if you can call Harold Robbins romantic), became inspired to start practising signing my name "Louise Hartington".

I suppose the "Hampstead" part of the name impresses everyone who's not actually from London, so they imagine our neighbours will be Glenda Jackson and Emma Thompson when the reality is actually Charlie the estate agent who sold us the house. And the "Garden Suburb" confuses pretty much everyone who knows me ("will you er ... garden?") bar family who feel vaguely reassured by it.

Rob has made it clear he will be telling everyone we live in Golders Green - which is where we've lived for most of our adult lives, is literally around the corner and where I now sit in our flat we purchased over eight years ago. "The Suburb" or "HGS" is just around the corner, a matter of feet - but this feels different, Golders Green is, for me, transitory and therefore reassuring.

So in two days' time I am making not only a massive commitment to my relationship, to a garden, and life with two khazis to clean, but most scary of all, a commitment to suburban life. Blimey. Next thing you know I'll have learnt how to drive and so will be committed to society to a horrifyingly functional extent.

Wish us luck.

Sunday, June 25, 2006

Essex: The Case for the Defence

As we drove into my mum's village last Sunday, Rob turned to me and commented "Christ, it's like Northern Ireland" referring to the high number of flags adorning every house, car, bike and child. I felt shocked and depressed at the sense of menace I felt on seeing all these flags (St George, in this case) but what else did I expect? Welcome to World Cup Essex.

Tuesday was the night of the England Sweden match. I braced myself on the journey home, imagining as I stepped off the train drunken seven year olds hurling abuse at me, pausing only to sing songs about RAF bombers or swig on an alcopop.

What I actually saw on my walk from the train station were two things that made me smile. The first was a man with a flag of St George painted on his face and one of those furry top hats and an England shirt. He was concentrating on driving his very bashed up Vauxhall Marina out of the village, I imagine to join some friends to watch the match. We exchanged a glance - he grinned and I laughed out loud. He was aware he looked an utter arse - that was the point, and I imagine he couldn't wait to see his mates in the pub roaring with laughter when they saw him. The kind of man my mum would call with affection a "silly old fool".

The second sight to raise a smile was two little Sweden flags perched in some cheery hanging baskets a few doors down from my mum's house. I have never met a Swedish person in the village, so can only presume that someone either has ancestry, visitors or was just being plain silly as well.

See that's the thing that very few people get about Essex, a lot of the show and baubles and gaudiness is about pantomime. The man in the car knew he looked utterly ridiculous and so would his friends. The villagers of West Horndon similarly know that their houses look stupid, but they're doing it to share and even heighten their excitement.

Despite my smart comment about Neighbourhood Watch stickers at the end of my last post, I've decided it's high time I was called to account for prejudice against Essex. I'm a bit like one of those latent homosexuals who violently decry any whiff of poofery. I need to get over the fact that these are my people, this is my county and that it's really not that bad.

Tuesday, June 20, 2006

Everyman - Philip Roth

I’m way beyond being able to review any Philip Roth books objectively. There are those that I love and those that I want to devour again and again and will never be able to get enough of.

His latest book, Everyman, is a dead man’s reflection on his life, how it was for him to be alive - making mistakes, being in pain, taking pleasure, leaving desirous and intentional imprints as well as their direct opposites, and is less than two hundred pages. And falls into the latter camp of my Roth book types.

With his usual evocative language and descriptions, the reality of the life he retells and its resonance with me - young white English woman vs old Jewish American man - could be seen to prove his title’s goal is achieved (if it could be considered as such).

There are echoes of characters I have loved in books before – the tall, athletic successful Jewish businessman of American Pastoral makes another appearance as Howard, the brother, the lusty Polish Catholic late-in-life lover from Sabbath's Theater appears here, only this time she is an Irish nurse. But coming to them again does not tarnish the depiction for me, working with uniquely illustrated archetypes is well suited to a book seeking universal truth through an individual’s life pickings.

What struck me most was that if all drama is about a situation where protagonists are trapped, never before for me has a book expressed so elegantly that life is always a drama within which we are trapped, repeating patterns that could be interpreted as themes, echoing past lives and promising future change, through which others may make sense of their lives or may simply leave them untouched, doomed to deepen the coastal shelf. And it explains, ultimately, how each life is really just a moment, an inexpert performance – more am dram than RSC.

If you are so inclined, read it and tell me what you think. I am planning to read again – in my pleasure and greed I inhaled it a bit too quickly and have been left giddy so apologies if this doesn’t give you enough to be getting on with – Guardian and Independent reviews no doubt more enlightening.

