Monday, December 24, 2007
Saturday, December 22, 2007
At the next table sat another granddad, about the same age as mine was then but somehow much older, with skin the colour of the cigarette smoke and the worn, beige cardigan that surrounded his thin frame. Opposite him, a little girl of around five years old slowly ate an ice cream-topped donut – a ‘Brown Derby’ - with a plastic spoon. Her granddad gazed at her intently; she, with equal intensity, avoided his stare. Then suddenly, gently, softly, tears began to roll down her cheeks. As she dropped her spoon, the man reached across to her, dabbing awkwardly at her cheeks with a crumpled napkin. “Eat your ice cream, love”, he rasped. “Mum would have wanted you to”. And, visibly mustering up stoicism beyond her years but still unable to quell the torrent that leaked down her cheeks, she did as she was told.
I have never since taken the love, warmth, security and raggle-taggle emotion of my family for granted. And even today, the idea of an ice cream-topped donut brings a lump to my throat.
Friday, December 21, 2007
Divorced, middle-aged, semi-alcoholic Roger stocks shelves at Staples, the office superstore. Bethany - a Goth in her late teens - works alongside him. The two have little to do with each other until Bethany discovers Roger’s notebook in the staff room and realises that, as well as writing a novel, he’s writing diary entries written from her point of view - and he’s getting it right. Sinister? Not to Bethany, who’s desperate to discover a life beyond black lipstick and boredom.
Using the notebook as a mode of shared communication, Bethany starts adding her own, real diary entries to the notebook. But just as ‘The Gum Thief’ starts to read like an updated version of Helene Hanff’s ‘84 Charing Cross Road’, Coupland takes us on a detour down acherontic alley. Enter a rollcall of melancholic characters such as Bethany’s mum (a frustrated housewife living vicariously through her daughter), Roger’s ex-wife (a cancer survivor), 40-something failed writer Steve and Gloria, his once-glamorous, alcoholic wife ... oh no, hang on; Steve and Gloria aren’t actually here - they’re the main characters in ‘Glove Pond’, Roger’s novel. Yup, ‘The Gum Thief’ is a novel within a diary within the actual novel itself. Why would you expect anything less from Douglas Coupland?
Having said that, unlike his contemporaries (Bret Easton Ellis perhaps being the most obvious comparison), Coupland doesn’t really rely on ‘tricksy’ to make a non-point. Certain Coupland-isms made the Oxford English Dictionary (‘McJob’, from his 1991 debut novel ‘Generation X’ - the title, too, became part of the neoteric vocabulary) and his ability to capture the contemporary zeitgeist means that he’s as likely to be referred to as a ‘social commentator’ as he is a novelist. But still, his penchant for exploring beyond the superficial humdrum of ordinary folk living ordinary lives has softened with time: Microsoft boffins and computer programmers have been supplanted by lonely widows and checkout staff, and trademark traces of hard-nosed, urbane cynicism have dissolved beneath whimsy, warmth and gentle sentiment.
As a result, Roger’s letters to Bethany sometimes read like a CBBC presenter’s autocue or an uncle who claims to like the Arctic Monkeys in an effort to impress his teenage niece, while Bethany herself is credited with an integrity way beyond her years until the character eventually becomes a poster girl for David Cameron’s ‘hug a hoodie’ campaign.
Those who have stuck with Coupland through the years won’t be disappointed by his latest offering - after all, we’ve grown up too. But it preaches to the converted; Generation Why? won’t be impressed.
For a start, sad memories seem to be sharper at this time of year than at any other. It was on this day, ten years ago now, that my wonderful grandma had the stroke that led to her dying some three weeks later. I spent that Christmas in the hospital with her, sleeping on a makeshift cushion by her bed. Needless to say, my family barely went through the motions of anything close to a celebration that year; what little joy we managed, we mustered together for the sake of my nieces, who were at that stage little children. Then there was the last Christmas I spent with Judy, my dad's long-term cohort, at her home in Hampshire just three months before she died of the brain tumour that she'd lived with for too many months already. Margy, Judy, God rest your blessed souls; since you left us, Mike's mum has joined you (again, not long before Christmas last year), and just a few short weeks ago, Thumper absconded this mortal coil too. But you know, despite how this post seems to be shaping up, I'm really not being gloomy about all this. Christmas - and the forthcoming end of 2007 - is, amongst everything else, a time to look back, take stock and count your blessings.
I still miss the people (and the animals) who have physically left me as life has rolled along - I always will; I don't need a calendar to bring them back to the forefront of my mind. I miss too the people who, although still (I hope) sharing this planet with me, have veered off the course that once insured our paths crossed regularly: the close family member, for example, who's behaviour has been so dreadful this year that he doesn't even warrant a Christmas card, let alone a gift, when I go to spend time with the Liverpool lot between Christmas and New Year (mind you, this was a man who, when visiting my house last spring, declared the bottle of really, really good Prosecco that I'd carefully selected to accompany our feast to be the signal for 'time to go home'. "She's bringing out the cheapskate plonk", he said; "let's p**s off". And so, I let him do just that). Also in this category (albeit for vastly different reasons, the person in question being a vastly different individual to the pleb I've just seethed about), 2007 saw me being forced to wave goodbye to someone I thought would always be in my life. Sadly, the end of that particular friendship came about as a result of a blog post right here. I have no intention of going into any further detail; suffice to say that the final misunderstanding should never, ever have happened, but unfortunately, it did. I guess every passing year brings with it several passings of one sort or another. However, as with all things, there is balance; I've loved so much of 2007, it's with a very grateful heart that I'll wave goodbye to it in just a few days time.
So, before that happens, I'd like to briefly recall a few of 2007's Wonderful Moments (in no particular order): mum's birthday, April 2007. The WOMAD festival: rain most certainly did not stop play. Mike's impromptu birthday party (January): fresh out of hospital (nothing serious, as it turned out - thank you, God, for that one, too) and straight into the chocolate cake. Mike himself, as a stand-alone highlight. A week-long holiday in Honfleur in June, with My Favourite People Ever. New Friends: Marty and Wayne - they gave living in Bath a whole new dimension. Dublin with Vicki and Tony at the beginning of this month; Luxembourg/Germany a couple of weeks later. Time spent in the Marais with my dad. Angela's party, and the trip down memory lane that I took with my mum very early the next day. Sol's film premiere in Liverpool. Thumper, for most of the year at least. Music: Foreigner live, Rufus Wainwright's new album, Bruce Springsteen in the pipeline. Books: Bret Easton Ellis' 'Lunar Park' (I only got around to reading it this year, but it was fab), Roddy Doyle's 'The Deportees', Ian McEwan's 'Chesil Beach'. Our recent soiree. Fabulous food, wonderful work, incredible friends. Ah, you know what? It's been a great year. And hey, it's not over yet ...
Wednesday, December 19, 2007
Marmite, Oxo cubes and Branston Pickle: as intrinsic to our national cultural heritage as rain, the royal family and ... Nigel Slater. This gentle wordsmith - the Alan Bennett of the food world, regularly showcased by the Observer Food Monthly, a raft of cookery books and the occasional TV appearance (when, that is, the celebrity chef bullies allow him to get a word in) - is slowly becoming a much-loved national icon. And if anything is going to give him the final hefty shove up the ladder to confirmed British Institution status, it’s going to be this book.
Fans of the author’s kitchen-based musings love Slater for his indefatigable passion for all forms of good taste. Meanwhile, those who gobbled up his acclaimed 2004 autobiography ‘Toast’ will already be familiar with his self-deprecating wit, bittersweet honesty and penchant for bone dry, knife-sharp, beautifully presented observations on the human condition. But it’s possible that ‘Eating for England’ will attract a whole new raft of admirers altogether. Annoying though those ‘if you like that, you’ll like this’ lists can be, it isn’t too much of a stretch to imagine Slater sharing column inches with the likes of Anne Tyler, Nick Hornby and Larry Grayson. Larry Grayson? Indeed! For the essays that make up this easy-to-digest collection of thoughts and ideas loosely bound by the theme of ‘The Delights and Eccentricities of the British at Table’ also combine to celebrate the delights and eccentricities of Camp ideology. What is a pink wafer biscuit, a ‘proper’ High Tea or an exercise in correct scone dressing if not camp? Slater snuggly inhabits the zone between his beloved base subject matter and its not-too-distant cousin, ‘Taking the Piss Out of the Stuffy Middle Class British at Table’ (‘Dick and Other Delights’? Ooh Nigel, shut that door!). But moments of almost austere clarity, too, keep things on an even keel: ‘Feeding the Elderly’, for example, is a heartbreakingly tender account of the reality of another Great British Institution (the death camps to which we so easily surrender our elderly relatives when they become ‘too much trouble’) while ‘Sharing the Bill - the Weasel at the Table’ sums up British ‘manners’ more succinctly than a whole brigade of sociologists could ever manage to do.
