Tuesday, 26 March 2013

In which school rules really take the biscuit

image: offthemeathook.com

Silly season might be only a warm, distant dream from our current point of perpetual Narnia, but thanks to an over-cautious Canvey Island headteacher we’ve had a lovely glimpse of it this week. Catering staff at Castle View School were banned from cutting flapjacks into triangles after one hit a boy in the face – resulting in an injury I’m insisting on calling an ‘oats-so-dimple’, even if nobody else will.

Having first googled to check that no lasting damage was caused by the pointy pudding (“sore eye” says The Telegraph), I’d like to say thank you, triangularflapjackgate, for giving us a lovely break from all the gloom. If such an incident could be rustled up once a week to give everybody that way inclined the chance to bray “it’s health and safety gone maaaaaaad” for half an hour, we’d all probably be a lot calmer and less inclined to jostle each other on the tube.

But while bizarre rulings on cake geometry make the tabloids, there are plenty of equally nonsensical laws being enforced in schools across the land every day, without so much as a eyelid-bat from the Daily Mail.

When I was a pupil at a certain be-hatted East Worthing girls’ high, for example, it was all about socks. Socks were a big deal. The key to our futures lay in our ankles; covered ankles meant success, exposed ankles meant failure followed by eventual death in a gutter. As prefects we spent hours telling the throngs to pull their socks up, quite literally, while desperately wishing we could run behind the bike sheds and roll down our own. Lesser offences included wearing hair accessories that weren’t the regulation navy blue, and walking the wrong way up a corridor.

A few years previously it had all been about handwriting. Creative handwriting was forbidden at my middle school (royal blue-jumpered, if you’re playing local detective) – presumably because it meant we would later become performance artists, or try to start a chain of vegan juice bars. I spent two years stubbornly dotting my ‘I’s with little balloons and contraband flicks on my ‘g’s and ‘y’s, just to stick it to the man.

Then there was the rule that said we all had to go outside for playtime, even when it was freezing. We were routinely rounded up from our hiding spot in the cosiest corner of the cloakroom and booted out into the icy abyss.

Whether this was supposed to have a profound, character-building effect I can’t be sure, but I can tell you it didn’t work – as an adult with full agency over her temperature, I’ve spent the past three months on a reverse survival mission to stay in my house as long as humanly possible. When I’m forced to go outside for sustenance or loo roll, a little voice in my head says “Lauren Bravo, outside NOW or you lose a house point.”

I would have welcomed a jabby flapjack attack, to be honest. At least I could have eaten it afterwards.

Tuesday, 19 March 2013

In which Messenger gtg

image: michelo.co.uk

You may not have noticed, but last week we bid farewell to a cultural icon. Or rather, a library of cultural icons - dominated by smiley faces, broken hearts and little hugging people with no legs. On Friday, after 15 years serving hundreds of millions of users, MSN Messenger logged out of our lives forever.

Yes, there’s G-Chat. Sure, we’ve still got Skype.  But when it came to pure, aRbiTrArIlY pUnCtUaTeD cyber-emotion, MSN served noughties adolescents like no other.  For most of us, it was where we first learned that we could express ourselves with typing in a way quite different, possibly better, then with the spoken word. It was where friendships were formed, and destroyed, and put on hold while we went to eat our dinner (brb).

Things I learned from MSN messenger:

Real life acquaintances are overrated. With Messenger, a swift “how’s you?” and a handful of emoticons could bridge the gap of face to face interaction, making your potential social circle as wide as the ocean is deep. Your friend’s cousin’s brother’s best friend’s sister could be a kindred soulmate and you’re being held back by the fact you don’t actually know her? What do you want, a blood pact?

Signing out then in again will not get you a boyfriend. But at times, when you’re a 14-year-old at an all-girls’ school with a crumpled photo of Adam Rickett in your pencil case, the only hope you have rests with making your name bob up and down repeatedly in a boy’s periphery vision until they’re eventually wearied into going out with you.

There is no life event so colossally tragic that it cannot be used as an attention-seeking screen name. Had an argument with someone? Make it your screen name! Failed your geography coursework? Make it your screen name! Great fun was to be had from engaging someone called ‘☹SoSOsad☹‘ in persistently chirpy conversation, never once asking the cause of their subtly-referenced woe. Until you found out they just lost half of their family in a house fire.

In the modern age, you can never be completely sure who you’re talking to.
“Hey Zoe.”  “This isn’t Zoe, it’s Debbie.” “Oh. Hey Debbie.” “It’s not Debbie anymore, it’s Sharice.” “Oh. Hey Sharice.” “No, it’s Debbie again. Zoe’s on the toilet.” “Right. Hi Debbie.” “Now it’s Maud.” “lol”.

Think through your novelty email address thoroughly before committing. Today’s youths probably have very sensible firstname.lastname@ formats, set up for them by savvy parents before they were even born. But in the giddy days of 2003, we didn’t see job applications or UCAS forms or baffled grandparents; we just saw that ‘bubblyairheaddevilchick87’ was free and wanted to make it our own.

