Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Bewitched, Bewildered and Vajazzled

From the middlebrow pleasures of Downton Abbey, I turn now to The Only Way is Essex - another "staged reality" programme, which seems to be Britain's answer to Jersey Shore. Essex, a county to the east of London, has long had a reputation for siring boorish, uneducated, flashy men and stupid, promiscuous, vulgar women. On the few occasions that I've visited Essex, I've found it just like the rest of Britain, with no fewer or more of those sorts of lazy stereotypes than anywhere else in the country. But the caricature sticks, mainly due to the media giving special attention to people from that part of the country who fit the stereotype - inasmuch the same way as the only openly gay men allowed on tv have to be ultra-feminine.

My husband walked in halfway through last night's "Best of The Only Way is Essex" and ended up spluttering in incoherent rage when he realised what vajazzling was (it involves women glueing tiny jewels onto their pubic regions). When I explained it to him, he thought I'd invented it, as a kind of parody of what fashion-conscious young people might do. But it's real alright.

The people in The Only Way is Essex are all very gendered. The Alpha-male is Mark, who describes himself as Mr Essex. Mark is a very cocky 23 year old who embodies the word swagger.

Do my eyes look dead in this?

There is a Beta-male called James, who wants to be Mark, and may be secretly a bit in love with him. Another Beta-male is called Kirk, who also looks like James and Mark.

The girls are even harder to tell apart than the males. Lauren is Mark's on/off girlfriend, while Mark's sister Jessica is a model, though for a long time I thought she was Amy, a beautician and bejazzling "professional". There is one very very camp and skinny gay man called Harry, who is "fab" and "glam". His special skill is that he can do the splits at a moment's notice, and unlike the other characters, he is desexualised, his main role being as cheerleader and shopping companion to the girls, as well as incidentally making the heterosexual men appear more masculine.

Not much of consequence happens. The characters' beauty regimes take up a lot of their time. When they are not getting fresh vajazzles, they get spray-tanned, or have sun-beds ('beds). Sometimes they sit in one of those jazzucis with little flesh-eating fish in them that appear to have suddenly sprung up all over Britain. Beauty regimes occur before modelling auditions, which come prior to visits to nighclubs or exclusive parties, where the characters get even more dressed up and then have furious encounters where they confront each other for sexual indiscretions, real or imagined. Dialogue generally consists of a series of randomly generated cliches, all made famous from shows like Big Brother: "Shat up!", "At the end of the day, right!", "Aw Babe!"... Occasionally, someone will have a "blonde moment", such as identifying an elephant as a rhino, or not knowing where North London is. To describe this state of intellectual desolation as a "moment" is perhaps the show's only under-statement. Such "moments" appear to be several years in length. It would be more accurate to note the rare points where characters are not ignorant, as them having a "normal moment".

Their ignorance aside, I admire these people for their irrepressible confidence. But I do worry for them. A rather cruel aphorism is "Beauty fades, stupid is forever", and I am reminded of Jodie Marsh - another Essex girl, who only a few years ago helped to pave the way for the current crop. After being voted first off Big Brother, having a false feud with Jordan aka Katie Price, releasing an unintentionally hilarious autobiography and blog (a bit like an extended Alan Bennett monologue), Jodie seems to have sunk back into obscurity. The shelf-life of an Essex girl (or boy) is only slightly longer than a bag of frozen peas. Mark and co - stay off those 'beds.

Sunday, December 19, 2010

Do Ask, Do Tell

America lumbered further towards its grudging equalisation of gay people yesterday, when its Senate voted to repeal unfair "Don't Ask, Don't Tell", which stops openly gay people from serving in the armed forces. The law, a perfidious compromise by Bill Clinton, basically stated - "It's fine for you to risk your life for your country but don't carry pictures of your partner in your wallet. In fact, don't have a partner. We find you disgusting." While I am happy for them, I wish we didn't live in a world where armies had to exist. Or if they did exist, it would only be in order to help people during floods etc. So I feel a bit like how I felt when one of my friends got a job as a footman at Buckingham Palace. I was everso pleased for him, but at the same time, I'd make the Royal Family live on a council estate, and turn Buckingham Palace into a glorious home for orphaned children or children with severe disabilites.

While America was once a role model for gay liberation, it has increasing appeared anachronistic and callous, as more socially progressive countries have first caught up with then surpassed it. Of the 26 NATO countries, at least 22 allow gays and lesbians to serve in the military. Ten countries allow same-sex marriage, including Argentina, South Africa and Spain (not countries you'd necessarily expect to be more tolerant than the US), and a further 18 or so have recognition of civil unions, including Uruguay, Slovenia, Ecador, Hungary and Ireland. (Where America does excel, of course, is in commericalising gay culture, so that you can only belong if you buy stuff.)

Part of all of this sphincter-retracting homophobia is mainstream America's rather dreary obsession with appearing macho, which runs through almost every aspect of its culture. Take Star Trek for example. Beefy, swaggering Captain Kirk got to be the hero, shooting from the hip and bedding green-skinned alien beauties. Over in the UK, we got nerdy Dr Who, who talks science-babble and eschews violence. Another part of it is religion (I do hope that George W Bush dies painfully from a disease that could have been cured had he allowed stem cell research to take place when he was president). Even with a Democrat government, the pace towards repeal of DADT has been so fraught and slow that it has been like watching a snail race - with the snails blindfolded.

At least it seems to be getting a move on finally - compare slow progress to the no progress that would have happened in the twisted Parallel Univerise where John McCain and Sarah Palin won the presidency. McCain's response to the repeal says it all: "Today's a very sad day. They will do what is asked of them but don't think there won't be a great cost." (My response to McCain - "You are a cunt." - he might be a poor loser, but I'm an even worse winner - and I'm gloating gloating gloating on air.)

And if any sexy American sailors or marines have been reading my blog in secret, and would like a well-spoken British penpal with impeccable manners - then do get in touch. I won't even have to say your secret is safe with me, which is just as well, as I'm hopeless at keeping secrets.
What, exactly, IS a weekend?

I should be in Tunisia, but my flight and connecting flight were both cancelled yesterday, so I didn't even bother showing up at the airport - which, from news reports sounds like it has turned into a scary dystopic society with trapped angry drunk people now living in shanty towns in the ticketing queues. In the rare event that a flight does manage to take off, then passengers have to engage in a death-match to get on it. It's British Airways Thunderdrome!

Instead, I'm watching Downton Abbey on DVD, ITV's expensive period drama/soap about rich people and their servants 100 years ago. Rob James-Collier (Liam from Coronation Street) plays Thomas - a naughty gay footman who likes to seduce all of the young gentlemen he's supposed to be looking after. But the best role is Maggie Smith's Dowager Countess, Violet. She carries an expression of disapproving hauteur which makes her seem as if she's permanently sat on a thistle covered in dog-shit, and if anyone speaks to her, her eyes swivel in pained disgust and then her mouth opens and out comes a sardonic put-down that would render the most fierce and spiteful drag queen inarticulate for ten minutes.

Period dramas must be back because the BBC have responded by resuccisitating Upstairs Downstairs - which covers pretty much the same ground. While I enjoy historical dramas about rich people, I wonder if this is subtle "nudge" propaganda - a way of getting us to accept the ConDem's shock treatment of cuts cuts cuts, which will disproportionately affect women, the poor, the young, northerners and people living in Labour consituencies. When people complain that the ConDem's don't care about social mobility they are WRONG. The ConDems want social mobility alright. But they want the poor to move further downward and the rich to move upward. In essence, they want to recreate the world of Downton Abbey, where a few fragrant and pampered rich families live in enormous mansions, while the rest of us slave away under the stairs to make sure that they never have to dress themselves or think an unhappy thought ever again. Maggie Smith's Violet is so out-of-touch with the lives of ordinary people that she hasn't even heard of the concept of a "weekend". Why would she? She's never had to work or do anything normal. "What IS a weekend?" she asks in distate, when someone uses the word. It's hilarious and shocking all at once.

While Downton Abbey could be written as a kind of critique of the British class system, it is actually quite jolly about it all. The Lord of the Manor is represented as a kindly fellow who cares for his servants and loves Donwton Abbey so much. The lowly male relative who is going to inherit the lot at first struggles when his assigned butler wants to do up his collar, but within one episode, he accepts that everyone has their role and function in this world, and who is he to deprive someone of that. And some of the servants are presented as thoroughly rotten. No, the key message here is not that this is an unfair system - it's that there are good and bad people everywhere. Scenes of hunting is accompanied by jolly gallopy music and shots of everyone looking happy. We don't see the bit where dogs rip a terrified fox to bits and everyone licks their lips in sadistic glee.

And like they used to say on Battlestar Galactica, this has happened before. I recall the 1980s (with Dowager-like disgust), where our council estate was like a ghost town on Saturday nights at 8pm, when we all settled round to watch the immensely wealthy people on Dallas and Dynasty, sipping champagne and eating breakfast next to their outdoor swimming pools. We were meant to identify with their problems, to care about these rich characters and want the nice ones to succeed, even though our own lives were immeasurably different from them.

My mother used to say "Look! Money doesn't bring happiness after all - we're better off than them!" when Blake and Krystal and Bobby and Pam were shown to suffer. But she didn't realise that these were FICTIONAL CHARACTERS and in reality the rich live much nicer lives than the poor, and in the odd cases where they do have problems, they can just throw lots of money at the problem and it tends to go away.

So I think Downton Abbey is going to prepare us for a new Britain. If you're young and you don't already own a massive house, you may as well start practising how to carry a silver tray full of wine glasses. Because that's the best you're going to manage. Even with your degree.

Wednesday, December 08, 2010

Glad you voted Liberal?

Tomorrow, the British parliament votes on whether to raise undergraduate fees to up to £9000. As a lecturer at a "top 10 UK" university, I've been following the debate with interest. My university may raise fees to the maximum £9000. This means us lecturers can all rest easy, particularly the Arts and Humanities lecturers, as we are having our funding decimated. This government doesn't like people who do Arts and Humanities because these tend to be subjects that attract Socialists, Marxists and Feminists (stroppy, difficult people in other words) and it thinks that we don't contribute enough money to society - unlike all those people who teach Business, Economics and Management theory (and somehow failed to predict the recession).

I'm against the fee rise because I think it will deter teenagers from poorer families from going to university. Even though they won't have to pay the fees until they start earning a wage, I still think £9000 a year is too high particularly when house prices have gone up so much that most young people won't be able to afford mortgages unless their parents help them out. I think the fee increase will further the rich/poor divide in the country and reduce social mobility, which is already going down. As someone from a council estate who's Dad was a bus driver, going to university in 1990 was difficult enough, and I was lucky not to have to pay any fees, but instead get a grant of £800 a term. Even then I had to work two jobs to pay the rent. But at least when I'd finished, I had no debts and was able to borrow £5000 to do an MSc - which is what helped me get a job during the last recession. I'm a Tory nightmare - the kid from the poor family who broke out of the poverty trap despite having the odds stacked against me, and although now I'm a relatively high earner, I still stubbornly refuse to embrace self-serving Tory (rich person) values. Tax the rich until they bleed. Increase the minimum wage. And if the rich get in a huff and want to go and live somewhere else, then I'll pack their cases for them. Missing you already!

Making the rich richer and the poor poorer is exactly what the Conservative Party want. So it's hardly suprising that so many of their policies will do just that. What's more disappointing is that the Liberal Democrats made an election campaign promise to oppose fee raises. Many people, including first-time voters, voted Liberal precisely for this reason. This sense of betrayal, coming only months after the Liberals managed to gain office through forming a coalition with the Conservatives, is unlikely to ever be overcome. Indeed, the LibDems have gone from being the party of choice for people jaded with the shadiness of New Labour spin and its "end of boom and bust" rhetoric to the party of hypocrisy and lies. I almost fell for Nick Clegg's nicey-nice above-the-sleaze persona that he projected during the election debates in May. When the Tories failed to achieve a majority, I expected that the Liberals would offer to support them on some things, but would draw the line on fees. But after so many decades in the political wilderness, that novel taste of power must be like blood to a starving vampire. They can't risk losing it.

First time voters have had a wonderful lesson in politics - no matter what the party, those in power will lie, sell out and betray you to stay in power. The Liberal Democrats are to be credited for politicising a whole generation of young people - people who will be voters and campaigners for a very long time to come. And who are unlikely to believe a thing that the Liberal Democrats say again. That's a shame, because there are some very decent and honorable Liberal Democrat MPs - like Tim Farron, who won't be voting for the fee increase. And while much of the anger is directed at the Liberal Democrat liars, we miss the point that it is the Tories, who did not gain a majority of votes, are putting forward a series of economic and social changes to this country, which make Maragaret Thatcher look like a socialist. The Liberal Democrats act as a lightening-rod, taking pressure off those who really have the power.

But ultimately, the message from all this is a depressing nihlistic one. There was no "good choice" at the last election. Just a series of increasingly bad choices. None of the three leaders (Brown, Cameron, Clegg) deserved to govern this country. I wish I could have ticked a box saying "Sack all three leaders and hold another election when you've found some better people, or some better parties even."

One thing about left-wing people, is that they seem to have all the criticisms, but rarely seem able to come up with any answers. My answer would be to link fees more closely to ability to pay. Fees should be on a sliding scale, based on the social class and earning power of a teenager's parents or guardians. For the children of bankers, I'd make the fees £300,000 a year. It'd only take a couple of annual bonuses to cover the cost of them. For children of road sweepers - they'd get grants to go to university rather than have to pay fees.

