Wednesday, 30 June 2010

When bad bric-a-brac happens to good people

Beat the drums, watch a youth group doing an interpretive dance to their pounding rhythm and buy a slab of dry homemade marble cake with a cat hair in it – fete season is upon us.

And excuse me, but I'm kind of important around here.

There are many gifts a godmother can bestow on her young charge – the benefit of all her life experience, a sound Christian education – but one of the greatest gifts my godmother gives me is the opportunity to help out at various fete-y activities that benefit the hospital where she is a fundraiser. I think. I think that's what she does. We're very close, honestly.

If you know me, you will be aware that my charity work is an integral part of who I am. It is my liver. Good works are my kidneys. Giving runs through my veins which, by the way, I am planning to donate to poor people at some point. However, it does now occur to me that it might have been a more effective charitable endeavour to mention Saturday's fete before it actually happened in order that you could all attend and spend your money there. Still, being compassionate
and competent is not as easy as it looks. It's a little-known fact that Mother Teresa couldn't boil an egg.

The stall I was manning was beauty and bric-a-brac. Naturally, I was pushing for cakes. You should always push for cakes. But a group of nurses had already been assigned the cake stall.

Nurses! Like, what have they ever done?

So beauty and bric-a-brac. You may think these categories are stalls apart. Not necessarily. But with two of my wares, the world of bric-a-brac had perhaps never seemed so far away from the notion of beauty.

If you are the person who gave these dolls away, I don't blame you at all but I can't help feeling that from the moment you tossed them into a cardboard box of jumble, along with a terracotta wine cooler, full set of Clarkson books and unused abdominal exerciser, they would put some kind of curse on you for casting them out. Whoever's hands they fell into next would feel inexplicably compelled to do all they could to bring about your emotional, financial and social downfall. Fear would follow you like a big scary wasp after a jam sandwich, and in the black terror of night time, this is the face you would see whenever you closed your eyes:

And if you want to know the scariest thing of all...

Reader, I sold them.

Monday, 28 June 2010

Field music

I have been on a field trip this weekend, deep in Hyde Park, under the al fresco celebrity patronage of Stevie Wonder (Saturday) and Paul McCartney (Sunday). It was extremely kind of both these very busy men to arrange large-scale concerts purely to facilitate my work.

Here I have recorded my findings.

WARNING! Contains Level 2 swearing, specifically 'piss', 'twat' and 'wanker'.

1) A surprising number of women have undertaken the formidable fashion challenge of the jumpsuit. Well done, you plucky number. Apologies for expecting you, any minute, to break into some belly-dancing evening class dance-of-the-veils (for the strapless voluminous versions) or inhale sharply through your teeth and assert that you won't be able to come back and finish the job for more than a week as these boilers are notoriously tricky to source parts for (for the rest). I'm not very 'fashion' these days. (You see how I have carefully seeded the wholly erroneous impression that I once was. Smoke and mirrors, my friends, smoke and mirrors.)

2) The mass uptake of maxi dresses has become an epidemic. I'm yet to be struck down with total conviction, despite having bought one from New Look recently to wear to a wedding on Saturday, at which I anticipate there will be at least two other women in the same dress, all much, much more tanned than me. Not such an achievement since I am definitively the whitest woman in Europe, and thus, most likely, the world. The lure of the maxi would appear to be that it hides the now proverbial multitude of sins, but I fear that for all except the most willowy, it makes you look like you are all sin, giving the effect, from the neck down, of a Dalek in a valance.

3) When it comes to sun cream, more would appear to be more.

4) Sweet, sweet wanker-related schadenfreude is an intoxicating drug. Example: mouthy, beer-and-sunshine-marinated moron, balding, mid 30s – let's call him Pork Pie Hat Twat – attempting to persuade a much younger, cooler bloke to share his spliff (my lexicon of drug words is approximately at the level of Cliff Richard, probably), because we're alike, you and me, even though you are much younger and better-looking. I get you, you get me, yeah? We're just vibing off each other. My weed is your weed. Even though this is mostly your weed. We're like brothers, right? And no one's gonna stop us smoking a very small amount of soft drugs right in the middle of a 50,000 crowd of people and thus far from the eyes of any kind of authority whatsoever.

