Sunday, October 30, 2005

For those of you wondering who the rather cross-looking "blue lady" is in the top right hand corner of the screen, then all is revealed. She is a painting of "Chinese Girl" by the Russian artist Vladimir Griegorovich Tretchikoff. See for more info. Chinese Girl is almost certainly his most well-known picture. It's the Mona Lisa of the twentieth century and by far Tretchikoff's most famous work.

There is something spooky and mythical about Chinese Girl. It adorned thousands of living rooms in the 1970s. Someone told me once that there was an urban myth about the picture. Apparently it was cursed and it caused people's houses to burn down (with the picture remaining unscathed). However, a bit of internet searching reveals that the picture in question was proabably one of the equally infamous "Crying Boy" pictures by Bragolin. The picture itself was a portrait painted by a Spanish artist of an orphan. It is said that his studio burnt to the ground, and the boy was later killed in a car crash. About 40-50 cases were recorded in which a house fire had destroyed everything except for the picture. It became known as the "Curse of the Crying Boy", and even made headline news at one point.

I think that what was probably more the case, was that the sorts of people who bought these pictures, were probably also smokers with polyester bed-sheets...
Although here, it's claimed that the whole thing was made up by The Sun newspaper.

But then again, maybe there is something in it. Here's an essay by Uri Geller (of all people) on the picture. He calls her the green lady, but I've always thought she was more blue than green.

Now, poor Chinese Girl is mainly found at the back of old charity shops. I rescued one a few years ago and she had pride of place in one of the rooms I rarely went into. Fortunately, we never had a house fire. But I think that the Curse of the Blue Lady would make a wonderful kitch horror film.
Wow, this place is sure full of celebrities. I'm the only one in here I've never heard of.

That was the best quote in Sweet Charity, possibly the campest film ever made. It stars a youngish Shirley MacLaine doing her best Shelly Winters impression (a big dumb gaping smiling mouth showing the top set of teeth and hair like a mad wig put on back to front). Shirley plays Charity, a 'gentleman's' dancer at a tacky nighclub - it's about 1 step up from actual prostitution. And Shirley is desperate to get out of it. Cue a series of disastrous episodes with men - the first one pushes her off a bridge and steals her purse. The second is a rich movie star but ends up locking her in his closet when his girlfriend wants him back. And the third is a Tab-Hunteresque neurotic insurance man who can't get past her "sordid" past.

But the plot, like with most musicals is peripheral to the colours, costumes and crazy show-stopping numbers. And this film is a Queen's Dream. There's Big Spender, performed by a gang of women dressed as past-it drag queens (Chita Rivera is my favourite - she looks and acts exactly like Terrence Stamp in Priscilla Queen of the Desert.)

They're all playing that game where they have to hold a balloon between their thighs

Hey Big Spender, come up and spend some time with me - you can use my Stannah Stairlift - I only cost 10 shillings. Just be careful you don't accidentally break my wizened hands.

There's "If They Could See Me Now", featuring Shirley doing her thing with a top hat and cane. Then Sammy Davis Jr makes a somewhat incongruous appearance - he has his own religion called The Rhythm of Life (the song was recently ripped off for a beer advert!) and Sammy plays a drugged-out preacher called Big Daddy who leads his hippie congregation in a psychedelic dance number, which ends in a trade-marked Sammy Big Finish. I love Sammy Davis Jr (I have a shameful number of his cds, and can't believe I'd never come across this song before.)

But the best musical number comes near the beginning when Charity visits a weird New York "celebrity" nightclub (populated by people who seem to have just arrived via a spaceship from the planet Sogo in Barbarella). They perform a series of bizarre, complicated, kitchsly stylised dances - something you could only get away with in 1968.

If you haven't seen ths film - then it has a Trash Addict Seal of Approval :)

Saturday, October 29, 2005

Tivo geek

I am one of the few people in the UK who own a Tivo. Tivo is hu-uge in America (even popularised on Sex and the City). It almost took off in the UK, but then Sky brought out their own version (Sky Plus) and that was it. I used to have Sky Plus, but I tend to move house a lot and live in places with shared cable or satellite - and Sky Plus doesn't like that. So I ended up getting Tivo (which I prefer - and not just because of the cutesy little animated tv icon). British Tivo users are an odd lot, with our own geekish "community" and a guru called Gary.

