Wednesday, 26 June 2013

Notes on cohabiting


It’s three weeks now until I move out of my flat and in with a boy.

“The Boy”, I might say, if that particular relationship shorthand didn’t make me want to claw my skin off. Besides, it’s misleading. ‘Boy’ suggests I might be hosting imaginary tea parties with an impish Peter Pan figure, while what I’ve got – Xbox habits and Hobnob consumption aside – is very definitely a man.

A man who I’ve spent three years making very, very certain I like enough to see every single day, even when he’s got a cold or a big spot or is doing his “why we need to renationalise the railways” speech again. We technically lived together for three months two years ago and managed to get through without a single argument despite all of his worldly possessions being piled up on my bedroom carpet - so by comparison this should be easy. But there’s still no guarantee we won’t wake up one day to discover we’ve turned into Al and Peggy from Married With Children.

So instead of dwelling on the unknown, we’re looking forward to all the little certainties. “When we live together,” we say, doing another night bus trip between E5 and N10, “I won’t accidentally leave my stuff at your house because there will only be one house and we’ll be in it.”

“When we live together,” we say, co-ordinating our schedules each week to find an evening we’re both free, “this won’t be a problem. I’ll just come home and THERE YOU ARE.” I know about 86 per cent of you are now laughing hollowly and going, ‘yeah, exactly – THERE YOU ARE. Every. Ruddy. Night’. But shhh, because we are adorably optimistic and you mustn’t burst our bubble yet.

There are other things too, things I didn’t know I even had feelings about until I realised they were going to change.

For example: all the food in the kitchen will be mine, to eat as I please. All mine! After seven years of flatsharing, seven years of whose-marmite-is-that-did-you-eat-my-chickpeas-well-it-was-going-off-ooh-they-won’t-notice-a-slice-my-tomatoes-were-posher-you-thief, the idea of a kitchen where nothing needs to be eaten covertly with the light off is a novelty of giddy proportions.

I’ll have a proper place to keep towels, that isn’t the back of my bedroom door. Sometimes they might even be dry! We’ll have the washing machine all to ourselves too, a luxury so rare that I might start doing every pair of tights individually. I’ll be able to sing in the shower, and whistle on the loo, and leave things in places without returning hours later to find they’ve been tidied away into the bin.

Of course, just like Monica in that episode of Friends, I’m focusing on these bits so that I don’t spend every day from now until the move weeping salty tears over my soon to be ex-flatmates, because they will no longer be there every day to lend me hairspray, say ‘yes you should definitely have another bowl of custard’ and laugh at terrible TV until we wee ourselves.

Now I have three weeks to teach The Man all of their many skills by way of replacement. And probably buy some new towels.

Tuesday, 18 June 2013

In which Waynetta Windsor is on 500/1

It occurred to me that I haven’t done a feeling-sorry-for-Kate-Middleton column in quite a while, so if you don’t mind I’m going to address that now.

Aside from the obvious potential sympathies – the heavy sense of duty under the critical gaze of the public, the pressure to cart one’s eight-months preggo frame around on a pair of nude stilettos, the constant worry that it might come out already earing a crown (ouch) – I got thinking the other day about the names.

One of the most exciting bits of having a baby, I’ve always imagined, is the naming. Oh the possibilities! You have a veritable rainbow of colourful options to dip your parental paintbrush in. And despite knowing you’ll probably plump for ‘Emma’ or ‘Jack’ in the end because of mutterings about tradition from the grandparent camp, and about playground bullying from the judgemental friend camp, how blissful to read the baby names book from cover to cover and imagine for a few exhilarating weeks that you’re going to have progeny called Xavier and Persephone.

I once read about a woman in a magazine who called her son ‘Ritz’ because she found an old box of the crackers in her pantry a week before the birth (not a euphemism). That’s how free the naming game is these days - you can just walk into the kitchen, pick your favourite product and spend 18 years running around after a human called “Dairylea”.

But Will and Kate, we can safely assume, won’t have this freedom. When we’re talking about future monarchs, apparently, it has to be a name that wouldn’t look amiss in a neck ruff.

William Hill have placed 4/1 odds on Charlotte, 5/2 on Alexandra, 5/1 on Elizabeth, 6/1 on Diana and 7/1 on Victoria. Anne, Mary and Catherine all follow (giving one’s child your own name is truly the selfie of parenting, isn’t it?) with kingly standards George, Charles, James, Edward and John on the boys’ list. Yawn.

If I were the Duchess, I would compromise with what I like to call ‘The Jonathan Ross school of naming’, or ‘business in the front, party in the middle’. Give them a sensible first name, pour all your wacky urges into the middle name, and then they have the option of using either, depending on whether they grow up to be an accountant or a pottery cafĂ© proprietor.

**BREAKING** As I write this, I’ve also just read that Kim Kardashian and Kanye West’s baby are calling their baby ‘Kai Georgia Donda West’. If the royal couple were to follow that lead and christen theirs Donda too, it would be as thought the national anthem were starting up every time it was called.

Just a thought.

