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.
I watched football

I have always referred to my partner as "my fella" on this blog. However, I've decided to start calling him "my husband". We've had a civil partnership and frankly, it's not good enough. I want full, equal-to-straights marriage - and if the law insists on being a slow-coach and won't give it, I'm just going to go ahead and call him husband anyway.

Anyhow, me and my husband are noted in our families as not showing any interest in football (or other sports). I know we are in the minority. My local news covers football extensively and will make a big deal out of the fate of various teams and "interviewing" fans (because their opinions count as news round these parts). And after some in-depth story about the transfer of some player to another team, the announcer will unironically say "And now, sports news..." I am always reminded of little Christina in the awful film biography of Joan Crawford (Mommie Dearest), seething "I (pause) am (pause) not (pause) one (pause) of (pause) your (pause) FANS!"

My side of the family have the highly strung sensibilities and occupations of delicate Edwardian lords and ladies, and would never watch a football match anyway. But my husband's side are a hearty, wholesome (slightly terrifying) lot, who follow matches and show a vicious team loyalty which is simply incomprehensible to me. I don't even know what team they support because most of my brain shuts down when they start discussing the details, but I do know that they take their supporting very seriously, it is very full and noisy, and I'm sure the footballers are grateful for it.

So it came as a source of amusement to them when I admitted to have watched some of Match of the Day on Saturday night. My husband was otherwise indisposed (in the garden with a telescope, looking for Jupiter), the internet had broken and there was nothing else on tv. Then I heard a familiar tv jingle and I was transported back to Saturday Night of 1978, which was when I last watched Match of The Day. (I remember that evening was a double failure - not only did I not "get" any of the football, I disgraced myself by being unable to whistle. I guess my parents should have just bought me a copy of Stephen Sondheim's Greatest Hits then and there).

Apparently, a local team (Blackpool) were doing very well, having scored four goals, and the Blackpool fans were going insane with glee in a way that would have made Kim Il Jung wish that he was able to inspire such feverish emotion and delicious over-reaction. Every now and then the camera would do a close-up on one fan, who looked like someone had said "I'll give you a million pounds if you act as excited as you can."

As for the other team (Wigan I think?) - well their fans were so incensed and disappointed, that dozens of them were shown filing out of the grounds, their heads hung low, even before the match had ended. As much of a hater I am, even I can see how very unsports(wo)manlike that is. That's another reason why I don't understand football. I like supporting losers - there's so much more pathos and understanding of the human condition if you watch the losers. Fans these days only seem to care if their teams are winning. I don't like to be the bitch here, but maybe if they worked a little bit harder at being successful in their own lives, then they wouldn't feel the need to vicariously experience victories through a group of overpaid men who Generally Don't Have A Levels. I'm just saying.

Thursday, August 12, 2010

Everything is Terrible

My new favourite website is Everything is Terrible, which contains a collection of "found" video clips, chronicling some of the most awful and inept fashions and ideas from the 80s and 90s and 00s, often edited down into a few succinctly awful minutes.

Here are my favourite recently terrible clips.

Hunks, hunks, hunks

Come with female drag queen "Tanya" to the Fantasy Club - a kind of early 1990s time-warp with steroided-out orange male strippers with Bon Jovi hair and bad dancing. "Are you guys as turned on as I am?"

HUNKS HUNKS HUNKS! from Everything Is Terrible! on Vimeo.

It's happening!

What looks like an innocent crime defence advert/docmentary/drama/public information film turns into something rather more sinister - a piece of mind-altering gun lobby propaganda! Listen to the repetition of the phrase "happening" - obviously a "trigger" word. After we see some hilarious dramatisations of break-ins (my favourite involves the blade-wielding over-actor who is over-compensating his male pattern baldness. Then the monotonal, deadly serious narrator enterains us with some "you don't say!" statements such as "owning a gun is an awesome responsibility", "you should never point a gun at someone you don't intend to shoot" and "once you pull that trigger there is no way whatsoever to call that bullet back."

Have you ever had a mountain top experience girls?

