Tuesday, 29 December 2009

Saturday Night Entertainment Hits A New Low: An Unusually Review-led Article Based on Abhorrations of the Game Show Variety

The general public are largely looked upon as idiots by those pretentious enough to call themselves "above" the mooing mob. People who stand at bus stops, people who buy televisions, people who queue up in supermarkets, even people who walk down pavements, sometimes it's nice to believe that they're all complete dimwits with a boring job and a slightly unsatisfactory life that they don't even realise is unsatisfactory because they're too STUPID. DUUURR! What a bunch of dum dums! Look at them with their faces and their pints and their iPods. Bloody imbeciles.

Of course, this is a completely ridiculous way to view the world. Sure, I hate people, I never deny this fact to anybody, but I like to think I have good reason to do so. I have many an undiagnosed deep-rooted psychological impairment/extra chromosome/general unwarranted feeling of superiority, but so far my doctor has refused to believe me. Her exasperated sighs are becoming irritating. "You have not got Alzhiemer's, Katie" she says, showing me the door. "Other people are uncomfortable in social situations too, I swear that you are not Autistic." I'll show her. One day she'll find a massive tumour in my brain, then who's the paranoid hypochondriac? So, when I say I dislike people, I'm not dismissing them all as floating plebs in a scummy puddle of earthly disappointment. A lot of people are fun, or challenging, or even better, a lot like me. The worst type of person however, is one I haven't discussed properly yet. The type of person that despite all their faults and intensely annoying nuances still believes that they are fantabulous, and the rest of the population are total and utter sludgebrains. This is not me, please don't make that correlation.

The obsessively self-loving type of person was once described to me by an old friend as having a special sort of superiority problem, known only to them, and now you, as the "Entitlement Complex". There are clearly two groups of these types of people at work against each other over on channel 5. (or "5" as it likes to be known, as "Channel 5" brings to mind terrible foreign soaps and tasteful documentaries with "sex", "tits" or "megaviolence" in the title. Deleting the "channel" has succeeded only in reminding us that "5 US" exists, and makes us less likely to watch our own version of the channel.) I am no fan of game shows, and I never have been, ever since the death of Big Break on the BBC. I was too young to know how awful Jim Davidson really is. But over on "5", some trumpeting TV execs have come up with a format so ultimately flabbergasting it breaks new ground in how self-congratulating a person can be. Heads or Tails. It sounds exactly like something from TV Go Home. In fact, it was almost a third forseen by Charlie Brooker himself, during his descriptions of Deal or No Deal. The makers of Heads or Tails obviously saw this comparison and thought "wow, what a fan-TASTIC idea! Let's do it!" I'm not sure you need an explanation on the intricate workings of Heads or Tails, but basically members of the public (the Entitlement Complex type, who often feel they have been blessed with some sort of psychic power) stand at a suitably flashing podium in a futuristic but economical set, and decide whether the coin that JLC (Yes - that's Justin Lee Collins, the man-lion-arse who brought the Bristolian Accent into the forefront of Comedy Gold, when it clearly should have been Steven Merchant) has tossed in front of them has landed on heads or tails. Yes, you are watching Justin lee Collins toss on telly, and you are watching people get very excited about it. And this is a real TV show, remember. I had to keep pinching myself to see if I hadn't gone into some sort of medicated dreamworld. We are entering 2010, a year of LASER BEAMS and BLUE RAY and GEISHA ROBOTS. If the 80s could see us now, with our pitiful Christmas TV schedule and our inability to use touchscreen technology properly, if they could see that we still watched both Crocodile Dundee 1 and 2 this week despite having a world of entertainment at our disposal, if they could see that we were sat in front of our HD ready digital 44 inch LED telly watching a hairy man flip a coin, they wouldn't bother to end the cold war.

I know I bloody wouldn't. Would you? What a fucking disappointment. The Millennium was meant to be a time and a land far removed from anything we'd ever seen before. Will Smith even wrote a song about it. We were that excited. Instead, we have global warming, recession, Rabbit Chat TV, animal extinction, deadly viruses and Heads or Chuffing Tails. Happy New Year, ffs.

Tuesday, 15 December 2009

"This is bigger than climate change. It is a battle to redefine humanity etc"

Over the past month, I've been swamped with an amount of work befitting a full-time paper collector who enjoys stacking lined A4 with meaningless alien scribbles next to his desk in an attempt to absorb the information without actually reading it. As a result of this, I haven't read a single newspaper that didn't have an exclamation mark or "HORROR" written as the headline. I'd like to say that I was artistically "slumming it". The truth is, the Sun was readily available at work in the staff room and it was easy to read at the same time as checking my emails on my horrible, awful, hateful Mobile phone and eating pasta carbonara. I'm a terrible student journalist.

It's not all bad though. When I had time, I glanced at the Guardian's twitter updates. Once or twice I even clicked on their homepage to see if I'd missed out on a world-changing event. The weird thing is that no matter what day I checked it on, nothing seemed to have gone on. Do you ever get the feeling that sometimes news stories are hysterical ways of saying "nothing much happened today"?

Wait, no, I'm pretty sure i don't mean that. I'm just suffering from complete news fatigue. When you study the news as part of your everyday work, look at it, really look at it, the way the news is written starts looking very similar. This is obviously to do with the standards journalists have to use when writing news stories - I don't suppose the public would be very happy if they started reporting forest fires with witty panache. It just feels slightly disconcerting when you've slept for 4 hours and you're back in front of a screen and George Monbiot's saying something about global warming. He's always saying something about global warming. If I'm not mistaken, he's always saying the same thing about global warming. "The climate denial industry is out to dupe the public. And it's working", "The one thing depleting faster than oil is the credibility of those measuring it". I'm not having a go, I'm just confused and bewildered. I care about the environment, and due to my horrendously hypochondriatic nature, I worry about everything all the time, from house fires to getting little bits of dust in my tea (one of my greatest fears), but he somehow seems to make me care less about the biggest threat to humanity since the Ice Age or the invention of saturated fat. I no longer care about the Copenhagen Conference - as far as I'm concerned it couldn't have come at a worse time. I had three major deadlines and Christmas was so bloody near I could smell the Parmesan roast potatoes and chestnut stuffing (I'm cooking Christmas Dinner this year, a task I have been planning for since October. Holidays are Comin', Holidays are Comin'...). There was no time for me to get increasingly worried and write a ridiculously tears-in-eyes fists-to-the-sky monolith of a blog post about it. I simply missed it. And the world did not end.

I know it's in my negative nature to constantly look for the worst possible outcome at all times, but my work recently made me see something. After all the work you do writing a perfect article, how many people go on to read it? How many people notice the hard work you put in? And how long does it take them to forget about it? It's not like journalists are out there writing seminal novels every day, these talented wordsmiths (urgh, I hate that term) spend agonising hours picking the best possible words to convey their point, only to have them scanned briefly on the tube and then discarded by a person who has to now get on with 'real life'. It's somewhat INCREDIBLY DEPRESSING, don't you think? Of course some journalists get to compile their articles in books, ready to be bought by rabid fans. By 'some journalists' I mean 'Charlie brooker'. Who isn't even a journalist, if you think about it. I only started thinking about this because of research I was doing on the 'fade effect', a phenomenon used as a defense in court by newspapers who print too much information about criminals who have yet to be fully charged with any conviction. Basically, the thought behind it is that the public consume news, but then instantly forget it. Basically, newspapers are like a temporary entertainment form for us shumbling sniffy bipeds, giving us something to read on the way to work. As soon as we have to get on with something real, we forget most of the details. This of course isn't particularly true in cases where you actively care about a story or issue, but you're unlikely to begin rallying troops for a campaign group against a common crook. Whether or not they were found guilty yet. Unless you're writing on CiF. but that's a whole 'nuther rant altogether.

I'm looking forward to sitting down on Sunday and having the time to read an entire Observer. I'm hoping to get back into the swing of reading the news. it's ever so distressing to live in constant belief that you're having Deja Vu, when all you're actually doing is picking out an inverted pyramid rather than taking in any information. Ooh look, "Petrol prices Push Up Inflation". What a gem. I shall write a personal email to the journalist who created this story and commend them for picking such descriptive language.

Kidding. I don't compliment people. Jesus, where have you been?

Wednesday, 18 November 2009

Living an Adult Half-life

Checking wholegrain speciality bread for superficial signs of age before ramming it in the toaster. Rinsing out yesterday's mug for another cup of ridiculously overpriced assam. Gazing at the aftermath of yesterday's potato dauphinoise non-event all over the kitchen. I'm living somewhere in the middle of grown-up civilisation and squatter's squalor, and what's worse is that I've only just realised it. It took scraping a kilo of potatoes-worth of peelings from the breadboard in the kitchen before covering my toast in golden syrup to discover that I've got one foot in my thirties, and one foot in my teens. Lying next to full ashtrays and empty Desperados bottles are pizza boxes, the remnants of home made Guinness stew, scatter cushions and ornamental elephants. As we speak I'm occasionally drawn to my reflection as shown in the Southern Comfort branded mirror, next to a floral address book and Nigella Lawson's "How to be a Domestic Goddess" (I was taking notes for Christmas dinner). My home is filled with the sort of awful juxtapositions you'd see in a final year media student's film about adulthood. As with nearly all the situations I find myself in, I feel like a pretend person, a character used in the background to portray the disintegration of society or some other such bollocks. Read the media student's report on the film project, it's probably got the words "cliché" and "paradox" scattered recklessly across it. If I was a dramatic person, I would now claim this was "JUST LIKE MY LIFE". But I'm not. So I won't. I will say, however, that I need to sort something out, even if it's just the washing up.

