Tuesday, 28 April 2015

Just a quick one...

Unless you've been holed up in a cave on the outskirts of nowhere, you'll be aware of the whole 'Protein World ad thing'. You know, the poster that's angered a lot of people:

And yeah, they're not wrong to be angry. How do you know if you're beach body ready? You just turn up at a beach. That's literally it. Now, initially, I was on the outrage bandwagon. For about 25 seconds. But then I thought about it, and a couple of things became very apparent. 

One: this ad is not a million miles away from what you'll find in the average women's weekly magazine. Come early spring, they're full of diet tips and exercise plans on how to look "beach body ready" - and not only that, the worst offenders print photos of famous women in bikinis and list reasons why these women shouldn't be wearing bikinis. They circle tiny overspills of flesh in red, and print things about how Celebrity X has put on weight since the breakdown of her relationship, and pass judgment on Celebrity Y's "post-baby body" (and if ever there's a phrase that needs to be banned outright, it's that one). Yet to my knowledge, no-one's protesting outside Heat magazine.

Two: this poster is really boring. Simply from a marketing point of view, it's nobody's finest work. The bright yellow and cold grey colour combination can't save it; the whole campaign is yawn-inducing. Why? Using an airbrushed-to-the-hilt, scantily-clad woman to sell something was a tired strategy ten years ago, never mind in 2015. It reeks of a last-resort idea, sketched out hastily at 4.55pm, when the team had to come up with something before the end of the day in order to be able give it to the boss in the morning. It's just not very clever, is it? The amount of thought, creativity and imagination that's gone into that poster is LIMITED, to say the least. And yet look at the publicity it's generated. You can bet your bottom dollar that the Protein World PR guys are toasting their breakfast meetings with champagne, cackling with glee at the column inches, the think-pieces, the Twitter trending.

However, the above doesn’t mean that I disagree with any of the protests that have come about as a result of the advert. I am wholly in favour of them. I love that girls have gathered in swimwear to stand by the posters; I love the alternative images of the ad that are doing the rounds on the internet; I am fine with people defacing the posters. And some really smart stuff has been written in response to it. 
But do you know what would have made a good protest? A quiet, stealthy boycott of the company and their products. Perhaps combined with simply tearing down or defacing the posters, if you want to show you're really miffed. It's clearly designed to be provocative; the sweetest comeback would have been to not react, to not give them the attention and the publicity - but to also not buy the products. I'm not business-minded in the slightest, but I should imagine it's quite worrying when people suddenly stop buying your product and aren't even mentioning it.

Next time, we should hit them where it's really going to hurt - in the bank balance.

I have a habit of forgetting how much I like John Mayer, but DB played me this track recently and I can't stop listening to it. There's something about it that makes me want to have a little cry though.

Tuesday, 21 April 2015

The realities of dating a musician when you're 25

Or: a few words of warning to my 15-year-old self. 

I say "dating", but after four years, I'm fairly sure it's a bit more serious than that. 

1) You get an unwelcome insight into the workings of your 'local music scene'.

Local music scenes don't half attract some 'characters'. It doesn't seem hugely different from local government, actually - committees having long, drawn-out meetings in which seemingly trivial things are batted about and squabbled over, like kittens with balls of wool. Guys, chill, only half-a-dozen people are going to show up to this pub gig anyway

2) You realise that some of the cliches about musicians being hopelessly disorganised are cliches for a bloody good reason.

The following conversation happens on a regular basis:

Me: What time is your gig tomorrow?
DB: Er, it starts at 7.
Me: Cool, what time do you want to leave?
DB: About half-7?
Me, confused: But if it starts at 7...?
DB: Yeah, but you don't need to be there until -
Me: I'm coming with you, remember?
DB: Ohhhhh yeeeahhh...
Me: So what time are you actually on?
DB: ...yes. Good question....

Good grief. There's a reason that band managers are often portrayed as arseholes in popular culture. They put up with musicians all the time.

 To be fair to DB, he's not even that bad. He is at least aware of what a calendar is, if not always how one works.

3) They are not as in touch with their feelings as you might expect.

Maybe it's because I date a math rock drummer - he gets excited about weird time signatures. If it's feelings you want, try a guitarist, or a singer.

4) They are not as stylish as you're led to believe.

Sure, Johnny Borrell knew how to rock a decent wool coat and skinny jeans, back in the halcyon days of 2005. William Bowerman, Brontide drummer, could make a poncho look elegant (below right. Be still, my hammering heart). Even Harry Styles has acquired a certain something since he stopped washing his hair and started looking a bit in need of a bath... just me? Right, ok, as you were.

Drummer Boy suddenly "got into fashion" a few months ago, and to be honest, we're still dealing with the fall-out. Two nights in a row last week, he came to bed at gone midnight, quietly confessing "I've bought another jacket". He's refusing to grow back his shaggy locks, and during one recent shopping trip, held up a denim shirt and uttered the words, "is this the direction I want to go in?"

