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?