Thursday, 31 July 2008

Eight more days

There is a millipede of excitement crawling around inside me. Sometimes it sleeps, and then sometimes, when I've forgotten about it, I feel it wriggling around my stomach, or its many legs scuttling up and down my spine. And then I remember what it is, and why it's there.


It is 8 days to the Opening Ceremony, to be precise. More than cream-coloured ponies and crisp apple strudels, the Olympics are a few of my favourite things. Since the first games I can remember – Los Angeles in 1984 – I've waited impatiently for them to come around again every four years, and light up the Jones world like a comet. I might no longer meticulously fill in the wallcharts and Olympic-themed scrapbooks I used to when I was 10, but metaphorically, I'm not so far away at all.

We were talking about the Games at work today, and the lovely Sophie who I was sitting next to asked if anyone remembered Animalympics, a feature-length animated film from 1980 about – wait, yes – animals competing in their own Olympics. Of course I did. I loved it. It was shown on TV at intervals throughout our youth, whenever a Games was on the horizon,or at the occasional Easter or Christmas. It had slapstick. It had brilliant satire on TV sports coverage. It had awesome sequences set to music, which I now know was composed by the bass player from 10CC. The rights to Animalympics seem to be in the clutches of Disney and, while a DVD release is promised for 2010, it seems unlikely that it will be shown on non-premium-rate TV any time soon. But luckily, there are people in this world who care enough about Animalympics and YouTube to be able to bring the two together and make the world a better place – for you and for me and the entire human race.

Rejoice. Our children will be able to watch Animalympics. We will almost certainly win something in Beijing. And here is a taste of turn-of-the-80s animation in all its beautiful, bonkers glory. These can of course contribute towards your three-a-day happiness count. I'm here to help.

Wednesday, 30 July 2008

Three steps forward, two steps back

If, like me, you read or occasionally work on mid-brow, middle-youth women's magazines, you will have come across many articles about how to achieve the state of happiness. Real, genuine, inner, total, spiritual, lasting, you-may-no-longer-need-to-read-women's-magazines happiness. The kind that sees you pictured on the page in soft focus, a low sun behind you, your hair well-conditioned, some kind of organic white cotton dress on and an ecstatic, God-I-am-just-so-amazingly-happy!-Look-at-me-and-how-happy-I-am smile on your face. This, the articles claim, is happiness that propels you skywards above trivial concerns like fretting that your toddler can't count from one to ten in French, or worrying whether you should be tipping your cleaning lady.

A constant in these features is a menu of tips from happy women, who are inevitably successful start-up businesswomen or celebrities who Have It All. And one of the tips invariably tells you to think of three good things that have happened to you that day. It's count your blessings for the noughties. Over the last couple of years, I've been amazed to actually find myself doing this. I am congenitally hostile to the literature of self-help, but this advice somehow disarmed me. 

So today, I had lunch with a new friend (1), I had a lovely comment on this blog (2), and my friend Stuart did clever and artistic things with some ideas we have for world domination (3).

When you consider that the lunch took place in Leon, it's actually four things. Christ, maybe I am actually happy. But then, with perfect dramatic timing, the bad news snuck its arm around me to chloroform my good spirits. Firstly, I discovered, purely by accident, that a lovely friend of mine has been quietly, but horribly, unhappy. Then, secondly – and this is a detached, random sort of sadness – I read that Father Adelir Antonio de Carlo was confirmed dead, his remains discovered off the coast of Brazil a couple of weeks ago. I hope that history remembers him. I will. Father Adelir Antonio de Carlo had lifted off three months earlier, elsewhere in Brazil, attached to 1000 helium balloons. He was attempting to break a world record and raise the money to build a rest shelter for local truck drivers. A previous attempt, with half as many balloons, had seen him blown over the border into Argentina. This time he had packed with him an array of all-weather clothing, cereal bars and communication devices – all of which signified that this would, more likely than not, End Badly. Yet our hero's conviction didn't waver, and he was not to be talked down into coffee mornings, jumble sales and other more pedestrian endeavours. It seems a quaintly old-fashioned kind of martyrdom, and although the outcome was, of course, no surprise, it still adds a weight or two onto an already  heavy heart.

And it means that I'm now only +2 happiness. Or am I? It seems wholly inappropriate that a nice lunch is the perfect inverse of a friend's bad fortune. The latter should be far more significant. Even counting triple, I'd be, at best, back to zero. And that's if Father De Carli's death only counts as -1. The women's magazines don't explain this. I should obviously be thankful that I'm still technically in the black, happiness-wise, and start counting again tomorrow.

