Monday, December 28, 2009


My mother was from a family of Methodists - a religious sect who practice a very dour version of Christianity - they don't like alcohol, gambling or ostentatious decoration. Even their churches look like sheds. My mother wasn't the best Methodist in her congregation. She'd learn her passages from the Golden Book on the bus on the way to church, and her uncle once remarked to her "Our Marianne, you're always last in and first out". Well, it was the 1960s, and she was too busy growing her hair long and wearing a bell. Fortunately, once she left home (marrying a 25 stone hippy with no prospects - my Dad - hurrah!), she stopped going to church altogether (Dad was avowedly atheist anyway, having been brought up Catholic).

But even if you renounce a religion, it's difficult to fully scrub away the stain, and mother brought up her children as Methodists - just without God and the Church having any involvement. So there was never any alcohol in our hygenically scrubbed home (apart from Harvey's Bristol Cream making an appearance at Christmas in thimble sized glasses and strictly for the over 18s). Boasting or what's now approvingly called "self-promotion", was seen as the worst crime ever, and Dad gave us regular sermons about the dangers of getting addicted to slot machines, often illustrated with real-life "Bella-magazine" type stories from his own workplace. The whole family looked down on everyone else in the street, especially those who gave their children crisps for dinner and spent Saturday nights and their Family Allowance at "the Catholic Club" (I never saw inside it, but in my mind it resembles an especially debauched scene from an Hieronymus Bosch drawing).

So we were not Methodists, but we may as well have been. Even now, my sister and I hiss "Methodism!" at each other, when we reveal tales of crazy behaviour that can be traced back to our upbringing. And my fella shakes an imaginary tamborine at me almost daily as a means of mocking my annoying self-righteousness. Our trace-Methodism manifests itself in a blind terror and disgust of gambling (I've never bought a lottery ticket and never will), abstinence and moderation, a Polly Toynbee desire for social equality, yet a rather sneering judgementalism of everyone (which I'm sure you're too polite to say you've noticed). We even hate fireworks - which committ two sins in our Methodist eyes - being both showy and dangerous.

I don't believe in God, but if there is one, I think he's keeping a very close eye on me. Every time that I stray, even slightly from the straight and narrow, I am instantly caught and reprimanded - in a way that makes me feel that I live in the Truman Show. The one time that I played truant from school - I chose to eschew P.E. and instead hang around outside Asda, both of my parents spotted me, separately from each other, within 10 minutes. Co-incidence conspired to place all three members of the same family in exactly the same place at the same time. Last year, one quiet Sunday morning, I decided to take a short cut through town and drive my car the wrong way down a one-way street. Within seconds, I was stopped by a policeman on a bicycle who pulled me over and explained my error to me. I have never seen a policeman on a bicycle before or since. Another time in my youth, I got into a fight on a train - and was lucky enough to have the whole incident witnessed by an off-duty police-lady, who flashed me her badge. I can't think of any other "crimes" I have committed - I know there's no point. But I do know that if I ever need police assistance, I should carry out some minor offence like public urination, because I will immediately be surrounded at gun-point by 20 of them.

It doesn't just extend to the law. I was teetotal for 12 years because my body decided of its own accord to reject alcohol. I never figured out why, but drinking half a bottle of red wine would put me in hospital with agonising kidney pains. It's like my kidneys are possessed by the ghosts of my Methodist great-grandparents. It's finally abated and I can have the "odd" drink - but again, it's more like the occasional glass of Harvey's Bristol Cream. I will never have that popular noughties career - binge drinker. And I remain miserably thin - thanks to decades of sensible eating and regular exercise. Last night, it being Christmas, and the house being full of what my parents call "ket" (sugary calorific food with no nutritional value), I binge-ate for the first time in my life. I had a beef stew, then a Christmas pudding, then some orange juice, then some hommous and bread, then some Cadbury's Heroes, then some raisins, then some petit fours. I watched episode 10 of Dollhouse and fell alseep.

But at 1 in the morning I woke up to gut-wrenching pain in my stomach, which had become bloated and ugly. I was apparently experiencing the effects of gluttony, and I spent the night, bent-over, yelling and incoherent. My long-suffering fella put an episode of Desert Island Disks on Iplayer (David Tennant) and we listened to that, until the 10th Doctor's inexhaustible list of bland 1980s Scottish pop stars put us both to sleep, at sometime around 3.30. So I can add over-eating to the list of things I shouldn't do, lest I be instantly and severely punished. Methodism!

