Wednesday, 9 July 2014

Martin sees the peloton

Two things that young children find more exciting than the spectacle of the world's greatest cyclists passing by in a dizzying pageant of athleticism and colour:

1) A circling dragonfly.

2) High-fiving a police motorcyclist.

Fair enough. Both these things are excellent.

Still, there are two kinds of people in the world. Those who think it's worth standing around for two hours in the burning sun (12 noon, Cambridge) or pissing rain (3.30pm, London) for a fleeting 30 seconds of partially obscured joy, and those who do not.

There's a silence after the peloton goes by - a sense of expectation that some further spectacle may yet present itself, which you absolutely should not miss out on; that perhaps Froome, Kittel and Contador are just a gentle curtain-raiser for the real event - a grand prix of dogs riding children's tricycles, perhaps. Yet no dogs came. And as the crowd eventually dispersed in Cambridge, I heard one 70-something man turn to another and say, 'Well, there you go then, Martin. Was it worth it?'

This companion of Martin's, I felt, was a person committed to seeking out the disappointment of others and dragging it into the open with some measure of triumph, like a cat with a dead bird.

(It was all in his tone of voice. I am very sensitive to these things.)

But Martin – casquette on his grey head, peak pushed reverentially upwards, a believer, a hoper – simply said, 'Oh yes… Absolutely wonderful.'

Sunday, 1 September 2013

This is a test

Recently I was in Boots at Kings Cross station, buying the usual items of bathroom tedium on my way home from work. A women appeared beside me (not by magic – I'm pretty sure she just walked there from a different part of the shop) to be served by the adjacent cashier.

She was buying a pregnancy test.

Just that. Just a test. Just laid down right there on the counter, all alone. Not a universally unflattering palette of eyeshadow, grabbed in haste, alongside it. Not some corn plasters and a blood-sugar monitor with which to bury it at the bottom of a wire basket. Just a pregnancy test. Imagine! She didn't even want a bag. 'Would you like a bag?' was what the assistant asked her. 'No thanks,' is exactly what she said in response.

It's a long time since I studied any critical theory. Probably it could never be long enough. But this episode made me think about Barthes' Mythologies and Saussure and signs and signifiers. Luckily I wasn't thinking these things out loud, because I am really over-sibilant.

Maybe I haven't done enough pregnancy tests in my life to reduce them simply to piss and plastic. Maybe I haven't witnessed enough other people buying them. Because when I saw this small box lying on the counter, I didn't think, 'Oh, the circle of life turns one more notch. Just another everyday, £7.99 incidence of life-changing potentiality. Nothing to see.'

Instead I thought that my fellow customer must surely have slept with her infertile partner's brother following an argument and now nothing would ever be the same again. Or that the one-night stand with her boss at the end of the staff orienteering/orientation day had not been packed away with the cagoules and the clipboards after all. Or that the night when that large flying vessel landed in her back garden and the hatch opened and that creature she could not comprehend took her inside and led her to do things she didn't entirely comprehend either, but on the other hand didn't not enjoy, really did happen after all, it wasn't just the late-night brie talking.

And when she got home, she would almost certainly hide it in the laundry basket because everyone knows that's a really flawless hiding place, or possibly throw the empty box in the bathroom bin, where her boyfriend might find it and wonder which one of the four female housemates it belonged to.

You say pregnancy test. I say soap opera.

I blame soap operas.

Because it wasn't just the test. She was buying the test in a train station. The theatre of melodrama. (Or maybe that's Old Trafford.) Where people run alongside moving carriages to tell another that they love them. Where the lovehorn hurdle barriers and feint their way around guards to beg someone not to leave. Trains pull out of platforms to reveal passengers still standing there, wondering what they haven't just done. Where businessmen decide not to take their regular service to the suburbs, but instead pick a platform, any platform, and step right onto a train to Berwick or St Austell. I mean, this literally happens all the time, doesn't it? I've seen it with these two eyes. Only on the telly, mind you, but still.

Back in Boots, the cashier swiped the woman's loyalty card and said 'Are you using your points?'

Initially, I thought she said, 'Are you proving a point?' which somehow seemed slightly prescriptive, even for a pharmacist.*


Sunday, 11 August 2013

Bully for me

Some things I never did as a child:

I never took the school hamster home for the holidays.

