Sunday, 5 December 2010

The key to happiness

I consider myself quite rare in that I have a very defined definition of happiness. It is as follows:
  • A car
  • Money in the bank
  • A good companion
  • Sat Nav
I'm a woman of modest needs I'm sure you'll agree. And yet you'd be surprised at how few of the above I've actually got.

Sunday, 19 September 2010

You know how to whistle don't you? Arf arf

When your hair is as crap and lacklustre as mine, one shampoo is the same as the next. But little did I know when I partook of a BOGOF deal for Herbal Essences that I was going to get an education too. In a cunning ploy to get you to buy the shampoo and conditioner they have put Herbal Head Games on the back of the bottles - read the question on one bottle, find out the answer on the other. Herbal Mind Fuck wasn't congruent with their brand I guess.

So, what did I learn today?

Shampoo asks: What is rated as the best unconscious way to attract the opposite sex?
Conditioner answers: Whistling

Keen as I am to attract members of the opposite sex, doing so while unconscious is a bit worrying. But what is NOT worrying, and is in fact rather exciting, is that this strikes me as being all a bit One Man and His Dog. If only I'd have worked this out before! A bit of whistling here, a 'come by' there and you can literally round up dozens of hapless victims lovers for your delectation. And maybe even win a rosette too.

As we all know, an independent mind and free spirit is a total no no in a partner so how can this approach fail?  Who wants to bother with chat up lines and little black dresses when you can turn heads with an authorative, commanding whistle? I imagine if you get into a relationship with someone you attract in this way you'd need to eventually spice things up by snapping your fingers at them occasionally but it's these little romantic gestures that make such a difference.

The trouble is, I don't really know how to whistle. I'm no expert when it comes to what men think but I imagine that going up to them and making blowing noises is not going to send out the right message. That would make me more of a Pantene kind of girl. 

Friday, 17 September 2010

I'm the sort of person who finds old people arguing in the street funny

While I was in town earlier I saw an old couple, and a I mean a genuine, in their eighties or more, old couple - bent over, shuffling along, pristine rain coats - break out into a massive row. Right there, in front of everyone and they didn't care who saw.

I laughed of course but I'm bloody well going to implicate my sister who encouraged me by laughing like Muttley watching a pigeon culling session. We share a cruelty gene.

Anyway, my point is, have you ever in your life seen anything like this before?! Because I hadn't. We're used to twinkly-eyed, loved-up stereotypes of oldies who have been together since the dawn of Last of the Summer Wine (or time, whichever came first) and still care. We like oohing and aahing over them as they hold hands and do nice things for one another. They're from another planet but hey, they show us that love can conquer warts and incontinence. We like them for that.

But alas, there is trouble in paradise and I have witnessed it. It turns out they're just like us. Please tell me I'm not the only one who suspects she got caught ogling some guy's arse?

Tuesday, 24 August 2010

A middle-aged woman, a cat and a wheelie bin. Stuff's gonna happen

I empathise with the cat who got dumped in a bin.

That fleeting moment seems to perfectly illustrate the story of my life.

Wednesday, 18 August 2010

Arse-staring etiquette

Gentlemen - when staring at a woman's arse, what's polite? To try and go completely undetected, lest your ogling cause offense? If spotted aim for a bashful but cheeky grin and a shrug of the shoulders? How about idly cycling past her, tipping your head back to prolong the last few moments her arse is in view, swinging round to check out the rest of her while your eyes slowly climb the object of your interest until reaching her face, where you continue to scrutinise her appearance in a detached and mildly curious fashion until catching the incredulous look on her face, jump to with a small intake of breath and cycle off with a casual, "sorry"?

Is this the latest in propriety? Or should I, for argument's sake, nonchalantly push him off his bike should I see him again with a coquettish, pouty, "oops"?

Friday, 6 August 2010

Answering nature's call

I believe in the power of nominative determinism and it's all thanks to Samantha Fountain. Who else could have brought us the Shewee - the device designed to help ladies go for a wee wee standing up?

Isn't that unbelievably brilliant?? Apparently it's being considered by Cambridgeshire Police so that female officers can...
"stand up at public toilets and avoid unhygienic seats, or use a convenient container when a toilet is unavailable."
...but we all know that means pissing up a tree.

Part of the sales pitch says that it means no more "embarrassing bare bottoms" but given that it's talking about a scenario where one gets caught I'm not sure how much less embarrassing being seen weeing through a plastic tube might be. Only one way to find out I guess.

But it's not just a practical item, in case you were wondering what else you might do with it outside of long car journeys and when you're walking home drunk and forgot to go to the loo in the pub. We are also blessed with an opportunity to brag - man stylee. If I was going to get one, I'd definitely go for a Shewee Extreme. And then I'd swagger around the place shouting about the size of my "longer length outlet pipe".

Friday, 30 July 2010

BBC cuts - let's not be foxed, we want real reasons

Right, the BBC - for or against? More specifically, BBC cuts - wotcha thinking? I'm going to nail my colours to the mast right away and say that I am enormously pro BBC. I love it, I want it to stay, it provides the vast majority of what I watch and listen to on TV and radio, I would consider it a blow to British culture if it was to go or be reduced in any way. So, I'm unequivocal.

So much so that I joined in with a sea of like-minded souls recently and emailed my MP with my concerns after Jeremy Hunt spoke of the proposed cuts to the licence fee. The reasons for this 'proposal' (thinly veiled threat to some) is that the BBC needed to "demonstrate the very constrained financial situation we are now in". Which at first glance, second glance and in fact with every glance so far, begs the question, why? How does cutting the licence fee directly help with the deficit? As far as I can make out, it doesn't but this doesn't stop Hunt and my MP from carefully wording it so that it sort of appears that it does.

But it's really doing no more than demanding that the BBC removes its hat when the funeral procession goes past. Fair enough in some respects but is this really the government's business? Are they here to piously observe the Beeb's manners? And given that they are making such a big noise about the economic state of the country, shouldn't they be getting on with something a little more productive?

I'm not blind to the BBC's faults and in fact agree that they've had way too many 'let them eat cake' moments over last few years. Paying outrageous salaries to the big wigs and some ill-judged broadcasts meant that they made themselves seem both arrogant and flippant - and to the fans amongst us wincing through our fingers, positively self basting . But it musn't be forgotten that the BBC is unique in the level of its scrutiny as a public broadcaster. Its private sector rivals wouldn't fare so well if the spot light were upon them but can rest easy that it's unlikely to have to endure it.

Another, and arguably more severe criticism, would be the criminalising of those who find themselves unable to pay for their licence. It does seem unfair on the very poorest in society and I'm not sure that, worst case scenario, a prison sentence could possibly be justified for something so trivial. But I similarly cannot see that £4 a week is beyond the reach of the vast majority of people. For entertainment, that's excellent value. Less than a bottle of wine, less than hiring a DVD, less than the starter at most restaurants. As issues go, I'm sure this is solvable without resorting to diminishing the BBC in general.

So given that we, the 'all sorts' of Britain, pay for a licence, the BBC is left in the very difficult position of having to juggle catering for all tastes (being populist) with being innovative and creative (lavish costume dramas mainly). Something I think it does rather well - Doctor Who seems to straddle both comfortably. Much as I may loath Total Wipeout, I don't consider it to be the be all and end all of their output and am happy to pretend it doesn't exist while I patiently wait to tune into the next installment of Sherlock or Just a Minute.

One of the points that my MP copied and pasted (I saw someone else had received an identical email) to me was his intention to ensure that cuts were not "capricious or wilfully damaging" but that he would also "support choices that return the BBC to its supposed guiding doctrine of 'Reithianism'". I agree. But whether a bias exists or not should be a matter for a truly independant body to decide. Who knows, maybe the BBC could emerge as one of the most impartial news broadcasters we have. And maybe the government may come across as having a somewhat petty and vindictive agenda. Maybe.

Of course, one of the main platforms that they have chosen to inform the public of their proposals is the BBC, who on this occasion have interpreted Reithian values as not making wanker hand-gestures behind Tory MPs when they're not looking. The whole spectacle has somewhat reminded me of the ungracious rudeness encouraged in Come Dine With Me. You know, that Channel 4 crap.

Tuesday, 20 July 2010

Shut up and get to my point

Seeing as watching David Mitchell talk about cunnilingus on That Mitchell and Webb Look blew up my set top box (this is not a euphemism, it actually happened) it looks like I'm going to have to blog for my entertainment this evening. 

And what could be more entertaining than writing about how I'm never wrong. Yes, that's right, I'm never wrong. Well, not according to other people anyway. Otherwise they would stick to the points or arguments I raise and not rely on hysterical diversions and departures to give them something to say, wouldn't they? 

Yeah, you do know what I mean. I'm talking about those instances when you say something like "I'm not actually opposed to immigration as a whole" and it somehow gets translated into "I'm oblivious to your situation, your life and your feelings. Please correct me in the most indignant manner possible because I'm an idiot for not talking about your circumstances in fine point detail". 

