Sunday, 21 October 2012

The Lady versus the Virgin Mother (the Second)

Dear Mum,

I’ve no doubt you were pleased with Tuesday’s Great British Bake Off result, because, well, they were all lovely boys. With Strictly back on our screens, and Louis Smith channelling Patrick Swayze, it will (undoubtedly) be enough to fill the GBBO void.

Aside from the Bake Off, this month has seen a number of face offs...

On TV: Johnny Ball vs the camp chap off of ITV Breakfast. In politics: Boris vs David, Mitt (the muppet) vs Barack (the dude). In the world of music: Madge vs Gaga.

Speaking of music, I was a lucky bunny to be taken by Dad to see the Beach Boys at their final 50 year anniversary tour a few weeks back.

We jived to all of the greats – Get Around, God Only Knows, California Girls, Barbara Ann, Help Me Rhonda. They were simply fabulous, their harmonies were amazeballs, their energy exceeding mine.

There are many times when the older - the classic - originals are simply the best.

Look at Muse, the Queen-inspired rock band with a front man who looks remarkably like the cockney rat in Chicken Run. They are a top notch band – amongst my favs – but if I was deserted on a remote island, and the ticking crock of rock demanded that I choose between Muse and Queen to listen to on the island, and for all eternity, I’d pick Queen every time.

Fortunately, I’ve not yet met the ticking crock and had to make this tricky choice.

But there are occasions where new is simply better. And here I turn to Madge and Gaga.

I am not the first to compare them. It’s only natural. Both are woman who experienced fame at a young age. Both are pop icons, fashion icons and gay icons.

Lady Gaga is, undoubtedly, as nutty as a very fruity, extra nutty, fruit cake with added fruit (Warning! May contain nuts).

Her range of ‘outfits’ – the meat dress, a wedding dress, a massive egg – have proved this along with some of her lyrics (“I want your psycho, your vertical stick” springs to mind).

But is she brilliant? YES. No manufactured X-Factor guff here. Her sound was new, her look very certainly new and her charming balance between being innocent and darkly unbalanced is very refreshing.

What a gem!

She’d sung a duet with Beyonce, for heaven’s sake, and gone on a night out with Caitlin Moran. Ergo, I’m a fan.

And then there is Madonna. A lady I don’t argue was a star and produced brilliant songs. But now she just needs to put a cardigan on.

She has put her high heeled foot in it several times in the past month. Firstly, she waved a (toy) gun around on stage. A little controversial but arguably forgivable. After all, Gaga threw up on stage this month. In both cases, a rather unnecessary addition to any performance but we’ll give them the benefit of the doubt.

Secondly, she called Obama a black Muslim and, after receiving necessary opposition to this, labelled the remark as ‘ironic.’ No Madge, this is not ironic. This is factually wrong and a downright stupid thing to say.

And stop using the F-word. It’s not becoming.

Finally, after the unbelievable cruel shooting of Malala Yousafzai, a 14 year old activist, by Taliban gunmen, Madge dedicates a song to the young Pakistani woman and proceeds to grope herself on stage.

It’s enough to put you off your rum baba. No one wants to see this. Ever.

More importantly, it is simply superfluous, embarrassing and utterly tasteless. Not only to link this unfathomably brave child with a sexual act, but to associate yourself with someone who is beyond comprehensible courage. You’re not worthy Madge.

The media is discussing women in the public eye a great deal, and the balance between being visually appealing and a respected figure is a great cause of discussion.

It’s not impossible to achieve both. Look at Nigella, look at Mary Berry, look at Fern Britton.

All classy, intelligent, charismatic women who behave appropriately, as a person of any age should.

You could take a leaf out of their books, Madge. You might be the saviour of pop music but this doesn’t make you untouchable. 

Sunday, 16 September 2012

Winter Coats and Social Don’ts

Dear Mum,

I bought my winter coat this week. During one of the warmest weeks of 2012, I stood in Topshop, in the grips of a monstrous, furry winter skin.

You may laugh but, come winter, which will creep up on us like a Jamaican athlete, I will be ready. I won’t have to make the mad dash into Bluewater to find a fashionable, warm and well-fitting coat, a mission impossible.

I won’t have to unearth last year’s layers, now coated in fluff bobbles and sticky packets of forgotten soothers in their pockets.

 No, I found a coat I liked in my size and knew it was the most sensible (if rather sweaty) decision to get it there and then, despite 20˚ temperatures outside.

The coat channels two trends. On the one hand, it’s baggy shape and colour means I look like I’ve stepped out of Only Fools and Horses. I can’t help but go ‘Aw’righ’, Marlene?” when I put it on and do a Cockney walkworthy of Mickey Flanaghan.

It is also made of Mohair, meaning it has a slightly shaggy quality. This, combined with the shape, means I also look like one of the Pevensie family dressing themselves for the winter climate of Narnia.

A new hybrid: never before had Del Boy and Mr Tumnus been combined into one article.

I’m completely chuffed with this look, though I obviously cannot model it until the temperature drops, which I’m not going to encourage.

But the nights are getting colder as Autumn appears and reaches it’s leafy fingers toward us.

I’ve found my sitting with friends of evenings, enjoying the Autumn sky, and being inventive with what to use for layers – tarpaulin and plastic picnic blankets being remodelled as stylish mantels.

On two occasions in the past week, while wrapped in a resourceful layer, I’ve been asked “How’s your love life – are you seeing anyone?”

No good can ever come of this question.

Either you are seeing someone but it’s too early and you don’t want to talk about it (else you would’ve brought it up yourself), or you’re not and so this is just awkward.

The latter was and is the case in both instances.

Early in the week a group of girlfriends asked “How’s your love life – are you seeing anyone?”

“No”, I said, the simple and honest truth.

This really was all there was to say on the matter. In both instances the group of girls and the group of guys looked awkwardly down into their glasses, a heavy silence surrounding us.
There really was no need for them to feel awkward. But, me being me, hating an awkward silence and not wanting my friends to feel bad, felt the silence needed to be filled, said “Which is totally fine, and I’m cool with it.”


I now sounded desperate, lonely, reassuring others with my assuredness. Needless to say, this was followed by an even greater awkward silence and I began to sweat with sheer mortification and embarrassment, biting my lip to avoid saying something else.

Why did I say it? I didn’t need to say it!

The real irony was that, a few days later, a group of guys asked me exactly the same question; I gave the same answer, cue awkward silence, cue my ‘totally fine’ response and, once more, the world stood still and CRINGED.

Why couldn’t I told them that I had taken up archery, or heard a brilliant interview between Caitlin Moran and Jennifer Saunders on Radio Four?

But being one of the chattiest and clumsiest twenty-somethings on the face of the earth I felt it necessary to open my gob and destroy any credibility I have. Total cretin.

In my defence, I return to the fact that this is simply a stupid question and topic of conversation. No good can ever come of it – as a rule, if I have something of note to report I will tell my friends, rather than waiting for them to ask.

That’s it. I might as well write ‘Yes, I’m single – now BUGGER OFF” on my forehead. Or perhaps I should just leave for Narnia. At least there I can hide underneath my new coat, and practice my archery

Sunday, 26 August 2012

Shoot like an Olympian

Dear Mum,

Dad and I have this month started training for Rio 2016.

We attended an archery experience day set amid an idyllic orchard, which included a series of themed targets, including woodland creatures and stuffed meerkats.

It began well when Dad was the only archer in a group of about 35 to hit a ten point target. He grew from strength to strength, channelling Robin Hood (perhaps thanks to you singing the Disney theme tune before we set off in the morning) as he destroyed creatures and Romans alike.

(Rest assured, no real animals or Romans were harmed in the making of this carnage.)
I have wanted to learn archery for some ten years. I can’t quite tell you why. Perhaps because women have a good track record – the Amazon tribe allegedly lopping off a breast to improve their aim in the Trojan War.

And it being one of the few sports in recent centuries in which it was socially acceptable for women to compete in – particularly if, in this instance, they kept both breasts attached.

I think there is also an appeal in its art and historical importance. Take the legendary taunting of two fingers, directed at the French. What’s not to like about a sport that encourages a rude gesture at your rival nation?

Back to modern day, I was a big disappointment. Our instructors couldn’t fathom why I kept missing the target – my frame was there, my shots were consistent, but could I hit the bugger of a meerkat?

No. Not so simples.

The day ended and I’m determined to keep practising.

The key downside to archery is that it’s not the kind of sport you can practice in your back garden. It would be a huge health and safety issue, not to mention our garden isn’t really big enough.

But there are definitely some advantages.

Take the boy next door, whose balls constantly appear over the fence and nestle themselves in our lawn. 

Accidentally of course. But no less irritating.

Perhaps a few arrows over into his garden wouldn’t go amiss. Through one of his tennis balls even.

Perhaps not even specifically tennis.

So I have decided that today is the day when I begin my mission to achieve my key aims in life, which, you will see below, are structured, logical and thus entirely achievable.

1)      Take up archery and compete in an Olympic games. Does not specifically have to be 2016, provided I win gold and have a good bawl on the podium. This will lead to...
2)     Who Do You Think You Are? inviting me to take part on the show. Fingers crossed we’re related to someone awesome, like Elizabeth I (pretty unlikely, I know) or Freddie Mercury. This will lead to...
3)     Strictly Come Dancing inviting me to take part on the show. Fingers crossed I don’t get paired with Vincent. This will lead to...
4)     Taking up tap dance again (giving it up after spraining my ankle by chasing the neighbour’s vicious cat in heels [me, not the cat] age 17, sober I hasten to add) for a stage show in the West End. This will lead to...
5)     Writing a biography of my life, which will become a bestseller, trumping Fifty Shades, and will be made into a film with Gemma Arterton playing yours truly.

Hmm... looking at the list I best get practicing. I need to source some tennis ball and stuffed meerkats, begin looking into a bit of our family history and avoid the neighbour’s cat... Or use it for target practice...

Sunday, 5 August 2012

Land of hope and gold medals

Dear Mum,

As you and Dad moisten yourselves with suntan lotion and rum based cocktails in sunny St. Lucia, and Katy feasts on meatballs and listens to ABBA in Sweden, I am in the country’s capital where the world has turned its gaze to.

I was pretty iffy about the tour of the Olympic torch. This was, after all, a tradition introduced by Hitler, and so not a practice I really wanted to revel in.

When the torch passed our building and my colleagues flocked to the window, however, it seemed rather snooty not to join them.

When clapping my eyes upon the torch aboard the Gloriana, and the masses of people lined along the pavements with flags and banners, I jumped on the Olympic bandwagon, or Olympic barge, myself.

Pippa and I were unable to leave the TV set during the Olympic Opening Ceremony, pausing it if we required a wine top up, shushing one another if a favoured athlete appeared, and were both insistent that we must watch every country process through the stadium.

From there on the two of us can only be described as addicted.

The BBC Sport page, never before clicked by the yellowing mouse of my laptop, is now constantly open on my laptop and work computer and refreshed at regular intervals for updated medal tables and news feeds.

We text one another with excited messages, often in block capitals, (‘GOOOOOLLLLLLD!!!’ or ‘Phelps is a beast!!!!!!!!’), providing one another with updates if one of us has nipped to Tesco or is in the car and unable to text.

Not only have we both found a competitive streak we didn’t know we possessed but we have learned so much.

Why cyclists take it in turns to take the front position in the Veledrome. What ‘slalom’ means. What classifies a false start. Why Mitt Romney is a total butthead.

Admittedly, we got off to a bit of a wobbly start. Displaying the South Korean flag rather than the North Korean at the opening women’s football match was (excuse the pun) a total balls up. It was worthy of something in the satirical comedy Twenty Twelve.

And I’m not sure about the NHS extravaganza in the Olympics Opening Ceremony – I don’t want it to be a defining part of our national identity, thank you very much.

But as I type this we have 34 medals. 22 behind the US, 24 behind china. Not bad for a tiny island with a lovable but bumbling mayor of London and a reputation for obesity.  

But since Helen Glover and Heather Stanning crossed the first finish line in women’s pair rowing, the first British women to do so, and the gold medals have rained down on the British, it has been abundantly clear that the British have a real sense of camaraderie, both for their nation and their teammates, but also for other athletes.

