Thursday, 13 December 2012

Reason #463 why I'm a little bit odd...

I was told yesterday morning, in a very sweet text that made my journey to work a thousand times better (hint: I really do like early morning texts), that a blog entry should be posted "in honour of it being 12/12/12".

Yes, I'm a day late, but the majority of this was drafted yesterday.

I'm not used to writing to order - except academic essays, and I don't think I'm ever going to have to write one of those again. When no-one is expecting anything, I have a gazillion ideas, each more self-analytical and angsty than the last. When someone makes a specific request for bloggage, my mind goes utterly blank.

I probably have enough material for a "Spectacularly Stupid Things Said By Men" post, but that's possibly too passive-aggressive, even by my standards. Another time perhaps. Something about special dates, or numbers, given the prompt? Not really. I'm not so good with numbers - a customer at work recently had to tell me how much change I was supposed to give him. When I was at school, I was regularly reduced to tears by my maths homework*. When tutoring small children a while back, I forgot how to do long multiplication and had to dash to the ladies to fire off a quick "Remind me!" text to the Boy.

*And do you know what, Mrs Bentham? I haven't used algebra since my maths GCSE, six years ago. So there.

So perhaps not numbers then.

As I was mid-train journey when I received the blog request, I decided to go with the obvious, i.e. what was right outside the window. Which led me to this.

I'm a freak - for many reasons - but one of the main ones is that my absolute all-time, hands-down favourite season is winter. For someone who loathes and detests being cold and wet, it's an odd preference.

I figured out quite recently that I like winter best for reasons that are mainly to do with vanity. Winter suits me. It goes with my pale, blonde-haired, blue-eyed colouring. Also, you get to wear more clothes in winter. You have to be all tanned and thin in summer, neither of which I do well (I can feel the eye-rolling at the "thin" bit, but in my defence, a) I'm a woman, so no, I will never be thin enough, and b) as I've said before, I spent five years in an all-girls school. Skipping lunch was a fairly standard extra-curricular activity.)

Frost-covered trees, fields and hedgerows all look like something out of Narnia. Rooves, pavements, ponies - everything looks a little bit other-worldly when it's white and glittering in the winter sunshine. My route to work cuts through some really pretty Sussex countryside, and the last few mornings have been so beautiful I've half-wanted to write terrible poetry about them.

Everything looks better when covered in Christmas fairy lights. Even Crawley, or Milton Keynes. Even David Cameron naked (no, wait, not him).

And Christmas itself. The food, the mulled wine, the songs (for one you may not have heard, try and find Thea Gilmore's version of "The St Stephen's Day Murders". Trust me). The family. Well, the family until about 2pm on Christmas Day when you've had too much alcohol and not enough food and they really, really start to grate. So you take the last glass of Champagne, barricade yourself in the bathroom and wail, "How am I related to these people? HOW, DAMMIT?!"

Just me? Moving on.

And on that festive note, Christmas films. The Muppets Christmas Carol. Elf. The first Bridget Jones. The ultimate - Love Actually. Mainly for the awesome kid who plays Liam Neeson's son, and his dash through the airport at the end, and the storyline between Keira Knightley and Andrew Lincoln. Oh, and when Colin Firth's character learns Portuguese so he can ask the Aurelia to marry him. Oh, just most of it, really.

New Year's Eve. I've never really been the biggest fan, and indeed don't know anyone who is, but the last few have been quite nice. Last year I reluctantly hosted - but when a gathering ends with shots in the kitchen at 4am, you can't complain too much. Two years previous to that I got very, very drunk and endured The Coldest Walk Home I Have Ever Known, all the while rambling at someone I now refer to as The Boy. My dream New Year celebration would involve me and a group of friends, a cottage somewhere rural and of lot of really good food and red wine. This year I've no idea what I'm doing, which is a shame, but I guess something will turn up.

I'm going to shut up now, mainly because I have the last 5.50am start of the week tomorrow, and I get really grumpy all the time when I'm tired.

I really like this song.

And this one - thing is, she seems far too gutsy and non-bullshit-taking to have ever been that hung up on someone.

Monday, 3 December 2012

Why are you putting crayon on your face?

Regular train-travellers - and therefore habitual Metro readers - will be aware of the following two things: 1) that women often do their make-up on the way to work, and 2) that some other people inexplicably find this thoroughly objectionable, and like to kick off about it via the pages of the free newspapers.

(On the subject of the Metro and the Evening Standard, does anyone agree that they should have a "Commuter Soundtrack" feature? They could get people to text/e-mail/tweet the songs that get them through their journeys to work, to give the rest of us some ideas. Personally I find "Radio Nowhere" by Bruce Springsteen and "Rock the Casbah" by The Clash - duh - are my Monday morning tracks of choice. Oh, and if anyone takes this and pitches it to one of the aforementioned papers, I will kill you.)

As I was saying. Seeing women do their make-up on the train is a pretty common occurrence, and it mystifies me when people get all haughty about it. Frankly, I'm impressed at both their unselfconsciousness and their steady-handedness. This morning I saw a girl successfully apply liquid eyeliner on the train. I nearly asked her to do my make-up too.

Personally I don't do my face on the train, but that's because I'm a freak and absolutely hate people watching me do my make-up. Sometimes if my ex was getting impatient while waiting for me to get ready to go out, he'd come and lurk behind me in the bathroom, so I could see him in the mirror. It was really bloody off-putting, and didn't result in me being ready any quicker - the only thing he achieved was having an eyeliner pencil or something chucked at him in petulant protest. Or, on bad days, some tweezers.

Having said that, it is kind of fascinating watching someone do their make-up. As a girl, I'm curious about what products and techniques other girls use (my best friend and I spend ages in Boots, literally every time we see each other. Clarins vs. Clinique? If only we could afford Chanel... Best mascara for volume and length? It's like we don't have an MA and an MPhys between us). I can see why boys remain curious and perplexed by the whole "changing our faces" process. A girl I know was asked, "Why are you putting crayon on your face?" by a male friend as they got ready for a night out. Well, as she got ready and he lurked, I should imagine.

And it kind of is an odd concept. Most men I know just get up, shower, perhaps faff about with their hair a bit and then go. (The Boy has it down to a fine art, let me tell you. Never fails to make me laugh with his head-banging move that apparently gets the curls to fall in exactly the right way.) Most girls I know spend at least some time on their faces - whether it's just a bit of eyeliner and mascara, or the full works. It's kind of weird that most women don't go out to work, or wherever, with their natural bare face. I certainly don't, but years of teenage skin will do that to you. I know I look better with make-up. A bit of blusher can give some definition to otherwise Cabbage Patch Kid cheeks. Eyeliner, eyelash curlers (I felt like I'd qualified as a woman when I mastered those) and mascara can make unremarkable eyes super-expressive. And foundation and concealer can transform "God, I look like death, if it was a bit shiny and had spots on its chin" into "Well, don't I look naturally flawless?" If it wasn't for foundation, I'd probably have never got laid.

I'm not a fan of looking like I'm wearing a lot of make-up though. A guy in the office where I work - when I can get there, not looking at anyone in particular, Southern Rail - said to me that he thought I didn't wear any make-up, "except maybe on your eyes, a bit". After I'd finished laughing, I took it as a massive compliment. Having waxed lyrical about the benefits of make-up, it's going to sound a bit odd to say I don't like anything that looks fake. False eyelashes, false nails, fake tan - I don't want any of these. I had to have a spray tan not that long ago (don't ask), and didn't enjoy having an orange face. In the slightest. A Benefit girl once ambushed me in Boots and did my face for me. It was all going well until she cracked out the blusher. Long story short, I walked away whimpering "no-one blushes orange" and vowing to shun all Benefit counters forevermore.

But it's not about fakery, or not liking how you look - it's about confidence, and emphasising your good bits, and covering the bits you aren't so fond of. Looking like you, only even better. I could make some attempt at being deep and say something about living in a society where the pressure to look good, all the time, can be relentless, but that kind of takes the fun out of things. And to be honest, the only pressure I get about looking a certain way comes from my mother:

"You're glowing today, darling."
"I'm what? No, I'm just wearing blusher."
"Oh, that's why you don't look like an anaemic blonde Goth for a change."