One of the reasons I don't like religion much is that I'm not a joiner, I don't like other people, and I don't like being told what to do - least of all by an imaginary friend in the sky. The language of religion "flock", "sheep", "follower" etc. turns me right off. So at first I thought this was an ironic critical parody of religious preachers and their North Korea-like insistence on unquestioning obediance. But it isn't! Our "Golden Girls" lookalike Becky Blackmom ("I've had a brush with cancer!") has a toy sheep as a prop and keeps saying "Baa!". She literally wants us to be sheep. Baa!

THIS is hip hop

I'm not sure I can even begin to explain how awesome this clip is. "Dina" is our dance instructor and her only mission in life is to tell us what IS hip hop and what isn't hip hop. Dina LOVES hip-hop: "This is me, this how I am, this is a lifestyle. This is it." And to demonstrate her 100% hip-hop credentials, she's wearing what looks like a pimped-up netball referee's costume. Very hip-hop. Dina was obviously a wayward child and still has lingering issues: "Growing up, my mom used to tell me all the time, stand up straight. Well you know what, I WAS standing up straight." I dread to think how she would have turned out had she not been saved by hip-hop.

THIS IS HIP-HOP! from Airwave Ranger on Vimeo.

Don't open the box

I think this is cut from a 1970s horror film. It begins when a bus conductor appears to have kidnapped a busload of children and is holding them hostage in his home. A mysterious-looking box is delivered, and out pops a sinister ventriloquist's dummy. The dummy and the child molestor then engage in a scary duet version of Justin Beiber's nightmarish "Baby". This might be the cleverest thing ever edited. Just don't have nightmares.

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

Brighton Beautiful

On my recent holiday, the hotel I stayed at in Brighton had lovely decoration, a four-poster bed and exotic smoothies for breakfast (rather than a thimble of orange juice). I have a slightly ambivalent relationship with Brighton (similar to that of London, but more extreme). In the mid-1990s I enjoyed visiting it as it was one of the few places in the UK with a higher concentration of LGBT people, and there was a relaxed, holiday atmosphere. This still feels like the case. As tolerant as people are nowadays, I still sometimes feel "noted upon" when my partner and I venture down for breakfast in a hotel and are the only same-sex couple. Sometimes it is nice not to be constantly in the minority (and there are very very few gay couples in the town where I live - in fact, some of my friends left Lancaster to move to Brighton for precisely that reason).

So Brighton continues to be a relatively tolerant place - and it was nice to feel "ordinary" for the day that we stayed there. Actually, we ended up feeling very ordinary - to the point of being dull. Because it seems that everyone in Brighton wishes to present themselves as somewhat eccentric and fascinating. White boys walk around with rastafarian hair. Women in their 60s have dyed their hair maroon. Transvestites and pre-op transexuals abound with more confidence than in more judgemental cities. On my last visit to Brighton I had tea with Letitia, a super-annuated escort who dressed like Mae West and left me feeling that I had spent my entire life watching TV. Brighton doesn't do dull.

So if you want to "express" a more outre side of your personality, then Brighton is probably the best place to do it. This is the forward-looking city that has the only Green MP in the UK and boasts Julie Birchill - a fountain of controversial opinions. Middle-aged gay couples are utterly unremarkable, and at a couple of points I felt like I had become a different sort of minority - the boring ordinary person, surrounded by colourful, larger-than-life characters who seemed to have stepped right out of a musical and only required me as their audience. At Brighton Museum, I read a quote from a street juggler who had worked there in the 1990s. He said that he'd gone all over the UK and that in most cities, people were too self-conscious to watch his act. This was not so in Brighton, and he would always get crowds. And that struck me as the key to Brighton - people there are not so much unself-conscious - I think they are very self-conscious - but unlike most British people, Brighton people enjoy attention. They are practically American in this respect.

Aspects of the hotel we stayed in were slightly challenging too. The booklet in our room told us that the managers could "source" us the very best wines or sex-toys (!) Additionally, we could order a "love hamper" for £50. We didn't enquire what would be in it. Suddenly, the enormous mirror propped up at the side of the bed took on a different meaning. Coming down to breakfast in the morning, we expected to see people wearing leather hoods, but they must have left them in their hampers. However, we were treated to a different display of Brighton specialness - the fussy eater.

"I am CELIAC!" announced a middle-class lady to the waiter (and the entire room). "I telephoned the hotel several weeks ago and told them that I CANNOT TOLERATE GLUTEN at all. I would like some toast, but it must be made on GLUTEN-FREE BREAD. And it cannot be made in a toaster that has been used for ORDINARY BREAD. This may result in CROSS-CONTAMINATION and I would become VERY ILL." And so it went on.

