Wednesday, 12 December 2012

Christmas Presents


It is once again that merry time of year where I sound the alarm, tie heavy weights around my ankles, roll myself up in a Persian rug and throw myself off the local canal bridge at the very prospect of Christmas shopping.  As I WILL have left it too late to buy any stuff online, the only other option is to brave Birmingham’s Bullring and risk being buried alive under the swarms of human ants jostling for position on the escalators and using their mandibles to tear flesh off their competition at the perfume counter in Boots- locked in combat over the last bottle of “Stunning”, by Katie Price.

My neck never fails to go all hot whenever I recall the low point of last year’s shopping trip, a futile attempt to make other people wee themselves with happiness via my spending of the final withering remains of my student loan. Endlessly circling the bottom floor of Selfridges looking for “trinkets”, I was sweating profusely in a fur coat that had seemed like a good idea at the time, but in reality made me look like a she-gorilla. It all got so much that I involuntarily emitted a low scream amongst the novelty kitchenware, and thought for a second that the statue of a bull made of jelly beans was talking to me.
                            
"GO HOME, EMILY. YOU ARE NOT SAFE HERE."
                                                                                   

The concept of giving Christmas presents, I have recently decided, is bloody weird. It’s no one’s birthday (with the exception of Jesus, and do you have his number in your phone? Thought not), and so you undertake the baffling task of buying stuff for everybody you love, all at once, simply for existing on this planet around Christmas time (and even people you don’t love, depending on how much resentment you harbour for the classmates/co-workers also partaking in the utter debacle that is ‘secret Santa’. I did get a bath set from a secret Santa once, but it clearly cost more than the chocolate snowman that I’d bought for someone else; I was wracked with guilt and so the entire experience just left me cold.)

However, as for unwanted gifts- I ask you to look deep inside yourself and ask: is that really a thing?! Having gratefully accepted the esteemed title of “Britain’s Most Shameless Cheapskate” for an impressive 21st year running, I have developed a mentality/defence mechanism where I am eternally appreciative of any old tat that gets chucked at me. Or even tat that doesn’t get chucked at me; it’s just dawning on me that searching through supermarket bins at night to try and find Christmas presents for myself might be a money-saver that only an idiot would miss out on.  And I would actually be eternally appreciative if an elderly relative pulled a Mrs Weasley on me and knitted me an ‘embarrassing’ jumper, partially because I am that short on clothes, but mainly because the idea of having assisted in bringing to life a massive Christmas cliché would keep me more than entertained, well into the Queens’ Speech.

That said, I’m sitting here wondering if anyone has had the impertinence to buy me a present as unwanted as a ‘bath bomb’ this year. I don’t care if you bought it from Lush- it’s still a fizzing sphere of pure letdown and YOU’RE GOING DOWN, MAN.

-Emily

Tuesday, 4 December 2012

Natural Disasters

Sitting in my resplendent stately library – open fire roaring, and my Butler “Hives” by my side – I swill my brandy around, and browse over the top of my ironed broadsheet newspaper to comment upon how it’s absolutely lashing it down outside; the droplets rap against the panes of glass in the windows overlooking my many acres of land, as I lament upon how bare it all looks since they did away with Feudalism. And this is about as close as anyone in the UK gets to experiencing a ‘natural disaster’.

In fact, I’d say the closest encounter I’ve ever had with ‘natural disasters’ was either the time I lost my hat in Blackpool when a violent gust of wind blew it off (October 1998: never forgive, never forget), or whenever I’m at my Nan’s and it rains a lot and her driveway becomes flooded (far less euphemistic than it sounds) by about an inch and a half of water and as a result, we have to jeté out of the front door to the car.

Well, ok, there was ONE sort-of natural disaster that I experienced in 2008, and that’s when my little area of England was victim to a larger-than-normal-for-here earthquake (in fact, it was SO LARGE that Emily didn’t even know it had happened the next day when I told her about it all and she’d slept straight through it). I distinctly remember waking up to my bed banging against the wall and, upon not seeing a Catholic priest in the room (thinking they’d either a) be exorcising me or b) be the cause of my bed banging against the wall as I’m in a state of drowsiness), I pretty quickly assumed there was a quake.

Of course, here you have to substitute the word “disaster” for “mild teacup-rattling inconvenience”, despite the fact that the Burton Mail went with a front-page story of an elderly woman who’d had her pictures knocked off the wall by the violent rumbling. Still, this was a step up from one of their previous headlines atop a story about a Chinese takeaway in the area that had been involved in some dodgy goings on which read: “EGG FRIED LIES”.

As with all things in life, if you want the full force of anything lobbed at you then you need to head to the USA. Hurricanes are such a regular occurrence there that it’s not just detainees at Guantanamo who know what waterboarding is like (LOL SATIRE, my invitation to appear on Have I Got News For You in the post please (Paul’s team, obvs)); and they’re so used to them that they give them names, a 6-month work Visa, a star sign and a blood type. In fact, SOME of these people* (*lunatics) even go chasing after such weathers, and upon seeing a particularly badass tornado forming drive TOWARDS it with such haste that one group once ran over Toto. Dorothy was only JUST lucky.

Overall, I think the worst natural disaster to get caught up amongst (other than George Osborne) would be a heat wave. I’m bad enough with the two collective days of British summer that we get, let alone a month of 40 degrees Celsius sticking me to all leather furniture within a 50 metre radius. As for the frizz that would go on with my fringe? The sun can be a cruel and unforgiving sky-bitch.

