Sunday, 29 November 2009

In which SuperJane hits the bottle.

To be printed 03.12.09.

I was informed recently that my Mum has been caught making up hot water bottles for the guinea pigs. This is symptomatic of two things: firstly, her slightly alarming love for the guinea pigs, leading us to believe they are no so much replacement children (the result of burgeoning empty-hutch syndrome) but actually the children she wishes she’d had all along. Guinea pigs never call you crying because they can’t pay their council tax, or eat all the ingredients for dinner as a 4 o’clock snack, or broadcast your more eccentric habits in a series of south coast newspapers.

Secondly: her enduring belief that a hot water bottle is the answer to all ills. My mother is the goddess of the hot water bottle. I’d like to think she might have missed a calling in politics, scurrying around the cabinet room making sure everyone is cosy. Like a superhero update of the Aquarius water carrier, she could wage war on chilly toes, draughty bedrooms and period pain the world over.

Indeed, I think it is Mum’s steadfast belief in the hot water bottle that has got me all the way to December without our turning the central heating on. That’s right, DECEMBER. Or “Decembrrrrrr”, as it shall now be known. In previous years we cracked under all the layers of knitwear, surrendered to our frostbite and turned it on about halfway through October, but this year we’ve upped the ante. With each passing week the sense of achievement grows (though so too, I’m vaguely worried, might an extra layer of insulating fat, like everyone’s miniskirted legs in the 60s).

Now the dream is making it all the way to Christmas, doing workout sessions to Slade and wrapping ourselves in a metaphorical blanket of festive cheer instead. If it gets tough, a combined diet of Ready Brek and Bristol Cream sherry will be implemented for maximum internal warming. We can start hosting lavish parties, under the guise of being sociable, and just fill the house with other people’s bodily warmth. Or we can go to the other extreme and just spend as little time in the house as humanly possible, soaking up all the free heat in libraries and tube stations and other people’s living rooms.

Either way, the hot water bottle will see me through. I will strap them under my clothes, line the sofa with them, and generally slosh my way through winter. And if it all gets too much, I will follow another of my mother’s indubitable pieces of advice -  “just sit in the kitchen with all the hobs on.”

* * * * * * * * * *

On Saturday, in the name of extreme physical endurance and because it might have made the house seem warmer when we got back in it, I did something I’d never done before. I went to a football match. I know, I know, you’re shocked. I strike you as the type who’s on the terraces every week, pukka pie in one hand and obscene gesture in the other. But no, amazingly, this was new territory for me. I took a book with me, just in case.

And I learned the following three things from the experience: 1) Football is pretty simple. Despite all the offside-rule-fouls-red-card-throw-in-yadayada, it turns out all you really need to know is ‘kick-kick-kick-hopefully-in-goal’. This was quite a relief. 2) There exists a thing called a “Yorkshire wrap”, which is essentially a flat Yorkshire pudding rolled up with beef and gravy in the middle. Like a hand-held roast dinner. QPR stadium might just be the secret centre of science. And 3) I can chant with the best of them. I thought I’d sound fraudulent, like Aled Jones duetting with N-Dubz, but inside me, it turns out, lurks the spirit of Vinnie Jones.

I did struggle briefly trying to fit the words “sky blue army” into two beats, with it coming out “skarbmeurrrh”. “Why don’t they just make up chants with more syllables?” I ask male friend no.1. “Lauren,” I am told, “that’s not the point.

Friday, 27 November 2009

Sunday, 22 November 2009

In which I support charity, in my own way.

To be printed 26/11/09.

You’ll all be pleased to know we have the internet back now. There, hasn’t that made your day a little bit brighter? Of course, like anything you wait five weeks for (except Starbucks red cups), the broadband hook-up has been something of an anticlimax. While it’s lovely to be connected to the virtual world again, all it’s really done is remind me that a) nobody facebooks me anymore anyway, b) eBay has everything in the world I have ever wanted or needed, but I can’t afford to buy any of them, and c) my laptop trying to load up three tabs at once sounds like an 87-year-old trying to get out of an armchair.

It hasn’t all been a letdown, however. With our net package, we have also acquired Virgin TV. Which is AWESOME. Having spent three years with only terrestrial, it feels like Dorothy stepping out of the house into Oz and seeing colour for the first time.

No longer is every bit of viewing prefixed by the 10 minute Dance of the Aerial, where we take it in turns to stand with one arm out of the window while everyone shouts “yes… no… left a bit… you’ve nearly got it… ooh, I can see Dermot’s face…no wait, that’s a manatee...” until the idea is abandoned in favour of acting it out ourselves. No more will I be forced to invent ailments as excuses for not going out on a Saturday – I can have a social life, and watch Strictly on iPlayer, and still retain my reputation as a Supercool Person. I think that’s what the retro feminists really meant by ‘having it all’.

Without our new quality TV experience, I probably wouldn’t have enjoyed Thursday’s Children in Need concert as much as I did. Which is: very, very much indeed. This was surprising – firstly because the very act of watching it could be interpreted as encouraging the perpetuation of Fearne Cotton’s career, and secondly because, um, I don’t like Children in Need.

What?? Sacrilege! Burn the witch! Did Bravo just say she wants all sick and underprivileged children to die? Did she? Should we alert the Daily Express?

No. Calm down. I don’t dislike children who are in need, as a concept, or the charity itself – I definitely approve of disadvantaged children getting treatment and houses and food and care. I’m all for it. Of course. Charity = great.

But the programme = bad. It is five hours of watching newsreaders pretend to know about pop culture, Eastenders stars pretend to know about comedy, and the aforementioned Cotton pretend to know about anything. And beware ye, viewer – the moment you start watching, you give up your entire evening. For the curse of Children in Need is that it knows when you are thinking of turning over. As soon as you reach for the remote, what will happen, eh? That’s right, a video about a kid with cystic fibrosis will automatically begin. And if you switch channels during it, you are a terrible person. They’ll know. Wogan is watching you.

But Thursday’s Albert Hall shebang was different. It was, aside from the noble cause, just excellent, excellent television. It had Leona Lewis being epic, in a dress I’m fairly sure was made by a year 10 DT Textiles class. It had Cheryl Cole, Queen of the nation’s hearts, making a song she’s only performed twice sound like an anthem for our times (though I would like to state now that I by no means believe “if it’s worth having it’s worth having it’s worth fighting for” should be applied to international oil-based conflicts). It had be-suited slots from Chris Moyles, Peter Kay and James Corden, leading me to realise that they are, in fact, all just shades of the same person. And it had Paul McCartney singing us out with Hey Jude, the textbook way to make any audience feel instantly uplifted, united, and like everything will be ok forever.

But the top three moments were, by far, the following:

*Dame Shirley Bassey and Dizzee Rascal – a union so blooming perfect it seems like madness that we haven’t seen it before. He’s in a tux! She’s doing some urban arm dancing! Now we can all imagine them doing auntie/nephew-style bonding activities together, like shopping in John Lewis  and going to pilates (until the inevitable happens, and they make it into a Vodafone ad).

*Lily Allen and Take That – for weeks and weeks, Allen’s latest single has been coming on the radio, and Hannah and I have been saying, “She’s nicked that tune from Take That.” Then, in possibly the most satisfying piece of fourth-wall-removing, self-deprecating TV I’ve ever seen, we had her singing her song, when halfway through Take That charged on singing THEIRS. Ha! Hahahahaha! If The Chiffons had done it to George Harrison, everything probably would have been resolved.

*Take That and Robbie Williams – not since the release of the Doner Kebab Pot Noodle has there been such a cultural milestone. We’ve all known it was coming for ages, but that didn’t make it any less moving. As he and Gary Barlow grinned at each other like excited schoolboys during the finale, I actually cried. I cried for friendship, for pop music, for nostalgia.

Then they ran the disadvantaged children clip and I cried for them too. Well done Beeb, you may have converted me.

