Tuesday, 30 December 2008

Colour Me Bad

You can see below my disappointing showing in the Miss Joneses Inter-Generational Extreme Colouring Championship 2008. The winner is the Miss Jones who colours in their side of the page fastest. Felt tips are permitted, as are crayons and pencils. Beyond this? There are no rules. Which is different to the rules being made up as we go along, which is what normally happens when the Young Miss Joneses compete.

In the first-round tie, I drew Young Miss Jones The Younger (5, nearly 6, 'very very good at writing my name joined up'). I took the right-hand side, she the left. As you can see, to employ the lexicon of football commentary, I was caught napping.


I was distracted, I believe, by the similarities between this fictional, two-dimensional house and the real one I lived in when I first moved to London, and became intent on reproducing the colour of the original's door and window frames. Idiot! This is not the mindset of a champion. Needless to say, Young Miss Jones The Younger's focus was absolute, her determination unflinching. 

Miss Jones 0. The Young Miss Joneses 1. 

In a break with convention, the Loser Stayed On, and Young Miss Jones The Older (or is it The Elder? I genuinely don't know. In any case, she's 8, and will demonstrate her ability to do the splits at any occasion) stepped up to choose her weapons. I changed sides and it was On.

It was a much tighter contest, as you can see from YMJTO's frantic scribble towards victory. Despite a solid showing, what you can basically see from my side is how ludicrously therapeutic I find colouring in is, to such a bewitching degree that competition and urgency melt away, like an unwilling cross-country runner finding a shady park or a cool stream on a hot day. Seriously, is it OK to buy yourself a colouring book when you're very nearly 35? 

Anyway, it was a rout, a drubbing, a spanking. And despite their tender years, the Young Miss Joneses were clearly embarrassed by the whitewash and tossed me a consolatory 'Hmm, you've done it very neatly' (which I had. I mean look how lovely my snakes are) but I could hear the knocking hollowness of their words. The under 9s have little truck with the shackles of lines and edges in their pursuit of glory.

Wednesday, 24 December 2008

God bless us every one

It is my first December as a blogger, so it would seem appropriate to wish you all a happy, happy Christmas. Or rather, happy holidays, since you never know who's reading and whether Christmas is their thing, worship-wise. It is important not to make judgments, as my upstairs neighbours discovered the first year they moved in. They sent me a very carefully worded non-Christmas card expressing their hopes that I had enjoyed hanukkah.

I have sent them an enthusiastically worded pro-Christmas card every year since then in an attempt to highlight their error of non-judgmental judgment.

The feast of Stephen

This is the parkin I made - pictured as a work-in-progress - a few days ago. As a stiff dough it has excellent potential as a construction cement. Yet it also enters the pantheon of things I really like to eat when they're raw, taking its place beside cake mix and shortbread. Everyone, surely, likes to eat cake mix, but I think I could be on my own with the other things. After 10 years working in women's and teen magazines, perhaps I finally have my first eating disorder.


As a finished article, I have discovered that no matter how late it is, how weary you are, or how quickly you want your parkin to cool so you can put it away, you should always allow it the dignity of cooling in the comfort of its tin. Don't let the chill air give it a rude awakening as you hoist it out by the greaseproof-paper lining and dump it on the cruel surface of your kitchen table. When you return to it five minutes later, you may find, as I did, that you have a large square slab of ginger-scented concrete on your hands, and it is the work of seven strong men on a building site to saw it into portion-sized pieces.


However, I have found that the reassuringly nuclear powers of a household microwave revive it a treat, and restore it to the pleasingly spongey texture of newly-laid turf. Furthermore, I heartily recommend it as an alternative to Christmas pudding or mince pies at your festive table, particularly with a tangerine-sized scoop of vanilla ice cream resting on top. It is no competition for Mrs Jones's Mincemeat Tart but I am only a beginner by comparison.

Monday, 22 December 2008

Take your passion and make it happen

On Saturday night, amid the happy festivities of the Strictly Come Dancing final and a Mexican Christmas dinner, I confessed to some of my oldest friends a secret that had been unsettling me considerably of late.

I felt sure I would find a sympathetic, non-judgmental ear among those who had consoled and cheered me through the best and worst times of my life.

I told them that sometimes, I really like to read the Daily Mail website.

Suffice to say, it was not exactly the warm embace of kindly understanding I was expecting.

Luckily we had the Strictly spectacular to distract us from my intelligentsian faux pas, and we were soon happily united once more in our joint conviction that Tom Chambers deserved to win since he had sheer dancing joy in his heart, and Rachel Stevens did not as she was essentially a dressage pony, picking up complicated steps with docile adroitness, but prone to confusion when the bridle is loosened. This was evident in their showdance, where she expertly allowed Vincent to carry her over his shoulder/around his waist/over his waist/around his shoulder, but when she was required to skip around the floor, inciting the crowd to hear the music, close their eyes, feel the rhythm, she seemed prone to adopt an expression reminiscent of someone watching their pants go round and round at the launderette. For us, it was a wildly underwhelming showdance, in pointed contrast to the 5,000-piece-jigsaw, intricate steps of their Argentine tango. And, moreover, is there any dancing sin more heinous than squandering the Flashdance theme on sub-standard moves? Let there be no debate. There is not.

Tom and Camilla, in contrast, won us over by having Actual Real Fun and also appearing, with some of their goofy clowning, to channel Torvill and Dean's classic Barnum routine. Or was it Mack And Mabel? Basically, I know some really hardcore Torvill and Dean fans.

As for Lisa and Brendan's clumsy youth-club-expressive-dance-display erotica? My eyes, my eyes.

In the days after the final, and despite the disapproval of my comrades, it was to the Daily Mail that I turned to see the fall-out of Tom's victory, and whether this was further indication that the country was on its knees, what with the scandal and outrage of him being in the final in the first place, thanks to Bungling BBC Bosses (TM). In fact, Tom got off pretty lightly, what with him being middle-class, impeccably well-mannered and kind to the sick and elderly. The BBC less so, predictably, with one peer demanding the corporation publicly release the viewers' voting figures. Seriously? What does he think that's going to show? That the BBC had fiddled it? That one suit-and-trainers had said to another, over some Sainsbury's Basics Rich Teas, in a meeting, 'You know what? Let's just rig it. It's not like anyone's keeping much of an eye on the old phone-vote fraud at the moment. I think everyone upstairs will be prepared to risk it.'

Don't retired MPs have better things to do, like saving hospitals and presenting horticultural prizes? OK, I should be fair and clarify that this one was actually trying to suggest that where Strictly Come Dancing voting reforms lead, national political ones may follow, which is a nice idea.

I for one could not say for certain whether Gordon Brown or David Cameron would prove victorious in a dance-off. Dave might ace the ballroom, but the Latin could be anyone's game.

Thursday, 18 December 2008

Teach them well and let them lead the way

This week at work I have been sitting near a cell of teenage work experience girls. It is a fascinating, if occasionally alarming, insight into the future of our country.

This afternoon they were discussing the physical transformation of Cheryl Cole, from girl-next-door pretty at her first Popstars audition to lustrously-eyelashed, Disney-heroine pretty on The X Factor. Under particular scrutiny were her teeth. 

'Oh yes,' said one assertively. 'She's had dentures.'

Wednesday, 17 December 2008

Time-travelling and twins

I believe in time travel. I did a bit yesterday. Mrs G and I were walking from Oxford Circus to Bond Street at about 6.30, a route which in December becomes a pathway through hades, so we took a diversion to avoid the zombie army of Oxford Street. 

Our shortcut led us through Bhs, which truly is the department store that time forgot. Taste doesn't give it much thought these days either, if the men's gift selection is anything to go buy (this was actually a typo, but I feel it is a serendipitous one).

For sir, may we recommend the animal-print 'Easy Tiger!' brief.


And if sir is feeling more adventurous in the bedroom, perhaps the 'Suspect Package' glow-in-the-dark thong, with handcuffs attached. 


(It is my New Year's resolution to buy a camera that is not broken in a bid to post some pictures that are actually in focus.)

It is no surprise that an awful lot of shoppers seem to have forgotten about Bhs too. The place was as silent as a church. A church selling alarming men's underwear.

Mrs G and I solemnly wondered if Bhs would soon be following Woolworths to the retail graveyard. But wait! What's that coming over the hill? It's the Croydon-born supermodel cavalry. Clearly inspired by Mrs G and myself, trend-maker Kate Moss was also in Bhs on Tuesday evening to do a spot of shopping in the department store coincidentally owned by her close friend Philip Green, still more coincidentally in the presence of a paparazzi photographer. What are the chances?

We could only have missed her by minutes. 

A fact about Kate Moss is that she is exactly the same age as me, to the very day. Should I ever become famous, women's magazines will have a field day with this coincidence, endlessly discussing which of our could-not-be-more-differing lifestyles has resulted in the most True Happiness, as well as the least signs of ageing. I'm pretty confident I've got the second category in the bag, at least.

Sunday, 14 December 2008

Puddings that could go either way on paper and turn out to be a triumph

No 1 in an occasional series:

The lemon trifle.

You may think this pudding which I enjoyed at Bistroteque, down a dark alley in east London's fashionable (probably) Bethnal Green, is bathed in candlelight. But no, it is lit by a purely celestial glow. It was a dessert that came to me from heaven.

I wavered over my choice. But I was nobly shepherded towards it by our waiter, who assured me I would not be disappointed, and also revealed that my second choice, the apple crumble, had recently had a topping (by that I mean the stuff on the top, not, like, 'excellent' in Blytonese) makeover from granola-esque to the more conventional powdery crumbs, which in pudding terms, to me, spelt B.L.A.N.D. 

So the trifle and I had our date with destiny. Let me tell you about its glorious strata: 

citrus jelly (this has caused me to question my previously unshakeable and near-religious belief that there is no place for jelly in trifle)
lemony custardness
Chantilly cream
sponge, naturellement
possibly something else I am too dazed to remember
And – this part is the work of a demented genius – lemon granita on the top. 

Lemon! Granita! On a trifle! Somewhere a world made of eggs, cream and sugar is spinning off its axis. 

Saturday, 13 December 2008

I wish I had a river

Joni Mitchell was right: it's coming on Christmas.

I know this not because Joni Mitchell told me, but because someone got on the train yesterday wearing a Santa hat. This is not unusual at this time of year, of course. Apart from this was a commuter train at 9am. It wasn't half past midnight on the last train back to suburbia. He wasn't stumbling around the West End with the lights of Piccadilly Circus reflected in his glassy eyes, about to auto-asphyxiate by treading on the end of the tinsel he'd jauntily draped around his neck. Neither did he step into the carriage with an attention-expectant face that said 'Is this the Christmas Party express because I've got a first-class ticket to Fun Town!'

Instead he teamed his Santa hat with an air of complete nonchalance, sat down quietly with his briefcase and began his private train meditations just like everyone else.

It was a near-sublimal, semi-incidental signal of Christmas which charmed me right through.

And there was more to come.

As I walked from London Bridge to the office, one of the businesses had thoughtfully drifted their confidential shredded waste around the building to look like a winter wonderland. A lame one, obviously. And topically. But still. It worked for me.


Later, another Christmas miracle. I was let out of work at 2.30pm. So I wandered around Borough Market – pretending I was the sort of person who always wanders round Borough Market on a Friday afternoon – and overheard a well-to-do elderly man saying to his friend, 'My granddaughter eats olives like we used to eat sweets.' 

Then I went to a craft/design fair in the Menier Chocolate Factory. I took a shine to a heart-shaped, pearl-buttoned Christmas decoration on a stall run by two redoubtable 70-something ladies who were at pains to point out that all their wares were made from recycled materials. How much is this? I asked them. Oh, you can just have that one, they said. We just want to encourage people to make their own.

This threw me. Episodes of Seinfeld have been written about more trivial exchanges than this. I couldn't just walk away with a free decoration, leaving them with nothing in return – apart from a warm glow of doing good, but who actually believes in that?

Obviously I had to buy something. But everything else they were selling was, at best, odd. At worst – well, let's just say Not For Me. So I had to comb through all their merchandise looking for the cheapest thing I could buy, while trying not to appear as though I was searching for the cheapest thing I could buy, to ease my conscience and reward them in some way other than spiritually.

In the end, I chose a greetings card of medium-size (not the smallest, crucially), paid a paltry £1 for it, and walked away feeling slightly, if not totally, better and wondering which lukewarm acquaintance I could foist the unloved card onto.

If any of you ever receive from me an oddly-coloured birthday card featuring some slightly misshapen screen-printed birds on the front, you may wish to consider what this means for our friendship.

Thursday, 11 December 2008

Bloggers' fall-back brain-free post no.4098

Using incredibly complicated mathematical formulas, the robotic insects who live in your computer and run the internet can tell you various boggling statistics about the tourists who are visiting your blog.

