Saturday, December 30, 2006

News From The Region : Movies of the year

Grubby pants, unturning stones and duvet days

The forecast for tommorow night looks like a load of grubby pants so we may well be forced to sit in and drink cheap cava whilst watching Jools Holland. I always used to like those traditional Scottish programmes you got on with country dancing, bagpipes and the like. We always had to watch them when we were growing up. It gave my mum chance to tell us about her tenuous Caledonianism and talk in an awful put-on Scottish accent. Even at 7 I knew it was a bit rubbish.
I'm neither a New Years Eve lover or hater. I'm kind of in the middle. Bi-bothered if you will. I can quite happily swing either way. You can find me at midnight on New Year's Eve with a party-popper in hand off my head on Babycham, kissing the nearest sentient being amongst the throng, or alternatively quietly tapping a slippered foot to Mantovani on the light-programme whilst knocking back a cocoa. It can go either way, and I'm never fussed which one of those outcomes prevails. Let them fight amongst themselves for my fickle attentions I say. In fact it's forecast to be dull all day tommorow so Rach and I intend on having a duvet day. No alarm, drinking loads of tea, reading the papers and eating toast.
The last few days I've been getting my head down with the book. This is getting boring now I know. I did hit a bit of a plateau round about mid-week but then pulled it round again in the last couple of days. It's been fair flying along today. 2700 words this morning no-less. I might see if I can get that over the 3000 mark. We're nearing the magical 30,000 word point which somehow feels significant, even if it isn't.
I did mention the other day that I'd lost weight over Christmas. I'm really pleased on that score as this time last year I was 13 and a half stone. I was a bit podgy it's fair to say. I've lost a couple of stone this year and feel loads better for it. Much more positive and happier in myself. I'm quite a vain person, I enjoy looking nice which is probably a bit crap and shallow but there you go. I've tried not being bothered but I just get down, the trick is finding a happy medium between complete crankiness and complete indifference. It's odd getting on into your thirties. I feel loads happier about myself these days than I did when I was in my twenties. I also have a much greater urge to try and sort myself out in areas where I know I've let myself down in the past. I'm now aware of the passage of time in a way I wasn't in my live forever years of my early twenties. This is a good thing, but it's uncomfortable at times. You start uncovering stones that have been left unturned for years and what you find is not always what you expected. Change is there to be embraced, experienced and enjoyed, not just tolerated so that's the spirit I'm trying to go forward in.
Have yourself a very happy Hogmanay and here's to new beginnings in 2007.

Friday, December 29, 2006

After all that Christmas over-indulgence... must be time to get back to the gym

Thursday, December 28, 2006

Lipstick lesbians, Toblerone and decent honest values

Apparently the Prime Minister is away enjoying his Christmas with one of the Bee Gees. I know this because the Daily Mail has been getting itself into one of its regular lathers about the lavish decadence of the Blairs. The Blairs had the good fortune to be at a party where there were in attendance, not just ordinary common or garden decent, everyday, upstanding, ordinary British, decent lesbians, but "leather-clad lipstick lesbians". Along with glamorous sapphists, there were also drag queens and a druid priestess ! Wow... Now that to me sounds like a fantastic evening, but to the Mail the presence of the PM and his missus at such a fabulous gathering is "mind-boggling." I'm sure I can't be the only dull thirtysomething from the provinces who has in his time been at parties with all the above. Admittedly probably never all that same time, but then I'm not a friend of the Gibb brothers. I do know a bisexual Witch. That's not a value judgement on the woman's character, it's just her religion.
I know as a Guardian reader, (and therefore responsible for the downfall of western civilisation as we know it- ooh it's like Caligula round our way let me tell you) I'm meant to despise the Mail and all its works but I just can't bring myself to. It's just too hilarious to be truly hateful. As the house journal of the Muggles Union it does give me an insight into the psyche of your average cave dwelling little Englander and it's a dark and grim old continent. I pity them more than hate them, they seem to have this deep thread of inner sadness running through their existence, and are overflowing with bitterness about just about everything interesting. That can't be healthy can it? Yorkshire Post and Northern Echo readers in these parts I think must inhabit a similar world. What you can't take away from the Mail is the fact it knows its audience and gives them what they want. It's also very well written. Good luck to them. It gives me a regular chuckle and lets me realise that there are a minority of people in this country with whom I have no more in common with than the fact we appear to have heads. As long as they don't bug me I'm happy for them to lead their lives as they see fit. Anyway, Rach and I made a unilateral declaration of independence earlier in the year so we are in fact a sovereign nation in our own right. It's a right old Shangri-La as well. You're welcome to visit as long as all your papers are in order and have nothing to declare except your fabulousness. All that aside, I hope the Blairs are enjoying their break at their mates house. That's what you do at Christmas isn't it ? Go stay with the friends and family. It's not their fault that their friends are richer and have better parties than those of your average Daily Mail reader. Surely being jealous of that fact smacks of the "politics of envy". This as the Daily Mail and the Tories repeatedly told us throughout the 80s and 90s is a BAD THING. Get over yourself, have a Quality Street. Nip out to the garden centre and get your dinner. There must be an offer on.
Speaking of chocolate I seem to be existing on a diet of Toblerone and coffee at present. What's more I appear to have actually lost weight over Christmas. This I put down to the gastric flu and my insistence on not having a third portion on Christmas day. The energy expended on the swings must have burnt off a couple of calories as well.
There have been some splendid adverts on the TV of late. Rach and I are particularly fond of a low budget number for something called "Mandles Candles ". Just how good is that ? When Mr Mandle was thinking of going into business he must have run through a number of products he could have manufactured.
"How about curtain swags ? Nah, Mandles Swags, just doesn't scan... or we could do occassional tables ? Mandles Occassionals...better but just not right... wait a minute... I've got it !"
And thus, Mandles Candles were born. Not sure how they differ from the all the usual candlles we seem to have filled our glamorous hovel with but they sound fantastic. Rach and I wondered if you could buy handles for your mandles candles or whether or not you should wear sandals whilst lighting your mandles candles (I never take mine off, what with reading the Guardian and everything...mind you they are Birkenstock ;-) )
The other advert we really enjoy is that one for Ernest Jones the jeweller where a glamorous lady is trying on her little black dress whilst her fresh faced open-necked(hey he's smart, but he's not stuffy ) yet suited partner looks at his watch and wonders just how long his lovely lady is going to take. To really increase the pressure the taxi driver has arrived outside their refined town house and is impatient for his fare. The guy say's they'll be five minutes, the woman rushes to the window and shouts down that they'll be ten. Bloody hell, women eh ? Then at just the wrong moment, the fella, being a generous and classy catch, hands his lady a box from Ernest Jones. Woohooo...the lady is shouting internally, yet outside she still looks demure, unflustered and alluring. Cut to the shot where the couple are having a smooch in the window and the guy shouts down they'll be another ten minutes, whilst the honest to goodness, decent, hardworking, British, decent, overweight taxi driver rolls his eyes indulgently. The implication here of course is that the couple are about to have glamourous, decent, British loving whilst the cabbie waits outside. So there you go. Buy your lady something expensive from Ernest Jones you unimaginative fool and you too can have hardworking, decent, British, glamorous open-necked sex with a lady who takes for ever to get ready. Nice one.
In our house it's Rach who ends up waiting in the front room for me whilst I go through several outfit changes. We never have a taxi and I'd do owt for anyone if they bought me a Cornish pasty in a gift box. I'm easily pleased.

Wednesday, December 27, 2006

New shoes, swinging, erotic striptease and the Scissor Sisters

So that's your Christmas done then ? Hope your festives went according to plan, there were no big family arguments and you didn't seriously overdo it on the sup and snap front. Ours was alright as far as it went in it's abbreviated fashion.
The Christmas Eve showing of "It's A Wonderful Life" was a top bit of seasonal business. The advert had promised "mulled wine & nibbles", so we expected a few canapes and the like. In the end it was a full scale buffet of epic proportions. We'd already eaten so we didn't do it justice and left with that feeling of regret you have when you've not made the most of free food. The film was lovely as ever and it was great to see it on a big screen for once. It was a sell-out and a few late arrivals had trouble getting seats in their family groups. This caused much middle-class awkwardness and as a couple nabbed the seats of a pair who had just nipped off to the bar it could have got quite nasty. The slightly butcher member of gay couple sitting behind us pointed out the error to the lady of the couple who took umbrage and said something nasty in return. Rachel at this point piped up with a very audible "rude bloody cow" and the camper gay part of the couple said "ooh the silly bitch." I sank back in my chair and pretended I'd seen and heard nothing. After the seatless couple had huffed off chuffing something like "well that's not playing ball is it ?!" (no it was a film love, not a ball game of any kind) the camp gay guy leaned across our seats and said ;
"Well so much for the Christmas spirit....I feel quite traumatised"
To be honest, he wasn't the only one. A middle-aged guy who had a much younger oriental looking wife took the spare seat next to me. He slept through three quarters of the film and at a key moment it looked as if his head was about to land lovingly on my shoulder. To be honest, he wasn't really my type and he had terrible dress sense so I coughed heartily which brought him round with a jolt.
Christmas Day was spent with the family. It all went OK, there were no crossed words of any kind, I managed to stay relatively sober despite being over exposed to some evil sweet rhubarb wine which had been made by an enthusiastic uncle. Rach and I cleared off for a walk around the village just as it was getting dark and ended up at the childrens play area. Let me tell you that swings are the absolute business when you're big, I seemed to be able to propel myself much higher than I did as a kid. My stomach felt a bit delicate by the time we'd finished. We took some pictures of our nightime swinging activities (let's just see what that does to the blog traffic ) which I may well post later.
Santa was very kind and remembered my Dunlop Green Flash trainers and the Girls Aloud Greatest Hits album I asked for. I wasn't the only one who received music. My mum (whose 72) got the Scissor Sisters album she'd set her heart on. This was played repeatedly through the course of the day and we all had to dance in the front room to keep her happy. By about the fifth time of hearing "I don't feel like I dancing " I agreed wholeheartedly with the sentiment.
After all that excitement it was back to work yesterday. I was genuinely excited about getting to work on my book and I'm feeling really positive about it. Quite unlike me really. Dad bought me a book written by a Polish friend they know from the local Catholic church. It's about his experiences escaping the Communist regime and reaching Britain. It's a POD book and I was really impressed by the quality of the production and the way it looks. Now I'm thinking I might do something like that with the novel I'm currently writing. I'm sure I'd be able to shift a few copies and judging by the costs I wouldn't need to sell that many to recoup my money. We'll see how it goes. Speaking of Mother Church, Rach and I were talking about what our kitchen needs just to finish it off. I reckon it's crying out for a 64 inch statue of Our Lady Of Perpetual Help
(only $13,000 - a snip I'm sure you'll agree) but I think Rach has set her heart on a Slow Cooker from Argos. Never mind, the back bedroom is due for a sort out in 2007.
Last night I watched that Challenge Anneka thing about building a maternity centre in a Sri Lankan village recovering from the effects of the 2004 Tsunami. Anneka didn't seem to do much, but the volunteers who had gone over to get involved were all really impressive. Watching it I began to feel a bit crap and useless. Positive people doing practical stuff, giving up time and comfort to make a real credible difference. Both Rach's brothers have been involved in various projects in Central America over the years and I have nothing but admiration for people who go and get their hands dirty like that. Could I do it ? I'm not sure.
Following that we watched Faking It which was a burlesque special. Burlesque if you don't already know is the high-camp erotic striptease exemplified by the likes of Marilyn Manson's wife, Dita Von Teese. It grew out of the 19th century music hall tradition and became very popular in the 1920s through to the 1940s. It's currently undergoing a bit of a revival which in my book is a GOOD THING (one of many). In the programme a 34 year old cleaner from Wales with a terrible shaggy perm had to be able to convince a panel of judges that she was a real performer. This poor woman was very likeable but had lived such a sheltered life in her rural Welsh vilage and had been cleaning toilets since she left school at 16. She was a bright woman, but had little faith in herself and as a consequence wanted to hide herself away from the world. The highlight of her week was bingo in the village hall. Yes, it really was that desperate.
After a few weeks with the curvaceous and utterly lovely Immodesty Blaize she was a woman transformed. She'd had her hair done, she was much more confident with her body and the whole 1940s burlesque look really suited her. Anyway, she managed to convince the panel that she was the real deal and left Immodesty about three feet taller. It was a lovely, heartwarming thing to see. Not only that, she was so good that she's now intending to become a real burlesque performer in her own right leaving behind the bleach and rubber gloves for feathers and satin gauntlets. Surely another GOOD THING. Rach was quite inspired by this and fancies having a go at the whole burlesque thing herself, I can't say I dissaprove. We thought she should go by the name of Legs L'Amour, and I could be her spivish impressario, Chuck Clemencau III. This fantasy has now superceded our previous one where I was the lead singer of a group called Lipgloss Gigolo. My name was Tristram Lefarge and Rach was my polka-dot wearing muse, Penny Farthing. We cycled around Sussex villages on 1940s Raleigh boneshakers having picnics whilst looking wistful. Both fantasies allow me to wear my trilby. At the very least we're going to take ourselves along to a burlesque night in the New Year.
So that's me done. Back to the novel writing and I'll leave you the video below which if you're still off work I command you to dance to energetically. Otherwise my mum will be round and she can be quite insistent.

