Friday, June 30, 2006

Oh Lately It's So Quiet

Barring Acts of God, I'll be away on holiday until next Saturday in a place far away, with no internet provision. Take care of yourselves, and each other.

Thursday, June 29, 2006

It's Always Darkest Before The Prawns

Gen and I had lunch in Dans Le Noir today. The idea is pretty simple: after ordering in the bar, you are lead through to eat in the dining room, which is pitch black. Totally dark. The food's received pretty shoddy reviews, but I was (and am) intrigued by the whole idea, especially since as a nice twist all the waiters are blind. Ooh, we pretentious would-be intelligensia sigh, what an ironic reversal. Aha! The blind leading the not-blind!

And it was, literally, leading. We chose our food - Gen had scallops with black pudding followed by lamb; I had the 'surprise menu' for the full 'holy fuck' experience - and were met at the entrance to the 'dark room' by Carl, our waiter, who was actually blind or at least doing a very good impression of it. And we had to be led to our table through two sets of curtains, hands on the shoulder of the person in front. Carl kept up a running commentary which was good, as I must have been millimetres away from walking into a pillar at one point.

We sat at our table - the only other diners were a very rowdy group of 6 - and I felt a moment of pure unbridled panic. Shit, I thought, I can't do this. I'm going to have to cry off. I felt guilty too, because the fact that the waiting staff are blind reminds you that you can stop this anytime you want; but they can't. I found myself opening and closing my eyes, and marvelling that there was no difference between the two. Living in London means that you're never in the pitch black, so you forget what real, enveloping darkness is.

To continue our adventures around London restaurant loos, I can report that the ladies here are not dark (thank god). You're not allowed to wander round on your own in the dark room, though, so you have to ask to go to the loo, which is embarrassing. Also, before you think this would be the ideal environment to dip your toe in the shallows of sex in public, remember that the entire restaurant is monitored by CCTV cameras (the footage from which, I imagine, gives the bar staff endless amusement).

Frankly, the food was unremarkable - my surprise menu turned out to be a seafood salad (ever unexpectedly found a tentacle in your mouth? it's an... interesting experience) followed by beef. No, pork. No, calves' liver! Oooh, cheeky. I had reckoned on my Restaurant Critic Powers (tm) helping me to identify everything pretty easily, but it's far harder than you'd imagine without any visual clues. It's also bloody hard to use a knife and fork when you can't see either, or the plate - and as you eat more and more, your hit rate of successfully forking stuff declines.

"There's not enough sauce," said Gen of the lamb. "But then, I can see why not. Imagine trying to eat soup."
My only minor stumbles were the two times I wiped my fingers (having resorted to them) on my dress instead of the napkin. In some ways it's much easier to chat in the dark - no need to worry about eye contact. I can actually imagine that a second or third date might be fun: the gimmick provides plenty to talk about, and it won't matter if you end up with a bit of spinach stuck between your teeth.

The darkness seems to prompt confidences: I've known Gen for two years, but never knew she worked as a teacher in China and took the Transmongolian railway (my own revelations were far less impressive). I suspect the next table were having fun too, and it seems to work as a party venue. Although at one point we did hear the classic cry, "You've got it in my eye!" (The mind boggles.) I don't think I helped Gen's enjoyment of the meal by remarking, "Gosh, imagine the damage someone with a machete and night-vision goggles could do in here!" and then reminding her of the end bit in Silence of The Lambs.

All the same it was a relief to get back to the bar and the light. "Oh thank god, " I remarked sensitively to our blind waiter, "I can see again!" (I immediately felt the pang of shame more usually associated with saying to a Big Issue vendor, "Oh, it's your last one! You can get home now.."

So: as a restaurant, it's the wrong side of average. (And not cheap: Two courses are £27, or £29 if you have the surprise menu.) But as a gimmick, as a sort of Darkness Theme Park, it's pretty cool.

Wednesday, June 28, 2006

It's Always Better On Holiday

... oh, how you lied to me, Franz Ferdinand.

Going on holiday is rubbish. But it's not the done thing to just take a week off work and hang round the house in your underwear, eating biscuits and watching Everybody Loves Raymond. Oh no, you have to go somewhere.