I always dread moving house because it means having to reset the Tivo to cope with a new area - hideously complicated, particularly for someone like me who isn't very technological. My last house move, 7 weeks ago was particularly worrisome because I was changing from satellite to cable. It has taken me 7 weeks (and lots of screaming) to figure out how to get my Tivo to work with the new cable set-top box. But I've finally got it to work - all by myself. The Tivo community is sneering at me (because the solution was so obvious), but I feel like I've really achieved something.

Listening in

High Camp Caress Morrel recently reported on the website and I have to say, he's totally right. What a great site. New Yorkers simply post up snatches of conversation they've overheard, and they're completely fascinating. My favourite one is entitled Morlock v. Eloi: The Prequel (a nod to one of my favourite books, The Time Machine by HG Welles, where the world has segregated into two social classes - the beautiful vapid Eloi and the monstrous cannibalisatic Morlocks):

A thugged out girl tests all of her ring tones as loud as possible for a solid minute.

Preppy girl: Are you serious with that? Can you do everyone a favor and stop?
Thug girl: I know you're not talking to me. You messed with the wrong girl.
Preppy girl: I'm sorry, I can't hear you. Your screaming phone made me deaf.
Thug girl: I'll f her up. But then she'll call the cops; her people love the cops. Go back to where you came from!
Preppy girl: I'm trying to. That's why I'm on the train, you stupid bitch. Look, you got a new cell phone and that's great, but figure it out at home.
Thug girl: I'll f you up. You're f-ing with the wrong girl. Don't be fooled by the pretty face.
Preppy girl: Pretty face? Where?

The editor of the site, Michael Malice perfectly sums up its attraction: "Overheard in New York is about the things people say that are censored out of all other forms of communication. It's amazing to me that site has been referred to as "X-rated" when they're literally just words. There's no naked photos, no blood, just letters and punctuation. I am interested in the phrases and ideas that are regarded as somehow invalid to the larger media. This is the artsy side. Of course it's funny, etc, but in my view the site is much more than that. This is why I always run racist, sexist, homophobic and anti-Semitic conversations. These views are very common, even in New York...yet how often have you heard someone make a racist statement in a movie? Does anyone ever not like Jews on TV, without being portrayed as a neo-Nazi demon?"

Wednesday, October 26, 2005


Having never lived on a university campus until last month, I had no idea what happens when work stops and day turns into night. And the main thing that happens is.... a lot of screaming. Two thirty in the morning is a key time for the screaming. The town centre clubs have closed and buses full of binged-up students teem back on campus. The past two nights I have been awoken to what sounded like a gang of women being raped. But when I looked out of my window, I realised that they were just screaming because they were drunk and felt like it. Sometimes the screaming stops being a random set of noises and the girls manage to co-ordinate together to sing a few tuneless lines of some chart-topper "I am Beautiful in Every Single Way" is an (ironic) favourite. If it is lads then there may be chanting instead, but the effect is the same. Often, after the singing, then there will be laughing. But not ordinary laughing - but an eerie keening cackling noise which sounds like gak-gak-gak-gak-gaaaaaaak!

My room overlooks a playing field, which yesterday had flooded due to heavy rains. At 2 in the morning, a group of students decided it would be hilarious to chase each other around the field, falling over in the muddy water a lot, while wearing either their underwear or just the clothes they had been out clubbing in (it was too dark to tell). The screaming was incessant. No wonder so many students have a cold this time of year.

Every year, one of my duties is to process student application forms. I read hundreds of references, detailing predicted A level grades, along with the student's personal statements, where they talk about how they help out at the local Brownie pack and love reading Bill Bryson. I make offers, knowing that in reality I'm just letting in dozens of people who's main aim in life will be to spend the next three years binge drinking. I sometimes wonder what their real personal statements would say "I would love to come to this university - I can scream louder than all of the girls in my A Level class and I know at least half the words to the Pussycat Dolls' last hit."

I keep trying to think back to when I was in my late teens. I did get drunk a lot, to be fair. But I can't remember ever running around outside, late at night, screaming my head off. It's not just on campus - every town centre is the same at weekends. As much as I still feel like a "young person", I'm increasingly aware that I am a different generation. Somewhere along the way, the rules changed over the last ten years.

Oh well. At least I can take some solace in the fact that most of those screaming binge drinkers have been born into a generation where they will never be able to afford to buy their own house and will spend their entire lives renting from people of my age group and older.