When you're a kid, being a grown up seems like something that happens once you have your 21st birthday. You suddenly wake up in sensible clothes - possibly a chiffon scarf or a Hobbs trouser suit - and go to your jobs, knowing everything and able to deal with any and all situations in your path. After all, as every child knows, mums and dads know everything. If they didn't, how would they be able to answer every question that popped into your head? Being an adult must be brilliant. All that knowledge. All that power. It doesn't quite work like that though, does it?

I've been having a few "oh my god, sort it out" epiphanies lately. One occurred to me late one night as I sat on my bathroom floor, sick from actual illness rather than alcohol imbibement, which I hadn't experienced since I was at least 12 years old. Reeling and upset, all I could think about was being looked after. Who would clean up? Who would get me a drink of water? I didn't want to wake Andy up, and the last time this had happened my mum had used her sixth sense to wake up and rush to the rescue. These aren't the thoughts of a 21 year old. I'm a child. So aside from feeling sick and generally disgusting, I felt a big wave of Fail wash over me - I still wanted my mum when I was poorly. I moved out nearly five years ago.

Another such epiphany cracked me on the back of the head while I was shopping last week. I needed a new winter coat, and I was agonising over spending £40 on one item of clothing. "That's how much coat's cost" I told myself. "It's actually quite cheap, feel the quality". Still, in the back of my head I could hear a disapproving voice chiding me for my choice in outerwear. "You'll have to wear it all year," it warned me. "Will you still like it next November?" Total bumwash, I'm sure you'll agree, because after I had the necessary panic attack at the cash desk and got it home, I realised what a stupid thought process that was. I have a job. It's my money. If I want a new coat next year, just because I own one doesn't mean I can't just get another. People own more than one coat. I'm no longer 7 and being dragged around town for my annual back to school Clarks and BHS supplies mission. If it doesn't last me, I only have myself to blame. Fuck it. Spend your money on what you want. Stupid motherly conscience. Why can't I have one of those passive ones that only show up if you're about to charge round the centre of town with a machete?

Being a final year student places you in all sorts of strange situations, so really its no wonder that most feel neither here nor there. After three or four years at your chosen university, even the most hardened independent soul begins to feel somewhat homesick. Meal times become more childish as fish fingers, chips and beans have to suffice due to enormous workloads. Huge responsibilities at work at uni pile up, and rather than rising to the challenge as you assume you will do in your formative studying years, you realise it's a struggle, and all you want is your old bedroom and your mum's mashed potato. Duvets and pyjamas become your best friends. Every day off is spent mainly in bed or in front of increasingly psychopathic daytime TV, making it seem slightly surreal, much like being off school with a minor illness. You feel distinctly adult and can no doubt cope with the pressures, but every so often you take a step back and realise you're wearing a jumper with a cat on it and are making plans to spend your friend's birthday dressed up as Gromit or Postman Pat or Myra Hindley and you suddenly feel tiny again. The worrying feeling is that once you leave university, things will stay the way they are; that you'll remain a perpetual child, forever putting off that Winter Skincare Dos and Don'ts article, going down the pub instead of washing your clothes, and piling up work under DVD cases instead of actually getting on with it.

I don't want to know if that's real life yet. I'm trying to escape it as much as possible for the time being.

Saturday, 14 November 2009

A Week's Work

And it still happens to be the world's worst title for a journalism dissertation.

Louis Theroux, Charlie Brooker, David Frost and Claudia Winkleman all walk into a bar – Is blurring the line between Journalists and Personalities a Sacrifice to Credibility?

Hands up who thinks I should have deferred.

On the plus side, I've nearly finished my proposal. I'm sure the carnival is ready and raring to go. You guys. You shouldn't have. (If there isn't a float shaped exactly like the Daft Punk triangle, then you really shouldn't have.)

Monday, 9 November 2009

Interview with Janine Griffiths of LUAF 28/10/09

The Leeds branch of the Unite Against Fascism action group are always happy to speak with anybody about what they do. Their branch meetings around the area may be small but have been growing in popularity in recent months, and protests led by the UAF often call in more than a thousand supporters. On the 31st October, 2009, LUAF held a protest outside Leeds art gallery to oppose the EDL (England Defence League) who were holding a protest of their own on City Square, against, in their own words, "Islamic Extremism in Britain". Although trouble in Leeds remained at a minimum throughout the day, tensions were high, and the opposing ideologies protesting in such a small area as central Leeds stood to highlight the growing separation between political beliefs in the North.

Janine Griffiths is a leading member of Leeds Unite Against Fascism, and over a cup of tea in a pleasant city cafe she answered a few of my questions about the increasing popularity of both her beliefs and those opposing them since I last spoke to her before the European elections, as well as addressing some issues that the UAF have raised in the press.

Since the BNP won seats in West Yorkshire during the European elections, have you seen any changes in the attitude towards them in this area?

Not particularly in this area, I think there’s been a national change in attitude towards the BNP which I think is quite unfortunate. Since they won seats in the European election they have been invited on Question Time, and I think that's really helped to boost their image. I can’t remember the exact figure, but I know that Nick Griffin did boast that there had been an increase in interest in their party since they were shown on the BBC.

Do you think the BBC were wrong to let Nick Griffin air his views on National television?

I think they were absolutely wrong, many people say that they’re just exercising their democratic rights, but the truth is they’ve already been allowed to share their views in newspapers, why should they get more of a hearing than, say, the green party?

Did anyone from the Leeds UAF group attend the protests outside the BBC?

A few of the people from Leeds did go down to the protests at the BBC, because at the end of the day, they’ve got a convicted criminals as part of their party. They’re treated as a credible party, but really, they’re not.

Do you think sometimes the UAFs tactics can be counter-productive towards their cause?

No, not at all. There probably have been a few incidents where people have jumped on the UAF bandwagon and have started trouble, but you get that in almost any protest. The UAF as an organisation want to counter the BNP. Sometimes the advice from other parties is “ignore [the UAF], don’t attend the marches” and this year the police did advise people not to attend the marches, but to be honest I think the UAF has done a lot of work to try and get them [the BNP] out.

Was the storming of television centre a PR coup or a PR disaster?

I think it was more a PR disaster. I think anything the UAF do is going to be a PR disaster because we are seen as the extreme left, which we’re not really. We don’t want a – not an openly-fascist but certainly a racist party - parading round and gaining power.

What are your opinions on why the North seems to hold the most support for the BNP? Why did Nick Griffin claim that had the Question Time he appeared in been filmed in a northern town, he’d have had a lot more support?

First of all I think the North has more traditionally run-down working class areas, and not a lot of money is being pumped into them. It’s fairly easy for the BNP to then whip up paranoia in the people who live there. Secondly, you also get here the petit-bourgeois members of society – they’re not rich but they’re in a position where they’ve got businesses and they are feeling the effects of the recession, and recent polls have shown that the vast majority of the BNPs followers come from these types of people.

Have you got any thoughts, on the instability that’s been reported within the BNP since Nick Griffin’s quite disastrous the BBC QT appearance?

It depends, really, on their future performance. There’s always been a split within the BNP, with those who still support the old-school Mosely views , and those who want to appear more respectable. It depends really on whether they get a new figurehead, and what type of a figure head they become. Really though, I think that whether they are open about their old-school views or whether they stay with Nick Griffin or another person just like him, I don’t think the BNP will change much, or gain anything from a change in leader.

Why do you think people are still voting BNP as a protest when they’ve already seen that this can get them into power?

I don’t know if it was a matter of the BNPs votes increasing, or whether it was just a lack of votes in general that won them their seats. I also think their position has been helped by a lot of people’s fears about this so-called “influx of immigrants” which I don’t think has been helped much by the right wing press. And so I think a lot of people were pushed because they feel that Labour doesn’t do enough for them, when in fact Labour have brought in some of the most draconian measures out of any EU country to deal with immigration.

Where do you think the BNPs views have stemmed from? Why?

Well, I’d have to say two things to that – the first thing is that the core membership of the BNP is made up of fascists and racists, there’s an anecdote Nick Griffin once told about his school librarian asking him is he was a socialist and he said “yes, I am a socialist, a National Socialist”. It is people like that that make up the hardcore of the BNP party. Wheras the rest are just made up of people who are dissolutioned with Labour and feel that they aren’t really representing them.

Has there been an increase in activities by more extreme Right Wing groups such as the BPP and the EDL? Do you think they are bandwaggoning on the BNPs success?

I think they’re definitely bandwaggoning, although I think the EDL are linked to the BNP, so whenever the BNP win votes in an area, the EDL will always follow up with a march. Right wing groups have definitely been given more confidence from the BNPs little successes.

How do you think the EDL will react to Anti-Fascist demonstrations being held on Saturday (31st October) at the same time as their protest?

I think they’ll react the same way as they always do, by making advances, shouting racists remarks. I hope it won’t turn violent, but with thugs like that you never really know.

So do you think it will be like in Birmingham when they were throwing missiles into the crowds?

I think it’ll be very similar to how it was in Manchester where I don’t think they were throwing things if I remember correctly although a few of them did start trouble...so they were sort of jeering at people and gearing up for a fight.