5) You find yourself in some questionable venues.

A couple of Fridays ago, I found myself in one of Crawley's shittier pubs, watching a band DB was due to play with the following night. Put it this way, there were St George's flags on the walls and when a man dropped an entire pint of Guinness on the floor, it only improved the floor. A glowing image of Noel Edmunds winked at me from a 'Deal or No Deal' games machine (really freaking eerie), and DB grimaced his way through a rather cloudy pint, because "I don't think this is the kind of place you could send it back".

This Friday just gone saw a similar situation unfold. DB had a gig in Seaford (coastal town in East Sussex. The second paragraph of Seaford's Wikipedia entry tells you all you need to know about the place, really), at a pub run by a man who resembled a five foot deflating beach ball. The band had been booked at the last moment, and their drummer couldn't make it, so DB was filling in. When he writes his memoirs (titles I've suggested include No-one Ever Fancies The Drummer; Sticks, Hits and Tits: My Life On The Road; Hard-Hitting - The Drug Years), I'm not sure this gig will be a highlight.

Warning bells first rang when we pulled up outside the pub and saw the St George's flags in the window, and the posters advertising four-pint pitchers of Fosters. I don't get the whole flag thing, I have to say - who looks at the exterior of a building and thinks, "you know what would really set off the brickwork? A flag that denotes my nationality, which in turn suggests I might be casually, flippantly racist."

"I'm not sure we're going to be welcome here," I said to DB. "They're going to be able to smell  Marks & Spencers and the Guardian on me and tell us that they don't take kindly to fancy folk."

Those warning bells went again when we overheard the landlord say "ooh, it's quite busy for a Friday," as he cast his eye over the eight people in the bar. And they rang a third time when I ordered a gin & tonic and the barmaid - who had a look of "please help me!" in her eyes - asked if I wanted a slice of lemon in it. Yes, ideally. (Didn't want to push it by asking for lime.)

DB and I did our rather-too-habitual thing of "being at a gig and not having dinner plans", which always results in one of us dashing into a supermarket and grabbing some sandwiches, which we then have to eat standing outside the venue, in weathers that are not really conducive to al fresco dining.

I would make a wry comment along the lines of "DB really knows how to treat a lady", but last night, he cooked steak and we had Prosecco and everything was right with the world, so fear not, he does indeed know how to treat a lady.

The band played the first set at me - it's quite strange having four middle-aged men plus your boyfriend play half a dozen AC/DC and Bon Jovi songs for your ears only - but gradually, more people trickled in. Towards the end of the gig, a woman in a zebra-print shirt with a lion's mane of frizzy blonde hair came up to me - smoking an actual cigarette indoors! - and asked, gesturing at the 50-something guitarist, if he was my boyfriend. (I've just realised why; it's not because I look wildly old for my age, it's because at one point during the set, he motioned at me to get him a glass of water, as I was standing by the bar for most of the night, and I did.) "No, mine's the drummer!" I shouted back - we were right in front of the band, so I had to mime playing the drums - adding in my head "the one that doesn't look like he's old enough to be my dad, thanks."

DB's got a gig with his folk band tonight; I'm looking forward to this one.

6) You also end up spending a lot of time with middle-aged men.

They tend to dominate that local music scene, you see. Fortunately, I am basically a middle-aged man, so I fit in quite well.

I've found that middle-aged bassists are the sweetest, friendliest band members (I think maybe bassists have to be) and singers tend to be a bit mental. You never know what you're getting with keyboard players and guitarists are all-round nice guys.

7) You get a lot of free drinks.

Presumably because you're 25 and female, and are at a gig in a rough pub surrounded by middle-aged men.

8) You veer wildly from envying those in your social circle who are doing things like "getting married" and "buying houses", to thanking fuck you're with someone who does something interesting and creative for a living.

I mean, it beats dating an accountant.

9) Listening to a drummer tuning his new kit could be used as a torture method.

The CIA want to give it a go if they haven't already. Or just send ISIS round here and we'll break them before Newsnight finishes. 

10) People come up to you while your boyfriend's on stage and say, "he's a really good drummer". 

That's my favourite bit. I always say, "yeah, I know."


On the Bambi bookshelf

I am moments away from launching into The Establishment, Owen Jones' second book. It's going to be quite the commitment, I think - everything Jones writes is chock-full of facts and stats, which is absolutely brilliant, and I fancy his mind so hard, but it's not going to be a light read.