Saturday, December 23, 2006

It's A Wonderful Life...

Few photos below of different bits of York street life which were taken this morning, the busiest Saturday of the year by all accounts. We were early enough to miss the craziest part of the day and got home before midday. This afternoon we took the dog on a long walk down by the river. It was deathly quiet and still, we hardly saw a soul. With the low-lying fog that is still cloaking the Vale Of York, it was all quite eerie, but peaceful and refreshing with it. The dog got reassuringly filthy and had to go in the shower when he got home. He's now curled up, whimpering in his sleep as he chases those dream rabbits. His sleep always looks really satisfying.

Tommorow we're going to repeat the walk and then we're off to a special screening of It's A Wonderful Life at the City Screen. There's a bit of a pre-film Christmas reception in the sky lounge . I'm going through my annual agonising about whether or not I'll make it to Mass over Christmas ;-) Christmas Day we shall be at my sister's house for the food onslaught which I'll spend the rest of the week recovering from. My family hold onto the perception that I'm a big eater based on what I was like as a teenager. In reality, I'm not that big an eater at all these days. In fact for a bloke I'm probably quite a small eater. That doesn't stop the usual "it's not like you not to have a massive fourth helping Martyn ? Are you ill ? Check his temperature ? He must be poorly..." You get the picture, I'm sure you've been there.
So I hope you all enjoy your festives, keep believing in happy endings and get plenty of confirmation that despite everything, it's still a wonderful life.
(apologies for the cheese, if you can't get away with it just prior to Christmas then you never can)

Down in the Eye Of York (that's the bit near the Castle Museum and Clifford's Tower) we've got an outdoor ice-rink in situ for a few weeks. It's always really popular and is great for show-offs who pirouette about, do high-speed stops and generally make the rest of us look a bit silly. That's not difficult in my case.
These carol singers in Coppergate were one of a few groups out and about giving it a festive go today. I think they just had the edge on the others.
The guy on the piano at the front of shot had just finished a really haunting rendition of "In The Bleak Mid-Winter". It was quite beautiful. Street musicians make all the difference, particularly ones who are good at providing the appropriate mood music to match the prevailing atmosphere. You can see the West End of the Minster in the fog above the rooftops.

Check out the cue outside Scott The Pork Butcher. It actually stretched back past several shop fronts. Scott's it's fair to say is the absolute business. People come from far and wide to get their pies and hams. It's a real proper butchers where they care about stuff like provenance. Their pie products will be freely available in heaven.

What was really noticeable today in town was that away from the shops much of York was really, really quiet. Around by the Minster was a real haven. Constantine was all on his lonesome so I thought I'd go and say hello. I always get a real sense of history when I stand by this statue and remember that it was here that he was first proclaimed Roman Emperor. In little old York. But then I'm a bit weird like that .... ;-) The photo below is of St William's College which was also very quiet. St. William was an Archbishop of York in the 12th century.

It was very busy in the market this morning. Greengrocers in particular were doing brisk business. Lots of people walking around with whole sticks of the evil sprout type things. I have to go through the annual torture of holding out against the family onslaught of "just try the one sprout...go on, you'll like it. It is Christmas." I hate sprouts. Get behind me foul baby demon cabbage thing...

Friday, December 22, 2006

I think the dog's ready for Christmas...

We didn't buy him any of those canine antlers you can get from Tesco. That would just be silly...

