mardi 30 octobre 2012

Smacking the Pony

The 90s television comedy programme Smack the Pony is, to me, even funnier because my nickname is ‘Pony’. *  Yep, hilarity ensues in my household before the opening credits have even ended.

Title aside, it’s a brilliant programme, which I suggest you look up on the 4-OD website and watch immediately – it’s all there.  Basically, it’s all ladies being silly and very funny.

It first came out in the late 90s and I dimly remember it from that time.   Watching it now, my best bits are the 90s music video spoofs – classics such as Torn by Natalie Imbruglia and Drop Dead Gorgeous by Republica, among others.  However, the remarkable thing was that it didn’t seem that remarkable.

I honestly think I was very lucky growing up in the 90s – not least because getting dressed up to go out meant putting on some baggy trousers and Adidas trainers, maybe adding an ironic sparkly hairclip or some blue nail varnish for a special occasion.  Also because it was a short and blissful window when the alternative somehow became the mainstream.  Sneakily, while no-one was looking.

Kenickie and Echobelly regularly got into the Top 10!  Babylon Zoo were on Top of the Pops – with a song about spacemen being a massive pop hit, sung by a gorgeous man from Wolverhampton in a long silver skirt!  A comedy programme fronted by a trio of women being hilarious would be on at primetime on a Friday night!

It’s like we’ve gone backwards since then, I swear it.  And I don’t think this is me being all ‘ooh, the olden days were better’ now I’m an ancient and grumpy 31-year-old.  Loads of good stuff is still out there, it’s just that now it’s a bit buried and thus harder to find.  I keep hoping it will come back, that the current climate won’t be able to sustain itself and we will go back to a time when Lush could be a popular band, and a shiny orange shirt and long stretchy skirt was my smartest outfit.

If you don’t believe me that times have changed – in this era when I am reluctantly familiar with the crotch of every female pop star, now watch this video of the All Saints.  Bearing in mind that at the time they were the coolest, sexiest and most mainstream pop group.  No high heels to stop them doing a cool dance; nothing you would have to feel bad about your young cousins or nieces seeing; one of them is wearing an overcoat, for goodness’ sake.  Is it too much to ask my popstars to put on an overcoat, just occasionally?  A cool and sexy overcoat, like this. **

* Or ‘Pone’, for short – due to my short, sturdy Shetland-like legs and ‘trotty’ running style.
** And don’t you dare cite Chung as an example to girls for ‘dressing for themselves’.  I like her, but I can’t believe she has the gall to claim this title for herself (which she does, all the time) – all she is doing is dressing to suit her own frame (fair enough), by showing loads of leg instead of boob.  This does not somehow make her morally superior.

vendredi 26 octobre 2012

The trouble with teenagers

Is the same as it ever was.  Nothing to see here.  Move along, please.

For the first time in a lot of years, I now have a train journey to work.  It’s a nice train – a local stopping service, going the opposite way of London, which meanders picturesquely along the coast.  I always get a seat and the old conductor is kind and friendly (and has been known to hold the train for a few seconds if he sees me or anyone else running frantically late in the morning, sprinting flappily for the closing doors).

The only time the train gets busy at that time of the morning is for the last twenty minutes or so of my journey.  At the stop before mine, hordes of school children flock onto the train.  The girls from the girls’ school in their navy blue uniforms, the boys in bottle green, all senior-school age.

The other day, when the train was so crowded that many people were standing, a seat became unexpectedly free.  With people standing all around, the teenage boy sitting opposite used the seat to put his feet up – it obviously not occurring to him that other people might want to sit down.  He had to be asked to move his muddy trainers, which he did very grudgingly and impolitely, so that a lady could sit down.

That’s the problem with teenagers today – they are all so self-involved, they have no concept of other people or the outside world, no empathy, no manners.

Except, um, it’s not.

That same day, I was bodily pushed out of the way by a middle-aged man in a suit, just so that he could get on the train before me.  There’s a woman about my age who infuriates me every single evening by barging past people to get her regular seat.

Nobody uses them as examples of why middle-aged men are bringing down the world, or that the standards of professional women of around 30 are slipping disgracefully.

