Monday, November 21, 2011

Philip Gould - a little person's eulogy

It's taken me a while to get round to this (Philip Gould died on the 6th November 2011) mainly because I've toyed with whether or not I was qualified to write a eulogy to the man.  After all, I'm not an ex-prime-minister, eminent spin doctor, relative, or good friend.  I merely worked with him a few times in the nineties when I was employed by Express Newspapers to organise research and strategic development around the titles following their acquisition by Labour peer, Lord Hollick.  Philip Gould's consultancy resided in the same building and I would appoint him to conduct focus groups amongst mid market readers as the titles revamped, reformatted, dumped old and launched new sections, as every attempt was made to counter the growing dominance and influence of the Daily Mail.

You go through life, contemplating junctions, taking different paths and meeting various people along the way.  Some fade from memory while others, however fleeting the encounter, stick.  Philip Gould was one of these.  So, on reading the numerous tributes to the man written by the great and the famous, I felt compelled to add my own.  After all, the thing about Philip Gould, what made him universally liked, was the importance he placed on everyone's opinion.  He was always curious, a great listener, incredibly easy to talk too, and simply interested in what you thought, irrespective of who you were.

He was also a terrible name dropper.  I'd go to brief him on a forthcoming research project - eg. new supplement, popularity of columnists etc.  He'd nod, absorb this in a matter of seconds then go on to mention 'Alastair', 'Tony', the various political strategy meetings he needed to attend/hold, the need to pop back and forth to Millbank, back and forth to number 10.  His office walls were lined with numerous black and white framed photos, showing him with Blair, him with Cherie and Blair, him with Clinton, him in discussion with the A-team in one of Downing Street's opulent drawing rooms.  He was not modest about his contacts and influence within the upper echelons of government and at the time it was hard not to sigh and look to the heavens at what seemed like exaggerated bluster.  Except of course it wasn't - he had the photographic evidence to prove it - plus there was something refreshing and intrinsically honest about his unfettered pride in his achievements.  Here was this man, shambolic, frenetic, accessible and devoid of the loftiness that often pervaded senior editorial teams (even at the Express) and senior management, who was more influential than any of them - he really did have the ear of the Prime Minister.

He was, in effect, the personification of the incoming Labour government he advised - leadership that was no longer aloof but on your level.  And it made you feel valued.  A briefing meeting with Philip would typically go like this, 'OK, yep yep got that, thanks Imogen, but tell me, what is it that frightens you most about society today?'

Flummoxed at being put on the spot about something totally unrelated to the purpose of our meeting I'd come back with, 'Erm, guns..? On the streets?'

'No, no, we've done that,' he'd reply, massaging his chin, spinning a little in his chair, 'Banned handguns.  What else?'  I'd flail around while he would listen, prompt and take whatever I would say on board, looking genuinely like my blather was useful.  And of course I would bounce out of his office all enthused thinking I'd just influenced government policy, then once back at my desk become somewhat concerned that that might really be the case.

As has been well documented he lived and breathed politics.  I can vouch for that.  His consultancy's commercial clients were bread and butter, while his true purpose, the Gould raison d'ĂȘtre was to assist and direct the Labour Party.  The Express had devised a new, glossy and costly Saturday supplement and prior to its launch, wanted to present a mock-up to readers, current and potential, to ensure it had maximum appeal.  Invariably, Philip would warm his commercial focus groups up with the same question, 'So, what do you think of the state of the nation?' and I would watch bemused from behind the viewing facility's two way mirror, checking my watch and discussion guide (which of course mentioned nothing about state of our nation), until a good half an hour into the session (groups were usually an hour and a half long) when he'd finally get on to the job in hand, the supplement - clearly a far less interesting juncture for both the group and him.  But the brief would be always be met - mine and his, plus this was Philip Gould, so who was I to complain?

From a casual observer's perspective, as I was, Philip Gould was the ultimate mad professor, brain exploding, hair exploding, consumed by his cause, to the detriment of any order and organisation his fraught team would attempt to effect.  He was frequently flustered, dishevelled and distracted - tie wonky, shirt half-tucked -  hurrying from meeting to meeting, rushing to write something important down, grappling for dictaphone to dictate a soundbite/slogan he'd devised, get debrief notes typed up by panicking assistants - and frequently leaving chaos and items of some significance in his wake.  

On one occasion, we had a drinks do at a local drinking hole to mark some milestone or another, to which Philip was invited.  He would come, have a couple of drinks, enjoy the attention from the myriad journalists and marketeers that would gather to hang on his every word, then after a couple of hours, head off.  The next day I got a call from his PA, 'Oh, hi Imogen, don't suppose anyone's mentioned a briefcase left in the bar last night, have they?  Philip thinks he may have left it there.'  They hadn't, and I never did find out if he found it.  Mind boggled as to what was in it.  From then on, when policy documents were discovered on a train or HM Gov laptops left on black cab seats, I'd think of Philip.

And then it was all change at The Express, editorial overhauls placed less emphasis on research, Philip did less for the newspaper group, I moved on, Hollick sold the titles to Richard Desmond and that exciting new Labour new dawn was over.

Why, years later, did news of his cancer and subsequent death affect me?  I've pondered this and I think it comes down to the following: Because you knew he was hugely influential and always in a rush yet he was interested in you and prepared to have a good natter.  He was one of the few people who would ask you how you were, and in a kind of therapist's way that made you want to hop on the couch and spill your life story knowing he'd have the answers.  Possibly because he was acutely perceptive, wise and kind, and treated you like a friend despite having just been introduced (which of course was what made him such a great focus group moderator).  Mainly because he was a true character, funny (both strange, and ha ha) and fun, and someone who infected and exhausted everyone with his energy and ebullience.  But ultimately, amid all the posturing circles that he moved in and the spin that he advocated, he was glaringly human, and for that, stood out.

I bumped into Philip Gould a couple more times, nearly went to work for him, then didn't, then nothing for years until I saw him in a coffee shop in Notting Hill.  Our conversation was brief.  He was on his way to a meeting, as always a little unkempt, somewhat distracted, and true to character, honest in his smalltalk.  He mentioned he'd just come from the doctor, to which I think I probably said, 'Nothing serious, I hope,' and that was the last I saw of him.

   


 


 
  


 

Friday, September 16, 2011

James Corden - Comedy Guvnor

Saw One Man, Two Guvnors last night, on screen, at The Picturehouse.  Genius.  On many levels.  Not only is it an ingenious idea of National Theatre Live to beam live theatre through cinema screens nationwide - correction, worldwide, the production that they chose to kick off this initiative with was priceless theatre entertainment, that had even those of us who weren't seeing it in the flesh, rolling in the aisles.

James Corden is comic gold dust.  I'd never realised, having never caught Gavin and Stacey.  He may have made his name on the telly but live theatre beamed worldwide certainly didn't faze him.  On the contrary, he seemed to thrive on it. The guy was hilarious throughout, and utterly flawless, despite the regular requirement for unpredictable audience interaction and improvisation.  His timing, facial expressions, slapstick, delivery, everything about the man is funny and you can see how the rest of the cast are charged and buoyed by him, the true mark of a comedy professional.  Beyond him, Oliver Chris's general 'rah' throughout, and his interplay with Corden in particular stood out for me,  but everything and -one worked so well together.  Plus the musical intermissions between set changes, and the way that all in the cast were involved, added expertly to the hilarity and the overall uplifting quality of the production.

Nicholas Hytner has delivered a masterpiece, and, providing the cast remains intact, I want to see it again, and take others with me -  the production moves from The National to the West End's Adelphi Theatre in November.

What's interesting about the National Theatre Live initiative is that on the one hand it opens up wonderful productions like these to a much wider audience, but presumably by the same token risks future theatre traffic and limits seasons - we cinema viewers no longer need to go and see the plays in situ.  Does it matter?  With tickets to plays sold worldwide through cinemas, who needs long seasons?  Box office takings rocket, more people get to see quality theatre, and actors and performances stay fresh. And perhaps like me, impressed cinema viewers come away intent on taking others to see it on the stage.

Whichever way you look at it, beaming plays through the big screen is a winner.  It could, in fact, be just what the theatre world needs. Plus live theatre will always reveal the true scope of people's talent.   One night's performance has just broadened James Corden's universe of appreciation cumulatively, and that most definitely can't be a bad thing.

Wednesday, August 3, 2011

Measles - scourge of the privileged?

There's an outbreak of measles in my region.  And apparently, it's on the worrying rise on the continent.

Measles is a dangerous disease.  It can cause inflammation of the brain, resulting in the death of your child.  It's easily preventable with a jab, yet there remains resistance amongst certain communities, the argument being that vaccinations are a bad thing, that instead of bolstering the immune system, they compromise it.

This is my child with chicken pox.  It doesn't take a huge leap of the imagination to consider these pox to be small rather than chicken, they look the same to a layperson.  But of course they're not small, because small pox has been eradicated.  Thanks to a worldwide programme of vaccination this deadly disease no longer exists.  Thank God - she'd be dead.  As would her sister.

