Yesterday, in true English fashion, my beloved friends and I trudged through spectacularly rainy rain and shoe-ruiningly squelchy mud to ‘ooh’ at some sparkly rockets and a big fire (kindly sponsored by a windscreen replacement service, BBC Radio Cambridgeshire and a father-and-son plumbing company) celebrating the fact that some king didn’t in fact get blown up by some guy a certain number of years ago. Except, and you’ll pardon the pun, because I’m tired, overworked and half-thinking about a banoffee tart I’m saving for later, this guy was, in fact, a rather special Guy.
Guy Fawkes was, in fact, from my home town – no word of a lie, he was a Yorkshireman through and through. I’d say I felt some trepidation at violently cremating the effigy of a fellow Northerner, but that would be a lie, because council-approved casual pyromania is inherently cool. But there, right next to the club where my debit card got swiped when I was 16 and that hair salon where a nice lady called Loretta once unfortunately scalped me (‘It’s ok, it’s still a bit of an improvement, love’) a blue plaque proudly adorns the side of a dingy, dirty, friendly pub, proclaiming ownership of the gent we all love to hate on the fifth of November. The pub’s called the Guy Fawkes Inn. Do you see what they did there?
Yorkshire is the home town of more than its fair share of historical bad-assery. Dick Turpin spent his last night alive on a cold, hard slab of stone now proudly displayed in a museum near my bus stop. When I was seven, my Dad forced me to lie on it, telling me that Turpin came to ‘get’ naughty little girls who didn’t share their scratchcard winnings with their fathers. Fortunately, Dick was hung, drawn and quartered the next day on the Knavesmire - so that £20 was all mine. Even Dracula alighted on the shores of Whitby Bay, right next to the fish and chip stand. I’m pretty sure I’m accurate in thinking that, if Dracula, Dick Turpin or Guy Fawkes were alive today, they’d be the equivalents of Kurt Cobain, Pete Doherty and Mick Jagger, eyeliner, coke and all. Cambridge is nice and everything, but its history tips slightly more in favour of prodigal genius than seventeenth-century rock stars.
Once we’d got to the bonfire, I looked around at the snack stands and asked my northernly-challenged friends whether they’d like to join me in a search for some parkin. The blank faces that greeted me in return will haunt me to this day. Not only are they deficient in violently murdered criminals, but they also lack the gorgeously sticky and stodgy ginger cake that, every year, makes you ever so happy in an ever so slightly sickly kind of way. I’d like to think that Guy Fawkes would have thought the whole corporal punishment thing was worth it to leave such a delicious legacy.
I grew up on a specialised diet. A diet involving VHS recordings, Saturday telly and Weetos. Weekends were sacred. Up by 9. Move to parents’ bed. Slowly oust them with starfish limbs. Turn on SMTV:Live, eat disgustingly delicious processed ‘cereal’, get high on E-numbers and spray crumbs everywhere. Lie in crumby, sticky, borrowed nest, laughing at the inane activities of Ant, Dec and Cat Deeley – who, rather disconcertingly, considering she used to delight little kids by getting gunged most Saturdays, is looking scrumptiously sexy in the new Pantene ads.
From said nest, I would then assume the usual Saturday afternoon position, in front of the downstairs television (note subtle change of location), with the prized VHS collection. Unceremoniously chucked by my mother to cries of indignation about 4 years ago, these VHS tapes entombed every episode of Friends ever broadcast on Channel 4 and were complete with homemade episode guides lovingly rendered in Curlz MT.
This admission will, I know, brand me with many sad-act nerd credentials. But the fact remains that I, and a select few others, can turn on E4 at any time, and still find ourselves word-perfect on Season 4, Episode 8 (incidentally, The One with Chandler in a Box). Despite the fact that we weren’t having water-fights and being generally joyous like other children, sad-act nerd credentials are invaluable when you find another sad-act nerd with which to indulge secret childhood passions. For us, any moment in life can be related to an episode of Friends.
Such moments can crop up at any time, and, like an itch that simply must be scratched, they must be indulged. ‘You are my Everest,’ I hear myself whisper, Joey-like, to a stomach-stretching meal. Chandler-esque speech patterns (‘Could I be wearing any more clothes?’) are ingrained into my subconscious. And any time someone offers me a scone, I am overwhelmed with the need to smash it into smithereens with my fist, yelling ‘STUPID BRITISH SNACK FOOD’, a la Ross after an anger management class.
Mostly, these references evoke nothing but looks of confusion and mild concern from others around you. But, whenever a fellow addict lights up in response, I find myself reassured that my childhood was not wasted. In fact, now I’m older and (perhaps) wiser, Friends quotes are litmus tests with which I can instantly identify like-minded people who are, according to my admittedly skewed definitions, hilarious and witty.