Thanks, Mum.

Saturday, 1 December 2012

A tool of revolution there in every single chord...

It's a brilliant feeling when you come across a "tell-all-your-friends" band or singer - an artist so good, you want to tell everyone you know about them. You want to stop random passers-by in the street and say "Listen! For God's sake, listen! Is this not everything you never knew you wanted from music?!"

They don't come around that often - or maybe I'm just really hard to please, I don't know. Currently, I can think of two - Brontide, and Thea Gilmore. Fortunately for you, I'm not going to bang on about Brontide again - how I feel about them and their dapper drummer is well-documented. No, this time it's all about the Gilmore girl, and how she pretty much is my taste in music.

Hard to label - she's a bit folky (without the rolling hills and fair maidens), fairly acoustic, rocky in places (there's a definite Chrissie Hynde/Debbie Harry swagger there) - she's the one artist whose career I will follow to the bitter end. I saw her live - for what must be at least the eighth time - at Union Chapel in Islington on Wednesday night. Which, by the way, is a gorgeous venue that if you get the chance to go to, you should. Sitting on a pew with my best friend and fellow Gilmore devotee, it occurred to me that I first heard of Thea nearly ten years ago. Which made me feel old - but not as old as I feel now, as I'm reading the Wikipedia entry for the UK charts of that year - 2003. The year of tATu (the snogging Russians). The year of Justin Timberlake's Cry Me A River, of Evanescence's first assault on our ears, and of Where Is The Love? Yeah.

The flipside to this "everyone must listen to this! Everyone!" feeling is that you lose that feeling of possession. Sometimes a band are so good, you almost don't want others to know. There is immense joy to be had in the selfishness of revelling in something no-one else knows about. You can smugly congratulate yourself on your own exquisite taste.

Fortunately for me, Thea Gilmore fulfils both of these things - she's so good, I want her to be compulsory listening for anyone who claims they have good taste in music. Far too clever to be lumped into the "female singer/songwriter" category, she ain't no Alanis Morrisette. She's also not exactly "famous". Say to most people, "I'm going to see Thea Gilmore tonight", and they'll say "Who?" On the one hand, it's kind of a shame that someone with such talent, who writes such fiercely intelligent songs yet never over-complicates her music, isn't more well-known, but on the other hand, it makes her the best musical secret weapon we have. When the rest of the world realises what we did by giving them Ed Sheeran, we can say "Don't shoot! We do have good music here, promise! The Clash and the Stones weren't just flukes!"

Here's a couple of Thea songs to get you started. If you like what you hear, I'd recommend her most recent album, Murphy's Heart (2010), and Rules For Jokers (2001). If you don't, well, I'm afraid you're just wrong.

On the subject of me telling you what's cool, if you happen to be at a loose end and are in/near London, please try and see the Veolia Environnement Wildlife Photographer of the Year exhibition.  It's on at the Natural History Museum, and is around £10 entry (there's probably a student rate, and I'm still not used to the fact that this doesn't apply to me anymore. I just don't feel like a real human being yet). It's become a bit of a thing for the Boy and I, as it's on in Bristol too, and we always come out afterwards going "right, let's sod this real-life business, and just get cameras and go travelling". This year, there's fluffy ravens, comical penguins, breathtaking landscapes and a haunting photo of a tethered baby baboon with fear in its eyes that will make you wonder whether we really have a grip on what we're doing to this planet of ours.

I'm going to leave you with a very classy, non-Thea song:

Sunday, 18 November 2012

Women and men. But mainly women.

Well, they do say write about what you know...

This isn't going to be one of those concise, to-the-point blog posts. (You know, 'cause I write those all the time.) I've got a couple of small, half-baked ideas knocking around up here (you can't see, but I'm gesturing at my head), but mainly I just like putting thoughts down on paper. Or screen. It's with a certain amount of anxiousness that I draft these kinds of posts, because they're inevitably more personal. And those of you who know me, erm, personally, will be joining the dots and going "Yeah, I know what that's about". Or, "Yep, well, that's a reference to me. Good".

It's just been a long three days, that's all. Without going into too much detail, I really, really can't handle arguing with certain people. My family, that's fine. We shout and storm at each other and it's forgotten within a few hours. But I can deal with that, because your family have to still love you. That's not a connection you can break that easily. Friends and anyone closer than that, I can't. It scares me; it makes me feel guilty and restless and like a kicked Bambi. And tearful. I cry at everything anyway; the little man in control of my tear ducts has quite the itchy trigger-finger - but when faced with the threat of fucking things up between me and someone whose good books I'd quite like to stay in, I'm like a human water feature. Charlie Dimmock could put me in your garden and I'd just spout away.

It's probably just a woman thing, to a point. Catch me at the wrong time and I'll be weeping at puppies, small animals and the "It's not all doom and gloom" bit at the end of "Russell Howard's Good News" (gets me every time). If a girl is being ratty, boys sometimes think it's funny to say "Oooh, is it someone's time of the month?" If this ever happens to me, I'm going to say "Boy, you have no idea." I don't think I'm selling out the sisterhood to say, yes, we are mental (adding "sometimes" is optional), and it's often to do with pesky hormone gremlins running riot in our brains turning us into arational, stroppy, tearful little monsters.

Sometimes, however, I've been forced to contemplate the possibility that it's not hormones, it is in fact my personality.

So yeah. On the one hand, I know that stupid rows are going to happen from time to time (I should know this by now, having had my parents.) I wish I could be more carefree when throwing strops, and not constantly be second-guessing myself and thinking, "Am I justified in feeling like this? Am I being reasonable?" I admire people who, when they're upset, just come out with it, throw a bit of a shit fit and move on. I'm hoping that by, say, the end of my twenties, I'll have learned to not feel guilty for having feelings. I can't say progess is going to be swift.

On lighter notes, this week, I've gone back to 'Girls', HBO's sitcom du jour. I think it hits some kind of stride in its third episode, certainly in terms of humour - though it is still only funny in a "smile knowingly" sort of way.

This episode (S1 E3: All Adventurous Women Do) also happened to feature what I'd like to call "the least sexy line ever delivered that was meant to be sexy". During an awkward encounter between Marnie (the slightly uptight one) and some artist guy, he tells her, "the first time I fuck you, I might scare you a little, because I'm a man and I know how to do things". On watching it, I had to rewind to hear it again, going "Did he really just say that?" Good GOD. I'm sure the correct reaction to this would be, "I really hope you're not going to scare me, because I don't tend to have sex with men that scare me. I'm glad you know how to do things though, that's always nice, so could we perhaps downgrade this 'scaring' nonsense to 'pleasant nervousness'?"

 Or even, "Mate, you've scared me enough with that sentence right there, I don't need to know what else you're capable of," while backing away, then turning and breaking into a run.

It seems to work on Marnie though; she has to run to the ladies' room to spend some time by herself, if you know what I mean.

And so to take it back to a serious note, you'd have to have been hiding in your shed all week to have missed the desperately sad Savita Halappanavar case making the headlines. Yes, it made me cry (shocker). Briefly: Savita Halappanavar was taken to University Hospital Galway, 17 weeks pregnant but starting to miscarry. Due to legislation, doctors were unable to do anything while the foetus still had a heartbeat - abortion being essentially illegal in Ireland. Savita reportedly asked repeatedly for doctors to remove the already-dying foetus, but nothing was done. She contracted an infection and died of septicaemia and E.Coli about a week after initially presenting at the hospital.

I'll say that important bit again: the already-dying foetus.

I know the doctors were bound by the legislation of their country; I am well-aware of that fact. But surely, as a doctor, when you spend so much time wading in the murky waters between life and death, you are well-acquainted with asking yourself, "Are we doing the right thing?"

The best thing that can happen now is, obviously, a change in the legislation regarding abortion. As someone cleverer than me pointed out, if you let a woman die for the sake of her already-dying unborn child, you probably need to ask yourself how "pro-life" you actually are. And yes, there needs to be carefully-examined, extensively-considered laws where abortion is concerned. No-one in their right minds would dispute that. But abortion is a medical issue, primarily. The priority should be the physical and mental health of the mother, and then of the child. And once those things are straight, then we can talk beliefs. But not before.

