Friday, September 22, 2006

Hammond

Hammond

What seems like a lifetime ago I wrote a letter to Heat rebuking them for stealing an idea that didn't belong to them. By that point 'The List of Shame'* had been in operation for many months, and all after it was started by some half made comment and a picture of Richard Hammond.

Needless to say I was rather stunned by the events of Wednesday night. Because whilst I don't know Hammond he stands as one of those people who I feel I kind of do, just because of his tv personna and how wonderful and enthusiastic and funny and strangely cute he is. And let's be clear - I do not drive. I know less than nothing about cars. But Hammond on Top Gear? Absolute genius.

So I'm firmly sending out good thoughts to Hammond (brilliantly white teeth and all) and his family in what must be an incredibly difficult time. I hope he's back blowing up caravans in the near future.

*List of Shame: List, of almost national importance, detailing unusual/ unexpected crushes. Originated by Cat and Myself, Winter 2004/2005.

Monday, September 18, 2006

A Library Of One's Own

A Library Of One's Own

Never one to ignore a bandwagon when I see one, I jumped aboard LibraryThing the moment I heard about it from Cat. Because if there is one thing I am anal about it is my books. I may live in organised chaos but one thing this does not apply to is my reading material.

My bookshelves are broken down into time periods, genres, authors and, in some cases, publishers. In this manner I know where to find every work of literature and every piece of criticism I own (writing guides? Purple basket under bottom shelf in bedroom. Pre-20th century novels? Bottom shelf on bookcase on landing. Travel guides? Second shelf on desk) I get some strange geeky glow just from looking at the beautiful spines of my silver twentieth century penguin classics or my Arden Shakespeares all arranged together. I find this perfectly normal and not at all weird. It's probably one of the things that will be cited when I'm diagnosed with OCD.

Given all of this, what could possibly be more fun than an online catalogue of all your books? I tell you I can think of very few things, and certainly nothing that you can do without the aid of a woo woo or two. Because a book catalogue is not just a list. Oh no. It's about peering into your soul. Because these books, they're what make you who you are. They're the ideas that have kept you awake, the emotions you've felt, the places you've been and the ones you will only ever go to through someone else's words. So to look into someone else's library is both humbling and rather special. And because we're all friends here, you can see mine.

Obviously I'm in this for the long haul - I'm not going to estimate how many books I've to add yet just because of the financial implications of how much money I spent in the second hand book department at Blackwells during my degree - but the cornerstones of my library are there. At the moment I'm restricting myself to books I currently own, thus it's not a guide to everything I've read, or all the authors I've enjoyed (or hated), just to the ones which are on my shelves or beside my bed (or on my tv in the case of one particularly unlucky new purchase). You probably won't be surprised at all the Woolf or Shakespeare but I probably should warn you about all the Sylvia Plath. I honestly didn't realise I'd accumulated so many. So don't be too disturbed about my hidden obsession.

Sunday, September 17, 2006

"And one day soon, we will start hunting cabbages": The Overwhelming

"And one day soon, we will start hunting cabbages": The Overwhelming

It's fair to say that over the last five or six years I've seen quite a bit of theatre. During that time there has been a percentage of plays and productions which have either delighted me with their sheer joy or devastated me with their world view. And if there is one theatre company that has consistantly reminded me of both the power of theatre and its importance as a medium of debate then Max Stafford-Clark's wonderful Out of Joint has to be it. Talking to Terrorists stands as possibly my favourite production of 2005 and so it has to be said that I was a little bit excited about OoJ's production of The Overwhelming coming to the WYP. Little in the way that I get a little bit excited about John Barrowman being cute and excited on 'How Do You Solve A Problem Like Maria?' or David Tennant turning up at the V Festival.

Even without anything else The Overwhelming deserves a thumbs up for giving me a new theatrical crush in the form of Andrew Garfield who not only managed to be incredibly cute with his floppy hair and shirt-off antics but also proved to be a pretty phenomenal actor - especially towards the play's conclusion. Sadly I didn't know this last bit when he was stood in the dinner queue and I was preoccupied working out whether he was wearing fake converses or real ones.

But actor cuteness alone would not be enough for a OoJ production. And since The Overwhelming is a play concerned with the genocide in Rwanda in the mid nineties it would be a sorry state of affairs if that was the only thing I'd come away from the production with. As ever with OoJ the production wasn't always easy viewing with its multiple perspectives and the way it held a rather uncomfortable mirror up to its audience. What would you do in this situation? Would you risk your life - or that of your family - to save people you don't know? Does a white Western life mean more than a black African one? Could this - will this - happen again?

