Friday, June 27, 2008

Today we visited Lancaster's slightly famous GB Antiques Centre - it got on the international news a few years ago when a bull from the abbatoir next door broke in and ran around a bit - literally a bull in a China shop.

We used to go there a lot before we moved to Bristol. In fact, my fella got most of his furniture from there in the early 1990s. However, I suspect that these days, a lot of the good stuff gets put straight to ebay. Here's a selection of some of what I saw:

This brings back memories. We had a bottle garden just like this in the 1970s. I suppose it was a good thing to have if there were small children around. You don't see them so much nowadays - I wonder why?

My grandmother had a doll like this on top of the toilet cistern. It was a fancy way of hiding your toilet rolls. I wonder if anyone ever told them though that it was probably more embarrassing to have a tacky doll on top of your toilet. Ah - the working-classes and their odd ways.

My fella was looking for Wedgewood (it's his latest thing), but bemoaned that there was just "repetitive tat" everywhere instead. I quite liked these though. I could imagine them belonging to a big happy Asian family in the 1970s - perhaps before some terrible tragedy befell them and all their furniture ended up in a job-lot.

Would you like to own a Sinclair C5? Then come to GB Antiques. This costs £700 and has been here for years. I always visit hoping that someone will have bought it - but like an old friend who nobody else likes much, it is always there to greet me.

File this under "things I would have in my house if my fella let me".

Same again. In my mind's eye I have a room which has lots of Tretchikoff pictures, lava lamps, orange chairs and possibly racist statues of "native" people. And this whicker minibar. I would serve blue cocktails from behind it and play "Mambo" on an old record player in the corner. Then everyone would dance. And talk about Foucault. Would you like to come to my party?

One word: fugly. Do they believe anyone would ever buy these? Even as a joke? I suppose if there was someone at work who you had despised for years and they were leaving, you could get them it as a present. But really! What were they thinking?

The whole visit was a rather maudlin experience. You pass stall after stall of tat - stuff from "house clearances" after some working-class nanna went into hospital and died shortly afterwards, and the relatives salvaged the nice barometer for themselves or grand-dad's war medals - anything that might fetch a "few bob". The sad thing is, that nanna would have had a lot of this stuff on display in a glass cabinet thing, or would have spent a good proportion of her life dusting it down every Sunday. And for what? To end up in a graveyard of 20th century working class rubbish... Your stuff does not complete you. It doesn't.

Sunday, June 22, 2008

Dear God, hear my prayer

Look God, I know we've had our differences. In fact, I don't believe in you - but - this guy....

well really... I think the world would be a better place if you could make his head explode.

Thanks. Lubin. xx

Friday, June 20, 2008

"I've done a plait" - "It's right effective is that!"

I woke up this morning with the lyrics to Victoria Wood's "The Chippy" going around in my head. It must have been decades since I'd last heard it - odd how things never really go away.

I discovered Victoria Wood As Seen On TV in the early 1980s, by accident. I think it was broadcast on Friday nights on BBC2, without much fanfare. It was unlike anything else on tv at the time, and I was instantly hooked. I wonder if she knew the impact she was having on 1000s of sensitive gay teenage boys living in boring bits of the UK? The 1980s weren't very nice for us - and she was a whimisical, ironic oasis, with a gentle way of mocking the mundane concerns of ordinary British people.

Each show started with a rather breathless monologue, where she would be self-deprecatory about her weight or other things, and then there'd be a series of sketches, puncuated by a rather sour television announcer played by Susie Blake. When Susie said, po-faced as usual, "We'd like to apologise to viewers in the north. It must be awful for you." a lot of jigsaw pieces fell into place...

There was usually a song at some point, banged out on the piano, and then an episode of Acorn Antiques - the parody of Crossroads with the wobbly sets and bad dialogue.

Then "Kitty", played by Patricia Routledge would come on for her weekly monologue. She was a posh northern spinster woman who lived in Cheadle, full of deluded confidence and with opinions on everything. She reminded me of my aunt Ethel who was from the "posh" side of the family.

There were lots of women in Victoria Wood's sketches. When I used to go clubbing in Blackpool in the early 1990s, in one club, a screen would descend from the ceiling at various points in the night and clips of Victoria Wood would be played. It's odd even now, that if you get a group of gay men of a certain age together, they'll eventually start quoting from Victoria Wood as Seen on Tv.

