Build your beet basket! Build it high!

I’m going through a bit of a change.

No, not hot flushes (I’m always sweaty and flushed, so it will be hard to tell when they begin), nor am I coming out. Things are changing. I am undergoing change. change is upon me, etc, etc.

Like one of my chillis, this has been a bit of a slow burner. In fact, any change that I make is the result of many arduous hours of half-assed research, handwringing and procrastination interspersed with what I like to call the ‘settling process’, which involves many hours of oblivious television watching. Seriously, rocks form faster.

The most important part of any change-making I undergo is listening and subjecting myself to the stereotypes and pronouncements offered up by family, friends and media.

For example, I wore black trousers and a black polo neck consistently throughout my year at drama school. Urged on by my mother (who had never been to drama school), I was pretty much convinced that this was the uniform of all serious students of theatrical arts. I then went on to wear a mood ring during a vaguely hippy phase which culminated in me visiting a a pagan store twice in one week, feeling the relationship was becoming too intense and guilt buying a bookmark before leaving, never to return.

The black theme resurfaced when I moved to London, teamed now with Buffalo trainers and a droll expression, as my friend, who already lived in London and was therefore already always in black with drollface, assured me that this was ‘what Londoners are like’.

Well done, you noticed: my stereotypes are very image led – shallow me! And I think lots of them were formulated during childhood. Most of the time, they’re not bad prejudgements on a group of people or type of living; they mostly aim at being humorous (my family deal almost exclusively in jokes and jokes alone). Some of them are quite strange, specific and could only be deciphered if you belonged to my family (hence the title of this post).

I also feel that my keenness to adopt stereotypes and images when I was younger was because of a desperate need to afiliate (thanks Maslow). I would happily have joined any group that would have had me and if all I had to do to identify was wear a ring, bandana or shell suit, so be it. I was part of the gang – or so I thought. Sometimes the desire to fit in is stronger than the desire to be yourself, after all.

But things have started to change recently. Really change. After years of diddling about, I finally learnt how to practise Transcendental Meditation. My battles with my negative talking mind have been well documented and while my audio fast gave me some respite (as does writing), mindful meditation hasn’t suited me. After reading ‘Catching the Big Fish’ by David Lynch, I was inspired to finally give it a go. I will write more about it at length elsewhere,but suffice to say that I am enjoying the process and wonder whether my shift in perspective has led to other changes.

After one lost Saturday too many, I finally gave up alcohol. This has been miraculous – who knew being clear-headed could be this much fun? Please bear in mind, that I used to get the most God-awful hangovers, like the inside of my head and stomach lining were being peeled back simultaneously. I looked like I had been poisoned. I had been poisoned! Dumb ass that I am, it has taken me this long to realise that maybe alcohol and I didn’t get on too well.

From this point on, the floodgates have opened. I’ve stopped eating all dairy except for goats cheese and most meat as well. Naturally the stereotype dial has just shot past ten and up to eleven, but please, give me a moment of your time. I’m no fan of animals; pigeons are satan’s minions and I’ve no desire to pet a monkey. But recently, when I’ve eaten steak, I’ve heard screams. Not because I’m eating in bad neighbourhoods. I mean mental screams. And I’ve clunked down on far too many of those chewy veins that you get in chicken, the bits that make you gag then spit hurriedly into the nearest receptacle, then spend the rest of the meal wondering what sort of monster is lurking in there. So my reasons are really those of a fourteen year old girl, except I am also aware of the benefits of a plant based diet. If it’s good enough for Prince, it’s good enough for me.

It’s this final change that has led to the most stereotypes. Stereotypes extempore, as I’m about to demonstrate. When I told my mother about my swtich in diet, she responded ‘oh go and build your beet basket, then’.

Beet basket?

I’m not entirely sure what a beet basket is and neither is she, but I love her crystallization of what being a vegetarian teetotaler was. God, it doesn’t sound like a lot of fun. But is eating dead flesh and poisoning oneself?

I can’t guarantee that all these changes will stay (vegan cheese ain’t fooling anyone and tempeh tastes like the devil’s drainscrapings), but they do at least feel like changes from within rather than without. They’re not a mood ring for the soul. And in the meantime I shall continue building my beet baskets with pride.

