Friday, September 23, 2005

Regular readers of this site will know how much I love run-down seaside towns, and one of my favourite places nearby where I lived was Morecambe. Moving down to Bristol, I was concerned that I wouldn't be able to get my seaside fix anymore, but the other night I went to Weston Super Mare, and all is well again. WSM was a bit closed when I arrived, but I had a nice walk along the seafront, got a bag of chips, and looked in on all the lobbies of the seafront hotels, where various lounge acts were performing 80s hits to over-excited pensioners (some whom were trying to dance). I didn't hear one song that occurred after 1985, anywhere I went.


I have experienced an aspect of city life that I was expecting but not looking forward to. My new gym is very expensive and somewhat swanky. Yesterday though, someone broke into my locker using various tools to force it open and stole my wallet. I immediately went to the front desk to use the phone to cancel all my credit cards. Unfortunately, the thieves had had a little spending spree at Comet, running up a bill of £1000 on my Amex. Fortunately though, I won't have to pay, so it's more inconvenient and annoying than anything else. I did have £60 in the wallet too, and will have to pay another £20 for a new driving licence and another £20 or so for a new wallet. Still, it gave me a chance to play Jessica Fletcher - I'm pretty sure I saw the thieves, these two guys were hanging round the changing room, taking ages to get changed - they were the only two people in the changing room - it was a very quiet time of day, one of them probably kept a look-out while the other broke open the locker. I later noticed that the fire door had been opened, so that's probably where they made a quick exit. I guess


We finally got connected to Cable tv yesterday, so I don't have to cope with a diet of bad terrestrial telly any more. During this week I hadn't realised how much crap reality tv BBC, ITV and Channel 4 put out during prime-time. I just hope that by the time I'm a pensioner, low-brow entertainment is a bit less soporific. I bought a very large mirror to hang above the fireplace today - when it got delivered, I noticed that it was slightly scratched in a couple of places. I've debated whether to phone up and get another one delivered, but it seems like a lot of hassle for something that's barely noticeable - at least every time I see those scratches I can tell myself I'm not that neurotic and perfectionist! (With that said, living in a house which has had dozens of less-than-careful previous owners is slowly driving me mad!)

Sunday, September 18, 2005

Bye Bye Janelle (and thanks for all the bitches).

This Summer I have been mostly addicted to Big Brother 6 US, an 11-week long game of human chess, more complicated and addictive than anything else on tv. This year's game was a house divided, with contestants quickly taking sides and hating each other's guts. Every week the Head of Household contest would swing between each side, making this the most dramatic, tense and often painful Big Brother to watch, ever.

On one side were the "Sovereign Six": handsome Iraqi Kaysar, ingenue Sarah, power-strategist James, Jedi-obsessed Howie, sensible horse-breeder Rachel and fun, vampish Janelle - a blonde bombshell who, on entering the house, knocked over a topiary and started a fight with another contestant (roid rage firefighter Eric) within seconds. She then got into a relationship with one of the other contestants, and then told her current boyfriend (via the tv show) that he was dumped. Hated by most of the other (less attractive) females in the house (who were quickly labelled the "girl scout troop" and more cruelly "the nerd herd"), Janelle managed to kick ass in the game, somehow suriving to the final week and winning over most of the men in the house. Behind the platinum hair extensions and big breasts was a very cunning brain. My favourite Janelle moment came about halfway through the series, when the nerd herd played dirty and evicted her friend Kaysar. Realising that there was no point in being the nice girl any more, she got drunk and then started hurling abuse at the house: "Maggie, you're such a bitch!" and calling April and Beau "Gold digging Whores!" She then spectaularily went on to win the next Head of Household competition and screamed "Give me that key bitch!", "Pack your bags bitches!" and best of all "Bye Bye Bitches!" to the stunned nerd herd. Best of all, America also fell in love with Janelle (she stands highest in the popularity polls at and she won the two "America's choice" contests, receiving a day trip to a tv show and a phone call from a loved one, sending the pious nerd herd into a psychotic tailspin as they realised that all the viewers hate their guts.

Unfortunately though, the odds were stacked against Janelle and, despite making the final three, she was evicted last night. The grand prize will be won by one of the two remaining nerd herders - two rather dour ladies called Ivette and Maggie. Hopefully though, Janelle will make much much more money once she leaves the show as the offers start pouring in. The nerd herd, meanwhile, will have to go into hiding.