Do you think they should be allowed to partake in public demonstrations?

I think the people of the BNP already have a right to air their views, but the EDL should be banned simply because most of their demonstrations do turn violent. They went around smashing up Asian-owned shops, throwing things through the windows.

Have the views in the area changed since your campaigning before the European Election?

Definitely people are starting to realise how serious the threat is of the BNP, so we held an anti-fascist meetings and I started one up in Chapel Town and chaired the meeting there, and a lot of people are really starting to realise the seriousness of the situation.

What are your next steps to spread the anti-fascism message?

Well, the UAF are going to hold extra branch meetings. We also go into working class areas and try to speak to people about what the BNP really mean.

Tuesday, 3 November 2009

Time; the lack therof - a pretentious title for a self-indulgent whine.

There isn't enough time for my laziness any more. I used to spend my days largely dressed in variations on a pyjama/slouchy sportswear theme, watching Frasier and re-tweeting "funny" youtube videos. Should I have been feeling somewhat energetic, perhaps I'd type out a blog post, or even read a book. Then, I'd either cook some tea (because by the time I'd gotten dressed it was either 5pm, or time for me to get ready for work) or go to the pub. Summer holidays life was grand.

Now that I'm back at university, I expected the good times to remain, for at least one or two days of the week. It turns out, however, that third year university students have literally all the books in the library to read, plus photocopied handouts, plus assignments every week and deadlines round every corner, looming overhead like a giant fucking Albatross. An albatross dressed as Death, circling rather claustrophobically close, occasionally brushing your cheek with the tip of it's oppressively large wingspan. Deadlines are killing me. What's worse is that I've been doing nothing about them; simply feeling overworked to the point of complete un-motivation, and then staying up all night, worrying that I didn't do any work. The world's biggest failure at being a workaholic. I can't stop thinking about writing, or working, or potential stories and angles. The problem is, the only time I have to do the work I imagine up for myself is during my few afternoon hours after university, by which time I'm so lethargic and sick of books that I simply slump into my spinny-round chair and watch endless episodes of Seinfeld. And so the cycle of looming deadlines continues.

I'm not complaining about my workload - goodness knows everybody in my year is in the same boat - I guess I'm just using this premise of slightly-humerous incompetance to apologise for my lack of blogging material, and to explain my increasingly large absences between blogs. I set myself imaginary goals, and usually these get me to work harder. Unfortunately, due to a professional's opinion (it turns out I don't have S.A.D - although that does still exist - I have something slightly worse) it would benefit me greatly if I cut down the amount of unpaid writing I churn out in order to a) Improve my uni work, mood, and general quality of life and b) Stop myself from swirling down the crazy drain. So that's what I'm doing. I'm not bloody happy about it, but I'm doing it. Here's the plan.

I will blog a maximum of twice fortnightly for the forseeable future. This doesn't necessarily mean once a week - this is a compromise I had to make with said advice-giver. She said once every two weeks. I say, okay, but if something comes up and I have the time, I can write that too. It's not cheating the system, its doing something enjoyable. She sighed and said "okay, whatever". So I win. I guess.

That said, I have an interview coming up this week that I meant to post up last week before the EDL and UAF protests in Leeds on Saturday that I just haven't had the time for/inclination to get on with. It's been a rough week. So, there will be at least one more blog this week, and we'll see how I feel about limitations after that. I do think though, that this explanation blog was the one I didn't want to write - soemthing about admitting I can't cope with the workload, probably - and I may be back to normal after all. Who knows. Maybe that's extremely uncharacteristically optimistic of me.

To everybody else who's in their final years - good luck! It's difficult, but just keep remembering that it'll be worth it.



Tuesday, 20 October 2009

Holidays are Comin', Holidays are Comin' or How Adverts Signify the Passage of Time to Me

I like Christmas time. It makes me happy. I like the plastic trees and the tiny santa outfits for dogs. I like the tinsel and the £2 fire hazard fairy lights. I especially like being able to buy and eat Christmas pudding, get this, - even when it's not Christmas. It's just my natural love for tack and alcohol seeping through into everyday life; just as some people get excited every time the Sun Lolly advert comes on for the first time of the year ("It's Summer! IT'S FINALLY SUMMER!" yells my mum frantically, waving her arms and momentarily forgetting her hatred for dinosaur fossils), I find it distinctly heartwarming whenever an Argos ad features sleighbells in its musical score, or WHSmiths chooses a Ruby Wax voiceover and some snowflake decorations. We are told, as well-informed cynical adults, that Christmas is an over-hyped sad excuse for a Clinton's moment, and that we shouldn't like it that much. When Christmas is mentioned outside of late November, we get angry and flustered. Well I don't. I fucking love it.

I'm not sure where my unconditional love for this national holiday comes from. Perhaps it stems from the wholesome way my first primary school (the good one) treated Christmas with a nice home-made cards and real-life plants-for-decoration respectful approach. It was a Christian school, after all. We did a helluva nativity. Or maybe it's because I love buying people presents, and it's only one date to remember. I am probably the world's worst friend when it comes to remembering birthdays. Every year I make a vow to write down every birthday I know and learn them. It never happens. I have forgotten my best friend's birthday every year since I met him. It doesn't mean I don't love him, it just means I'm a bit of a shit. Christmas means that I can give everyone brilliant presents and tell them they're all awesome, and I only have to remember one date, which I remember anyway. The 25th of December is as easy to remember as how to spell you're own name. If you were ever a kid - as I'm sure most of you were, whether you admit it or not - the number 25 still seems to have some kind of magical ring to it. Funny how the promise of new stuff can do that to an otherwise normal day.

So, to a regular person, October the 20th seems far too early to be talking about chestnuts, turkey and mulled wine. I can hear the groans from here. "Jesus isn't real!" you moan, rolling your eyes and flipping open some Dawkins. "Can't this wait until at least December?" Fair enough. I respect your wilful cynicism. I even envy it. I'd be far cooler if I didn't like Christmas, and don't I know it. It's just that once I hear the well-trodden notes of a 30 year old festive hit, I know my game's up. I can't pretend to be a grumpy Noël-hater anymore. And why should I, when winter is such a bitch to me? With all the cold, wet, air-conditioning-induced chapped hand-filled days, the seasonal affective disorder (it's a real disorder, okay?), the death of all my plants, and the genuine and all-consuming need for 3 tonnes of carbohydrates every day; it's nice to have a sparkling 99p shop bauble dangling majestically on the horizon. For some, it's a time to bond through humbuggery. For me, it's a time to drape everything in glitter and sing loudly to Mariah Carey. Be honest - that's the best Christmas song ever made.

Not being religious struck me as a problem, for a little while at least. How could I celebrate a religious festival when I had no strong beliefs of my own? (Apart from my beliefs that involve definitely not believing in deities or conspiracy theories or angels or babies who save the world.) Hypocricy isn't usually my cup of egg nog, and so I toyed with the idea of getting back into my Catholic roots. I even went to midnight mass for a few years. I felt like it was only fair that if I was going to celebrate Christmas, that I take the time to at least listen to the messages people like to hear in the Bible. I might not believe that it was dictated to an old man on a mountain by an old man in the sky, but I'm not silly enough to deny that most of the basic principles of Christianity are good ones. Obviously the more prejudical and violent passages can be ignored or used for comedic purposes, but the other things, the nice ideas of love and equality, I'm pretty sure we can all agree with those. Even fundamentalists would find it hard to disagree with those. I recently stopped going to church at Christmas, however. It's not that I grew out of caring for my fellow man - as many of my friends will tell you, I have always hated people - I just felt that going to church simply because I felt I should was far worse than celebrating a Godless Christmas. I accepted that rather than the agnostic I'd promised my Nan that I was, I was actually an atheist. It felt even more hypocritical to sit and pretend to real Christians that I might believe in the actual Nativity, than it did to sit at home eating a Terry's chocolate orange, piggybacking on an ancient tradition because it smelled nice and I liked the TV schedule. As my mum's told me all my life - Christmas only exists in winter because there used to be a Pagan festival tehn anyway, to keep people's spirits up during the dark months of rain and stale grains. There's probably no need to feel so guilty. That'll be the Catholicism again.

It might be wrong of me, but I've claimed Christmas, despite my non-believer ways. If there's a time of year that allows me to send cards to people it's become to awkward to just randomly text, or that lets me eat chocolate log for breakfast, then I'm all for it. It brought me the silver-painted pine cone and the reindeer-patterned jumper. It gave me my first taste of alcohol (Asti Spumante) and a penchant for brandy butter. I don't just love Christmas, I love the whole idea of a cosy glowing island in the midst of winter. I wish it went on for longer. A whole week of Christmas would be brilliant. A month would be even better. Sod you all. I know you'll all be secretly happy when you see that Coca Cola lorry convoy rolling past your Corrie advert break. Holidays are Comin', Holidays are Comin'...

Sunday, 11 October 2009

Keep your Friends Close, and your ID Closer.

“Yes please?”
“2 pints of Fosters, love.”
“Sure, can I just see some ID from you please?”
“I’m fucking 32, love!”
“Congratulations on your boyish good looks. Can I see your ID please?”

[Pic courtesy of The Young Conservatives]

The conversation I often have with the clientele who frequent the pub that I work in. It’s not so much the swearing that irritates me, as the blatant disregard for my request. I know it seems like a pain, but really how difficult is it to take your ID everywhere you go? You always have your driving license on you anyway – what makes it so abhorrent that I’d ask to see it before giving you a pint of sweet release?