I never had a limb in plaster.

I never played Mary in the school nativity. I was never in a nativity. We never did a nativity. Sometimes I wonder if it was really a school.

I never shoplifted high-currency teenage items (lipstick, cigarettes, Monster Munch). Or low ones (Woman's Weekly, bird feed, Dentufix).

I never escaped through a secret portal in my bedroom into a magical land of benign but fantastical wild beasts who greeted me as their queen and leader.

Also, I was never bullied.

Occasionally, over the years, I've wondered how I managed to escape it. I was brainy and a bit odd, with a whole buffet of physical eccentricities for the persecutory to pick over – deathly pale, sparrow-legged, jagged-toothed, sharp-featured, frequently unwell.

At the time, of course, I never gave it a moment's thought. 'Are you bully bait?' was never one of Just Seventeen's interactive quiz elements – unsurprising, given the infinite matrix of boy-related trauma to exploit. I sailed along on peaceful waters of unadventure. Once, I remember, I stumbled upon a girl I liked a lot – she was quiet, funny, a bit nervy – having her arms pulled hard in opposite directions by the scariest girls in the school and shamefully hurried past, on my way to play an urgent game of elastics, I imagine. She became very ill some time after – one of those crippling viral mysteries that may or may not propagate from emotional exhaustion – and was off school for months. Even in my youthful ignorance, I was shocked by how weak she was when she returned, as I watched her being helped around the playground like a pensioner.

Now I think about it, though, I realise I always had a gang. Not a big one, or a cool one. We weren't sniffing glue in darkened shopping precincts or setting light to waste bins. But we were a tight and loyal pack, united by the serendipitous fact that we all fancied different members of Duran Duran. I was rarely separated from those girls – I never grazed far from the herd, was never easy to isolate for the purposes of Chinese burns and bogwashing. You would not have found me drifting alone, 'asking for it' in the wrong coat and bad shoes – just one more oath of unspoken thanks I owe my parents. Also, during the years when I may have had to flee, gazelle-like, for my life  – or my lunch money – across the playing fields, I was one of the fastest runners in my school, however unlikely that may seem now. (Clue: really very unlikely.)

I don't know which god of the playground was watching over me. (I like to think it was the giant floating head of John Taylor, huge hair shimmying in the heavenly currents – distinguishable from the real John Taylor because his hair would never bend in the breeze.) Anyway, the fact is I escaped.

Until last summer.

Anniversaries are having a moment at the moment, aren't they? It's a year since the Olympics.  It's ten years since Breathe by Blu Cantrell featuring Sean Paul was Number One. Let the human race still be remembering both these things in a hundred more years. I'm pretty sure they will. And it's a little over a year since someone was systematically behaving with cruelty and vindictiveness towards me, in order to get something they wanted, which they weren't entitled to, and shouldn't have had. Ahh, balmy, gilded 2012 summer days.

I can't say exactly what happened or who was involved. Regular readers who are familiar with the thrill ride of my life will assume it's some matter of international espionage, drug running or high-level sexual power games. At the very least, they'd assume I'm bound by some kind of super-super-injunction. I'd applaud them in this, because the truth is incredibly mundane. Yet the feelings the experience produced in me were every bit as stressful and emotionally painful as anything I've known in my life. The kind of proper, lying awake at night, heart bumping, soul churning, unable-to-think-about-anything-else upset that persists until it is outrageously, complacently claiming a place in the top ten worst things that have ever happened to you, unseating important, precious things that are genuinely worth your distress – bereavement, the wrench of a break-up, deep sadness for a friend. What a waste of the terrible times, having to spunk them on some idiot misguidedly intent on ruining your life.

The polite among you may be saying, 'How did it start, Miss Jones?' The rest: 'GOD, is she EVER going to get on with it? Because, seriously, I've read shorter Tolstoys.'

How it started was with a series of light psychological punches – no big deal in isolation – which I attempted to parry with the following mental blocks:


'That's a bit off.'

'I wonder why she would do that?'

'It will probably blow over.'

'Oh. It's really not blowing over. Oh well.'

