Tuesday, 31 January 2012

The Little Crisp That Could… And Then Actually Couldn't

This is the view from my bedroom window.

The first thing you might think on seeing this picture is that our neighbours must produce a LOT of rubbish.

They do.

But another group of you will only have eyes for another part of the frame. Those people are the eagled-eyed potato-based-snack fanatics, and every civilisation has them.

In this instance, the quarry of this unique group of hunters is a Hula Hoop placed on top of the wall that divides us from our waste-profligate neighbours.

Let's stretch the zoom capabilities of the iphone camera to the farthest reaches of endeavour and take a closer look.

There's nothing so remarkable about this. I live on a busy road which, for a great many, is the route from public house to home, or school to leisure. Hula Hoop hi-jinx, you might say, are inevitable in such a situation.

But the wall is about seven feet tall.

And the Hula Hoop has been there for weeks. Petrified, potato-y weeks and weeks.

Quite alone, it has defended its post in the face of driving rain and high winds. On each of January's unforgiving nights, I have looked out of the window before going to bed, observing the frost on the cars, the litter on the driveway and the Hula Hoop on the wall.

And somehow it has stared down the famished foxes and cats of the neighbourhood, who clearly don't believe in not eating where they shit, because this is indeed where they shit.

The fortitude of this tiny, tenacious Hula Hoop only enforced my belief that it is the king of all crisps – its unbroken circle a ready-salted symbol of endurance that, coincidentally, is also perfectly engineered to be eaten off the fingers of five-year-olds at parties.

The foxes of this world are welcome to all the oven-baked, 'gourmet'-flavoured crisp innovations of the last 20 years if they will leave me perfect, plain Hula Hoops.

I see you and your strength, tiny crisp. And I will try to be a little more like you.

Together, I thought to myself, we will wait for the snow.

And then this morning I looked out of the window and noticed that the Hula Hoop had finally moved, just a couple of inches towards my house. And I could see quite clearly that it was a pebble.

Wednesday, 18 January 2012

Testing, testing...

Eagle-eyed readers will have noted from a previous post that I had a date with gymnastics last week.

Not competing, of course, although my floor routine to (You Make Me Feel Like) A Natural Woman is quite something, particularly the star-jump-into-forward-roll sequence, which is so spectacular I essentially repeat it for the duration of the programme. My marks for difficulty are, in general, heavily outweighed by those for performance, but what performance! If your living room carpet is vast enough, I'd be more than willing to pop over and demonstrate. Please ensure I cannot bump my head on the coffee table or similar. I am extremely litigious.

No, this was, of course, one of the Olympic test events at the North Greenwich Arena. Not the O2 Arena. Oh no. The Olympics does not recognise O2 as a valid sponsor. If you say the words O2 repeatedly in the presence of Lord Coe or one of his LOCOG droids, they spin round on the spot as smoke and springs are propelled from their featureless middles while they emit the words 'Happy Meal! Happy Meal!' at ever-increasing pitch and volume until your ears bleed.

Anyway, look, it's a bit like being at the Olympics but with far less people there, they're presumably hoping.

Aren't you wildy excited? Luckily, LOGOC have sought to quell your rabid enthusiasm by lighting the arena so brightly as to remind one of a friend's brand-new kitchen extension, or some kind of deeply unethical laboratory, thus creating all the atmosphere associated with the latter.

Here you can see the competitors for the rings event lining up, along with the lady who leads them on their march into the arena and carries a sign bearing the name of the event. 

Perhaps you think that this lady and her sign look a little blandly presented, and that this is an effect caused by my poor photography skills or the bleachingly harsh lighting? Well, one out of two ain't bad, as Meatloaf initially wrote, before a surer grasp of fractions prompted a rewrite. My photography is, on this rare occasion, not to blame.

No one is suggesting any more money than is strictly necessary should be spent on these events; no one is suggesting this lady should wear a spangly leotard and feather headdress and write out the name of the event in the air with burning sparklers as she enters on stilts, but perhaps we could have aimed a little higher than the look of a volunteer who didn't have time to change her clothes after finishing her temping job at HSBC (luckily she'd found time to print out the signs – Times Roman, A4 – during her lunch-hour).

