Wednesday, 8 December 2010

A Christmas poem

Some friends of mine recently put on a fabulous cabaret. Of course, I could not resist the chance to get on stage and show off for the masses, so, in the style of Phoebe and her great Christmas song (you all know it, right? 'Monica, Monica, have a happy chanuka' etc), I wrote this poem for my friends and read it out. Here it is for everyone to see. Enjoy. And happy, happy Christmas to my lovely friends!

For my friends at Christmas (Dec. 2010)

Why do I love Christmas so?

Because it gleams, and sheens and sparkles.

The tinsel glints, the polished snow,

The golden foil covered marvels.

Deep green, rich red of spiky holly –

Happy Christmas, Kaye and Olly!

Why does Christmas fill my heart?

Because it sounds like peals of laughter.

The bang of crackers ripped apart,

The promise of happy ever after.

Nostalgic songs set in cosy stables –

Happy Christmas, Elaine and Rachel!

Why does Christmas make me grin?

It feels like woolly hats and a bright pink nose,

Like tummies so full that it’s a sin,

Roaring fires warming frosty toes.

Tables that buckle beneath the posh nosh –

Happy Christmas, James and Rosch!

Why do I give Christmas props?

Because it tastes like roast potatoes

And gin, and wine, and chocolate drops

Like a contented, dreamy, full-up doze.

All of this washed down with a hot toddy –

Happy Christmas, Jen and Roddy!

Why do I think Christmas is fantastic?

Because it smells like sharp satsumas,

The addictive twang of brand new plastic,

Excitement that lingers like a thrilling rumour.

I think the scent of Christmas is something primal –

Happy Christmas, Len and Michael!

Why do I love Christmas so?

Is it the snowy moon shaped in a crescent?

Is it Santa’s red and ruddy glow?

Or could it just be all the presents?

No – the thing that’s best about Christmas, you’ll see –

Is celebrating it with BBB!

Thursday, 2 December 2010

Fifteen Minutes of Fame

As that well-known beat combo the Dizzies Rascals once said, ‘everybody wants to be famous, nobody wants to be nameless’ – and I have always believed them. However, I’m now realising that this isn’t necessarily the case. Apparently, I want to be famous, but not everyone else does, as when I tell them about my fame-hungry exploits, many people look at me like I’ve suggested a David Cameron support rally. I wonder if it’s partly this unexplained urge for fame that makes me write this blog? I mean, I love writing it, and I think it’s good for me to do something at least somewhat creative with my spare time, but is it not mostly a form of showing off? Which is, after all, something that I so love to do. In fact, I love to show off more than I even realised.

My best friend and DJ life partner recently organised my surprise birthday party. The evening kicked off with a night at a karaoke bar. “Oh, no, no, no,” I protested, “I won’t sing, I can’t sing, I’d be mortified, I’d need 8,000 gins before I could even contemplate it.” Turns out, this wasn’t quite accurate. All I actually needed was about two seconds of watching another friend sing a Madonna song and I was joining in like the little limelight-hog I am. I then sang Queen and Britney and more Madonna and even attempted Steam by East 17. The rap defeated me. I’ll never make an ill-spittin MC, I am sad to tell you all. I must congratulate my DJ life partner – she knows me better than I know myself. I can never, ever resist the opportunity to show off. I fear talking to people I don’t know and get panicky at the thought of going to parties that aren’t made up entirely of my best friends… but put me in a dance class and I’ll sharpen my elbows with a penknife so I can better poke people in the eye to get them out of my way in my mad dash to the front of the formation.

Showing off is all very well and good, but we all know that nothing in this life counts for anything unless it’s on the television, and this is, I think, where my hunger for fame comes in. It’s all very closely tied in with my no longer-with-us (and not just cos it ended) obsession with Big Brother. For six or seven years (I lost interest the year of Brian and the twins, which one was that?) I love, love, LOVED that show. And I will still defend it to the death, despite the fact I went off it – although I do have an equally convincing bunch of arguments for why I stopped watching it, oh the confusion! – but perhaps in another blog some time, because defending Big Brother is something I can waffle on about for hours.

I applied to be on the show not once, not twice but three whole times. The third time was one of the open auditions, where 10,000 annoying screamy teenagers and some so-called eccentric (their word; I could think of others) adults stood in a cold warehouse brimming over with their own egos for hours on end before talking to a camera for thirty seconds and being told to go home. I actually got through to the second stage that time, but no further than that. And I know, really, that that’s a good thing – I’d be bored and horrified and tearful beyond belief in the Big Brother house, but I still wanted to do it. Why? I couldn’t really tell you. At least partly cos it looked like fun. But also, I guess, because I apparently want to be famous and don’t have enough genuine talents to do it any other way.

Having failed to get onto Big Brother proper, I applied myself to those smaller challenges within the same realm – Big Brother’s Little Brother and Big Brother’s Big Mouth. The DJ life partner and myself started out by answering an ad in Heat magazine to be in the audience for BBLB, mostly because we both had monster crushes on Dermot O’Leary (something that seems a bit unfeasible now) and wanted to stand close to him. As I remember, he waved at us, and I went home happy, probably figuring that was the closest to Big Brother fame I would get.

However, I had much more success with Big Brother’s Big Mouth. Once again, I answered an ad in Heat asking for fans of the show to come and speak their brains in the audience of Russell Brand’s companion series. A producer rang me and I had to do a quiz about Big Brother to show that I was a genuine fan and not some fame-crazed nutter who was just pretending in order to get on telly. You know, like one of the people we were all so avidly watching. I did very, very well in the quiz. I believe I got every obscure answer right. The only question I remember now (and this would have been around series 5, I think, so it harked back quite a way) was ‘who were the first people to kiss on Big Brother?’ The answer, fact fans, is Mel and Tom. Remember Tom, and his red shorts? I sure do.

As a result of the scholarly attention paid to my reading of the show (ahem) I was offered the chance to sit on the panel rather than in with the plebs and be given the title of ‘obsessive fan.’ I said no at first, believe it or not, cos I wanted to sit with my DJ life partner in with everyone else. But having spoken to her, I changed my mind and was on TV for all to see.

Two things stand out to me about that first time on Big Mouth. The first was that, at the time, I only knew Russell Brand from Dancefloor Chart and thought he was intensely annoying. Oh, how quickly that changed when I met him and looked into his smouldering eyes and fell to pieces inside my little beating heart! It was only after deciding that he was devastatingly handsome that I found that he is also one of the most intelligent, funny and kind people on the planet – it seems unfair that he has all of those things! What’s left for the rest of us, I ask? Admittedly, I only know this from reading his books, watching him on TV and seeing his standup, but I don’t think he’s faking. He’s so genuine and so right about so much. Anyway, enough babbling about Russell, let’s get back to **ME!!**

The other thing about that day which was noteworthy and so incredibly funny was that one of the celebrity guests on the panel was Timmy Mallet (the other was obscure comedian Paul Foot). Bless Timmy Mallet. I swear to god, he was more excited than I was. If you look on his website you can, to this day, see pictures of me and him together on our way to the studio as he was taking photos of EVERYTHING, like this was the grandest day out he’d ever had. I can also exclusively reveal that his ring tone is ‘Itsy Witsy Teeny Weeny Yellow Polka Dot Bikini.’ No word of a lie.

I went back on Big Mouth once more as an obsessive fan, and I now have an imdb page as a result of these two ventures into the silver-plated screen, something an ex stumbled on accidentally some years ago. Oh yeah, suck it, losers! That second time one of the celebrity guests was former youth icon and current day BangFace TV presenter Normski, who said – and he was right – that my DJ life partner has magic powers. I forget now what she’d done to elicit this response.

Then, to my eternal sadness, they dropped the obsessive fan from the show’s format, but, undeterred, I was an audience member enough times that Russell and I got to be on saying hello terms. Well, I said hello, he asked me if I was a lesbian and said I had nice boobs, something I hope will be written on my gravestone (a wee joke). I could tell you my brilliant Russell Brand story, but it’s too off tangent and I have an idea for a future blog which it will better fit into, so I’ll stop wittering about Russell and move on.

My attempts to appear on the front of the Daily Mail (dressed in my mother’s bridal veil) have not been limited to Big Brother. Keen followers of my blog will know that if there’s one person I’m more obsessed with than Russell, it’s Shaun Keaveny, the marvelous and erudite presenter of the 6 Music breakfast show. I’ve been actually on his show twice now and had about a million texts read out. My most recent mention came when he had been joking about people fancying him and I sent him a love poem. It went ‘Shaun, Shaun, I know you love Lucy, but I fancy you and that is the truth, see, you fill up my mornings with music and jokes – run away with me and be my bloke!’ (Genius, I think we can all agree.) (NB – Lucy is his wife. She is a lucky lady.)

Sadly, Shaun didn’t read it out, but he did play about 3 seconds of ‘J’taime’ (is that what it’s called?) and dedicate it to me. I was happy all day long. (Well, for about five minutes anyway, which is roughly the same thing, right?)

Other highlights of me + fame include an actual live performance as a robin in the horse of the year’s Pony Club show when I was 11, something that involved staying backstage for a week at Olympia, meeting all the famous horses and nearly dying of excitement (although also fear – the posh Pony Club girls did not like me and my charity shop clothes, oh no, not one little bit), and a recent blink-and-you’ll-miss-it appearance DJing in an episode of Party Wars. It’s on Living, you must have seen it… right? No?