Saturday, September 17, 2005

The significance of a chicken sandwich

In 1990 two significant things happened to me. I moved away from home to Preston to be a student, and I became a vegetarian. It was very popular then - a lot of my friends did it (not that that had any bearing on my decision), the late teens are a wonderful time of idealism and trying new things.

I've remained vegetarian for the 15 years since then. It hasn't always been easy - explaining it to others, particularly older people who don't get it, holidays abroad where there is little choice, or being stuck with a very few options sometimes in restaurants, often feeling listless or incredibly hungry. I take vitamin supplements and protein supplements regularly. I do eat a lot of quorn and beans and spinach and eggs, but sometimes it is hard to eat a balanced diet. I have always been underweight and have a couple of other health problems, which I suspect are due to anemia.

Several people had commented that I've looked tired and stressed recently (which I'd put down to moving to Bristol), so I booked in to have a facial at one of the many beauty salons in Clifton (I am becoming a Clifton housewife - too much time and money on my hands.) The beauty lady instantly sussed that I was a vegetarian and told me "You can tell long-term vegetarians when they get to their 50s because they've aged much more than non-vegetarians and they look less vital." Quite a few of my long-term vegetarian friends, like me, have big dark circles under their eyes and look worn out. I'm still in my early 30s, and am starting to notice the ageing process. Still, I exercise, don't smoke or drink and don't have late nights, so perhaps that cancels out the lack of regular protein in my diet.

Anyway, what tipped the balance wasn't the fact that I'll look like a wizened old hag in 10 years, but that from next week I will be doing a lot of commuting back up to Lancaster weekly for my job. I don't eat well at the best of times, and that's when I have access to a kitchen, supermarkets and a fella who likes to cook for me. While in Lancaster I'll be living in much reduced circumstances and relying on the local Spar for all my food. It's going to be a case of sandwiches, pot noodles and fruit for 3 days a week. And I have a feeling that whatever health problems I have, are soon going to be exacerbated.

Sooooo, yesterday I gave in. For the first time in 15 years I had a chicken sandwich, a turkey sandwich and fish and chips. I don't think I could face beef, bacon or lamb. And I feel guilty and hypocritical (at least I never once made anyone feel guilty for eating meat). But it's got to the point where my health has to come first. Oddly, eating meat didn't make me feel squeamish or sick. Once I decide something, I can be very business-like and just get on with it. It's odd how the taste of those foods brought back forgotten memories - when you don't eat meat you consciously avoid it - I haven't really touched a turkey slice in years. The feel and taste of it reminded me somehow of my Aunt Ethel and eating at her house, back in the 1970s. My fella (who does eat meat but has always been supportive) is more shocked than me about it, and has said he won't comment on my decision for a few days.

What's also odd, is that this change in eating habits has also co-occurred with another major move. The idealism of my late teens and 20s has given way to something much more pragmatic in my 30s. Oh well. It was nice while it lasted :(

Thursday, September 15, 2005

Moving is stressful

I have moved to Bristol and am now esconsed (sp?) in 1/10 of a huge mansion somewhere in the Clifton area. The move day was somewhat stressful, considering that the money transfer happened very late in the day - at 4:30, and we were stuck outside the flat with the removal men for 2 hours, waiting for the money to go through so the keys could be released to us. We were seriously considering sending it all back up the M6 and wondering how we'd smuggle our cat into a hotel room for the night.

I am near a zoo (the one which Johnny Morris used to present Animal Magic from in the 1970s and 1980s) and a Catholic Cathedral so there you go. Clifton is very posh. People here look well-fed (but not fat) and every other shop is a beauty boutique. The in word here seems to be "alrighty" which I've never heard anyone say before, and it's kind of sweet. The last two places I lived in were brand new. This, on the other hand has had hundreds of previous owners and is in a bit of a state - chipped paintwork, dozens of different phone points, other people's taste mistakes and a horrible smell coming from the bathroom sink (I've poured a ton of bleach down there and it still won't go away). The previous occupant wasn't too keen on hoovering either (and I know how OCD and high-maintenance bitch that makes me sound).

At present we don't have a fridge, so have been eating out at different restaurants every night, which is nice, but makes me feel like I'm on holiday. Tonight, it kind of hit me that this is now where I live and I don't know anyone here except for my fella who's with me, and moreover, I kind of don't want to see any more new people or go out and make new friends. I'm craving familiarity and it's in short shrift.

