Monday, 28 October 2013

In which it ain't over till it's Overs

For every generation there’s a marker that officially means you are getting old. Not old-old, but… established. Seasoned. The moment you realise certain avenues are probably now closed off to you forever.

Traditionally it was when the policeman started looking young; my mother claims for her it was Blue Peter presenters. In the Middle Ages it was probably the man who pulled the corpse cart. I, meanwhile, have just realised that if I were to enter the next series of The X Factor, I would be in the ‘Over 25’ category.

I hadn’t planned on entering the next series of X Factor, obviously, but now all I can think about is how, if a freak accident left me with a miraculous or at least passable singing voice and completely removed the part of my brain that feels shame, I’d be doing it alongside the olds and the weirdoes.

I would be a Steve Brookstein. A Christopher Maloney. They’d put me in a jazzy blazer and make me sway on a podium while the young’uns did cartwheels in hotpants. I wouldn’t even get the regional vote - we’re not like Ireland or Newcastle; nobody from Sussex has ever voted for someone on the strength of them also being from Sussex.

Of course, anywhere outside of X Factor, professional football, baby ballroom and the Daily Mail’s acceptable “phwoar” limit, over 25 is not old at all. It’s sprightly. I still only use the second cheapest Boots under-eye cream. But in the bizzaro world of commercial pop (a world where Robin Thicke is allowed to put on Misogyny: The Musical for three minutes of family entertainment, it’s worth noting), I am now basically Methuselah.

My best friend turned 26 this week - and so we did some friendship maths.

“We’ve been friends for 18 years.”

“No we haven’t, you didn’t like me in middle school.”

“Ok, we’ve known each other for 18 years.”

“18 years!”

“Our acquaintanceship covers three decades. When we met, John Major was still Prime Minister.”

“Our acquaintanceship is old enough to vote!”

“We could have an adult child by now! No… no wait, that doesn’t work.”

However you look at it, it’s a long time. Together we have been through four stages of education, three different cities, many jobs, many flats and at least eight dubious haircuts.

It’s comforting to know, then, that if I do find myself in a freak voice-enhancing, shame-deadening accident and want to go on X Factor, I could just take her with me and enter in the groups category instead. 

"Murjsdjahsgj", she wrote

One of the biggest regrets of my adult life so far is that I still don’t have a proper signature.

Signatures, as everyone who ever spent hours practicing theirs in the back of a biology textbook knows, are one of the defining markers of grown-updom. They should be an instinctive flourish, blossoming naturally from your pen like a natural extension of your personality, as you write a cheque for your brand new jet ski/fax machine/horse.

“Look at me,” a good signature says, “I am a person of substance and understated panache. Look at me flow, like quality port from a crystal decanter.”

But mine doesn’t flow - not even like lukewarm WKD from a mug. It’s stilted and awkward and always gets stuck around the B. Even worse, it has a weird bit at the end that was once a star (oh, the shame) but has now turned into a pointless loopy thing.

I could stop doing the pointless loopy thing, but then my signature would just be “Lauren Bravo”, in boring round letters, not even joined up. And besides, it’s on all my important contracts and bank accounts, so it’s pretty much set in stone now. If I wanted to change it I’d probably have to apply to a bureau or something, and be fined for operating a pen without due care or attention.

Of course, the wider issue here is that handwriting itself, like writing cheques for jet skis/fax machines/horses, is quickly becoming an anachronism. It’s just another thing the Millennial generation are losing, along with our dignity, our muscle definition and our chances of buying a house without eBaying a kidney first.

There are people among my close acquaintance whose handwriting I’ve never even seen - which is unnerving, because it means I can’t do one of those ‘What Does Your Handwriting Say About You?’ features from Jackie magazine to find out if they’re secretly a lunatic.

These days I write by hand so rarely that when I do it comes out all funny, like the first day back after the holidays. All those years of defiance in primary school, fashioning little balloons above my ‘i’s and doing contraband things with the tails on my ‘g’s, just went to waste; while my 98 year old Auntie Elsie still has the immaculate penmanship of a royal scribe, mine looks like it has been danced onto the page by a muddy pigeon.

And so it is reserved only for birthday cards, angry notes and any congratulatory sentiment that can’t just be sent as a lovely warm text message. Maybe at some point handwriting will be a quaint retro hobby, like people who learn jive dancing or crochet doilies.

I’d start a petition for the protection of handwriting, but then I’d have to sign it.

In which love is a hot lasagne

My boyfriend and I have now been cohabiting for three months, and it’s been an exciting voyage of discoveries.

