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.

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