Lastly, am in Essex this week without broadband so updates are sporadic but will be coming - more on a later date about St George flags and villages where the only black face is on the peeling Neighbourhood Watch stickers.

Wednesday, June 14, 2006

Things Best Left Unsaid

I embarrassed myself the other day in front of a respected fellow knowledge worker by mispronouncing the word "renege". To make matters worse, my co-worker's method of notification was simply to use the word in conversation later in a different context, but this time with the correct pronunciation quite deliberately spoken.

It's not a unique occurrence; throughout my life I've mispronounced words. At times it may have been because of my estuary twang, at other times simply because I'd never heard the word spoken before - a symptom of reading more than you speak, or certainly reading in literary languages that don't constitute everyday conversation.

But why get renege wrong? I've been kicking myself and trawling my memory as to when exactly it started. Did I ever know how to pronounce the damn word?

I've traced it back to an adaptation of the British tendency to ridicule words with a hint of foreign (mostly French) roots. Examples from my own comedy repertoire that require incorrect stress and/or a dramatic flourish include Chesham Bois [pron. Cheshum Bwuh - as if the commuter suits are pretending they are still en Provence] and ménage à trois [requires an extra long second vowel sound and a fixed gaze from beneath slightly hooded eyes].

But what frightened me most about "renege" was that I had ceased to remember that I was mispronouncing it. Over years of use I had lost the dramatic pause on the second vowel sound, the roll of the eyes, the well timed curl of the mouth, that all let the listener know that I knew I was mispronouncing it.

And the shocker is that due to my core silliness and insecurity (which I'd previously considered part of my charm) alongside a failing memory, I have realised there are untold language landmines out there ready to destroy any vestiges of a reputation I have for possessing even an ounce of intelligence.

So in conclusion, this is a personal plea, that if you ever hear me mispronouncing a word or phrase and are in any doubt as to whether I know I am doing so, please quietly and firmly let me know as soon as possible before I make a tit of myself again.

Just give me a week or so before you give me the lowdown on my spelling, grammar and general vocabulary, a girl can only take so much humiliation in one week.

Saturday, June 10, 2006

5 Things I hate about the World Cup

1. Having to explain to blokes that you're just not that into it.
This year more than any other, men around me are somehow expecting me to be interested and enthusiastic about the World Cup and have looked actively disappointed when I say I can take it or leave it.

2. When I do try to make an effort, not knowing when to make the right noises
Invariably I suck my teeth in when it's patently clear to all around that the person attempting to shoot would never have scored a goal. It's really embarassing when you're the only person in a pub going "ooooooh". Which is related to ...

3. Not being bothered to remember the rules of football
What a corner is and why they are awarded (?) has now been explained to me at the very least every two years for the past fifteen years and I still can't retain the knowledge which makes me a loser. And I know it's much simpler to grasp than rugby or cricket (which, to be fair, I also can't follow) .

4. Not having found a player to be attracted to yet
I had my own special reasons to be sad why Eric Cantona never got to represent his country in a World Cup (ooh ah Cantona etc.). Peter Crouch just isn't doing it for me despite the robotics.

5. My inevitable and hypocritical "getting into it" in about two weeks' time
Last year on Guy Fawkes' night we went to Alexandra Palace to watch the fireworks. From there you can see hundreds of other firework parties across the whole of London and I was moved to tears at the thought of all these people having fun across London on the same night - families and friends together united by something so simple. What chance do I stand during an event like the World Cup? I've already cried twice and I'm still at the unengaged stage.

Tuesday, June 06, 2006

Argentinian Brute Force

Blimey, posting that last rant felt a bit like the time I demanded my hard-hitting article "Rape is not a Dirty Word" went on page 3 of an essentially light-hearted student listings rag.

So on a lighter note, Fuerzabruta was thrilling, astonishing and sexy; it's a Latin athletic dance event including feats such as sprinting in thin air and swimming on ceilings. I veered between feeling like an open-mouthed child and a participant in some sort of erotic underground movement (and don't muddle the two). As long as you don't mind getting wet, lots of strobe lighting, and occasionally being jostled a bit as you move around the set to get a better view, this is an hour in the newly re-opened Roundhouse well worth spending.

Take a look at the videos on the site to get a taste of what you're in for, it was really inspiring and a little bit scary - as all good experiences should be.

Monday, June 05, 2006

Working Class Made Bad

As soon as I hear about a working class person ridiculed in a way that could be construed as snobbery, I have to leap to their defence and shout loudly until the noise of their braying accusers is drowned out. So here I go.