I'd also reduce most undergraduate degrees to two years. As I said, I teach at a university. The first year is mainly a doss. Your results don't count towards your final grade, and on many courses students only have a few hours of teaching a week. The rest of the time is spent hanging around, getting drunk, staying up all night and sleeping in late. They do this because they can. I and almost everyone in my year did it because we could. If students were given a more intensive education, then costs would go down. And students would go to university because they wanted the education, not because they wanted an easy three years or to delay their entry into the real world. It'd also make them much more prepared for the world of work.

And I'd put limits on the numbers of people allowed to study certain subjects. Business, Management and Economics degrees that place emphasis on teaching people to persuade others to buy things, to manipulate people into doing what you want, and into making maximum profit without caring for ecology or human suffering - it's those subjects which got us into the recession mess in the first place. They have no place in universities, just as Nick Clegg has no place in this government.
The aliens are coming

At Everything Is Terrible I've been laughing at video clips of The Unarians, an unbelievably flamboyant and kitchsy cult which believes in reincarnation and space aliens. It appears to have taken its fashion guides from Liberace, John Waters films and 1960s episodes of Star Trek. Its leader/founder, Archangel Uriel, aka "Ruth Norman" looks and sounds like an insane old lady drag queen.

Among others, Ruth claims to have been Poseidon (founding Atlantis), Socrates, Mary Magdalen, the Dalai Lama, King Arthur and Peter the Great. That's what's great about the Unarians - not only are they reincarnation royalty - but they are reincarnations of people WHO DIDN'T EVEN EXIST IN THE FIRST PLACE.

Like many cults, the Unarians have predicted several times that there will be a Great Event that will change life on Earth forever. The last one was supposed to be 2001, when we would make inter-planetary contact with 32 alien races. Wrong much? Never mind, get out your flags, put on your cloaks and rainbow sash and get in that car park, where it's time to parade around a model spaceship...

Unarius from Airwave Ranger on Vimeo.

Over at the Unarian's blog (of course they have a blog), there is a rather depressing story about someone who underwent "past life therapy", and claims to have been an evil alien in a planet in the Orion Empire. She/he helped to create viruses as part of an aggressive inter-planetary expansionist policy. She/he is now been punished for such past crimes, by suffering from "several kidney and bladder infections, numerous digestive tract problems, and rheumatic fever due to strep throat, which caused minor damage to one of my heart valves."

While it's very easy to laugh at the Unarians, I'm not sure what makes them any different from any other religion (other than a slightly more kitsch sense of style). What's more believeable? - 32 space-ships are heading for Earth (perhaps delayed - maybe Jupiter has some really good shopping outlets) or there's an invisible super-being creator who knows when you've been good or bad so be good for goodness sake!

And while cults like this are hilarious, ultimately, they make me very depressed. It's another example of how humans are so completely delusional, uncritical and flawed. After seeing their nonsense, I almost wish that 32 alien spaceships would come to Earth - and wipe the lot of us out. Because really, if even a few of us are we are capable of believing crap like this - then there's no hope.
The 13cm rule

1) Is it me, or are Christmas cards shrinking? This year I have received cards so small that I could barely make out the writing on them. They seem to have been made for and by tiny elves. I normally have three "levels" of Christmas cards, which are sent to people depending on how much I love them. So close family members get huge luxury cards, friends who I don't see much get smaller ones, and people from work get smaller ones still. But I have a limit. I won't send anyone a card that is less than 13cm in height and width. It's a passive-aggressive message of hatred. Or at least it is in my eyes. Why bother giving someone something if it's crap?

However, a small Christmas card pales in comparison to these other Christmas communication disgraces:

2) Not sending anyone a card but sending a mass email to everyone you know saying you have donated money to charity. That's just lazy and misses a crucial point about Christmas - which is about showing you care enough about someone to write a few words to them, lick a stamp and walk to a post office. Not acceptable.

3) Sending an e-card. I hate to break it to you but the 1990s are over. What might have appeared novel when done once, now just comes across as churlish and again LAZY. You can't hang an e-card on your mantlepiece. Sending them just makes you look cheap. Even cheaper than the "I've donated money to charity instead of sending you a card" person. So don't do it.

4) Sending a family newsletter. Arrrrrgh. This is the worst sin of Christmas. It basically says "I can't be bothered to acknolwedge you directly - so I'm going to send you the equivalent of Christmas junk mail - a mass produced missive to all my non-friends, just to let you know how far down in the friendship pecking order you have gone." If you hate someone so much that you can't even PRETEND to send them a personalised message, by cutting and pasting bits and pieces of a newsletter-type-email, and starting and ending it with a couple of paragraphs that have been crafted with an individual person in mind, then ask yourself - why are you contacting this person at all? Why not simply call it a day and delete them from your memory.

Because, in fact, family newsletters aren't really about showing that you care about someone at all. They are instead about boasting. One I recently received was almost like a parody of a family newsletter. It boasted about fabulous holidays spent with friends (all of whom probably got proper Christmas cards from the sender, and not an impersonal mass communication), amazing achievements (charity runs, grade 4 oboe - that sort of thing) and the amazing acheivements of their children (gifted of course and in the very best schools).

Christmas has gradually become degraded with negative qualities over the past few decades - commercialised, expensive, tacky, dragged out longer and longer, excessive. I am not religious at all, but the one thing about Christmas which I do appreciate is about being nice to people and showing them that you care. So send someone a proper card (13 centimeters!)

Sunday, December 05, 2010

Eye Fizz

My husband had Laser treatment on one of his eyes on Friday afternoon. We booked a 6th floor corner room in a nearby hotel, where he was to recuperate that evening. I'd had my own laser eye surgery almost a decade ago (date: September 12th, 2001 - talk about opening your eyes to a "whole new world"), and have enjoyed great vision ever since, so he was quite excited about "eye fizz day".

After the operation, he put on a massive pair of sunglasses and we emerged into the snow of Manchester, walking through a German Christmas market to get to the hotel. He can't have been in that much pain because the first thing he did was insist on getting Starbucks. I think that if people have had surgery, they should at least be indulged afterwards, so I'd bought some chocolates from Selfridges and he had a nice mixture of various ganaches and pain-killers while tucked up in bed.

Laser eye surgery has come a long way since I had it. He has been given a complicated regime of four different types of eye-drops, that have to be adminstered at different points (about every 30 minutes on average). So that's what I'll be doing for the next month. And unfortunately, I have discovered that there is no way that a man can give another man eye-drops on a crowded train platform, without drawing attention to himself. Still, he's experienced no pain at all, unlike me - who was transformed into a crouching, shrieking bitch within an hour, once the pain-killer wore off.

That night, television was out of the question so we did the crossword in the Manchester Evening News, then he asked me to entertain him by reading out the most depressing stories - there was a particularly tragi-comic one about a man who had kicked his partner with his wooden leg after flying into a rage when he'd misplaced his tobacco box. The fact that the police had been called out 67 times already, and that "she still loved him", made it verge on the tragic rather than comic.

