Sunday, March 27, 2011

Sunset at Morecambe

The clocks having gone forward finally, me and the husband took an evening stroll in Morecambe. Apart from a few recalcitrant teenagers, we had the whole place to ourselves as dusk fell.

Morecambe feels like an elderly, occasionally incontinent, much-loved relative who I feel guilty for not visiting enough. I have long stopped wishing that it could have a snazzy regeneration and turn into a hip and happening place. Instead, visiting it feels like walking through a huge open-air musuem. I think everyone who lives there should be made to dress in inter-war year clothing, and Gracie Fields should be piped from loud-speakers on every street corner.

And yes, if you look at that first picture, you will see the inspiration for the name of this blog. If you are ever in Morecambe, do visit it.


I never know what's going to appear in my garden from one month to the next.

Thursday, March 24, 2011

Goodbye Kaz

One of the people who commented on my blog was Kaz (Carol), a retired teacher from the Manchester area who had her own blog called Youngest Pensioner. She started blogging in 2005 when she turned 60, although I always felt that "youngest pensioner" described her outlook on life. Her blog profile was Patsy from Absolutely Fabulous.

Her postings became less frequent in 2010 and she reported that she had cancer. She remained upbeat and funny throughout this time, always responding to her many readers with humour and kindness.

Sadly, Kaz died in February.

She will be greatly missed.

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

My new celebrity boyfriend

Matt Baker - wholesome Blue Peter presenter (now presenter of The One Show - basically Blue Peter for adults), celebrity farmer, celebrity dancer.

He (not Anne Widdicombe) was the reason I tuned in every week to Strictly Come Dancing.

Dancing the Charleston to 42nd Street, wearing a fake moustache and slicking down his hair into a kiss curl... I'm ashamed to say, he had me at the unicycle.

And now... Matt Baker: sneaky political interviewer, putting the question to David Cameron that even Jeremy Paxman would have shied away from.

I'm from the same place as Matt (we were born in the same hospital), and one thing I always notice about people from the north-east of England (apart from their aversion to Conservative politics) is their frankness (sometimes disarming, sometimes disturbing). Matt, like The One Show, is well on the way to becoming a British institution.

When I was growing up, my Dad got me a load of second-hand Marvel comics. I found them a bit soap-opera-y and complicated to be honest, so I could never really appreciate them (there go my gay geek credentials), but I always found the adverts to be interesting.

I was a skinny teen who grew upwards rather than outwards. My parents were the type of people who simply name their children after pop stars, so I was called Paul after Paul McCartney (I guess it could have been worse - had I been born in 1991 I would have been probably called Vanilla Ice). There were always lots of Pauls in my class at school (more unimaginative parents), and teachers would sometimes find other ways to distinguish us. My best friend (also Paul), was called "Broad-shouldered Paul" by one teacher (who sometimes got a little inappropriate - that's another blog entry). But I always heard this with a sense of irritation that my shoulders were not broad enough to get this monicker. I was "Skinny Paul" by implication.

My skinniness came to a kind of peak around 1992 when, as a student, I had a terrible vegetarian diet (mainly cheese sandwiches) and took on a full-time summer job in a nursing home, lugging around obese pensioners. By the end of the summer, there was practically nothing left of me at 10 stone (140 pounds).

I moved in with my husband at the end of that summer (another blog entry), who professed it his goal to "fatten me up". He did a reasonable job. I've never really had to cook for myself (he claims he enjoys it), and I'm 14 stone. Now, in my late 30s, I can still easily lose weight, but I can put it on just as easily also - so it's a balancing act. I have long ago accepted that I will never have a Charles Atlas body, I'm happy to have "just" a healthy, reasonably toned body that works properly - and I sometimes feel a little sad when I see younger guys at my gym, their backs covered in spots, their skin all shiny, and their muscles out of control, clearly on steroids. Is it really that important to be huge? Even though I felt pressure as a teenager to be big, that is nothing compared to what boys nowadays have to face. Check out this advert for Captain America - the latest hunk-fest with Chris Evans.