That John Prescott had an affair was not unusual for a man of his age nor position. No government secrets were betrayed and he appeared to perform his day job just as well as he had before and after their liaisons. All they did was perform some sex acts at possibly inappropriate times and definitely in some inappropriate places.

He hasn't done very much more than Bill Clinton - who managed to retain his job and somehow, through pinkish lies, build a reputation for having a world-leading libido as well as a intriguingly featured manhood. Turns out Prescott on the other hand, who came clean pretty much straight away, is a sweaty groper thrusting his pathetic little cocktail sausage against nice ladies at all sorts of splendid parties.

But that it was a game of croquet that has really made him wobble is the most galling. I truly doubt if George Osborne had been similary snapped "at mallet", or if Prescott had been with his staff kicking a ball into a net, the press would have gone to town. As Deputy leader, why shouldn't he spend some time with his team and have some fun in the house he receives free of charge?

Unfortunately, it was Prescott's press-nominated role as "President of the Working Classes" that led to this frenzied assault. There he was, our man responsible for keeping it real, keeping the posh boys and puritans in check, getting above himself and having not just interesting sex but also, god forbid, indulging in a lawn sport designed for the idle (but charming) rich.

What John Prescott is for is a question that is rightfully posed more now that he has been stripped of his department, but frankly in this government I think we need a realist, someone who understands what the trade union movement is, who really understands being on your feet all day on a low salary, who is unafraid of throwing a punch however horrified the spin doctors might be, and who wasn't designed and shaped since a priviledged education to say the right words, at the right time, in the right accent (or number of syllables).

It seems obvious to me that Prescott works hard, surely everyone can see that's why you end up having affairs with secretaries and not ooh, say magazine publishers?

This is not to deny that some of the allegations of sexual harassment laid at Prescott's feet disturb and worry me (as those about Clinton did) - but if they are true, can we tackle him for those, rather than for nearly messing up his marriage and pottering about with his team on a lawn? As far as I am aware, however, they haven't been substantiated, although this hasn't stopped some female Labour MPs jumping in and using ridiculous phrases like "the worst sort of abuse of power" with regard to his affair when he is clearly one of the least deserving of all cabinet members of such an overblown phrase.

People like John Prescott, whether you agree with his views or not, give people hope that you can get there without the student union votes behind you or the backing of mummy and daddy through the campaigning years.

I may start an unfashionable campaign for some working class solidarity. Has anyone got Billy Bragg's number?

Wednesday, May 31, 2006

Talk to the Slide Cos the Board Aint Listenin

The title has absolutely nothing to do with anything, I just irritated myself this afternoon by saying in a meeting "James, can you talk to this slide?" when referring to a printed out page of a powerpoint presentation. On the tube home this evening I was trying to think of the best way to ridicule this horrible turn of phrase adopted from US corporate culture (apologies to those of you who still might not understand what it means and to those of you who have posted on the same subject), and the title sounded marginally funnier than "I talk to the slides, but they don't listen to me". I also reflected on the fact, if fifteen years ago I'd asked someone to talk to a slide, I would have been in a park and psychotropic medication would have been involved.

I suppose it's tenuously related to a growing self awareness - it's a journey I've been on for a while now. Shit, reading that sentence back, I really am full of this much crap and actually, in these past few years of personal discovery, one of the most important lessons I learnt was via the Greek medium (yes I did - in Athens) who told me, "In your working life you are a Thatcher, in your personal life a wanker" (translated directly from the Greek). Which proved both revealing and responsible for a certain warmth towards the Iron Lady; that and the senile fragility (hers) as well as the belief that my life has similarly picked up a little since my voice lowered and I've managed to survive on less than six hours' sleep a night. It's only a matter of time before I go for the upswept power bouffant.

Continuing on an 80s tip, as well as my Thatcherish tendencies and decadent champagne quaffing at the weekend, I also went to see Morrissey and The Crucible at the Gielgud (latter has a personal connection with the 80s - it's the last time I saw it). Both were incredible, highly recommended - I madly applauded Miller's masterpiece (everything about this RSC production excellent) and wished I had the balls to stand up and shout "bravo" - book now to avoid disappointment.

Sunday was the last night of Morrissey's tour which we managed to wangle tickets for at the last minute. He opened with Panic and finished with Stop me if you think that you've heard this one before, and this time I found myself far less inhibited - I squawked when he came on, swooned when he looked up at me (and the other fans) teetering in the gods of the Palladium, and when he claimed that "You have Killed Me" I actually found myself screeching "WE LOVE YOU" (that's the royal we). And as for when he removed his shirt, rubbed it over his sweaty torso and threw it into the crowd...

