Sunday, October 31, 2004

I am not going to write about America's stupid "election" because frankly my dears, it's all rather depressing and dreary and let's face it, Fox News will just cheat and declare Bush the "winner" again. Instead, I am going to write about a book I'm reading called "The Cat That Could Open The Fridge" by Simon Hoggart, writer for The Guardian newspaper. People have been sending Hoggart copies of those awful "round-robin" letters that families send each other every Christmas, and he has compiled all of the most boastful, tedious and depressing excerpts from these letters into an exceptionally funny book. It makes you realise how absolutely dreadful the middle classes are as a social group. They offer every little detail of their holidays (including progress on doing a jigsaw), name-drop shamelessly, complain about things in minute detail (particularly going into too much information about their health) and brag about the achievements of their awful children "Chloe got a merit for grade 5 clarinet etc". A lot of these people write about their caravans - something of a bete noir for me. I don't like people with caravans - they hog up the roads and they're cheap. I am going to buy several copies of the book and send it to members of my family, with a version of my own "round robin" attached to the front.

Wednesday, October 27, 2004

Alan Ayckbourn's "The Norman Conquests" is out on DVD. Ayckbourn writes plays about British life and they are all very wry and well-observed etc. But what makes The Norman Conquests clever is that it is actually three plays, each lasting about 100 minutes, which follow the same events that happen during a weekend, but in three different rooms of the same house. So when a character walks out of one room in the play, they're actually walking right into another room and another play. It makes you realise that the things you infer can actually turn out to be quite different when you actually get to see them first hand. There are only six characters - and Norman (Tom COnti) is romancing most of them.

It is a very British, very 1970s cast. It's hard not to love Penelope Keith - she's kind of the doyenne of middle-class manners. Shockingly tall, with perfect non-movable hair and an aristocratic nose, she's prim and bossy, with an undercurrent of vulnerable sexuality. There's another Penelope, Penelope Wilton in the play - she always ends up playing put-upon, sympathetic roles. Perhaps not so co-incidentally, both Penelopes have played alongside Richard Briers in different sitcoms (The Good Life and Ever Decreasing Circles), and Richard Briers also appears in The Norman Conquests. Somehow this makes the circularity of The Norman Conquests all the more perfect.

My favourite scene is where Richard Brier's character is trying to explain the rules of some board game he's spent ages making. His wife, played by Penelope Keith is utterly bored at the whole idea, but ends up participating grudingly. However, she keeps interrupting to express her annoyance at how unrealistic and ridiculous the rules are. With that, and other disturbances, the rules are never fully explained and the game never gets played. I love it

Saturday, October 23, 2004

Sporty Spice

I was always last one picked in school sports teams and used to spend most of the gaming dishing my fellow pupils on the sidelines with an equally nelly friend. For the last few years of school life I ducked out of sports altogether by pretending I had singing lessons. Then I'd simply go to my grandmother's home and watch tv. So it has been a while since I played any team sports.

But that changed last Tuesday when I played gay waterpolo for the first time. How is gay waterpolo different from "normal" waterpolo you may ask? Well, for one thing it's OK to shriek and run away from the ball if it comes near you. Secondly, it's OK (even obligatory) to cruise the other players. And thirdly - everyone's doing the dishing of the other team members, not just the crap players who don't do anything. My team won incidentally, although I was still pretty rubbish (my leg cramped three times but I only dropped the ball once at least).

Playing a team sport did make me think about a number of things - first about performing in public - something I don't like doing. Second, about being part of a team - not having total control over a situation, having to work together, rooting for other people and celebrating in their victory - things which are anathema to a rampant individualist like me. The locker-room was also... interesting. I found myself much more shy aabout undressing in public than had it been a "normal" locker-room - being under the impression that there was a lot more checking-out, comparing and judging than usual. But at least people were friendly towards me. I may even go back.

Thursday, October 21, 2004

Another reactionary old bitch bites the dust

I know it's not nice to celebrate when people die, even horrible people. But I couldn't restrain a victorious air-punch and "woohoo!" when it was announced on the news that Linda Lee Potter, Daily Mail column writer had died yesterday. Take it away Linda...

February 4, 2000 "Anybody who opposes the repeal of Section 28 is being presented as homophobic, which is emotional blackmail and dishonest. Unfortunately, the lobby against common sense is powerful and persuasive."

August 13, 2003 "I'm thankful to hear IVF is going to become available on the National Health. I trust wisdom will prevail and that it will not be available to lesbian couples or single women."

March 12, 2003 "RON DAVIES had sex with a stranger in a notorious homosexual haunt just two weeks after his second daughter Gwenllian was born."

August 1, 2001 Writing on Big Brother "It's already been suggested that a homosexual affair is a distinct possibility. Increasingly people demean, humiliate and degrade themselves as they lose all sense of propriety, modesty or sense. The boundaries of what is permissible will be stretched still further in the interest of viewing figures as a satiated public demands more titillation."

