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: