Friday, September 30, 2005

birthday blues.

today is my birthday (yes, you bastard, you forgot. no, it's too late to pretend you didn't now)

i have long hated birthdays, regarding them with the same jaundiced eye as New Year's Eve - that is, as an occasion specifically invented to make you feel bad that you are not more popular and fun. and with both, the additional reminder that you have one less year in which to become popular and fun.

last year on my birthday, i took two exams and then stayed in and watched sex and the city because i was going to take two more exams. (ok, i chose to take the exams and i had a big party the week before, and my friends gave me an Xbox but still... allow my self-indulgent wallowing).

tonight, to celebrate reaching the grand old age of 22, i will be visiting one of Yorkshire's most upsetting tinpot towns, Selby. "Oh," said one of the other trainees, 'it has a club, you know. Two clubs." I will probably be the oldest person there.

nevertheless, i am not getting my hopes up for it becoming my ideal night out - a mad rave with free champagne and music from 1997 where i meet my future husband. but i suppose there's a reasonable chance of at least one of those three coming through for me.

in other, less blatantly self-pitying news, only three weeks of exile left. And those three weeks will be spent writing great local newspaper headlines (one that nearly got in: "Family meet death-quiz team"; one that actually got in: "pair face quiz on dismembered girl") and hopefully keeping up our team's three-week reign as champions of the Pub Quiz.

Friday, September 23, 2005

lies, damn lies...

we all know that 83% of statistics are made up. thankfully, this need not matter any longer because - hold the front page- the PA wire now reports that no one believes them anyway.

yes, in the 'politics will eat itself' moment we've all been waiting for, the government has released statistics showing that 60% of people don't believe government statistics.

also, 54% believe they are subject to political influence, raising the intriguing questions of what grounds for mistrust the missing 6% have - they're made up by aliens, disguised as dogs? they never believe anything told them by someone called Tony on principle, because they dislike the name after someone called Anthony ran off with Auntie Sue in the 50s? We shall never know.

Anyway, apparently "The survey of 1,700 people reveals a lack of public confidence in official statistics, an Office of National Statistics spokesman said." Further revealing why no-one trusts statistics: they are collated and interpreted by morons.

The other thing that irritates me are the people who refuse to answer even the blandest of survey questions, adding an unnecessary element of mystery to the whole thing. the statistics story continues, "Asked whether they believed official figures were “generally accurate”, 37% of respondents agreed and 31% disagreed. The remaining 32% did not know or did not want to say. "

I mean really, it's not like it's a hard question, like "Is Angelina Jolie more or less sexy since we found out she's a heartless homewrecker?" or "Do I look fat in these trousers?"

People of the world, i despair of you.

news story of the day: teachers bitch about kids with 'chav' names like Ashlee and Troy. They claim a 75% hit rate in identifying troublemakers from the dreadful names their parents give them...

Thursday, September 22, 2005

celebrities disappoint me.

don't get me wrong, i love celebrities as much as the next person who doesn't have a life of their own. but sometimes they really disappoint me.

take Zach Braff. this post was going to be about how great scrubs is (an opinion that is all the more surprising given my intense over-exposure to it in the last three days). a new housemate has entered my tiny village world, and he brought dvds of the first two series and, more importantly, a massive collection of trivia: did you know that when Elliot and JD bungee jump, Sarah Chalke wanted to do it, but Zach Braff refused? that the two stunt people they brought in to do it fell in love and married?

but i digress. Zach Braff has disappointed me. And as pointed out by one J Clarkson in his magnum opus Born To Be Riled, that is the worst insult of all, its use usually reserved for mothers and headteachers.

how has he done this? by dating Mandy Moore. Yes, that Mandy Moore, of the cute Bambi eyes and the sub-Jessica Simpson warbling. (Also, I am irrationally annoyed that she is younger than me. Celebrities should not be younger than me, it makes me feel bad.) Then I discover that Braff has form: he's also been dating Natalie Portman, and no, the fact that she is fantastically attractive and shockingly intelligent does not make it better.

Zach Braff is funny, talented and 30. Why is he dating these mainstream twentysomething beauties? He should be going out with pale but interesting indie film makers and the like - not such a bland human being, a 'beige' person.

I want my celebrities to do things properly, dammit. The craft of being unpredictable, outrageous and downright stupidly reckless has gone, with only a few brave souls such as Elton John, Kate Moss and Jordan to carry the flag.

Take Jordan's wedding, to which I say: good on her. I could have a tasteful, restrained, minimalist wedding with 20 guests. I'd never have the balls (or the money) to wear a giant pink frou-frou affair and get my intended into stingray skin shoes.

Or Elton John's party, where naked skydivers sailed in. Or Queen's notorious alleged use of dwarfs bearing trays of cocaine on their heads at backstage parties. Or troubled coke-snorting supermodel Kate, having it away with all her fantastically attractive friends in a haze of champagne and cigarettes.

I can't do any of those things; I'm destined to spend my life in front of a computer, writing poor puns and wondering what would have happened if I'd finished writing that novel. I'd get sacked if I celebrated a good day at work with a drug-fuelled binge. None of my friends are models, or will sleep with me.

So celebrities of the world, I plead: stop buying houses in the country, and telling us how normal you are, and how you like nothing more than a cup of tea and a sit down. Get out there, get wrecked, and have the decency to earn your money by giving me some entertainment.

Tuesday, September 20, 2005

penguin homosexuality

some gay penguins, yesterday

my favourite story of the day: gay penguins Roy and Silo, of the New York Central Park zoo, have split up.

the many liberal commentators who sought to justify gay marriage in humans by reference to the birds now feel a bit silly. as well they might.
(read about roy and silo in happier times and about their great parenting skills.)

when the penguins decided to stage a musical, the keepers became worried.

Monday, September 19, 2005

Handwriting analysis baby!

A reader questions Bush's bathroom break note (which I am extremely surprised has not been termed "Weegate" or some such) for its veering between upper and lower case.

Now it might seem wrong to mock a man for needing to go to the loo - and having been born with a tiny bladder myself, i would never do that - but it is not wrong to mock his handwriting. Ok, ok, the circumstances may have leant ‘urgency’ to his note, but that’s no excuse.

Having once read a book about ‘graphology’ (yeah, it’s a real ology), i feel well qualified to pontificate on this subject. The most striking thing about Bush’s handwriting is the lapse into capitals. Now, this could mean he’s illiterate - and certain sectors would have you think that reading and writing are a problem for a man who can’t be trusted to eat a pretzel or ride a bike - or it could mean he doesn’t care. Flouting the rules of ‘normal’ handwriting, whether it be using weird margins, writing all in capitals or whatever - indicates either ignorance or contempt of those rules.

The man’s had the finest education money can buy, so let’s give him the benefit of the doubt and assume he’s not doing it through stupidity.

So why use capitals? Handwriting analysts believe that normal handwriting has three ‘zones’ - upper (tops of h, t, l etc), middle and lower (bottom of g, j etc) which correspond respectively to the Freudian models of superego, ego and id. Hence, they claim, egotistical bodybuilders (and children) have very middle-heavy writing, whereas intellectuals (and drug takers) have pronounced upper zones. Heavy lower zones indicate you’re a randy bastard, and twisted lower zones show you’re a pervert. All well and good.

So if you decide to opt out of giving your handwriting these zones, you are trying to give less away. Oddly enough, writing in capitals is found more often among men (whose handwriting is often worse than women’s, due to their having less developed fine motor skills in childhood, when handwriting is taught). It’s perceived as odd by graphologists because it’s so cumbersome, unwielding and slow - not an effective way to communicate, which is what handwriting is all about.

So what does Bush’s use of capitals in just that phrase “MAY NEED A BATHROOM BREAK” mean? Buggered if I know. Perhaps he doesn’t want to give away the reason he needs one (a heavy curry the night before?). Or perhaps he’s naturally clamming up in reaction to having to tell Dr Condeeeeleeeza Rice that he needs to go wee-wee. He knows she’s going to tell him he should have gone before they started.

by way of comparison, i offer you this sample of the Blair Bear's handwriting, from a letter he wrote to the Mirror before the 2005 General Election. In my humble opinion, he's got girl's handwriting. But the other key points are:

  • upward slanted lines revealing determination and optimism
  • gentle forward slant revealing a controllably passionate nature
  • One slightly worrying feature - the big gap between "keep going forward with... Labour". Indicates a pause: "who are my party again?" Then again, I wouldn't like to say it's significant as this is hardly likely to be an off the cuff note. Maybe he just couldn't read Alistair Campbell's handwriting.