This involves all kinds of general horrors, such as having to find your passport and undergoing a bikini wax. In my case, there are more particular traumas, such as having to travel on a plane with unreserved seating with my brother, his wife and their two children, aged three and 9 months. I just know we'll get to the check in and - bam! - one of them will just ask me to hold Nephew 2 and watch Nephew 1, totally coincidentally while the seats are being allocated.

Next thing you know, I'll be getting death stares from other passengers as the young single mother who's completely failing to control the angry porridge-smeared toddler and nauseous baby she's taking on holiday at the hardworking taxpayer's expense, while my brother and his wife will be tutting with fellow travellers about me as they tuck in to their fourth gin and tonic five rows back.

And the swimwear shopping all went a bit wrong today, too. After trying on a succession of increasingly vile print tankinis, I finally found one that was both stylish and, er, structured, a rather jolly navy halterneck number that made my breasts look surprisingly jouncy.

The trouble started when I took it to the cashier, who refused to sell it to me. "Did you do this?" the cashier said, waving the gusset irately at me.
"Er, do what?" I countered, a chill of panic washing over me.
She gestured at the place where the 'hygiene strip' should have been. Clearly, some other mardy cow had removed it from the gusset (uh, horrible word).

"You cannot have this," she said bluntly.
"But... but.. I tried it on over my underwear," I stammered lamely, keenly aware of the queue of nosy menopausal women accruing behind me.
"I cannot sell this to you. Without the strip, it counts as soiled. Unless -" the women craned to overhear the conversation, sensing something good was coming....
"- unless IT WAS YOU WHO SOILED IT," she concluded in ringing tones.

At this point, I half-expected a TV crew to spring up from behind the till to record my humiliation. I was really bloody annoyed. Did she really think I make it my business to go round shops, wilfully tearing off hygiene strips and giggling insanely to myself? Or maybe she thought that I got some kind of sexual thrill from trying on the same swimwear that hundreds of other women have tried on without the hygiene strip - rather like punters who try to persuade prostitutes to forgo using a condom?

I muttered something that sounded a lot like, "didn't... ...soil..." and stalked away from the counter with as much dignity as I could muster. Then - THEN - when I went back to the rail, they didn't have any more in my size.

So I went for another one, which is nice in a 'I could swim the channel in this' kind of way. It's a little, er, Victorian in its sensibilites. Actually, I think the word I'm looking for is comprehensive. It tries to be diminish its maiden aunt credentials with jaunty pink and orange straps, but they have as much leavening effect as affixing a bunch of freesias to the top of a Howitzer.

I also tried on a halter neck one with a cut away back and just these triangles of fabric over the breasts but - get this - my breasts were too high for it. They were like two zeppelins, barely tethered in a paisley mooring. Imagine my excitement! I knew there was a reason I went to M&S.

But obviously I bought the boring tank-like one. I've built my entire personality on not feeling good about my body, and it wouldn't do to break the habit of a lifetime.

I might also mention that they refused to exchange fifty pounds into Euros without seeing my passport. Why? Did they think I might be a particularly ineffectual money launderer? Might I embark on some kind of untraceable Europe-wide crime spree with that fifty quid? OH NO WAIT - I couldn't, because that would require a passport.

Needless to say, I'm now in a very bad mood. And the prospect of a week without phone, internet, TV, 24-hour news, Tesco's Finest Ready Meals or a smoke is not improving matters.

Tuesday, June 27, 2006

Dust off the black armbands...

Moose, who played Eddie in Frasier, has died. I haven't been this sad since Bob Monkhouse bit the big one.

Moose was discovered by Katrina Waczyowski of the Actors Studio in New York, where he learnt the principles of method acting. After stints as an extra on Baywatch:Hawaii, he shot to fame as the Pharoah in Andrew Lloyd Webber's Joseph and The Technicolor Dreamcoat on Broadway. That led to the job on Frasier, which garnered him worldwide success.

Unfortunately, the pressures of celebrity led to develop a severe drug habit, and he was discovered by police in an intoxicated state in a car with Robert Downey Jr and three prostitutes smeared in Pedigree Chum mixed with crack cocaine. After three months in rehab, he declared his conversion to buddhism and requested in future he was referred to as 'Big Cow-like Thing'. Allegations spread of his bizarre behaviour on set, which included a clause in his contract forbidding Kelsey Grammer from touching him, and the stipulation that he never be required to show his nipples on screen unless it was integral to the plot.