The slapping of backs, the bumping of shoulders, the tapping of arses; it’s like a love-in at the Olympic park.

Seeing Andy Murray with a gold medal around his neck, watching the four English winners of the canoe slalom dive into the water, leaning toward the TV as Jessica Ennis crossed the finish line... it’s enough to make you want to take up sport.

As you well know, Dad and I are taking up archery. Perhaps one of us will be an Olympian yet.

Though I know Dad would like his 5”2” and slightly gobby daughter to pursue a career as a cox.

The day is young. I’m only 22. But even if my career as an athlete didn’t quite work out I would fully support by nation like the rest of the British people.

Though if I did win a gold medal I would absolutely dedicate it to Mitt Romney.

Sunday, 22 July 2012

Five Shades of Rage

Dear Mum,

With all the hoo-ha over Fifty Shades of Grey, several reprehensible writers have taken to the Classic novels with the intention of adding a bit of spice.

The idea is that sexual tension runs throughout these novels and so now, thanks to the subtle insight of these writers, we will have this spelt out for us. Corsets will be ripped, boots torn off, hair unpinned and tea spilt in a flourish of sexualised writing.

Shame on these writers. SHAME.

I have no problem with Fifty Shades of Grey. I haven’t read it, so I can’t pass judgement on it.

Surely if it means people are reading rather than playing angry birds, or constantly checking their Facebook, then we should be thankful. 

But I resent the assumption that, because a sexy book is so popular, it would be a great idea to throw some sex scenes at classic novels that are out of copyright and can therefore be adapted.

I am disgusted by the idea, and on so many levels. These levels can be categorised as the following.

1)  Some things are too pure and perfect to be touched. Eroticising classic fiction is like scribbling over a da Vinci with biro or playing a vuvuzela over Madame Butterfly. If I took a classic song, like ‘The Way You Look Tonight’ or ‘Isn’t She lovely’, and threw in some swear words, or distorted classic nursery rhymes, in which, for example, Mary decides she was too hungry to keep her little lamb as a faithful pet, there would be uproar. The same can be said in this situation - if it isn't broke, don't fix it. 

2)  The world has gone mad. A few years ago, when the world was preoccupied with a zombie apocalypse (see point 5), these same novels were adapted with terrifying active corpses confusing the beauty of Austen’s texts. Now the plan is essentially Victorian porn. Why are we as a society obsessed with horror and sex? Is this the message we want to be sending out to new readers? Who ever said zombies and sex would improve things?

3) Potential confusion between the two books. Readers new to Pride and Prejudice or Jane Eyre might get confused between the nineteenth and twenty-first century editions. This could be very awkward. Students might get confused and, like Rachel in Friends talking about cyborgs in Jane Eyre, confuse the real deal with a modern take. Parents introducing their children to BBC adaptations of these novels might accidentally purchase the wrong edition on Amazon. Utterly mortifying.

4)  Literature is something our nation can be very proud of. Along with a strong navel history (do I need to remind you of the Spanish Armada?), rock music (the list here is endless) and a healthcare service (I’m not saying it’s perfect), we can be bloody proud of our literary heritage. We’re known the world over for producing Chaucer, Shakespeare, Austen, Dickens, Kipling, Virginia Woolf and J.K Rowling to name just a few. And now we’re cheapening their contributions to our heritage by injecting their novels with elements of Mills and Boon.

5)Twilight should be destroyed. Note it was after this book that vampires and zombies and werewolves really came into fashion. Note Fifty Shades of Grey was originally written as fan fiction, inspired by the Twilight series. Note Fifty Shades of Grey inspired the idea for erotic classic literature. Ergo, this is all ENTIRELY Twilight’s fault.

You might have picked up that I am not amused. I can feel the writers of our beloved novels turning in the ground beneath me, and I’m reeling on their behalf.

Which leads me onto my own small announcement.


I’ve decided to write my own erotic novel – JOKES!

Being serious now, I have landed on my feet. I’ve secured a job I am so enjoying, a job I never thought I’d get.

It has made me realise just how much I love publishing and writing and, whilst I enjoy blogging, I am setting my sights on bigger literary adventures.