One of the long, long ribbons of reports these creatures can print out for you, which you must read with a large magnifying glass, reveals the phrases people were googling which led them to stumble across your blog. Here are some from mine:

adrian chiles separates [I'm really hoping that 'separates' is a fashion-related noun in this context]

adult babygros

austin healey hairpiece

austin healey/tom chambers slash [Strictly is a bumper slash fiction compendium just waiting to be written]

bernard cribbins quietly bonkers youtube [Quietly Bonkers is the B-side of Right Said Fred, as any B-Crib fan will tell you]

dictionary frotting

how to make chocolate roulard [step one could be spelling it correctly]

names of girls manitals

status quo three chords [perhaps Francis Rossi has forgotten which three they are]

God bless the internet. Where else would these people turn for support?

Tuesday, 9 December 2008

The madness of Miss Jones

One of the difficulties of living on your own is that there is no one around on a regular basis to moderate your oddities.

Patterns of behaviour creep up on you, unmeasured against any kind of co-habiting 'control' specimen, until you believe it's perfectly normal to sing your own made-up words to the Strictly Come Dancing theme music, mentioning each of the celebrity dancers and their professional partners, or to have a little chat with your mugs as you're getting them out of the dishwasher.

I don't do these things OBVIOUSLY, but of course the point I'm making is that even if I did, I probably wouldn't know that I did, much less think it in any way eccentric.

And over the weekend, I found myself wondering the following: if I was starting to lose my mind, at what point – if any – would I realise? 

I ask this because on Sunday I inexplicably lost the following items within the confines of my small flat:

* 2 sausages, which I had carefully removed from the freezer to defrost

* 1 brand-new box of vitamins, critically important at this germ-ingesting time of year

* 2 concert tickets which had only just been delivered through the post

I searched for them with a level of incomprehension I had not felt since I heard that the winner of X Factor would be recording Leonard Cohen's Hallelujah

After an anxious hour, however, I had at least located the sausages. I had put them in the kitchen bin. Clearly this had seemed an entirely sensible thing to do at the time. Perhaps it was the squeamish carnivore in me wrestling for control and making a plea for a vegetarian life. 'You know you want to. You always breathe through your mouth when you're in the organic butcher's.' Or perhaps it is a Genuine Cause For Concern.

I'm sure the tickets and the vitamins will soon tumble out of a coat pocket or, in their silent, inanimate way, shout 'Surprise' when I innocently open a drawer in a few weeks' time. But still. What will come next?

I never care to align myself with any kind of Bridget Jones stereotype because she's stupid and annoying. I am, at least, not stupid. I don't consider that alsatians will end up eating me but this is based on the simple principles of probability. You just don't seem to see as many alsatians around any more. Perhaps that's because I live in London, or perhaps it's just that my perspective has shifted. Now, on the rare occasion that I do see an alsatian, I think 'Oh, a dog,' and instantly return to my default internal monologue about what my next meal might be. However, as a very small child, having been traumatically bitten by a tiny toy-sized Yorkshire terrier outside Bottisham post office, I would probably have seen a strapping alsatian and thought, 'An enormous beast as tall as a house! With teeth like sabres that could devour your arm like it was a Flake!' Even the idea of a Flake would not have stopped the beast haunting me day and night.

I am wandering off-topic. Another symptom. I must rest.

Monday, 8 December 2008

Hi, sorry I'm late...

This weekend, in rare moments of repose between the usual December clamour of social engagements, I have been discovering Randy Newman. All I can say is: why did no one tell me before?

Angelina Jolie recently said that it would be nice for her children to watch Mr & Mrs Smith and see their mother and father falling in love. Perhaps in the future my children will access some currently-undreamt-of digital storage device, read this and feel part of the moment that their mother fell in love with Randy Newman. Not that I anticipate marrying Randy Newman, although I understand he is on the market.

Of course I'm coming late to Randy's party. That, however, is showbusiness. It's one of the dispiriting, intimidating but totally thrilling things about popular culture. You think you've not just dipped your toe in the water, but have actually been having a really lovely swim for ages –no armbands, no touching the bottom – until someone points out a better pool that's been there all the time which you had no idea about, even though it was never very far away. This is a metaphor. I can't swim. But what I mean is, you can be going on about how much you love The XYZs, and then someone will say with maddeningly nonchalant authority, 'Oh, The XYZs? Well, then you must love The UVWs. What about that third album? Incredible.' And you have to confess that you've never heard of The UVWs, much less know how album three relates to albums two and one, although you could probably guess it's better than two, not as good as one, as that's the normal pattern. And you walk home studying your shoes wondering how such a band could possibly have passed you by. People often look at me aghast when I confess I have empty chairs in my musical parlour where, say, Led Zeppelin, Sonic Youth, Jimi Hendrix and David Bowie should be sitting. I'm starting to know a little of Bob Dylan, and am now embracing the wonder of Neil Young, with the encouragement of my hairdresser.

Still, with music, if you limit yourself to pop, you're only limping along trying to catch up on the last 50 years or so. When it comes to books, of course, you're on to a loser from the start. I'm an English graduate, raised by a good university, yet I have never read a whole book by Charles Dickens, Henry James, Virgina Woolf and hundreds of others.

But back to Randy Newman. Tch, you don't know Randy Newman? God! In seaching for a clip to post, I was bewildered by choice. I have no idea yet if this is the dumbest, most obvious example to present to you, as if I was to one day discover Nirvana and then type here, 'And they've got this song called Smells Like Teen Spirit and it's going to BLOW YOUR MINDS.' But maybe you'll forgive me because in this case – as Amy Gardner once said to Josh Lyman over a matter of balloon animals – I'm a beginner.

Thursday, 4 December 2008

My first ever Christmas cake. Judge me kindly


You will notice I have gone for simplicity in the arena of decoration. This is because:

 a) I am essentially a cack-handed imbecile when it comes to icing. However, I do believe that the deliberately uneven surface does quite vividly conjure up a snow-covered landscape, which is EXACTLY as I intended it.

b) I was in quite the hurry to wash a lot of red food dye off my hands. I looked like I had just killed a man.

Wednesday, 3 December 2008

The love song of Miss Jones

I have fallen in love with far more inanimate objects than I have human beings. I don't know why this is and I don't care to dwell on it. 

But I can tell you that I do have a 'type'. Clothes.

This week, I cannot stop thinking about the most beautiful black sleeveless cashmere cardigan from Whistles which I tried on at the weekend. It is £95. 

Now we are involved in a romantic, but as yet unconsummated relationship. I realised this as I replayed the widescreen film of us in my head for the 356th time, the one where we're walking together through the park, kicking up piles of autumn leaves with my Gap biker boots (which I thought I loved once, but which meant nothing as soon as I met the cardigan), and then fat drops of rain start to fall, and we run laughing through the shower to take shelter under an enormous tree because the cardigan is dry clean only. 