To lighten things up once more, in Friday's Times, there was a piece headlined "Why Bella from Twilight is the new feminist icon". 

I'd link you, but the article is hiding behind a paywall ('cause the Murdochs need all the money they can get, right?). Anyway, the title of the piece was on the front page, and it caught my eye, and prompted me to 1) say quietly, but clearly "What the FUCK?" in Waitrose, 2) hope desperately that it was an ironic piece, and 3) spend £1 on the paper. Fortunately, Caitlin Moran has a two-page feature in Friday's Times, so it wasn't a total waste of my money.

It wasn't an ironic piece. Apparently, because Bella is all glammed up when she's a vampire (does that make her a glampire?), and gets a bit ass-kicky, she qualifies as a feminist role model for our tweenage, Twi-hard sisters. What, after she's married Edward so he feels better about having sex with her and upon getting knocked up, literally dies so her vampire-human hybrid child can live? Righty-ho.

I think I need to chill out after all that. I'm going to listen to this in order to do so:

Sunday, 4 November 2012

If you haven't seen the new Bond film, look away now.

After waiting for what felt like ages, and what was actually a few days, on Wednesday, I saw the new Bond film. And if you've seen it, I'm not going to be telling you anything you don't know when I say it was cool, funny, dark, hot (Daniel Craig rocking the country casuals look in Scotland? Oh yes please. You work that Barbour jacket), and had possibly one of the best film villains since Heath Ledger's Joker. Javier Bardem, you hero. Oh, and Q is quite frankly adorable. I know that's an adjective the boys will be shuddering at, but he just is. 

A couple of days later, an article by Giles Coren caught my eye. Turned down by The Times, he felt so strongly about the piece that he got his wife to post it on her own blog. I'm giving you the link, in case you're, you know, really bored. (And as you're here, what other assumption am I supposed to make?)

I'm all for a bit of quibbling over whether something is sexist or not. I'm all for strong female characters in films and books, and whatnot. And I don't really know what people think of Giles Coren - though a former university lecturer did call him a twat during a seminar on language in the media. But I have to disagree with him on this one. Giles, I'm sorry, I do.

Yes, you're right - the first girl does meet a nasty end. But a) it's no good berating Bond for being "smug" and "smart-arse" - he's Bond, it's what he does; and b) I would say it's a bit much to say she shows no sign of being interested in him. They seemed to be eye-fucking the living daylights out of each other for at least a little while. The fact that she's killed so thoughtlessly is there to showcase the villain's unhingedness (totally a real word), not take a sweeping anti-women stance.

It's also true that M dies. We can take this as a statement about how the entire franchise views women as disposable background creatures - or we can be sensible, and say "Well, we've had the same M for ages, maybe it's time for a shake-up. And who knows? Maybe Judi Dench wants to put her feet up for a bit". Furthermore, killing a key character in a film or TV series gives that actor a significant responsibility - I'm not sure it's that easy to die convincingly and movingly on camera, unless you're the dog in Marley and Me.

As to the Miss Moneypenny thing, well, yes, but does anyone want to go back through Ian Fleming's entire body of work and re-write it from a feminist perspective? Admittedly, saying "Well, chill out Coren, it's just how Bond is" isn't exactly good debating technique, but it's not a documentary. I'd put good money on MI6 having a strict equal opportunities policy. The Bond franchise isn't claiming to make deep and meaningful gender-political statements. You want to start taking issue with sexism in films/TV programmes/video games, go ahead. There are plenty of opportunities out there.

Feminism's been having a moment over the last year or so, I think. It's realised how to get everyone involved - it's getting a bit cooler, and more relevant. Here in the UK, we have Caitlin Moran spilling the gory details on womanhood and just generally being awesome, and over in the US, we have Lena Dunham writing, directing and starring in "Girls" - the sitcom that's not afraid to say that your early twenties are often a bit shit and, you know, not exactly Friends. (I'm still undecided on it though - I had such high hopes for it but so far, I think the weakest character has been Dunham's Hannah. She's just a little bit too passive. Time will tell, I guess.)
Tina Fey is having wonderful moments like this:

So maybe Mr Coren is getting on the bandwagon. Bigging up women is what all the cool kids are doing now, so maybe he's trying to get in there. But he's missing the point. Or picking the wrong battle. I also have to add, while I remember, this:

Call me crazy, but I'm fairly sure that 0.09-0.16 is in there for the girls and the gay guys.

Yes, Bond might be a bit sexist from time to time, but the first Bond novel was written in 1952. That kind of thing was still OK then. Say the word "feminism" to the average kid on the street and they're still probably going to think of boring, humourless, man-hating women. A lot of people still roll their eyes and go "Not this shit again" when the subject of feminism comes up. And part of the reason people do that is because of this nitpicky kind of behaviour. So, with all due respect to Giles Coren, he should back off for a bit. When we want his help, we'll ask. We're allowed to fight our own battles now, has no-one told him?

Just one for you tonight:

Sunday, 28 October 2012

Team Strictly...

...and whatever else I need to get off my chest. Such as:

1) It's going to be really freaking embarrassing if I've failed my dissertation;
2) Does anyone else's family cause them terrific amounts of stomach-clenching guilt?
3) I don't want to go back to work tomorrow; I want to be back in Spain, drinking all the beer and eating all the chorizo (that's no euphemism, by the way).
4) Why are my 16-year-old brother and 12-year-old sister both taking their laptops on holiday to Dubai with them? Why?!

OK, that's that over with, now to this...

For the first time in four years, I'm spending autumn at home in Sussex. This, coupled with having a job that requires a wake-up time of 5.50am, means that to my disappointment, I've become a lot less discriminatory in what I watch on TV. Which is, admittedly, a bit rich coming from someone who has no problem saying she enjoys Made in Chelsea - something the Boy felt the need to let slip at the pub the other night. A friend genuinely spluttered into his pint. We did all agree, however, that "well, at least it's not TOWIE".

Like all good Freudians, for my worsening taste in television, I blame my mother.

Let me explain. Mum's an early bird. She's in her dressing gown by 7pm, in bed by 9.30 at the latest and up at half 6 in the morning. She doesn't really do 'relaxed'. She's had one lie-in in the last twelve years. It was quite recently; I remember it well. I was genuinely concerned that she was gravely ill when I found her in bed around mid-morning. It's going to go down in family legend as "Remember that time Mum had a lie-in?" Right there with the mayonnaise-on-the-rhubarb thing. My gran took the wrong tub out of the fridge after a Sunday roast one time. Why we didn't stop her before a dollop had landed on someone's portion of crumble is anyone's guess. Where were we? Oh yes.

So yeah, it's Mum's fault. When it gets to about half-7 in the evening, and the dinner things are in the dishwasher and the table is set for breakfast (I kid you not), Mum settles down with the newspapers and mostly, some God-awful TV. She even enjoys The One Show.

Thanks to her, I've recently got quite into Holby City. And I can see why people get hysterical over Downton (that was pretty emotional when Whatsherface died, wasn't it? Good grief, is it always like that?) And I am absolutely, vehemently, definitely anti-X Factor - and therefore, Team Strictly all the way.

Note: while I am aware that Simon Cowell no longer appears regularly on X Factor, he is the target of at least some of my rant because he owns Syco, which produces the show. And I like to think of him as some evil Dracula/puppet-master.

It's probably not news to anyone that I'm anti-X Factor, actually. I've always been very much in my own world, musically-speaking. When my classmates were into Britney and Billie (Piper), I was digging out my mum's Celine Dion records. Yes, records. When the world calls for Adele, I say, "Right, enough, I'm off to find Thea Gilmore". You say Mumford and Sons, I say The Decemberists. You say Taylor Swift, I say Michelle Branch. It's the just the way it is. When I came in to find my housemate watching the Brits last year, the first thing she said was, "there was this weird girl with an acoustic guitar, you'd like her". She meant Laura Marling.