* * * * * * * * * *

If the BBC were the kings of musical brilliance this week, then ITV were the inevitable court jesters. Does anybody quite now what they’re meant to be thinking about X-Factor anymore? (Don’t answer, “you’re not meant to be thinking anything, you’re meant to watch David Attenborough’s ‘Life’ and stop being shallow.” Just don’t.) I mean, to like Jedward is to be the kind of person who voted for Boris because his hair is lolz. But to hate Jedward is to validate the sincerity of the programme, which of course we’re not meant to do because it’s a fraudulent, capitalist imposter in the noble landscape of proper music. And to have no opinion on Jedward at all is to be inhuman. It’s all so complicated.

Tuesday, 17 November 2009

In which I whinge about money. For the first time ever.

 To be printed 19/11/09.

It’s no fun not being a student anymore. It feels an awful lot like being Mark while everybody else still gets to be Jeremy.

As life changes go, shifting from student life to that of a genuine, museli-buying adult has to be one of the most colossal. Besides the big mental reshuffle, the re-programming of one’s body clock to sociable hours (or antisocial, when there are midnight cheese toastie rounds and Guitar Hero to sleep through), and the general awareness of one’s once-supple brain turning to Primula and pouring out through one’s ears during an episode of The Family, there is a more physical side of the transition that’s equally taxing. Because it’s, er, tax.

Forgetting for a minute the crippling reality of graduate debt, this week I’m focusing on the less debilitating but still pretty sodding nasty reality of graduate expenses. They’re the chinese burn of the financial portfolio – spiteful, petty, and they always sting more than you remember. No Topshop discount! Ow. Full-price London travel! Ooch. Council tax! Arrrrrrrggggh (put some ice on it and try to not to cry as you reach for that post-grad application form).

Where does the logic lie in taking away all our perks the moment we graduate? It’s almost, and I realise this is a ridiculous premise - maybe involving the whole Cabinet having been actually locked in a cabinet for, ooh, the last five years - but it’s almost as though the government think that when we leave uni we’re actually getting JOBS, or something. When everyone knows the truth is that graduates are WAY poorer than students. We don’t get any of the free money, and we have to pay more for everything.  Essentially, we’re being fined for the crime of having got older. It’s punishment for the inevitable passing of time. It’s Adult Tax.

And the secret expenses just keep coming – when you think you’ve just about budgeted for rent, bills and a bowl of rice and ketchup every second Thursday of the month, another facet of Adult Tax will ping up out of nowhere and gulp down your wallet as though ’twere a jelly baby. Last week, it was prescriptions.

Somewhere, in the dim recesses of my mind, the same place I store Mott the Hoople lyrics and sellotape, I was aware that non-student adults have to pay for prescriptions. I knew. But it’s the kind of fact that can be pretty easily suppressed by half a bottle of Benylin, and so the following scene ensued:

Me: “Hullo! I’d like this prescription please.”

Chemist lady: “Certainly! Please sign the back of the slip”.

Me: “With pleasure!”

Chemist lady: “Thank you. That will be eight pounds.”

Me: “I’m sorry, the mucus must have got to my ears. I thought you just said something about eight pounds.”

Chemist lady: “I did. That will be eight pounds.”

Me: “But I don’t have eight pounds.”

Chemist lady: “It’s ok, we take cards.”

Me: “No, I don’t HAVE eight pounds. In the world. At all.”

Chemist lady: “If you’re on benefits, it’s free.”

Me: “I’m not on benefits. I’m on minimum wage. What do I get for that?”

Chemist lady: “Nothing.”

Me: “I think I’ll just stay ill, then. If it’s all the same to you.”

So my proposal is this: for the sake of humanity, and my not hacking germs all over innocent pharmacy staff, student perks should be phased out gradually. They should last us through a transition phase of three years or so, perhaps decreasing in increments, the way a parent gradually lets go of a child’s bike when they’re learning to ride it . It would give you time to find a proper job, adjust your lifestyle habits, maybe uncover a Faberge egg in a cupboard to tide you through the winter. Then one day, completely unawares, you will be able to pay full price for a cinema ticket without wincing.