The fact is, I honestly love it. I mean it this time. I've never felt like this before. It's like I'm a better person when I'm with it. I'm the person I always wanted to be. I smile all the time, and only I know why. 

I'm finding myself defending it to concerned and sceptical friends with loyal, red-faced indignation. Yes, I know it's not much to look at, but you don't know it like I do. You don't know what it can do. I know it's out of my league, but we have so much in common. It would get on so well with all my other clothes. All those Primark cardigans meant nothing to me.

Yet still I am afflicted by a paralysing lack of nerve. With its upmarket price tag, I dare not quite reach out and make the move that would bring us together. So I have resolved to wait, and hope that the seductive excitement of the sale season will see me losing my inhibitions, and then it will tumble into, and then onto, my arms. But what if I do wait, and find it's too late? Someone else may snap it up while I was waiting in the shadows, worrying about trivialities like budget. I'll have lost it forever and will be left to think of what might have been. 

If you'll excuse me, I must go and lie on my bed and stare at a picture of it while listening to some soft-rock ballads.

Sunday, 30 November 2008

The Bleakley Midwinter


I feel sad that Christine has been ejected from Strictly Come Dancing. Her Latin dancing was flaccid, it's true, but she seems like a genuinely nice person.

However, as sweet, committed and gracious as she was, there were stronger forces working against Christine this week. 

1) The acting coach. Strictly afficionados know that when this particular joker is played, a dramatic transformation can be expected from any previously wooden contestant. It worked an actual, true, pre-Christmas miracle for Gethin Jones last year, to the extent where I found myself squealing out loud to no one but myself when he started doing this. Poor old Christine must have felt that finally, finally she could be teetering on the brink of a breakthrough when the producers told her, 'We've got an actress in who's really going to help you invoke the drama, passion and aggression of the tango,' only to feel her anticipation sliding back down into her shoes when the studio door opened and Felicity Kendal walked in. She's a fine actress, of course, who could teach you lots of valuable things about working with a headscarf or how to convince when affectionately scolding your lovably eccentric partner, but this particular lesson may not have seen the perfect meeting of task and tutor. Lady C, whom I watched the show with, quite correctly remarked that this represented a gross missed opportunity to welcome Stephanie Beacham back after her criminally truncated stint on the last series. At the very least, they could have splashed out on Kate O'Mara. 

2) The 'look'. Christine Bleakley is a natural beauty. Who could argue with that? Except, perhaps, the BBC's hair and make-up department who had apparently flicked through their Big Book Of Perversely Unnecessary Makeovers and decided to give her 'the Sarah Brightman'. 

3) The 'pep talk'. I'm honestly surprised Christine had any strength at all to contest the dance-off, having been patronised to within an inch of her life by Tess Daly, who thought it was appropriate to communicate with Christine, her undoubted intellectual superior, in the way an over-eager care worker might encourage a frail but good-natured nonagenarian in a care home. 'Now Christine, my little darling, we love that smile. Don't ever stop smiling.'  I'm not even making that up. It's a direct quote. 

Perhaps they would like to give Tess's job to Lisa Snowdon next year. Just an idea. But a GREAT ONE.

So really, Christine never had a chance. Still, I loved her at the last for breaking into a spot of impromptu Riverdancing during her farewell dance with Matthew. This ritual normally starts as a kind of school-disco slow-dance, and breaks into a slightly fumbled series of lifts before the other contestants can bear the awkwardness no longer and swarm around the ejected pair. I would have liked to see more of Christine and Matthew larking about like two drunken bridesmaids at a wedding reception. Ironically, I can't help feeling that if Christine had shown some of that spark and abandon during the cut and thrust of the competition, she might be dancing next week. 

Friday, 28 November 2008

Winter kitten

Loyal readers will recall my forehead flare-up after an unfortunate mismatch between the cold weather and an itchy hat. You may have assumed, as I did, that that particular chapter in my fascinating dermatological history had closed. However, as I was washing my hands in the ladies at work today, I looked up at the mirror and noticed, under the kind of harsh lighting that illuminates most public conveniences, that flakes of skin were liberating themselves from my forehead, and dropping like silent snowflakes on to my dress. A black dress, of course – all the better to show off the unsightly facial-dandruff blizzard. I was, at this point, relieved I was working on a downmarket celebrity rag this week, and not, say, Elle, where I might have had to hide my hideous physiognomy in the shadows like a Victorian freak as the dewy-skinned, pashmina-wrapped princesses of the style press swished past me.

I am counting my blessings. Imagine if I had to work outside every day. I would literally have no skin left on my face. It is all for the best that I am a soft-skinned, short-sighted, latter-day Edgar Linton who hunches over a computer all day cosseted by the warmth of central heating. My constitution would permit nothing more.



Tuesday, 25 November 2008

Hark The Herald Angels Singe

It has come to my attention that making a Christmas cake is about as much fun as you can have on your own. Within the lowly four walls of your kitchen, something magnificent is born from the humblest of beginnings. It's basically the Nativity story of the cake world. This must be why Christmas cakes are made at Christmas.

One of the great things about baking a Christmas cake is that it makes your house smell amazing. I'm not quite sure which part of the Nativity story this represents.

But anyway, I followed a star (I actually followed the recipe in the excellent Lost Gardens Of Heligan café cookbook, but there's nothing I like more than a metaphor stretched to the point of collapse, cf the incredible legal wordplay in Blue's All Rise. All together now: 'Objection overruled') and I turned these:

into this:


The astute among you will notice that it is – and this is a technical term – slightly burnt. However, I'm counting on the people I'm serving it to being too drunk to notice. If not, well, I think our Lord was no stranger to criticism either.

Next stop: marzipan.

Monday, 24 November 2008

Drama is conflict

I present to you an urban tragedy, wrought by a clash between old East Dulwich and new East Dulwich.

Lost Cath Kidston wellington boot in Somerfield.

Sunday, 23 November 2008

In which I learn a valuable lesson from Neville Southall

Here is a job I would like on a permanent basis: professional fete stallholder.

This is not the kind of full-time job to fund a wardrobe of couture clothes or serious gambling habit or growing collection of fabergé eggs. It is a job to have as a kind of absorbing hobby, while your investment banker husband works every hour and never sees his children awake, and your au pair makes the organic packed lunches. 

