Wednesday, 29 September 2010

So long, farewell...

From today, I will be absent from the blog for 10 days. I will obviously understand if you don't notice any difference. So till then, it is auf wiedersehen, adieu and...

...what is the best song with 'goodbye' in the title?

Is it this?

(Apologies for the slightly nerve-shredding sound quality.)

Or this?

Or something else..?

Monday, 27 September 2010

Melancholy Muppet Monday

Well, I don't know about you, but I could do with some cheering up. Even though I have just come back from choir and it is always a tonic, and we are learning Rehab, which is brilliant, the need for cheering remains.

Thank goodness for our occasional regular feature – so occasional it has only appeared on one occasion – Muppet Monday.

I think I may have posted this clip before, as a link, but never mind because a) this is my blog, b) this is my bad mood, c) it is one of my favourite ever songs, whether it is on the
magical Muppets record of my childhood, or the Ella Fitzgerald albums my dad gave me when I was older.

In terms of sentiment, it is pretty much the opposite of needing to be cheered up. It proceeds from a position of already feeling massively cheered, but I am going to invoke either the power of positive thinking or total dislocation from reality.



As I may have posted the above on a previous occasion, here is a back-up. It is a more thorough exploration of the whole cheering process. I mean, really, it takes you right through it. And it has Gonzo in it.

Sunday, 26 September 2010

My M&S malaise

You could learn a lot about just how hatefully privileged and comfortable my life is from the fact that one of the things I worry about is the future of Marks & Spencer.

The last few years have been tough. Through the endless reports of their imminent financial ruin, we have had to shop hard and stay strong and listen to Bon Jovi a lot in order to Keep The Faith. And as if that wasn't upsetting enough, there is the question of what kind of personality crisis is being played out in store.

Clearly, Someone Up High has decided that M&S must no longer be the preserve of slippers and, like, preserves. Yet, they can't seem to decide whether they want Enid Blyton as their CEO:

Or Barbara Windsor circa 1969.

I don't want my raspberries to be ripping or my nectarines to be naughty. I just want them to be clean and ripe and cut into nice little pieces that I can eat with a plastic fork without taking my eyes off the computer screen or the telly. That is why I shop there. Also, for the excellent tights.

And then there's the horribly misjudged conception of the 'Reverse Percy'. Is it just me who thinks they have taken the much loved Percy Pig confectionary item - beloved of office workers and pork gelatine enthusiasts everywhere - and given it a makeover with overtones of dark sexual experimentation. I don't care at all for the way they've chirpily written 'It's just wrong!' on the packet, above a cartoon of Percy shielding his eyes.

Also, they are 'super-sticky'. Ew.

This air of 'We're not just here for drawliners and long nighties. Honestly, we are a right laugh. Some of those guys in product development are
really crazy' is a bit embarrassing for everyone.

So let us say that I was experiencing some feelings of anxiety about the well-being of Magic & Sparkle. And then this happened:

The invasion of the other brands. Urgh! Common old Nescafe. Garish Kelloggs. Strongbow. Strongbow!

Clearly, I am at risk of sounding like some demonic pure-brand fascist – 'Any item of merchandise here not born of St Michael can CLEAR OUT! And yes, Walkers Crisps, I am TALKING TO YOU' – but it's more that they taint my impression of M&S food hall as some kind of supermarket shangri-la where everything exudes the same soothing brandlessness, miles away from the everyday labels of your daily grind. It's like they have let the outside in, where previously it was some magic kingdom of modestly achievable luxury. (Toilet paper with fleur de lys on! Get me!)

All this horror is to say nothing of the plastic, stemmed glasses full of wine with a foil peel-off top, so you can feel like some kind of urbane wine-bar sophisticate as you cruise back out to zone 5 on your packed commuter train, serenaded by one-sided phone conversations and mobile-phone R&B, while the aroma of Burger King Whoppas and despair dances in your nostrils.

I have never taken a photo of these since it would be a step further towards acknowledging their existence that I am simply not prepared to take.

All this makes me wonder if I am witnessing the last desperate commerical throes of the M&S empire. It compounds my suspicion that they are in terminal decline. And then where will I buy my 'more chocolate than biscuit' biscuits and luxury sherry trifles for one? Oh woe, oh vile middle-class, clasping-the-affordable-cashmere-to-my-bosom woe.

And yet. If this represents some kind of midlife crisis for M&S – desperately trying to appear fun and 'groovy', cavorting with unsuitable brands, committing label infidelity – it may be OK. If they've been trading since the 1880s, and they're at the middle of their life, that means they shouldn't close until at least 2130, right? Which means I won't have to worry about that eventuality in my lifetime. Just like climate change. I'M TOTALLY JOKING.

So now I just have to work on our relationship. But I've remembered that as Halloween starts to creep up on us, I always fall in love with M&S all over again. Last week I saw these and I knew that everything was going to be alright.

Yep. Still got it.

Saturday, 18 September 2010

Olympic update

When you are blindly, brilliantly in love, it just means that the cosmos has directed you towards your beloved solely on account of your ability to find endearing those flaws in them that others can't stand.

Take me. I thought I loved the Olympics. I learnt to love Mandeville and Wenlock, the two much-maligned mascots. I came to look fondly on their googly eyes and longed to ruffle their shiny, non-existant hair. I felt funny in my tummy every time I took a train eastwards out of London and saw that stadium-in-progress.

But, but, but... I have come to doubt my feelings because, try as I might, and lord knows I have, I just cannot learn to love this:

That logo. I just can't look it in its five eyes and pretend everything's OK with us. I wish I could.

This logo was extravagantly embossed (well, OK, just printed, if you must) on an invitation to the launch of a more-up-than-down-but-not-really-all-that-upmarket jewellery label's Olympic-themed collection, which was orginally addressed to my friend Miss W, who kindly gave it to me, as she knows I like That Kind Of Thing.

It was an upmarket invitation. Feel the thickness.

Mmmm, the thrill of luxury stationery.

I'm glad they went big-budget with the cardboard because, given the design concepts greenlit thus far, Olympics-wise, I'm not exactly holding out for the collection.

What can we possibly expect from Olympic-themed jewellery? Giant five-ringed pendants on hefty chains, reminiscent of the Beastie Boys' VW period? A big knuckle-duster of a ring that spans your whole hand, with a different coloured Olympic ring on each finger (there are too many senses of the word 'ring' going on in this paragraph for my liking). I think this was Miss W's idea. You can tell from this that she works in fashion. Another of her ideas was a tiny solid silver javelin to wear through your septum. I expect her to have her own line in Elizabeth Duke any day now.

What else? Well, if this is to be the second coming of the austerity Olympics – the sustainable Olympics, I may have heard it called – after the excesses of Beijing, then we must reuse and recycle, we must make, do and mend, we must make enthusiastic noises about natural resources and hoary craftspeople. I would like see spectacular tribal necklaces featuring feathers moulted by London's pigeons and harvested from the pavements of Trafalgar Square. I would like to see bracelets woven from the balls of dust and human hair found in the tunnels of London underground. I would like to see bangles and cuffs as red and shiny as London's iconic buses, and made from the bendy ones that are destined for the scrapheap. I would like to see chunky papier mâché beads made by primary school children throughout London's boroughs from free newspapers and magazines found discarded on various means of public transport.

Perhaps you have your own ideas. I will not be wearing any of them, obviously. Yours or mine. Or anyone else's, most likely.

In other Olympic news, despite my then-irrational infant loathing of Sebastian Coe, you can imagine that I was still thrilled to see this in my inbox.

Sunday, 12 September 2010

Owls and eagles and hawks… oh my

This weekend I have been on a field trip or, to be more specific, an owl experience, thanks to a brilliant birthday present from my brother.

I love owls, most particularly their ever-present expression of stoicism and thinly veiled contempt.

We didn't just experience owls, though. Oh no. We also experienced eagles and hawks. Eagles are pretty OK. But not as good as owls. Slightly behind eagles, OK-wise, are hawks.

Owls have exceptional hearing. This is a Fact I learned, in response to a Question I asked. At least, I think it's a fact. The lady falconer in charge of our experience told me their hearing is so good they can hear the heartbeat of a mouse. This is so extraordinary I couldn't decide whether to believe it or not. It seemed exactly the kind of fabricated story the staff would spin to gullible, just-off-the-London-train wildlife-tourists like me, all French Connection parka and silver Converse. They would then laugh among themselves in the pub after work, over some hearty real-ale-style beverage, as they imagined me repeating this ludicrous untruth in polite society, much to the derision of everyone present.

I also learnt that a kestrel can lift a double-decker bus

Of all the owls I met, I had two favourites.

The first one is called Louis. He is small but he fights dirty. Here is a picture of him sitting on my glove, and I think it is quite clear by his expression what an instant, deeply affectionate bond we formed.

The second is called Willy, because of Willy Wonka. You may notice that Willy has a Wonky beak.

This kind of thing represents a moment of flippant hilarity to whoever named the bird, but to Willy, it means a lifetime of mockery from the rest of the aviary and a dangerously negative body image. This kind of thing makes me sick.

Willy is of a nervous disposition, which sometimes means he doesn't pick up physical skills as quickly as the other owls. I felt great understanding for what it must be like to be in Willy's feathers.

And here is the biggest eagle we met, who is a lot heavier than any owl.

You can see here that I had to rest my arm on a rubbish bin when I was holding him because I was so worried about my non-muscles trembling visibly within about two seconds, right in front of the critical eye of my fellow owl-fanciers. It is not all glamour being an amateur eagle-hander, that is for sure.

Wednesday, 8 September 2010

It's September, it must be Strictly...

So I'd promised myself that this year I would play hard to get when it comes to Strictly Come Dancing. I would fasten my dressing gown right up to the neck and not participate in their vulgar and undignified attempts to sex up our five-year relationship with new, younger partners and the like. I was reminded of this as I sat in front of my computer at one minute past midnight on Wednesday, feverishly refreshing various social networking and news sites in an attempt to discover the identities of this year's contestants.

I felt cheap.

But also a little bit excited. I can't help it. I have always really fancied Jimi Mistry.

This year, as always, the (straight) men have a perv buffet that consists of blandly nubile youth and like-a-fine-wine metaphor-inspiring older models who your creepy male relatives can arrange their trouser-lap area to under the cover of a spread-out Saturday newspaper.

They also have Ann Widdecombe, who has lovely hair in the publicity shots. I can't say that our personal and political views have ever enjoyed any kind of Venn diagram fun together, yet I feel strangely protective of Ann and prematurely annoyed by the slew of derogatory gags about her appearance that will be aimed at her by panel-show comedians for as long as she stays in the competition

The desirable male contestants often disappoint in comparison to their female counterparts. But this year, straight girls nationwide with not much to do on a Saturday night can thrill to:

Matt Baker – he's the Chris Hollins you can entertain mild sexual fantasies about! This is slightly unfair to Chris Hollins. He is a lovely, attractive man. Just seems a bit wholesome. So does Baker, but they've done a remarkable job of giving him a near-Patrick Dempsey degree of smoulder in his press shot. (Also, he has done a lot of gymnnastics, although let us remember that that didn't get Gaby Logan very far.) One of my correspondents has already expressed some dismay that her secret
Countryfile crush is going mainstream. Incidentally, reality-TV mathematicians will be feverishly scribbling down in their Effort ledgers the fact that Baker was the first to utter the magical 'give it 100 per cent' in his introductory VT.

There is Scott Maslem who, judging by the women I speak to, isn't the subject of any mild sexual fantasies. They are all deeply vivid, if somewhat elemental.

There is my beautiful Jimi Mistry, who I am pretty much over, having watched his introductory VT and felt worried he might be a bit embarrassing uncle. 'Oh god, I love dancing. Yeah, I'm ALWAYS out clubbing. I used to be a breakdancer back in the day...'

And then, ladies, if you like 'em hairless, there's Henson. From the neck up, Gavin Henson is like the sweet-natured, slow-speaking sidekick in a Disney film ( 'It's not normally a thing I do, dancin'...') , all wide eyes and just-woken-up hair. Disney or Creature Comforts, I haven't totally decided which. From the neck down… well, it's not my cup of cha-cha-cha, but I guess it's impressive.

There are other contestants, of course, and we will be touching on them (not literally – eww, sticky fake-tan rubbing off on my fingers) on Saturday when
Anton meets Ann the celebrities meet their dancing partners.

Of course, the hotter male celebrities are likely to be literally outstripped by the New! Hot! Young! They Have Been On Telly In America! Professional Dancers. Two of the particularly dreamy new pros pop up where they have absolutely no business to at the end of this
BBC Newsbeat gallery of the celebrity contestants. When I saw this, I was reminded of the classic 'How did that get in there?' botched slideshow scenario. In their attempt to remind everyone that, honestly, Strictly Come Dancing is really sexy now, sexy we tell you, with really handsome men and everything, we can expect the BBC to 'accidentally' flash up those pictures whenever things look like dragging – instead of the Strictly scorecard, during Newsnight, mid-Songs Of Praise. 'Ooh! I don't know how they got in there! It must be a computer error! We're working very hard to fix it. Oh no! It's happened again!'

Generally, the whole business of What They Have Done To Strictly is still unfathomable to me. But I'm a lover, not a fighter (I was reminded of this as I tried, with little success, to sing the Michael Jackson part of
The Girl Is Mine at karaoke on Monday night), so I'm just going to roll with it and see what happens. But still. If it's all about the sexiness and youth, why hold on to the likes of Anton and Erin? And why ditch the most popular professional dancers who were responsible for retaining the show's loyal supporters through the years when the quality of celebs was low, low, low? There must be some hefty internal politics involved, as yet unrevealed by the tabloids. Otherwise, it is so illogical it makes me wonder if the whole light-entertainment dance show charade is simply a lavish cover-up for a spy cell. Strictly Come Spooks. You can have that for free, commissioning editors. You're welcome.

Friday, 3 September 2010


Hello, how are you? Very well, I hope. If you are a highly strung quizzer, you will be totally psyched to learn I have posted the answers to the ludicrously hard 1959 BBC Children's Annual quiz for deaf children in the comments thread for that particular post.

There is no prize. Which is probably just as well as there was no clear winner. Hmm. I do feel slightly guilty about this though. If you entered, or left any kind of comment on the quiz post, would you like some biscuits like these? They won a prize themselves once, way back in the heady Indian summer of 2009. You don't have to, obviously. Don't feel obliged or anything. It's no big deal. After all, what am I to you? No more than words on a screen, a stranger. But if you would, send me an email by clicking on the 'Contact me' link somewhere to the left, let me know your address and I will send you some. I promise I won't use this information for ill, or drop round unannounced. I'm really pretty lazy so you can be sure neither of these things will happen.

I will try to learn some lessons from the last time I posted biscuits to people. These lessons may involve bubble wrap. Also – and I'm not proud of this – I still owe the lovely Hel some from a year ago, after a catastrophic email fail. (Hel, if you're reading, let me know if you're at the same address).

I will repeat the lucky dip offer from last year. If you're the first non-commenter to email me, you will also get some biscuits. I don't think that's exactly a lucky dip. That's more first come, first served, but I'm extremely tired and I have to go to Banbury very early in the morning.

Previous applicants need not apply.

You have two weeks to contact me. Then the baking will happen. It won't happen next weekend, as Strictly Come Dancing starts, and I have to go on an owling excursion. It would not be unreasonable for you to expect some kind of report on both those happenings in the coming weeks.

I think that's it then.

Good night.