And so the end is near...etc

I know it's customary to say, "didn't that year fly by" at this time of year, but I don't think this one has. It's gone quite slowly for me. This last week has really dragged. I can't wait to get finished this evening and chill out for the Christmas festivities.
I was pleased to see that the genius that is Bondbloke has returned to the blogging world. Bondbloke is a man of strong opinions and they're always delivered with an admirable upfront honesty. Not only that, he's proven his brilliance by choosing to come and visit York prior to Christmas. Hope your enjoying yourself mate. It's fair to say York is heaving this year. Apparently it's been a bumper build up to Christmas in the city. Lots of effort has been put into promoting the annual festive jamboree here and it appears to have been paying off in "No Vacancies" signs at the bed and breakfasts and kerchinging cash-registers. I'll try and get a few pre-Christmas York piccies over the weekend.
That aside the writing has been going really well this week. The novel is cracking along at a fair old place. I can see much that needs improving within it, but my principal aim is actually manage to complete a first draft. That goal looks likely, possibly by the end of January which would be great. I'd like to have something reasonable to submit with the Masters application which I'm going to make roundabout April I reckon. I've not really got any ambitions for publication of this one to be honest. It's more of a learning exercise. It's about getting the discipline in place, learning to think about what I'm trying to produce and where it's going. Hopefully, I'll then be in a good position to begin the Masters in October. Part of my reason for wanting to get the Masters course under my belt is that I'd like to be able maybe to lead creative writing courses with marginalised groups - the homeless, prisoners, the mentally ill etc. I want to put my meagre talents to more socially useful ends than I do currently. I might not be the next Henry James or Ted Hughes, but I might just be able to help someone gain some insight into their lives or their condition. Masters courses tend to be the gatekeeping qualification to that kind of work for those of us who are not Martin Amis. Aside from the workaday journalism, I've just had another couple of poems accepted for publication. I think I'm getting near the point where I should perhaps start thinking about pulling them together and approaching publishers about a collection. Maybe in the New Year. Submitting poetry is always a real trial. It's the most concentrated and personal of all the writing I do.
We've got the weekend and then Christmas day and then Rach is back at work on Boxing Day. Sadly, the clients she works with don't get a respite from their conditions just because it's Christmas.

Thursday, December 21, 2006

A traditional family Christmas

It's always nice when you get what you asked for...

Monday, December 18, 2006

Getting stuff done, going to the piccies, meeting Len and developing a mystery illness

After writing my post on Friday about the novel idea I've been working on, I sat down and completed over 5000 words. Five freakin thousand ! I've never ever written that much in a day before. Reading back over them this morning they're not at all bad either. I was working out just how long it would take me complete the thing if I managed that kind of word rate a day. Then last night I felt all peculiar, sicky and heady and altogether a bit odd. I went to bed at 7.30 and slept through till 6.30 this morning. As my mum would say "you must have needed it." Getting up expecting to feel all refreshed and raring to go after my marathon kip I felt just as bad if not worse than the night before :-( I started writing then had to go back to bed where I stayed until midday. So my word rate today is a stunning 57. I'm hoping to pull it round this afternoon but it's probably fair to say 5000 looks unlikely.
I had to go to the doctors this morning about something else altogether and I mentioned to him how I've been feeling and he reckons it could be the beginnings of gastric flu ?? FFS.... Just what you need the week before Christmas.
Had a pretty good weekend. Went to the City Screen in York to see that Cameron Diaz/Jude Law seasonal cheezefest, The Holiday. It was alright actually, if you suspended your cynicism for a while. That's actually not that difficult for me as I'm not real very cynical in the first place, so I really enjoyed it. Hollywood always make England look like a Shangri-La of ivy-covered cottages, snow at just the right time, and not a chav in sight. I think I'd like to move there. The people are all really amusing in an understated witty kind of way.
Being a reader of The Guardian at weekends and therefore reponsible for all the ills of the known universe (sorry guys, I just can't help it. I'm always making excuses for fecklesness whilst knitting my own yoghurt and removing the grit from the grooves in the sole of my sandals) I read something about blogging. Apparently the signature tone for bloggers is a life jaded cynicism. Seeing as the social profile of your average blogger is fairly solidly middle-class this seems a bit self-indulgent to me so I try and avoid it as much as possible. I do find myself having to apologise for being generally cheerful and upbeat about stuff. Is that a bad thing ? I've had periods in my life when bad shit has happened and it just seems a bit pathetic to point out the minor niggles constantly whilst ignoring the generally benevolent nature of most peoples lives most of the time. Grumpy old sad sacks do really get my goat though. Get a life, go for a walk, have a dance, eat a pie, just bloody cheer up ! Or at the very least stay out of my way.
The City Screen in York is a top cinema. It's in an old newspaper building down by the river. It's all very stylish, sleek and groovy. It's won design awards and they've got a really cool bar that overlooks the Ouse. We went for a couple of drinks in the bar prior to the film and I could have quite happily spent my entire evening in there and not bothered with the movie.
Yesterday we made a new friend. He's called Len and he's a mighty behemoth of a Serbian spruce. He stands at a towering 2 feet (that's right 2, just count 'em)in the corner of our front room in his best Christmas finery. He had an adopted brother, the pot-bound Norwegian, Chris. Sadly, after three years of service, Chris passed away earlier this year. It was a very sad moment for us all, but he's currently being broken down into compost at the council recycling centre so in a way he's being reincarnated. Len never met Chris but we've been telling him all about him and I like to think they'd have got along just fine.
Christmas shopping done, prezzies wrapped, Serbian Len looking resplendent now all I've got to do is shift this malady and I can enjoy me festives.

Friday, December 15, 2006

Giving up on my criminal past and finding a new direction

For the best part of the last two years I've been attempting to write crime fiction. I always used to read a lot of it and I guess like many other readers of the genre you think "hey, I could do that." The first attempt wasn't bad. I got as far as sixty thousand words but with my usual scatterbrained approach to these things I forget to back up the copy I had stored on my computer. Cue the inevitable big comedy computer crash, Martyn jumping up and down pulling his hair out, followed by a mellow mood of "well, let's put it down to experience", a mince pie from my mum and a lovely cup of tea. That's better...
If I'm being honest it wasn't much cop. No pun intended. So I like to see that lost effort as fateful. A necessary learning moment in the journey towards completed noveldom.
Then followed two more ideas. I couldn't decide which I liked best so I wrote both concurrently. Then I reached around fifteen thousand words with both and they both ran out of steam. Just like that. They now sit, like two incomplete twins on my PC hard drive taunting me with their unfinished nature. They're both an improvement on the first one.
Then followed attempt number three in April/May of this year. I had the characters worked out, the plot threaded to the nth degree, the mood music was set, the literary awards it would win already polished and sitting on my mantelpiece. Then I started writing it. I didn't like it all. It didn't interest me so I stopped and decided I wouldn't bother writing crime fiction after all.
After months of not really doing much creative an idea just popped in my head a few weeks back. Completely out of the blue, completely unrelated to anything I had ever thought of writing before. I didn't plan it, I didn't think about it, I didn't even know where it was going. I just had a couple of central characters and a ruse. I keep writing it. It just keeps pouring out as if I wasn't there and I'm really enjoying it. I've got finish it as I want to know how it ends. I think I'm going to use it in my MA application.
It's not crime. It's in no way related to crime. It's about relationships and stuff. Rachel has read what I've written so far and reckons it reminds her of Marian Keyes, someone I've never read or even been particularly aware of. Where it's coming from I don't know, but I'm sticking with it and we'll see what happens. It's set in York by the way and the central character is a thirtysomething woman called Lauren. That's all I'm willing to divulge at this early stage ;-)
Rach has been encouraging me to clear the decks, sod worrying about a crust for a while and just get the thing written which I think I've now managed to convince myself is what I'm going to do. Some work to tie up before Christmas but come the New Year I'm going to concentrate on getting the novel finished. I'm lucky in that I'm in a position where I can so it seems churlish not to give it a go.
I read an interesting post a while back on John Baker's blog about different writers approaches to writing. I think I've been guilty of attempting to "go by the book" too much and it's stifled my own creativity. I've wanted everything plotted and planned, the characters drawn and the conclusion in my head before I've even begun the first line. It's similar to how I write articles. I'm learning to step out of that straitjacket and just go with it.

