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.