Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Toot toot!

Feminist pundits have called it “an outrage against womankind” and warned of an increase in incidents of violence against women, campaign groups have accused the bosses of totally disregarding equal opportunities policies and Mumsnet are urging their members to boycott Marks and Spencer, condemning the company for “selling women and girls down the river in order to make a fast buck”. Toot toot! Hooters has come to town.

In case you’ve missed the storm in the DD-cup, Hooters is an American restaurant chain specialising in beer, burgers...and waitresses with big boobs (‘hooters’ is US slang for breasts). The chain has over 400 venues across the globe, and is aiming to establish a presence in 36 locations throughout the UK by 2012; the invasion of the (hot) body snatchers is underway - and Bristol (on a site owned by M&S) is its latest victim.

Personally speaking, I find the massive success of a company that promotes an ethos based solely around scantily-clad, curvy women serving cheap fast food to self-consciously ‘macho’ male saddoes yet another tragic indictment on the cultural state of the western world. But given the state we’re in, surely Hooters only symbolises what a tissue represents to a bout of flu: a mere accessory to address the symptoms (but most certainly not the cause) of a virus that we could have stopped becoming a pandemic decades ago.

If all the folk who have joined the anti-Hooters crusade had regularly lobbied magazine publishers, the Advertising Standards Authority and fashion designers asking them to desist from perpetuating unrealistic images of ‘the ideal woman’, would Hooters even exist? If they’d all put their energies into campaigning against sex trafficking or the sinister realities behind the ‘massage parlours’ that have crept into every city, might sex have been taken off the mercantile market? If everybody joined Women’s Aid (the national organisation aiming to stop domestic and sexual abuse of women by influencing policy change, raising awareness and supporting survivors), might giving men a license to treat sexual harassment as a leisure activity be off the menu? While supporting women’s rights is a lifelong mission, Hooters is merely a circus that provides a fleet of bandwagons for the chattering classes to leap on; if “Outraged from Clifton” had attempted to challenge the ringmasters when the company was established in 1983, the parade might never have come to town.

Meanwhile, what right has anybody got to dispute the free will that the original feminists fought for? Rather than being dragged off the street and forced to wear revealing outfits (unlike most of the women in the aforementioned massage parlours, many of whom have been brought to the UK by sex traffickers), Hooters staff voluntarily elect for the position knowing full well that the uniform is part of the job - and not too dissimilar from outfits they may choose to wear for a night on the town. Surely loudly expressing negative opinions about skimpy clothes - often laced with veiled threats about the consequences of choosing such attire, usually blatantly denouncing an individual’s moral standards and even IQ in the process - is almost akin to condoning the belief that, in order for women to protect themselves from apparently completely acceptable male deficiencies when it comes to ‘self control’ (a subject that few of the Hooters shooters address at all), burkas might be a good idea after all.

Hooters is, on one level, just another city centre sports bar aimed at gullible men: a version of TGI Fridays with Benny Hill as CEO and KFC doing the catering. Consider it as a direct result of not bothering to take action against the exploitation of women every day (and not just when ‘family life’ is threatened by dad’s instant access to women who look like the ones he brings out of hard drive storage when mum isn’t using the computer to corral a crusade against Marks and Spencer), however, and we’ve really only got ourselves to blame.

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

So here it last!

Before we begin (or perhaps after you've digested my latest rant, below), please do drop by the Venue food and drink pages where you can read my considered opinions on scoffing in and around Bath (including a recent Faulty Towers experience - and no, that wasn't a typo!). Also, news just in: read my ramblings about growing up and learning to eat in Liverpool here. Meanwhile, back at the disco...