My most recent attempt at getting into your telly box (all the better to control your brain) would have, if it had succeeded, been my best effort yet. I nearly, nearly, oh-so-nearly got onto Come Dine With Me. I got down to the last 10, of which five would have been picked, but sadly, I am not mouthy enough. I made it through two phone interviews and a home visit from two producers before being turned down. And now for this blog’s second exclusive revelation – I can now tell you, blog fans, why the contestants on CDWM never seem to have prepared or know what they’re doing; it’s because you only find out you’re on the show five days before they start filming! I had to break all my superstitions and act as though I was going to get on – cleaning the house, practicing my menu etc – before I knew one way or the other, cos there was no way I was going to get caught on the hop if I DID get on.

I was disappointed not to make it, for sure. But a part of me was also pretty relieved as there is no way in hell I would have NOT got drunk and made a show of myself on at least one of the evenings, probably all five. I’m a great one for taking things personally and crying like a child, especially if there’s been a drop taken, and even I’m not crazy enough to think I’d want to be recognised by strangers as being ‘that blubbery Hello Kitty weirdo off Come Dine with Me.’

I am still no closer to knowing that it is that drives me to want to be on telly. Is it cos when I was a kid I thought for a while I might be an actor, or a show jumper – or both, for preference – and so be on your telly all the time? Is it cos I want to do new and fun things, and some of those things involve being on TV? Is it cos I love telly and think it somehow holds the answers to the mystery of life? Or is it just cos I’m a big, fat, self-obsessed show off who thinks that everyone is surely as fascinated by me as I am? You’ll have to wait until my biopic comes out to learn the answer to that one, I’m afraid.

Friday, 5 November 2010

My love affair with the internet

Of all the drugs I've ever taken (and you, oh constant reader, will realise that's a few, although not any more... six months and counting, she says, taking a big old swig of white wine), I think the internet is the most potent, the most appealing, the most unputdownable. It's the first thing I do in the morning, the last thing I do at night. If I were ever to tally up the amount of time I spend in my office working vs the amount of time I spend on the internet, I think I would be in for a very nasty surprise. I'll probably be doing my PhD for a year longer than I need to because of the internet. I hope to god I never get a real job (something that seems increasingly less likely I'll ever need to worry about, as the ConDems set about tearing the universities to shreds and then gnawing on the carcasses), because if I do, I'll be sacked for excessive internet use more quickly than a goth would rush to the dancefloor when "This Corrosion" came on.

From the moment I saw my first email, I was hooked. It seems hard to believe, now, that I somehow lived until I had started my first job without really having the internet. I first heard of the internet in my first year at university, as a wet-behind-the-ears 18 year old in a Morrissey t-shirt, and, at that point, I only got the vaguest grasp on what it was. I heard about it from this emo-looking third year who liked Sheep on Drugs and who I thought was the greatest thing since sliced forearms. In my first degree, a sorry affair called 'Creative Arts' which I went to for the writing but had to stick around on for the conceptual art wank, the third years had to do arty farty 'honours projects,' which the first years were obliged to help with. Obviously, I volunteered to help the skinny goth boy with the mohawk. He was going to make an installation that was somehow a representation of cyberspace. I had never heard of cyberspace before and really had no notion of what he was talking about, but nodded keenly with my tongue hanging out and drool dribbling oh-so-attractively down my chin anyway. Sadly, he dropped out and it never happened... but that was my first introduction to the internet.

By the time I was in the third year, the library had two or three (count em!) computers that were connected to the internet, and the then boyfriend showed me how to look up pictures of Hello Kitty, and so I passed a good few hours doing that, but then basically decided that was all the internet was really good for and that it was probably a passing fad, and went back to making compilation tapes, getting fivers out of cashpoints, making VHS copies of Dawson's Creek and doing all those other things that now age me so.

As I started to say before, it was when I got my First Proper Job, aged 21, I guess, that I suddenly got the point of the internet. Emails... oh, emails! That job, as with pretty much every job I've had since, was mostly characterised by being very very quiet and leaving me with Nothing To Do. (NB - a question - is everyone on earth just pretending to be busy at work, like, all the time? Or have I just got really unlucky? I know it must seem, if you've never done it, that being paid to do nothing is the ultimate dream, but it is a) soul detroying and b) makes the nano-seconds feel like millenia, in the way even the dullest physics lesson never did, so it's really not that great. And seriously... it seems to happen to me in EVERY JOB I EVER DO. I'd love to imagine that it's because I'm some kind of Rain Man style genius and that I just finish work super quickly, but this is not the case. I don't get it! Anyway, ahem, back to The Point...)

So I'm at this job with nothing to do, and, fortunately for me, I make a couple of friends. A friend called Lucy and a friend called Jenny. And we spend our time emailing each other on the very primitive internal email system (this is just how primitive - if you wanted to send an external email, you had to write something different at the beginning of the address, like pressing 9 for an outside line. Can you IMAGINE?). This email system used to warn you when something was coming - the top right hand of the screen would say something like 'collecting message number 1... 2... 3...' and so on and on, maybe even up to 7 or 8 if it was a really lucky day.

Never so quickly did a person take to the medium of spelling out every tiny, dull detail of their day in the dim-witted belief that others out there were reading and interested, rather than just skimming and responding with their own mealy minutae (surely the basis of all internet forums everywhere, no?) than I did. I was a woman possessed. The days when the email broke down - and they were all too frequent - were days when I genuinely felt I may as well have stayed in bed. The crushing disappointment when I saw I had a new email, dropped everything, rushed to greet it and discovered it was something actually do it with work is impossible to convey.

The joy of email continued to punctuate my life through my first and my second jobs. At some point during this time, I got my first internet-at-home... if you could call it that. My brother, who I lived with at the time, bought this contraption that somehow gave us the slowest, most basic black and white internet through the TV. Did anyone else ever have this? When I think back on it now, it seems like a remote control on a wire - impossible that such a thing was ever not laughed at, and yet it seemed like a revolution at the time. We both set up Talk 21 accounts, but mostly used the internet for reading Daniel Drennan's superbly funny wrap-ups of 90210 and then watching the show again with eyes that the scales were freshly fallen from.

(An aside - if you've ever watched any 90210, I beg you to visit this site and read some of what you find there... it's just the funniest thing you'll ever come across.

I was excited enough by the internet already at this point, but when I got my third job and we all actually had the internet on our own computers, rather than having to go to the library to use it (job number one) or there being one computer in the office online that we had to share (job number two), I could not believe my luck. I was like a kid in a candy store - or at least, I would have been, if I had any ideas about where to look.

See, to me, the internet has always been about communication. MTV child that I am, I have neither the patience nor the interest for long pages of text that can teach me this or that (unless it's hilarious things about 90210, clearly). But there was, for me - and, let's face it, there still is - something intoxicating about writing something down, pressing send, and then (in theory) the whole world and her husband being able to see it and respond. So I mostly spent my time on the guestbook of the website of a club I went to a lot, responding to everything anyone said, no matter how trite or tiny. (Remember - all my jobs ever have filled up about 20% of the time I have to be in the office... I had a lot of time to kill back then.)

This got pretty old pretty quick, but there was nothing else for me to do. This was some time before I discovered Ebay... a very dangerous discovery when I did finally make it, as I would literally, whenever bored - and that happened A LOT, type 'hello kitty' into it and buy pretty much whatever I saw, being fooled on some primal level by those clever clogs in charge who tell you that you've WON. Not that you've purchased - you've WON! Aren't you clever? Haven't you done well? Let's slip that cash out your back pocket while you're not looking, check you OUT for beating all the competition!

Salvation soon became mine, though, when a friend of mine started a Yahoo group for the people posting on the previously mentioned club message board. All of a sudden, my working life had a purpose - talking to these mysterious people with made up names about anything and everything under the sun, and keenly waiting to see if they'd commented on the brilliance and beauty that I was spouting forth. Mostly about what sandwich I'd had that day.

An aside - sort of - on the topic of made-up names, or internet handles, or whatever you want to call them. My own - mangakitten - came about because when joining another Yahoo group about the TV show Once and Again all the names I originally wanted to use - variations on Hello Kitty, mostly - had been used up. Mangakitten felt very much like a poor cousin by the time I got to it. And yet, now, somehow, it seems like a persona I have created, like the bigger half of me, like a role that I play up to which I think was always there but somehow, by naming it, it's taken over. Johanna is shy and awkward and humdrum. Mangakitten is extrovert and confident and melodramatic. Johanna hangs around in the corners and looks at her feet. Mangakitten takes over and won't let anyone else get a word in edgeways. I'm not sure which, out of Johanna's ridiculous reticence or Mangakitten's brassy brashness, I loathe more.

So anyway, I finally got the internet proper at home, in my room (gasp!) around the time this Yahoo group came into existence, and very quickly, it seemed to become, along with shoes and American television, one of the driving forces in my life. And, I must say, with very good reason. I am blessed with many gorgeous, wonderful, clever, generous and amazing friends, and the ones that *haven't* come from the internet I can count on 4 fingers.