And to the conclusion I hinted at. The sense of impending disaster which bled through the production led to an ending I found so horrific I could hardly watch. Because I was there in the moment, that terrifying heart of darkness when a father was faced with the choice of saving his family or his friend. And with the sight of his 17 year old son, curled up like a baby, with a rifle pointing at his head, the father made the decision not only to give up his friend but to beg the men to take him to his certain death. To know that this was the only decision.

If that brought me to tears then I wasn't expecting the production's parting shot. To a message of hope, of the power of today, the lights dimmed and two men with machetes walked deliberately, carefully, to a table at the back of the set which was covered with cabbages. With a swift tug of the table cloth the cabbages came flying across the stage, more came towards us as the machetes deftly sliced them until lying on the table there was nothing but a small number of solitary skulls. Then, with a clattering, sickening, thud the corregated iron at the back of the set came down to reveal shelf after shelf holding skull after skull. And then everything went black.

For what it was saying, for the sheer theatricality of how it said it, I had one of the most extreme reactions I've ever had in a theatre - I thought I might be sick. I stumbled out into the light, shakey, unsure, but knowing I'd just seen something that will haunt me. Which is possibly what is at the very heart of the play.

"Minzinga: This will mean nothing to you soon. All of us, we will mean nothing. This is so unimportant to you. You will go home and forget. How fortunate you are."

I might have to start handing out those 'high maintenance' badges

I might have to start handing out those 'high maintenance' badges

"You were talking to him: any thoughts?"

"Straight"

"Damnit, that's what I thought too"

"He's going to let me see the video of him as a munchkin -"

[looking directly at me] "He's what?"

"When he was at Uni, he was a munchkin -"

"I don't believe this - you're doing it again!"

"Doing what?"

[unleashing inner diva] "You're stealing my men! You did it with C -"

"I didn't steal C -"

"And now you're doing it with G -"

"I'm not, I'm being friendly -"

"He's letting you see him as a munchkin! If you sleep with him I'm going to make you buy another umbrella*!
[beat]
This would be a good blog y'know - 'where I steal my gay friend's men'"

"I don't steal them, it's not my fault that they're straight!"

"UMBRELLA!"
*To buy an umbrella: metaphor for guilt, originating from Leeds Wagamama

Friday, September 15, 2006

Ashes to Ashes

Ashes to Ashes

I peer into the hole and start to wonder. Because a hole that size - you could house a goat in it. Or a small deer. And the last time I looked we were in charge of a mediumly sized budgie.

"I think that will do"

Obi3 stops digging. Obi4 tips the shoebox he is holding upside down for at least the tenth time. Strangely there's something rather appropriate about the fact that Smartie's* last journey is being shrouded by the distinct possibility that he will fall out of his makeshift coffin.

"You can put it in"

Obi4 puts the shoebox into the hole. There's a pause. What does one do now? Is there ettiquette at Budgie funerals? Should someone say a few words about how much he liked millet?

Whatever the ettiquette, Smartie's pallbearer has clearly finished his part in the ceremony and decides to retreat inside leaving Obi3 to cover the hole.

Obi4 starts to leave and then turns to face us.

"I had a little bit of sad in it" he says pointing to his right eye.

And in that moment I know exactly what he means.

*You may think he is so called after the sweet, just as his fellow cagemate Gatsby is called after my favourite literary crush. But you would be wrong. They're named after race horses. Now you see what kind of house I live in.

Tuesday, September 12, 2006

Even If You Cannot Hear My Voice

Even If You Cannot Hear My Voice

I was sat on the top deck of the bus, Snow Patrol playing in my ear, when I glanced out to the street below. A woman carrying too many bags. Two men smoking and having an unknown conversation. A girl rushing for a bus that we both know she had little chance of catching.

Then I did a double take.

In the street, waiting at one of the many bus stops, was someone I used to know very well. On our first day at High School she'd managed to spill tipex all over her white shirt - we'd laughed about it and, as it is when you're 11, that was enough to cement our friendship. For the next seven years she was one of the constants in my life, through bad clothes, first crushes and fumbles, boy bands and, erm, PJ and Duncan AKA. Aged 16 in Dublin we ended up getting no sleep in a room next to a group of rugby players, aged 18 in New York we went to the top of the Empire State Building in the twilight and I could hardly breathe because it was so beautiful. It's funny how at the time the fact that our futures would - inevitably - be so different didn't seem to register.