It's a question of authenticity, I suppose, and there is nothing authentic about The X Factor. No-one can argue that it's about the music. They can try, but they will be shouted down.

 Yes, if you want fakery and glitter, Strictly delivers in that, in spades. But Strictly is upfront about it. The dresses, the make-up, the razzle-dazzle - that's the whole point of Strictly. It's panto - it knows that it's a glorious, rollicking-good-fun panto that lasts from October to (fittingly for this analogy) Christmas. What's more, SCD is harmless.

 And harmless is precisely what the X Factor isn't, to my mind. During a Mock The Week appearance a few years back, Lauren Laverne came out with a brilliant line about how Simon Cowell had "slit the cultural throat of Britain and was drinking its still-warm blood". They say that Brits have a habit of slagging successful people, and yes, Simon Cowell has been a tremendously successful businessman. But I don't envy him his success, or his money. In fact, if I'd made my money the way he has, I'd feel very uneasy about the bottom line of my bank statements.

There's as much of the pantomime in X Factor as there is in old Strickers, but with XF it's (a bit) subtler. Villains have been played by Katie Waissel, Jedward (kind of - or are they more jesters?), maybe Rylan this year, I don't really know. Prince Charming has been played by Matt Cardle and all of the One Direction boys, to name a few. The judges are, for the most part, the Fairy Godmothers of the piece. And the ghosts whose chains rattle and clank in the wings, they're the harder-to-pin-down, but definitely more talented kids, like that Aiden chap, and Lucy... Lucy Jones? Yeah, her.

 I want to see the acts playing shitty pub gigs, to an audience of 8 (one of which would be the pub's resident elderly Labrador). I want to see the contestants locked in rooms, alone, with either a piano or an acoustic guitar, and not let out until they'd written one complete song. And if there was so much as a whiff of cliche, anywhere in the lyrics, they'd be battered over the head with a copy of this and promptly sent home. And all this before the live shows. That would sort the Waissels from the Rebecca Fergusons, wouldn't it?

The people who complain that Strictly is just a bunch of has-beens trying to have one last stab at fame are missing the point. I don't think I've ever seen a celebrity taking part in Strictly not bloody loving it. When they show the footage of the training, the famous person is always gushing about how hard it is, but how much fun. Strictly seems to project this sense of fun - even Craig has a wry glint in his eye when he's dishing out criticisms harsher than a Russian winter. X Factor just worries me. A lot of people - boys, mainly; do you guys just enjoy other people's misfortune? - admit to not minding the audition stages, because the woefully untalented and deluded are there to be laughed at. I cannot watch those shows; I just can't put myself through it. Watching the talented ones make their way through to the live shows makes me just as uneasy, in a way - the urge to shout at the television, "Retain your musical integrity! You do know that you won't have any control over your career if you persist in this? They will make you into who they want you to be!" rings in my ears.

Talent shows have been around as long as television, and watching other people put themselves through things we wouldn't put ourselves through will continue to be, you know, a thing. But I can't help grinning when I see that SCD is beating X Factor in the viewing figures battle. Frankly, anything that slows Simon Cowell down, even a little, makes me smile.

I'm going to stop, 'cause this is getting a bit wordy, even for me.

Being on holiday meant that I was able to reacquaint myself with the long-forgotten activity of reading for fun, and I can highly recommend:

1) David Mitchell's autobiography, Back Story - it's so very him (shocker, I know), and a great read from a funny, articulate man. The chapter on Victoria Coren may have jerked a tear or two - it's everything I've ever wanted to say about love but, well, haven't bothered to.
2) The Crimson Petal and The White, Michael Faber - like Dickens, with all the descriptions of its London setting. You really feel the grime and the grease, the damp and the chill. But this ain't no Great Expectations. This is darker, and raunchier - and for an 800-page tome, it zips along nicely.

A double whammy of musical deliciousness for you tonight:


And this:

Wednesday, 17 October 2012

Why I don't slag off National Rail...'s mainly because I'm one of those people who a) works in the middle-of-sodding-nowhere-ville, and b) is feeble enough to not be able to drive. (I tried, for a long time, but kept being beaten by the fear of the disasters that can occur when one is travelling at high speeds in a metal box. I think there's something wrong with my brain.)

The job I have, if I'm honest, is far more hassle than it's worth. Rail fares are jumping up, I spend over three hours on a train most days, and the job itself makes my brain melt with its lack of creativity. After doing the Sodding Masters (to give its technical term), I was happy to rest on my academic laurels and earn some money by reading bills, insurance policies and the odd textbook for hours on end. The only good thing I can say about it now is it keeps me from having to sign on for Jobseeker's Allowance. Not that there's anything wrong with that, I just feel it's better to stay employed if the work is there. And it gives me something to do and, more accurately, something to complain about.

Knackering though the commute is - and it really is* - once I'm on that train, I really don't mind it. I get uninterrupted time with my iPod/a book/my own thoughts. I can people-watch, people-judge, and people-crush to my heart's content.

*When you're a kid, you imagine adulthood to involve eating Smarties for breakfast, staying up late every single night and never having to do Maths homework. Turns out it's just "get up hideously early, spend hours on a train - often with morons - do a job that both bores and frustrates you (also often with morons), spend hours on a train, eat dinner, sleep". On repeat.

I've said before that I fall in lust regularly whilst travelling on trains - and I've found that I'm pretty open-minded about who I lust after. Men, women, anyone's fair game. Recent train-crushes have included the geek-chic, suited and bespectacled chap with whom I shared a smile, once, when we both jumped at Boris Johnson's "today's the day, folks!" Olympic message as it boomed out across the station. This guy looked like Francis from Made in Chelsea, if that helps. He doesn't get the 08.13 to Caterham anymore, which is a shame.

Then there was the glamourous woman who looked like Rosamund Pike (like this), and was dressed immaculately in a navy maxi dress with a butterfly print and a cream mac. And the nice, friendly conductor who was sweet in a David Miliband sort of way, but who lost points for saying "that's a long way" when I bought a ticket from Littlehaven to Uckfield. Don't I bloody know it, sunshine. The impeccably-dressed guy I saw for 2.7 seconds this morning - shirt, jumper, jeans, Converse, long wool coat, stubble and untidy hair. The pouty blonde girl with the amazing eyelashes, who looks like she has moody tendencies and maybe a useless boyfriend she has to keep tabs on (she's always on her phone).

Then there's the rare,  but warm-and-fuzzy "aww!" moments. Like the tiny little black girl who wears a stiff school uniform topped with a red beret. All I see when she walks down the platform, escorted by her mother, is huge brown eyes and a little hat. Too cute. And the guy I saw a couple of weeks back, who looked kind of thuggish but was clearly besotted with the well-behaved Staffie that sat at his feet, eyeing up the pigeons.

Sure, there are people that annoy the living daylights out of me (this wouldn't be me if it was all warm-and-fuzzy and puppies 'n' rainbows). The girl in the paint-splattered jeans who knocked into everyone today, and who positively reeked of weed. The couple who look "alternative" and are all cute and publicly affectionate. I don't care how in love you are, 8am is too early for that shit. And the girl just looks like someone who would describe themselves as "quirky", and the boy seems pretty whipped. (I'm really getting my bitch on tonight. Eek.) The business types who look important as they hash out Powerpoint presentations on their MacBooks and talk in infuriating, meaningless jargon. Please. Speak. Properly. Or I'll re-brand you.

I'm definitely guilty of romanticising train travel. If I had my way, we'd still be relying on steam trains. Young wives running alongside trains as they pull away, waving their handkerchiefs at stern, yet kind men, who're saying "I'll write every week darling, I promise!" would be a regular occurrence. With all those people in such a small space, you could meet your soulmate on an otherwise very ordinary train journey. If you believe in soulmates.

It was Samuel Johnson who said that when one is tired of London, one is tired of life. I'd re-phrase, and mangle his idea: when you're tired of quietly observing all kinds of people as they pass through somewhere like a busy railway station, then you're probably tired of people.