July 2, 2003 "Medical students sell their sperm and it's legal. Lesbians can buy it through the internet and rear a child who only has a mummy and a mummy, and it's legal. Homosexuals can hire a surrogate mother to bear a child and it's legal. The time to condemn this vile practice and introduce legislation in this country to ensure it never happens is now."

Wednesday, October 20, 2004

Excuse me!

I was sitting in the Chaplaincy Centre cafe having lunch today when the silence of the room was broken by a very angry sounding woman who barked "Excuse me!" at another woman. Everybody looked round, expecting to see a fight erupt. But the woman continued "Is anyone using these chairs?" She spat it out like an insult, crossing that fine line between assertiveness and aggressiveness for NO REASON AT ALL. As nobody was using the chairs, she jubilantly took them and then she and her friends went off to get some food. I looked over at their table. There was a huge pile of books all with the word "Sociology" in the titles. Enough Said.

I love it when people who should know better actually turn out to be inappropriately loud, rude or thoughtless. There's another cafe I go to in Manchester about twice a month which is run by Buddhists. It's all very vegan and environmental and non-GM food. They even have a prayer wheel and a "poetry corner". It's about as PC as you can get. The people who eat there tend to be from Manchester's liberal elite which translates as they are the rudest bunch of people I've ever met. There aren't many tables and as a result you always have to stand there with your tray, waiting for people to get up and leave - many of whom finished their meal ages ago and are just chatting about yoga or whatever, oblivious to the fact that others are waiting to sit down (I wonder how Ms Excuse Me would cope in such an environment - it would probably result in a body count).

Last week I had to share a table in there with two "New-Men" types - all sensitive sideburns and trendy spectacles. I was forced to overhear their boring coversation, boring that is until one of them mentioned that their mutual friend, Trevor had a male partner, which clearly came as a great shock to the other one. "Well, I'm not going to judge Trevor!" he said, which roughly translates as "Well, I'm too cowardly to come out and say it, but by using the word "judge" I've clearly made my position clear." I get the impression that for some, liberalism is just an excuse whereby people can feel morally justifed in acting like cunts.

Monday, October 18, 2004

Look at my muffins!

One of the best things about super-soap Melrose Place was Marcia Cross who played poor nutty Kimberley - a kind of walking casebook of every mental illness going - if she wasn't coming back from the dead in a thunderstorm and pulling off a wig to reveal extreme brain surgery, she was seeing a serial killer in a mirror and blowing up buildings, or best of all, having multiple personality disorder moments and morphing into Betsy - a 1950s housewife with an addiction to tupperware.

And you know what, Marica's been gone too long from tv. Until now. She's back - with an absurdly camp vehicle which picks up almost exactly where Melrose Place left off. Imagine that the wind changed when she was Betsy -and she was stuck like that forever - and the writers built a whole tv show around it. "Desperate Housewives" is formed on the premise that a group of women who live in an affluent suburban neighbourhood all have thoroughly miserable lives and dark secrets. Marcia plays Bree, the perfect (Stepford) Wife. Her hair never moves, she's always got a spatula in one hand and it's always "cuisine" every night for dinner. She's a plastic fantastic woman and I love her.

Add to this, Doug Savant, another Melrose alumni, and a host of fucked up ladies (one is an embittered career woman who gave it up to have too many children, another is living out a Lady Chatterly-gardener fantasy and the fourth is a divorcee on a man-hunt) - it's like all the women in Sex in City got married, and the cameras continued rolling, not to record happy endings, but crappy endings... I love it!

Thursday, October 14, 2004

My favourite scene from Valley of the Dolls

It starts off innocently enough. Wide-eyed Neely O'Hara gets her big break singing in a tv charity telethon. But oh for goodness sake, watch those beads!

Oh Neely, did you really think that freaking out on television with some dangerously unchoreographed dance moves would be a good career move? Did you? Well you were wrong!

Et Voila! Perhaps the first actress in a low budget film to suffer the embarassment caused by a 'pearl necklance'. But not the last. Obviously.
Work it

If I pay £168 pounds a month extra into my pension plan I can retire at 55 rather than 65. I feel like I'm one of those episodes of Star Trek Voyager where they get 10 years closer to home. Home being here... what? Not having to go in to work? Doing what instead? While work can be annoying and all-consuming at times - at least it's not that boring, there are plenty of people to talk to and I feel like I have a purpose. Still, I probably will end up paying the extra money to retire early - I guess I just need to think of what I'd do with the extra 10 years of not working.

I am reading a PhD thesis at the moment which is about sexist language. I've always found the Mrs/Miss distinction to be unfair - you're either a sensible "taken" "Mrs" or a flightly "Miss". The term "Ms", which was supposed to sort it all out, has its own prickly connotations. I think I might go radical and address everyone as "M."