Yes, there’s the occasional heavy handed flurry of over-earnest seasoning, and some may find the glaze of whimsy way too sweet. But enjoy ‘Eating for England’ as a cosy, nibble-by-nibble winter suppertime treat, and it’s a veritable banquet. The same could be said, of course, for Marmite.
Tuesday, December 18, 2007
Sulk, sulk, sulk, strop, strop, strop - in town, in the supermarket, over a bottle of wine with dad. Back home, I spiralled more and more and more, until ... well, put it this way: even the pepper mill came in for a bit of a thumping, accused of recalcitrance. Can I just say that I'm very sorry to all concerned? The spoilt brat behaviour was uncalled for, and I'm going to do my very best never to inadvertently call for it again. Now here's the excuse:
Mike and I had a lovely weekend (I'd like to call it a 'long weekend', but unfortunately two nights away was all too short, especially considering the distance travelled) in Luxembourg and around the Mosel Valley, Germany. We drove - eek! - picking up Mike's brother en route (in Chichester: supposed to be very pretty, but there was no time to stop) and taking the ferry from Dover to Dunkirk. I would tell you the route we then took to Luxembourg, but unlike David Bowie, Hits of the 80's, animal behaviour and cooking, geography is not my strong point. Suffice to say we didn't hit Luxembourg until around 10pm local time, after 12 hours of travel.
Having now visited the city, I don't see why people write Luxembourg off a boring or dull. For a start, it's pretty impressive to look at, built around a huge gorge with loads of historical bits on display for all to see. It's a quiet city, for sure; when we arrived, there were few watering hole opportunities to take advantage of. But you know, life isn't all about parties, is it? So we went back to Steve's girlfriend's house (a pretty little suburb right by the airport) and got our heads down in preparation for our foray into Germany. The district we were staying in looked more like London, Ontario than anywhere in the Europe I know and love (or perhaps London, Ont. looks more like middle Europe than Canada?), but that soon changed as we hit the road, my trusty duvet keeping the chills out and Bella the lovely dog (see previous posts) snuggled down between Mike and I in the back.
First stop, Trier: strudel in a coffee shop, bratwurst from the Christmas market and purple gloves from Woolworths - yes, Woolworths! - for just 3 euros ("That's the Wonder of ...", etc). Then on we drove through the valley, the vineyards deep in winter hibernation but the gorgeous river that runs through it in full flow. Bernkastel, though, was where the full-on sensual feast really began. My goodness, this town was surely made for Christmas! You know those cute little gingerbread houses that proliferate at this time of year, all wooden toy soldiers and pretty girls in flowery skirts? Well, Bernkastel looks exactly like one of those. Another festive market dominated the centre of town; we drank Glühwein, slurped goulash soup (the best I've ever tasted) and decided that the gnome with the piercing eyes overlooking one of the kiddie fairground rides was a Stephen King character just waiting to happen. We checked into a neat little hotel and went out for dinner - pork for me, in a creamy mushroom sauce; goose and a "bit of everything" elsewhere. I wouldn't say the food was spectacular, but the ambience and the whole experience most certainly was. Afterwards, Bella and her mistress sensibly called it a day, while the boys and I made full use of the hotel bar. And here, perhaps, is where yesterday's stroppy mood started. Was it really a good idea to push the boat out when another 12 hours of travel lay ahead the following day?
On waking, I felt slightly queasy. Still, I stoically tagged along on the visit to Bernkastel's actual castle (derelict now, but still very Disney, with great views) and took in the views all the way back to Luxembourg, where we enjoyed a takeaway lunch in an Irish pub (Man U v Liverpool - you can take the boys out of England, etc) before setting off home again.
We hit freezing fog between Chichester and Bath. We didn't get home until 4am. I had to get up at 7.30am to call my mum, and when I went back to bed for a couple of hours, I couldn't sleep. And that, dearest Discoites, is the recipe for a moody Monday. It was a fabulous weekend, though. Thank you so much to all involved - not least of all Bella.
Tuesday, December 11, 2007
It’s Christmas Eve, and you’re just back from the pub (sorry, midnight mass). What - other than Santa’s mince pie mountain - could be a better accompaniment to the glass of sherry you see before you? Fussy foodies buy Rococo’s tasteful chocolate angels by mail order in September. But most of us buy them from the same street vendor who flogs wafer thin, flimsy wrapping paper at 50p for 12-sheets (“Getcha chocolate tree decorations here - a paaahnd a bag!”) on December 23rd. They exist only to look pretty, but rarely do they manage even that. But right now, those cheap, sugar and fat laden nasties - barely related to the cocoa bean, let alone the real spirit of Christmas - look even tastier than the organic Norfolk bronze turkey that’s lying in wait in the fridge.
Top tip: rip them from the bottom branches only, leave the strings dangling from the branches and blame your misdemeanours on the dog. Christmas? It’s a guilty pleasure free-for-all.
Dublin was indeed wonderful. It sort of reminded me of Liverpool - another city that's been through the wars (in all senses of the word) but bravely looks forward to much better days. We stayed at a hotel that had a vaguely youth hostel-ish vibe about it, slap bang in the middle of Temple Bar, which seems to be where lots of the craic action is. Bars, pubs, restaurants; venues, all-hours takeaways ... and stag and hen parties making the most of all the delights on offer. I guess we fitted in.
During daylight hours, we did the full-on 'touristy' stuff: both the Jamesons and the Guinness factory tours, complete with a horse drawn taxi ride after the latter and a tour bus trip in between. I loved having such relaxed quality time with my sister, and her husband loved his Birthday present, too. On our last day, I went off with Mike on a trip down his own personal memory lane - a moving experience for both of us. Unfortunately though, by that time news of Thumper's possible demise was starting to filter over from Bath, so the planned trip to the Writer's Museum didn't happen. But I will return to Dublin, that's for sure. Meanwhile, look out for a short story I started working on while I was there - it should appear here soon (god, one trip to Dublin and she thinks she's Roddy Doyle ...).
Thursday, December 6, 2007
I brought so many tales home from our weekend in Dublin, I really don't know where to begin. But I can't begin any of them until I post this obituary to Thumper (or The Baby, as he became known to us): our beautiful Australian Bearded Dragon lizard, who passed away in his sleep during the evening of December 2nd.
I was introduced to Thumper on May 22nd 2006; Michael's gift to me, on my 42nd birthday. Thumper was 41.5 years younger than me - a tiny lizard baby, a little scrap of a thing no bigger than my outstretched palm. But gosh, he was beautiful even then: delicate yet sturdy, mysterious and prehistoric - a living, breathing artwork; a miracle in my hand.
I knew little - if anything - about the habits, traits or personality of this young, ancient being. He came complete with his own little house (a vivarium), with a heater and a UV light to replicate his ancestral climate. We gave him a log to climb on and hide under, and a stone on which to bask. He had a little pool in one corner, and a food dish in another - not that he ever used either much. Instead, he quickly learned to eat out my hand (parsley and green beans - not the live crickets he was also partial to) and, not long before he died, he'd developed the habit of turning his face towards me as I sprayed him with fresh water from a bottle, loving both the refreshment and, I believe, the attention. And yes, he did love attention - he loved me and Mike, just as we loved him.
Thumper and I had our own routine. Nearly every morning of his time with us, I was there when he woke up, before his UV light automatically switched on: "Good morning, Baby, and welcome to today". Those wise eyes - the colour of Lyle's Golden Syrup - would open, those long, intricate fingers would stretch. Sometimes, he'd leap up onto his log and nod frantically - an adult Beardie habit, hilarious to watch. But not before he'd had breakfast: the beans and parsley (with occasional chunks of orange pepper, another favourite food) followed by crickets: scatter, chase, crunch. Sometimes, he'd come out to play for a bit. We'd offer him a flat palm - often covered by a towel as he got older, and his scales became scratchy - and if he felt like it, he'd climb out and allow himself to be carried down to the floor, or the bed, from which point he was allowed to go on his own little voyage of discovery around the room or even the house, closely followed by mummy, who kept an eye out for danger or forbidden crumbs from last night's dinner. He would sometimes waddle along like a little tank, or roll like a drunken sailor. He'd occasionally attempt to aimlessly climb shiny surfaces which offered his nails no purchase, only to slide to one side looking confused. Once or twice he pooed on the floor, another time on a pillow! But never, ever did he do anything wrong.
