Tuesday, 14 December 2010

Heroes - Liz Lemon

Sometimes you aspire to be them, other times you're accidentally almost halfway there.

"I'm really sorry about what I did. And I know you can't forgive me but just to even things out, here is all my weird secret stuff. I have been sexually rejected by not one, but two guys who later went to clown college. I get super nervous whenever I hear a vacuum cleaner because when I was a kid, my mom used to turn on the vacuum to drown out the sound of her and my dad fighting. Which is why I rarely vacuum my apartment. Like, never. I have had three doughnuts so far today. Once in college, I pooped my pants a little bit at a country steaks all you can eat buffet and I didn't leave until I finished my second plate of shrimp. A couple months ago, I went on a date with my cousin. Wow, I am a mess. There is an 80% chance that in the next election I will tell all my friends that I'm voting for Barack Obama but I will secretly vote for John McCain. Here's one: when I was a kid, I used to put on my fanciest nightgown and then I would mix orange soda and cream soda in a champagne glass and I would sit in the dark and watch The Love Boat. Consequently, I have some weird sexual fantasy stuff about Gopher from The Love Boat. And I lied. I have had five doughnuts today."

"Sorry, I dropped it (the lego train) when I was pretending it was my penis. ROBOT PENIS"
"I'll cut you so bad, you'll have a chin. You'll ALL have chins!"

Anxiety Therapy

As part of my cognitive behavioural therapy, I'm supposed to admit all of my perceived faults to a friend, in order to make them real and less evil and invented in my mind. Instead of burdening any of my acquaintances with this load of pseudo-psychology bullshit, I'm writing it all down here.

Anxiety is not the most fun affliction to suffer from. I'm not going to pretend it is the worst thing a person could have, because quite frankly it appears to be a wuss' disease that a normal person would take in their stride - but this is the whole "deal" with it, the whole aspect of it that makes it so unbearable at times; it convinces you that you are weak, which makes it worse.

I used to suffer severely from depression, and although I have perked up quite considerable, the whole ball ache of social anxiety disorder is still raging it's way though my personality like a 1990's BSE scare through the newspapers. I just wanted to note down how ridiculous my affliction is, so that:
a) other people who suffer from anxiety can laugh and say "me too"
b) people who do not have it can laugh and say "that is retarded".

So, where to start? I sometimes have panic attacks on the bus to work. My panic attacks are almost exclusively situated on public transport, probably so as many strangers as possible can witness my breathing exercises and assume that I am a madwoman. However, one of my most spectacular attacks was during the ordering of a meal at a pub in Lancaster with my good friend Sophie. Apparently choosing a sandwich can sometimes be enough to tip me over the edge. (In the end I chose grilled Mediterranean vegetable with mozzarella - a god choice, but slightly spoiled by my continuing need to bolt through the doors into the icy street.)

Anxiety is not always characterised by panic attacks, though. The main annoyance of it is an almost constant feeling of nervousness, on a par with waiting to go into a gym hall full of hard plastic chairs to either get injected with something or take a maths exam. Sometimes, I will be so anxious about where a TV programme's story is heading that I will have to make an excuse and leave the room. I currently have stomach ache because Liz Lemon decided not to move to Cleveland, even though I have seen this particular episode of 30 Rock almost half a dozen times. Sometimes the music in adverts and films make me want to cry, and I think it's just because of the mounting tension. I do understand that this makes me sound clinically insane, but I can assure you, I am not alone in this.

I feel sick whenever my phone rings, dating back to the days when my boss used to ring me to tell me I was late for work despite having the day off, so that I would cover a shift thinking I was supposed to be in anyway. Trains are my safe place because you are never in any one place at any time, and so none of the views are relateable to experiences I have had - catching trains however, makes me want to run all the way home and hide under my bed. Once I threw up simply because I was in London.

If I forget what I'm talking about in the middle of a conversation, I go dizzy and the room starts to go out of focus. I have once fainted because I forgot somebody's name while talking to them. If I have to approach somebody I have never met, I will unintentionally offend them as a means of breaking the ice, as having people hate me is better than thinking I'm a gibbering weirdo. I have punched a lot of my friends, simply out of embarrassment. I am not supposed to drink because it makes me belligerent, but I do anyway because otherwise I can't control the unlimited spray of boring anecdotes that come out of my mouth in order to mask silence which I perceive as awkwardness.

I go out of my way to solve other people's problems because it gives me a sense of control. Once my contract is over this Christmas and I move back to Leeds, I have no idea what's going to happen, and it scares the shit out of me.

So there it is - Anxiety basically means you have a phobia of being alive. Now aren't we all glad I'm on medication?

Check your anxiety symptoms here: NHS.com

Thursday, 9 December 2010

Tuition Fees and the Education Thatcher (thanks Sophie)

And so it has been passed that higher education fees will be rocketed up into the night sky like a huge dollar sign on a big roller coaster train made of paper money and mid-grade cocaine. All the parades and signs and letters to MPs didn't do much to stop the inevitable, but it was not entirely futile. It gives the future researchers of the "I love the 2000s" series some nice poignant pictures to show during a monologue by a 70 year old David Quantick about how awful the Tories are, and also it gave us all a chance to let off steam. Even I, the poster girl for "I care, but not enough" sent an email to a Lib Dem MP I felt betrayed by (Greg Mulholland to name names, a man who has sent me a signed letter in the past stating his categorical resentment of tuition fees). It has been a time of anger and confusion, of bitterness and long drawn-out sighs of hopelessness. Now, as the dust begins to settle, and the students trudge back to their individual Jarrows, we can all see that voting for this future simply because it was different, was definitely a bad decision. We should have stayed with the Vogon. At least he was good with figures and didn't just cut things off willy nilly when he accidentally caught sight of the country's debt in a mirror on his way to the bathroom.

What do these tuition fees actually mean though? Well to me, a recent graduate and total narcissist, they mean very little. The money I owe (pushing the £15,000 mark) piles on £20 a month, and will do until I pay it off, sometime between the birth of my second child and the day I leave work on a sabbatical for nervous breakdowning all over a conference hall. To others it has a heavier meaning; my sister for example, who begins her course next year, will be looking at tuition fees of up to £7000 a year - this is solely tuition fees, of course. On top of this she will be looking at paying for accommodation, child care, and general living. This is of course why there has been such outrage over the new charges. Why should the price of higher education be so high? Why should students now pay more than their parents or even older siblings for the same degree of education? Why should professors and lecturers be laid off in order for universities to make up monetary costs brought by cuts?

One of the points being argued emphatically in the press at the moment is the effect higher university costs are going to have on the ability of poorer people to enter higher education. On Channel 4 news tonight, MP David Hynes claimed that far from suffering from "bad debt", thresholds and payback schemes would prevent future graduates from actually feeling that they were paying anything back at all. The threshold will be £21,000 a year. Currently, it is £25,000. To put this in perspective, if you earn £7 an hour, you will be liable to pay back your allocated £21000 debt, for as long as it takes. Taking anything out of a nearly minimum wage pay packet is noticeable, and to claim that it would go almost unnoticed is not only unbelievably whimsical, it seriously undermines the real problems a lot of households face on a regular basis. Struggling with money is now a British pastime. Many more people than you'd imagine come from families where £1 own-clothes-days at school were dreaded, because £1 meant potential bus or lunch money being spent to simply wear old jeans and a t-shirt. Simply brushing off debt repayments with a casual "ahh, you'll never notice" is patronising, and it is wrong.