Perhaps it's obvious, I have never lived in a proper city before (only small towns), so that is a bit shocking as well. Our new neighbours told us "Oh we hardly ever get broken into, except for last week when someone tried to take the putty out of the windows, but that's the first time anyone's done that in ages!" We were like "Whaaaaaaaat?" Fortunately there are about 50 locked doors before you can get to our flat. In fact, there are so many keys needed that yesterday we forgot one of them and locked ourselves out all day. That was a lot of fun.

On the up side, the amenities of city living are wonderful. It seems that everything you want can be gotten within 5 minutes. I am painfully aware of how much a country mouse I am - I wonder how much mileage you can get out of that though before it gets wearing? Another couple of days maybe?

Sunday, September 11, 2005

In the 1960s foxy Nancy Sinatra and ultra-deep voiced Lee Hazelwood collaborated on a number of mad, ballady songs together - if this was to be called a genre it would be "Candy". I discovered one such Candy number called "Summer Wine" on an old Nancy album. Like many of my favourite songs, it's a little story in itself - a mini tragidrama about lust, money, greed and betrayal (all in just under 4 minutes).

It's the silliest song ever, about this dumb butch cowboy who rides into town wearing a pair of silver spurs. Then he spots Nancy who promises him a good time (the forward little madam). That night she gets him drunk on "summer wine", which must have contained some early prototype of Rohypnol, because when poor cowboy wakes up hours later - the sun is shining in his eyes, his silver spurs are gone and his head feels twice its size. She took his silver spurs, a dollar and a dime. And left the idiot craving for more summer wine.

Thanks to Itunes, I've been able to satiate my desire for even more Nancy and Lee. There's "Lady Bird" (I'm not exactly sure what it's about though - the lyrics are too deep and philosophical - I think it's all an allegory, at least Nancy ends it with one of her naughty giggles), and "Down From Dover" (taboo-challenging sex-before-wedlock results-in-pregnancy song: Lee worries: "she won't have a name to give it, if I don't hurry down from Dover!", while Nancy opines "I know this dress I'm wearing doesn't hide the secret I've tried concealing". This one has a rather nasty sting in the last verse.

Lee wasn't the only fella who dueted with Nancy (she also did Life's A Trippy Thing with her Dad Frank - a song about how they don't need drugs to have a good time), but her stuff with Lee is the most intense and dramatic - pure candy at its best. Go Nancy!

Saturday, September 10, 2005

The Belfast Boy

You won't have long in the limelight, no you won't have many days, warned the Don Fardon song about Georgie. Seeing him now, I always forget how very pretty he was.

Thursday, September 08, 2005

Free Lizzie

My first experience of WifeSwap was watching a Wifeswap marathon on New Years Eve a couple of years ago. I had never seen anything like it - couples from different social classes swap partners for two weeks, with explosive results. The episode with Lizzy Bardsley had me literally shaking. Jobless, with eight children, and claiming £37,500 a year on benefits, Lizzie was also foul-mouthed, jealous, paranoid and a chain smoker (and her children were asthmatic for goodness sake!) But worst of all, she was shameless and didn't care. She was like a Daily Mail demon-from-hell. Lizzie cut her Wifeswap experience short, her jealous paranoia convincing her that her husband was being seduced by blonde middle-class Emma (he wasn't). The ensuing insane confrontation was car-crash tv at its most cruel (Lizzie lost the plot). Lizzie should have been sectioned afterwards for her own safety and the safety of the British public.

But she wasn't.

Instead the tabloids loved her, a chav icon - one minute she was being berated in the Star by Dominic Diamond, the next, appearing topless in the Sunday Sport (sporting frighteningly pendulous breasts - I'm sure a lot of Sunday Sport readers decided to go gay that day.)

Since WifeSwap though, Lizzie has triumphed - she won The Weakest Link donating the prize to charity) and appeared in the awful Channel 5 Big-Brother rip off show "Back to Reality", where, gripped with that all-too-familiar-paranoia she aided a psychological breakdown among the participants, who were certain that there was a "mole" in the house (there wasn't). And now, Lizzie's back on Channel 4 (the channel with no social conscience) taking up a "challenge" to run a tacky bed and breakfast (the carpet looks like someone vomitted then bled to death all over it) in Blackpool (where else?) in order to show that she is not bone idle after all. The programme is called Bed and Bardsleys. And it's wrong wrong wrong.