Thursday, December 14, 2006

Not funny fat men, gorgeous put downs and being oblivious

Not much TV to report on from last night. I had to crack on with an article I needed to get finished to send off this morning so I had a rummage through my old CDs, stuck on something antiquarian (1993 - practically prehistoric) and got my head down. By the time I'd done Huw Thingy from the Beeb One News was saying "Newsnight is just beginning on BBC 2, but for us at the..." I turned over, and sure enough, he was right. So I watched a bit of that and caught up with what's been happening in the world.
I've been a bit slack with the old current affairs of late. My head has been thinking about fiction, nice clothes and whether or not to have one last stab at growing my hair before the inevitable slide into slappery. This has been no bad thing I've discovered. I've been an awful lot more content in myself, completely oblivious of what's going on. This reminds me of a checkout girl we once had in Sainsburys. About a week after the Tsunami the other year she was scanning our newspaper when she looked at the agonised pictures of victims families on the front and asked us what the problem was. We told her what had happened, even explaining what a Tsunami was in the process. Her verdict ;
"God, all that just like, from a wave ?"
The lightbulb briefly went on, then flashed off again, and you could see she'd gone back to thinking about that nice lad down the road who keeps smiling at her, and whether or not she could afford those new boots from Faith. There is so much suffering in the world I can't say I totally blame people who take no interest in it. I know people who go completely the other way and are so consumed by the endless grief of our existence that they forget to smile occassionally, have a dance and not worry. We're the lucky ones living where we do with the lifestyles we have. Countless millions across the globe would love to be able not to have to fret about their daily bread.
Anyway back to the pointy nosed Paxo and the Newsnight massive. Last night he was joined by the man of letters, Christopher Hitchens. He's the pro Iraq war guy, brother of the preposterous Peter, and the man for whom George Galloway reserved one of his best put downs. Calling Chris Hitchens to his face " a drink soaked, ex-trotyskist popinjay" was a stroke of genius in my book. To then follow it, with "look at you, you're sweating man, your hands are shaking for want of a drink", just confirmed my opinion that maybe attempting to rattle Galloway is never the best policy. Hitchen's meekly responded, "you're not a very nice man are you."
To be fair to Gorgeous, Hitchens had set about attempting to heckle him. If you do that you're clearly going to be in the firing line for a verbal volley. Hitchens is currently contending that women are just not very funny. Female comedians in his book are usually either "fat, dykey or Jewish". They can't make us laugh apparently and it's all because of the penetrative imperative. Men need to make women laugh to assert their sexual dominance. When women laugh apparently they throw their heads back in imitation of the female orgasm, and to quote the guy himself "men just don't orgasm or laugh like that".
Where do you begin with something as choice as that eh ? If you've not seen Hitchens, he's a sweaty little fat man, with huge bags under his eyes. To make matters worse he always comes across as pretty charmless. If you thought life has dealt him a rough hand, think again. Enough people find him erudite and witty to sustain him in the role of international commentator on stuff, even though what he has to say is usually not very original or interesting. I've heard the women can't tell jokes line before from a Mancunian intellectual by the name of Bernard Manning. He also has weight issues.
Let's go back to the "fat, dykey or Jewish" line. It could quite easily be maintained that many male comics are fat, camp or Jewish. Just take a look at the Little Britain guys for example who succesfully manage to combine all three. It's something in the nature of marginality that exercises the comic response from an early age. You learn to be funny to cope with the crap. Sadly for Hitchens, despite being fat, he's not very funny. There is also something about the comic tradition of trangression within that. Unlikely people doing unlikely things is funny as it challenges social norms and expectations in a non-threatening way. So Matt Lucas dressed as a teenage girl is funny to some people, likewise Dawn French as George Michael. It's the reason people go to the panto to see a middle-aged man dressed as an outlandish woman, and an attractive woman pretending to be a male love interest. That less women attempt to make careers from comedy goes without saying, but is that down to being naturally less funny in some kind of biological or social sense, or just down to the fact that the lifestyle of a comic appeals less to them. That many men feel threatened by funny women is fairly certain. Having been at comedy clubs where heckling blokes have thrown all kinds of misogynistic rubbish at the woman on stage only to receive a satisfyingly caustic put-down, I can vouch for having seen that inferiority complex in action. Lots of blokes just do not like the idea of a woman being funnier, therefore smarter than they are. Having also been out with groups of women on a night out, I've usually returned exhausted at the level of verbal sparring that takes place. In fact not really that different to groups of blokes. My mum is naturally the funniest person I know. She always has me in hysterics with the stuff she comes out with. Her funny faces, her mimicry, her ability to point out the absurd in everything she sees. Rach generally keeps me laughing as well.
One of the smartest, most observants bits of comedy I saw this year was the one-off special of The Royle Family. Written by a woman whose neither fat, dykey or Jewish, just brilliant. In thirty years time people will be still be watching re-runs of the Royle Family in their millions. Whereas Christopher Hitchens will be...where exactly ?