It has come to my attention through my recent concert-going history that the unsociable troublemakers at such events - testing the staff, vexing their meeker counterparts in the audience – are not 17-year-kids attempting to shrug off authority pre-adulthood, but despo 35-year-olds trying to assert that even though they now have a middle-management job at HSBC, a gold membership at Fitness First and a gas barbecue, they are STILL PRETTY REBELLIOUS. YEAHH! I'M TOTALLY STANDING ON MY SEAT, EVEN THOUGH I HAVE BEEN TOLD TO GET DOWN BY A SECURITY GUARD! SCREW YOU, 'THE MAN'! I AM INVINCIBLE!


Anyway, Pork Pie Hat Twat's phoney, stoney bonhomie was slapped down with such a gratifying look of 'Seriously, mate. Not. Cool,' by the younger man smoking, it was a privilege to witness it. There followed a short but embarrassing scene of begging which was dealt with mercifully swiftly.

(By the way, Pork Pie Hat Twat, Sainsbury's called. That white raffia trilby you're wearing belongs strictly behind their deli counter, on the head of someone who slices up finest breaded ham, and occasionally their own digits, for a living.)

5. In happier findings, it has now been proved that it is possible for me to emerge from a gig in Hyde Park without someone else's piss on my feet. At an REM gig a few years ago, in the so-called Golden Circle (sometimes the jokes don't even need writing), the man next to me pissed on the ground twice, showering my toes in splashback. On Saturday, Pork Pie Hat Twat's friend pissed in an empty beer bottle in front of me, set it down on the floor, and almost immediately knocked it over doing the type of dancing favoured by overweight men at Oasis concerts, sending a shallow tide of human waste towards my sandals. Luckily, this kind of thing doesn't seem to happen at a Paul McCartney concert. Some members of the audience would probably rather be voluntarily catheterised than have to urinate in a public place, or, in some cases, even use a Portaloo.

6) If you are a blind 60-year-old soul-funk pioneer, derided for some saccharinely commercial hits later on in your career, and now filling out those spangly, slightly tribal smocks a little more than you used to, I would suggest that performing an elaborate keytar solo lying down on the floor of the stage, during the very first number of your set, is a pretty cool way to prove that you've Still Got It.

7) All the Autumn Sunset hair dye and Frog Choruses in the world could not stop me loving Paul McCartney. Nor any amount of 'groovy' dad-banter:

'Who's ready to have some rocking fun tonight?'

Answer: ME.

Tuesday, 22 June 2010

Biscuits + battery packets = ?

What could have caused this spectacular chocolate-digestive-and-Energizer-battery-packet fall-out on a train into London Bridge one recent Sunday?

Perhaps an elderly passenger changing the batteries on his hearing aid was so startled by experiencing the world in full surround sound again that an unexpected tannoy announcement or shrill ringtone sent him jolting into the woman next to him, who was fortifying her two young children for a day of educational yet fun activities on London's South Bank with an open packet of chocolate digestives whose contents were sent tumbling southwards by the impact.

Perhaps a fashionista on their fashionable way to Dalston, Shoreditch or similar, has found that weighing down the pockets of one's jumpsuit with batteries is the perfect way to ensure it hangs correctly. This same fashionista likes to lick chocolate biscuits, then 'accidentally' drop them on the grimy floor of the train to ensure she is not tempted to eat them.


Thursday, 17 June 2010

How did you know I needed you so badly?

I wasn't having a good day today. No big drama, just regular tiny pieces of hell.

Then, this evening, three steps to heaven.

1) A financial haemorrhage in the Gap and Whistles sales.

2) A new Gareth Malone TV odyssey.

3) Then [press play on taped recording of celestial choir singing Hallelujah or similar], picking up an inauspicious A5 envelope off my doormat and seeing this glide out of it:

You can read about my love of the Lambeth Country Show here, here and here.

This booklet details all the competitions you can enter at the 2010 show – floristry, fruit modelling, baking and beyond. Below I have listed my two particular favourites from this year's themed categories, and if the very thought of them does not fill you with joy, then you can just walk away now. We may pass each other in the street from time to time, but we will not speak. We will be strangers from this day on.

The Scarecrow competition 2010: Stars from film, music and stage.