However, it wasn't entirely a razzamatazz vacuum. There was a brief moment of magic as the gymnasts marched on to music that was Star Wars-esque – or, perhaps, actually from Star Wars. I'm not big on the sci-fi classics. Iconic, rousing theme music soundtracking the parades and presentations at the Games? This is an idea I could get behind, but John Williams is American. We need something resolutely British. Perhaps the estate of the late Ronnie Hazlehurst could licence a reworking of the Are You Being Served? theme tune to introduce all the apparatus as the gymnasts walk on ('Beam, floor and pommel horse; vault and uneven bars; coming up!')

All this would have been entirely lost on the lady sitting two seats away from me, however, who had apparently seen the evening as an opportunity to catch up on her emails. We're all busy people, after all.

Luckily, when the national anthems were being played for the victors, she did have the good grace to stand up and respectfully lower the lid of her laptop slightly. 

Perhaps she and her partner were working on a modern art project where they act out scenes from disappointing romcoms in public places. Here, of course, they are giving their take on the sequence from the US Fever Pitch remake The Perfect Catch, where Drew Barrymore's character takes her laptop to the Red Sox game and, in failing to focus on the game, ends up knocked out by a flying baseball. This, I realise, is unlikely to happen in artistic gymnastics, but at the rhythmic disciplines (taking place on another evening) my seat-neighbour could well have been concussed by a club thrown with impressive strength but sub-standard levels of accuracy. I must confess I would have been sad to miss that.

Maybe she was just bored. Let me tell you, if anyone sitting next to me at the Actual Olympics is doing their admin instead of paying full attention, I am going to KICK OFF.

In other gymnastics news, I have worked out how to make my fortune, and that is by creating a leotard that does not immediately seek out the innermost reaches of one's backside. 

Also, I could totally do this:

I just choose not to.

Sunday, 8 January 2012

Oh Christmas tree...

(or 'In Which Old Posts Rewrite Themselves')

Some sights that gladden my heart as I walk across Trafalgar Square on my way to the workplace:

1) groups of tourists circling the strange, bright ugliness of the Olympic countdown clock with a mixture of intrigue and confusion. (I am very adept at reading strangers' faces. It's one of my many gifts, along with being able to guess the phrase on Wheel Of Fortune before they've filled in a single letter.) How did it get here? What does it mean? Who is responsible? Basically, all the questions one might apply to Stonehenge, with any trace of wonder or admiration removed. Had the design been up to me, it would have been a giant effigy of Daley Thompson's face, with his moustache gradually lighting up like a Blue Peter charity-appeal totaliser the nearer we get to 27th July 2012.
2) the snaking queues of cold people (physically, not emotionally – they all look quite approachable actually) hoping for day tickets to the Leonardo exhibition at the National Gallery. Sometimes I think it would be nice if a security guard just unhooked one of the smaller works of art from the wall and walked up and down the queue with it, giving the waiting punters an insight into the kind of thrills that were going on inside, and how all this standing around outside with mittens and a styrofoam cup of tea would be Totally Worth It. I've seen something like this done with a plate of anipasti outside Jamie's Italian, although it should be made clear to the future patrons of the National Gallery that it's not acceptable to eat the art.

However, on Thursday morning, I saw something that did not gladden my heart. Instead, and I'm paraphrasing the Eurythmics here, it left quite a chill.

Poor, poor Trafalgar Square Christmas tree, naked and fallen. Such an undignified end to a glamorous career. Couldn't they could have smuggled her away under cover of darkness and undressed her somewhere a little more private, instead of stripping her bare at 9.30 in the morning in front of an  audience of commuters, tourists and shivering art scholars? She's like an ageing actress from the golden era of Hollywood whose wig has been snatched away, revealing a lost little old lady underneath. Only greener and pinier. And so thin! A once-full figure now emaciated from a lifetime devoted to entertaining others (or from being urinated on by idiots in the early hours of New Year's Day).