I finished Viv Albertine's Clothes Music Boys last night, and have to add that as well as being a very cool read, it's also a genuinely inspiring one. The chapter about her cancer and its treatment is fairly harrowing, as you'd expect (and if there are any girls reading who have wimped out of booking a smear test, can I please ask that you book one, now, and I will as well), but Viv's refusal to display any self-pity is incredibly bracing. Probably my favourite part of the whole book is when, after twenty-odd years away from music and the punk scene, she tentatively starts playing guitar again, taking lessons and going to open mic nights. If a woman in her forties - one who's put two decades of distance between herself and her punk past - can start over like that, then quite frankly, none of the rest of us have any excuse for not having a stab at doing what we really love.

Saturday, 18 April 2015

On not having a niche

...or, on being a jack of all writing topics, and a master of none.

I read this the other day, and it prompted a bit of a Think. (I can highly recommend that blog, but if you find you love it too and start reading it regularly and eventually discover you prefer it to mine, for the love of God, don't tell me.)  Anyway, it was a Think about what it is I write about, what I want to write about, and the point of having a blog at all, really.

Cards on the table, heart-on-my-sleeve moment ahead (what was that about good writers avoiding cliches?) - writing gives me a thrill like nothing else. Having an "I'll write about this!" moment, feeling ideas for a post gradually bubble and come to the boil, attempting to come up with witty asides, writing a resounding last line - I love the whole process. I need to do it; I swear it's good for my brain. For eight hours a day during the week, I'm ticking off small tasks, dealing with the urgent and the immediate - writing is a mental stretch of the legs, like giving a restless pony a mad gallop around a field, just for the fun of it.

I couldn't market this blog. The only category it would fit in would be "the haphazard ramblings of an average, middle-class, female twenty-something". I don't feel a need to try and "sell" it, mind, but after three years, I still struggle to answer the question "what do you blog about?" And not just because, like "party", "blog" should never be used as a verb.

What do I blog (eurgh) about?


Just... stuff. Bit of this, bit of that. Things I've done, places I've been, some vaguely feminist things, some faintly political things, some silly, joyful things. Issues I've thought about for long enough to be able to scramble together 800-or-so words.

During a recent "so you want to be a writer? What do you write about?" conversation, someone said to me, "you need a theme... like sex and baking!" Which is a passable suggestion, sure, but a) 40 trahillion filth-and-filo blogs probably already exist, b) I'm not much of a baker, and c) much as I'd love to be able to write about my sex life, I'm not anonymous, so I can't.

I can't call myself a feminist blogger, because I don't write solely about feminism. I try and stay away from politics for the most part, because it's not something I feel I know enough about, and if you're writing things on the internet, then by God, you need to know your stuff. And this is never more true than if you're a woman, writing about politics.

I like reviewing things - music, books, films, TV - but not all the time. I get more of a kick out of writing-as-a-mental-leg-stretch. I thrive on the challenge element - can I spin a few hundred words out of this? Can I throw in some half-funny lines about that? Can I mould this topic into the shape of a blog post?

I'm a make-up and beauty freak, and a frightening proportion of my income goes directly to Boots,but beauty blogging is an overcrowded stage. and as I keep saying, I like writing about different things.

So I don't quite know why I'm worried about not having a niche; I suspect deep down it's because I know that themed blogs are simply easier to find, and their audiences grow at a faster rate. More people are interested in food/make-up/vintage fashion than in "good writing". Not that I'm saying my writing is necessarily good; I just can't not do it. It's getting to the point where at least 60% of the things that happen in my life prompt me to think "could I write about this?" - if only in passing. I started this blog purely for myself, but writers are basically passive-aggressive attention seekers - the whole point of putting your thoughts on paper, or on screen, is to get someone's attention. Whether it's an audience of tens or of thousands, writers spin words to forge connections.

And those connections are tiny threads of gold, spider-web-thin, across time and space.


On the Bambi bookshelf

Yup, sticking with that subheading for now. Sorry.

This week, I'm storming through Viv Albertine's Clothes Clothes Clothes, Music Music Music, Boys Boys Boys. Albertine was the guitarist in the all-female punk band The Slits, and her memoir is, in short, a bloody good read. She was mates with Sid Vicious, Johnny Rotten and Vivienne Westwood, and dated Mick Jones of The Clash on and off for ages (and I've just found out that he wrote my favourite Clash song, Train in Vain, about her). The writing is sparse and at times, gaspingly honest, but by God, we need more women like Viv. What a life she has led.

This interview with her is a good'un.

Currently listening to... The Tron Legacy soundtrack (it's an hour and a half long; I wouldn't click if I were you).

Friday, 3 April 2015

The personal and the political

On the magnetic board above my desk, I have a column written by Caitlin Moran at the end of 2013, about "beliefs". (I'll link it here, but it's behind the Times paywall. Yes, I pay for it - I like the writers and as an aspiring writer myself*, I believe we should pay for content. Anyway, as you were.)