At the moment, what with having to pay my own mortgage, I am only on occasional work experience in the feting profession. After flirting with car-booting, I fell in love with the world of the stallholder in the summertime, helping out my godmother at a community fete in central London, close to several hospitals. Almost all the classic elements were there – ballet display by local youth group, adult-education belly-dancers, stalls selling Reader's Digest Cookery Books and unloved ornaments, and an ageing rock band called Bloodless Coup. All that was missing was a member of the clergy and a guess the weight of the cake competition. To quote Craig Revel-Horwood, I LOVED it.

I am lucky, in many respects, that I work with people who are mostly my own age. In any office situation I go into, it is very unlikely there will be anyone there more than 8 years younger or older than me. By laws of proportion which I have just made up, but which I believe to be basically sound, I will get on with 80% of them, have plenty in common with 60% and could conceivably become properly great, lasting friends with 40%. 

It's an absolute boon for one's social life, of course, but you do forget what it's like to talk to people who are not wearing patent shoe-boots or Converse. But throw yourself into the fete milieu and there you are behind the ramparts of your trestle, one hand on your float, the other gripping a polystyrene cup of grey tea, with the world growing bigger and wider before your very eyes. You're selling jam to chalky-faced old ladies in too-bright lipstick, and discussing cake with father-and-son duos, any one of whom is pushing the other in a wheelchair. It is highly unlikely that any of these people have heard of Agyness Deyn, and you love them all the more for it. Their mere proximity is surprisingly exciting and you find yourself thrilling! to a hitherto unknown sense of community and embracing! the rich diversity of the human race.

Anyway, yesterday I was mostly embracing the rich diversity of middle-class three-wheeled-buggy-pushers in East Dulwich, helping my friend Miss L sell her excellent cards and Christmas decorations from a stall on the main street on the coldest day of the year, for six hours. I spent more consecutive minutes wearing a woolly hat than I ever have in my life before, I believe. And the cruel machinations of time taught me a lesson, which is that my hat is really, really itchy. At frequent intervals, I found myself rubbing it violently across my forehead and down my  cheeks in a manic attempt to relieve the irritation, like a dog gradually rubbing away its own fur. As a result, by about 10 o'clock last night, I had an angry red rash right across the top half of my face, thrown into even more dramatic relief by the regular pallor of the bottom half of my face. In a desperate attempt at remedial action, I went to bed last night with my face covered in a thick white layer of E45 cream, like someone answering the door unexpectedly to their love interest in a romantic comedy. Incredibly, no love interest at all rang my doorbell last night. I'm not sure what this means. Probably it means my doorbell is broken.

What does this mean for my future in feting? It means that I will apply a thick layer of Vaseline all over my face before putting on my hat, like Neville Southall slathering his eyebrows with it before taking to his goal. You never saw his forehead smarting scarletly.

Luckily, things had calmed down immeasurably redface-wise by the time I got the bus to Crystal Palace for lunch with my friend, Nurse W, today. On the way, the bus drove past a grass verge where I saw a grey squirrel in curiously close proximity to a magpie. Ten metres further on, I saw exactly the same scenario once again – squirrel, magpie, proximity. It was like I had stumbled across some kind of animal-kingdom partner-swapping party. It made me feel a bit weird.
 

Saturday, 22 November 2008

Schwing!

One of the pictures below is a detail from a fashion story in the latest issue of British Elle. One is a detail from Wayne's World. Can you guess which is which?


Extreme close-up!

Wednesday, 19 November 2008

Victim Of Geography

It has come to my attention that my expensive new coat, which I believed made me look (from the neck down at least) like Mariella Frostrup at the Hay-On Wye-festival actually makes me look like a middle-aged geography teacher on a field trip. 

Luckily my love of the cagoule and its related garments is sufficiently strong that I can withstand the force of this blow.

And perhaps that is what I'm meant to be doing with the rest of my life. Finally I have glimpsed my future in mirrors and shop windows. I will go forth and spread the gospel of the ox-bow lake.

Tuesday, 18 November 2008

Female, 34, GSOH, seeks vocation

One of my old friends who I caught up with at the weekend was telling me that he is finding the career break he has embarked upon something of a challenge. He is struggling with the concept of being paid reasonably well for a menial job that barely strokes his brain with a tiny feather, let alone taxes it, and allowing his nervous fibres to gradually cease their twitching and have a lovely rest.

This is a man who has been grafting away in local politics for about 15 years with little break and scant reward because he thinks it matters, not because he wants power, status and shinier brogues. Prior to this, he felt compelled to pursue a career in the church. Now that he is actually taking a break from relentlessly working for the benefit of others, he finds himself unable to settle into what the rest of us might call an easy life. Apparently, in his world, there is simply nothing to be done but help people. Even now, when he is trying his very best to submerge himself in a restorative daily routine of drinking tea and making necklaces out of paper clips, he hears the calling to good works over the jangle of the workplace radio.

What is this calling? I listen for it everywhere, but I only hear train announcements, other people's one-sided mobile phone calls and the bubble of fluid in my ears (I have had a cold). I am a procrastinator and a ditherer, and envious of anyone who feels with utter conviction that they must heal/preach/sing/dance/rescue/sculpt/build/other. I mean, I get annoyed when people punctuate poorly, but I can't say I'd lay down my life in order that the world could finally learn the difference between its and it's. I like to write, but I'm not one of those from whom the words pour out with all the force of molten lava heading downhill to Pompeii. In contrast to my friend, I believe I could quite easily make a career out of taking a career break. In fact that is precisely what I've been doing for two and a half years. 

Perhaps, on my way home one dark evening, I will suddenly notice an old-fashioned streetlamp lighting my way to a vocation. Perhaps I will not. Still, I continue to listen and look out for it. And last night, I dreamt that I was being sold a ukelele by Len Goodman, so perhaps there are some clues there from which I may divine my path.

Monday, 17 November 2008

Next stop: stress-related sick leave

I spent the weekend visiting friends in Leeds. On my outward train journey, we were treated to an impassioned monologue from a ticket inspector who I suspect may have been struggling with his sense of corporate loyalty and job satisfaction. This is a short extract (caps lock indicates booming tones of undiluted Yorkshire):

'GOOD AFTERNOON, LADIES AND GENTLEMEN. WELCOME TO NATIONAL EXPRESS, THE NATION'S FINEST RAIL SERVICE PROVIDER. I HOPE YOU'RE ENJOYING YOUR JOURNEY. CAN YOU TELL I'VE BEEN ON A CUSTOMER SERVICE COURSE? YOU ARE NO LONGER MY PROBLEMS, LADIES AND GENTLEMAN, YOU ARE MY SOLUTIONS. [Breaking off to look with pity and scepticism at one passenger's ticket] GOOD LUCK IN GRANTHAM, SIR.'