In which Pride and Purists probably won't cut it

It must be a tiresome life, being a purist. Spending all that time in pursed-lipped disapproval each time the world reinvents the wheel, or makes a new flavor of crisp. All the tutting and harrumphing and ruining perfectly good dinners by complaining that your tapas isn’t authentic enough*.

I’ve been puristic about few things in my time, and managed to stay puristic about even fewer. Fancy dress is one; I hate it when people turn up in a wipe-clean black and white sack off the internet and think they’re the spirit of Carnaby Street.

Pride and Prejudice adaptations are another. When something as completely, flawlessly brilliant as the 1995 BBC version is still delighting fans the world over, why would you even bother with the effort and expense of making further, obviously inferior versions – like Keira Knightley’s 2005 pout-athon, or this new PD James crime sequel to mark the book’s bicentennial?

Why not just have Colin Firth’s wet shirt listed as a Grade II heritage site, for coaches of schoolchildren to visit on field trips? Then the TV and film people could tick Pride and Prejudice off the list, mark it done forever, and move onto other things. Like The Very Hungry Caterpillar: The Musical.

But mostly, it’s quite pleasant to enjoy something that the purists hate. It’s refreshing. It’s like everyone else sitting in a bad smell when you’ve got a blissfully blocked up nose. Which as it happens, is exactly how I felt about Baz Luhrmann’s The Great Gatsby.

After all the months of mounting hype and previews and product tie-ins and everyone going, “gee, you’d think that if they’ve got enough good bits for a three-minute trailer, they’d have, like, finished the film by now”, I was fully prepared to be crashingly disappointed. But the beauty of going into something prepared to be disappointed is (and I guess this was Eeyore’s philosophy) most likely, you’ll be pleasantly surprised.

Yes there’s the raucous R’n’B soundtrack, but isn’t that exactly how jazz would have sounded to traditional ears in the 20s? Yes, it’s gaudy and overblown and cartoonish and Leo DiCaprio’s accent is like nothing that’s ever left another mouth, ever, but as a cinematic experience it left me feeling exactly the same way the book did – invigorated, slightly confused, and craving a cocktail.

So if I prepare to be thoroughly scornful of Death Comes to Pemberley, covering my eyes with my Regency needlepoint every time Matthew Rhys fails, well, to have Colin Firth’s exact face, then I might just be pleasantly surprised. As long as they’ve got the fancy dress right, and nobody complains about the tapas.

*By the way, I’ve decided not to tolerate mutterings about “authentic” food any more. What, do you think nobody in the whole of Spain or Italy ever cooked a dodgy meal? Does every backstreet caff in every country outside of this one serve up manna from heaven on a daily basis? Do you think the reason 17th century farmers didn’t use a certain kind of oil is because it would be criminally inauthentic, rather than just because they didn’t have a Waitrose?

Monday, 3 June 2013

In which 100 years is too much, and not nearly enough

One hundred years ago this week, Emily Wilding Davison threw herself in front of a horse. By chance or very possibly design, it was the king’s horse, and her fate became legend as the most famous martyr of the suffragette movement.

Did you watch Clare Balding’s documentary too? Oh good. Fantastic, wasn’t it?  If you didn’t, I must bid you put down your Coco Pops and 4oD-it this instant, because it needs to be seen. Especially if your overriding image of the suffragettes is the mum in Mary Poppins doing a merry jig in a yellow petticoat. The sinister, brutal reality of the battle for women’s votes was about as far from Disney fable as it gets.

As a teenager at Davison High School for Girls, which wasn’t named after Emily although I always liked to imagine it was, the message of her cause managed to penetrate the almighty cloud of Clearasil and Impulse and Maroon 5 and hormonal angst for four years without us quite realising it. Our teachers drummed ambition into us along with long division. In 2004 we won the Global Rock Challenge with a dance about the suffragettes, and cried snotty tears of joy at Prince Edward as we collected our award.

It might be because I was woozy on body spray fumes at the time, but as a school girl I honestly don’t remember ever believing there was anything I wouldn’t be able to do on account of my gender. No, that came later. That came when I realised there’s still a whole, horrible chunk of society who value a woman’s body far beyond her brain.

It came the first time I noticed how many shops still shelve music, science and technology magazines as ‘Men’s Interest’. And when I discovered that I could expect to earn 15 per cent less than the men who graduated alongside me. And when I read that two women are killed every week in the UK as a result of domestic violence – a figure that hasn’t changed in 15 years.

My mother taught me regularly, well before I was old enough to, that I must always vote - “because of the suffragettes.”  And I do.

I haven’t yet had the pleasure of voting in a government I’ve actually wanted (or a London mayor who isn’t a Bash Street Kid come to life) but at least I’ve had the pleasure of contribution. Exercising my right, to decide who governs me – and with it, the pleasure of knowing I can whinge and moan to my heart’s content about our politicians, because I played my part. Because I could.

So as Emily Davison’s centenary is commemorated on our screens and in our papers, I’d rather use it as a rallying call, not a memorial, to carry on what the sister suffragettes kicked off – to men and women, because human rights are everybody’s issue. And the march is far from over.