The streets in the city centre are hung with as yet unlit frosted stars indicating a blaze of cheer soon to light our way as the nights draw in. In the shop windows, faceless cardboard dummies draped with dreary displays of school uniforms and drab winter coats have been replaced by elegant models wearing jewel-coloured velvet frocks, fake fur shrugs and sparkly stockings, while plum puddings, chocolate snowmen and crackers of both the edible and the frivolous variety have started creeping onto the supermarket shelves; any day now, I know I’ll be greeted by the sound of Roy Wood wishing such frothy frippery could be part of an everyday routine as I walk through the door. Bring it on! As far as I’m concerned, Christmas can’t come soon enough.

Of all the weary adages spouted by people who don’t know what to talk about, the one regarding Christmas coming earlier every year is, to my mind, the most tedious, unimaginative drone of all. Christmas does, of course, fall on exactly the same date every year, and the commercial calendar adheres to the festive kick start date with precise regularity. To be fair to the fat cats, they never really start whispering the C-word much before the clocks turn back - and they never did. Even in the days before Halloween represented a lucrative cash cow all of its own, the mercantile merriment started in mid-October and has yet to be usurped by the green face paint and mechanically-lit pumpkins that in themselves bring a flourish of novelty to the otherwise prosaic shopping experience.

But on a less pedantic note, why do so many people put so much energy into hating the fact that, for an average of around 10 weeks of a 52 week allocation, we’re subjected to a far less subtle but substantially prettier marketing campaign than we are all year round? Come the start of November, the very same folk who dominate dinner parties with dull, lengthy debates about buy-to-rent properties, interest-free credit cards and the pros and cons of price comparison checkers are talking about the Christmas campaign as though they’ve never noticed the presence of a shop, TV advert or inflated price tag in their lives. How does a big red bow stuck to the corner of the 31” HD flatscreen TV that they secretly covet or on a box containing the latest toy suddenly turn these already unnecessary fripperies into wildly offensive representations of capitalism and greed? Far from being the arch social commentators they think they’re showing themselves to be by spouting all the cynical anti-Christmas clichés they can muster, all the noël naysayers really do is show themselves for the gullible fools - part Grinch, part green eyed monster - that they really are. Nobody is ever forced to go shopping and marketing campaigns, however pernicious, only make you feel obliged to spend, spend, spend of you’re stupid, stupid, stupid enough to do so. Anybody can choose to ignore the bright lights, the tinsel and the flashing reindeers that dominate the urban landscape, and wear earmuffs to block out the sound of Noddy Holder bellowing the inevitable if they so wish. But what a waste of a free-for-all frivolity that would be! By cherishing the cheer and allowing a little sparkle into your soul before the inevitable January blues bring the UK back down to earth again with a tedious thud, the miserable, dreary state of UK business as usual is transformed into a winter wonderland all the way through to the January sales. And who’ll be first in the queue when the leftover tat gets reduced to half price? The very same Scrooges who dissed public displays of greed in the first place. But before all that, the 70 days of Christmas are upon us; in my opinion, they can never come too early...or last long enough.

Monday, September 20, 2010

A Pig in the kitchen

News just in: Venue have finally sorted a proper website out! You'll find me mostly lounging around the food and drink pages...

In other news:

I’ve come to the conclusion that there is no more satisfying pastime than making a cake. Mary Berry’s Victoria sandwich, Nigel Slater’s coffee and walnut cake and, of late, Dan Lepard’s saffron, lemon curd and clotted cream creation are perennial favourites, but as autumn approaches, fruit cake, steamed puddings and - sooner than you’d care to think - Christmas cake will all be stirring up a delicious fuss in my kitchen.