Their contracting chicken pox reminded me quite how hideously pervasive and speedy disease can be.  Within 24 hours she was covered in pustular blisters, her skin hot with fever, her discomfort extreme.  The itchy phase was worse even than the ill, feverish stage, lasting days and driving her to howling distraction.  Needless to say she now has the scars to show for it.

The risk of complication with chicken pox is thankfully rare.  With measles it's not.  Associated complications can range from diarrhoea, pneumonia, otitis media, to encephalitis and corneal ulceration (albeit rarer).   That is not something I would risk of my children.  Nor would I be comfortable having them infect others.

Those mothers who opt not to vaccinate are fortunate in that statistically in this country, immunised children predominate so reducing the risk of contagion, but what if the balance tips?  In some communities down here in the South West there are an awful lot of mothers who are anti-vaccination.  Take up of MMR where I live is just 50%...  These mums tend to stick together in that they share the same principles, send their kids to the same schools etc and when there's an outbreak it spreads.  Assuming their children don't get it, they'll grow up unprotected and if girls, presumably go on to get pregnant.  Should they contract measles then, it's a double whammy - measles is more serious in adults and particularly dangerous to the unborn child.

Our bodies will fight off and become immune to bugs they've been exposed to in tiny controlled doses.  I'd love to live in a world where we could count on our natural immunity to fight off epidemics of, for example, measles and polio, but we don't.

What's ironic is that a couple of months ago the government pledged over £800 million to fund vaccination programmes in the developing world, yet here in the healthy, wealthy, privileged UK, there are still affluent 'well-informed' mothers who'd rather turn it down.

Boris Johnson - Don't underestimate the power of funny

Boris has been popping up a lot in the news lately with all the excitement mounting around the Olympics.

It's all looking good, spectacular, in fact.  Building of the 2012 stadium is on time, within budget, and eye-poppingly impressive.  And we thought we were hopeless at this kind of thing.  Remember the Millennium disaster?

But I digress, it's Boris who's the issue.  He who has been prominent in the Olympic countdown; he, who has been madly pedalling about the city promoting those Paris-inspired dangerous-looking rent-a-bikes; he of the impossibly thick blond thatch that requires constant ruffling to stay out of his eyes; he of the strange dictum, hilarious facial expressions and comic, well just comic being...  He merely has take to the lectern and you're stifling a laugh.  There's something of the Eric Morecambe about him.  And, whatever you think of his politics, frankly, it's refreshing.

The UK political scene has been so lacking in humour of late, so devoid of personality.  Where the Labour party was funny it was contrived, spun, over-controlled and try too hard.   Cameron is of a similarly over cautious and bland approach (occasionally in PM QT resorting to sarcasm and childish 'Calm down dear' mimicry to get a laugh). Although you knew Blair clearly had it in him his sense of humour outings were carefully managed .... the most memorable being the 'You fink I'm bovvered?' Comic Relief sketch, amusing in the extreme, but doubtless monitored closely by TB's PR.  The sad truth is he was altogether just too earnest to be funny.

There's no scripting Boris though, oh no.  He's nothing if not spontaneous, which of course leads to the odd reckless, heinously inappropriate gaffe, the stumbling, the veering off message etc, but it's his unpredictability, his pompous vernacular, his shambolic bluster that makes him funny.   Like it or lump it, it's in his veins, and conveys a certain honesty.  Plus, of course, we're told by those who know him that the comic front belies a raging intelligence, vaulting ambition and profound seriousness underneath.   I met his mother once, the artist Charlotte Johnson Wahl, who was at pains to point out that her eldest is 'very serious you know, despite what people might think'.  Maybe it's all a ruse?

But, that aside, the truth of the matter is this.  The Mayoralty is up for re-election next year and there's a chance that Boris may not get to open his beloved Olympics, instead forced to hand ye flamin' torch over to arch rival Ken.  I have a feeling it won't happen, that he'll stay in.  Because there's a little bit about his comedy that infects, and that's what people want more of right now, amidst all the gloom.

It's a shame for Ken, because we're all well aware what a phenomenal job he did as predecessor in terms of making things happen.  But don't underestimate the power of funny alongside a smattering of competence (2012).  After all, Boris having been handed the baton, is yet to break anything.  Plus, it seems he's careful (even long-term strategic..?) to set himself apart from Cameron (citing the hacking saga) and in doing so, end up less tarred with the same brush that daubs the failings of central government.

It was summed up for me in a newspaper the other day which observed how, on one of his many promotional outings, about which I can't remember, a group of teenage boys gathered around The Blond to have their photo taken.  It seemed wholly unlikely that an anarchic group of kids would consent, never mind volunteer, to having their photograph taken alongside Britain's most bumbling toff. When asked why they did, they replied with a shrug, 'Cos he's funny, isn't he?'

Come 3 May 2012, I suspect they'll be an awful lot of Londoners thinking the same.

Friday, July 29, 2011

South West, cultural desert?

Have just tried to book tickets at the Picturehouse in Exeter.  Not for a film, but a play.  A play screened live from London.  That 'Two Guvnors one with James Cordon.  The only seats left were in the neck-cricking front row. I bought them anyway.

Also have tickets to see operas ana bolena and la traviata, beamed by satellite to aforementioned cinema from New York.  Again am in eye-boggling seats beneath the screen, despite booking a day after tickets became available and said performances being months and months away.

Well you don't get to see much cult-cha down here in Devon, not of the performing arts type anyhow. The best we can do is watch it on a big telly taking place somewhere else.

Exeter, cathedral/red brick university city doesn't have a theatre or a performing venue to speak of.  The theatre it had, has had all its funding cut.  Repeat, all.  Not so much a cut as a thorough mincing.

The Phoenix Centre makes an attempt at being a cultural centre but with little in the way of funding falls some considerable way short its hub potential.  The bar is like a student refectory, the food borders on dreadful, and everything you touch is sticky.

The city boasts no substantial library, no decent-sized bookshop with decent coffee shop, no decent large gallery, no music venue beyond the cathedral - the cathedral I should note is spectacular, and spectacularly under-exploited.   As a result there is no cafe society, no 'latin quarter' dotted with decent wine bars or cafes charged with cultural buzz. In Exeter City there is no 'scene', just shopping malls and a depressing provincial high street.

With no decent venues, no decent artists/performers/performances come.  Check out the weekend supplements' backcovers showing the endless array of stand ups on a nationwide tour at any one time.  Run your finger down the list of venues they're scheduled to appear at and you'll notice they don't go west of Cardiff.  Never to Exeter. Very, very rarely are they dragged kicking and screaming to Plymouth.  

Yet as the scramble for Picturehouse tickets will attest that there is a thirst down here amongst us deprived Devonians, such that we get our fix where we can.   The Telegraph's Way with Words festival at Dartington had every speaker pretty much sold out.  The Dartmoor Arts week held in the tiny village of Drewsteignton sees around three hundred people squeezed into the pub's back room to listen to the evening's talks (headlined this year by such eminents as Margaret Drabble, Bill Woodrow, Peter Randall-Page and nueroscientist Semir Zeki), and art exhibitions, of which there are a lot given the disproportionate density of visual artists living down here, are all well attended.  Stuff happens.  But on a small scale. And that pretty much extends across the region.

So where is our lottery investment? Why is this corner left off the map and pretty much overlooked by anyone who's anyone?  It's not just Londoners and home county dwellers that like a bit of a show.  Is it perhaps because we don't make enough of a noise about it.  'You've got your rugged moors and your endless beaches, what more do you want for god's sake?'

Isn't the government aware that the exodus from London is accelerating as more and more of us, aided by the Internet, work remotely; are they not aware that living in London is prohibitive for most and that population-wise they need to spread the load, or that all those well-heeled types, who tend to like a bit of thay-ter, are spilling further and further westward to set up home, be it sumptuous home number 2.

A decent, attractive, sizeable venue is all we ask.  If all those central govt purse holders can't be bothered to regenerate this beautiful but culturally bereft corner of the UK now, perhaps they might consider the long, thumb-dwiddling evenings of their retirement? 

There is some hope.  John Lewis is coming.  Apparently.

Sunday, July 17, 2011

Murdoch - Tit for Tat...?

Ok, with today's developments am sensing we're into tit-for-tat police vs news international...?

This is my take on stuff...:
Rebekah Brooks/Les Hinton resign in all the hoo-ha
Murdoch in rage at seeing ship sinking and a mass manning of lifeboats, unleashes wrath and (first of?) the dirt he holds on the police (front page news Sunday Times)
Police retaliate by promptly arresting, that's right arresting, Rebekah Brooks on grounds of... not entirely sure, 'intercepting communications'.. or something, and suspicion of corruption.

Tomorrow who knows...? Will there be further police revelations on The Times and Sun front pages...?

And then what?  Will the police start arresting Murdoch family members...?