Friday, 14 November 2008

Three chords and a stick-on ponytail

I cannot help it. I  have a guilty well of fascination for any truly brazen fraudster. I would never suggest they didn't deserve their punishment, or that what they were doing was to be encouraged, but as someone who's permanently apologetic and slightly nervous, their audacity astounds me.

Some months ago, I discovered the extraordinary story of Gene Morrison, who set himself up as a forensic scientist and faked a career from it, having completed his qualifications at the University Of Owning Lots Of CSI DVDs. My favourite part of his scientific methodology was his 'lie detector' machine, which was actually just a normal computer. He would decide himself whether he thought an investigatee was lying, then press a button so the word 'false' would flash up on the screen.

Today, on the way home, I read in London Lite the story of a man who was impersonating Francis Rossi from Status Quo. I am quoting the newspaper directly here, as their words need no elaboration (Is this plagiarism? I don't know, but let me attempt to counter it by saying that the London Lite is a marvellous free newspaper. Of all the free evening newspapers in London, it's in the Top 2):

"The trickster promised Dover's town councillors that he would perform free at their festival with his 'friends' Sir Paul McCartney, Charlotte Church and Queen's Brian May. 

The council was duped into letting him judge a carnival float competition and attend a VIP event at Dover Castle.

There were inconsistencies which could have given the game away. Like why the conman did not possess a Francis Rossi-style ponytail, or why he could not play the guitar. According to reports, the man claimed: 'I can't grow my hair long any more. A fake ponytail is stuck on three hours before a gig.' Asked to play the band's hit Rockin' All Over The World, he declined, saying he had arthritis."

I don't know what lesson we can learn here apart from, if you didn't realise it before, you should never, ever trust a man in matching denim jacket and jeans.

Yes sir, I can be the 34th president of the United States

I had my lunch in Grosvenor Square today with two friends and 794 pigeons. The square is essentially the back garden of the US embassy, and after I had finished my Square Pie from Selfridges (lamb and rosemary, 6.5 out of 10), I saw this statue of Dwight Eisenhower:


Mr Eisenhower's jaunty stance is an unconventional pose for a leader of men immortalised in statuedom. 

Let's be honest. It's a bit camp.

I was half-expecting petrified President Eisenhower to lurch into life and entertain passers-by with a chorus of Yes Sir, I Can Boogie

Perhaps someone could scale his nobel frame under cover of night and drape a pink feather boa around his neck.

Tuesday, 11 November 2008

The hardest word

I am blogging from my bedroom, which I'm not allowed to leave until I've thought about what I've done. That is a metaphor. I'm actually in the sitting room. I'm watching Newsnight and I've just had a small bowl of Special K. But I digress.

My mum has told me off for swearing on my blog. She said I am 'doing a Gordon Ramsay'. I know this is not an appreciative reference to my culinary skillz. 

Someone who may or may not be Gary Kemp has told me off for being rude about Gary Kemp. 

To summarise, I have essentially been told by two different people (unless my mum has decided to begin masquerading as the former Spandau songwriter, which would involve quite a lifestyle change on her part) to stop showing off. At my own birthday party (another metaphor, English GCSE scholars), I have been told to go and lie down upstairs with a flannel on my forehead and just calm down.  

I am chastened. Furthermore, I have a cold. This is not a metaphor. But it is, perhaps, karma.

David Crystal, awesomely bearded linguist and writer of at least one of my university textbooks, is discussing apostrophes on Newsnight. He has a very progressive approach to punctuation. I think I love him.  

Sunday, 9 November 2008

'Just another play for today...'

In other Mariella Frostrup news, I caught a glimpse of her on the Sky Arts channel late this afternoon. I was excited to discover that the Sky Arts channel is part of my regular Sky subscription, and not some kind of premium package which requires you to present a dozen used ticket stubs from the Royal Opera House and an empty bottle of new-season olive oil in order to have the signal unscrambled. Amazing, I thought. Perhaps, later this evening, I might enjoy a documentary on Carole King, or a Beach Boys concert from the 70s, or a classic episode of The South Bank Show about Philip Larkin. But no. 

Tonight on Sky Arts, it is Gary Kemp night. 

I've got nothing against Gary Kemp. I never minded Spandau Ballet. They were no Duran Duran, OBVIOUSLY. But I enjoy Gold whenever I hear it played on a commercial radio station in the workplace, and I remember quite the stir about his performance in The Krays

However, as cultural polymaths qualified to curate an evening's high-brow televisual smorgasbord go, he's no Dr Jonathan Miller. He's no Stephen Fry. He's no David Bowie. I'm not even sure he's David Hasselhoff. No offence, Gaz, but come on...

In which I attempt to show some respect but then immediately undermine myself with the usual twee trivia

Two important events on the world calendar which seem to regularly intersect on this day each year are the Remembrance Sunday commemorations at the Cenotaph, and my dear friend Miss R's birthday lunch. Today, as last year, I found myself walking out of Charing Cross Station against the mighty tide of former servicemen, their families, and random respect-payers, all of them engaged in a) taking photos b) effecting some kind of impressive near-march, even when at ease and c) looking extraordinarily proud and dignified. This year, as last year, it was all I could do not to arrive at lunch with my cheeks sluiced with tears and mascara. 

I was momentarily distracted, though, from my feelings of privileged youth, sadness and inadequacy by the glorious sight of a handsome young man arm-in-arm with a very frail elderly serviceman. I know not what their relationship was – grandson and grandfather, younger military man assigned to mind an older one for the day, neighbours perhaps – but, with numbing predictability, it did make me fall in love with Serviceman Jr a bit. 

Let me flailingly attempt to convince you that this should in no way detract from my respect and admiration for Those Who Served. I'm just being honest – which is one of the worst ever excuses used by people who habitually say utterly repellant things.

But still, it did make me think how ridiculously impressionable I am when it comes to such acts of perceived kindness and dotherightthing-ness. I could never imagine buying a calendar with photographs of brawny, built beefcakes, but I would be first in the queue for one that featured skinny/paunchy/balding/hirsute/geeky/freaky/average men involved in acts of charity and compassion. Naturally, I would be inviting today's hero (yes, yes, one of many, of course) to be Mr November, but I'm hastily brainstorming in anticipation of the others. I'm thinking:
  • Man doggedly rattling charity collection tin outside supermarket in driving rain.
  • Man carrying suitcase down very long tube escalator for elderly lady, struggling to disguise the fact that even he is finding it really fucking heavy.
  • Bus driver waiting for infirm geriatric to find a seat and sit down safely in it before flooring the accelerator.
  •  The man who jumped onto the railway tracks at East Dulwich station one morning to rescue my Birkenstock after it had fallen there during a train-boarding bundle from which I emerged very much the loser.
  • Man grinning broodily at stranger's baby on public transport.
  • Man giving up seat on bus/train/other for someone not necessarily over 80/nine months pregnant.
  • Man with cat in vet's waiting room, clearly about to cry at any moment. Actually, this might be a bit weird.
I am thinking a reality show. I am thinking a feature film. Mugs! Tea towels! Christ! I am sitting on a goldmine. But you understand I would obviously be donating all proceeds to charity.

