Saturday, 31 January 2009

Desperately seeking a decent romcom

Anne Hathaway seems nice enough, but I find myself disappointed by her new film, Rachel Getting Married, even though I haven't seen it.

This is because every time I hear the title, my romcom radar registers a tremor of activity. I keep thinking RGM is an adaptation of a Marian Keyes novel. Or, more specifically, two. Rachel Getting Married is, through the leaky double filter of my ears and brain, a hybrid of Rachel's Holiday and Lucy Sullivan Is Getting Married. There is an additional, thematic, red herring since in the film, Hathers plays a drug addict, while in Rachel's Holiday, the vacation of the title is actually a spell in rehab. However, instead of a warm, witty, watch-whenever-you're-off-sick romantic comedy, RGM is in fact a worthy, character-led drama. Eurgh, tiresome! 

As if the world is not in enough trouble, it seems to be increasingly full of films that promise to be romcoms - explicitly or otherwise - yet fail to deliver. The most common failing is the lameness of com. Closely followed by a leaden lack of rom. Is it part of my slide towards early middle age that I mistakenly believe they don't make 'em like they used to? Or is the romcom species really in danger, desperately in need of protection and preservation? If it's the latter, I might write to Jamie Oliver to see if there is anything he can do to help. I'm sure he's looking to diversify.

Thursday, 29 January 2009

In which I sit next to a man who is interested in telescopes

I love that there are still specialist magazines in the world. Not those sort of magazines, but magazines for people who love caravans and narrow boats and caged birds, and who work in meat processing, or construction or heating and ventilation. 

I have worked in magazines for over 10 years, woman and girl. Since I started my first job that tolling decade ago, slimmer of hip and fresher of complexion, I have seen more and more publications that were dedicated to the independent and the irregular crushed under the wheels of the printed superbrands and their tie-in radio stations, digital TV channels, compilation albums and roadshow events, until you can basically only enjoy a woman's magazine if you are constantly on a diet, fanatically interested in foundation, or pathologically insecure about your sex life.

But this evening, on the train home, I sat next to a man who was reading Sky & Telescope magazine. While I despise people who read over others' shoulders, the fact is, I am one of those people. I am owning this unsociable behaviour and trying to correct it, but until then I can tell you that in the current issue there is a lot of talk of lenses and Galileo.

Most days, I take two trains into work and two trains back out. That's four trains a day, five days a week, four and usually a bit weeks a month. I sit next to someone most journeys, which means I sit next to 20 people a week, a bit less than 100 people a month, around 1,000 people a year, who could reach over and hold my hand with the minimum of exertion, or quietly bless me when I sneeze, or pick up my hat when it falls off my lap and into their area of floorspace, or lay a hand inappropriately on my person when they stand up while the train is still jerking to a halt. They are so close to being close to me, but they are still strangers. 

So I feel a tiny thrill to think that while I don't know the most token, barely humanising information about my train neighbour – no name, marital status, where he's from, what A-levels he did – and probably never will, I somehow know much more. I know that he may be the only person on the whole crowded train who loves astronomy.

In the same way, you may not exchange a syllable with someone who is innocently exhaling the cold virus into your personal space as you stop-start-stop your way into the city. But when you strain to deduce what they're listening to on their headphones, you know that behind their rigid shield of pinstripes, their heart is beating in time to Kylie's Fever album.

Sunday, 25 January 2009

Happy birthday, Cake Moss

Regular readers and close friends will know that last weekend I shared a birthday with Kate Moss. Astrologically speaking, at least.

This year, just like every other, it was Kate's ostentatious celebrations that people were talking about. Yes, it was her turn to get custody of Lionel Richie, who serenaded her in a schmancy hotel. (To be honest, I'm glad he was out of my hair. OK, he can party, but getting the footprints off the ceiling afterwards is the devil's own work.) Yes, one of her friends obligingly flashed a breast in view of the waiting paparazzi which, as far as I know, none of mine did. Yes, she had a pig roasting on a spit, vintage champagne and langoustines, plus elaborate medieval-themed decor, including a menagerie of stuffed animals. Yes, she was dressed as 'sexy executed queen' [(c) People newspaper] Anne Boleyn, and was squired by her rock star boyfriend, who was masquerading as Henry VIII. 