Sometimes I feel that it boils down to this country’s obsession with believing in conspiracy theories. For some reason, everybody would rather believe that their movements are being tracked, that their ID is being used to check up on the movements of the public. That somehow people who work in the public sector are all in on this culture of paranoid stalkage. That we are asking for ID simply to irritate the masses, and encourage them to believe that a nationwide system of doled-out ID cards would be a better, more sensible solution. Well, if it is a conspiracy, nobody’s had the common decency to let me in on the secret. I was under the impression that the only reason we simperingly and sickeningly apologetically ask the public for ID is because if we don’t the police will fine us a grand, and we’ll get the sack. So you see, it isn’t all about you. I couldn’t give a shit about who you are or why you want a drink. I’m making sure the drunken proles don’t rob me of my post grad savings account.

The reason for this latest outbreak of despair on behalf of the human race as a whole has everything to do with this insightful news story from – who else? – The Observer. In a surprising Daily Mail-style rallying of the chumps, a non-story has become one of the most talked about topics on CiF because of implications that our Lives are Being Run for us, and this is simply Political Correctness Gone Mad. With a dash of government bashing and general litigious plans for good measure. Oh, and one commenter actually considered boycotting Morrison’s. As seems to be swiftly and depressingly becoming my catch phrase – let’s all fucking calm down a bit, yeah? Take a deep breath; push your swivelling, indignant eyes back into your face and think rationally about what you’re saying. Do you really honestly think that having to prove your age to buy alcohol is such a terrible thing? Do you really feel that the girl in question was treated unfairly because she wasn’t going to drink the wine? Let’s step back and look at this objectively – I know how hard it must be to imagine a middle-class child partaking in underage drinking, so firstly we must all take emotion out of the story. If you were the shop assistant, what would you do? Personally, I’d see the alcohol and ask for ID from both shoppers. It’s my job, I have to do it, common sense prevailing or not. In fact, to me it would be common sense to check for ID, since this is company policy, and you wouldn’t want to lose your poxy part-time job for the sake of a bottle of wine. Or maybe you’re the girl – embarrassed but understanding. You probably have a part-time job too, and understand the silliness of some of the rules. You hate that your mother has got so loud and “Well I Never in All My Life!” while a queue backs up behind you, and you’re less impressed that it has been taken to the national press. You’re 17; it’s understandable that you might be having some wine. After all, that’s not illegal in your own home.

We complain about the State of Britain on a daily basis. We demonise kids and blame their parents for the breakdown of society. We think of the average 15 year old, and all that springs to mind is a group of intimidating youths drinking Strongbow outside the local corner shop, riding their stupid little bikes round and round the pavement. “Something must be done!” we claim, tears in our eyes as we remember the peaceful, beautiful, harmonious Britain it never really was. Binge drinking, underage drinking, alcoholism; some of the main bogeymen who threaten our wonderful country. I’m not sure how “Something must be done” has transferred into “This is totally ridiculous, you can’t even buy alcohol without your driving license anymore”, but it seems to me that we want everything to be changed with no cost to us or our minor freedoms. Who actually cares that ID cards might be rolled out? I mean, seriously? Any information the government might want form us is already saved up somewhere; probably in your medical records, criminal records, registry offices, work history, Census etc, etc, etc. What makes you think you’re so bloody interesting that the government gives a shit about you anyway? You’re a tiny pleb; a small, insignificant worker for which they will have to pay a pension when you become useless. That is all. I’m sorry to say it, but you’re not as fascinating and important as you like to think you are. If the recession hasn’t taught you that the government do not care about you, then I don’t know how else to prove it. Just do me a favour – take your fucking ID card out with you next time you’re buying stuff that could potentially kill you. Believe it or not, you’re being asked for it so that the problems we already have as a society don’t get any worse. The least you can do is be mature enough to quietly accept this and go about your daily life. There are much worse things to be concerning yourself with. Like I said before, have a sit down and take some deep breaths.

Thursday, 8 October 2009

A Little Bit More Whorage

As I may have previously mentioned, Lauren of Lauren Loves and Sharon from My Passport to Style are utilising this week to create a 5 day awareness bomb on the evils of Cervical Cancer and reminding ladies to be good and go for their smear test.

Today both have guest bloggers writing for them - Sharon has the very talented and lovely Koralee of Bluebird Notes fame scrawling her dlightful words for her, and Lauren (who seems to have got the bum end of the deal) has got me!

So, go to either http://mypassporttostyle.blogspot.com or http://laurensloves.blogspot.com to find out more (and possibly enter their spiffing comeptition).

Monday, 5 October 2009

Cancer of the Lady Bits

It's not pleasant to talk about, and quite frankly I could quite happily go my entire life without ever asking or mentioning it to anybody, but women's cancers need more hype. They do. The cervical cancer jab has been rolled out throughout the country, and I'm sure that many of you are aware of the negative press that has surrounded this particular life-saving treatment - be aware that it's the same people who get into major hysterical flaps over the MMR jab who are trash-talking it. If you want a sane voice in an insane world, as always, Ben Goldacre is your man. The guy nerdy enough to know the truth, but with curly enough hair for you to just think he's a bit of a cutie. But earnest enough for you to shut up and be sensible. According to something called "facts" (but who cares about them, right?), the poor girl who unfortunately died after having been administered the vaccine suffered also from complications made by an undiagnosed tumour in her chest.

Nevertheless, this has done nothing to halt the speed at which the middle-market press has leapt on vaguely hilarious conspiracy theories by the hairy ears and rode them all the way to Sillytown. Headlines like Jab "as deadly as the cancer" (Daily Express, 05/10/09)helpfully convey a possible risk to worried parents who are quite rightly concerned about a vaccine being administered to their sproglings without much information as to what it does, how the tests went or what the side effects may be. Somewhat apologetically I also want to show you the Daily Mail's position on the vaccine: "Paralysis, Epilepsy and Blurred Vision" were reported to be major side-effects as far back as March 2009 by the ever-elusive DAILY MAIL REPORTER (doesn't have a personal email address...not sure they are a real person) but as you read on you find out that more commonly reported maladies were rashes or "swelling on the injection site". I've got a bloody scar where my TB jab was stabbed into my skin - does that mean they're going to stop giving it to people? I fucking hope not. Let's stop the giddiness and calm down for a minute, eh? What do we stand to gain from banning a possible treatment that will seriously cut down the number of cases of cervical cancer? In comparison it seems there is no argument - would we like to be immunised against cancer? Of course we would. It's a stupid question.

Fear mongering comes part and parcel with new medications and medicinal breakthroughs. People are suspicious of government-led operations to vaccinate the population, partly because people want to believe in conspiracy theories to brighten up their lives (surely this isn't it? There must be something else going on? I call these people "Dan Brownists" or "prannocks") but mostly because they are understandably wary about having a new medication pumped into theirs or their childrens' bodies with only a brightly-coloured, informationless TV ad informing them about it, and tabloid headlines waving their arms around claiming that it's the beginning of The Rapture. What we need to do is inform ourselves if nobody else is going to do it for us - google the jab, look up it's side effects and test trials, weigh up the pros and cons. Use your head and decide what's best for yourself. If you believe everything you read then so be it, but your child may not feel as lenient as I do should the worst happen in the future. Not being harsh, just saying.

If anything good has come from the coverage though, it is this: people are becoming aware of cervical cancer now. They know it exists, they know who it effects, and they know how they can stop it. If you're too old to get the jab given to you (like me), go for regular smear tests. See your doctor regularly. Sign a petition to get smear tests made available to under 25 year olds. Breast cancer has it's own brand of pink clothes, badge and shopping bags; cervical cancer needs to be recognised as a real killer too.

To raise awareness and in support of such a worthy cause, the Lovely and Talented Lauren Holden (that's her full title if you're in my house) and the ever-so stylish Sharon from Passport to Style have decided to spend this week creating a blog bonanza, filled with competitions, interviews and guest bloggers. You'll learn something, read new people's work and might even win something nice. What's not to like? Clicky clicky to have a look - go on, it's girly, but I won't tell.

Sunday, 4 October 2009

A Guardian for Gratis is a Guardian taken for Granted

As a nation, we've become completely used to the idea of getting our news for free. As a joudent (Journalism student - isn't it funny what getting up too early can do to you?) I admit that if it wasn't for the constant free provision of decent news in the form of national and local newspaper websites, I'd be consuming much less news and learning far below what I was meant to be about the world around me. Now, I have heard people scoff at the idea of paying for news. “I just get the Metro, me” they say, as though people who are stupid enough to buy the Times in the morning are the type of people that shell out £40 for perfume in Harvey Nicks when you could buy it for £20 online. I can sort-of see their point, the misguided little tykes, I mean, why buy clothes when you can find all sorts of discarded socks and jackets strewn across town on a Sunday morning? Why buy food when you could have a good old rummage through the bins down the back of Greggs?