Frankly, anything seems possible.  This one could go right to the top.  Am beginning to imagine that as the house of cards starts to topple, Cameron will get drawn in.  And if he does wade in to placate police and papers won't the immediate response be, just what have they got on him..?
 
This is better than The Wire.

New URL - www.rhubarb2.blogspot.com

Enthused by my new name for this blog - Rhubarb Rhubarb (much more reflective of tone and content) I decided to change the URL accordingly rhubarb2.blogspot.com

This of course was somewhat short-sighted, as anyone who had logged the previous URL or clicks on posts under the foreverchasingtheplot.blogspot.com url received a rather ominous This Blog No Longer Exists message. It is not libel police, copyright infringement forces, or parliamentary committees shutting me down but just lil ol me, who'd failed to see the consequences of tampering with her own blogspot.

Therefore I have reverted back to old URL to warn anyone out there who may be listenng, reading, paying the vaguest bit of attention that I will be switching the url to the above rhubarb2.blogspot.com in the next few days.

Please look me up there and if you've registered to receive email updates please re register.

Am hoping i'll be able to cling on to a smattering of followers...

In case you're wondering, I couldn't get rhubarb rhubarb.blogspot. You would be right to question whether all this halabalooh was really worth it. I too am asking myself the same question.

Saturday, July 16, 2011

Rhubarb Murdoch

So, there I was thinking...'well that's encouraging, I've had a little spike in my stats since jotting down my thoughts yesterday on the news international saga (refer to previous blog). And so soon after I posted it! Maybe I have finally hit the blogger zeitgeist, maybe my scribblings are catching people's eyes with their immense insightfulness, maybe I'll have arianna emailing any moment to lure me to the huffty post uk... Maybe it's all that, plus the fact that I changed the name of my blog to 'rhubarb rhubarb', which frankly I am much happier with.'

So, intrigued, I thought i'd just check to see what key words those well-informed international intellectuals had googled to find me.

To my disappointment I discovered that my spike was down to a simple phonetic (and spelling) error on the part of a those wishing to get up to speed on matters affecting news corp. In hunting for information relating to the uk's biggest newspaper baron they'd tapped in the words...
'Rhubarb murdock' then after that attempt, 'Rhubarb murdoch'...

Sigh. In true Rupert Murdoch style I plan to continue unabashed.

Friday, July 15, 2011

Murdoch - the titillation tables have turned...


Have been watching bemused, buoyed, yes, even titillated as Saga Murdoch plays out like some kind of fat, fabulous Aesop fable.  

Retribution this sweet I thought only happened in the most formulaic of Hollywood plot lines. 

The supposedly invincible media mogul with police and politicians in his pocket scurries around floundering and shooting from the hip as the global big guns round on his crumbling fortress.  There is something quite delicious watching someone who's made an immense business peddling other people's misery now in the stocks themselves.  Yes, indeed, hoist by his own petard. Well, it's all in the slavering public interest innit? 
What's interesting is that you'd have thought that for someone so commercially astute there'd have been a contingency plan afoot.  Surely they weren't so arrogant as to think that the underhand journalistic practices clearly rife, and seemingly endorsed at the highest possible level at wapping towers would never be exposed? Stories of a scramble to delete thousands of emails, bumbling to parliamentary committees 'oh, yeah, we've paid the police.... within the law, erm. What? When?  Oh, did I say that, can't remember...'.  Plus of course there was, allegedly, the deliberate withholding of documents from The Enquiry that proved widespread, salaried, hacking, but the apparent accidental submitting of emails to The Enquiry revealing the signing off of four figure payouts to police....  Fortress Wapping, Fawlty Towers, Phenomenal Fuck-up.  What were they thinking? 

And then as the worms start to put on a pace out of that can and the whole cloud of stench starts to rise, the powers that be clearly have no idea when it comes to damage limitation. You can imagine the scene..... 

'Fuck, share price is tumbling, BSkyB looks shakey.  A scalp, a scalp! My kingdom for a scalp!  But not the curly auburn one, she knows too much.  Nor the specky, stubble one.  He's family.  I know, what about the rag itself??  Yeah, let's give them hundreds of scalps.  Worthless hacks, marketing, production heads, ad sales staff, printers, yeah yeah, all of them.  What?  what do you mean innocent scalps aren't really scalps at all?  Scalp-goat, scapegoat, it's all the same.  Just do it, and quick!  Oh, and whatever you do, keep smiling.  FOR FUCK'S SAKE, KEEP FUCKING SMILING.'

Several days later....'Ok, that didn't work.  What now?'

And so, there you have it.  In keeping with all the best tabloid stories, the subjects of this coup, the biggest the media world has seen, those big cheese barons who thought they ruled the world and our tawdry minds, are being stripped bare, bent over and right royally spanked with canes in real time.

Hubris. Humbug. Humiliation.  You couldn't make it up. Who knows where it will all end, but, when it does, will the last person to leave News International please turn the lights out. 

 

Name change...

Have changed the name of my blog to something that I feel more accurately reflects its content.

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Wimbledon, drag


Have a thing about John Inverdale.  I thought it would pass but now that Wimbledon’s started he’s all over the telly again and it seems I’ve not shaken it. 

I have this inexplicable urge to dress him in drag.  Yes, of course I know he’s all man, and it would doubtless offend his rugby-trained 100% brawn to hear himself discussed in this way, but I can’t help it.  Every time I catch sight of the Inverdale I instantly transport him in fishnets and fuschia boned satin to centre stage, Madame JoJo’s.

Am yet to put my finger on just why this should be, but I think it’s the mouth, particularly when he smiles.  It’s a perfect Cupid’s bow set within a granite jaw, that curls upwards and stretches wide to reveal a pristine set of pearly whites.  Plus his eyes are a flashing steely grey, heavily lashed, and naturally defined in a way that looks like Boots no 7. 

Mouth, neck, shoulders, eyebrows… all are oversized in the kind of way that would immediately rumble a drag queen’s gender however lavishly feminine the dress and garb.  And such a great hulk of a man is instantly emasculated when dressed in a suit and perched on a TV sofa.

No idea.  Am prepared to accept that this could be a psychological issue that’s all my own but Inverdale just seems a bundle of soft, raw, feminine, masculine contradictions that’s resulting in a warping of my mind.  Surely I can’t be the only one…?      

Monday, June 13, 2011

Caitlin Moran - new book....

..on top of everything else.  How does the woman do it??  Three nat newspaper columns - one of which she needs to watch back to back telly to write, additional regular lengthy features, high profile interviews - Gordon Brown, Lady Gaga etc etc- two kids under secondary school age, and now a book?  I don't get it.  Is she cloned for god's sake?

Fact is, I had been rather tiring of the sight. Over-exposure is an understatement.  It's almost like every wacky idea a Times editor has ever had in the last few years has been bunged at Caitlin, making her a regular cover girl, front page blurb, page one lead column, back cover sign off. 

Then she pretty much cleans up at the UK Press awards with three top accolades.

Moran is everywhere, something doubtless those down at Fortress Wapping (are they still there?) must be aware of?  Don't some of the other journos get a bit hacked (..) off?  Aren't some readers like me beginning to urge motherlike that she be given a break, so we don't all get Moran-fatigued.  Surely at this rate her own burnout is inevitable?  The wit will waver, the prolificacy wane, and she'll go the way of all those other one time wondrous female scribes - flogging freelance her wares to Red or Psychologies Mag.

It had began here already. Seeing her this weekend yet again on the front cover of Times Mag, blurbed yet again on the front page of the main section I had recoiled from more Moran, in the way you do from mojitos at a 1am lock-in.  The magazine sat for a couple of days, all its little sections consumed, while 'How to be a Woman' six page book excerpt got passed over. Until this morning.

Just before relegating it to the correct recycle bin I thought, babies napping, I'd have a quick skim.  And doing that I thought, hold on, this is funny and got a cup of tea, sat down and read it proper.

The woman's hilarious.  I'd forgotten. It's easy to see why they're bleeding her dry. Her memoir - which is what the new book seems to be, with a smattering of modern-day feminism humourously couched - is self-deprecating, warm, insightful and immediately engaging, her feminism a matter of fact shrug.  No in your face browbeating. Her writing just carries you along, generally prostrate, from a laughter-induced stitch.

An excerpt from the excerpt (she grew up, the eldest of eight children, in a council house in Wolverhampton):

"In my family, my fat family, none of us ever say the word "fat". "Fat" is the word you hear shouted in the playground, or on the street, - it's never allowed over the threshold of the house.  My mum won't have that filth in her house. At home, together, we are safe.  We never refer to our size.  We are the elephants in the room."

For that paragraph alone, I'll be buying her book.      


   

Saturday, June 11, 2011

King (and Queen) Kohl

Is it me or has everyone been applying more kohl since the Royal Wedding?  I'm suddenly noticing eyes like never before.  Amongst all these people (women) that I see on a regular basis.  The Kate Middleton self-applied eye makeup routine has, it seems, launched a million makeovers.