I’ve noticed this double-standard at work a worrying amount.  Old ladies now talk on their mobile phones loudly in a busy train carriage – and people look on fondly, like this is hilarious – but if someone under 21 does the same, people roll their eyes and look pained.  Like clearly this is why the world is going to hell in a handcart – a handcart, I tell you.

Teenagers are bloody lovely.  They bring me joy every morning as I eavesdrop on their conversations (examples from this very morning: ‘Cleo so fancies Josh’ and ‘your family are Bible-bashers, right?’ each followed by intense discussions on said subject) and observe their complicated hairstyles.  Sometimes, conceptually, I worry that they’re so different from previous generations – with their iPhones and their premature confidence and their reality TV – and then I am always pleased to notice that they are exactly the same as we ever were, only – let’s face it – just a tiny bit better.  The girls still have weirdly thick-looking waists from rolling their skirts over in order to shorten them.  The boys try to look tougher than they are.  They swear self-consciously and often slightly incorrectly.  But I’m sure they are all much prettier and more articulate than me and most of my class were.

If that’s not enough to convince you, then think hard about what you used to do on public transport as a teenager.  No, really hard and not the stuff you want to remember…

OK, I’ll start.  When I was fifteen, I used to snog my boyfriend in full public view on a Saturday afternoon on the train between Bourne End and Maidenhead.  Usually while half a dozen friends looked on, bored.  None of us had a ticket because it was in the few seconds before they installed gates at every single station.  If there was no-one around, Vicky would smoke a fag.  There’s a chance someone might have had a can of beer on the go.  The boys would be noisy, and Ali and I would be gossiping inanely about boys (in between kissing them).

Yeah, we were obnoxious.  But we’re all – mostly, to my knowledge – OK, functional human beings now.  Easy to forget sometimes, yeah?

mardi 23 octobre 2012

Mixtape – Songs about books

My two favourite things.

Kate Bush – The Infant’s Kiss
A spooky song about a spooky story.  This is actually based on the film adaptation The Innocents (aka The Scariest Film of All Time According to ECW), which was based on The Turn of the Screw.  All of the above are terrifying and amazing.  Obviously Saint Kate has written another much more famous song about a book, but I’m guessing you already know that one.

Placebo – Our Lady of the Flowers
The best thing about being a teenage Placebo fan was that it was great for my vocabulary.   When their debut album came out, I had just turned 15, I was obsessed with the song ‘I Know’ and had to look up what some of the last words of the rhyming couplets meant: ‘I’m all wrapped up in sweet attrition/It’s asking for your benediction’ etc.  It also introduced me to Jean Genet before David Bowie ever did.  When I discovered that this song name title was taken from the name of one of his novels.  I ran straight out to my local bookshop and ordered it in specially.  I have always been glad I did.  It’s great, and I found that Our Lady is much as she is in the song – ‘She wears her tears on her blouse/Confused and wracked with self-doubt/She stole the keys to my house – and then she locked herself out’.  It still gets me every time.

PJ Harvey – Angelene
Includes a line – ‘pretty mouth and green my eyes’ – which is in fact the title of a JD Salinger short story.  Less interestingly, I once spent pretty much an entire winter listening to this song on repeat.  Considering its other great lines – ‘My first name Angelene/Prettiest mess you’ve ever seen’ and ‘the devil will collect my soul – and come for me’ – you can probably establish it wasn’t a great winter.

Garbage – Cherry Lips
This one is about a writer who never even existed.  JT Leroy, of course.  I can claim a slight personal involvement in the literary-hoax saga – I have an email from ‘him’ still saved somewhere.  I still think ‘Sarah’ is a really good novel, even if it seems slightly silly to read it back now.

Nirvana – Scentless Apprentice
Apparently KC’s favourite book was ‘Perfume’ by Patrick Suskind.  I only recently read it, and was struck by how much of the Nirvana imagery was at play.  I’m still fascinated by all of it – birth and death and beauty and decay.