'Hmm. She still seems to be doing that mean and very hurtful thing. How strange. She probably doesn't realise exactly what she's doing.'

And then, eventually:

'Oh. She does.'

All those little blows must have given me some kind of concussion because, for a few weeks, I couldn't see just what was going on. Instead, I doubted myself, thinking what was happening was probably my own stupid fault.

Of course, bullies love that shit. In the cold, clear light, I can see that's Bullying 101. It's Now That's What I Call Bullying. It's Bullying For Dummies (Although Bullies Are The Real Dummies, Which You Will Learn If You Buy Our Other Hit Book, How To Stop Being A Bully For Dummies).

But I'm nothing if not entirely British. My every cell loves tea and talking about trains and hates making any kind of a fuss. Even though being scared to open your email or answer the phone because of the repeated actions of one person probably does merit some kind of a fuss. I didn't feel that what was happening could possibly warrant the term 'bully' yet, by any definition (except those relating to the quiz show Bullseye), it absolutely did.

When confusion and surprise move out, hurt outrage moves in. Seriously, those guys can not share a living space. And it always unravels with the cleaning rota. I'm a nice person. Sometimes I tut at people on the tube and leave rubbish under my seat on the train, but I'm fundamentally a B+ at nice. Maybe even A-. And I consciously surround myself with other nice people. Yet somehow someone had breached this in order to target me. They had picked me out of all the people in the world to be horrible to. That is a shitty kind of a raffle.

As adults, we're rarely out of control unless we choose to be, with bungee rope, large amounts of alcohol, recreational drugs, or babies and young children. It's unlikely anyone will force us into a municipal swimming bath or over a gym horse, or order us to do any of the above in our underwear. There are acts of God and human tragedies, but most days we get to say no. Yet suddenly I was feeling powerless and frightened. This was not the adulthood I had been promised! Where was my sense of grown-up self-assurance and my wardrobe of cashmere?

And also this: before it all started, I was serenely independent and content (as Professor Higgins sings in I've Grown Accustomed To Her Face). Or, more technically, single. I had my own home, a career and a lot of friends. I walked tall. I ate alone in restaurants (I mean, not all the time, I'm not weird or anything). I was proud of all that. I depend on me (as Destiny's Child sing in Independent Woman Part 1). But I felt very strongly that none of this would have happened if I'd had a boyfriend or husband and wasn't plugging away at life alone. Or, in fact, if I were a boy (as BeyoncĂ© sings in… oh, I've forgotten the name of it now). I can't tell you how much I hate that.

Still, through it all, she remained – assiduously, relentlessly turning the screw. Like Miss Trunchball's less forgiving sister, the one people don't like as much as Miss Trunchball. But, crucially, not, in the eyes of the law, doing anything wrong. Because it turns out that behaving like a total shit is not in itself illegal. Really? There are small people living in a slim box in my pocket who can play any music in the world through my headphones, yet no one's sorted that out yet?

And the awful consequence of that is that you end up becoming a little more like her – hardened and spiteful – in response. Soon I was sitting in middle-brow restaurants with my friends, eating our aspirational mezze and making unthinkably dark jokes about the ways in which I might kill her, in order to end all this. Then going home and lying awake and thinking what might happen if someone actually did kill her; imagining the police questioning my best girls, seeing their faces as the investigating officer said, 'How would you describe Miss Jones's relationship with the deceased? Did she ever display aggressive feelings towards her?' 

It ended eventually. It always does. I stayed strong and I saw it out. 'Strong' is not conventionally defined as wanting to cry, do a massive poo and start running and never stop ALL OF THE TIME, EVERY DAY, which was exactly how I felt. Strong was purely superficial in this instance. But it was enough. I always knew superficial would have its day. 

In a manner of speaking, I won. This absolutely does not mean that I killed her and got away with it. It means I escaped from the situation and she didn't get exactly what she wanted.

In another, more profound way, she won. She got a little of what she wanted and I am left, still, with the aftershocks. I still feel a shiver when I travel through a certain part of town. Still spend morning showers and train journeys wondering what I would do or say if I ran into her. I'm less trusting.

But what, I hear you asking, Terry*, was the real secret of my (small, semi-) success?