Now, I'd always thought that rule number one was never use black kohl - too overbearing; and that rule number two was never to apply it beneath the eye, corner to corner.  You'll look like a panda.

Eye-liner, according to my rulebook, should be grey, or green or brown and applied relatively heavily on the upper lid, thickening towards the outer corner.  It should be applied sparingly to the lower lid, from centre to outer corner. Followed by a smattering of smudging.

The Middleton sisters (both do exactly the same routine) have torn up my rulebook.  Their undereye kohl seems heavier than their upper lid liner.  And it's always black.  And it's corner to corner.  And it works!

And now everyone else is doing it, and I'm looking into newly defined eyes that shoot straight back at me, sparkling in a way that leaves mine feeling decidedly underdressed.

I shall be experimenting with king kohl forthwith.  Reminding myself, like all those wedding makeup artists do, that 'it might seem heavy to you now darling, in the mirror, but it won't from a distance'.

Doubtless that's what Kate says to herself when she leans into the mirror, stretches that lower lid and underscores with purpose.  I'm going away to practise.

How would you feel if it were your....?

Empathy [em-puh-thee].  the intellectual identification with or vicarious experiencing of the feelings, thoughts, or attitudes of another.

R. R. Greenson:  "to empathise means to share, to experience the feelings of another person."
Alvin Goldman:  "The ability to put oneself into the mental shoes of another person to understand her emotions and feelings"
Simon Baron-Cohen;  "spontaneously and naturally tuning into the other person's thoughts and feelings..understanding the other's feelings and the ability to take their perspective.."

As a word, quality, capacity it's cropping up a lot at the moment.  In that scientists, psychologists, specifically criminal psychologists are pinpointing empathy as commonly lacking amongst those afflicted by autism, narcissism and psychopathy.

There is an area of the brain that is responsible for rendering us able to empathise.  Neurologists claim that for some of us it underperforms and in others it's underdeveloped eg there is evidence that those born into extreme repeated abuse be it physical, verbal, emotional do not develop the area of the brain responsible for empathy.

Which raises all kinds of issues for the judicial system in relation to rehabilitation and of course culpability, and is doubtless an area that defence teams for delinquent or violent children pore over.

Young or old it stands to reason that many of our violent criminals lack the ability to empathise.  No ability to feel the terror of your victim nor imagine the repercussions, subsequent shock, pain and agonising grief of their family, facilitates the capacity to harm.  There is no empathy barrier, no emotional brake, and by the same token, presumably no remorse. 

But what if the jury, those gathered to determine, on behalf of society, the degree of an indvidual's evil intent,  what if they too, collectively, are lacking in empathy..?

Consider the case of Joanna Brown.  Joanna Brown was killed by her estranged husband after three years of divorce wrangling.  She was from a rich family, he was not.  The three years of wrangling had been about money - what he'd wanted and what she was prepared to offer him.  He'd signed a pre-nup.

Throughout May of this year the jury listened in detail to how Robert Brown had dug a grave months, if not years previously in a highly secluded corner of Windsor Park.  Into this grave he had buried a plastic crate, big enough to act as a coffin.

The jury heard how three years previously the defendent had threatened to kill his wife by holding a large knife to her.  Such was her terror, her family hired a bodyguard and restricted the defendent's access to Joanna. 

The jury heard how on 31 Oct 2010 the defendent had taken their children, 9 and 10, back to her house (they had been staying with him over the half-term) at around teatime and had taken a claw hammer with him hidden in a bag containing his son's homework.

The children were dropped off, went inside, and were told to go to the playroom when the parents began to argue on the doorstep.

The jury heard a forensic pathologist explain, with the help a mannequin, how the defendent had taken the hammer and hit his wife over the head and face with it 14 times.

He had then wrapped her body in plastic, putting a plastic bag over her head to minimise blood spillage, and bundled her into the boot of his car.  His two children were watching from a side window as he did so.  He disabled the cctv and phone and then told the children to get back into the car.  He returned them to his house and left them in the charge of his pregnant girlfriend.

The jury then heard how he collected paper overalls, ties, and mallet from his garage and drove to the spot in Windsor park he had dug previously.  He lined the vegetable crate with plastic sheeting, again to minimise any seepage, bundled his dead/dying wife, into the makeshift coffin, secured the lid and then buried it using a spade he'd left nearby wrapped in tarpaulin to hide it.

He then disposed of the murder weapon and the cctv evidence somewhere in the woods - as yet unfound - returned to his home and got into bed with his pregnant girlfriend.

The jury listened intently to all the details, to the forensic evidence of the wounds inflicted as the victim had tried to defend herself, to the testimonies of her grieving mother (her father had died years previously), and the witness statement of her nine-year-old daughter: 'we saw daddy putting mummy in the car', 'asked whether daddy was going to take mummy to hospital' etc.

The jury sat and listened to all the evidence for the prosecution and then the defence.  The defence claimed their client was of diminished responsiblity and how it was preposterous that a man would take his children with him if he'd intended to kill his wife.   Yet, of course, given his previous threats, it's unlikely she'd have opened the door to him alone.

The jury heard it all in the presence of Joanna Brown's grieving mother and brother. Joanna Brown's mother, who'd seen her child grow up to meet such a brutal end, who'd had to identify her battered daughter's body,  witness the 'coffin' and grave in which she'd been buried and then in her shock and grief, take charge of traumatised grandchildren, whose lives will be forever scarred by the actions of their father. 

The jury heard all this.  Then, after a couple of days of deliberation, acquitted Robert Brown of murder. 

Despite all the evidence of premeditation (grave, hammer), foresight (lined crate, paper overalls, tools), diligent covering of tracks (cctv, telephone) etc. they convicted him of manslaughter ie. he didn't mean to do it.

How do you explain a verdict that flies in the face of all the evidence presented and defies logic?  Lack of empathy on the part of the jurors?  Or an empathy that's seriously misplaced?

The judge it seems concluded the latter, and sentenced him to 26 years.  The victim's family, although relieved at the sentence, are left with a lingering - presumably lifelong - sense that justice has not been done.

Well, if she'd been your daughter, sister, mother, how would you  feel?

Saturday, April 30, 2011

Whatsername of high barnet...?

Have had major memory lapse.  For the life of me I can not remember the name of that singer, you know, the amazingly talented one who was all skin and bones and big hair, and all you ever read about a couple of years back.  she of the bloodied ballet pumps, kohl, car crash lifestyle, appalling taste in boyfriends/husbands, whose cuddley daddy used to be constantly wading in, bailing her out, cleaning her up, shouting 'she's all right, she's just a youngster..' to the baying media, before thrusting her back on stage.

This was apparently the best UK singer/songwriter of her generation.  someone super gifted who could play a variety of instruments, pen globalwide hits to which she would overlay her unique deep husky pitch-perfect vocal chords. And wasn't it a shame that she's such a tragic, tortured genius whose path of self-destruction is depriving us music lovers of more of her aural ambrosia..  blah blah, yadda yadda, tut tut, hmm.

She didn't self-destruct, much to the disapppointment of the slavering ambulance-chasers - she just slipped into obscurity.  I've got a couple of her CDs for goodness sake but can not remember her name.  It was only a few years ago, Back to Black....there's a tube joke for god's sake...  Man, maybe this is early onset alzheimer's, or maybe it's the transient nature of pop genius. Adele who..?

but no, she of more tatts than skin and precarious beehive, my mind's a blank.  Hold on, I know.  Will google...    

amy winehouse. phew, thank god.  i am at peace.  

Where is she now...? 

Not sure, but I saw her on the tube once.... Really..?...Yeah, yeah, she got off at High Barnet (sorry), never to be seen again.

Sheer class

Tis true.  I admit there may, on this here blog, have been the odd weary mutter and dispairing sigh at some aspects of British psyche.  But there is no nationality I'd rather be after yesterday's performance.  It was pure class, breathtaking beauty, pomp and pageantry at its jaw-dropping best, and nobody in the world could do it better. Never considered myself a Monarchist but frankly, long live it.  This was an event that has singlehandedly restored global respect in our little battered Isles, and lifted the mood, nationwide.  Makes one puff one's little chest up with pride.

What's more, those Middletons are utterly gorgeous, all of them.  What cheekbones, hair, elegance and poise!  She may not be blue-blooded, but thank God!  There may at last be a glimmer of hope that the delectable Duchess's pristine genes mingling with Windsor blood finally do away with the long face and horsey gnashers that so predominate the clan.

 

Saturday, April 16, 2011

Hooked on blog ranking, that's 'ranking', with an r...

Am 20 posts down. 

When I started this blog, it was to get my lazy arse seated at a desk and feral fingers disciplined and tapping at a keyboard.  Essentially it was to instil the scribe habit.  I was/am doing it for noone but myself.  It has no theme - neither misery nor comic - nor is particularly practical, any one of which one has come to expect from a blog.  It is merely stream of consciousness random babbling and utterly pointless blah.

