They don’t make ’em like they used to

Christmas and New Year usually brings forth a spate of list programmes;  100 greatest comedians, 10 best kids shows of all time, most awkward bloopers etc etc.  But the cuts ran deep this year, so we got re-runs – behold the lists of Christmas past!

One of these pretty crappy shows is ‘100 Greatest Musicals”.  Oh goody, I thought, I love musicals, because I had developed temporary amnesia and forgotten how monotonous and uninspired this show was when I watched it last year.  This particular list favours the schmaltz fests of the fifties, the light opera toffee tin confections peopled by Julie Andrews and Howard Keel.  Rodgers and Hammerstein, Bambi Lynn, brrrrr.  My theory is that if Lloyd Webber builds a reality TV show around it (Jesus Christ Superstar, Sound of Music and yes, Wizard of Oz), it is dead in the water.

To my mind musicals have to embrace the impossible, or have a damn good sense of humour. A dream cast for me is Dick Powell (insane to think that he ran two parallel personas; song and dance man and Phillip Marlowe.  Eat your heart out, Jackman!), Astaire/Rogers, Marilyn Monroe….and musicals should be off their tits bonkers, without question.  The sublime and the ridiculous.  So, as an antidote to Channel 4’s vacuum packed twee fest, here’s my top 3 bizarro musical moments.


Number 3:  Most Ludicrous Cameo:  Harriet Hoctor in Shall We Dance (1937).

Rarely has a moment been more shoe-horned into a film.

By this point, the poor viewer has been forced to accept that Astaire is a classically trained ballet dancer in an impression about as convincing as mine of Kofi Annan.  He sort of vaguely whirls around and looks lofty, falls in love with Ginger, falls out of love and then creates a ballet about her.  And then, without warning (about a minute and half in on this clip) comes this:

Needless to say, bendy toe-dancing did not have the cultural impact of the Charleston or twist.  Perhaps because of its difficulty but more likely because it looks ridiculous.  I dare you to break it our next time you’re on the dance floor.


Number 2:  Most unsettling viewing experience:  Lullaby of Broadway from Gold Diggers of 1935.

I love misreading prescription labels.  It allows me to accidentally overdose on antibiotics and have dreams like this:



Vertiginous angles and PVC shorts.  Dick Powell’s gurning face adds to the disturbia like a clown doll in a jumble sale.  And am I right in thinking this is all a bit fascist?

Honourable mention:  The freaky baby (played by Billy Barty) who pervs on the chorus girls in the Honeymoon Hotel number in Footlight Parade.  Go see!


Number 1:  Sheer lunacy:  Ain’t there Anyone here for Love? from Gentlemen Prefer Blondes (1953)

When I watch this film I make noises like Homer gargling waffles.  It is my absolute clothes crush of all time.  In the cold light of day, everything about the film is odd (including it’s outmoded misogynistic world-view, thank goodness).  Particularly the dance routines, in which Marilyn and Jane Russell look like they are fighting their way out of a series of increasingly tight-fitting polo necks:


If you haven’t seen ‘Ain’t there Anyone Here for Love’, you must, if only to see Jane Russell repeatedly fail to score with a series of fey chorus men pretending to be Olympic athletes.  They do fake dancey wrestling in flesh coloured pants and then Jane falls into a swimming pool.  I repeat:  I cannot urge you enough.


I think old musicals are film perfection.  Critics say that they don’t make them any more because the viewing public are more sophisticated, cynical even, and we don’t accept the suspension of disbelief. Poppycock!  If we really do view smarter now, how come producers keep casting Gerard Butler as a charismatic lead, something which takes a much bigger leap of faith for the cinemagoer?  Nah, they don’t make them anymore because they know they can’t.  Why try and improve on such bonkers perfection?


Please add any favourite bonkers musical moments that you have – I am all ears and eyes.

In a Nutshell

When I first met my husband 10 years ago he lived in a rundown house right where the Olympic stadium now is.  I can’t remember much about the house as I was mostly drunk at the time, but I do remember it had a fantastic deep, over-run garden which I disappeared to enigmatically on our first date.  I had watched too many Fred and Ginger films and I was hoping that he would come and find me in the moonlight and we would kiss.  Instead, he thought that I had had a terrible time and gone home.  I stood outside for about 20 minutes before going back in and trying to laugh it off in a cavalier (if still slightly enigmatic) fashion.