We then listened to a CD of a Radio 4 Agatha Christie dramatisation called "Towards Zero", which I last read aged 13 and had no memory of. I am getting quite good at working out how Agatha Christie's brain works, and guessed "She always makes you suspect it's the most obvious person, then it turns out they have an alibi so attention goes elsewhere, but by the end it turns out it was the most obvious person after all." We ended up having a long disagreement over whether one of the murders actually was a murder. It involved an elderly and frail judge who had a heart attack upon climbing a staircase as the "murderer" had put a sign on a lift saying "out of order". My husband said it was a clear-cut case of murder, but I pointed out that nobody had put a gun to the judge's head and forced him to climb the stairs. Agatha Christie - still providing controversy in the 21st century.

I had been intending to look out of the window that evening and claim to have seen a wonderful display of celestial fireworks (as in Day of the Triffids). Then, in the morning I was going to pretend that the world had ended and he was the only person to have survived. My friend Tim had even suggested that I rub two cabbages together, in order to emulate the noise of Triffids outside in the corridor. But he woke up with perfect vision, so instead he tested his new eye by successfully reading all of the signs on the buildings opposite.

Now that I have a partner with good eyes, I am slightly worried that he will noticed that I am no longer in my 20s. You can get away with quite a lot when you know that you look like a post-impressionist print. Now that I'm in HDTV maybe I should start a moisturising regime...

Monday, November 29, 2010

What's your superhero skill?

I am currently a "Reader" at work. "What does that mean?" asked my mother. "I thought you write books, not read them!" I don't know why it's called that either, but it means that I have one more promotion to go and then I'll be a professor. One reason why I want to be a professor is that I've become a bit tired of saying "That's Dr Bitch to you!", when people call me a bitch. Saying "That's Professor Bitch to you!" sounds so much more original.

Actually, the real and only reason is the £10,000 pay increase which comes with it. Even with the chunks of tax, pension and NI that'll come out of it. That's an awful lot of big bars of Galaxy.

I work in a very large university department which has loads of professors so they're very commonplace in my life. I could walk out of my office, spit and hit ten of them without trying to. I'm often the only non-professor at dinner-parties. I've always seemed to work and socialise with people who are much more advanced than me, in all sorts of ways. I guess that's one way to keep you grounded and stops you from thinking too highly of yourself.

Even when I was in infants school and so proud to be on the "top table" for the geek children who did best in the weekly test, I was in awe of Kathryn - a seven year old virtuoso pianist with a computerised brain. I think she'd now be called "gifted". All I knew was that during lunchtime she would make enormous lists of all of the past participle verbs that she knew. And once, during art lesson, I was quite pleased at my drawing of Mr Tickle. She on the other hand had drawn "a picture of Kate Bush in an inflatable space suit". None of those words or concepts meant anything to me.

And she used to tease my obsession with the Mr Men by pretending to have read new Mr Man books that didn't actually exist "Oh, have you read Mr Star? It's great!"

When I got a bit older I discovered Helen Cresswell's "Bagthorpe saga" - about a family of three genius children, and one normal child, Ordinary Jack. I identified with Ordinary Jack.

This association with much brainer people than myself has carried over into my adult life. My husband has been a professor for ages. He's 8 years older than me and makes my achievements look pitiful. He's always done everything first and usually better. So I'm very used to playing second fiddle. Gay relationships in particular can become quite competitive, and although it's toxic to keep score, it's sometimes difficult not to. Especially if you're in a job which attracts competitive people and then further incentivises competitiveness. They don't say Publish or Perish for nothing. I think I realised that I was dating a scary genius years ago when I watched him playing that computer game Civilisation. While I struggled to keep about six cities on the go, he had about fifty all running simultaneously and effectively, while conducting ongoing and highly successful wars against the other computer players. He has the brain of Professor Xavier from the X-men. He knows everything, and his other special skill is that he can impersonate anybody, which has always kept me laughing.

At least I can console myself that I'm the pretty one. My special skill is my hair.

So my bete noir is Professor Brian Cox (born 1968, only four years older than me, with his own tv and radio programs and even a pop career in his past). Unlike most other professors, he still has a full head of hair, and doesn't seem to suffer from those levelling personality disorders that Mother Nature has seen fit to award people who are very clever at one academic subject. To my knowledge he doesn't have debiliting shyness, any facial or sexual tics or an inflated ego which manifests itself in pomposity, pontificating and primadonna-ish behaviour. My sister-in-law thinks he is gorgeous, but as a gay man with much higher standards for male beauty, I think that's going a bit too far. I will concede though, that he would be a difficult person to be in a relationship with. Clever people are supposed to be freaks. That's just the way things are. By being so normal, Brian Cox throws up the possibility that real X-Men can actually exist. He's part of a mutant super-race and must be stopped!

Thursday, November 25, 2010


I may have found a rival to my favourite weird 70s Euro group Shocking Blue. Meet The Rattles, a German group whose biggest hit was The Witch. Their pop video is like the Blair Witch Project and the Evil Dead. I especially like the blindfolded people reading German newspapers, although I'm also quite partial to the man pretending to be the Statue of Liberty standing in a pool. What does it all mean?

Monday, November 22, 2010

What would Rolf Harris do

I have been befriended by a group of artists recently. They operate out of an old warehouse in Manchester, and use words like "space", "installation" and "interactive". They are all terribly nice, and I don't want to spoil everything by saying "You know who's a good artist? Rolf Harris!"

Rolf is the anthithesis of contemporary art. I saw some of Rolf's wares in the "art" section of Fenwick's department store in Newcastle recently. A picture of a lion was on sale for £700. And it actually looked like a lion. Afterwards I went to the Baltic Centre for Contemporary Art. It is a huge space, formally an old flour mill on the River Tyne, which houses all the best most cutting-edgest contemporary art. There was a big dead palm tree on the floor of one room. I had no idea what it was about, but I wanted to scream "Rolf Harris" and fill that massive empty, silly space with the name of someone I consider to be a good artist.

Last week I went to the National Portrait Gallery and saw the Photographic Portrait Prize 2010. There were a wide range of photographs, and to be honest, I was a little shocked at a couple of them. One in particular was entitled Portrait of My British Wife (google it, go on, just don't do it at work) and showed a picture of a young women, not wearing any trouser bottoms. It won second prize and £3000. Faced with this picture, I suddenly came over all Mary Whitehouse and started thinking "But what about the children!" This article in The Guardian, a couple of weeks ago, sums up how I felt. Actually, forget the children. I didn't like seeing it. I like to be able to choose when I see a vagina. And I didn't fancy seeing one that day thanks. At least a verbal warning would have been nice.

I don't like art that tries to be shocking or challenging. It just makes me bored and turned off. It's so dreary and glum. And I don't like it when artists simply want to get a reaction out of someone, and they say "Oh, everything's a valid response!" So even my boredom is labelled as a valid reaction in itself and therefore a success for the artist who succeeded in getting a rise out of the audience. Even a non-response is a response. How clever and post-modern! I also don't like it when shocking art is used as a way to bring attention and fame to the artist. So someone pushes a boundary, puts a vagina where you weren't expecting to see it, someone else gets a bit flustered and complains, and then before you know it - success! Debate and controvesy occur, the gallery gets a lot more visitors and everyone wins apart from the person who complained, who now looks like a prudish twat. (I used the word twat here to show that I'm not prudish, and also as a "clever" reference to the piece of art itself).

