Tuesday, 28 September 2010

My other half, who Does pop culture, has been wittering on about the upcoming Thor film for, ooh, ages now. For the uninitiated, Thor is a comic book character based on the Norse God. He's a blond bodybuilder who wanders round in his pants carrying a hammer, a bit like a stoner trying to put together a flat pack bookcase, or a hard-up porn actor looking for work. I found this faintly risible, so had no interest in the film, until Other Half was looking at some preview pictures online, and I saw the actor whose name has figured prominently in these discussions.
And then it clicked.
The name of Chris Hemsworth was not one I knew from Hollywood. Rather, he did three years in a little town called Summer Bay, as Home and Away's Kim Hyde, son of sub-Fisher school principal Barry. (He was a shirtless tearaway who argued constantly with his over-strict dad.)
Suddenly my interest rocketed. This film is going to be great. I'm particularly looking forward to the scene where spoilt blonde Nicole Franklin, she with the A-level in flouncing, transmogrifies into Thor's wife, the goddess Sif. Or the one where Thor parks his goat-drawn chariot in the disabled space by the diner, causing Irene to eye her cooking sherry longingly before she goes for a moody walk on the beach in the hope of seeing Aden with his abs out. Or the scene where Alf Roberts calls Thor a flamin' great galah for leaving his hammer Mjolnir at the caravan park.
That would be a seriously great film.
It set me wondering what other soap characters of the past could get a new lease of life in the rash of hyperinflated-budgeted comic films Hollywood is currently spawning. And there are loads! Think about it...
Ex-EastEnder Amira Shah is a strong contender for Wonderwoman. Surely the hair-tossing Amira in her crippling heels would adore bullet-proof bracelets. And with the Lasso of Truth, she could have saved herself a lot of heartache by forcing the truth out of her sexually confused, tousle-haired husband months back, instead of accepting all his rubbish excuses because she was too busy doing her nails to think for herself. ("No, honestly, Amira, Christian's just giving me bodybuilding tips. Naked bodybuilding tips behind the Masala Masood bins," Never was denial so painfully unconvincing.)
And Fred Elliott? Poor lost Fred. I say, surely he could carve out a new career as intergalactic slaphead the Silver Surfer? I say? Or Kim Tate as Elektra, complete with the famous mirror in which she checked her lippy after ensuring it could no longer be misted by Frank's irksome habit of breathing. Kim, the original stilettoed assassin, saw to that. In fact, now The Bill has gone west, I'm seeing that comic book films could be the next soap graveyard. Bets are on now that Ashley Peacock ends up as the Punisher. Twelve to one and under starters' orders.

Monday, 20 September 2010

The TV Diet - Five Swaps to Drop Your Pop-Culture

Magazines are always telling you to swap stuff. How you can save £800 on a beautifully cut belted black coat that makes you look like a cross between Lauren Bacall and Joan Crawford by buying a ratty one stitched by weeping peasant children from Primark (belt not included.) How you can save 600 calories by swapping a sextuple-chocolate muffin topped with a Mars Duo for half an After Eight mint, which isn't going to quieten anyone's raving PMS. How you can drop a dress size practically unnoticed by swapping the Pizza Hut blow-out plus Star Wars DVD marathon for a piece of carrot peeling and a brisk run over to Buenos Aires.

And it's all bollocks, isn't it? So I thought I would contribute by suggesting my own top four pop-culture phenomena, why you should swap them and what you could swap them for. It's just a bit of fun, so if you want to lynch me, keep it verbal. We're all adults now. Allegedly.

1. Glee

Some people enjoy watching anything between a dozen and a gross of identikit Americans leaping around in outfits that fell out of Bring It On. It troubles many of my dear friends not a whit that these wide-eyed teens all have teeth like an orthodontist's wet dream and a choice of three noses between the lot of them. Apart from the teacher whose acid one-liners are so often claimed to be "the only reason I watch it, honestly", I can only presume the cast were ordered wholesale. Personally I find it frighteningly surreal, depressing, vacuous, giddy and...I could go on. Swap for the Truman Show, which at least acknowledges the sense of constant surrealistic nightmare. Or Brave New World. Gleeks (I shudder as I type) are oh so many Lenina Crownes, ultimately greeting my horrified face with a blank look and an offer of yet more visual soma. No offence.

2. Twilight

You may be Team Jacob, your pubescent sister may be Team Edward, I represent Team Get A Frigging Life. Death-heavy romance or psychological abuse with fangs, take it your way. With marketing using the same colour scheme, poses and font as Buffy the Vampire Slayer, it's cynically pushed as cutesy paranormal for the impressionable generation. Instead, watch Twinklight, a low-budget cinematic treat which consists of two over-made-up, skinny teenaged lads getting grubby while wearing crappy pound-shop plastic fangs. It doesn't pretend to be anything it's not, and at one point I think that one lad catches a fang in the other's foreskin. Fun for all the family.

3. The Inbetweeners

For a show so lauded for its insightful realism, it holds no resonance for my own teens. Four irksome posh lads from Guildford try and fail to get some sex. Think Carry On with A-levels. They are not real teenagers. None of them ever order a butter pie in a chippy because it's the cheapest. None of them have ever bought a pint of milk off a milk float at six a.m. on a Saturday morning while they waited with a raging hangover for the first bus out of Huncoats. They never eat their own weight in Dairy Milk, gloomily pondering why their legs are so huge. Swap for Two Pints of Lager and a Packet of Crisps, which contains fag-cadging students, people with ordinary jobs, and a concept of upmarket socialising as drinking in a pub where the staff occasionally scrape the sick off the floor. It's like coming home, I tell you.

4. X-Factor

Sub-pub karaoke sung by risible human vacuums desperately clawing at the cliff edge of potential fame. Swap for real pub karaoke, which at least involves leaving the house.