    Of course, the other strange thing about Bush's handwriting is that it changes so much. this article from the Baltimore Sun shows how different samples can give you the impression that Bush is the nearest thing to Mother Teresa not in a sari, or Beelzebub's own protege. Of course, having lots of different handwritings is like having lots of different voices: very bad news. And look at that signature! Your signature is supposed to say, 'this is me'. His says 'ggwbe'.


    another bush handwriting link: from the guardian. Extra points to them for avoiding the obvious 'leak' pun and going for the more intellectual 'sign from a bursting Bush'. ho ho.

    the bit where i read all the papers so you don't have to:
  • The Grapple in the Big Apple between Christopher Hitchens, my favourite drink-sodden former Trotskyite popinjay, and George Galloway, a complete twat.
  • generic broadsheet hangwringing article about Kate Moss's drug use.
  • my new favourite tabloid columnist, Brian Reade of the Mirror.
  • my favourite broadsheet columnist (probably) James May, talking about the Rolls Royce. The textual equivalent of a cup of tea and a biscuit.

  • Thursday, September 15, 2005


    before we start: best news story of the week

    those of you who know me in 3D form will be aware of my deep disdain for horoscopes, homeopathy, religion, shampoo commercials and other spurious claptrap.

    but perhaps i will have to recant, slightly, for word reaches me (from my train-loving friend Laura) that an exciting new form of psychological bollocks has hoved into view. it's called numerology, and it's basic premise is that the universe is run by numbers - so far so good - and that "the occult manner in which they reflect certain aptitudes and character tendencies [is] an integral part of the cosmic plan." (more here)

    Right. Apparently, "Each letter has a numeric value that provides a related cosmic vibration. The sum of the numbers in your birth date and the sum of value derived from the letters in the name provide an interrelation of vibrations."

    Well, I was all set to guffaw at their championing of 'interrelated vibrations' (not in front of the children, dear) until Laura pointed out that certain combinations of days and months of birth give 'master numbers', repeated digits like 11, 22, 33.

    Needless to say, Laura's date of birth makes her a 'master' - 22/4. She writes proudly: "When you read about 22/4s we have a special ‘life purpose’ – we are the ‘leaders’ of this world, CEOs, Prime Ministers, etc (Maggie Thatcher was a 22/4). This made sense."

    Oh dear, I thought. It's time to ring the hospital. No one give her her own secure compound, hundreds of white robed followers, and a job lot of 'special' Kool-Aid, for god's sake. But then she continued:

    "So I started to think about other people who might have 22/4. Went through everyone I know and no-one else was a 22/4. HOWEVER – guess who the only other master number I know is?
    That’s right – you! You are a 33/6. And get this – you have the ‘gift’ of ‘creativity and communication’. You are to go into the world and be a great communicator."

    Further investigation revealed that as a 33/6, i am entitled to priority seating in restaurants, my pick of England's public schoolboys for a spouse, and the freedom of the city of Brighton. Well, perhaps not. But soon!

    33/6s, however, are known in numerology thus:

    "The 33/6 is a champion of the underdog and exudes compassion, love, and empathy. This master number willingly gives of itself, lending encouragement and heartfelt understanding to all who need help. It’s thought that the 33/6 has Christ-like qualities of sacrificing itself for the sake of others. However, because of their tenderheartedness and sensitivity, 33/6’s can easily be swept into the despair of others, feeling the deep pain of the world."

    Well, it's uncanny isn't it? How can you argue with that? I feel the deep pain of the world (have you read my nauseatingly adolescent poetry?) and if anything, I'd like to "give of myself" on a slightly more regular basis.

    So, my question is: does anyone have any friends who believe in this stuff who will worship me as the messiah?