I can only assume that such people are in awe of my flawless logic and reasoning, left to scrabble around in the remains of the debate, trying to pick up scraps where they can find them. Pity the poor fools as they feed on morsels of hyperbole and misunderstanding for survival. I literally rock. 

Except I don't of course. Even the most cursory glance over my life will tell you that I am wrong 99% of the time so why the need to veer so far off the point in the first place? Why are people so incapable of listening and engaging? (And succinctly gunning down my argument, at which point I do actually shut up.)

Self-importance would be one answer. There's nothing like the thrill people get when approaching a chance to crap on about themselves, particularly if it means recounting tales of woe. The whole world doesn't understand them and you become its representative. Or at least you would be if you were listening. In reality all you can do is wonder whether to punch them or appease them. 

Another likely answer is that many people are only capable of holding a single concept in their minds at a time. They'll pluck out one aspect of what you said, attach a personal experience or viewpoint and then run with it. Whatever else you mentioned is a mere dot on the horizon by the time they've finished. Although I'm sure it can hear them shouting. 

But this is incredibly dumb isn't it? Most things in life are complex and variable. Even if your pesky opposition is right in what they say, it's hardly an achievement if you fail to include all other relevant facts or opinions. It's like boasting about building a house and then becoming ridiculously proud of having just one brick. 

My last stab at understanding would be that, particularly on internet forums and comments sections, binary thinking is often favoured. You're right or wrong, good or bad, left or right, in agreement or not. No shades of grey exist. If there's a system of rating or recommending comments on a site, check it out, you'll see how swayed readers are by this type of thinking. If ever there were a reason for keeping your opinions to yourself, you'll find it online. 

Friday, 9 July 2010

Maintaining the right to feel annoyance

I have mentioned my terrible neighbours before and will continue to do so because they refuse to go away. But I haven't mentioned the Friday night pest as yet I don't think. 

If I was to say to you that I really hate the sound of people laughing you'd think I was a meany old misanthrope. But if I was to say that my neighbour upstairs and her friends were like a bunch of cackling Essex girls* at happy hour in Ibiza would you sympathise and feel I had cause to be annoyed? My point is, I'm not horrible, I'm literally being forced to dislike these people! 

*I actually hail from Essex and so can indulge in stereotyping. 

Monday, 5 July 2010

Talking of stupidity... there ever a better time to tell how stupid someone is than when they're trying to be clever? I'm a prime example of this of course, but I'm not on this blog to talk about myself *ahem*(I totally am).

But what is the real acid test for you? Here's mine:

Purple - trying to win "I'm the king of the castle" points against you for something that reflects on them. An old boss of mine once tried to get everyone to laugh at my crappy, pauper's car once. There's a reason why it was only once. 
Blue - genuinely believing that not being two-faced is more desirable than having tact, diplomacy and pleasant manners. 
Green - "I'm not racist but..."
Yellow - trying to pass off modern, daytime TV style claptrap as if it were your own little gem of  enlightenment - "you can't expect anyone else to love you until you love yourself", "I'm just being myself" and on and on. Sitting there with a look on your face like you're expecting to be treated like your generation's answer to Confucius won't swing it either. 
Red - laughing so loudly and incessantly - without a long enough gap to actually say anything funny in between - that your own (Freudian) id screams itself hoarse in desperation. These people are given to caring more that they are cool rather than clever, so I'm cheating.

Please, someone help my stupid neighbour

I am extremely concerned about my neighbour (the laughing policeman for those interested). He has been emitting the strangest, strangulated hoots for over an hour now and my unofficial diagnosis is that he is now hysterical due to being in the final stages of his stupidity consuming him whole. A sort of 'silly'fication if you will. The process has obviously reached his ears already because no mortal would be able to tolerate the sound of such thickery coming out of their own mouths without shutting up. 

If you have experience in working with such unfortunate people, or are just very big and very violent, please do all you can to put him out if his misery. And mine. 

Wednesday, 30 June 2010

I'm Sorry, I Haven't a Ticket

Being an unreasonable sort of person, I'm genuinely pissed off that many of the comments from people who went to the Cambridge recording of I'm Sorry, I Haven't a Clue last night weren't even from Cambridge. It's just like, totally not fair. Don't they realise that we don't usually have anything interesting to do around here?

Thursday, 10 June 2010

Comment of the week

I love online commenters, don't you? So much knowledge and they're never ungenerous in sharing it. Sadly, the world wide web has lost a great one on Charlie Brooker's article Jack Bauer is no more because Yonkers had the following removed:

Christ Almighty. We've got children in Gaza dying for lack of basic amenities and people being murdered trying to help them.

We've got a lost population in ZImbabwe slowly being starved to death by a barbaric regime. We've got the whole population of Burma held hostage by murdering tyrants. We've got African children dying by the hundred every day owing to the West's imperialist policies.

And all you can think of is some piece of fictionalised American pap that no-one really gives a shit about. What's important to you Brooker?

Still, it's easy money I suppose.

Yonkers sadly doesn't mention what his or her contribution to resolving the above tragedies might be, preferring to focus instead on Charlie's selfish, lily-livered decision to meet his contractual agreement with the Guardian newspaper and write a humourous column on a completely unrelated subject. Imbecile. Now NOTHING will get done about the world's problems. 

I mean, why did we even give Charlie so called Brooker the Magic Pen of World Peace anyway? He's done literally nothing with it. Give it to Yonkers I say. With that sense of perspective, what could go wrong?  

Wednesday, 9 June 2010

Waste, cuts and being poked in two different ends

I am overdue for my smear test. I also needed a blood test and so due to the general pokey feel of both these procedures, decided to make a day of it and book both with a surgery nurse. This wasn't possible however, due to all the nurses who could carry out pokey procedure number 1 being on holiday at the moment. 

Naturally, after being informed of this on the phone, my mind turned to the government's latest mantra of cuts in the public services. The buzz phrase here is 'cutting waste'. But what constitutes waste and what is reasonable leeway? And can whoever is managing these cuts be trusted to know the difference? 

Nobody wants to see their money being pissed away obviously. Having worked in social care, I'm afraid I can think of hundreds of instances of this happening - amounting to thousands of pounds of never to be seen again cash. It won't surprise you to know that most of this foolish squandering was protected by another buzz phrase - company policy. But staff rarely seem to escape unnoticed on account of wages being one of the biggest budgets. 

They tried volunteers, they tried shaving £2.50 of our weekly activities with tenants fund, they tried over-working us to the point of exhaustion in the hope that we would leave. But we stubbornly continued to turn up for work on a daily basis, expecting to get paid. 

But they did have a point in some respects. Occasionally, there was little to do. There were times when I was sat at a bus stop on my way to collect one of my charges and during that time *whispers* I didn't do any work. Sure, I was on-call. I was ready to start barking instructions at agency workers in the case of an emergency. I was willing enough to work. But just couldn't. It was time wasted. But, I would argue, what other options are there? 

What's an empty milk carton if it's not waste? An important question being asked the world over. Alternatives are needed - 'alternatives' being the operative word. Because before it was an empty milk carton, it was an essential vessel for transporting milk from the shop to your home. A obvious point maybe, but have you ever tried carrying milk home by cupping it in your hands? Some things are just necessary. You can spend all day bemoaning a carton's existence but at least you're not crying over spilt milk (haha! No? Oh.)

Slashing staff and their resources may seem like the obvious solution but all too many times you are jeopardising efficiency, undervaluing the positives in what you have and leaving no room to manoeuvre should anything go wrong - and it always will at some point. 

And I lose out on the only chance to be poked in two different ends that I currently have.

Tuesday, 8 June 2010

Cook To Be Thin

Flicking through the TV channels whilst waiting for my new phone not to arrive, I happened upon 'Cook to be Thin' with Gizzi Erskine. Essentially it's a low-fat 'The Delicious Miss Dahl'. 

I don't for one second believe that they are advocating a dangerously unhealthy diet in their programme but isn't the title a bit much? Aren't they really saying Cook to be Underweight? Cook to Be Skin and Bones? Cook Yourself Into a State of Being Medically At Risk of a Number of Unpleasant Conditions? Because that's what thin really means isn't it? 

I'm sure Cook to be Nice and Slim would have sufficed. 

Saturday, 5 June 2010

Why are you carrying a bag of water?

Today I met my brother and his family for a day's shopping and a bite to eat. Simple enough plan isn't it? What could possible go wrong? The answer being that the plan involved me and therefore, anything. 

In one shop, my sister in law had a lot to achieve. My brother and I whiled away the time loitering. And dripping water onto the floor. This is because a bottle of water had spilt over in my bag - at first unbeknownst to me and then progressively more embarrassingly known to me as it turned into a pool. Eventually a shop assistant came over with a cloth to wipe it up and gave me an unmistakable look of 'why the fuck are you carrying a bag of water'. To which I had no appropriate response, life and experience not having provided me with one to date. 