Thursday, 29 April 2010

All Change

I'm going through the change. No, not the change of life, the change of clothes. No, I'm not hormonal. No, I'm not mad. No, I haven't suddenly decided that jeggings are sensible wear for ordinary women, instead of a satanic instrument designed to make size 12 legs look like the results of a hippopotamus' botched liposuction operation wapped in a square inch of cling film. And with stitching in the most unfortunate place, as though your labia had gone crispy. No, my feelings on jeggings are utterly immutable. They will never change.
But the real change of clothes, which has nothing to do with jeggings, hits all of us. All women, once they pass twenty-six, come into contact with the change of clothes. One day you're bounding down a midwinter street in a skirt the size of a cake frill, praying you don't slip off your towering stilettos in case your arse cheeks get frozen to the pavement; the next you're standing in Oasis' fitting room giving girly squeals at the thought of getting your knees out for the lads. One day your black hoodie looks all yoof-duz-sexy with your perfect makeup and immaculate hair; the next time you wear it for those country walks you've started taking, you daren't stand still in case a passing farmer mistakes you for a hay bale in a tarpaulin. And then you know the change of clothes has begun.
The thing is - the point I've been trying to make, in my laboured, smart-arsed way - that what looks good in your teens and early twenties is practically anything. You lie around doing frankly bugger all, eating cheesecake out of the packet and drinking so much your liver threatens to leave home, and yet you never seem to rise above a size 10. Your skin has the bloom of a perfect peach, your hair is fragrant and shining, and you can wear whatever you goddamn please. (Looking back, it's rather a pity you spent your time dating candidates for Dickhead of the Year award and whingeing about the size of your bum. You could have done so much more.)
And then you hit twenty-five, and it's fine, nothing really changes, and quietly you congratulate yourself on ageing gracefully and accepting your move towards mature womanhood....until your twenty-seventh birthday, where everything suddenly goes HAYWIRE. You develop a stack of spare tyres. You look at a cake and instantly put on a pound; except if it's a choux bun, then you put on three. And suddenly you have a wardrobe of shoes you can't walk in, skirts that showcase your cellulite, and size 8 tops that rise remorselessly over your size 14 muffin top whenever the laundry situation gets desperate enough for you to need to force them over the vast pallid barrage balloons that pass for your bangers these days. And all that sophisticated black number does is make you look like a widow left out in the rain.
And so cometh the change of clothes. My days of t-shirts and combats are sadly going west, bloody fast. Of late, my wardrobe has developed a creeping diversity; reds and hot pinks now sit in among the ranks of black, and as a desperate attempt to hide my bangers, I even bought a kimono top in a very loud print that makes me look like a rockery. Skirts skim my knees and my shoes boast smart wedge heels. I've even started covering up my exuberant cleavage with a scarf now and then. And as I totter past the mirror in the belted black coat that I faintly imagine makes me look like Lauren Bacall, I suddenly think: whoa. I look like a GROWN-UP.
I can't tell you how unnerving that is. It's so unnerving that after the second time I had to watch an episode of He-Man and eat Jammy Dodgers just to reassert my self-identity as a big kid. It's therapy for my identity, but I promise you, it's done my waistline no good at all.

Sunday, 25 April 2010

Maybe It's Because I'm Not A Londoner

I am Not Good at modern life. One symptom of this is that I really, really hate London. Not London where people live, places like Ealing and Richmond. No, central London, where my day job occasionally takes me. That's the bit I hate.
I walk everywhere in central London, being as how the thought of of being crammed in a minuscule metal cartridge and shot through tunnels that both in looks and hygiene resemble someone's actual rectum after winning Top Eater at a chili cook-off inspires me with fear the like of which only Amy Winehouse's gynaecologist can understand. And when you walk, you see a lot. A lot of milling tourists pointing at the Household Cavalry and taking up the entire footpath to do it. A lot of beetroot-faced, yelling maniacs driving cars who like to park on pedestrian crossings, then run over your foot as you attempt to cross when it is your legal right to do so. A lot of fashionably-dressed people running flat-out with a trolley case bumping along the pavement behind them and a large decaf soy latte in the other hand. I've been laid out by those before.
I know not what course others may take, but as for me, give me Nottingham or give me death. Actually, death is about right. I often wonder if I'm going to survive the day in London, what with all the road rage flying about, and what with how my liver jacks up bile production enough to shrivel itself the moment I walk out of St. Pancras onto Euston Road. It's not that I don't like places other than where I live - Sheffield and Liverpool are two cities that remain close to my heart. Manchester too, despite the hubris. Or maybe because of it. I like modesty in my cities, but Manchester's hubris is the turkey-strut of the mill-boy made good, curiously loveable and emblematic of its history. By contrast, London's hubris is just plain smug. Probably because it has such an innate and massive economic advantage over everywhere else in the British Isles that it seems like Usain Bolt striding out to race the 100m sprint against a fat lad from Hull. It has all the best jobs, all the government (not that most cities would compete for that advantage) enough blue plaques to tile a swimming pool, and money chucked at the egregious place from all over the world. And what have we got in Nottingham? Caves, which are cliffs with holes in. And in Sheffield? The hospice of the British manufacturing industry, dying on its arse.
No, wait. It's not all that bad. I've just thought; they still have to fight their way through the tourists to get to work. Perhaps they're being punished enough after all.