Anyway, after lunch, I can only presume that a residual surge of hormones was responsible for me splashing out a ludicrous amount of money on what I can only describe as a Non-Essential Coat. I had put some money aside for a proper non-H&M, non-Primark, actually warm winter coat. By this I mean I had put the money aside in my head. By this I mean I hadn't put any actual, real money aside at all and had carried on frittering it away as usual on trifles. Real and metaphorical. So there was no money for a Proper Winter Coat, let alone money for a flimsy but incredibly chic mac that was also a little bit like a parka, but was unlikely to stand up to a light shower, let alone snow. But that's what I bought.

In my defence, however, a) I had liked it for ages – like, at least three weeks – and b) it is in no way modish or destined to be totally unwearable next season. Therefore, to invoke Shopping Lies We Tell Ourselves No. 426, it is An Investment. Another boon is that when I am wearing it, I feel as though I am channelling Mariella Frostrup at the Hay-On-Wye festival. All I need is a pair of Cath Kidston wellies, and my own Radio 4 show cannot be far away.

Wednesday, 5 November 2008

Stratford, Sweden, sweet dreams

I have returned from a few days away in Stratford Upon Avon, with Mrs Jones and David Tennant. Unlikely companions, but welcome, both. I can report that David Tennant has shiny hair, ladies' fingers and enough nervous energy to power most of the developed world. He is also pretty good at playing Hamlet. Patrick Stewart, who we saw leaving the theatre by the back door, may be a colossus of the stage, and one of the nation's most attractive 68-year-olds, but sadly, even he is powerless to resist the kind of leather blouson jacket so curiously beloved of his peer group.

Now I have returned to the capital, as reluctantly as ever. 

Sometimes, like defrosting the freezer compartment or visiting the dentist, there is simply nothing to be done but to go to IKEA. Today was such a day. My windows needed blinds, my pictures needed frames, my heavy heart needed lifting – I felt little optimism about any of the above.

Who are all the people wandering around IKEA in the daytime? They cannot all be like me – driven to part-time work by bereavement and illness, yet now rejoicing in its flexibility, if not its financial rewards. If any of them are unemployed, they should really think about getting jobs in IKEA, then maybe their once-fellow customers would be able to find someone to fucking well help them once in a while, instead of being condemned to wander around like severed souls in purgatory, driven mad by the incessant drumming of rain on the store roof and the repeated grating of one's achilles by the inferior trolley control of whoever walks behind.

IKEA did little this afternoon to alter its reputation as perpetual purveyor of disappointment. In short, and you will not be surprised by this, my windows still need blinds and my pictures still want for frames. My heart remains unchanged, except…

I could not bear a grey, empty-handed trudge back across the tarmac to the tram stop. So I bought a Christmas tree – a declassé plastic number, chemically engineered to engender neither showers of pine needles nor tears of joy and excitement. Its best feature was that it came in a long, oblong cardboard box with a handle down one of its long sides. It made me feel that I might be carrying something wildly more intriguing inside than an ugly IKEA Christmas tree. To begin with, it was a musical instrument (this reminded me of a dream I'd had the night before in which I was dining at The Ivy with my mum and Chris Martin), and I was on my way into town to play at the Royal Albert Hall, or the Royal Opera House, or in fact any of the city's exciting Royal venues. People would almost certainly be throwing flowers onto the stage, and I would receive visitors in my dressing room wearing a silk kimono and a turban. 

By the time I was back at East Croydon Station, I was carrying a lethal weapon, of which I was the sole trained operator, and with which I would single-handedly eradicate a cartel of Really Evil Badness. 

As we passed through Norwood Junction on the train, I was carrying a box containing a tiny Chinese gymnast who I was smuggling away from her inhumanly strict coaches.

I reside in a fantasy world of my own creating, clearly. An hour or so earlier, I had been scolded by the cashier in the IKEA cafe for dreamily dilly-dallying while he was waiting for my pin number, and the bickering couples in the queue behind were waiting to eat their meatballs. 'You're in IKEA now, you know,' he said, with the mildest suggestion of a threat and a faint echo of The Wizard Of Oz (the way you're directed around IKEA by an arrowed path always reminds me of the yellow brick road). 

In the unlikely event that any of my fellow passengers on the journey home had been speculating as to what was inside the cardboard box that actually contained a cheap plastic Christmas tree, the picture of a cheap plastic Christmas tree on the side may have given it away. 

But still, I'm saying that today of all days was a time to rejoice in the power of dreams. 

Saturday, 1 November 2008

You dancin' with me? Who the hell else are you dancin' with?

Tom, Tom, Tom. Your stubble is super. We admire your work with the cape. We love how much you love your new wife. We adore your homoerotic rivalry with Austin Healey. Generally, we thrill to your every dancing step.

But most of all, we are impressed by how long you can hold the face people make when they're doing a bad impression of Robert De Niro.

Friday, 31 October 2008

In which I question the motives of someone who gives me two free bars of chocolate on Halloween

Some days, it rains and you leave your gloves on the train. But others days, someone gives you some free chocolate. This morning, as I was leaving London Bridge Station, some out-of-work drama graduate pushed two Cadbury's Creme Egg Twisted bars into my frozen corned-beef-mottled hands. A Twisted bar – for the confectionary-shy – is essentially six small, conjoined Creme Eggs, mutated and moulded into a kind of Cadbury's Caramel formation. And I was given two! For free! Imagine! I don't have to! IT ACTUALLY HAPPENED.

But wait, I thought, as I shivered my way to the office. This is Halloween. A time for spooky omens, half-hearted celebration and macabre events. Could it be that my evil nemesis (I must surely have one, otherwise I would undoubtedly be living in an airy three-storey townhouse by the seaside, with a devoted husband, several photogenic children and limitless personal wealth by now) had poured their shadowy, shifting form into a branded fleece and pressed into my hand a novelty chocolate item laced with poison. Having hired men in overcoats and sunglasses to watch my behaviour for months through magic binoculars, they knew I would be drawn like a magpie to the glinting foil wrapper, and that within a few hours their malevolent cocktail of sloth, envy, insecurity and a glass and a half of full cream milk would be coursing through my delicate veins, and I would once again spend a profitless evening lying on my sofa murmuring 'the seaside... the children, must do something, have to achieve stuff... ooh! Top Model's on.'