I have to be careful here, because my impulse is to go on and on with tales and anecdotes and memories - forgive me if I've gone on too much already. But what I'm trying to explain is how much I loved that little miracle mate of mine. To me, he was eternally fascinating, and amazingly beautiful. He was proof of life personified; an initially strange little creature - almost alien, really - in an unnatural environment. And yet, we forged an indescribably close bond, almost spiritual in nature, and absolutely bursting with love.
Thumper died long before the average Beardie lifespan of 12-18 years. The vet can't tell me what he died of; there were no signs of illness or infection, distress or - god forbid! - neglect. All we know is that he died in his sleep, while I was away in Dublin. His strong, golden-green body is buried under a bush in the garden of Mike's house in Bristol, a parsley plant nearby. But I know that somehow, he's everywhere; he's a golden ball of light, bouncing along on the wind, tasting rain, watching the sun rise, exploring life beyond his vivarium and his rock and the pillow he once pooed on. Behind those amber eyes, there was an evolving spirit bursting to move on. I like to think I helped his spirit breathe.
I can't thank Mike enough for the gift of Thumper - he gave me the gift of love. Even now, as sad as I am, I wouldn't change a single moment of the precious time we shared. Goodnight Baby, and god bless - mummy loves you, and will keep you safe in her heart for always ... until we meet again.
Thursday, November 29, 2007
I haven't been to Ireland for over a decade, which is a pretty silly thing to admit considering it's a bargain-priced ticket and a 30-minute flight away from Bristol airport. Moreover, I haven't been on holiday with my fab sister and her equally fab spouse since - gosh, a caravan site holiday in Filey way back at the end of the 80s, when my nieces were still at the prams'n'nappies stage. But you know how it goes; we rarely take advantage of the gifts on our doorstep.
As well as giving my B-i-L the celebratory weekend he deserves, I was also hoping to take the Dublin opportunity to hook up with a friend of mine who I haven't seen for 25 years. 25 years! My goodness, the friend in question (let's call him Joe, for the purposes of this post) and I were just kids when we initially hooked up against a backdrop of o-levels (we met at what used to be called a 'Further Education' college), domestic dramas (for me, at least) and New Romantic haircuts (both of us). The year was 1980; I was 16 when I met him, and around 18 when I last saw him. Then suddenly, all these years later, another mutual friend reunited us (by email and telephone at least). But although Joe now lives in Dublin for part of the year, the time is still not yet right for him and I to pick up where we left off a quarter of a century ago. Christmas is on the near horizon, though, at which time both him and I will be in Liverpool visiting our families. Now there's a diary entry I'm already relishing putting together! But before all that, I'm booked on a flight at 7am tomorrow morning, and a whole new raft of experiences and memories-to-be are just waiting to be claimed.
So forgive me for temporarily swapping my regular spot at the turntables at The Animal Disco for a seat at the bar in one of Dublin's legendary watering holes, but rest assured that I'll be back soon with plenty of Tales of the (fair) City. Until then, beagán agus a rá go maith (if that was the dictum I really lived by, I wouldn't be blogging at all ...).
Sulky, unemployed musician Stanley Webber lives in a seaside boarding house run by Meg - an archetypal 1950s housewife - and Petey, her mild-mannered, deck chair attendant husband (think, Jim in Raymond Briggs’ ‘When The Wind Blows’). When two sinister characters - the gangsterish Goldberg and his Irish sidekick McCann - take residence in the house on Stanley’s birthday, the already tense domestic dynamics within Meg’s strange little universe are turned upside down.
‘The Birthday Party’ was Harold Pinter’s first full-length play - initially a critical failure, now considered by many to be one of the classics of the modern stage. Indeed, it remains to be his most frequently produced drama, often tackled by ambitious community theatre groups aware of the play’s enduring appeal. In this instance, Bath’s Next Stage Players rose to the challenge admirably.
Staged in the round (thereby bringing the audience right into the heart of the psychodrama), none of the five-strong cast would have been out of place at a certain Theatre Royal, just down the road. Tim Evans’ interpretation of Goldberg - charismatic, with a psychotic edge - thrummed with nervous energy throughout; the perfect foil for Bridget Cassé’s emotionally fraught Meg. Meanwhile, Richard Matthews’ Stanley trod the fine line between pitiable waster and passive-agressive bully with aplomb. After that, everybody did the very best with what they had: a typically Pinteresque farce - all stop.start dialogue, simmering misogyny and heavy-handed attempts at edginess - lacking clarity or conclusion; in contemporary terms, a typical episode of EastEnders, but with real actors who deserve a much better vehicle for their craft.
(First published in Venue 794)
Wednesday, November 28, 2007
If you're not already familiar with comic/actor/author/playwright Scott Capurro, I urge you to pay his site a visit. His work is not for the faint-hearted, or those obsessed with some kind of sinister, fusty notion of 'morality': he's a gay man who tells it like it is. Having said that, don't expect to find yet another collection of Graham Norton/Julian Clary style rambles; Scott's observations on life, human nature, sexuality, social ritual and the state of the world are about as 'real' as you can get - you read one of his posts and, whatever experience he's chosen to share with us, you live it with him.
Go to the 'blog posts' section of his site and read the piece posted in September of this year, about his mother - bold, brave and incredibly moving. Or check out the piece he wrote about his experiences in Prague - you'll never find this level of detail in 'Lonely Planet'. Want more traveller's tales? Ottawa, August 23rd 2007. Oh heck, just spend some time browsing around the site - if it all becomes too much for you, the emergency exit is a mere click away.
I saw Scott perform live in Bath a couple of months ago. The review was published in Venue magazine ... and dear Scott, having read what I'd written, dropped me a line and asked me for permission to publish it on his site. HE asked ME for permission! Flattered? I had such a grand attack of the vapors I had to take to my bed for 48 hours. So, if you want to know what I think of Scott's live show, find the post dated October 15th (or simply put the word 'Venue' into the search thingie) - the lead-in paragraph in itself is a great story, and every single word of it is true. Because that's Scott Capurro for you - honest to the max, sharp as a Bearded Dragon's scales .... and a wonderful, wonderful writer.
Scott, if I could fit one over my hair, I'd take my hat off to you. Come back to Bath (or even Bristol) soon, and we'll live it up like there's no tomorrow.
Tuesday, November 27, 2007
Carl and I pretty much grew up in and around Eric's, the legendary club/music venue that made rock'n'roll dreams come true. I have many memories of this cosy den of iniquity: a huge ragbag of contemporary 'Tales from the Crypt' made up of golden moments, teenage dreams and starry-eyed meanderings. As you might expect, I also have a great deal to mouth off about on the subject of the whole 'cultural city' shebang. I'm storing all that up for a later date because right now, I'm exhausted and Gordon Ramsay is set to enthrall me with a 'Kitchen Nightmare'. But I had to drop by to tell you that Carl and I couldn't help but indulge ourselves in a text flurry that's gone on over the last few days, rewriting our own memories in 'Capital of Culture' bandwagon style (well, in title form at least). Here are some of the highlights (apologies in advance if some are a little too subtle for those outside the 'in joke' circle):
'A Nightmare on Hope Street', 'Cheltenham Avenue - The Psychodrama',
'A River Runs Past It', 'Casablanca 2', 'Hell's Bistro' ... oh, how we laughed!
More in the pipeline, suggestions welcome - and okay Gordon, I'm ready for your close up ...
I have to admit that, back when I started this blog, I didn't actually intend to do the 'diary' thang; for a start, I didn't think anybody would be interested, and I certainly didn't expect anything of this nature to flow. But interested you seem to be (which amazes me, so thank you) and flow, it does (which shouldn't surprise me really, seeing as writing has been an obsession since the moment I could hold a crayon). So here we are. And where am I up to? Read on ...
Saturday evening was spent adoring Bella (who's already had a mention here), after a fabulous afternoon spent encouraging a group of budding young creative types at the Bath Theatre Royal (Young People's Theatre: The Hub) to develop imaginative characters for a project we're working on. I love working with teenagers. This wasn't a 'career path' that I ever intended to follow, but three years into bolstering my freelance life with such fulfilling employment, I'm absolutely lovin' it. Contrary to popular opinion, teenagers - in my experience - are bright, eccentric, thoughtful, sensitive, talented and downright hilarious. I don't envy them their youth (why should I? I enjoyed a superb one of my own, and haven't quite grown up yet), but I find my merry little band of 13-17 year olds incredibly inspiring in terms of my own creative development. The girls are pretty good on dress sense tips, too ...
Anyway, Sunday - and that La Flamenca Fiesta.