Friday, 5 March 2010

Imitation of Life

I've just finished watching Imitation of Life, starring Lana Turner. The first film the erstwhile Sweater Girl made after the death of abusive boyfriend Joe Stampanato (stabbed to death by Turner's daughter in self-defence during a family argument) is touchingly domestic in many ways. Turner stars as Lora, a young actress widowed with a daughter, Susie, who takes on Annie Johnston as a maid after the two meet on a beach. Annie, similarly widowed with one daughter, Sarah Jane, whose skin colour is coincidentally much lighter than her mother's. As Susie and Sarah Jane grow up together in the same household, their paths painfully diverge. Susie's mother, achieving greater stardom in every way, gives her daughter everything that money can buy - except her time. Annie gives Sarah Jane the love and time that Susie never gets - but can't give her the lifestyle of a rich girl. The tormented Sarah Jane becomes obsessed with passing as a white girl, an ambition which takes a shocking nosedive when her boyfriend Frankie finds out that she has black blood and assaults her horrifyingly in the street. But even this doesn't stop Sarah Jane running away from home, rejecting her mother and her mother's moral standards to earn her living as a dancer in seedy New York clubs, fighting her background every inch of the way. As the years pass, Annie becomes ill and eventually dies, leaving the newly regretful Sarah Jane to break down publicly over her coffin, acknowledging her mother in public as she never did in life.
Imitation of Life is not perfect. It's a film with its own share of problems - it's got Troy Donahue in it for a start. But it resonates, even today, in more than one way. Sarah Jane's desperate attempts to escape the inescapable, to deny her own heritage, echoes too painfully the experiences of many gay and bi people who find it easier to pass for straight in a heteronormative world. It's easy to understand why a bright young girl, given the option, might try to escape into a life that offers her more than the chance to be someone's maid. Why stay in the cage if the door might be open?
The trouble is that Sarah Jane suffers for her decision to turn her back on what she is. Going under assumed names, moving from job to job to stop her indefatigably disapproving mother tracking her down, and eventually suffering her public breakdown, echoes the decision of so many people who in pursuing a life in keeping with their sexual orientation, end up lying to or evading the family who love them.
I was one of those people, once. After years of struggling with my bisexuality, I came out to myself and my friends at 23. I told myself I didn't need to tell my family, that it was none of their business, any more than any other part of my sex life was their business. There was no need for them to know. It was my business. No one else's.
Four years down the line, I was out at work, to my friends, to my boyfriend, but my family still had no idea. And I was getting involved with LGBT events, drinking in gay pubs, going to Pride. I told my family all this, hoping they might spot the thread. But they didn't. And the more I moved on the scene, the more I started to see the inequalities, hear the biphobia still so casually bandied about, and I didn't want to be part of it any more. My silence had stopped looking like the sensible choice for an adult woman to keep her sex life to herself. It had started to look like plain, crappy cowardice. Like not having the guts to tell the people who loved me most who I actually was. And how could I help to change anything if I stayed silent? How could I tell people it was OK to stand up to the world and be who you are, if I still wore a different face to my family?
I did tell them in the end. And it's been OK. But that's why Imitation of Life is so hard to watch. Because, in this world, there are still hideous inequalities even now. Sarah Jane wouldn't have to be a maid any more, but spare a thought for the people who mask themselves every day behind the resolute "normality" of everyday existence, fearing their family, unlike Annie, might reject them if only they knew the truth. Pray the world changes, and fast.

Wednesday, 17 February 2010


I have a notice above my sofa, torn out of a free paper Mon Geek got from the comic shop, that says "GET EXCITED AND MAKE THINGS." It's testament to my two favourite hobbies; writing (naturellement) and crafting. Crafting, particularly, has filled a massive gap in my life since I took it up in 2005 in celebration of my goddaughter's imminent arrival. Before I learnt to knit and crochet, I used to read constantly - while eating, travelling, walking round the house, watching TV, all the time. This could be problematic, in terms of concentrating on something else, although despite years of maternal warnings, I never did fall down the stairs because of it.
Crafting simplified a lot. No longer did I need to carry a triple-decker novels around with me all the time (not only did I read constantly, I also read very fast). Instead, some yarn with a couple of needles or a hook would entertain me no matter how many hours a train would be unaccountably delayed, leaving me marooned among dozens of Closer readers shouting into their mobile phones. And at the end of it, you've made something; something that can be used, whether it's a wearable garment or a patterned dishcloth. There's an actual outcome. While no matter how many evenings you spend watching the TV or messing about on Bejeweled Blitz, an actual outcome may still elude you. Think about that the next time you realise you've lost three hours looking at that iPod app to see how you'd look with different hair.

Tuesday, 16 February 2010

Taking the waters

As part of my New Year's resolution to lose the extra two stone that unaccountably attached itself to my arse since I started spreading lard on pizza, I have started going swimming three times a week. This is a mixed blessing.
Firstly, it's undeniably working. It's shifting the weight. I lost 3lbs last week. It doesn't knacker me out like the gym used to do, either. I can't count the number of times I've fallen backwards off the rowing machine, tomato-faced and panting, wondering if my heart is belting out its last at that moment. Swimming is a complete contrast. When I swim, I coast through the blue, chlorinated waters for an hour or so and emerge energised, revitalised and only slightly peckish. It's a much nicer way to be.
On the other hand, I swim at a standard leisure centre. That means that every time I go I have to contend with any number of the hazards and perils of the public baths: discarded verruca socks floating down the big pool, toddlers with their attendant incontinence, little nests of pubes in the drains...the whole place really ought to be closed down. In fact, it's going to be, come the end of March. But meanwhile, there I am, negotiating assorted mingery in the name of good health.
And it doesn't even end there. I wish it did. Merry little children shouting at earsplitting volume while trying to drown one another, competitive middle-aged men in Speedos cleaving the water as splashily as they know how, and mad old bags in pink bathing caps doing backstroke diagonally across the swimming lanes, cutting through people's direction and their enjoyment at a stroke.
Yes, that last is usually me.

