Friday, October 28, 2005

things which conspire to ruin my life...

If, like me, you are a paranoid, self-obsessed and bitter soul, it's easy to become convinced that certain things in the world have been created with the specific task of making you unhappy. sitting on a train this week, i started to enumerate them: i was terrified by how many there were. even worse, they weren't the things that really ruin anyone's life, like impotence or death. they were all so damn trivial, and yet have consistently annoyed me enough to merit inclusion on this list. soon, i will take to wearing a tinfoil helmet.

1) the northern line. a classic, but had to be included. satan's own tube line, which, in the manner of Monsters Inc, is powered not by electricity, but by sheer human misery.

2) my own brain. another biggie. there's a fantastic episode in one of the Red Dwarf books where Lister, Rimmer etc get stuck in a simulator for a game called Better Than Life, a game where everyone's subconscious desires and wishes are realised. for everyone except Rimmer, this is a Good Thing, but it turns out that his own subconscious hates him, and wants him to be unhappy. I know how he feels... the familiar situation where I really, really shouldn't say or do something, I know, I bloody know it's best not to do it. And then.. I do it anyway. Other people have to be drunk to experience this. I'm quite capable of doing it sober.

3) roast potatoes. off at a tangent here, but i feel my culinary nemesis should get a mention. i like to think i can follow instructions. why then are my roasters never deliciously fluffy like the ones in the cookery books? I've tried everything: par-boiling, steaming, forking, hitting them with a spoon... and nothing. Little bastards.

4) trick or treaters. a topical one. there is no answer to the question "trick or treat?" which does not leave me feeling like a craven fool. and the little fuckers don't even ask for sweets anymore: they want cash. that's not a harmless holiday pastime, that's begging. and you can't avoid their gaze like the eastern european women with babies on the tube - they're children, they're dressed up, they're talking directly to you. i want to have the balls to do what i saw a man in oxford do this week: tell them to bugger off. but i won't, i'll head down the route my mother always practised at Hallowe'en, of sitting in my living room with all the lights off, pretending to be out. given that i live in bermondsey, they'll probably stick a flaming dog shit through the letterbox, and kill us all.

5) children generally. on the train back from oxford, i sat opposite a four-year-old who considered it perfectly acceptable behaviour to sing 'easy peasy, chucky cheesy' fifty seven times (yes, i counted). after half an hour, i was consumed with visions of a parallel universe where I had grabbed her head and snapped her neck like a twig. child murder never justified, you say? you should have been there. then the charmingly fat,sweaty businessman in the aisle seat next to me fell asleep, so in between restraining criminal thoughts i got to watch his head, mouth open, flecks of spit forming at the corners, moving inexorably towards my shoulder.

6) in fact, let's make trains number 6. i hate everything about trains: the way I feel compelled to arrive 15 minutes early for them, then take my seat as soon as the platform number appears, only to spend 10 minutes in mortal fear that someone is going to sit next to me. then, as the train is pulling out of the station, and i am smugly settling down to my book and my personal space, a gang of teenagers will appear, sit near me, and spent the rest of the journey using absurd slang. on a recent train journey from yorkshire, the seats behind me were occupied by a hen party, and on the otehr side, a group of 'young professionals' playing monopoly. i mean, what is that? every time one of them landed on community chest, they would sing, "Co-mun-it-eeeeee..... CHEST!" and all do jazz hands. I hope to god they were on drugs, because there is no other excuse for that kind of behaviour.

Right. I'm going to stop there, for your sake and mine, leaving me no time to talk about: fashion, tesco online shopping, hormones, mumps, the curtain rails in my bedroom, boys, sambuca, charles dickens and laddism.

Saturday, October 22, 2005

the bitch is back.

the bitch is back...
samuel johnson said 'when a man is tired of london, he is tired of life'. now, he also said some fairly trippy stuff about dogs walking on their hind legs, and amused himself by inserting joke definitions into his dictionary, so I am minded to ignore him....