But no. Back on the street, I chastised myself for being so pessimistic. Honestly, I'm such a Capricorn. I turned to the power of positive thought in an attempt to render my free chocolate a gesture motivated by goodness.

Eating any kind of Creme Egg product presents a challenge to one's inhibitions. Like the modern-day equivalent of the ladies of Cranford and their oranges, eating a Creme Egg generally requires you to desert any sense of decorum. Your options are equally suggestive. Do you penetrate the furthest reaches of the shell's interior with a probing tongue, or do you take a short series of hungry bites and risk a chin dripping with fondant? It's a dilemma that the coy may rather resolve in private. This morning, I decided to believe that kindly old Mr Cadbury had rained Twisted bars onto the commuters of south London in an attempt to provoke an orgy of sensuous and delighted chocolate consumption, knowing it would ripple (not a Ripple, that's different) outward until passengers felt their inner passions stirred to such a degree that they began embracing not their chocolate egg products, but each other. Commuters who had sat in rigid, tortured silence, desperate for a small measure of human contact, preferably with that anonymous but adored person they sat opposite every day, felt liberated  enough to draw a stranger into a spontaneous yet not unwelcome embrace.

If you watch the deleted scenes from Amelie, this actually happens.

Tuesday, 28 October 2008

Yes!

If you have been wondering about the outcome of this, let me bring some joy to your late-afternoon Tuesday and tell you that she said yes.

You can read all about it, as newspaper sellers say in the movies and no one says in real life, and watch the actions of a very brave man, here. Stay with it to the end for the Actual Down On One Knee Moment in glorious Technicolor

In other Sainsbury's news, I queued up next to Lorraine Chase today in the Dog Kennel Hill branch. She likes very expensive muesli, and so do I. I think we're going to be excellent friends.

Sunday, 26 October 2008

Everything starts with an E

Now that the clocks have changed, it's creeping towards the time of year when people who honestly believe these things are important start making lists of their favourite records of the year. I can never remember what was released from one year to the next, but I am both sure and certain that in 2008 I have loved Vampire Weekend a lot.

I have just returned from seeing them at the Kentish Town Forum and, despite the Sunday Evening Special obstacle course set for us by London Transport, the evening was a wild success.

Vampire Weekend's singer is the kind of hyper-literate, curly-haired college boy that's catnip to the likes of me. In particular, I love the way he sings with his head slightly inclined, earnestly annunciating his lyrics, and occasionally employing a wagging finger for emphasis, as though he is reading a story to a group of infants sitting on a carpet in front of him. He is a veteran of 23, an age I consider Perfectly OK for a crush object. It is genuinely and biologically impossible that I could be his mother.

Other excellent things about him: 1) his name is Ezra 2) his band performed a cover of Everywhere by Fleetwood Mac which could have charmed the imaginary birds off the non-existent trees.

E is for Ezra. E is for Everywhere. E is for excellent.

Thursday, 23 October 2008

'They call us lonely when we're really just alone'

A few years ago, if you'd asked me, I'd never have believed I'd become a fan of Mariella Frostrup. Yet now, every time I remember to read any Sunday newspapers, I always find myself nodding, serious-eyebrowed, in agreement with her words of advice – and never more so than this week, when she was extolling the importance of learning to love your own company. I'm a big advocate of this. In fact, I'm a borderline hermit. I like to think that this is congenital, and not a result of singledom or a serious lack of options (although we are all in the business of spinning these elaborate webs of self-deception, just to get along). I have shame-faced memories of making Mrs Jones tell kids from the other end of the street that her 6-year-old daughter wasn't coming out to play with them, and understanding, even at that young age, how social convention prevented her from elaborating that I preferred to stay in doing colouring and listening to my brother's Disney record on my own.

At the weekend, I went to see Glen Campbell at the Royal Festival Hall. On my own. No one I knew was as excited as I was about him, or willing to pay £30 for a cheap seat. And my thinking in this situation is always: Go on your own = slightly tragic. Miss out completely as a result of cultural ignorance of your friends and relations = full-blown tragedy. So there I was, with a booking for one. 

The Festival Hall, however, is very single-friendly. It's easy to sit on your own in your individually allocated seat, reading a newspaper while you wait for the lights to go down, browsing the bookshop during the interval, buying a flapjack (I enjoyed the fact that the queue for tea at a Glen Campbell concert is every bit as long as the queue for the bar. I finally felt I was among people who understood me) without eliciting a single pitying glance. I imagine it to be a very different experience standing in the middle of Brixton Academy nursing a Jack Daniels and Coke to your lonely self and pretending that, really, you're absolutely fine with it and you just feel so much closer to the music if you don't have to make smalltalk with someone about whether it's worth getting trebles at the bar because the queues are an absolute farce. (I developed a fleeting girl-crush on someone I once saw on her own reading a book in the bar of the Astoria, in the interval between I forget which support band and headline act. I thought she was both braver and better-dressed than I. I'm good, but I'm not that good.)

But still, as normal and well-adjusted as I am, radiating boldness and serene independence as I do, there are some people who go to concerts alone who are – let's just get it out there – freaks (although, of course, no more than you find in any medium-sized gathering of humanity). One of them was sitting a couple of rows in front of me and Mrs Jones (not the song etc) when we went to see Brian Wilson at the same venue a year or so ago. Every time he stood up to applaud, which was about four times throughout the set, his trousers fell down, exposing his withered, milky-white bare buttocks to the rows behind. I do, and I must, cleave rigidly to the belief I have nothing in common with this kind of music fan. 

There was a similar specimen (although buttoned and belted, as far as I could see) sitting in my seat, Balcony N9, on Sunday night. I couldn't put my finger on why, but something about him was sending my brain the clear instruction 'Do not approach, Do not initiate discussion. Kindred Spirit not detected'.  As a result, I chose not to remonstrate with him. And as luck would have it, the balcony was so sparsely booked that I could sit in virtually any seat apart from the one I was actually meant to be using. I found another one, and sat in my deliciously dark corner, totally rapt for two hours. I have to say that it was an early night. Glen had stepped off stage and into his satin slippers by 9.30. But let's give him a break, he is 72. And he gave us this, which was worth the ticket price alone.



(It was a toss-up whether to post this or By The Time I Get To Phoenix. They were equally sublime. But I cried real tears at The Wichita Lineman.)