Ryan Adams – Sylvia Plath
I love Sylvia Plath.  I like Ryan Adams – he seems quite nice, I love that he is married to Mandy Moore, and I think his song ‘New York, New York’ is still sublime.  However, what makes me laugh about this song – and, thus, genuinely love it – is that I’m not sure Ryan Adams is too clear on who Sylvia Plath actually was.  It starts off wistfully claiming ‘I wish I had a Sylvia Plath…’.  So far so good.  He then goes on to detail how they’ll get drunk together, she’ll keep feeding him gin, give him fags and pills, and then they’ll get a bit saucy together.  I don’t think he realises that she was really not some poetic bohemian Frida Kahlo type, but rather a very proper young mother of two small children, a 50s wife who took her work very seriously; she didn’t drink a lot, certainly didn’t smoke, and wasn’t very keen on prescription drugs.  I think maybe he just liked her name, and that’s OK too.

vendredi 19 octobre 2012


I seem to be the only person in the world who remembers this cool 80s cartoon – including my sister, with whom I was convinced I had watched hours upon hours of it as small children.

I was actually starting to worry that I had made it up entirely.  (I tend to do that, I’m afraid.)

So, I was delighted to find it there in all its trippy, pretty glory on YouTube.  It’s true – ‘you’re not dreaming, it’s the Moondreamers!’.

The aesthetic is still totally on point for today, I reckon.  In fact, if one other person remembers it, I bet it’s Bat for Lashes.

All aboard the Dreamland Express!

mardi 16 octobre 2012

Contagious cleverness

Cleverness is totally contagious, so we should expose ourselves to it as much as possible.  You know, it’s like how – after an hour in Liverpool, Glasgow or Cork – you* start speaking in the local accent.  Or how anorexia spreads through classes at school like a temporary plague, or a craze for yo-yos or earmuffs.

So, if I spend a lone weekend re-reading a few classics and thinking deeply about them, I revert to my English A-Level self and start having ‘brilliant’ ideas about, like, semiotics and stuff.  Not to mention using words that I had forgotten I knew.

If I stay in for an evening and watch 30 Rock DVDs until my eyes bleed and I hear the plinky-plonk retro theme music in my sleep, I become a bit funnier and bitchier, in the style of Liz Lemon.

I am currently reading Moranthology by, um duh, Caitlin Moran.  My love for her columns and her book How to Be a Woman is long-standing and well-documented.  HTBAW lives next to my lavatory, so that I can flip it open and read a sensible idea every day.  It sits alongside Prudence and a lot of dusty copies of Vogue, so I think you’ll agree it’s in pretty hallowed company.

So, as the title indicates, Moranthology is a collection of her columns and interviews.  I’ve read nearly all of them before, but there seems to be something powerful about having them all in one volume, at my fingertips, a concentrated burst of funny/clever/cool whenever I want/need it.  I swear, an hour of it on the train every morning this week has made me approximately 26% wittier for the rest of the day.

I mean, it’s not going to help me, like, work at CERN (or write anything as fiendishly clever as Gillian Flynn), but it’s a start.  In fact, I would go so far to say that I really recommend you go home tonight and: read a bit of Tolstoy or a Brontë, then watch Mean Girls and read a few Caitlin Moran columns.  You’re welcome!

* If you’re a bit of a dickhead, like me.

samedi 13 octobre 2012

All-time TV

In the course of raving recently about both Hunderby and the new series of Dallas (I rarely get excited over the small screen, but there is an embarrassment of riches on television this autumn), I got to thinking about my all-time favourite television programmes.

As with all such little lists, I’m sure there are ones I’m forgetting and the obvious ones that I watch all the time and don’t comment upon – reruns of Friends and Sex and the City, Come Dine With Me, early Boosh – here’s what came to mind.

The new series is good, but the original can’t be topped.  It is simply the best drama there has ever been.  It’s just all there: family dramas, glamour, death, extreme wealth, fighting in the pool at the Ewing barbecue.  I love all the characters like old friends, but Ray and Bobby and Jenna Wade are probably my favourites.  Although JR is a character like no other and the costume designer deserves a medal.  It also becomes even more fun if you remember that most of the cast were roaring drunk while filming it – except, ironically, for Sue Ellen who has the best drunkface of all time.

Nighty Night
Julia Davis is a genius and this could well be my favourite British comedy ever made.  We all know that she can take it to the dark side like no-one else, but it is also beautifully observed, perfectly written – and despite the, you know, death and hideous crimes against humanity involved, it is mostly funny and cringey because it is so true to life.  We’ve all known a few people like Jill, right?  (Incidentally, my mum’s next door neighbor is called Cath, and it sends a shiver of fear up my spine every time I hear the cheery call of ‘hiya, Cath!’ down the road.)