I do take advantage of the reams of free news reporting at my disposal – that’s what it’s there for – and when Murdoch (which always has to be said as though you’re cursing God himself, shaking a fist to the sky) spoke earlier in the Summer about making his news websites a paid-for provision I got all up in arms about it, claiming the public had the right to free news. If I remember correctly, a lot of people got suitably uppity about the idea of paying for news. Some even went as far as to claim news as a right that all people should have. Wrong. That is a wrong statement. News was created to inform and educate, and to act as a watchdog against those with power on behalf of We the People and so on, but this does not make it a right. News needs money in order to fund investigations and provide insightful stories. If all news was free, given to us as a human right, what type of subjects would you expect to see in the pages of your local tabloid? You certainly wouldn’t get any investigatory stories under a revenue situation that solely consists of advertising and classified ads. There’s an obvious link between good news and a decent amount of income – how many people do you know would happily go out every day covering important breaking stories for free? If you were being paid the bare minimum, and most of your team had recently been laid off because of serious budget cuts, would you go out into the field to uncover real truths? Or would you sit dissolutioned in your office, re-writing press releases as copy to fill the pages in order to get more advertisers interested?

[Picture courtesy of the Guardian]

The idea of paying for online news came as a shock to most, but now that several months have passed since the initial idea was thrown into the front of people’s minds, the ripples have gradually made more and more sense. Why do we feel that paying for news is so abhorrent? We could blame free newspapers such as the Metro, and soon the London Evening Standard, for making us believe that news can be a free commodity, but there are other reasons to consider too. We’ve had online news for over ten years now. We can access it from anywhere at any time. We’ve simply become used to the idea that news is something we all deserve, that it’s ours, and that we should be allowed to have it. This is a selfish and destructive way to view such an important resource. Do we expect journalists to write for free? Are we happy to read regurgitated Press Association copy on the bus on the way to work? My answer to this on behalf of everybody is no – every day I hear a person complain that the news they read was biased or vague or simply irrelevant. Soft news has become the norm, and I genuinely feel that this is a tragedy. The public are dumbing themselves down, are reading celebrity news rather than being interested in current affairs, because it is available, because it is cheap, and because it’s marketed as being more fun. If you look at the Bizarre pages in the Sun, you can see how the celebrity news looks more interesting. To explain it crudely; look at the colours, the pictures, the shocking information – even the way it’s written. Now look at the way real news is portrayed in the same paper. It’s either been made exiting by the use of opinion or slant, or it has been squashed into a 300 word box, as if to say “This is the news, we know you’re not to bothered about that so we made it shorter for you. Go and read about the football.” Most people like the way this is presented, and who am I to judge? I just feel that as a person who cares about the news that reaches the public that this is wholly wrong. More and more people are simply not interested in current affairs. Ask any person on the street about any aspect of politics, and nine times out of ten they will tell you that politics doesn’t interest them, that it doesn’t involve them, that politicians don’t speak for them. Don’t they know that they can do something about this? The short answer, sadly, is no. They don’t know that they can affect things, because the news they read talks to them as an unempowered person, gazing in on a world they can barely imagine. Politics is a far away land of laws and complicated terminology. It doesn’t have to be like this. Unfortunately, if we continue to demand news cheaper, faster and easier to read, it will get further and further away.

Friday, 2 October 2009

Reader Interaction

If I've learned anything from the BBC, it's that at times of crisis (ie. there isn't a lot of news to fill the half an hour that you could be bothered to collect) the best thing you can do is ask ordinary people for their input. So, like the endless snowman pictures of yesteryear - alright, last year - I am asking you, you lovelygorgeous readerperson for your advice and intellectual ideas. Not due to lack of ideas, you understand, just as a timefiller while I'm ill, and also to help me create the Portobello Mushroom of the future. At least I'm honest :)

So here's what I'm asking: If I were to build myself a nice shiny website filled with biscuitblog stuff, would you visit it? Or is the simple blog format the reason you like this particular scrawler? Would you look at multimedia content, or would you rather i stuck to writing?

The reason I'm asking is becuase I couldn't help but feel that my blogs are getting ever so haphazard in their subject matters. I'm writing one about fashion one week, and then launching into women's rights in the next, stopping off in a horrible personal experience layby. Would you like it if there was a way of easily clicking to a subject you wanted, or do you like it jumbled? Would you like it to be easier to search for past entries, or do you like to think that what's in the past should stay in the past?

Please, please, PLEASE leave me your feedback, it would be ever so helpful to me.


Tuesday, 29 September 2009


In a desperate attempt to attract more readers, I've resorted to sexy title tactics. Considering that my most-read entry has the word "tits" in the title, I'm going with the formula "If it's not broke, don't fix it." Just don't expect anything remotely sexy about this article. It involves an entire 45 minutes of my life where I wore a swimimng hat.

I’ve been frightened of swimming pools for nearly seven years now. It’s not an irrational fear – I like to think that anybody with any sense of self-respect and common sense would feel the same way about a huge body of water with grimy members of the public floating about in it. I just don’t like the idea of having water sloshing around my eyes, ears and mouth that has previously been spat out or worse by at least one other person. It might stem from snobbishness, sure, but aside from anything I just can’t help but think that it’s extremely unhygienic, even with all those chemicals and chlorine. In fact, especially because of all the chlorine. It makes people cough and get teary eyes. More fluid for the pool.

Despite my fears, however, I used some awful clichés and took the plunge, right in at the deep end. Actually, I stepped gingerly in off some steps at the shallow bit to accustom myself to the water and to scout out for any plasters that might be languishing near the filters. Masking my distress was hard, especially considering that I had paid for the privilege to be splashing around in public in an outfit that covered less of me than my underwear would have. Swimming costume manufacturers, have some shame. So, blubbery and frightened, I began a tentative front crawl towards the markedly less-cluttered deep end, which seemed to be a lot more difficult to achieve than I remembered. The lifeguards watched in amazement as a young and seemingly not-that-unfit-really person struggled to make it to the edge of the pool. I blame an increased heart rate due to anxiety.

It hasn’t always been this way. As a child I loved swimming, and I used to go to lessons every Friday in a pool the length of your average garden shed. Teamed with extremely hot water and enough chlorine to kill off the SARS virus for good, I was happy with this set-up. I wanted to be an Olympic swimmer when I grew up, and won badge after badge for my diving efforts. Clearly I had something wrong with me. Sporting achievements? Aspirations to appear on behalf of my country? This is everything I stand against. Something should have been done. Somebody should have said something. The lust for sport-based glory died though, thankfully, when I moved house and couldn’t find a swimming trainer as ruthless and unforgiving as my previous one had been (once while practicing an exercise which involved picking up weights from the bottom of the deep end, I nearly drowned. When I eventually surfaced, I was told I had been too slow, and needed to do it again. Tough love. Obviously it worked, I mean, look at how much I love the water now). I stopped going to pools and developed a fear of them. This is the weird thing – I love swimming in the sea, and surely that’s far more dangerous?

What it all boils down to is a general fear of other humans, I feel. At least in the sea you aren’t going to accidentally tag another swimmer and cause a fuss. The chances of coming across an old bandage are minimal (unless you are swimming in Morecambe). Fish and whales wee in the sea, which is absolutely huge, so it barely matters. In my mind, every person in the pool is weeing, all the time. Disgusting. It is off-putting and makes me scared to put my head below the water. People are disgusting. I don’t want to be in water that has been soaked in their hair and feet and bathing suits. I don’t want to see people flailing weightlessly in their underwear. My local pool is a garish nightmare filled with people in their twighlight years, and it scares the fuck out of me. Still, in a pool, nobody can tell you’re struggling. It’s called “pacing yourself”. Which is why I’ll be going back three times a week for as long as it takes to stop me from morphing effortlessly from Pilsbury Dough girl to “I wash myself with a rag on a stick” woman; just as soon as I can use my legs again. Stretching did nothing to avert next day exercise pain. Who can I sue?

Monday, 21 September 2009

The Age of Consent

Usually I look to The Times for my bi-weekly (come on, I don't have that much free time) dose of broo-hah-hah after finding a certain story in the Daily Mail. I like to think that even in this day and age, The Times can be trusted to take a wholly exaggerated subject matter and approach it with a sort of confused dignity. Like a much-loved older uncle - if your uncle was Brian Blessed - trying to explain to a complete know-nothing about what on earth is going on with all these teenage pregnancies. No real prejudice or sweeping generalisations, just good old fashioned facts jumbled with old principles, things you heard on Newsnight, superstitious beliefs and a good dollop of wildly flailing ad-lib. In other words, it's the paper version of how I imagine I'll turn out in 40 years time. Uncy Bri-Bri would be so proud.

This time, however, a story leapt out from The Times' homepage at me without my snide search bar titterings. I was informed brusquely that music teacher Helen Goddard who worked in a private school had been jailed for having a - ahem - lesbian affair with one of her pupils. The pupil in question was 15, and obviously cannot be named, along with the school. Obviously for a teacher to be having any kind of relationship with their pupils is a complete abuse of trust on their part, not to mention that it's completely illegal and immoral. That the pupil she was apparently dating and taking on holiday (a romantic weekend to Paris no less - I don't even get treats like this. Perhaps it's time for an illicit affair...) was a year under the legal consenting age made it that much worse, because of course in this country to have sex with an underage individual it counts wholly as statutory rape. It didn't ever look good for poor lovestruck Miss Goddard.