But baking doesn’t have to be a fuss. There’s actually a cake (or cookies, or muffins) in everybody’s store cupboard: sugar, eggs and butter feature on most people’s weekly shopping list, while flour tends to linger on our shelves in a stoic, “I’m there when you need me” slump; use these ingredients wisely, and you’ve got a luxurious, frivolous, decadent treat literally at your fingertips.”But I haven’t got the time!”, I hear the naysayers yell; “and anyway, I can buy a decent cake at the supermarket”. Well yes you have and no, you can’t. A simple sponge cake takes 10 minutes to put together and 30 minutes maximum to bake, while muffins or cookies can be done and dusted (with icing sugar, perhaps?) in half that time. Meanwhile, the commercial versions of the same (over)sweet treats costs around four times more than the real McCoy and usually taste of nothing but and chemicals and cardboard. But even if you go down Slater Street or Lepard Lane and invest the necessary time and money in their sumptuous, seductive creations, the end result pays massive dividends - and you get to indulge in a spot of ‘me’ time that, at the finish, is made for sharing: a moist, softly crumbling homemade creation eaten in a warm, sweet-smelling kitchen on a chilly autumn afternoon; you can’t get that at the supermarket, can you?

By the way, if anybody's interested: I also occasionally blog about food-related matters and going out in Bath for The Pig Guide; enjoy (I hope?), but keep the source secret!

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Funny Man

Patrick Monahan: I walked, I danced, I’ran

(Ustinov, Bath)

Admirably defying the contemporary entertainment directive stating that comedians must be hung up, strung out and obsessively egocentric in order to raise the prerequisite cynical chuckles, Patrick Monahan proves that it’s still possible to keep an audience laughing for almost 90 minutes without resorting to crass euphemisms, insulting anybody or using ticketholders as emotional punchbags.

Instantly likeable and eminently personable, Monahan interacts with audience members throughout his whole show in a genial, unthreatening manner, taking everybody with him on a vivid journey that largely uses both his and our observations on the north/south divide to provide the scenery along the way. A less imaginative tour guide might have used their Irish-Iranian/Teeside roots as a vehicle to carry us along in for the bulk of the trip but Monahan refers to his heritage only in passing, saving the culture clash quips for a finale in which he’s joined on stage by two hapless stooges for a spot of Iranian national dancing. In the hands of a lesser-skilled host and raconteur, such an innocent formula may not work quite so well. Monahan, though, is an instinctive good times vibrationalist: charming, quick-witted and refreshingly comfortable in his own skin.

Thursday, September 9, 2010

Grow up?

His fringe flops into his eyes, he has a permanently perplexed look on his face and he sleeps at random times, often in front of the TV or at the dinner table. He’s fascinated by shiny gadgets and his baggy, crumpled trousers come dangerously close to sliding all the way down to his chubby little knees every time he crosses the room on his skateboard - if, that is, he doesn’t trip on his shoelaces first. And when there’s something he really, really wants - a huge beaker of caramel-flavoured gloop from Starbucks or the latest iPod, for example - he knows exactly how to manipulate it into his grasp; any day now, he might even learn the words “please” and “thank you.” If it wasn’t for the fact that he’s 23 years old, unemployed and still living at home, he’d be soooo cute!

Kidults, adultescents, the Peter Pan generation: whatever you want to call the ill-mannered tribe of spoiled brats who refuse to grow up, it’s likely that a psychologist will have coined the phrase first, giving what’s actually a rather sinister sociological trend formal endorsement. Comedian Richard Herring recently turned his own kidult status into a commercial success, publishing his bestselling book “How Not To Grow Up” earlier this year. Herring recognises that choosing to live in a state of perpetual immaturity was never an option for his parents: “They had limited choices about what they could do professionally and needed to work to survive,” he told the Times recently. “A ‘proper’ job will soon make a 20-year-old grow up, whether they want to or not.” But how many young adults don’t need to work to survive today - and why wouldn’t a 20 year old want to grow up? Herring’s eventual life choices (which, whether he acknowledges it or not, resulted in a very grown up career indeed) don’t involve children of his own on which to dump his own neurosis, but many of his contemporaries are the parents of today. Instead of blaming the X Factor, the advertising industry and America for all the UK’s woes, is it actually the Herring generation who are (ir)responsible for the failings of today’s immature, infantilised young adults?