As we head into December, the sun is going to be the last of the UK’s problems as I eagerly await the panic-laced news reports of how OMG THERE IS A LIGHT DUSTING OF SNOW IN SOME PLACES AND JESUS CHRIST THIS ROAD HASN’T EVEN BEEN GRITTED!!! EVERYONE, EAT YOUR YOUNG!!! As a Brit, I’d say we’re particularly good at two things out of a few: getting on with miserable weather, and having a rational sense of perspective. But my God, snow really flips our balance doesn’t it?! We just can’t handle it! Lines of traffic can be seen from space, trains spontaneously combust and BBC reporters are shoved into fields with microphones, tit-deep in the stuff. Hardly a natural ‘disaster’, but by how it’s reported you’d think the Pope had just morphed into a 90ft half-human half-lizard hybrid and had threatened to tear the world a new arsehole.

Seriously darlings, it’s just snow. It melts in the end. But if one snowball comes anywhere near to hitting me, I will be buying up TV airtime and BY GOD, you are all going to hear about it.
 
- Charlie

Tuesday, 27 November 2012

Facebook

It’s time to settle down for a cuppa and one of my lovely organic home-made blog posts (gluten-free). So close the curtains, get comfy on your favourite swivel chair and for God’s sake stop snooping in online photo albums entitled “Graham and Julie’s vow renewal.”

I am just as much a victim of online popularity deathmatch Facebook as you, you, and especially YOU over there, the one self-flagellating with a spiky branch because you got fewer than 20 likes for your status about how you have the best Granddad in the whole world. For although I like to make believe that I spend my time online reading serious news and serious articles whilst stroking the long, white, wizard beard that all we educated people grow naturally,  I am more than likely checking up on you and whether you got tagged in any more photos of you  looking hot on holiday in Belgium. That, or I’ll be on Youtube watching stuff like this:

Facebook isn’t really a social network- it’s an elaborate setup for spying on your crushes and exes, a kind of ex-espionage. (Or if you want your day improved by use of an incredible pun, “expionage”). It comes in particularly useful for when you want to check up on whether your old boyfriend’s new slapper has less acne than you, so you can take appropriate action. (Slashing her tyres in your mind’s eye.) However, this practice can be even more risky than choosing to fly a rickety Victorian bi-plane piloted by a blind man with no hands over the Bermuda triangle-  as accidentally ‘liking’ an old photo is the virtual equivalent of trying to sneak past a sleeping guard and instead stepping on a comedy car hooter.

It comes as little surprise that this shameful cabaret of the complete violation of human privacy should have been created by such a clammy-fisted, Kermit-voiced man-child as Mark Zuckerberg; who, if my impression of American high school hierarchy is accurate, would have been subjected (by ‘jocks’) to such nastiness as being hung up in his own locker so he’s late for comic book club; having his lunch tray knocked out of his hands in front of a ‘cute girl’,  and being called a ‘dork’. He then had two options: run screaming through the school in an orange jumpsuit taking out as many people as he can with a large firearm; or create a digital weapon so powerful that he could have half the world’s population under his control and watch them poke, like and frape each other into mindless oblivion- like a boy watching his Beyblade toys do battle- as he gulps and sweatily pulls his hoodie strings tighter around his neck in ecstasy.

All that being given wedgies on the way to ‘Math’ class must have been worth it though, as being as minted as Zuckerberg is now must feel like being star quarterback AND prom king combined. Picture the obscene number of dollar bills lying around his house he must use as hamster bedding, or give to his wife to use as tampons; or maybe he’s sent them to a craftsman with the request that he makes of them an exact replica of the Bayeux Tapestry, we’ll never know. But as share prices in Facebook begin to fall, and there grows an ever-increasing number of sadacts such as Charlie who need Twitter more than they need air, it looks as though Zuckerberg’s empire may be in trouble. But I wouldn’t feel too sorry for him if he ended up in queue for the Salvation Army; Tom from MySpace would be there as well to share his soup- and maybe even promise to add him as a friend.
-Emily

Tuesday, 20 November 2012

The Frankfurt Christmas Market, Birmingham

Good grief, you’re a testing lot. Do you know how difficult it is, wading through your annual cheery guff about how it’s DEFINITELY Christmas now (despite it being the first two weeks of November)? “OMGGG Coke advert just been on telly!!! U know its Christmas now!!! #holidaysarecoming”; “Starbucks red cups! Feeling well Christmassy :D”; “Just heard Fairytale of New York playin in Tesco Express whilst getting a Rustlers burger. CRIMBO!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!” Calm down loves, you’ll burst a blood vessel. Join the relaxed side of things – you won’t catch me losing control of my Central Nervous System over a bit of tinsel.

*drawn-out silence*... *sound of clock ticking in background*... *close-up of bead of sweat forming on my forehead*... *tension becomes too much*

ZOMGGG THE FRANKFURT CHRISTMAS MARKET IS OPEN IN BIRMINGHAM!!! And I need to talk about it positively and quickly before it has had chance to destroy my capacity for joy, which it does every year. It opened Thursday 15th November, and I’m writing this on Friday 16th November. This is how tight the window is for me to be able to be positive, as by tomorrow (Saturday, the busiest town day of the week) I will want only to raze it to the ground.