Monday, 28 July 2008

Lions and terriers and bears

It was quite the cultured weekend. On Friday I went to see The Wizard Of Oz at the Royal Festival Hall. There is lots to recommend it – some adorable animation used to convey effects and scenery which were beyond the physical limitations of the venue; some nice dancing; Roy Hudd. On the other hand, there were sluggish lighting cues, microphones turned on seconds too late, and Dorothy didn't really nail The Big Number. But any kind of review is basically rendered irrelevent by two things:

1) Toto was played by an ACTUAL REAL-LIFE DOG. Pity the actors, emoting and pratfalling and turning their musical theatre tricks, only to be comprehensively upstaged by a small waggy West Highland terrier who does his own stunts – which included, and would mostly seem to be limited to, running across the stage, and then running back again – guided by a homing device made from doggy chocs.

2) It is impossible to not have fun at any production of The Wizard Of Oz. It is like Joseph and it is like Guys And Dolls. They could be massacred by the world's least gifted amateur dramatics troupe, yet you would still leave saying 'Wow, those guys were great!' all because they were so indecently well served by their material.

A few years ago I had a go on one of those children's miniature trampolines, and I thought to myself 'This is amazing! They should give these to people with depression. You can't be unhappy bouncing up and down like this.' Unless, of course, you are operating beneath a particularly low ceiling.

[In a rare outburst of earnestness I should say that, in light of these last two posts, it may seem as if I have a somewhat cavalier approach to mental health. I would like to assure you that this is not at all the case. No punchline.]

To borrow from A A Milne, I think nobody can be uncheered by a trampoline. And maybe it's just me, but I also believe nobody can be uncheered by Follow The Yellow Brick Road. It just makes you want to beam, and clap your hands together like the precocious inhabitants of a sea-life centre.

Sunday, 27 July 2008

Who's that girl?

Today I have been to the Doctor Who prom at the Royal Albert Hall. While it was an event principally aimed at matchmaking young children and classical music, Miss W and I decided it was our right to fight the prejudice against childless women in their 30s and just damn well go along ourselves. We were not alone in our struggle. Power to the middle class, unfertilised and, in a surprisingly significant number of cases, overweight geekhood! There was much to reward plucky adult and child alike. Martha! Mickey and Jackie! Daleks! Cybermen! Oods! Sontaran! Surprise appearance by Donna! A man playing the biggest drum you've ever seen! Davros rising through the floor on his pimped up mobility scooter!

As you can imagine, I left the building emotionally drained, so I reasoned that I probably deserved lunch at Harvey Nichols. I had the papers for company, but I couldn't really concentrate, since the people-watching is so compulsive at HN. Half an hour simply slid away while I was waiting for one Sophia Loren-alike's forehead to move. Is that swarthy, sunsoaked, vest-wearing twentysomething her hired lover? Her gay tennis coach? Her metrosexual stylist? Or d) all of the above? Is that Rita Tushingham or just a posh Cheshire housewife on a weekender? 

I wondered if anyone was doing the same to me. Why is that woman dining alone? Has she been stood up? I like her shoes. But why is she so incredibly pale? And then I looked down at my bare arms and noticed the localised chafing caused by carrying a WH Smith bag (a very inferior plastic bag – you could say it's a worthy green incentive, yet they have always been useless) weighed down by Sunday broadsheets and their rainbow family of supplements. And I realised that what they were probably thinking, if anything, was that I had been self-harming. 

'Poor girl. And the waiter just left the knife on the table. Right in front of her.'

And one more thing – while I knew Harvey Nichols was not positioned right on the serrated blade of the cutting edge, I was still surprised to hear The Power Of Love by Jennifer Rush power-balladeering its way across the cafe. Mary Portas would not stand for that, surely?

Tuesday, 22 July 2008

Celebrity sums

In the absence of absolutely anything on telly worth watching on a weeknight, yesterday I watched Pal Joey from the Sky+ library which I have been carefully curating for just such a cultural famine. I think it's the first film I've seen with Rita Hayworth and, to be honest, I couldn't really see what the fuss is all about.

She seemed to be a combination of this:

and this:

In end-of-the-world news, I have seen a suspicious number of giant ants today, in various parts of London. It's the apocalypse, of course, just so you're in the loop. 

Sunday, 20 July 2008

It's the most wonderful time of the year

This has been the most important weekend in the south-east London calendar. For this weekend it was the Lambeth Country Show, which is exactly what it promises to be – a country show just a few hundred yards from Brixton. Hay-on-Wye has books and Mariella Frostrup in wellies; Sussex has Glyndbourne; Goodwood has, like, Goodwood, which is apparently glorious. We have sheep-shearing, falconry displays, an eardrum-corroding sound system, owls, and the Labour Party selling bric-a-brac.