I re-read this column a lot - even though she's written far more emotion-driven, evocative pieces, this is the one I go back to, time and time again. It's a perfect example of a writer pointing out something that is so simple and obvious that when I first read it, I remember thinking "Oh God, yes! That is exactly the problem! How do we not see it?"

I'll quote some of it for context, otherwise whatever I go on to say will make even less sense than usual:

'But always, these revolutions - however many buildings burn, economies tank and people die during them - begin with a simple, ancient problem: two, or more, bunches of people who think they're right, arguing it out. Heat and shouting. Tribal loyalties. Your vote inherited from your father and your father's father ("We are of the left"; "The only way is right"). People bellowing, fists clenched, for decades at a time, over what they believe...'

'The system is no different across so many countries: it's basically people arguing that they're right, against other people who also believe they're right. This is how nations run things. On... feelings.'

'...what we need to do is stop talking about our political feelings and beliefs, like teenage girls on a sleepover, and find out, once and for all, what actually works.'

'...we "buy" our prime ministers and presidents and chancellors with less research and care than we buy an iPhone... I know which smartphone operating systems are most likely to work. I do not know which systems of economy or education or healthcare are. No one does. We all still vote, however.'

I didn't watch the leaders' debate on Thursday, because I had tickets to see Dylan Moran and I knew exactly where I'd be on the receiving end of more wisdom. I did watch Coalition this week - the Channel 4 drama about the aftermath of the general election in 2010, and "drama" though it was, the main thing I took from it was "Jesus, how is it that in 2015, we are still relying on a small group of middle/upper-class white men in suits, who all know each other from school, to do the nation's admin?"

How are we still at this point?! Is it not staggering that the last time we had a Chancellor of the Exchequer who'd actually studied Economics - which should surely be a minimum sodding requirement for that job - was in 1993? It's just... odd.  Strange that we've not made it past party politics yet. Bizarre that the people who know the systems - education, healthcare, legal - and who've worked in them for years, are not the people running them. A committee of headteachers - with decades of combined experience behind them - running our education system seems a much better fit than a lawyer, or a journalist. A group of experienced GPs, surgeons, nurses and psychiatrists consulting on how to run the NHS must surely be a better idea than getting a man who once failed to export marmalade to Japan to do it. A team of economists - from different schools of economic thought - hashing out how best to balance the books must be better than anyone we've had for the last 20-something years.

The popularity contest element doesn't help - journalists become ringmasters of the media circus surrounding general elections, asking useless things like: who do you like more? Who would you have a pint with? Who would you trust to babysit your toddler? It doesn't matter. I would definitely have a pint with Boris Johnson, but I run screaming from the idea of him running the country. (He's going to have a bash at some point, I'm sure, and people you consider to be halfway-sensible will be taken in by his ruffle-able hair and clueless-posh-boy shtick.)

I can't remember who I was talking to about 'never ever voting Conservative ever' - it could have been any number of people - but they said "all right, but can you really see Ed Miliband as Prime Minister?" As if I'd suggested Ross Kemp, or Keith Richards. I imagine - or hope - my reply was a rather shrill "yes, I can actually! Because all that matters is what Labour's policies are and whether they actually deliver, not whether Ed Miliband can look dignified while being photographed eating a sandwich. No-one looks dignified mid-mouthful - you should see me eat a pear. I go at it like a hungry spaniel."

It's no good sitting back with a sigh and going "yes, it's all very well talking about committees and things, but that's never going to happen, is it?" Change will come, I'm sure. I don't know when, but I don't think it's that far off - we will realise that we need more than what we've got. We need a better system. One that doesn't rely on inherited 'beliefs', foggy and instinctive; one that doesn't guarantee that those who are elected to lead are simply the smoothest speechmakers, the soundbite sweethearts, the photogenic buffoons. Maybe it will only be a matter of years, maybe it will be decades - but we will look back, one day, and wonder why it took us so long to ask for more.

*It's rather depressing to still be describing oneself as an "aspiring" anything at the age of 25. Blargh. 

On the Bambi bookshelf...*


*I'm trying to think of a name for this bit, seeing as I'm working on actually fulfilling one of my new year's resolutions, which was to read more. Suggestions less twee than this are more than welcome.

 Having finished Laurie Penny's Unspeakable Things - and I remain in awe of her prose skills and slightly irritated by her lack of facts and figures, I've moved on to the equally breezy and uplifting Do No Harm: Stories of Life, Death and Brain Surgery by Henry Marsh. It's not the ideal choice for a migraine-suffering, anxious hypochondriac, especially since the first two chapters are about aneurysms and brain tumours respectively, but it's edge-of-your-seat reading. Marsh is unflinchingly honest about his work - he doesn't shy away from admitting to mistakes and moments of arrogance, and he knows how to make the most of his subject matter.