On the face of it, there is a lot to be said for this festive market. It combines fatty foods with alcohol which you’re allowed to drink in the streets, for Christ’s sake. It’s like Glasgow, except the people here still have hope. And there are lights! I KNOW – LIGHTS!! Whatever next?! The wheel?! But it does all add to the generally whimsical nature of it, even when you’ve been kettled outside Tesco on New Street because of the sheer crowds and are pushed face-first into an overpriced cowhide – but hey, that’s what Christmas is all about.

Here's me eating a Frankfurter shortly before dropping half the cheese on the floor. Stay cool.
Well actually, we all know that Christmas is about kitsch, and my word does the Frankfurt Market do kitsch. For just the low low price of one of your kidneys, you could own this GLOWING STONE! Or alternatively, why don’t you empty your life savings and sign this contract stating that we own your soul in return for this small wooden elephant figurine where, if you blow in its ass, it makes a vaguely elephant-ish noise?! (These exist. I have seen them, and I can’t un-see them.) Basically, it’s all a bit like a car-boot sale for the middle class.

Here's Santa giving me his "come to bed" pose.
So, helpfully, I have highlighted the only things that you need to know about what to buy from here. Naturally, it’s mostly food with wine thrown in, as what’s the point in eating if you haven’t got wine alongside? As we all know, the staple food of ALL Germans is frankfurters (I mean, think back – when was the last time YOU saw a German who wasn’t holding an unsettlingly large sausage in a bun at the time?) and wherever you walk, you can’t escape the smell of “brine”. Aside from this, there are copious amounts of other heart-stoppingly gluttonous delights that would have Gloria Hunniford frothing at the mouth over your cholesterol levels, such as DEEP FRIED CHEESE and marshmallows dipped in Belgian chocolate. What’s more – not only will your cholesterol levels shoot up, so will your blood pressure when you’re then presented with the cost. No wonder Germany is sitting pretty with the dollah, charging £9 for a double helping of a glazed ham roll (glorified bacon sandwich).

Here's my mother & I eating a traditional German Chicken Tikka wrap.


 
As difficult as it is for me though, I shouldn’t moan. They don’t *have* to do it to try to make our lives a tiny bit better momentarily. As much as this does sound like a scene from a British rom-com, (where I’d turn to the guy (with ruddy cheeks and a slightly red nose from the cold) that I have been having difficulties with, and we mutually smile, knowing that in this moment of watching a German dressed as Santa singing ‘Jingle Bells’ in Deutsch beside a Christmas tree that now everything is going to be ok) - surely there’s *something* just downright good about groups of people with flagons of beer and comfort food, wrapped up and under the glow of Christmas lights? Yeah, I reckon so.

- Charlie
(Ok I’ve been around it twice more now and it was packed and full of dithering people and children and I absolutely hate it. It needs to go. Now. Christmas can go and bollocks. *hires bulldozer*)

Tuesday, 13 November 2012

Theme Parks

First off, I would like to take this opportunity to point out that I am literally the world’s most massive wimp. I am scared of dogs, seaweed, and talking on the phone- especially to people with Indian or Scottish accents. I am such a wuss that I make Shaggy from Scooby Doo look like Attila the Hun; at least Shaggy could eat a multi-storey club sandwich, whole, without worrying about choking on the crumbs, or getting a tummy ache. Secondly, theme parks are not places where wimps generally thrive, so it is miracle of astronomical proportions that I have ever visited one at all, let alone enjoyed myself.

And in fact, until I was 17, the only ‘ride’ I had ever braved was the Ladybird at Gulliver’s Kingdom, aged 6, and even then I felt a sense of unease. I am not sure whether it was the disappointment when I dismounted the ride and realised I hadn’t ACTUALLY been driving it myself with the little steering wheel inside each car, or whether it was the general situation of having to sit with other kids, but something must’ve put me off, big time. Bypassing the fact that amusement parks are basically large camps for we moronic Homo sapiens to test how it would feel to be an inch from death.

Fast forward 11 years and I am being strapped into the nasty, off-white seats of Nemesis, Alton Towers’ most all-round badass rollercoaster. I am hysterical with panic, the bars around my shoulders crushing my very soul. I am bleating “I WANT TO GET OFF!” in front of several queues of customers, while my theme park veteran friends laugh in my face. The ride began to trundle forward, and proceeded to provide an experience which I imagine would be quite similar to the feeling and visuals of travelling back in time.  If this scene had been in a Pixar movie, I would’ve thrown my hands in the air, hollering “Woooooo-hoooooooo!” with an uplifting orchestral score in the background. Instead, I clutched the handles, emitting something closer to “Grrffffffghhhfghggggggggh!” And when it stopped, I was still in 2008 in the Midlands getting rained on. And strangely, I actually wanted to go on it again.

I will never understand how getting soaked through while fully clothed is anyone’s idea of a good time. Despite having withstood such horrors as the ride/death trap that is Oblivion and being plunged from a great height, face-first, into a steaming underground abyss, the ride you will have to pay me a trillion quid to go on is the LOG FLUME. Because, unlike other attractions, there is water involved. And as we all know, any kind of air-borne moisture is a silent, deadly killer of great hair. It is hair castration. The only way to avoid this situation is to purchase a flimsy plastic poncho for three quid and spend the ride looking like a Dementor from Harry Potter who decided to update his wardrobe- or you can just avoid the whole damn thing completely and get a box of doughnuts.