* * * * * * * * * *

Ever perceptive to my changing desires, yesterday the BBC dished up news coverage of Camelot’s anniversary party, which featured a hall full of be-partyhatted lottery winners doing a conga.

Nice move, Beeb. Now tomorrow, if you could broadcast five minutes of footage of investment bankers in a hotub, watching Tara Palmer Tompkinson in a bikini made of £50s dancing to Barrat Strong’s Money (That’s What I Want), all my viewing needs will be fulfilled.

Thursday, 12 November 2009

In which the gloves come off, because the boots have not.

Why won't Ugg boots die?

(no offense intended to anybody still wearing them. Well, not much)

Tuesday, 10 November 2009

In which iPod, therefore I am.

To be printed 12/11/09.

We have acquired an iPod. Found on the front steps by our downstairs neighbour, it has been sitting coquettishly on a chair in the communal hallway for two weeks now. It is an 8GB, 3rd generation Nano (read = it is small and square and red). Nobody has claimed it. Nobody has even touched it. It looks sad.

It’s a nice testament to modern morals, of course, that nobody has yet looked at it and gone “yoink, MINE”. It also puts to bed the eternal niggling worry of urban living, that someone in your building is probably a psychopath/rapist/dirty great thief. If they won’t nick an iPod, they probably won’t break in through our window, slaughter us brutally in our sleep with a Black and Decker multitool and harvest our organs to sell on the internet. That’s logic.

So it’s nice that everyone is really honest. Of course it is. Unless - and I’m about to be very, very cynical for a moment here, sort of like Charlie Brooker in a blonde wig – their honesty is like mine, a mere cover for the eternal belief that the moment they do anything immoral, someone will be secretly watching them.

I am incurably honest. Not out of genuine goodness as a person, but because ever since I first saw the Truman Show, I haven’t been able to shake off the sneaking fear that my life might be being filmed for an ITV2 special. So when I get given too much change, or they forget to charge me at the cinema, or a vending machine starts spitting out free Twixes, I own up, not because I’m incredibly selfless, but because I’m convinced that if I take advantage, Tess Daly or someone will jump out with a big microphone to tell me I’m a dreadful person.

But whatever the reason, the iPod is still there. It is still there when I leave for work, it is still there when I get home, it is still there when I get up at 3am and run downstairs to check. It is taunting me. Its not that I want it myself; I have an iPod. I just want SOMEBODY to have it. It’s like when a seat becomes free on the tube and nobody sits in it. Take it, please! Keep the universe in balance! Otherwise it’s just a waste of good music.

And this we know, because we have looked. It was just too tempting not to. An iPod is a window to the soul, a weirdly intimate insight into somebody’s life. If a group of strangers were going through mine, they’d discover that I: secretly like Dolly Parton more than the Doors; have a playlist called ‘Grr’ to listen to specifically when I’m wearing a leather jacket; and regularly alternate Dizzee Rascal with the Andrews Sisters.

So we have discovered that this iPod belongs to someone called Sara. And Sara is a person who likes Beyonce. And Boney M. And Bowie. She feels perfectly comfortable listing Gloria Estefan next to Gogol Bordello, and has a whole playlist consisting of Leonard Cohen’s Famous Blue Raincoat eight times over (Sara potentially doesn’t know how to use her iPod very well).

Sara also has a slightly scary amount of the same stuff I do. How many other people have Edith Piaf, Donovan and Yann Tiersen nestling up with The Style Council? I believe it can only mean one of two things: either 1) I am meant to be find Sara, whoever she may be, and start a beautiful enduring friendship based on a mutual love of French accordion refrains, or 2) I am meant to keep her iPod.