I had a gang. Not a big one, or a cool one, but five-star, rock-solid back-up. Metaphorically, they held my coat while I squared up to fight. Literally, every single day, one or more of them was patiently telling me to hold my nerve, be brave, not rise to it; that I was in the right, that I was better than this, that it would soon be over.

There are more of them in the world than there are of her.

*Little Commitments throwback for anyone excited about the new Roddy Doyle book

Sunday, 14 July 2013

Miss Jones Is... Writing Without Authority About David Bowie

A quiz:

Consider the quotation 'Ultraviolence in Liberty fabrics.'

Does it describe:

a) A costume designed for the musician David Bowie during the Starman era?

b) My disposition, 45 minutes into the V&A exhibition celebrating the musician David Bowie, having moved a total of no more than three metres from the entrance, trapped between ever-encroaching human walls of ditherers, slow readers, the spatially unaware and David Bowie fans – and the Venn diagram which holds them all?

[The exhibition has been open for several months now, and it occurs to me that it's so good that no one may actually be leaving. They're just letting more and more people in.]

The answer is, of course, both. It was a trick question.

Still, during the three hours you spend carefully edging your way around David Bowie Is..., it is heartily reassuring to find something, anything, in common with the subject. The creativity, the eclecticism, the energy, the conviction on display, is simultaneously inspiring and totally demoralising. What have I achieved with my sorry life in comparison? Why have I wasted so many years? Should I have worn more jumpsuits when I was younger and a slim size 10?

Say what you like about Dave, but he certainly gets things done.

I like to imagine this kind of conversation between David and his neighbour as they both left their respective houses on any given Monday morning from the late 60s onwards.

'Hello there, David!'

'Hi Jeff. How was your weekend?'

'Oof, well, pretty busy actually. Mowed the lawn - that was well overdue. Took Maureen and her mother out for Sunday lunch, bled the radiators, watched Poldark. How about yourself?'

'Well, I wrote a few songs, went to my mime class, commissioned a set of asymmetric PVC stagewear from an unknown fashion student, storyboarded a new short film, made some flapjacks and read a really inspiring book about Dadaist theatre in the 1930s.'


David Bowie Is... a very sobering comparative exercise. Still, as my companion, Mr H, said to me over lunch afterwards, the gulf between our achievements exists because David Bowie is a one-off. There is him, he said, and then there is the rest of us.

The next day, I went to get my hair cut and noticed my hairdresser had bought exactly the same postcard from the exhibition as I had and stuck it to his mirror.

This is the kind of symbiotic thinking that can be achieved by shouting at each other over the noise of a hairdryer three times a year.

And since hairdressers are confidantes and counsellors, as well as being really good at not gagging when bits of other people's hair get everywhere, I discussed my feelings of Aladdinsecurity with him.

He, too, was philosophical. (Look at all the reassuring men I know! When I was floundering after the sudden death of my dad, a counsellor told me there wasn't enough positive male influence in my life. Well, look at me now! I'm a winner!)

'That's why he has an exhibition about him,' my hairdresser said. 'And we don't.'

If you are as self-involved as I am, here's what you take away from David Bowie Is...:

There will never be an exhibition all about me.

People will never queue patiently to look at faded photographs of me aged six dressed in a mum-sewn clown costume for a ballet recital and ponder how commedia del'arte had always had a profound influence on my work. 

My penetrating yet slyly humorous letters of complaint to Southwark Council will never find a home under a protective glass case as an example of an artist honing their gift before finding their true artform. This is a bloody shame because they were brilliant letters, actually.

Ernest curators will never write informative panels describing how my youthful brio and raw talent* shook the stuffy world of regional baking competitions to its very foundations.

All I could do to console myself was look for any other ways DB and I are alike. There are several:

We share a naturally/unnaturally high pallor.

We are both Capricorns, supposedly the dullest sign in the zodiac. (At this point, the V&A would probably whirl their endless white ribbon of Bowie-related till receipts around like a rhythmic gymnast and say that astrology is bullshit.)

Our dads have the same name. And I think we can all agree that 'John Jones' is pretty unusual.