Rumours about his sexuality spread as the later series aired, and he was eventually revealed as having had a long-term secret relationship with Cher, which ended when he left her for Liza Minnelli's ex-husband David Gest. The pair held a glittering civil partnership ceremony in Massachusetts, but most of his Frasier co-stars stayed away, a snub which hurt him deeply.

He is survived by the couple's adopted two children, Bartholin and Prepuce.

Saturday, June 24, 2006

The Axeman Cometh

My friend Bill, it's fair to say, has been the Mephistopheles to my Dr Faustus in gaming terms. It was him that bought an Xbox when we moved into our second year house, which meant that I actually started playing Xbox games and became wedded to the Xbox brand. If it hadn't been for him, I might currently own a PS2, or a Gamecube. Perhaps even a Bandai Crystal Wonderswan. We'll never know.

For two years I've had an Xbox, and in that time I've managed to acquire a grand total of seven games: Xtreme Beach Volleyball, Halo, Halo 2, Burnout, Tiger Woods Golf, Dead or Alive and, oh and some other one I can't remember, probably because it's bollocks.

A bit of a rubbish collection, really. The problem is that the box of X is plugged into our living room TV, and the only thing more boring than playing Tiger Woods golf is watching someone play Tiger Woods Golf. The games that get played are the ones where the controllers can be passed around easily between drunk, half-arsed people, and where even people with very short concentration spans and minimal hand-eye co-ordination can have enough of a go to be amused.

That's why Dead or Alive is such a hit, as even a hardened gamer - especially one trying to show off by using a difficult character with poncy special moves - can be hoofed into next Tuesday but a buttonmasher armed with a scantily clad schoolgirl.

But all things must change, and when I heard about Guitar Hero on the PlayStation 2, I knew that it was a game I wanted. All I had to do was acquire it; oh, and acquire a PlayStation 2. The latter was dealt with when my housemate Tom revealed he in fact owned a PS2, but had simply let his sister use it for the last two years. The game was acquired by Matt, a man so susceptible to suggestion that he also bought a PS2 when in Game to pick up GH. He's since bought another copy so we can go 'head to head'.

The game's pretty expensive (£50 retail; but about £40 delivered from Amazon) but that's because you get a free Fisher Price-style guitar as well. This comes with a 'strummer', five coloured keys on the frets, and a wiggly lever thing that has some technical name I've forgotten.

The aim of the game is simple; make the crowd go wild as you strum along to rock and pop songs. Points are gained for hitting the notes, and 'star power' can be accrued to tide you through the tough solos. The control set is pretty straightforward too; a fretboard runs towards you like a treadmill, and you hit the colour-coded notes as they reach the bottom.

I was very nervous at first; Matt picked up the absurdly small guitar and boshed out Crossroads on Medium straight off. "Yeah, but I play the guitar," he offered by way of explanation. (I can't comment, I've only ever heard him play the opening chords of Little Wing until it made me want to cry.) Then Tom, aka Slowhand, stepped up to the plate. I have never seen any part of him move so fast as his hand did during Ace of Spades. "Dude," said Tim, who had wandered in to observe the performance. "You must be able to diddle a girl in, like, fifteen seconds." Tom grinned ruefully.

I knew I was in trouble when I missed the first three notes of Take Me Out.
"It's syncopated rhythm," squealed Matt, gesturing furiously in a vaguely obscene manner.
"What the fuck does that mean?" I shot back, trying gamely to get into the swing of things but missing another set of notes. What was this all about? You'd think with the law of averages I'd hit ONE, wouldn't you? But apparently not.

Anyway, after the basic principles of guitar playing had been explained to me, I started to get a bit better. The boys bashed ahead on Hard, then Expert, while I was mocked for paddling round in the shallows by playing Killer Queen over and over again on Medium (with Matt shouting "She keeps a MO-et CHAN-don in A PRET-ty CAB-inet" at me) But a week later, I am definitely better - I've now got to the stage where I can hit enough notes not to be booed off stage immediately - and what's more, I don't begrudge watching other people play the game.

Luckily, the song selection is reasonable - there's a little Bowie and Hendrix, and even More Than A Feeling, should one be feeling romantic. My only complaint is that there's no real incentive to finish the game... all the bonus tracks are by no-marks from Boston, and who really cares if you can unlock a new guitar, really?