He then moved to a house in Stoke Newington, to a road where everyone else was Orthodox Jewish.  Literally, everyone else.  He had a really high bed (yes we overcame the moonlit garden incident pretty quickly) and a great little courtyard with white brick walls outside the kitchen window where we would hypothesise on which animals we would be able to kill in one-on-one combat, naked.  Notice I say hypothesise, although it did come pretty close when, to our derision, a spectacularly wet friend of ours stepped up and said he could finish a goose off barehanded.  The courtyard was going be the battleground (and we would have an executive box at the kitchen window), except he suddenly stopped calling at about this time.  And my husband only stayed there for another 6 months.


He then moved to a flimsy-walled new build near Victoria Park, where the bedroom dimensions made me weep and vow to seek vengeance against the vindictive architect who had it so designed.  The final straw was when his flat mate started watching suspicious videos in the room next door.  So he moved in with me.


At the time I lived in the real East-end of London, by which I mean the scabby bit, neglected by Pearly Queens and Del-Boy.  In my East-end, everyone was miserable all the time and any remotely aware person would have immediately moved out.  I loved it!  I was unknowingly subletting a flat from a man who shall be known only as Dave.  I lived on the top floor: below me was for some time a lady who eventually went back inside for more treatment and guy called Ed, a complete bounder, who had declared himself bankrupt and chipped to Brazil in the middle or the night, got married, moved back with the girl (way out of his league) and then disappeared for a second time, leaving her behind.  I thought I was Holly Golightly. I was in fact Raskolnikov.  But with less romance and flogged horses, thank goodness.


The flat had its upsides.  It looked out on to a cemetery which to some minds is outrageously close to a Stephen King setting.  But if you live in a city, it’s rare to get a view of the sky, no matter how persistently grey.  Besides, the funerals round there were proper East-end, full on parades with carriages and black horses wearing those tall feather showgirl hats.  The flat consisted of a little kitchen with mould, a bathroom, no shower and an exceptionally vocal fan and the remaining third comprised living/sleeping space.  No, I lie: a quarter was taken up with the stairway leading up and an in built wardrobe which I generally ignored after I tipped a whole pot of paint on my head trying to dislodge a sleeping bag.


So living and sleeping made up about a quarter of the space, which probably equated to about 100 square metres.  For a TV, a sofabed, a computer and a wardrobe.  And bookshelves.  And a bedside drawer thing.  With two people in it, who’d never lived together before.  And a George Foreman grill, which wouldn’t fit in the kitchen.  Normally it looked a bit like one of those pictures the astronauts send back from space, where they’re all desperately trying to look relaxed and cheerful in their pods but stuff is just floating around and nothing is where it should be.


This is how we lived for 3 years.


If you’ve ever lived in a studio flat you will know that you start with good intentions which gradually erode until one day, you just can’t be arsed with making up the futon again.  And from that day forwards it is just a bed, a sofa nevermore.  Now, as this is very often the eating space as well, the bed quickly takes on a muesli texture, with little bits of ciabatta or peanut falling into the cracks.  Again, you start the fight bravely, shaking off the crumbs (maybe even out of a window?) and then …well who cares?  Eventually you romanticise it, and the bed becomes a safe haven, the big pirate ship in the middle of the turbulent sea of discarded knickers, DVD covers and phone chargers.  Home is truly a crusty bed.


I like to think of our years together in the studio as relationship survival training.  Arguments were ridiculous.  You couldn’t storm off; if you went outside you may get shot or procured for Fagin’s gang and if you sat in the kitchen you’d die of consumption.  So you sat it out, on the crusty bed.  And to this day, I think my husband and I could co-exist in a phone box.  Even now, we can quite happily spend a day on the sofa getting on with our own things without feeling the need to meddle in each other’s business.  I still find the sound of Pro-Evolution Soccer being played on an X box as meditative and sleep inducing as any Chopin and he (mostly) still overlooks my psychological need to pile things by the side of my bed.