Another thing: as I walked around the exhibition, I overheard a man trying to impress the woman he was with by telling her how the mention of 'the market square' in Five Years related to the market square in Bromley. He may have been making it up. I wouldn't know. I'm the first to admit I'm a Bowie-come-lately. But I have suffered my own harrowing torment in Bromley's market square, when a wooden skewer thrown on the ground became embedded in my foot, having found a path through the slats of my gladiator sandals (a grasp of footwear trends will tell you this happened some years ago).

Uncanny, no?

Um. OK. Everyone?


Obviously I realise I'm nearly 40 and this has never occurred to me before, but if it's true, then I did take an awful lot of drugs in the 70s, so it's very likely this kind of thing could slip your mind. And Dave does love an image change.

I feel much better about things now.

Still. I should NEVER have turned down the Olympics.

*Not so much this really.

Tuesday, 25 June 2013

Art is hard

I believe that creativity demands total emotional truth.

That's why I feel compelled to tell you that my latest found-art project, exploring the ways in which extraordinary musical talent is predestined to collide and collaborate organically, despite the synthetic constructs of the corporate machine – using the medium of the 'Share a Coke' venture and its random product placement – has not exactly got off to the dynamic start I had hoped.

No 1: The Bedingfields.

I am honestly starting to doubt whether Coke has even produced a 'Ringo'.

Sunday, 11 November 2012

Blogging again! Strictly half-term report! Trumpets!

No explanation, no excuses, I am easing myself back into blogging with a half-term report on this series of Strictly Come Dancing. I'm not sure how it can be half-term when there are still 10 – 10! – contestants remaining, but from what I can tell nowadays, half-term seems to happen whenever anyone bloody well feels like it over a four-week period, so anything goes, right? If you're looking for quality weekly Strictly blogging, let me recommend my best Olympic buddy Mind Tidying, who is highly entertaining, with the kind of understanding and appreciation of dance skills that I brazenly lack.

My own personal Strictly viewing journey this series so far can be summarised thus:

1) Love: Louis, Kimberley, Richard. Falling for: Dani. Fingers crossed for: Lisa (£5 at 18-1). Want to love but can't quite: Fern, Victoria, Nicky. Don't love: Denise, Michael.
(Terms and conditions: Emotional investments can go down as well as up.)

2) No one should ever make Dave Arch wear a costume. Seeing him dressed up as Dracula at Halloween made me think of a giant bear that's been chained to a post and poked with sticks to make it dance.

3) Despite another duff partner/early exit for Anton, I have chosen to stop seeing him as an object of sympathy. This is a powerful psychological breakthrough for me. No longer do I picture him weeping the sad tears of a clown into a smart lambswool V-neck while other couples march on to Wembley and sodding Blackpool. Instead I think of him as liberated and free, having more time to do the things he loves, which I imagine to be: taking a special lady friend for a picnic in one of the greenhouses at Kew Gardens, 'motoring' down to a classic car rally at the Beaulieu Museum, or caddying for Ronnie Corbett and Bruce Forsyth at St Andrews in an attempt to further infiltrate the upper (well, up-ish) echelons of light entertainment.

4) I feel quite strongly that Strictly may be running out of songs. How can this be? There are more songs in the world than there are rats in London and insects in the rainforest. This is scientific fact.* Yet people must apparently STILL waltz to Kiss From A Rose.

ANYWAY. This week.

Bruce Forsyth and I share many similarities. We both enjoy our morning porridge with nuts and blueberries (I saw this on a documentary once). And he, too, is celebrating half-term. But I imagine Bruce's break – unlike most half-termers – amounts less to a trip to the Harry Potter Studios tour and a Burger King, or spending the whole day in Topshop eating Pick and Mix, and more to quality time with a tartan blanket, some crackers and Stilton, and a DVD of the Ryder Cup. And, awkwardly, I must report to Brucie and the writers of his 'jokes' that this is the first show in recent memory where I actually laughed out loud at something that was intentionally funny (and not just at Michael Vaughan's hair, for example).