I think about my debts every day, but they mean nothing to me. It seems such a preposterously large number that I'm almost sure it has been invented. This is how future debts will appear to future students. The idea that poorer classes will be put off higher education may have a founding in truth, but really, if a person wants to go to university, they will, and their debts will remain unpaid for decades after their graduation. According to the Institute for Fiscal Studies, the university participation rates of poorer people were among the highest for the past twenty years. Participation rates have grown, but funds have shrunk, leaving the prospect of incoming students the only means of a steady income for higher education institutes. No wonder university was tube-fed to me all the way through high school. Universities are businesses now, and the more students they have, the quicker they can knock down those old halls and build a new sports centre. Will higher costs mean less students? Of course it will. Professor Nicola Miller who spoke with Jon Snow about the issue said rather heroically concisely of her concerns that in the very near future she will be forced to decide which of her staff to lay off, being that teaching staff are the only steady outgoings a university has to make. Less renowned professionals, less full-time dedicated staff, less highly-regarded experts to come in from the outside and do talks. She foresees a future of overstuffed lecture theatres and part-time lecturers, just qualified and paid much less than those previously dominating their role. University won't be a staggering world of creaky varnished wood and  learning, it will be plain rooms filled with disillusioned people making sparse notes about the bare minimum that will be required for them to achieve a grade.

Who needs university anyway? Eight months after recieving my 2:1 in the post I am still working in retail. Don't bother. Just get that sun-drenched bar job in Australia and get the hell out of the UK before nurses and accountants take to the streets in protests more violent than a Rambo sequel, and the life outside your front door becomes Kidulthood world. Somebody get me a visa and a gin.

Tuesday, 7 December 2010

Julian Assange and the Wrath of Sweden

Wikileaks has caused quite a stir, I think it's fair to say. I tried to ignore it for quite some time, being that I'm suffering from stress at the moment and I thought it would do my heart no good to get involved with something so deep and meaningful. However, when a story makes it into every single paper as a slightly different entity, I become interested.

As Roy Greenslade noted in his blog last week, the strangeness of Assange's case is not in what he has done, but how differently his actions on Wikileaks have been interpreted in order for America to be able to arrest him. America as one singularity, that is. The flag-waving, deer-shooting, God-loving America we all like to pretend is just a hilarious joke for Jon Stewart to roll out every day, but which then gets folded back up and put in a dusty cupboard in the back of the studio. Of course, Sarah Palin, the woman who inspires anger and violence in every human being on the planet (she made me punch a door once) has decried that Wikileaks and therefore Julain Assange to be "Anti-American" - whatever that bandied-about phrase actually means - and senior republican Mike Huckabee (not a cartoon bear, as I had hoped) has called out for his execution, claiming that "anything less would be too kind a punishment".

That, in case you hadn't noticed, is a pretty severe declaration for someone who fist-smashingly demands freedom and a just society in front of the star spangled banner.

It isn't just republicans who are baying for Assange's blood though, so don't start feeling all superior and British. The Daily Mail have reported the whole affair with a very interesting slant - calling on his current sexual offense allegations in Sweden and reporting several times that he suffers from manic depression; adding that Americans are calling him a terrorist and claiming that he has put lives in danger.

Let's just think about that for a second. He has put lives in danger for spreading memos and information already being passed by those who rule over us. He has endangered our wholesome little lives by revealing that Hilary Clinton ordered diplomats to spy on members of the UN. Luckily not all of our press coverage has been so childish, and despite The Sun, The Times and The Telegraph largely dismissing Wikileaks as either dangerous attention-seeking or a bally good laugh respectively, they have all printed large swathes of Assange's work, leaving the public in no doubt as to his (and his now adversaries') intentions.

I tend to agree with John Naughton when he says that either we live with a Wikileaks world, or shut down the entire Internet. Either governments accept that their misgivings about other ministers, their underhanded deals, their snide comments about backbenchers, campaigners or their own supporters will be revealed at some point by another person who has some idea of how to find incriminating documents (if Assange didn't do it, let's face it, somebody else would). What next? Do we ban all passage of information from the powers to the proles? Do we arrest all those capable of uncovering secrets and place them in high-security solitary confinement until they blubberingly promise not to tell tales on their masters? If that is how we supposedly keep our countries safe, then perhaps everyone should have their abilities to communicate revoked. Even a do-gooding low-down member of a corporation can occasionally find a slightly dodgy memo. What then? I once heard a previous boss of mine call his manager a dickhead. Does that mean I have to go to jail now for endangering the rights of big business?

Then there is the whole awful business of Assange's Swedish sexual assault case. According to an article in The Guardian, in the past, Assange has dismissed the allegations, stating on Twitter: "The charges are without basis and their issue at this moment is deeply disturbing." He believes that Sweden is acting under the heavy influence of America, using smear tactics to humiliate him into handing himself over to the authorities. His lawyers are refusing to extradite him for trial, claiming there is insufficient evidence to say it is even worth sending him over. Nevertheless, it does give critics the chance to claim that not only is he mentally ill, he is also a rapist. Which is nice to have on the front of a paper when the only other news is dominated by snow ploughs and late trains.

Assange is now asking his supporters, much diminished by his handling of Afghanistan war logs, to help him make bail should it come to that, which he predicts will be somewhere in the region of £150,000. Quoted in The Australian newspaper; "As far as I can see he (Mr Assange) hasn't broken any Australian law," Senator Brandis, a QC, told Sky News. "Nor does it appear he has broken any American laws."

 So while the debate rages on about whether a potentially invented sexual assault case has anything to do with sharing secret documents meant for our superiors' eyes only, I suggest we start up a new debate, thanks to @Selectronic on Twitter. "Finding Julian Assange hotter by the day. Come find me when all this blows over @ " Assange - would you?

Monday, 15 November 2010

[under duress] My Top 20 Albums of 2010

My place of work has demanded that I write down my top twenty albums of this year, and then share them with my fellow colleagues.

Unfortunately, I have mostly listened to Ben Sage's 2008 release "How The Days Collide" over and over, occasionally wondering whether Burial was going to hurry up and make a new set of sounds for me to absorb. No such luck, so far.

However, with a bit of hard work, I have managed to get 20 albums out of this year's solidly ridiculous hipster-fap. I thougth you might like to see them, and then list why I'm wrong about it underneath. That's what music fans do, isn't it?

Ok, here we go.

20. Cee Lo Green - Ladykiller.
Cee-Lo is a fucking legend. His voice is how I imagine baby centaurs would sing, if they were brought up during northern soul in the 70s. This album might be sneered at by some, but those "some" are clearly total morons.

(Embedding for Cee Lo has been disabled - soz)


19. The Roots - How I Got Over
Hip-Hop with soul. I just love them. So should you.

18. Four Tet - There Is Love In You
My love affair with Four Tet has been long and enduring, and they didn't let me down this year.

17. Darwin Deez - Darwin Deez
This cheeky chappy might look like he needs a bath, but he does make the most cheerful pop music you've ever heard. And I'm not using "pop" in the 'I guess if we say pop it makes us look like we have a broad musical spectrum' sense, I mean, look at him. He's pop through and through. He makes me dance like a primary school kid in a PE lesson.

16. Laura Marling - I Speak Because I Can
Little Laura has made me cry before with her wispy-yet-powerful voice. It was hard for someone so lyrically mature to grow up, but she's managing it. A great effort.

15. Andreya Triana - Lost Where I Belong
I was notified of Andreya Triana's album this year because of hearing her voice in my Bonobo playlist (yes, Bonobo playlist). A bit Sunday Papers, but still enjoyable.

14. Erykah Badu - New AmErykah Part 2 Return Of The Ankh

A soulful voice, odd samples, interesting beats - good road trip music.

13. Foals - Total Life Forever
As much as I dislike most indie music, I somehow fall for the most indie of them all every time. "Math Rock"? I mean, what even is that? Foals <3

12. Danny Byrd - Rave Digger
We're getting into my regular territory now. Danny is mental, which is pretty much the only way to describe his own unique way of crushing D&B up into tasty little crumbs and glueing them back together with syrupy-sweet melodic treacle. If you'll pardon the laboured metaphor.