A birthday carol

Like gathering around a camp fire to tell ghost stories, it has become something of a tradition of mine to tell a tale of a gruesome birthday past on my anniversarial day.  I think last year was the tale of the panto drubbing, but this year I will tell you another tale so horrifyingly embarrassing, so soul-quashingly mortifying that you will doubt whether you ever want to celebrate a birthday again.  So grab your jacket potatoes and an extra blanket if you need one and gather round ….

 

This time I will take you to a land  of heat and passion, far removed from my cold flat, North East upbringing: my dad had wangled us a trip to the Gambia!  Apparently, the mayor of the capital city used to play in goal for Derby County and my enterprising father had thought that a good enough reason for him to produce his press card and request an interview with a flourish, provided we could all travel at reduced rates and stay for a week in a hotel on the beach.  Amazingly it worked on this occasion, and so on the 2nd January we boarded the plane and set out, with our sunglasses, flip flops and a week’s supply of Larium.

 

Ah, Larium, the anti-malarial dug of choice.  I’d been taking it for some time to build it up in my system and was happy to ignore the list of possible side effects which sounded remarkably like the characteristics of a post-lobotomee.  Ah, Larium, which with the benefit of hindsight I would have gone without, but hey ho, i was 18 coming up 19, what could be the worse that could  happen?  Ah Larium, you deadly stranger…

Our hotel was made up of a series of bungalows; my sister and her boyfriend were in one, my mum, dad and I were in another (embarrassing, yes).  There wasn’t a lot going on around us, a little pool, a bar, the beach and an incessant wall of heat that peeled the skin off your back and forced you into the shade at all times.  But that was okay, because on the second day it was my birthday and i was going to show what a sophisticated traveller I was, much like those tanned lithe Swedish families that one always seems to encounter on any break abroad.  

 

To prove that I was 19 and very cool I ordered a Bloody Mary ‘ just for starters ‘.  Sitting at the pool bar I felt utterly in control of my life; alcohol already felt like a lonely friend as I listened to my mother’s chaffing and witnessed my father’s attempts to engage strangers in conversation.  God I was so old, experioenced  and mature.  A sage sophisticat.  By this point, the Bloody Mary had arrived, equal parts paraffin and tomato puree in a glass.  I wasn’t entirely sure what a Bloody Mary was, but I was being old and sophisticated so I drank it even though it tasted of engine parts and chilli and was undoubtedly the worst drink to order in the baking heat from a novice bartender.

 

But in my stomach, my tomato-petrol really came alive when reunited with sweet sweet Larium.  Within half an hour, my hand slipped off the end of he bar where I had been posed, international traveller of the month.  I was escorted back to the bungalow by my mum.  I threw up in the bushes on the way back.  Burning up, she removed all my clothes and put me on the toilet, catatonic.  The floor swam up to greet me like a wave and I passed out on the tiled floor.  I came round as I was lifted up, floated though to the bedroom, and placed blissfully on the bed.  I opened my eyes to catch my dad stepping away, pivoting on his heels with his eyes down and then scramming.

 

Yes, listener, the unthinkable – the unforeseen consequence of my choice of cocktail led to my dad having to see me with no clothes on.  No clothes on at all.  Aged 19.  The poor poor man.  I  had managed one drink on my birthday and, and  …this.  To avoid any ‘dealings’ with my poor embarrassed dad, I pretended to be ill for the rest of the week and lay in bed, listening to the sound of splashing in the pool, and laughter and strange holiday techno sounds from the dancefloor and feeling thoroughly miserable for myself the whole time.

 

So the moral of this tale, one which I fail to live by is ‘ never pretend to be something that you aren’t ‘ and probably avoid Larium/vodka cocktails when the temperature tips 40.

 

A Song of Praise

Maybe Harold was just dislodging mascara sweat from his eye?

Ever trained so hard that your mascara mingles with the sweat, drips into and stings your eye?  I realise that this question may only apply to half my readers (or maybe more: holler back athletic transvestites!) but it needs to be addressed nonetheless.  I feel this question and the event that triggered it may have a greater signifcance in my life than you would think on first appearance.

Let’s break it down.  Training hard.  Mascara.  Sweat.  Not chocolate box, is it?  I was nearing 10 km on the treadmill when my vision blurred, my eye scrunched up leaving me looking like an elderly uncle in a sitcom and I wondered how I could feign nonchalance while dismounting the machine and relocate to the changing room to have a stroke in peace and quiet.