When I was a child, a trip to a restaurant was a really grown up, exciting treat. I was expected to behave (and eat) accordingly, not force-fed from a ‘kid's menu’ after having an activity book thrust upon me by a server dressed as a bunny rabbit. At the cinema, the film was the star of the show, not the ‘meal deal’ combos, sweet shops and video games in the foyer, and ‘playdates' evolved naturally rather than being scheduled in a month in advance. This may sound positively Dickensian to the kids of today, who expect indulgent, unnecessary extra-curricular activities, ‘rewards’ for making their own beds and a £300 frock to wear to the school leaver’s Prom to come as standard issue childhood ‘essentials’. But such essentials are often only essential to parents who are living out their own second childhood vicariously in a desperate bid to remain forever young themselves. Instead of breeding a generation equipped to cope with impending adulthood (and all the joys - yes, joys! - that go with that status), the kidults have raised packs of pampered poodles who still dress (and eat) like babies or Disney princesses, need constant external stimulus in order to stay awake and salivate at the sight of a new toy (usually a mobile phone, iPod or laptop destined to be lost, broken or obsolete within a month). As a result, we’re burdened with a whole generation of uninspired, uninspirational 20-somethings who lack the social skills, self-awareness and general wherewithal to claim their rightful places in the adult world, and are destined to raise children of their own who, should they choose to rebel against their parental blueprint, have little option but to claim Margaret Thatcher as a maternal role model. The kids are alright? I don’t think so.

Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Code of Conduct?

According to Immigration Minister Damian Green, "telling people what they can and can't wear is a rather un-British thing to do.” Okay, the statement was made in response to questions about whether the UK was set to copy the law recently established in France and ban the wearing of a burka in public places. But putting that singularly contentious issue aside, isn’t telling people what to wear A Very British Thing indeed?

The following is an excerpt from an email confirming a dinner reservation at a nearby country house hotel restaurant: “May we politely take this opportunity to remind you that we operate a strict dress code policy. We ask all our guests to refrain from wearing denim, shorts or trainers in the restaurant and suggest that gentlemen wear a collared shirt, tie and jacket, while ladies dress in a similarly demure fashion. Non-adherence to our policy could result in your booking being cancelled without further explanation”. By issuing this formal assertion, the hotel isn’t breaking any kind of law at all. It is, however, strictly adhering to the kind of subtly condescending code of conduct that today represents an image of ‘exclusivity’. But when ‘guests’ are voluntarily paying a minimum price of £80 per head for dinner in such an establishment, isn’t it up to them to decide how to dress for the occasion?

Despite what the overall sartorial sense of the average Brit may lead you to believe, most men are not Neanderthals who have never set foot in a restaurant before, and few are stupid enough to think that a rugby shirt, tatty jeans and stinky trainers is suitable attire for a posh dinner. But What Not To Wear (and when not to wear it) still represents a difficult code to decipher - especially if you consider where many of our social customs spring from. Several social anthropologists, for example, argue that a tie subconsciously directs the attention downwards to the wearer's genitals; if this is the case, then that’s a very distasteful diktat indeed. Surely a cravat - much more of a supercilious symbol of faux-elegance than the wretched noose so beloved of middle managers and call centre bosses (who may or may not be hung up on the location of their manhood) - would be much more in keeping with the pompous image that any establishment that issues such severe guidelines goes to great lengths to uphold. And if female hotel guests are to subtly distinguish themselves from the paid escorts who frequent the bar, how much cleavage is too much, and is the thigh the limit when it comes to dress length? Blimey! At times like this, a girl needs Gok Wan on speed dial. But would he - with his bum-crack revealing jeans, off the shoulder T-shirts and stylishly distressed Converse trainers - be allowed to set foot in the hotel at all? According to the dress code, no. But according to the kudos that a Wan booking would afford them, then very much yes. It’s wholly relevant to add, at this juncture, that when I went to eat at the hotel in question, the guy at the table next to ours wore a T-shirt emblazoned with the name of the shop he brought it from, jeans, and deck shoes without socks. His guest, meanwhile, was wearing a far-from-demure semi-transparent minidress, and they both flaunted multiple accessories so heavily branded (including four mobile phones between them, none of which were turned off) it was clear they’d totally lost the plot on making an independent decision as to what does or does not constitute good taste. So why wasn’t their booking cancelled without further explanation? ‘Cos they were clearly loaded - that’s all the explanation you need.

