Friday, 31 October 2008

In which I question the motives of someone who gives me two free bars of chocolate on Halloween

Some days, it rains and you leave your gloves on the train. But others days, someone gives you some free chocolate. This morning, as I was leaving London Bridge Station, some out-of-work drama graduate pushed two Cadbury's Creme Egg Twisted bars into my frozen corned-beef-mottled hands. A Twisted bar – for the confectionary-shy – is essentially six small, conjoined Creme Eggs, mutated and moulded into a kind of Cadbury's Caramel formation. And I was given two! For free! Imagine! I don't have to! IT ACTUALLY HAPPENED.

But wait, I thought, as I shivered my way to the office. This is Halloween. A time for spooky omens, half-hearted celebration and macabre events. Could it be that my evil nemesis (I must surely have one, otherwise I would undoubtedly be living in an airy three-storey townhouse by the seaside, with a devoted husband, several photogenic children and limitless personal wealth by now) had poured their shadowy, shifting form into a branded fleece and pressed into my hand a novelty chocolate item laced with poison. Having hired men in overcoats and sunglasses to watch my behaviour for months through magic binoculars, they knew I would be drawn like a magpie to the glinting foil wrapper, and that within a few hours their malevolent cocktail of sloth, envy, insecurity and a glass and a half of full cream milk would be coursing through my delicate veins, and I would once again spend a profitless evening lying on my sofa murmuring 'the seaside... the children, must do something, have to achieve stuff... ooh! Top Model's on.'

But no. Back on the street, I chastised myself for being so pessimistic. Honestly, I'm such a Capricorn. I turned to the power of positive thought in an attempt to render my free chocolate a gesture motivated by goodness.

Eating any kind of Creme Egg product presents a challenge to one's inhibitions. Like the modern-day equivalent of the ladies of Cranford and their oranges, eating a Creme Egg generally requires you to desert any sense of decorum. Your options are equally suggestive. Do you penetrate the furthest reaches of the shell's interior with a probing tongue, or do you take a short series of hungry bites and risk a chin dripping with fondant? It's a dilemma that the coy may rather resolve in private. This morning, I decided to believe that kindly old Mr Cadbury had rained Twisted bars onto the commuters of south London in an attempt to provoke an orgy of sensuous and delighted chocolate consumption, knowing it would ripple (not a Ripple, that's different) outward until passengers felt their inner passions stirred to such a degree that they began embracing not their chocolate egg products, but each other. Commuters who had sat in rigid, tortured silence, desperate for a small measure of human contact, preferably with that anonymous but adored person they sat opposite every day, felt liberated  enough to draw a stranger into a spontaneous yet not unwelcome embrace.

If you watch the deleted scenes from Amelie, this actually happens.

Tuesday, 28 October 2008


If you have been wondering about the outcome of this, let me bring some joy to your late-afternoon Tuesday and tell you that she said yes.

You can read all about it, as newspaper sellers say in the movies and no one says in real life, and watch the actions of a very brave man, here. Stay with it to the end for the Actual Down On One Knee Moment in glorious Technicolor

In other Sainsbury's news, I queued up next to Lorraine Chase today in the Dog Kennel Hill branch. She likes very expensive muesli, and so do I. I think we're going to be excellent friends.

Sunday, 26 October 2008

Everything starts with an E

Now that the clocks have changed, it's creeping towards the time of year when people who honestly believe these things are important start making lists of their favourite records of the year. I can never remember what was released from one year to the next, but I am both sure and certain that in 2008 I have loved Vampire Weekend a lot.

I have just returned from seeing them at the Kentish Town Forum and, despite the Sunday Evening Special obstacle course set for us by London Transport, the evening was a wild success.

Vampire Weekend's singer is the kind of hyper-literate, curly-haired college boy that's catnip to the likes of me. In particular, I love the way he sings with his head slightly inclined, earnestly annunciating his lyrics, and occasionally employing a wagging finger for emphasis, as though he is reading a story to a group of infants sitting on a carpet in front of him. He is a veteran of 23, an age I consider Perfectly OK for a crush object. It is genuinely and biologically impossible that I could be his mother.

Other excellent things about him: 1) his name is Ezra 2) his band performed a cover of Everywhere by Fleetwood Mac which could have charmed the imaginary birds off the non-existent trees.

E is for Ezra. E is for Everywhere. E is for excellent.

Thursday, 23 October 2008

'They call us lonely when we're really just alone'

A few years ago, if you'd asked me, I'd never have believed I'd become a fan of Mariella Frostrup. Yet now, every time I remember to read any Sunday newspapers, I always find myself nodding, serious-eyebrowed, in agreement with her words of advice – and never more so than this week, when she was extolling the importance of learning to love your own company. I'm a big advocate of this. In fact, I'm a borderline hermit. I like to think that this is congenital, and not a result of singledom or a serious lack of options (although we are all in the business of spinning these elaborate webs of self-deception, just to get along). I have shame-faced memories of making Mrs Jones tell kids from the other end of the street that her 6-year-old daughter wasn't coming out to play with them, and understanding, even at that young age, how social convention prevented her from elaborating that I preferred to stay in doing colouring and listening to my brother's Disney record on my own.

At the weekend, I went to see Glen Campbell at the Royal Festival Hall. On my own. No one I knew was as excited as I was about him, or willing to pay £30 for a cheap seat. And my thinking in this situation is always: Go on your own = slightly tragic. Miss out completely as a result of cultural ignorance of your friends and relations = full-blown tragedy. So there I was, with a booking for one. 

The Festival Hall, however, is very single-friendly. It's easy to sit on your own in your individually allocated seat, reading a newspaper while you wait for the lights to go down, browsing the bookshop during the interval, buying a flapjack (I enjoyed the fact that the queue for tea at a Glen Campbell concert is every bit as long as the queue for the bar. I finally felt I was among people who understood me) without eliciting a single pitying glance. I imagine it to be a very different experience standing in the middle of Brixton Academy nursing a Jack Daniels and Coke to your lonely self and pretending that, really, you're absolutely fine with it and you just feel so much closer to the music if you don't have to make smalltalk with someone about whether it's worth getting trebles at the bar because the queues are an absolute farce. (I developed a fleeting girl-crush on someone I once saw on her own reading a book in the bar of the Astoria, in the interval between I forget which support band and headline act. I thought she was both braver and better-dressed than I. I'm good, but I'm not that good.)

But still, as normal and well-adjusted as I am, radiating boldness and serene independence as I do, there are some people who go to concerts alone who are – let's just get it out there – freaks (although, of course, no more than you find in any medium-sized gathering of humanity). One of them was sitting a couple of rows in front of me and Mrs Jones (not the song etc) when we went to see Brian Wilson at the same venue a year or so ago. Every time he stood up to applaud, which was about four times throughout the set, his trousers fell down, exposing his withered, milky-white bare buttocks to the rows behind. I do, and I must, cleave rigidly to the belief I have nothing in common with this kind of music fan. 

There was a similar specimen (although buttoned and belted, as far as I could see) sitting in my seat, Balcony N9, on Sunday night. I couldn't put my finger on why, but something about him was sending my brain the clear instruction 'Do not approach, Do not initiate discussion. Kindred Spirit not detected'.  As a result, I chose not to remonstrate with him. And as luck would have it, the balcony was so sparsely booked that I could sit in virtually any seat apart from the one I was actually meant to be using. I found another one, and sat in my deliciously dark corner, totally rapt for two hours. I have to say that it was an early night. Glen had stepped off stage and into his satin slippers by 9.30. But let's give him a break, he is 72. And he gave us this, which was worth the ticket price alone.

(It was a toss-up whether to post this or By The Time I Get To Phoenix. They were equally sublime. But I cried real tears at The Wichita Lineman.)

Tuesday, 21 October 2008

Don't worry if it's not good enough for anyone else to hear…

I have joined a choir. This is obviously a good thing – physically, emotionally, socially, but most of all because I now have an official Hobby. A proper thing you actually Do, and can smugly write in the designated box on application forms, rather than apologetically resorting to vague concepts like cinema and music. I now belong in the ranks of people who do lindy-hop and go birdwatching. I'm also feeling quite passionate about one of these activities too. I'll let you guess which one.

I heard an amazing story of romantic derring-do at this week's rehearsal. Someone in our choir also sings in another choir – a small, exclusive a capella outfit who specialise in pop songs. This Sunday, one of that choir, or one of their friends (this detail escapes me) is going to propose to his girlfriend in Sainsbury's (I won't say which one, because she's probably reading and I'd hate to ruin the moment). But here comes the magic. As they're trundling up and down the aisles, the members of the choir will also be there incognito, in the guise of ordinary shoppers. At the designated moment, our hero will begin singing It Must Be Love (Madness, if you need reminding) to his girlfriend, and the choir will gradually join in, to the joy and amazement of bystanders. Oh yeah, and the girl. The performance will culminate, of course, with the proposal.

This is glorious for two reasons. Firstly, who knew that these foolhardy romantic gestures even happened in the real world? And secondly, it's a heartwarming throwback to the days of That's Life and their 'Get Britain Singing' campaign, which I would like to see revived. If you are too young to remember, one moment an old lady would be cruising the greengrocer aisle of her local supermarket, the next thing Doc Cox would be looming towards her in a white plastic pork-pie hat singing I'm Forever Blowing Bubbles, perhaps weighing a ripe grapefruit in each hand like a pair of breasts, or engaging the startled pensioner in a clumsy waltz.

Singing and romance. What could be better? Obviously her saying yes would be better. I was discussing this with Mrs Jones earlier and she offered a sobering reminder of how my godfather had proposed very publicly once on an aeroplane, only to be turned down flat. But I am clinging to the threadbare ropes of optimism.

Good luck, Romeo.

A spoonful of Sargeant

Can I, very belatedly, reflect on the medicinal powers of John Sargeant's dancing face? It is a thing of utter serenity in an urgent, angry world. Never mind that he should be channelling the steamy street rhythms of Rio de Janeiro. Consider instead how his expression looks like he's completing a particularly absorbing paint-by-numbers in a sun-dappled conservatory, or perhaps fishing on a perfectly still pond at dusk, to a soundtrack of  birdsong.

It is a tonic, a sedative,  a shot in the arm. Bring on the peaceful paso doble.

Sunday, 19 October 2008

Lambs to the slaughter

America's Next Top Model, now in 'Cycle' 10 (that's American for 'Series' 10), has long operated outside the boundaries of sane broadcasting, subjecting its contestants to increasingly bizarre challenges.

This week was the most incredible I've seen yet. The girls attended a shoot in New York's Meat Packing District – anyone see where this is going? – where they were photographed in underwear and jewellery that was LITERALLY MADE OF MEAT. It took several minutes' grappling with the Sky menu to convince myself I wasn't watching an old sketch from The Smell Of Reeves And Mortimer. I can only imagine the brainstorm that led to this creative breakthrough. 'Posing with live animals? Hmm, I like it, I like it… it just doesn't say total humiliation quite strongly enough…' 

Tyra? Short for Tyrant. This is now abundantly clear.

Scroll along to 1 minute 40ish to see them flash the flesh.

Saturday, 18 October 2008


Yesterday I broke my self-enforced Primark ban. I had been smirchlessly ethical for several months, but was finally lured in by the promise of cheap Halloween-themed tights for the spooky party season. Once I was in there, I almost immediately thought, 'In for a penny, in for a penny' and lapsed quite dramatically, eventually arriving at the tills bruised, battered and burdened with quite the pile. What would Panorama have said about that? I don't know. I don't watch Panorama. It's depressing. But like my dear friend Mrs G says, Primark's OK as long as you don't buy anything with hundreds of sequins on it. (Thus necessitating nimble underage fingers.) THIS IS A JOKE.

But shopping at Primark is never quite the bargain you think. In the same way that the whole menu at a cheap restaurant somehow tastes the same – whether you're eating fish, fowl or fondant – every item you buy from Primark swiftly acquires the same anti-lustre, and sense of mild abrasion against your skin. Fashion fatigue seems to set in all the more quickly. 

One of the questions I have been thinking about recently, apart from why have the M&S instore bakery stopped doing cherry scones ('Mummy, what did you do during the great glacĂ© cherry famine of 2008?), is when is it OK not to be thrifty? Cheap tomato ketchup? Sacrilege. Cheap bubble bath? Itchy skin-flakes. Cheap medication? Hmm…

Earlier this week, I decided to have a flu vaccination. If I get flu – proper, serious, I-really-mean-it flu – I can't work. If I can't work, I don't get paid. If I don't get paid, I might have to start taking in washing. My ironing skills are poor. You can see the urban tragedy that would unfold.

But where to go? Should I patronise Boots and pay £15 for a flu-free winter, or head to Superdrug and be immunised for the knockdown price of £9.95? What is the difference? Is Boots dishing out the Cristal of anti-flu medication? While Superdrug is the Asti Spumante? Or is it more like getting your hair cut? The higher price secures you the services of the Nuryev of vaccinators, while the lower gets you the work experience girl, who clumsily pre-swabs your delicate flesh with fingers swathed not in latex, but the debris from the bottom of a crisp packet. The top-end practitioner will enquire discreetly after your well-being, but then leave a companionable silence between the two of you, so you can relax and really enjoy the Immunisation Experience. The cheap version performs a tireless, squawking monologue, based on the considerable source material of her chequered dating history.

Being as neurotic as I am, it will come as no surprise to you that I chose reassuringly expensive. Your health is your wealth, right?

Wednesday, 15 October 2008

Manners are free

Dear Laura Ashley, Oxford Street branch. I know that you are probably full of fury and resentment at having to relocate to the wilderness of White City. I know you want to lash out at the nearest thing. But honestly, this is no way to treat a lady.

Tuesday, 14 October 2008

The two Ronnies

What is the word for people who have the same name but are totally different beings, preferably with as diverse jobs as possible? There must be one, lurking within the etymological family that gives us synonym and its siblings. 

I have reflected before on the many skills of the David Battys – one a midfield terrier and the other a BBC antiques expert. And this weekend I was skim-reading some broadsheet earnestness about the film Steve McQueen has just made. The Turner Prize-winning one, not the dead one.

But a few days ago, as I was reading some round-up of moving and shaking in the magazine industry, I was reminded of my favourite matching pair.

Ronnie Whelan, ex-editor of Hello magazine and…

Ronnie Whelan, mainstay of Liverpool and the Republic of Ireland's midfield during the 80s. Perhaps this goes some way to explain the particular fondness shown to WAGs by celebrity magazines. Anything for the missus, like.

Sunday, 12 October 2008

Changing man

Never let it be said that Joneses are not in the business of giving second chances. After dismissing SCD's Vincent Simone as a dwarfish cartoon lothario, over the last few days I have started to see him with… what…? could that be affection

This curious turn of events began on Friday, when Claudia Winkelman was interviewing Vincenzo and Rachel on set at rehearsals. Vincent managed to participate in a whole interview without once being taken over by the Compulsive Sleaze Syndrome, and its accompanying gropey tics, that have previously seemed to overwhelm him, but was instead sweet and reassuring and vulnerable. Then, with six little words on Saturday night, he won me over good and proper. He was talking about Rachel's crippling nerves before their first dance two weeks ago, and said,  'She was shaking like a leaflet.' Is that a malaprop? No. I'm not sure what it is – at the very least, it's English not being your first language – apart from really cute. And anyway, on a windy day, leaflets do, sort of, almost certainly shake. Or at the least, flap about a bit. 

Also, if he was the one who chose to quickstep to Little Green Bag, then props, as they probably say on Dancing With The Stars.

If you ask me – which you didn't, but that's what blogging's all about, right? – the fact that Rachel is pretty much off limits (what being engaged and all, and also completely out of Vincent's league), yet quite insecure and fragile, is bringing out a tender side to a man I might previously have imagined at home waxing his own chest to the strains of Shaggy singing 'Mr Lover Lover'. Perhaps we – or rather I - have completely misjudged him, and rather than being an oily little manslut, he is painfully starved of affection and trying to reassert some kind of masculinity after having his balls cut off (metaphorically speaking, of course) by Matt D'Angelo last series. D'Angelo, for Strictly-come-latelies, seduced Vincent's professional and romantic partner Flavia with his own hands-on, hands-all-over approach to steam-rollering a woman into submission.

Perhaps the 'journey' of this year's Strictly – for there is one every year, as sure as Arlene will alliterate – will not come from Mark Foster learning to move his hips or his facial features, or Christine Bleakley discovering her inner sex goddess (as opposed to bleating on about how much hotter the other girls are – zzzzzz), but the transformation of Vincent Simone from perv to prince.

Friday, 10 October 2008

Another Oxfam crusade…

Friday lunchtime. Oxfam, Drury Lane, London WC2.  Thanks to some eccentric shelving whim of the staff, I was very pleased to see a compendium of work by the popular young (and, if you absolutely must, chicklit) author Lisa Jewell resting on the shelf marked 'Literary Criticism' , just a few volumes away from Chaucer and the rest of the lads from the A-level canon. While Jewell's first novel, the marvellous Ralph's Party,  was unexpectedly feted by Tom Paulin on Late Review, her subsequent work has failed to win her the same kind of critical plaudits as, say, Ian McEwan. Thank goodness, then, that someone at Oxfam is On Her Side, and doing their bit to insinuate her work into the academic literary jungle.

However, that the same staff member has chosen to place the work of Jane Green on this shelf too is nothing less than total lunacy. I have only read Mr Maybe but Christ, let me tell you. It wasn't fit to clean up after Ralph's Party.

Tuesday, 7 October 2008

Exceedingly seasonal novelties

I'm applauding Mr Kipling for casting aside his fusty, husky, tweed-and-tombolas image and embracing both seasonal gimmicks and alliteration, with these Fiendish Fancies. 

Were I MD of Kipling Inc (a position I would like to formally declare myself available for, in the event that it should become vacant), I would have encouraged someone in a hairnet to tip a bit of orange essence into the vat of synthetic buttercream fancy-filler. As well as providing a flavoursome match for the tiger-striped visual, I think a tangy orange Fiendish Fancy would be just the ticket for people who don't find a Jaffacake quite enamel-corrodingly sweet enough. I'll be using this idea in my job application, when the Kipling board ask me what improvements I would make to the range. If you'll excuse me, I must go off and brainstorm recipe ideas around extra-bitter Lemon Slices for National Divorce Day.

Sunday, 5 October 2008

Madeley makeover

Richard Madeley, it's sad to hear about the difficult relationship you had with your father but let's look at the positives here – I think everyone's really digging your Jack Bauer makeover.

Saturday, 4 October 2008

It's not Terry's, it's MRINE

Despite a late night, I had to be up revoltingly early (to me anyway – it probably constitutes a lie-in to anyone who has children or a purpose) to have an MRI on my finger. 

One of the true and amazing facts I have learnt today about the world of MRI is that the smaller the area they are taking magic pictures of, the longer you have to be under the MRI hairdryer for.

Since they were zooming in on the top my finger, I had to lie on my front and extend my arm out in front of me ('like Superman', the scanner operative told me) for 40 bloody minutes. This is neither as effortless or as comfortable as it sounds, which is just another of the many reasons why Superman was a hell of a guy.

One boon of lying on your front for people who are slightly anxious (tick) and claustrophobic (tick) is that you feel you are just lying in a white room having a bit of a nap, rather than being able to see that the ceiling of your space-chamber is only eight inches or so above you, and you are trapped in what essentially looks like a cross between a pod in a Tokyo capsule hotel and some kind of state-of-the-art coffin. Or, if you prefer, that you are part of some giant techno experiment, like Mike Teevee at the climax of his story arc in Charlie & The Chocolate Factory. And because the scanner is really noisy - I mean, it really is like being inside an enormous scanner - you have giant headphones to wear and they let you bring a CD with you to play. To try and distract myself, I chose a goofy compilation I had made for a party, the contents of which I found myself trying to justify, and then apologise for, to the radiographer – who obviously couldn't care less and was only thinking, 'Jesus, we've got ourselves a talker.' OK, there may be something quite seriously wrong with my hand, but the excruciating pain of that would be as nothing next to a medical professional mocking my love of the theme to St Elmo's Fire

Halfway through the scan, they took me out and injected something or other into my hand. It took three attempts, and after the first one the nurse said quite casually, 'Oh dear, that vein's burst,' which is not a brilliant thing to say to someone of a nervous disposition like myself. But fortunately all I have to show for that particular micro-ordeal is three plasters and the most slimline bruise I've ever had.

I thought, as bruises go, it might look slightly more impressive. In fact, it looks a bit like a varicose vein in my hand which, having done some work for pregnancy and baby magazines, I can tell you is far from the least unusual place to have varicose veins.

I got to King's College Hospital early, so I walked into Camberwell for a mooch round Woolworths. There aren't many local shops where  they sell saucepans and fancy dress under the same roof – while simultaneously keeping the tradition of pick'n'mix alive – so I like to give them my business whenever I can. And thank Christ I did, as otherwise I would never have known of the existence of this:

One of the Chuckle Brothers – and I believe it to be Paul – must get through more eyeliner than Russell Brand. (In researching which Chuckle Brother is which, I've discovered that Chuckle is not their real surname. Sorry to be the one to let you know.)

While I was in Woolworths, I bought myself a Terry's Chocolate Orange as they were only £1.25 and I figured I deserved it. Even though I am now 34 and responsible for earning and disposing of my own income, a Chocolate Orange somehow retains the childhood air of Extremely Special Treat. And although full-price they probably cost less than a pint of beer or a shop-bought sandwich, it still seemed gloriously decadent. However, after the scan, I went to do my weekly shop at Sainbury's and found they were selling two Chocolate Oranges for only £1.93.

I felt like a fool.

Thursday, 2 October 2008

Give me just a little more time

I'm having a busy time of it at the moment which – and let's be perfectly honest about this – is not like me at all. It's only temporary, but this week, too much work and a modest amount of play have turned me into a sloppy blogger. 

If you are a budding writer, you are encouraged to start a blog and 'blog' every day – something, anything – just to ensure your puny writing muscles are being put through their paces on a regular basis. [Can I parenthese at this point and reiterate my loathing for 'blog' as a verb. It is way up there with 'golf' and 'holiday' in the Doing Words Chamber Of Horrors. Also 'parenthese', which I, Miss Jones, have just verbed right up without a care. Look at me, I'm a grammar maverick. Consistency? Tell it to someone who has the time. And who believes that semi-colons are still worth it.]

I am someone who likes writing, but who finds it hard to communicate more than one thing from my head to the parts of my body that carry out stuff at one time. And this week, my brain is heaving with full-time work, freelance work and the thought of having 50 fairy cakes to bake and ice as part of my ongoing plans for world domination. When is a feeble-minded fool like me meant to get any blogging done? How does anyone find the time? (Marbury, of course, is some kind of freakish, time-expanding blog-bot.)

Also, I like to work out my puny writing muscles on the parallel bars of the blog when there is something I want to say on it. There is little, at the moment, on account of the other stuff hogging all the seats in my head. As I've said before, I would like to spare you from the likes of 'On the way home from work today I bought some cheese. Isn't cheese expensive?' Even though it really is, and somebody with more time on their hands than me should look into that.

Likewise, as I've mentioned before, YouTube clips seem to be a quick-fix solution for time-pressed bloggers everywhere. Another solution, however, would appear to be the MeMe. In the blogging world, this is essentially some manner of questionnaire which you fill in, publish on your blog and, as you do so, pass some kind of cyber-baton onto another blogger, and thus a bastard, blogging chain-letter is born. The boon of the MeMe is that you need precisely zero content ideas to fill it in. You just follow the prompts. One of the popular MeMes seems to be a very long list of exotic and adventurous food items, which you annotate in various weights of font, depending on whether you've tried it, liked it, would never, etc. Since I am in no way famous, especially not as a gourmand, I imagine you, the reader, care very little about whether I've ever tried alligator or not. I once ate a pigeon spring roll at a book launch but only as a last resort. I was so hungry, it was honestly a matter a survival. Ultimately, I can encapsulate my answers to this particular MeMe for you in a few lines when I say I am essentially a wary 74-year-old trapped in the lithe body of a 34-year-old. I fear change. I respect the classics. I have not travelled widely. 

Aren't you glad I saved you the bother of reading the rest?

Really, when I don't blog, it is only because I am thinking of you.