If personalities are forged by the age of 15, then I reckon that relationships (and one’s tolerance levels) are fixed by the time you flee your first shared nest together.  And if you are having misgivings about your current choice, I would like to fly in the face of conventional counselling wisdom.  Don’t give each other time or space: go live in a studio flat for a bit.  I know a guy called Dave who could sort you out ….

Exercising my rights

Hands up if you love the gym! Yeah, gym!  Other people’s sweat on handlebars!  Bum wobbles! Mysterious pubes on the floor! Orcs bearing dumb bells!  Euro house!  Yeah!  The gym!


In fairness, I don’t really mind the place.  But that’s because I live in an apartment block with its own gym so I am duty bound to drag my ass up there as often as possible.  And it genuinely helps me switch off my mind, with its snarky affectations and deep unfathomable pools of bitterness.  Running on a circular belt with my mouth open really shows my shitty synapses who’s boss.  In truth, I am now on nodding terms with a few people, which is as close to neighbourly love as it gets in my building.  And I can block out most sounds thanks to a well placed podcast on a well inserted earphone (I lodged the bud in so hard yesterday that it was only when I took it out that I found the earring back which was attached to it.  I tried to pretend in my head that it was a metallic depth charger, sent in to to locate tiny spies in my ear canal, but I think I’ve been watching too many terrible films recently.)


So I can block it out and that’s good, but here’s the thing.  Very often I’m the only woman up there.  Now I believe that the gym is as much the natural home of a man as the tupperware party is for a woman, (i.e they are not), but more times than not I am distinctly outnumbered.  And it doesn’t worry me.  Either there are an inordinate number of gay musclemen in my block or I am even less attractive than I think i am, but I don’t get hit on, or feel remotely perved at.  Which is great, right?  So I shouldn’t complain, no?  It’s just … no it’s petty of me to say anything …it’s just, well it’s the music.  It offends me.  It doesn’t aesthetically displease me.  It’s just wrong.


There’s a sound system in the corner, tuned to either banal local radio or one a little portfolio of CDs.  Mostly rave type stuff which is okay to run to.  But today it was just me and some guy and gym etiquette dictates that whoever is first in is the DJ.  Which in this case meant him.  He puts a disc on.  At first it’s just a nice beat and I’m like, okay, fine and then there’s some rapping.  It’s that heavy low stuff where it sounds like they’re on anti depressants, so I put my ipod on and get on the treadmill.  I can see in the mirror the guy (who hasn’t exactly done much gym-ing to warrant being DJ in my opinion), nod his head, sidle over to the CD player and turn up the volume.  This is roughly what I hear:

‘split the bitch in half’.  I wince.

‘fuck the ho in the ass like she do it for cash’.  I roll my eyes at my gym ‘buddy’ in an astounding act of British passive aggression.

There was more, but I really don’t want to write it down.  Eventually the troglodyte went to examine his button mushroom in the gents, so I yanked the wires out of the back of the stereo (not sure why) and left the gym.  That sort of music really does inspire violence; what I really wanted to do was jam a 4kg handweight up his urethra, but hey, that’s not how I roll, dawg.


Obviously this was an extreme situation, because Notorious P. I. G had chosen to turn the music up, showing a blatant disregard for the sensory welfare of his neighbours, but even so, who the hell writes that stuff?  I don’t wish to be all Tipper Gore about this, but how is it okay to write lyrics like that?  Not just okay, but lauded in some circles?  If I wrote a song about anally penetrating a man causing him physical pain and ultimately bisecting him, I would expect approbation.  I certainly wouldn’t expect it to be such a mainstream choice as to be played out loud and with gusto in a unisex gym.


This isn’t a new issue,  I know.  What next, will I be complaining about those pesky Beastie Boys and the theft of VW badges?  That I once saw, with horror,  Ellen Terry’s ankle on stage? But sometimes, when you least expect it,  things like today happen and the inequality gap seems as wide and accepted as ever.  Now, where’s that 4kg weight?

Are you there God? It’s me, Nefny

So, the Daily  Prompt yesterday got me thinking .. what role does faith play in my life?  A gut reaction is it doesn’t.  I don’t really think about it.  The only things that I put my faith in tend to be random uncaring objects and events (if I cross the road before the yellow car passes me, then I’ll get the job).  Am I the only person who does this?   Besides, I don’t even do this so often anymore.  It’s an acting relic, gone but not forgotten.