30 Rock
I love 30 Rock so much, I want to take it behind the middle school and get it pregnant.  As Tracy Jordan might say.  He might also tell you about the time he saw two babies tattooing each other (‘but they were both very drunk’).  Then he might cry and/or show you his fun cooker.  Meanwhile, Liz Lemon would be doing an exaggerated eye-roll and eating Sabor de Soledad, and Jack Donaghy would just be busy being the most awesome character in the world ever.  As Kenneth Ellen Parcell might say, they can all kiss my… face.  I love them all so much.

My So-Called Life
You know, this used to be a kind of little-known one-series wonder of the mid-90s (at least in this country).  My friend Nadia and I were the only people who watched/liked it.  Recently, thanks to Rookie and the all-round 90s revival and whatnot, it’s gained a new cultural currency in retrospect.  I’m glad, as it’s made it easier to shorthand my life.  To sum up, my first boyfriend (who turned out to be more of a Ricki, shall we say) wooed me by saying that I looked like Angela Chase.  I pretty soon dumped him for someone much more Catalano-esque, with a band and a nice line in leaning.

Flight of the Conchords
I not only have all the DVDs of this; I also have the soundtrack albums.  And they really stand up – occasionally on an iPod shuffle, ‘Think About It’ or ‘Inner City Pressure’ will come on in between, like, Cohen and Dylan and it’ll really hold its own.  Everything about the programme is charming and great, but the songs really make it.  As do Murray and Dave, actually (my two favourite characters).  I love them as much as Mel does.  Why can’t the world be more like in my dreams?

jeudi 11 octobre 2012

Hearing about other people’s dreams is so boring.

But… I’m telling you anyway.  Last night, I dreamt that my sister told me she was going out with my ex-boyfriend.  The one I was in love with (on and off) for a decade of my early life.  I hit her in the face (reader, I would never do this to my sister if such a situation arose – I would be much cleverer and more vindictive, ha).  Then he turned up and told me he had only done it to get to me, as he still loved me.  He said he was moving to India for six years to be in Bollywood films,* and he wanted me to go with him.  I said I would on one condition – that he marry me immediately to prove he was serious.

So, we did, and my sister cried.**  Then we heard that Ben Affleck had died.

Ben Affleck is not, to my knowledge, dead,*** and I have not seen said ex-boyfriend since I was 23 and refusing to get into his car.  But still I feel strange today, and it’s nearly lunchtime.

Do you ever have dreams that, however ridiculous, make you feel weird, doom-laden and slightly grubby all day?  I seem to have them quite a lot.

* He is Italian, so this is clearly wrong.
** I would like to point out at this juncture that my sister would never, ever do any of this.  Quite aside from being lovely, and a Good Sister, she really hated this boyfriend – not in a ‘because-I-secretly-love-you’ Jilly Cooper way, rather because she thought he was extremely unattractive, annoying and, worst of all, ridiculous.
*** And, if he was, I would be very sad.

mardi 9 octobre 2012

Jolly Superlative

After my recent Jilly Cooper rereading binge, I was ever-hungry for more.  Since my holiday, I have reread all of her big novels in their entirety – and downloaded them to my Kindle so that now I have my pick from them all on the go.  This has proved a revelation, as they are quite cumbersome to carry around all at once – note to Jilly fans: this alone justifies the purchase of a Kindle.

The early ‘name’ books, of course, do not need rereading as I am constantly doing so.  If you have met me for longer than five minutes, odds are you know my feelings about these little works of genius.

So, slightly bereft, I turned to Jilly Cooper’s non-fiction works.  Incredibly, this was an area of her oeuvre that I had never fully discovered before.  And what a stash of treasures I have found!