Tuesday, October 25, 2005

In sharp contrast to Kinky Boots, was Domino, which I saw last night. Domino is a headache of a film - all yellow filters, banging gansta rap, an explosion every 32 seconds and a back-and-forth narrative that would make Tarantino scratch his head. Domino is the story of the daughter of actor Laurence Harvey (he played various 1960s British sleazeballs) and how she became a bounty hunter in Los Angeles. Domino is played by Keira Knightley, who I last saw a million miles away in Pride and Prejudice. The girl has range at least! And she's very nice to look at too. Unfortunately, the real Domino (who we get a glimspe of at the end of the film), looks like David Bowie in drag as a man.

The film has an awful lot to say, and there are so many sub-plots that I lost count. First there are a troupe of sassy blatino (thats black and latino) women who are involved in forging driving licences. One of their number has a sick grandchild who needs money for an operation. She appears on Jerry Springer, to air her theory of racial diversity, complete with a flow-chart. There's a mad Afghan with no eyebrows and lots of bombs. Then there's a heist involving people wearing Jackie Onassis masks, a mafia boss who makes phone calls from a secret bubble chamber at the bottom of his swimming pool, a dysfunctional "family" of bounty hunters, all with their "real" quirks and foibles. Throw in Jaqueline Bissett as a hoity-toity mother and half the cast of Beverly Hills 90201 (playing themselves) who end up being taken as "celebrity hostages" and it all gets very confusing. People are killed and then suddenly the camera goes backwards and they weren't killed after all. About 2/3 of the way in, I literally lost the plot and ended up viewing it in the same way as you view an MTV video.

My favourite bits were the parts were Domino exacts mad violent revenge on some of the more unpleasant characters. At one point, Brian Austin Green (from BH90210) tells Domino that her "tough girl" image is just an act and she's really a scared little girl with Daddy issues. This earns him a broken nose. And early in the film, in one of the many flashbacks, we see Domino's attemps at fitting in when she joins an American college soriety. During an initation "pledge" ceremony, some bitch calls her breasts "mosquito bites". Domino responds again with another broken nose. If only everyone reacted in this way to those nasty pledge ceremonies - it'd put a stop to them overnight.

Ultimately though, it's all too much spectacle and trying-too-hard to be hip. The mad style means that when the characters are given mescalin towards the end of the film, you hardly notice, because the whole thing feels like a drug trip anyway. But Keira Knightley's performance (and cut-glass accent) saves the whole thing. She's my new hero.

Monday, October 24, 2005

I saw Kinky Boots last night at the cinema - a "feel-good" Brit flick, along the same lines as The Full Monty, Calendar Girls and Billy Elliot. I normally avoid these movies, but this was the only thing on at the cinema when I arrived. Let's count the cliches - a tightly-knit northern community of cosy "real people", someone who overcomes their prejudices, show-stopping musical numbers, a happy ending, a chance meeting, flashbacks to defining moments in people's childhoods, hard-faced power-bitch who gets her comeuppance, triumph in the face of insurmountable odds, cod folk-wisdom, based on a "true story", kitsch sound-track aimed at immediate cd release. It whiled away a couple of hours, and I guess any film aimed at "normals" which gets them to not hate cross-dressers is good. Isn't it? When I got home I watched the last 15 minutes of Black Narcisuss (about repressed nuns who try to kill each other) and felt cleansed...

Wednesday, October 19, 2005

Are you ready to Boogie?

I have been watching a lot of children's tv this year, babysitting my 2 year old nephew who is addicted to Thomas the Tank Engine. He insists on having a roll-call of all the different trains at the end of each series and gets an old glazed look in his eyes when the music starts playing. With the invention of the CBeebies Channel, he can have kids tv 24/7, which even I think is a bit excessive. I remember my own childhood in the 70s, when you got half an hour of telly at lunchtime (Pipkins and Rainbow), followed by Bod or Fingermouse at 1:30, and then a couple of hours from 4-6 (The Red Hand Gang, Grange Hill, John Craven's Newsround and Animal Magic - presented at Bristol Zoo which is only 10 minutes from where I now live, oddly enough). Anyway, children's tv has come a loooong way since then. Gone are the gentle, quiet programmes like Fingermouse, and instead the tv is a whirling mass of primary colours, noise and jumping up and down. No wonder children nowadays are hyperactive. Don't blame the e-numbers, it's the tv.