Sunday, December 27, 2009

My review of 2009

It's the last week of the year, so here's what I was watching, reading and listening to in 2009...


Although it was thankfully announced that there would be no more Big Brother after 2010, television line-ups seemed completely dominated by "reality" (actually scripted) talent shows, none of which I watched. The campest tv program ever made, Glee, tackled similar ground, although was actually very good, and had important messages about diversity and acceptance, even if all the female and gay characters pined after unattainable males. I tend to only discover tv shows once they've survived a first series - and enjoyed Being Human (summarised as "did you hear the one about the vampire, the werewolf and the ghost?"), which filled me with yearning for Bristol, Mad Men (which filled me for yearning for 1960s Manhattan), and Dollhouse, which filled me with yearning for Enver Gjokaj. Charlie Brooker's various outputs on BBC4 made me laugh (last night he accurately described Gordon Brown as a "failed, haunted grandfather clock"), and I ended up watching a lot of local news somehow.


A couple of good sci-fi films: the quiet yet talky Moon which covered cloning, and the very allegorical District 9. (Avatar had the best special effects and was also allegorical, but not as good). Star Trek rebooted had some pretty actors, but I don't remember anything else about it. BrĂ¼no was OK, although a bit too similar to Borat, and thanks to my nephew, I ended up seeing quite a few animation films (of which Up! was the best). Zombieland had the best beginning to a film I'd seen this year, the most disappointing film was The September Issue (which I bought on DVD and turned off halfway through - it was NOTHING like Devil Wears Prada).


A disappointing year for games, and I ended up continuing to play games I'd bought the prevous year (still haven't finished Motorstorm Pacific Rift, Grand Theft Auto IV and Oblivion IV). The Singstar online shop did pretty well out of me (I must have downloaded 100+ songs this year), and I finally completed the kitschly apocalyptic Fallout 3 this week (I have dreams about stalking ghouls through cave networks while Ella Fitzgerald sings over the radio). Drakes Fortune 2 got me playing online co-operative multiplayer games for the first time (personal discovery - I'm a really rubbish person to have on your team, I'm more of a hinderance than a help). The funnest game of the year was House of the Dead: Overkill, which had a B Movie Quentin Tarantino-inspired feel.


As I haven't paid any attention to "chart music" in about 15 years, I had only the vaguest idea about what was "current", although my Iphone has somehow acquired music by Little Boots, Amy Winehouse, Paloma Faith, Duffy and Jill Scott, so I'm enjoying the recent trend of music that looks back to the 1960s. I got a record player for my birthday, so started hunting round charity shops for old jazz records, and discovered Dexter Gordon, Kenny Burrell, Ramsey Lewis and Miles Davies. The most played song on my Iphone is "At Last" by Etta James. I don't know how. I don't even like it that much.

The Internet

This year the sites I visited every day included The New York Magazine and the New York Times (because they make me feel slightly cosmopolitan), Towelroad (for its exhaustive coverage of gay politics and culture), The Independent and BBC News sites (for the British take on news), and a handful of blogs. Blogging has changed. 7-8 years ago it used to be the trendy thing, and during 2005 I was blogging every other day. This year I've been managing about one post a week. My little coterie of like-minded bloggers seems to have dwindled and blogs feel less relevant than they used to. The blogs that I read tend to be higher quality, professionally-produced ones. There's less of a sense of a blogging community - it's moved on. I became officially anti-social and left the big hug-fest of Facebook, while Twitter, which is "the way the world is going", leaves me cold.

Personal Events

Most of the year was taken up with a new house/renovation project, which was physically and economically exhausting. I've recovered from my fatigue, but financially am in my own "recession" and will be until all the improvement loans are paid off. I had a productive year workwise - probably overdid it, judging by the fact I've had eyestrain for the last month or so. I should probably slow down. A nice thing about being in your late 30s is that you feel you have less to prove, and consequently tend to be less impressed/intimidated by the world.

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Cold snap

I have caught a Christmas cold and am stuck indoors. It's been quietly snowing outside for the last 2 days, so I probably shouldn't be out anway. I am certain the weather will ruin our Christmas plans and we will end up isolated here on Christmas Day. My fella calls me Cassandra. I call him Sandra Cass (which is Cassandra backwards) because he's eternally optimistic to my pessimist. We drive each other mad.

