Thursday, July 31, 2008

The snob trap

Where do you do your grocery shopping? There's probably not a more loaded question about your social class in Britain than that. Because of the credit crunch, more families than ever have moved to supermarkets' own brands or started going to budget supermarkets - namely the holy trinity of cut-price food: Netto, Lidl and Aldi. I've never been in any of them, but that changed on Friday when I paid my first visit to a Netto. I'm not sure what I was expecting. Dickensian images of Victorian poverty perhaps. In fact it was quite nice. I ended up filling a shopping bag and it came to £6.50. The same items would have cost £20 in M&S. Except you can't buy proper vinegar to put on your fish and chips in M&S (unless you like balsamic vinegar on them). Netto reminded me a lot of the 1970s. The slightly harsh lighting was exactly the same as Peterlee's Finefayre, where my mum did all her shopping in the 1970s. And the shelves were stocked full of the same no-nonsense traditional working-class foods that you'd get in there - lots of white bread, apples and oranges, tinned food, no fancy foreign beers, but plenty of Newcastle Brown Ale. In M&S every single item tries to seduce you with distinction - everything is special, organic, fat-free or cosmopolitan in some way. Everything you buy will make you more interesting and special. My fella is a sucker for all of this. When we used to shop at Sainsburys he would always linger in the aisle that sold all those varieties of extra virgin olive oil. "You're in a snob trap," I used to tell him.

Marks and Spencer though. That's all it is. One big snob trap.

Tuesday, July 29, 2008

The nasty party

I have just finished reading "Hijacking America: How the Secular and Religious Right Changed What Americans Think" by Susan George. I find it hard to think about American politics without getting depressed. In the book George argues that the swing to the right has been expertly managed by business leaders, lobbyists, religious nuts, thinktanks and right-wing intellectuals - they have managed to thwart responses to climate change, ensured that the poor get poorer while the rich get richer, stymied cell stem research, put the knife in gay marriage and got people believing in Creationism. Congratulations to them - they pulled it off, and George shows exactly how they did it - while the progressives rested on their laurels, complacent that their "sharing is good" ideology would win out because it is inherently nicer, the right-wing were planning, waiting and scheming for the last two decades. The only other book I've read that is equally depressing is George Orwell's 1984 - and at least that's fiction.

Perhaps the most upsetting note in the book is that even if Obama gets elected, it's unlikely to make a huge difference to the direction the country has taken. The damage is done. And it's not just in America, but the shift is happening across the world. lists the current stances of the Conservatives and Labour party as firmly in the authoritarian/right quadrant of their map (although both have shifted slighty towards the centre in the last couple of years). There isn't much in it though, and oddly, if you want a more progressive government, it looks like politicalcompass would advise you vote Tory out of the two.

I wonder how long all this large-scale selfishness and delusion can go on for?

Sunday, July 27, 2008

I'm like the smartest non-Asian in year 11

My new favourite person is Ja'mie King, privileged bitchy girl from the Australian mockumentary series Summer Heights High, shown on BBC3. Coming to a public school from a posh private school for a year's exchange experiment "It's such a random thing to do", Ja'mie has tons of confidence "I'm up to 1000 friends on Myspace and could always do with more" and quickly surrounds herself with a coterie of fans who she later alienates when they discover a poster she has made of them, calling them "povo skanks".

It's a well-observed piece of comedy writing, made screamingly incongruous that Ja'mie is played by a man and is about 2 ft taller than he should be, which nobody seems to ever comment on.

Chris Lilley who plays Ja'mie also plays two other roles in SHH (a camp drama teacher and a disobedient Tongan student), but Ja'mie is my favourite.

Sunday, July 20, 2008

RIP Video Rentals

I spent quite a lot of my teenage years and pocket money in video rental stores, which were popular in the 1980s and 1990s. The first film I ever rented was The Smurfs and The Magic Flute. OK, I was 10 at the time.

Last night, I downloaded my first rental video from Itunes (Year of the Dog - a comedy starring Molly Shannon about a woman who gets obsessed with animal welfare to the point of it being a mental illness). It cost £2.49 (about the same as a new video in those days), and could be watched from the moment it started to download.

I haven't rented a film in years. I was a member of the Blockbusters at Morecambe a few years ago, but visiting it was such a depressing experience that I stopped going (it always smelled of sweat).

Quietly, all of the video rental shops have started to close down. This little insightful clip from The Onion is already noting how they've become historical sites.

Historic Ă¢��BlockbusterĂ¢�� Store Offers Glimpse Of How Movies Were Rented In The Past

Thursday, July 17, 2008

"Give us me metal!"

Although I don't watch much networked television any more, I usually watch the BBC1 news at 6, and then, because I'm too lazy, I hang around for the local news at 6.30. In the northwest it's headed up by Gordon Burns who used to present boring 1970s-1980s gameshow the Krypton Factor (and somehow seems younger now than he did then).

My favourite presenter though is Tony Livesey, who is often used for outdoors broadcasts. I'm sure he's a very nice man, but even when he's wearing a suit, he still looks like he's just come off heroin.