The Yahoo group became a PHBB (or whatever the hell it's called - I live my life on the internet, but its workings are a mystery to me and frankly, I like it that way, I don't want the magic to die) bulletin board, and I am the highest poster on there by some million miles and I love, love, LOVE it.

I had a brief dalliance with a different board when my home board pissed me off for a while - we all know what rows on the internet are like, how incredibly personal they seem and how ridiculous they really are - but I soon came home to roost. It's my happy place and I cannot imagine life without it.

For years, that board and email were enough to sustain me... but then, unbelievably, given how it now dominates everything, just three-ish years ago I heard the words 'Face Book' strung together for the first time.

Who remembers FaceBook back then? Remember how every time you wanted to post anything, you had to fill in one of those annoying 'what does this box say?' BrSO!&*CB with a line through it, and you couldn't read it properly half the time, so it would take approx 5.7 hours to post anything... your status had to start with 'is' (making it oh so much more of a challenge to get song lyrics in there, my favourite game ever)... you couldn't 'like' posts... uploading a photo took a week... and yet we all stuck with it, didn't we? And who among us can imagine a life without FaceAche now? I know I can't!

There are other things I quite like on the internet. Lolcats are very funny, although I loathe the way people talk as though they are lolcats... it's only funny when it's the CATS, goddamn it! I've recently been introduced to Hyperbole and a Half, which makes me sick with envy because it so puts my own blog to shame, and yet I still have to like it because it's so funny... I couldn't live without imdb to check that I'm right about knowing which obscure Yank TV show I know the minor character in the film I'm watching from... Wikipedia will of course be the most cited reference in my PhD... and yet it's the 'social networking' (yuck) sites that have my heart. Apart from Twitter. I can't get on with that, for some reason. Maybe one day. (NB - actually, I say 'for some reason,' but I do in fact know why. I'm not that interested in communicating with celebrities, or faux celebrities, or wannabe celebrities online. I'm only interested in talking to friends or potential friends. Given my lifelong thrall to celebrity, I have literally no idea why this is but... I just can't bring myself to care about what even the celebrities I like have to say about their lives in 25 words or less, or whatever it is, and all my friends that are on Twitter can express themselves more fully on FB or the aforementioned board. So yes. That's why.)

I wonder what it is that makes it so much easier for me to spill my guts online than in person. (Not that I'm backwards about coming forwards in person either... I'm not really one for hiding my emotions, you'll be shocked to learn.) I guess it must be the anonymity. Maybe it's the fact that if you don't like the answer, you can just skim it and move on. Maybe it's the fact that I can talk for as long as I like and kid myself people are still listening. I'm really not quite sure. Whatever it is, though, I really can't imagine that even crack is as good as it still feels for me now to see that I've got 4 new emails or 6 new FB notifications or that 8 people have replied to a thread I started on my board. My love affair with the internet has lasted longer than any other love affair in my life. And I can't see it ever ending.

Tuesday, 21 September 2010

The Drug of the Nation

(Am I the only person to have noticed that the Disposable Heroes of HipHoprisy were better at naming things than they were at anything else? I mean, that name... it's the best name for a band in the history of bands, surely! And the song of theirs that everyone knows, and from which this blog title comes - Television, the Drug of the Nation - that sounds like the toppest of all top tunes! However, then the music... it's ok. Not very exciting. And yeah, I realise it's probably 20 years old now or something depressing like that, but even at the time I remember thinking it was a bit boring. In fact, I got all excited about the idea of hearing that tune again, a couple of years ago, as I thought it would have to be one of those things that I hadn't been that bothered about at the time, but realised I LOVED now, like Take That or... well, I can't think of another, hipper example right now, but maybe it will come to me. Instead, I still found myself fairly non-plussed. It's pretty good. But the name is so much better, and that's why I've nicked it to spout some of my own nonsense underneath.

It's just a bit worthy. Not as bad as (shudder) Arrested Development, the hippiest of hippie hop this world has ever seen (it makes me so sad that one of the worst hip hop acts in the history of hip hop shares its name with one of the best TV shows in the history of TV), nowhere near that bad. But still. They're no Public Enemy or Missy Elliot or Eric B and Rakim.

Shall I stop wittering and get on with it?)

So... TV. My relationship with television has been long and involved. It goes back deeper and longer than most of my real life relationships. I've been pals with Carrie Bradshaw for longer than I've been pals with my DJ life partner. I have only one friend I've known for longer than Rachel Green. (Or should that be Rachel Greene? It differs in different episodes, you know. Outraged? Yes, I was too!) It's only family that go back further with me than Dylan MacKay or Kelly Taylor.

This is probably a terrible thing to admit, but I care more about the people on my television than about many of the people I know in real life. I cry at their dramas and laugh at their joys on a much more frequent basis. Their thoughts inform my philosophies and their actions drive mine in almost every thread of everything I do. My morals are shaped by scriptwriters and executive producers, not religious tomes. My expectations of life are sketched out by glossy haired actors, not by opening my eyes to reality. My dreams are inhabited by fictional people more than the ones I spend my day to day life with. And I'm beginning to wonder if this is a problem.

some tv shows i have loved

Beverly Hills 90210 was probably the show that started my obsessive love of television. I would love to pretend that I'm now hard pressed to say why, but this is not the case. Who could not love Dylan MacKay's slanting eyebrows and recovering alcoholic posturing? Who didn't find themselves identifying with either Brenda or Kelly (or both) as they fought for Dylan's hand and watched their friendship dashed to death on the rocks of teenage angst? Kelly joined a cult! And got addicted to coke! Brenda got engaged! Then broke it off over a pre-nup! Brandon got a gambling problem! The actors playing Steve and Andrea were way too old! Donna Martin graduated! Now there was a TV show, and no mistake. Will you, blog fans, lose all respect for me if I tell you that the new 90210 is the only thing currently being made that I really care about? I fear you will. So pretend you didn't see that.

If I now talk about acclaimed indie hit My So-Called Life will I regain some street cred? Depends who you are, I guess. Jordan Catalano came straight out of the Dylan McKay school of heroes - brooding, moody, gorgeous... as tempting as siren songs for teenage girls. I wanted so desperately to have Rayanne Graff as my best friend, to be as beautiful-without-realising-it as Angela Chase, to be able to go to Ricky with my problems and have him smooth them all out. It is such a crime against television - no, art! - that that show got canned after one series and we will never find out if Rayanne and Angela made it up or not.

Moonlighting also deserves a special mention. I love Bruce Willis and always will, and it's in no small part because of David Addison, a role I think he has never bettered. I think Bruce's slick-talking, commitment shy, thinking woman's crumpet must have been the template for the equally swoonsome Larry, played to such perfection by Robert Downey Jnr in Ally McBeal, and if the two were to have a fist fight over me (hell, it's my blog, I'm allowed to daydream), I'm not honestly sure who I would want to win. But Moonlighting wasn't just great because of Bruce/David - this, for me, was the original will-they-won't-they story (repeated to great effect by Dean Cain and Terri Hatcher's Clark and Lois, by Daphne and Niles, by Ross and Rachel, ad infinitum)... and, since the original, also the best. Throw in all the crazy dream sequences and surreal plot twists, and this show should've won a Nobel prize.

(By the way, I know it might not seem like it right now, but I do love television for more reasons than just drooling over fit blokes playing cool characters. I love it for the sake of writing and drama and stories and, goddamn it, ART! Not just because of hot men! Or at least, I always thought I did... maybe I was wrong?)

If we're going down the route of older, surreal shows, I naturally have to mention Twin Peaks, which was a spectacular feast of strange characters (the Log Lady, anyone?), stranger plots, freaky music, scary villains (I still get a bit freaked out to this day if I see someone in the street who looks a bit like Bob... which happens more than you'd think... in fact, there's a photo of me on FB which I took myself where I think *I* look a bit like Bob, which is really quite unnerving!) and... yeah, yet more hot boys. Although the whole thing had a pretty disappointing ending, if I remember right.

Coming slightly more into the current day... did anyone apart from me, an ex-boyfriend of mine and my brother watch the tour de force that was Popular, the first show made by Ryan Murphy (him of Nip/Tuck and Glee fame)? If you didn't, I implore you... watch it. Watch it NOW! At first glance, this show seems a bit like 90210, which I realise may not interest many of you. But it's actually packed with such deliciously bizarre characters and strangely satirical plots that every episode is as naughty and as mouth-watering as a cracker laden with brie and topped with chutney, washed down with a glass of red. The social commentary is second only to the hairstyles in this series. And again - packed to the rafters with hotties, of the male and female variety.

Is it very tired and passé of me to love Sex and the City? To be honest, I don't care if it is. I really can't understand why anyone doesn't like this show. People say it's girlie, and yeah, it's got shoes and smooching in it... but the characters, the writing, the wit, the tragedy, the relationships (between the women and their men) and, yes, the outfits... I think the final season is a near perfect example of television writing. And it seems no coincidence to me AT ALL that SATC was dreamed up behind Darren Star, one of the major players behind 90210. What a god that man must be! I dream of being Carrie, and I dream of this blog making that dream more of a possibility. I too, unlike most of my friends, would have picked Big over Aiden. Although I actually think Smith was the pick of the men on that show. Come on, boys... be confident enough in your masculinity to watch it without getting scared you'll be labelled a girl and I defy you not to end up loving it.