Like most things in life started with good intentions, I fully expected my interest to wane and this little project, like so many before it, to fizzle and die relatively young in the tooth. 
But then I discovered a whole new dimension behind web logs that I hadn't realised existed. One that keeps the blogger blogging, checking in, contributing.... 

It's the stats.  Don't be alarmed, but I can see who's read me, and where.   Not who precisely of course - no names, urls or any personal stuff, but what country the blog's been accessed from, what device has been used, and interestingly, which key search words browsers have tapped in to lead to little ol' moi.

Obviously, the vast majority of those who have arrived at chasing the plot will have done so by accident, chasing one or other comedy, misery, practicality scribblings aforementioned, or more likely, tittilation, only to be bitterly disappointed at finding the mad mutterings of a mid-life critical female country dweller.

they will doubtless not make the mistake of 'opening me up' (is that blog speak?) again, but tis interesting never the less.  In the three months I've been posting I've been 'picked up' (maybe that is) in singapore, ukraine, iran, the philippines, brazil, canada, as well as of course the usual US, UK, Germany, France euro states etc

I can see which of my posts are the most 'popular' by which I mean accessed the most, as opposed to liked... and based on this can categorically declare that that the predominant driver (not tech speak in this case) fuelling all those sticky search engines dotted across the globe is, you guessed it, porn.

the tatler post is the current leader, notching up over the twice the pageviews of its closest rival.  This it seems, is because it mentions Tatler's 'prettiest school girls'feature..oops, I've done it again (watch the pageviews mount.  Hmm, mount.. that'll doubtless bring a couple in).  It's all about search engine optimisation.  Following some way behind (behinds) Tatler is surprise, surprise, Brazilian Warning, about waxing, that is complete depilation of women's pubic hair - that's pubic. hair. women. you see what I'm doing here...? 

and then some way beneath the pornographers come the techies - the ipad posts are coming in at third and fourth most stumbled upon plot-chasing posts, and then it's the girlie magazine stuff - eyebrows, fight the drab/glamour chasing (girlie and glamour, sorry can't help myself). The rest of my ramblings are like the long-odd contenders, stragglers  in the Grand National, huddled, bumping and stumbling over Beechers Brook only to unseat rider and trot leisurely, and rather late, over the finishing line.

All in all, it gives one an insight.  If i'm to achieve world domination (that's domination..) and have all the countries coloured in on my little blog map i must insert, erm, and I apologise profusely for this, wank words into each and every post.  Or indeed any that could be construed as such.  Which clearly seems to be pretty much every other word in the English language. 

I shall report back on just how well this post does as part of my experiment - note labels below...

Tuesday, April 5, 2011

A nation of dreary scowlers

We are so repressed and dull in this country.  whatever you feel about the royal wedding and the monarchy, it's an excuse to party.  get out, get some wine down you, jig on the spot, let your kids play with their kids, have a laugh, see everyone having a laugh.  Instead all we hear about is how bored everyone is with the forthcoming royal nuptials, the need to escape it yad yadda yawn... 

Says a lot about a nation that we're quite happy to ogle it on the box (apparently 58% of us plan to watch it on the telly) but couldn't possibly be seen to be doing anything that might be construed as enjoying it...5% will actually take part in a street party.  the British are crap at having a good time, even when it's offered them on a plate.   there's some kind of shame associated with it.  We have no joie de vivre - even the expression is bloody foreign.  it does not translate. The nation throws a party and nobody comes.

instead of using the event like the French, Spanish, Italians would, we'll be slobbing and scowling on the sofa like the Royle family, tutting over the cost of this and that - 'don't they know there's a recession woteva woteva'.  when we leave the house it'll be to drag our flab to the pub to moan some more into our six successive pints, so we can whinge louder uninhibited.

case in point...there's a busker in exeter who sings swing like one of those fabulous old crooners, accompanied by a Palladium big band courtesy of his ipod and PA system.  You can't walk past him and not be lifted by his 'Fly me to the Moon', flick a hip at his 'Lady's a Tramp', stomp the ground at his 'Mack the Knife' but everyone resists, suppresses, scuttles past, eyes down.  On the continent, people would stop, appreciate the poor guy, grab one another, fill the precinct dancing...   In this country, regardless of the sun shining and him trilling, we must get on, rush to get back to the dross - grey little offices, insipid boring lives.

I lived in Madrid for three years and discovered another way.  I recommend anyone feeling the drag into the vortex of incessant gloom and bah humbug that's so peculiar, and endemic amongst us brits get themselves to the continent sharpish and rediscover how to have fun.  Seeing and hearing this busker, we stopped, my two-year-olds and I.  The twins swayed, bopped, and waved their arms to the music and I had a little bounce with them.   We were the only ones.  They started moving to music pretty much as soon as their little brains registered it, dancing as soon as they could stand.  It's something I plan to encourage until I'm old and decrepit - succumb to the urge to move, party, have fun, and don't let the British default-to-dreary smother it.   Even if it means packing them off to Spain. arriba arriba.   

I know, I know, I promised not to be rant, but need to vent every now and then....

Monday, April 4, 2011

Breast-feeding twins

There's an item in the news today, about how more help is going to be provided to mums of multiples trying to breast feed.  The report featured real-life stories of how these women's cries for extra help went unheard by various professionals yadda yadda.....'

Firstly wasn't my experience. Secondly, is it just me, but we seem to be blighted with this 'woe-is-me, why isn't someone heeeelp-ing me, sob sob' attitude these days, instead of just getting on with it.

when i was in hospital following the birth of my twins I had a bed that at the press of a button would slowly fold to prop me up to sitting, where I could feed, watch telly, chat, issue orders.  Nurses would appear like clockwork to administer painkillers (post caesarean) apologising profusely if a little late.  I had a nurse from neo natal visit every three/four hours throughout the night to check the babies were feeding/I was feeding them. but if I still needed help there was another button by the bed which you could ring for assistance.  I considered this emergency only.  Others were more liberal, regularly reaching for their bell, and I would hear nurses running up and down the corridor as pumping on the alarms got more impatient.  Notwithstanding there were certainly some valid cases for which urgent help was required, I can guarantee the vast majority weren't.  It was like bloody upstairs downstairs. We had our meals provided, a caretaker would bring tea and biscuits morning and afternoon and we could summon our exhausted servants/nurses to our attention at a whim.  All courtesy of the NHS, and all, from what I could see, blithely taken for granted. 

Maybe I was lucky.  Everyone I encountered in the birth of my twins was extraordinarily helpful.  the hospital provided me with a giant U-shaped cushion that I could happily balance both babies on to feed simultaneously, and I had lovely comforting midwives whose mission it was to latch them on should I have target trouble, and ease my pain. i have no issue, only praise for the hospital care, after care all the plentiful care, so much care, I received from the state. 

My problem with breast-feeding was two-fold and all my own.  Such was the double demand on my somewhat modest mons that after a few weeks they would become so engorged between feeds they'd be rock hard.  Twin domes that were stretched so full, they were like pumped up Pamela Anderson beach balls fit to burst.  Very tricky for a little mouth to latch on to.  Come feeding time, I'd extract each from my bra and like garden sprinklers they would spray pressurized milk across the room.  It would be a frantic race to get the babies on before quantities of the stuff was wasted.  My mother in law who'd regularly visit to coo over her little granddaughters adoringly, frequently got it in the eye, but ever polite would just dab it away, pretending not to notice.

As the weeks went by my breasts would get fuller and harder, and more excrutiating to carry around.  I  would need a crane to prop myself up in bed as using my arm to lever myself vertical was sheer agony (and there was no mechanical folding bed at home, or button to press).   Not only that but something about my prolactin levels (hormone responsible for milk production) would cause me to have night sweats. Like you wouldn't believe.

It started the first night in hospital when I'd felt a little damp but put it down to the hospital-regulation plastic pillows and bottom sheets.  As the days passed it got worse.  After a few weeks I'd have to wear a towelling robe to bed, such was the deluge.  Like clockwork the sweats would start at 1am and continue for a couple of hours until I was literally lying in a cold pool.  If awake I could feel it happening, like taps under my skin all turned on to full simulatneously. One minute I was dry, the next drenched.  Each night I would get up looking like I'd just emerged from the shower, hair dripping, and bleary-eyed discard wet towelling robe for one that was dry, then feed the babies.

this went on night after night for months, about three, until I started combination feeding.  At three months my twins were on formula, and before I get all those breast evangelists cussing, it was because they weren't getting enough from me, something they made abundantly clear by punching and clawing and howling at each emptied breast they'd ravenously sucked dry.  It was either formula or hungry babies, and personally, not least because it's bad for all our nerves, three-month-old hungry babies, in stereo, can never be a good thing.

so there you go.  My problems with breast-feeding were all my own.  I was very grateful for the help I received which was plentiful, but I don't think any additonal multiples-related help would have, well, helped.  As a grown, relatively intelligent adult who had managed to get pregnant, I'm not sure further twin-specific spoon-feeding's really necessary when it comes to breast feeding.  Is it?  Really?  i mean, our mothers weren't, nor theirs, nor all the others preceding us, throughout civilisation. 