(At the very least, don’t do what I did and choose a Velvet Underground song to be cool, not realising it was also an infamous French S&M novel, then merrily hand it out to friends, relatives, bosses and UCAS before red-facedly discovering the truth three years later. Don't do that.)

Inspiration credit due to @MSNRemembrance

In which I get The Glums

Nobody likes a weeper. If the collected works of The Cure, Frankie Valli and 2003 Eurovision disastermongers Jemini are anything to go by, crying is fully unacceptable in most social situations – even situations of heartbreak, which means my sobbing over a lonely-looking pigeon falls woefully short of criteria.

From the first cranium-curdling wails of a newborn baby, crying is a dick move because it demands the attention and action of someone else. And people don’t like to pay attention to things, or move. They’re generally too busy eating a sandwich or doing a lovely crossword to walk across the room and mop up your human rainfall.

Nobody welcomes the awkwardness of crying, either. We all know the feeling of panic that sets in when you realise too late that you’re trapped in the vicinity of a crying person you don’t know very well, leaving you with the Hobson’s Choice of ‘moist hug’ or ‘cold, distant arm pat followed by inappropriate whistling’. If emotions are weather, you’re the bank holiday-ruiner. To be honest, if emotions are emotions you’re capable of that too.

This all leads us on neatly (sorry, was that too longwinded for you? Are you going to cry about it?) to the fact that I’ve seen Les Miserables three times in the last two months. The clue has been very much in the name. Each time has been soggier than the last, building to a moment on the cinema last Wednesday when I gulped so ferociously during the encore of Do You Hear The People Sing that I choked on a pick’n’mix gummy snake and almost expired like a revolutionary.

The second of the three sittings was a Brighton sixth form production starring my baby brother, which made it more acceptable because I can remember him being born – and besides, there is nothing that gives a teenager more credibility among his mates than a copiously weeping relative. 

The other two were a far more straightforward case of cinema crying; crying at the death bits, crying at the love bits, crying worrying if Anne Hathaway will reach the top note of that crescendo in I Dreamed A Dream. As the credits rolled I expected to turn and smile sheepishly at all my fellow weepers as we dried off and headed to the car park, cathartically unburdened. But I couldn’t because it turned out I was the only one.

It’s fine, though. I am comfortable with my perpetually quivering chin. I like to cry in front of my boyfriend every once in a while. Not delicate, maidenly tears rolling down my cheeks like crystal droplets, but proper, shuddering sobs with snot and bits of disintegrated tissue stuck to my face.

I feel it serves as a reminder of just how upset it is possible to make me; but also a sort of reward for never having done anything that produces nearly the same reaction in me as the Christmas finale of Downton Abbey. Which I’m welling up now, just thinking about.

You can carry on eating your sandwich though. Don’t worry about me. I’ll be fine.

Tuesday, 5 March 2013

Spring cleaning

 My absolute most hated advert at the moment is the Ariel one where the ‘student’ girl washes her “vintage dress”.

You know she’s a ‘student’ because she, like, has a sarky eye-rolling friend in the background and talks about getting weird stains down her “vintage dress”. The fact it’s a “vintage dress” is such a novelty that she can’t stop saying “vintage dress”, even though any person familiar with words knows that in the context of washing, it’s just called a “dress.” And she pronounces it with the stress on the wrong word – “VINtage dress”, not “vintage DRESS”. Besides, it’s clearly not a vintage dress at all, but one of those fakey market stall dresses you get from shops called things like Fashion Girlz. 

However, after several months of happy snarling at poor grubby student vintage dress girl, I’ve come to realise that my hate isn’t based in taste or embarrassment, but jealousy. Because I am 25 years old and I don’t know how to wash things.

Clothes mainly, although come to think of it I’ve had moments with a custard-encrusted saucepan where it just seemed easier to hurl it out a window than wait for the mythical ‘soaking’ to take effect. And despite a fondness verging on fetish for ways to paint, primp and powder my face, I rarely cleanse even that beyond the unavoidable wash it gets in the shower every morning.

“Are you doing a dark wash or a light wash?” my flatmate will ask, brandishing something pale and chiffony. “Um. Well it’s mainly dark. With a pink thing. And a white thing. And a couple of cream things. And these muddy plimsolls,” I’ll reply, watching her retreat in horror.

But genuinely, I believe that separating clothes by colour is a myth invented by housework jobsworths to give us all more hassle. Not putting your new black jeans and your white silk blouse in together I can get on board with; everything else is just scaremongering.

I also have little to no idea at all what fabric conditioner is for, except the vague impression that it’s a bit like moisturiser for your towels and thus completely unnecessary. Because they’re towels. They’re meant to be dry, because they dry you. That’s just physics.

Speaking of dry towels, by the way, I’ve decided that I want the next home I live in to be one with an airing cupboard. It is impossible to feel like a woman of substance and maturity when you still have to hang all your towels on a single hook on the back of your bedroom door like a peasant. Also, all my towels have inexplicable bleach stains on them. Which come to think of it, may be because I’m not washing them properly.