The English static start

Many people, particularly the English, are down on the English. They believe their day has come and gone and they are no longer the best at anything. These people (including the English) are fools. Because there is one thing that we continue to excel in. The static start. 

What might this be? Imagine a social gathering and someone, for arguments sake let's say they're American, says something disgustingly sentimental, emotionally expressive or just plain wrong. Do we react? Do we address the situation? Do we cause a scene? No! We stand stock still. Our insides knot and lurch with the excruciating pain and discomfort of it all, our minds bolt for the door. But externally we don't move a muscle. 

If you think the genius ends there you're wrong. Because when this happens, miraculously everyone else in the room who's English spots it. Hard to say how as there are no outward signs of it at all. So ladies and gentlemen, all hail the English - the kings and queens of the static start. 

Tuesday, 1 June 2010

Russell Kane doing shifts for the NHS

I know next to nothing about Russell Kane, so am not qualified to publicly call him a tool. It is also very possible that he said something off the top of his head without thinking about it. 

There. Having displayed my capacity for clemency, I'm going to ask the same of you because I now have to admit to seeing him on The Wright Stuff this morning (I'm not an avid viewer, honest) and he made a throwaway comment that essentially said that if public sector workers wanted the same wages as private sector workers - go work for the private sector. It was said with a small shrug and a 'get me, I've just cleared that matter up in a heartbeat' smile. Maybe I'm being harsh. Maybe it was wind. 

And maybe he didn't mean that we should have no sympathy for them. Or that public services weren't vital. Or that he had never made good use of them. Maybe in fact he meant that he is the perfect example of the new government's shared responsibility ideals and that he was prepared to man the hospitals, prisons, police stations and sweep the streets on a Sunday morning when he's done. Maybe he was only on the Wright Stuff because it's half-term and our nation's young do not need his usual Tuesday morning maths lesson. 

I'm now cheekily burying another mitigating factor underneath all my sniping and must tell you that he said this in response to the top managers' wages in the public sector rather than the bulk of the workers. But there is still something admirable about eschewing a lot of money for something one considers to be more worthwhile, whatever the level. 

The vast majority of public sector workers that I've ever met automatically assume they will, and always will, get less money as a result of their choice of job. But they still want what everyone else wants - a fair and livable wage and one that reflects their contribution to society. If, and only if, you don't believe that you need their services and won't have need to turn to them for the sake of your comfort, safety or life, then do feel free to shrug at the implications of the enormous pay gap between them and you. 

Monday, 31 May 2010

Miss - The Point

Websites that ask you to select your title via a drop down box and who include only the options of Mrs or Ms *coughs to emphasise the hilarious joke I'm about to make* 'Miss' the point somewhat. 

I'm here all week, next week and for some considerable time after that. Sorry. 

Thursday, 27 May 2010

Safety conscious and self-righteous

I'm not one to slag off the young for the sake of it, really I'm not. But I have just nearly been mown down by a young woman/girl on her bike. I shan't bore you with the details, don't worry, but suffice to say it was my right of way - unequivocally (it was on a footbridge ffs). I was a little taken aback at her determination to just keep going, meaning she had to slam on the breaks at my feet. (I wasn't playing chicken with her or putting up a fight, I just couldn't mentally process that such a social faux pas on her part would mean me ending up in hospital.) No apology, just a hostile lip curl. 

I was even more taken aback by the thought that I was staring into the face of a generation that makes no sense to me. Safety helmet on, she was protected against the knocks. But her self-righteous attitude meant that she became a threat to me. Call me old-fashioned (and she'd have just called me old) but something is way off balance there. rude. Did I mention she was quite fat? 

Wednesday, 26 May 2010

Luddite friends (who won't read this obviously)

Do all of your friends have a computer? These days that would seem to be a ridiculous question. Everyone has a computer. And an iPhone. And exact knowledge of Wi-Fi spots and internet caf├ęs for every journey.  27/7 access to Twitter basically. 'Tis the modern world. 

So I consider myself to be quite unusual in that the vast majority of my friends are barely techno-literate. Of my three best friends, I have an email address for one of them. One doesn't even own a computer. 

This would be the perfect place to slag them off of course but I actually like them - more's the pity. But I wondered whether this was as unusual as it seems? Or am I just buying into a media construct of what the modern person is, does and has these days? 

Tuesday, 25 May 2010

Does it matter that Wagner was a bit of a shit?

Where do you stand on the issue of whether an individual's character is relevant to his or her ability to do a good job? It's certainly a topic that rears its ugly head often enough - usually with a politician's face on the front of it. From John Prescott, to the likes of Roman Polanski - when someone does something bad, we fret over the rights and wrongs of continuing to appreciate their output. 

Stephen Fry is going to be looking at this tonight on BBC4 in his documentary on Wagner, his love of his work and his feelings on Wagner's anti-Semitic views (Fry being Jewish). Wagner is of course infamously and eternally associated with the Nazis by way of their appropriating his work for their propaganda and Hitler's favourable take on Wagner's vision for Germany. Nice. 

So for many, Wagner's work is tainted, making it impossible and unacceptable to listen to. Others believe the music stands alone. 

It is one of those arguments that people explore by trying out one avenue first, coming to a satisfactory conclusion and then discounting the other without paying it the same respect. Why bother when something instinctively feels so right? Trouble is both sides actually feel pretty right. You feel perfectly moral sitting on either side of the fence. So why the division anyway, and is it a false one? 

To me a piece of music is entirely blameless. To say otherwise strikes me as suffering from a bad attack of anthropomorphism. Could the Ride of the Valkyries be tried for war crimes? Of course not. Not that I'm suggesting that anyone would ever suggest such a foolish thing but the strength of feelings towards a piece of art based on associations can be surprisingly blame fueled (video games being one of the most extreme current examples). Yes it is pure or evil, or pure evil on the basis on our perception only. And perception, somewhat beautifully, isn't limitless. I'm sure that Oxfam could pipe in Wagner's rousing strains to its aid workers and get them fired up as an even greater force for good - put some welly in their sandals so to speak. 

And they wouldn't think it sounded wrong. They wouldn't suck their teeth and declare that this isn't saintly music, claiming, "No, this is more Nazi music and no mistaking". No such thing exists. So basically, it's fine to like Wagner's music. It's fine to disassociate it from the Nazis and even from the views of the composer himself, because then it becomes more about you, and you're all right aren't you?

When I say, basically, though, possibly it's only basic because Wagner is now dead.

It's a little more complicated with the work of the living. Had I been a massive fan of Gary Glitter (I am not and have never been...just saying) I'm sure I'd have been heartbroken to have had to pack away all of his records - as they would have been in those days - away and chuck them onto the peodo-pile, never to see the light of day again. But is there any reason why I'd have to break my heart in this way? (I realise I'm becoming more and more ridiculous in using this example). I haven't done anything wrong and neither has 'I'm the Leader of the Gang (I am)'. Should Gary Glitter never see the light of day again? A different matter. 

The artist is always accountable for his or herself because the artist is a human being. A very trite sentence - I agree with you. But it seems to confuse a hell of a lot of people in practise because of how revered artists, and particularly celebrities are. There's nothing wrong with a healthy dose of adoration for the people that bring us our favourite songs/films/TV shows/books - but we should remember that they are people and not the Gods they sometimes get built up to be. 

I can see why it happens. Art can, and should, inspire great heights of emotion and we are inclined to put artists right at the top alongside these feelings - it prolongs the joy. So we are shocked enough to discover that they like boring old Crunchy Nut Cornflakes let alone that they turn out to have questionable views on immigration. We hate the dissonance and immediately seek to rectify it. 

For an example of this we need look no further than Michael Jackson's trial. He was found not guilty of course - fine. But we all knew that his devoted fans wouldn't have accepted any other verdict purely on the basis of the eulogising of their idol. The facts of the case would have been irrelevant either way. 

So the confusion should be dealt with - the implications clearly can be important.  I look forward to Stephen's documentary to see how he dealt with his personal conflicts. But for my tuppenny's worth, as long as we never fail ourselves (and the society we live in) by confusing the value of the artist with the value of the work he/she produces, giving them too much leeway in their personal failings, our consciences can be clear. Go ahead and enjoy the glorious art the horrible little shits come up with. 

Uncommonly sexy

Either someone who looks just like me has been on the news for shagging the entire England team or I am looking uncommonly sexy today. I have had 3 car horns beeped at me, 1 hello and 1 friendly smile from men. punch-line, it just happened. Given that this hasn't happened in years I'm feeling more bemused than irresistible. 

Friday, 21 May 2010

On the Rocks - Bad Romance. The latest YouTube legends

If you are yet to see the lovely and positively lickable On The Rocks perform their sublime version of Lady Gaga's Bad Romance, then please feel free to watch it here. Don't worry, you can watch it as many times as you like and I won't disturb you. 