It being a blame culture though I will blame them for my short-lived breast-feeding.  My antecedents that is.  It is they who are collectively responsible for not making me better endowed, and probably, the minxes, for that prolactin nightly charm offensive.  They have a lot to answer for.

Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Fight the Drab - 12-step Glamour-chasing

Am definitely going through mid-life crisis.  Have started wearing hats and heels requiring stabilisers, and strange geometric mini skirts, that are crimson...I've started wearing colour for god's sake.   

What's going on?  well, I've worked it out.  It's a backlash to my introverted confidence-lacking youth.  That youth that saw me only wear various shades of black and neutral, only ever adorning my body in items that would cover my bum, in swathes, and reveal nothing in the way of contour, effectively large sacks.  I wore flat shoes, mainly converse and flip flops, pretty much all the time and, keen never to stand out, make up was always subtle, neutral, pointless.  My style could best be described as androgynous and non-descript, banal and dreary.  I would willingly fade into the murky background.

But now that i'm older, I realise with horror I am quite literally FADING INTO THE MURKY BACKGROUND on a run-away train to inevitable decrepitness and demise, and in response am fighting tooth and claw to cling onto that last little vestige of youth and prime, snatch it back, hold it high and shout to the world 'I HAVE CHANGED MY MIND!'.  I do not wish to be drab, live a life of obscurity, I want to be noticed.  I want, and this is very unBritish of me, to take pride in my appearance, before it's too late.  I WANT TO BE FRENCH.

*takes deep breath, composes self*

Hence the purchase of bowler hats, the blow-drying of hair, the odd-looking red minis against opaque tights, and general opting for more 'womanly' attire. I am attempting to scrub up, inject a little bit of glamour into the everyday.  But it's an art you know and not one I've ever learnt.

I have therefore been studying my friends more closely than usual.  I have friends - god knows why they hang out with me - who never leave the house looking anything other than GORGEOUS.  They always look, with my clunky grunge eyes, pristine.  They probably came out of the womb glamorous and it is something that you can't just acquire but I am INTENT and observing them closely for just how they do it.  Perfect make up perfect hair, good nails, coordinating outfits, comprising clothes that are always well kempt, hmm... probably because they look after them after they've bought them, rather than stuff them into tiny gaps of residual space in wardrobes - note to self.  They even iron them it seems...an I-RON, what's that..?? Either that or they routinely wear new stuff.

And then there's makeup, not just the same old eyeliner, mascara ritual that they've used for years (a la moi), but eye shadows, foundations, rouge, eyebrows neat and perfect lips.  Enhancing looks in a way that's not gaudy, or even obvious - all very clever - these women don't have it all rattling about in a dirty dusty bag but have pots and brushes, palettes and paints sitting fragrantly on a dressing table...an area set aside for making up, where one can focus.  I want a dressing table.

So, without further ado, I have drawn up an action plan, a twelve-step guide on being well-groomed and glamorous, that one can refer to at times of impending and suffocating drab.  It goes like this:

Step 1
Work out outfit day before.  Re-organise wardrobe such that all potential options are visible and not in too much of a state to wear off the peg.

Step 2
Accessorise outfit, with jewellery and/or scarf and/or hat.  Ensure nails are manicured, and preferably painted in this season's colour. 

Step 3
Sleep well.  Some people I'm told like to be in bed by 10 and it does wonders for their complexion.  Well you know what they say, go to sleep with the lark...every hour before midnight is worth double the hours after...etceterrrrrrrrrrraaaa, except of course when you need to go out to flaunt new found glam.

Step 4
Get up early and do exercise.  Frankly, this is something i never would have countenanced, or even advised once upon a time but such is my vanity and fear of lost muscle tone and general sag, you will see me out on a bike (never run anywhere, cycing gets you there much quicker) before 8am, and occasionally pilate-ing.  Makes you sparkier too.  Fuzzy is NEVER glamourous.

Step 5
Shower, ending session with cold shower for as long and as cold as can muster.  Refer to previously-mentioned vanity/pain equation - cold showers perk everything, and I mean everything, up - AND deliver instant sparkiness.  Particularly good for baggy eyelids.  Plus the rude shock to sluggish circulation in the buttock and thigh area helps stem the cellulite tide.  Ensure skin in trouble areas is angry pink before emerging from ice drench.

Step 6
Dry hair, even if not wet.  Using curling brush, other hair appliances, gels, glues, sprays, and sufficient time with head upside down to make it look bouncy and salon-finished again.

Step 7
Apply make-up.  Using brushes.  And a dressing table, like the kidney-shaped one with pelmets your mother used to have.  Actually pelmets not really required, just a nice space where you can sit and focus... 
Refer to online classes to find out how best to apply makeup, Lancome, Youtube lauren luke whatshername, am quite enjoying the max factor ads in the Model Agency break on Ch 4.  Very enlightening.

Step 8
Dress in Parisienne-inspired outfit organised (and where necessary pressed) the night before.  Adorn with accessories - refer to above - but not too many.

Step 9
Wear appropriate, not scussy footwear.  A heel is good and clean is vital.  If trainers must be worn ensure they are converse only and look brand new - wash in washing machine if need be.

Step 10
Sweep down stairs fragrant and flicking hair back as you go to breakfast on a croissant and coffee, and water, and fruit.  hold with fingertips and eat small mouthful at a time.  Try not to talk mid chew.*.

Step 11
Have mirror on wall near door and always check teeth before leaving house.

Step 12
Ensure tasteful Parisienne-style bag contains comb/brush, toothbrush/toothpaste and lipstick with mirror to re-apply on the hoof if necessary.

*In a forthcoming blog I shall be focusing on food and eating the glamorous way.....

Postscript:  although some may disagree, I find it is useful to have money in your pursuit of glamour.  If, like myself, you are financially challenged, you have no choice but to APPLY YOURSELF all the more to the cause.  There is no excuse. Not if you don't want to fade away into the murky background.

Saturday, March 19, 2011

Twitter twaddle time-waster...

So twitter is five years old on Monday.   I'm on there but may as well not be.  I have a mere six followers, most of whom are friends who never clock in (They're all far too busy on facebook...).  Having jumped on the bandwagon wittering away with gusto, it soon became clear that I was painstakingly devising concise little 140 character ditties to tweet to no-one but myself.  As result, my once vigorous chirp has now dwindled to a faint occasional cheep. Yes, yes, I know I'm here rattling on to no-one in particular too but there's a difference.  It feels a little bit more substantial, a little less trivial, and more satisfying to write, even if it's just me who reads me. 

After all, itsy bitsy tweets can only say so much, and if you're not a-d list famous with a mag/column/tv prog/tour to promote, or a rebel rallying an uprising, just why would you bother?

The only time I've got any pleasure out of twitter is watching spats develop between well-known individuals.  Two in particular come to mind - Sarah Vine vs Professor Brian Cox because it was just last week, and Giles Coren vs Janice Turner, because it was hilarious.  Vitriol, sarcasm, imaginative use of sexist expletives, there are no holds barred on twitter, and eavesdropping someone else's ruck in real time can brighten up a rather dull day. 

And then you see yourself as what you really are. Because let's be honest, for the most part, facebook and twitter are all about voyeurs and exhibitionists.  You generally fall into one camp or the other.  I can never think of anything remotely interesting, funny, meaningful, to write as a status or tweet, so prefer not to try.  When i visit these sites it is therefore, I must confess officer, as petite voyeuse, peering into other people's lives, which although that's what they're designed for, is not something I am remotely proud of.  It wastes inane amounts of time, and leaves you feeling unfulfilled, and just a little bit dirty.  There is rarely anything said that warrants note or chuckle, nor is there satisfaction to be gained in eavesdropping other people's conversations or indeed, knowing every move/thought/achievement they choose to declare to the wider public.  You will regularly lose a couple of hours of your life and have nothing but a lingering sense of inadequacy to show for it.

What's more, no one it seems these days can do anything - go on holiday, visit an area of outstanding natural beauty, have a baby, eat, indulge in illicit affair, without dropping everything to notify the world about it in the most concise, funniest terms they can muster.  Instead of enjoying the experience/interaction/life-changing event for what it is, fingers fumble for keypads and thoughts turn to 'how can I best tweet this'.  We're beginning to live in a parallel universe, one that's defined by tweet.

So, with that, I declare my current status to be 'bored by facebook and twitter'.  I shall herewith be dropping the snoop-and-tell habit and resolve to get back a large segment of my life.  I shall no longer use social networking sites as random timefillers, because as we all know they are instead ruthless time-robbers, ravenous devourers of that most precious commodity, offering nothing but a warped sense of reality and a mild psychological complex in return.  I shall use the time I gain as a result to better effect. 

