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 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."

Thursday, 10 June 2010

iParent - an app to take the sting out of all that medldesome "parenting" business

Backseat parenting isn't a new phenomenon. Aupairs have been around for years, and forgive my judgemental stance against television, but so has Ceebeebies. If only there was a way to occupy the kids between the dinner table and the front room. Of course! A Nintendo DS!

There has always been a furore about children spending more time around more technology - kids with mobile phones freak even the most advanced tech head out, and seeing a toddler with a PSP brings me out in a cold jealous sweat. What are they playing on there, dot-to-dot? In my day we had V-Techs and the garden and pets and dolls and TV to entertain us and stop us from disturbing Daddy. Now there's so many gadgetrons it's hard to tell who's enjoying the technology more - do the kids want or appreciate these things? Or are parents just buying them because they think they're pretty cool?

I'm not planning on waging a war against kids IT products. Not at all. I wish I had had these things as a child, it would have meant that I wouldn't have had to try so hard to catch up in my IT class (using basic Microsoft software was a total minefield for me, I didn't have a PC until I was about 14, and even then we had Lotus. Suckstobeme). I'm concerned about the quality of the time they get to spend with their parents after reading this article in the New York Times. In between i-Playing and e-surfing and all those other things I could turn into humerous old-people-describing-new-technology words, time spent chatting and generally mucking about with parents is being squished into a smaller and smaller compartment. From watching Supernanny (I am currently unemployed) I have learned that some families need to actually set aside time to talk to their kids. Seems a bit sad, but perhaps some parents aren't that great at chatting to kids. According to Janice Im in the article, as more adults become inseperable from their Blackberries, so more children are excluded from their lives. “There’s something that’s so engrossing about the kind of interactions people do with screens that they wall out the world,” she said. “I’ve talked to children who try to get their parents to stop texting while driving and they get resistance, ‘Oh, just one, just one more quick one, honey.’ It’s like ‘one more drink.’ ”

It's hard to get people to admit they spend too much time on their various communication devices. I'd be the first to say that I spend more time on Twitter than I do socialising these days, but I have various excuses for this which I will not bore you with right now. To tell somebody that perhaps they should answer their child instead of checking their facebook updates is not only dangerous, but also unkind - we've all ignored somebody while we read a text message or answered a call. How do we start to rewire the way we think about social networking and the ever-invasive iPhone? How do we change our priorities from a bleep and a red flashing light to a person actually speaking to us in our very own faces? It's going to be difficult, but it needs to be done.

Perhaps there should be an Internets Anonymous group?

Monday, 7 June 2010

Dream Interpretation

*message tone*
"Ah. It's Cameron."
"What's she saying? Is she mad?"
"'I can't believe you did this tonight. Just leaving like that. I'm getting on with my life, but I hate that you two are an item.' hah."
"But...we're not"
"I added the last part. WOOPIE! THE OLD GUY CAN FEEL!"

Despite every bone in my body willing me to continue (slight exaggeration) today's post is not going to be a complete transcript of my imagined fanfic piece about how Gregory House falls in love with the plucky but bumbling brilliant-minded doctor Katie Taylor. No, I've not gone completely insane since the Mirena (although I swear since that evil contraption was implanted I have cried at more films, cooed at more babies and fancied more hollywood totem poles than I have in my life. It's like my spleen's been replaced with a fruit basket sent from Her Frilly Highness, Laura Ashley.) No I haven't, it's my side effects from coming off SSRIs, and if you ask me, it's marvellous. I suffer from pretty chronic night terrors, and this well-deserved break from killing zombies in a post-apocalyptic Yorkshire Dales/House of Fraser/Lancaster Train Station is bliss. If I get to be the unassuming love of Gregory House's life in the process, well I might as well die now, because I'm happy happy happy. Happy, happy, HAPPY. (I miss him.)

I have never been a fan of interpreting dreams, but now that I'm having real ones (the other night I adopted an extremely cute and happy goldfish, the night before I was a zookeeper) I'd really like to know what the motherfuck is going on in my mind. I used all the tricks in the book to try and check if I was asleep, but I could read the time, check text messages, sing songs...I even fell asleep and had a nightmare IN MY DREAM, and woke up with whiskers and a love heart drawn on my face with my new Topshop lipstick. Gregory H can be such a nightmare when left to his own devices. It's ok though, he took me shopping of Oxford Street for some new ones. And some underwear. And it wasn't even creepy, which was nice.

Please share your own experiences of night terrors below - I know usually hearing about other people's dreams is on a par with having to sit through the rundown of what your beloved niece/nephew got for Christmas, but I am genuinely interested. I just gushed about Greg (I LOVE HIM, WHY IS HE NOT REAL?) now YOU gush about waking up terrified in the middle of the night and not remembering why. Go on, you know you want to.
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