Now this was a funny one - possibly the most surreal reviewing job I've had. Not that there was anything sinister or uncomfortable about the experience; to the contrary, it was a lovely way to spend a Sunday afternoon. It wasn't an outdoor event after all - the whole thing (bowls of proper paella, jugs of extremely strong sangria, a 'Gypsy Kings' style band playing live) took place in La Flamenca's barrel-vaulted tapas bar and restaurant, which positively thrummed to the 'good times' vibe all afternoon (and, I'd guess, long into the evening, way after we'd handed our castanets back). To briefly summarise, it was like being at a Spanish family party hosted by Pedro Almodovar. I'll be putting a review together soon, and after it's been published in Venue, I'll share it here for the sake of those Discoites who don't live within a 20 mile radius of my home. Afterwards I spent the evening on the sofa watching a lengthy documentary about Kylie Minogue, thereby ensuring that my Camp/Glamometer was fully charged up for the week ahead.
Talking of which: we'll move swiftly on now to Monday (at the time of writing, that'd be yesterday) - and wow, the week got off to a flying start!
I can't really go into too much detail about exactly which 'staff do' I went on yesterday because I feel it's a bit unfair to publicly diarise somebody else's life without their permission. Not that I've asked for their permission and they've said no; more ... oh, I'm sure you understand. Anyway, I - and three other lucky winners - were treated to a day out in Bristol by the head honchos in charge of our favourite Bath watering hole. Oh lucky, lucky us! We started off with a spectacular lunch at Bordeaux Quay (do check out the link I've supplied; this place has to be explored to be fully understood) which we followed with a little wander around Bristol's St Nicholas Market, where we visited a friendly cheese maker (and friend of ours) who just set up shop there (Trethowan's Dairy Shop in the Glass Arcade). Trust me when I tell you that the Gorwydd Caerphilly is fabulous; if you're local to St Nicks, do yourself a favour and stock up on a whole wheel of it for Christmas (remember to tell 'em that the Animal Disco sent you!).
After that, we headed up Park Street and lounged around in the comfy armchairs in the first floor bar at Goldbrick House before heading back to Bath and a nightcap at Opa.
Oh, what a perfect day! Good food, great wine, lovely company. Who can ask for anything more? Later, Discoites! Keeeep dancin' ...
They’re loud, expensive and full of poo. They wreak havoc on your social life, shatter all prospects of domestic bliss and turn your body into a battle-scarred wasteland. As the years roll by, they wear you out, run you ragged and “treat this house like a bloody hotel!”, before leaving you for good and breaking your heart. Is this an anti-baby rant you see forming before you? To the contrary: the words you’ve just read aren’t mine; they’re quotes from well-meaning friends who, when trying to placate me during my darkest hours, bombard me with edited lowlights from their lifelong journey on the baby bus.
According to contemporary soothsayers, one should only regret the things that one did not do; by and large, I live by that dictum. As a result, I’ve been to paradise – perhaps not quite the same kind of paradise that 1976 chart topper Charlene visited in her cautionary manifesto on this very subject (no subtle whoring for me!), but hey, I’ve lived. Still, I was never brave enough to embark on life’s greatest adventure of all. Now, when the broody blues kick in, the overwhelming feelings of emptiness, disappointment, regret and sorrow that the realisation that I’m probably never, ever going to know how it feels to be a mother brings are as emotionally painful and traumatic to bear as the physical act of actually giving birth is sometimes reported to be. To quote another tragi-comic camp icon, sometimes it’s hard to be a woman; until I hit my broody years, I didn’t have a clue what Tammy was wailing about.
But unlike our anti-feminist superstars, I refuse to give in and blame my woes – any woes at all – on some poor, commitment-phobic man. Blame is a bore, a chore, and an unnecessary evil that gives an otherwise sweet life a bitter, acidic edge. Anyway, my pro-choice sensibilities embrace equal rights for the men who don’t want to be fathers, too. Although I fully sympathise with their motives, I have little time for the ‘baby bullies’ – women and men, but usually women – who demand to fulfil what they perceive to be their right to parenthood by using emotionally sordid, passive-aggressive techniques to metaphorically twist the arm of the partner who disagrees with them (I include the deliberate sabotaging of condoms and the “whoops, I ‘forgot’ to take my pill!” brigade in this category). I agree with my gay friend who, when asked to consider to ‘donate to the cause’, eventually declined my request for a number of incredibly well-considered ethical, sociological, emotional and intellectual reasons. I’m not one of those women that the media love to hate for attempting to ‘have it all’ (the ‘it’ in this instance referring to the patronising, judgemental admonishment of successful childless women); I simply never reached the ‘Baby’/‘No Baby’ crossroad on the map of my life. But the fact that I can’t play the blame game doesn’t make my ‘situation’ any easier to live with: I'm clearly not destined to be any kind of Madonna.
So on I go, with the well-meaning but ultimately futile advice offered by those who claim to make practical sense of my seemingly illogical desires ringing in my ears, when all I long to hear is the yell that heralds the 4am feed. Apparently, I’m pre-programmed by mysterious forces – sort of, beer goggles for women - and therefore controlled by the biological impulse to reproduce. While I’m busy learning to ignore the ticking of that darned clock, perhaps the medical profession will find a way to mend a broken heart. In theory, broodiness and heartbreak are nebulous, conjectural conditions; in reality, one feeds off the other in a constant frenzy – and I'm powerless to disconnect either from the source. Unless, that is, a benevolent stork happens to drop a baby into my, erm, lap tomorrow – that, for me, would be my equivalent of paradise found.
Sunday, November 25, 2007
I got up at 5.30am this morning to finish off a long feature all about chef 'Signature Dishes' (for Folio magazine, January edition) which I wanted to get all done and dusted by 9am, partly so a particular sub-editor could do her magic on it before Press Day, but mainly because we had a lovely dog staying with us overnight (ah, Bella! We love you) and I wanted to make the most of my time with her before she went home again. Home, for Bella, is currently Luxembourg, but she was born in the USA, has enjoyed a long spate in Saudi Arabia and now lives in a pretty little European town. Is Bella, I wonder, the world's best-travelled dog? She's certainly one of the loveliest, that's for sure. I sooo much want a dog of my own! But even if I get one, Thumper will always, always retain pole position as (lizard) King of the Animal Disco household.
This afternoon, I'm reviewing a Spanish Fiesta courtesy of what I believe to be the West Country's most authentic tapas restaurant, La Flamenca in Bath. It's pretty chilly out, but fortunately, the sun is shining - I'm sure a plate of paella and a drop or two of sangria will warm us up nicely. I will of course duly report back at an appropriate time (and catch us all up on some other events that have taken place over the last couple of days, as detailed in my reply to some of the very nice comments I've received). I'm not quite sure how energetic I'll be feeling this evening (what with that early start this morning!), but whatever happens between now and when I next drop by here, one thing's certain: I'm not going to waste any more time being obsessed with sorting laundry.
Wednesday, November 21, 2007
This evening, England are playing ... somebody (football really isn't my strong point). The match is live on TV, so Mike has invited his buddy round to watch it with him. While they're doing that, I'll once again set up camp at the kitchen table - though this time, without the wine or the accompanying disco - and attempt to put an outstanding (in terms of lateness, if not quality) feature together, seeing as the deadline passed yesterday. Praise be for understanding editors! But let's not tell her that actually, I'm about to spend the afternoon cooking - it's as though the oven is calling me.
While I'm in no way obliged to do so, I'm going to slow-roast a beef casserole (beef, shallots, thyme, red wine, carrots, real stock), adding a handful of homemade suet dumplings to the pot 30 minutes before completion. I've never made dumplings before, but this morning, my local friendly butcher spent 25 minutes telling me exactly how to go about it, and now I'm fascinated. If they don't work, I'll just scrape them off the casserole and make a pile of steaming mashed potatoes instead. While the oven is on, I might as well pop a treacle tart onto the top shelf, as well as tomorrow's sausage casserole, wherever I can find the space. The comfort food season is upon us and I'm already making the very most of it. Mulled wine in the pipeline ...
Cheers, discoites! Come back soon.
Tuesday, November 20, 2007
I'm not (nor have I ever been) a Status Quo fan. But I sort of appreciate them for what they are - or rather, what I thought they were: a good times, singalong band with more than a handful of okay-ish hits under their belts, capable of putting on a good show. I saw them open the Live Aid show at Wembley years ago, and ever since then 'Rocking All Over the World' has had a special place on my sentimental chart (regular visitors to the Animal Disco will know that I have charts for pretty much everything). After seeing them in Portsmouth, though, I think I'll have to give even that chart a serious rethink.