Thursday, 20 May 2010

A class act

Have you got class? If you live in Britain then you will have - one of a whole, whopping range of three. Social mobility may be one of our favourite topics of conversation but still anybody who's anybody is obsessed with pigeon-holing people based on accent, schooling, clothes, where they do their food shopping and whether they've even been to an X Factor audition. As you can tell, some of the old rules are there, some new ones have inevitably crept in. 

But what has most certainly changed (and this just confuses matters further) is how you are now free to define your own social class. Or probably more accurately, everyone's queuing up to declare that they have got a bit of money and now now wish to be known as middle class. I've yet to meet anyone who had a public school upbringing, moved into a council house and promptly announces their new working class status. 

Mentioning this national hot potato at all I've generally found to be the preserve of the working class, which they associate with feelings of pride. No problem with that. But the middle classes I rarely hear talk about it. And the aristocracy may as well not exist as far as I'm concerned - I've certainly never met one. So are these class novices actually betraying their working class roots by bringing the subject up in the first place? Possibly. 

But this self-assessment approach to class does rather seem to make a mockery of it all. If something is a social system then it would seem necessary to have rules (they don't have to be logical or fair. Again, see X Factor for an example). But if it's a way of presenting yourself however you see fit, it's meaningless. Everyone is going to view it differently so why bother? 

But is individualism winning the class war? Well, no, not if the terms that individuals use to classify themselves come from one 'old society'. And not if they base their newly won right to elevate their worth on the very system that deemed them to be of little value in the first place. That just lacks imagination and smacks of 'if you can't beat 'em, join 'em'. Incidentally, this is not something that I mention directly to people at parties. 

Is it as simple as saying it's about money now? At first glance it seems to be. Those who rebrand themselves as middle class because of a move to a bigger house and the purchase of a few classical music compilation CDs are doing so because they have more money than they (or their parents) had before. But if this were the case, then people should move downwards too - but they don't. Should someone with a public school upbringing find themselves falling on hard times and staring at the 4 walls of a grotty bedsit, their crisp accent and knowledge of latin will save them from relegation. But not console them. 

I've never really considered myself to be someone who fitted in to any of the available classes. I am working class in my roots - the first 8 years of my life spent on a council estate, comprehensive schooling, pronouncing 'from' as if it rhymes with 'Tom' (as opposed to 'bum'). But my accent is generally perceived as being middle class and my genuine love of the theatre is often treated with derision by working class people and results in a gentle shove in the direction of 'otherhood'. Middle class people, on the other hand, can sniff out my lack of credentials with a few friendly questions about what I did with my gap year. 

As a social system, class was simply unfair and had to go. It was a simple choice. It either sloped off with its tail between its legs or there was going to be a revolution. The people now have access to jobs and wealth that their forebearers could never even have imagined. This is to be celebrated and capitalised on (and ignored when politicians bang on about it. Just because...) There is nothing smooth about this transition and our confused tendency to cling on to old ideals shows us that we are only at the beginning. No doubt new social strata will develop to replace the old and that it'll be as hierarchical as ever. But it would be nice to imagine that we've got an opportunity to do something new that reflects us as a nation an gives us something to feel proud of. 

Monday, 17 May 2010

Self-reliance is over-rated

I've had one of those days. I've got nothing done and it's all my own fault. This sounds like a grown-up admission of my own failings but in fact is just an illustration of how my mind has split into two and is now having an argument with itself. 

I sat around all day doing nothing, waiting for me to come along and do it for me. And now 'me' is all resentful and sulky because I didn't want to do it either. 

Think I might just go and get pissed and forget about it. I'm sure I won't have anything to say to myself in the morning about that. 

Thursday, 13 May 2010

What has David Cameron got in common with Mr Tumble?

You know those shifty side-glances that they give on Eastenders when they're secretly lying, cheating, murdering or harbouring a murderer? Expressions so lacking in subtlety and nuance that even Mr Tumble would balk at such unrefined delivery? I'm assuming that there must be a master-class out there - not for acting per se - but more to learn the necessary skills to convey a message in such a way that even a simpleton would comprehend. If so, our nation's politicians have been eagerly attending. 

We all feel desperation at the way slogans and sound bites have eclipsed well thought-out policies and genuine information. But now we have a body language obsession that has replaced 'things that humans do naturally' with 'things that baboons do to prove their top monkey in their troop'. Before you counter that what we 'do naturally' is no more than a sophisticated version of monkey signals anyway, I would like to say that I agree - but can we try and maintain our sophisticated standards? 

What set me off yesterday was Nick Clegg arriving at 10 Downing Street, greeted by David Cameron as the eyes of the world were upon them/us. And here is what happened: 

If you haven't got a whole 48 seconds to spare, the main action starts at about 20 seconds. Despite the hours spent in negotiations, Clegg already being an experienced politician and head of his party and the fact that the time and place to discuss what needs doing is a stone's throw from the other side of the door, Cameron decides to give Nick a little pep talk. Taking him by the hand and making open-handed, pointed gestures at him, he clearly is telling Nick how very important this whole Deputy Prime Minister lark is. Good. Glad that's cleared up then. (They didn't show a live stream of Cameron greeting the cleaner with a handshake and authoritative mopping gestures which was a shame.) 

If there was anything that saved the day, for me at any rate, it was Clegg's response which was to wave away Cameron's paternal patronising. It was still an act for the cameras of course, but a considerably less staged one. What does it say about the future of this coalition? Mostly that it doesn't bode well I guess. 

Oh, and in answer to the question posed in the title - could it be that Mr Tumble is providing an excellent service in an appropriate and accessible manner for his audience? As a one of the British electorate I'm not sure I feel qualified to say any more. 

Thursday, 6 May 2010

Key fobs and escape routes

I picked up a new key fob for side door to flat today. Good job as, seeing as it looks like the Conservatives seem to be a shoo-in at this stage. I need all the escape routes I can get. 

Wednesday, 5 May 2010

There but for the grace of the Lib Dems go I...

I'm writing this on the eve of the UK general election and the hand of history looks set to throttle a sizable chunk of us as the Conservatives remain ahead in the polls. Shame really. Words cannot express how depressed this makes me feel - but my ego failed to stop me writing about it. 

If you haven't read Johann Hari's excellent piece, "Welcome to Cameron-Land" then you absolutely should and no excuses will be accepted. These are the heart-breaking stories of the poor in the care of the "compassionate Conservatives" Council of Hammersmith and Fulham. David Cameron claims to be proud of their achievements. Hari himself will walk you through what's wrong with that. 

I confess I have a vested interest in opposing the Conservatives but that interest is rapidly being nudged out of the way by fear. I live in social housing in the middle of Cambridge, in a flat that I'm charged a mere half of what they could get away with fleecing me for. Why? Is it because I'm a low-life, unemployed, junkie, crack-whore? No. Is it because I'd struggle to write my own name never mind get a job? No. Is it because I spent three years of my adult life in education and then went on to a further ten years working in social care while house prices rocketed sky-high? Well, yes. 

That's right, it's because I literally pissed away my time getting educated and caring for vulnerable people and failed to contribute to the glory days of the credit frenzy. I only have myself to blame. Apparently anyway. I live where I live because I really don't have any other choice. And my list of 'undesirables' above in no way reflects the actual terms I would use to describe any of those people by the way - they merely illustrate how lazy it is to label and pigeon-hole those less fortunate than others while conveniently making wild assumptions about everyone else.  It's these wild assumptions that I genuinely fear coming my way, courtesy of a Conservative government.

You know that lift/elevator at the Disney Haunted Mansion? The one that apparently plummets downwards but actually stays pretty much in the same place? It gives the appearance of you being much further down, cleverly, by raising the roof. That's the housing market. And it's affected me and thousands of others in exactly the same way as the Haunted Mansion lift. It makes us look like we've sunk a lot further than we actually have. 

My living conditions are considerably less dignified than they should be for someone of my age but there is little I can do to change this. Not because I'm useless or a sponge, but because I just don't have too many other options. If we were all fairly rewarded for hard work and ability, I'd be fine. I'd literally love to buy my own home. 

A few years ago, they sold off a patch of land on what was a garden area for us all and built some posh flats. The penthouse was on the market for £450,000. If you still haven't read Hari's piece then please do so to see how this would affect me and those like me. The Tories would see this as prime land and me, it would seem, the detritus obscuring the way. 

There doesn't appear to be a huge amount of sacrifice in running the flats either. Despite charging a reasonable rate to live there, they are constantly renovating and improving so they seem to have money spare. Clearly they're not suffering for having a social conscience and I will sing their praises for all eternity - but sadly I doubt it will make a difference. Judgements plague the have-nots of this world and the sweet feeling of a guiltlessness washes over the pious as they declare it's all their fault - you know, it's them 'others', the people who are not like us. If only they'd worked as hard, studied as hard, or been in the same right place at the same right time as us, they'd be fine, wouldn't they? 

No. Life is rarely so simple and my life is a glowing example of this. There are many things that I've done that I'm genuinely proud of but somehow these haven't transformed into fortune. So be it. But I'm still deserving of a roof over my head and am paying for just that. I shouldn't have to justify to others that my place has no place within the market forces. 