Monday, 15 February 2010

From the Same Mould

Everybody has their little fears. A certain friend of mine fears buttons. My son has inherited his dad's fear of geese. And I fear mould. (As well as balloons and dolls, but that's another story.)
I don't know quite what it is about mould that frightens me, but rest assured it absolutely terrifies me. Just one glimpse of white fluff on an abandoned tangerine, and a scream bites at my larynx. Just one bluish tinge on an apple, one pale green furry crust on an abandoned pasta salad...ugh, it's horrible. My fear of mould is so bad that I won't keep anything in the office fridge. (Office fridges are notorious cultivars of the dread fungus, being populated by abandoned sandwiches and weary salads whose diet-tired owners got a better offer and flounced off to the chippy without a second thought.)
In short, I'm pretty scared of the stuff.
So aren't you impressed that I am quietly addicted to How Clean Is Your House? Yes, the finger-wagging sibling of programmes like Supernanny, which purport to impart actual content to the viewer - the ratio of actual content being 2:1 in favour of smug voyeurism. Yes, your kids are bad, and your house is mucky, but bloody hell, look at those ill-disciplined little buggers on the table cavorting in filth an inch thick. Mucky pups. And see how Kim and Aggie, formerly of Good Housekeeping, a magazine which probably tests your fingertips for dust as you peruse it, restore order with only white vinegar and lemon juice to help them. Truly, these women are amazing, vanquishing mould with a withering glance and an insult for the lummox who was slovenly enough to let it grow in the first place. I can only dream that one day I'll be fierce enough to do the same.

Saturday, 13 February 2010

Bad mum

That's it. I have broken. There has been one too many snarky swipes at people who dare to blog about - or talk about - their children. After all, it's no great achievement popping out a sprog, is it? (Or "spawn" as the snarks almost inevitably refer to them.) No, it's not. But bringing one up to be a balanced human being certainly is a great achievement, and one that I fear every day that I may not achieve.
My son has had a turbulent early life, For a start he is actually my stepson, but not seeing his birth mother regularly he has grown up to regard me as his mum. As I have no legal rights to him, this means I see him two weekends a month; the rest of the time he resides with his father. He is now four, and enjoys having a bedroom in each house and regular trips on the train between the two houses. He has adjusted without complaint to the arrangement, but it's me who really suffers from it.
Today, watching me peel carrots for tonight's tea, he said, "I worry about you, sometimes, when I'm at my daddy's house." After some digging, it transpired that he meant that he missed me; declarations like that from him are rare, but they tug on my heart like nothing else. He is a cheerful, physical child, infrequently emotional, which makes his occasional affectionate moments even more heartwrenching.
But every day, I miss him. Working in an office, I work with a great many women, many of whom work part-time or only within school term time. I hear them complaining and I think how lucky they are to have extra time to be able to spend with their child, and how little so many of them realise it. Every day, I feel it, and say nothing at all.

Friday, 12 February 2010

Pink kerplink

I have a confession to make, and it's a touch embarrassing. Now I am not easily embarrassed as a rule. In fact I've devoted much of my adult life to learning how to be completely unembarrassed by anything that might occur. It was rather a shock to find out that nobody else had thought to acquire the useful skill of brazening out potentially shaming events. I went to see Coraline with Mon Geek and a group of friends at the cinema when it came out. Enrapt in our 3-D glasses, stealing each other's pic n' mix as often as we thought we could get away with doing so, we watched the big-headed spindly animated child crawl up the purple tunnel to her mysterious other world. In the dark, I elbowed Mon Geek and hissed sibilantly: "THAT LOOKS LIKE THE VIDEO OF MY COLONOSCOPY."
The eight rows around us turned to ice.
So I forgot that to non-sufferers a colonoscopy is still a taboo subject. (To me, of course, it was a chance to have a good huff at several cubic litres of free gas and air. What did I care what was going on round the back?) Ah well. Brazen, you see.
But my confession actually has nothing to do with that. Not really. But it always shocks people. I mean, here I am, black hair, black clothes, intellectual tastes, love of heavy music...and a total, unsurpassed adoration of all things pink.
Seriously. Everything. Pink saucepans, pink toasters, pink bracelets. Pink skull hair clips. Pink kettle, pink ladle, pink egg timer. Passion for strawberry yoghurt. Love of prawns. Pink knickers. (OK, I didn't tell you that one.) Pink is indulgent, girly and ineffably cheerful. Pink makes me happy, especially in the kitchen when I'm normally overheated, pissed off and can't find anything. Is that so odd?
OK, so maybe I don't look like the typical pink-lover. And you know what? I wasn't, once. As a child, I hated pink, mainly because the pink frilled dresses I was festooned in as a tubby, solid five-year-old made me look like a shed in a pelmet. I never liked Barbie. But as I've grown older and more sensible, my tastes have grown ever more absurd and preposterous. And pink. But I like them. And it makes me happy. So if you don't like it, sod you.

Thursday, 11 February 2010

Wherefore the geek?

One thing that has always intrigued me is how, and why, certain aspects of popular culture attract geekery - that obsessive fandom which triumphs in spotting the continuity error and e-mailing the makers to point it out; in intensely detailed, lengthy fights with other similarly obsessed fans on dedicated internet fora; and in conventions where attendees dress up as characters. Now don't get me wrong here. I perfectly understand how people can get obsessed about stuff. I myself have any number of quiet manias for things like Mapp and Lucia, the Home Front, Enid Blyton books, etc. The difference is that I am a singular, very eccentric old bag in the body of a twenty-seven-year-old. I don't know anybody else who has any particular interest in any of those things.
By contrast, Star Trek, Doctor Who, Terry Pratchett's Discworld series...these attract obsessives in droves. And that's what gets me. Why? What is it about these things that draws geekery so inexorably, like an army of geeks marching towards their destiny, reciting lists of continuity errors, clad in Captain Kirk uniforms? I've never worked it out. It's not the fact of their obsession that intrigues me so; it's the sheer numbers of the obsessed. What is it that draws them? And why don't the rest of us see it?
Maybe I should just relax and let them get on with it. After all, lots of people are interested in stuff, the appeal of which completely eludes me. Football, for example. Or for that matter, any sport. But I can at least understand choosing a side and being partisan to it, and maybe even the excitement of competition, of the game. Even if I don't understand coming to Actual Physical blows with other human beings over it. That part all seems a bit weird. Or X-Factor. A bunch of caterwauling, jostling egos in sequins, doing sub-karaoke covers of songs which were never much good in the first place. Yes, I can let it go. It's OK for people to have different interests from me. Really. It's fine.
But one thing pursues me, giving me no peace: Why?!
It's a question that will never be resolved.