Wednesday, December 13, 2006

Can't move for lingerie, big gay weddings, and trying to remember the GOOD THINGS

According to yesterday's edition of the York local paper, The Press, we soon won't be able to move in York for shops selling undies. We are in the middle of a "knicker-boom" apparently. This follows on from the coffee shop boom of the late 20th century and sandwich shop boom of the last couple of years. Skimpies are a definite improvement on both of those previous swellings in my book. The hardworking reporters from the local paper (no story too small) took to the streets of York to gauge local opinion. This was universally a GOOD THING the public of York concurred. Apparently, men are no longer as terrified of buying their other half something more comfortable to slip into, than they were a few years back. Surely, another GOOD THING. It is still a bit of a minefield as far as I'm concerned however. On the couple of times I've dared to do this, I've always remembered the undie sellers dictum "red and black always come back". You can't go wrong. Just write down the sizes on a bit of paper, point at what you like and ask the nice shop girl to lend a hand. They're there to help.
Also in yesterday's press was a report from the Gay Wedding Exhibition that was held at the racecourse over the weekend. It was a screaming success apparently. This is surely, another GOOD THING, which makes three already. Only yesterday was I writing about marriage and it surely has to be morally right that whatever your orientation you have the right to dress up fabulous, drink endless champagne, make an arse of yourself to some disco classics and sob uncontrollably at the niceness of it all. Seriously though the right of gay couples to have their relationships legally recognised has to be one of the major achievements of the past few years. England is a better place for it. In other words, it's a GOOD THING.
Doing what I do best last night, watching TV, I chanced upon a programme about a guy in his late thirties who one day completely lost his memory. He's an Englishman in New York (no not Sting, I wouldn't have watched it if he had been) who was riding the underground and suddenly had no idea who he was. I could put something jocular here about how that normally only happens to me after ten pints, but that would be sad and predictable and despite the amount of TV I watch I do have a life. Anyway, this guy had no idea who or where he was. Confused he walked into the local cop shop, who in turn took him to the local hospital. Eventually they managed to trace one of his friends who slowly began reintroducing him to his old life. What was facinating about it was just how much the new Doug, for that was his name, differed from the old Doug. The old version had been a high-rolling in-yer-face yuppie plonker, who hung out with similarly divvy mates. The new Doug, was thoughtful, much more introspective, happiest in female company and softer spoken. He was studying to be a fine art photographer and had no inclination to go back to being the old him. I can understand why, the new version was a massive improvement. He had little in common with his old friends who wondered who this stranger was sitting down for a drink with them. It raised all kinds of interesting questions about the nature of personal identity. Are any of us really the same person who we were 5 or ten years ago? I've changed an awful lot in five years and I wouldn't want the old me back for the world. Life is much better in my current incarnation.
Change for the better is a GOOD THING, which makes five, which in itself is a GOOD THING. Hang on..

Tuesday, December 12, 2006

Avoiding Victorian values, Quentin Crisp, and pulling faces at your best mate.

I've been amused this week to hear news of the Conservative Party "coming out" in favour of traditional married families as the best way to bring up kids for the good of society. One of their lot, Dominic someone or other even got in a killer line about just how great it was back in the Victorian times. Back then of course, we all knew where we stood. Families stayed together, men were men, women were in corsets, kids were up chimneys and there was no reality TV. It must have been great.
It's complete and utter bunkum of course. Anyone whose studied the 19th century will tell you that it was a time of massive social upheaval and change. Our large towns and cities were no go areas at night. Gangs of feral kids prowled around causing no end of mischief, serial monogamy was the norm for the massed ranks of "underserving poor" from whom the majority of us owe our descent. For the middle-classes, the strict gender polarity encouraged meek, mild and servile women and men who bought books which advised on how best to beat your wife and kids to instill proper family order. Gay men got lengthy prison sentences, lesbians were'nt invented.
It's amazing that anyone who thinks they're even semi-intelligent can cite the period positively with a straight face. The Victorians were great self-publicists. They lived behind thick velvet drapes of self-deceit and hypocrisy, and if you lift the lid on their moth ball stinking world, you discover all kinds of unpleasantness. No, I'll take the chaotic but honest early 21st century over the chaotic but hypocritical 19th thanks very much.
The idea behind the Tory talk is to incentevise marriage through the tax and benefit system, as if all those happy co-habitees will run to the altar upon hearing the news that such a decision will be worth an extra £1 a week to the household budget. I'm sure people will go on as before, marrying if they want to, not bothering if they don't feel like it, trying to do the best by their kids even if their relationships end. In other words doing what people have always done in the tricky area of human relationships - muddling through.
Rach and I have nearly been married ten years. We married dead young, although we didn't really think so at the time. Why did we marry rather than stay cohabiting ? Good question. A few of our friends at the time were doing the same, we went to quite a few weddings and just thought - "wouldn't that day in the sun be nice?"
Probably completely the wrong reason for anyone to get married, but I'm sure if folks are being honest they too will cite similar reasons. In the event,we both felt a bit daft. The day was good from what we can remember, but I think both of us now realise we'd do things very differently today. To a large extent it all got taken out of our hands, we became functionaries in a well rehearsed social script. So I totally understand why people would not want to bother with any of that.
Before we became a couple we were best mates. Proper best mates, we still are. We always struggle to say the words "my wife" and "my husband", likewise the less loaded "partner". It just makes us laugh. We're all of those things, but above all of that we are bezzies.
For a while after we got wed we seemed to slide into this peculiar game of grown-ups. We acted the role of husband and wife. I tried my hand at DIY, Rach did some baking. It didn't last and we soon fell back into our old routine of talking absurd nonsense, making each other laugh continually and chuckling at the muggles. Now if there's baking to be done we usually ask Mr Kipling, and if a shelf needs putting up, well, we do without. We both follow the Quentin Crisp school of domestic maintance - "after four years, the dust just doesn't get any worse." This makes us feel louche and bohemian, rather than just filthy. It also allows more time for watching reality TV, dancing around the kitchen, wandering about and pulling faces at each other.
Male bloggers often make a habit of referring to their spouses as "the good lady", "my better half" or even the splendidly music hall "ball and chain". I can't refer to my best mate as any of them. It would be ridiculous. Likewise with anything vaguely romantic in a hearts and flowers sense. We both find the thought hilarious.
Even more absurd to us is the idea of us having kids. As a happily married couple we should of course be doing the decent thing and be providing shiny Dave mit som jungen for his back to the future project. Rach never wanted kids and I never for a moment presumed she'd change her mind. Only now are people beginning to accept, that yes, we really mean it. We like having nephews and nieces and think it's right that we should support those who do have them through the tax system. It's a mark of civilisation.
What I'm getting at with all this, is that there is a freedom today to make your own relationships exactly how you want that was not there to the same degree for our grandparents. Even less so for our 19th century forebears. I would have loathed to have had to have been the archetypal 1950s husband and father, never mind the even more repressed Victorian version. Friends who are dads are generally much more clued up and involved in the life of their kids than even my own relatively involved dad was 20 or so years ago. Find what works for you and do it. If it's consensual and does you good then why not ? The problem I have is when politicians of any stripe start trying to tell me how I should conduct my personal relationships. Let a thousand flowers bloom, love who you like how you like and don't give a drunken bishop what anyone else thinks, least of all a lousy politico.