As I mentioned at the start of this blog, one of the worst hip hop acts in the world shares a name with what, objectively speaking, I believe I must call the best show in the world: Arrested Development. There is actually nothing else in the world like this series, and I don't just mean in the realms of TV. The characters are all so weird and so nasty but somehow still so appealing. The plotlines are so twisted and convoluted, and every time you think something is going to resolve with the chance of a happy ending, some new and yet still hilarious disaster strikes. It is so dark and so sweet all at once. Again, cut tragically short by the idiots who run American TV, although there keep being rumours of a film. I can't see it happening though, now that Michael Cera is the teen film sensation that he is. And actually, these days, Nurse Jackie is doing a very, very good job as a replacement in the weird/funny/oh-my-god-did-they-just-DO-that!! stakes.

So, objectively speaking, I know that Arrested Development is the best show ever made. But subjectively speaking... I know it's unoriginal... but I'm a Friends girl all the way. Friends is like the desktop wallpaper of my life. It's my comfort blanket, my cuddle trousers. I've probably seen every episode (and there are a lot of episodes) an average of 20 times, I'd guess. I can relate almost anything that happens, either to me or to someone I know, to an episode of Friends. I realise this is nothing to be proud of and yet, somehow, I still am. I watch it constantly and talk along to it, as if it's a Morrissey song that I'm singing all the words to.

(Two of my favourite Friends dialogues - please excuse the copying and pasting, it's late and I'm tired...

Rachel: See? Unisex.
Joey: Maybe *you* need sex. I just had sex a few days ago.
Rachel: No, Joey, U-N-I-sex.
Joey: I wouldn't say no to that.

Joey:... it's a moo point ...
Rachel:... you mean a moot point ...
Joey:... no no, a moo point ... like a cows opinion, doesn't matter ... it's moo ...)

My life has recently been revolutionised by the new boxset which contains uncut footage and hence NEW JOKES!!! (One of my favourites being about Paul the Wine Guy from episode one - 'does he drink it, sell it, or just complain a lot?') This means more to my pitiful little life than I could ever hope to convey.

(These are my favourite TV shows. But I cannot finish this blog without also mentioning Teachers, Black Books, Frasier, Desperate Housewives, ER, Once and Again, Gilmore Girls and the L Word. Yeah, most of the TV I like is American. So sue me.)

I seem to have got a little sidetracked. The point of this blog wasn't to wax lyrical about all these television behemoths which have so filled my life with joy. The point is, in fact, the exact opposite.

Two recent things in my life - the last blog before this one, and a post made by a friend on the internet forum I spend all my time on when I'm not on FaceBook or propped up in front of Friends - have made me realise that the constant stream of television that is being fed into my brainbox whenever I'm alone is actually making me really quite miserable. To me, this is a revelation on a par with the splitting of the atom. And I'm doing a PhD... scary, isn't it? ;-) The thing is... I work what I consider to be quite hard most days, and so when I get home, I feel I have somehow earned the right to relax and do nothing else. So I turn the TV on and then forget to turn it off, even when I fall asleep, with the TV still on, some five or six hours later. And all the while, the fact that I only have the TV for company gradually making me feel more and more like a lonely loser with no friends and no future. It's as if someone has put a valve in my brain and is slowly leaking out all the hope and happiness I might have ever felt. Almost as if it is, after all, the opiate of the masses.

I do not intend to become one of those born-again anti-TV people that I always want to shoot on sight. I would hate to want to shoot myself. But I have turned over yet another new leaf (since my last one is now, five months on, still going so strong) and I now plan to only watch TV a little bit. (That's good and specific, eh?) And see if that will maybe make me a bit happier.

It seems to be working so far. I had quite the crappy day at work today, but instead of sobbing my heart out over the TV as I usually would, I have worked on some playlists for a wedding Twisted Kitten are playing at over the weekend and written this blog. And there's something that might be a smile playing around my heart.

Saturday, 11 September 2010


There is a quote from Ally McBeal which some extensive research (well, five minutes on Google) won't reveal to me, but which, if I remember correctly, goes something like, 'I've tried my whole life to avoid being lonely. But when I think about it, the times when I've felt most lonely have been when I'm sitting right next to someone.' That's not quite right, she says it better. (And yes, I know she's not real, thank you very much.) I did think about going to get the DVDs to try to find it properly (I'm fairly sure it's the first one of a series - maybe series four - near the end of the episode, so it probably wouldn't take too long), but I suspect that way madness (in the form of lying on my bed doing nothing but watching Ally McBeal for the next 48 hours) lies. (Is that enough sets of brackets for an opening paragraph?) (No?) (Ok, we'll have some more.)

Loneliness is a funny old beast, isn't it? I always feel an affinity to that line from Ally, hence looking for it and thinking I would start this blog entry with it. And yet, now I think about it, I realise I'm almost the exact opposite to her. I spend a large portion of my life wishing I was on my own, away from all these rabbiting people ruffling up my view... and yet as soon as I am alone, I sink as fast into misery and loneliness as a lump of rock sinks into a murky pond.

I'm not quite sure what it is I'm looking for, or what exactly I think it is that's going to make me happy. A slap round the face is probably the most pertinent suggestion. I mean, really... what happened to the less boys, less whining I promised you all a while ago? Will I ever really stop moaning? Very likely not, I wouldn't hold your breath.

I had a weekend recently that was crammed full of people. People everywhere, falling out of doorways and tripping over each others' shoes. A quote from the fabulous Charlie Brooker occurs to me here, and this one I actually could find: "I don't get people. What's their appeal, precisely? They waddle around with their haircuts on, cluttering the pavement like gormless, farting skittles. They're awful." I spent a large portion of the weekend longing to be back at home and away from all the noise and clamour, and when I did get home, back to sanity and peace and quiet, what happened? I was so depressed for 24 hours I could scarcely get out of bed.

I'm not sure what I'm looking for. Is it to live on my own, with a high wire fence around my house, with only some guard dogs and all the Lost boxsets for company? Or is it to be married and have a house full of friends coming round at all hours of the day and night? I suppose I must grudgingly admit it's something in the middle, but where's the fun in that?

I think I should probably take some of my own advice and do some more 'flow' type things when I am on my own (see the DJing blog) rather than dying slow degree by slow degree in front of the television with my gameboy clutched in one hand and an endless stack of toast in the other. I should be doing things that will satisfy me, not things that will gratify me... taking more photos, writing more poetry, going swimming, practicing DJing, making clothes. But it's just so much effort. Can't I spend my life being miserable and finding new ways to articulate it on the internet instead? Oh, I can? Great... then everyone's a winner.

Wednesday, 4 August 2010

Work is a four-letter word

Work is a peculiar beast, isn't it? I don't like working, I never really have. I've always been first out the door as soon as I'm allowed, never really offered to do any extra, never volunteered to work at the club where so many of my friends work. Most of my jobs have bored the pants off of me... and yet probably the most damaging thing that's ever really happened to me (yeah, I've lead a pretty charmed life) has been being unemployed (aside from freelancing, which doesn't count) for the best part of seven years. I'm not used to failure, and so such a prolonged period of it really did me in. Admitedly, I found other things to distract myself, and didn't spend that whole time job hunting, but I still applied for a lot of jobs that I really felt I should have got, and, while it might not have stung so much at the time, the continuing lack of calls back, total dearth of second interviews, the pitiful sprinkling even of first interviews - I think all of these things actually added up to do me more damage than any careless boy or amount of bullying ever did.

My employment history began, as I imagine it did for so many girls, by babysitting for some of the neighbours' kids. My outstanding memory of this period of my life is one occasion when I was driven home by one of the mothers, and she got all the way to my door before I plucked up the courage to tell her she hadn't actually paid me and to ask for my money. She had to drive me back to her house to get my £3.50. It was touch and go whether I'd even have the balls at that point, but I imagine my hunger for Pony magazine and penny sweets overcame my cowardice.

My first regular paycheque came from a paper round. The low points of having a paper round include 7am being the longest lie-in you EVER get (which actually correlates fairly well with my insomnia ridden current life, but which was horrendous as a sleep-ravenous teenager); lugging a massive bag of papers around with me; insulting pay; big dogs. The high point of having a paper round was getting to listen to my walkman really loud every day, at just the point where I was really, truly falling in love with music. I made myself so many compilation tapes for those early mornings - the Smiths, the Cure, the Wonder Stuff, James, Guns n Roses, EMF, Queen - such were the soundtracks of those dusky mornings as I made tracks from one house to the next, my shortcuts and my wall jumps growing more confident day after day. I'm suprised to find that I'm looking back on my paper round with what is no doubt nostalgia... but then, maybe it's not so surprising after all. The only other job I've had where I'm paid to listen to music and move around is DJing, and that works fairly well for me.

When the early mornings got too much for me, I jacked in the paper round and worked for a while in a launderette. I remember, spoiled child that I was, being amazed by how many people in the world didn't have washing machines, and I remember having to wash some really nasty, bogey-covered hankerchiefs. I can smell that job more clearly than I can remember it; it smelt hot, damp and intensely, itchiningly clean.