One such in-yer-face show is called Boogie Beebies. It encourages children to dance (which I suppose may help counter obesity or something). But it recreates what it must be like to be in the head of someone who is experiencing a "K-hole" (I'm sure my "circuit" readers know what I'm talking about), with a weird psychedelic, every-changing background and two up-for-it presenters who must have worms because they can't sit still for a minute.

Actually, one of them (the fella) is rather pretty, in a laddish, masculine, Mockney sort of way. He has a slight bald patch starting (which is often visible when he bends over, when he is emulating a giraffe or a digger or something, which is often), and his t-shirts are too tight. I'm sure all his mates mock him terribly down at the pub, but he doesn't care, because he's the Alpha-male anyway, and he has aspirations to play Iago, or put on his one-man show of soliquys, if only he can get Kevin Spacey to return his calls. Anyway, here are some pics. Hot or Not? Kevin doesn't know what he's missing!

Sunday, October 16, 2005

I am reading "The Adonis Complex" (sounds like a gay nightclub but isn't), it's a slightly depressing, academic book about the increasing phenomena of men who get obsessed with working out and believe their muscles aren't big enough. The book theorises that with advances of feminism in the last 40 years or so, men have fewer ways to demonstrate "superiority" over women, so being able to bench press 300 lbs is all they have left. How miserable that one way that men and women have now become equal is that they now both have extraordinary pressures on them to convert their bodies into increasingly impossible shapes, rather than this just happening to women. Somewhere, something went wrong, didn't it.

Also, with the invention of steriods, men now have unrealistic views of what is a "normal" male body (as so many people who do steroids lie and say they don't). Such images of muscular men are pervasive in the media and advertising, because they offer difficult-to-attain ideals. There's an analysis of how toys like GI Joe and Star Wars figures have gradually become buffed up over the last few decades (in the same way that Barbie turned into an anorexic anomaly). Also, because men aren't supposed to talk about their "feelings", all of these problems are kept secret, and are spiralling out of control. There are some very sad case studies in the book - the guy who wouldn't kiss his girlfriend because he was afraid he'd get extra calories (!) from her saliva. The guy who had all his gym equipments shipped to an overseas hotel at enormous expense, because they didn't have a gym, the guy who split up with his girlfriend because he spent all of his time at the gym, the guy who wouldn't have ice-cream after a night out at the cinema because they only had low-fat, not no-fat, despit the fact he was starving-hungry. And these were all guys who had huge, muscular bodies that most men would be envious of. Seems enough is never enough.

I've always been of the opinion in the past that advertising and the media are responsible for a lot of the world's ills, but the book makes the point that obviously, not everyone is suspectible to The Adonis Complex - or we'd all have it. Rather, it seems that some people are more prone to OCD than others, and tend to latch on to whatever silly obsession that's going round in society at the moment. If it wasn't muscles, it'd be germs, or nuclear war, or bird flu. And what these guys need is reassurance that they're not alone, and that their expectations are somewhat unrealistic. Sometimes I do get a little sad when I read other people's blogs and they're worrying about some aspect of their body, or going on about some model's fabulous ripped abs or something. There's something just a bit icky about it (although I'm sure I'll probably end up doing both those things within the next month myself!)
A (long-overdue) tribute to Cliff!

My mother was (and probably still is) a big Cliff Richard fan. She would sometimes tease my Dad about how she'd leave him for Cliff (which, let's face it, was unlikely to ever happen for many reasons). She always dutifully bought his Christmas single, and probably helped to get him to number 1 on more than one occasion. Despite this, it was downright odd and scary to see that (according to E4 last night) Cliff is the best-selling UK singles artist of all time (he beat the Beatles, Elvis, Robbie, Queen and Elton). Even Cliff himself seemed slightly bewildered by the news. And to show that the fruit never falls far from the tree, just like my mother, I have a secret liking of Cliff myself.

Before Cliff became a Christian he was a super-quiffed, slightly naughty Elvis-alike, with a moody leer, gyrating hips and badboy attitude. (He was popular as a lesbian icon!) But slowly he morphed into the goody-two shoes, tennis-addict, earnest, mild-child that we all now love. In fact, he looks younger now than he did in the 1970s (a bit like a botoxed Eric McCormack from Will & Grace). How does he do it? It's supernatural, that's what it is!