So, maybe change is afoot. Certainly Cameron and his slogan of "Changey, Change, Change" (or whatever it is) promise this to be so. I  just hope it doesn't mean the change that awaits these articulate and dignified people

By the way, Cambridge is a Liberal Democrat constituency. I support the good work that they have done!

Tuesday, 4 May 2010

If you can't say anything nice, take lessons from the gardner

I have just had a lovely experience. Actually, two if you count me finding a pack of Love Hearts that I didn't know I had in my bag. (Although I have literally no idea what 'Happy Harry' means.)

A little background information is necessary as otherwise you might think I'm some sort of Lady La-De-Da living the toff's dream on my country estate. In actual fact I live in an housing association flat which I fondly refer to as my shoebox. It has all the mod cons of running water, a front door and noise amplifying walls. There's no room for a washing machine but the aforementioned luxuries more than make up for that. 

But the one thing we do have is lovely, well kept gardens. Well kept by a lovely gardner. And he is at the centre of my lovely experience because today I overheard him talking about me and, to my astonishment, didn't utter a single, bad word. I'm not boasting here, I'm just suitably knocked about by life and cynical enough to think that such a wonderful thing couldn't be possible. 

Today I discovered that it is and am delighted to be considered a 'lovely, little girl' (despite being 38. Although I cannot deny being short.) Faith in humanity restored. That is all. 

Wednesday, 28 April 2010

Gordon Brown and Bigotgate

Ok, so the country has finally shown that it's dangerously close to insanity once again. Today, it's 'Bigotgate'! Gordon Brown called a woman he had just had an uncomfortable conversation with on the subject of immigration a 'bigot'. He was having a private conversation afterwards but didn't realise he was still mic'd up. 

I don't know whether Gillian Duffy is a bigot or whether Gordon Brown was justified in calling her one. Probably not on both counts. But I am heartened by the fact that we currently have a Prime Minister who cares whether someone is a bigot or not. 

I wonder how much longer that will be the case? 

Thursday, 22 April 2010

Equality and all that (men have feelings too)

I am a fair and reasonable person. Don't believe me? Well, I'll prove it to you then. I did a couple of posts recently with a feminist flavour, now I'm going to stab the sisters in the back and big up the fellas - who may or may not deserve my support. We'll see.

What I want to talk about is emotions. No, don't run away men. There will be no tests on how well you were listening at the end, I won't bring this chat up in 17 years time and throw it back in your face and I certainly won't try and cuddle you and ask you what you're thinking. My gripe is with the way that women claim a monopoly on feelings. They have an infuriating tendency to use men's reticence to open up as an opportunity to reduce him to a nought. And then, having created this amazing stroke of luck, they grab the chance to write a whole, convenient story of neglect/total devotion/heartlessness/adoration/irresponsibility/utter shitbagness onto him. I should know, I've done it. Well... the shitbag one. 

Unfortunately, neat little trick though it is, it's a short term gain one. You've misrepresented the truth, not recreated it and it'll get you nowhere. Where it gets all of us (women) is tarred with the same brush. I  don't think of women as any less logical than men, any less capable of reason and presence of mind. But in the face of one of these hysterical rants, it's hard not to feel embarrassed. It's just so manipulative.

I understand the pain of heartbreak. I understand how emotions pick you up by the scruff of the neck and toss you around the room until you're dazed and helpless. But I also know that, thankfully, reason will tap you on the shoulder at some point and have a reassuring word in your ear. Providing you'll listen of course. 

A favourite of women who've been dumped is, "Oh, he must really hate me." No. He Doesn't. If he hated you he'd be phoning you up 2o times an hour and screaming about smearing dog shit all over your car windscreen. In short, he'd be acting like you. The reality is, he doesn't care - and that's really hard to take and therefore easier to project. 

I can understand where the confusion comes from. When you feel such misery, you imagine there must have been a purpose, a plan to get at you and reduce you to this state. But while it's a nice stab at reasoning, it falls way short. You may have been cheated on, lied to or treated appallingly. Whatever the case, people do bad things to you without caring to make it personal. In a funny way, that's more heartening isn't it?  

But that's an extreme version. More commonly women use their emotions to manipulate men because they know they don't know how to deal with it, and even better, rarely meet like with like. It's a license to hold full dominion. One minute women want to know how men feel, then they're not happy because he feels all the 'wrong' things, then he's refusing to admit to feeling anything - at which point she unleashes her full arsenal of weepy weaponry upon him. 

If I'm painting men as an innocent party here, I don't mean to. He may well have acted like an absolute twazzock. Maybe both parties have. The point that I'm trying to make is that, while winning points for grand emotional displays may seem clever, it's not. Fine, let someone know you're angry and that you're justified in being so. But trying to constantly trump men on the feelings front achieves nothing but making us all look foolish. Dare I mention having a little self-control here?

So, hell hath no fury like a woman scorned*. True enough. But hell hath no boredom like the company of a man during the World Cup so it all evens out in the end. 

*I am aware that this is not a Shakespeare quote but in fact by William Congreve. And I am also aware that this is not even the correct version of the quote. So please leave me alone. 

Tuesday, 20 April 2010

The sociably acceptable method of appearing insane

Today, on my glamourous trip to Tescos, I passed the usual thousand cyclists. Rarely do they reduce me to hysterical fits of giggling, but today one special, little soul broke that unwritten rule. I glanced up to see him bike pass and pull the most extraordinary expression that can only be described as " John Prescott sucking a lemon full of bees with liquid celery in their stings". 

And I was off. And walking on my own. 

I spent the next 5 minutes spluttering and gurning, pretending I had a cough, was sneezing, or had an itchy nose. All in order to not appear like a normal woman who'd seen something funny. Instead I favoured the, "christ, the meds are wearing off, but what a release!" air. 

Monday, 19 April 2010

Empowering pole of feminism? Shove it

Given that my last post had a distinctly feminist slant to it, I'm in the mood to comment on David Mitchell's latest column - Actually, you won't find female empowerment halfway up a pole. And he's quite right of course. Women being sold the idea that they will blossom and be ready to take over the world on account of their sexy gyrations is ludicrous. 

If anyone was to say to me, "Here's a pole, explore your sexuality" I would waste no time in telling them where to stick it. 

Thursday, 15 April 2010

Sugar and spice and padded bikinis tops

A debate has been raging over on the Guardian CIF section on whether it's ok for young girls to wear the padded bras and bikinis that are being sold by Primark at the moment. Actually, I call it a debate but in fact Laurie Penny has written a piece that, while in the main discourages a narrow interpretation of womanhood, she also states that restricting a young girl's blossoming sexuality is puritanism - the lack of debate stems from the fact that the vast majority of people totally (and angrily) disagree with her. 

To be fair to Laurie, I think she had a point to make and got carried away with another one entirely and the two seemed to crash into one another. Yes she is right that girls should not be made to feel ashamed of their sexuality. But I think she is completely wrong to suggest that external indicators have anything to do with their inner sexuality in the first place. In fact, take the argument further and it goes full circle. When sexuality is stamped onto you, you lose control and self esteem inevitably suffers. 

Whatever the rights or wrongs of shops selling this tat, it saddens me that it is getting girls onto the treadmill of looking good that women labour on day after day. The ideal of the perfect woman has become so divorced from reality, just to look normal has become one of the most time consuming aspects of women's lives. 

And for what? Sure, beauty is appreciated but ultimately what does it get you? Respect? The world's most beautiful women certainly show that beauty sells and reap the financial rewards so it's obvious why teenage girls would look up to them. But these women are also portrayed as bimbos with nothing of worth to say, no real understanding of the world and their so called 'imperfections' get the Circle of Shame treatment in Heat Magazine. 

If a young girl or woman told me her ambition was to become a doctor I'd be delighted. Similarly, I would be if she said he wanted to be a mum. Both are productive and valuable and can provide a sense of purpose. But the pursuit of beauty for beauty's sake is essentially shallow and should be recognised as such. People often justify fashion as just a bit of fun but it doesn't quite wash when it seems more like an obsession that is running out of control and into little girls' clothes ranges. I actually like to look nice - I enjoy attention and a bit of therapeutic shopping as much as the next girl. But it loses its shine when it becomes a necessity and a chore on account of other people's expectations of you. And this is what I feel society is doing to girls and young women with its current mantras. 

Maybe girls and women are naturally more disposed to displaying their attractiveness as a part of their sexuality. It's certainly nice to be appreciated and boosts the confidence. But having your desire to be desirable repackaged, sleazed-up and sold back to you is as insulting and diminishing as the cheap price tag attached to it. And this goes for both girls and women alike. 

Wednesday, 14 April 2010

Did Stephen Fry pop your Twitter cherry?

I've been Twitter surfing (the new youtube for hoovering up my oh so precious time) and I have noticed an astonishing amount of people opt for Stephen Fry as their first to 'follow'. I confess I didn't but then he took a break at about the same time I joined. Nevertheless, I feel like I've committed a terrible faux pas. Am I, as ever, doing something terribly wrong?