Throughout my sixth form, I worked in Bowes Road library on Tuesday nights and Saturdays. I got £30 a week for that, paid into my bank account, and I remember thinking that was the most princely sum a person could ever wish for. My boss was a lovely woman called Sue who had beautifully painted nails and soft hair and big glasses. She smoked cigarettes, gave me a lift home every Saturday, told me about the Anne Rice books and talked to me like I was a grown-up. Working for someone I liked was a novelty, and my geeky little soul thrilled at the neatness of strict ordering, as we called it (I have no idea if that's a common library term, or just one we used) - going around the shelves and making sure every book was in exactly the right place in the Dewey Decimal System. I used to test myself, when I was bored at school, to see if I could remember exactly where a certain strain of chemistry would be, or where I might tell someone they could find the books on economics.

Mending the books was another favourite job of mine from then. Cutting away old, stained, ripped and sticky plastic coverings and replacing them with fresh, see-through, smooth new ones, I could pretend I was a doctor performing surgery, or a designer dressing a model. I remember a man who sat on his own for long periods of time once gave me a badly spelt letter telling me he loved me and wanted to go out on a date with me. I was 17, he was probably in his 40s. I was too scared to ever tell anyone.

I returned to work in that library and another one throughout the summer holidays of my first degree, but they wanted me to take my piercings out, meaning I nearly lost my Madonna piercing. I had reached the point where that was unacceptable, so I stopped working in the library and got (after a brief but disastrous stint as a waitress in a local pub, where my main memory is of the sad little manager informing me gravely at my induction that 'The Wacky has let us down,' referring to the fact that the poor exploited youths working in the appalling named 'Wacky Warehouse' hadn't signed enough unsuspecting families up for a loyalty card or some such) a summer job working at New Wave Tattoos in Muswell Hill.

My boss at the tattoo shop couldn't have been much more different than lovely library lady Sue. The boss of New Wave tattoos has an ego the size of Alaska and was constantly trying to con myself and Sarah, the other girl who worked there, out of money. My job consisted of booking rude, shouty and just plain weird people in for tattoos, what basically amounted to crowd control as the masses turned up on Saturdays, which was first-come-first-served day, taking cash, cleaning needles, and getting whatever discount ink I could beg. Although, now I think back on it, I only had two pieces there and he charged me full price for both of them, the mean fucker. It was a horrible job, but it made me think I was the last word in cool, and meant I met a girl (the aforementioned Sarah) who became my best friend for the next five or six years, so it wasn't a total loss.

While I was at university in Stoke, I did more babysitting and also had a spell as a life model, something I never thought I would have had the guts to do until I heard it paid £16 an hour and they'd basically give anyone a job. Like so many things in this world, life modelling is a much scarier thought than it is a reality. I remember getting changed in the little changing room (which is a strange vanity - why get changed in a changing room when you're about to display everything to everyone on the other side of the door for the next two hours anyway?) on the first day and feeling a spurt of panic more intense than I'd ever felt before - surely this was a bad dream, getting to work and discovering I'd forgotten all my clothes - rather than something I'd actually elected to do? But once I was out there and I'd taken a few deep breaths, taken the robe off and sat down, it was almost an anti-climax. No-one cared. They just saw shapes: circles and cones and swirls - not a person at all.

I did an all-day pottery class once and got pins and needles down one leg that lasted for a week afterwards. You earn your money as a life model. It's bizarre how painful sitting still can be, especially for someone who, if it were possible, would spend her whole life in front of the TV.

My first job out of university was back in another tattoo shop - Sacred Art in Tottenham. I worked there on Wednesdays, Saturdays and Sundays for I think about £90 a week. The people at this shop were much kinder to me than the boss at New Wave had been. I got free ink, I didn't need to be in work until 11, I flirted with cute tattooed boys, I made friends - it was good. I wanted to be in that world on a full time basis and spent quite a while trying to find someone who would take me on as a body piercing apprentice. I wonder how my life would have gone if I'd been successful in that enterprise?

However, I wasn't... and sooner or later I realised that I needed some real money, and so, armed with my oh-so-useful creative writing degree, I bought the Guardian every Monday, wrote letters to publishing houses and rang agencies, all the while also trying to get my hopelessly pretentious novel about chess and God and the Devil and the end of the world published; another venture which (thank the Lord) wasn't successful. And I eventually wound up with my first grown-up job; working as an editorial assistant at a children's publishing house.

That was undoubtedly the most horrible job I've ever had, and hopefully the most horrible I ever will have. My boss was cursed with crazy mood swings so that I could never tell if she was going to give me a present or scream at me. She was the queen of vague instructions and of changing her mind about what she wanted done halfway through me doing it, and then blaming me for getting it wrong. One of my tasks at that miserable job was fact checking. This was in the days before the internet, and so I was frequently given a soon-to-be-published book about, say, fire engines and told to ring some unsuspecting fire station and harrass the people who worked there with questions about how their jobs and their vehicles operated while they were literally trying to put out fires and really, really not wanting to talk to me. That job frequently made me want to jump out of the window rather than continue. I remember having an almost full-blown panic attack on the first weekend that I had that job, thinking that this was it for the rest of my life and that things would never get better.

Fortunately, they did. About a year later, I got a job at a place called Intelfax as another editorial assistant, this time checking TV listings for a load of teletext channels. This job wasn't perfect either - the boss was a lechy creep, and there was very little to do, so I was often bored enough to want to claw my eyeballs out - but I had a TV on my desk as well as a computer, I was paid a fraction more than I had been and, after a few months, I got promoted to teletext journalist and I got to write features for Trouble, Animal Planet and Living. That was a lot of fun. I could basically choose to write about whatever I wanted, and what I wanted was mostly hamsters, Morrissey, Dawson's Creek and feminism. I got promoted again, to be head of creative ideas for our team, and so ended up being the sort of boss of some people I had begun assisting. Never have I had such a glittering career before or since.

It was abundantly clear that teletext wasn't a viable medium for reliable future employment, and so I looked around and got a job as a sub-editor on TV and Satellite Week; a job which paid bundles and started off as busy and interesting and eventually got snipped back and snipped back and snipped back by budget cuts, until it was the bare bones of its former self, until there was so little to do that I once calculated I spent half of my week gazing out the window or posting on the internet. It got hacked away so much that it really shouldn't have been a surprise when we all got made redundant in 2003 (irony of ironies, probably before some time before the same thing would have happened to me if I'd stuck with the teletext job).

I've told the story many times before in this blog, I'm sure, of my redundancy and turn to psychology, and I know I've talked about freelancing and how much I loathed it, so I won't go on and on again here. Suffice it to say that I supported myself through my second degree by freelancing on lots of different magazines and papers and constantly felt as though I was nuturing a very large and very tender stomach ulcer with the gut-wrenching stress of it all.

Since I started my PhD almost a year ago, I've had quite the motley crew of jobs: teaching people how to do basic stats, transcribing interviews, editing essays. My most recent paid job has been taking part in a Clockwork Orange-esque experiment where I have been shut in a tiny, airless room, faced with a screen that flashes up faces which I'm not permitted to look at properly, and pressing buttons to say what mood the face is displaying for hours at a time. I'm quite glad that particular job is over.

However, after seven years without a contract, without a monthly wage, I've finally got a real job. A part time one, to be sure, as otherwise I couldn't keep on with my PhD, which I love, but still a real job. I'm going to be counselling at ChildLine (something I've done on a voluntary basis on Thursday mornings for around three years) for three shifts a week. I love it at ChildLine and I can't wait to start and, more so, start getting paid... but I am slightly worried that I'm going to make myself really miserable with trying to juggle work and studying, just as I was really miserable both working and studing throughout my psychology degree. I am hoping not, as I enjoy being at ChildLine a hell of a lot more than I ever enjoyed sub-editing (not hard); but it's a possibility. I guess I can't know until I start. I will report back. Wish me luck.

Friday, 23 July 2010

Girl, put your records on

For the first weekend in a while, I'm not meant to be doing any deeJAYing as my mum, god bless her, always calls it. I am quite sad about this. As I mentioned in my last blog, DJing is the most fun thing I do and I love it with a passion.

I started DJing completely by accident - an accident for which I am now very grateful. Some friends of mine were organising the music for a party for the forum we all post on. I was joking with them about how I'd like to put some of the music I like on (it's a very dance music orientated forum, and I don't really give that much of a crap about most dance music - there's some I like, and there's a little bit I love, but generally it says nothing to me about my life as dear old Morrissey would say) and see what everyone made of it. It was going to be a goth-hop set; a mixture of the Sisters of Mercy and Missy Elliot. Somehow the joke got carried on and carried on, and before I knew it, I was being told that I was doing a back to back with a girl called Elaine who I knew a little bit and who could teach me how it was done.

Those same friends decided that we should be the headliners, for reasons I'm sure were logical at the time but which no longer seemed that sensible when several of our other so-called friends were demanding their money back if they were really going to have to sully their pure euphoric trance (yes, I know, try not to giggle, it's rude) ears with dirty, dirty pop music at the end of the night, and those reasons became even less clear when the two of us were sitting through the rest of that party, clutching each others' hands with fear and practically vomiting with the nerves as we waited for our turn to begin.