But then came University. I was in Oxford for most of the year but - more than that - the changing horizons that it brought with it started to matter. How can you reconcile two such different worlds? I don't think you can, but possibly more importantly, I didn't want to. All those important, life changing, perception altering events I shared with other people. So days became weeks, weeks became months and months became years. Until I got to the point where I stand now, unable to grasp everything I was then, unsure if the person I am now is even on the same page.

For a fleeting moment I thought about getting off the bus. Of running up and embracing her and my 11 year old self, just to see how she was, where her life stood.

But I stayed sitting.

I was on my way to work.

And, anyway, where would I have started?

Monday, September 11, 2006

And this time he didn't have a limp!

And this time he didn't have a limp!

Long before* C entered the scene with his floppy hair, roll ups and Shakespearean verse there was another Shakespearean actor who didn't have floppy hair and who, even if he was blonde, had the good grace to be utterly lovely and not be involved in my either vomiting or losing a necklace. If you hadn't guessed, I'm talking about My Richard who I developed something of a crush on during the tenure of Wars of the Roses at the WYP. Not that I have been keeping an eye out for possible non-stalking opportunities but the fact remains that when I found out that Northern Broadsides were performing 'The Man with Two Gaffers' at York Theatre Royal I was a little excited. When My Richard turned up in a picture in the local press to promote the production I was even more excited. Which, I'm sure you can imagine, is not a pretty sight.

A couple of Saturday's ago, just after I berated Val for leaving me with a broken foot, we ended up in the theatre bar. And who should I promptly spot behind the theatre's Aritistic Director but My Richard. Obviously I couldn't speak to him - I was tanked up on Vudu cocktails so it wouldn't have been a good idea even without the pressing knowledge that the words 'frying pan' and 'fire' were worryingly appropriate. But he was there! In the flesh! Alive! And I made the last train home with a smile on my face.

On Friday night, after sharing a bowl of peanutbutter ice cream** with Cat, we found ourselves at the theatre, me only a little bit giddy at the prospect of seeing My Richard on stage. And ooo, like Mrs Dalloway before him***, there he was.

The production itself had the kind of joyous energy about it that had made the Wars of the Roses trilogy so compelling for me. Its pace and fizz were impossible not to like. And the language, which celebrated Yorkshire and its peculiarities with unashamed enthusiasm, was an utter pleasure to hear. As for My Richard, he was funny and sweet and cute**** and I was rather glad that all my previous praise of him hadn't combusted in a ball of flames.

Going over the show afterwards in the theatre bar I noticed My Richard making his exit and knew that my heart wasn't really into non-stalking him, at least not at the moment. But I would like everyone to note that I SAW HIM FIRST. So, when he gets famous and whatnot, you all know he belongs to me. I'm glad we've got that sorted.

*Well, four months before anyway.

**Yum, yum and again yum.

***Ten points for anyone who knows what I'm talking about. And ten points for anyone who doesn't for not being a Woolf Geek.

****AT THE SAME TIME. Just how amazing is this?

Sunday, September 10, 2006

"I'm a chav!"

"I'm a chav!"

If my adventures in the world of thongs weren't bad enough the fact that I was attending a Chav Party meant that I also had to buy a scrunchie. A pink one. And a headband to match.

But there was nothing that scared me quite as much as the moment that I saw D in his outfit. Not only would I have wanted to cross the road from someone who found it socially acceptable to wear two pairs of socks tucked over their reebok trousers but the more worrying factor was the fact that D, well, looked straight.

"This is why everyone thinks there are no gay chavs - of course there are, you just can't tell under all the clothing"

If not happy then accepting of this point, we set about making me pregnant. As interesting a blog as it would make for not with the aid of a turkey baster I hasten to add ("Give it ten years"), but with a pashmina. Because I was not just going to be a chav, I was going to be a pregnant chav. If you haven't yet realised, I don't do these things by half.

When we arrived at L's I suspect that D and I had settled rather too much into our family routine, something that was only made worse by the discovery of Chav giftbags containing chocolate cigarettes and Lamvino in plastic bottles. I was, though, passibly happy that I only scored 10% on the Chav Test (and I argued that liking Christopher Bailey and Burberry isn't necessary a Chav thing. That I know who Christopher Bailey is probably points to that alone).

After a balanced meal of mini chocolates, pizza and chips (without cheese for me because it's skanky) we decided that the chav music could be switched off as it was generally just traumatising everyone and instead it was on with Steps Gold.

"Chavs don't listen to Steps"

"Of course they do - they just listen to it in secret"


And suddenly me and my bump were demonstrating why I know more Steps dances than is probably morally right for one person. Because I may not be a chav but I am a bit of a geek.