But whether it has been my Dad defeating the whole object of ‘bumper cars’ and apologising to other people when bumping their car, or me feeling like I’m going to rise right out of my seat on the Pirate Ship and into a crevasse, there have been enough toe-curling experiences at them parks to fill a whole other blog post- but weirdly not enough to stop me from going back to these places for yet more punishment.
-Emily

Tuesday, 6 November 2012

Travelling

Travelling, for me, has never really been overly problematic. I’ve never been travelsick as I was never that child at school who looked constantly pale with a powdery complexion and a general colicky air about them who was always nipping out of class every now and then to take his ear medicine; and being the type of person with below-average levels of friends (as well as BMI and tolerance for ‘light’ mayonnaise), I don’t really get bored as I’m used to providing my own entertainment. Rather, I find it only the existence of other people that makes travelling often such a challenge for my already tenuous sanity.

The majority of my travelling experiences come in train form. I can drive, and therefore have absolutely no need to ever get on a bus. And even if I couldn’t drive, there quite frankly wouldn’t be enough crème brûlées, Cosmopolitans or blowjobs in the world to make me get on one. Call me what you like, but I will always get a taxi in those situations. There are two types of taxi passengers – those who chat away happily, and those who sit there in an air of icy silence and even go to the extremes of choking down the need to cough lest it be mistaken for attempted communication. I’ll leave it up to your keen imagination to guess which I am.

This changed momentarily during one taxi journey an evening in August this year when the driver repeatedly told me I was a “very nice boy”, kept shouting my name, ‘delighted’ me with tales of his holiday and his accidental stumbling across a nudist beach and telling me I looked “very hot” in the back of his vehicle. I have only ever once jumped out of the door of a moving car, and that was when a wasp so big I could see its shoe size flew through the window at my face – however I came very close to making it a second time during that taxi ride.
I haven't mentioned coaches in this blog. This picture says it all.
Coming back to trains, once you’ve gone through the process of remortgaging your house and putting your grandparents into a care home so that you can sell off their house just to buy a ticket, you clamber on and fight people to the death for a seat. And because they’re so packed, it’s guaranteed there’s always going to be one complete nutter/lout in each carriage. I was once sat adjacent to a man talking to two sleeping women about the Cold War, angels, hobgoblins and the life-cycle of a worm. I was so close to bursting into sobs that I meekly asked the person in the seat next to me to let me up, pretending that mine was the next stop. In reality, I was actually giving up my seat to go and stand for half an hour by one of the train doors with burning eyes as they fought back tears at the horror of the entire experience.

Yet to be topped, however, is my one experience of flying. I have the most irrational fear of planes – not flying, not the fear of crashing, not claustrophobia, etc., JUST PLANES. They look, to me, like machines simply designed to KILL, especially when seen nose-on and particularly when they’re all stationed around the terminals and they look like animals feeding. Feeding on HUMAN LIVES. However, my ultimatum was this: you either get on a plane and I’ll take you to Amsterdam for your 21st, or you have nothing. Irrational maybe, but a fool I am not. So not only did I get up at 3am and have a sicky-stomach panic talk with Emily, I then had to be picked up at 4am (by which time I’d already had 3 glasses of Jack Daniels).

The rest of the event went rather like this: arrived at airport; removed ¾ of my fabulous outfit as it was just too fabulous for the metal detectors; had double gin & tonic; went to toilet and cried in cubicle; had double gin & tonic; approached terminal but went weak-kneed and slumped down wall as I saw plane; wept internally; solemnly got on plane; sat down and attached seat belt as tightly as possible; whimpered as it taxied; absolutely crushed my dad’s hand on take-off; absolutely crushed my dad’s hand on landing; got on wrong train; got on right train; checked in; had beer; went to ‘coffee shops’; travelled to places by sensibly WALKING (or staggering, depending upon what I’d just consumed (or indeed bought, with reference to the copious sex-toy shops)).

So I know I seem to have contradicted myself by saying that travelling isn’t really problematic for me, but I’ve just highlighted a *few* bad occasions that I’m sure people can relate to. It’s mostly a breeze because I have a darling mother who picks me up from everywhere. (I know: I want to punch me in the face too.)

-Charlie

Tuesday, 30 October 2012

Halloween


It’s Halloween tomoz! Spelled Hallowe’en if you’re going to get all proper about it. Or “All Hallows Eve” if you’re going to get all 16th Century on my ass. It is one of those (many) things in life that I don’t generally bother getting involved in, as there are more important things to be doing, like counting the cobwebs on the ceiling, or seeing if I can eat a whole bag of Hula Hoops without licking my fingers.

Halloween is an occasion tailor-made for extroverted people, and egg-flinging assholes. I am neither of these. So needless to say, when it came to the notion of trick or treating as a child, I was about as likely to go out at night dressed as a bumble bee and basically threaten people on their own doorstep, as I was going to give up eating sponge cake for breakfast. Instead- naturally- you were going to find me crouching on the sofa, trying to watch Blue Peter with a throw cushion over my head, hoping the loathsome, sticky-palmed brats extorting fun-size Milky Ways off my parents at the door wouldn’t spot me through the net curtains, and laugh.