But did her friends make her cakes like these?

And this?
I don't think so. And sorry, Kate, but I'm not swapping.

Saturday, 24 January 2009

He's the greatest dancer

I got on the train yesterday morning at North Dulwich, as I do most working mornings, and there was a man standing up in the lobby, in front of the double doors. There were plenty of free seats, but he was happy to stand. This was because he was very much occupied in having a dance. 

Wrapped in the loving embrace of his headphones, he was quite oblivious to his fellow commuters. Like a whiter, fatter, only slightly less flamboyant member of Sister Sledge, he was caught in a trap, no turning back. It would not strictly be true to say that this was his 9 to 5, since we were on the 8.39,  and he was quite obviously already in business. But had I asked him how he was feeling, I sense very strongly that 'so alive' would have been the response. 

So there he was, swinging his well-covered man hips from side to side, flexing and bouncing, nodding his head, rolling his neck, turning through 90 degrees at regular intervals, covering all points of his makeshift dancefloor. I didn't know where to put my eyes, so I stopped worrying about it, and just put them on him. He didn't seem to mind.

He got off at Queens Road Peckham, and just before the train stopped to let him off, he was joined by a friend who had been sitting down. They chatted away amiably before getting off and walking away down the platform together. Presumably when they'd got on, at some station further south than mine, the dancer had said to his friend, 'No, it's alright, mate. You sit down. I've just got some moves I need to work through before we get there.' I wish I could always make use of my commuting time so expressively.

Tuesday, 20 January 2009

Is it just me......?

These may be the ramblings of the ill and infirm but…

.....I cannot look at Joe Biden without hearing in my head, 'Sev-UN!'

Monday, 19 January 2009

Miss Jones is unwell. She is using the third person

Everything hurts. I am too ill to speculate why someone left a Birmingham postcode inside the copy of Atonement I recently bought from Oxfam on Drury Lane for £1.49.

It may well be that B37 6SQ will prove to be vital digits in my destiny, but they will not do their work today.

Thursday, 15 January 2009

And now…

…some music.

Here is a brilliant video, brought to my attention by Miss L. The music is by her close friend Rex The Dog, and the video is by some people she thinks may be French.

And here is a beautiful song by Candi Staton which I found on my iPod today. There is no video but there is a picture of Ms Staton standing in a field which, by the look of it, I'd say she does pretty well.

Monday, 12 January 2009

'You are the latest contender'

I've invented another new job for myself.

It doesn't have a name yet, but it might be 'Performance Environment Technician'. It might not. I might replace 'Technician' with 'Creative'. Anyway, it would basically involve matching darts players with the music they walk on to.

The most unlikely people seem to develop an all-consuming obsession with darts for the duration of any televised tournament. This also happens with snooker (and to those fans I say RIP David Vine), except that the all-consumed seem to become even more consumed, which probably means they're existing in some kind of negative reality. ANYWAY. I am not one of those people, but I did happen to see the start of one of the darts semi-finals at the weekend. As each player enters the darting arena - I know I am getting the lexicon of darts so, so wrong – a kind of signature song is played. It seems like boxing in this respect, but without the satin dressing gowns. 

Some examples: On Saturday, the victorious Tony O'Shea came on to Hey Baby by DJ Otzi. This, if you ask me, is kind of lame. Any walk-on is, I feel, cheapened by a background of Europop. You're not a tiger, you're some kind of repetitively squawking parakeet. And they can't play darts. Darryl Fitton may have lost the match/game/bout but he won the battle of the walk-on music by choosing One Step Beyond by Madness. With the minimum of research, I have discovered that Martin Adams, who lost the other semi-final, enters to Hungry Like The Wolf by Duran Duran, which seems a brilliantly flamboyant choice for such a traditionally working class sport.

And I can't believe that no one would have bagged Darts Of Pleasure by Franz Ferdinand yet. If not, I'm reserving that for myself just in case I ever decide to give the arrows a go, competition-wise.