So I don't get a lot of contemporary art. I keep going to the galleries. I read the descriptions of what the artist was trying to do. I try to think about the range of possible responses and all the different things that the art could mean. I can see how I'm supposed to get it. But it just comes across as trying too hard to be clever and challenging.

I think a lot of people don't like to say that because they're afraid they'll come across as thick. I'm quite happy to be called thick. I can quote Foucault, Derrida, Bordieu - all of them until you scream at me to stop. I can do "clever".

Yet I don't buy it. It all comes across as a big fake and I don't think that even the artist has a clue half the time what they're supposed to be doing. It just comes across as lazy and like the artist is taking the piss and then taking the money. Would that Portrait of My Wife have won second prize if the wife had been wearing trouser bottoms? Is the picture technically that good? Or did it get awarded because of that brave, controversial vagina? It looks like blagging, frankly, and you wouldn't be able to get away with it in most other fields.

I guess the artists don't care. What I've said is just another valid response to them. Someone could even make a piece of art by copying all of the words in this blog posting onto a giant canvas - and perhaps writing them in shit - just to make it all the more symbolic. But I wouldn't be impressed with that either.

If I had £700, I would have bought that Rolf Harris picture. It was pretty good.

A Truce, of Sorts, With My Hair

My hairstyle fluctuates. For almost all of my childhood it was a brushed forward look, designed by my mother and modelled on The Beatles "mop-top". Not content with naming me after TWO of the Beatles, my mother was determined that I would also look like them - all at once.

I had tried to cut it myself at 12 - got it tragically wrong and ended up having the whole lot shaved off (you try being the swot with a skinhead at school - thank goodness it grew back in about two weeks). I didn't dare do anything else with it until 15, when I gave myself a daring side-parting. People pointed at me during school assembly and whispered comments, but oddly one by one, all of the boys I hung out with copied my new "do" over the course of the week. For the first (and possibly only) time, I was a Fashion Leader.

By the time I got to university, the side parting had turned into a gigantic, out-of-control quiff, which added an extra 8 inches onto my height. I had been inspired by the boys of Beverly Hills 90210 and the lead singer of REM, who in turn had probably been inspired by James Dean. I cultivated the sideburns and Luke Perry's non-existent top lip. "Why are you doing that weird thing with your mouth" my friend used to say when he saw me looking in the mirror. It was unconscious, and humiliating to have it pointed out.

Around about ten years ago, the quiff got shorter and shorter, and I tried to get my hair to resemble Paul Clarke on Big Brother 2. This otherwise banal contestant spent hours applying bits of styling putty to his hair in order to give it what was known as the "Hoxton fin". This picture of him doesn't really do it justice, but you can see the rather toxic-looking amount of product in it.

It wasn't the sort of look that really let you lean back against soft furnishings without leaving an imprint, and it took ages to create. After about a week of putting stuff in my hair by the name of "Goop" or "Sticky Fish" or whatever, my hair would rebel and then refuse to do anything at all. It would stick up in all the wrong places. I kind of hated it. The only thing it had going for it was that it resolved the cow-lick that I have on the right side of my face, by making it almost non-existent.

Now I'm in my late 30s, it seems futile to even try to follow hair fashion any more. I see much younger males walking around with longer hair, all swept forward, in a kind of emo-Bieber-style. A nice thing about being so old that it no longer matters what you look like, is that there is a kind of freedom in that. So I've gone back to the old side parting. On a good day my hair now resembles the middle-aged lead of Any Human Heart. Or a Tory politician.

It doesn't need any product (hurrah!), and is long enough so that it doesn't stick up by itself at the back until about 4pm, as I found when I've tried shorter styles. And when I go into my recently remodelled art-deco inspired ensuite guest room, I actually feel like I'm a character in a lavish 1930s costume drama.

And sometimes, I've started wearing old man hats. "I am pleased", said my husband. "That other hat you used to wear, the 'cool' one, made you look a bit simple!"

Friday, November 12, 2010

Back to Back to the Future

In 1981 my parents rented a video player from the Rediffusion Store.

Did you have one of these in your house? We did.

However, my Dad (a bus driver) found his pay eroded over the course of that year (that's privitisation for you), and we had to send the video player back to the shop after our 12 month contract on it ran out. I was pretty devastated. Those next few years were like something out of a Dolly Parton song. My mother still reminds me of how during one particularly cash-strapped Christmas, when we couldn't afford presents, I told everyone "Don't worry, we'll just enter into the spirit of Christmas instead." (Are you crying yet?)

It wasn't until my mother got a job 6 years later that we were able to afford another video player. The first film we watched on it was Back to The Future. And none of us noticed the irony in the title.

That film made me obsessed with time travel. I couldn't wait to grow up and get out. I would make lists of things that I wanted my life to be like in the 21st century (with its shiny enormous wallscreens and even shinier people wearing silver clothes). The future couldn't come fast enough.

I did not like the 1980s. Being northern, working-class, poor, gay and an introverted swot, the country declared war on me in numerous ways, some which I wasn't even aware of until much later on. There was very little that was produced culturally during that decade that spoke to me (The Golden Girls being an exception). And I've spent the 20 years after the 1980s trying to ensure that if the 1980s comes back, it can never get me again. I am prepared.

But I've been getting sinister glimpses of the 1980s all year. Have you? Revivals used to come in 20 year cycles, but I think they've been getting faster and faster over the last decade, so now it's like we experience every decade all at once in a wave of multi-fluctuating retrotacity (I just made that word up).

But it's the 1980s that I keep seeing, out of the corner of my eye. It's almost like that hateful decade is a villain that was vanquished at the end of a horror film, I now feel like I'm at the start of the (less ground-breaking) sequel film (The 1980s Part 2), and the 1980s has somehow found a way to come back. 1980s cultists (The Tory Party) have invoked its spirit, and it's found a way back into our dimension. Again, it's the poor and the northerners who are going to be hit the hardest. All those public sector jobs in Newcastle, Liverpool and Manchester are going to be swept away. But don't think you can just sit around on benefits - they'll be taken off you also. And don't even think of going back to university, unless you fancy getting £50,000 in debt. Even yesterday's tuition fees riots felt like a rerun. And my own university has anarchists crawling out of the woodwork - they never really went away, they were just waiting, waiting for their moment.

Come to think of it, horror film sequels were a very 1980s thing anyway - so there it is again, seeping back into my consciousness, no matter how hard I try to make it go away.

Even Back to The Future is back again, celebrating its 25th anniversary. I keep seeing it everywhere.

This morning, as I turned on the car radio on the way to work, this was being played...