In Britain, a dress code applies to every situation; whether you can get away with bending the rules depends on your wallet, not your free will.

Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Blog off?!

Lurking amongst the tongue-tied first daters, confused tourists, fussy eaters, expense-account executives, quarrelling couples and discomfited conference delegates that go towards making up the bulk of any restaurant’s clientele, a recent arrival to the throng is set to fascinate people watchers - in themselves another discrete social subset - everywhere.

The Food Blogger is the food world’s equivalent of the train spotter, lurking feverishly in the waiting room on any given prandial platform until the gravy train gives them (and their followers, via the tannoy system that is twitter) something to tweet about. Some Food Bloggers herald their arrival by dropping a notebook on the table before they’ve even taken their coats off, when even a ‘traditional’ restaurant critic knows that notebooks are the sole preserve of those who attempt to scam discounted meals by posing as a reviewer. All of them, however, identify themselves by using their cameras to take endless shots of the table, the menu, the food, the cutlery and the aftermath of the meal itself rather than the grinning maws of their fellow diners, using the images to illustrate a fresh post that will be rattled out immediately after the event and posted online often before the dishes they ate from have been cleared away.

Many food blogs constitute a lively, informative alternative to the mainstream media, but for every insightful, original self-styled food writer there are reams of sites operated by egotistical, delusional, pompous maniacs who start every sentence with the word ‘I’ and think ‘delicious’ is sufficient description for any dish they were impressed by. But don’t confuse the folk who post pernicious, mean-spirited barbs on sites such as with genuine FB’s; these comments are in fact generated by restaurant owners with an appetite for destruction of the enterprise next door.

Wednesday, June 2, 2010

Great Balls of Boredom

Exactly what do people honestly, really like about watching a bunch of overpaid drama queens (albeit, I’m sure, highly skilled drama queens) doing exactly the same thing week in, week out? I’m not down on anybody who watches - or plays - football; I just honestly can’t see the attraction. Is a clear, concise explanation detailing what the attraction is really too much to ask for? Is it an addiction - like smoking, or crack? Or is it merely a male bonding thing: a chance to be with your mates without having to do anything uncomfortable like actually talking to them about something other than Rooney’s latest medical melodrama or whether or not Frank Lampard’s ball was offside?

It surely can’t be a patriotic thing but, if it is, that motivation alone gives cause for serious concern (I’m with Paul Gomberg when it comes to the sociological theories behind collective displays of national pride). But neither is it any longer what John Betjeman condescendingly called a ‘panacea for the working classes’; today, the majority of the super strikers (and defenders, and mid-fielders, etc) are glossy Euro boys paid millions of pounds to swoop, dive and maintain their glossy manes, while supporters are charged the equivalent of the average mortgage payment for a season ticket. And I’m not even going to attempt to offer a pseudo-theory on that hackneyed, clichéd “it’s a latent gay thing” insinuation (although this point recently raised much confusion in an ensuing debate: apparently, men who don’t want to watch a bunch of scantily-clad men get sweaty in a pool of mud must therefore be gay. Oh, how confused today’s heterosexual boys get!). So what is it, then?