Bring on Guitar Hero 2, which promises more recognisable tracks and more exciting two player stuff. I'm going to have to consider performance enhancing drugs, though - perhaps I'll take ten Pro Plus before attempting Cochise again.

There's just one problem: as I write this, Matt and Tom are sitting with their matching tiny guitars, battling it out over Franz Ferdinand, with expressions of extreme concentration on their faces. I think it's the saddest thing I ever saw.

Friday, June 23, 2006

Journalism: Cat racing and chronic alcoholism?

To celebrate becoming a proper paid-up filthy journo hack, I went to the theatre last night to see Jeffrey Bernard is Unwell, a play about the legendary journalist and boozer (the title comes from the phrase his exasperated editor used to insert when Jeffrey was too drunk or hungover to write his column). The action, such as it is, happens after Jeffrey wakes up after closing time in Soho's The Coach and Horses, having passed out in the loos while the landlord was locking up.

It wasm quite simply, brilliant - Quentin Letts wrote that Tom Conti is too well-scrubbed to play Jeffrey convincingly, but I didn't think that was the case. His pissed aristocratic drawl, his alcoholic shakes, and his chain-smoking all work superbly. It's a very funny play - there's a great bit where a particularly hard winter has seen racing cancelled, and in desperation a friend suggests cat-racing in his flat . There's also Jeffrey's demonstration of Keith Waterhouse's pub trick involving a pint glass, a biscuit tin, a matchbox and an egg - "Lester Piggott tried this once, and the egg.. the egg caused £2,000 worth of damage!"

Jeffrey tells boozy yarns of waking up in racecourse ditches and urinating through letter boxes for two hours, constantly interrupted by figures from his past. Of the women, including four successive Mrs Bernards - the usual refrain is "You make me sick!"

It's also a very sad play. Jeffrey suddenly realises he's in the pub because he's been kicked out by his latest lover, and (like any good drunk in a bar) his stories take a maudlin turn. And suddenly it's all so tragic. The charismatic man, drowning his talent in vodka, is the ultimate figure of comedy and pathos combined. I imagine the contrast was even more apparent back in the days when Jeffrey Bernard himself could be found in the Stalls bar in the interval, slumped in a corner.

Anyway, next time my colleagues ask me to the pub after first edition, I might think twice. I'm quite fond of this liver.

Wednesday, June 21, 2006

Gissa job

Dear all: You'll be pleased to know I have secured a job with the Media Organisation That Cannot Be Named.

Look on my headlines, ye mighty, and despair!

I plan to celebrate by filling a bath with champagne and then rolling around in it, barking like a seal.

That is all.

Tuesday, June 20, 2006

Nice day for a white wedding

First off, an illustration of why Oxbridge graduates should not attempt drunken trash talk:

Him: "Come on, come inside and throw some shapes, you lazy cow."
Me: "What? How dare you! Mate, my shapes are twice as potent as your shapes."
Him: "Says who? My shapes are... geometry."
Me: "Oh yeah? I am Euclid to your Pythagoras. Uh."

To Wales this weekend for the wedding of a fellow hack I met whilst 'training' to be a journalist. It was a glorious weekend, with perfect weather on the day itself, and I am now ploughing all my energies into resisting the urge to plan my own wedding, a) because that's perhaps being overly optimistic; and b) because as a woman one has to affect nonchalance for all such things in order not to scare away men. (Although bad news, chaps: I have already decided against a cash bar, mainly because I have realised that all my friends are borderline alcoholics and also because my mother has never been drunk and probably doesn't realise that people can actually get as drunk as we were on Saturday and still survive unscathed.)

It's always nice to take the opportunity to dress up, I feel, and so I had raided Accessorise the day before for a 'fascinator' - not a word or concept with which I had previously been familiar - which was basically some white feathers stuck on to a headband. I began to have second thoughts just before we set off from the hotel to the ceremony - nothing makes you feel more like a twat than wandering in to a pub in a tiny Welsh village with what appears to be a dead albatross affixed to your head.