Where else would you see children milking a simulated wooden cow? Or hard-faced, shorn-skulled army cadets with tattoos on their necks enthusing over a stall selling fudge in all the colours of God's beautiful rainbow? All this at the same time as you're enjoying a wholemeal bap bursting with farm sausages.

Every year, I have two favourite attractions at the LCS. The first is the aforementioned display of owls, beatifically enduring their less-than-desirable working conditions… 

…except for this one, my favourite, and clearly the old lag of the troupe. I love the way he looks so entirely full of contempt, quite as if standing on a plinth and being stared at by people ambitiously dressed in shorts is so utterly, utterly beneath him.

I think the owl concession may have changed hands in recent years. All this year's owl wranglers were kindly elderly men. In a previous year, I swear I remember a satanically red-faced 50-year-old barking at a toddler to stand back because 'THIS BIRD COULD KILL A CHILD.' I think he was let go.

And then there is the tent where you can thrill! at the best onions in show, gasp! at the first-prize bonsai trees, swoon! at the most superior baking and cross-stitch, and – best of all – be amazed! by the finest fruit and vegetable modellers in Lambeth and surrounding area. Let us begin with the children's class:

The tiny tortoise family on the left of the frame was declared the winner, but if you ask me, this penguin was swizzed.

Meanwhile, first place in the grown-ups' classification went to this effigy of a modern-day icon:

It beat this ambitious recreation of The Magic Roundabout:

I can only assume the sculptors lost points for painting on Zebedee's features with Tipp-Ex.

Saturday, 19 July 2008

Holiday... celebrate

On darker days, you may find me hunched over the dial on my digital Roberts Radio searching for a parallel broadcasting universe where the people who cover holiday leave for regular presenters actually present those programmes all the time.

This week I've been not working in someone else's office, but at home, busy writing The Miss Jones Memoirs (Deluxe Edition) – A Life In Lambswool. While staring into the middle distance, and sharpening and resharpening my pencils, I've been listening to Liza Tarbuck and Mark Radcliffe cover for SteveWrightInTheAfternoon on Radio 2. As some of you know, I would marry Mark Radcliffe, were he to ask, so you can imagine how happy I was to have him in my spare room chatting away of an afternoon, as if he were there in person knocking me up some shelves. I'm not familiar with SteveWrightInTheAfternoon's 'act' these days, but I'm reluctant to believe it has evolved sufficiently since the late 80s to better Mark Radcliffe enthusing about Leonard Cohen and Liza Tarbuck being more entertaining than almost any other female presenter on the radio without her raising a sweat/a sneer/her hemline/other.  Similarly, it is a happy, happy day when Adam and Joe present the 6 Music Breakfast Show, as they sometimes do when Shaun Keavney is away. Unfortunately my holidays coincide with Keavney's uncannily often – enough to make me wonder if I am actually married to him without somehow realising. And I return to work, and to early-a.m. radio, only to hear Keavney's taunting thank you to A&J for their stand-in services.

But naturally there is never pleasure without profound and grinding pain. And in this broadcasting Butlin's, Ruth Langford and Eamonn Holmes present This Morning. Forever. Less your shangri-la, more shangri-aaaarrgggghhhhhhhhh...

Thursday, 17 July 2008

Hey big spender

In addition to War And Peace and the works of Charles Dickens, one of the many noteworthy and cultish books I haven't read is The Bible. 

Yet recently I have been practising something that I understand from popular culture to be one of its tenets – turning the other cheek. I have been performing this gesture not in the face of hostility and aggression but in the face of items of clothing I cannot afford in a variety of high-street and online outlets.

Around two and half years ago, I dropped out of 'the system' – yeah, you heard me, stiffs – by giving up my middle-management job in magazine publishing. Shortly after, I turned back to 'the system' as it did pay quite well, but this time as a free agent, with my new-found sense of liberty tempered by a 30% pay cut. It's taken me about two and a half years to comprehend that this means I don't earn as much as I used to. These days I live – and this may shock some of you – on a budget.

I didn't really hit it off with that particular concept at the outset. But now we are actually becoming friends. And I believe I may now be turning not-buying into an art form. Just this afternoon I didn't buy a red cashmere cardigan on eBay. I bid (or bidded, as they don't say in America) for it, but with the serene security of knowing I would be outbid by a less zen, more profligate rival a few minutes later. I also not-bought a Whistles frock. I did then actually buy a dress in the Toast sale, but it was 70% off and what kind of chump would think it was smart not to buy that? I'm poor, not an idiot.