The jaded producers have produced a line-up of the most outre, controversial and annoying guests for Lizzie as possible (that must have been a fun brain-storming session). First, Liz Goodyear (Bet from Coronation Street a million years ago) lasted all of five minutes, refusing to climb into a bunk bed (probably just as well - she could have fallen and broken a hip). There have been scary tattooed bikers (one who exposed himself to four terrified Japanese female tourists - the most controversial thing they'd ever seen previous to that was a Hello Kitty handbag), some posh "It-girls" from London who bravely offered to give Lizzie a makeover - foolish girls. The producers know that Lizzie's 'weakness' is posh, pretty women. They drive her mad! Lizzie sent them and their trademark camp little dog (the latest accessory for posh women who can't get a boyfriend to last more than 3 months) packing after a few minutes. There have also been various fetishists (who seem to have wandered in from filming a Channel 5 "documentary" next door). In last night's episode though, the producers decided to stir things up even more by throwing Lizzie's "sworn enemy" and "nemesis", Dominic Diamond from the Star into the mix. Dominic's quiet sarcasm and mocking laughter was given short shrift by Lizzie, and it seemed only a matter of time before police helicopters would have to be called, in order to clear the area and lock the pair in separate cages. However, things did not go according to plan. Unable to resist, the producers threw another notorious Wifeswap couple Barry and Michelle into the house. Michelle is a Lizzie clone - equally mad, dog-rough, loud, terrifying-funny. Except for one thing - Michelle is just a trifle OCD when it comes to cleanliness and the sight of a half-full ash tray in the bar made her brain do a loop-de-loop. This caused full-scale nuclear war - Clash of the Common Women. Michelle is probably jealous of all the media attention that Lizzie is getting (the voiceover warns us that Michelle was the Queen of Wifeswap until Lizzie came along - she too had posed topless for the Sunday Sport), and this final battle was going to determine who walked away with the Crown.

Meanwhile, Dominic smirked in a corner, loving it, until (as always with these public fights), Michelle decided he was a better target and started calling him a "knob-head". Dominic and Lizzie merely exchanged knowing glances and an alliance was immediately formed. After that, Dominic kicked Michelle and Barry out of the B+B and from then on it was plain-sailing. Dominic and Lizzie were new best friends, even experiencing some sexual excitement at the climax of a pub quiz that had Lizzie whip Dominic's bottom (blame the fetishists).

Despite the high-octane crazy of this show, all is not going well for Lizzie. My local news programme Granada Tonight, has excitedly reported that Lizzie is currently being prosecuted for benefit fraud and could face a prison sentence. I so hope that she treats the judge to some of her trade-mark haranguing during the court-case. Channel 4 must be licking its lips in hope of its next reality smash - Lizzie Goes To Jail. Who's going to be the bitch now?

Tuesday, September 06, 2005

Caught red-handed?

1979. If you are in your 30s you may remember a bizarre American children's tv programme called The Red Hand Gang. It had a somewhat whimsical opening title sequence, involving children bouncing up and down on a trampoline from various angles, with the lyrics "la la la - la la la". The programme was about these five kids who solved mysteries (usually involving kidnappers or smugglers). They were: Frankie - the eldest one and the leader; JR (the athletic one), Joanne (the girl), Doc (the clever black kid) and Lil Bill (the youngest one). There was also a dog. They were like Enid Blyton's Famous Five, except they were American and much cooler. As soon as I saw the Red Hand Gang I wanted to be American too.

This website lets you download the (rather blurred) opening and closing credits. The closing credits contain the grooviest sassiest music ever written - featuring a cliff-hanger which segues (rather badly) into a mad, urgent 1970s woodwind ensemble, while the gang hang out, chat and then saunter off into the distance. I don't remember much about the show, except that for a 7 year old, it was quite scary - that picture with a man's hand on Frankie's shoulder absolutely terrified me. And there was an episode with a deaf girl and a chimp.

The show was rather less popular in the US and it was never released on video or DVD, a real shame. TV Cream has a short article about it, and here's a site on Matthew Labyorteaux who played Frankie (and went on to be in Little House on the Prarie. Bring back the Red Hand Gang!

Monday, September 05, 2005

Someone who changed my life

1988. Me and Kathryn. We were the two geekiest kids in school - bound together by the fact that we had the same piano teacher, we both refused to do Physical Education, our eye-sight was deterioating and we never, ever spoke up in class to answer questions, even though we always knew the answers. Kathryn was the first person I "came out" to, my first and only "fag-hag" (or supportive female friend to use a kinder term).