Saturday, December 09, 2006

An ice sculpture is unwrapped

Here's a crappy clip of an ice sculpture being unwrapped at the Festival Of Angels in Little Stonegate earlier today. Feel free to waste a minute or so of your life watching it.

The Festival Of Angels @ The Quarter, York

Every year the businesses of The Quarter in the centre of York put on the annual Festival Of Angels The streets in that part of York are filled with ice sculptures, snow falls miraculously from top floor windows, festive tunes fill the air and lots of tasty snap and sup is on sale. If it doesn't get you in a Chrimbo mood then I hereby award you with the Whip-Ma-Whop-Ma annual bah-humbug award for misery guts. If you can be cool in the crowds then York is lovely place to be in the run-up to Christmas. But then I think it's a lovely place to be all year round. Faults it has many, but it's home and I'm more than just a bit happy about that :-)

It always snows at The Festival Of Angels.

Spicy fare for a cold day in The Quarter

The Quarter is home to lots of nice restaurants, cafes and bars. There's always a very relaxed vibe around there and the businesses have worked hard at creating a good feeling amongst themselves. It feels like a little community of like minds. Loads of the foodie places had setup little stalls on the pavement offering tasty fare. Best of all was the superb spicy banana curry wrap cooked up by El Piano. The top photo shows it being prepared. Just what you need on a cold day and it only cost a solitary British pound. Can't be bad.

Christmas shopping on Stonegate

I've nothing but admiration for this guy who stands in the middle of Stonegate, painted blue for hours on end. He's an open invitation to gobby kids to have a go, as was the case here. Completely unflustered.

Friday, December 08, 2006

Worried about imaginary people who live in my computer, hungry ghosts and looking forward to the weekend

Any language learning programme you could care to wish for always introduces you to a range of native speakers of the language. They generally hang around chatting about really inane stuff so you can pick up how to ask for a coffee and ask directions to the Gare Du Nord without being laughed at by foreign types. As you're probably aware I'm trying to pick up a bit of Welsh at the minute. Don't ask me why, I don't really know other than that it's probably got something to do with my summer-long infatuation with Imogen Thomas. (Not seen her in Heat Magazine for ages. Where is she now I wonder ?). Anyway, in my Welsh learning programme there are a number of different people who met at a Welsh learners week held in Lampeter. There's Matthew, who sounds like a Welsh Brian Blessed. I imagine him having a beard and twinkly, occassionally slightly odd eyes, he's quite intense. Then there's Tom, who sounds younger than Matthew and is slightly camp. Now and again he comes across as a Welsh Graham Norton. Tom works as a solicitor in Cardiff and despite his voice, is actually a happily married man with grown up children. Matthew on the other hand is something of an enigma.

He lives alone, in London where he's been for over five years. He's in his late 20s (although sounds fiftysomething at least to me), and is currently unemployed. This situation arose because he's desperate to get back to Aberystwyth where he originally hails from. Tom and Matthew recently went to play squash together and Matthew couldn't believe that Tom was old enough to have grown up kids. To be honest, neither could I.

There is something of the night about Matthew. I can't quite put my finger on what it is. You just get a feeling about people at times don't you ?

I'm not even sure now if Tom and Matthew are speaking any longer. Last night Tom was telling his course mates how excited he was about the addittion of a new model boat to his model boat collection. That guy has sooo many interests, I don't know how he finds the time. I can imagine him at weekends driving around little villages in South Wales, visiting collectors fairs held in elegant old hotels, chatting about sails, and miniature ropes with like minded people from Monmouth and Chepstow. He then asked everyone else if they collected anything.

One woman collected miniature Welsh dragons which I thought was quite nice in a twee kind of way. Then Matthew spoke. From the pit of his stomach rose his rich baritone voice. No, he didn't collect anything. He thought it would be "silly" to fill his small flat with model boats or dragons ! He almost spat out the line and you could sense the growing tension.

So now I imagine Matthew sitting alone in his tiny, cold, bare of collectibles London flat, unemployed and dreaming of the Mid-Wales coast. His dark grudges against his course mates and their trivial concerns eating away at him. I'm worried that in Unit 14 we're going to learn the Welsh words for "psychopath" , "serial killer" and "helping police with their enquiries."