11. The National - High Violet
There are two reasons why this album is on this list. One - The National are, and always have been, motherflipping awesome. The second is that if I didn't include them, my boss would probably fire me.

10. Chilly Gonzales - Ivory Tower
Quite frankly the most unashamedly funtastical album since Chromeo's debut. This also inclues my song of the year, You Can Dance.

9. Netsky - Netsky
He gets his name from Skynet, the robo-baddies from Terminator films, and he makes what I like to call "Nighttime D&B". Basically, it sounds better if you're out in the dark and there's some orange streetlamps lighting up the wet pavement. It's ATMOSPHERIC. We got there in the end.

8. Logistics - Space Jams
Another Hospital Records dude, but I can't help myself. They're all so flaming well talented. What can I say? He always comes up with the goods.

7. Crystal Castles - Crystal Castles (II)
Yeah, they called their second album the same as their name AND their debut. Yeah, they're madder than a basket full of tadpoles. Yeah, they're so noisy sometimes you wish your ears would pack up. I still love 'em though. I've seen them more than any other band in my lifetime (7 times, or 6, if you don't count the one where I was unconscious). Embrace the ridiculousness, and wish you had a Black Eyed Madonna T-Shirt (mine got stolen :( )

6. Deftones - Diamond Eyes
Deftones are another band who bring out album after album of music so good I want to eat it all up. Helpully, the big fat walls of reverb they create makes it that much easier to imagine each track is a big sandwich.

5. Massive Attack - Heligoland
Not their best offering, but I was so damn worked up about it that i forced myself to love it, despite it's flaws. You can't tell a parent that their child is useless, and the same goes for trying to tell me that Massive Attack are irrelevant. I don't believe you.

4. Chromeo - Business Casual
Chromeo are sheer brilliance, plus, the lead singer is hot like jalopenos. AND they were on Yo Gabba Gabba. Sayyy whhaaaaaaat.

3. Flying Lotus - Cosmogramma
A man who made me love him at Bangface - he has more fun performing than all those in the crowd combined. THAT my friends, is an acheivement. Jagged hip-hop beats and dream-like samples. Loverlay.

2. Bonobo - Black Sands
A friend once said to me when I passed comment about my listening to Bonobo: "How very vegan of you". Yes, they do sound like the musical equivalent of wooden floorboards, woven throws, scatter cushions and incense sticks, but isn't that nice to have sometimes? Don't you sometimes want a nice comforting bath that tells you how lovely you are sometimes, rather than an aggressive yet invigorating shower? So yes, Bonobo is the Galaxy chocolate of the musical world, but I bloody love them for it.

1. MIA - /\/\/\Y/\
Good old Maya Arulgaprasm's been at the Korg again. This album was kicked from loved to hated so many times this year that it just had to be number one. It still hasn't bored me, and she still makes me feel excited about what music can be. Congratulations MIA, you've got a fan in an insignificant online presence :)

Thursday, 4 November 2010

Kutiman - Still my favourite man on the internet.

It's wrong, actually, to say he's my favourite man. It implies his genius is singular. He, and the people who star in the videos he cuts up to form beautifully complex musical feats of editing achievement, are my favourite people on the internet.

He started making his Youtube video mashups three years ago, and I noticed them...ooh, about a year after that. I never stated that I was particularly fast to catch on to internet phenomena.

Here it is, the greatest human acheivement since Guy Manuel de Homem-Christo and Thomas Bangaliter's mothers gave birth. I hope you continue to love it as much as I do.

Visit Kutiman's website Thru-You and prepare to feel a helluva lot less talented.

Wednesday, 27 October 2010

Halifax ISA ISA Woman, How Do I Hate You? Let Me Count The Ways...

Unlike most of the human race, I love a good advert. I'm not a psychopath, I don't like bad adverts, but when an ad is executed perfectly, I really enjoy watching them. I could talk all day about my favourite adverts, and I really do think that although I buy what is advertised like a total sucker, I'm being made happy by this fact. After all, I enjoyed the advert so much that I remembered it, therefore they deserve to win my custom. A shallow way to live, yes, but I'm 100% consumer, so there's not much I can do about that I'm afraid.

It upsets me then, that some companies feel they can invade my comfortable living room with their badly-constructed, cliché (be it visual or sentence-based) ridden market cries. How dare they demand my attention for thirty whole seconds, when what they have to offer is a disturbing mish-mash of unfinished ideas and annoying jingles. "Washing machines live longer with Calgon". Could they not have tried a little harder? I suppose you've got to give them credit for their down-to-the-facts no-nonsense approach, but to get me to buy their product they're going to need to add some cinematics to the equation.

Some companies, however, abandon all attempts to just get their message across, and apparently go completely bananas in search of the perfect way to flog their merch. They suddenly become aware, for no reason, that the Public (capital P to denote a non-existent mass of similarity) are complete idiots who need to be pandered to and entertained in their own moronic way. The best example of this type of cultural holocaust are the Halifax adverts.

For the best part of a decade, Halifax adverts have been wholly unbearable, mainly due to Howard and his singing and jigging about like a pillock. Some people liked them though. These people were those older women in your office, who giggled as they repeated choice lines from them. The people who send FW: emails with "THIS IS TRUE, TRY IT FOR URSELV" in the subject line. People who actually buy ringtones. People who think the Compare the Meercat website is "genius". They were wrong, but they liked them. The newish (well, a year or-so old) adverts however, defy convention, belief and the rules of common decency.

Set in an impossibly clean and naturally-lit Radio Station, the Halifax crew are for some reason broadcasting their interest rates to the nation via vaguely tongue-in-cheek ad-breaks.

I hate these adverts more than third world injustice.

I'm not sure if it's the incessant chirpiness of the characters that so offends me, or whether I'm still smarting from a succession of unfair bank charges they laid upon my name several years ago, but what I am sure of is that I hate one of the gang more than the others by a long long way.

ISA ISA Baby woman. I hate you. I shouldn't care so much about a character in an advert, but I do. You make me clench my fists in anger when I see your face. Your head movements make me want to throw babies down the stairs. The way you treat your pretend co-workers is horrendous, hen-pecking the girls and flirting aggressively with the guys - it's not obvious, but evident that behind the scenes your character bitches like Gok Wan three days after new year when he's given up fags and booze. I feel sorry for the brown-haired lass you co-starred with in an earlier advert; it was clear you threatened to steal her boyfriend if she upstaged you.

Your joke isn't funny! ISA ISA baby. ISA ISA baby. No matter how many times I think about it, I still can't understand why it is on my TV so frequently. She is the type of person who looks around the room for acknowledgement when she says a joke. In the radio station staffroom, she is the person who despite the air of exhaustion laughs loudly at her phone, and when nobody asks what she's laughing at, exclaims anyway that her friend just sent her "a REALLY funny message!" but does not tell you what it says. Her car has stickers on it that say "Mad Bitch on board!" or "Powered by chocolate". 

ISA ISA woman, should you really be so fervent in your advances towards fellow colleagues? Making an ironic nod towards shit 90s nostalgia (Thanks @mattmaloney) is not a brilliant way to make a good first impression, especially if that person has more than half a brain-stem and is one of your colleagues. He's seen you at the office Christmas party, smashed on vodka and cranberry, trying to snog Barry from reprographics and wearing a cat-ears headband which you have declared as "totally random!" to everybody in the room. You spilled rose wine on his shirt at Barbara's leaving do in your haste to leave the table for karaoke. Despite your boasts, you did not sound like Mariah Carey, and had to be put in a taxi early after you began sobbing in the bathroom for an indeterminate reason. He looks interested out of common decency, please leave the poor man alone.