I plunged a kettlebell-scented digit in my eyeball area and calmed down;  nothing to see here, officer, just the chemical reactionof day-old Rimmel and perspiration.  But relief turned to exquisite pain (the sting intensifies for a wee while) turned to shame turned to a moment of Carrie Bradshaw-like reflection.  “I learnt a lot that day …..”

Let’s break it down again.  Training very hard.  Mascara.  Last night’s mascara.  Last night’s mascara because I hadn’t bothered to take it off.   Last night’s mascara because I’d drunk too much to bother to take it off.  Training hard because I felt bad about drinking so much.  Training hard while my veins were still pumping Shiraz.

Oh dear.

The sting in the eye was a smack in the face, an epiphany.  I’m a creature of extremes, I know that, but a great deal of my virtues are spurred on by intense guilt at the ridiculous things I do.  Like running on a hangover.  And I don’t mean to demonize booze but I have very little portion control.  A glass is a glass is a glass is a bottle.  So, we’re taking a break for a while, me and alcohol.  A trial separation, if you will.  And I have turned to the blogosphere for solace.  Hence the title of this ditty.  I am replacing wantoness with positivity, debauchery with gratitude.  So in no particular order:

Thanks, Persephone’s Step-sisters  for keeping me writing.  The 100 things I’m good at exercise was ridiculously hard but well worth the struggle.  Clown on Fire, you fart out rainbows like the creative and prolific unicorn that you are and I eternally admire you. Wake up Ami, your post on finding a passion really resonated with me.  Let’s embrace indecision – I feel better already.  And Robotic Rhetoric, you have the audacity of youth and the smarts to back it up.  That you should be such a knockout writer at such a young age is a source of great envy to me.  I look forward to the rest of the novel.

Enough.  Before I get all weepy and Sally Field-ish on your ass.

In the club

Forgive me, sad old sop that I am.  I still hope, when someone casually mentions ‘meeting at my club’, that at some point during the evening an elderly gent will challenge me to circumnavigate the globe in a hot air balloon or a juggernaut or some such.  This is how delirious I become at the casual mention of ‘one’s club’.  Naturally, I don’t belong to any – as none, quite rightly, would have me.  And its all in the belonging, isn’t it?  The possessive pronoun is king.  ‘Fancy going to a club?’ is not the same and should not be confused because ‘a club’ means vomit and techno and no comfortable seating.  But ‘fancy going to my club?’  Wowee.  That’s decanted port hitting crystal, cigar smoke and bottle green chesterfields. Much more welcoming.  Old men.  Paintings of dogs in mocked up courtroom scenes.  I’m thinking Hogarth, Hobbs and Harris tweed.

Before I disappear up my own portcullis, I’d like to point out that I’m not an idiot.  I went to a red-brick university and I appreciate that clubs are redolent of a particularly nasty brand of the good old days – when Empire was all and Britannia ruled the etc etc.  A previous boyfriend belonged to The East India Club – how unnecessarily colonial is that?  But for the purposes of today lets (say we can) wrench the style from its context and reach a concensus – old school club aesthetic is hot and I get excited when I think I’m going to get in one.

So when my oldest mukka, Chas,  drops an invite to her club (hers, not mine) into the conversation, I pounce on it.  Impatiently, I ask her what the odds are on discussing the Suez Canal with a bulldog in a bowler hat over boiled eggs and soldiers?  She doesn’t understand.  Ah, if only she could see what clubs are like in my head….

Instead, we’re left with the reality of her club, the one that really exists, that she belongs to and I don’t.  And here I am outside its entrance, somewhere off Moorgate, in scuzzy chic Hoxton.  Its evidently so cool that it looks like shit from the outside .  I’m a little dejected –Mayfair it isn’t.  I’m already downgrading my pre-selected topics of conversation.

I am suffering a severe status downgrading as well – this club, behind the mystery door is busy!  Tanned people in good but bland clothes saunter in and up the stairs.  They know how to get in.  I don’t.  Snatches of conversation put me at ease but set me up for what’s to come.  I over hear one member say to her guest ‘Go in, have a drink, just see who talks to you.’  Are we, as mere guests, not allowed to instigate a little chat? This is not and has never been my idea of a basis for a good night out.  And I’m beginning to think I’m a little out of touch with what member’s club means….

