Monday, 28 September 2009

Strizzle Come Dizzle

(or Straight Outta Wood Lane)

'Alright, STOP, collaborate and LISTEN,
Ice is BACK with my brand new inVENTION.
SOMEthing grabs a hold of me tightly.
Oh, it's OK, it's just Zoe Lucker, aka Footballers' Wives superbitch Tanya Turner.'

Those aren't my words. They're the words of one-hit rap sensation Vanilla Ice. Or are they?

My work/life balance is shot at the moment. There is too much work and too much life and not enough time to watch telly, which is not the Miss Jones way at all. I am only just catching up with the opening weeks of Strictly Come Dancing. But one point that has been raised by my various sofa companions this series is that James Jordan's hair is now less Wolverine and more Vanilla Ice.

V to the anilla Ice, or Robert Matthew Van Winkle as his mother calls him, was the victim of considerable mockery in the early 90s when it emerged that some of his biographical information had been falsified, and he wasn't from The Ghetto, but in fact The Comfortable Suburbs. Vanilla Ice's response was, 'It ain't where you're from. It's where you're at.'

James Jordan is from Gillingham.

Anyway, it's now week two, and it seems that this season's Strictly is finding its feet. Alesha is a bit better, and who cares at all if she's totally scripted. I even loved Bruce on Friday when he said to Ricky Groves, 'How dare you adlib in my presence?' But there's some dramatic tension missing. I'm thinking they should ramp up the rivalry between the professionals a little (since to Strictly aficionados they are now as well known as the celebrities), creating the kind of beef that existed between the US East and West Coast rap scene, but with less murder.

There are hip-hop comparisons all over Strictly. Well, maybe there aren't, but I am going to make them anyway, as that is the business I'm in. It's not hard to see Anton du Beke as a Jay-Z figure. With his diversification into TV presenting, he's well on his way to becoming a media mogul. If, like Jay-Z, he chooses to create a clothing line, 'Bekawear' say, then I would applaud him, while probably not actually buying anything. And, more pertinently, he's got 99 problems ('Do people think I'm gay?' 'Should I wax my chest?' 'How will people react to me stepping into Dale Winton's shoes on Hole In The Wall?') but his celebrity dance partner (bitch is such an ugly word, don't you think?) ain't one. Leila Rouass is actually pretty good compared to his previous lurchers.

This Anton analogy – Antology – would make his professional dance partner Erin Boag BeyoncĂ© Knowles. And while there is little physical comparison, they both possess a steely core of professionalism and determination that is impervious to flood, fire, famine, acts of God and nuclear attack.

Brendan Cole likes to create a story with his choreography. This is like Tone Loc on Funky Cold Medina, which is a great narrative where the eponymous love potion gets Tone Loc in all manner of amorous scrapes, including with Sheena, who turns out to be a man, and as a contestant on a TV dating show. Nowadays, of course, Brendan is all loved up and chivalrous and well behaved, but who remembers Badboy BrendanTM of times past appearing on Celebrity Love Island, also a TV dating show? OK, no one, but he was on it, I promise.

Lilia is Missy Elliott, both women doomed to work with people barely fit to sew on their sequins. Dominic Littlewood, Don Warrington and Richard Dunwoody for Lilia. Mel B and the Pussycat Dolls for Missy.

Brian Fortuna is Will Smith, the Fresh Prince of TV Centre - dazzling white teeth, terminally boyish, sent to live with his distant [Strictly] family in a place far from home, where a host of hilarious fish-out-of-water scenarios ensue, such as Brian saying 'gotten' instead of 'got', and 'mom' instead of 'mum', and 'awesome' instead of 'really good'.

Then there is Vincent. Somehow Vincent is a glorious epitome of Every Rapper - creator of ludicrous public personas, boaster of outlandish boasts, taunter of rivals, off-duty wearer of pastel knitwear and satin pyjamas, constructer of fanciful narratives about how many honeyz were in his jacuzzi last night when in truth he spent the evening phoning his mum, watching his DVD of The Notebook, and applying a deep-cleansing facial mask.

But who is Snoop Dogg? Who is Kelis? Who is Kanye? Who is Dre? These are all questions that will most likely never be answered over the rest of the series, as I think we all know I'll get distracted by something else, but this is Strictly Come Dancing. Anything could happen.

Peace out.

Saturday, 26 September 2009

Strictly my flesh and blood

One of my nieces, Young Miss Jones The Younger, is six years old.

Each day possibility and promise bloom all around her.

So what does she do at 9 o'clock on a Saturday morning that is alive with opportunity, the whole world spread out in front of her?

She watches the previous night's post-bedtime Strictly Come Dancing action on the iPlayer. I am so proud.

Tuesday, 22 September 2009

What I learned on a train to Leeds at the weekend

The average delay incurred by a train involved in, or caught up in the aftermath of, a suicide on the tracks is two hours. If it's less than that, according to our guard, 'it's a good day'.

