Write about what you know. That’s one of those pieces of advice you are often given when you begin to write. I grew up in a dreary backwater where nothing of interest ever happened. That’s not strictly true now I think about, there was small incident with a serial killer, but that aside, nowt happened. Ever. The weekly local paper used to feature stories about the changing of the floral displays on the High Street, or the disappearance of a shopping trolley. Occasionally there’d be some kind of collection to send a sickly child to swim with dolphins and the like. Then apocryphal stories would circulate about how the kid wasn’t really ill at all and it was all just a dreadful ruse by their money-grubbing parents. Every year we had a local carnival. This consisted of a bit of a parade by local businesses where people would dress up along a theme and travel at a snails pace on the back of lorries through town. The quality threshold of the floats was usually pretty poor. I remember one business one year just sent a huge earth moving tyre on the back of one lorry. Nothing else. Not a single human sitting alongside in novelty attire. Just a giant black bit of rubber. How our little eyes must have lit up.
Carnival meant the annual carnival princess competition where local schoolgirls sent in their photos to the local paper and the readers had to vote for a winner. The gene pool in our town was quite small. There had been little real input since the Vikings. This meant that attractive people of either sex were quite thin on the ground. Those that were good looking were deified and worshipped as primitive gods by the rest of us. The winner of the Carnival princess competition always seemed to be an aloof girl who wore too much make-up and who knew lads who had motorbikes. Not ever desiring a motorbike, we were never to be introduced. My sympathies were always with the less facially gifted entrants of which there were many. Why their parents did this to their daughters I have no idea. Being held up for public mockery in the local paper was our equivalent of the medieval stocks.
As a rebellious teenager I decided I’d try and spice the paper up a bit. I sent them a press release claiming to be from an anarchist organisation threatening to disrupt the local carnival parade with some decent, honest British mayhem. Nothing violent, just a bit of direct action.
Now I like to think that if I had been working on the paper at the time I’d have asked myself a few questions upon receiving it. Why would an anarchist organisation be interested in a parade of travel agents and primary schools for instance ? How many members can they have in our tiny uninteresting town ? But no, they took it at face value and ran the story. On the front page. Not only that they also wrote an editorial condemning this kind of thing and expressing the sincere hope that “anarchists of all types will be dispersed among the prison system.”
This to me seems a bit harsh. Maybe I’m a bed wetting liberal and all that but surely the threat of a 15 year old waving a placard at majorettes doesn’t warrant the full force of the British legal establishment does it ? This was in the days before Swampy admittedly but even so. I went to ground and tried not to look awkward when people talked about the anarchist threat. I couldn’t look a policeman in the eye. Come to think of it, I still can’t. Even though I know I’ve done nothing wrong they make me feel guilty. Teenagers should get up to more of this kind of mischief. It’s more entertaining than mindless vandalism but probably less distracting for them than casual sex and class a drugs. Speaking of which have you seen the trailers for that Skins programme on Channel 4 ? I’m looking forward to that, principally because it will annoy the “we’re all doomed brigade” something rotten. Teenagers sleeping with each other and getting off their faces ? Whatever next the invention of the wheel.
I knew nothing then and I know very little now. Therefore when I write I have to find stuff out first. So currently I’ve been doing extensive research into the proceedings of Celebrity Big Brother. I am a complete Pop Tart. I like trashy culture quite a lot. I manage to combine this with the occasional 19th century Russian novel and visit to an art gallery without my head imploding but if I’m being honest I find Girls Aloud more exciting than any classical composer you could care to mention. I know that to some people this means I’m a deplorable wreck of a creature responsible for the creation of a generation of airheads who spell the collective doom of the species but I can’t help it. Somehow or other more of the population have got more intelligent, read more books and visit more museums and galleries than ever before despite the influence of The Word and Take That in the 90s so it can’t be all bad. Actually, what happened to Euro trash ? I used to love that.
I think it’s great that you can do PhD research into pop culture. I think we need more pop culture graduates. It’s what the economy is crying out for. Mathematicians are all well and good but they’re probably not as groovy. We could employ lots of overseas graduates to do the boring stuff and we could concentrate on being attractive, knowing and wry : “Britain : We’re sexier than you” could be our national slogan. That’d really annoy the French.
I’m therefore probably not properly qualified to talk about Big Brother but I will anyway. This years collection of oddballs and non-entities have been as satisfyingly mad as usual. I think a part of me watches the programme to be reassured that actually I’m quite sane after all. Relatively speaking.
Leo Sayer started out as the bookies favourite for the main prize. I’ve always found him an odd character, even when he was an unlikely lust object for my sister when I was tiny. It’s that diminutive stature, the unlikely hair and the falsetto at inopportune moments. Things started well for Leo. I reckon he thought he had it in the bag. He entered house saying “I’m a big personality, I just light up a room”, which is the equivalent of saying “I’m the mad one” when a new housemate joins your shared student house. Over the days Leo has been slowly unravelling, his behaviour getting increasingly erratic and unpredictable. On last nights programme he was seen telling the footballer’s girlfriend whose name I can’t remember that he had contemplated making love to her coat. There are some things that are just wrong on so many levels. Sprouts for instance, alongside other unmentionables such as incest, comb-overs and Tory governments. Leo Sayer shagging a faux fur jacket is another. Thankfully he didn’t follow his lust as I dread to imagine what the dry cleaning bill would have been like.
This years twist has been introduction of 2002’s fourth place contestant in the regular programme, the not very fragrant Jade Goody. Jade has been accompanied in the house by her “problematic” mother Jackiey and trophy boyfriend Jack. The sight of a confused Jermaine Jackson trying to reason with an aggressively dysfunctional cockney lesbian is the kind of quality TV experience I think few of us would want to be without. How can people say that Big Brother is dumbing down ? Jade has turned her life around since leaving the house and has become a millionairess in the process. She claimed the other night to be the 25th most influential woman in the country yet couldn’t pronounce the word “influential”. I really wouldn’t like to predict a winner.