Firstly, I love the opening montage. It's got Miranda in it, why wouldn't I? It would be easy for me to mock Su Pollard at this point, but she's the one apparently owning this season's gold brocade trend, not me, so I know which one of us is more likely to be invited to the Balmain Christmas party. (She's welcome to it. I reckon the buffet would be rubbish.) I also love Tess and Claudia back together. Tess no longer has to painfully perform a series of 'reaction' faces to Bruce's hi-jinks and can get on with the business of solidly competent presenting. Claudia can be demented in a safe, controlled environment while dressed as a sci-fi dentist. (Tess, by the way, has come as a bunny girl who's chosen to start dressing slightly more conservatively since having children.)

On with the dancing. First up are Denise and James. I'm not saying James was threatened by the reappearance of Ian Waite (who rehearsed with DVO while James was injured) but their paso seemed to be a lot about Le Jordan. 'Yes, Denise, first of all I have to spend AGES twirling a cape right in front of the camera while you stand behind me and can't be seen. No, a bit longer. No, you see I HAVE to, it's not a proper paso if I don't. And now I'm going to do a knee slide RIGHT INTO THE CAMERA for all my fans.' Their paso is brilliant, of course, and scores four 9s, but I think I speak for everyone who's ever watched Strictly when I say that I really, really miss Ian Waite.

We all love Richard, right? Funny, self-effacing, suitably deferential to Erin (who I like more and more when she's with him, a bit like Taylor Swift when she was dating Jake Gyllenhaal, only Erin and Richard's partnership has lasted longer). His and Erin's Charleston is no Hollins 'n' Ola, but it's great value, and for fans of dance faces, he has some of the all-time best ever. Also, fans of men in their 40s doing Penelope Pitstop runs won't have been disappointed by that either. Richard's little face (©CWinkleman) when he's awarded a string of 7s and 8s is one of my favourite Strictly things in history. I mean it's no Vincent trying to do a roly-poly, but come on...

Louis and Flavia are dancing the waltz. All the dancers, pro and celeb, have their individual crosses to bear – a partner who's too tall/too short/does 'impressions'/does 'jokes'/has no rhythm – and with Louis, I think it's important to remember how weird it must be to be 23, and have lived all your professional life with the discipline and routine of a sportsman, then suddenly have to be all intimate and expressive with an older lady. We can't all be totally down with it like Aaron Johnson-Taylor-Wood. Never mind, Louis's mum has come along to training to make sure no one's mean to him. Too bad she didn't save a mum smackdown for Craig in the studio, who unaccountably gives Louis a 6. He says it was a bit saccharine for him. It's a waltz, Craig. Surely you've seen one before. Entre nous, I think Craig is dismayed by the presence of the Strictly swing, a reappearance that's about as welcome as a coldsore, having propelled Matt Baker to the brink of a nervous collapse (in my own parallel Strictly narrative) almost exactly two years ago.

Fern and Artem are doing the salsa. Artem does have a shirt on again but it's open to the waist. He's put the chest out there now, he can't take it back. Craig immediately erases all my Louis-related bad feeling towards him with the look of utter contempt he gives to Fern coming at his face with a feather duster. Fern gives it some welly and has nice hair. It's the hair that Kimberley had a few weeks ago. I wonder who will have it next week? I'm hoping for Michael Vaughan and I think he is too. After a kindly round of judging, Claudia asks Artem if he's over the moon with their comments. Artem deadpans: 'I am very much so,' like a bored escort crossed with a really sexy Russian droid.

Now. Pendleton. Are we all agreed that the judges have received a memo ordering them not to upset her under any circumstances, in case the subsequent cascade of salty tears melts the studio floor and up from the dark oblivion below surges the angry vengeful figure of Chris Hoy, grown to the proportions of an ogre? Good. Yes, Sir Chris is lovely and charming and benign, AS FAR AS WE KNOW, but who can say how the golden god may react when forced to defend the honour of the queen of British cycling. It's either that or Sebastian Coe has made some dark and terrible pact with the IOC that the UK will only get to host the Olympics again if Victoria Pendleton wins Strictly Come Dancing. On a plinth in his turreted castle sits an eerily glowing GB Pendleton cycling helmet symbolising the pact. What we need, of course, is some young knight – Jason Kenny would do it, or Laura Trott for sexual parity – to battle their way inside on a magic wall-penetrating bicycle, smash the helmet with an axe, and thus break the spell.