Wednesday, 10 February 2010

O Hollyoaks, where art thou?

Oh, Hollyoaks. Once the deliciously effervescent, slightly quirky younger cousin of soap elders like Corrie and Emmerdale, recent weeks have seen dangerous attempts to be "gritty" barely enlivened by daft "comedy" plots, which put you more in mind of EastEnders, which for the last ten years has existed largely on a diet of hapless thickoids making risible attempts to live a normal life, gobby Stacey wearing tiny skirts and YELLING AT THE TOP OF HER VOICE, ALL THE TIME, gangsters chivvin' each other, innit, and until recently, Phil's spiralling descent into dead-eyed, tomato-faced alcoholism.
Is Holyoaks turning into EastEnders? Let us examine the evidence. Recent Hollyoaks plots have included yet more misery for puppy-faced Hannah Ashworth, who frankly, already carries more than her weight of misery, much like a strong man towing a lorry with his teeth. Hollyoaks writers hate Hannah. Her mum is about two years older than her, she's been married to Darren Osborne, and she couldn't even indulge in a bit of teenage dieting without becoming anorexic and having her mate Melissa die on her. This time, she's run off with curly-mopped Jamie, who looks alarmingly like Hannah's brother, Josh. (Thank Christ the writers stopped short of actual incest for Hannah; really, she's been through enough without that.) Jamie has an engaging smile and often gets his arms out. Even the lardy Welsh drug dealer he's on the run from says he's pretty. But not pretty enough, it would seem. Tonight the sobbing Hannah tried to claw out her own tear ducts while Jamie was thrown round a trashed hotel room by said Welsh fat lad. Was it out of fear for her own and her ragdollish boyfriend's safety? More likely that, once again, Hannah saw her slender chances of happiness disappearing over Chester town walls.
Exhibit 2, m'lud: a "comedy" plot where the sub-Michaela McQueen, Theresa, gets dressed up like a rouged Bratz Babyz doll, red bra half poking out of vile stonewashed denim pinafore dress, to seduce recently-demoted-from-psychotic-to-hapless Ste Hay, in order to force him to take her to the ball at eyebrow pencil-point. Theresa does everything but hump Ste's leg while reading out of a book called How to Seduce a Stud. After ten minutes of this, Ste escaped at a sprint from her, and frankly, I knew how he felt. I've seen Garry Hobbs do the same thing dozens of times, albeit with less blusher. Hollyoaks, this is not a worthy plot for a McQueen. What are you thinking of?
And Exhibit 3: a child talent competition where pushy, rubbernecking tart Cindy Hutchinson tries to force daughter Holly to do a snazzy urban dancing routine for her own addled reasons. A few months ago, EastEnders' Tiffany Dean was entered in a child talent competition at the Vic by pushy aunt Janine for her own addled reasons, where she performed Firestarter.
Hollyoaks, you stand condemned. Bring back Jambo and Carol. It's your only chance. Otherwise, book yourselves on a train to Walford. And don't bother packing your party bags. It isn't that kind of place.

Tuesday, 9 February 2010

It's my party

Perhaps nothing has ever caricatured the darkness of the aspirational lifestyle better than Abigail's Party, the film where Mike Leigh made his name. It's a hundred minutes of gradually spiralling, insidious horror among the tan leather sofas and cheese cubes on cocktail sticks. Alison Steadman as Beverley marauds over the delicate sensibilities of her guests like a Godzilla of manners, criticising the dim, giggly Ange and bitching up the anxious, ladylike Sue, mother of the eponymous Abigail. All the cliches of the '70s nouveau-middle class are corralled in Beverley's floor-length coral ruffled dress, moving among the olives to Demis Roussos like some garish, carnivorous plant, completely dominating the room and every timid guest in it, steamrollering her jumpy, frustrated husband, Laurence, who she describes as a "boring little bugger" and flirting hideously with Ange's husband Tony. Like the original Charlie and Stella, Laurence and Beverley use their guests as pawns in their ongoing feud, appealing to Sue and the sullen, glowering Tony for adjudication in between spitting at each other over bowls of peanuts, as the film reaches its sickening climax.
Beverley spits her venom because she exists in a vacuum; bored by sour Laurence, unfulfilled by her silver-plated candelabra and the downstairs toilet of which she so regularly boasts, unable to find happiness even though "the money's always there." She is a bitch extraordinaire, a self-propelling monster of vulgarity, forever snatching the glasses from her so-called friends to fill them with drinks they don't want, immune to the subtleties of expression and feeling going on before her eyes. She is truly, truly vile.
And this small-scale Stalin, dictatrix of Richmond Road, gets what she deserves on a grand scale. Karma comes along and sweeps the bitch off her feet, cigarette in one hand and self-justification in the other as she leans over her critically ill husband, flicking ash in the way of his final breaths. On the scale of Beverley's sitting room, Laurence's heart attack comes as a tsunami, sweeping away rattan chairs, respectability and even the continuing music from Abigail's party down the road. It's over for Laurence, but Beverley stays with us, a worm in the back of the mind, for as long as we look sideways at a Tom Jones LP.

Monday, 8 February 2010

Who, him?