Except. I'm finally back, and by god, I love London. I love the grubbiness, the infinite variety. Dammit, I'm even feeling well-disposed towards the Northern Line - that's how happy I am.

While I've been away, I waxed all nostalgic about London at least twice a week. I even went so far as to buy a book of parodies, where great poems had been rewritten to be about the tube.... (including: "They fuck you up, the Northern line trains," which, although lacking any respect for scansion, is pretty good).

But now I'm back, the jar between London in idea and London in reality has to be confronted. The one who captures my problem best is Will Self, in the 'emotional geography of London' he wrote for Granta:

"The faux villages of London - the tiny zones around friends' houses, or known haunts - spread over a grey waste of overpopulation, strung out along ribbon developments of short-term memory...

"Even ten years ago, and certainly fifteen, I patrol central London and still avoid my past self when I saw him coming in the opposite direction. I could take alternative routes to avoid the districts of failed love affairs, I knew short-cuts that would circumvent the neighbourhood of an abandoned friendship. But now the city is filled with narratives..."

I feel this already - parts of London are already tinted with remembrance. Angel will always be university, journalism, becoming a responsible adult; London Bridge will always be Saturday mornings at Borough Market, laughing, muffled against the cold; and Lambeth and Holloway will always sting with the failure of their respective relationships. But I like my London compartmentalised, manageable; I don't want the memories to bleed into one another.

I don't suspect I have much choice in the matter, though...

Friday, October 21, 2005

health and safety at work.

I hate Health and Safety officers... I really do. And before you accuse me of being a right-wing, slave-driving, bring-back-child-labour-in-the-mines type, it's not because I don't think that the subject is important. Trust me, if you had my prematurely middle-aged shoulders and a back with a tendency to go off like a pistol crack, you'd be pretty hot on correct posture at the keyboard.

The problem is, health and safety officers don't give a stuff about you. They don't really care - and the fakeness of their solicitude when you first start in the job, showing you the video with the big hair and the shouty eighties graphics about lifting positions, just becomes nauseating when they abandon you to the tender mercies of two-foot high chairs and exposed electric cables mere hours later.

so... i present, in revenge, the Tale of the Health and Safety Woman, thoughtfully anonymised...


(note: this isn't my story, so apologies if it has changed a little in the remembrance...)

Like most organisations, Newspaper X has a Health and Safety woman who comes round to tell employees to sit up properly, and use wrist rests etc, and is generally a well-known figure.

Anyway, at editorial conference a few months back, the editor and staff are discussing this story on swingers, and have video footage
from an orgy taken covertly by one of the trainees. So they pop it on, and the whole staff settle in to watch some woman being taken six ways from Sunday... until trainee A pipes up, "Hang on, isn't that the Health and Safety woman?"

And by god, it is. Cue many jokes about RSI. Unfortunately, giggle over, Trainee B returns to work. As a new employee, she has to be visited by... the Health and Safety woman.

Everyone takes an intensive course in Keyboard Study as the woman explains to a pained B how 'adopting an incorrect position can cause lower back strain'...

To this day, the poor woman has no idea that They All Know About Her.


Those in the know: does this story beat Desmond's banana? That's the big question.

(and yes, i know i said i wasn't posting... but i say a lot of things i don't mean.)

Monday, October 17, 2005

blog break

for various reasons (disillusionment with fellow bloggers, writing fatigue, impending holiday, absence of interesting subject matter) i'm giving the blog a rest for a bit. this post is so that weave etc don't say things like, "my boyfriend told me you didn't update your blog for a week and we thought you were dead!"

as granny weatherwax would say: I ATEN'T DEAD.

(just escaping)

Wednesday, October 12, 2005

something disgraceful; and the £100 pizza.

Watched the Pride of Britain awards last night. It was a little disgusting - the juxtaposition of genuinely lovely people who had done selfless things with no expectation of reward with no-mark celebrities desperate to be associated with them. It made me feel quite nauseous - like these people's achievements were somehow worthless until Posh Spice threw one bony arm round them in congratulation.