At there's a slight note of bitterness in Cliff's own personal message to his fans, which starts out with a jolly "Hi everyone!" Cliff takes no time, however, in cutting to the chase and telling "everyone" what's on his mind: "Perhaps I was a little over-optimistic about an exciting television project we thought was lined up but which failed to materialise when it came to the crunch. It would have been great, but never mind - you get accustomed to occasional disappointments in this business!" Such complaining isn't very attractive in such a superstar (he's already the UK's best-selling artist, what more does he want? Wings?) And he goes on "...sales of 'Something's Goin' On' have been rather poor - despite me working my socks off with promotion! If it had been a duff album, I would have understood but I love it and so, it seems, do scores of industry and media people who tell me it's the best work I've done for years." Ah well, that's the danger of surrounding yourself with yes-folk. Get over it! At least it all ends on a positive "Don't think for a minute that I've abandoned the ambition to break through in the States!" How could we? You go girl! The States don't know what they're missing and I'm sure you'd go down amazingly in places like Idaho, Nebraska or Wyoming. American readers - you're missing out on the Ultimate Britpop Experience if you've never heard of Cliff. Hang your heads in shame and then go and download his entire back-catalogue now!

But it's all a bit too easy and cruel to skit Cliff and I refuse to do it any more. Instead, I'll talk about my two favourite Cliff songs:

Devil Woman (1976)

"She's just a devil woman! With evil on her mi-ind!... She's gonna get you from behind" sang Cliff. Who could he be talking about? Una Stubbs? Jane Asher? Elton John? Maybe I imagined it, but I seem to remember that a performance of this involved lots of red smoke and possibly even high heels. Was this Cliff's not-so-repressed "Dark Side" of Christianity? "If you're out on a moonlit night, Be careful of them neighbourhood strays. Of a lady with long black hair. Tryin’ to win you with her feminine ways" warns Cliff in the song. I'm sure this didn't refer to a dogging/transsexual encounter in a carpark, but you can but hope. I don't care what anyone says but this song is a classic and I haven't stopped playing it since I downloaded it from Itunes, roughly 2 minutes ago.

Wired for Sound (1981)

Cliff crashes into the 1980s with his personal "discovery" of electro-pop. This song is insanely zeitgeist and contains everything about 1981 that you ever need to know. Not only is it hideously "electro", but Cliff also wears a personal stereo (what an early adopter!) and yes, roller-skates DURING THE WHOLE VIDEO. Those of you who were unfortunate enought to live through the early 80s (to live in "interesting" times it was not), will probably have experienced a roller-disco at some point. They were pretty awful, and even if they didn't end in huge teen-age gun battles (ala the 1975 film Switchblade Sisters), someone usually fell over and got their fingers sliced by someone else's roller-skates. I have no idea what the nonsense-lyrics of Wired For Sound mean - "Power from the needle to the plastic. A.m.-f.m. I feel so ecstatic now." (Sounds like one of those "clues" in 3-2-1.) You'd almost think he'd been hanging round John Lennon's dealer or something. Cliff is the eggman! This song regularly makes the top of all the "worst" lists, but who cares? It's fab.

Cliff's been around so god-damn long that he's gone from cool to naff to cool (he had a comeback in the 1980s with the Young Ones and a re-release of Living Doll) and now he's naff again. He's even complained that radio stations have blacklisted all his work. But, if you hang around long enough, there's always the chance that you can get that second comeback. And I predict that Cliff's on the cusp of one. Let's pray he gets to number one this Christmas. I can name at least two people who'll be buying his next single (me and mum).

Saturday, October 15, 2005

Snob Hill?

Clifton in Bristol, where I now live, is very posh. It resides on a hill, that looks down (physically and socially) on the rest of Bristol. The houses are all massive 4-5 floors of somewhat faded splendour that were built in the 1800s. A lot of rich men lived in Clifton, their fortunes made off the back of the slave and tobacco trades (apparently, periodically their a vocal minority in Bristol demands that certain buildings in Clifton are destroyed because of this). These manors, which once would have housed extended families, with plenty of room for a small army of servants, have now been split up and split up and split up into "apartments". During the 1970s, additional, ugly concrete stairwells were added to the sides of buildings, to allow individual access to the upper floors. And the population of Clifton has grown way beyond that which it was originally intended to accomodate. Cars line every available roadside and you see a lot of optimistic parallel parking (thank god I held out and got a place with its own parking space - I CANNOT parallel park). All of the basement flats are dark and stink of damp. I can't understand how anyone could live in one, they must he coughing up black stuff all the time.