We came up with the formula that I would play two tunes and then she would play two tunes. I put on Railing by Roni Size followed by Renegade Master by whoever-its-by, and then she put on Planet Rock by Leftfield and then Music by Madonna. It took us four tunes to get to the pop, but then we stayed there for a while. We called ourselves the Queens of Mean and our set list (which I keep in the draw of my bedside table) includes such tips and gems as 'wibbly - FAST MIX!' and 'respec'ful silence.'

We finally went on at about 4.30 in the morning, I think, and a friend related to me later that he saw my face turn from sheer terror to sheer joy as I pushed the crossfader across from my first tune to my second tune and realised that playing people the music you love and them thinking you're brilliant because of it is the greatest feeling in the world.

We made so many technical errors its not even funny (one deck got switched to phono at one point and we couldn't work out why it didn't work - we had no notions at all about how to control volumes on a mixer - we tried to mix DnB with pop with no seeming musical links at all) but Oh My God did it go well. As soon as we finished, I turned to Elaine and said to her, 'we're doing that AGAIN!' The bouncer asked us for a demo CD and we were booked for our second gig (a birthday party) before we'd left the decks.

Fast forward six years and Elaine is my best friend and DJ life partner, and what started out as a bad joke intended to annoy some of our friends has resulted in us getting real gigs at actual festivals and clubs and weddings and people actually paying us occasionally and appearing to take us seriously. I'm sure it also annoys a lot of our friends as well, though, so it's not a complete dead loss. ;-)

We decided that Queens of Mean was too similar to Queens of Noiz and became Twisted Kitten about two or three gigs in, I think. We got the name by looking in a hip hop slang book that Elaine had - Twisted means drunk, wrong or on drugs, if I remember correctly - and by nicking a word from Hello Kitty and messing with it a bit. We still get nervous enough to vomit before most gigs, even though we've been doing it for six years now, but as soon as the first record is on, the world falls away and all that matters is the music and each other and the crowd (I say that word with my tongue firmly in the cheek, as the average Twisted Kitten audience is around 5 or 6 people strong).

I have been recently reading about a concept called Flow, which was dreamt up by a fella called Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi (pronounced cheeks-sent-me-high). If I've understood and remembered it correctly, being in a state of flow is when you're engaged in an activity that you have to work at, but that which makes time stop and everything else stop mattering. It doesn't, in itself, make you happy at that moment, as you're lost in it and working, but the more flow-like activities you have in your life, the happier you generally will be. If you have no flow activities, but just try to make yourself happy with gratifications, it ain't gonna work and you're going to be a sad panda. Doing sport is a flow activity... watching TV is a gratification. Making clothes is flow... buying them is gratification. There's nothing wrong with gratifications, but you need to spread them out and you can't entirely rely on them for happiness, cos essentially, they're empty. Yoga for me is a flow activity - doing it at the time doesn't necessarily fill me with joy as it hurts, but it definitely improves my life and makes me happier overall.

DJing, I think, needs a new category all of its own. It has all the plus points that flow has - it makes time stop, I have to work at it, nothing else matters when I'm playing records and people are dancing and my best girl is by my side... but it's also a gratification, cos it brings me SO MUCH JOY right at that moment. What is it about being able to put on loud music that you love and seeing other people love it too that is so incredibly enjoyable? On the one hand, I don't think I could ever explain it... but then on the other hand, I'm not sure it needs any more explanation than what I've just said. Loud music that you've picked and that other people love - what could be better than that?

I watch friends of mine who are in bands and I take my hats off to them - there's clearly more talent in what they all do than I have in my littlest headphone jack - but it looks like so much WORK. All that lugging equipment about and practicing and writing songs and sound checks and band meetings... I could never! DJing (at least, the easy-peasy, who-needs-to-beatmatch-when-the-tunes-are-this-good DJing that I do) is the cheaters' way to celebrity, the easy peasy route to being a legend in your own lunchtime, and I think that's part of what makes it a flow activity (cos you have to work at it to an extent) and a gratification activity (cos you can stop and listen to the music and JUST HAVE FUN) all at once.

Keen followers of my blog, and what a terrific audience you are, ;-) will recall that I have a bit of tinnitus. Nothing too awful, but I can hear it when I wake up and when I'm trying to get to sleep. As as result, I've had to stop using my iPod, which has been a very sad and heartbreaking process... there was very little I loved more than a long walk and a loud iPod. But after about four months without it, I've managed to train myself to the point where I don't really miss it that much any more... not unless I think about it for about ten minutes. When I started to realise that the tinnitus was becoming an issue I couldn't ignore any more, I had to make a choice between my iPod and DJing, and DJing won. Life without DJing would be really quite bleak.

We're playing at a punk and ska festival the weekend after next, which is going to be quite hilarious. We're being punk by refusing to confirm and putting Beyonce on. They're going to bottle us. I shall report back.

In other news, life on the straight and narrow is still going well. Another festival is under my belt and I didn't even get a twinge this time. I think this is now the second longest I've gone without any of mother's little helpers since I was 15 (a frightening 18 years ago), and the first longest was an enforced break that, while I got through without too much difficulty, I definitely counted the days through until I could resume my old lifestyle. Something in my brain has turned over... a friend was getting a bit worried the other week cos she couldn't get what she wanted for the weekend, and I really couldn't comprehend why she even cared. Smugness is surely only a stone's throw away.

Monday, 21 June 2010


(NB... it's happening, isn't it? Just like I foretold... I've got a boyfriend, and I'm happy, and I'm not writing here so much. Bad Johanna! Must keep at it, cos I actually love splurging this venom out at you lot on a much more regular basis than I have been. At least 6 or 7 oh-so-inspired ideas for topics have risen in my head, half formed, and then the moment has passed cos I was too busy kissing or giggling or generally having fun (how vile, as dear Morrissey would say) and now they'll never see the light of day, and the world will never know. What a tragic loss for the world of 'art'! However, I am now awake at silly o'clock thanks to my dumb-ass curtains that are made of sheets, and so, you lucky, lucky people, I shall write.)

So... do you ever get days (or weeks, or months, or years) when it feels like ALL YOU CAN THINK ABOUT is food? I really hope so, cos I do. A lot. I know this is probably a tired subject for a girl to write about, but, well... this story is old, I know, but it goes on. (Wow, two Morrissey references in the first two paragraphs. Am I really 33, or just a 14 year old in a really bad wig?)

I try somewhat hard to eat properly. (I was going to write 'really,' but I was bought up to believe that it's a bad idea to tell outright lies.) Sometimes, however, I do try really hard, and then I lose weight and then, aside from the general angst and ennui that 21st Century living brings with it, I'm happy. The thing is, I actually enjoy eating healthily and once I get into it, it's honestly not a problem. Fruit? Yes! Vegetables? There's literally not one I don't like! (Unless chili is a vegetable, something I've yet to have the proper confirmation on). Berries and yoghurt for breakfast? Brilliant! All I ever drink is water (well, and gin and wine and jagermeister (not altogether, you understand), but hey ho) and so generally my meals are as healthy as you like.

But snacks. Ahhh, snacks. Those are my downfall. Cheese is private enemy number one. And to be honest, calling cheese a snack is a bit like calling Madonna some bird I heard about in the 80s once. When I'm in a cheese phase, I eat entire meals made of it. But I pretend it's still a snack so I can have my dinner as well. Brie and Port Salut and Applewood, oh my! And the slices have to be thick, and the crackers have to be laden with more salt than the dead sea.

See, salt... that is my downfall. I'll eat chocolate if I'm properly depressed or if someone's actually waving it in my face and insisting, but I'm not really that bothered about it. I don't like dark chocolate, and I hate any chocolate flavoured things... chocolate ice cream, chocolate cake, chocolate pudding... euch. Too rich. I'm not a fan. But show me some salt and I'll probably snort it and break your arm for some more.

Peanuts... pringles... pretzels... podgy, podgy Johanna. (Although that, I admit, was a slight bit of the old artistic licence for the sake of alliteration - pretzels, at least those yummy Penn State ones, I have recently discovered, and some of you may be interested in this, are practically no fat! Two Weight Watchers points per bag, which is better than one of those fakey Go Ahead bars which pretend to be good for you but aren't especially. And yet, gullible moron that I am, I continue to Go Ahead and eat the darn bars in a bid to give myself a surface level of feeling better about my evening gluttony; a surface level I dare not poke too hard for fear it will collapse. But back to the point in hand, they're almost as good as crisps, those pretzel things! Almost!)

Where does this greed come from? I wasn't being sarky when I said that sometimes all I think about is food. I may have literally just finished stuffing my face with whatever snack I had just fallen upon, and already I'm plotting my next move to the canteen or Pret to get the next thing, even though I'm so full it hurts a bit. What's it all about, Alfie?

It's especially hard when people lay delicious snacks out on a table for you and then you're expected to ignore them. I never understand this. It happened a lot when I was in the dark days of freelancing on various magazines, and it happens now at the job I have on Thursday mornings... a lovely, lovely lady buys biscuits (another weakness) and crisps and nuts, literally by the bucketload, and spreads them out for us all to eat every single week. And I swear to god, everyone else not only ignores them, but seems happy to do so. This used to happen at the magazines as well. It was like a competition to bring in the most delicious snack, followed by a further, secret competition to see who could ignore them the most convincingly. Whereas I, despite my best intentions, surrounded by such bounty, literally cannot think about anything else and find myself going to the printer or the toilet every 15 minutes so I can come back with handfuls of goodies. And then I feel sick, and then I feel fat, and then I feel ugly, and then I hate myself, and then I realise that food is the only one who will still be my friend when I'm as weak and disgusting as I am, so I go back for more.