Leading the charge was Tony Blair. I don't know what's up with him at the moment - maybe it's the time of the month - but he seems to have spotted that everyone thinks he performs well in times of national grief (Diana's death, July 7 bombings statement) at striking the right note of resolve, sadness and dignity.

Sadly, he's now milking it by doing it all the time. This is the second time this week I've watched him stand up, teary-eyed and slightly stuttering, to deliver a very pointedly emotive and defiantly heartwarming speech.

No one can be that choked with emotion all the time, unless they're Jude in Bridget Jones. And I somehow doubt that someone with the balls of steel required to become Prime Minister makes a habit of locking himself in the toilets and sobbing about how everyone hates him.

Then again...


In other news, Horror! London restaurant serves expensive food shock. Yes, it's £100 for a pizza. No, that's not overpriced - although I might go further than Christopher Hitchens in the top left corner of this page, and add truffles to the list of over-rated things in life.

For some reason, people only get het up about massively expensive items on London restaurant menus when they are jazzed-up versions of staples... see the "£8 baked bean bruschetta" row last year, and the zillion-pound beef burger. Truffles are expensive - deal with it.

What are really overpriced are the thousands of dishes at mediocre restaurants across London (and a fair amount everywhere else, I dare say). Restaurants who think that it's totally acceptable to charge £15 for a main course of pasta, wild mushrooms and cream, as if this was the 70s and ceps were some outlandishly and excitingly alien concept.

No, I've no objection to sky-high prices for true delicacies (let's not get into an argument about the ethics of paying a hundred quid for a pizza when people are starving, by that rationale no restaurant meal is justifiable). What really gets my goat is over-priced middle of the road crap.

(Of course, I might be prejudiced because Gordon Ramsay is my culinary idol, and I admit - in a shameless name drop - that I've been to the chef's table at Maze to do a tasting with Jason Atherton, and it's so good a kitchen they'd be justified charging £10 for the privilege of licking the floor...)

adding a (i think) welcome note of domesticity to this blog, there follows my recipe for rabbit pasta... as made by me last night.

Serves 2 peckish, rather than ravenous, people.

- one wild rabbit, diced (only £2.20? can you believe it? although you will feel like a serial killer chopping it up)
- 2 rashers rindless bacon, chopped up into bits
- handful of mushrooms, half an onion, chopped
- extremely generous pinch of ginger
- three spoons honey
- good slosh of double cream
- dried pasta of your choice

1. Fry onion, rabbit and bacon in lightly-oiled wok for 10 mins
2. Add mushroms, fry for further 3 mins
3. Turn down heat, add ginger, honey and cream. Leave to reduce, simmering gently, while you...
4. Boil some pasta

By the time the pasta is done, the creamy sauce will have turned a pleasant golden colour and will be all gloopy (in a good way).
If you want to be fancy, use dried mushrooms (but sparingly, as the flavour is much stronger). voila!

Monday, October 10, 2005

panic in london... and a Victorian mystery

Arriving in London from Yorkshire is always a shock, but this weekend it seemed different. Leaving the tranquillity of the village on a quiet afternoon, two and a half hours later I was pitched into Friday rush-hour at Kings Cross. I felt like a wide-eyed yokel. So...many...people! After seeing the same twenty or thirty faces every day, and being recognised by them, I really wasn't prepared for the welter of humanity on offer. Struggling through the crowds (another novelty - in Howden, three is a crowd, but four is a mob and five a mass rally) it was all so loud, so bright, so fast. Even the shops were different... in Howden, the people in the post office queue exchange gossip animatedly. In WH Smith's in Kings Cross, the queuers shuffled along like mindless drones, with the tannoy barking out "Position 1!... Position 3!.. Position 5!" like some demonically demanding lover.