There is no Starbucks, Cafe Nero, Subway or McDonalds in Clifton. Such places must have been deemed too generic and vulgar for the refined and "special" people who live here. Instead there are dozens of charming non-chain shops. Beauty salons and little boutiques are popular, as are coffee shops. There are also a number of very old fashioned stores, the type with a person behind a counter who gets you what you ask for. There is a tiny hardware store which seems to sell everything that B&Q sells and more besides. There is a "famous" cafe which only does chocolate drinks and is popular with Bridget Jones types (and me and my fella).

As for the people of Clifton - it is pretty much a white ghetto of privilege: well-dressed, slightly smug people who give the impression of having a lot of time and money on their hands. There are a lot of old dears (who you see through their windows sitting alone in their huge homes, surrounded by ancient furniture, banker husbands long dead), a larger-than-normal proportion of eccentrics with mad hair (usually on bicycles with baskets of organic vegetables), bored housewifes who wander the streets like ghosts, be-suited estate agents (there are a LOT of estate agents in Clifton) and insane elderly couples who probably should have been instituionalised and whose accents are so posh that I can't understand a word they say. Now the students have returned, there is a veritable constant fashion parade of pretty, clear-skinned, well-fed boys and girls who represent the elite of the Home Counties. The girls are invariably blonde, with tiny waists and haughty demeanors. The boys are well-built, sporty, a bit loud and confident and too-handsome (although sometimes a bit horsey-looking). They would get beaten up in the North, but they probably don't know where the North is. I get the impression that these Bens and Tims and Olivias and Georginas are not always the most academically-inclined of students, but they don't care, because they're having such a jolly time anyway. I feel slightly envious of them (my student days were wonderful, but they're long over, and I went to an ex-Poly in a Northern town - the first 18 years of my life, growing up on a council estate were very different to the experiences of these kids).

On the whole, it is a lovely place to live - clean and charming, but with enough urban bustle to remind you that you're in a city (and the weather is amazing - it still feels like late summer). Unlike a lot of town centres in the North, people actually look happy here, rather than harrassed and downtrodden. But it feels like I'm living in a bubble of unreality. It's easy to forget about the rest of the country (or even the rest of Bristol) here. And the worry is that eventually these lovely people will stop appearing exotic and start to represent what's "normal" in my mind.

Friday, October 14, 2005

No News is Good News?

Since I moved to Bristol I haven't been getting a regular newspaper. It's an odd feeling to be so out of touch with the world (before that I always got a daily newspaper delivered and just haven't got round to it yet). I do read the paper on the train, but I always feel now that when I discover a bit of news, like the recent Boy George cocaine scandale, it's somehow old and soiled, and I'm getting it after everyone else has read it and commented on it.

However,an anecdote puts this into perspective somewhat. A rather flamboyant old American chap who I know of was recently spotted by a middle-aged woman reading a newspaper, alone in a restaurant. The woman was a bit nosy and happened to notice that the newspaper he was reading was two weeks out of date. "Excuse me!" She told him. "That newspaper is two weeks old." The man looked at her. Then he looked at the newspaper and drawled loudly "News is news honey!" and continued reading.

Speaking of old news, I am watching (for the first time) old episodes of Big Brother 2 (America) at the moment. This series went out in 2001 (one of the contestants is subsequently called to the Diary room and is told one of her relatives is missing in the World Trade Centre bombings). There was also a scandal in the first week when one contestant put a knife to another's throat and had to be kicked out (he was actually romancing her at the time). My favourite contestnat is Nicole - she wears black a lot, has a deep voice, is often angry and is very high maintenance. She's frightened of going in the hot tub (because of the germs) and likes to work out her repressed rage by indulging in a huge OCD cleaning orgy and then complaining about having to do all the housework. Naturally, she was dead cert to go in week 1, and naturally, somehow survived. I heart her.

Another contestant is called Hardy. In 2001, I think a lot of people hearted Hardy, but for very different reasons.

Thursday, October 13, 2005

Do You Watch Lost?

I went into WH Smiths to buy a pen (in order to leave a polite note on a car who had parked in my parking space - count the number of middle-class and suburban things in that sentence!) Anyway, the shop assistant was a young lad with blonde highlights who looked even more bored than they usually do. He said to the customer in front of me "Do you watch Lost?" in a monotone? She said she did, kind of, and they had a little conversation about it. I gathered he was a fan as he started talking about how he gets to see the extra episodes on E4. I also noticed that he had written LATE on his knuckles (just like the little blonde Hobbit character in Lost), which is really taking things a little far. When it was my turn he also said "Do you watch Lost?" (I get the impression he was asking every customer). So I said "Yes, I have the whole first series on DVD from Canada." You should have seen him spring to life. He literally screamed "AAAAAAAAHHHHHHH!" and flung his arms up in the air. At this point I thought I'd better leave, so I grabbed my change and ran. He was shouting stuff after me, but I was long gone by then.