    Tuesday, September 13, 2005

    new look. new thinking. or some other bollocks.

    in celebration of the guardian's new look, this blog has one too. i know it looks like it's in mourning at the moment, but let's call it a work in progress...

    i really meant to post on the guardian's new look, but i have ranted drunkenly about it so much to the 3D people that i have nothing left to give here. to set out my stall briefly, though - i hate the masthead (pretty rich coming from someone who's so slapdash with capital letters here, i suppose), like the size, hate the g2 graphic, think the columns are too wide, like the new type, think the leading on the headlines is bizarre, and quite like it overall. There, that wasn't so hard.

    ps. things you might have missed:
  • jeremy clarkson hit in face by pie
  • my nephew, Oliver Richard, born on Sunday, weighing 9lbs 8oz. Dad is lobbying hard for him to be renamed Oliver Richard Freddie Flintoff. Needlessly cute baby photo below.
  • Jordan and Peter Andre's OK wedding album released. Apparently the groom wores stingray skin shoes, and the bride wore pink. Mmm.
  • Bugatti Veyron 'not cool, look like a pus-filled spot', says Guttersniper. Who loves TVRs.
  • Angela Merkel's name? Still amusing.

  • poachers turned gamekeepers.

    i don't know if you saw 'the death of celebrity' on sunday night, but it featured ex-mirror editor Piers Morgan talking to pointless celebrities about how pointless they were, and how dreadful it was that they got money and media coverage for breathing, shagging and having fun (not necessarily all at the same time).

    the fact that these 'pointless celebrities' - rebecca loos, paul danan, abi titmuss and jade goody, principally - had agreed to be interviewed for the programme probably proves his point that they thrive on the oxygen of publicity.

    but the problem with the programme was twofold. first, there was the gut-wrenching sight of Morgan's on-screen, Damascene, conversion from the unbeliever of his Mirror-editing days, including the creation of the 3am girls, to the caring, sharing Piers of today, bemoaning the state of modern culture. I have never seen a reversal that spectacular since another former Mirror editor, St Roy of Greenslade, joined the Guardian to write about how dreadful the tabloid press was, gleefully ignoring that he was responsible for some of the rot.

    anyway, top marks to abi titmuss who answered the question, "what is the point of abi titmuss?" with the equally incisive, "what is the point of piers morgan?"

    all this whinging about morgan's slightly less than convincing volte-face shouldn't distract from the fact that his diaries are a work of unbridled genius. although "sources close to piers morgan" have told me that, how shall i put this - some creativity was involved in the reconstruction of past events. they are nonetheless a stonking read, and one which i would recommend to anyone. he's achieved the impressive toby young-esque feat of reminding you all the way through the narrative how OK he is with the fact he's a tosser, and yet including yet more tosserishness of which he seems blissfully unaware.

    his relationship with his superiors is probably the most interesting part. all editors think they know best - that's why they are editors - so it's intriguing to see how he reacts to command. and of course, his mentors are two great monsters of the modern media: kelvin mckenzie and rupert murdoch.

    opinions differ on which relationship is more illuminating - my student journo friend P opines that it's murdoch, but i'm tempted by mckenzie. i was reading boris johnson's 'lend me your ears' last night, and in his interview with mckenzie you are reminded just how much of modern tabloid culture springs from his crazed genius at the Sun in the eighties. Not just Gotcha!, but Hop Off Frogs, Up Yours, Delors and a host of other stances which have shaped popular thought. of course, murdoch has done this too, but in a subtle overlord way, not a stick-this-in-your-face way.


    as you might have guessed, i'm getting a reasonable amount of time at the computer to write entries. expect a review several journalism books i'm currently reading in the next few days, as well as my long-awaited (ok, by one person) review of the guardian's new berliner format.

    Monday, September 12, 2005

    modern theatre is balls.

    Aah, work.

    I am filling my time with browsing for tickets for a jaunt to the theatre with my friend L, she of the train obsession. Her friend is an understudy in Richard II, the new Kevin Spacey production that starts this week at the Old Vic. It turns out that it has Patrick from Coupling in it.

    This is very exciting, because the last time I went to the theatre with my L, it was to see Patrick Marber/Strindberg's After Miss Julie, which starred Geoff from Coupling. I could collect the set - does anyone know if Jack Davenport has returned to the theatre after his latest role as a dastardly English sailor/thoughtful English bloke in an American film.

    That performance of After Miss Julie is particularly memorable, as it was was also the scene of the worst fit of giggles I have ever had. The play was in the Donmar, which is a teeny tiny theatre, and we were in the front row with our knees touching the stage. Over wanders Richard Coyle, of Coupling fame, to deliver one of Strindberg's emotive and harrowing lines about the decay of class boundaries and the concomitant destruction of society.