Election 2010 - These guys are not for turning

All I, and everyone else, is hearing in the UK election agendas at the moment is that bloody word "change". And I, and everyone else, is sick of it. So despite them telling us that they're listening to our concerns, why will they not desist using it? 

Monday, 12 April 2010

The Conservatives Believe in Marriage and in NO Way Ever Get Involved in Sleaze

The Conservatives have rolled out their latest gimmick to try and win over voters using the ever popular tactics of desperation and flattery. The plan is to allow married couples and those in civil partnerships to be able to transfer part of their tax allowance over to their partner as long as they are below a certain threshold in terms of earnings, happy to participate in a scheme that will cost the nation £550 million and are so morally virtuous their glowing halos dazzle and shame their single/divorcee shit-munching friends. 

"This is sending a signal that we understanding the value of commitment", said David Willetts. Apparently they don't value good grammar. 

Being single, you would expect me to be outraged and therefore, predictably, I am. So you win. But apart from the fact that the maximum value to any couple would be £150 and as good as useless - thereby meaning there is nothing to be jealous about - it is the pointlessly insulting hypocrisy that riles me the most. 

They mean to aim it at families of course and this is why they are using the terms 'married couples' and 'families' interchangeably. And who could possibly argue against the fact that the children from homes where feckless parents fail marry or even stick around deserve to be left out? It's only right and just. For the sins of the fathers (or mothers for that matter) and all that. It is the perfect solution to 'Broken Britain' and righteous judgements are the only way forward.

Being married and staying married is not nothing. It is admirable enough and can obviously contribute to the happiness and stability of a person's or their child's life. Many people work hard to make this so. But to marginalise everyone else is foolish. Some people don't agree with marriage but are otherwise good people. Some people haven't been fortunate enough to find someone to tie the knot with but are otherwise valuable. And some people just weren't lucky enough to keep a failing marriage together despite their efforts. Much as many successfully married people may not like to admit it, this is a tax break for the lucky in our society. So business as usual for the Conservatives then. 

There are many societal reasons why marriage and commitment are failing and people throughout the nation are suffering whether they are part of the cause of the problem or not. This measure doesn't address the issue, it sticks two fingers up to it. Mind you, if they do scrap the 10% cider tax, we'll all be able to drown our sorrows in our characteristic devil-may-care fashion. Slumped in doorways, we can shout at passing marrieds, "Got any spare 150 quids?"

My final reason for groaning at the sight of their latest agenda is the knowledge that, whether they get into power or not, the paper's have been given all the justification they need to pry into the private lives of Conservative party members. Given their track record in solid, family values and fidelity I literally cannot wait to see the sleazy love rat stories splashed (appropriate term) across the headlines. I wonder if they will consider revoking their rights to the marriage tax break? The answer is no, they will all be above the earnings threshold anyway. 

Friday, 9 April 2010

David Cameron, The Guardian and the "Magic" of Demographics

With the UK Election 2010 already turning into the single, most critical subject to bore the pants off us all it seemed like the perfect topic for me to turn my attentions to. And my first stop, you'll be delighted to know, is David Cameron (Conservative leader in case you've been living on the moon, or outside the UK, or in a blissful utopian land where there is no need for him to exist in the first place) and, more specifically, the piece he has written for the Guardian. And boy is it FOR the Guardian. 

I confess that I am a Guardian reader and therefore just the sort of wishy-washy, spineless liberal that this article was aimed at. All our favourite topics are there, along with all the right buzzwords to have us weeping, emoting, empathising and wailing. Hand-wringing across the readership must have been at fever pitch from the off with this little gem from the opening paragraph:

Gordon Brown heaps taxes on the poor, blocks plans to improve gender equality, allows rape crisis centres and special schools to shut.

Second sentence in and we've already got taxes, the poor, sexism, rape and special schools! He goes on to call Brown "reactionary" and "illiberal" and slags him off over ID cards, education, health and detention without trial. To quote David again..."the list is endless". 

At times, it certainly felt like it David. Because a list is all this article is. Nothing is explained, expanded upon or remotely insightful. Concept after concept is used as a mere trigger as if the liberal brain is no more sophisticated than a lab rat trained to recognise coloured buttons; education = good = David Cameron. It is formulaic and devoid of anything to really believe in or identify with. It's hollow. So much so, that if I owned any text to speech software I'd have been tempted to run this article through it to see what it sounded like with added warmth and sincerity.

It is now de rigueur for me to point out that this is what politics has come to. But seriously, it is. It reads like a series of tick boxes designed to tick off a box on the Conservative campaign list that would lure us in to ticking the tory box on 6th May! Really, have demographics EVER proved to be the magic formula for understanding people? Who has ever had to fill in a form or a questionnaire and thought, "why, that's me to a tee. I can now rest easy that I have been fairly and accurately represented." I doubt anyone could ever recognise their own form again and consequently, their own self. 

Behind all these words and soundbites are aspects of people's lives and serious matters that they have deeply felt beliefs on and experiences of. Therefore, behind these words would a real opportunity for a politician to communicate and even inspire some much needed faith in the public. Drop the profiling, start caring. Should it be necessary to point this out? 

David says that "as Conservatives, we trust people". It is a shame that he didn't trust us enough to spot when cynical manipulation takes the place of our own, personal values. 

Wednesday, 7 April 2010

Jokes and Judgements

As luck would punch me in the face, I spent the evening last night with a sanctimonious arse. Don't ask me why but it certainly wasn't my choice. Predictable topics of conversation came up -the May election, taxes, immigration and how fuckwittingly clueless everyone else in the world is (happen to agree with his views on this one).

But I was struck, as I always am, by how these views are spewed forth by those who, outside of a bad day at the office, have very little experience of hardship and human suffering. Don't misunderstand me, I'm all for being opinionated. It adds flavour to one's personality. But so equally does taking a little responsibility over what you say.

I wonder why people are like this? Is it purely ego driven? Because in the same way that people use jokes and dark humour to deal with the things in life that terrify them, I think it likely that they use simplistic judgements to diminish and distance the lack of control we all too often have over our lives. Example: much easier to denounce single mothers as money grabbing harlots than to think about societal changes, the nature of modern relationships, the importance of fathers and, heaven forfend, that one could end up in the same predicament. Far better to label, criticise and fictionalise them as 'other'.

The sense of satisfaction and superiority is enough to last a lifetime. You hope.

Saturday, 3 April 2010

Offending the Bald and Tatty

Being a glorious, Easter Saturday morning, I have just been out for a stroll. I was wearing a red jumper and black jeans with baseball boots for the sake of comfort. My hair was clean and tidy enough and styled into my usual 'can't do bugger all else with it' bob. Yes, I was wearing make-up but it was understated and unlikely to cause a stir in any circles, let alone the ones I was promenading in. I will admit to optimistically wearing sunglasses but I was by no means the only one. We are, after all, terribly cosmopolitan here in Cambridge.

'Yeah, and...?' you're thinking at me. 'Well, precisely...' I reply.

Because I can't have been out for more than 5 minutes before I encountered a strange man - balding, a bit tatty, late middle aged and unlikely to ever have been described a looker - who looked at me with unambiguous disapproval and abhorrence. And it wasn't fleeting either, it built up the closer he got to me. He looked me up and down, jerking his head back and forth like a mean faced Pez sweet dispenser and kept it up right to the point of us passing each other by. The more he looked at me, the angrier I made him. All I could do was look back at him with correspondingly growing surprise.

So for the rest of my walk I spent too much time looking at other people's faces to see if I inspired the same reaction. I didn't I'm happy to say, and was incredibly thankful for it. This is what it must feel like being Jamie Oliver.

Sunday, 28 March 2010

To Lose One Hour May Be Considered a Misfortune...

Proving a hypocrite of myself, after I blathered on about being a night person, it is not yet 11pm and I am knackered. This is because I put the time on my phone one hour forward (BST) just before I set the alarm last night, only to discover this morning that it was automatic. 

So, I lost 2 hours sleep last night....which could be considered careless. 

Is Prejudice in the Eye of the Beholder?

I am OBSESSED with people watching. People having cosy one to ones, people in groups, people having arguments, people enduring small talk - you name it, I’ll have peered at it, spy-like, over the top of a newspaper at some point in my life. Human behaviour, and more specifically social interaction is thick in the air wherever you go so I’m constantly entertained. Breaking it down further, social interaction drips with social convention at which point - ooooh mama - things really start hotting up. 

One of the most curious aspects of social convention is the complexity of how general prejudices - and consequently, hierarchies - are conveyed. All around us are stealth prejudices and society is their cover, essentially providing diplomatic immunity to what, in more blatant form, would cause acute embarrassment. One to watch closely, pun intended, is eye contact or who people choose to look at. This is a group tactic which reveals just how much people seem to know ‘their place‘ and how much we abide by the rules of convention. How? Because eye contact is a highly efficient controller of who gets to speak. Being looked at tells us if we've been noticed, whether we're welcome or conversely whether we are invisible or being ignored. 

