Wednesday, 3 November 2010

In which I say thank you for the music

To be printed 04/11/10.

Karaoke. In these times of puyrotechnic, lycra-clad X-Factor domination, in a land where Kate Weasel's roots are the only ones we're going back to, there is something so pure and uncorrupted about a good old sing song. No judgement, no public vote, just the chance to bawl your brains out in a padded room until everything seems better again. But just like boybands, not all karaoke tracks are created equal. Here's what your karaoke choice says about you:

Gangsta's Paradise

Falling into the 'soulful rap' category (as opposed to 'sexy rap', 'booty-shaking rap' and 'shooting everybody then getting a hot tub rap'), men feel that a song like Gangsta's Paradise gives them a chance to showcase both their badass urban credentials and their softer, sensitive side - the side that might teach kids to read good in an inner city comprehensive. In reality, it showcases the alarming number of adolescent hours spent in their bedrooms memorising lyrics they don't understand, and fawning over pictures of Michelle Pfeiffer.

All By Myself

See also: I Will Always Love You, I Will Survive, I Can't Live (If Living Is Without You)

For the vast majority of their day to day lives, many women are forced to hide a part of their true selves. We fight an ongoing battle to suppress certain urges, for fear of judgement, ridicule and repelling menfolk. As a feminist and general disciple of Good Taste, I'd like to pretend I don't even possess them. But play the opening twangs of Eric Carmen's sobalong classic and, like a melancholy moth to a vodka-fuelled flame, we rise up like a tribe of pyjamaed Bridget Jonesbots, ready to wail our way through three minutes of musical spinsterhood. I like to think of it as queen of the Ovary Anthems.

My Way

Frank Sinatra is karaoke ketchup. He blankets all matters of taste with the same sweet, generic charm. One for the rookies, more experiences 'okers should forgo Frank in favour of something less obvious. Like side one of Mike Oldfield's Tubular Bells. With dance routine.

Islands in the Stream

Country and western is a left-field choice, often plumped for by people wanting to deliver a little obligatory naff factor without resorting to a power fist. The trouble is, without a mullet or bucking bronchi to complete the scene, C&W karaoke is in most cases exceptionally boring. Roger Miller's King of the Road is the hip kids' croon du jour, but Islands in the Stream earns more points - though only when sung as Nessa and Uncle Bryn from Gavin and Stacey. Sorry Dolly.

Born to Run

See: All By Myself. But replace 'Ovary Anthems' with the appropriate alternate reproductive organs.

Wuthering Heights

Ladies undertaking this track will do so in the name of lolz, under the guise that it'll sound so ridiculous they couldn't possibly be taking themselves seriously. Do not be fooled. They secretly believe they are going to be ethereal in the extreme, channelling Kate Bush's wide-eyed mad lady insouciance with their wafty arm movements and dog-decibel wailing. Sadly their efforts will be such that Heathcliffe won't let them in the window. However cold it is.

In which I fly, my pretties, fly!

Printed 28/10/10.

As I write this, I am about to embark on my first ever long-haul flight. Ever. In my life.

How one gets to the ripe age of 22 without ever crossing an ocean I'm still not sure, but know it has something to do with a combination of: believing a gap year would require me to wear leather bracelets and have diarrhea on a mountain top, coming from a family that considers Pizza Express a cultural experience, and having friends doomed to spend each year planning riotous expeditions in full knowledge that we will never even attempt to go on them. Instead we will go to the pub and get
our kicks by shredding some beer mats into oblivion.

So today, I am like a wide-eyed child in a montage from a 90s movie. I'm giddy on the novelty. Sinatra’s Come Fly With Me is playing alternately on a loop in my head. I'm flashing my passport indiscriminately at everybody - the lady in WH Smith, the toilet attendant, the man who nicely asked me to take his bag through customs for him - just to make sure nobody can accuse me of pulling an international fast one. I'm already excited about telling the flight attendant that I'm "in it for the long-haul", then doing some hilarious finger-guns.

As with most of my Johnny-come-lately experiences ( mobile phones, crispy duck pancakes, season 4 of Mad Men), it's inevitably going to be a disappointment. After all, my expectations of flying are mainly based on Airplane, the first episode of Miami 7, and anytime they flew anywhere on Friends, when the plane basically looked like a fairly plush dentists' waiting room. If I’m honest, I’m half expecting a smiling stewardess to ask if I want to come and meet the pilot (and I do).