A lot of it - as is the case for so many of my problems - is booze fuelled. Once I'm drunk, all cares about being thin and pretty and healthy and happy with myself fly out the window and are entirely replaced with a vampire-like need for salt and fat, a need which is seemingly never, ever sated.

Keen followers of my blog will remember that my last entry was all about how I've gone off the form of fun that has been my mainstay (ha ha, I wrote mainstain at first there, chuckle chuckle) for the past 18 years. And I'm still feeling pretty happy about that decision. But I slightly fear that the greed that fun always unleashed in me has merely been transferred to food and that in 6 months I'll weigh 22 stone and be begging someone to give me some insuffalatable diet suppressants to restore me to my former self.

Meantime, I'm gonna stop waffling. It's time for breakfast.

Tuesday, 6 April 2010


So, as keen followers of my Face Book page will have noted, I've failed in my new year's resolution. In truth, I actually only managed about two months out of the promised twelve. Most people have been very nice about it, although some have wagged their fingers at me good and proper. But I'm happy, so the tellings off haven't really mattered.

Would you believe me if I told you that this time is the best of all... that it's holding sunlight in my hand, that it's heaven come to call? (I can't claim those last few lines, they're from a beautiful song by a folk artist named David Ackles, called Love's Enough. Go look it up, you can thank me later.)

However, I'm not here to gush. I think you all know me better than that by now. Why look at the positives when I can rub my face up against some negatives?

I failed in my new year's resolution. And while I'm happier than I've been in years, I am also keenly aware that I look a bit foolish now, and that people are probably saying some unkind things about me, that I can't cope without a man and so on and so forth. (Although they're probably not, actually... as my DJ life partner and I like to comment, people probably aren't talking about you half as much as you fear they do for the simple reason that most of them couldn't care less about you and are much more concerned with their own piffling trifles.)

Still, the sting of failure is keen. AM I not able to cope without a man? You might remember, that was part of the reason I wanted a year off blokes in the first place... to prove to all the people who are forever telling me I'm rubbish at being single and desperate for a boyfriend and can't cope alone etc etc that those things aren't true. And you know what, despite my failure, I still don't believe them. Call it denial if you want. But my boat is sailing quite happily along the current of denial, and the sun is shining, and until it sinks, I'm gonna be happy. If it ain't broken, don't try to fix it, as the most wisdomous Will Smith once said. (Ok, so he probably didn't say it first. But he says it on my iPod with stunning regularity, and that's all that matters to me.) (And joking aside, I really don't think it is denial. I do cope without men. I just choose not to, quite often. So sue me.)

I have failed in other areas of my life as well. And I hate it. I really, really hate to fail. Failure stings me like lemon juice in my eye. It wakes me up at night. It whispers in my ear on some idle Tuesday when I'm shopping for shoes and not thinking about it at all, making me cringe bodily and whisper 'I hate myself, I hate myself, I hate myself' in a fevered furious pitch, so that fellow shoppers look at me like I've lost my mind. But who doesn't do that from time to time?

I guess my main failure has been my total lack of ability to get a job since I got made redundant from my last real one, back in... fuck... 2003, probably. That's a really long time ago. If someone had told me that day that I'd still not have had a proper job some 7 years later I would have laughed in their insolent face.

And ok, so I'm doing other things with my life now - I didn't have much choice when it became apparent that, for whatever reason: the financial crisis, magazines being closed, my own crippling and obvious inadequacies, you know, whatever... I was never going to get another full time sub-editing job and so would be better off looking elsewhere. And I'm very pleased I got into psychology. I love the research I'm doing at the moment. I love my office and my new friends. But I'm scared of what the future holds for me, because I don't honestly imagine anyone will ever want to employ me again. You leave anything long enough and it just becomes unimaginable, really. The thought of getting a phone call or a letter telling me I've been offered a job feels about as likely as me deciding I'm going to start eating meat again after 22 years of not doing so.

I'm really looking forward to not being a student any more. I miss money. I really miss it. I had it for a while, and oh Lord, does it make life easier. But I'm not nearly as hard up as I could be, so I should be thankful for that. But I'm also scared of the end of student life, which I've been back in for almost five years now, with another two or three to go. What if I can't get a job at uni in London? That would be very bad. What if I can't get a job anywhere? That would be even worse. Any more failure in this area and... well, I don't know what I'd do.

I've also failed to ever get any writing published, despite trying at that at least reasonably hard for a while. Although nowhere near hard enough with the book I wrote when I first got made redundant all those years ago, which I've still only sent to about six agents. Another failing! I did actually make a promise to myself earlier in the year that I'd start investigating poetry magazines and seeing about getting some poems published. Poems are much more manageable chunks than novels. So maybe that's something I'll do this week.

I don't really know how to bring this entry to a close. Another failure, no? Probably best to quit while I'm semi-ahead.

Oh yeah, I had some thoughts on the failure of my new year's resolution. Here they are:

1) If you want to make God laugh, hatch a plan.

2) To admit that you were wrong yesterday is only to acknowledge that you're wiser today.

So put that in your crackpipe and smoke it. I'm off to stalk the internet in the hopes that the newest and best bit of success in my life is around for me to talk to. Laters!

Saturday, 20 March 2010

Radio Gaga

So, I was on the radio on Friday morning.

Every morning, I listen to Shaun Keaveney on 6 Music. I love him. I actually love him. It is a constant source of sadness to me that he's already shacked up and has a kid and so will never be mine. He plays Prince and Morrissey and hip hop! He loves Christmas and snow! He hates Lenny Kravitz and the Levellers! He and I are cut from the same cloth. Whenever I'm feeling depressed, mornings are always the hardest time of the day, but his radio show never fails to make me laugh and cheer me up by playing me some classic tune I'd forgotten that I love or some new diamond that I will come to love, and that's often what gets me out of bed in the morning and makes me carry on. I set my radio alarm for an hour and a half before I need to get up so I can listen to as much of the show as possible. Am I coming across obsessive? No? I'll have to try harder.

I've been mentioned on the show twice already. Once, he was doing a segment on what you were getting people for Christmas and I texted in to say I was getting the then-boyfriend a melodica (a weird instrument) and he read it out on air. The second time was only this January... he was asking for reasons to be cheerful (1, 2, 3) as of course everyone knows January is the worst time of year. I was very down having just ended it with the most recent ex two days before. However, I'd been promised a gift from my DJ life partner, so I texted in to say that despite all my woes, that was my reason to be cheerful. He didn't read the whole message out, but instead dedicated a Stone Roses song to me as my year had got off to such a bad start. I was so happy! (in between the blubbering tears, you understand) ;-)

So they do a segment on the show called My Morning Racket, where they wake up a listener with a noisy song (of the listener's choice) and talk to them about their day etc. On Wednesday, Shaun said that if you wanted to be on MMR (ha ha) you should get in contact, so I did - and about two hours later I had an email saying I'd be Friday's guest, which really surprised me as I assumed it would be a really long wait!

I suggested Head Like a Hole by Nine Inch Nails, Death on Two Legs by Queen or Open your Heart by Madonna - all songs that make me jump in the air.

The producer called me on Thursday afternoon and asked me lots of questions about where I live and what I would be getting up to do. I told him about uni and my PhD and stuff, and started thinking of witty and insightful things I could say to make Shaun (and the adoring hoardes of 6 Music listeners) fall in love with me. I was told I'd be called between at about 8.05 on Friday morning. The nerves started to take hold... I was going to talk to Shaun!!! My idol!! (aside from Prince, Morrissey or Madonna, of course...) (and I think I'd probably have an aneurysm of some sort if I actually got to talk to one of them...)

I woke up, hungover and a bit bleary, around 7.45 on Friday morning, which is quite late for me, but I'd had a late night. To my horror, I discovered I'd left my phone on silent (despite my good friend Polly telling me not too, lol - never go to bed drunk the night before a meeeeja appearance, blog-fans!), but although I'd had two text messages wishing me luck, there was no phone call. Phew-phers, as I used to say when I was a nipper.

Then began the wait for the phone call. It got to be 8.05. No call. Then 8.07... no call... by 8.10, I was sweating a little. Of course, being me, and feeling the need to live out my life in full via the medium of the internet, I had advertised my impending fame on Facebook and the bulletin board I post on daily. 8.15... no call... but instead, a weirdly unfunny segment featuring a pretend old man. I'm really not sure what that was about, but by 8.20 I'm realising that I've advertised my radio appearance to some 400 people altogether, plus my dad, and it looks like, as 8.30 dawns and the news starts, and Shaun tells us what's coming up in the next half hour and doesn't mention me, I've been forgotten! Oh, the shame!! The humiliation! Will people think I just dreamt the whole thing, like some poor deluded stalker? It got to 8.35 and I wanted to crawl under my duvet and die. I'm getting 4 texts a second from friends asking where I am and saying they've had to give up and go to work. The reggae, the reggae. :-(

Then, finally, just as I'd given up hope... the phone rings! It's a totally different producer... she tells me they're going to play the NIN track and then leaves me listening to the radio through my phone, with nervous butterflies crawling up from my stomach into my neck and threatening to choke me so that I can't speak. Suddenly, Shaun's voice is coming down my phone. MY PHONE! I'm going to have it bronzed!! He's saying it's time for My Morning Racket... that's me!