I like tradition as much as the next fool – mince pies are great, for example; also, carols; burning witches, less so – but I think I have identified a fundamental flaw in one of our oldest social rituals. January needs an antidote to its dark hours and back-to-work gloom and dashed resolutions. January needs romance. January needs glitter and promise. So what do we do? In its earliest days, we tear down the decorations and turn out the twinkling lights that help make the previous month so exciting we actually believe red and white fun-fur hats are a valid style choice.

We go out of our way to highlight how drab our homes and streets look for most of the year.
Brothers and sisters, I'm saying to you that I want the Christmas decorations to stay up for ALL OF JANUARY. I might be calling this campaign Keep January Jazzy! Or Keep! January! Jazzy!

I'm probably not.
But imagine that first month being full of looming, lit-up, giant snowmen right from day 1 to 31. Wouldn't this say, 'Look a new year full of fabulous flashing lights and shiny baubles, which you may use as a clumsy metaphor for all the bright, shiny things that could be part of your future' instead of 'Look, once you take the tinsel down, here's a new year just as dark and shitty as the last. And that crack in the plaster over the mantelpiece is still there.'

With K!J!J! (OK, I am), when the decorations do finally come down on January 31st, you can say, 'So, 2012 then. We're already a month in, and it isn't so bad, is it? I actually think I might be able to struggle on.'

I don't know who decreed that the fun should stop on Twelfth Night. I mean, I guess I could look it up, but it's late and I'm tired. Whoever it is, I will take them on. I say this in the certain knowledge that they're dead and can't physically hurt me.

Monday, 2 January 2012

Dear diary

Do you ever feel as though you might be stuck in a rut? That the days are toppling like dominoes, each shaped so much like the one before, and what is going to change? WHAT IS EVER GOING TO CHANGE?

No, nor me. Absolutely not. Shut off the alarm clock because today is a brand new adventure and I can't wait to climb back on the thrill ride! I'm not even going to wear my seatbelt! Will I have blueberries on my porridge? Or will it be raspberries? My god, I have never felt more alive!

And yet. When I bought my 2012 diary several months ago – naturally, I needed to buy early, the sooner to fill in my hectic new-year timetable of risks that needed taking, rulebooks I would be tearing up and cutting edges I was scheduled to live on, as well as book group, of course – it occurred to me that maybe, just maybe, the rut had me after all.

Never mind my innate sloth and failure to apply myself. It was clearly my diary, with its ongoing sequels, that was dragging me down.

Year after year, I've realised, I am living with the Police Academy of personal organisers. But it doesn't make the noise of a helicopter when I open it.

I am trying to tell myself, of course, that the latest diary is not totally identical to the others. For one thing, it is a quite different colour, but only because it has yet to acquire a grimy coating of eyeliner, burst banana and other, unindentified handbag excretia. It is only January 2, after all.

But I love the space it gives me. Space is so important in a relationship, don't you think? Just the right amount that my modest number of social engagements doesn't look like a modest number of social engagements. And observe, below, the blank right-hand page, whose lines are just the right distance apart to make your handwriting look far tidier than it really is, on which you can list all your tasks to accomplish during the week ahead.

Then, on Sunday, when you have failed to accomplish any of them, you can turn over and write them out again on the next week's corresponding blank page. It's important to cross each item out as you rewrite it on the next page, as this provides you with the sense that you have actually achieved each of your objectives, a useful shot in the arm for one's self-esteem.

The thing is, it always come back to this. Me and the red Moleskine weekly notebook (pocket size) are right for each other. If that's boring, then call me Steve Davis*.

I bought the new diary in that specialist travel bookshop on Long Acre, a place that reminds you that the world is really very small, with its furthest reaches only a 300-page guidebook away. Still, I only ever seem to go in there for diaries and birthday cards. The lady who served me remarked on how organised I was buying my diary so far ahead. I told her it was my third year with the same make and model, and expressed my fear that this hinted at a fundamental stasis in my existence, but she said I should save the excitement in my life for the really important things.

She was talking about breakfast, right?

I thought so.

(*I love Steve Davis.)