It's just possible I've overthought this.

In summary, Brendan wheels (hahahahaha - she is a cyclist! I made a joke) Victoria around and the judges treat her like a frail endangered species. She's improving A LOT but not to the extent where Craig is justified in marking her higher than Louis.

Also important to note: Brendan falls over harder than Philip Hindes, at a similarly critical moment, but possibly with less deliberation. I love Brendan these days.

It's Danni and Vincent. I LOVE Vincent SO MUCH. I like Danni. That means that, on balance and using simultaneous equations, I love (Vincent + Danni). A note from me to the Strictly producers: please stop treating Vincent like a joke and forcing him to wear stupid blonde wigs. You're making us forget that he's awesome and used to date Flavia, who's really fit, and doesn't date just anyone... Oh. Well, anyway, she's really fit. (I'm just joking. She's been dating Jimi Mistry for at least three series). And the good news is that with the Fonzie Jive and the Phone Box Tango, Danni seems to be resuscitating Awesome Vincent. HE LIVES.

Next up, Nicky, who starts his foxtrot with a brilliant solo section which makes me 'Oooh!' out loud. Not as much as when Gethin did the salsa, but still, Nicky's really blossoming. It's as though he is, in the metaphorical language of Westlife, rising up off his stool and walking with purpose and a boyband air-grab to the front of the stage. He is living a key-change. He and Karen make great use of their microphone prop, although it's not turned on. Just like in the Westlife days. I'M TOTALLY JOKING, WESTLIFE FANS. AND ANYWAY, WE ALL KNOW YOU AND YOUR MOBILE PHONES ARE TAKING NICKY TO AT LEAST THE SEMI-FINALS.

During his judges' comments, Cheryl Cole heckles from the crowd. I'd prefer it if she was heckling at The X Factor. Everyone would pay money for that. 'Oi! Scherzinger! WHO ARE YA?'

Kimberley and Pasha are dancing the Viennese Waltz. Kimberley says they are dancing to a beautiful song, and this makes me worry for my potential friendship with Kimberley as I think it's one of the most boring things I've ever heard. Kimberley is clearly the sensible one in Girls Aloud, and I am the sensible one in any friendship group, which should make us so compatible, but now everything I thought I knew has been thrown into question. What would we play at our slumber parties where we have a chocolate fondue and tell Nicola Roberts she should always stick to her natural ginger? However, I do love Kimberley's 'yearning' expression at the top of the stairs, which should see her at least win a part in the next series of that ITV drama about military wives when this is all over and Girls Aloud have a massive bust-up on their reunion tour. It's all nice enough, but doesn't change my opinion that the world could live quite happily without the Viennese Waltz. Viennese Whirls, however = indispensable.

Michael Vaughan has found some good form in recent weeks. This seems to have woken the terrible kraken that is Natalie's competitive streak – a beast that had lain dormant during Michael's lovable but hopeless early weeks. We could see the warning signs earlier tonight when Natalie was caught on camera applauding Louis's waltz with gritted teeth and flashing eyes. It's like Vesuvius, ominously smoking, and primed to erupt. I am aware, by the way, that I am mixing my metaphors beyond salvation in this paragraph. Let's just say that salsa is not really for Michael and move on. Good lifts, though.

Lisa and Robin dance a fabulous razzle-dazzle foxtrot to This Will Be (An Everlasting Love), which is on the soundtrack to While You Were Sleeping, which I love. The film's premise would make a great concept for Romantic Comedy Week (planned for week 9, I believe**). Male dancer starts off lying on faux railway tracks. Female rolls him off and into a coma-themed rumba (all rumbas are coma-themed, albeit inadvertently, for me). In other falling over news, Robin takes a tumble just before the stairs.

Come the results show, it's time for the SHOCK! we all knew was on the cards after weeks of perfectly appropriate evictions. And it's Kimberley and Pasha in the dance-off, which I'm blaming on mid-table forgettability and bland song forgettability, and also Cheryl hanging around in the studio wearing black like a tiny beautiful doomy raven. But ultimately it's Fern who's going home. Artem went topless too early. Like I said, where could he go from that?

See you for the semi-finals! Maybe!

*It's not.
**It's not.