Status Quo have been rockin' around the block for almost 40 years. They're survivors of both changing trends and unfortunate personal experience. They have a massive loyal fan base and as a result, they're massively rich. In other words, they're in a very privileged position. Why, then, did they appear on stage looking as tired and bored as as a group of mechanics after a long day in the garage? With not an ounce of charisma between them, the two frontmen Francis Rossi and Rick Parfitt lumbered their way through a weary collection of past hits, barely making eye contact with the audience and chatting amongst themselves the whole time (possibly about whether they wanted mashed potatoes or chips with their steak pie and mushy peas after the show). There were no surprises - the new songs sounded exactly like the old songs, and the old songs sounded clunky and laboured.
"Our new CD is just out", Rossi told the audience at one point. "You can buy a copy in the foyer".
Oh for goodness sake! Does Rossi really need to squeeze another few bob out of the good folk who have kept him in pies for almost four decades? Where's the spark, the life, the joy the ... I don't know, the bloody gratitude? I'm probably not doing a very good job of putting all the anger that I feel about Status Quo into words right now as I'm a bit hungover from last night (details of that little get together to follow tomorrow-ish), but a couple of you have asked me what I thought about the gig. So to summarise as best I can, here we go-o:
Anybody who makes a living doing what they love is extremely lucky. If that living is largely wrought from strangers who appreciate your work and support you in what you do, you have a duty to thank them. In my opinion, Status Quo have turned into a bunch of ungrateful old pub singers way past their prime who take their fans and their position in life for granted. Humble? They don't know the meaning of the word. Thud, thud, thud, clunk, clunk, clunk ... the sound of cynicism personified.
There! I've got that off my chest - thanks for bearing with me! I'm off to feed this hangover with comforting mushroom risotto and an evening in front of the TV now ('Gordon Ramsay's Kitchen Nightmares' - wa-hey!). Then it's an early night for me, as tomorrow I have some serious deadline-busting to deal with. But before all that, I just want to say thank you to the kind folk who have left comments here - it really makes my day to hear from you! I promise I'm not always this grumbly - we'll be dancing again tomorrow.
Happy Monday! M x
Sunday, November 18, 2007
Yesterday was wonderful - a trot around town (including a spectacular lunch at Gascoyne Place - thank you so much, Marty!) and some shopping. In the evening, we sat around my kitchen table for the second night running, eating and drinking and generally making merry (or, in the case of my sister and I, making childish mischief). I decorated the table with tealights and battery powered glowing things, and we ate canapes of rye bread, cream cheese and smoked salmon, and blinis with dill-marinated herring. Salmon en croute followed, and chocolate brownies should have followed that, but by that stage, my hostess batteries were severely running down and I forgot all about them, so Mike and his brother ended up munching them straight from their crumpled foil wrapper (did they taste good, boys?).
At one point, I accidentally set my hand on fire (honestly, I did! I have the blisters to prove it). My dad talked about his ex-lovers (women who, by the way, were current lovers while he was married to my mum). My sister impersonated Debbie Harry, and encouraged me to impersonate Adam Ant. My mum - all pink and giggly and very, very funny - looked at old pictures of herself and loved us all, in her own special way. Stephen joined us and made extremely crude jokes and references at every turn. The other Steve arrived in his action man outfit. Mike drank spiced rum with ginger beer and exercised a great deal of patience. We listened to Kenny Rogers, Bananarama and Phil Spector's Christmas album, and later on we had a YouTube party, and relived yet more memories. Memories? The day was full of them, both recycled and freshly created. Which led me to thinking ...
My family are pretty much all scattered about these days. Mum and dad divorced years ago, and mum remarried the day before my sister embarked on her route to long-standing wedded bliss. It's a long story - not always a good one - but seeing as someone's got to tell it, I do, frequently. But last night - well, how many families do you know can sit around a table being absolutely ridiculous until well into the wee small hours, with no blips on the emotional horizon whatsoever and a great deal of joy to feast on? That was us, last night - the original Blease family, plus two newish and very welcome additions (Mike and his brother Steve).
I'll spend the afternoon with the Observer Food Monthly, chicken pie and mashed potatoes (Mike's at football as I write - he'll need such sustenance) and later, in the bath. After that, Status Quo in Portsmouth, with a visit to a new baby on the way, in Winchester. Live the dream? Sometimes, I feel as though that's exactly what I do.
Have a super Sunday, wherever you are. And if you're in the mood for an uplifting tune, go here, download a track called 'Do You Realize?" and let me know how it makes you feel.
Later, animals! x
Friday, November 16, 2007
Mike's gone to work, all cosy and snuggled up in his big rugged jacket, the one with the fur-lined hood. Thumper (the lizard baby) has been out for a good runaround - he's looking at his very best right now, having just shed his old coat and donned a green-tinged, golden-flecked suit of armour. Rufus Wainwright is puttering away on the CD player in the corner, and I feel like the luckiest woman in the world, on so many levels. But honestly, I'm not gloating - I just wanted to remind myself how warm and gentle life can be, whatever the weather.
Thank you for reading this. May your day, too, be merry and bright!
Saturday, November 3, 2007
Friday, November 2, 2007
I’ll have a couple of rashers of nitrosamines, preservatives, anti-bacterial agents and colour fixative followed by a high possibility of chronic obstructive pulmonary disease and a bit of bladder cancer, please. That’ll be the good old bacon butty, then: all-round hysteria in one indigestible bite, wrapped in a couple of slices of high GI-rated starch. Yum!
Yup, food that kills is back in the headlines again – this time, the evils of bacon are in the spotlight. The news has brought about much wailing and gnashing of teeth from those who apparently live on bacon sarnies, an outraged army fuelled by the Sun newspaper who inevitably ran the front page headline: ‘Save our Bacon!’. Antony Worrall Thompson – himself the very picture of the British version of good health (ie, an overweight diabetic with terrible skin) waddled onto the bandwagon, dismissing the latest news as ‘just another scare’: “If ‘they’ have ‘their’ way, we’ll all turn into vegetarians!”, he raged, as he sank his teeth into his usual breakfast of deep fried, sugar coated pigs innards. Indeed! How dare ‘they’ tell us that the great British breakfast is bad for us? What right have ‘they’ got to pick on bacon? What’s the point in putting in all that hard work getting a hangover if there isn’t a bacon buttie to reward us for our efforts? The scientists, researchers and nutritionists who are busy condemning the BB are nothing but anti-British killjoys, out to stop our fun. If we want to eat our way into an early grave via industrially produced, genetically modified salt and additive laden low-grade meat that’s literally not fit for a pig to eat, that’s our national right! Next thing we know, we’ll be told to stop binge drinking! Crikey, pass me a fag …
Tuesday, September 11, 2007
Well, despite my promises it's been a while since I've had time to write anything here (a situation which will change again this week - so folks, let's get that 'traffic' flowing again!). In the meantime - just yesterday, actually - I heard some very sad news that moved me to pop in here and write my own little tribute.
Tony Wilson, Pavarotti and now, Anita Roddick. While all three have, in their own ways, offered me inspiration and moments of clarity, Anita's passing has shocked me most of all.
I was lucky enough to meet Anita when I worked for Women's Aid - a charity working to end violence against women, and support all those involved. The Body Shop worked in partnership with WA, raising funds and awareness, and Anita attended a launch to celebrate the start of the collaboration. From the moment she arrived at the hotel reception room hired for the purpose, she filled the building with energy, joy and sheer exuberance; she was funny, witty and wise, self-deprecating and bursting with ... well, life. "Did you know that The Body Shop has hit upon a formula to banish wrinkles before they even begin?", she said. I, of course, was desperate for a preview of such insider knowledge. "It's very controversial ...", she whispered, taking me over to one side; "And I'm not sure it'll work for you ...". I begged. I pleaded. Were we not all working for a charity, I'd have offered a bribe. Eventually, she shared the secret formula with me - now Anita is no longer with us, I guess I can share it here with you: "If you don't want wrinkles, don't smile. Don't laugh - not once, ever in your life. In fact, don't ever allow a single expression to cross your face. Voila - no wrinkles, ever; not a single one".
Of all her many attributes, Anita's face was one of the most stunning. In tribute to her, I vow never, ever to even attempt to put her wrinkle-free formula on the market.
God bless Anita Roddick - a true original, and a perfect example of a life well lived.