But readjustment is also quick, and I realise more than ever how much I love London. All human life is here, and there's a tangible difference between sitting on your sofa watching TV because you are bored of all 7 pubs within striking distance, and sitting on your sofa despite the many blandishments on offer in the outside world.

But London doesn't love me back. The Northern Line, I'm sure, has a personal grudge against me, or is some kind of satanic torment designed to test my faith (in what, I don't know) and this week reacted to my return with a petulant spasm of signal failures.

At least the train gave me a chance to do some reading - Julian Barnes'' Booker-nominated novel Arthur and George. The eponymous Arthur is Conan Doyle, haunted by the success of his creation Sherlock Holmes, trapped in a sexless marriage to a consumptive, in love with a younger woman, and desperate to see his beloved spiritism accepted by science. George is a Midlands solicitor, whose family tormented by hate mail, accused of the 'Great Wyrley Outrages', in which horses were mutilated at night.

Ah, I thought. Can this match up to the seminal work in the genre of mutilated-horse detective mysteries - namely, Dick Francis's excellent Come To Grief? Well, it can try...

The book is told in alternating segments, mainly "Arthur" and "George", but occasionally one of the other characters. These interweave the protagonist's very different life stories from childhood to death. Skilful as the technique is, it can't help drawing attention to the fact that the overlap between the two lives is fairly slight, perhaps too slight to qualify as the focus of the novel. The characters don't even meet until Arthur is in his forties - well after page 200 - and, probably due to Barnes having less biographical material to work with, George is nowhere near as well-fleshed out a character as Arthur. The reader assumes he didn't mutilate the horses, but the reader can never be as convinced of his innocence as Conan Doyle is, given the scanty evidence of his life on offer. You are left with the feeling he is enigmatic from necessity, rather than authorial choice.

The conclusion also left me wanting more. Throughout the book, Conan Doyle complains of the extent to which Sherlock Holmes has overshadowed his life - and yet you can't help wishing the fictional detective would turn up to help in the Wyrley investigation and draw some more solid conclusions than his creator can manage. As a comment on the interplay between art and life, it works, but it seems to jar with Conan Doyle's irritation at those who lecture him that 'real life' investigations are more complicated than those in his books.

For a book built on such a wilfully slight plot, these objections might indicate I didn't enjoy it. I did - it's so painstakingly researched it appears effortless, the prose style is beautiful and the pace pretty snappy. I just wish Arthur & George had rather more to do with each other than the title would suggest.

Oh dear. I've just read the Guardian's digested read and realised it said all the above, only quicker. Never mind.

Writing the the above entry has reminded me of the inestimable contribution to fiction made one of the great writers of the last century: Dick Francis.

As a disgustingly precocious child whose dad who travelled a lot on business, I read so many crappy airport paperbacks I've lost count. My childhood concept of literature was shaped by Jeffrey Archer's Kane and Abel (weighty), the collected excretions of John Grisham and the occasional raunch-fest that was a Len Deighton thriller.

Not stiff competition, I know, but against this backdrop Dick Francis shone like a beacon of narrative restraint and verbal brilliance. Yes, all his books have one plot and yes, it's perfectly possible, 100 pages in, to realise you've already read the book in your hand; yes, he is obsessed with being whipped and generally tortured; and yes, horses aren't really that interesting... but still.

There are some great lead characters (though, strangely, they are always young to middle-aged white men, involved in racing.. Dick didn't believe in this whole 'using your imagination' business). For example, there's Sid Halley, the former top jockey who lost a hand in an accident, terrified of losing the other one. There are sadomasochistic femme fatales, aristocratic beauties who love a bit of rough, and an alarming number of criminals who are hopelessly incompetent at actually killing their enemies.

And there are some great situations: in one book, the protagonist is locked in a tiny stall with a racehorse they've pumped full of drugs so it will kick him to death; someone else is killed by having his head wrapped in plaster of Paris, suffocating him; and in The Edge, one minor character sexually assaults and eviscerates cats.