The mere idea that I don't have to buy absolutely everything I touch in a shop has come as something of a revelation. Apparently you're actually allowed to pick things up, then put them down again and walk away. Is this what everyone else has been doing all these years? Furthermore, I've discovered that, due to my prodigiously low boredom threshold, if I just hold something in my hand and walk around a shop for 10 to 15 minutes, by the time it comes to paying for it, I am already tired of its company and can put it back with a light heart. It's true, I live in a fashion microclimate where the seasons really do change that quickly. 'That's £45 you've saved,' I smirk to myself as I exit the shop, clad not in a costly new outfit, but the rosy glow of self-righteousness.

Not-buying also works if I technically do buy something, take it home, look at it for a while, then return it to the shop and get my money back. This actually feels to me like I'm making money. Last week, a hysterical episode induced by low blood sugar and the cancellation of all southbound Thameslink trains compelled me to comfort-buy this from New Look at Moorgate:

It is a nice dress. If you are Avril Lavigne – skinny, 23 and Canadian. I am 34 on the outside, 73 within, East Anglian and of no fixed gym routine. Therefore the dress is enjoying a mini-break only in my flat, holed up in its carrier bag, with only its receipt for company. It will return to the New Look mothership within 28 days. If I was a different person – not a Capricorn, for example, the squarest of all the signs – I could wear it out once, douse it in Fabreze, then brazenly take it back, with very light soiling, to the shop. This, however, is impossible, thanks to my uncanny ability to get jam on everything. Even if I have not eaten any jam. How does this happen? You cannot seek to explain a God-given gift.

Among the other things I am not-buying are a portfolio of property, at home and abroad, an aquarium of high-maintenance tropical fish and Cristiano Ronaldo, just to keep him locked up in a cupboard. It is surprisingly liberating. Join me.

Monday, 14 July 2008

Book club

I am in the thick of a new old book which I bought from a charity shop in Beckenham on Saturday. It has a marvellous title, which is Blood, Sweat & Tea, and is a collection of the blog posts of an ambulance driver working in East London [his blog can be found at]. He is funny, misanthropic and listens to The Magnetic Fields, which means that I am quite possibly in love with him. I can remember reading about the book when it came out, so I was pleased to cross it off my charity-shop book-buying bingo card, and at 3-for-£1 prices too. I began reading it on the way home, and it has forced me to cast aside Nineteenth Century American Short Stories, which is no mean feat when you consider I am right in the middle of Bartleby The Scrivener by Herman Melville which, frankly, is bloody brilliant.

I digress. If you have any friends or relatives who are paramedics, ambulance drivers or similar, you will know how endlessly fascinating their work-related stories are. (Not to them of course, but to the rest of us whose work consists of moving files around a computer, printing out bits of paper and talking to fellow drones whose work is also, in comparison to this flesh-and-blood, breathing/not breathing, total and genuine peril, utterly meaningless.)  This book is the same, for stupid and serious reasons. If you know how my dad died, you will understand why I find the chapters on responding to cardiac arrests particularly absorbing. And given the life-and-death nature of the subject matter, it is no surprise that a wealth of tiny profundities spring up across the pages. So far, I have been most unable to shake a chapter where the author is called to the house of an old lady whose neighbours have raised the alarm, believing her to be dead. The ambulance crew discover that, while she is undoubtedly checking out, she is still more or less breathing, albeit with increasing emphasis on the less. They go to work on her and our hero writes:

'She had little chance of recovery, but we hoped for it anyway. She fought for her life, and had probably been doing that for the whole of the night. Because of our actions, and the actions of the hospital team, she wasn't going to die alone, and she wasn't going to die without her family saying a final goodbye to her.

It's a small victory, but sometimes those are the only ones you get.'

Perish the notion of coming over all 'dance like nobody's watching', and I don't think I am religious, but really – amen to that.

Sunday, 13 July 2008

Cry freedom

I have been rhapsodising at great length to anyone I meet about Last Choir Standing, the BBC's new Saturday night programme with real people in it that is not a quiz or the news. If you are the sort of person who has better things to do on a Saturday night than watch Last Choir Standing then a) who are you, b) do we have anything at all in common, and, where b) is 'no', then c) what on earth are you doing reading this [although you're welcome and lord knows I could use the stats].