Apart from scaring old people to within an inch of having a stroke, trick or treating involves fancy dress. When it comes to fancy dress, I can safely declare that it has never been my fave thing in life. In fact, when anybody mentions the very prospect, the bottom drops out of my stomach, and for at least a minute I seriously consider the idea of booking a holiday in space with Virgin Galactic that ‘regrettably’ coincides with the day of the party, just so I have a valid excuse not to go out in suburbia dressed as a ’sexy dead nurse’.  Life is full enough of face-burningly cringey ordeals without adding to the mix the wearing of, say, a prosthetic witch’s nose. Fancy dress is a more uncomfortable scenario to be in than if your surname was ‘Shufflebottom’, and someone has just asked you what your surname is. It makes me feel even more out of place than if I had walked into a pub in a dubious part of town (spoilt for choice in Burton-on-Trent) and into a room full of hard-as-nails, wizened old men downing pints of ‘real ale’ and discussing the story behind each of their missing teeth. 

Instead, Halloween was always a gentle affair in my household, involving the carving of a pumpkin, followed by sitting with the living room lights off, in appreciation of its homely glow, followed the next day by my mother making some sort of lunch for my dad out of its remains - an ideal trampled all over a few years later by my brother when he disposed of his used pumpkin by lobbing it from the upstairs window of his student house and letting it smash onto some concrete, all captured on a grainy video - not unlike amateur footage of a war execution- entitled “PUMPKIN BYE BYE”.

Despite all, at the time of this going to press I am actually planning on attending a Halloween party. However, as I refuse to be photographed dressed as a 118 man I am going to wear what I know best- my bestest frock, my biggest hair, and a look of anguish.
-Emily

Tuesday, 23 October 2012

Field Trips

For people who know me personally, and for those of you who have been so inclined to follow me on Twitter et al., you could perhaps be forgiven for thinking that most (if not all) of my past life events are marred with memories of awful experiences. And you’d be right. But the unrivalled champion in this sea of visits-to-A&E, tripping-up-in-public and finding-testicular-lumps is the utter light-headed horror of school field trips.

Now, I’m twenty one years old and the last time I went on a field trip was most likely eight years ago. Don’t, however, let this make you think that there still aren’t copious nights where I lie in bed unable to sleep, staring at my ceiling and shrinking into my duvet at the slightest remembrance of being stood in a marshy field, having to take notes concerning the direction of flow of a nearby stream whilst straining to look jolly cheerful about the whole experience lest I be picked on by the squat bastard that was the geography teacher, just to let him have his fix of crushing someone already near-death to inflate his smug, arsey ego (you know that male teacher type – relatively young, unable to ever let their guard down, and who probably has larger-than-average balls but a tiny penis, giving them plenty of bolshie testosterone but ultimately nothing to show for or to substantiate it). Anyway, his name was Mr. Burroughs.

One of the main bad parts about field trips is of course the dress code. “Sensible/appropriate” footwear is something that I was not born to understand – and even if I did, I wouldn’t own any. So instead, I tramped over sludgy hills in mid-November wearing shoes made out of faux zebra fur without a cagoule to my name. To me, “cagoule” sounds like a word I might spot on a menu in a Hungarian restaurant that I’d consider ordering and at the last minute think “better not chance it”, and then think “why am I in a Hungarian restaurant? I want a pizza.”

That then leads me on to consider food arrangements during field trips. The truly sensible person buys their food for the day from a supermarket beforehand (ready-made sandwiches, a pot of pasta salad, etc.) and does not take a packed lunch. This is because, whether you’ve ever vocalised it or have just thought it, everybody knows that there is nothing to make one more self-conscious than taking a packed lunch out of your bag and making your squished Dairylea rectangular-cut sandwiches the subject of silent scrutiny of others. I mean, just think about it: you’re sat quietly eating your home-made sandwiches, and then someone comes up to you and points at them and goes “YOUR LUNCH IS HILARIOUS!” at which point everyone turns around and LOLz themselves into next Christmas. I’m dying inside just thinking about it. And how do you react? Do you get all huffy and make everyone laugh more, or go bright red and rue the day you ever made beef paste sarnies? Minefield.

There are certain things that, over time, have changed with field trips. The coaches are basically the same – dingy, oven-like and manned by a sociopath; but gone are the days of stuffing crisp packets into ash trays on the backs of seats, or hearing shouts of “Oi put yer bluetoof on”. And, naturally, am I bothered? AM I ‘ELL AS LIKE. I have only one single pleasant memory about any field trips that I ever went on, and that was the time Emily trapped a woman inside the revolving doors of the V&A. She still squirms in her seat thinking about it.

-Charlie

Wednesday, 17 October 2012

I Am A Hipster Basher


By the very nature of the topic bestowed upon me this week, this entry will most likely end up as a bitter Christian Bale-esque tirade filled with four-letter words, although the words are more likely to be funny ones such as ‘bulb’, ‘conk’ or ‘nest’, rather than anything worse today. For I am not trying to prove some kind of point. This is more than can be said for a certain group of our fair society- the kind of people who are marked out through the use of phrases such as “bang on trend”, the excessive avoidance of socks, and an intense dislike, bordering on racism, against any music act that has been around any longer than three years.

What was, back in my day, referred to as ‘indie’, seemed to spring forth from the fertile ovaries of the mid-2000s, and would have seemed like quite a respite for many after the previous few years of cringey pop groups wiggling around, thumbs hooked 'casually' through the belt loops of their white cargo pants. (Except for me, I would rather like to see S Club 7 reform, PROPERLY this time, and find out whether Paul can still get ‘down on the floor’, without slipping a disc). Indie took off, and its culture, with its curly mop-tops and people playing actual guitars (gasp!) now seems to have morphed into a ubiquitous jumped-up brute. What was fresh to begin with is now staler than that McDonald’s chip you dropped down the gap between your car seat and the gear stick a few months back. Yeah I’VE seen it.


