Tuesday, 27 August 2013

In which I'm hanging on the telephone

So last week we talked about pogonophobia, the fear of beards. This week I have a new one for you: nomophobia, the fear of being without a mobile phone. Disappointingly it’s not derived from Latin or anything, it’s just short for ‘no-mobile-phone phobia’ – which does make me wonder if the phobia naming people are just phoning it in these days - but still, it’s my word discovery of the month.

According to a study by AppRiver reported in The Times this week, over 50 per cent of Britons now suffer from nomophobia. “42 per cent even take their devices to the beach!” it cried.

I’m skeptical on the first figure. Turns out they only surveyed 1000 “workers”, which doesn’t take into account the numbers of babies and children and elderly people who don’t have phones at all. But on the second point – why WOULDN’T you take your phone to the beach? Of all the places that being able to track down companions through the whizzy voodoo of mobile technology is useful, it is the beach.

Otherwise, what happens when little Jimmy goes off to find an ice cream stand with Zzapp lollies and ends up trailing for a mile and a half along the coast (because Zzapp lollies are actually the ultimate lolly, but woefully underecognised since the late 90s)? Pre-mobiles, I guess you either alerted the coastguard or just went home and admitted you never liked Little Jimmy much anyway.

Of course, I’m as nomophobic as they come. If I ever leave my phone at home by mistake, I spend the day convinced my whole family is going to die in a freak accident – which is a subset fear known as tree-falls-in-a-forest-a-phobia, ie. things might still happen in the world, even if I’m not immediately aware that they have.

It’s a conversation I often have with my mother, who suffers from the opposite fear: that if she has her mobile phone with her, and indeed turns it on, all kinds of dreadful people will immediately start calling and ruin her day. “Jane Bravo has her phone on! QUICK, think of a tedious excuse to ring her!” the masses would scream. Never mind that about six people, maximum, even have her number and half of those live in the same house.

“What if I was on my deathbed?” I demand, “and you had your phone turned off?” “Oh, I’d find out eventually,” comes the airy reply.

So I put it to you, survey people, which is worse: fanatical phone use, or people who would rather be told by carrier pigeon when their children are expiring in another part of the country? I’m off to hunt down a Zzapp lolly while you think about it.

In which Paxo takes a stand against pogonophobia

“I can’t believe this paper considers Jeremy Paxman’s facial hair important enough to devote a half-page story to,” harrumphed a letter in The Scotsman this week. “Perhaps you can also update us next time he cuts his toenails?” 

I should maybe say that I was in Edinburgh, not just reading my way around the British Isles looking for grumpy people – but I suspect there were many similar moans south of Hadrian’s Wall as well.

Ok, Man Grows Beard might not be the biggest scoop since Watergate, but there are several things the “IT’S NOT NEWS!” brigade could do well to understand here. 

Firstly, it’s August. ‘Tis the season known as silly, not just because nothing much happens, but because even if it does happen, we’d rather give our brains a summer holiday and focus on a roller-skating squirrel instead. When I spent August as a rookie reporter on this very paper, we ran a front-pager headed “Baby born with teeth!”. The photo didn’t even show the teeth. 

In September all the Back to School news will start again and we’ll have to concentrate on interest rates and climate change and which new delicious thing gives us cancer each week, and we’ll sit around saying, “ahhh… do you remember that lovely evening we spent in August, finishing up the limoncello and laughing about a man on telly’s chin?”

Secondly, beards kinda are news these days. They’re the biggest thing to happen to men’s faces since eyebrow piercing fell out of favour. Until gender-neutral make up finds its place in society (and any man who claims he’s never looked at the Maybelline counter with a pang of longing to conceal his hangover eye-bags is definitely lying), hair is the only real option men have for cosmetic customisation.
So go crazy, chaps! Have fun! There’s a veritable chin wardrobe of styles to try out there, from lustrous moustaches to manicured goatees, or fashion’s current fave, the lumberjack fuzz cloud beloved of Mumford and Sons, Brian Blessed and Mr Twit. Jeremy’s salt-and-pepper speckling was a modest but notable stand against the BBC’s reported pogonophobia, to use a word we’ve all only just learned – a sort of ‘talk to the follicles, cos the face ain’t listening’ thing.

Thirdly, if a man’s hair is not news then, I put it to you, neither is a woman’s. One day of chat about a male presenter’s appearance garners a sea of well-meaning splutters, but we still have whole magazines devoted to little more than whether or not Gwyneth Paltrow has wrinkly knees. 
It may be trivial, but at least Paxo’s beard was technically news in being, well, new - bare breasts have been around since cave ladies first grew them, but it doesn’t stop The Sun giving them page 3 priority on a daily basis. 

