Saturday, 30 October 2010

Women's magazines, again

I cracked, & bought Grazia, then remembered why I'd stopped when I read this by Lowri Turner

Are you thinking what I'm thinking?

Rachel Zoe's pregnant. How? Surely the human pipe cleaner hasn't had a period since forever? Still, it'll be interesting to see how she copes with having breasts and a tummy.

I don't know who Rachel Zoe is (okay I do now - she's an American fashion stylist) but what has she done to deserve such viciousness, such spite and vitriol? I remember years ago when Lowri Turner was a fashion columnist on the Standard. She used to be quite funny and down to earth. Clearly years of working in an insanely bitchy and shallow field have done something to her.

Women, we're our own worst enemies.

Sunday, 24 October 2010


Only a little lottery win would do it. I'm not asking for the Euro Lottery or anything *

Leave work, start writing science books for kids (there's a distinct lack of these aimed at little ones, but they still do science - for the moment, curriculum might change.)

- (it's the middle column that interests me)

Or here - this looks good

Or sell flat and with proceeds set up printers co-op in London like Footprint in Leeds, or Just Seeds in Pittsburgh - both genius organisations.

So many things I'd like to do. None involving teaching.

What about you? What are your lottery daydreams?

Budget cuts by Just Seeds artist Jesse Goldstein. Relates to City University in New York, but thought it was relevant here too...

* How many people have lottery daydreams who don't actually buy tickets? Most, I bet.

Friday, 22 October 2010

Good telly

Just when I was thinking I might give my telly away in despair, two good tv programmes appear on the horizon.

1. Misfits, series 2.
I suspect that Misfits was targeted at people a whole lot younger than me. But I really, really enjoyed it. The premise was a load of anti-social teenagers on community service get hit by lightning and find themselves with super-powers. It was so witty, so tongue in cheek and dark, and I got really fond of the characters - foxy Alisha, thoughtful Curtis, mouthy Nathan, and especially chav with a heart of gold Kelly and heartbreaking geek Simon. Plot, character, good writing, good acting - not to be sneezed at. Also (it is easy to impress old bags like me) I liked the way the characters had their own Flickr and Twitter streams, updated whilst the programme was on. It was just a playful extra layer of the diegesis.

2. Any Human Heart

One of my favourite books, by William Boyd, is being made into a drama on Channel 4 with a dream team A list cast. Let's hope they don't mess it up.

* Look! free tickets to a screening with a Q&A afterwards with William Boyd. Rah!

Wednesday, 20 October 2010

Berlin (last part)

I look at her in awe, in wonder and in gratitude. How... how did you do that? She shrugs. There's a sudden roar of people. Roger Waters has come onstage. You want to watch the Wall? "What Wall?" We decide to blow off the Wall and climb into the tent, where she entertains me by moving her stripey jumper around to show off the strobing effects which can be achieved when you're on acid. I feel so happy after her rescue I'm beginning to enjoy the POWER SURGES of the drug coming and going.

She goes off for a bit. I listen to a frankly mental sounding family camped next to us having an argument in a harsh unknown language for a bit. She comes back with an American boy who has a soft Californian accent. Well done Cat, it's like she read my mind and brought the aural antidote to the horrible sounding family.

We find ourselves sitting in a group of people talking about Mercedes Benz. "I was talking to someone about that this morning..." "You were talking to me. Dan. Remember?" Another American boy, from Boston. He's so... so straight. He seems hurt that I've forgotten him, I want to explain that it's just that my cerebral cortex has recently been rewired, but I lack the words. There's an American girl there too, from the midwest, leaning up in front of me. She's got bleached blond hair, glowing whitely in the dark, I look at her lovingly, she's so pretty, and she looks so clean.

"I sat... in the dirt... and all these pants, pants, pants legs were walking past me... and I sat in the dirt? Is this me?" says the blond girl, leaning back on my legs and looking at the stars. She monologues softly and monotously about the midwest. "I mean, there's no culture, especially. There's no interesting vegetation..." This remark makes me explode with laughter and I have to take myself off. I have to tell Cat about her "She was so amazed, she couldn't believe that she'd sat in the dirt..." "She sat in the dirt? We live in the dirt! Our life is degradation!" says Cat.

We get talking to a strange, half East Ender half East European sounding man, he's here with his two silent teenage sons, they are street traders, they travel all over, selling whatever they can in street markets. He's just moved from Russia and thought he'd give Berlin a try. He's dismissive of the concert "a pantomime for adults..." (and I never listen to Roger Waters or Pink Floyd after this, ever again.)