There was also usually a mock documentary at the end with serious-voiced interviewer Corrin Huntley - my favourite was "Winnie's Big Day" - the one about the pensioners who won a competition by thinking up new names of shades for lingerie ("sprout", "ketchup", "bandage" and "liver") and became overnight millionaires.

For me, Victoria's humour went off the boil a bit after As Seen on TV. She did a series of individual comedy dramas, each one in a different setting, and then there was the comedy series Dinnerladies, which, rather than making fun of twee working-class mores, seemed to embrace them fully. The quirkiness of the original series was much muted. However, it's nice to see that these clips are still funny.

Thursday, June 19, 2008

Guitar zero

The danger of playing Guitar Hero is that you eventually think you might actually be quite good at playing the real guitar.

So after I got onto "hard" level and was even able to come close to beating my fella's nephews (who introduced me to the game and are scarily good at it, due to having 20 year old fingers), I thought I might like to purchase a real guitar and see what happened. I have a bit of a headstart as I play piano and can read music etc.

So, on my last visit to Manchester I popped into that wonderfully old fashioned music shop on Deansgate, explained I was a newbie at it all and asked for something cheap. I also bought a couple of music books.

Anyway, I'm perservering. I kind of wish I'd bought an acoustic rather than an electric guitar as the amp is a bit of a bind and I'm too lazy to carry it around from place to place. That high E string though - it's like a piece of cheese wire. My poor index finger is all red and angry. People keep telling me that I will "grow a callous" there and it will be OK, but frankly, I don't want to. So I can pick out the songs in the "my first guitar" book I have, and I' getting used to chords - although with some of them you I suspect you need to be double jointed and have 8 fingers to do properly. My favorite chord is D7. I could play that all day long.

This one though - really - what sadistic bastard thought it up???

So far I'm a long way from the rock classics of Guitar Hero, but I can play Scarborough Fair. And it feels nice to be learning something new. At 36.

Saturday, June 14, 2008

The Legend of Lylah Clare

I've been feeling a bit serious of late, so in order to get a bit of balance, I've ordered The Legend of Lylah Clare on DVD. It's not supposed to be very good, but it's directed by Robert Aldrich who also did Whatever Happened to Baby Jane, Hush Hush Sweet Charlotte and The Killing of Sister George. As with Sister George it features Corale Browne, who plays evil critic Molly Luther with a walking stick as a great prop. Poor Kim Novak looks a long way from Vertigo here.

I suspect this might be the best scene in the whole film - a publicity junket goes horribly wrong - all thanks to the Corale Browne's spiteful tongue. If you can't abide the poor quality - fast forward to 2.00 where it starts to define high camp. I love all the gasps of shock from the scandalised audience.

Thursday, June 12, 2008

Are you political?

I am halfway through The Good Terrorist by Doris Lessing. It's about a disparate group of political dissidents who set up a squat in London and plot to bring down society. Their self-righteous anger and disgust at the middle-classes is both pathetic and funny. They all come across pretty badly - even the main character, Alice, who is somewhat motherly and alternates between being the doormat skivvy of the group to abusing her parents and stealing from them "for the cause". She's also in love with a gay man who treats her with contempt and is always going off cruising, after taking her money.

Lessing wrote the novel in the 1980s - and it now looks like a historical parody. I wonder what her scruffy bunch of dissidents would make of 2008 - after 11 years of the Labour Party Britain is now shinier and most of us seem to have improved lifestyles, although there are rising figures for child poverty and pensioner poverty - and The Apprentice - a programme which celebrates capitalism is one of the top-rated tv programmes in the UK (I wonder how the tabloids would sell newspapers without it).

That line "The People United, will Never Be Defeated" seems quaint and overly idealistic. Perhaps people like that still do exist, but on the whole it seems that Thatcherism won out and most of us accept the inequalities that go along with it, while enjoying the competitiveness, acquisitiveness and hedonism that New Labour has helped to promote - the now famous Peter Mandleson quote "We are intensely relaxed about people becoming filthy rich" would have been unthinkable from a member of the Labour Party 20 years ago. New Labour turned out to be Thatcherism with a smiley face. One of the aspects of the research I do involves charting changes in language. It's probably not surprising but words like election, poll, vote and politics are a lot less frequently used these days than they were 15 years ago. In their place though, we have football, sexy, fuck and businesses.