In a brave attempt to give me a clearer understanding of his (controlled) passion for football, my boyfriend likened ‘The Beautiful Game’ to one of my own favourite leisure pursuits: theatre. Nice try! But there is simply no correlation. Theatre tells a story, offers a perspective, food for thought, human association - and a conclusion. “Football offers exactly the same experience!” he remonstrated. If he’s right, I can only liken it to the equivalent of watching ‘We Will Rock You’ - the most unimaginative, pompous debacle to ever disgrace a stage - over and over again; what kind of nutter would want to do that? The kind, I guess, who are about to spend thousands of pounds making the 6000 mile trek to South Africa, sacrificing and forfeiting both their credit ratings and the chance of a real holiday for years to come as they head off for a month-long, beer’n’footie-related kick-about in one of the world’s most politically complex destinations. While it’s a fact that many thousands of South Africans will undoubtedly benefit from the massive influx of tourist industry dollars that they’re about to be bombarded with, many thousands more will be magically hidden from view just for the occasion (the 25,000 homeless children, for example, that the Durban Municipal Police have deemed to be ‘unsightly vermin in need of urgent removal’ among them). Meanwhile, UNICEF estimate that the 10,000 teenage prostitutes currently working in the shadow of Johannesburg's Soccer City stadium will have their ranks swelled by 20,000 more come the height of the competition; come on, Eng-er-land - let’s propagate the pimps? Call me a killjoy for bringing up the reality behind the hoop-la of this year’s World Cup epicentre, but if football fans are exempt from being concerned about human rights, that means they inadvertently sanction some pretty serious human wrongs....all in the name of The Game.

But still, the coming weeks are set to be dominated by World Cup no-news across the media, on the streets and down the pub. Men will spend hundreds of hours glued to dozens of games on wide-screen TVs brought especially for the occasion. Across the land, the faces of innocent children will be daubed with clumsy red and white smears as faux-jingoistic fathers inadvertently replicate the genuine jingo ritual of smearing the faces of their own offspring with the blood of the fox torn to pieces at their first hunt. Team managers, the players and their fans will claim to be heartbroken, ecstatic, over the moon, shattered, distraught, elated - whatever. Thousands of church, stage and juke box classics, from ‘The Battle Hymn of the Republic’ to ‘Guantanamera’, ‘Knees Up, Mother Brown’ and even ‘That’s Amore’, will be bastardised, strangulated and forever tainted by supporters (and detractors) across the globe. The wags will drag their wardrobes out to play, and supermarkets will run promotions on everything from beer and burgers to T-shirts, underwear, homewares, toys and car cleaning kits, all especially branded for the occasion - and all destined for the charity shop come the end of July.

And then, just when you think it’s all over (which, according to my sources, it already is, for the England team at least), the football season will kick off again - and not a single soul will be able to tell me why that’s so exciting.

Wednesday, May 26, 2010

Bread heads

I can clearly remember the first time I ever encountered white bread: a momentous event that took place at another child’s birthday party when I was around 6 years old. Everything was rolling along nicely in the way that children’s parties - particularly in the pre-McDonalds era - tend to do: tears, tantrums, red jelly in paper cups and - ta-da! - lots of sandwiches. Except I - reared as I was on wholegrains, hummous and honey - could not identify the stack of thin, pale triangles bound together with putty-coloured paste to save my lentil-scoffing life. So I did what all budding food critics confronted by a challenging dish would have done: crawled under the table, quaking with food fear, until mum came to save me.

Now some people who have heard that story deduce that I must have been a very spoilt brat indeed. Others immediately define me as having enjoyed a ‘posh’ upbringing, and one particularly unbalanced individual even denounced my parents as child abusers from whom the social services should have saved me. All were totally wrong on all counts. But if such judgmental attitudes are rife even amongst apparently forward-thinking folk, then Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall must surely be the devil incarnate and Jamie Oliver his primary cohort; the Observer Food Monthly, meanwhile, must represent a shocking manifesto rather than a symbol of the lifestyle most foodies either subtly or blatantly aspire to. Okay, now I appear to be guilty of being harshly judgmental myself. But I can’t help wondering why, in an era when good food is supposedly a hot topic, the Great British ‘Them and Us’ divide still reigns supreme: at grass roots level, it seems, wholemeal bread is still ‘posh’, and only abusive parents encourage young tastebuds to flourish - that, to my mind, is as sad as a Shippams Paste sarnie (on white bread).