At its simplest, when someone of status is in the room all eyes will be upon them. If we want to punish or ostracise someone, we look away. The royals of times gone by would fix their eyes on the middle distance to signify their superiority. And one of the best ways to freak someone out is to stare unblinkingly at them (and one of the most fun). All examples of the power of the gaze and how big a signal it is to us. 

Before you stop reading, I’m not trying to patronise you. Merely trying to ease you gently into the seedy underworld of eye-ball bigotry because it doesn’t stop there my friend. It just gets somewhat insidious. A group of people standing around talking to one another will be subconsciously ranked, rated and judged by each and every member of the group. But where they get placed and what happens next is not entirely under their control. 

Looking at a widely recognised prejudice, such as racism, it is not uncommon for this mindset to display itself in this way, so for example black people may be given less time to talk and fewer opportunities to do so. Using the tactic of switching the focus of the eyes, it tells the speaker that their time is up, the group have moved on. Bit like Britain’s Got Talent really and about as fairly judged. 

It’s such a subtle and apparently meaningless action that it is unlikely to be challenged and in fact manners dictate that it would be petty to do so. More likely it will go totally unnoticed by all. However, it’s the repetition of such actions that concerns me. Victims of prejudice will see this same pattern repeated time and time again in their lives. It reinforces the sense of privilege in the ‘dominants’ and diminishes the self esteem of the ‘victim’. So it’s not so much the enormity of the action itself, but the repeated nature of it that speaks volumes and shapes how people view themselves. 

This shows up in examples of racism, sexism and homophobia but also (and you don’t need to look too carefully for this) illustrates the class system is still alive and well. I’ve witnessed this based on physical appearance, attractiveness (not as straight-forward as you think, depending on the group, you could be on the bottom rung for being pretty), education, money, height. 

The dynamics of the group matter certainly and some people will always be attention grabbing, controlling little despots whoever is unfortunate to be around them. Others are oblivious to any signs put out by others anyway and will steam into any conversation regardless. And so, as the age old idiom tells us, does personality matter - it goes a long way apparently. But while being a gloriously loud-mouthed strumpet may get you noticed and win you a slice of the conversation, it doesn’t protect you from being judged more harshly and so isn’t always the answer it seems to be. 

Conventional attitudes work in mysterious ways and I would add that the perpetrators may be adhering to stereotypes but may themselves not be the stereotypical perpetrators. I find women to be pretty harsh towards other women in this context. 

So, effectively (or ineffectively, you decide), what I’m saying is that there are still ways in which we discriminate and belittle people, completely without our knowledge. If you feel yourself taking umbrage at what I’m saying then please don’t. It has nothing to do with blame. While those who come right out with wincingly prejudiced comments can be held accountable due to the amount of information around in society today, the rest of us are merely acting in a manner we witness in others, unchallenged, every day and have done since we were children. This is why I hold convention responsible rather than interaction. It just doesn’t hurt to rethink it once in a while. 

Thursday, 25 March 2010

Help! - Not Just Anybody...

For reasons you wouldn’t thank me for going into, I have spent a couple of hours this morning talking to someone with serious relationship problems. Sobbing, wailing, shouting, “Why?! Why did this have to happen?!” - I eventually calmed down and decided to try and help her. 

‘Not the compassionate type then Antigone?’, you may say. But actually (she says defensively) it has nothing to do with being uncaring. And here is my defence: what should be the outcome of caring about someone who is in need? What should said caring amount to? Surely it should be doing something that would actually help them. 

And this is where my problem lies. Or maybe more accurately, my dilemma. It’s not a new one for me as I used to work in care work and had to endlessly fight against the common public belief that you mollycoddle someone better. Nice idea but one that is utterly toothless. Not that there’s anything wrong with a cup of tea and some sympathy from time to time but for anything more complex than a rotten day it’s not going to cut the mustard in the long term. Potentially it feeds the self pitying (however justifiable) and prolongs the heartache.  

Before you judge me to be totally heartless, can I add that tough love isn’t much of a solution either. This approach is mostly ego driven nonsense in my opinion. It makes the Tough Love Terminators amongst us feel somehow superior but invariably they offer no more real help than the cup of tea & sympathy types. They change nothing - other than the atmosphere in the room, of course. 

I’ve yet to meet anyone who combines the two by throwing cups of tea in people’s faces for their own good, but beware. 

So why is it that these two types seem to be the most popular - the acceptable faces of help? In a nutshell, because they are so much easier. Those who care - professionally, voluntarily or those just helping a mate - know it’s much more demanding than either of the above but are rarely acknowledged for it. 

Helping means affecting actual change wherever you can and this entails battling away at getting people to face up to the truth and then ultimately helping themselves. 

This is where society’s disesteemed ‘do-gooders’ sometimes fall short. I say ‘sometimes’ quite deliberately here as they get such a bad press it’s hard not to feel sorry for them. They may fail or even make situations worse but they are criticised and vilified by those people who are busy doing precisely nothing. And at least they’re trying. I bet some of that ‘good’ has got to hit the mark sometimes! Maybe the more practical types who dislike the pipe dreams of these gentler souls would care to lend a hand once in a while? Thought as much. 

Doing the right thing is commonly the hardest option. Helping is no exception to this rule. Ongoing tea and sympathy can be used to avoid the responsibility of actually doing anything, tough love protects you from having to actually feel anything. Find the friend who’ll empathise and get cracking with a plan of action until you’re strong enough to take over the reigns, and you’re onto a winner. 

So, back to my hapless friend, and the reason why I’m getting so defensive about those trying to offer real help. Turns out she doesn’t think it’s high time she started to let go of her now long finished relationship and take control of her life a little more. Neither does she think that changing the present is her only option because changing the past isn’t possible. And she doesn’t seem to think I’ve been much help. 

Tuesday, 23 March 2010

Why I'm Always Broke

My life is one long list of excuses. This is because I am very good at lists. If I’d concentrated on lists of things I’m good at or have achieved then I never would have discovered my talent for list making in the first place, so every cloud has a silver lining. 

One of the excuses that remains consistently at the top of my list though, is why I never have any money. You might assume this to be because I’m a spendthrift who’s incapable of appreciating the value of money. Or a firm believer in the importance of keeping money in circulation. Or really dumb. This is not so (mostly). I’ll have you know that I’m actually quite careful with the pennies and can tighten my belt when needs be. 

I know people who always seem to be well off. I wouldn’t necessarily describe them as the most talented or intelligent amongst my friends but money seems to actively seek them out. I very much doubt that it has anything to do with them finding their money bagging vocation either. It seems that whatever they turn their hand to, they’ll rake it in. 

Being good at making lots of money is a skill. I however, lack an aptitude. I’m good enough with ideas, reasonably intelligent and have been lauded enough in jobs past and present enough to feel that I’m not a useless klutz. But I can never quite translate that into mega bucks - or more accurately, pounds. I think I lack the killer instinct. Money makers always seem to be those who rabidly chase after opportunities - they lock their goal in sight and stop at nothing. At other times it seems to be about people skills and natural net workers always seem to be rolling in it. 

Mostly, no one seems to begrudge them their success however and they’re praised and respected for their achievements so why do I always worry that I’ll offend if I go for it? I simply cannot get past the fear that people will see through me. That they’ll find me shallow or vulgar. Or maybe it’s because I’d find myself shallow and vulgar?

It’s not only a fear of what people will think of me though, it’s also that I cannot translate what is happening right now into the rewards of the future. I am Queen Shrug of Shoulders when it comes to steely determination. I’m fine with working hard but must be engrossed in the moment for it to matter to me. Picturing the piles of money that will come my way if I beaver away at inane and boring tasks is frankly crazy talk in my world. ’Fancy a quick drink?’ however, is talking my language.  

So how do these people do it? Have they no souls?  Well actually in many ways, no. Sales people are the obvious examples here. They are of a type that can look another human being in the eye and see nothing but the chance to grab some of their precious loot. It may not make them evil, but it does make them pretty two dimensional. For me, any interaction will always be more complex. It may well have been in my interests to strike a deal, it may have been the sole reason for my meeting them in the first place. But if I can tell that they are not really going to benefit, I will walk away happy that there was no harm done - with a ‘royal ‘shrug. 

So I came to the conclusion a long time ago that I would never be rich, I’d never mine my talents with the same zealous drive that I witness in others. Quality of life seems to be too important to me to give it up and sell it off. 

Tuesday, 16 March 2010

Early To Bed, Early To Rise, Makes You Sanctimonious, Pious and Someone To Despise.

Have you ever heard a night person boasting about how much they get done at 2am and that anyone not up at this time is missing the best part of the day? That anyone who slobs about in bed after 10pm is a lazy good for nothing? I doubt it. But in reverse, these are the views I associate with the unfailingly sanctimonious morning person.