Anyhow, I think yellow car syndrome belongs to the realm of superstition, hokum, old wives etc etc unless of course they miraculously work, in which case they become ‘a ritual’, like boxers doing their gloves up in a particular way or composers eating a specific brand of mint before they take to the stage.  But this debases ritual, doesn’t it?  Ritual is something mystic, informed perhaps, sacrosanct.  I think people who say they have rituals ‘pre-performance’ actually have ‘habituals’ in the cold light of day.  Bloody luvvies.

But before I disappear up my own behind entirely, let me ponder on my faith or lack of it.  What do I have faith in?  I’m baffled.  It’s not a God.  Okay, I called Him or Her or Them some pretty horrific names when dad died, but in truth I haven’t really done the legwork (churchgoing, meditating, observing) to use the Great Holy as a punching bag.  Christmas is a purely food based event in my house.  

Honestly, I envy people who have faith.  They have a purpose.  Without faith, what’s going on?  I mean, what the hell is in my head all day long?  I imagine that those who have faith carry it around with them like travel scrabble (but more intense and spiritual) in their heads and they can just dip into it when there’s nothing else going on.  That’s why they’re so positive!  So I can see why having faith is beneficial, although I don’t really know what the ‘faithful’ do when they have it.  Suggestions on a postcard, please.


When I think about who or what I have faith in, the answer is more straightforward:  my family.  They never let me down, and I accept the barbed comments and snide looks as the penance I must do to bask in their reflected perfection.  Otherwise, I have faith in the things that I love, but not always my ability to do them.  So I guess that I don’t have a lot of faith in myself, which probably influences my ability to have faith in anything else, which in turn is probably a legacy of my ‘yellow car’ days.  If you don’t believe in your talent to do the job, you have to lean on totems, don’t you?

Undoubtedly, if I had more faith in myself, rather than the travel scrabble in the sky, I would run faster, be published and have better hair.  Because I’d put in the time and effort.  It’s easier to sit on the sofa and think nasty thoughts about people who are doing the work, then do the work.


Do you ever write a post that comes so painfully close to the truth that as you write it, it feels like a hot potato in your throat? This was one.  Back to the drawing board….

Does your family have any idiosyncratic customs, odd tendencies peculiar only to them and unaligned with any festivity or celebration?


Before you refer me to social services, let me explain. On the way down to London, we would always pass a hotel on the edge of a roundabout.  More of a motel, if I’m honest.  Anyhow, the main part of this motel on view from the road is an indoor swimming pool with full length windows on three sides (it sort of juts out from the main building; they are very keen to let you know that they have a POOL.)  Subsequently, any swimmers are extremely visible too all drivers and disinterested passengers.


Such a mainstay this vision has become, that over the past fifteen years, whoever has occasion to drive past must immediately report, via text, to everyone else in the family, the number of people in the pool.  I think it arose from how collectively concerned we were that the pool always seemed so forlorn and empty.  This manifests itself in the message; if there is a bather, we treat itself to an exclamation mark (“2 in the pool!” ).  If not, then nothing (“No-one in the pool”).


The texts are not met with raucous laughter or even a smile, but a grave nod, recognition that family business is proceeding as it should.


It runs a bit deeper than that.  As an adult I have always lived away from my hometown, unlike my sister and most of the rest of my close family.  Recently, I’ve begun to wonder what I have been missing out on.  “No-one in the pool” lets me know that a) the sender is okay and b) that I’m still on the list.


If anyone unpicked their family psychogeography, they’d find it littered with unique family phrases and customs that have become so normalised through age and repetition that it is perhaps quite hard to see them for what they are.  I think we develop something similar with friends quite easily, but I find the family stories and legends more interesting because they’re more difficult to negotiate.  I’m not the first person to realise that families can be made up of pretty disparate individuals, so the process of finding things in common and then celebrating them can be quite fraught.


Some family customs are all about the past, defibrillating previous experience to enliven the present.  At one particular restaurant that we would go to together, my dad would always leap over the three flower troughs that lined the entrance way, because I had once found it hilarious.  So he’d do it every time at this restaurant, but not at any other eateries with leapable obstacles outside (there are quite a few once you think about it).  It was the equivalent of pulling a well-worn goofy face at a baby, and simpleton that I am, the 3 leaps always made me laugh.