Wednesday, September 06, 2006

There's A Lot To Be Said For Big Knickers

There's A Lot To Be Said For Big Knickers

"What kind of knickers do chavs wear?"

I pinch myself. Yes, that question has just come from my lips. In public.

"I'm just assuming that they won't be the same kind that I wear".

D looks at me in the way that you might look at a puppy who's just peed on your floor.

"I'll show you"

D turns on his heels and, meekly, I follow him past rows of garish tracksuits and detachable hairpieces. He stops next to a display where pieces of material in rainbow brights hang limply.

"You're going to make me buy a thong, aren't you?"

D doesn't respond. Instead he's rumaging through the strips of material until, triumphantly, he emerges with one in his hand.

"Here you go"

I look at the item he's holding out. It's red. Not the off-red of my new blouse or the gorgeous cherry red of my even newer Oasis dress. No. This red screams Blackpool Pleasure Beach at you. I'm not sure, however, if it's the colour or the fact that the front of the thong is practically non-existant that offends me most.

"It's horrid"

"You have to get it - it's perfect".

I turn it over and look at the price.

"You're wanting me to spend three pounds on this?"

Because whilst I am willing to have spent a quarter of yesterday's WYP Reception wage in the Slug and Lettuce at lunch time, I'm clearly not willing to spend three pounds on a thong. Especially when a good proportion of my real-life knickers come from Primark and therefore cost substantially less than three pounds.

D is, however, already rumaging through the thongs.

"How about this one?"

Again it's red. In its favour it does comprise of more material.

"That's better"

"The other one's perfect though"

"It's three pounds! Are you sure there isn't anything cheaper?"

With all the patience of a Primary School teacher attempting to explain the alphabet, D tries again.

"This will work"

At least this new thong isn't red. It's pink. And green. D turns it round to reveal that for no reason other than to offend me it has an frog sewn into it. Because that's what every girl wants - a frog peaking up under their jeans.

"It's two pounds"

I know I'm not going to win this argument. And if the choice is between the frog and the red monstrosity I know where I'm landing.

I pick up the frog thong.

"I'm going to want a photo"

I try and kill D with a glare. It doesn't work.

"This the last time I ever let you choose my underwear".

Sunday, September 03, 2006

And the waves broke on the shore

And the waves broke on the shore

I walk down the sidestreet, past the amusement arcades with their shabby fronts and neon signs, until I reach the front. The beach, predominantly made up of pebbles, is largely empty - a couple huddle together, a girl and her father attempt to fly a kite and an old woman with two plastic bags seems to be combing the beach for forgotten debris.

I find a spot at the sea wall where I can look out uninterrupted by passing three year olds or over-enthusiastic spaniels and, brushing my hair out of my eyes, reach into my pocket and press 'shuffle'. As I look out to the sea the opening bars of a song which seems to have made its way firmly into my current emotional playlist fills my ears.

'Slow down, lie down, remember it's just you and me'

The early evening sun streams into my eyes, the wind rearranges my hair and the song, those words, continue.

'sure I can accept that we're going nowhere, but one last time let's go there'

I watch the girl's kite trace a pattern in the sky before returning to the rhythm of the sea as it starts its inevitable march towards us.

The song finishes and all I can hear is the waves. The sound builds as music and surroundings envelop each other so that I'm not too sure where one starts and the other finishes.

Then those familiar chords mingle and I realise at once the source of my confusion -

'Someday you will find me caught beneath the landslide of a Champagne Supernova in the sky'

The old woman steps into the path of the girl with the kite. They exchange words I don't need to hear. The kite thuds to earth.

'wipe that tear away now from your eye'

Squinting in the sun I return to the sea. For miles and miles I can see nothing but this deep blue as it lulls me into its motion, speaking louder than I ever could.

The song finishes and I'm assaulted with an instantly familiar intro. Its immediacy makes my heart soar in one deft movement.

'My tongue still misbehaves and it keeps digging my own grave'

The kite makes a complicated solo dance in the sky.

'My hands open'

The old woman finds a page of discarded newspaper.

'And my eyes open'

The couple huddle closer.

'I just keep hoping that your heart opens'

The waves beat their path; I can barely breathe. And the music and the sea and the moment they're telling me all I need to know. I'm going to be ok.

Entirely incapable of hiding my smile I turn around and retrace my footsteps.

Saturday, September 02, 2006

"I've two tickets for Mecca Bingo, baby"

"I've two tickets for Mecca Bingo, baby"

We're just going to have to gloss over the fact that this blog clearly indicates that I've been to Bingo for the second time in just over a week. Rock and roll, ok?