Even in its remotest pastures – which is to say darts – sport seems to be less and less about pure physical endeavour, and more about the application of science (psychology in particular), sponsorship and celebrity. The choice of walk-on music, then, is absolutely critical, to focus and stimulate the senses (I want to say 'pump you up', but that sounds common), raise the profile and deliver a player to the oche like a jungle cat ready to pounce.

So I'm imagining my own consultancy (I'm struggling with the name – Let's Face The Music And Darts?) where rookie darts players, new to the circuit, come to my office, are offered a choice of herbal teas and mineral waters, talk to me about their dreams and fears for their career, and perhaps their star sign. I might ask them to walk up and down to assess the rhythm of their gait. You couldn't, for example, have someone with an urgent, nimble, pitter-pattering tread walking on to Barry White or some loose-limbed reggae. I don't imagine there are many darts players who walk like this, but every player is an individual (that's part of my mission statement).

I might then hold up some colour swatches to their face in front of a mirror, to find out what 'season' they are. And then I would subject them to a rigorous round of psychometric testing [1. Imagine you are throwing darts at a photograph pinned to a wall. Is it a photo of a) your mother, b) your father, c) Eric Bristow, the Crafty Cockney, d) yourself? etc etc].

At the end of all this, I present them with a small selection of anthems perfectly matched to their darts persona. They come burned on to a CD in a presentation case, with a cover I have designed specially on my computer, printed out, maybe found was slightly too big, then had to cut round the edges to make it fit in.

That will be £3,500 please. 

Sunday, 11 January 2009

Badgers! No other title necessary!

My cockle-warmer of the day is this story of a band of plucky badgers who took on Man/The Man and won. 

They had innocently made their sett – that's badger for home – underneath a road, but evil humans (only filmed from the knees down, obviously) weren't too thrilled with the tenants' plans for a new wing comprising games room and downstairs bathroom, and tried their best to drive the badgers out. They were drugged! They were caught! They were subjected to Westlife's swing covers album until they gave in! I totally made the last one up! They were, however, eventually rehomed elsewhere.

But! The stripey-faced oppressed rose up and refused to surrender their furry civil liberties and, clearly having seen The Incredible Journey, found their way back to their underground homestead. Now work on the road has been indefinitely postponed, and the badgers can get on with their plans for a swimming pool. Dumb animals: 1. Dumb humans: 0.

Hurry up please, Pixar, and get your best people onto it.

Saturday, 10 January 2009

Dictionary corner part 685 (pop special)

It's true to say I could find words to fill a whole blog on the wonder of Girls Aloud, so single posts must, through necessity, concern themselves with specifics. Today: the genius of their new single The Loving Kind, and in particular, its use of the word 'disinclined' in its chorus.

In true, mainstream, dimples-and-dance-routines pop (thus discounting the likes of the Kaiser Chiefs and their 'plate tectonic's), it is unusual to find words that deviate from the maybe/baby, girl/world compendium of lazy rhymes. So while 'disinclined' is not, in itself, a complicated or challenging collection of letters, it made me wonder what kind of stunned silence might have greeted its suggestion in the songwriting team's studio, interrupting the incantations of 'mind, find, kind... what else, what else?' A long one, I imagined.

Then, perhaps, a spluttering cough of gargled biscuit crumbs, or the chink of a glass being hastily set down in surprise. And the distant grind and clunk of the world spinning off its axis.

But I was missing an important piece of information. The Loving Kind was not created solely by Girls Aloud's erstwhile team of songwriters. It was co-written by The Pet Shop Boys. And with the inclusion of that deft, eleven-lettered d-word, all their languorously-voiced ennui is summoned up. Most things touched by the Pet Shop Boys carry an air of domestic drama writ large, and that, to me, is what pop music should always be about.

Friday, 9 January 2009

'It just gave her pleasure to buy things'

Following my last post, a second, strangely similar, case has emerged today. It would appear to be the season for loners to meet their end trapped in a precarious heap of their own eccentricity. I am unsure whether the individuals involved would consider this an ideal way to depart this life, surrounded – albeit slightly too closely – by the things they love, or some kind of ultimate betrayal. 

If nothing else, this latest story is a sobering lesson in the importance of curbing one's spending habits, one I'm finding far more effective than the c****t c****h.