And as for being politically motivated - for most people, voting now involves texting for some dancing buffoon to win a television contest. What happened to that "Make Poverty History" campaign that seemed to be everywhere? Did it work? Is poverty now history? It seems that i-pod flashmobbing or celebrating being drunk seem to have replaced political activism. Even the MayDay protests just seemed to be an excuse for people to smash things up.

I'm finding the book a bit difficult to get into though because the characters are all so unsympathetic and deluded. Maybe it's me though. I read Notes on a Scandal by Zoe Heller at the weekend, which was a much more enjoyable read. The cynical, out-of-touch narrative voice of Barbara Covett, with her dislike of pretty much everything modern and complete lack of idealism or care for society seems more fitting.

Tuesday, June 10, 2008

Board games that won't result in divorce

Every so often I take a look at boardgamegeek to see what new board games are worth getting hold of. Board games in our house are sometimes a bit of a sore point. There was a particularly unpleasant game of Monopoly once, when we had guests round, which ended up in people shouting at each other in the street... So I'm always on the lookout for games which won't cause too many arguments...

Recently I've bought Last Night on Earth, and Pandemic, both which are pretty fun to play, and are described as being "co-operative"... Interesting...

Last Night on Earth is a zombie game - one player is the zombies, the other player(s) take the role of townspeople (high school jock, vicar, nurse, sherrif etc). There are various scenarios to play, but most of them involve trying not to get turned into a zombie. The game has tried to use lots of conventions from zombie films (there's even a cd of atmospheric zombie film music to listen to as you're playing). So, for example, one card makes your character rush into a house to retrieve a useless object, another makes two characters miss a turn while they have sex, and another makes someone heroically try to save someone, even though they don't stand a chance of winning. It's pretty difficult to win (as the humans) - the best I managed was to fend off the zombies as they gradually closed in. When I played the zombies, I kept going after the high school jock, who proved to be the slowest and most inept jock in history.

Pandemic is also a co-operative game - which, considering the arguments and sulks that board games tend to bring out in my house, is probably a good idea. The players make up a team of people who have to cure four diseases which are threatening to take over the world. You move around the board, trying to clean up the worst outbreaks, while trying to collect cards that let you find cures. If the outbreaks get too bad, they spiral out of control and result in all adjacent cities getting infected too. Then you lose. We played two games of this tonight, and in both cases it was Diseases 1, Humans 0. At least we both lost - so there was no unpleasant gloating!

Sunday, June 08, 2008

Soul dressing

I am ADDICTED to this slinky little song at the minute:

Saturday, June 07, 2008

In praise of the happy medium

I was given a different perspective of my hatred of the vaccuous "Sex and the City" lifestyle on Friday while in a doctor's waiting room. Four women wearing burkas entered the waiting room and sat down together, in silence. After about 10 minutes, one of them (I assume the youngest of the group), picked up a magazine and started reading it. It was one of those usual women's magazines you get in doctor's waiting rooms - designed for 30-something woman who care about clothes and makeup and diets and all that stuff.

Anyway, the other women suddenly got very agitated. "What are you looking at?" one of them demanded? "Is that a magazine?" another one said. "No, it's not a magazine," said the poor girl, a bit lamely, as it clearly was a magazine. "It's just a...." she couldn't finish the sentence. "Put it down, magazines are a SIN!" barked one of her questioners. Despite her protests, they manually removed the magazine from her hands and put it to one side.

The girl gave a kind of resigned "Hummmph!" and said "I'm so bored!" And that was the end of it.

But meanwhile.... over in the corner. I was doing my breathing exercises so as not to.... I don't know what... but it would probably have involved swearing and an ASBO and possibly my name in the local newspapers.

While I think magazines are stupid devices, simply aimed at getting people to feel crap about themselves so they go out and buy stuff which won't make much difference, I do think that people should have the choice about whether or not they get to read them. In my ideal world, nobody would read or buy magazines like that and they'd all go out of business or be forced to change.

But to stop some girl from reading them - and calling them a sin - well, it's a tad over the top. And all it'll do is make magazines and the looks-obsessed, self-involved, trivial sort of lifestyle they evoke more attractive to her.

Isn't there a happy medium? Does it have to be Carrie Bradshaw or the Oppressed Muslim Girl in the Burka on a Hot June Day?