I'm beginning to see something, and it's not college, it's not school, it's not work. I can see past it, to these people who are always on the move. There seems no especial reason to go home. I could keep going, like these people do. Living in squats and going to festivals and demos. Bored of where you are? Go somewhere else. Follow the festivals. Speak other languages. You see how your routine is just that, it's not the law, it doesn't have to hold you. I am supposed to be going to college to do photography in September but it seems distant.

We find Jan and Mark the next day and say goodbye, we were meeting people in Amsterdam and they were travelling on. They might have given us their numbers (pre email, pre mobile phones) but we probably lost them instantly. American Greg said he'd find us in Amsterdam. We give in and get the train to Amsterdam, we're hopeless at hitching on the German roads. But after Amsterdam I'm a good girl. I go home. I wonder sometimes where I'd be now if I hadn't.

Next year I will be 40. Planning to go back to Berlin. This time I think we will stay in an apartment though.

Tuesday, 19 October 2010

In Berlin (part 3)

When we wake up the next day, our little campsite overnight has become surrounded by a sea of metal fences. We are penned into the stadium. A Canadian boy emerges from his tent and whistles. "They pulled down the Wall, and put up a Fence." I go for a wee and to buy a bottle of water. People are selling bits of the Wall off on street stalls. At least, they are selling little bits of coloured rock. I remember suddenly that today is my birthday. I'm 18.

Later that day someone passes Cat a joint, Cat passes the joint to me, it's in my hand when a crazy eyed American wearing a tie-dye bandana appears before us. (At this point,, appropriately enough, the Band are onstage singing The Weight. This is the last musical interlude I remember of the entire evening. I don't really know them or why they are there, but it's alright. Everything is alright so far, except it's far too crowded.) Can you sell me some weed? Can you? No, sorry - but have some of this... Thanks, man... I appreciate it... Here, have a tab. He literally takes my jaw in his hand "open wide..." and puts a tab on my tongue. Cat's, too. IN DIRECT CONTRAVENTION OF EVERYTHING OUR PARENTS AND SOCIETY EVER TAUGHT US, we swallow the tabs down obediently. "It's Grateful Dead acid. You'll see the gods."

And he disappears, after a mere toke on a joint, leaving us to 8 hours of furious tripping in the middle of thousands and thousands of people and a crazy circus. Cat... I say, after about half an hour. Cat, let's get out of here. I imagine I can feel LSD surging through my veins like liquid wildfire. Good plan, she says, but it's not so easy. It is rammed, rammed with thousands of Europeans of every type and every nation, all hell-bent on being in prime position to watch the Wall and nobody wanting to move an inch.

At one point during our exodus a man, sick of being trampled over, crosses his arms and refuses to let me through. Cat has gone. I am off my face and fear some kind of thermo-nuclear reaction if my poor acid-soaked nervous system is not permitted to move. He can't speak English but I lean down desperately and whisper savagely into his ear "If you don't let me move I am going to pass out on you DO YOU REALLY WANT THAT?" He moves.

I'm over by the outside fence, Cat is there. There's a line of police standing the other side but they won't let us out of the fences, not even to pee, as people climb up in a bid for freedom, they throw them back down again. Watching this is somehow ringing alarming historical bells but my brain is too fried to make the right connections. A man next to us is peeing into plastic beer glasses held by his girlfriend. She lines them up quickly quickly for him, one after the other. They both seem strangely sanguine about the situation.

Next to us is a group of remarkably ugly men (it seems to me) from Manchester. I stare at them, fascinated, remembering the line from Animal Farm about no longer being able to tell the men from pigs and the pigs from men. It's all too much "Cat, we're never getting out. We're never getting out." I'm crying and don't even care that the men can see me crying. "We will darling, we will." All those people. Just too many people. We're stuck here forever, watching people piss into beer glasses, forever and ever. "We could just throw her over the fence" suggest the Mancunians kindly. "Tell the police
she's having a freakout."

"Right" says Cat suddenly. All through this she's been smiling, shrugging, moving to some inner music. You want to get out of here? Come with me. She stands up, takes my hand, and somehow, magically, she's led me all the way out of the thousands and thousands of people, into some space. And magically, we're back in the camp, next our little tent.