The tiny Welsh village laboured under the name of Usk, crippling all conversation for the weekend as everyone flailed desperately for the best Usk-based pun. "You're taking quite a rusk" and "That would be a mammoth tusk" probably win out for sheer wanton cruelty to the English language. Although undoubtedly the best set-up Usk pun award goes to ex-blogger Guttersniper, who listened politely to my story about Corrievorrie (recognising someone too soon in a long corridor) and the Meaning of Liff, before pronouncing, "Yes, that happened to me once. I was in a a restaurant. Eating oysters. Which... is... a.... mollusc!" He then smirked for fully half an hour.

I won't talk about the wedding, or fear of sounding too much like a maiden aunt (it was just beautiful, sniff), although the happy couple do get my eternal respect for picking She Bangs The Drums as their first song - even if it is, frankly, no Lady In Red.

The reception venue was gorgeous too. "Ah," said the groom, "that was a stroke of luck, we only got this two weeks ago. The couple who had booked it... well, they had a huge row and cancelled the wedding."
"Why did they have a huge row?" I said.
"Er... he had an affair."

Further proving that the seven-strong journo contingent were the guests from hell, two of our number decided to, er, abuse the facilities provided by the hotel, much to the chagrin of the bride's mother ("They must have some sort of fetish, dear!") . Then at midnight, we were put on a bus back to Usk (Cue: "where are we going?" "Don't usk me!" etc) where we "entertained" the lovely middle-aged couple also going back there with quite a lot of Bohemian Rhapsody and also some sort of rugby song that involved shouting "purple helmet" a lot as far as I can recall.

When we got back the hotel bar was still open, provoking squeals of delight from my housemate and her best friend. Foolishly, someone (yeah, me) then took the opportunity to ask Artegall what he thought of Johann Hari. The answer is not even vaguely printable in a family blog.

Ten minutes later, I was chugging back a Smirnoff Ice and trying to trash talk in French, which is the usual signal I've had one too many. "Mais...mais...tu es une putain! Branleur! Ton chatte a la rage!"

It was time for bed.

But minor problems - like the fact we've probably been given an Asbo in absentia by Usk Magistrates Court - aside, it was one of the best weekends I've had in ages. The quality of chat you get from people who use words for a living is always high, and I can't think of a better-suited couple than the newlyweds - or one more deserving of happiness.

Now - must. not. envisage. own. wedding.

Friday, June 16, 2006

Something for the Weekend

It's the weekend, almost - no time to be downcast! Instead, here is a mini quiz that I made whilst bored at work. All the answers are connected, and can be found in the 'Comment' field.

  • What was Tom Clancy's first novel?
  • From what 1962 novel do droogs come?
  • By what nickname is Senator Roark's son in Frank Miller's Sin City known?
  • What famous character was created by Lucy Maud Montgomery?
  • In which play at the Donmar Warehouse did Nicole Kidman appear naked?
  • Whose new album is called Rarities?
  • What character did Denise Nickerson play on film in 1971 and AnnaSophia Robb in 2005?

  • Tuesday, June 13, 2006

    Everything I Have Ever Cocked Up, 1983-2006

    Apologies for the awful title, which I know makes this post sound like some dreadful piece of modern art (unless you like that sort of thing, in which case do feel free to consider this as modern art) or excerpt from a Nick Hornby novel.

    I've always been wary of needless self-revelation on this blog; not least because it seems everyone I have ever dated, or ever wanted to date, now reads it.

    But last week I managed to sabotage my life so spectacularly (no, I'm not going to tell you how) that I thought that I should probably commemorate that by raking over the coals of my previous cock-ups in as tawdry and self-pitying a way as I can muster - one a day until I feel cheerier, I think. Let the wallowing commence!

  • The Amsterdam Passport Fiasco

    You might not know this, but I have a morbid fear of both long-distance travel and racing against the clock. I cannot physically bear to watch that John Cleese film Clockwise, and I have problems with the Friends episode The One Where... They Can't Be Late for similar reasons. I leave at least an extra half hour to travel from my house to Paddington when I catch the train back to my parents' house, for example, meaning I have to entertain myself at the world's most boring station.

    This all dates back to 2003, when Matt and I decided to go to Amsterdam for a few days in the Easter vacation. Luggage packed, we arrived at Stansted with ample time to spare for our morning flight. In a few short hours I would be ogling prostitutes and soaking up the atmosphere of Europe's most liberal city. Everything was right with the world.

    Until, that is, we got to the check in desk. I was busy exchanging pleasantries with the woman behind the desk, and desperately trying to pretend we were going for 'cultural reasons' - I distinctly remember talking about the Rijksmuseum as if I gave a shit - when she said, "Oh."