On that note, have a bit of this. I'm not sure if I'm late to the party as far as this song is concerned (I'm not great with singers other people have heard of. Sad but true):

Friday, 28 September 2012

Jealousy and other stories...

Apologies in advance for the length of this post. Like that girl in Mean Girls, I just have a lot of feelings. I am aware that putting this disclaimer here is only giving you more shit to read. 
As you were. 

It's been over a month. And people have started pointing this out to me. So, as The Bastard Dissertation was handed in 14 days ago, and all I'm doing with myself is melting my brain in an office in Uckfield (East Sussex is's no West Sussex), it's probably time I wrote some shit on the internet.

But first, I'm going to recommend you some cool stuff.

Number one on the list of Things I Can't Currently Get Enough Of is 'Moranthology', by Caitlin Moran ('How To Be A Woman', anyone?). It's a collection of her columns from The Times, and while I cannot recommend it enough, I will say, don't read it in public. A young couple and their toddler genuinely edged away from me and scuttled down the platform at East Croydon station while I was standing there sniggering at her description of how girls dance in music videos.

Number two on the list is the film 'Shadow Dancer'. If you can find somewhere that's still showing it, then I beg you to go and see it. 'Whoa there, internet wench!' I hear you say. 'We don't know enough about Northern Irish politics! We're not going to get this film!' Yes, you will. It's a clever and well-acted film that's as beautifully-shot as it is bleak, and you will be thinking about it long after you've left the cinema.

Finally, I've recommended them before, but I'll say it again. Check out Brontide, 'cause they're fucking awesome. And they have the most beautiful drummer I've ever seen (oh, wait. That's awkward). I saw them live for the second time on Sunday, and they were bloody excellent. There were also so many hipsters present at the gig that you couldn't move for questionable haircuts, over-thought facial hair and jumpers. It was like a live version of the internet.

Here, try this:

The following isn't especially relevant to my life (at least, not currently), but for some reason I started thinking about it on the train the other day, and wrote most of this post in my head while proofing car insurance policies. So here goes.

Jealousy’s a funny old bug, isn’t it? It’s one of the few emotions that you can’t say anything good about. Blind rage? Well, it gets shit done.  Frustration? It’s lovely when it’s relieved. Grief? Tends to follow the loss of something good. But jealousy? Oh no.  It achieves precisely nothing. 

 I didn’t really ‘get’ jealousy until I was in my late teens – until I was in my first relationship, in fact. My secondary school years were spent in a mostly envy-free zone. It wasn’t as if I was an especially secure, confident, well-adjusted teenager (I spent five years in an all-girls school that had a reputation for academic excellence; of course I wasn’t secure or well-adjusted). I just never understood the concept. If someone was being particularly possessive and jealous over something or someone, I just wondered why they’d never learnt to share. 

It’s something you have to really think hard about in order to overcome it, I’ve decided. You have to come at it from all angles, slice it and dice it until you’ve dealt with it absolutely and thoroughly. 
Take jealousy within friendships, for example. Most people can probably think of a friend that has a bit of a Midas touch – everything seems to go right for them. Or, you can probably think of a friend you’d happily life-swap with, just for a few days. A very dear friend of mine has just got herself a job and a flat in London (she’s worked bloody hard to get where she is, mind), and when I saw her place on Sunday, I totally had an “aww, I want to be living and working in London. Like, now”. But then I thought about it properly. Would I want to be working in the City, in a hugely competitive environment, spending all day in heels and pencil skirts? No, actually, I wouldn’t. For starters, I’m shit at Maths, and I don’t have any interest in business (I loathe and detest The Apprentice).  And secondly, I struggle in any footwear that’s not a ballet flat or a Converse All Star. Wobbling round London in Kurt Geiger’s finest isn’t really going to suit me. 

Jealousy really takes on its monstrous, green-eyed, ugly form when it rears up in relationships. It’s incredibly frustrating because it’s such a paradox: feeling jealous can lead to some pretty relationship-ending behaviour, but it usually comes from a fear of a relationship ending. By acknowledging that you’re feeling little flutters of jealousy, you’re telling yourself that you’re not good enough. And then you probably chastise yourself for feeling that way, and hey presto, you have one sorry vicious circle. (I spend a frightening amount of time either apologising for having feelings, or silently feeling guilty for having feelings. Sad but true.)

This is where the role-reversal thing comes in. Or the do-as-you-would-be-done-by thing. If I'm kicking off about something (I say 'kicking off'; getting blunt and angsty is more my style), I make an attempt at asking myself if I would expect the other person to do the same if the situation was reversed. Generally, the answer is "No". Sometimes, it is a struggle and the "YEAH, BUT -" part of me wins out. 
This makes more sense if you can apply it to an actual example, so let's try this one. I get on really well with guys, and almost prefer to be the only girl with a group of male friends (don't make it weird. Also, this doesn't mean that my female friends aren't brilliant and very dear to me, 'cause they are). I also tend to like boys who have a lot of female friends and get on well with women generally - what I'm saying is, I would never kick off about a guy in my life spending time with female friends because I would never stand for them getting in a tizzy about me being friends with boys. I wouldn't have a leg to stand on.

And going on from this, I'm also a total and utter flirt. Not in a predatory way, you understand (though after too much wine, that one's probably up for debate), just in a harmless way. Caitlin Moran actually puts it really well: two people being lovely to each other and just enjoying "being total lovelies together". It's fun, it makes the day go quicker, and I'd never have enjoyed any job I've ever had without it. (Except working in a school office at uni last year. History and Anthropology lecturers are, on the whole, pretty hard to flirt with.) The point being, I'm never going to be able to have a "you were flirting with her! You so were!" hissy fit because I'd be throwing the mother of all stones from a rather ostentatious glass house.

About the bajillionth frustrating thing about feeling jealous is that it’s incredibly hard to talk about it in a sane, rational manner – and talking about it doesn’t necessarily help.  It's almost more acceptable to be jealous and possessive when you're around the 16-18 mark and you've got your sixth-form boyfriend/girlfriend; you're still young and making a hash of things. Like a young lion cub, you haven't really got a handle on how sharp your claws and teeth are, so you use them freely. No amount of reassurance from the other person in the relationship is going to help; the change has to come from the person doing battle with the monster. You have to decide that you're not going to give into that nagging little voice. It’s like waves, I think – you feel the first one, then the next, then the next – and you can let them pull you into their freezing tide, or you can plant yourself firmly on dry land and march briskly away from the water. 

You've had some Brontide, now have these guys:

Tuesday, 21 August 2012

Do yourselves a favour & just don't read the papers...

I don't mind saying I like a bit of gossip. I would say it's a girl thing, but it's so not. It's also one of the few ways I can bond with my mother - she doesn't read books but she does seem to acquire truly impressive amounts of trashy magazines, which she passes on to me. (It's not easy to bond with someone who regards eating carbohydrates as a character flaw.) And as I've spent the last 4 years reading "proper" literature and no end of linguistics articles, I feel no shame in flicking through Grazia or Glamour from time to time. Reading a magazine is like eating a bag of crisps when you're really hungry - it distracts you for a little bit but you know it's no good for you. The hypocrisy of most women's magazines does get to me a little, because it does seem that most of them are a gross insult to our intelligence.

But now, to what I was actually going to say.

In the last few weeks, tabloids and magazines have been all over the Kristen-Stewart-cheating-on-Robert-Pattinson "scandal".

And naturally, everyone's got well up on their high horses in order to make judgemental sweeping statements about how all cheaters are scum and should burn in hell, or whatever.

I feel sorry for Kristen. Mainly because she's the one taking the majority of the flak. Yes, she cheated - but with an older, married man who definitely should have known better. He had the position of power, presumably; if anyone was going to put the brakes on their little make-out sessions, he should have been first.

She's 22. Old enough to know right from wrong but young enough to still be finding her feet. (I'm not even much of a fan of hers; about the best film she's done is Panic Room). And, good lord, if every relationship tizzy I have was splashed across the tabloids, I'd look a lot grumpier than she does. (You should have seen the Skype strop I had recently. Toddlers have displayed more rationale and reason; there was anguished yelping and everything.) 