So here’s a simple guide.  Using tonight’s venue as a template, I will enlighten you as to the differences between a members club and a bog standard bar/restaurant.

The good about clubs

  • Less people.
  • Nicer décor.  Inside it sort of looks like Monica’s flat in Friends – exposed brick and fire escape, low warm lighting and a dull bronze bar façade and ceiling.
  • Bar staff – both hunky and less arrogant than other places.  I’m going to go with ‘bar staff from Amaretto advert’  as my point of reference.
  • Key difference in my view – loads of people check on you all the time.  Like a really good BUPA hospital.

The bad about today’s clubs:

  • People stare at each other.  Obviously this happens in all bars, and some would say it is in fact, the sole purpose of bars, but when there are less people around, it’s a little de trop.  I think this exposes the club psyche – members are hoping that the exclusivity of belonging will introduce them to those of a higher status – but isn’t it entirely possible that the club will be composed purely of people who were stupid enough to pay in this hope?  Hence, at one point the place looks like its holding some kind of en mass plate spinning event, so many heads swivelling in different directions.
  • Nicer décor, nowhere to sit.  I love plonking down somewhere comfy in a bar – it’s the only way to drink.  But I’m informed by my friend, that all seats are reserved.  Even the shy retiring banquette in the corner?  The modish stool cum work-out apparatus?  Apparently yes, all are booked up – despite the fact that they remain empty for the time being.  So all around me, weary Londoners are shifting from foot to foot, looking enviously at unfurnished furnishings.  This strikes me as Britishness at its most ridiculous – there are enough seats free for everyone, yet we prefer to queue and practice our passive aggressiveness.  Someone who followed the rules and booked may show up and be horrified to find some royster-doyster in their seat.
  • And this brings me to the staff.  Wonderful and attentive as they are, beyond providing one with a constant supply of booze (2 cocktails and a bottle of Rose by this point), there’s not much they can do to relieve the situation.  So we try some low level bartering…’We’ll see what we can do’….’You’re at the top of the list’…a constant reassurance of how popular one is, with no guaranteed results.  Maybe this frustrating game of monopoly appeals to some, but I just find it ….frustrating.

So back to the first bottle of Rose, which has now been turned on its top and deposited on the bar.  We’re onto the second – this is as thrillingly close to sampling the Bullingham Boys’ way of life as we get.  Finally we are allowed table and nourishment.  Never has it been so needed.  We’re quite tipsy by now, so my notes get a little garbled, but I recall being led to a table on a lovely exposed terrace just outside the kitchen.  Great, food is forthcoming.  Another man in a white shirt greets us as old friends, so I assume he is a waiter.  He steers us towards the fish.  Now coming from Grimsby, my friend and I always have a line ready for this.  Its not a good one, but it plugs the gap in conversation.  This time Charlotte chips in with ‘Well, we’re from Grimsby, I think we’ve seen enough fish’.  See, I told you it wasn’t a winner, but it usually raises some sort of smile.  Instead, the waiter immediately breaks all ties with us as we decide to go with the cheese.  It’s the only word I could make out on the menu in my half lit, half pissed state.

Cheese is rustic, served on a wooden board that I SWEAR has been stolen from my mother’s house circa 1983.  Its fine, it all tastes of Rose by this point, anyway, but I can’t say that it feels like the sort of welcome sustenance one would appreciate at this stage of the evening.  This may explain my surprising determination to find Pot Noodle when we eventually leave.  The cab home is comfier than anywhere that I have sat throughout the preceding events.

I could talk about the toilets, that were lovely and the hallways, which were lovely and it was all lovely but it wasn’t a club.  Not my club, the one I belong to in my head.  I could also shamelessly borrow from Groucho Marx here, because I feel he has a point.  I don’t care to belong to any club that would have me a member, but I’d like to add, if I may, that I don’t care to belong to any club that wouldn’t have me on the books, either.  Not if they flatter to deceive in the way that tonight’s little haunt did.  Smiling, welcoming, but a club to belong to?  To aspire to?  I’ll stick with Wetherspoons.

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Club in my head
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Club in reality. More like Lasseters off of Neighbours.