And if you're responding sarcastically, 'wot, like here on this blog?' I can only say well yes, that's part of it.  I'd rather write where I'm not restricted by charactersss (as on twitter), on a forum that's not inherently devoid of characterrrr (as is facebook).  Plus, I could point out, you're here, and got to the end of this. Which proves there's still appetite for more than a tweet.  But, all right, all right. Keeping in the spirit of thing, for those who really must know, right now, on this day, at 15.45, I can declare I am..... 'Parched and off to make a cup of tea. English Breakfast, milk, no sugar. '   Well, it is its birthday after all.

Friday, March 11, 2011

Tatler - a commoner's insight

Bought Tatler the other day. Was keen to see how the highly respected Kate Reardon had made her mark as new ed.   

Had never properly looked  at Tatler before.  Golly, it's frightfully posh isn't it?  Very much the debutante's mag, even in these days.  It still has a 'Prettiest Schoolgirls' feature for goodness sake.  And a most eligible bachelor section.  By 'eligible' read 'freshly-divorced and loaded'.  Most of them were bankers.

We found out where, if you're super rich and influential you should buy your next £15m pad, in order to ensure you mix with the equally rich and influential.  Beware all you yokel locals in Oxfordshire, near the border with Gloucestershire, the money-drippers are invading. 

Where men featured (generally in ads) they were smug, blazered, well manicured young men, and the female model adorning the editorial fashion pages had her lips lined in a such a way that can only be described as, well, snooty.  All the parties looked a little bit ra, and even cover girl Naomi Watts was decked out in bowler hat and tails for her shoot.

It is an interesting strategy for a magazine, this exclusive targeting of the hoity-toity.  I mean just how many girls are still out there who fall into the super-dooper 'Daddy's got a 50 footer moored in St Tropez' set?

Obviously from an advertising perspective they can boast quality of audience if not quantity, plus much of the tone and style of the editorial hinted at aspirations of Vanity Fair, where Reardon previously resided as contributing editor.  But I don't know, can such a concept for a monthly glossy really be viable these days? Or am I societally deluded?  Perhaps the pearls and twinset brigade is very much alive and kicking in circles I do not move in.  Judging by the prettiest schoolgirls section, it looks like the next generation are being impeccably groomed to extend the line.  Just so long as they marry well.  Well, they know where to look.   

The A-Line Eyebrow

So, still on the subject of hair, I was contemplating my eye-brows the other day, and came to the conclusion that they are quite possibly my best feature. 
They are brunette brows - strong and dark, with a tendency to straggle if neglected.  During hormone-charged teenage days they would grow in all directions, and were frequently dangerously close to becoming one, until of course I discovered tweezers.

Fortunately, I valued my brows and did not pluck them to oblivion for fear of going the same way as my sister, bald and pencil-reliant through overzealous tidying - "I was just trying to even them up," she would howl, "and before I knew it they'd both gone".  Prior-warned, I would merely chase those that had broken free from the pack, preferring to err on the side of bushy and uneven, than sparse.

And what do you know?  Some 30 years later, tidy, thick eyebrows it seems are all the rage, according to this month's Vogue.  The no. 1 fashion authority can't recommend too highly the (doubtless pricey) services of brow specialists who, like facial topiarists, will cultivate and shape your mistreated brows over a course of months, such that they re-emerge as perfect furry face-framers.  I praise my reticence when it comes to plucking.  It has clearly kept me, rather my brow, in good stead.

But the reason I love my eyebrows most - and this is something Vogue fails to touch on - is because they are A-line.  Not acute, you understand, a la Jack Nicholson, but more curved circumflex, a la Monroe.  And I am rather proud of that, because A-line eyebrows go a long way.  Consider the aforementioned, but also Bacall, Connery, Jane Russell, Ava Gardner, essentially all those Hollywood lovelies with a little bit of spice.  Spice thanks in large part to their peaked eyebrows. And of course their ability to move them.

There is after all nothing worse than having a couple of indolent hairy slugs recumbent over one's sockets that can muster no more than a twitch when presented with high drama.  As demonstrated by Gromit, an agile brow can say everything that needs to be said without uttering a single word.

Plus of course,the ultimate in ooh-la-la mischief and drop-dead-now sexy allure can be rustled up with a mere single brow lift. Think Sean Connery in Doctor No when he encounters a bikini-ed Ursula Andress for the first time.  Such is its ability to add a whole wealth of expression to the face that I have become convinced, just looking at certain TV stars, that anyone undergoing a cosmetic facelift requests the surgeon pull one brow slightly higher than the other.

In case you didn't believe me...
I am happy, and again rather proud, to say that mine don't need pinning when it comes to lifting one independently of the other.  The single brow lift is something I have perfected over a lifetime of practice prompted when, as a child, I watched Gary Glitter on Jim'll Fix It.  Hmm, ok, so there are some less savoury a-line eyebrows out there, but thanks to watching Glitter raising one, then the other, and then the other again, I hurried to the mirror to try to do the same.  I now boast eyebrows that will peak or flatten on demand, in tandem or on their own.

This I believe is the secret of the A-Line eyebrow.  Regular exercise.  As with all forms of exercise it tones and conditions the muscles that hold everything up, and therefore delays the inevitable sinking of one's brow into one's eyes. 

But also, a well exercised brow can communicate pretty much all you need to say.  And in this world of mundane mutterings, less babble, more brow can surely never be a bad thing.  Note to self.

Friday, February 18, 2011

Brazilian Warning

So, Rachel Johnson's had her first brazilian, inspired by her daughter, and apparently it was painless.  What..?  I have had one brazilian in my life, just one, several years ago, and it has remained with me ever since as one of the most painful things I have ever experienced.

Rachel Johnson's pain-free claim makes it clear to me - something that I suspected - that my beauty 'technician' - the waxist - was in fact a secret sadist, ready to inflict torture on any hirsute innocent foolish enough to cross her threshold..

She was East European and had very little in the way of English but I'm pretty sure there was a glint in her eye that day when I checked into the salon and she took me down to her chamber - the little white room downstairs where every imaginable form of depilation is carried out.

Like a James Bond villain, she was efficient, terse-lipped and quite adept. She'd obviously removed an awful lot of pubic hair in her time, and as she began on the usual knicker-straying groin area, I wondered, as I often do, how these girls cope with the regular akimbo exposure of women's bits in all their glory.  I mean, as a 'beautician', your first bikini wax must be a pretty challenging, and charmless, initiation.

The usual areas bare I was then required to hold each leg aloft at an awkward angle so she could reach the more nether of my nether regions.  Now these areas, like our beloved British forests, have remained untouched for a lifetime and cultivated a strong deep-rooted undergrowth, which like bindweed, will resist any attempts at removal.  The experienced beautician however, is prepared.  She lathers said area briskly, slaps on strip and with a wrench, tears it off.  I yelp and hit the ceiling.  Unperturbed she goes back to the throbbing area to apply more wax and clear up the odd stray that follicles had clenched to for dear life.  Then she proceeds to the other side.

By now tears were streaming down my face and I was wimpering.  I'd flinched so violently I'd almost fallen off the bed, and with adrenaline racing through my veins, my instinct was to  push her to one side and run for the door, wax strips dangling.  Fight, flight, flight goddam! my head yelled at me, but, for the sake of vanity - I'd rather be hairy than half bald - and curiosity - these are fashionable right? -  I gritted teeth and decided to stay the course.

She, meanwhile, carried on straight-faced. When she got to the end, I breathed a long high-pitched sigh of relief, whispered 'thanks very much' and reached for my clothes.  At which point, our resident beautician ordered me to turn over.  Yes, indeed.  This girl was thorough. 

Not one hair was left after she'd finished.  Back or front.  I lay there too in shock to say anything.  It was all she could do, i'm pretty sure, not to slap my trembling buttocks robustly, and announce, 'You're done', before leaving me to dress.

Stunned I didn't/don't get it.  I'm all for suffering for our art but this is a pain too far. Can it really be worth it..?!

I limped home and inspected, and as a result, was left even more flummoxed and frankly, embarrassed.  Where once was natural lustre was now pale, plump, plucked chicken breast.  Perhaps it works on people with the right skin tone and bone structure but on me it wasn't pretty, pleasant, or even vaguely attractive.  Certainly not sexy.  I did not like the sight of myself as pre-pubescent child again, and was slightly alarmed that many grown-up women, and their men, would.  I resolved to have pants on at all times til everything grew back, and never again resort to such extreme depilation.       

So there you have it.  Brazilians.  Don't believe what you read from the Johnson clan.  Blondes' roots may well be looser, but this brunette can confirm that Brazilians are pure unadulterated pain, probably worse than natural childbirth, and leave you looking like a freshly-shorn sheep - humiliated and just a little bit silly.

Wednesday, February 2, 2011

So far...

...so worthy.  Have read back my blogs and they are way too earnest.  Gawd help any of you who have waded through them.  Therefore from this moment on I plan to get my mojo back, inject un petit pois de character into any future loggin'.  I do have a personality, honest.