Whilst I am far from a general champion for the thriller genre (unlike my hero Clarkson, who claims to only read books which have a plane or submarine on the cover) you've got to love Dick Francis.

Sadly, he is now dead, and I reckon I've read all but three of his (30-something) books. That actually terrifies me - surely I have a much mroe comprehensive overview of his oeuvre than that of most of the authors I wrote on in Finals?



tuesday update: now, you might remember how much I love Jon Stewart, so you might think I was glued to the debut of the Daily Show on new channel More4. Well... I would have been, but the arseface digibox signal is interrupted now not only by the mopeds outside, but the washing machine. For fuck's sake. Anyway, he's been up to his old tricks of pissing off the mainstream American media. Give that man a medal.

Wednesday, October 05, 2005

the guardian takes the piss.

from a story about McDonald's trying to pay rappers to mention its products in their songs...

McDonald's finally admitted this week that they have not had to pay out one red cent, let alone 50, to rappers in exchange for a tribute to the Big Mac.

"We have not identified the right opportunity, muthafucka," said a spokesman (apart from the last bit, obviously), adding: "We have not yet identified the match that we've been looking for."

I mean really, is that allowed?

perhaps I am just bitter because I was not allowed to use the headline "Ronnie Barker: Good night from him" on a page yesterday as it was 'bad taste', and today it appeared on the front of the Sun. (FYI it was changed to "Recipe for Success Was a Diet of Porridge". Bah. Although I'm very glad I didn't take W's suggestion of "Open All Hours Star Closed For Business".)

And today the newswire carries a story about the importance of breast self-examination headlined 'Time to Show Breasts some TLC".

oh, go on then...

And more than half of women (52%) said they had not even spared a thought for their breasts in any sense during an average day, according to the research released during Breast Cancer Awareness Month.
The British Boob Survey, commissioned by charity Breakthrough Breast Cancer, came as the charity launched a new education campaign to dispel confusion about breast awareness.
With the message Show Your Breasts Some TLC: Touch, Look, Check, the campaign is urging women to touch their breasts to feel for anything unusual, look for changes in shape and texture and check anything unusual with a doctor.

so, female readers, please spare a thought for your breasts today...


in other news, finished martin amis's london fields at the weekend. brief judgement: brilliant, masterly, unloveable.

am on to money now, interspersed with clarkson on cars and matthew parris' autobiography. have been recommended tibor fischer (the one who described yellow dog as 'like finding a favourite uncle masturbating in a playground') but can't get his books cheaply, so any thoughts on him welcome.

Tuesday, October 04, 2005


well, from the last post it is obvious I was very much at home to Mr Wallow on my birthday. Now, however, it's a new dawn, it's a new day, it's a new post.

(and time to say welcome to the blogosphere, leflange, even if your huge crush on Kevin Pietersen is a little disturbing. )

despite the sad death of ronnie barker causing a mild rush in the normally serene newsroom, things continue quiet. everyone talks about the silly season of august, but in some ways i think october is worse. party conferences must be the dullest thing on earth unless you're there, and even the papers seem to be flagging slightly, now that Kate Moss has locked herself away in America and Pete Doherty has refused to provide them with any more 'drug taker takes drugs' stories. Even the PA wire seems to have less surveys than usual, and only one showbiz story - the scoop that Dannii Minogue says Kylie is recovering 'very gracefully' from breast cancer. There was a brief flurry of excitement when we thought Jade Goody was going to be done for shoplifting a £16 belt, but no, she was released without charge.

the only slightly exciting news is that my friend P and I have decided to take poledancing classes upon my return to the Big Smoke. It was a toss-up with Spanish classes, but in the end I thought, 'What's going to be more impressive at parties? Asking the way to the breadshop in a popular world language, or being able to put my leg behind my head?'

And before you start, it's totally compatible with being a feminist because it's, like, empowering. Like the Spice Girls were.