Saturday, May 8, 2010

Everyman - and all of 'us'

A fab friend of mine called Gerry Potter-Poet recently blogged about his experiences at The Everyman Youth Theatre. Those bygone halcyon days were, he recalls, a “genesis of empowerment; a template for the world”. Gerry’s thoughts and recollections inspired me to step back in time too. Thank you so much for the memories, Gerry. Thank you for being ‘us’.

(PLEASE NOTE: I really wanted to link this blog post to Gerry’s, but wasn’t sure which address he wanted me to use. I’ve sent G a little note asking him to make a comment here, and include the correct link; when he does this (if he can/will), I urge you to click through; Gerry is an amazingly talented individual, and I can’t recommend his work highly enough).

I estimate it was around 1976, in which case I would have been around 12 years old. I suppose that, somewhere beyond my immediate horizon, the Sex Pistols were stocking up on ammunition. And while I most definitely can’t remember why I first went to the Everyman Youth Theatre (I most certainly, categorically, did not want to be an actor), all I know for sure is that I did.

In those days, it was based in a draughty old warehouse in Fleet Street, behind Bold Street: a big, cold room with dusty concrete floors, just beyond a glass-fronted reception booth in which a woman - possibly called Maureen - used to sit. I think I might have paid 20p for my first session, but I’m not sure if I did. I remember walking in to a room full of young people standing in a circle, and Frank Clarke standing on a chair next to a red haired girl (also standing on a chair), either reading something about a tree or pretending to be one. I remember asking if it was okay to sit and watch from the sidelines rather than immediately join the group. I can’t remember who I asked but it must have been okay to do that, because that’s what I did. I don’t think I talked to anybody, but I know I went back again. I don’t remember when we made the move to the same site as the Everyman Theatre proper, but I know we did. But why was I - a plump, shy, awkward kid with few skills, either social or otherwise - there?

Like Gerry, I didn't like football (nor did I want to kiss girls and be a dad). Unlike him, I never dreamt of being a pop star, a dancer or a great actor. I used to draw a bit, but I didn’t want to be an artist either. I didn’t go to school, but I read a lot and I vaguely, I suppose, wanted to be a writer; I definitely, I know for sure, met characters who were in search of an author at the EYT.

I remember a life drawing class: the model had red hair, and his was the first penis I ever saw. I sketched him in charcoal, but only from behind. I remember a woman called Jan - a workshop leader, I suppose. She used liquorice papers to make her own rolled up cigarettes, wore dark purple nail varnish and lined her eyes with thick black kohl. She was very thin, and - to me - very glamorous. She smelt of patchouli oil. I remember her. I remember American Ben, another grown up; I sometimes see a reporter on the BBC news who looks just like I imagine AB would look today, talking about some new film or another, and I wonder if he’s the same Ben - but I don’t think he is.

I remember meeting Gerry - purple trousers, glossy hair (”a young Mick Jagger!”, my mum said, when she came to pick me up). I met Brian at the same time: softer around the edges than Gerry, he had a slight lisp, a fast wit and a puppet made from a black sock. I remember a girl who arrived at the EYT as Paula Beckley from Scottie Road and left as Rhoda Gold, a world-class original; where is she now? I remember David C: a ‘Macca’ for the ‘Donnas’ with his wedge haircut, Fruit of the Loom jeans and ‘continental sandals’. Am I suddenly talking in another language? Not if you were there. David C was most certainly there at my house on my 15th birthday - somewhere in the bottom of a suitcase, I have a blurry Polaroid image of the inaugural event that was my very first kiss.