Cheating is wrong. We all know that. Can we please now get over that and have an intelligent conversation about it?

On the one hand, you can argue that we don't need to feel too sorry for Stewart, as she's never going to have to worry about money ever again, she plays the main character in one of the biggest film franchises there's ever been (unfortunately), and she probably doesn't have to clean her own oven. But to resort to stating the bloody obvious, all the money and success in the world is largely meaningless if you're sleeping alone every night.

On the other hand, her level of fame has probably sailed past the "oh, this is pretty cool" stage and reached the "this is fucking ridiculous, I can't even post a letter without being photographed." Yes, she chose her career path, and actors know if they're successful, they stand to to lose a certain amount of privacy. But is that necessarily fair? Admittedly, this is probably better aimed at the tabloid press (I knew my dissertation would get a look-in here at some point, and not just in the form of me moaning about it), but it is worth thinking about. Personally, sometimes I think it must be pretty cool to be "famous" (in my head I am the natural heir to Caitlin Moran and/or Tom Hardy's future wife), but then I really think about it. Every unflattering outfit, every bad skin day, every heated conversation, every moody look, all photographed and written about? Haha, I think not. There'd be far too many of, well, all of them. 

Yes, she made a mistake. 22-year-olds do that. 17 year-olds do it. Ditto 45-year-olds. You can bet anything you like that how the press, and the internet hacks, and the pre-teen Twi-hards have responded to her bit of crappy decision-making has got nothing on what she's putting herself through. But no one makes that decision without a reason, and they alone know what the reason(s) is/are.

Being in a relationship is hard enough as it is - to paraphrase a quote from one of my favourite books, "you have to think about someone else all the time and all you get in return is regular sex" - but if you're two very famous young people who, I'm guessing, are probably miles apart a lot of the time due to work commitments, then at times it's not going to feel like a relationship at all. I've never done the long-distance thing, but I know that there's more chance of Satan winning gold at figure-skating that there is of me succeeding in a long-distance relationship. A good 60% of that relationship is in your head, really. You can't feel like you're with someone if you're not, like, with someone. I'm not saying this excuses cheating, but there's a reason proximity is a huge and obvious factor in who ends up with who.

I can't claim to be anywhere near the moral high-ground on this matter, and what's more, I'm normally judgemental as fuck, but just once, I would like to see people acknowledge that there are two+ sides to every story, a variety of possible motives and reasons for every bad decision, and that no one knows what they're capable of until they're put under enough pressure. 


Musically speaking, I saw this guy supporting Thea Gilmore back in 2003, and this is the only song of his set that made any sort of an impression on me. Almost 10 years later, I suddenly can't get enough of it. 

"You make me smile, and laugh too; how I'd like to spend my time with you". Quite.

 And this is shamefully boyband-y, but it got stuck in my head when I heard it in the London Victoria branch of Paperchase last Sunday.

The lyrics are very much from the songwriting-by-numbers school of thought, but there's something quite hypnotic about it.

Wednesday, 8 August 2012

Whatever floats your goat...

I have at last decided, I am not going to read any of the Fifty Shades trilogy.

And I really want to. It genuinely pleases me that books of that kind (I would call them erotic fiction, but having read excerpts here and there, that would be an insult to the rest of the genre) have rocketed into the bestsellers' lists, developed a stronghold there and have become such a talking point. Even Phillip Schofield has said they're good - or at least, the fact that they exist is a good thing (I used to fancy him when I was a lot younger). Even a few days ago, every third woman I saw on the train was reading a Fifty Shades book - I thought the hype was mostly over by now. But apparently, it persists.

And I don't normally get taken in by hype. If everyone's telling me that something is amazing, for some reason even I can't quite explain, my instinctive reaction is to think "it can't be that good".* It's why I've never seen The Hangover. Or The Notebook. It's why I do not find Ryan Gosling, Bradley Cooper or Ryan Reynolds attractive in any way. And this reaction doesn't come from a hipster-ish need to shun whatever might be drifting merrily down the mainstream, however much my friends want to think so. I just seem to have this default setting that makes me think, "if everyone thinks it's that good" - whatever it is - "then the thing in question can't be trying hard enough".

*Things I've been wrong about: (500) Days of Summer (it really is that cute. Don't watch it with your significant other, though; you might come over all, like, feeling-y or something). Razorlight's first album. The Civil Wars. Reel Big Fish live. That's kind of it.

But back to the matter at hand.

Like I said, I want to read them. Or rather, I want to want to read them. (I also really want to make a terrible pun about reading them so I can join the mass debate, but I won't.)

I know I'm not going to put myself through it though, purely because of how they're written (I don't want to say "badly", because hey, who's the published author, me or E.L. James?). But the clumsy, wince-inducing prose style and the incredibly irritating narrator will infuriate me to distraction before I find anything vaguely erotic about the books. It's a shame, because really, there is so much potential there: the naive, wide-eyed young girl being seduced and corrupted by the complicated - and by all accounts, rather bossy - mysterious (and conveniently rich) man... We've all had that fantasy, right?

Anyway... It's a shame, because I think in the hands of a more skilled writer, the books would have been truly great. Seriously, what's the whole "inner goddess" thing about? (If I get bored while dandering about in town, I duck in to WH Smiths and read a few lines, wince, chuckle and wander off again. Thinking about it, I've probably read a fair bit of the first book through doing this.) I don't have an inner goddess, I don't think. If I do, she's socially awkward and terribly indecisive, so if you find that remotely sexy, I'm your girl. I want to support the Fifty Shades cause - for want of a better word - because it seems to have got many, many women talking very publicly about what they find hot - an area of conversation that I don't think it's too controversial to say, has previously been dominated by men. (And speaking of being dominated by men... oh, it's too easy.)

I didn't want to give this too much of a feminist slant because, let's be honest, that sounds rather dull. But it seems that part of the reason Fifty Shades has become so talked-about is because it's essentially mainstream porn for the girls. Which we haven't had, really, up until now. (Not that I've looked.) Guys have had it easier in that respect for quite some time. Already, Fifty Shades is spawning copy-cat stories - it's like Twilight all over again - and while these bandwagon-jumping tales might well be worse than the wagon that came first (God forbid), hopefully this means that erotic fiction will maintain a presence in the best-seller charts for time to come. Or will at least prompt people to seek out the better-written stuff. Like Anais Nin, or Erica Jong. Or even when Sarra Manning gets two of her main characters in a bedroom. Or, as you're on the internet, try that.

So - not that I can really conclude with anything useful, as I'm on the fence myself - I wish I could switch off my word-geekery and rattle through the trilogy, because I'm nothing but in favour of erotic fiction. But it really, really kills the mood when the choice of words makes you cringe. It's like having someone talk dirty to you in a strong Birmingham accent - just kind of wrong (oh God, please no-one take offence) ...I think I should go before I say something worse...

I must quickly explain the rather odd title of this entry - a few nights ago, I was joking around with a friend and said something along the lines of "Well, the wildest night I ever had involved dwarves and the sacrifice of a goat..." (Funnily enough, this is what's known as a lie.) To which he responded, "Whatever floats your boat, I guess!" I couldn't resist saying, "Don't you mean... goat?" Heavy groans all round.

Here, have some Tim Minchin:

My favourite verse starts at 2:19. It's the work of a genius (well, almost).

And I'm listening to these guys' new album, but this song is one of my favourites by them (and probably one of my favourite songs ever). They're very good live.

Wednesday, 25 July 2012

Don't you dare use the word "party" as a verb in this shop!

...or, Things People Really Need To Not Say.

Before I get my (admittedly very tongue-in-cheek, light-hearted) rant on, I must say, the last few days have been very pleasant indeed. Well, apart from the 24 hours spent in university halls last week - which, in the middle of the summer, was pretty eerie. I had to get a friend to ring me to take my mind off the nagging fear that if I was caught up in, say, the Talybont Massacre, no-one would know, since there was no-one about. Still, I was grateful to have a free place to crash so I could see my dissertation supervisor and pick up my deposit from my landlady. Oh, the rock & roll life I lead...