Peak season for rail suicides is just before and straight after Christmas. People who work on the trains call this 'silly season'.

The loose collection of matter that just moments before impact constituted a human being can cover an area that is a mile wide.

Among the subsets of society I hate (and there are many – for someone so congenitally moderate and non-confrontational, I am powered by an apparently limitless well of rage) are those people who, on hearing someone felt sufficiently despairing of their life to end it on a wretched, lonely train track, like to say, 'Selfish bastard.'

Sunday, 20 September 2009

International pudding news (part 306: Norway)

I have spent the weekend with Ms D/Mrs B. I should point out that she is one person, with one unified personality. It's just that I don't know which title she prefers, even though she's a close friend, and even though this is the kind of thing that is important to her. The reason I don't know this detail is not because of my deliquency as a friend*. It is because we have much more important things to discuss, such as the comestible delicacies of her maternal homeland.

Readers, say hallo (I will translate, as Norwegian is a rich and complex language: hello) to karamell pudding (caramel pudding).

I know what you're thinking - so far, so Safeway. But wait! This is no ordinary caramel pudding. In fact, I would argue that there is no such thing as an ordinary caramel pudding. Each one is a tiny testament to the miracles of cooking chemistry. But this karamell pudding? Well, open the carton and it slithers out like a yellow, perfectly cuboid fish.

In the future, all fish will be cuboid, for ease of storage. Evolution is working on the whole concept of perfect right angles as we speak. It's been a lengthy process but they want to get it absolutely right before the launch. They've almost cracked it, there's just some wrangling going on over the marketing budget. Anyway. Once you've delivered your pudding onto a plate, a vast building block of food sculpture is at your disposal, to divide and assemble as your imagination desires. The packaging suggests a train.

But I prefer a more architectural slant to my pudding sculpture, and since I frown on the excessive use of food colouring - it really is so vulgar - karamell pudding's natural, buttery colour suggests to me the MI6 building at Vauxhall, or perhaps one of the more ornate Oxford colleges. But it pains me to say that I will not be the person to render them. Witness my disastrous attempt at the Eiffel Tower.

I was carving with a spoon, but I know this is a feeble defence.

*It is slightly because of this.

Tuesday, 15 September 2009

Modern life is rubbish

The hedges that hug each side of the driveway outside my house seem to be a pair of welcoming arms for any piece of local rubbish that ever had a whisper of wind behind it. Every ugly egg box or unlovable crisp packet seems to find permanent sanctuary in this leafy embrace, until me or one of my neighbours ruins their tender moment by forcibly suggesting they might find even greater romantic solace inside our wheelie bins.

In fact, I would go so far as to say that it is only after I've almost skidded over on a sodden Domino's pizza box that I truly feel I've come home. Some people may be welcomed over the threshold by the affections of their cat. For me, it is a nomadic carrier bag (normally that brandless, blue and white vertical striped variety) that cleaves affectionately to my calves as I'm fumbling with my keys in the porch.

This morning, as I left the house, there was a particularly dark collection of detritus on my doorstep

An empty condom wrapper…

…a cotton bud, and a mangled advert appealing for the return of Tigger, the missing tabby cat.

I don't know how this collection of objects found each other, but it makes me very concerned for the physical and emotional well-being of Tigger.

Monday, 14 September 2009

Niche magazine publishing's cover of the week

Look at Fred's face! Just look! I don't think I would have the fortitude to look so chipper while being hoisted skywards on a rotting plank secured by some unconvincingly knotted ropes. It is this air of cheery denial that made our country great.

Sunday, 13 September 2009

'This one goes out to the one I've left behind'

If you are one of the more sensitive members of the band REM, I'm suggesting you might want to look away now. For on Saturday, looking mournfully out at me from the racks of East Dulwich's premiere charity shop was not one, not two, not… look, basically just keep doing that till you get to five – five! – different REM albums.

If you visit enough charity shops for enough years, you can plot a sagging curve of Britain's former music passions, and when exactly we fell out of love with them.

A few years ago, you could have bet your kidneys on being able to go into any branch of Oxfam and finding at least two copies each of Wet Wet Wet's Popped In Souled Out or A New Flame by Simply Red (yes, I owned both of these albums, what is your point exactly?). Now, apparently, we're no longer tied to the 90s (early Travis reference for you, early Travis fans) because on Saturday I found two unloved copies of Urban Hymns by The Verve. If you'd told any of my friends in 1998 that within 12 years they'd be dumping that particular CD in a charity shop, they'd have choked on their This Life boxsets (This Life video boxsets also currently very big in the Charity Shop Chart Rundown).

What I'm wondering is this: if you're a pop combo past your popular prime, is it worse to see several different albums bearing the band name you spent ages excitably/inadvisably thinking of lying unloved in a charity shop, or several copies of the same album? In the first scenario, one person (presumably) really, really doesn't like you. In the second, you are more casually disliked by a larger group of people, and also that particular album is quite emphatically a dead loss.

If it makes you feel better, Stipey, I bought Dead Letter Office.