Wouldn't stop me eating it though.
 
It is now a sprawling embarrassment of ‘edgy’ haircuts and inane plinky-plonky music that ends up on sickly, washed-out adverts for the kind of company that pretends it’s your biggest pal, and that by flogging you stuff in a gentle, whistling, trendy way, it is somehow ripping you off a bit less. Like Starbucks in audiovisual form.  And yes, I might be sounding like a hipster-basher at this point maybe BEACUSE THAT’S WHAT I AM AND AT LEAST I CAN ADMIT IT, ALBEIT RELUCTANTLY. I dislike using the H-word almost as much as the H’s themselves- hipsters must never admit they are a hipster, for fear of cancelling themselves out, as if the only way to put a stop to them is to declare full-throatedly “I DO believe in hipsters, I DO I DO!”, and clapping your hands in their face.

Luckily for them, there is a plethora of indie ‘icons’ to keep the wheels turning (the wheels of a vintage custom bicycle, natch), such as patron saint of I-wish-I-was-genuinely-cool, Nick Grimshaw. Fashion-wise, I have a bitch fit each and every time I see everyone’s favourite broom handle, Alexa Chung, simply turn up to things dressed in some brown shoes and what resembles a BHS school shirt, and get a rapturous round of applause and a bag of Haribo Starmix from fashion editors.
Although I suspect she would prefer to be seen with a packet of Werther’s Originals poking out of her bang-on-trend satchel, for even more authentic ‘granny chic’.
-Emily
 

Tuesday, 9 October 2012

Elections

America is currently sporting a throbbing, engorged and seam-busting election; twitching and pulsating from state to state, nearing a heady climax. I’ll just leave that image to sit with you for a moment. This has a whiff of politics about it – of course I’m going to have to sex it up a little. Although, by the standard of politics as a subject, I think the Americans already have it strapped into a pair of 8-inch PVC high-heels and poured into a boob tube so tight that it’s cutting off the seemingly already desperately low level of oxygen flowing to the average Texan’s head.

Because if they’erz one thing that royly seems to hit the noyves of Americans, it’s elections. Elections and guns. Ok, if there are TWO things that seem to engage Americans, it’s elections and guns. And Muslims. Ok, THREE things. Elections, guns and Muslims. Not including plastic-like cheese, of course. Elections, guns, Muslims and cheese that probably sticks to your inner linings. FOUR THINGS. Oh, and gays.

The televised debates... the always-clichéd and rarely-amusing adverts... the frankly eye-watering amount of money spent on campaigns (I’m sure if I had a couple of billion lying around, I could stand as a strong candidate too (although the Republicans always have that covered))... It really is a whole other concept over there. Imagine giving Ed Miliband a billion pounds for his election campaigning – if nothing else, it might help him forget about the fact that he looks like a novelty door-knocker.

We have the televised debates here now, of course – and despite the fact that I don’t think they really change anyone’s mind as to how they’ll vote, it at least has the promise of engaging some people who’d otherwise sit and watch a repeat of Midsomer Murders instead (no offence, it’s just that only twats watch Midsomer Murders).

You’d be forgiven for thinking, then, that through the dramatic graphics of news features on the subject, shouty debates, mass crowds during campaign rallies and party-political adverts starring A-listers that voting would be a whirlwind of giddy proportions and you’ll be greeted by the local Mayor who’ll shake your hand and even attempt to shine your shoes. This would then be followed by a fanfare sounding as you enter the polling station and confetti cannons blasting as you drop your ballot paper through the slit in the box, to then be given the offer of sleeping with any model of your choice, the keys to a brand new Porsche and a plate of cocaine.

But no. Of course, you get there and it’s always freezing-your-tits-off weather and the place that has been designated as a polling station is one of the few buildings left in the town that’s emotionally twinned with Peter Hitchens, or the colour brown. So naturally you think it has to be better once you’ve stepped inside, and you’ve tried not to dry-retch at the smell of warm carpet. Nope. Still awful. Then there’s the effort of communicating (or the attempt to) with the volunteers there for the day. Now, we can all deduce that there’s probably only one type of person who volunteers to man a polling station come election day, and that is the type who don’t bode well with varied human interaction. So, after the grunts, you place your vote, look at your “X” and check about four times that it’s quite clearly next to who you want to vote for and not the Conservatives, and then post your ballot with that same panic once you release your grip on it as when you post a letter of “WHAT IF I FORGOT SOMETHING?”.

Then you go home, wait to find out that the party you voted for hasn’t won, and whinge about it for the next 4 years. Magic.

- Charlie

Tuesday, 2 October 2012

Autumn

So, it’s the start of October, eh? Autumn has come. Or ‘Fall’ as you call it if you are a particularly massive cretin. Ahhh, but isn’t this time of year wonderful? NO, is the short answer. Unless you are particularly partial to the onset of nipple-freezing drops in temperature, the general smell of demise in the air, and that ominous ‘Back 2 School’ feeling which will never cease to haunt: the only upside of returning to the death camps of the educational system being that you can invest in a new Pukka Pad, and make your handwriting reaaally neat for the first couple of pages, before the inevitable relapse into doodled-upon chaos, and the creation of a mean caricature of the new caretaker. (Which in my experience are what the margins of lined paper, and school in general, are ALL ABOUT.)