    We are leaning forward intently, trying to look cultured, mere inches from the action. Unfortunately, we are at face-height with Coyle's groin and he thinks this is the most opportune time to indulge in some gritty realism, in the form of a good genital rearrangement. About five inches from my face.

    Well, it was terrible. I honked (yes, honked) in an effort to keep a straight face. Ironically, it tricked me into the 'giggle loop', so eloquently described in Coupling. The more I knew I couldn't giggle, the more I wanted to.

    Anyway, I'm sure there won't be any onstage ball scratching in Richard II, so we should be safe.

    Continuing the theatre theme, I went to see As You Like It at the Wyndham theatre on Friday. Yes, the one starring Sienna Miller. And yes, she is tiny and elfin and even wears a fairly boho outfit in the Forest of Arden.

    More exciting to me was stand-up comic and ex-Buzzcock's team captain Sean Hughes as Touchstone, who was absolutely excellent and -quite rare this, for a Shakespearean fool - actually funny. I think a few 'sirrahs' had been judiciously cut, and I certainly don't remember the line 'fuck off' (addressed to Jacques) in my Arden edition.

    The production was staged in 40s costume with just a whisper of noir, which the producers will tell you is all about conveying a pre-war feel of doom, a world in a state of flux, blah blah blah. I very much doubt this. I think it's all about how good sharp black and white tailoring looks in a production with minimal props and staging. It also allowed a very Wizard of Oz-style lapse into earthy colours when they all go into the forest.

    Sure, there were ropey bits - a few scenes which dragged, an actor whose whiny voice clashed horribly with the deep baritone of the Duke. The songs too, were very pleasant (and there were lots of them) but I'm not sure that's good enough. Then again, I always skip the songs when I'm reading Shakespeare - and Tolkien, actually, who's obsessed with drippy elf numbers.

    In summation : seven and a half out of ten.

    Friday, September 09, 2005

    middle aged

    regular readers of this blog (yes, you at the back) will know that i have an obsession with being prematurely middle-aged, despite only being 21. Now, this article in the Telegraph has confirmed it.

    On the Tube platform in the morning, I curse when a voice comes over the public address system to announce, as it does every day: "Ladies and gentlemen, a good service is operating on the Jubilee line this morning." Every time I hear it, I think: "I'll be the judge of that." The other day, I heard myself saying it aloud, and got some very funny looks from my fellow commuters.

    This is what I do every single day, it's uncanny. Perhaps this Tom Utley is my real father. Or perhaps I am inexorably becoming the kind of person who reads Telegraph comment pieces, pipe in hand, slippered feet resting on my ottoman, and chuckling ruefully, agrees with them.

    i really am middle-aged, aren't i?

    Friday, September 02, 2005


    boredom absolutely terrifies me. and in the spirit of facing my fears, here i am posting about it. but don't worry, this isn't going to be one of those awful endless diatribe where you can feel the clock ticking audibly as the unfortunate writer, in desperation, writes an entire piece of how she can't think of anything to write. because i can.

    i have decided why i am afraid of boredom. it's the same reason that i am (shamefully) afraid of the dark - it's an encounter with the infinite. seriously, think about it, think about eternity, think about the afterlife: how boring will that be?

    in my agnostic travels over the last few years, i've come to the conclusion that i hope there isn't really a conscious afterlife, or at least there's one of those universal consciousness things that the more laidback religions go in for. my mum (a devout catholic) is very big on the We'll All Meet Again in Heaven idea, but i find this frankly terrifying. i love my family and friends dearly, but spending all my time with them? forever? yikes. and there wouldn't even be the option of suicide, presumably, so you really would be stuck with them.

    so that's why i hate boredom. it's a little taste of death.


    of course, i wouldn't like to leave you in such a sombre mood, lest you think that sub-editing stories about Wild Boar culls and 'hoodie thugs steal grandmother's bingo winnings' has sapped my will to live. boredom can be a very positive thing, because it inspires me to avoid it. today, i've read nearly all lynn barber's observer interviews, quite a few James May fansites (yes, i might be sad, but i am a mere amateur compared to the people who post in 'The Pievy', the online forum), extensively browsed Wikipedia, and even read quite a lot of Pepys Diary online. See? The internet means we need never be bored again.

    Let's hope Heaven has broadband.