Before we chat about the bad bad ways that adults abuse their powers over kids, let's have a look at that last sentence. It was said in the court where this trial was being heard that both parties believed themselves to be in love with the other, showing that statutory rape probably just might be a bit of a harsh judgement to preside over the doomed teacher - after all, some countries have decided that 15 is a perfectly good age to start making your own decisions. In France it is the age you can legally say "er...alright then" to sex. So why such a difference between our country and theirs? What happens in a year that changes a person's ability to know right from wrong? Comments on the story itself have revolved around these questions more than any other factor of the case, and so they should. How can any adult decide how old a child has to be before they can decide for themselves? 15 seems extremely young, but when you actually are 15, things might seem a lot different. Obviously if I had my way, you'd be forced to remain a child with no control over your own life until the age of 17 at least, but that might be due to the vast array of poor judgements and general messes I made as a teenager when I fully (and wrongly) believed I was old enough to look after myself and run away to London. Or whatever I'd decided to do that week. What I'm trying to say is that it's very probable that the girl in this story completely believed that she was in love with a clever, attractive and generally interesting teacher who had a lot of time for her. At that age, especially if you deem yourself "more mature than most", this would make total sense. None of the kids your age 'get' you. They're all stupid. I understand the girl's argument completely - she was silly and naive, yes, but she is undoubtedly extremely upset at the moment, and won't realise the true crashing idiocy of her actions until a good 3 years time when she starts university and meets people her own age who are intelligent, funny, attentive and most importantly, not her teacher.

Helen Goddard clearly made some bad decisions. We could look into the possible psychological reasons why she might have fancied her pupil; an enjoyment of her feeling of power, perhaps, or even just the fact that it was wrong. She stated in her case that she loved the pupil, and that was why she risked her job for her. Unfortunately for her, life isn't all Hollyoaks and happy reunions. Life doesn't even really involve Real Love if you think properly about it. You can be completely happy with a person, of course, but as for all the souls-uniting fluffy hearts and one true love stuff goes, it probably isn't real. Think about it. I'm not saying love isn't real - of course you can love people, it's a real feeling and all that jazz, it's what kept us alive in the olden days. If our parents didn't feel that bond back in the caves, we'd have been eaten in a stew along with the cat. Alls I'm saying is that to believe wholeheartedly that you are meant to be with somebody NO MATTER WHAT THE COST because you were MADE FOR EACH OTHER is probably pretty stupid. You've got to be rational about these things. If you're a teacher and you fall for one of your youngsters from the music class, you should probably spend an extra day at your therapist's figuring out what's up with a different aspect of your life, rather than decided that yep, going out with a 15 year old is definitely what you need to be happy. Don't be ridiculous. Hormones and similar interests, that's all it is and was. You'll survive without her. That would be my advice. Shame I was never asked, huh?

The best aspect of the story, however, is the empahasis (or should I say the extremely exaggerated non-emphasis) on the pair's sexuality. It would appear that in this kind of circumstance two females good, two males extremely bad. It reminds me of two things: that South Park episode where the kindergarden teacher runs off with Kyle's baby brother Ike and none of the authorities care because they're too busy being jealous, and the time my old music teacher was fired and placed on the sex offenders' register for a similar offence. Claiming true love and a fault with the system, he too ruined his life for the sake of a young musically-talented strumpet under his care. He ended up leaving his wife and child to live the rest of his days as a shelf-stacker at the local Asda Plus, because once the shit hit the fan, his pregnant teen-love didn't want him any more. Or so the local press said, by this time I was no longer a pupil at the school. People were outraged and there was for a while a witch hunt on the local news where anybody who knew him was doorstepped, and there were a few pieces on the telly where his Torry front door was wedged open by a reporter's foot while he repeated the words "no comment". Would he have been treated differently if he was a woman? Possibly. Maybe his house wouldn't have been subjected to repeated vandal attacks had he been. It just seemed a shame to me that such a nice man wasn't able to draw a line between professional interest and seriously unacceptable behaviour. Such a waste of such a great teaching talent. What bothered me more was that after two years of schooling at that particular high school, with private bass guitar tuition from that particular teacher, not once was I hit on. More recently still, I found out that a previous maths teacher of mine from yet another High School was found guilty of getting rather carried away with after-school tuition. I saw none of this. Maybe my pity for these people stems from some sort of grotesque feeling of rejection. I must have been a very un-sexy child.

In all seriousness though, adults taking advantage of their respected positions is something that can never be acceptable, no matter how much the respective parties claim love and infatuation. As harsh as I might sound, a person who simply can't stop themselves from acting upon urges they know are wrong shouldn't let themselves work in a position where respect and trust are needed from them at all times. A person who is willing to let themselves believe that they have fallen in love with a child is not fit to work as a teacher anymore. As for jail, I'm not a fan of incarceration as punishment, but then again I have been called a "sucker" before for really believing that rehabilitation and re-education works. I wouldn't know where to start with regards to punishing adults who take kids along on their fantasies (please be aware that I am talking about the specific few who believe they were in love and not the evil that is the kiddy fiddler - chemical castration is my awful but ideal draconian punishment for that) but giving them help to see that this romanticised "love at all costs" theatre of catastrophe will do them and those around them nothing but serious harm.

Sometimes it pays to be a total cynic.

Tuesday, 15 September 2009

Soap and Water, Soap and Water, Soap Soap, Water Water, Soap and Water

So you're not a DJ Assault fan then? (1'52" if you can't be bothered listening to the whole song) Well, in amongst his chauvanitic rap-house he has some good advice to share. Mainly, that if you're a filthy broke-ass ho, you probably couldn't go wrong by having a nice wash once in a while. It's pretty valuable if you think about it - you could solve a lot of nasty viral problems if you just had a little scrub-a-dub every now and again. He should do public service announcements.

These announcements would come in extremely handy at the moment, what with the ongoing Swine Flu fiasco on top of what's soon to be Cough and Cold season (come on, every year we get Fresher's flu up to wazoo, no matter if you're a student or not) and now with the constantly unravelling story of a happy family trip gone horribly wrong at a place called Godstone Farm. According to reports and the beginnings of an investigation, there are now 36 people infected with the most dangerous strain of E Coli after a group of children caught the bacterial infection from petting animals at the open farm on a family trip. It's thought that the resulting number of cases has come about through contact between the people, and not from extra exposure to the farm. So, let's be different, and look at this rationally then shall we?

Everyone knows that petting zoos are dirty, no matter how new and clean the facilities look. But this is fine. Animals don't exactly lather their hands in antibacterial gel every 20 minutes and take regular baths. They are animals. They roll in mud for fun. To be fair, if you're that bothered about your kids catching something you probably don't let them out of the house that much, let alone allow them to touch animals in a real-world environment. I know that this outbreak of a possibly deadly disease shows exactly what the dangers are in situations such as this, but there also is a lot to be said for using your common sense and letting your kids play out and get dirty. They need to build up their immune systems, for one thing. Four children are now critically ill and being taken care of in an ICU, which is scary and immediately makes people want to wrap their kids up tightly in blankets and bundle them off to the relative safety of a Dettol Protected home. E Coli is a serious illness, and needs to be dealt with fast in order for the symptoms to be caught at the earliest possible moment. A mistake some parents are making, however, is asking their doctors for antibiotics “in case” their children have the disease. As the supremely professional doctor who appeared on BBC’s Breakfast this morning said, not only do antibiotics not work against this particular bacterium, you would simply know that your child was sick with it. Becoming hysterical because of this outbreak will not help matters. Over 200 people die from E Coli every year – one in every four cattle are suspected to have it. To animals, it’s like meningitis, they carry it all the time, and in most cases it never flares up. “Frankly,” said the guest celeb doctor reassuringly “it’s surprising there aren’t hundreds more cases every year!” He’s tight you know. He’s right. Do you know why there aren’t more cases of E Coli outbreaks every year? Well, it comes back to DJ Assault’s sage advice – soap and water. Simply washing your hands after handling animals or while you’re cooking can rid yourself of the unwanted transition of the virus.

Unfortunately for the owners of the petting farm, these cases are more tragic as now more and more children are coming down with the illness that can cause, amongst other nasty things, kidney failure, which can lead to death. Shutting their business down has so far been the only thing they could actively do to hold their hands up and apologise. For some, this is not good enough. “Why was it not closed sooner?” asks Liberal Democrat spokesman, Norman Lamb, wondering whether closing the farm earlier would have made a difference to the amount of people who became infected. Perhaps, but because most of the cases have come about due to contact between the patients after visiting the farm, more people would have been struck ill either way. I have nothing but sympathy for the owners of Godstone Farm – had they known about the infection they would have certainly not allowed people to visit, and it was because of advice given to them by the environmental health agency that they kept their farm open despite cases of the illness beginning to be traced back to them. Sadly, E Coli is a more common virus than people are aware of – it’s simply the nature in which it has been covered by the press that lets people believe that every few years there are a few outbreaks. 200 people dying a year from this illness may not be a lot, but until last week when this story properly broke, I was still under the impression that E Coli and Mad Cow’s Disease were left behind in the nineties. I’m fairly sure that most parents thought this too. This is not a re-emergence of a dormant disease – it’s simply a tragically high number of people being diagnosed with it in a small area.

[Picture courtesy of The Guardian. Photograph: Gareth Fuller/PA]

All that needs to be done to try to combat the deadly illnesses that still roam around our society is the simple things. Cook your food thoroughly. Keep your house clean. Wash your hands. Stop acting in the extremes when a disease rears its head; be sensible, and stock up on medicines. You’ll need them for winter anyway – don’t worry, no matter what over-hyped virus you’re choosing to ignore there’ll still be normal flu to worry about, which still kills hundreds of vulnerable people every year. Wrap up warm, kids.