Monday, January 31, 2011

John Barry

So John Barry's died suddenly from a heart attack. He of such famous scores as James Bond's, Born Free, Midnight Cowboy, Out of Africa. Think of a substantial emotive score indelible from your brain's melodic archive and there's a good chance he was behind it. The man was absurdly prolific, and incredibly talented at hermetically blending compositions to the tone and pace of a movie, in such a way that they effortlessly carried you through as you watched whilst at the same time making a subliminal impression. When you heard the music in isolation its origin was unmistakeable yet it was wonderfully stirring in its own right. Not many scores can do that.

There used to be (c. 1986) a sweet little restaurant called The Petit Prince in Camden, North London. Cosy and condlelit, the walls were decorated with scenes from the famous Saint-Exupery novella, and they would serve hearty chickpea and vegetable stews, fat chips with sour cream, which we'd wash down with BYO wine.

The music they played in this little eaterie was always instrumental John Barry, in the main James Bond themes. It would wierdly complement the little prince perfectly as he flew around the walls. But it also animated any dinner party injecting energy into the wine-supping, stew-slurping young arty crowd that would regularly frequent the place. With a mixture of nostalgia, sexiness, and power of association, Barry's tunes would always get blood moving through your veins and the party going.

He leant respectability and stature to anything, and anyone he accompanied. Who knows what role a film's score plays in its ultimate success, but pretty sure Broccoli had a lot to thank John Barry for. Involuntarily humming a classic Bond riff right now, I find myself instantly transported to an open-top Merc, chiffon scarf billowing as I zip along a precipitous Italian mountain highway, the riviera sun beating down. Hang on a second, there's a delicious-looking gentleman fast approaching in my rear-view... Ooh ah. I clearly need to look up my John Barry compilation and do this more often.

Thursday, January 27, 2011

Fingertip tapping - an iPad amateur's review

So, am now proud owner of an iPad (refer back to entry 25/11/10).

Who'd have thought a few years ago we'd spend our days screen tapping? I predict a whole new RSI epidemic as fingers attempt to tap not type. And with precision. The strain required to ensure the right letters are hit on the keyboard, the correct words cut and pasted and inserted at that precise point in the paragraph, not to mention, the tremor control required to avoid those dreaded fat-fingered erroneous 'sends', will, i predict hit new limits.

To counter this my fingers receive daily workouts on the pad because I remain convinced that the it is the future when it comes to the written word. That said, as a user i've discovered some anomalies...


Firstly when reading a newspaper, it's surprising how unsettling it is not to know, indeed feel where the publication starts and ends. On the iPad you can 'turn' pages endlessly with no idea whether you're still at the beginning, in the middle or near the end of that section, or where it sits within the paper. You are in effect all at sea with no sight of the shore, which peculiarly, seems to matter more than I thought it would.

Secondly, imagery despite its superior digital potential seems to fare worse on the pad. It gets trimmed. Case in point, Rafael Nadal modelling underwear for Armani. In the printed newspaper we got the full frontal, glistening torso, neatly-packed briefs and all. In the iPad edition of the same article, we got nadal merely waist up. As you can imagine, this was frankly disappointing for a fan such as myself.

I'm sure it's just a matter of time, but not everyone it seems is compatible with iPad, or vice versa, not even the big online hitters like facebook and e-blogger, the very same blog site that hosts this weblog. I can't post blogs via my iPad, nor can I send facebook mail. This is because the iPad keyboard frustratingly fails to appear when required, despite feverish frustrated tapping on the part of yours truly.

Somewhat irritating as the keyboard had appeared to allow me to write a lengthy message to a fb friend then resolutely refused to appear when I attempted to tap in her address. After trying several times I misfired a forceful tap, accidentally cancelled said message and had to resort to calling. Speaking to the individual for goodness sake. In this day and age. Most annoying.

Finally, it seems that the pleasure of viewing adobe flash via the iPad is denied me due to an apple/adobe 'incompatibility', presumably a euphemism for 'inability to agree terms'. That's an awful lot of website content rendered inaccessible to an avid surfer such as myself, not least an important section of the most wondrous seedtoplate.co.uk.


So, although I still heart my iPad, if apple or the app people could just resolve these little distractions I'd be utterly devoted. That's all.





Funny ha ha vs funny nah nah

Am feeling slightly uncomfortable by the current debate, the one that compares British humour to American. a debate triggered it seems by ricky gervais's compering of the 2011 golden globes.

Hmm. Was that really a valid point of reference on the part of the Brits? Was it even humour? Sure we all laughed but in a horrified, wide-eyed nervous snigger sort of way, the kind of thing you did behind your hand at school when an insolent child was rude to teacher. We responded to the sheer gall of it, not the comedy content. The whole thing resembled a medieval spite show, where the vicitims, used to glory and adulation were stripped bare, locked in stocks and humiliated, one cold soaked sponge after another. Much to the hilarity of onlookers.

Am a little ashamed if this is being held up as typically "British" humour. We're cleverer than that. So is he. This was cheap, nasty and exposed gervais as scowling, finger-pointing and just a little bit bitter about something or other. More playground bully than comic genius.

It's true, we do it alot in this country. It's a flaw of the British psyche and possibly rooted in some national malaise that the only way we can feel better about oursleves is to mock someone else.

We should stick to self-deprecating, what we do best. Or at least always did. Perhaps the debate should be not how American humour compares to British, but at what point, on a sheer laugh out loud (as opposed to snide snigger) scale, stateside comedy proper began to regularly trump us.

Thursday, January 20, 2011

The genius and misplaced glamour of celluloid

Firstly, should like to say, just what a genius Tim Burton is.

Watched Alice in Wonderland last night (on dvd, yes, yes, I know, yawn, I finally got round to it a year after everyone else, whatever). I was gobsmacked! The animation, the CG, the glorious intense colour palette that made each and every still a visual masterpiece, the film was pure magical escapism which did justice to any child's wildest imagination, and certainly reignited mine. It took my breath away. And this was on the small screen. I can only imagine the adrenalin rush I'd have got in the cinema.

It demonstrated just what an art form film can be - the way in which each scene is staged, set, acted and illuminated. The pace, the colour, the costume, the drama, the infinite attention to detail. For anyone looking for great examples of direction this is it. Can't quite understand why Burton wasn't universally revered for it.

I'm usually the first out the cinema when the credits roll but curious to see just who, what and how many were responsible for this marathan feat, I stayed slumped on the sofa squinting as the names came up one after another, faster and faster. Five minutes later they were still rolling, the cast and crew now running to thousands.

Struck me just what's involved in putting a film together these days and how the vast majority of contributors get little, indeed minute, credit that flashes by at such a rate you miss it. Seems to me that the acting - the big slow names at the top, those we all bow down to, glorify and throw awards at - is the easy bit.

It is also, and I know from experience, death-defyingly dull. As an extra, you show up at 6am on a film set, get made up and wardrobed, then sit around all day waiting for a scene or scenes, in which you are required to act as wallpaper. In my case walk along a 20 yard stretch of high street pavement.
"Is that it?" I exclaimed, obviously only there because I was a wannabe thesp and thought it could be my chance to be discovered. "Should i erm, do anything, like pause, look hurried, or harried maybe? Perhaps glance in a shop window? Would you like me to express in any way?"
"No, just walk along the pavement," said busy production assistant, barely looking at me.
We did three takes, each of which took about 30 seconds, and for the rest of a day were all holed up in a bare miserable make shift room with access to teas and coffees, waiting to be called again. We weren't. 6am-8pm sitting around doing nothing in silly unseasonal costumes for £60. There is NOTHING glamourous about film-making.

Which brings me full circle, because in this makeshift caf, sitting for a while at the next table was Mrs Burton, la Bonham Carter herself along with Catherine Tate, and I, bored insane from staring at the table, could hear every word of her conversation, the only mildly interesting part of the day. She chattered away in her plummy, spirited screen manner about subjects relating to sleep, insomnia and snoring - the details of which I couldn't possibly reveal - until she too was called to do her 30 second take, several times, under a handheld shower, until dusk and crap weather meant filming had to cease.

Even your a-list film stars aren't spared the tedium. They just get paid better for it.

Monday, January 17, 2011

Death's random scattergun

Attended friend's funeral. Breast cancer. It had permeated her system like a relentless, creeping poison, such that the last five years had been an accelerating succession of ectomies - extraction after extraction in an attempt, futile, to get ahead, cut it off, cut it out.

She 'spoke' at her funeral, having written her own eulogy, firstly apologising for not lasting the course, thanking her family and friends for all the love they'd given and shown her, and finally, attempting to cheer us all up.

We questioned afterwards why it's always the good that die young, leaving the bad to go on hurting and hating. And it occurred to me that life's a battlefield. We all start in the same place, running for the other side, dodging the bullets from some random scattergun.

There are sprinters, the ground gainers, whose purpose is single-minded - a frantic full pelt, looking straight ahead, trampling those in their path... And there are dawdlers, dilly-dalliers, who slow to turn their face to the sun, feel lush turf under their feet, and grab the warm outstretched hands of others. Lovers of life, easy targets.