Deciding whether or not I actually care when he leaves the loo seat up (I don’t, as it currently stands); discovering the delightful ways in which our separate tastes in décor can be merged (“how about we put the copies of Modern Railway magazine UNDER the patchwork throw?”); and gently introducing my beloved to the quantities of blonde hair I shed over every surface, for which conventional hoovering poses no match at all.

Then there is the cooking. Before we moved in together, he had five signature dishes: a stir-fry, a curry, a chilli, a sausage pasta and a very good cheese on toast. This was his well-balanced arsenal, the carb and veg and protein that saw him through lonely evenings and special occasions alike.

I wouldn’t call him a fussy eater, because to me that is an insult of the very foulest order - I would rather sit next to a flatulent camel than the type of person who won’t eat a crisp until you tell them what flavour it is - but it’s true that he doesn’t see food in the same way I do.

I see every morsel as a party of happy flavours, shouting “eat me! Have seconds! I AM YOUR BEST FRIEND”, whereas he sees it as a mixed gathering of intimidating strangers, where it’s best to stay in the kitchen with the people you know who definitely aren’t awful. (Incidentally we have the exact opposite approach to real parties).

Thinking that living together was the perfect opportunity to broaden these horizons, and I began by teaching him to make lasagne. Actually that’s as far as I’ve got, because on lasagne he has stuck – possibly quite literally, there’s a lot of béchamel and melted Cathedral City involved. I think I have eaten more lasagne during the last two months than in the rest of my life put together.

Make no mistake, they are very good lasagnes. But they are also very big, which means leftovers, and so we are often eating double or occasionally triple lasagne over the course of two days – which is an awful lot of minced beef and refined starch for even the steeliest stomach to take.

There are lasagnes everywhere. I am seeing them in my dreams; considering them for regrouting the bathroom tiles. He’s like the Dolmio dad, except Scottish and not made of felt.

“We’ve got whojummy and whatsit coming to dinner,” I’ll say. “Shall I do something lovely and light made of vegetables?”

“No,” he says, his eyes lighting up. “I’ll do my lasagne.” And out comes the pasta and the passata and the Gaviscon.

The loo seat I can cope with, Modern Railways magazine I can tolerate. But if cohabiting drives me to vegetarianism, there are going to need to be some serious changes.

In which a title would be giving too much away

Warning: this article contains spoilers. Meaning, it tells you what I think about some things before you might otherwise have found them out.

It has been a week of many spoilers. First came the miserable news that Helen Fielding, in an authorial power trip of George R.R. Martin proportions, has killed off Mark Darcy before the start of the new Bridget Jones book.  Mark Darcy, the perfect non-perfect man. Reincarnated from Austen, clothed in a reindeer jumper, played by Colin Firth in a turn of such solemn, understated swooniness that I carried pictures of him round in my pencil case for most of year nine.

As devoted fans (I tell people my favourite film is Some Like it Hot, but it is actually Bridget Jones’s Diary and probably will be forever) we were already worried about the prospect of a third book. Would we have Bridget tweeting? Bridget twerking? Bridget starting her own fro-yo company and selling it from a van at boutique festivals?

But the idea of Bridget’s happy ending, well, ending all together, is a twist nobody was ready for. Plus it turns out Mark’s been dead for five years already, giving us no proper mourning period - so really it’s just as well that the spoilers emerged a week early, to prepare us before we all sat down with the book and a mug of Chardonnay to have our hearts broken on the first page.

After Darcy’s death knell came a day of Breaking Bad fans shrieking over the final episode – or more accurately, Breaking Bad fans shrieking over other Breaking Bad fans shrieking over the final episode, because they hadn’t seen it yet. “SPOILERS!” comes the siren, each time someone blinks in a way that suggests they might be about to spill some details.

But what is the grace period? A day? A week? Are there still people walking around with their fingers in their ears, humming, because they don’t know who shot JR? Back when everyone watched TV at the same time, remember, there were no spoilers. In fact, people bought TV magazines to get spoilers ON PURPOSE.

Personally, I’m just not that bothered. I still regularly skip to the last page of books to find out who’s still alive – in case I die myself before I finish it. I think there’s something to be said, in an uncertain world, for knowing a bit about what’s going to happen before it does.

After all, when you think about it, restaurant reviews are really just ‘food spoilers’. Doctor’s appointments are sort of just ‘life spoilers’. Traffic reports, GDP projections, utility bills: spoilers, spoilers, SPOILERS.

“I was going to check the weather forecast,” I might say next time I arrive somewhere drenched and wearing inappropriate shoes, “but, you know, spoilers.”