The other night, he was reporting on a new crime wave that is sweeping the northwest - it involves criminals stealing metal gratings from the sides of roads in order to sell to scrap metal merchants for cash.

This is the second time this crime has come to my attention. I remember seeing a documentary programme on BBC1 a few months ago about homeless heroin addicts who were fighting over bits of "found" metal as it was their only funding for their addiction. Anyway, I haven't been able to get a mental picture out of my head, of Tony fighting with some tramps over a shopping trolley containing a metal grate, shouting "Give us me metal!" In fact, the phrase "Give us me metal!" has become a catch-phrase in the Odana Household of late.

The scruffy facial hair doesn't help. This is what he looked like tonight.

Gordon, on the other hand is always kitted out in a nice suit.

I wonder if Gordon secretly wishes that Tony would have a shave and brush his hair?

Tuesday, July 15, 2008

Obsessed with Nice

Periodically, I like to think about where I will retire to (even though it is a couple of decades away). Obviously, it's all fantasy - global warming, rising sea levels and nuclear terrorism will probably have obliterated half the world by then or turned various areas into sprawling refugee camps, like something out of a Mad Max film.

However, at the moment, I think that a nice retirement would be November-March in Nice, April-August in the UK, September-October in Manhattan. I don't want to ever have to step outside and see my breath by the time I'm in my late 50s - cold weather kills off pensioners. It's a fact. All the deaths of elderly people in my family have been in January/February. And when I worked in a nursing home one summer, none of the residents dropped dead. I don't need any more statistical information than that.

There's only one flaw in my Nice plan - I've never been to Nice before. My whole experience of France is reduced to Paris. And I suspect that capital cities aren't that representative (London is absolutely nothing like the rest of England, being more like a country of its own). Anyway we've booked a holiday to Nice in September (we're staying in the swanky Hotel Negresco), so hopefully I'll like it.

Otherwise it's back to the drawing board, as happened when I decided Bournemouth would make a good place to retire (I didn't really take to it after visiting). My Eyesight guidebook on the Cote d'Azur came this morning. Unfortunately there were lots of pictures of people sunbathing on a pebble beach, and 80+ Eurotrash millionairres with bad skin and dubious fashion choices. So I should fit right in then.

If Nice does work out, at least that gives me 20+ years to learn French properly. At the moment all I can say is "Je mapelle Raquel".

Tuesday, July 08, 2008

Who's Afraid of the 1980s?

I watched This is England while I was away in Valencia. Nothing like a bit of gritty northern misery to remind you of home.

The film is set in a rough bit of the north the early 1980s - the 12 year old protaganist would have been a year older than me.

I didn't "get" most of the 1980s. About a month of it made sense in 1988 when I think I briefly became the person who Top of the Pops was aimed at, but the rest of it was an incomprehensible blur. I didn't get the fashions or the music. The news didn't make sense. Everyone seemed to take themselves so seriously. I didn't understand why anyone would vote in horrible robotic Mrs Thatcher("she hates notherners" we were told) or why everyone seemed so miserable apart from a handful of "yuppies" in London who seemed to be having a whale of a time. I think I was autistic for the whole decade - utterly left out and with very little way of getting in. Instead, I turned my back on the whole thing and sought solace in my parents' 1970s albums, glamorous 1950s musicals, and images of the Swinging 60s - all decades which I seemed somehow much better suited for.

The opening credits of This is England encapsulate the whole decade in about 3 minutes. I have a lot of trouble watching this - now it makes too much sense. And it moves me to tears in some parts.

Thursday, July 03, 2008

I'm in humid Valencia for a few days - my fella is giving a couple of talks, so I'm along for the ride (I'd make a great Dr Who companion). Anyway, he's gone off to be feted for the day so I'm in the nice hotel room, thinking about trying the spa downstairs.
We're watching Deadwood at the moment. It's an HBO series set in the Wild West. It ran for three seasons and then they stopped making it, which is about long enough for me really. Because it's HBO it means that everyone swears a lot - and not just the odd "shit". C**ks*ck** seems to be a more frequently used word than "the" or "a".
My favourite character is Calamity Jane played by Robin Weigert.

She's normally drunk, completely bonkers and has a way of interacting with others which is both hilarious, bewildering and terrifying. The other characters rather unkindly, refer to her as "the half-woman". Her heart's in the right place though. This clip - where she gives some of her wordly advice to the Cat in the Hat, sums her personality up.

I just hope they don't give her makeover in the last episode.

Tuesday, July 01, 2008

As I suspected, I'm not very nice

I'm a O47-C89-E31-A10-N71 Big Five!!

According to the "Big 5" personality test, I score high on conscientiousness - I'm at the 89th percentile (that's the good news), but am also fairly neurotic (71st percentile), introverted (31%) and especially disagreeable (10%). The only average score I have is for open-mindedness, where I fall into the middle (47%). If I was a Sims character, I'd be sulking in my room, refusing invitations.