For many years, Mon Geek and I ploughed parallel furrows in time. WE had any number of mutual friends, but never spoke. Which was just as well, because when we eventually did speak, we didn't stop for a fortnight, and then began a relationship so that we needn't ever stop talking again. The news broke among our friends like a tidal wave. "Ah, you know what?" they queued up to say, shaking their heads sagely at what I was getting myself into this time. "He'll have you watching Dr Who for days on end..."
Practically the only thing I knew about him was, in fact, that he was a Dr Who fan. I knew little else, being as how he was an irredeemable geek and therefore didn't go out. (I'm kidding. No, really, I am. Don't let him beat me.) Within our social circle, which is full of Dr Who fans, he was widely acknowledged as the king, the most knowledgeable, the geek de la geek.
So I was not expecting that my views on Dr Who (William Hartnell has never been bettered, Daleks are cute, and new Dr Who is nothing like as good because the sets don't wobble and the effects are too professional) to go down well with this geek. I was expecting days of horror, strapped in some kind of hideous BDSM chair with a sonic screwdriver in my back and my eyelids clamped open in front of hours and hours of David Tennant gurning on a plasma screen like a scrawny bug-eyed chicken. And that I'd be beaten if I fell asleep.
But he was not in the least like that. He's been pretty good all told. And in the process I remembered that not all Dr Who fans are addicted to David Tennant and spanking bright posh effects that cost more than the 20p Tom Baker had at his disposal back in the day. (And sometimes, Tom, you'd have done better to buy a couple of Wham bars and have done with it.)
In fact, Mon Geek has been very gentlemanly, delighting in sharing his old videos with me, laughing with me over the rubbish effects, and not shouting at me for cracking jokes ovr the dialogue. So, to all my friends: yes, you were right. He has had me watching Dr Who for days on end. But don't be afraid; I don't need rescuing. It's not nearly as bad as you'd think.

Sunday, 7 February 2010

Reclaiming my spinsterhood

I am worried. Not only have I failed my spinster exams, but as marriage fast approaches I'm starting to become practically enamoured of the co-habiting state.
This weekend, I bought a vase and picture frames. I had an animated discussion with the geeky boyfriend about how to beautify our rather haphazard flat. I swished around, poking a feather duster under the bed and frightening spiders out of their hidey-holes, until the place was clean if not spotless. I poached partridge with pears in wine sauce for Mon Geek, with sultana-stuffed baked apples to follow. I selected pictures and oversaw him putting them up. There were no arguments and the weekend ran smoothly, as if on oiled wheels.
Christ, it's scared the shit out of me.
I mean, what could come next? Trips to Homebase and B&Q to buy shelving? Spending precious bank holidays buying new sofas or carpets? Barbeques for couples only? It's a scary prospect. Being happy with Mon Geek is one thing, but sinking into the smug complacency of conventional coupledom is quite another. And I'm beginning to see its attractions, God help me.
There's only one thing to do. I must reclaim my spinsterhood forthwith. I must retreat into all the things which characterise spinsters. I must learn petit point. I shall hone my wit until I have a tart rejoinder for every compliment paid me. I shall treat men as though they were beneath my notice. I shall take frugal repasts for one, and I shall acquire a cat.
And then, with hard work, I shall retain some links to my former spinsterhood, without having to get rid of Mon Geek. Because that would be too much for my coupley heart.

Saturday, 6 February 2010

My not-so-great escape

I like escaping. The other night, on the train back from a particularly abstruse meeting, another commuter's arse jammed in my face (I can't think why, the train wasn't particularly crowded), I found that the only way to survive was to open a particularly absurd book and read until the announcer says ALL CHANGE. Preferably earlier, if the train terminates at Aberdeen or somewhere. And I'm not the only one. I saw three or four others on the train doing the same thing; men reading Grisham or Crichton, women reading Twilight or Trollope. All of these count as escaping in their own way.
And I wouldn't decry escapist literature. It may be undemanding, have little to no literary merit and characters who would do just as well as cardboard cut-outs, but while life can be so unremittingly awful, it has its place. Think of the appalling things that exist and have their place in modern life - call centres, paninis, portable gadgets to play music loudly enough to be audible via headphones - and you'll see why The Baroness's Bodice or The Teenage Vampire Who Loved Me fulfil an indisputably necessary function, to wit, to blot out the ongoing twenty-first century horror.
My particular penchant is for neither of these. Dick Francis is my ticket out of the Starbucks-dominated urbopolis in which I unfortunately find myself. In Mr Francis' beautifully researched novels, outwardly unremarkable men with interesting jobs prove that they are double hard by being tortured in some delightfully gruesome way by a group of psychopaths involved in some kind of horse racing scam. Same plot, different names and jobs. I love them. I know i's the same book eighty times over, but I love them.
My mum is the same with Catherine Cookson, whose novels likewise contained any number of recurring themes - plucky Geordie lass has illegitimate child following being "taken down" by the master, but eventually marries and rises from the brothels and urban poverty of Bog End to the middle class neighbourhood of Brampton Hill. Husband does a lot of muttering thickly, often with his hands under his oxters, occasionally while on the netty. But my mother loves them, even if she can't remember which ones she's read because they're all so alike.
Of course, it's a lot easier to glare over your novel at the commuter's too-close-for-comfort arse and imagine a bunch of thugs threatening him with a humane killer than it is to imagine him being taken down by the master. In that regard I have the upper hand over my mother. Having said that, armed with our reading matter, both of us have the upper hand over the world.

Friday, 5 February 2010

Things that make me laugh

I'm a sucker for lists. Every time I go shopping, I write one. Then I forget to take it with me. The A4 notebook that accompanies me everywhere at work is full of to-do lists for every day I'm there, because otherwise I can get halfway home before I realise that the vitally important meeting hasn't been booked, or the work I kindly volunteered to do for somebody I need to impress has been ignored all day. Lists are the way to go for the absent-minded. Trust me on this. I should know.
So, in the spirit of list-making, here's a list of suff that makes me smile. Even if some of it makes me cringe as well.

1. My son's delightful conversation openers: He's at a curious age. Thing is, he doesn't know how to frame the questions he wants to ask. So our conversations begin abruptly with "You got boobies" or "That bin, is it for the things you put in the front when you're not growing a baby?" Ah, the joys of taking a four-year-old to the toilets in John Lewis. Every time, we get overheard.