This article on today's BBC news suggests that maybe some people are being diagnosed with food allergies and they don't actually have them. It's funny, but I don't know any working-class people who have food allergies. It seems to be only something you acquire once you start earning more than £40,000 a year.

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

The horror

My sister introduced me to a board game called Arkham Horror recently. You play an invesigator in the fictional town of Arkham in the 1920s. The game is based around the stories of HP Lovecraft, which I have written about before here. The stories usually involve investigators discovering horrible monsters from other dimensions, along with cults which worship them. They often end up insane or dead by the end. Collectively they paint a bleak picture of a random, nihlistic universe, populated by hideous, idiotic yet almost indestructible "gods" who don't really care much for humanity.

The game closely sticks to the spirit of the Lovecraft universe. You wander around various locations of Arkham as gates to other dimenisons open all over the place and monsters pour through them. You have to close as many gates as possible before time runs out - otherwise you have to defeat the final "boss" monster. It's a co-operative game, so the players have to work together and strategise their moves and abilities accordingly. So one person might be sent through gates, another might be good at killing monsters, while another may be sent round curing players who have gone insane. In every game I have played, we failed to close the gates and ended up unleashing the horrific boss at the end, who always kills everyone. I guess HP Lovecraft would have approved of such a dismal result.

It is also the most complicated game I've ever played. There are dozens of stacks of cards and so many different rules and exceptions and modifiers to dice roles, that even doing a simple thing can take 10 minutes of consulting the rule book and arguing with the other players when no rule is found to cover something. It is also very easy to lose track of all the different things you have to remember to do. So my character got "blessed" at the church, which meant that she had a better chance of success when rolling the dice. However, at the start of each turn, she had to roll another dice to see if the "blessing" had worn off (it wears off if you roll a 1). I kept forgetting to do that, which probably meant I suceeded at killing some monsters when I probably shouldn't have. My character was a shrivelled old author called Gloria Goldberg.

She was a bit hopeless really and I was envious of the other players who had tougher characters who were private detectives and could actually fight things. Although it wasn't helped by the fact that flying monsters kept swooping down on poor Gloria whenever she found herself alone in the streets. Fortunately, while she was exploring some caves she managed to find herself a big hulking man-friend (no accounting for taste) who protected her from the worst of it, and for a while she had a shot gun which helped a bit. None of it was enough to save her against the god Hastur who manifested himself over the whole time at the end and pulped her, along with everyone else. Oh well.

Saturday, August 07, 2010

Holiday highlights

It feels as if I've been away for 2 months, although it's only 2 weeks. My "south coast touring holiday" began with two nights in Bristol, after which we went to Burgh Island (see posting below). Then it becomes a bit of a blur, but I think the order was Torquay, Bournemouth, Brighton, Eastbourne, Hastings, Canterbury, Cambridge and Leeds. Between hotels we also visited Dorchester, Portsmouth, Beachy Head, Rye, Battle, Ely and York. Below are a few highlights.

Lighthouse at Beachy Head. This was used in the BBC series The Lives and Loves of a She Devil. "Mary Fisher lives in a high tower on the edge of the sea..."

It might look like a field, but this is where the Battle of Hastings took place. And if Harold had won rather than William, I probably would be typing this in something closer to an Ingvaeonic West Germanic dialect rather than what ended up as English. I doubt that concepts like post-modernism, hair straighteners and Boris Johnson would even exist.

Lamb House at Rye. This was the home of author Henry James (who I'm not interested in) and EF Benson (who I am). Benson wrote the fabulous Mapp and Lucia novels - which are about a series of genteel battles for social supremacy in the fictional village of Tilling (actually Rye). Lamb house was "Mallards", the most desirable house in all Tilling, which was owned first by Mapp and then Lucia. I've wanted to visit it for 20 years. Sadly, the famous "garden room", where the ladies did all their spying got bombed in WWII, so it's just a wall now.

Bagpuss display in Canterbury Musuem. Guaranteed to melt even the most stony heart, and reduce more sentimental people to nostalgic tears. You can guess which one I was.