Monday, 18 October 2010

In Berlin (part 2)

We met Jan and Mark, at a hostel on the outskirts of town. They were in their twenties, at film school, travelling around Europe on their bikes with a film camera making short films. (As if ordered out of a catalogue to impress English teenage girls, looking back - European! Sophisticated! Motorbikes! Film-makers!) Mark had high cheekbones and long jet black hair, I loved him, but he fancied Cat (story of my life). I taught him the English phrase "skin up" though, I'm sure he was grateful and will remember me forever for that.

We bonded over the hostel, which was a bit strict. We were sitting, drinking coffee, when a girl said, in English for our beneft, "It is 8.00 am. You must leave. Now. The hostel closes at 8.00 am." "Sure," said Jan easily. "We're going" "You must go now. This is a youth hostel, not a hotel." "Yes, a youth camp, not a concentration camp I think." "Must it be a joke?" said the girl, offended, and went off. "Shit, I forgot I was in Germany" Jan said. We giggled, guiltily.

They asked us if we wanted to come with them - they'd decided to camp in the middle of the Potsdammer Platz to catch all the action. So we went with and somehow ended up in the middle of a squatters camp - the squatters were protesting about Mercedes Benz buying up the land in the middle of the square (I think I have this right, it was a long long time ago and memory fades.) At first these punky looking people don't want to let us in but a cool woman with shaved head says "these little girls are on their own. I think they are safer here with us" and we get the nod. It's a better buzz than getting past the red velvet rope at a club when they let us inside their makeshift fences. We're in! The politicos accept us! Suburbia never seemed so far away.

We pitch our little tent next to Jan & Mark and go and look for genuine squats in Kreuzberg with a couple of Goths from the Midlands, their black Egyptian eye makeup and black clothes and pasty white skin looking blazingly English in the German sunshine. We heard that if you turn up they will let you stay a couple of nights for free. But we never find any of these famous squats and return to the square.

We meet this genuinely mythical creature, a skinny, barefoot, raggedy East German punk. His name is Gunther, he's about 16. Mark and Jan translate for us. "What do you think of the Wall coming down?" "He says he thinks it is a bad thing, there is something bad in the German blood. If they re-unite the Nazis will happen again.... He pulls up his holey jumper to show us a scar from when he got into a fight with some fascists a couple of years ago, they cut him open and he lost a kidney. He seems like a lost soul. Cat murmurs in my ear "I don't want to be his mum." but I know what she means, that mothering instinct is almost irresistable. He takes us to a black market (I didn't realise a black market could be an actual place) where he looks longingly at some flick knives and I wish I could buy him a pair of shoes without offending his dignity.

The next day is the concert, in which I nearly lose all my marbles. More on that later.

Saturday, 16 October 2010

In Berlin (part 1)

In Berlin, by the Wall, You were 5 foot 10 inches tall...

it was very nice...

Did I ever tell you about the time we first went to Berlin? This post is long, so will break it down into several, I think.

Cat and I
decided to hitch-hike to Berlin to see Roger Waters in concert. (the Wall had recently come down and he decided to hijack this historical occasion by staging his self-indulgent self-aggrandising psychodramatic rock opera in the middle of Berlin in the Potsdammer Platz. It was the kind of thing we liked as self-indulgent self-aggrandising psychodramatic moany teenagers.)

I don't recall much about the journey. We must have got lifts, I remember quite a few Dutch lorry drivers, who'd offer you their Drum tobacco ("It's called Shag! Teehee!) and cough their guts up and bang their chests and tell you it was good for you. We got stuck as night fell on the French-German border, no drivers could see us in the dark, so we ended up sleeping in a truck stop toilet (it was the disabled toilet, big enough to accommodate two), though being a German toilet it was pristinely clean.

The next day a lovely East German couple in a skoda gave us a lift into the city. Their English was better than our German but we bonded. They made a passerby take a photo of us all as a momento. I remember the guy saying solemnly to us in farewell as we got out "And if you take off your clothes, wear a condom."

We wound up in a hostel, where we met two Dutch bikers. More on them tomorrow.

Thursday, 14 October 2010


Blogworld is shrinking. They are all over on Twitter, talking about spaghetti hoops and what bus they're about to get on. I try to like it, but it's just not the same. Keep thinking of this image....

Or the Nothing from the Neverending Story.

Go on post goddamn you post post post! Don't let it vanish!

UPDATE: Look it's really expanding! Look who's back.