    "Oh?" I queried.
    "Oh dear," she said. "Your passport has expired."
    No words can express the icy chill that gripped my heart. An impoverished student, I had spent the remainder of my overdraft on this trip (the rest had long since been 'invested' in M&S food and pints of Snakebite) and moreover, I didn't think it would be a fantastic idea to let Matt, aka the World's Most Laidback Man, wander the temptation-filled streets of Amsterdam alone. So I took the mature route and burst into tears.

    The kindly check-in lady offered to put us on a later flight (for free), presumably so that I would go and cry somewhere else. There followed a day of racing round London - which at the time I had no idea how to navigate - desperately trying to renew my passport in time to catch the later flight. In the end, I had to get Matt to take the free flight they'd offered us, and buy myself another one an hour later.

    However, that wasn't the biggest cock-up of the day. That award goes to my decision to get new photos for my passport immediately after my teary scene at the check-in desk. For the next eight years I will be saddled with a passport photo of me looking like a smack addict who's just gone cold turkey - huge swollen eyes, blotchy face, wobbly lower lip. Every time I go abroad customs officials look at it, then me, then look at it again. Then they titter as I walk away.

  • The Second Worst Thing You Can Ever Say To A Boy

    In my first term at university, I developed a raging crush on the rather lovely Bill, who could well be reading this (hello!). Anyway, I spent all eight weeks wondering whether or not he reciprocated my feelings. Every utterance was scrutinised like the entrails of a Roman sacrificial bull. Eventually, with only one day before the Christmas holidays left, I took the nuclear option. Chris (of Erica fame) was enlisted to find out the truth. It wasn't good: to put in bluntly, no. Chris, being the lovely chap he is, tried to break this to me gently - as I recall, by saying, "Yeah, mate - it's a no.".

    Everything was going so well until we went to Bar Med and two jugs of Long Island Ice Tea happened to me. I've got a shplendid idea, I thought - I'll jusht tell him that it's all ok. I'm jaunty. I'm cool.

    I tottered over. "Bill," I slurred, "I know.... I know... you don't fancy me - but iss....iss OK." Then, the jaunty finish: "I mean, in one sense it's like the stool has been kicked away from my universe... but.. but.. iss OK."

    I have never known a phrase with such amazing sobering powers. As soon as it left my lips, I knew that it was a) freaky, and b) not jaunty at all! And quite why I believed the entirety of existence to be resting upon a small footrest is a question for another time.

    Anyway, that's only a mid-range cock-up, because Bill and I still get on (in fact, do have a look at his mother's blog here).

  • The Great Fire of Bedminster

    I was, ooh, 16 or 17, and had gone with my best friend Emily to visit these guys in their thirties we had met on holiday (yes, in retrospect that does sound a bit suspicious, but in fairness we had met them at a Christian holiday camp). One of them, Adam, had rather a nice house in Bristol, and we had a lovely barbeque out the back. One of the artful candles onna spike that lit the garden toppled over, setting fire to some dry leaves piled up ready to go to the tip.

    Being the helpful soul I am, I snatched the nearest bottle to hand and doused the flames. Unfortunately, it turned out to be a bottle of triple-distilled vodka, which started what can only be described as a major conflagration. After some time spent running about, filling saucepans with water from the tap, Adam's garden resembled something out of a war zone.

    The next time I was invited I managed to burn his kitchen wall whilst fashioning a flamethrower from a bottle of White Lightning and some lighter fluid. Unsurprisingly, there was no third visit.

  • The Gay Boyfriend

    I'm not sure anyone's first relationship reflects well on them, and most would be willing to admit that they didn't choose as well as they would do now. I, however, made the reasonably grievous error of picking a paid-up homosexual as my first boyfriend.

    It lasted for two months - he now refers to it, charmingly, as his "heterosexuality holiday" - before he dumped me in the coat queue of Worcester's most chavvy nightclub. I distinctly remember the cab ride home, my lip a-quivering, listening to "Careless Whisper" and thinking - yes, I'm never going to dance again, guilty feet really ain't got no rhythm (which, come to think of it, is probably the most embarrassing aspect of the whole thing).