Wednesday, 9 September 2009

She loves you

Is it still Beatles week? Please say it is. I wish it could be Beatles week every week. Sod Christmas, there's a song someone should really write.

I have realised recently that I could watch old clips of The Beatles hanging out in one studio or another in the 60s until my eyes pop out and roll away, and my mouth starts speaking in nonsensical, droll Scouse tongues. It is endlesly fascinating. 'Look, John Lennon's drinking a cup of tea. Tea! John Lennon! Just drinking tea! Isn't that amazing? Amazing.'

I am trying to understand why and it's giving me a headache. It is to do with seeing someone who has become untouchable, who now inhabits a symbol or has assumed their own kind of mythology, reduced to a state of utter, unguarded humanity. A version of their life flashes before your eyes that you never fully considered before, and it is the version that includes schoolfriends and nicknames and family and falling in love and feeling tired and feeling better and showing off to make people laugh; it is bones and muscles and blood and tissue; it is the realisation that they were once as young as you have ever been.

Now, when I see Lennon pretending to fall off his chair, Harrison shuffling through pieces of paper, the four of them chatting before a take, it makes me smile, but also gives me the overwhelming urge to cry. It is how I feel when I hear someone refer to my dad as John, and not as 'your dad'.

If you count up the years The Beatles had together releasing records, it's not so very many. Girls Aloud will have overtaken them before too long. Yet The Beatles seemed to age disproportionately during that time. Maybe it is because they did not have the same access to teeth whitening and eyelash extensions. Maybe it is because we know what came after and when we look at them during the darkening of the 60s, we're trying to etch some Hollywood-movie harbingers on to their faces. Maybe it is simply due to the transformative power of facial hair.

It is scientifically impossible to nominate a favourite Beatles song. It simply cannot be done, yet the world is full of the blindly self-confident who claim they have a definitive answer. I am a fool for their cover of Till There Was You (imagine if I was standing on a hill – I would be the fool on the hill for Till There Was You. HILARIOUS). I know it's as twee as a merry-go-round, and if they played it for Simon Cowell, he would probably say it was a bit cabaret. [It can only be a matter of time before someone in charge of an advertising budget gets Frankenstein-like with footage of The Beatles and The X Factor until it appears JPG&R are auditioning in front of Cowell& Cole. 'Lads? Four yeses. *Smarm*. I like you guys.' I'm stuggling enough with the advert for Rock Band]. But I love Till There Was You because McCartney's voice sounds like it's made only of youth and innocence and promise, and because if you cut me in half, I pretty much read 'twee' all the way through.

[Pre-clip warning: Macca's Head WaggleTM is in full effect during the following item, and may trigger a neurological episode in the same way as a flickering strobe.]

What kind of barbarian salutes The Beatles with a song they didn't even write? The kind of person who will do it again. I am also in love with Twist And Shout, because I spent Friday night dancing to it, and because it features in Ferris Bueller's Day Off, which I saw at the cinema a few weeks ago. And Ferris Bueller's Day Off, like pretty much anything by The Beatles, comes at you with such absolute and untainted freshness, it is very nearly possible to forget all the things that have have gone rotten and got lost in the intervening years.

Sunday, 6 September 2009

Miss Jones FTW

I know, I'm sorry. I've had a lot on. But look:

I am no longer a prematurely middle-aged, slightly apologetic runner-up in life. I am a winner - OFFICIAL. The Lambeth Horticultural Society says so.

My busy metropolitan lifestyle meant I only had time to enter one category in the society's summer show. Freestyle flapjacks.

No recipe, no rules - this was Extreme Baking.

I was not confident of the outcome. Everyone else's flapjacks were neater, squarer, fairer of colour. It would not be verbal overkill to say that mine looked slightly rustic in comparison. Also, in terms of ingredients, I had thrown in the kitchen sink, if your kitchen sink is made of chopped dried apricots, sunflower seeds and pine nuts. Mine is not, but the world is a big place and everyone is different. I wondered if a pine nut might just prove too edgy for the straits of serious competition. Dejected, I phoned Mrs Jones who, in her capacity as retired art history tutor, delivered a rallying speech on the importance to society of avant garde artists, no matter how cruelly they may be pilloried by their peers.

I felt much better. And then I saw the results, and felt much, much better. This was almost as good as getting to the finals of Radio Norfolk's Sixth Form Challenge.

I am attributing my victory to my lucky pink paper plates. It is entirely possible that I have unwittingly used some kind of colour therapy to influence the judges. Look at all the entrants:

Doesn't mine just remind you of a summer meadow bright with flowers? In a room that is also home to lots of carefully arranged floral displays battling for your consideration, I'm counting this as no small achievement.

Simultaneously, while the judges are tasting my work, the pink card beneath is making them feel warm and nurtured, as though they're back in the womb.

Next time, I'll be using a sound chip like they do in birthday cards, so the plate plays soothing whale song when someone from authority approaches. I've got my eye on a shiny silver trophy.