OK, so it was first released in 1978. But that saxophone refrain, heard so many times in the following decade, and inspiring of so many other saxophone inserts into 80s pop,
has come to represent a kind of short-hand for everything wrong about that accursed fucking decade - flashy, unironic and just plain naff.

And as it seared into my ears, I screamed, as if a serial killer had crawled into the back of the car.

Am I the only person who has a phobia of an entire decade?

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Clever Clogs

Hurrah for BBC4 - Britain's best (and only) channel for intellectuals. Its quiz show "Only Connect" prides itself on being horrifically difficult. It is hosted by Victoria Coren, professional poker player and broadcaster who writes articles about feminism in The Guardian (she doesn't like cheerleading, "They aren't doing sport. They are waggling their arses near boys who are doing sport"). She is like the scary school-teacher that you always want to impress, but generally fail to do so, no matter how hard you try.

In the game, contestants are presented with a wall of sixteen words or phrases and then have to put them into groups of four, based on what their connections to other words are. For example, "blue, red, yellow and green" are colours. But don't expect anything as facile as that to feature in Only Connect. You're more likely to be asked to figure out that four words are the surnames of villains in 19th century French literature (and discount another two words that are also villains in 19th century French literature but also refer to ditransitive verbs), or that all four words are palindromes or something.

My husband and me try to play along. We generally get zero points. Afterwards my husband (who's a professor) hangs his head in shame and shuffles off upstairs saying "That was a humbling experience!" If you want to be humbled too, you can play the online version, and get Victoria commiserating when you get zero.

Thursday, October 28, 2010

Paradise Drive

I saw the 1968 film Here We Go Round the Mulberry Bush which has been released on blu-ray by the British Film Insitute. The BFI have released a lot of rare 1960s films over the last couple of years, and they've provided a nice opportunity to wallow in the shopping centres and cityscapes of another era on Saturday evenings in the Odana household. Often, these films aren't actually very good, so the fun comes from noting small background details like type-faces in shop signs or hair-styles of passers-by. These films can often evoke painful feelings of nostalgia in me. The Mulberry Bush film was set in Stevenage, one of the "new towns" that was built in the 1950s as a result of the New Towns Act of 1946. I grew up in Peterlee - another new town, and Stevenage town centre looked very similar - boxy buildings, lots of open spaces, pedestrian walkways under roads and minimalist white fencing. There was something utopian about growing up in one of these new towns - apparently the area where I lived was nicknamed "Paradise Drive" by local councillors. Then came 1979 and the area suffered heavily from unemployment, drugs and crime. Thank you Mrs Thatcher. I won't be sending you any flowers when you die.

An extra level of nostalgia is provided by the lead in Mulberry Bush - Barry Evans, who played the teacher in the racially sterotyping sitcom Mind Your Language. Evans plays a sex-mad A Level student who spends most of the film trying to get women to go out with him. Later he graduated to the more explicit film "Adventures of a Taxi Driver". But he found it hard to get work after Mind Your Language, and actually became a taxi driver himself in the 1990s. He was found dead in 1997 at the age of 53, and although a teenager was arrested for his death, the charge was later dropped. Evans - so vibrant and full of life in 1968, seems almost emblematic of the way that some British new towns went wrong.

Saturday, October 16, 2010

Just like an episode of Sex in the City

I had a holiday in Jordan recently and got to fulfil a childhood ambition by swimming in the Dead Sea. It's a weird experience - the normal rules about being in water don't apply, and you feel weightless. It's very difficult to make your body horizontal. Because the water is so full of salt, it's imperative that you don't get any in your eyes, and if you do, you must resist the urge to rub your eyes - as it just makes it worse.

There were a large number of American marines at the hotel resort when we were there, wearing only swimming trunks (it felt like a scene from a particularly trite episode of Sex and The City and I kept expecting Samantha Jones to show up and say "Oh! Fucking!". I'm guessing they were on leave or on route to Iraq. One of them ducked his head under the water in the Dead Sea and was then blinded by the salt water and couldn't get out. "I hate the fucking Dead Sea!" he bellowed. His buddy said "Watch your language!" I like respectable marines.

Speaking of Sex in the City, I saw Kim Cattrall in Antony and Cleopatra last night at the Liverpool Playhouse. She managed to play the part without appearing like Samantha (she even had dark hair) - although quite a lot of the women in the audience had made their own special tribute to Samantha and had dressed (in)appropriately for the theatre. I love that Kim Cattrall is from Liverpool - my Scouse sister-in-law Alison is very similar to her in fact. During the break, I noticed a tiny round person, who looked like the psychic lady Tangina from the 1980s Poltergeist movies.

Tangina was asking staff whether Kim would be exiting via the stage door, and when the play was over, we saw her hanging around at the stage door, hoping to meet her idol. I hope the resulting meeting wasn't too traumatic for either of them.

I am watching the A-List New York, a rather toxic yet compelling American reality series about so-called A-Gays in New York. It centres around Reichen, a square jawed ex-military man and winner of another reality show The Amazing Race. Reichen is dating a Brazilian bisexual model called Rodiney (!) who speaks in broken English. However, there's an ambitious ex back on the scene (also a model - in the red-t-shirt above), who is now disgraced and fat (which means thin by the standards of everyone who's not caught up in this vapid world). There's also a celebrity hair-dresser and a celebrity photographer, and someone whose claim to A-List fame I can't figure out, other than he stands around sucking his cheeks in and being absolutey horrible and jaded about everyone in sight. He's 26 and I bet he has a hideous picture of himself in his attic. The whole thing is tediously contrived and the joke is that none of them are actually A-Gays - real A-Gays would never demean themselves by going on reality tv. It's very hard to write about the show without coming across as equally catty and bitchy as the partipants. Although the location is glamorous, the people themselves are completely commonplace, all recognisable types from my own, much more dull youth spent occasionally on various provinical gay scenes in the UK. It's somewhat reassuring to know that no matter where you go, the people don't change.

Friday, October 01, 2010

It gets better

Whenever I read about a gay teenager being bullied or hurt, I go a bit insane. I want to put on a superhero costume, swoop down on the bullies and kick them into outer-space. The recent spate of suicides of gay teenagers in America is shocking yet hardly surprising. The US still refuses to let gay people serve in the army, and most states don't have any formal recognition of same sex partnerships. Teenagers routinely use the word "gay" to refer to anything lame. American gay teens who are just discovering their sexuality don't even have a word to label their experience that hasn't been tainted with negative connotations.

The latest suicide is particularly depressing. Student Tyler Clementi jumped to his death from a bridge after his room-mate videoed him allegedly having sex with a man, and then streamed the footage on the internet.

Yet while the internet can be used for acts of evil, it can also be used for good. A project called It Gets Better is designed to give gay teenagers support and encouragement - people post up videos of their personal experiences, telling the teens not to give up, not to let the bullies win, and that their lives will get better. When I was 14, I felt completely on my own, and I wish there had been something like that project for me. So here's my video.