Having only just picked my bottom jaw off the floor after remembering that this year will have very likely been the last time I partake in a September “first day back”, I am currently languishing in weather-limbo, of the kind where to begin with the day is so pleasant that I would, briefly, consider leaving the house in a grass skirt and a bra made from two halves of a coconut shell, sipping a piña colada- had it not been for the fact that there will be a 100% chance a few hours later of the undesirable combination of ice cold rain and a wild gale powerful enough to blow my hat off my head and all the way down the entire length of the road, as I gallop after it, feeling outsmarted.
Would YOU trust this creep?
                                                                                                                                                              
But a quick Google image search of “autumn” yields hundreds of results of rather gorgeous forest clearings, bathed in the red and yellow light of leaves from the canopy above, and lined with crispy leaves underfoot- the kind of place where, if you were there, it would be tempting to laugh toothily in slow motion, wearing a bobble hat, and pretend you were on a billboard in Matalan. I suspect that someone has jazzed up the colour schemes of these pictures a little post-production so that everything looks a little less... brown. But even in all its brownness, the forest is where autumn really happens, as folks who live there will know; such as your local child-catcher, or that miserable git Badger from Wind in the Willows. They are amongst those who get to experience autumn first-hand, and have it infinitely better than I; who, whilst peering out of my window in central Birmingham, can see a multi-storey car park, an Argos, and the city’s only four trees, which, to add insult to injury, are stubbornly refusing to turn any colour other than that of a floret of rotting broccoli in a compost bin.

But, I shall cease to whinge, as there is a far more terrible beast squatting around the corner on its haunches, the most traumatic season of all, the W-word, the season that Shall Not Be Named. The season where every time you leave the house, the sub-zero temperature leads to you feeling like you have been punched in the ears AND throat by an irate silverback gorilla. Meanwhile I will have to busy myself with honing my Bucks Fizz-style outfit changes to avoid being caught out in thermal long johns when it turns out to be the hottest day of the year. Tbh, it’s probably easier if we all just hibernate.

-Emily

Tuesday, 25 September 2012

Memes

Meme. It’s a funny word, isn’t it? Meeeeeeeeeme. Memememememe. And unless you either 1) fell down a well after 1999 when the TV series Lassie stopped running and you’re still waiting to be rescued, surviving only off well-slime and your own urine or 2) you don’t use the internet properly and don’t have an account on Twitter/Facebook/Tumblr et. al. (but probably live far richer lives than the rest of us, and know what it is to watch the sun set with a loved one), then you should know what I’m on about. That is, if I’d specifically said “Internet Memes” and not “Meme”, as they can differ. But then if I’d said that, I wouldn’t have used up all of these words of my word-count for an introduction.

The original source of the meme of course lies in evolutionary biology, referring to any sort of cultural unit that has a tendency to replicate itself. But I, for one, would love to conflate this with internet memes. The idea of a prehistoric being quickly chiselling away onto 8 different tablets of stone as he witnesses a sabre-tooth tiger scurry and fall off the edge of a bath to create the world’s first flip-book style LOLcats gif is only slightly less hilarious than the real ones. I will never not be amused by a pissed off moggy in a party hat, and I’d like to think that Caveman Derp would feel the same too. And why is it so funny? Because the behaviour would be replicated in me – I too would be pissed off at having to wear a party hat, and I’m only capable of a human level of contempt for mankind, let alone that of a cat.

The amount of hours I have spent staring at my screen, scrolling down at a rate of one click every two seconds on a Tumblr page devoted to memes, with my mouth hanging a tiny bit open – tongue ever so slightly sticking out beyond my bottom teeth – giving a gormless “hah” is staggering. If I only put half as much effort into my dissertation this summer as I did into staying up until 2:31am following the trials and tribulations of ‘Bad Luck Brian’ and realising that others also worry that the people they live with might think they’ve died when you drop the shampoo bottle in the shower and it makes an almighty bang, then I would currently be in First-ville with a job writing for Art Monthly. Instead, I have no notes and only an introduction to my essay written; and I am currently sat in my pants at 2:18pm looking at objects and thinking what could be written in an Impact font over them to provide the megalolz.

So yes, as for the internet’s good points, memes are definitely up there – along with asos.com’s free delivery service, video clips of Japanese prank shows on YouTube, Google Street View allowing me to go on holiday without actually ever getting on a plane and confirming certain suspicions I’ve always had such as “I never want to go to India”, and for making it possible for Cher to have a Twitter account (@cher).

But they seriously are going to be the downfall of my academic output. It’s hilarious now – I honestly don’t think I’m ever going to see too many classic stills from The Simpsons, or the awkward penguin situations. It’ll only really hit home once I’m about to hand in a half-arsed attempt at a dissertation – the paper sticking to my sweaty palms – and I’m looking down at my sober 2:2. *Then* I’ll realise what this cat has known all along.

- Charlie

Tuesday, 18 September 2012

Ready Meals

As an individual whose culinary skills amount to little more than heating up Ready Brek, ready meals should be the best thing ever. And to an extent, they are. They are an infinitely better invention than, say, robots that take photographs of the surface of Mars; my point being that there are plenty of desolate wastelands one can photograph without leaving planet Earth, for example the Nevada desert, or Rhyl. But who wouldn’t want an entire meal you can pop into that magical light-up box that is your microwave, only to devour it a mere 5-ish minutes later (after leaving the tray for an extra minute to regain rigidity, obvs. Although I suspect that is it just me that takes the instructions on the box as gospel).  Food goes in cold, and then comes out hot. I am slack-jawed with amazement.