This weekend is far more contemporary, off to see Fuerzabruta at the newly reopened Roundhouse. Will supply a sentence review.

Sunday, May 28, 2006

Reappraising Teen Beliefs: Fame & Nuclear Power

As I luxuriated in the bath of my penthouse suite this morning, singing along to the bathroom's plasma screen tv showing VH1's top 100 love songs, it occurred to me that some of my teenage dreams had come true. I had managed to find myself with a partner who would whisk me off to a fancy hotel for the weekend "and hang the expense". Ok, so we got a free upgrade to the suite, but you gotta be in it to win it, right? This was more than an amuse bouche of the life that Jackie Collins had promised my sweaty teen self.

It also occurred to me that as I believed that Simon Cowell was in the hotel (one of the other Celebrity X-factor judges had already been spotted and the name "Cowell" was before mine on the honesty bar list [large g&t]) I actually wondered, admittedly for only a split second, whether he might hear me singing Jennifer Rush's The Power of Love and be impressed with my talent, maybe enough to wonder what I looked like, maybe even find out who I was.

Amused and ashamed, I confessed this to Rob. At 33 does it still count as "immature" or even "stunted" to hold out hope of being discovered as a pop sensation especially when combined with a genuine lack of singing ability? The whole scenario could be a multiple choice question for borderline personality disorder: "Do you, or have you ever, thought that you will be discovered by talent scouts after the age of 21?"

I'm trying to rationalize it as part of a streak of idealism that with the help of my teenage diaries I can track back. Whilst for the most part they detail my pining for and stalking of famous homosexuals and floppy-haired (relatively) posh boys, occasionally the fierceness of ambition, both for myself and society, is quite touching. I really did think we could bring about the end of racism and homophobia with the right t-shirt and a Billy Bragg song, and that it might be me announcing it on the front cover of The Face.

Which brings me onto Nuclear Power. As a paid-up member of Youth CND (the leaflets look just the same) I was taught anything with the word "nuclear" in it was wrong and my instinct, based largely on those rusting badge slogans, is that it is not a good thing. This was the science that brought us Chernobyl (BBC video report here) and the three-eyed fish, Blinky, in The Simpsons, and isn't there some sort of connection with the nuclear weapons industry which was itself inherently evil and an integral part of the Cold War of which I did not approve (and neither did Frankie Goes to Hollywood)?

But then along comes Blair and a number of other governments such as Australia, saying that invigorating our nuclear power supplies will allow us less reliance on carbon-based energy sources. Green is the new red, the colour that is inherently "right" (on?) - and is it more green to be a supporter of nuclear power? I want my teenage self to come and tell me what to think! Snake-eyed Cameron and his pouting public schoolboys have got me in even more of a tizzy, questioning these claims (Zac is opposed, sigh) but not coming up with a position. I realise now I just replaced Jesus and JP II with Ben Elton and Trotsky but at times like these I regret that the sustaining power of blind faith deserted me the day I left full-time education.

So as of the next few weeks I am going to force myself to have a view, read the articles, watch all the programmes I can - any suggestions gratefully received.

But whilst I might not really believe now that I'll be famous and maybe I will end up agreeing that nuclear power is the best of a bad lot in the short term, I will return to my original point to leave me with some vestige of pride in my historical and current self despite my slightly distasteful materialist focus.

After all, I did end up with a (relatively) posh boy who bought me champagne (and a Cornish pasty) in a fabulous hotel and have numerous gay friends who at the very least deserve to be famous. And I'll never, ever vote Conservative (however floppy their hair).

Sunday, May 21, 2006

I'm back

I was inspired to start communicating again this weekend by a conversation at the Bafta Television Craft awards about owl pellets (amongst other things). Consider these posts my pellets; excreta I am compelled to leave behind with no intrinsic value but that may reveal traces of something interesting if dissected correctly.

My other obsession du weekend is Big Brother. Yes, a little because my team built the site and the changes to its design and inclusion of free video have me fraught with concern, but really because I have no idea if any of these people will crawl into my subconscious as they have in most previous years (that's the contestants, not my team). I will be forced to see them daily for the next 3 months, I need them to find a way in. The true heroes of the piece are yet to emerge and I nervously await my genuine engagement.

For the record, I didn't want Finland to win the Eurovision song contest. Turkey did it for me, I'm a traditionalist, although she sounds a bit like Victoria Wood on second listen. Oh, and I had nothing to do with the work that was nominated for the Bafta, but that wasn't why we didn't win.