How to Stay Married has – for the first time in my life – made me actually want to get married.  It also includes household tips that will help everyone, married or not: try to work 8:30 – 4:30 if you can; don’t attempt to wallpaper a room unless you really know what you’re doing; sometimes taking a sleeping pill and going to bed on an argument is preferable to hashing it out all night.  It was first written in 1970 and rereleased in 2011 (to coincide with Jilly and Leo’s 50th wedding anniversary) – and I love the old-fashioned permissiveness of it all: you know, stuff we’d spilt up over today, like how it’s best to laugh it off if your husband makes a pass at another woman at a party; how it’s better to have an ‘open gazer’ than a ‘secret doer’ (too true); and that it’s best to wait until your husband is ensconced in a fascinating conversation (and preferably in another room) before you dance cheek-to-cheek with the handsomest man in the room.  There’s a lot to be learned, and while some of it is too retro for words, I actually found it pretty useful to be reminded to be cheerful and put on a bit of lipstick before my boyfriend gets home.

How to Survive Nine to Five and How to Survive Christmas provide similarly sensible (and slightly frivolous) advice on the obvious topics.

Class is hilarious (and not as dated as you might think), and Turn Right at the Spotted Dog is one of my all-time new comfort classics.  Totally worth it just for the bit where she meets Dirty Den

vendredi 5 octobre 2012

Jolly Super

This summer, one of my holidays (yes, I am very lucky and spoilt) was a week in Spain with my boyfriend and my grandmother.  She has a lovely little house there, and the three of us spent a sunny, cosy, lazy and utterly blissful week together.

I sunbathed on the patio, ate near-constantly, drank gin and listened to Cat Power and De La Soul.  I also found (I suspect, thanks to my cousin, a fellow fan) that there was a small stash of old Jilly Cooper books tucked away in a bureau drawer.

Well, I decided that this was the perfect climate for some treasured rereading, and thus my far worthier holiday selection fell by the wayside in an instant.

I reread Rivals (my all-time favourite), Riders (the original and best), and The Man Who Made Husbands Jealous (lots of fun).  They are all stalwarts of my bookshelf, favourites since my teens, which I often dip in and out of (in the bath, when ill/depressed/hungover, etc.).  However, this was the first time in some years that I had read them all in their entirety, cover to cover.

I enjoyed them more than ever and was genuinely pleased to find that they still hold up today and are better than pretty much anything similar (read: more recent rip-offs) put out there since.

My favourite recurring character – which probably says dreadful things about me, as she’s supposed to be such a slut – is Janey Lloyd Foxe, who I would like to be my best friend.  I also fiercely love (in no particular order) Caitlin and Taggie O’Hara, Flora Seymour, Lizzie Vereker, Tory Lovell, Daisy France-Lynch.  Then, of course, the men: Declan O’Hara, Billy Lloyd Foxe, David Hawkley (who I agreed with Georgie was far more attractive than his son), Archie Baddingham; although (shock horror) I never fancied Rupert Campbell-Black, I just like to think we’d be great mates.  Like him and Janey, but without the extra holiday fun, ahem.  Then, even more of course, there are the animals: Sailor, Beaver and Blue, Harold Evans, Maggie, Arthur, Tero, Mattie and Gertrude.

They really are all like old friends, or even family, by this point.  I already knew it, but my rereading binge has truly reconfirmed it like a second honeymoon: Jilly is for life, not just for Christmas.

mardi 2 octobre 2012

In praise of… Gillian Flynn

Sometimes you (I) read a book that makes your brain feel too small – in the best possible way.  A book that makes one marvel at the cleverness and aspire to do better, think more originally, try harder.

Gone Girl by Gillian Flynn is just such a book.  I’m afraid this is not going to be a very useful précis – just an enthusiastic recommendation with no explanation to back it up.  This is because it’s one of those books that, the less you know about it in advance, the better.  I don’t want to spoil it for you so all I will say is ‘keep your ears closed and read it immediately’.

I will also say that the woman is a genius and I will be surprised if I read a better book this year.

I was intrigued and beguiled and shocked and shaken – all those things one should be after reading such a great rollercoaster of a book.  So I immediately picked up her previous works – Sharp Objects and Dark Places.

I finished Sharp Objects last night and I was knocked sideways.   I still don’t think I have recovered fully this morning.  It wasn’t as fiendish as Gone Girl, in many ways, but I think it will stay with me for longer.  I am now, it is fair to say, mildly obsessed.

I picked up Dark Places last night but realised I couldn’t embark upon it so soon after the last.  So, at the time of writing, I am planning to start in earnest tonight.  You may not see me again for a while.  Wish me luck.