  • Saying 'Fuck' In Front Of My Mother

    Didn't happen until the first year of university. Hasn't happened since, and still live in fear that it might happen again (especially considering I now swear like a blind carpenter). Woke up sweating in the night for a week afterwards.

  • Collarbone surface piercings

    Another one to be filed under 'seemed like a good idea at the time'. Considering I've had such a cottonwool-swaddled middle class pantywaister existence, I do have a lot of scars. The majority of these are my own fault, including the rather obvious ones on my chest from two failed attempts at a sternum surface piercings. However, these at least looked good for a little while. My collarbone piercings did not ever, ever look good, not even when they were just done. They also involved comfortably the most pain I have ever volunteered for. All round, they were very bad indeed.

  • Getting engaged to a someone I met on the Internet

    Yeah, the title says it all, doesn't it? What a fucking brilliant idea this one was. In my defence, I was 16 and we had only just discovered the Internet in Worcester. I started a blog (my very first, which has now sadly slipped through the floorboards of cyberspace) in a body modification community - this being back when I was cool and pierced and whatnot. I used to spend hours talking to this guy called Shan in Oklahoma, who was divorced and had two kids called Willow and Bishop.

    This lasted for about six months, and I was seriously contemplating going out to visit this chap (look, I was young and naive, OK? All these fuckups are the reason I'm such a bitter old trout now...). Of course, in classic 'bloke I met on the internet' fashion, he turned out to be his wife. Or possibly both of them were in on it. Who knows. I think it probably turned out for the best: I couldn't say 'Oklahoma' without giving it the full musical-style "Ooooooh-klahoma", which I'm imagining doesn't go down that well with people who have to live there.

  • The Second Engagement

    Ah, my love life. What fruitful pastures for recrimination. Fresh from my triumph of picking a gay bloke to date, I moved on to a mental bloke. Several things should have tipped me off that we weren't compatible: the fact his favourite phrase was "fockingcontybollocksinnit" being only the most obvious. It lasted only nine months, during which time he ended up trying to finish a particularly spiteful argument by proposing to me. I should have slapped him quite hard for this piece of flagrant emotional manipulation. I didn't. However, I think it proves I was learning about relationships (even if at a rate marginally slower than a pigeon) that I sort of mumbled an acceptance. (Hey, this means I have been engaged twice, technically. What a femme fatale I am.)

    He then proceeded to take me to H Samuel (H fucking Samuel, I ask you!) to pick an engagement ring. Well, that was the final straw and after another three and a half months I showed him where to go, I can tell you!

  • Every Time Christina Aguilera's Dirrty Has Played In A Nightclub And I Have Truly, Truly, Believed I Can Dance

    This sums up my clubbing career for several years, and the smell of shame which pervades throughout my memories is probably why I no longer go clubbing.

    right, that's quite enough...

  • Monday, June 12, 2006

    Fuck this, I'm moving to Norway

    I've been thinking about summer, and I reckon it's pretty much how my mother described childbirth. It's absolutely horrible every year, and yet by November you've forgotten all that and you sit in your office watching it go dark at half past four, and think: God, I'm miserable. I bet I've got seasonal affective disorder.

    And then summer comes again and you realise that you haven't got seasonal affective disorder at all, you really are just a miserable git irrespective of meteorological conditions. But now you are a hot, sweaty miserable git, and you have been forced to wear shorts.

    How do I hate thee, summer? Let me count the ways: First, and most obviously at the moment, there's a football tournament every other year. That sucks pretty hard. Weeks on end of drunken shouting and forced jollity, and endless conversations about some potato-faced chav's podiatric health.

    There's more, though. There's the hot weather, which makes squishing onto the tube even less pleasant than usual. There's the horror of getting a seat - sweet joy! - only to realise that a fat sweaty person is sitting down beside you, ready to spill their clammy flesh over your seat as well as their own.

    Then there's the discovery I made this week, which is that all women are mysteriously much thinner than they appeared mere weeks - days - before. In winter, an apt pupil of Trinny & Susannah can disguise her less appealing bits through the smoke and mirrors of V-neck jumpers and black opaque tights. Not so in summer - the vest top and miniskirt heatwave uniform gives no quarter.

    There's also the sun. I've mentioned previously that I am white. No, make that so very white, whiter than a flour fight at a Klu Klux Klan rally. In the past four days I have made the painful sacrifice of sitting out in the sun for quarter of an hour each day. I have also applied two coats of fake tan. By rights, this should have turned me the colour of David Dickinson. Has it? Has it bollocks. I'm not even red!