Anyway. What I have been saying to my friends is that LCS is like crying Viagra. Perhaps, on account of many and varying trials in your life, you are feeling slightly emotional, a little bit sangry*, but are having trouble letting go of your pride/sense of self-possession/meticulously applied eye make-up and drenching your upper body in the bittersweet balm of fresh tears. Whoever you are, whatever your inhibition, Last Choir Standing is your release. Unless you are a lump of coal, after no more than seven minutes, I guarantee your eyes will be slightly to very moist. After 14 minutes, tears will be flowing like Niagara Falls. And after explaining this to several friends, I thought to myself 'Hmm, what else is crying Viagra?' And furthermore, 'This is exactly the kind of whimsical self-indulgence that makes for a blog post.' (The self-indulgence of blogging is another thing I have been talking a lot about recently.)

However, then I read this in The Guardian. Apparently, it's more over than Oasis to say that anything is 'something Viagra'. Damn The Guardian, with their compulsive, smug and frequently tenuous trend-spotting (no offence, Miss W). I am quite over many aspects of their paper, in particular their many factual errors, one of which, brilliantly, occurs at the end of their vitriolic blast on the subject of the Viagra metaphor. But I am nothing if not weak-willed and easily led, and also loathe to contribute to The Guardian's ascendant sense of self-satisfaction. So:

Miss Jones' Most Efficacious Cry Porn (a work in progress)

1) Last Choir Standing – see above. In particular the Choir Of Elderly Fisherman ('Well, we didn't get through this time but maybe this will attract some young members who aren't likely to die within 5 years') and the Policemen's Choir ('The Choir really helped me through after the premature death of my wife').
2) The watery eyes of Bernard Cribbins.
3) Watching YouTube clips of Derek Redmond in the 1992 Olympic 400m semi-final.

4) The London Marathon. Not just the dogged charity fundraisers collapsing yards from the finish and the rousing Chariots Of Fire-pastiche music but, in recent years, the messages scrolling along the bottom of the screen saying 'Go on Dad, we're so proud of you, from your loving family' etc etc. Jones Major is keen to run in 2009. Heaven help Jones Minor's tear ducts should his application prove successful. Jones Minor is me, if you were unsure.
5) The end of The Railway Children. This is for advanced recreational cryers only and should not be attempted by amateurs needing to accomplish anything during the rest of the day.

*Sad and angry (copyright Randy Hickey)

Wednesday, 9 July 2008

Sunday, 6 July 2008

Wild at heart

To celebrate the recent birthday of Mrs Jones, today the Joneses enjoyed a rare ensemble family outing – to Woburn Safari Park, thank you for asking. And this happy, if damp, occasion gives me the opportunity to share with you my unique gift for wildlife photography.

I feel sure you will agree that the bond between subject and artist is, indeed, a powerful one.

Wednesday, 2 July 2008

Sleeping with the lights on

Meeting of the Secret Society Responsible For Giving Children Nightmares

'Thanks for coming, everyone. Help yourself to Garibaldis. They really are squashed flies inside them. At least, that's the party line. Now, let's begin. We all know the Society is in trouble. Children these days aren't scared of anything. I read it in The Daily Mail. Authority, prison, ghosts, daleks – they're just bouncing off these kids like fruit gums. They hardly ever even show Chitty Chitty Bang Bang on TV any more. So can anyone actually give us some good news? Clive?'

'Well [shuffles papers proudly], yes, actually. I'm quite excited about this one. There's some truly excellent work being done in the Dulwich Village area.'

'Dulwich Village? Where the mere idea of a bus running down the main street is so inharmonious to the overall vision they've been banished to the outskirts?'

'That's right, Keith. That's what makes this so exciting. Just look at this incredibly sinister dummy wedged in a tree in the playground of an infant school.'

'God, that is really horrible. Simple, sure, but devastatingly effective. Firstly, they've taken the battle to the target's very own play area. Secondly, they've really gone back to basics. Dummies, guys, mannequins – all fantastically disturbing. We've really been caught napping here. The primitive approach is a masterstroke. Carry on, Clive, carry on.'

'Well, I particularly like the way the head droops to one side at such an angle as to make it look exactly like an asphyxiated corpse. It's just so… haunting.'

'Like the bit in Jesus Christ Superstar when Judas hangs himself, which I'm not too big to say I found very traumatic as a child?'

'Yes, Keith, exactly like that. And allow me to draw your attention to the emaciated, prisoner-of-war-style flesh-coloured stick leg. Of which there is only one.'

'One! And is it…? Yes! Footless too! Quite, quite brilliant. Oof, I don't mind saying, I think someone just walked over my grave. Shall we break for lunch?'