Floral art exhibits on the theme of the Olympics. Class 65: Synchronised swimming

Wednesday, 16 June 2010

Fight for your right to snack

Some of you, I know, have been knocking around here for a while. We've got to know each other a little bit, over the years. I know where you come from (hello Strasbourg!, hello Melbourne!), how often you come and how long you stay. You know my characteristics – good and, in particular, bad. I am quick to judge. I am easily irritated. I am a little bit of a snob. You'll have your own favourite. If you felt like keeping it to yourself, I'd be OK with that.

Probably you would not think of me as a law-breaker, a hooligan, a risk-taker.

Yet last week, the deeply conscientious security staff at the Shepherds Bush Empire felt it utterly necessary, with no brooking of argument, to dispossess me of these potentially dangerous weapons.

In the interests of safety (I am assuming) I was forced, against my will, to surrender a small bag of Nairn's Oat Bakes (Cheese) and an Eat Natural muesli bar to a nearby bin before entering the auditorium.

What exactly did they think I was going to do? Oat someone to death?

I understand the need to prohibit some personal food and drink items at a concert. One's own bottles, for example. The venue needs to protect their audacious bar price mark-ups, and in order to do this must outlaw the School Disco Hip Flask, aka a seemingly innocuous plastic mineral water bottle, topped up with the spirit of your choice. I also understand that plastic bottles, with an optional cargo of piss, can be used as missiles in the throes of the modern-music concert experience. It's possible it happens at Glyndebourne, too, but I've never been so it's hard to say.

If there had been, say, a watermelon in my bag, which I had somehow managed to shotput with immense force towards the stage, it's true to say that the Scottish indie scene of the 90s could have lost some of its best loved alumni last Tuesday night. Yet if, mid-performance, the band had seen a Nairn's Oat Bake landing on the stage, they would be inclined to think it was a small cardboard disc from the end of a party popper fluttering down from the rafters where it had been lodged since New Year's Eve, such is the flimsiness and wholly unappetising appearance of a Nairn's Oat Bake. (Luckily the taste is 93% Mini Cheddar.) Similarly, if you should drop some oaty, sultana-y crumbs from the balcony of the Shepherds Bush Empire, I honestly don't think they're going to kill anyone in the stalls. Gravitational acceleration really isn't all that.

I was hardly trying to cruise through the bag check with a piping hot and highly aromatic takeaway curry, or a large bag of rotten tomatoes labelled 'Don't forget to throw these at the band at some point during the show.'

Still, the security guard clung to the letter of the law like a young labrador with a particularly chewy slipper in its teeth.

I am ashamed to say that I didn't put up much of a fight. I did not stamp my feet and shout, 'I am a self-diagnosed borderline hypoglycemic! I must have my low-GI snackfoods!' I did, though, muster up an 'ARE YOU SERIOUS?' which was somewhere between sulky adolescent, incensed at their curfew, and customer of East Dulwich Sainsbury's being told there was no fresh coriander left on a Saturday morning.

I did not attempt to rally my fellow concert-goers into some kind of impassioned riot against the enfringement of my snacking civil liberties.

But next time, I will.

Almost certainly.

Sunday, 6 June 2010

Shop windows on the street where I live

'We stock Himalayan salt.'

'Try our new biodynamic buffalo mozzarella.'

(You obviously have to take my word that that's what the words in the green blob say. I've never lied to you before, not consciously anyway, and if I did – let's face it, I probably did – it was an honest mistake. Although it's true to say that I've exaggerated a bit, fairly deliberately. The fact is, there were two staff members sitting very close to this window and I didn't fancy an angry confrontation when they spotted me taking a picture of their window like some kind of deli pervert. I mean, I pretty much am a deli pervert, but I don't want to fight about it. I just want to be free to live my life.)

Anyway, I'm assuming each of these window slogans are some promise of greatness, although I couldn't tell you why.

In addition, the newest shop opening in my area – the area that Phil Spencer, in this very week's
Location Location Location, called 'funky', which is one of my rock-bottom least favourite adjectives, THANKS PHIL) – would appear to sell nothing more than paint and clogs. Exquisitely tasteful, highly desirable and doubtless ethically made paint and clogs. But still, paint and clogs.

Paint. And clogs.