But then things did get a bit more rock & roll. Because this weekend, at the grand old age of 22, I finally lost my festival virginity*. To Truck Festival. (Nothing to do with heavy goods vehicles, I can assure you.) Held on a farm in a beautiful village close to Oxford, it was a great couple of days and one I can highly recommend if you want a weekend of awesome music that won't break the bank. Says the girl who still hasn't paid back her ticket-buyer. Eek. It's family-friendly too - I lost count of the number of little ones being carried around on their dads' shoulders, and then felt sorry for the all parents during Tim Minchin's excellent but rather sweary set. I could only imagine the awkward questions later: "Mum, who's the motherfucking Pope?"

*V in 2007 doesn't really count; we only had a day ticket.

 I'm not what you'd call a natural camper - as much as I like to think I am quite outdoorsy, it's been a while since I spent every weekend working on a farm, and I think the last time I camped properly, I was a Guide. The idea of not showering for a couple of days didn't exactly fill me with joy - I think I'm borderline-OCD when it comes to shaving my legs; I have a zero-tolerance attitude to stubble. But feeling pretty rank was a small price to pay for so much good music in one place, and when my mother's opening line to me when she picked me up from the station on Sunday was "No offence darling, but you look skanky, you need a shower", I laughed. Mainly at the fact that she thought I needed telling.

Anyhoo. The weekend was rounded off nicely with a quiet drink with a handful of friends, some of whom I hadn't seen for bloody ages, and then it was up at 5.45am on Monday and Tuesday for work. Or, two days of "spot the difference: water bill edition", bookended by lots of train rage. I was relieved when I was told I wasn't needed today, and planned on a serious lie-in and a very relaxed, unstressy day. I must have been mistaken as to who I am for a minute there, because of course, my day began at 7am with excruciating pain (I'll spare you the details) and I've spent most of the time since then thinking, "Oh God, I don't have enough to do". I don't think I'm going to learn how to relax until I'm about 55.

So I thought it was time for another ranty list - because hey, if there's one thing I'm good at, it's making ranty lists.

I don't actually know what triggered this particular list, but the other day I did find myself wondering why people say certain things - things that are either  a) pointless, b) never going to get an answer, or c) just plain annoying. Here are a few things I really can't help but scoff at when I hear people say them; you probably have your own.

1) "What are you thinking?"

Oh, this old chestnut. Blatant and sweeping gender stereotyping - and Ed Byrne - would have you believe that this question is very much a Woman Thing: 

 Apparently, it's a seemingly-innocuous bomb we drop on guys to make them panic and scramble in vain for something more romantic than, "I was just wondering whether it would be worse to be raped by a pirate or a ninja".

Personally, I've been asked this question many more times - by guys who should really know better than to put me on the spot like that - than I've asked it. It's a stupid question because a) generally, people don't have one thought at a time. I, for one, can be planning what I'm going to wear tomorrow, thinking of exciting and improbable careers for myself and doing the day's "calorie maths" all at once (sad but true). All while having the "OhmyGodI'm22andhavenoideawhatI'mdoingwithmylife" breakdown. So, for your own peace of mind, don't ask me what I'm thinking. It'll only freak us both out.

2) "Come on, what's the worst that could happen?"

To this, my answer is succinct: can I write you a fucking list?

3) "I'm not being funny, but..."

No, you're not being anything in the same time zone as funny. You're being petty and nitpicky, I can pretty much guarantee it. (And I can't have anyone infringing on my "petty and nitpicky" copyright.)

4) "Oh, I was going say something but now I've forgotten what it was."

Oh God, don't tease me like that. Now I'm not going to listen to at least the next six minutes of this conversation because I'm trying to guess what you were going to say. Hurry up and remember, damn it.

5) "So why were you at the doctors'?"

Does anyone ever expect a genuine answer to this question? It's the kind of information that you should know not to ask for if it hasn't been volunteered. I'm aware that asking this does come from genuine concern, but relax - I'd have told you if it was serious/contagious/your fault, honest.

6) The following words: condiment, throb, naughty, pulsate.

Throb and pulsate are self-explanatory, I feel. They're just far too onomatopoeic.
"Condiment" is just an unnecessary word. I don't know what we could replace it with, but there's got to be something shorter that means "stuff you put on food to make it better".
"Naughty" is either applied to misbehaving children, or to most of Lovehoney's products. I don't need to make the point that nothing should apply both of these things.

Dara O'Briain agrees with me:

7) "Get over yourself."

No. Sorry. Like every other human being, I am the central protagonist in my life. So I reserve the right not to get over myself, thank you very much.

8) "I didn't think it would be your kind of thing..."

This one seems fairly harmless, and I'm never going to call anyone out on it when they say it - I'm not a total nutjob. But the first problem with this is that you can't say much in response: "Oh. Well, it is." Cue awkward silence.

And then - me being ever the linguist (read: pedant) - there are underlying assumptions contained within the statement that need unpicking. Assumptions being the operative word, really; the speaker is assuming they know what your kind of thing is - which admittedly isn't a crime. But it's the assuming part that makes me get a little prickly - I don't care how well you think you know me, please don't assume you know everything. I'm a woman of many tastes and talents (well, two talents mainly, and you only find out the second if I really like you) - you can't pigeon-hole me, man! And other such pretentious-wanker nonsense. I think this all just comes from my perma-teenage tendency to retreat into a thought-cycle of "I'm so misunderstood" whenever I'm feeling vaguely out of sorts.

So now you know what to say if you want to annoy me. (I can guarantee that some of the wind-up merchants I like to call friends are making mental notes to drop as many of these as possible into conversations with me. I'm onto you, kids.)

Musically speaking, you really need to check out a band called Brontide if you know what's good for you.

And it's not summer til Santana happens: 

Sunday, 15 July 2012

New favourite rock star...

So there I was, complaining to Facebook that I was running low on things to write about. Do I weigh in on the Fifty Shades of Grey madness, despite having only read the first fifth of the first book? (I still might; it's like the Da Vinci Code of BDSM - badly written, but good grief, everyone's got an opinion). Do I do a vague and generic "Relationships: even when they're simple, they're not" post? Which, rest assured, arises out of being agony aunt for a couple of friends recently, rather than my own issues (which, indeed, would fill a book, so perhaps here isn't the place). A friend suggested a post on superpowers, which would be very brief (I have a lot of geeky friends so we've got this particular conversation down to a fine art). The superpower I'd most like to have would be mood control - so being able to rouse a crowd of apathetic people, or calm down an angry mob. Or just defuse awkwardness. The Boy suggested a rant about people who make massive generalisations -we were having a conversation in the pub about the Daily-Mail-reader kind of attitude that can be truly horrifying in its pervasiveness. We all have friends/relatives who are prone to making big, sweeping statements about entire groups of people based on one tiny, barely-significant experience. But, knowing the upshot of that soapbox session would be "God, aren't people just crap?" there would be some irony there.

But then. As I was sitting in bed on Saturday feeling rather queasy and sorry for myself (am on drugs for a week, and constant nausea seems to be the side-effect. Cheers, biology), my uncle called. "What are you up to today?"

"Oh, kind of busy," I lied, thinking he was going to rope me into doing something helpful - which, ordinarily, I hasten to add, I wouldn't mind - just not when the contents of my stomach are churning like a washing machine.

"Well, I have a spare ticket to Bruce Springsteen in Hyde Park..."

That changed things. Radically.

"I'm sure whatever I'm doing isn't that urgent. What time are we leaving?"

Now, I wouldn't call myself a die-hard Bruce fan. There's a good handful of his songs that I do really love - more recent ones like The Rising, Radio Nowhere, Lonesome Day, and the classics like Born to Run and Dancing in the Dark - but I'm not a go-out-and-get-new-album-on-date-of-release kind of fan. (Actually, it's more sit-in-and-download-standout-tracks these days, but the point stands.) However, my uncle has been a devoted fan for as long as I can remember, and as I was partly brought up by my grandmother and him, Bruce's music featured heavily in my early childhood. As a kid, I loved the "Born in the USA" album, and I remember being rather perplexed by the album cover for "The Ghost of Tom Joad" (hey, I was only five or so).