2. The Morecambe and Wise breakfast sketch: It's like magic. Even if I start off miserable, by the time they squeeze the grapefruits I'm giggling like a loon.

3. Hollyoaks: Oh, it's great. The child actors knock spots off those in any other soap on television. It features Kris, the gobby cross-dressing Irish bisexual, quite possibly the best character that has ever been invented for a continuing series, and the McQueens, loveable chavs extraordinaire, especially Michaela who is unreservedly brilliant. It's half an hour of pure distilled joy, althoug occasionally you have to knock off points here and there for Andrex puppy stunt double Hannah Ashworth and shouty rubbernecking tart Cindy Hutchinson. Oh, Tony. And you could have been a McQueen-in-law.

4. Butternut squash: It's a healthy vegetable, and it looks rude enough to cause helpless giggles. It wins on all points.

5. Enid Blyton stories: The sheer improbable dated middle-classness of it all, not to mention the many sublime double entendres, makes me cry laughing every time. Plus I just burped. That's always funny too. Happy days.

Thursday, 4 February 2010

I am a secret GURL

I do not excel at being a Girl. I can't paint my nails tidily, or be arsed to redo them when I inevitably mess them up ("What? I'm going OUT. It'll be dark..."); I have had the same hairstyle since I was seven and grew out my fringe. I own less than a half-dozen pairs of shoes, all of which are black and appropriate to different levels of formality or weather. I never got on with Sex and the City. I don't like shopping.
Despite this, at least once every three weeks I undergo a strange mutation, in which I metamorphose from the usual tubby, hairy-legged caterpillar into a delicately feminine butterfly. I do something quintessentially girly. I make myself a brew, grab the biscuit barrel, and sit down in front of my favourite film of all time, Brief Encounter.
No, keep reading. Honestly.
Brief Encounter was written by Noel Coward, and has a soundtrack by Rachmaninov. That alone should be enough to make anyone's heart thrill. The cast includes the iconic Joyce Carey, the frailly beautiful Celia Johnson and the charming Trevor Howard, and features steam trains, starkly alluring Utility suits and explicit footage of Bath buns. And as if this wasn't enough, there is Plot.
Fraught, tense and understatedly tragic, Brief Encounter is as compelling today as it was in 1945. Time and again I've watched Laura and Alec meet, fight and resist mutual attraction, finally giving in only to be forced to forsake the brief happiness they've found amid the drabness of wartime. Broken, they return to their marriages in a desperate attempt to forget the happiness that was so easily found elsewhere. Brief Encounter is unique; it is the only film which consistently makes me cry.
Now I don't cry at films, ever. (Except ET, and that's between us, right?) In fact I find the normal weepy chick flicks putridly self-indulgent. It's the restraint that Laura and Alec show that affects me so deeply. It's always the same scene that does it, too; when Alec first confesses that he has fallen in love with Laura, and she admits, honestly and straightforwardly, that she feels the same. And is brave enough to flout the swell of violins, the Hollywood gospel that love is all that matters. "It isn't. Other things matter too, like honesty and decency and self-respect..." Laura flounders on, through the morass of feelings too big and too wild to be corralled by words, "We must forget that we've said what we've said. There's still time - if we control ourselves, and behave like ordinary, decent human beings - there's still time -" And at this, she begins to cry, recognising the hopeless situation in which she has found herself, and been completely overwhelmed by, like someone trying to mop up the sea with a dishcloth.
And there, I howl like a woman hunted down by the hormone hounds. Every time. The Jaffa cake melting, forgotten, in my hand, tears splashing into my brew, I cry. In those ninety minutes, I am a Proper Girl. Then Laura returns to her boring husband, the Rachmaninov swells to an end, the credits roll, and I go back to scratching myself and drinking lager from the can.

Wednesday, 3 February 2010

Girl, On Film

Do you know what I'd like? I'd like to go to the cinema.
Let me paraphrase this. I'd like to go and see a film and have it be an enjoyable experience. I would like to not have to pay approximately three days' wages for popcorn that tastes like toffee-coated underlay served to me by a glowering munter in a stupid uniform. I would like not to have to walk the duck walk of over-made-up chavs posing and sniggering for thick-arsed scallies done up in their best Ben Sherman, just to get through the god-damn door. I'd like not to feel that by merely walking through the door I have been bought and buggered by the worst kind of American consumerism. Outside may be Nottingham in all its unpretentious, midland cheer; inside, Coca-colonisation awaits. And only a glass door separates the two.
And that's before you look at the films. A klutzy-looking berk with untidy hair pulling an oh-so-self-consciously "quizzical" expression near a blonde in a short dress? That'll be screen one. Less comedic, more two hours that I'd prefer to spend having emergency bowel surgery. Bunch of pallid, shirtless teenagers on dark background with Buffy-ish lettering over it? That'll be screen two: blatant manipulation of the Buffy/X-Files/Charmed fans through flagrant copying of the marketing strategy. Superhero film starring edgy semi-known in latex in front of anonymous cityscape with rubbish, quasi-meaningful dimestore philosophy strapline? Screen three for extravagant explosions, CG that will seem laughable next decade and three bastard hours of what the director thinks are like, rilly deep thoughts. Completely unsuitable for children but with the lowest age rating they could get away with. Kids buy more of the branded shit that accompanies it.
Poster of genuine megastar next to alleged "heartthrob" with all the actul sex appeal and acting ability of a slab of rock? It'll be something about Destiny and Being The Man Of The Moment, and for that you want screen 4. I could go on.
The trouble is, 98% of all this crap is the same - a phenomenally unoriginal waste of money, with the same overblown, gimcrack didache shot through it like BLACKPOOL through rock, except not as meaningful. I've enjoyed films, and recently. Pixar are usually a good bet; I liked Coraline, and three years down the line I'm still laughing at the wonderful, preposterous Die Hard 4, which took the piss out of itself, and then some. But for the most part, a trip to the cinema is a painful experience, which costs me as much as a moderate blackmail attempt and leaves me with physical and mental indigestion. Plus backache from the shitty seats in which even a shortarse like me has to fold up like a concertina.
I'm staying at home next time. My sofa is comfortable, Katherine Hepburn is scintillating and nobody's going to screw me over for a bag of Maltesers. Hollywood, you can kiss my idle, sofa-bound arse.