Sunday, 10 October 2010

Heartbreak Soup

I made a mix tape, you can hear it (and download it) here, if you will. It does not have all of your fine suggestions on it, because fine as they were, we would really be miserable if we sat through all of them in one go. This is the edited version, short & sweet.

(with thanks to Gilbert Hernandez for the title.)

Monday, 4 October 2010

the Bechdel test

I was anxious when I came across the Bechdel test. Okay to knock Hollywood but what if we really are all shallow and two-dimensional in reality? I thought back over our conversation over Sunday lunch. Yes clearly we talked about men, but what else?
3 different friends, careers, best skincare regimes, the financial crisis, the hierarchy amongst graffitti writers and the reputation of Banksy, the history of Berlin, the causes of the Holocaust, why governments encourage fear and paranoia, blogs, Twitter & other social networks, Crime & Punishment, money and bailout of the banks, tube strike, East London Line, Arnold Circus and social housing, capitalism and consumerism, guilt and expiation, future ambitions and past mistakes, whether chilli cheese fries or potato salad would be more fattening (probably about the same, we reckoned.)

We scrape passed the Bechdel test, phew.

Sunday, 3 October 2010


We go to a party in deepest darkest south London. We walk along a street of massive, grand, slightly crumbling Victorian mansions, and knock on their door. The hostess opens the door. She is wearing a magnificent hat, like Marie Antoinette's galleon hat, but with a mini washing machine and mini clothesline with tiny clothes hanging from it. Her partner is wearing one with what looks like a small wind turbine on top of it. It spins around magically by itself. He serenades us with an accordion to welcome us in. (If this all sounds too annoyingly show-off, the warmth and friendliness with which they greet us counteracts that.)

They wave us into the house - it's a beautiful old pile divided up into flats with about a million people in it, all artists, set designers, art lecturers, musicians. My eyes must be the size of saucers, because there is stuff to look at everywhere. The ceiling is red and gold, there are paintings, wall-hangings, shop dummies, fabrics, artefacts everywhere you look. A life-size horse's head constructed from sellotape in the living room. Once a month they have a big party and people dress up and people come and perform & entertain. People come from all over, I can hear German, French, Italian... and all ages, from teenagers to mid-forties. Everyone has dressed up, half fancy dress and half burlesque showgirl style, I feel fearfully underdressed. They lead us up the grand staircase (finding us both hats in a small living room along the way - we arrived hatless) to the jewel in the crown on the top floor.

In the front attic room, the man who lives there, who works at the National Theatre, has converted his bedroom into an actual theatre. Actual pillars, minescule stage, proper theatre lights, painted ceiling and wall panels, velvet curtain and all. Tiny stools to fit an audience in. We watch a belly dancer who gets everyone up and dancing, the boyfriend of the hostess' teenage daughter and his electronic band (the teenage daughter, a willowy beauty at drama school and her friends are all gorgeous, they look like they stepped out of the cast of Skins, but are strangely charming and friendly, not what I remember at all of teens from my teen years.) The boys stand on stage with their little synthesizers and gaze at their shoes in classic indie stylie, as photos are projected onto a screen at the back.

I go into something of a trance (imagining what it would be like to live in this house, maybe too much all the time) til Rae pulls me out for a cigarette and to fetch a drink. We go down into the garden - it lives up to the house, there's a wraparound porch with a hammock, massive trees with rope swings, they've constructed a tree house and are beginning to build a stage. In the summer, she says, they sit around a bonfire and play music and drink wine and smoke spliffs all night. She crashed out in a teepee in the garden last year. The neighbours don't mind because it's only once a month and there is so much space the sound doesn't carry too badly. The landlord lets them get on with it, he's an orthodox Jew who has rented this palace to them for years at a nominal rent and doesn't intefere as long as they don't expect him to fix anything.

I'm looking forward to the parties in the summer, and getting to know this bohemian crowd of people. Except shortly afterwards Rae's friend does something so back-stabbing, so unforgiveable that she never wants to see her again, and thus endeth our connection with the south london mansion. That was the first and last time I went. Why am I telling you this story? I don't know, except that I was thinking about it. Because it made me hopeful that with all the difficulties people have in making their lives in London, with all the struggle to pay the rent and escape the system, it seems that some people can still lead the lives they want and it doesn't have to centre around ambition or even wage slavery. It gave me a vision of a life that was sociable and centred around something creative. I felt like the south London bohemians were somehow beating the system, that there are still pockets of resistance left in the big city, and it made me happy.