Tuesday, August 28, 2007
Bowie appears on the cover looking cool, calm and collected, slick and delicious, yet pensively baleful – he was at his most beautiful, and he knew how to use it. Heavily influenced by the gleaming, commercial sound of Philadelphia soul but with a deferential, elegant curtsey to Lord Lennon (‘Across the Universe’) thrown in to keep his roots intact, the blatantly mercantile ‘Young Americans’ gave Bowie his first US number one hit (the clunky, hollow ‘Fame’), yet it continues to be the album that divides his longstanding fans. But who can listen to the achingly bittersweet ‘Can You Hear Me’, the empty desperation of ‘Win’ or the soft, melodic funk of ‘Right’ and not be completely seduced by the showbiz whore who falteringly led a whole generation through their turbulent adolescence and beyond?
If I had to choose one album to define the soundtrack of my life, ‘Young Americans’ would be it: heartache, devastation, beauty, cynicism and drama contained in just eight songs; life’s rich tapestry in all its vacillating, disingenuous glory.
Thursday, August 23, 2007
Unusually for a girl, I have a vast collection of Hornby-esque, ever-evolving Top Ten Chart lists stored in various notebooks and in my head, divided into categories such as ‘Greatest Love Songs Ever!’, with further subheadings according to mood (for the purposes of this example, ‘sad’, ‘happy’, ‘desperate’, ‘weird’, etc). Currently riding high on my ‘Top Ten Uplifting Songs’ chart is Outkast’s ‘Hey Ya!’, which is unusual for me because the song is relatively modern (my lists are largely dominated by Queen, Marc Bolan, Meat Loaf, Shirley Bassey and the indisputable King of Everything, David Bowie, with Rufus Wainwright gamely holding his own as a young pretender to the throne).
Anyway, I’m digressing, when I’m supposed to be attempting - for once! - to be brief, largely to appease the Animal Disco fans who have asked me to provide them with convenient quick fix bulletins (yes, Anna in Padstow, this one’s for you!). However, I also want to prove to myself that I can indeed publish an Animal Disco post during a coffee break, thereby insuring that we don’t get back into the ‘long days of silence’/nerves habit that I waffled about in the ‘Hello again’ post. So, I’m going to dash off now and leave you with what I believe to be one of the All Time Greatest Ever Pop Songs EVER. If you want a quick real-time blast of it before your coffee cup empties, go to You Tube and look for The Icicle Works 'Love is a Wonderful Colour'. If you’ve got a little bit more time to browse, the lyrics are cheekily cut-and-pasted below. If you’re Ian McNabb, please don’t shout at me for posting your words onto my blog - please take it as the compliment it is intended to be, and not a breach of copyright. And whoever you are, if you don’t agree that this song is a novel, a bottle of perfume, a snapshot and a modern day madeleine, combined with the texture of pure silk, join me on the dancefloor and we’ll argue it out. Later, Animals! x
The Icicle Works: Love is a Wonderful Colour
My friend and I were talking one evening, beside some burning wood,
Trading tales of places we came upon when the times were good,
Spoke of a girl he viewed like no other, whom he had come to know,
I swallowed hard and listened intently, resigned beside the glow...
Always there, it's standing proudly, when all else falls down,
It's all around you, didn't it find you, when you said you couldn't be found?
When love calls me, I will be running swiftly to find out just what all the fuss is all about.
Unrelentless, deep in the strangest feelings, believe me -
Love is full of wonderful colour...
I insist that you pick the wrong one to preach your theories to,
Simmer down, we'll run for a reason, to see what faith can do,
Love is a beacon, on the horizon - watch when you touch down,
Reality finds you fumbling for reasons, when the chance comes 'round
When love calls me, I will be running swiftly to find out just what all the fuss is all about.
Unrelentless, deep in the strangest feelings, believe me -
Love is full of wonderful colour...
Take my confidence to guide you,
Through the fallen hope inside you,
Love is full of wonderful colour.
(Totally copyright secure; don't even think about plagiarism!).
Wednesday, August 22, 2007
That line - from Alison Jameson’s atmospheric 2006 novel ‘This Man and Me’ - jumped out at me, and has loitered at the edge of my consciousness long since I finished the book. Sometimes, a phrase, or an expression, or even just a single word has that affect on me. Most of the stories in Dan Rhodes’ ‘Anthropology’ stayed with me for a year after I read it. Scott Heim’s ‘Mysterious Skin’ was so profoundly influential on my writing life that I fully admit to attempting outright plagiarism in several short stories since. The same goes for Donna Tartt’s ‘The Secret History’, and pretty much everything written by Dave Eggers (particularly the short story collection ‘How We Are Hungry’).
Sometimes, though, my creative heroes du jour are much closer to home. Me fella started his blog at roughly the same time as I started scribbling here, and - while the themes that he’s driven to offer an opinion on may have caused the odd spot of domestic turbulence at the Animal Disco - he’s already proved himself to be, to me, the thoughtful, considered, intelligent journalistic firecracker I saw the initial flickers of when we first met (proud of him? You bet I am!). My best friend says he’s exhausted and fresh out of inspiration or motivation to do anything, let alone write. Then, while the rest of the city sleeps, he writes a review of a Rufus Wainwright gig for publication in a national broadsheet; when it appears in print just a few short hours later, the piece is so effervescent it practically leaps off the page. At a time when the whole of the world’s ‘lifestyle’ media seems to be saturated with jaded, know-it-all food critics who try to out-ponce each other on a regular basis, Doc - the food editor at the magazine I work for - writes restaurant reviews that are fresher than Hugh Fearney-Whittingstall’s supper.
And beyond what others have already written, ‘writerly inspirations’ are everywhere. The one and only time I bought a copy of Bath’s local newspaper, the chronic Chronicle, I noticed that the vendor’s dog - a terrier cross not too far removed from the traditional Punch and Judy dog - was suffering from severe, cloudy cataracts; that sad little dog became the inspiration for an essay (‘Today’s Smile’) that I intend to publish here soon. I wrote ‘Charity’ (also set to join the fun at the Animal Disco any day now) after finding an original copy of the late, great Divine’s single ‘Walk Like a Man’ in my local Oxfam shop. The sentence that sparked off the whole theme for a collection of short stories that I’ve set myself up for derision for already by grouping them together under the title ‘Perfect’ (which won’t be appearing here unless - or until? - they’ve returned from their latest trip around the desktops of various literary agents) was uttered over 25 years ago by my then best friend, the late, great Brian (Brenda) King. Weather, taste, a TV advert, a delayed bus, a throwaway comment made by a school kid in the corner shop - everything and anything that grabs my attention makes me want to grab my notebook and start creating a whole new world.
I write, therefore I am? No, I’m fine with why I am who I am. I write because I have to.
Monday, August 20, 2007
It was my full intention that this blog would be the start of something big - big in my little world anyway, where opportunities to freely ‘publish’ all the stuff that I really want to write about are few and far between. Loads of short stories, several chapters from various novels, even diary entries - I intended to post them here in rapid succession, if only to satisfy my niece’s curiosity regarding exactly what Aunty M does all day (and what she did in previous days, when she herself was merely an eye-twinkle). But then. ho hum, life happened - a life that seriously got in the way of my Animal Disco dreams.
As you may have gathered, I’m a freelance journalist - an occupation with a workload that, though extremely fulfilling and tons of fun, ebbs and flows to no particular rhyme, reason or rhythm. Suddenly, there was a Student Guide to write, and loads of restaurants, books and theatre to review (somebody’s got to do it, etc). There were several Home Interiors features to rattle through - and, as all those who have seen my lovely home will know, I’m just the person for such jobs (“Yeah, right” , says Thumper the Lizard). I had family visiting, and meals to cook, and fake tan to apply, and ... excuses, excuses? Well, yes and no. The workload has been very real. But beyond such restraints, there’s been another little niggle nagging at me every time I sat down to contribute some tunes to my own party.
Actually externalising the internal rambles that, so far, lie hidden away in notebooks, diaries and password-protected documents on a computer - or writing fresh, uncommissioned truths from the heart - is a very different process to rattling off supposedly caustic commentaries (see, ‘Mouthing Off’) or racing through bouncy, optimistic ‘lifestyle’ pieces (see, most of what I get paid to do). It’s downright scary, actually! I know, I know - millions upon millions of people are, to various degrees of success, bravely (or perhaps unthinkingly) stuffing their own blogs full of doo-dah all day long. Do they give a toss about who is - or, more likely, who isn’t - reading anything that they self-publish? Ah yes, the good ones are - that’s why, dear reader, they’re good. And those who are kind enough to read the results of our work take us very seriously indeed.
When I started this project, I thought it unlikely that many people would come and dance with me. And yet, from Day One, I attracted reaction - most of it positive, too. I can’t say that the Animal Disco has legions of loyal fans, but, despite a total lack of publicity, there are a few. So, for them, I’m going to bite the bullet and start this ball rolling properly.