Tuesday, 2 February 2010

Mr Pink-Whistle Interferes

Enid Blyton. Child-hating crone endlessly recycling a bunch of outdated prejudices into twee little stories about middle-class children who encounter "fairy folk", or world's most renowned children's author? Who can say? Personally I find her hilarious. As an avid collector of children's books, I own several volumes of her saccharine, Struwwelpeter-esque works. And I can tell you that they all fall into one of the following categories:
1. Intrepid group of children solve dangerous mysteries untrammelled by adult interference, or for that matter, care of any description, such as the Famous Five. (NB: one character usually called after a euphemism for the pudenda. Why she just didn't call one of them Twat or Chuff is beyond me.)
2. Child/children meet some form of mythical fairy/brownie/goblin/pixie, a la Wishing Chair. If pixie, usually called Peronel or Chinky, Ms Blyton clearly never having met anyone Chinese.
3. Toys that come to life, racially abuse each other and break the Highway Code in hideous primary-coloured cars. (Noddy. 'Nuff said.)
4. Weird little men who make the same mistake in every single story and are belaboured for this by a middle-aged dominatrix with whom they unaccountably reside. (Misters Twiddle and Meddle.)
5. School stories starring hockey-playing, team-spirited Headmistresses Of The Future who work hard, play hard and bitch up Mam'zelle at every possible opportunity.
6. Mr Pink-Whistle.

Now M. le Pink-Whistle is actually really a sub-section of 2, as he is "half a brownie, and goes around putting wrong things right" but he is so truly petrifying that he deserves a category all to himself. Translated into real terms, what this means is: he stalks children, who don't seem in the least amused or frightened by his frankly terrifying sex-shop-generated name, in order to interfere in their affairs. In order to right the wrongs of their childish world, this creepsome halfling sees fit to make himself invisible, a skill which has two excellent benefits. One, it safeguards him from possible pursuit by local vigilantes, should they see him approaching yet another small girl sweetly smiling as she swings on her garden gate. Two, it enables him to hide in the bedrooms of teenaged bully boys and frighten them out of their wits. Thank goodness nasty little Harry or Len is usually only playing marbles when Mr P-W's voice starts booming out of thin air, confronting them with their evil deeds of doll-nicking and pushing over of smaller children. No doubt he keeps quiet after four o'clock bread and butter in the hope of seeing them get up to some furtive teenaged pant-probing later on. Mr P-W is no respecter of privacy.
To younger children, and especially small girls for whom we are informed he has an especial fondness, Mr P-W is more kindly. He frequently brings them extravagant presents or invites them to a tea party otherwise attended by other brownies and rabbits, as well as his talking cat-housekeeper, the imaginatively named Sooty. Usually this happens after the small girl in question has contracted an ill-timed case of the pox, preventing her from attending a much-anticipated social event. This happens so regularly in the various books that I am forced to only one conclusion. Mr P-W deliberately infects these children with virulent and deadly bugs solely in order to sabotage their chances of a social life and make them dependent upon him for social interaction.
Either that, or Ms Blyton started getting lazy and recycling her stories. And she wouldn't do that...would she?

Monday, 1 February 2010

Emmerdale: jobs for the boys

Emmerdale is definitely a mixed bag of late. Natasha Wylde is beginning to look even more like Skeletor in a wig and a rubbish Karen Millen black dress bought in the January sales, while Andy Sugden is losing out at Butler's Farm. Standing next to the wholesome Barton menfolk, who could advertise Scott's Porage Oats had they only sparkling white vests to do it in, poor old Andy resembles an oafish, be-hatted dwarf.

He'll never cop off with Maisie Wylde that way. And what happened to the barnets of Beckindale? I know the nearest hairdresser is in Hotten, but the sons of the village are suffering. Thomas King and Will Wylde only have one haircut between them. Although I'll admit that Charity Dingle's flowing tresses are flattering. Cain, of course, has a smart short do. Perhaps he has access to a black market barber...or maybe he asked disgruntled Andy to shear him on the quiet.

Perhaps Andy could extend his farming skills more generally to the village. The humane killer could put an end to the newly-brunette Victoria Sugden (who knew that you could grow out of being ginger?), while a pair of bloodless castrators could have done well to end the bigamous career of Mark "Botox" Wylde.

Unfortunately the mystery killer got there first, so maybe Andy could geld the tight-arsed posh scion of the Wyldes, Nathan, instead. Nathan hasn't actually done anything to offend me, but who'd want a face like that passed on to the next generation? No, Nathan's balls must go, even if Andy has to bite them through with his own teeth. It's a service to the world, I'm telling you.

The Failed Spinster Cometh

As a child, I had many ambitions: gangster princess, contralto vet, astronaut nun...but as we grow, we put aside childish things. On entering my twenties, different careers seemed attractive to me, such as "mad cat lady", "cackling crone", and the most compelling "spinster."

Unfortunately, it is a sad truth that life doesn't always work out the way we want it to when we are young. I made several efforts to preserve my proto-spinsterhood, taking up knitting, acquiring a goddaughter, and even going so far as to break off three engagements into which I had inadvertently fallen, but it was no use. The axe cannot be avoided forever. I entered into a relationship with Himself on 21/08/2007, and in doing so, I failed my spinster practicals.

This blog is the outpouring of snarky, televisually-addicted bitterness that has resulted. Happy reading.