    At this rate I will never tan, and then I will be forced by my family on holiday next month to spend hours outdoors without having built up any resistance whatsoever.

    What's French for "I have third degree burns because my mother erroneously believes that it isn't healthy to sit indoors?"

    Sunday, June 11, 2006

    A little something to make me sweeter

    I felt guilty in Waterstone's for two reasons. The first was that I was in the shop at all, having been bombarded of late with dire
    warnings about the demise of the independent bookstore and its hideous knock-on effects. The second reason was that I was browsing the "Try Me For 99p" section.

    Now, I don't know how these things work, but I can't imagine authors see much return on books promoted in this way. On the other hand, perhaps if I bought something and liked it, I could eventually put more business the author's way and so assuage my guilt. Well, that's what I'm trying to do now, because the book I bought was Percival Everett's Erasure, and it's one of the best books I've read in ages. The TLS agree, calling it "one of the most original and forceful novels to have emerged from America in recent years".

    I bought the book on the strength of the blurb on the back, which read: "With sales at an all time low, your family falling apart, and your agent telling you you're not black enough, what's an author to do but write a ghetto novel and call it Fuck?"

    The book weaves an impressively coherent story from these elements, despite detouring several times into imagined conversations between dead artists and writers, a game show dream sequence, and of course, the ghetto novel itself, which takes up 80 of the novel's 294 pages. Its protagonist is Thelonius 'Monk' Ellison, professor and author (like Everett himself) of dense, allusive novels.

    At the novel's start, he is working on a re-imagination of Barthes' S/Z in novel form (yes, I think you are allowed to think that would be god-awful). But he keeps getting reviews which say things like, "The novel is finely crafted, with fully developed characters, rich language and subtle play with the plot, but one is lost to understand what this reworking of Aeschylus' The Persians has to do with the African American experience."

    At the same time, a book called We's Lives in Da Ghetto is the hottest property in the literary world. Monk finds himself wondering why, as a black man who has never allowed race to define his identity, he cannot in the least see the attraction of this kind of thing, peppered with violence, drugs and ebonics. So he adopts the pseudonym Stagg R. Leigh and writes a novel called My Pafology (later Fuck) which satirises We's Lives in Da Ghetto, as the protagonist aimlessly wanders round eating chicken, making passes at his 'fo' babymothers' and swearing at people.

    Around the main plot is woven another strand relating to Monk's family life: death in the family, his brother coming out as gay, his dead father's secret life, and his mother's descent into Alzheimer's.

    Oh, and did I mention there's a Derrida joke (surely the only one to have ever existed?)

    Wittgenstein: Why did Bach sell his organ?
    Derrida: I don't know. Why?
    Wittgenstein: Because he was baroque.
    Derrida: You mean because he composed music marked by elaborate and even grotesque ornamentation?
    Wittgenstein: Well, no that's not exactly what I was getting at. It was a play on words.
    Derrida: Oh, I get it.

    Everett manages to juggle all these threads without allowing any to become overpowering (although, if I'm being picky, I could have coped with less of the ghetto novel). The only jarring insertions are a series of paragraphs on woodworking and fishing, which are treated as metaphors for life. You get the feeling they've been jammed in to provide an extra metaphorical layer, which frankly isn't needed.

    But that's small fry: the book is brilliant: combatively intelligent, allusive without being stodgy, and magnificently funny at the expense of the literary establishment. I liked Everett's prose style - and the originality of his ideas - so much that I immediately bought the two other novels of his available in the UK. First on my reading list will be Glyph, the story of a baby with a ridiculously high IQ who chooses not to speak, but spends his time pondering the worth - "not much" - of influential literary theorists. Well, I'm up for as much slagging off of Derrida as is on offer, really.

    I still feel guilty about the 99p thing, mind.

    Wednesday, June 07, 2006


    Things are a little chaotic here - deadlines to meet, actual things to do at work, people to catch up with, that sort of thing.

    See you at the weekend. In the meantime, should the desire to read something I've written overwhelm you, head over to Joeblade, where you can read all about how enormous trousers ended my youth.

    Oh, and one more thing: I fucking hate fucking football.

    That is all.