Wednesday, 7 January 2009

Beware men on bikes

My favourite Daily Mail online story of the day is the one headlined "Loner who built network of tunnels out of rubbish in his home dies 'after getting lost in labyrinth'."

It is the now-familiar story of a man who tried to shut out the world by building himself a home made not of bricks and mortar, but refuse and treasure, which is a splendid effort environmentally speaking, but a superfluous barrier against the elements given that his new home was constructed entirely within the shelter of the old one. 

With reference to the Mail's headline, it should be pointed out that it was in some wing of this self-created stockade that our hero lost his way, and (the Mail surmises) died of dehydration. It wasn't that he was so distracted by a DVD of Jim Henson's 1986 fantasy film starring David Bowie in a Spagna wig that he clean forgot to take on any fluids.

In a lightning flash of originality, his bereaved neighbours did not make reference to him keeping himself to himself, but instead remarked on his cleverness. It is unfortunate that this mental athleticism did not extend to creating any kind of orientation device.

The Mail, with its radar ever-alert to potential signs of subversion, draws attention to two particular details of the deceased's former lifestyle: he 'wore a ponytail' and 'was often spotted riding his bike'. Well then. The neighbours should have seen his descent into utter nonconformity coming. I bet that sometimes he didn't even bother to get dressed before breakfast. I can't help feeling these aren't quite the highly significant signposts to full-blown eccentricity that the Mail insinuates. However, it's true that growing a ponytail can indeed indicate a minor, and mostly temporary, desertion of senses. Two words. David Seaman. 

Monday, 5 January 2009

Happy, happy, happy new year

I always sigh a little in the seconds after turning off some fairy lights. The cheer they can muster is a herculean feat when you consider their puny wattage, and the doom seems unremitting without them.

This evening I am undressing my Christmas tree with a heavy heart. I'm not an amorous embracer of New Year celebrations and resolutions, and now there's an appropriately gloomy corner of my lounge where my tree used to hold court, with a scattering of needles left behind on the carpet. (Needles, you see, that are prickly and painful. The metaphor is writing itself.)

The heady optimism which intoxicates the perpetually cheerful during early January only agitates my suspicious nature and makes me question what menace is truly in store. This is an attractive quality, I know. Oh yes, you guileless optimists speak of the New Year with its boundless possibility but this is merely the fearlessness of the perpetually ovine*.  

So far, January has seen my previously pristine four-month-old sofa sustain its first spilt cup of tea. This actually represents a titanic feat of poise for me, but is obviously less than ideal.

I am thirty-five next week. Literally, inescapably, my mid-thirties.

Most tragically, each time I look in the mirror at my recently cut hair, I am increasingly reminded of Natasha Kaplinsky.

Still, I have found myself unexpectedly glad to be returning to work this week, since my dressing gown had become hopelessly threadbare through prolonged contact with the sofa, and I had observed myself reverting to the dangerous mindset of the long-term motiveless, whereby accomplishing one small task a day such as having a shower or making lunch necessitates a nice rest or a bit of a treat and certainly no more exertion until bedtime, when you will lie agitated and wide-eyed until 4am.

And now I am watching Surviving Gazza. It is bleak. But seeing Paul Gascoigne's stepson nervously asking his stepfather to come home and take him out for the day instead of drinking himself a little further down into the void in a series of hotels is a powerful abacus on which to count your blessings.

* With thanks to The Walrus for adjectival instruction.

Friday, 2 January 2009

And now... the gallery

I love Celebrity Mastermind. Far more so than on the civilians' version, it allows the contestants' specialist subjects to be fantastically specific in order to ensure them a certain measure of first-round smarts. (If I was a famous contestant, I might choose 'The First 5 Minutes Of The Sound Of Music' or 'The lyrics to Elton John's Song For Guy').

In any case, you wouldn't want recent contestant Ian Lavender wasting unnecessary time revising the life and career of Buster Keaton when he should be hard at work researching his role in Morph And Me – the Tony Hart biopic. (There are better titles out there. I am too tired to think of them.)

Or perhaps he's busy prepping to play Merrill Osmond in What's The Story Mormon Glory: The History Of The Osmond Family.

I did say I was tired.