* * * * * * * * * *

Unlikely commercial collaboration of the week: National Geographic and Ambi Pur. What next, we must ask, Glade and the Radio Times? The authentic scent of Terry Wogan’s dressing room (I’m betting: furniture polish and murray mints). Or Airwick and the Daily Mail! Mmm, that alpine freshness just about covers the scent of immigration and paedophilia, doesn’t it?

* * * * * * * * * *

Internet installation day minus 216 hours: I have taken up crosswords. When I don’t know the answer to a clue, I have fun by trying to fill the boxes with my own creative expletives. Six across, four letters. Why not try it at home today?

Tuesday, 3 November 2009

In which we all slam dunk da funk.

To be printed 05/11/09. 
As I type this, literally right this cotton-picking minute, I am being confronted with a truth. It is a truth that I have been fervently denying for several weeks now, but may finally be forced to accept. I should point out that I am also watching X Factor, on which JLS are performing. They are singing on floating platforms, in a range of carefully-styled ‘urban outfits’. They are walking down steps in unison. They are doing a dance routine with strategic knee-dips on the key changes. They are spelling out, in a sparkling trail of diamond ear studs, the truth that we all knew was coming, but only Louis Walsh wanted to hear. Boybands are back.

Of course we have no right to be surprised at the sudden return of the white-suited warriors. Their shadow has long been lurking in the background of this year’s ’90s revival*. Partially obscured by a big pile of leggings and scrunchies and Ed the Duck memorabilia, perched on stools, the boybands have been waiting.

After all, they had their signal ages ago - when the nation welcomed Take That back into its hearts like a band of overcoated prodigal sons, it sent a subtle top-C soundwave running through the musical stratosphere, and boybands-in-hiding everywhere pricked up their ears. But the problem was, Take That were back not as a boyband, but as a manband. They have facial hair. They look like they might walk over hilltops, not for a ballad promo, but for leisurely fun. And they had a secret weapon, slowly matured for housewives’ delectation - Jason Orange, who knew? 

Barlow et al also had the advantage of having ducked out of the industry just before it all got really ugly. They had the earthy end of the 90s. When played next to the likes of 5ive and 911, Never Forget sounds like the kind of music that you should stand on a bar to dance to, out of respect. It has majesty.

But now (and in no way a damning forecast to you, ma’am), majesty is no longer relevant. There is a place in music once more for pretty boys can do harmonies and lend panache to a silver shellsuit. We have a Blue reunion on the cards, Westlife reminding everyone they still exist, and two brand new boy bands lined up for launch early next year. Unpleasant and unnecessary, yes. But I recommend staying positive - If Another Level decide to come out a retirement, we can pretend Jordan and Peter never even happened!

Yes, hair gel manufacturers better get the gloves back on. The boy-ballad is back.  Stephen Gately would be so proud. 

*Yes, that is “’90s revival” – not, sadly, the 1890s (however much Mutya Buena and I do for championing the cause with rear-padding, fashion just won’t embrace the return of the bustle), but the 1990s. That decade we did already, like, ten years ago. The one with all the cropped tops and Anthea Turner. The one your hair is probably still doing. That one.

Because fashion, and anyone still holding onto a pair of high-waist bellbottom jeans will know this, likes to change its mind pretty quickly. Which means now we’ve mimicked every era that our parents and grandparents could remember, we have to start on the ones we lived through ourselves. Cue the massive sweatshirts, shimmer lipstick and cycling shorts. Extra points for anyone who can find their Tamagotchi.


Mr Murphy and Mr Sod have been at work again, and this time they have taken my whole house down with them. It was the work of a fool, I realise now, to spend last week in raptures at the thought of getting the internet back. But oh, reader, I just couldn’t help it!

I guess I knew deep down that the moment I committed those words to print, it would suddenly become a lie. Now, for reasons neither the grunts of the installers or metallic drones of the helplines seem to be able to explain, we have to remain in the void until the 17th of ruddy blooming gosh-darned-it November. 

I am angry. It would be unprofessional to name and shame our shoddy service provider, but let me tell you this – I’m never riding on his trains or using one of his mobiles again.