How one misjudged idea has managed to go so wrong is beyond me, but by spending so much money on an advert that makes me want to hang myself they have achieved one thing - I will never be using or buying any of their products. I have strong principles. Despite their high overdraft rate for students I didn't open an account with them because I hated Howard so much (and also because of the Charges Grudge).

Fuck you, Halifax advertisements. Fuck you.

Tuesday, 26 October 2010

The Best Band in the World Make A Film

Everyone has a favourite band. A lot of these favourite bands are rather dubious to the outsider, despite fervent protests of their supreme superiority.

My favourite band is, and always has been, Daft Punk. Well, except when I was younger and thought that my Top 40 mixtapes were the only thing worth listening to. Seeing them live put the cherry on top - I will always be in love with those faceless shiny biker robots from heaven.

There's a really good preview of the film here - Hollywood News Videos

 I want you all to watch this and weep with stunned amazement, as I did when I first saw it. Tron and Daft Punk. Can my life get any better?

Friday, 15 October 2010

Reclaim Your Lunch Break With Dorset Cereals!

Do you set enough time aside every day to have a proper lunch? If you work in a service-based job like I do, something involving retail or customer service, you'll probably be given set breaks where you get to sit down with a cup of water-soluble caffeine, but if you work in an office, there's a whole different dynamic going on.

The perils of a double-dip recession sound mainly sherbet and swizzle stick-based, but the reality is far more bleak. People are working day in day out in fear that their job might be whisked away from under them, like a well-worn metaphorical rug. As a direct result, people are working late for no extra pay, and shunning lunch hours in favour of getting extra meeting prep in, all because of the underlying fear that non-committal will be punished.

Of course bad behaviour at work is met with formal rebukes, but should your tea break be looked upon as an unnecessary luxury? Should employers really be following Gordon Gekko's motto "lunch is for wimps"? Or are they happy that you're taking healthy rest and you're just paranoid? Well?

Not everybody can live the rural idyll of pet goats and home-grown veg, but we can all treat ourselves to a half-hour of decent food and relaxation, whether we work in a factory or a boutique hotel. That's why Dorset Cereals have started a campaign to get frazzled workers out of the office and into a bonafide, proper lunch break! And, as luck would have it, they've just brought out three more flavours of their frankly yummyscrumptious cereal bars to put in your lunch box. How convenient! I'll be reviewing them later this week, all for you, you understand. I'm so good to you.

I've clubbed together with the lovely Rob from Dorset Cereals to offer four of my readers the chance to win some of these lovely lunch bags packed with chewy oaty cereal bar goodness, and as an added bonus, I'm making one lucky mega-winner a special prize pack with a recipe book and other things I haven't quite decided on yet inside!

All you have to do is enter my little competition.What I'd like you to do is send me a little comment or email about what your ideal lunch dates - maybe you'd want to chew the fat with Stephen Fry over a salad Nicoisse, maybe you'd prefer to drool over an ice-cream sundae with all your friends. The best ones will be chosen by me, and will be posted on this blog with a link to your website (if you have one).

So get cracking with your stories!
I got carried away and didn't say when the closing date was!

Visit their website: http://www.dorsetcereals.co.uk/lunchbreak where you can find a pdf "OUT TO LUNCH!" sign for your computer!

Tuesday, 12 October 2010

Shit Films and Dubious Recommendations

Over-enthusiastic and completely fabricated film critic quotes are not a new phenomenon - how about Sony in 2001? But this time I'm not ranting and raving about a well-publicised lie, I'm amused by something altogether more legal.

There's yet another 3D Cartoon mess all over the cinemas at the moment. Alpha and Omega is an animated story about two wolves in love (of course), and believe it or not, the reviews for it have not been fantastic.

 [Image from telepisodes.com]

My usual haunt for finding out whether films are worth seeing is Rotten Tomatoes, and I was given quite a lot to giggle about with some of the bite sized reviews. "Alpha and Omega, an unambitious 3-D animation about a couple of young wolves in love, isn't so much howlingly bad as it is howlingly boring." says Michael O'Sullivan from the Washington Post. "It's an ugly, laughless 3-D cartoon about wolves that is so wussified and stupidified that it'll bore kids and make their adult minders wish they'd done something comparatively interesting, like cleaning the gutters in the rain." adds Kyle Smith from the New York Post. Sounds great huh?

This got me thinking. Who on earth gave it the very flattering quotes for the advert I saw for it in-between episodes of Jeremy Kyle? (Two brothers battling for a stake in a £25000 inheritance....that might not exist! Back after the break...) I couldn't help but try to find out.

NYC Movie Guru. Sounds pretty authoritative. "Charming...Hilarious....Will win your heart" it says. "At an ideal running time of 1 hour and 28 minutes, Alpha and Omega is a thrilling adventure full of imagination and humor. It’s the best animated film of the season. You don’t have to be a kid to enjoy it." Want to read the review? Here you go. Not the glossy page I was expecting from the main positive reviewer for a fairly famous film. I might not be the only person who found this a bit odd.

As an independent blog, I'm glad they are sticking to their own opinions. When a movie reaches our cinema screens with little better than a well-read blog telling potential viewers that it's good though, does this mean the industry is wasting it's time and money making these 3D computer animated Lion King rip-offs? Should Justin Long really be whoring himself out like this? Will 3D ever be left alone like the gimmick it truly is?

I don't have a point really, I just wanted to know what you all thought....

Wednesday, 6 October 2010

Don't Rile A Journalism Graduate - Ben Dudley v Arcedia Direct

When you graduate from university, the first thing you want to secure is a full-time job within the industry you're familiar with. With the job market being so very useless and saturated with minimum-wage call centre dross, stumbling across a vacancy that suits your talents can be about as exciting as riding a llama around a Christmas pudding factory. What I'm trying to say, is that jobs are hard to come by.

Ben Dudley, a 2010 Journalism graduate and fellow Leeds Trinity and All Saints botherer, was recently given a taste of how it would feel to be wanted by a successful company. It was exciting. They asked him to turn up for an interview almost immediately, giving off the distinct flavour of we-want-you desperation. Here is Ben to describe exactly who Bristol-based Arcedia Direct actually are.

"Basically they advertise a job as a 14k - 16k a year advertiser," he says "and everyone who applies gets invited to an interview. They ring you up as soon as they get the application, and offer you an interview the same day or the next day.

"Once I got to their office, there were about 25 other people there at the same time as me. You get taken into an office in groups of 3 - 4, and they promise you the world. They say they are looking for managers who will be paid 90k a year within 6 months of joining the company, and a whole lot of other promises.

"When I questioned them on salary vs commission, he got very defensive and ended the interview as soon as possible, telling us to come back the next day. I asked around, and everyone who was interviewed was invited back the next day and offered the job.

"When I got home I researched the company online, and they make people go around the streets knocking on doors trying to sell things to vulnerable people such as the elderly. Then the managers take all the commission people make. I found one story of a guy who worked for almost two months and was paid £30 in total."

It turns out that around this time last year, the Daily Mirror in a freak incident of real investigative journalism delved into the murky waters of Arcedia Direct. Here is the article, in which reporter Johnny O'Callaghan went undercover (sort-of) to find out more about the allegations of extortion and under-pay by getting himself a job with them. While on the job he noted:
* Some young staff earning below the minimum wage.
* Agents on self-employment contracts with no right to a minimum wage and no access to benefits such as sick pay, holiday pay or redundancy payments.
* Staff encouraged to work harder to win promotion and earn extra money from the sales of junior colleagues.

 So, on finding out this information, what would you do? Would you go to the second interview anyway? Would you confront them? Would you simply not turn up?

 "Being that I'm more likely apply to the Chilean federation of Miners than to one of their jobs again, I didn't go. That's when I sent the angry email."