As a result, I will not be blogging as regularly as I have been for this past year. I aim to blog every fortnight, or perhaps once a month, which seems more realistic with my daily commute.

Whilst you have not heard the end of my rants and reflections, therefore, A Blog with a View is going to take a slight back seat.

But I’m so very grateful to it – the journey this far has been brilliant!

Sunday, 15 July 2012

A great feast of languages

Dear Mum,

2012 is the greatest celebration of Britishness: the Diamond Jubilee, the London Olympics, the sinking of the Titanic, the bicentenary of Dickens’ birth... All rolled into one, this makes one tea drinking, fish and chips laden, bunting adorned extravaganza which we have great expectations for.

Some organiser of Britain’s 2012 obviously thought, “Hang on. Something’s missing here. It wouldn’t be properly British without the Bard.”

And so Shakespeare is being forced upon the nation.

Particularly on the BBC. Joely Richardson, Trevor Nunn, Ethan Hawke (a bit of an anomaly) have declared their love for Shakespeare as an ever fixed mark.

This is not a complaint. I’m an English literature graduate, and any student of English who doesn’t like Shakespeare made an exceptionally foolish mistake in studying the book-based subject.

Studying English literature without the Bard would be like studying History without knowing of Henry VIII.  Or listening to Janet Street-Porter speak without a flinching grimace on your face.

I have thoroughly enjoyed the BBC’s programming schedule. This you know only too well, as once when I was recently talked to you about the complexities of The Tempest being a Romance rather than a comedy, you interrupted me mid-flow to tell Dad, “I’ve drunk all the wine.”

“What... in the house?!” was his shocked and faintly horrified response.

My comic interjection of “Have we no wine here?”, taken from Coriolanus, was, I noted, not greatly appreciated.

But have no fear. I am not going to dedicate the entirety of this blog to my boy Bill.

I have been thinking that so many of the words and phrases we use are because of Bill and his incomprehensively huge imagination.

A tower of strength. Blinking idiot. Own flesh and blood. Good riddance. It’s Greek to me. Without rhyme or reason. For goodness sake. Stood on ceremony. Vanished into thin air. Laughing stock. Foul play. The game is up. In a pickle. Foregone conclusion.

These are but a few of the phrases we owe to Bill.

Even ‘what the dickens?!’ – which is exceptionally forward thinking of Shakespeare.

The current English language is not, however, thanks to Shakespeare alone.

Obviously, we owe a lot to Latin based languages, to German and, perhaps surprisingly, to India.

BBC news recently highlighted how much we owe to the Indian languages.

Most people, for example, know that ‘pyjamas’ and ‘shampoo’ originated in India.

But did you know that ‘bandana,’ ‘loot,’ ‘veranda’ and ‘dungarees’ all derived from Indian?

I was very surprised by this nugget of knowledge. This same article did, however, diminish my elated discovery by pointing out ‘sari,’ ‘guru’ and ‘yoga’ are all Indian in origin.

Gosh, really?? Next you’ll be telling me ‘croissant’ originated in France, not Cafe Nero, and ‘siesta’ is named after the Spanish afternoon nap as opposed to the name I give to a kip required after a few cocktails.

We are all guilty of doing this – using language wrongly.

Only on Friday, when leaving work did I tell an exhausted colleague to “just try and chillax this weekend.”

Yes. Chillax. I horrified myself.

I know you cannot bear the misused apostrophe, which cafe advertisements, it seems, have a rule stating they must use incorrectly.

“Get you’re coffee here.”

“Delicious cake’s.  

“Your very welcome!”

And then there are those phrases we are all guilty of using, which no longer hold any meaning.

“At the end of the day.”

“As it were.”

“Back in the day.”

You might have seen Miriam Margolyes scold on the Graham Norton Show for using the word ‘like’ willy nilly in sentences. She is definitely onto something here.

English is the most widely spoken language in the world and yet we, native English speakers, fail to use is well.

I will be using a similar method from here on because, at the end of the day, I’m sick of it. 

Sunday, 8 July 2012

I’m a Celebrity, Get Me Out of Here!

Dear Mum,

A celebrity sighting is always an event and marks the week with a notable incident.