Despite the fact that everybody hated us, we were much better at hating them back. If only the teachers and other pupils knew the venom that two excluded, intellectual kids on a crap council estate could summon up when no-one was looking. Yes, we were nerds: Sometimes we'd spend all night doing jigsaws (Henry VIII and his 6 wives was our favourite). But sometimes we'd draw evil pictures on my Atari ST of people we didn't like. We'd also make each other those little choose-your-own adventure books, you know the type - turn to page 2 if you want to take the left path, or page 3 if you want to take the right one. We would set these adventures in our own school, with the villains being people we didn't like.

Some nights we would just walk the streets ("We are of the streets..."). Kathryn particularly hated all the green open spaces in Peterlee (which had been built over farmland) "Why doesn't someone bulldoze these fields and built a multi-screen cinema here instead?" Kathryn was also the first person in the world to discover the kitsch potential of the 1970s. She found her older sister's "Reader's Digest Sensational 70s Boxed Set" and we listened to those trashy disco songs in awe, laughing at how bad they are, although somehow, we ended up loving them. We would host 1970s parties (inviting a select few others), put a red lightbulb in, stick home-made anhks on the walls, dress up in our parent's old clothes and wear wigs, freak out to Bacarra and The Brotherhood of Man and then venture into Peterlee town centre, late on Friday night, taking photos of each other posing on shopping trolleys in Concrete Hell.

Kathryn was definitely the Alpha of our little two-some (she was better at the piano than me), and I bowed to her superior knowledge of the Top 40 and the Annie Nightingale Show on Radio 1. She would tape record all the best stuff off Annie Nightingale and then I would make copies of her tapes.

Years later, those tapes have long gone, but I remember the order of most of the songs - and all the bits where the tape jumped, or Annie's voice cut in at the end. It's funny how you kind of know what song to expect next if it's on a mix tape and you hear it a hundered times. With the help of iTunes I'm slowly amassing those old mixes again.

Here are some songs that we used to listen to in Kathryn's bedroom, all those years ago. Oh, and incidentally, we're still very much in touch, and we both got laser eye surgery - we still may be geeks, but at least we don't need glasses any more :)

Labour of Love - Hue and Cry
I'm Not Your Stepping Stone - The Monkees
White Wedding - Billy Idol
Martha's Harbour - All About Eve
Your Feet's Too Big - The Inkspots
She-Bop - Cyndi Lauper
Tower of Strength - The Mission
Dancing Barefoot - U2

Sunday, September 04, 2005

Be afraid of the squirrels

I discovered this simple game by accident and it's so addictive it should be banned. I feel like I'm in that bad episode of Star Trek Next Generation called "The Game" where everyone gets addicted to a game (and they have to be saved by Wil Weaton).

It looks deceivingly innocent and cute - various differently coloured squirrels in a grid. You click on a squirrel and all the squares of the same colour that are next to it vanish. You click again and more squares vanish. The goal is to get rid of all the squares. It's nigh on impossible to do this, so when you finish, you immediately want to start again. The other night I started playing this stupid game at 10:30pm and when I next looked at the clock it was 1 in the morning. I can never get that time back! And afterwards, when I closed my eyes I saw squirrels! It's not right.

Saturday, September 03, 2005

German board games are a law unto themselves. Eschewing the childishness of their British counterparts (let's face it, Monopoly and Cluedo are mostly based on chance), the German games are all about strategy, tactics and screwing people over. Apparently Germans like playing boardgames with their children as a way of having family time (but not wargames).

A very glamorous German lady introduced me to The Settlers of Catan a few years ago, and it quickly swept through my friends and family - causing rows and addictions. It seems so innocent - you have to settle on an island, trading coal, wheat and wood etc to build houses. But the fights and lingering resentments that it caused! Thankfully, we are all over Settlers of Catan. But now I've acquired a new German game - with the scary title of Rette Sich Wer Kann, which translates as "Every man for himself". It involves screwing over your friends in a very unpleasant way. The players all have little coloured men who are in a number of lifeboats who are trying to get to a number of different islands of varying lush foliage. Each turn, the players vote on which boat gets a leak and which boat moves towards an island.

The clever mechanism of the game is that players also have to move one of their men to another boat, ensuring that any voting alliances that have been built never remain the same for very long. Boats with leaks eventually sink, killing all the poor little men in that boat. It's in the list as one of 13 games that have made people cry. I can see why. It's vicious. We played last night and everyone ganged up on me. Only three of my sailors made it to the island. The rest were cruelly booted out of the boat by the others. Bitches! I felt just like Tallululah Bankhead in the wonderful Hitchcock film Lifeboat. Except wasn't it a German who got thrown out there? Maybe Rette Sick Wer Kann is revenge!