Friday, 11 September 2009

Don't leave him out in the cold - un-freeze his wintery rodent heart

There have now been three days in a row of lovely Indian summer in Leeds, and while it's been too late in coming to save my poor runner beans, the sun has brought out a nice sense of happiness to everybody. Even the faceless shoppers crowding the market seemed to get in my way more playfully yesterday. It's this type of spring in the trudge that people need at this horribly transitional time of year. Even for those not about to set off on yet another year of education, September the First always reminds you with a jolt that 1. Winter is "just around the corner" and 2. in a month you'll have to start worrying about moaning that the council's Christmas decorations have been put up Far Too Early. Winter is depressing.

What's worse than a British winter though? Our fascination with the weather must give us some small amount of enjoyment out of the frankly schizophrenic way the rain turns to sheets of ice and back to rays of blinding sun fourty times a day. Revelling in how shit it is that the sky treats us like it's bitch for most of the year unites the nation. "Miserable outside, isn't it?" "Oh yes, awful weather". We fucking love it really. The grey sky matches our secret desires to never have our Scorcher of a Summer expectations met perfectly. We love to be proven right much more than sunbathing or going for a nice walk or generally having a nice life. What we wouldn't like though, is having to spend winter alone if we could help it at all. Which is why from here on out this post will be concerned with finding a lovely date for a certain Lord Rattington-Smythe. Bear with me, this is a brilliant idea, masked as shambolic ramblings. That's my charm, see?

Yesterday I was staggering (not stumbling, which is quite something else altogether) through the burnt-out cars and graffittied railway bridges of Gumtree looking for a kitten to add to my family (Incidentally I found an amazing one...unfortunately we can't afford a pedigree, as heartbreaking as it was to say no) and I came across this little gem of an ad. A person's love for their pets knows no bounds, and this witty lady has decided to hunt high and low for the perfect mate to provide love, affection and babies to the handsome Lord RS, to make him feel like a MAN, in ways that she (legally) can't. And so I pass you into the capable hands of Miss Angelina Summers, to explain the plan in full.

Some people get left what remains of a packet of biscuits. Or maybe a jar of coffee…no-one wants to carry around a jar of coffee when they don’t need it any more do they? Well I got left a rat. I think that probably says a lot about me although I’m not entirely sure what.

Lord Rattington-Smythe arrived as a 5 day holiday booking for a quick £5, all alone in a small hamster cage mourning the death of his bessie mate Bacardi just the week before. You see Rattington used to be called Coke and although this made for ample photo ops with me posing pretending to snort him up my nose or rub him in my gums it just wasn’t GRAND enough for such a handsome and charming rat as the Great Man himself. We clicked instantly. Here was a rat with personality. Here was the sort of rat that got picked for unmanned trips to the moon.

Anyway, 5 days turned into 10. 10 days into a month. Being rather vacant and easily distracted it was about 6 weeks later that I realised no-one had returned for this devilish little raconteur. So I decided to marry him. Well no-one wants to be alone do they?

It was a low key ceremony. I gave him some sausage and a mushroom. He pissed on my sofa and bit the dog. We spent the night watching Conan films and sharing cheap cider. I have to say, it’s my most fulfilling relationship this year….but I can’t give him what he really needs. To empty his enormous aching balls and have a family. There are laws.

So if you know anyone who has an equally enigmatic lady rat who fancies a bit of rumpypumpy from the suavest Norvegicus in town then please contact me….full parental responsibility is a guarantee. This aint no Darren Day kind of rat. Girls for you, boys for me if you like...or I'll take them all for my Hellish ARMY OF DARKNESS.

Did I say that out loud?

If you know of any female ratties who are in the mood for lurrrve, please email me on k.taylor.cronshaw@gmail.com or leave a comment below, and let's see if we can't create something beautiful, huh?

Friday, 4 September 2009

Averagely Unnacceptable

Models have to be thin. This is the conclusion I've made after years of looking at fashion magazines and clothes catalogues. Models have to be thin and blank, so that the clothes can do the talking. I have never had a problem with models being thin - I never wanted to be a model as a kid, and to be honest, clothes always look better on thin people anyway. It would be nice to see more "normal" people striding down a catwalk, sure, but it wouldn't really make much difference to me. I see a waif wearing a jumper I want, and it makes me want to be a waif for almost 3 seconds. And then I eat a bacon sandwich. I like food too much to ever want to be size 0. I look at thin people with pity more than envy - which is seriously condescending and awful, I know. I just want to feed people roast dinners and stews until they look rosy-cheeked and cuddly. It's in my rustic nature. A hundred and fifty years ago I'd have been a Rubenesque farmhouse type, with flour on my hands and consumption in my lungs. Steak and kidney puddings and apple pie. That's the type of thing I like. Sometimes I fanatically try to lose some of the podge that's built up over the years, and sometimes I decide I actually really like exercise and recipes involving cottage cheese, but it nearly always ends in fudgecake squirty cream disaster. I'm a female cliche.

The thing is, I'm more or less consoled by the fact that I can't be thin AND eat everything with cream and pastry. I wish more people could be happy like this. It would solve a lot of eating disorders. Being thin might make clothes look really really nice, but that's all. You miss out on marscapone and lasagne and pies and cheese and scrambled eggs and cake. What's the point? But then, we're missing a very important point according to activists in this area - why can't people enjoy food and still be classed as beautiful? A somewhat patronising point, I find, considering that there are many people in the world who are over a size UK 10 who are very easy on the eye indeed. Claiming that we all have pre-fabricated views on how we see "normal" or even "fat" people seems to defeat the object, to me. "We're all disgraceful humans - why don't we fancy fat people?!" is exactly what this point of view seems to say to me. Which is rubbish. Squashing anything together in a forced generalisation like this helps nobody. This week, Glamour magazine apparently caused a "stir" by daring to have young model Lizzie Miller get her kit off and be pictured in their pages at a *gasp* size 12/14. Ho-ly crap. It's the beginning of a new era. Boundaries have been smashed! It's ok to be normal! Etc etc woo! This is the picture in question, so you may make up your own thoughts on the subject, before I share mine.

[Lizzie Miller photographed by Walter Chin as pictured in the September issue of US Glamour Photograph: Walter Chin/Glamour - Courtesy of Guardian.co.uk]

As you can see, she's lovely, and not very fat at all. In fact, she's fairly average-sized. Thinner than me. If I was of a weak disposition, after all the fuss, I'd be feeling fatter and more disgusting than ever. How ridiculous. What irritates me is not the definitions the media and the fashion industry itself has for fatness vs thinness, but the fuss that gets made every time somebody tries to do something to change the way we think about weight and beauty. If you ask me, there is something vaguely point-destroying about photographing a normal model and then declaring how normal she is to all the world at every given opportunity. "She's a bit fat! Isn't that BRILLIANT! She's tubby, and she doesn't care! And she has a pretty face! WHO'D HAVE THOUGHT!!" It all got fairly hysterical. I just don't know why it matters so much. There seems to be a more vindictive way of viewing models now, in this post Bridget Jones age of "I eat ice cream, and I DON'T CARE" women (who clearly do care very much, or they wouldn't mention it quite so frigging often) where it's apparently alright to look at a girl on the catwalk and say "urgh, she's so thin...look at her stick legs...I bet she hasn't eaten in days...and I bet she's on crack". I know a few people who remain skinny no matter how much they eat, but rather than being overjoyed about this, feel they get more abuse from the media and the people around them than overweight people. One has actually been told to "get down the chippy" by a stranger on more than one occasion. So how is it ok to take the piss out of thin people, but doing the same to an overweight person is not acceptable? Looking at a model and assuming they are anorexic just isn't fair, just like putting an "average sized" model in a 3" x 3" picturebox with a neon sign that says "LOOK! SHE'S FRICKIN' AVERAGE! EMPOWERMENT!" isn't proving anything. Other than the fact that we are all idiots for falling for it. So what? I see average people all day long in the street.

Here is why I think we see more thin people in our everyday consumer culture. Skinnyness is something aspirational. There are very few of us who are naturally skinny, and so if you want to be, you have to work for it. So being skinny is seen as "special". It's pretty simple, if you think about it. You can rant and rave about "malnutrition" and "unnatural-looking" all day long, but clothes will always look better on a person who's job it is to be a clothes hanger. That's why its their job. They are good at showing the clothes off, without overpowering them. Fashion fans might have a favourite model (mine, of course, is Agyness Deyn) but a good model will have the ability to show their own personality and style without shouting over the style of the clothes they are wearing. It's a talent - at least, I think it is. It's possibly a lucky talent that you can only be born with, but not everybody can do it. I just wish for once in a while, people would stop worrying about the models and just focus on clothes. Because at the moment we're looking at a season filled with shoulder pads and leggings, and I for one, am terrified.

Wednesday, 2 September 2009

A Small Dab of Self-Promotion. Just a small one.

Ladies and gentlemen, if you'd allow me to briefly divert your attention to a lovely beauty blog by a similarly lovely lady called Lauren. Now, perhaps you don't necessarily read about beauty and things of this girly nature. That's fine. What I'd like you to do, however, is make a small trip to Lauren's blog "Lauren Loves" and here you'll find - along with a constant stream of interesting articles and interviews - a guest post by yours truly.

Which explains my small absence quite adequately, don'tcha think?


Thursday, 27 August 2009

Why yes, I do watch Disney films without critically analysing them. Thanks for asking.