I’m sorry for the lack of music that followed the initial fanfare, but I’m sorting the band out as I write. And write I will - right here. Thank you for sticking with me so far; I hope you continue to make full use of the Access All Areas pass that this blog gives you to my life so far. And hey! Don’t be a stranger ... no matter how strange things get ...
Tuesday, August 7, 2007
But despite it all, the Legend lives on. Awesome!
Friday, August 3, 2007
Thursday, July 26, 2007
But after months spent being equally dismissive about the latest fad to seduce the children of the techno age, I’ve succumbed to pressure from a ‘community’ that’s taken up far more column inches, airtime and energy than the zeroes version of schooldays desktop compass-etching should merit. I’ve spent the past few days being tagged, ragged and poked. I’ve displayed an exhaustive rundown of my likes, dislikes and career history (ha!) for all the world to see, had buns thrown at me, and have been busy erasing the vile personal insults that are regularly scrawled all over my wall. Yesterday, Marc Bolan contacted me from beyond the grave (at last!). Oh yes, it’s all happening on Facebook. Not quite as arty as MySpace and nowhere near as fascinating or resourceful as YouTube and Wikepedia, this time-sapping activity combines texting, MSN messaging and dumbed down pub banter, all dressed up as a self-styled, online ‘social utility’. So why am I filled with an ineffable sense of joy every time a new ‘friend’ attaches themselves to me? Why do I come over all touchy-feely when I sign in in the morning and learn that Lottie is feeling ‘gorgeous’ today, while Kitty is busy cleaning? And why do I feel the need to tell all who stumble across my profile that I’m ‘lovely’?
Because I'm only human. Because, like most people, I want to fit in, be popular, care and be cared about. I want my opinions, observations, worries and plans – however ridiculous, misinformed, humble or grand – to be registered somewhere else other than only in my own head. I've got my work, this blog and a very active social life to keep me busy, happy and fulfilled, but if I don’t want to be alone – at 4am, say, or during that ripe-for-procrastination, mid-morning lull – I no longer have to be; I have instant access to what’s going on, not in the “who’s responsible for how many deaths today” way that the news provides me with, but in my own, immediate orbit. Did my teenage niece have a good night out on the town? Did Lyn finish that script before the deadline? Has William agreed that ‘The Las’ do indeed deserve to come before ‘A Flock of Seagulls’ but after ‘Wah!’ in the top 10 list of ‘Great Scousers in Pop’?
Of course, we could all send each other emails about such pressing matters, pick up the phone and ramble ‘live’ or even – hey! – choose face to face over Facebook. But I'm not going to make lame excuses for my current addiction by saying that that time, distance and energy prevents us all from doing so. I’d rather be honest about it: we’re lazy, we want to be immortal, and Facebook lets us believe we matter.
If you’re of the opinion that hell is other people, neither Facebook nor any member of its extended family is for you. If, however, you’re an ego-driven narcissist with time on your hands, there’s plenty of room on the bandwagon.
Friday, July 20, 2007
When a friend or relative dies, we’re duty bound to ‘behave correctly’. The traditional British funeral is generally made up of a crowd who value stoicism over the expression of emotion. A stiff upper lip is called ‘dignified’, uncontrollable sobbing is called ‘vulgar’, a personal speech accused of being ‘phoney’ – we simply don’t know how to deal with anything close
to heart-on-the-sleeve emotion. And yet, death works to the most genuine Equal Opportunities policy of all. Regardless of sexuality, culture, faith or political beliefs, we’re all going to die one day. Given that certainty, you’d think we’d have found a way, by now, to behave in a genuinely ‘proper’ fashion when a loved one pops off.
Remember the Aids Iceberg of the early 80’s? I, and many of my generation, lost several friends to it. I never thought the day would come when I realised the benefits that such sorry circumstances afforded me; those I lost taught me a lot about how life – and death – should be lived. I’ve attended funerals where balloons were tied to the hearse, where everybody was
ordered to wear white gloves, where ‘Love Supreme’ (a tribute band) sang ‘Where Did Our Love Go?’ in place of a sermon. One particularly memorable funeral had ‘Ding Dong, The Witch is Dead’ playing over loudspeakers as the coffin slid into the furnace – we laughed, we cried, and we’ll never, ever forget the day we said goodbye to Brian King (RIP). Call these funerals irreverent, call them vulgar, call them what you will, but I call them life-affirming, despite the circumstances. In Mexico, you can attend a candlelit feast around the grave for 24 hours after the coffin has been sunk. In the Middle East, they wail loudly in the streets. Irish Catholics have the Wake. But Middle-Englanders button-up and bear down, getting congratulated for stoicism or sneered at if we cry. We freely discuss and judge other people’s sex lives, politics and clothes sense, but god forbid that we ever mention the ‘D’ word outside of a church or a hospital word. To do so is gloomy, improper, crude or
tacky; embarrassing, depressing or downright common. But there’s safety in numbers: when a celebrity dies, it’s an opportunity to vent feelings that have been festering away since we last grieved a dearly departed ‘ordinary person’ of our own. If it weren’t for Diana, Freddie, Ken, Paula or their ilk, some of us would never get the opportunity to freely mourn. Never mind what the Spectator tells us; emotion – like ridicule – is nothing to be scared of.
At the time of writing, Marc Almond is, fortunately, recovering. If the situation takes a turn for the worst, check the listings for the 24-hour ‘Non Stop Erotic Cabaret’ vigil in Bath. I’ll be the one on the steps of the Guildhall wailing my way though ‘Tainted Love’ – because let’s face it, I won’t be allowed to display such behaviour next time somebody I really know dies.
Only in the rarefied, Guardian-reading Naomi Klein world does Satan wear Nike. Fuelled by Coca Cola and chicken nuggets, the Lord of all Hopelessness must be rubbing his hands in glee: shopping is the new religion, possessions are the new black, we worship at the altar of conspicuous consumption and the PC has become our own personal Jesus. His work on earth is done! Meanwhile, the God Squad are still playing ‘Stairway to Heaven’ backwards in search of those elusive satanic messages and blaming Marilyn Manson for everything bad. Marilyn Manson! Scrape off the make up, and what have you got? A skinny geek called Brian Warner who reinvented himself as the ‘Antichrist Superstar’, thus earning himself a house in the Hollywood Hills. He’s a self-promotion genius, a master of the marketing campaign and a whiz with the make-up brush: Mr Showbiz, through and through. But when middle America (a state of mind rather than a geographical location) needs a scapegoat, what’s the easiest route to take: face the fact that the latest group of schoolyard gun-toters are the direct result of a society that worships fame, fast food and filthy lucre or blame their actions on the latest ‘shock rock’ pantomime dame?
Alice Cooper, Eminen, Black Sabbath, Anthrax, Entombed et al are all, according to the bible-bashing saddoes, occult-obsessed, Satan-worshipping whores of the devil, a conclusion based on little more than the odd bout of on-stage chicken abuse, a predilection for wearing dusty black clothes, a distinct lack of anything close to charisma and a set-list of really bad songs. If the devil has all the best tunes, he’s pretty lax, these days, when it comes to copyright (although the hard work he put into creating Pop Idol has been duly noted). The old hellraiser’s not that hot on style, either; a couple of tips from Trinny and Susannah regarding what not to wear if you’re hell bent on world domination wouldn’t be a bad idea (all black? So yesterday, dahling!). As for that smudgy eyeliner – it’s not a good look on a guy your age. Get thee behind me, Satan! … at least until you’ve reclaimed your copyright and learnt how to dress properly. This season, your followers have been reduced to shopping at Primark.
jaded researcher before being asked to deliver a three-minute monologue, unrehearsed and direct to camera, about why I love the Beatles (the point being, I don’t). All this in the name of making a nation-sized fool of myself on car crash TV,
desperately hoping that they’d pick me, me, me to turn into someone else entirely after a training period of just one month. I'm not allowed to name the TV show in question, the production company or my possible ‘temporary career’ (when they saw the word ‘journalist’ on my CV I was made to sign all manner of confidentiality agreements, and I'm not rich enough to risk their wrath) but suffice to say, you know the show I'm talking about.
So what led to this rather strange event: cash, curiosity or a genuine belief in capability? In truth, it was a mixture of all three, coupled with a hint of mid-life crisis and a craving for the short, sharp shock that only a really big challenge can bring. In theory, I was the perfect reality TV star: massively insecure, but with an ego bigger than Meatloaf’s arse (which is apt, really, if you read between the lines).