Saturday, September 18, 2010


The husband was away last night, so I had bottle of beer and too many Pringles. I fell asleep while watching tv, so decided to have an early night. At 10.50pm as I closed the curtains I noticed a big police van parked outside the house. I ignored it. Men have been resurfacing the road nearby and they've been closing off access, so I just assumed it was to do with that. When you live in a town centre you quickly learn to ignore a lot of things. Or you move to the countryside.

At 11.30 there was a loud knock at the front door, waking me up. It was the police. I remembered something my mother said years ago "If the police knock at your door at night, it's never good news."

"How many people are in the house?" asked the policeman.

"Just me." I said.

Things then went surreal. "There's a car parked up the road from you and we suspect there's a bomb in it, so we're asking all the residents to leave their homes for their own safety until we've been able to disable it."

I am naturally stroppy and difficult. "Are you forcing me to leave my house?" I asked.

"No, but we are strongly advising it."

"Oh alright." I grumped.

I dragged on my clothes and went outside. The street was full of bustle, with police and army running all over the place and communicating on walkie talkies. Someone had cordoned off the area with that plastic tape stuff. I had to duck under it to get to the "evacuee zone". Which was my local pub.

My area is mainly occupied by respectable elderly folk, so it was hardly suprising that I was the first one to arrive. Gradually the pub started to fill up. There was a jovial atmosphere. I exchanged emails with the husband and drank beer. At 1.30 am the policeman came back and said we could leave.

"Was there a bomb then?" I asked him.

He looked embarrassed. "No, but we had a lot of evidence that there was."

The bomb disposal robot traipsed down the hill. It looked a bit like a giant version of WALL-E. I took a photo of it and went to bed.

Turned out it was a car battery

Thursday, September 16, 2010

Pope off!

Child abuse is a terrible thing - and the Catholic church is guilty on two counts - acting as a paedophile ring for decades, and filling impressionable young minds with absolute nonsense about an invisible superbeing who can read your mind and will send you to hell when you die if you don't do everything his so-called representatives on earth tell you to do.

As you can imagine, I am hardly taken with the Pope's state visit to the UK. As Stephen Fry and others have argued, he's welcome to fork out for an EasyJet flight himself and pay for a National Express coach up to Scotland and back to London if he fancies - there are plenty of people who I don't like, but as long as they're spending their own money, there's not much I can do about it. But I do resent having my own tax money spent so he and his entourage can get gold star treatment. In fact, I took half an hour off work this afternoon as a protest.

I would much rather the money be spent on giving out free condoms to people. Or towards youth services for LGBT people. Or counselling for people who were abused by members of the Catholic church.

And as for your sidekick, Cardinal Walter Kasper, who compared Britain to a 3rd World Country - someone give him his own reality tv show. He's Secularism's new Best Friend. With people like that speaking on behalf of the Pope, atheists like me can put their feet up and have a Kitkat. Cardinal Kasper has been bumped from the visit, although the official story is that his gout is playing up. Gout? Are people still getting that? (Are people still using terms like "third world" for that matter?) I guess if you're stuffing your face so much that you have gout, then even a relatively rich country like the UK will look a bit "third world" to you.

Wednesday, September 08, 2010

I'm Just a Disco Baby

In the camply amusing film Throughly Modern Millie, Carol Channing sings the song "I'm just a Jazz Baby", where she describes how her parents where jazz musicians. However, as the film is set in the 1920s, and Carol is at least 80, she has clearly misrembered her childhood - she should have sung a song called "I'm just a Brahms Baby".

I, on the other hand, was born in the 1970s, and I am a Disco Baby. My favourite LP when growing up was this one.

I don't know why my parents bought it. They hardly ever listened to it. It had all the hits of 1977, and I played it endlessly. I thought that Baccara sounded impossibly sophisticated, glamorous and foreign, a bit like the Siamese cats in Lady and the Tramp.

I had an early homosexual awakening when David Soul sang Silver Lady. I had no idea what the "Indiana wind and rain" or "seedy motels" were, but he sounded so angst-ridden and down on his luck that I wanted to give him a cuddle and tell him to forget all about his silver lady.

And me and my sister used to run up and down the sitting room, dancing to The Brotherhood of Man's "Angelo". It was probably just as well that I didn't understand that it was about a suicide pact.

When the 1980s happened, I fell out of love with pop music. I didn't get electopop and all of the men either looked like Lady Di or had dour Scottish accents and seemed so cross.

It was like Margaret Thatcher was the Queen of Narnia and had taken all of my disco away. I think I spent the entire decade in a depression.

But thanks to the magic of the internet, it's possible to download the entire Disco Fever album onto my Iphone, one song at a time. Disco never really Died. It was just having a nap.

Wednesday, September 01, 2010

Nothing has been proved

This new government has only been in power for a few months, and there have already been three (yes three) "homosexual scandals". You can count on the Tories to be all repressed and hypocritical about sex, and after all those years of unimaginative, dour and shameless New Labour types, it's like a flashback to the 1980s. As the Pet Shop Boys lisped "Thcandal! Thuch a Thcandal!"

First was David Laws, who is technically Liberal Democrat. He resigned after three seconds when it turned out that he had claimed £40,000 expenses for renting rooms from his male partner. Then, it was Crispin Blunt (a name which sounds like a fictional flamboyant 1950s Cambridge spy) who has dropped the BOMBSHELL that he is gay (turns out his niece is Emily Blunt who was so camply wonderful in The Devil Wears Prada - I wonder if she can get him Meryl Streep's autograph?).

And even as the ink was drying on the Daily Mail over Blunt, there were onimous rumours that last Sunday's papers were going to reveal another huge gay Tory scandal. It was pretty easy to learn online that it was William Hague. I won't repeat some of the gossip I read about him, but it did raise my eyebrows (and as Divine said in Hairspray - I won't have to take my appetite suppressant tonight).

Today, the scandal unfolds. It turns out that Hague (49, bald) and his "special advisor", Chris Myers (25, attractive, thin, full head of hair) have been sharing hotel rooms together during campaigns. Here's a recent photo of them together. Do you think they make a lovely couple?

I must say, from a distance it almost looks like a picture of me and my husband (OK, so I haven't seen my 20s in a long time, but I said from a distance you bitch). I have no idea if either of them are gay, but Myers posture pings my gaydar (as does Hague's jeans - not very 49 year old Tory MP). They look like two A-Gays on their way to Waitrose to buy oranges for juicing for a fabulous dinner party (see my last posting).

Stranger still, Myers has resigned his position, citing "untrue and malicious allegations". Now, if the allegations are untrue, why would you feel the need to resign? Surely, you would hold your head up high, demand that the scurrilous rumour-mongers come up with proof, perhaps talk about suing them, and continue as normal. To resign... well it only raises further questions.

Hague has released a statement denying an "improper relationship", and pointing out that he and his wife Fion are doing very well, and have been trying for a child, despite her miscarriages.

There seem to have been a spate of stories about closeted men in the public eye recently - most of whom are in their 40s and 50s. As I said before, I have no idea if Hague is gay or not. But I wish these stories would just go away. If you are a closeted gay man in the public eye - for Chrissakes - just come out already. It's 2010. You are being very dreary. There is NOTHING to be ashamed of.