Below is the torrent of awesome that Ben decided to send Arcedia Direct, to explain why he would not be present at their second interview stage.

Arcedia Direct have yet to reply.

[If you have any experience with Arcedia Direct, or you are a representative and would like to defend your frankly, reprehensible behaviour, please contact me at k.taylor.cronshaw@gmail.com]

Thursday, 30 September 2010

2nd Hand Start

As you may have noticed if you're a regular reader, I've become somewhat interested in Eco things. Don't be afraid, I haven't suddenly started wearing hemp underpants, what's happened is I've become very poor. This major factor, combined with my staying for some time with friends who actually do care whether polar bears live or die has led me to start thinking about the products I buy on a daily/weekly basis.

I have this moral overhaul at least once a year. Usually I intend to buy Eco-friendly Christmas presents wrapped in homemade papyrus, and then I forget about it for another year. This year however, I have run out of money entirely, which is something that doesn't happen very often. I have found myself having to think about leftovers, or walking instead of getting the bus. Don't get me wrong, I'm not willfully wasteful, but growing up in a family who had nothing really makes you resent having to mend and make-do. Throwing out old shoes gives me some sort of perverse pleasure. Turning the heating on when I'm cold fills me with huge joy. Knowing that I'm not allowed to do these things now is making me sulk quite a bit. That's where the "Eco" bit comes in.

Labelling "being poor" as "caring for the environment" really shuffles my brain into action. Imagine a magician dealing cards. That's what my thoughts look like. "Just get another one" turns into "what can we use instead?" and "I want a take-away" magically morphs into "I want a take-away, but I'm not fucking allowed one, I'll just make some mash". It makes being poor seem a lot more rewarding. I haven't bought a Nestlé product in over a week - mainly because I haven't bought anything in over a week - but the sentiment is there. If you look for it. Even downloading music can become Eco-friendly; after all, if I bought a CD I wanted, there'd be all that plastic and packaging. Sure, there's legal downloads, but that means using my credit card, and I read somewhere that that was against the Eco off-the-grid rules. Pick and choose your morals carefully. You'll never have to buy anything again.

Along the way, I've learned how to make kinder washing powder, I've developed a strong inclination to possibly begin to start learning how to crochet, I still haven't learned how to drive, and I've written a list of things I want from charity shops. Being Eco friendly is easy.

Monday, 27 September 2010

Supreme Master and the Breatharianists

If you've got Sky in the UK, turn over to channel 835. "Supreme Master Ching Hai" is a property magnate and designer from Taiwan who has channelled some of her money energy into creating a TV channel where she spreads the word of the Quan Yin method - a type of Buddhism.

Ching Hai herself has been criticised by leaders of the Buddhist faith for her ostentatious dress and money-making schemes, along with several strange appearances in public (one in particular was on "Ching Hai" Day, where she was carried aloft on a throne wearing regal robes, said to have been suggested by God himself). Her followers however, number in the region of 20,000 worldwide, and are drawn to her policies on peace, love, and veganism.

The nightly news is what attracted me to her show. Headlines such as "Koala Bears are still cute, and eat bamboo" have the ability to stop you in your tracks (with or without the added bonus that Koalas do no such thing). Seemingly endless stories about schools opening and animals being saved from trees, translated into 12 languages and with ten minutes of options for viewers who's mother language has not been catered for once the news finishes, is quite a sight to behold. On a backdrop of a rising sun, Ching Hai appears occasionally to spread a sentence of wisdom. This wisdom is the type of words-in-a-line wonder that makes you go "wow" when you're drunk and you hear it in a song at 2am.

Don't just take my disparaging remarks as fact though - visit her website, enticingly named http://www.godsdirectcontact.org/ or perhaps you might like to buy some of her heavenly items at thecelestialshop.com - remembering of course that one of the essential pre-requisites of being a successful Buddhist is to disregard your earthly possessions. A $1,500 diamond necklace doesn't seem too helpful as a heavenly purchase, when you come to think about it.

It's all too easy to sit and pontificate about how self-proclaimed religious leaders are a danger to people of a certain unstable or needy disposition, but perhaps if believing in Ching Hai makes people happy, they should be left to it. There is that school of thought, of course. Once you discover the extreme lengths scholars of the Quan Yin method go to in order to achieve great enlightenment, however, the more tolerant in society start to shake their heads and boiled with rage.

Breatharianism, Aquarianism and Fruitarianism are three types of religious control and abstention, portrayed in an extremely positive light on the Supreme Master TV channel.

[Supreme Master Ching Hai, presumably on the phone to God]

Breatharianism, for those who aren't aware of this "phenomenon", is the practice of giving up food entirely, and surviving only on air and the energy found naturally in the world. Aquarianism is the practice of living solely on air and water.

I wonder if you've fully taken in how absurd the last two sentences I just wrote are. "Surviving only on air and the energy found naturally in the world". Breatharians and Aquariums (I couldn't resist) therefore believe that sunlight and being near trees can sustain them enough for them to live a normal and healthy life. Not only to they believe this, they encourage others to follow suit. Warning messages on the show claim viewers "should not try to live a life without food without competent guidance".

"Competent guidance". Wiley Brooks is a breatharian tutor, and displays his teachings on the website www.breatharian.com alongside links where you can donate money to his church of ascension. Brooks subscribes to the idea that a human can live a full life in a non-polluted atmosphere without the need for food or liquids. As a sort of two-for-one deal for non-believers, he also believes food came down to earth in the form of an intergalactic ice-cream, used by aliens as a celestial drug.

When asked then, why he had been pictured on holiday with a MacDonald's double cheeseburger meal and a diet coke, he responded with this amazing paragraph of what-the-fuckery:
"IN THE BEGINNING WAS THE WORD, THE WORD WAS WITH GOD, THE WAS GOD’ .or something like that. I’ll get the correct quote in time
The secret in the diet coke is the "LIQUID LIGHT" Duh!!!!
The type of plastic and quantity of it combined with the diet coke equals the base frequency of its liquid light.
I know that was a long answer, but what can I say?"

And this, ladies and gentlemen, is why I'm watching Supreme Master's TV show. Somebody needs to debunk the items of "news" that she plays. I just hope nobody gets hurt by these displays of complete moronity. Just in case you were wondering, any breatharian who has been subjected to scientific analysis who has not given in to eating food for sustainance, has died.

Is there a religious PCC I can call?

Wednesday, 22 September 2010

Freeganism and Skipping - Saving the world, one cabbage at a time

Skipping - The art of getting into massive industrial bins to find the gold at the bottom.

The first thing I noticed was the irony of the word "pride" printed on a cardboard box inside the skip I was about to root through for food. The man working in the carpentry workshop across the car park was paying absolutely zero notice of the two freegans - myself and my good friend PK - rummaging through the crates outside of the local fruit and veg cash and carry, and combined with the friendly wave from one of the vegetable shop employees this was a good enough reception for me to stop my silly snobbery and get my hands dirty.

The thing about Skipping is that good things can be found, if you only look for them. The cash and carry we visited is used to having waste-hating types rescuing lettuces from certain disposal, and so they try to keep the best produce together and upright, at the top of the bin. Apart from a couple of broken eggs, our delving was rewarded with mostly tasty offerings; so much so in fact, that we had plenty left for the next opportunistic hippies to help themselves to, too.

There are, of course, legal implications to Skipping. The Greggs nearest to us has taken to locking their bins up in metal cages to stop us local free-wheelers from nabbing ourselves a couple of loaves of bread, and several supermarkets have been noted as using CCTV to prosecute freegans for Trespassing - despite it being an unwritten rule that you only take what would be disposed of without your interference. You have to be careful if you want to live for free. You have to be prepared to climb a lot of fences, and run from a lot of security lights. You have to stand on a lot of pallets, and you have to pretend you're doing something illegal a lot of the time (it makes it more exciting than just going to get carrots out of a bin).