This week one of my students told me that The Guardian is a right-wing newspaper. I asked how many of them actually read any newspapers and got a paltry show of hands. You know when you are finally old when you start complaining about how uninformed people younger than you are.

Tuesday, October 12, 2004

See ya, don't wanna be ya.

I've exchanged more than a few emails with the holiday company Sandals about its policy to exclude same-sex couples from its resorts. And hurrah - finally they've announced that the gays can finally come on their holidays. I doubt that many gay people will bother - their adverts look utterly naff (but I guess there are naff gay people who deserve to have their bad tastes catered to as well). But still, it's a victory and shows the tide is changing. I suspect though, that the issue is more to do with economics rather than Sandals developing a social conscience. Ken Livingston, Mayor of London had banned their advertising on the London tube and was about to extend the courtesy to taxis. And Sandals regularly received "awards" by gay rights groups as worst-case examples of how NOT to be enlightened and caring. It's odd that market forces, to some extent, has most likely driven along a form of social reform.

Saturday, October 09, 2004

One of my guilty not-so-secrets is bad American reality tv gameshows, which I shamelessly download from the internet and watch on my laptop. A recent trend that I've noticed, however, is the appearance of religious contestants in these shows. Big Brother 5 had loads of them, including a pair of religious twins who heard God's voice telling them who to evict. There's always some lunatic on Survivor, singing "Praiiiisse Him!" at the slightest provocation, and frankly, the end episodes of The Amazing Race were marred by almost all the contestants praying to Jesus/God in order to help them win.

Now I'm about as areligious as you can get. As far as I'm concerned, when you're dead you're dead. No afterlife, no anything. Religion is just organised mental illness, at times a (painfully necessary) tool of social control, at other times a great big crutch for when life gets too fucking miserable. So I don't claim to know much about the way that God is supposed to work. But I do know that if God does exists, a) she's got better things to do than care about who wins a million dollars on some stupid American gameshow and b) the whole point of asking things of God is that it's supposed to be unselfish - what about the parable about the rich man getting to heaven on the back of a camel via the eye of a needle? If these contestants used their tv airtime to ask God to help starving children in war-torn parts of the world, then at least I'd be rooting for them. But no, it's always about them. Want, want, want. I don't have a God. But if I ever decided to go and get one, my God would put their selfish little God in place with a few home truths, and then go and have highlights put in.

Friday, October 08, 2004

I am becoming dangerously obsessed with Kit in "The L Word which is showing on Living TV (also the channel of The Golden Girls, Will & Grace and Queer Eye for the Straight Guy - you'd kind of bet that it'd snap the L Word up). A recovering alcoholic, Kit's life is like a re-enactment of the lyrics to that 1970s wacca-wacca hit "Home is Where the Hatred Is" (kick it! quit it! kick it! quit it!). She's also played by Pam Grier, star of many a blaxplioitation movie and all-round groovy good egg. Kit's family relationships aren't particularly good - Daddy hates her, her estranged son wrote her a letter on a post-it note (something that gets referred to every single week!) and her power-bitch sister is Jennifer Beals.

Actually, I am becoming obsessed with all the characters in the L Word. I really like (but am scared of) butch, fraggle-haired Shane. I identify with "normal", stable, settled Tina, I feel sorry for Dana's gauche attempts at courtship and I am fascinated by Alice's hairstyle and screwed-up relationship with her mother. Maybe I'm becoming a male-identifed lesbian.

Wednesday, October 06, 2004

A World of Pure Imagination

I don't really like children's films. But I do like the film Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory - just like Welcome to the Dollhouse it might have children in it, but a children's film it ain't.

In fact, just as I've argued the same thing about Scooby Doo, I think Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory contains a druggy head-trip subtext. Here's the evidence:

1) The songs. One of them is called "A World of Pure Imagination". Another is called "Cheer Up Charlie" - isn't 'Charlie' slang for cocaine? Another song is called "The Candyman" which is slang for a drug supplier.

2) The boat trip, where frightening images of chicken's heads been cut off and insects crawling across a man's face appear - it's like a bad LSD nightmare.

3) The fates of the naughty children - when you actually write them out they sound like the insane ramblings of someone under the influence - "there's this little girl, right, and she chews this chewing gum and it tastes like soup and a roast dinner and blueberry pie, and then she like, turns into a blueberry and starts rolling round the room." Or "there's this boy and he's like addicted to tv, and he goes up in this machine that turns him into atoms and he then gets shrunk and ends up on the tv!. Like Wow!"

4) The Great Glass Elevator - what a way to go high!

5) The concept of the winning Golden Ticket - surely some sort of slang for the ultimate drugs trip.

6) The Oompa Loompas - they're little orange men who sing and dance. I'm betting they're just hallucinations.

Next... The homoerotic subtext of H R Pufnstuf.