My rivals included several other Reality TV ‘professionals’ (who reeled off lists of unsuccessful auditions for Big Brother - the ‘big one’ - and Survivor and shared tips such as ‘cry when you’re talking about your family’), a snooty boy who came with his mother in tow and a jolly pensioner who “felt she had a lot to offer the viewing public”. The curious motivation behind the twisted urge to live with a camera up your nose for 24 hours a day became clearer as I got to know my new friends: we all wanted to be something much bigger than we already were without having to try too hard. We weren’t, until the recall (yes, I got a recall!), told what our prospects might be. My options had been narrowed down to either a contestant in the Texan ’Forty and Fab!’ pageant or the rather meatier, closer to home alternative of backing singer for a camp, overblown rock legend. I crossed my fingers for meat, only to be pipped at the post by a woman who, in the opinion of the producers, “would be likely to have a much harder time of it all”. This justification somewhat softened the blow of disappointment but still, it was a strange experience to talk away from rejection thinking, “I wish I’d come across as worse than I am”.
Would fake fame have turned out to be more fulfilling than my own reality? I'll let you know after I get the call from The Big One.
Artists have long since been inspired by the theme of love denied, withdrawn, lost, dead or merely just illusive. It’s a multi-medium, metaphor-mixing theme, too: Nigella Lawson developed a Break-up Cake especially for such occasions, superstar hairdresser Nicky Clarke created the ‘Divorce Court Up-Do’ and designer Jean Paul Gaultier once sent a ‘jilted bride’ outfit down the runway at the end of a show, turning a fascistic fashionista custom on it’s head. Tragedy: when the feeling’s gone and you can’t go on … cash in on it. But even if it hasn’t and you don’t know how, you can’t beat a bit of a wallow in somebody else’s stormy waters to stir the senses in a way that nothing from Clinton Cards could ever do. And when the tides
that govern your own personal love boat turn rough and the forecast predicts a huge and heavy bout of moping, self pity, bitterness and regret on the horizon (sorry, Love Cats – it happens), no amount of sickly chocolates are going to fill the void.
On Planet Pop, ditties that revolve around “everything’s great and we’re really happy” tend to be one hit, witless (no) wonders. But when Cupid shoots a poisoned arrow, love comes alive. Compare and contrast Monarch of the Melodrama Roy Orbison searing his heart on his sleeve on ‘It’s Over’ with amateur dramatist Martine McCutcheon wretchedly retching her way through ‘Perfect Moment’ and tell me which one is more likely to stay on your personal playlist forever. Feeling wistful at the end of an affair? Vulnerable though you may be, beware of barely post-pubescent, heavily marketed pop idol generation kids trying to convince you that they know how being close to crazy feels; nothing fixes you up faster than a darkened room, a glass of Rioja and a quick blast of Jeff Buckley’s ‘Last Goodbye’.
Or maybe you prefer to fight rejection with defiance? Transvestite disco diva Divine’s hyperactive but sublime version of ‘You Think You’re A Man’ is one of the loudest, proudest, “fuck you” break up songs ever. Almost as effective (if a little overdone), the original version of Gloria Gaynor’s ‘I Will Survive’ still works wonders, too (but in the house on your own, please, and not around the handbags down at McChav’s Nite Club). Meanwhile, the Righteous Brother’s crooning their way through ‘You’ve Lost That Loving Feeling’, the stark beauty of Carole King’s ‘It’s Too Late’ or the simple surrender of Sebadoh’s ‘Soul and Fire’ provide enough material to convince stale maters that the end is indeed upon them, while Abba’s ‘Winner Takes It All’, Meatloaf’s ‘Not A Dry Eye In The House’ and the whole of Nick Cave’s ‘Boatman’s Call’ album make the ensuing decree absolut party go with a swing.
Regrets? Oh, we all have a few, but The Walker Brothers deny them beautifully (especially when Charlie Rich is on hand to bemoan the loss of ‘The Most Beautiful Girl in the World’ as a chaser). And when you need to put a bit of perspective on the
exquisite pain that post-split compunction brings, Patsy Cline cracks up in fine style on ‘I Fall To Pieces’, while Dolly Parton’s ‘I Will Always Love You’ kicks that awful Houston woman’s corporate greed version of the same song straight to the kerb. And blimey, we haven’t even touched on the ultimate paean to camp, overblown emotional histrionics that is Nilsson’s ‘Without You’ yet!
Hearts and flowers? Indulge yourself in a good old wallow instead. Cheap bouquets eventually crumble to dust, but a three-minute melodrama is a lifelong affair.
Christopher Isherwood is having a smooch with Divine and Freddie Mercury is – well, just being him; what more does he need to do?
Once the dead guys have set the scene (velvet and organza everywhere, champagne flowing through crystal fountains), those on earth get to hitch a lift beyond the clouds with my dog Jazz, who’s grown wings, Pegasus style. And now, here comes The Family, in all their messy glory, with dad and mum reunited for the occasion, putting their double decade of other-partner
duelling behind them (which means she’s allowed to bring her husband). Loved ones - Dalto accompanied by my beautiful man, Michael - arrive bearing chocolate truffles from Rococo (I'm dead anyway – I can eat sugar again) while the heroes - Dave Eggers, Rufus Wainwright, David Bowie, Bret Easton Ellis and Douglas Coupland – all lounge around looking louche. And still, I’ve saved the living best till last: Gordon Ramsay is, of course, doing the food – and he can cook whatever the f*** he likes.
All of life is synaesthetic; death just makes the colours taste better.
Take Polyamory, the ‘new’ kid on the all-night party block. What was once called wife swapping or swinging (oh, how adorably retro!) has experienced a makeover: a pinch of academic approval, a topspin of self-help book rhetoric (“we define ourselves as free thinking independent people, freed from the emotional bondage of guilt and restriction”, blah blah), and a whole new language ('frubbly': the 'emotion of joy' experienced seeing partners happy in the company of other lovers) means that you too can shag likeminded, emotionally insecure, egocentric commitment-phobics, secure in the knowledge that your behaviour is fully sanctioned with a blessing from the glossy magazines. Meanwhile, Dogging is another age-old pastime with the eyebags removed: it’s the bad old gang bang scenario with website and mobile phone technology assistance saving the shifty-trousered brigade from wasting long hours in quiet car parks peering hopefully at genuine pooches being taken out for a midnight pee by their innocent owners. Not that I'm calling Doggers guilty, and nor do I want to stop any pleasure seekers in their multi-partnered tracks. And I’m not averse to reading about any of the well-worn practises that keep on dominating the headlines, either; I'm as fascinated as the next perv when given the opportunity to get down and dirty with
those-who-can’t-keep-it-in-their-pants – at a safe, respectable distance, of course. And anyway, who am I to judge the next (hard) man? As long as nobody is getting hurt in the process, I don’t mind what anybody does in order to float their amorous boats. I just can’t help wondering why a rose (or in this case, a few sticky thorns) needs to be given yet another name in order to smell as … well, not exactly sweet, but you know what I mean. I still find it hard to believe, though, that a semi-dressed woman on a picnic table, open (literally) for business with all-comers, or the real life goings on behind the ‘ethical slut’ principles of the academics, have genuinely happy tales to tell once the baby oil dries up – surely the ensuing horror stories will be a case of yet more old whine in new barrels? Anyway …
Sex is A Good Thing. It can be loving, messy, fun, exhilarating, spontaneous, sad, sleazy and regretful in equal measure, at different times and in different phases of the average life. A woman can be Samantha from Sex and the City, Kat from EastEnders or Bree from Desperate Housewives as she sees fit; equally, a man can be Casanova, Mr Big or merely Mr Right Now in accordance with his own whims, too – it’s all part of life’s rich tapestry, as long as the consenting adults rule always applies … and as long as we behave like the adults we purport to be. We’re all familiar with the old wanting cake, oxymoronic adage - so, when one half of a couple confesses to a Polyamory predilection, they’re asking to be absolved for the forthcoming sin of gross misbehaviour. What the rejectee experiences in the aftermath isn’t a cutely-termed ‘wibble’ – it’s a justified bout of insecurity, hurt and jealousy. If someone gets sweet talked (or quasi-science blinded) into believing anything else, they’re not ‘open minded and mature’ – they’re flirting with setting themselves up to be the victim of a confusing and possibly abusive relationship that probably ain’t going anywhere except down.
Okay, I haven’t Polyamored, Dogged, Piked, Cottaged or been moved to Exhicentricism (although I freely admit to a good bit of Cakeshifting in my time). I happily absorb all the info, though – if that makes me a Vicariousist, so be it; we’re all free to take our fulfilment where we find it … and call it what the hell we like.