Shaun... "So, on the phone we have... a person... can you identify yourself please!"

Oh dear - it very quickly becomes apparent that he hasn't been given any of the notes on me and that we only have about 4 seconds instead of the usual 5 minutes or so. I tell him my name, gush and giggle a lot, and stupidly mention that I'm DJing at a party this weekend, which leads to a conversation about DJing, rather than about all my oh-so-clever psychology stuff... not that I'm thinking he knew about that anyway.

And then he asks me the question - the question I have dreamt of being asked live on air since I was a teenager listening to A-Ha records in my bedroom. No, not that question... he asks me which tune I'm going to play to make everyone dance.

WHY, WHY, WHY couldn't I have had some preparation for that??? There are a million answers I could have given which would have made me look cool and clever and interesting and generally brilliant. But I was blind-sided! I couldn't think straight! All thoughts of, say, Carolina Chocolate Box's version of Hit Em Up Style, or Somersault by Zero 7 and Dangermouse, or Anotherloverholeinoyhead by Prince, or Such Great Heights by the Postal Service, or even bloody Boom! Shake the Room flee from my teeny, tiny brane like rats from a sinking ship. I stutter over my words for a moment or two, and then go, 'erm, probably some Madonna,' in a most unconvincing manner.

Now, don't get me wrong, I love Madonna with all my heart and anyone who doesn't dance to one of her tunes while Twisted Kitten are at the decks gets struck off the Christmas card list quick smart. But it's not even like I said one of her tunes!! (I could have said Jump! I could have said Nobody Knows Me! I could have said any number of actual things, but I didn't!) And the one flaw with Shaun is that he's not the biggest Madonna fan. In fact they sometimes do sketches about her and Jesus that are slightly on the mocking side, one could say. And my mad passionate love for Madonna really doesn't make me look pale and interesting, in the way I had hoped, now does it.

After that, he couldn't get me off the phone quick enough. But I did get to hear Nine Inch Nails, so it wasn't a total loss. I trembled with adrenaline for about an hour afterwards.

Oh Shaun... will you give me another chance?

Monday, 22 February 2010

Music saves my mortal soul

No 1. Queen

My first Queen album was, as I suspect it was for many people, Greatest Hits I, which I listened to in my bedroom in the house where I grew up. My earliest memories of Queen take me back to that bedroom and that time so potently. I was in the grip of my Alice in Wonderland phase and was trying to draw Through the Looking Glass and What Alice Found There (as I think you'll find it's actually called, fact fans) chess pieces on my wall. Sorry, mum and dad... That bedroom was where I learnt to love music. I remember the day XFM started broadcasting as a pirate station... Melody Maker, my Bible, had told me about it... I had to stand in the middle of the room holding the aerial in the air to hear it, and I think my leaps in the air with delight at hearing the music I loved on the radio probably resulted in interference, but it still sounded perfect to me.

I bought News of the World on cassette with my first ever wage, which I earned doing a paper round. I bought a copy of Emily of New Moon by LM Montgomery, her of Anne of Green Gables fame, with that same payslip. Ten pounds went further in those days. (Yes, I know, that's a great story grandma.) I remember listening to Get Down, Make Love on my walkman in the damp and silent early mornings, Freddie's voice whispering into my ears the only thing I could hear. I went from house to house delivering papers, being appalled and embarrassed by the lyrics, and I was hooked. I remember getting Sheer Heart Attack on vinyl and feeling thrilled that Freddie and I wore the same nail varnish. I listened to The Lap of the Gods (part II, especially) again and again, feeling mesmerised by it and not being sure why.

And of course, as all Queen fans (at least the ones old enough) do, I remember the dreadful, dreadful that that Freddie came on the news and announced that he was dying. My brother and I cried in each others' arms, and two days later, on the morning of my 14th birthday, I was woken up by the news on my radio alarm that he was dead. My paper round took three times as long as it ever had that morning as I read every paper and cried all over it. Fortunately, no-one complained about the sogginess of the pages.

Queen are still my favourite band, and the one thing guaranteed to make me smile when I'm glum.

2. The Smiths

My brother got into the Smiths before I did, and I spent a couple of months thinking Morrissey was weird and hating them before the scales fell from my eyes and I became a life-long devotee. It was Sheila Take a Bow that did it. Throw your homework onto the fire - go out and find the one you love. Who can resist that? The label that the Smiths and Morrissey have as being maudlin and depressing is one I have never really understood. To me, they opened up a whole new world... a world that was romantic, witty, dramatic... a world that let me wallow in the overflowing river of my teenage angst, yes, but which also let me bite my thumb at my enemy and devote my heart to another and stand up for animal rights all in one go.

I was the classic Smiths obsessive. My friend and I spent months upon months playing a game of ever-increasing precision where we would take lines from Morrissey or Smiths songs and test the other on which song they came from. We started with whole lines from well known songs - "15 minutes with you, I wouldn't say no" (reel around the fountain, the Smiths eponymous first album) - and soon progressed onto a couple of words from a rare b-side - 'you don't agree' (Jack the Ripper, Morrissey b-side)... and always, we would get it right.

Morrissey was the first gig I went to. My brother was in the scrum to catch his shirt, and he let me have a piece of the bit he had managed to rip off for himself. It was red gauze. I pinned it to my wall and kissed it goodnight. Oh, Morrissey. Are you really sure you Will Never Marry? I think Meat is Murder too. We could Reel Around the Fountain together, and clap our hands at Margaret on the Guillotine. There is a Light (in my heart for you, Morrissey!) and it Never Goes Out.

3. Nine Inch Nails

Nine Inch Nails were only my favourite band for a little while, but it was a very intense love affair. I'm guessing I must have had my first actual kiss and my first actual disappointment, and I was ANGRY ANGRY ANGRY rather than romantic and fey and whimsical. I still listened to the Smiths on my up days, but mainly, it was all about Trent Reznor. I went to a Nine Inch Nails gig at Brixton Academy on my own and stood at the front screaming the words and believing that Trent could see inside my soul (which was black, obviously - while my head was like a hole).

I still listen to Nine Inch Nails now. I know I'm probably too old for that kind of nonsense, but nothing beats stomping around town listened to NIN and imagining my enemies crushed beneath my boots. Mwah ha ha ha.

4. Madonna

I know, that's a bit of a leap, right? I'm guessing not many people put Madonna and NIN next to each other, but there was a bit of a messy period at uni where I had a new favourite band every week, or so it seems (honourable mentions must go to Verve, as they were still much more poetically known back then, The Manic Street Preachers, who I loved so heartily for a while that I got a tattoo a bit like Richey's but a lot, lot worse (now covered up, thankfully), the Tindersticks, the Divine Comedy and Suede) and trying to catalogue them all is far too onerous a task. Madonna, on the other hand, has been something of a constant presence in my life ever since my ears started appreciating music. Of course, during my NIN days I probably would rather have died than admitted it, but I have always been entranced by Madonna Louise Veronica Ciccone.

I remember some endless, rage-filled, stifling drive with my mum, dad and brother when I was a nipper and hearing Open Your Heart, my favourite early Madonna track, on the radio, and it seeming to make everything better. It's a very appropriately named song that, because it does open my heart. It makes me want to leap on top of things and scream with jubilation, the opening drumbeats and the 'look out!'. She was always in the news and everyone had an opinion about her, and she always held me in her thrall.

Skip forward probably 20 years and Confessions on a Dancefloor, which is the most perfect record ever made, was released. I bought it in Tescos at the weekly shop the day it came out and started listening to it in the car on the way home and knew my life would never be the same again now that this new piece of music had come into it. I don't think a week has gone by since without me listening to it at least once. It makes me laugh and cry and smile and feel triumphant and humble all at once. It's the best show I've ever seen in my life, and if anyone ever dares insult Madonna to my face, I will thump them.

5. Prince

Now, don't get me wrong. Prince has released A LOT of rubbish. I know this. But you could fill a day listening to amazing Prince tunes and never listen to the same song twice. Approx. I wrote a (dreadful, angsty) novel when I was 15 and couldn't decide whether to name it 'Late Night, Maudlin Street' after a Morrissey song or 'The Beautiful Ones' after a Prince song. I think Morrissey won in the end, but it was a close run battle.

(*NB - I read the oddest thing the ever day, which is weirdly appropriate given the above. Apparently Stephen Street (Smiths/Moz producer, for those who don't know) is a massive Prince fan, and the drums from Late Night, Maudlin Street are sampled from the bizarrely brilliant House Quake, one of Prince's sillier tunes (shut up, already... damn!). Can this be true? I long for it to be so!*)

Prince is a proper pop star. He's mad and weird and wrote songs with names like If I Was Your Girlfriend, which messed up my innocent little 14 year old brain. He thought he was god, and I think he might be right... think about it, it's the only thing that really makes sense. How else can one man write songs like that, sing like that, play all the instruments in the world like that, dance like that, look like that? Nothing else would be fair!

More to come another day, perhaps.