Having said all this, I’d pay any amount of money to exchange the Friends encyclopaedia in my head for some knowledge pertaining to my degree. I’d even throw in the S Club 7 lyrics slumbering on one of my dusty mind-shelves for good measure. Any takers?
It’s nearly November. Aside from my deep-seated concerns about where the bloody hell most of 2010 wandered off to, I’m beginning to think that the Seasonal Affective Disorder thingy that the papers always talk about might not be such utter bullshit as I once thought. I’m cold, knackered and am eating chocolate digestives to add a walrus-like layer of blubber for insulation. As Shakespeare once said, “FML”*.
Although, perhaps it’s just common sense. SAD (a fab acronym if ever there was one) is, supposedly, an annual case of depression triggered by the weather. ‘Sufferers’ feel inordinately depressed in winter, but when summer returns, their spirits lift. ‘Well, durrr,’ I find myself saying aloud.
Of course everyone feels crap. It’s pitch-black when the blaring of your alarm interrupts the deepest of deep sleeps, ensuring a perfectly foul mood for the rest of the day. If you’re anything like me, you’re so reluctant to relinquish the cosiness of your night-time nest that you attempt to go about your morning routine accompanied by your duvet like a large, grumpy mollusc. Working through the afternoon is equally dire; as sunset comes around 3.30pm, staving off nap time feels like the final half-mile of a marathon. Or what I’d imagine that feels like, if I ever ran them. Struggling to maintain forward movement on a bicycle battered by torrential rain and winds so cold your teeth hurt, the annual epiphany comes once again – winter is really, truly crap.
The only person I’ve ever met to escape the black dog of winter is my boyfriend, who, paradoxically, hails from the temperate climes of California. Given his passion for all things sci-fi and propensity to burst out into improvised medleys of Gilbert and Sullivan, Lady GaGa and Johnny Cash, I’ve long since accepted that he might be slightly insane. But insane in an endearing way, of course, rather than the more concerning sleep-with-a-knife-on-my-bedside-table way. However, the one thing I have never, and will never be able to fathom is why the hell he gave up living in what is practically universally acknowledged as one of the coolest places on earth to cloister himself on a tiny, windswept island in the middle of the North Sea. “I don’t know. I just like the climate better here, I guess,” he shrugs. I gape, and hold back the verbal abuse. He turns back to Super Mario 3 as I retract my eye stalks and retreat into my duvet shell.
I both love and abhor iTunes Shuffle. And I think it both loves and abhors me.
When I’m working, I like soft, slightly melancholy music – Death Cab for Cutie, Coldplay, David Gray. I think Shuffle knows this. Because it went through about twelve minutes of lovely, soothing, work-conducive tracks this morning, before spitting Under Pressure by Queen at me, completely wrecking my train of thought. Then it laughed like a mad man.
I never thought I’d be angry at Freddie Mercury, god of all parties, drunken joy and microphones that look like canes. But then Shuffle, in its infinite wisdom took pity on us both, and made amends with Sigh No More, a beautiful product of the beautiful brains of the gorgeously lovely Mumford & Sons. Despite occasionally fuelling procrastination by causing me to wonder which one is Mumford and whether the others are really his Sons, every time Shuffle and I need to make peace it knows that any of their charmingly clunky, folky harmonies will turn my frown so very upside down that my face gets tangled in knots. And they’ve got the banjo balance (so easily over-tipped) just right. Hearing little snippets makes me want to break out into a spontaneous, capering barn dance. Hearing too much reminds me of Deliverance.
And Sigh No More is my absolute favourite, because the bit where Mumford and his many sons explode into exuberantly life-affirming chants of ‘man is a giddy thing’ perfectly encapsulates Much Ado for me. It’s a musical version of the moment when Emma and Kenneth splash through fountains and swing like happy children, overtaken by tango-tanned 90s joy. It’s fab, and I love it.
But I must leave for now, because Shuffle, like the attention-seeking little brat it is, just threw an Abba-shaped tantrum. Maybe the problem here is the utter tripe clogging up my iTunes.
Kazimir Malevich, Female Torso II.
I found a reference to him in a piece written by Angela Carter, who I just love. It’s called Notes on the Gothic Mode, and her final line is ‘Contradictions are the only thing that make any sense.’
I like that a lot. And I like this picture a lot. And the two together are like apple and crumble. And both apple crumble and this painting remind me of my lovely friend Hannah.