Wednesday, June 04, 2008

Review of Sex and the City movie (beware, spoilers)

Well... it wasn't very good.

The boom-mic should have been credited as it was in almost every scene. At one point I expected Samantha to reach up and start giving it head. It was distracting and annoying - couldn't it have been air-brushed or cut out or something?

The storyline was a lot of fuss about nothing. Carrie and "Big" decide to get married. But because of a series of painfully staged co-incidences, along with "Men are from Mars, Women are from Venus" communcation difficulties the wedding gets *gasp* called off. Though they get back together at the end. Charlotte has a baby. Miranda and Steve split up and get back together again. And Samantha... happily in love with Smith (who seems to have aged about 50 years - he is my how-not-to-get-old role model), is bored and tempted by the hot man next door. Rather than doing something about it - like talking to her partner and negotiating some sort of open relationship, or actually going out and getting some friends or something, she spends most of the film, alone in her home, eating and spying on the hot neighbour. Then, she decides she "loves herself" more than Smith, so announces he's dumped. And this - this! is viewed as a triumph and a "happy ending". There are so many things wrong with that, that I don't know where to begin.

The characters all got worked up over shoes and handbags and dresses and "fashion week" to the extent that I wanted a nuclear war to happen, or that monster out of Cloverfield to start attacking. Whenever they have a "problem", it was always about themselves and their immediate lives - and more often than not, they invent slights and upsets where none exist. For example, Samantha wanted an expensive piece of jewellry (because objects complete you) and had gone to an auction to bid for it. In the end she didn't get it, because her boyfriend (the soon to be dumped Smith) had kindly bought it for her. Now any normal person would be touched with his thoughtfulness and indulgence. But no, she had to wring some sort of insult out of this gift - now when she looked at it, she would think of him, rather than herself - and this was somehow bad.

As far as I'm concerned, the recession can't happen fast enough. Bring it on! All those people who contribute nothing to our society - fashion designers, people who write stupid non-news columns for newspapers, "PR" gurus etc - let them be the first to fall. When people can't afford food, they're certainly not going to waste their money on Gucci. In the sequel, I want to give Carrie some real problems. Let's put her out of a job. Then Big can be caught embezzling or something so he throws himself off his Penthouse. Carrie ends up a homeless street-hag - and (the irony) - she doesn't even have any shoes! The film could end with Charlotte getting "radicalised" and setting off a dirty bomb in Barneys, killing everyone.

This film is like looking at something on the verge of collapse - like the end of the Roman Empire or Weimar Germany. It depicts a bloated, self-absorbed, apolitical, shallow and anti-feminist society.

There is one scene about halfway through where Carrie (having split up with Big), has to be spoon-fed by Samantha. That's the image that will stay in my head the longest. A grotesque adult-child, unable to feed itself. You keep expected Woody Allen to show up, say he's from 200 years ago and ask where Luna is, and whether he can have a go of the orgasmatron. Except there is no revolution to be had here.

Sunday, June 01, 2008

Shoes are not a feminist issue

Our new local cinema, despite only being approachable via a seedy wee-smelling back alley which has pubs at either end, is actually pretty good. Last week I saw the new Indiana Jones film at it - despite being in his 60s, Harrison Ford still looks pretty good. Along with Joanna Lumley and Joan Bakewell, he is my model for ageing well.

My fella hates Sex in the City. When it used to be shown on tv, he would keep up a steady stream of criticism, mostly directed at Carrie, the main character who is a kind of distillation of the sort of urban, contemporary person that he hates - obsessed with shoes and labels, terminally self-absorbed, unable to sort out her lovelife, smoking, hatefully confident, although terrified of small animals (there's one episode where she sceams because she sees a squirrel). His unkind nickname for her is "horseface". The other three didn't really get much of a look-in, although I suspect he secretly likes Samantha (what gay man doesn't?).

I agree that all the shoes and labels and clothes stuff leaves me cold. Elizabeth Bennett (were she alive now) wouldn't care about any of this stuff. She would probably buy everything from M&S and mend anything that got ripped. Old Elizabeth is much more a feminist heroine than Carrie, who despite having many more choices open to her, tends to get bogged down in the trivial ones (Prada or Gucci)?

So I was a bit surprised when he suggested we go and see it tonight. But I think it's because he loves to hate it. If we go, he will be harrumphing through it next to me for a whole 2 hours. I suspect he will enjoy the experience more than me.