So shhhh, killjoys. You’ll get your proper articles back soon enough. And if you don’t like it, maybe write a few more letters about Kelly Brook bikini shots not being news either.

Thursday, 15 August 2013

Eight things I wish I'd been told on A level results day

This is not me on A level results day. But I am jumping in the air.

1. They don’t matter nearly as much as you think they do.

How important do your results feel to you, right now? Right, now take that amount, divide it by three, half it, chip off another bit for good measure, and that is how important they actually are. And I’m saying that as a 25 year old. By the time you’re 80, those results will probably look like a little speck of lint that you flick off the rich, eventful canvas of your life.

Except for this week, and the odd smug tawzzock who will ask you during your first uni term, you will almost never talk about your A level results again. Which is a shame if they’re quite good and you were going to have them screen printed on a t-shirt, but never mind.

2. That teacher you just accidentally hugged?

It’s fine, nobody saw.

3. You will forget almost everything you learned for those exams.

In years to come, little nuggets of isolated information will resurface, but never quite when you need them. As a result you will spend much future time hunched over pub quiz tables, pummelling your temples trying to remember which was Crick and Watson and which was Loftus and Palmer and just how many hours you spent writing those multicoloured revision cards anyway.

4. Everyone will be fine.

Those who didn’t get the grades they wanted, will be fine. Those who did but have no clue how they want to use them yet, will be fine. Even the one who had to be excused from the English Lit paper because of a badly-timed stomach upset, will be fine.

5. University will also be fine.

Chances are, it will be brilliant. Don’t spend the fortnight before you leave weeping into a pillow, because it will be tiring and futile and you will miss all the good drinking occasions.

6. You are now a grown up, but you don’t need all the crockery yet.

Far be it from me to deny you the ritual trip to the big Tesco Extra with your misty-eyed parents, but if you buy all the crockery and cookware now, in eight months time you will be packing up two forks and half a bowl, cursing everyone you’ve just spent three terms frantically bonding with. Just buy some Pot Noodles and make do.

7. You’ll stay in touch with your friends, don’t worry.

Because it is 2006 and in a little over a month, this great new thing called Facebook will enter your life and suddenly staying in touch with people you love will be easier. Unfortunately staying in touch with people you don’t love will become a whole lot easier too.

8. Don't let anyone, especially not a local newspaper photographer, take a photo of you leaping in the air.

You're better than that.

Tuesday, 6 August 2013

In which I'll have the big salad

I’m going to New York! Strike up the marching band! Bring on the dancing sailors! Pour me a root beer and put a bagel in my face! Start spreading the news, give my regards to Broadway, and show me the way to the Staten Island ferry so I can ride across the river with the wind in my perm, like at the beginning of Working Girl.

In fact by the time you read this, taxis and baggage restrictions and giant duty-free Toblerones willing, I’ll be in New York. I’ve never been before, can you tell?  I’ve never been to America, in fact. I’ve only got as close as Canada, which as telly would have you believe is about as close as going to Luton airport and saying you’ve seen Big Ben.

So because I’ve been waiting a full quarter century of my life to finally take a bite from the Big Apple (and by ‘apple’ I mean ‘baked goods’, and by ‘big’ I mean, “is that a doughnut or a dinghy? Oh well too late I ate it.”), I’m putting a lot of pressure on my week’s holiday to fulfill every expectation that TV and films have impressed on me.

Not the exciting things though, you understand. Because my taste in telly is sitcoms where not much happen, and my taste in films is comedies where even less happens, my hopes for the concrete jungle where dreams are made consists  mainly of sitting in coffee shops, getting almost run over by a taxi and eating a really big pretzel.

But I want to do those things EXACTLY like they did them on Seinfeld, and Friends, and Annie Hall, and When Harry Met Sally, and How I Met Your Mother, and Elf. I want to go to a deli, order a whole heap of incongruous ingredients “on rye”, then fail to eat them because I’m too engrossed in a neurotic anecdote about a dinner party (I will make up the neurotic anecdote; it’s not important). 

I’d quite like to master the art of tipping correctly, coolly, casually, without flailing like a sweaty-palmed fool, then come home and apply that skill on my visits to the hairdresser. I want to find out for definite what a Twinkie is.

I reckon the closest I’ll get to Sex and the City is probably being splashed by a big puddle, but that’s a-ok by me.