If my growing concern for Matthew's mental health and the wellbeing of his coursemates and tutor was not enough, last night I was visited by the ghost of Christmases yet to come. I had a lovely,long soaky bath. I ate a couple of oranges. The bath is the only place I can eat oranges. You can just get messy and let it drip all over the place and it doesn't really matter. Anyway, fruit aside, I stuck my head under the water before getting out. Then standing in front of the mirror fashioning the barnet into something resembling reasonable, I was struck by a truly horrifying sight. The hair at the back of my head is thinning in a monkish tonsure kind of way. It only becomes visible when wet, but I know what this means. My grandpa was all but Errol Brown by the age of 40, my dad has done a brave modest combover since his late forties, which is now beginning to enter the realms of ridiculousness. My brother and I are trying to persuade him to go to the barbers for a number 2, but he's quite happy with my sister trimming his increasingly futile resistance. My brother himself has followed that route, it's quite severe and his features are quite gaunt which makes him look hard, even though he's a big softie really.
I gazed transfixed at the mirror. My vision became blurred in the steam of the bathroom, then something strange happened. The face stareing back at me from behind the trapped glass was no longer my own, but the haunted features of the ginger forward combover man from Llandudno. It took all of my self-control and struggling rationality not to run screaming from the bathroom. Last night my sleep was fitful, visited as I was by giant syrup of figs, dancing pensioners with a Brylcreem habit and the vision of my long luxurious late teen locks. Time is cruel, but I'm still here this morning. So too is my hair you'll be relieved to hear.
I'm looking forward to the weekend. This week has been a mare I can tell you. Nothing major, I've just struggled to stay concentrated on my work and have instead been gazing out of the window, arsing around on Myspace, re-arranging ornaments, and considering cleaning the kitchen floor. Only considering mind. This weekend sees the quite lovely Festival Of Angels in York. I can't really explain what it is, so I'll take some photos and stick them on here. Few last minute festive bits and seasonal bobs to purchase, wrapping to be done then we can relax on that score. Husah !
Have a good one whatever you're doing.

Wednesday, December 06, 2006

Watching the waters rise in York

As you probably know York is famously prone to floods. The water that falls in the Dales and the Moors finds it way down into the Ouse and the river here also meets the wee River Foss. For a few days every year we get a bit of a flood. It always gets a mention on the regional news and very occassionally in a bad year on the national news. The year 2000 saw the biggest floods in York for nearly 400 years. Our street stayed resolutely dry. We're far enough away from the river for it to be a bit of an interesting novelty, we don't have to contend with a flooded basement every year as those who live on its banks regularly do. The attention that gets focused on the floods here in York is a bit misleading however. York has a massive flood protection system with millions more to be spent on upgrading it over the next few years. The historic city centre is regarded as being of international importance and in need of protection. So as the waters rise, it's not really York that suffers. Considering the amount of population that lives nearby, very few homes are ever effected. Even in 2000 most of York was relatively unscathed. It could of been worse had the defences been breached, but the point is they weren't. They did what they were built to do. With the improvements that are taking place , despite global warming, York looks fairly secure. We're lucky we live somewhere that is known about nationally and as a result gets a larger slice of the funding pie.
It's the rest of North Yorkshire which really suffers. All our great rivers have little, largely forgotten about towns lying on them. As a result it's currently Middleham and Leyburn for instance which are having the most to contend with. Ripon, Malton, Pickering and Selby downriver on the Ouse are also always at serious risk. So I can take my photos of the river thankful I don't live somewhere which just doesn't figure in the roster of places worth protecting. The people who live in those towns I'm sure feel very different. These photos were taken this morning.

Tuesday, December 05, 2006

Keeping up the Joneses

We had a fantastic few days in north Wales. We wandered around taking photographs, eating loads of rich food, drinking the first festive Baileys of the year and generally chilling out. I can reccomend holidays in the first week of December. One thing that peturbed me all weekend was the sight of an elderly man with auburn hair who took the comb-over hairdo to new heights. Rather than just a plain old Bobby Charlton sweep across the pate he had grown his hair down the back of his head and was combing it up and over, across his baldy patch. This was quite something I'm sure you'll agree. It struck me that prior to the morning comb forward and application of Brylcream his hair would hang right down his neck whilst the top remained naked. I was haunted by this vision of a hair crime all week. I'm not sure if I should alert the authorities.
Reading the guest book in holiday cottages is always entertaining. You always get a few classic entries. Lots of people complain about the tiniest of things, one woman wrote it all in green marker, some people go back again and again. In our cottage in Cornwall, that's us saddoes. The one entry really caught my eye was from four lads who next to their names had written in brackets (not gay)just in case you had any doubts. The fellas had gone off to North Wales for a bit of largeing it in the sticks. They had a great time, although their holiday was marred by the fact that the bar staff in the village local spoke Welsh. So they've gone to a Welsh speaking village in Wales and discovered that locals speak Welsh. Whatever next, Germans speaking German in Germany or even (heaven forbid) Spanish speaking Spaniards in Spain ? The lads gave their address as Reading, Berks. The emphasis clearly on the berks then ;-)
Got the chance to watch quite a bit of S4C. It's quality viewing and my Welsh learning was enhanced no end by the wind and rain which meant that the reception on the Teletext service was naff. This meant no English subtitles but we watched anyway and I managed to pick up enough of what was being said to be able to explain to Rach. The gathering of Joneses in Cardiff was featured as one of the programmes. It was a bit of a variety type event with lots of Welsh language speakers performing safe middle-of-the-road family stuff for a largely elderly audience. Then at the end of it all a mad Grace Jones appeared to cap the night off. It was horrendous. She did her two crappy hits, minced around in ridiculous outfits and tried hard to look sexy. Frankly she looked more than a bit overweight and to say it jarred with the previous acts on the roster would be like saying that perhaps Cradle Of Filth might not be the best support act for Daniel O'Donnel. There were some terrified looking septugenarian Joneses in the audience I can tell you.
Other than that we had a rare old time of it. Go have a look at Northern Sky for a bit of snapshot of what we did. We've got to wait until February now until the next hols. I'm sure I'll be winter stir crazy by then.

Guess where I've been...

...and it was brill. More to follow shortly, just as soon as I've done me washing.