Sunday, November 30, 2008

It is now officially Christmas

I love Christmas but I hate how town centres start putting up their Christmas decorations earlier and earlier every year. This year Lancaster town centre put its lights up at the end of October - before Halloween and Guy Fawkes Night. I wrote a sarcastic note to Lancaster County Council suggesting that they just save themselves the trouble and leave the lights up all year round. As I've reported previously, Marks and Spencer raised the height of all its shelves in October and have whole aisles devoted to mince pies and Christmas puddings. Sadly - people have been buying them. And I know that they're not just saving them up until Chrismtas - but they'll be getting home and eating all 6 mince pies in one go. People have been asking me if I have started my Christmas shopping yet for weeks now.

So I was very pleased last week at the Student Union shop on campus, when one of the staff their turned off the tape recorder that was blaring out Christmas music, consfiscated it and said to the other stunned shop assistants "You can have it back on December 1st". I wanted to applaud.

However, as tomorrow is December 1st, I can properly get into the spirit of things. I love putting up the Christmas tree. I remember about 10 years I went to a Christmas party in a well-heeled bit of Los Angeles. The host had the most gorgeous tree I'd ever seen and I was so impressed that I congratulated him on how nice it was "It must have taken you ages to put it up!" It was a bit odd really, because he wasn't really a very Christmassy sort of person.
It's only recently dawned on me that of course he didn't put the tree up - he'd just paid some firm to do it all for him and that's why it was so perfect. And I think that's about the most depressing thing I can think of. Either - put up the tree yourself and enjoy it, or don't bother. But if you have to pay someone to do it - then you're kind of missing the point.

Friday, November 28, 2008

Lubin Odana = Ken Barlow

I've been online for about 15 years now, and sometimes get quite surprised if I come across something I wrote a long time ago and is still floating around. It's kind of a shock to see how the preoccupations you had are now things you have little interest in, or would be embarrassed to admit to. This blog used to be called Trash Addict. I don't think that really applies any more. While I can still enjoy Switchblade Sisters or Faster Pussycat Kill Kill, it's not something that I'd define myself by any more. Camp has been phased out, and in its place is... Current Affairs. I've been secretly getting The Economist delivered for a few months now. And I like it. I read sensible websites like the BBC news, Pink News and Towleroad. I've stopped watching Ugly Betty and Desperate Housewives because they get on my nerves. I'm turning into Ken Barlow.

And I'm actually wearing exactly the same jumper as he is in that picture.

Thursday, November 27, 2008

Are you a sociopath?

Mark Easton of the BBC had a recent blog entry about sociopaths and how to spot one. A sociopath is someone with no conscience, and according to some estimates they account for 1 in 25 of us. There are a lot of articles on the web about them, and they mostly say the same sort of thing. They tend to be written from the perspective of a "normal" person, they tend to assume you either are, or are not a sociopath, and the advice they give is to avoid interactions with sociopaths wherever possible. Recalling a few experiences from my past, I'm not so sure that sociopathy is a binary state - I think it's more of a gradient. It's also a bit of an easy label to give people who you don't like. When I started trying to count likely candidates for sociopathy, I got (worryingly), a lot. Either I tend to attract them, or there are more than 4% of them out there, or I'm over-diagnosing. Let's hope the latter.

20 again for 7 hours

I was invited to give a talk at Cambridge University earlier in the week. I hadn't been before and thought it might be interesting to see what all the fuss was about. Would it confirm the stereotypes of insanely privileged, out-of-touch public school toffs?

Cambridge itself is flat, low-rise, old and quaint. It reminded me a bit of Bath, York, Gloucester and Durham. But better. Like Cambridge was the original and those places were copies. There were a lot of book-shops and people on bikes. The bookshop where I bought my newspaper from had an "honesty box". It almost felt like Utopia.

The students were a bit on the geeky side - I saw a lot of young Woody Allens (both male and female). This was unlike when I lived in Bristol where the students tend to look like Abercrombie and Fitch models. Manchester students on the other hand are all a bit on the Amy Winehouse side.

This was the room they put me up in for the night. It had its own kitchen and bathroom. It was bigger than the room that I gave my talk in.

After the talk, I got taken to a "High Table dinner". This involves a kind of school-dinners affair in a grand room from the set of a Harry Potter film. Various old men in gowns mumble in Latin at the beginning and end, and you have to stand up in silence. I was on a lower-down table with the students (who sniggered a bit while this was going on). There was a drinking game, whereby if someone puts a penny in your wine glass you have to drink the glass in one go. I couldn't work out if this was a tradition or a recent binge drinking thing.

Being now well into my mid-30s, I don't really socialise with students any more, so the evening was eye-opening. I would be having a perfectly nice conversation with one of them, talking about the effect that Clause 28 had on me coming out to my parents, when they'd say something like "Oh, I was born in that year".