Tuesday, August 31, 2010

18 years of wedded bliss

My husband and I have been living together for 18 years. You'd think that after all this time we would have resolved all issues and problems and never argue about anything. Think again. Last weekend we had some friends visiting for the weekend. It was lovely to see them again and when we'd last visited them in Birmingham they'd cooked us a lovely meal, so I wanted to return the favour. We got in a range of different breakfast stuff - croissants, toast, cereals, juicing oranges, filter coffee etc. In the end, all they had was some cornflakes. That evening I commented on this to my husband and asked him "It's odd - did you offer them everything? Did you offer them the croissants?

Him: "Yes."

Me: "Did you offer them juice?"

Him: "Yes, I offered them juice."

Me: "Did you say it was freshly squeezed orange juice?"

Him: "No, I just said orange juice."

Me: "Whaaat? Why didn't you say freshly squeezed orange juice. No wonder they didn't want it. Nobody likes shop-bought orange juice.

Him: "That's ridiculous. It wouldn't have made any difference if I'd said it was freshly squeezed or not."

Me: "No! If you buy oranges for juicing, you should let people know about it. It's a way of making them feel extra special!"

Him: "No it isn't."

Me: "It is. You're hopeless."

Him: "You are deranged."

And so on.

Here's to the next 18 years.

Sunday, August 29, 2010

What's the secret?

I don't buy gay magazines (or any magazines for that matter) because they are the mental equivalent of poison ivy. They are filled with images of happy-looking, young male models with zero body fat and once they've got you both titillated and feeling bad about yourself, there are then pages and pages of adverts, info-adverts, reviews of stuff you can buy (so more adverts really) and adverts - all also featuring the same happy male models enjoying the products that you didn't even know about and don't need. But now buying them will scratch the dissatisfaction itch and stop you from feeling like such an old, fat, ugly, boring, suburban loser (never mind that someone in China just died after working another 17 hour day and the world is steadily getting hotter).

However, a game I sometimes play in newsagents is to check whether they sell gay magazines (even though I don't buy them), and if they don't, whether they sell straight porn magazines. So I normally get to see the front covers of gay magazines for free - which is probably all you really need.

This month Attitude magazine says it's found the "secret to being gay and happy. A new way of thinking that could change your life."

As I haven't bought the magazine, I don't know what this secret is. But I'm simply desperate to know. Until a nice reader spills the details, I can only imagine. Here are my 5 guesses - bearing in mind that this is Attitude's mental health issue.

1) Kill yourself when you're 30.
2) Have plastic surgery and move to London (technically two secrets)
3) Stop reading magazines (how did that get in there?)
4) Stay in the closet, become a Tory MP, have a lifetime of heterosexual privilege and then "come out" in 2010 by which point nobody except The Daily Mail really cares.
5) Madonna

Friday, August 20, 2010

It's So Cheap

Here is the schedule for BBC1 this Monday morning:

9.15 Heir Hunters
10.00 Homes under the Hammer
11.00 To Buy or Not to Buy
11.25 Cash in the Attic
12.15 Bargain Hunt

That's almost four hours of programmes (daily) devoted to buying and selling houses or bits of tat. These programmes are toxic. The line-up looks like it has been written by a 1960s science-fiction writer's view of a dystopian future where Britain has become a nation of profit-hungry golems. But unfortunately it's true. This is the world. These shows both construct and encourage Britons to be money-obsessed bargain-hunters, desperate to make a few pounds. As the channel which is supposed to best represent what Britain is about, they give off a message that the most important thing in your life should be to follow the capitalist dream of making money. We are a long way from Lord Reith's notion that the BBC should educate, inform and entertain.

Considering that the potential audience for these shows are people who are not working, they represent a wasted opportunity. The BBC should be making programs which engage with communities, address social issues and encourage people to try new things. It doesn't have to be depressing or expliotative like the Jeremy Kyle show over on ITV, and it doesn't need to be overly worthy and inaccessible either. But the lack of choice in daytime tv, on a channel that we have to pay a licence for is pitiful. Daytime tv producers - I'd sack the lot of ya.

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Obsessed with the Mitford Sisters

I've been reading The Mitford Girls by Mary S Lovell, a biography of the six Mitford sisters - a set of remarkable, beautiful, perplexing women from an aristocratic eccentric British family who were friends with "all society" and got themselves embroiled in British politics in various ways and caused scandal after scandal as well as becoming famous writers. Their father famously said "I am normal, my wife is normal, but each of my daughters is more foolish than the last" (He actually was only half right - he and his wife weren't particularly normal either).

It is pure soap opera, and if you don't know about them, it's well worth a read. The eldest, Nancy, perhaps became most well-known, as she wrote a series of funny "anti-romance" novels which were loosely based on her own family. I'd read these books a few years ago, but the antics that Nancy's characters get up to are tame compared to their real lives. Nancy was a terrible tease by all accounts and was always upsetting people, although her level of annoyance was nothing compared to some of her other sisters.

Diana, for example, was the most beautiful Mitford sister. Having left her first husband (in itself a scandal in repressed inter-war Britain) she then married Oswald Mosley - chief facist of Britain. At the outset of WWII, Nancy - outraged by her sister's facism, wrote to the government warning that the pair were a security risk, and that they ought to be imprisoned. Subsequently, Diana and Mosley were arrested and spent most of the war locked up in squalid conditions.

Unity - the Hitler groupie

Another sister, Unity, was perhaps the most extreme of all - born in the American town of Swastika and with a middle name of Valkerie, it was perhaps fate that she became obsessed with Hitler and travelled to Germany before WWII where she spent months stalking him until he eventually befriended her. She was the perhaps the only person in the world who was on good terms with Churchill and Hitler at the same time - and what happened to her is absolutely shocking (there have even been rumours that she gave birth to Hitler's baby). The equivalent today would have been if someone like Jade Goody had married Saddam Hussein.

Diana and Unity - scandlous!

Not all of the sisters were into left-wing politics though. One of the younger sisters, Jessica (known as Decca) became a card-carrying Communist and eloped off to America with her rabble-rousing beau, who was a nephew of Churchill. She then got involved in the American civil rights movement. I ended up feeling a bit sorry for Pam - who was relatively normal in comparison to the others, who made fun of her, calling her "Woman" because she was fairly domesticated. There was a brother too, Tom, who had the famous Mitford good looks and bad luck. In his later years he was sought after by women, although at public school he was popular with some of boys, causing all the sisters to burst out laughing when mother asked him if he minded sharing a bed with his school friend who was visiting for the holidays.

The sisters have all died (except Deborah I think), but there must be something about their family. Diana's son Max Mosley has recently been in the papers over claims (refuted) about a story involving prostitutes and what the tabloids labelled a "sick Nazi orgy". It's a shame Nancy isn't still around - there's definitely material for another one of her books there.