After your first trip (which will provide you with perhaps two potatoes and an onion) you get to understand what's worth taking, and what you can find if you look hard enough. On my first Skipping trip I found a motherload of fennel, a vegetable I had never tried before. Turns out I love it. The beauty of finding your food is that you never know what you're going to have; your menus become as varied as the food you're rescuing from a fate at the dump, and you eat a lot more foods you wouldn't normally try. Sometimes there'll be a glut of teacakes - sometimes it'll be sweet potatoes. Buy enough spices in bulk from your local international supermarket, and you could be quite literally on your way to eating a different meal every day of the year!

Sifting through rubbish doesn't sound like everyone's ideal way to spend an evening, but the sense of achievement you get sometimes from saving a kilo of mushrooms or a box of Proscuttio (this has happened!) outweighs any self-consciousness you might suffer. You're cutting down on wastage! You're getting a free shopping trip! You're eating more vegetables to boot!

I keep mentioning vegetables, because they seem to be the most receptive to freegan pilferings (and they get visited by the most by freegans - after all, most of them are poor and vegan) but there are always hidden gems in any town. Cafe's for bread rolls, round the back of Subway for condiments....a friend of mine once found a pristine box of 24 in-date and still-chilled Muller Fruit Corners in a skip outside Somerfields. It all depends on where you look, and who you Skip with. I still need my PK to show me what to do, I'm short and I have terrible eyesight. A major shortfall in this type of endeavour, when skips can be five-feet high and you visit them at night.For your first few excursions, I would definitely recommend asking around for people who Skip too. They know where it's safe to skip, who has the best loot, and who makes it easy for you. Do not, on any account, go by yourself to a 24 hour Tesco depot wearing a ninja outfit and expect not to get arrested.

Here are PK's tips on how to go about saving the world, in the food sense:
1. If you're going somewhere hard to go, plan a bit ahead
2. Don't take unnecessary rinks
3. Don't try and persuade a "man on the inside" to chuck good food out - this isn't worth people losing their jobs over
4. Don't take more than you need - it'll only get wasted by you, and might as well have been left in the skip
5. Leave it tidy, and respect the businesses you're Skipping from. If you leave it a mess they'll know you've been, and will tighten security - or if they let people Skip, make sure you thank them by tidying up after yourself!
6. Skipping isn't worth getting into trouble over. Don't get greedy, and stay away if you have doubts about the security measures of a premises.
7. If there's loads of good things that you can't take, leave it easy for others to get to. They'd do it for you!

I'd love to know if any of you are Skippers, or if you go on a trip out after reading this. Let me know!

Thursday, 16 September 2010

How to tell if you are getting old.

There are some fail safe rules passed down through the generations to tell if you are far away from being a spring chicken.

Unless I am very much mistaken, since I apply to most of them, I should be at least 15 years older than I am. Expect this list to grow as I think of some more.

1. Policemen start looking too young to protect you against the stabby yoovs.

2. Hollyoaks has a cast consisting of people who speak a language you feel strangely removed from, and around 60% of whom appear so young that they should be doing their homework instead of cavorting around in short skirts/trilby hats.

3. Teenagers are irritating and terrifying in equal measures.

4. You catch yourself talking enthusiastically about the best duvet covers with people who are equally excited about the prospect of cheap egyptian cotton bedsheets, while at a music festival.

5. Drinking becomes enjoyable instead of a means to an end. Being sick at the end of the night becomes a waste of money.

6. You become genuinely concerned about under-dressed girls at the weekend because they might get cold. You also feel that they are wearing too much make-up, and hope they know how to use their shoes as weapons against rapists.

7. FINALLY, people you know are tired of talking about TV programmes they used to watch.

8. You lust after a gadget that actually does something useful.

9. The music in clubs is TOO LOUD WHAT DID YOU SAY? WHAT? YEAH! WHAT? OH FUck this I'm going for a cig.

10. Buying better pasta as a treat. You are buying better pasta as a TREAT. What are you doing?

Thursday, 22 July 2010

European Travels

During the months of July, August, September and possibly October, I will effectively be AFK due to the pressing matter of a big fuckoff holiday I'm going on around Europe.

Blog posts will return when I get back to Beige Britain, until then, satiate your need for my portmanteus and general sloppy grammar by visiting:


I'm doing a travel blog you see, and Andy is taking most of the pictures. You'll be able to tell which one's are his because you'll be able to make out what they are of.

Have brilliant summers you slaaaags. See you when it's time to stat getting excited about Christmas.

Thursday, 15 July 2010

The Wetherspoons Effect

"It sounds to me like that would be too much of a concentration of pubs. It would have been nice to have a restaurant there. That would be quite welcome." - Beverley and District Civic Society Chairman Sandy Patience.

A familiar quote from a familiar source. When Wetherspoons look to target their next expansion project, the local councillors raise their wavering objections, and the locals engage in polite uproaraty, dismissing plans over cups of tea and adding unhappy comments to the bottom of online local news stories. JD Wetherspoon might be one of the country's main success stories during the recession, but this alone does not appear to be winning proprietor Tim Martin any brownie points.

It's hard to imagine the cities of Britain without Wetherspoons pubs. What they lack in sophistication and character (despite the efforts of renovation to keep up the pretence of happy and traditional local pubs) they endeavour to make up for in low prices and a fairly wide menu - although I challenge anybody to choose poached salmon when there's a perfectly good Beer and Burger offer sitting right next to it. They have long been the starting point for any hen night pub crawl or cheap celebration, and in the setting of a city centre, they perhaps only slightly add to the Binge Britain epidemic that still powers through the streets every Friday and Saturday night. In villages though, should there be different regulations? After all, small town inhabitants crave a steak night as much as their metropolitan counterparts.

[The Winter Gardens in Harrogate - Picture courtesy of CAMRA]

There seems to be something almost adolescent about Beverley's transformations. Once a pretty little market town, this be-minstered cluster of thatched cottages and butchers' shops has grown steadily into a large town, which in my own mind is likened to the size and gangliness of Morecambe (a cruel measurement to use, I apologise). With a college, several schools, new housing developments and most recently the much bemoaned Tesco sprouting up out of the ground, Beverley is less like a village, and more like those strange boroughs of Leeds, which were once seperate, but are now only distinguished by their own church and a quaintly-named local boozer. Beverley has thankfully retained it's character and grace for the most part, but would a Wetherspoons make an Armley's-worth of difference in a town that has a large Mexican-themed fun-staurant and more pubs per square centimetre than market stalls?

It seems a shame that despite Wetherspoons' lacklustre reputation, it remains the fastest-growing aspect of the leisure industry in this country. There are similar one-sided disputes whenever the JDW renovation van sputters into town, but as with similar projects, such as the huge Winter Gardens Wetherspoons in Harrogate or the recently opened Bowling Green in Otley; they open, they wait, and the customers arrive.

Perhaps if you truly oppose the idea of a corporate pub on the end of your street, you shouldn't frequent it when it opens.

[Some information was found within the pages of the Hull Daily Mail - read their somewhat biased story on the Beverly Wetherspoons proposal here.]

Monday, 12 July 2010

Glimpses of Humanity

It's not often you see real generosity and kindness in corporations. When ringing a call centre or customer services, you expect scripted apologies, unhelpful solutions and a lot of waiting. Beethoven's third gets played straight into eardrums a lot these days.

In a world filled with irritating malfunctions and robots on the helpdesk, it's easy to forget that the well-rehearsed sentences on the other end of the line are actually being formed by a real human mouth, stuck to a real-life person. Sometimes, these people are kind, helpful and empathetic. I want to tell you about the man I spoke to this evening.