Never a minimalist packer, I am struggling with the hand luggage restrictions. Liquids I can identify, but what constitutes a ‘paste’? Do I have any pastes? Does the melted peanut butter cup moulded to the inside pocket of my handbag count as a paste? And if so, should I declare it? Or eat it? Confused will also lead me to keep my personal items in their clear plastic bag not just for the flight but for my entire holiday, just in case Canada is funny about liquids in general. Perhaps, as a nation, they are not tolerant of spillage.

I will in all likelihood be the only person who watches the safety video (as we plunge to our death above the Atlantic, I feel it would reassure me to have tied my lifejacket in the correct double bow, and be able to quickly locate my whistle. “Bleep bleep!” I would toot, and the rescue operatives would say ‘gee, there’s a passenger who paid attention to the demonstration.- let’s save her life FIRST”). I will take my in-flight leg exercises very seriously, and I will aim to use every item in my little complimentary pouch of comfort – the eye mask, the socks, the blanket, the pen.

I will also, I am pretty sure now, enjoy the plane food. I just know I will. All those individual containers will feel a bit like the kind of packed lunches I was never allowed to have. BA could essentially serve me a Dairylea Lunchables with a Pepperami on the side and I would be happy as a clam.

And if all else fails to entertain me, I know I could spend an absorbing six hours trying to work out exactly what it is that’s holding the plane up. Or, let’s face it, just nap.

In which it's just the drugs talking

Printed 21/10/10.

There is nothing worse than waiting for a cold to come out*. It's like walking around with a cartoon anvil above your head, ready to drop. As son as that scratchy warning niggle at the back of your throat announces itself, you're a ticking slime bomb - you know you only have minimal days in which to get everything done as a functioning human, before you're reduced to a clammy, tissue-strewn corpse who can only say "blargggh".

If properly planned and furnished with the right pharmaceuticals, I believe having a cold can be a positive experience. You get to catch up on your ITV2 viewing, not wear a bra for a couple of days, and uncover a whole fresh new layer of skin on your nose.  So when I felt the warning niggle a couple of days ago, I said "ahoy! What have we here? A cold on the horizon?" and set about battening down my hatches with all the stoicism of a wizened sea captain (who doesn't quite know what battening means).

I even allowed myself a specific window of time in which to be ill. I pencilled it in my mental diary and faxed it over to my white blood cells - a whole weekend in which I had nothing to do but be a snivelling invalid. I did some prep, by binge drinking Berocca for three days in advance and digging out my slipper socks. It was going to be a congestion carnival. A little paracetamol party for one. And best of all, I got to go and spend a stupid amount of money in Boots.

I can probably blame the fact that I've never taken drugs recreationally for the way I feast on pharmaceuticals every time I have an excuse. This doesn't count as recreational, of course; there is nothing leisurely about my attitude to flu treatments. It is a full time job, and I approach it like an Apprentice contestant approaches a weekly task - with minimum knowledge, maximum confidence and a little whiney voice.

And oh, there have been such advancements in the world of lurgy-treatment since my last bout! Strepsils with added vitamin C, Olbas Oil-infused tissues, supplements with guarana so that you can fight germs and go to a rave at the same time. Unfortunately Lemsip still only comes in two flavours, bile and purple bile, but you can now pay an extra quid for a super duper shiny-boxed version which I can only assume, as it claims only to treat the exact same symptoms as the regular version, gives you perfect pitch or something at the same time.

So I embarked on my Designated Weekend of Ill swimming in advantage points, gathered my blanket pile, positioned my tissue bin, made sure I was within easy reach of fluids and the remote control. And waited. And waited some more. When, by Saturday evening, I still felt pretty chipper, I started getting anxious. Either I had managed to bypass the cold altogether, or it was working on its own agenda.

Two days on, I have learned the following things – recovery speed is not directly proportional to the amount you spend on drugs, antibodies do not conform to schedules, and it is far less fun  being a clammy, tissue-strewn corpse who can only say "blargggh" in the office.

*This is a lie. There are plenty of things worse, of course - waiting for a donor organ, waiting for a delivery man to call between 9 and 5, waiting for a night bus in the rain. Waiting for Godot. But being ill gives me an inflated sense of self-importance as well as swollen glands.