Monday, October 10, 2005


Growing up in the 1970s and 1980s, my parents had an LP Player, and a small collection of albums, that I played much more than them. These included Diana Ross and The Supremes Greatest Hits, a generic Disco Hits album (all Brotherhood of Man and Baccarra), The Carpenters, Simon and Garfunkel, ELO and Wings (their tastes were shamelessly middle of the road). There were also some classical albums - the type that get advertised as "Made by Ronco" (because my mother was aspirant working-class and wanted us to "better ourselves").

One of the weirdest albums, which I often listened to, was Abba's "Arrival". Only a few of the hits on Arrival became Abba Classics (Knowing Me, Knowing You and Dancing Queen). This must have been one of their Scottish-influenced period because several of the songs have what seem to be bagpipes on them. It was a slightly more sinister album than some of the others. The cover picture, with them all sitting in a big glass helicopter, says it all. And I used to scare my little sister by playing the song about a tiger "I am the tiger! I am behind you! I am the tiger!" Sometimes, if I played it enough, she would cry.

I think I over-listened to those songs at a very impressionable age and took some of the song lyrics to heart - their imprints lasting well into my early adulthood. Particularly "What a crazy day, when I kissed the teacher" from When I Kissed the Teacher, "In my dreams, I have a plan, if I got me, a wealthy man, I wouldn't have to work at all, I'd fool around and have a ba-al!" from Money, Money, Money. And "Anybody could be that guy! Lights are low and the music's HIGH!" from Dancing Queen. The album was typical of that slightly slutty, carefree, tacky glam, express-yourself attitude that was just beginning to burn out in the late 1970s.

I had an "Easy to Play Abba" piano book (piano lessons - again, an aspirant mother) and spent many an hour in the 1980s, belting these tunes out, to the probable dismay of my neighbours.

It's considered very gay to like Abba. And they have gone from being fab, to naff, to fab again. Partly rehabilitated via Australian films like Muriel's Wedding and Priscilla Queen of the Desert. Like Muriel, you don't have to be cool to like Abba. You don't even have to appreciate them ironically (although it helps). I am one of those people just old enough to remember them the first time around. And oddly, they do still stand the test of time. I recently purchased Arrival as a cd (after reading one of High Camp Caress Morell's postings.) When I got it home and put it on, I heard the first few bars of "When I Kissed the Teacher" (a song I haven't thought of or heard in 20 years) and suddenly I was transported back to my parent's old living room, circa 1979. I could practically see the horrible blue and yellow swirly carpet they had and the lime green three piece sofa combination that we had for nearly 20 years up until 1991 (only two were made in the entire country - for good reason). I remembered dancing round to it with my sister (we would often hold "dance classes" with me as the demanding teacher and her the unruly pupil). So until someone invents a time machine, Abba's glass helicopter is about the closest I'm going to get.

Sunday, October 09, 2005

Just ploughing through Lost at one episode a night (got the DVD from Canada recently). It's kind of annoying how so very little of the story is given away each episode. So you end up with questions rather than answers. There is a nice sense of menance developing in it, and I like how none of the characters are straightforward.

My favourite is Shannon, the poor little rich girl (yet to get her own backstory). Permanently sulky, preferring to sunbathe rather than "help round camp" and full of self-defensive wisecracks (I particularly liked her one about the "rape caves". She's spent time in St Tropez (where else) and knows (a bit of) French. And she has a beautiful singing voice. She's a Tallulah or a Bette for the 21st century.

Tuesday, October 04, 2005

On the bus

I'd left my car in Bristol and couldn't face an evening in my little spartan student room so I decided to go into town to get a movie and then meet a friend for a drink. Unfortunately this involved getting a bus. I haven't been on a bus in 15 years (and had forgotten how). Fortunately, my friend advised me which ones to get and which ones to avoid (some of them take the long way and you are stuck on them forever.) So I went to queue.