I am poor. This is no secret, I have been poor for most of my life. Sometimes it's difficult for people like me to keep on an even keel when it comes to finances, and when the unexpected happens, it can often lead to total bank balance disaster. It shakes me up when I get bank charges. I can rarely afford to pay them off. Today was no exception - I logged in to my account to find out how much money I owed, and it turned out money that should have been credited did not materialise at all. Distraught, I called the bank to find out how much my charges would be at the end of the month, while opening another tab to see how to apply for a job at MacDonald's.

The man on the other end of the line was a gent. He kept me calm, and assured me in no uncertain terms, that he totally understood my predicament - as a recent graduate from last years' influx of finishing students, he had spent nearly a year looking for a job himself, finding a bank call centre the only employment he could find. "We're all in the same boat", he said. "Don't worry. We can work it out."

We spent a good half an hour reshuffling my finances, until he had an idea. "Can you hold a sec?" he asked. I could of course, being a jobless waster on the sole of society. After 5 minutes he came back with a solution to my main issue - the bank charges. "We can't do this often, but you've got a good case. We'll sort this."

And so it was, my bank account rescued from the clammy grasp of death, all thanks to a man who's made it his job not to be a Customer Service Adviser, but a person who's job is simply to help as much as he possibly can.

Be nice to your advisers, one day you might come across my magical, soft-spoken Geordie, and he'll solve all your problems. The one drawback being that you'll want to marry him.

Saturday, 10 July 2010

A self indulgent rant about Graduation

"It's not the grade, it's the actual being there that counts ...did you know Michelle from EastEnders got a third?"

Do you ever get that feeling of doomy realisation? The feeling that sounds in your head exactly like when your cover gets blown on Metal Gear Solid? That "PANG" with a floating vibrant exclamation mark of horror, that so often denotes something terrible has happened, or is about to happen. I had that feeling on the night before my university results were due to be revealed. I realised in one horrible wave that not only had I neglected to correct all of my bibliographies, I had even written an entire essay based on a question that didn't exist (I had re-worded it by accident) and had handed in my dissertation a day late, purely by mistake. I was never going to graduate. Instead, I was going to be sick.

For some reason unbeknown to science, I did in fact get a good enough grade to not only graduate, but I did quite a lot better than I expected to. I was pleased. I bought cheap Prosecco and "Waaaay"ed while popping the cork into the garden. I had enough marks to potentially follow studies into pragmatics and etymology - subjects I am geekily fascinated by, and until this point had written myself off as "too stupid" to study them. Happy face prevailed for the next week or so, and I had a justifiable reason to eat cake and drink £2.99 M&S Buck's Fizz (my current vice).

That's all a graduation is though, isn't it? The sound of a door opening. Then you get on with your life. That's what I wanted from my degree anyhow - I hated nearly every second of university, and gaining my degree during seriously tough times both economically and health-wise to me in itself was celebration enough. I had done it. I had reached the top of my metaphorical K2, and now for all I cared, as long as it was down on paper, it could melt and burn and earthquake itself into the ground. My struggle was over.

Now, however, it would appear fresh hell has been unearthed in the form of the graduation ceremony itself. Correct me if I'm wrong, but do I not already have my grade? And so the reason for me to travel all the way to Leeds to wear a cloak and be given a roll of paper is what? I understand that parents want photo opportunities as much as they want a cup of tea every 20 minutes, but is this really worth the time, effort and money? Traditions are upheld for a number of reasons, and generally I am a sucker for all things traditionalist, but in this case, I am lost. I am grateful for my degree, but in the same breath, I worked bloody hard for it, and as much as the University helped me with it's resources and classes, I'd say the split was 20/80. A whole ceremony dedicated to how awesome my institution was, and how great we all are and ooh didn't we do well just seems a bit nauseating to me. Also, it is partly because I can't be bothered to attend. I went to my boyfriend's graduation last year, and it was boring as hell. The best part was the free food at the end. We have to pay for our buffet.

I am being frogmarched to my graduation ceremony on Wednesday, under pretences of it being my "special day" and a "reward for my hard work". A better reward would be a trip to Belize, if you ask me. As for it being my "special day" - everyone knows my specialest day is Christmas. Mortarboards and having my picture taken and having to stand up and walk somewhere in front of over a hundred people is my idea of awful. If I didn't have to go to this glorified assembly, I'd have set off on my trip around Europe a week ago! What an excellent compromise!

I want to know - did you go to your graduation? Was it worth it? Should it be updated? Is there a need for it anymore? Come on, I can't be the only person who hates the idea of curtsying to the dean of the faculty for a grade I already earned and received.

Thursday, 1 July 2010

Harry Potter and the Enraptured Generations

It is safe to say that I adore Harry Potter and all of its forms. I love the books, I love the films (despite a stubborn few years after the release of the Philosophers' Stone where I refused to watch any Harry Potter related film or TV-related concoction, lest it "ruin the perfect images" in my head. It did, but meh. Alan Rickman makes a better Snape than the blonde version of my maths teacher I was imagining.) and I love all sorts of spin-off rubbish and tat that comes with it. Remember Ubos? Loved it. Harry Potter PS2 game? I wanted that. It was my generation's all immersing obsession, and it was much healthier and less noisy than my Muse fixation, so my mum let it slide.

I was first given a Harry Potter book in my first year of high school. Being the weedy, bullied sort of child, I spent a lot of time in the school library, and the librarian had taken a shine to me ever since I shunned the Northern Lights series of books in favour of Terry Pratchett and my secret shameful love for Jaqueline Wilson (I like to commend myself that even when I was eleven, I knew reading about boyfriends and diets and shoes was cringe-inducingly rubbish). She handed me copies of the Philosopher's Stone and the Chamber of Secrets and said something along the lines of "It's teacher training on Monday - you'll get through both of them by the time you get back". She was not wrong.

It's rare for something you loved as a child to transcend age limits and stay with you into adulthood. As many times as I've been called lame for reading Harry Potter on the train to London for Big Adult Work Stuff, I have equally been commended for never succumbing to the versions with adult covers. Everybody loves harry Potter. if they claim they don't, they are missing a vital part of their psyche where the engaging personality should be. As the books continued to be written, they got longer and more involved. I grew to love Ron Weasley as if he was a real person (Rupert Grint, if you are reading this, call me). They got scarier and more challenging, and I loved it. The most commendable part of the Harry Potter series is that JK Rowling never condecends to her target audience. She understands that kids want to be treated like adults, and will read past the parts they don't understand if the story is engaging enough. I have cried and laughed reading her creations, and I am not ashamed to yell it from the bottom of my usually cynical heart - I LOVE HARRY POTTER!

Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part I is out in the UK this Novemeber.

Wednesday, 23 June 2010

Wave Your Flag - At Home

One of my most memorable afternoons of primary school happened during France '98, where as a school we were marched out of our classes and taken to the gym hall, where we were allowed to watch the England v Tunisia game on the biggest TV the school had. I seem to remember we won 2-0, and despite my first taste of rebellion (myself and a friend were cheering for Tunisia for no reason other than to be awkward) I did get filled with a warm and fuzzy feeling of togetherness that only sport and seeing Daft Punk live seems to evoke.

The World Cup is an important event for millions of people, bringing people together in drunken, singing harmony. For those who don't enjoy football, there is still a tangible air of excitement whenever a big game is on the horizon, whether you like tiny England car flags or not.