You've undoubtedly seen the adverts for Mecca Bingo. A group of glossy haired women go for a night out, disco music plays in the background, they throw their dabbers in the air and still manage to catch them before, in the supreme moment of joy, one of their group wins the jackpot. The subtext of the advert is pretty clear : come to bingo. IT'S FUN and not something which only people in their eighties do. You too will have glossy hair, catch your dabbers and win money.

Whilst the rain had pretty much put paid to any thoughts of glossy hair we had the dabbers, we could make our own music and none of us was reaching for a Bus Pass. This was just going to be like the advert, especially since at least one of us was going to win all of twenty pounds.

Three hours after arriving at the Slug and Lettuce for a quick cocktail we finally stumble into the Bingo Hall and D and I commandeer a set of tables right at the front of the hall. Get Ready, oh baby, tonight, we're gonna make this a night to remember -

We're gathered, books and dabbers at the ready. One. Two. Three. We're off.

"I've had every number so far!"

"Well, you will do, you get every number between 1 and 90 on the page!"

We're doing quite well. I'm even feeling like a bit of a pro because I'm using the screen rather than listening to the caller. Get me. Bingo Queen.

Of all the numbers to be called out it had to be - 69. And, low and behold, everyone's 12 years old again and sniggering in my direction. Gits.

There's some over-enthusiastic dabbering going on now. And it shouldn't be funny, but it is. Even I've got the giggles.

S's arm collides with D's during an over-enthusiastic move and D manages to hit the wrong number completely. This is obviously the most hilarious thing in the history of hilarious things. Ok, so maybe you had to be there.

One of the Bingo Helpers [Assistants? Ushers? Is there a technical term?] comes over to us: "I know this is probably one of your first times at Bingo but could you be quiet as you're disturbing other people"

This takes a moment for me to process. And then it hits. We've been shushed. At Bingo. And we weren't even trying to throw our dabbers in the air. Those glossy haired women who are laughing and drinking and singing along to disco songs - they don't get shushed. Two words: False Advertising.

First session over. None of us have won. And we've been shushed. This is not how it's supposed to be.

"How come she wins? She gets her rent paid, heating allowance, free tv license, a free bus pass and a pension. What's she going to spend the money on? More bingo and a zimmer frame with LEDs on it?"

Chips are consumed. We moan about the shushing. A lot. The second session starts.

I need one number for the house. One number. This is going to be it.

I still need one number. This is getting silly. It has to be the next number.

Come on, one number.

Sh*t someone else has got my money.

69. Surely it's not still amusing. But oh yes, it clearly is.

The second session ends and we still haven't seen a return on our investment. Though at least we've been deemed to be behaving appropriately.

"We need to focus - eyes on the prize"

We all nod at L.

"C'mon - do your stretches"

And because I think it perfectly normal to approach any competitive game in this manner, I find myself stretching my right hand.

"All hands in the middle"

We pile our hands together in a manner more appropriate for a team sport. S dabs us all so we have blue splodges on our hands.

We throw our dabbers in the air and you know what? We actually catch them. This is it. We're going to win the jackpot.

The final session begins. Someone squeaks and makes odd noises on what turns out to be a false call. Because we are mean, mean people we find this very, very funny.

L's doing well, D points out she needs only 33 for the line at the same time that we hear the Bingo Caller announce "33". There's a moment of utter confusion where we're all suspended in space. We squeak in what is possibly the most feeble call of the night. The shame.

L's winnings come back in an envelope. Just how exciting is this?

And what's that? Yes, 69. Even I laugh this time.

I'm nowhere near winning so much as ten pence. Ah, well.

The main session ends. We make the decision to go and lose money by giving it to a bar as opposed to the Bingo hall. Everyone in our immediate area breathes a sigh of relief.

Conclusion: Bingo is not like the adverts. You will not have glossy hair or be able to make noise. You most likely won't win. Twenty-somethings will still find the number 69 amusing. You will, however, get excited when your official bingo membership card arrives in the post.

Friday, September 01, 2006

I'm Really Not Helping Myself

I'm Really Not Helping Myself

Cocktails consumed: Four.

Food consumed: Half a bowl of chips.

Result:
[on the phone to Nik] "I'm sorry, I can't hear you - it's quite loud in here. And I'm being distracted, D's face is in my arse -
[Those around the table collapse into laughter]
Hang on, that's not right - those words needed to be the other way round. 'Face' and 'arse'. His arse is in my face.
[beat]
I'm not drunk".