There are a fair few memorable characters who reappear anecdotally at gatherings and even during absent minded conversation.  Most of them are unfortunate, I’m embarrassed to admit.  There’s the girl who farted audibly on stage while doing a forward roll in a dancing competition, and we still howl just at the mention of her name;  a line from a drunken conversation in a pub that we overheard which has no particular resonance to anyone else; ‘can’t riff for raffing’; a man called Monkey Riley; the noise my Aunt made on an answer phone message once.  It’s true that a lot of these emanated from my father, who spent 40 years in newsrooms in the North East of England, which if you have read or seen The Red Riding Trilogy, you will know operate as a kind of bizarro holding bay.  But they have only become funnier through the repeating and strangely comforting.  My dad died 7 years ago, and the stories are a way of indirectly remembering him and including him in our conversation without becoming maudlin.

I could explain these customs to you in more detail, but why?  They’re not interesting to you, are they?  You’re probably thinking of your own right now:  good.  Family customs are like other people’s dreams; no-one else finds them as intriguing as the teller.  But that doesn’t mean that they don’t bear the repeating.

Reflections on a toilet


Following on from my bid for positivity (see previous post), I am celebrating the smaller,  more overlooked things in life.  You may wish to think of me as an urban Thoreau after you’ve read this because I am reflecting like a really reflective thing, like something that you would get out of a cereal box and fit to your bike spokes …yessss….that reflective.

Today I have been mostly reflecting on ladies toilets.  Loos.  Public bathrooms.  La-va-tory.  I have a particular disdain for the latter; phonetically too close to ‘laboratory’, although in some ways I guess they are both twin chambers of pain and hygiene.

Ho hum.  So here are my cumulative reflections on public restrooms (notice how transcontinental I am with my terminolgy?).  This list is more or less in praise of the loo as an area which recognises no cultural or class divide.  Ideally, I would like to see if women in other countries have similar or different experiences to me.  Don’t worry, there is no scat in the following list.

Observation 1:  A woman will have always been walked in on during the act at least once in their life.  Those doors are not consistently up to scratch.

Observation 2:  A woman will have always tried to hold the door closed with her foot or hand while trying to reach the bowl with her behind to pee.  I think this usually stems from being traumatised by first hand experience of observation 1.

Observation 3:  Wiping someone else’s pee off the bowl.  I’m sorry.  I had to ‘go there’.  Besides, we’ve all had to do it.  With pursed lips.  And a little bit of tissue.

Observation 4:  Deliberating over asking your cubicle neighbour for toilet roll.  The disembodied hand under the gap, proffering bog paper like a white flag.  It’s a bit like the trenches, except you’re the surrender monkey who should have checked the necessaries before you sat down, sucker!

Observation 5:  Speculating on the provenance of the damp patch on the toilet roll.  You may have gathered that I don’t frequent the Ritz very often.

Observation 6:  Being distracted by the little lady on the sanitary disposal bag.  Why her?  Why anyone?

She's sooo purty .....she looks after my tampons

Observation 7:  Having to pretend to wash your hands for longer than necessary because some woman is taking forever on the hand dryer.  Or awkwardly sharing hand dryer with them, eyes glazed, breath held.  It’s too intimate.

Observation 8:  Ruminating on the creative process behind hand towel and hand soap colours.  Did they market research what colour hands respond to?  And did aforementioned research point conclusively to the colour ‘light teal’?

Observation 9:  The quiet charm of encountering a good hand dryer.  And indulging in it.  A Dyson Blade is like a work of art.

Observation 10:  Fear of the exit door handle. In fact, any handle in that room (especially flush).  Do you cover your hand with your sleeve?  Or just avert your eyes?  Seriously I need to know.  This is important work.

And gents, I apologise if this has ruined the mystique of what goes on behind the gilded ‘Ladies’ sign.  I’m sure you imagined it to be like a Disney cartoon back there, with little bluebirds flying around, delivering scented towlettes and flushing the chain for us.  I’m sorry.  But if you would like to share anything that you would class as a globally resonant toilet-based observation, I am very keen to learn.

Your thoughts are welcome.

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.