But only a fool would turn down an opportunity to see the Boss live, so I shovelled some dry toast into my face, stuffed a rucksack with lunch and a waterproof, and off we toddled to Hyde Park.

I probably don't need to tell you it was an amazing show. That for a man of 62, the energy and sheer joy he exudes while onstage puts 85% of other performers to shame. That - and don't worry, I'm wincing at the phrasing I'm about to employ - the gig was a journey from the harder, angrier, political songs of recent years to the anthems Springsteen is best known for. The turning point came - for me at least - at the twelfth song of the evening, "Because the Night". You have not lived until you have shouted along to that song as the stage lights turn the rain gold and silver. I also hope never to forget that performance of the afore-mentioned "The Ghost of Tom Joad", which included a positively orgasmic guitar solo from Tom Morello. The encore included Born in the USA, Glory Days, Born To Run, and Dancing in the Dark - and true to form, Bruce plucked one super-lucky lady from the crowd to dance with him, and then personally lifted her up and put her back where he'd found her. Oh, to be Bruce's Dancing in the Dark girl...

It wasn't over yet though, because who should stride onstage but Paul McCartney? And unfortunately this is where my tale (I say tale, it's more an extended "Ha, I saw Bruce and you didn't!") turns a little sour. As has been reported all over the internet today, the plug was pulled at 10.40pm, as Bruce, his band and Sir Paul were storming the hell out of Twist and Shout. They'd passed their curfew by 10 minutes - not half an hour, as most papers/sites are claiming - and so were silenced.  It's not a big deal, and of course it didn't ruin the evening, nice as it would have been to have heard the band's goodbyes. But what dawned on me today was that these days, a live music event is one of the last places where you can get thousands of people together who have no intention of causing trouble, are there to just see their act of choice and have a good time, so to pull the plug on that seems to be erring on the side of buzzkill. I know whoever took that decision was merely doing their job and following orders, but it's just a shame such a spectacular night had to end like that.

Whatever though, I got to sing along to Born To Run as if my life depended on it, so I'm not complaining. 

So that was yesterday, and today I've been at a family gathering - and all anyone asked me about was my dissertation/Masters course/career ideas. Someone genuinely uttered the words, "So what are your job prospects like?"

I had to stuff an entire egg sandwich into my mouth to stifle the yelp of anguish.

I'm going to leave you with this (it's a personal favourite and he didn't play it), and go and feel guilty about the stone I've gained in cake today.

Ciao for now.

 P.S. That's Bruce crossed off the to-see-live list. Now, who wants to get me tickets for the Stones?

Friday, 22 June 2012

Hey, come in and crash around inside my head...

...just please don't have me committed. (I once had a dream that a van-full of men in white coats came to take me away. I was only twelve or so at the time, and it genuinely frightened me.)

It struck me the other day that if I made a list of ALL the things I spend time worrying about - well, it would be less a list, more an Encyclopaedia Neurotica.

So naturally, I started to do just that. I'm hoping, I guess, that people will read this and either feel reassured, in an "oh, I'm not the only one who does that" sort of way, or they'll feel incredibly relieved that, well, they're not as addled as me.

I do have a very dear friend who has spent hours - honestly, hours - thinking about the perfect way to make a bechamel sauce. That's probably part of the reason we're friends - we understand each other. "You spent all night worrying about that problem that exists only in your head?! Oh my God, samesies!"

We also both used to self-diagnose on the internet if we didn't feel well, especially during our "watch ALL the seasons of House" phase. Don't ever do these two things together, take it from me.You will discover you have something terrible and incurable.

Then you will realise that what that is, is a lack of common sense.

But generally, it starts upon waking. What am I saying, it starts?! It doesn't stop. I'm pretty sure the first thought that fires in my head - and it's generally verbalised too if I'm on my own - tends to be, do I look like a spotty sixteen-year-old today? (My face hasn't got the memo that it's 22, not in its mid-teens. Curses. Clinique, I owe you a lot.) Then there's the in-shower, "am I too fat?" debate. Objectively, no. I know what I weigh and for my height it's probably bang-on. But we're forgetting those pesky XX chromosomes. Which mean, amongst other things, that in my head, I will always want to be thinner. It doesn't help that Mother Dearest is thinner than me. She has so many amazing clothes and I can't borrow any of them. Because they're too small. (Firstworldproblems, huh?)

Other ridiculous things I worry about...let's see. Oh, here's one. While on the train to work the other day, I spent most of the time between Horsham and East Croydon feeling guilty because I wasn't a "proper" commuter. (I wish I was kidding.) I felt bad that I was surrounded by people in suits who had proper jobs and real lives and families to provide for, and I was just on my way to sit in an office and essentially play an hours-long game of spot-the-difference.* I've since started taking my laptop with me to look more professional. I joke, it's so I can do dissertation work on the train. (Which is almost worse, somehow.)

*Or, as it's been this week, read-the-sociology textbook. Repeatedly.

And I haven't even got started on the relationship angst. I can hear friends thinking, "Oh God, what do you have to angst over? Like, seriously?" I take their point, I do. I know how lucky I am. I've made some shit decisions in my time, but I have brilliant taste in boyfriends. You can't fault it.

But I think I have a touch of "perfect girlfriend syndrome". And I highly doubt I'm the only one.

Man, there's a lot of soul-baring going on here. My next post will be lighthearted, I promise. Because, if nothing else, I need to check I can still do "lighthearted", as I've not exactly been Miss Full of The Joys of Spring. More like Miss Summer Drizzle.

So, Perfect Girlfriend Syndrome. It's quite simple, but boy, is it persistent. I don't know, I just want to be the perfect girlfriend. I don't do anything else to international level, so I might as well give this a shot. Trouble is, it backfires spectacularly because when "PGS" is coupled with my natural bottling tendencies, it means I withdraw into ice-queen mode and everyone is left feeling rather perplexed as to why I am a) silent, and b) suddenly even more haughty and uppity than usual. You know the script as well as I do:

Are you OK?
Are you sure?
'Cause it doesn't seem like you are. You know you can tell me if you're not.
No, I'm fine. Of course I'm not fine, why the flip do you not know this? Oh, 'cause I haven't told you because I don't want to drag you into my emo misery and you're not a mind-reader. WHY AREN'T YOU A MINDREADER? And so on, and so forth.

Don't give me that look, I've never claimed to be rational.

I just hate feeling like the whiny, needy one. I know probably everyone does, but I'm much more comfortable being the listen-girl, rather than the this-is-how-I-feel girl. Thing is, I'm aware that I do the ice-queen thing and I know it's not exactly the hallmark of a mature relationship -but I don't know how to not do it! - and so the whole cycle of worrying kicks off again.

In a way, I think it's at least partly a crutch, this chronic and acute worrying thing. The following sentence might not make sense, but I'll risk it. I worry that if I stop worrying, things really will all fall to pieces, purely because I've stopped worrying about everything. It's a running joke in my family that, "if Kirsten doesn't have something to worry about, she worries about that." Obviously life isn't like that - shit's gonna happen whether you were dreading it or not, and as someone far wiser than me once said, "the real troubles in your life are apt to be things that never crossed your worried mind". Which isn't especially reassuring, come to think of it.

I also worry that I haven't figured out number 17 on this list:

Everything else that churns round and round in my head is pretty much universal, I think - money (i.e. a severe lack thereof), getting a job, being able to tolerate that job long enough to be able to at least rent a tiny little flat and live with someone I'm not related to...

As is probably obvious, I could continue, and you won't be surprised to hear (read?) I nearly gave myself a stomach ulcer a couple of years ago. There are probably about four or five things that unfailingly make me relax in this world, the rest of life is a relentless cycle of "oh but what if-?"

Don't ever tell me that I don't need to worry so much. I can assure you, I do.

Music time? Music time.

I'm going to be honest, the song is nothing outstanding, I just like the video. There's a lot of corset-y action and people that look delightfully free of morals.

I'm seeing these guys in November, and I might cry when they play Poison and Wine, because I'm like that. But have this one: