jeudi 28 avril 2011

Favourite Thing #526

Shakespears Sister

I always want to follow that with a great big “[sic]” in foot-high red letters – I KNOW HOW TO SPELL SHAKESPEARE AND USE AN APOSTROPHE, THANKS VERY MUCH.  Honestly, that was how they spelled it.

Grammatical accuracy aside (and how it pains me to say that), Shakespears Sister are indeed one of my very Favourite Things.  To some (OK, most) they may have been a novelty one-hit wonder starring that girl who used to be in Bananarama, but to me they were and still are a glam-rock phenomenon of songwriting and style, right up there with Bowie as far as I’m concerned.  Yes, really.

‘Hormonally Yours’ is still a fricking amazing album and one that I listen to with as much frequency as I did when I first bought it on cassette in 1992 – and my sister and I spent hours dressing up and singing along, with her invariably playing the “goodie” (Marcella) and me the “baddie” (Siobhan).

I do actually still pretty much want to be Siobhan Fahey – just to remind you of how immensely cool she was/is:

So, we all know ‘Stay’ – which was a great single with a gorgeous video (as all of Sophie Muller’s work is, obv) – but it’s not really indicative of the true brilliance of the rest of the album.  From the glam-stompy full-blown eccentric fun of ‘Catwoman From The Moon’ and the perfect pop of ‘My 16th Apology’, to the frankly creepy ‘The Trouble With André’ (that song genuinely used to give me nightmares), it’s up there for me with the best albums of all time.  My top obsessed-over favourite, however, was ‘Moonchild’ – to the extent that I think I even considered changing my name to Moonchild at one point.  Good thing I didn’t but it’s still a lovely song; in fact, just thinking about it makes me well up with triumphant joy. 

‘Oh, little moonchild – you’re not the only one!’

mercredi 27 avril 2011

Guilty Pleasures?

Should pleasures ever be considered ‘guilty’?  I don’t think so.

It’s like dieting – few things irritate me more than people describing foods as ‘naughty’ or ‘sinful’, or saying ‘ooh, I’ve been so bad’ just because they’ve eaten some cheesecake.  It’s stupid.  Shoplifting and bitching about your friends is naughty.  Eating a hotdog isn’t.

Anyway.  The other area that always gets critiqued under the ‘guilty pleasure’ category is obviously music.  Again, I find this a bit weird.

However, when friends go through my record collection or, more likely in This Modern Age, my iPod, there is the odd outlier that I’m embarrassed about.  It’s not the obvious ones, because they are eccentric enough to speak for themselves – my adulation of the ‘Annie’ soundtrack is too bizarre to be frowned upon under usual standards of taste, and my complete works of Jason Donovan are a forgivable nostalgia-trip.

It’s always the ones, where I cringe just a tiny bit, that are just a little bit rubbish, that aren’t quite naff or weird enough – so my fear is that people might think that I think they are genuinely cool…

The thing is, I should just stop worrying because I DO KIND OF THINK THEY ARE COOL.  Why do I care if no-one else agrees?

One of my favourite bands of all time is (oh dear) No Doubt.  Yep, for some weird reason, those cheerful ska-loving OC pop-rockers speak to an obscure little corner of my soul in a way that I cannot begin to fathom.  When I’m not listening to Leonard Cohen in a candlelit room, there is nothing I like more than dancing around my kitchen and pretending I’m Gwen Stefani.  I love her and her red lips and her great abs – but, more weirdly, I really love her music.

My fondness for emulating Gwen was very literal in the mid-90s, when I first discovered No Doubt.  I spent a good six months wearing far-too-large trousers with far-too-small tops and a Bindi hopefully stuck to my forehead.  I even dyed my hair blonde – a mistake rarely to be repeated again.  I knew it wasn’t “cool” – I had come from a background of Nirvana and Hole and PJ Harvey, and I knew that this was not the same thing – but it was great fun, and that was pretty cool for a bit.

Quickly, my pendulum of taste swung back the opposite way – to wearing black, to ridiculous amounts of eyeliner, to bruise-hued lipstick which inspired my stepdad to quip “um, hi, have you drowned?” as I was leaving the house.  And that was when I found Placebo.

Let me state right now: Placebo have never, ever been cool.  Goth is not cool (unless we’re talking Nick Cave, and that doesn’t really count), and this is even more laughable sort of goth-lite – Diet Goth, if you will.  Basically, euro-rock with power chords and eyeliner, and the worst rhyming-couplet lyrics in history, replete with tedious drug and kink references.  Sample: “Don’t let them have their way/ You’re beautiful and so blasé/ Don’t fall back into the decay/ There is no law we must obey/ Don’t give in to yesterday”.  And that’s to say nothing of the song (“Haemoglobin”) that Brian Molko wrote from the point of view of a Civil War-era black man being killed by a lynch mob.  “I was hanging from a tree…”

I loved Brian Molko and Placebo like I had not loved a pop star since Kurt Cobain.  I cut my hair, bought a charity shop fake fur, read a lot of Jean Genet and plastered my bedroom wall with photos of my new leper messiah (which prompted my stepdad to ask me if I had become a lesbian, thinking that Monsieur Molko was a lady – a fair mistake).  And I had no idea of my own ridiculousness – I actually thought this was the height of coolness and superiority.  It took me a while to grow out of that one, actually.

I still love No Doubt and I still love Placebo.  It’s not just a nostalgia thing – I genuinely believe that if a band came out doing those songs now, I would be hooked.

Neil and I still go and see Placebo live once a year, for old time’s sake; whenever we do, I am silly enough to be sneery all the way there (“I can’t believe that they’re still chugging away, gothily and baldingly – and that we’re still going to see them!”) – and then the second they get on stage and start playing, I am transported back to fourteen-year-old square one.  I love Brian’s face and his guitar-playing and his strangled singing and I hope they do Our Lady of the Flowers but they won’t and I simply cannot let myself die without having had sex with him just once because I bet it would be amazing.

In a recent time of more-stress-than-usual, I found myself crying to Placebo songs – never a good sign – and simultaneously made the discovery that the only thing guaranteed to cheer me up was – you guessed it – putting on some No Doubt.

In those most shallow of ways, we really are the sum of all the things that we have loved and what we are naturally drawn to, and cool is beside the point.  Just like I know I’m truly miserable when I find myself rereading “Franny and Zooey”; if I can stop myself in time, I crack out “Prudence” as the tried and tested antidote.

I should be old enough by now to stop caring.  Why does it matter if someone suspects that I might consider my guilty pleasures to be right up there with my non-guilty ones?  It doesn’t matter because I do.

mardi 26 avril 2011

In praise of… Patti Smith

I know – who isn’t a Patti Smith fan, more to the point?  From ‘Horses’ to (my personal favourite, it must be admitted) ‘Because The Night’ and way beyond, the woman is amazing.

I love her music and her writing.  I love her ethics.  I love her look.  I love Fred Sonic Smith and the fact that she retired when she did, and then that she made such a glorious and triumphant comeback when she did.  I love that Victor Bokris book about her.

My love for her has recently reached new heights, though.  I have finally got round to reading ‘Just Kids’, her memoir of her relationship with Robert Mapplethorpe.

Like, I imagine, most Patti Smith fans, my admiration was always an awestruck one – I regarded her, literally, as some sort of high priestess and quite possibly a higher being.

‘Just Kids’ was as beautiful and wonderful as I thought – I sobbed throughout the final pages, but also and maybe more surprisingly, laughed out more than once.  What it also was, was touchingly human.  It really did show a lovely and extremely human side of Patti – making her as much of an icon but also kind of like she might have been my friend if I had met her back in the days she was remembering.

The relationship between Patti and Robert is beautiful – on a personal level, but also as a brilliant universal window into the development of two incredible artists.  And ‘artists’ they really were – I don’t apply that term lightly.  This book is inspiration for everyone who has ever really, really cared about making something brilliant and devoting their life to it.

For me, this was – of course – enhanced by the old-school New York setting.  We all know it’s an obsession of mine and that I am a total Chelsea Hotel bore – both literally and metaphorically.  I must admit that I particularly adored the period and location details.

It not only made me want to go back to New York, but also to make great stuff and have great friendships.  All good stuff, really.  Thanks, Patti and Robert.

lundi 25 avril 2011

I'm a superhuman 3D baby.

Whenever I’m asked what my superpower would be, I pick ‘shape shifting’.  I believe that I am drawn to this particular supernatural skill because I am already half a step closer to it than most normal people anyway.  I am not kidding.
Today, I am approximately seventeen shades closer to Nubian Princess than I was last Thursday.  This is not because I have been sunbathing on the beach, or fake tanning, or, god forbid, sun bedding.  This is because I sat outside a café, then briefly in a pub garden, and then had a quick walk in the park, in sunny weather, wearing Factor 50 suntan lotion.  Honestly.  I am, like, if not Beyoncé then at least J-Lo-coloured, maybe Princess Jasmine.
My arse is also about twice the size that it was at the beginning of the long weekend.  This is due to a lovely surprise package, via Hotel Chocolat and courtesy of my beautiful sister, that arrived in the post a little early for Easter.  That was some muy fancy chocolate, and despite its beauty and the unseasonable heat, you will be pleased to hear that I managed to gobble the lot (‘the lot’ being the family-sized gourmet chocolate feast selected online).
I seem to have the ability to get fat or thin, brown or pale, in the space of a day or less.  If it rains on Wednesday and I eat a weed salad or something, I’ll be back to pale and skinny and droopy before we know it.  Seriously, my mum always says – only half joking – that I seem to have the ability to lose half a stone in front of her very eyes simply by saying the words ‘I’m going on a diet’ (I have to mean it, though; there’s no faking it).
I honestly believe that I have some sort of weird, half shape shifter perhaps, body chemistry.  I have never been able to take drugs at all, because even a tiny bit makes me go wrong – once after attempting to smoke pot as a feeble seventeen-year-old, I became convinced that I was melting and/or weeing myself at all times, and tried to make my friends phone an ambulance, or an exorcist.  Not pretty.  I can barely drink because I’m such a lightweight (although that one took me a little longer to figure out).  I even save coffee for special occasions – it makes me go so loopy and over-productive (seriously, think speedfreak Kerouac knocking out ‘On The Road’ and you’re nearly there) that I like to save it for dire emergencies.
It doesn’t end there.  Once, at a clothes swapping party, the entire room was astounded that the two dresses I had wanted most – once a size eight and the other a fourteen – both fitted me perfectly.  Such was the ridiculous disparity of size when the two garments were on the hanger, no-one quite believed me until I demonstrated at length that both were a perfect fit and I wasn’t cheating.
See?  All this weird and over-sensitive physical chemistry seems to me to point only to one thing.  Shape shifter.
My boyfriend has gone away for five days, locked away in a recording studio in Cornwall that is only accessible by boat.  I’m trying to decide what species I might morph into while he’s away.  Maybe perfect housewife by Friday.

jeudi 21 avril 2011


Has anyone else noticed that the news suddenly seems to be full of ‘gagging orders’?  Is anyone else unsettled by this and wondering where they all suddenly came from?  Have I missed something?

Am I the only one who thinks it is NOT OK for people to do what they like and then have people silenced about it?

I for one don’t care what a footballer or a ‘household name television personality’ does in their own time*.  I also think that if they cultivate, and make money from, a ‘family-friendly image’, which the potential revelations could ruin, then they should kind of, um, suck it up.

Maybe not top of the breaking news list, but I am intrigued by all this.  It brings back memories from the ‘Law’ portion of my journalism course (we had a kind of bingo system where we would score points every time the lecturer mentioned Gillian Taylforth or Tom Jones or Englebert Humperdinck).

I think it is all very dangerous and fishy.

* I would like, however, to know who the ‘world famous married film star’ is.

Sometimes it takes new eyes

To make you appreciate where you are right now, at this very second.

Last night, some dear friends came to stay because, aside from the joy of hanging out in pub gardens eating barbeque food and talking music and living, they are in the process of (hopefully) moving to Brighton and so are starting the rounds of interviews and looking for flats and whatnot that this relocation entails.

They are a beautiful couple who are roughly my age, and at the moment they live in Hackney.  They want a break, a kinder pace of living, a bit of sea air, a commute that may involve a bicycle rather than a Tube and a bus.  To be around like-minded souls and inspiration, but a bit less mess and stress and crime and pollution.

“Brighton’s just amazing, isn’t it?” noted Goose.  “There’s just as much great stuff going on here as there is in London, but you can walk to it.”

“There’s the sea and the city and the countryside!” agreed Paddy.  “We could get a dog!”

I felt slightly guilty that I spend so much time whingeing that “I can’t get a dog because I live in Brighton”.  I could, really, couldn’t I?  Maybe.

Walking up the hill to our flat, the sea at our backs, I thought “where I live is a good place that I chose; I am lucky”.  The timing of this was fortuitous – I had been starting to wonder if I was falling out of love with Brighton, whether this was because I had lived here too long or because it was getting worse here.  If Paddy and Goose lived here and I didn’t, I think I’d be jealous.

It’s an obvious little lesson, but one worth remembering.

mercredi 20 avril 2011


I have always had a fringe.  There has never, ever been a time when I have been fringeless.  With the exception of that ill-advised six months when I was 12 and wanted to look exactly like Kurt Cobain so much that I copied his exact haircut – I didn’t realise that other girls were content just to have pictures of men on their walls, rather than turn themselves into them.

Anyway, I had an extended flirtation with those weird extra-short fringes that were so popular in the 90s (and which my friend Rachael and I still call ‘the Vickie fringe’, in honour of the most amazing character from the amazing film ‘Reality Bites’), or occasionally a longer side-swept arrangement – but I have always had a fringe, usually just a straight one that ends around eyebrow level.  Easy.

In fact, aside from a few variations in colour (and chopping experiments in Camden Market, and the Karen O bowl), I have always had the same haircut.  Any school photo of me from the age of four onwards will tell you – I have always looked exactly the same.

This is for many reasons.  One is that my forehead is quite large and, in certain lights, seems to look weirdly…lumpy.  However, necessity aside, I just really, really like fringes, so would have one anyway.  I aspire to have the greatest fringe possible, and as such have a slightly obsessive relationship with my habit of Google image-searching terms such as “Cat Power fringe”, “Claudia Winkleman fringe”, “Jane Birkin fringe”.  I have even persuaded unwilling friends to get fringes of their own, despite aversions to fringes.

You get the picture, as Lush once said.

Then, I recently read an interview with Joanna Newsom.  If you don’t know (although you probably do), Joanna Newsom is a ridiculously talented singer and harpist.  If you have not heard her epic album ‘Ys’, please do so.  She is also extremely pretty.

Joanna Newsom is roughly the same age as me, and was talking about the fact that she had always had a fringe, never in her whole life been without one, etc.  So she dared herself to grow her fringe out.  The concept that she had essentially been hiding behind her hair, that her entire face had never been exposed to the world, had been troubling her.  The idea of going fringeless terrified her, but she did it.

Of course, she looks astonishingly pretty.  More importantly, she said, she now feels liberated.

Now, this concept is in turn troubling me.  Should I be that brave?



jeudi 14 avril 2011

Running up THAT hill.

I love running.  This is a recent development.  I have also, in my life, quite-loved dancing and swimming and hot yoga, but not like I love running.

I used to sneer at people who “went jogging” (with a Ron Burgundy soft ‘j’, perhaps?).  I didn’t want to be like them.  They were the opposite of me and all that I stood for.  I would rather read a book and/or eat some chips than engage in such a stupid, pointless activity.  Does Joanna Newsom look like she goes running?  Does Natasha Khan look like she goes running?  Beatrice Dalle?  Jane Birkin?  Kate Bush herself?  Anyone cool in the history of forever?

However, I have had an epiphany.  I don’t know what sparked this one up – maybe my spreading hips from a strict regime of Hunching Over My Laptop At All Times, maybe some sort of out-of-body experience – but one day I went out onto the seafront and started running.  (Feel free to insert your own Forrest Gump-slash-village idiot joke here.)

And I liked it.  That was the grand total of about five months ago, and I think I may be an addict.  I like to run and run and run.  This afternoon, I am to run my first 5K race.  Not a vast distance, OK – but to my mind impressive, bearing in mind that six months ago I couldn’t run up the stairs.

Two things in particular help.  One: I live by the sea.  Two: Adidas by Stella McCartney.

I have come to the conclusion, that the real-life truth is the complete opposite to what I thought.  This happens fairly often, to be fair.  Far from being the archetypal anti-runner, it is in fact people like me who could benefit from this weird and pointless activity the most.  I am more addicted to its effect on my brain than my body.

In short, if you are as weedy/flabby/anxious/bookish/lazy as I am, then spending one hour per day getting out of your brain and into your body is A Very Good Thing.

And if by any chance you are still doubting the awesomeness of running in fashion/cultural/shallow terms, I have four words for you:
Vanessa.  Paradis.  In.  Heartbreaker.

See!  There’s a whole scene where she’s running like a pro and making cute jokes about ‘feeling like Madonna’ because she’s jogging with a bodyguard!  And I think Romain Duris looks like (a Frencher, more suntanned version of) my boyfriend.  If you haven’t seen Heartbreaker, I recommend that you do so immediately.

mardi 12 avril 2011

It still exists, even if it isn’t on Facebook.

One of my (many) pet hates in life, is going to a gig and being surrounded by people who are watching the entire performance through the click-click stop-motion screen of a camera phone.  (Obviously, the professional photographers at the front are exempt from this!)

As well as it being highly distracting for those just quietly trying to be in the moment and enjoy the show, I often wonder what people actually do with these multiple, often near-identical, digital images.  I doubt they are going to print them out and hang them on the wall, so presumably they will just sit there in the memory of the whizzy electronic device from whence they came, gathering dust until they are eventually deleted.  I mean, what else is someone going to do with 500 poor-quality long-distance photos of PJ Harvey?  (Obviously I’m a Luddite, so please do correct me if there is in fact some amazing use for all of these collections of bits and bytes and whatnot.)

The most depressing thing about it, is that whenever anyone does anything awesome, it now always seems to be with at least half an eye to bragging about it later.  Putting the pictures on Facebook and telling everyone you went to see PJ Harvey, rather than enjoying it while you are there.  It’s like thinking to yourself “ooh, this is fun – I can’t wait to do it again soon” – while you’re actually doing it.

A year or two ago, at ATP’s tenth anniversary festival, I was among the fairly sparse crowd who were hanging on to every word and chord from the divine Josh T. Pearson.  It was lovely, because there were few enough of us (I think that the Mars Volta or some other more popular band were playing on the other stage downstairs) that the audience was arranged in a semi-circle about two-to-three people deep, at the foot of the very small stage.  Cosy and intimate – perfect for such a performance.  Then, a couple came in – standard-issue hipster indie kids of a certain age, just like basically everyone at the entire festival – who pushed their way to the front, took a barrage of camera-phone photographs of themselves watching Josh T. Pearson for all of 30 seconds, before just as swiftly leaving.

That’s an extreme version of so many things that have become the norm – my younger friends who seem to spend all of Monday tagging photos of the weekend and ‘lol’-ing about the kerazy things they got up to, just so that the world knows they had fun; my friends who were kind of forced to join the dreaded Facebook after their wedding, when they realised that all of their guests except them were on the interwebs sharing photos and stories of the big day with everyone except for the happy couple themselves.

I know I’m guilty of it myself, in small ways.  Something funny will happen and, almost as a reflex action, I start mentally trying to repeat the story in hilarious fashion – in 140 characters or less.  (Although I maintain that Twitter is the superior form of social networking: Laura Marling recently and sniffily said that there was nothing ‘elegant’ about Twitter, but I think the exact opposite is true – there is something very elegant about people trying to form an interesting or amusing sentence with such limited space in which to do so.  I am fully aware at what a hypocrite I am – defending the ‘elegance’ of Twitter whilst slating the insidious Facebook culture that is blighting my enjoyment of live music events – it’s what makes me so fascinating, OK?!  Ahem.)

So, last weekend I was having a big spring clean – unfortunately, this is occasionally necessary, as I am an incorrigible hoarder who lives in a teeny-tiny flat.  I decided for once to be ruthless, to throw away all the rubbish that is cluttering up my life for no good reason.

This was when I realised that all of my views were wrong(ish), and my ‘Facebook has made us all think that things only exist if there is public evidence for them’ argument is not a new thing at all.  It pre-dates all of that.

In boxes, underneath my bed and the sofa and in that weird dusty cupboard where the water meter is, alongside the notebooks and the photographs, there was just loads of…crap.  Crap that I’d saved up in order to prove that I’d done cool stuff, basically.

There seemed to be dozens of menus from Parisian restaurants, collected over the years and now curling at the corners; gig tickets now faded to near-illegibility; flyers that I’d been handed in the street in New York, for events that I had never actually been to but sounded cool; even train and aeroplane tickets for journeys that were presumably important at the time, but I now had to wrack my brains to remember how they married up to the holidays and day-trips I must have wanted to remember.

I told myself that none of it mattered.   In years to come, I would remember that time I went to see Lady Gaga, even without the ticket to prove it.  I wouldn’t forget that I had ever been to Paris or New York, just because I no longer had all those menus for places I dimly remembered.  Even without all the proof, those memories still existed – in fact, the very best ones didn’t need any proof at all.

So, aside from a few photos and things that I really couldn’t bear to part with – the daily Chartier menu with Jimmy’s birthday printed at the top, the compliment slip from the Hotel Chelsea with my room number preserved for posterity – I threw it all away.  Three bin-bags full – that must be the equivalent of a whole camera-phone memory card.  I highly recommend it.

lundi 11 avril 2011

Changing my spots to stripes.

Do you prefer a polka dot or a Breton stripe?  I think this is a philosophical question as much as it is a purely sartorial one.

I used to live in the spotty camp, once in the dim and distant past.  For a brief period, at around 20, I even earned the nickname ‘Polka Dot Ellie’.  However, this was mainly due to only one garment – an old dress of my mum’s, strapless and full-skirted with a boned corset, in that 80s-by-way-of-the-50s style, black with white polka dots.  I loved that dress so much I wore it near-constantly, with big dyed-red hair, green eye-shadow, a jaunty red neckerchief and these green ballet shoes that I carried on wearing long after they fell apart and still actively miss.  That dress made me feel like Bettie Page, and I never wanted to take it off so I didn’t.

I still own that dress and wear it occasionally, but not often.  It has gradually been overtaken, within my wardrobe, by the onward march of the stripe.

It’s only recently occurred to me that my allegiance has changed entirely, and I can now probably be found wearing a stripe of some kind, at least two or three days a week.  A boat-necked Breton, a Betty Blue-type dress, an American Apparel body-suit underneath pretty much everything else.  As I type, I am wearing a stripe in purple and white, a short-hemmed long-sleeved jersey dress with navy ballet shoes and big sunglasses (not as I type but still Integral to the Look).

In the same way that a bright lipstick (Revlon’s ‘Cherries in the Snow’, thanks for asking) always makes me feel ready for action/writing/work (and has now pretty much surpassed my afore-mentioned love of the Dramatic Eye), a stripe of any kind makes me feel a bit more confident and capable.  Maybe a stripe is a little more, dare I say it, grown up?

A very crude generalisation is as follows:

Polka dots: Cath Kidston, The Pipettes (remember them?), girlish, adorable.

Stripes: Coco Chanel, Kurt Cobain, cool, excellent in one’s field.

Maybe, maybe not.  But today I am wearing stripes, I am confident and professional and clever, so I say YES.  But please feel free to argue in favour of the polka dot if you so desire.  Or, even better, that the two are not, in fact, mutually exclusive.

jeudi 7 avril 2011

Welcome to Newport, bitch!

In “My Favourite Teen Telly” part gazillion (see also: My So-Called Life, Heartbreak High and, yeah OK, Dawson’s Creek), today we come to Newport, Orange County – or, The O.C.

As with so many things (Twitter, skinny jeans, Lady Ga Ga) I was a late adopter – although this series was a classic of the early-2000s, I have only recently been introduced to its full-blown glory, courtesy of my sister and a multi-volume complete boxed set. Thus, my sister, my boyfriend and I have started what is basically The Unofficial OC Appreciation Society. We are all obsessed.

On Saturday nights when we should probably be going out and getting as wasted as Marissa did that time in Tijuana,we can in fact be found sitting in a line on a sofa, goggle-eyed and slack-jawed, having a vague approximation of the following conversation:

ALL: Californiaaaaaaaaa, here we cooooooooooooome… Yay.

E: OMG – does Marissa have a Chanel schoolbag?

K: Yes. Yes, she does. This is how we roll in the Orange County.

E: Sandy Cohen is so hot.

K: You are so weird.

J: Summer is so hot… OMG, she’s dressed up as Wonder Woman! No wonder Seth named his boat after her.

E: Sandy Cohen is so hot.

J: Have you noticed how they put a dark filter on the camera whenever Ryan goes back to Chino?

K: It’s to show that it’s bad there. It looks like Eastenders. Actually, the whole thing looks like a cheap telenovela until about series 3, where it looks like they upped the budget.

J: Have we got the TV on some weird wide-screen setting? Why does Marissa look so flat and yet so… wide?

E: Because she dresses herself weirdly. Have you never seen her many appearances on

J: Oh, yeah. MischFug BartFug.

K: Have you noticed that Sandy Cohen is always eating a bagel? It’s to show that he’s Jewish. Also, their coffee mugs are huge.

E: Sandy Cohen is so hot. Also, I would just like to say: I love Julie Cooper. Actually love her. Even more than Sandy Cohen.

See what fun? I recommend trying this yourself at home, with the very un-OC accompaniment of fishfinger sandwiches, preferably made with processed cheese.

mardi 5 avril 2011

In praise of Esther Freud.

I could not be more excited about the fact that Esther Freud has a new book out this week, and that I am going to go to City Books to buy a copy each for my sister and me today.  Apparently ‘Lucky Break’ is – even more tantalisingly joyous – loosely based on her days at drama school in the 80s, before she became a novelist.

Now, Freud writes those sorts of books that I love but am entirely aware drive a lot of people absolutely bloody mental.  They are elegant, slim little tomes where (by and large) hardly anything ever happens.  However, not in that wordy and ponderous roundabout way that, say, Ian McEwan (who seems to drive a lot of people even more bonkers, and whom I love nearly as much) has, but rather a sparse, impressionistic style where not a single word is superfluous or out of place.  Something to which to aspire.

The first one I ever read – like, I suspect, most – was her debut, ‘Hideous Kinky’.  It left me with a fascination for child narrators, a still-unrealised yen to visit Morocco, and a slight dislike for the Kate Winslet film version.  An absolute joy, whilst at the same time an early example of how Freud makes slightly shocking events and details all the more so, by downplaying them entirely and exorcising any histrionics or judgements from the scene.

However, my favourite is her second novel ‘Peerless Flats’, which ranks among my Favourite Books Of All Time.  This really is the one where the very least happens, which is probably why I love it so much – Hideous Kinky has its exotic location, The Wild has a shooting, at least, but Peerless Flats is basically about being a bit bored and out-of-sorts in a high-rise council flat.  Lisa is a lovely character, her sister Ruby is romantically fascinating, and her little brother Max, with his obsession with foxes (“are you a fox?  Naughty fox!”) is a delight.  I don’t have much call to be in that part of London very often, but every time I get off a train at Old Street, I look out for Peerless Flats.

‘The Wild’ is nearly tied for a place in the top-favourites list – it’s the darkest of her novels, and has another child narrator who breaks your heart a little, in a good way.  ‘Gaglow’ is a lovely, gentle read (although with the lurking sense of harsh reality that’s there in all of these), and a real treat for fans of Lucian Freud – I love how she doesn’t really pretend that it’s entirely fiction, for the sake of ‘art’ or ‘seriousness’; it just is.  Again, ‘Love Falls’ features a Lucian-like father and if, like me, you’re a sucker for girl-coming-of-age tales, preferably set over a hot summer (see: ‘Stealing Beauty’, ‘Bonjour Tristesse’, &c.), then you’ll be in love, too.

The only one I haven’t mentioned here is ‘The Sea House’, which is not to say that it’s any less wonderful than the others.  It’s just the one that I re-read the least, for some reason, and enjoyed and admired without feeling quite the same passionate connection.  That’s just me, though – I still highly recommend it.

More on ‘Lucky Break’, I imagine, when I’ve read it.  I actually cannot wait.

Finally, yet another reason why I love Esther Freud – we share the same first initial, and I also own this exact cup:

lundi 4 avril 2011

The gigs of my life.

There have been many other good ones, but these are the three greatest and I do not believe it likely that they will ever be bettered.

Hole at Shepherd’s Bush Empire (February 2010)
I should say that this was a Courtney Love gig (I don’t call it Hole without Eric), but it says Hole on the ticket, which is still pinned proudly to my kitchen notice board.  Courtney Love long ago changed my life (the first time I saw ‘Doll Parts’ on MTV at twelve and something clicked in my brain that made it go ‘oh, I see – I’m wonky but OK’), but I had never seen her live – my last opportunity to do so had been at Glastonbury on the same day I’d taken my English A-Level so I had to skip that one.  When my dear friend Neil managed to score us tickets to this small one-off comeback gig, it was a gift from heaven – particularly as Neil and I have spent so many evenings of our lives singing the whole of ‘Celebrity Skin’ from start to finish, not to mention that genuinely miraculous time I went up to the indie floor at Popcorn (Monday nights at Heaven, late 90s) and ‘Awful’ spontaneously started playing!
So, given Courtney’s peaks and troughs over the years, over cocktails and appetizers outside Balans at the Westfield, we prepared ourselves for the worst – we all recited the mantra that even if she was atrociously bad, even if she got onstage and fell over and walked off again, we would finally have been in the same room as Courtney Love.  It would have been worth any ticket price.
We were equal parts anxious and excited as she came on.  She launched straight into the opening of ‘Pretty On The Inside’, segued into ‘Sympathy For The Devil’; I pushed my way to the very front of the crowd for the first time at any gig since I was about 17.  And I was lost.  In years of love.  From that moment onwards, until she sobbed her way through ‘Northern Star’ and I touched her ankle.  While she played ‘Never Go Hungry Again’ because my friend Burak asked her to.
Whatever you say about the woman – and I will argue back until I’m blue in the face that she is one of the best songwriters of her generation, a genius, as distinctive a guitarist as any of the greats, and a true maverick – we have nobody else like her.  To watch her live is like watching a performer without boundaries, and it is exhilarating and disconcerting and wonderful.

PJ Harvey at Somerset House (July 2004)
My boyfriend and I first bonded over a shared love for PJ Harvey.  The night we met, we sat on a fire escape and sang her songs.  A year later, he sold me a bass guitar and I asked him to go to see Polly at Somerset House with me.  A man who loves PJ Harvey is a special creature, in my book.
It was the perfect summer evening and the perfect setting – Somerset House is one of my favourite places in the entire world, for ice skating or films or live music, beautiful.  PJ was amazing – a performer of power and grace and the true charisma that you rarely see in the flesh, with her ‘Uh Huh Her’ album of the time a bit of rock n roll swagger.  When she giggled her way uncontrollably through ‘Down By The Water’, my love for her was sealed anew.  When she played ‘Good Fortune’ I agreed.

Leonard Cohen at O2 Arena (July 2008)
The Great Man has been a fixture in my life for as long as I can remember.  Along with brown eyes and big teeth, and many other things, one of the features I have inherited from my mum is a love for Leonard Cohen.
So, it was only right that, when he made his comeback after so many years, we should go and see him together.  Not only that but she bought us special VIP-package tickets and we made a proper family outing of it.
We ate a three-course dinner and listened to the sound check, clutching at each other and making sure that this was real, that it was really him and we were really this close.  It was true.
We sat only about ten rows back, and I have never seen anybody command a room like it – this was a man who is the very best in the world at his job and, better than that, looked as though he was enjoying every second of it.  My stepdad and I shared glasses, taking turns on mine because we have the same prescription and he forgot his.  My mum and I danced at the front by the stage to ‘The Future’.  My mum and Jimmy sang harmonies to everything.  I sobbed to ‘Hallelujah’, which until that point I had thought was my least-favourite of all his songs.  It was one of the very best nights of my life.