Does this mean that people should be given time off to watch their team participate? I was notified by Paul Daniels (yes that Paul Daniels) on Twitter that some schools were closing to enable children to watch the game. Sharing his anger at the decision, he quotes: "Good morning world. Just heard on radio some schools are closing 'so the children can watch England'. Disgusting. Another skyve [sic] for teachers". While it may only be half the afternoon the kids miss, I share his dismissal. There are many stale arguments thrown up year after year about football being "only a game" and "just some men running about with a ball", but this isn't why I'm a bit resentful of it being the cause of schools to be shut. Yes, it is unfair of the teachers to close schools simply because they want to go down the pub to watch England suck at trying to win, but what I find more unfair is that other sports aren't given half the attention that football is.

 [PIC COURTESY OF BBC ONLINE - despite the hilarious modifications of this picture all over the Internet, the original is still the best]

Tennis is going through a crisis at the moment, and last night Britain's sole competitor in Wimbledon Andy Murray said that although he had little sympathy for the Brits who flopped out of the tournament early, young people need more support to train in tennis, and that throwing money at young hopefuls was not the way to encourage new seeds to rise out of the amateur ranks.  How can children become passionate about a sport that isn't taught consistently in PE lessons? It seems hugely unfair that there still seems a monetary barrier surrounding tennis, despite the fact that this is no longer the case. The word just isn't getting out there - Britain needs more world-class tennis players. So where is the incentive? Given the choice, would parents be more proud of their kids fir being a football star, or a tennis top seed? There's still a snobbery issue surrounding lawn tennis, and this really shouldn't be the case. Make it more accessible in schools, teach young people how to understand its scoring system and encourage them to watch Wimbledon. Are schools shutting early to watch Murray compete in the Grand Slam? Are they buggery. If the idea of shutting early to watch sports was fairly distributed perhaps I wouldn't hate it so much, but while football is given special privileges simply because it comes with a culture of drinking and having fun and smashing stuff up, I'd rather not be involved. I don't hate sport - I'm an avid Winter Olympics fan, I used to go to swimming training to be in the Olympic team, and I love track and field. This is somewhat of an outsider opinion until the Olympics come round again. 

I've said it once and I'll say it again - FOOTBALL ISN'T THE ONLY SPORT!

Sunday, 20 June 2010

What are you wearing?

This week Andy (my long-suffering boyfriend) and I had a rather posh "do" to go to, and this meant new outfits that didn't involve jeans or ketchup stains had to be purchased. After umm-ing and ahh-ing over hundreds of similar pairs of trousers, the chosen brown almost-cords arrived in their shiny Burton's Ziploc bag.

The most interesting thing about these frankly nondescript trousers was a note Andy found in the back pocket - a gate pass to Khurrianwala, [map] a semi-residential industrial estate in Pakistan, where the trousers had evidently been made, or at least, assembled.

I've spent some time since finding the note thinking about the person who might have put it there and why they did. Surely we've come a long way since sweatshops? I like to think they put it there for the same reason I would have done, to think about who might find it and when, and where they'd be when they did look at it and go "What on earth is that word?". Unfortunately while this might be true, the person on the other end of the purchase line probably wasn't the well-dressed, happy machinery operative that I'd imagined.

Arcadia Group, the company behind Burtons and also Evans, Dorothy Perkins, Topshop, Topman, Wallis and Miss Selfridge, pretty much have the whole of the UK's high street running to their orders. If Topshop has a best-selling print t-shirt, you can bet your summer diet that there'll be a very similar piece of apparel for sale in New Look, Primark and River Island within a month. Topshop et al got caught out for utilising sweatshops and enforced labour to their benefit back in 2007, a trend that was found to be big in downtown fashionland.

Enforced labour. I don't know about you, but that sounds an awful lot like a PC way of saying "slavery". Since 2007, Arcadia and many other clothes shops have "looked into" where their fabrics and clothes come from, but according to the 2010 Sweatshop Hall of Fame Ikea and Walmart are still using people like mini factories, and although previous offenders Nike and Gap aren't mentioned, American Apparel are outed as procuring their cotton from Uzbekistan from farms with reputations for using child labour extensively. [since I began this post a particularly incriminating article I wanted to use has vanished....so this will have to do. It outlines the farms in question but does not mention AA. My apologies.] American Apparel, the company who pride themselves on not only selling the world's most boring clothes, but also on their strict "no sweatshops" policy. Freedom by association is a wonderful thing.

It would appear you have to dig further than you'd think to find out where your clothes come from. I'm not preaching - I have more than one pair of Primark shoes in my wardrobe. All I'd like you to do is think about what you have on right now and think - who exactly put all this together for me? It'd be nice to think that companies in the 21st century are responsible enough to look after their employees, but we've really not come further than 8 year old Victorian chimney sweeps. How about that? Organic Cotton t-shirts don't seem so righteous now, do they?

Thursday, 17 June 2010

TV Gushings: Horrible Histories

I loved Horrible History books as a child. I was the precocious, question-asking type of child, the one hateful kid in class who had already been to the Maritime Museum before the school trip, and who actually held their hand up the highest in class to ask a rhetorical question. I really should have more physical scars.

Horrible Histories brought the world that I was interested in to life. Luckily I went to a fantastic primary school (Westgate CP, you were awesome) who let me make Terry Deary-inspired wall charts when we were doing about the Tudors while everybody else listed the many wives of Henry the Fatty and coloured in printoffs of the Globe theatre. Not that he'd appreciate this - Terry hates schools, and will never visit them. He thinks of teachers as lazy and ignorant, and prefers to help kids to learn on their own, feeling that their potential isn't met in a school environment. I wish he'd have seen my Year 4 class when the actor dressed as a Tudor sailor came to visit. He was set to join the navy for the Armada. He played cards with us. He made us talk in Tudor slang. It was and still is the most memorable lesson I ever had in school. Congratulations Miss Hamlyn!

Recently, Horrible Histories was given it's own TV show, which inevitably I groaned at, proclaiming it to be "...terrible, just like Tracy Beaker". How wrong I was. If you haven't seen it, Horrible Histories is a sketch show aimed at bright kids, throwing facts and interesting stuff at you in between semi-educational hilarious songs and skits. And a talking rat hosts it.

Deary co-writes the show, and with brilliant actors who aren't visibly ashamed to sing, dance and act like prats, and a whole load of excellent and catchy songs (soft rock Viking ballad "Literally" being my favourite) the entire programme feels like a project taken on by a group of friends who watched too much Monty Python when they should have been trying to grow moustaches and asking out girls. I love it. Strangely (or possibly not, when you think about the type of people who are writing it) Horrible Histories transcends the child audience like all kids shows should, and has gained a cult following among fun-loving adults everywhere.

The Times recently sang its praises, calling it a "boundary-pushing sketch show" and quoting a child saying the best thing ever: "Will Tillotson, 6½, thinks it is one of the best shows on television: “When King Charles I had his head chopped off and the blood went in everyone’s eyes, it was really funny.”" And why shouldn't it work? Having it's directors and writing team from backgrounds such as Green Wing, I'm Alan Partridge and Have I Got News For You, making this show surely couldn't have been a flop, even if they'd tried.

Try playing the "where have I seen them before?" game when you next see it. Jim Howick - he was Gerard in Peep Show. Ben Willbond - The Thick of It. Simon Farnaby? The Mighty Boosh, of course! Remember? He had a conker for a head? How could this show not be brilliant, with these sort of people at the helm? Kids love watching programmes that feel to old for them, I remember rushing home after swimming on a Friday to watch Blackadder, why should the children of today be any different?

Bearing in mind that Terry Deary has long been a hero of mine, I have decided to include his favourite song for the series for you all to enjoy. And here he is to sign you off:
"Katie, away from desk so sorry to be brief. Fave song from series 1 was The Plague Song. Haven't seen all of series 2, but The Cowboy Song if and when it appears is my actual fave. I Have to declare an interest. I wrote the plague one and I appear playing harmonica in cowboy one.
Cheers, Terry Deary."

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