Before we begin, children, I’d like to clarify for the scatalogically-minded amongst you, that no, I’m not talking that kind of colon. I’m talking punctuation. Call me irrational, but the little buggers are just plain ugly.
Although, come to think of it, perhaps the colon is so unpalatable precisely because of the poo connotations. But then again, it might be down to the techies that have pillaged it from the realm of language and transformed it into something cold, hard and inhuman. Rather than making my sentence balance nicely like my grandma’s vintage kitchen scales, I will now forever think of it as the middle man linking the nonsensical ‘http’ to its two forward slash henchmen. It’s almost as bad as that bastardised pig’s nose of an ‘a’ invented to anchor our names irrevocably to email domains. Now synonymous with the world of technology, colons stick out like sore thumbs when used elsewhere.
Other punctuation marks are sexy. Exclamation marks are jaunty; dashes allow you to make your point, but then add an attractively ironic raised eyebrow in a pithy afterthought. Anyone using an ampersand is the linguistic equivalent of an indie kid. They could just write the bog-standard three letter word, but a) that’s mainstream, b) no-one would look and c) it looks really quite cool in a modern-arty, Banksy kind of way.
And the colon is far less elegant and eloquent than its big brother, the semi-colon. These little gems are sure to add a bit of much-needed pizzazz to any piece of mediocrity due for submission in 27 minutes – though I’ve learnt through bitter experience to handle with care. My supervisor in my first year took unadulterated pleasure in scoring through rogue semis and scrawling next to various offenders the silent scream of rage ‘SENTENCE FRAGMENT’. I think the block capitals symbolised how close I was to some nefarious kind of punctuation corporal punishment that would have possibly done some damage to my colon in real life.
But, despite the pitfalls, I can’t help preferring the dot and squiggle to the double dot. The semi-colon is punctuation’s Oscar Wilde; it’s intelligent, sophisticated and wears a green carnation in its button hole.
(I made one of those up.)
It feels so shallow to grab the nearest camera to snap moments to display to other people. Or to preserve them for yourself, as if you might otherwise forget everything significant that ever happened to you unless you have a version in pixels. But then again, some moments are just too smile-inducing to remain unshared.
‘I don’t look back darling, it distracts from the now.’
Surely, when he created and voiced the diminutive and endearingly cuboid Edna Mode, Pixar magician Brad Bird knew the deep significance of the message he was passing on to the wide-eyed youngsters watching his film open-mouthed with joy of pant-wetting proportions. Don’t look back. No regrets. You make your own luck. All those things my mum used to tell me have just been summed up by an artist’s impression of Anna Wintour circa 1982. Blow me down.
Now, my negligent baby-sitting approach is more than a little to blame for this most recent epiphany, seeing as looking after my four-year-old brother feels like being left with a lit stick of dynamite duck-taped to my hand - for which, my friends, the antidote is, always, Pixar on repeat. Bless him. But I’m starting to think more and more that these ‘children’s’ films are some of the most philosophical that surround us today.
As Hollywood churns out superhero sequels, horror porn, barely-disguised regular porn and remake after dire remake, Pixar’s beautifully nuanced characters engage us not only because they’re cute and fuzzy (though I wouldn’t fancy snuggling up with Lightning McQueen), but because they’re so – forgive the cross-species application of the term - human.
In Toy Story, Buzz and Woody tackle questions of existentialist proportions probably more often found in Nietzsche: ‘You’re a toy!’ Woody memorably screams at his misguided, be-spacesuited companion, ‘T-O-Y, TOY!’ Ratatouille charts the angst experienced by every teenage misfit, even though he’s ostensibly just a rat who likes cooking. Change that to a council estate kid with a prodigious knack for the violin, or a prep-school boy with a passion for grime and garage, and, if you’ll forgive the gross stereotyping, you immediately see where Remy’s coming from.
And Nemo. How many times, I ask you, has morbidity infringed on you to the extent that you have to say ‘I love you!’ before ‘Bye!’ on the telephone to a loved one, just in case one of you gets mown down by the 42 in rush hour before you see each other again? If you’ve not seen Finding Nemo, just replace that bus with a deep-sea diver and a zip-lock bag. Terrifying stuff.
These films are, ostensibly, for kids. Yet take a look around the cinema and not only is the auditorium filled with adults, but those adults are surreptitiously drying their eyes underneath their 3D glasses. Just look at the bereaved, marginalised Carl in Up, or Andy’s mum’s empty-nest woes in Toy Story 3. Or perhaps don’t look, it’s just too painful. Leave that to the kids. Stuffing popcorn into little mouths with sticky, grubby hands, they don’t look too concerned. They’re clearly the professionals.