I get people taking photos outside my house a lot on normal day - I especially like the Japanese tourists who make peace signs with both hands. Today it has felt a bit like living outside Buckingham Palace, with a constant stream of photographers. The picture above was taken from my bedroom window last night. After I had taken it, the street was suddenly full of couples, who decided to go on romantic walks in the snow. When you're in love, temperatures of minus four don't matter.

The grit spreaders didn't arrive until 10.30 this morning, which meant that for 3 hours cars and vans struggled with that hill, sometimes getting completely stuck and having to abandon their vehicles. People would rev their engines, their wheels spinning madly, then get out of their cars and just stand there, dumbly looking at them, unable to decide what to do next. It was a fascinating study of human nature. I was particularly impressed by one good-looking young man who managed to summon a posse of three men to push-start him. The advantages of being attractive - you only have to smile and the world roots you on. Another man was less appealing, and was unable to get passers-by to help him, one old bastard just said "Oh no, I don't think so, thankyou," and hurried on.

I also saw an elderly man fall over on the hill this morning. He picked himself up and continued, although it looked like a nasty fall, and I suspect he was making te best of it. At least if there is nothing good on tv, I can just look out of the window - all human life is there.

Friday, December 18, 2009

The wall of hate

I pass this wall every time I go to the gym. It's down a side street which doesn't get much use, and over the months, more and more graffiti has appeared on it. I'm so familiar with the wall that I can tell which graffiti is fresh, and so have watched vicariously as various grudge matches between teenage girls that I will never meet are played out. You might want to click on the image to see it in its full horrific glory.

The "wall of hate" as I like to think of it, tells me a lot about the ways that girls are cruel to each other these days, and how they take onboard views about women and sexuality that are actually damaging to all women, and then use those views as insults against each other. Reading accusations of someone being a "spacca", having Downs Syndrome or AIDS was initially quite shocking, but as the months passed those barbs seen less impressive when compared to "Tasha has a dick and its huge!" Because suspected transexuality will never run out of mileage. However, always being a grammar bitch, I have to restrain myself from putting a little apostrophe on the "its". I suspect that the writer of the "huge dick" revelation won't be doing very well in her GCSEs.

But all this pales into nothing when compared against the ongoing hate campaign against Ms Watts (of which only part is shown here). I have often wondered what this poor girl did in order to warrant such sustained abuse, and whether she even knows that she has a wall devoted to her. I try to imagine what the girl who wrote such words is like. She is probably quite a bit more intelligent than the others in her class. But nasty with it. Very nasty. She hides it well but inside I think she's unhappy and has a rubbish home life. From experience, there's usually a nasty or neglecful parent behind a nasty child.

She's the sort of girl who uses a cutting, clever humour to make others laugh and herself popular. But her popularity is always at the expense of someone else - some poor, slow-witted victim who is too inept to fight back. Someone who commits a tiny slight towards this girl will never hear the end of it.

First of all Ms Watts was described as being "a walking STI!" (love the exclamation mark). I wonder whose boyfriend she distracted? Later on, this initial proposition was built upon - now she is a "fucked up slag with STIs". As insults go, this is pretty impressive. I like how the vicious little author corrected her initial mis-spelling of "fucked". Even more impressive, she has put a full-stop at the end of her accusation. And you have to give credit to someone who can incorporate an acronym (STIs) into an insult. And not even the unfashionable STDs. Oh no, she's so "with it" that she uses STIs - mirroring the health profession's recent shift of focus from "disease" (which stresses symptoms) to "infection" (which is more concerned with transmission).

With such a good grasp of the English language, I think she will do rather better in her GCSEs than some of the other girls in her class. As for poor Ms Watts - I hope the boy was worth it. At least school-days don't last forever.

Sunday, December 13, 2009

The before shot

I think it says a lot about how fucked up society is getting when the body on the left is now a "before shot".
Byebye Facebook

I closed my Facebook account this week, opting out of what's one of the most popular social trends of the present day. I'd been growing increasingly irritated with it, and felt that logging on and reading the mundane thoughts of an ever-growing number of acquaintences was not particularly edifying. By the end, I'd found it unbearable and had become paralysed by it - having felt that my entire identity had been erased...