It’s not like bumping into a friend you haven’t seen for a while. This is the kind of experience where, a few days later, you offer the interjection, “That reminds me, guess who I saw the other day...?”

And it’s even more exciting than a voucher or discount. This is the kind of event which warrants a quick text to those who’ll appreciate a “Get to Boots! They’re doing £5 off No. 7!” text.

A celebrity sighting is the type of experience that warrants an immediate text of block capitals, concluding with half a dozen exclamation marks, and sent to pretty much everyone in your phonebook.

Furthermore, some celebrities are instantly recognisable – I saw Jo Brand a few months back and immediately said to myself, “OMG! JO BRAND!!!!” Which, you’ll remember, is just the message that I texted you with.

Then there are those sightings that are rather more elusive. As I crossed a road in Covent Garden last week, I passed a chap on his phone.

‘God, where do I know you from?’ I thought as I paced the London street, ‘Who is our mutual friend? I feel like we met somewhere very stressful, and I was crying...’

The minute he threw his gaze at the 5”2” brunette, gawping in his direction with a puzzled and inspecting expression, I remembered. ‘That’s the dude from Birdsong!!”

A very exciting celebrity spot was the CIA guy from Homeland David Harewood.

I was meeting a friend for afternoon tea and Mr Harewood was standing outside the vicinity opposite our destination. He was reading out his phone number to the person on the other end of the phone which, as my friend reminded me several times afterwards, I should’ve taken note of.

Once more I squinted and puzzled and mulled over this sense of familiarity. Upon realising it was the CIA guy, you received the “I JUST SAW THE DUDE FROM THE CIA IN HOMELAND OUTSIDE THE AFTERNOON TEA PLACE!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!” text.

The friend I was meeting replied with “What? In the place where we’re going to have tea??!”

This completely ruined the sighting – watching him sup on Early Grey tea, a vanilla macaroon held between forefinger and thumb, a few tables away would be far more exciting than passing him on the street, completely unaware of my existence.

This made me realise that it’s far more impressive and boosts kudos if you have a pucker anecdote. Like if I’d stepped out onto the road before I was meant to, and the Birdsong guy saved me from an oncoming taxi.

Or if David Harewood had been at the afternoon tea place and asked if he could trouble us by finishing the finger sandwiches we’d abandoned on our cakestand, only he’d had a long day and was craving some refreshing cucumber sandwiches.

I did have such an experience on the train into work this week.

Being a grumpy commuter, I cannot bear people reading over my shoulder. Get your own paper.

Sitting by the window on this particular day, I was conscious of the lady sitting next to leaning over my shoulder, like an unprepared and inexperienced commuter without reading material to distract one’s self from the horrors of the daily commute.

Flicking through the Metro, my neighbour casting her eye over the day’s top news, I couldn’t concentrate.

I folded up my paper and turned to the lady over my shoulder and asked, “Would you...?” as if to say “Would you like my paper, seeing as you’ve already attempted to read half of it over my shoulder?”

She took it from me hesitantly and began to gather up her things.

“No, no!” I said, realising my rude and incomplete question was pretty ambiguous. “No, I meant did you want to read my paper?”

“Oh I thought you were getting off,” she said, settling back down in her seat.

“No, you’re alright until we’re in London.”

“Well, thank you. I’ll just put it there,” and she placed the paper in front of us, tapping it assuredly, humouring the strange girl sitting next to her who was determined for her to read the Metro.

Apart from being embarrassed for my agitated and unclear “Would you?” question, I felt this woman was very VERY familiar.

It suddenly dawned on me that this woman was Simon’s Mum in The Inbetweeners.

Nah, can’t be. But she continued to look over my shoulder. I soon realised she had a script on her lap and was clearly testing herself on her lines rather than having  literature-envy as she pursued the texts I held in my hands.

Embarrassing, yes, but this was a proper celebrity encounter, and I’ve added it to my repertoire.

If Robin Weaver is reading this blog, I’d also like to apologise for my rude behaviour. Please do sit next to me again – I won’t force the Metro on you, I shall simply place it on the table in front of us in case you want to read it.

But if anyone reads the paper over my shoulder, celebrity or not... be afraid. Be very afraid...