I hadn't realised how dependent I had become on my car. I go everywhere by car (probably explains why my waist size has grown a coupla inches since I started driving). And I had forgotten how random and boring public transport is. You sacrifice all your autonomy and just have to wait and wait and sit there and wait. I do get trains occasionally, but always go first class, so it's more like being in a moving hotel and you barely notice you're travelling.

The first bad sign was that there was nobody else at the bus-stop, which mean a lot of waiting. Then, just as I was losing all hope, a bus came. But it went away without letting anyone on it. Then another bus came so I got on it. I asked for a ticket into town. The driver gave me a scornful look and said "Single or Return." Anyway, I took my seat and waited and waited, while people kindly shared their germs with me by coughing and sneezing.
The bus just sat there for 10 minutes and I had nothing to do but breathe bacteria. Eventually it set off. But as it was heading to town it took a right turn and yes, I had got on the bus that goes round the long way, so had to sit through a half hour of Residential Hell before making my destination.

After the film (Pride and Prejudice - OK), I met my friend and we caught up. I told him about what it was like living in a student room and getting the bus. I was being all brave, going "I'll cope with this." And he said "You know what, I feel like I'm visiting you in prison." I feel like Goldie Hawn at the beginning of Private Benjamin. I'm sure that eventually I will adapt to these circumstances, like she did, and come out a stronger and better person, with more tolerance and respect for people. Yet I don't want to. I don't want to have to deal with any of it. Oh well.

Later, we walked back through town. "Are you getting the bus back to campus?" my friend asked. "Are you kidding?" I said. "Maybe I'll try again in another 15 years." Thank God for taxi ranks. Private Benjamin's epiphany can wait.

Monday, October 03, 2005

I've got your number

I am reading, or rather, flicking through The Many Faces of Men which claims there are 27 types of modern men and then lists them all. I was all prepared to be a bit snooty about this book (which seemed like an extended article for the tabloid section of a broadsheet newspaper), but then I read a few of the types and instantly spotted myself and my fella. He's a total "Alpha Male" - whizzing up the corporate ladder, has a PA to arrange all his meetings, gets up early and arrives home late, always in a suit, rather well-off. The book described him perfectly. I, on the other hand am "Achilles" - on the surface appearing very confident and charming, but with a hidden flaw (or ten). How annoying!

Saturday, October 01, 2005

Life Swap

I did my first commute back up to Lancaster last week. Despite living in Bristol now, I still have a job lecturing in Lancaster, so am staying 2-3 nights in student accomodation. At least I get to have my own bathroom.

After several weeks away, it was very weird being back in Lancaster - I sort of felt like I shouldn't be there - familiar places, like driving past my old house, seemed unwelcoming and alien. When I got off the train there was a clap of thunder and a flash of lightening. Just as well I don't believe in omens. It then started to pour with rain and my hands instantly felt cold. I hadn't realised how cold the northwest is in comparison to the sourthwest where it is still relatively warm.

It took ages to locate my little student room and get the keys for it. The porter was nowhere to be found, and I ended up wandering round dark corridors for ages. Finally I found a room with a light on and went in. There was a single old man in there. "I know why you're here," he said. "You're looking for the Graduate Christian Fellowship aren't you." I felt like snapping "Do I look like a Christian?" but feared the answer. So I just said "No." "Oh well," he said. "Have some good news!" And then he thrust a religious pamphlet at me. I fled at this point (I'm ashamed to say that I also took the pamphlet.)

My room, when I eventually found it, is small and spartan (I am used to lots of home comforts, obscene amounts of space and luxury - I feel like I've wandered into a bad episode of Wife Swap.. "How will high-maintenance Lubin cope when he has to live the life of an impoverished student? Let's find out."). The room is also overheated (lots of students from tropical climates live in the building) and the bedsheets have been washed in my pet hate - fabric softener, which my skin can't tolerate. Worst of all, the walls and floors are very thin and the students seem to sleep all day and then participate in what sounds like line-dancing in their rooms all night. I have a strong suspicion that the girl in the room directly below me has smuggled a horse into the building because every time she goes to the toilet I can hear everything, and surely no human being could produce such a strong, lasting and loud torrent of wee? There is also a communal kitchen, but I was in no mood to meet my fellow hallmates, so have stayed out of it.

My friend Damian is finding all this incredibly amusing and keeps sending me text messages asking if I've put up posters from Smash Hits on the walls with blue tac yet, like a proper student. Hmm, I wonder where I can get posters of Wet Wet Wet and The Bangles from?