It started off OK. I had a small number of friends - real ones. The ones I knew in real life and was in regular contact with anyway. Then I started getting friend requests from "friend-whores" - people who I'd never heard of who had thousands of friends and whose sole aim in life seemed to have more. Not realising this, I was both flattered, and afraid of committing a social faux pas as a newbie by rejecting them, so I then acquired a few of those people who seemed to live on Facebook, posting up updates, links and photos every few minutes - although I could never work out how they ever managed to attend the parties and events which they were so keen to document and share with everyone, as they seemed to spend every minute on Facebook. Maybe they lived in families of clones.

Then I got "friended" to members of my family, which was fine, but it meant that I needed to think carefully about how I presented myself. And I also found it unnerving and creepy to be suddenly given unedited details from the lives of my younger relatives who were studying at university - I didn't want to see them in a mankini at some party, or hear about them being "wasted" the night before, or who they fancied. It made me feel like Creepy Uncle Lubin. Or worst still, Judgemental Uncle Lubin.

And then the work contacts started to happen. Some of my students befriended me. And then my work colleagues. Initially that was OK, because it was generally people I liked from work, and was pretty comfortable with. And by this time I'd already worked out a kind of jolly, avuncular kind of persona on Facebook that wasn't going to shock anyone.

But Facebook is never happy for you to have a static number of friends. Facebook wants everyone to be friends with everyone else. So you keep getting little messages telling you that person X is friends with one of your friends, and you should consider befriending them too. And so, through this enforced network of jollity and togetherness, work colleagues who I'm not that close to began asking to befriend me. And unless you want to shatter the fake yet utterly necessarily civil work relationships that you've spent years creating, in order to deal with people that you actually don't like very much, you end up having to befriend such people on Facebook. Because if you didn't - they'd know that you really didn't like them. And staff meetings and all those times you bump into them in the corridor would be even less pleasant. (There's a professor at my workplace who hasn't figured out how to make his profile private so everyone can see when he's playing Mafia Wars when he's claiming to be busy working on his book - he's a laughing-stock.)

There were also the people from my past. Old school and university friends, who tracked me down and sent me kind emails, not realising that there were good reasons why we lost touch. I am still in contact with the girl I sat next to at school when I was 7. She was the first person I came out to. We don't live in the same town but we make the effort to see each other several times a year. We had a connection then, and we have one now. Most other people - we just happened to be at school together at the same time. That doesn't give us a real connection. We don't have to be friends.

And then there were the gays. Ex-boyfriend gays from many many years ago, who tracked me down and then befriended me, perhaps so they could demonstrate to me and all their other exes just how happy and exciting their lives were. Gays who loved naked men and porn so much that they wanted to share every new naked gay porn star with all of their Facebook friends. Every day. And then all of their other porn-loving friends would post up messages about they would like to do with the porn star. And don't forget the slightly older gays who harboured not-so-secret fantasies about me, and would immediately post sexually flirtatious responses to my updates, attempting to turn my most boring post into a double entendre, while hinting about aspects of my personal life which made me rather more exotic than I actually am. I would agonise over whether to delete these responses - knowing that my besotted admirer would be hurt and not understand, and that probably half my workplace and family had seen it anyway.

So in order for me to survive on Facebook, I would have to put aside my 20th century social skills (humility, respect, discretion) and replace them with a set of 21st century social skills (self-publicisation, endless flirting, indiscriminate indiscretion). I would have to become Paris Hilton. I simply couldn't do that, so I stopped posting up altogether - any piece of information about myself that I wrote could be read by someone who would misinterpret it or see a side of me that I would prefer to keep hidden from them. As a result, I became nothing - no-one. Not posting anything. Not logging on to read other people's postings, because I didn't want to know about aspects of their lives. Or worse still, I didn't care.

When things get worse gradually, it can be difficult to put a stop to them, because it's hard to define the point when they tip over from irritating to unaccepable. At this point there has to be an additional event - one which hammers home how unbearable things have become. For me, this became clear last week when Facebook decided that in response to the hegemony of Twitter (a word which once meant annoying and banal chatter and is now elevated to the highest form of communication), it had decided to change its default privacy settings to make everything potentially accessible to everybody. A spokesman for Facebook said that this "was the way that the world was going". It's the final extension of Facebook's pressing desire for everyone to have more and more friends. Why not turn everyone in the world into a friend-whore - in one swift blow.

The way the world is going.... Maybe so, but it's not the way that everyone's going. And that statement suddenly made me realise how at-odds I was with all of this.

So it's over. If you want to contact me, you'll need to do it the old-fashioned way - by a private email. And please don't send me photos of the last party you went to. I don't care. Really.