I would love to see a film where a big muscle-bound lug goes into one of these machines and comes out with his muscles all shrunken away, but he now has this amazing personality and great intellect. He resolves world conflicts through his great diplomacy and wisdom, and counters global problems like world hunger by inventing new technologies. He even stops an asteroid smashing into the planet with one of his inventions.

And while many people, myself included, will find Chris Evans very attractive, it's a shame that so many Hollywood films foreground physical attractiveness and strength over other positive qualities.
My strange addiction

My new laptop came with some "free" games on it. Actually they weren't free at all. You got to play them for 30 minutes for free, then a little message came up saying "To continue you have to purchase the game.." I love that their business model is from drug-pushers. And after 30 minutes, I was addicted, so I had to buy the whole game.

The game in question was called Mystery Case Files: Prime Suspect. It's a "hidden object" game. You are presented with a complicated, confusing picture like this:

And you have to click on the objects in the little side-menu, while a clock counts down the time you have left. When you have found all the objects, you are given another picture, then another and another. This is all tied around the flimsiest of storylines, and sometimes, rather than a hidden object picture you have to play one of those sliding tiles games to make a picture or something similar. But that's almost irrelevant - it's the hidden picture which I get addicted to. It is best played as part of a team, alongside someone else.

My first thought on seeing one of these bizarre rooms was "How untidy! This must be the home of someone with mental health issues - a horder who cannot throw anything away." As you start to play the game though, you focus less on the weird clutter and more on appreciating how many objects are cleverly hidden in the picture. Left with just a harpoon and a surgical clamp to find, as time runs out, you are overcome with a mounting sense of anxiety. Your eyes scan the same bit of screen for the twentieth time, until finally, you realise that the innocent-looking chair you're looking at is not so innocent at all. That smudge your brain told you to ignore is actually a harpoon, tucked into one of the chair legs. You click on it, feeling mentally exhausted yet relieved, only to be told that you ran out of time and have to do the whole thing all over again, with new objects.

I finally finished Mystery Case Files and am now playing another of these stupid games, set on the Titanic. And that familiar sense of panic is returning. Where is the clown doll? Where?

Wednesday, March 02, 2011

My Big Fat Gypsy Parents

Two men at my gym last night were talking about ethnographic/car-crash tv show My Big Fat Gypsy Wedding. It's one of those prurient Channel 4 documentaries which feels a bit like a Victorian Freak Show. You're encouraged to goggle at women in kitschy wedding dresses, who make Jordan look shy and retiring.

I'm not really sure what I think about gypsies - I don't know any so I don't feel qualified to comment. I'm glad I'm not one, because I don't think they have much opportunity for career advancement, and gender stereotyping seems to be quite prelevant in gypsy culture. But apart from that, I say live and let live. However, these men were saying things that were more than a bit prejudiced. According to them, gypsies were thieves who took drugs and caused fights... "My friend bought a horse from a gypsy at Appleby Fair," said one man. "It was very docile when she bought it, but when she got it home it went wild. Turned out that the gypsies had drugged it, and she couldn't get a refund because the gypsies had all left by that point." Not really very nice, even if it was true.

Then one of them turned to me and said "You're not a gypsy are you?"

I thought, "Do I look like a gypsy?" So I said "Yes, actually, I'm very offended!" and then we laughed, and I thought nothing more of it.

I didn't know it, but it was a portent.

My parents phoned me this evening and said "We've got something to tell you." The something, is that they're moving to a caravan park. To all intents and purposes, I am now from a gypsy family.

Actually I'm not. It's a respectable caravan park, which doesn't allow children, and is mainly for retired people. There are peacocks, and the caravans are more like bungalows, rather than gaily coloured things that you can hook up to horses (drugged or otherwise). It is true that the site is in the middle of nowhere, and my mother will be a virtual prisoner there for several days a week when my Dad is at work (the nearest bus-stop is a mile away), but I can't see her doing a gypsy jig round a campfire, or selling lucky heather or anything.

But perhaps I should learn a few words of Romany, incase this is just the start.

And I can't get away from the fact that I feel like I just became a character in a sitcom - ultra middle-class snobby gay son and his even more middle-class, even snobbier, even more high-maintenance partner have to cope with parents whose recession down-sizing leads right to a trailer park. Maybe Channel 4 will be interested...