I am not of their kind (a morning person that is, I freely admit to being pretty sanctimonious). A quick poll of the people I know very much divides us, placing us in one camp or the other. I am proud to say that on the whole, night people acknowledge the idea that we are all different; that we function better at one end of the day or the other, and we don‘t choose which.

Morning people however…God, where do you start? They’re just so blinkered. How can you trust people who favour yawning and washing up those last few cups (they are always the type to do this) at 9.30pm over a full, life enhancing evening at the pub? Fair do’s, with 24 hour licensing laws now allowing them to nip off for a pint at 7am, in theory they could claim to be having as much fun as the rest of us, but I doubt that’s on their to-do list. We all know who, and which end of the day, those laws were really aimed at.

The other thing that irritates me about morning people is their insistence that others get up at the same time. My dad is one of the main offenders of this ’rise and shine’ tyranny. And he thinks it’s funny. Not once have I ever once burst into someone’s bedroom at midnight sniggering about how it’s time to get up, giggling at their bleary eyed confusion and whipping off the duvet cover while remarking that the bottles of wine in the kitchen won’t drink themselves. And if I ever had at least I’d have intoxication as an excuse. Their behaviour is unpardonable.

So if you are a morning person, I’d like to address this directly to you. The reason that I don’t get up at 6am is not because I am interminably lazy. It’s because I’ve only just gone to bed. And failing to appreciate the quintessence of idyll that is the lie in does not make you noble or more productive, merely the sort of person everyone else wants to avoid. And lastly, what time does the post arrive? I’ve always wondered.

Tuesday, 2 March 2010

Who Cares?

Many years ago I used to work in social care - working with people with learning disabilities to be more precise. It was the best job I ever had, the one job I ever felt truly good at and to this day I still feel pangs of regret for leaving it. So a new government TV advert encouraging people to consider a career in care grabbed my attention. Take a butchers, if you fancy:

Needless to say, and I sincerely hope it is, I have nothing bad to say about those featured. Joe and Laura perfectly represent the people I met in my time as a carer which means staff and clients alike; people I count amongst the finest I have ever met. Are you getting the picture? I LOVED MY JOB! So, with that said, sadly, there is just so much about this ad that makes me uncomfortable.

Firstly I don’t think it sends out the right message. There is an emphasis on social care being a job that doesn’t feel like a job. And if there’s one thing that ever annoyed me whenever I encountered the public (always too often for my liking), it was their perception of my role. As a carer, you are routinely subjected to comments about how kind, special and virtuous you must be.

Nothing bad about that you might think, what‘s your problem? Answer: such accolades come with a price. After the praise followed the questions about whether you lived in the house with your clients, whether you even got paid and what you planned to move on to next. Well meaning but laden with stereotypes that ultimately feel judgemental. It’s quite hard to feel your job is taken seriously when the fact that you get paid is met with, “that’s nice”. People were almost always surprised to find that I classed my work as a career and floored to discover that I had a degree. The same as for many of my colleagues in fact.

I’m not stupid. When it comes to public perception I’d rather be a carer than a traffic warden. But it’s the idea that it’s part of who you are rather than a (valuable) job that you do that rankles. It’s incredibly limiting because in reality it’s a job that takes skill, dedication and at times, nerves of steel. You do need to be caring but you also need to be perceptive, quick thinking and incredibly tough.

During my time as a carer I was kicked, punched, and head butted. I had a cup of tea thrown in my face and was told by my charge that they hoped I died that evening so I never came back (although to be fair, that’s happened in all my jobs). I’ve had to sit in the middle of the road in peak time traffic, cope with gushing head wounds and chase screeching clients through shopping centres. All while remaining calm and ALWAYS having a plan. After all, that’s your job.

So, going back to the ad, can I call that work? Yes, actually, I think I can. And so should everyone else while we’re at it so I’m a little disappointed to see a national, government commissioned ad implying otherwise. There is so much that can be said for working in care that making out it’s not proper work should never made it into the list. What’s next? Maybe ads for fire-fighters: “Do you like playing with fire? Then come and play all day!” Or perhaps, “Is heaven missing an angel? Is it you? Well bless your cotton socks, how about a job as a nurse.”

You may think that none of this really matters or that it isn’t relevant to you. But these jobs are critical in a civilised society and a safety net for us all. I think the least we can do is bother our arse to pay the work, and the people who do it, some much needed respect.

I left care work when it became impossible to class myself as sane for tolerating such paltry wages. Financial ruin was just around the corner. Thinking about it, maybe this is what the ad is implying when they ask if it’s really work. Again, I repeat that it was the best job I ever had and one that was heartbreaking to say goodbye to so they are right to big up the sense of satisfaction and sheer joy that care work can bring.

But if you doubt that the stereotypes I mentioned above are restricting in any way then this is because you haven’t sat opposite blank faced, clueless interviewers. You may be a saint but you’re a two dimensional one who probably won’t be able to work the photocopier.

I’ve done my bit since. Having since worked in positions where I have been responsible for recruitment, I automatically take note of anyone with a background in care work on the basis that I know they will be able to think on their feet and get on well with others. Oh and they’ll WORK really hard.

Thursday, 25 February 2010

A Female Run "Utopia"

Why has it become popular to sentimentalise the notion of a matriarchal society? To fantasise that a world governed by women would be somehow better? The idea goes, apparently, that disagreements would be worked through and calmly resolved, equality a reality and egomania a thing of the past (or possibly an endearingly harmless male foible). The world would be dreamy and lovely and sweet; all things bright and beautiful.

Sorry? So women don’t argue? Women aren’t competitive, hierarchical or egotistical by nature? Since when??

Obviously, it‘s codswallop - a defective answer to the defective status quo. We all know it would be equally, but differently, shit; still defunct but our focus would be at the other end of the spectrum. Our girlie governed globe would, for example, consider ‘It’ll End in Tears’ a world target - a big, cathartic Bennetton style cry. The Bawl to end all Bawls. If that doesn't make you shudder there's something wrong with you.

In our exemplary alternative reality, even an Hundred Years War would be celebrated for its swift resolution. If only we could always let an argument drop so quickly, we’d all say. Sure, there are some that still feel that we never got to the bottom of what at all means but hey, we were never going to believe they were telling the truth anyway - however many times we demanded an explanation. Good job they deployed the silent treatment, it always works in the end.

International politics? Over to the news:

“Day 3 of the World Summit for Sustainable Chocolate Supplies today, and talks rarely stayed on topic. Three hours in everyone knew how everyone else was and naturally sympathised. However, once the subject of an agreement on aid was finally raised, the phrase “Yeah, I know what you mean” was suddenly dropped. At least we think it was, it was hard to tell because everyone kept breaking off to chat to the person sitting next to them so it was hard to keep track.

"The US led the way and released their pledge to give a billion Hershey bars, which was met with an initial positive consensus because it was “a brilliant idea, that’s what I was thinking, we are SO alike.” However, France said that such a gesture may go unappreciated, that they have “given and given” in the past and they didn’t know if they could take the rejection a second time. Many other delegates identified with this, despite pep talks from Ireland and Japan who stated that you’ve just got to get back out there.

"Talks resumed after everyone decided to treat themselves to a few bottles of wine.

"We now go over to our correspondent Princessina Twinkletoes, who’s on the scene in Brussels, to tell us more. Princessina, that top really brings out the colour of your eyes. Wait.. Hold on, I need to top up my wine! Right, sorry sweetie. Tell me the gossip, I want to know EVERYTHING!”

"Thanks Babes. Well, a lot of painful memories for everyone today and it’s been quite emotional. But, unofficially, the main tension came, not from the failure to reach an agreement over how much funding should be allocated - after all, it’s only money isn’t it? - but from the fact that France caught the look on Britain’s face when she was talking about her problems. Italy and Germany went off to the loos with France because they’ve all been getting on really well lately after discovering they were all so similar, even planning a holiday together as they are definitely going to be best friends forever. Italy is said to have told France to “not worry about it, Britain’s a bitch.”

"Talks were also apparently further disrupted when John Mydaddylovesme, Australian representative and one of the few men present, is said to have rolled his eyes and said “Jeez give it a rest” after being asked for the tenth time what he really meant when he spoke at the Huggles For the World Convention four years ago. “Yeah, I heard about that too, apparently he couldn‘t even remember” said an anonymous source, “he‘s such a bastard.”

"However, there were a few lighter moments towards the end. “Well, we’ve put the world to rights,” laughed US President IamBeautifulNoMatterWhatTheySay (resplendent in a pink sparkly cowgirl hat), causing an outbreak of cackling. It may have been the wine."

I’d weep for the future - but then I am a girl.

Yes, ok, I’m being facetious. I’m not really suggesting that this is what women would do with the world any more than a male dominated world currently runs emergency porn or football summits. Women at their best can be a powerful combination of altruism, compassion and a steely resilience. But equally, given licence to do so, can be vain, self-indulgent and manipulative. I’m merely suggesting that the fight for top cat would always be as vicious as the one for top dog.