Everyone loves sounding clever at parties. What's more satisfying than sitting yourself next to a poor half-educated shlub and tooting brains out of your mouth-hole for ages and ages while they nod and wistfully dream of one day becoming as clever as you? Nothing. Nothing is. Unless you're a Nice Person, in which case this sounds like a fuckawful thing to do, and have probably had it happen to you on more than several occasions because you were too polite to pipe up and admit that you didn't quite understand the past ten minute's worth of bullshit. You see, I am often this person in question, the ranter. But I'd like it to be known that the difference between myself and your common or garden show-off is that I generally talk for ages and ages and ages due to a combination of gin and misguided super-appreciation for a subject. I'm generally trying to convince somebody to watch something (Withnail & I, The Wire, A Goofy Movie), listen to something (generally some band I've only just decided I LOVE out of sheer inebriation) or more regularly, read something (to my complete embarrassment, I nearly always tell people to read Thomas Hardy books. I do love Tess...but it's just not party speak). I often find myself on the receiving end of a conversation I don't want to be a part of however, and normally this ends up in friendship disaster. Drunk people are annoying at best, but combine my considerably more confident post-cider state and some "intellectual" who wants to chat endlessly about Women's Rights or the state of Cinema today, and you're probably looking at a relationship-ending comment, the fallout resembling the worst emotional nuclear winter ever recorded in history. Some things should be left in the old head box.

And so we jump seamlessly now from my insensitive boorish personality defects, to good old Disney films. As a kid, I only ever watched Disney films. Not out of prejudice or preference, just because they were the videos I had. The colours were nice, and the songs were catchy. I rarely watched TV and watched a whole film even less, because my mum comes from the "make the kids play in the garden as much as possible" school of parenting, which I actually enjoyed loads. What this meant was that watching a Disney (which is what I used to call films - either that or "something more colourful" as in "Can we watch something more colourful?" while the news was on. Invariably the answer was No) was an exiting event. Even now, at my grand old age of 21, the music that accompanies the beginning Disney castle logo makes me happy. It's a sort-of Pavlov's dog-type scenario. If it was raining, I was allowed to pick a video out of the cabinet, and choosing the video was very important. You didn't want to watch one you'd seen recently - that would be a waste of quality video time. So you'll forgive me, please, if the films themselves take a backseat to nostalgia and general appreciation. I just enjoyed watching them because they were a treat, and I still do now. I'm not very interested in new Disney films, because they don't hold the same magic for me - the reason I love Aladdin and Beauty and the Beast is because I loved them so much as a kid. The newest one I liked was Hercules, so it's really hard for me to enter the ongoing debate regarding CGI and proper old-school Disney, because as you'll have already noticed, I am somewhat biased.

It's not particularly cool to be a Disney fan when you're older - for some reason comics, anime and general Marvel action tomfoolery is allowed pretty much across the board, but mention that one of your favourite films of all time is The Lion King, and (in the circles I'm in at least) people will look at you with derision, and possibly sympathy. But that film has no subtitles! Where is the subtext? It's a cartoon for God's sake! You must be mistaken...is there a German live-action remake with added scenes from Hamlet? Incidentally, if I am told once more that The Lion King is based around a Shakespeare play, I may kill everybody in the whole world with the giant ball of flames and fury that I become. He recycled stories, Disney recycle stories - it just happens. I am in no way comparing the two, I'm just saying. Drop it you boring bastard, and continue with your life. Apparently, in order to Fully Appreciate Disney as an adult, you have to fully embrace the total nobbery that is Critical Analysis. Watch the films as much as you'd like, but try your very best to detect undertones of sexual discrimination, crime, cultural references, and most of all, aspects of racism. Adult Disney appreciators/critics (because everybody's a critic) generally love pointing out that old Walt was anti-Semitic, making links to Hitler and even banning their children from watching any of his classic cartoons for fear that the Pure Unbridled Evil will leap from the screen during the Little Mermaid's wedding scene and into their kiddy-winkle's brains.

Completely rational, considering a child's capacity for looking beyond chirpy soundtracks and fast-moving colourful shapes to unpick a hidden racist meaning. I've said it a thousand times before, but I'd like to say it again - Jesus Wept.

I might sound like a simpleton, but I don't care. I like watching my Disneys occasionally, just to enjoy them. I'm not a huge fan, I don't wear Winnie the Pooh t-shirts and go to Florida every year to see Mickey, but I think sometimes there's a time and a place for such a simple pleasure. If that makes me a fool, then so be it. I'd rather honestly enjoy something, than become a joyless blabberer, sucking the fun out of films that don't have to be viewed in-between the lines. If you want intellectual discussion, go somewhere else. My feature-film fairytales are to be ruined on pain of death.

Monday, 24 August 2009

Sportsfuck.The Nation United in Idiocy. (warning - un-researched opinion and general wtf-ery)

Recently, the country I live in won the Ashes. I'm not such a complete failure that I don't know what the Ashes are, or what they represent (some wickets got burnt or something and now the cricket is played in order to win them back....right?), but I feel completely at ease with the fact that I don't really care too much. I think it's lovely that some people played a game they like to play, and they tried really hard to win and then they did - well done for that - but that's as far as my admiration goes. I come from the Bill Hick's school of "I'm only American because my parents fucked here", although obviously in my case, you can substitute America with Britain. Patriotism seems to me like a massive woop over something essentially futile. I like living in Britain, don't get me wrong. I doubt I'd want to live anywhere else - it's pretty, the cities aren't too much like West Baltimore, there are some nice beaches and mountains, and most of my friends are here. I just don't feel a Deep Meaningful Connection with the place. Surely this is the sane way to be? Feeling overly close to a country seems very odd to me. Sport brings out this psychopathic love more than any other event, since people now openly admit that the Queen might be a bit useless (not me though, I'm a sucker for traditions, especially expensive guilded ones that remind us we're a really old place that's had a feudal system for literally ages) so her jubilees and whatnot tend to attract less meters of bunting than in the past. Sporting events bring this country together, however wrong or ridiculous that seems to some, and for that reason it might just be a Good Thing that such a big deal is made of the seemingly endless parade of sports tournaments. Distracts us from our differences, innit. Keeps us all striving towards one goal. Like the War.

It wouldn't be an original observation for me to make if I began talking about how people substitute their own stunted feelings and emotions with those they feel regarding a far more easy to understand format - people have been making correlations between supporting sports teams and unfulfilled emotional needs for years - but some people's love for their teams does distress me slightly. As a person who's clearly not got the slightest idea how to play most sports, I don't feel entitled to write about whether the games are a load of old boring shite or not. I never EVER want to be one of those women who say "what is it about football? It's just a load of men on a field, kicking a ball about! hahahahahahahahahahahahahahaha *swig of rose wine spritzer*" because clearly, it means a lot more to some people, than the fact that yes, it's just a game. But why? That's what intrigues me. It's all very well dismissing your ex-boyfriend's love of The Beautiful Game because it is "just a game", but you'll never lead a rich and fulfilled life if you flick other people's loves and hobbies out of the air with a throwaway comment that proves you don't know what you're talking about. To a lot of people, sports involve a sense of union and shared passion that they can't find elsewhere. To people like me, this sense of kinship (however shit that word is) is found at gigs. Some people like feeling connected with musicians and their fans, some people like feeling connected with their sports heroes and their fans. And some people like feeling connected in myriad other ways, from going to film conventions, to playing WoW. Everybody has their own geeky love for something, but most of us keep our polite traps shut about it. But no. Not sports fans. They hoot it out everywhere, and people who don't like sport can fuck off as far as they're concerned. Because sport is more than a hobby, yeah? It's a religion. It's about pride. And all that other shit they gargle on about when you ask them to stop singing offensively loudly in the pub on a Saturday evening.

TV seems to have this opinion too, with sporting events holding precedence over any other show that might be on. A British athlete is taking part, and so by some ridiculous law of mouth, we should all care about it, because We Love Britain. Well, I hate to piss on the party, but no we don't; as a nation we mainly fucking hate Britain. Have you read the papers recently? We love talking about how everything's gone to shit, about how our kids are running riot, about how old people are dying in care, about how pollution is getting worse, about how there aren't any jobs, about how shit the public transport infrastructure is, and especially about how none of it is our fault. Because we hate our government too, because they made everything bad, it wasn't us. But put an exhausted but happy British national on the tallest podium, with a flag draped on their shoulders and suddenly we're all bellowing Jerusalem and turning red and jelloid with pride. Just...just fuck off.

I don't hate sport. I used to play football and hockey at school, and it was my childhood dream to be an Olympic swimmer. True story. What I do hate is people using sport as an excuse to act like pricks. So we won the Ashes. Fantastic. I mean it, great, I'm sure the English team and their parents are very very proud. They did their job well. But looking at the pictures, I'm not convinced it was worth all that effort. Have you seen how fucking tiny that trophy is? I mean, SERIOUSLY? It's just SO SMALL. Well done England, well done. I'm sure what matters now is that you'll all be given OBEs and Sports Personality of the Year awards, and advertising contracts with healthy cereal brands. Congrats. Now sing the National Anthem, because it wasn't you or your effort that won this, it was THE WHOLE COUNTRY.

* The topic of this entry was chosen by xthemusic, who has since also asked me to call him a cunt. Whatever floats your boat, hun. Go read his blog, yeah?
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