Still, I was impressed with how socially competent they were (almost but not quite reaching American levels of confidence). They also seemed to take their studies very seriously (and the poor things seemed to have the double the workloads of other students I've talked to). Still, they will be running the country in about 20 years so I guess they should get used to it. I was pleased to hear a wide range of accents - not just the posh ones, but a very strong Scouse one, a Lancashire one and a Manchester one. About seven of them were going to a club and persuaded me to go along. When we got thereI barely knew any of the songs that were played. I had a sudden flashback to 1992 - when I was 20 and used to go clubbing 4 nights a week. For a few months we had a mature student called Christine move into our shared house - she was a social worker from London in her mid-late 30s. We took her clubbing one night and she left by 12pm, exhausted and out of it. After she'd gone, the rest of us laughed at her awful dance moves. So this whole evening seemed to be set up as a karmic punishment so that I could experience what it was like to be Christine. Anyway, I managed to hold out until 2pm when everyone went home. If they laughed, they at least had the grace to do it behind my back. I got back to my palatial quarters and looked at my tired face in the mirror - noting the increasing numbers of lines around my eyes, and thought for a moment how at least I didn't have acne. But their acne will clear up. And my lines will only get deeper and longer...

Friday, November 07, 2008


Have you been celebrating the Obama victory? I had a glass of champagne last night. If so, spare a thought for the poor McCain supporters - and those who are so right-wing that they wouldn't ever vote Republican. At Stormfront - the site for people who are proudly racist, there were unprecedented numbers of people watching their "election" bulletin board. I suspect that these were not sympathisers, but people who simply enjoyed gloating as the Stormfronters became increasingly depressed as the evening wore on. They started off hopeful, commenting that "it's not over until it's over" but once Obama took Iowa, it clearly was all over and the regulars started posting pictures of upside down American flags and talking about making sure that they took their guns with them on car journeys that night (I'm not kidding!) In their anger, some of them lashed out at Fox News (that's how right-wing they are), and mentioned secession (if only!)

What do racists look like? In the "ladies" forum there's a very long thread where people have posted up pictures of themselves and their families. Some of the slightly more self-conscious stormfronters have mentioned that this might not be a very good idea, but still the pictures come. Needless to say, there's a lot of bad fashion (black bomber jackets, long Viking hair or skinheads seem to be what the chic Stormfronter is wearing these days) and quite a bit of obesity (I guess that hating everyone who's different from yourself must be hungry work!). It makes me sad to see children in these pictures. But I firmly believe that good will ultimately always triumph over evil, love will win over hate and good taste will win over bad - because negative things are ultimately self-destructive, whereas postive emotions give you more strength. People will fight a lot harder and a lot longer because they love someone or something, than if they hate it. Hating is ultimately very tiring... Which is why I try not to hate even racists, feeling sorry for them (and wishing they'd eat fewer pies and use hair conditioner) is less work.

One thing that the stormfronters did turn me on to in one of their crazy discussions was the possibility of a British Obama. They posted up a picture of Adam Afriyie who is currently an MP for Windsor. Here's a picture of him.

Goodness, he's rather handsome isn't he.

Here's another picture.

Ironically though, he's a Conservative MP. What a pity. I don't think I'll move to Windsor after all.

Wednesday, November 05, 2008

What will I do without Sarah Palin impersonations?

I stayed up until about 3.30 to watch the American election results unfolding. When Ohio went Democrat I thought it was safe to go to sleep. I did feel slightly sorry for the Republicans, although looking at some of the states which remained red, it does make you wonder about where whole communities are getting their information from (bonkers right-wing preachers springs to mind). From looking at the voting demographics, it is notable that Obama had made huge impacts with black and Latino voters, young voters and first time voters. If voting was compulsory, I wonder if the Republicans (as we currently know and love them) would ever get in again.

But what will happen to Sarah Palin (and Tina Fey for that matter?) At least she's said she'll give all her clothes to charity. It would be funny to see homeless men wandering around Alaska dressed in her blood-red power suits.

While I'm happy that Obama got in, there's also quite a bit of sadness that another vote - the notorious Proposition 8 in California looks likely to have passed. This proposition defines marriage as between a man and woman only and effectively bans gay marriage in that state. Enormous amounts of money have been flung at campaigning both for and against the proposition. Mormons are particularly in favour of it. And while the Democrats mobilised large numbers of black people to vote, it seems as if they liked Obama, but didn't like gay marriage. This is a shame. Obama himself has fudged the issue - he said Proposition 8 wasn't needed, but said he didn't support gay marriage. He did refer to gay people in his Triumph Speech though, which was nice to see. However, if I was a gay Californian (and I know quite a few of them), I'd be feeling pretty let down. Maybe they should all just go on strike. Think of all the bad haircuts, naff interior decorating, poorly planned parties and hideous fashions which they could inflict on California if they wanted to (I know, I'm evoking stereotypes.) On the other hand, they could pack up their stuff and move to Massachusetts or Connecticut which do allow gay marriage.

Or they could just wait.. Because, change is a funny thing - it can go back and forth for a little bit - and sometimes in our impatience, we can get annoyed that it is not moving fast enough, or seems to be going in the wrong direction. But it's started. You can either do it in the incredibly slow and quiet way that Britain does change - so we'll have civil partnerships for perhaps a couple of decades, and then one day this will get changed to gay marriage and hardly anyone will notice or care. Or you can do it in the more violent tug-of-war way that America does things. But ultimately, both countries will get there in the end. For the moment though - I wouldn't like to be a Californian Republican going for a hair-cut. Because there's nothing like a bitter queen with a pair of scissors in her hands...

Tuesday, November 04, 2008