To (sort of) quote Gerry’s blog post yet again, “the words here don't go near to how precious and pure those experiences were and are”. Ain’t that the truth! I know I’ve barely scratched the surface of those preposterous, informative, formative years, but I’m working on going deeper, and intend to keep myself - and you, if you’re interested - posted.

Thursday, April 29, 2010

Current affairs? I just don't care!

“I’m aware of the pain my behaviour has caused to so many people. I’ve let you down personally and professionally. I’ve severely disappointed all of you. I’ve made you question who I am and how I have done the things I did. I’m embarrassed that I’ve put you in this position. I have a lot to atone for”. Blimey, what’s happened: has Pope Benedict XVI revealed all to the tabloids? Has Obama joined the Republican Party? Is Jan Moir apologising to Stephen Gateley’s family? Nope; that’s an excerpt from the carefully scripted, super-sickly rhetoric that Tiger Woods spewed to the world’s media regarding his marital indiscretions. Elsewhere, speculation over the ‘mystery woman’ in Lenny Henry’s life is rife, Ashley Cole, Vernon Kay and John Terry are still in the (celebrity scandal) dock charged with textual abuse and speculation regarding Katie Price’s bed-hopping antics get more publicity than David Cameron’s attempts to ‘make marriage more financially attractive’. But none of this ‘news’ will come as a surprise even to those that conduct their lives deciduously avoiding the red tops or the vacuous, drivelling blather-fest that is ITV’s Loose Women.

Amelia Hill - the Guardian’s Social Affairs correspondent, no less - recently sank her job title to a whole new level, dedicating almost 1000 words to a feature entitled ‘Why Adultery Can Help Save a Marriage’, most of which was taken up by unsubstantiated, fence-sitting quotes from Mira Kirshenbaum, author of the new ‘self help’ book ‘When Good People Have Affairs’. A week later, Julie Powell - yup, the author of cookery book/chit lit yarn ‘Julie and Julia’ - emitted a wholly self-satisfied, one-sided account of the emotional havoc she brought to her own marriage when she decided that unfaithful was the new umami in the same newspaper’s glossy magazine. But whether you prefer to look to the gutter or the supposedly highbrow media for your daily fix of other people’s indecent exposure, none of it is brave, honest, need-to-know journalism; to the contrary, it’s boring, repetitive and about as old hat as you can get.

When it comes to affairs, most adults - married or not - have either been there themselves, had the experience inflicted upon them or picked up the pieces on behalf of a straying/strayed on friend. Surely we don’t need a celebrity, a pseudo-psychologist or a journalist to tell us about life on either side of the infidelity fence? The ongoing plethora of features, books and tittle-tattle don’t bring informative, enlightening or fascinating texture to proceedings - it’s all just the same old titillation that’s kept the chattering classes chattering for centuries, repackaged for the bland, quasi-moralistic zeroes - or possibly handing a parcel of justification to those who haven’t got the bottle to simply call an end to a lifeless, loveless marriage and decide instead to indulge in a spot of ‘fashionable’ hanky panky on the side. “If handled right, an affair can be therapeutic, give clarity and jolt people from their inertia,” Mira Kirshenbaum says, in ‘that’ book. “Think of it as a radical but necessary medical procedure: if your marriage is in cardiac arrest, an affair can be a defibrillator.” While I don’t doubt that such a quote will resonate deeply in the psyche of many a wannabe philanderer (file under ‘grown up, sophisticated, mature approach tactics’ in readiness for the inevitable teary validation session), isn’t prevention far better than such a drastic cure? If the state of your relationship can be likened to the emotional equivalent of a heart attack, do the decent thing and remove the clot altogether rather than subjecting yourself (and, by default, a cast list of characters who neither deserve nor need to be involved) to a situation that rarely has a positive outcome for anybody. Meanwhile, what goes on behind other people’s closed doors should remain just that, their dirty linen resigned to the mouldering laundry basket of remorse while we get on with reading the news.