Another plus point is that unmatchable feeling of frenziedly stabbing something with a pointed object, safe in the knowledge that no police action will be taken. At least until the point in history that I anticipate filled with a cold dread- the day that microwaveable meals begin to evolve, developing functioning index fingers and proceeding to dial 999. Or equally as bad, start brandishing sharp cutlery in your general direction, just to see how YOU like it, huh?? And I can say with certainty that, even for gentler folk such as I, the thrill of feeling like a homicidal fruitloop just for a few seconds is almost enough to send one delirious, feeling like Head Chef Hitler, a peckish Jack the Ripper, or Anthony Worrall-Thompson channelling Norman Bates. (I hear he does this often. Still, it lags behind ‘cheese theft’ as his most unnecessary feat to date.)
However, a low point of my young life so far has been, as a skint first-year student, coming across a ready meal costing a mere 74p, and instead of laughing heartily in amusement at how eerily similar to Pedigree Chum it must be, and moving along to the next aisle to buy caviar and a gold-plated gravy boat, I have thought, “Hmmm. Good. I’ll stock up.” For there is only one sight sadder than someone locked in their bedroom, eating a microwave meal for one-- and that is when it is a microwave meal for one from a value range. This point of culinary rock bottom that I had reached only served to fuel a fantasy of the day when, as a retired multimillionaire at the age of 30, I would have a medieval-style banquet every night of the week. This would involve roasted peacock, flagons of mead, and live swans flying around for my entertainment, all orchestrated by a team of midgets dressed as Teletubbies, with Henry VIII summoned through time to be my guest of honour.

Meanwhile I am chomping away on swathes of rubbery fluorescent rice, designed to conceal the fact that there about three tiny scraps of chicken in my chicken tikka masala. To counter situations like this there have been moments of madness- paying over £3 for a ready meal curry has once or twice sounded like a good idea at the time, and to be honest it was pretty tasty, and there was more chicken than you could shake a stick at- but the sensation that my purse felt lighter than helium after these purchases prevented these wild spends from becoming a habit. Also off the menu are those penne pasta disasters from Farmfoods, as I am curious to know exactly which component of them never fails to have me doubled up inexplicably in stomach pain by halfway through eating one.
But there is something joyous about the comfort of flinging open the freezer after a terrible day and finding an entire meal there, just ready to be stabbed, zapped and scoffed, all within minutes, and with no sign of the threat of such chores as “peeling carrots”, “pre-heating the oven”, or “chipping the burnt bits off the bottom of the pan.” As the author of Superwoman Shirley Conran said, “Life is too short to stuff a mushroom”, and she’s right. I want to be stuffing my FACE. Preferably for 74p.
-Emily

Tuesday, 11 September 2012

Street Performers

It’s not surprising to learn that when you live in an average sized town all your life and then move to a big city, your perspectives can alter about your previous condition (well, some anyway. My perspective that it is perfectly acceptable to be sat in a pair of long johns and on your second pint of whatever-lager-was-on-offer by 5:30pm still remains stoically intact.)

But it’s not always the glitz (more rats) & glamour (more smackheads) that are so obviously lacking when you return to your humble Mother Soil. It’s often just the small things. Walking along the greyer, more gum-spotted pavement of my hometown, I realise it’s not food stalls as there are still an abundance of those being manned by sixth-generation jacket-potato sellers (looking like they’re using the same sixth-generation oven and sporting the same sixth-generation teeth, with knuckles like ping pong balls sellotaped onto twigs). And there’s no shortage of latte-quaffing arses sat outside Costa, ignorant to the futility of their tapping away at a laptop. Then it becomes apparent. Where are the sounds of steel drums? Of old violins? Where are the street performers? AND WHERE IS THE BLOODY ACCORDION?!

A 2 month old puppy trying to run across polished laminate flooring... Fearne Cotton having her feet nailed to a train platform and her eyelids hooked onto a passing high-speed service: these are perhaps the only things more cheering to me than the sound of ‘Yellow Bird’ pouring out from the silver dome of pure joy that is a steel drum whilst I walk to whatever ultimately pointless activity I am partaking in of the day. And there’s never just one – in fact, I can walk along New Street in Birmingham and from Zara up to HSBC, I can be on a Jamaican beach with palm trees and cocktails in half-coconuts and the 45 bus to West Heath passing through; and then from Waterstones to Tesco Metro, I’ll experience the heady rushes of flamenco acoustic guitar with flourishing runs of passionate material flinging, eyes as dark as night staring with a crazed lust and the staccato stabs of swarthy Save the Children charity workers locking you in a deep embrace with a clipboard; and then from Superdrug to Café Rouge (the one that’s ok, but their dauphinoise potatoes are a bit peppery so try the one at The Mailbox), I’m transported to a celebration in a small village of Romania with tambourines and violins as rustic as the curly mullets sported by the musicians themselves, bringing some slight merriment despite the season’s bad harvest, a tethered goat nearby and the smell of traditional Gregg’s sausage rolls wafting in from four shops up. This is what is missing in smaller towns.

Of course, where there is good there shall always lie evil and I am not in the business of proclaiming all street performers are there solely for the advancement of mankind. Living statues, for example (not to be confused with the majority of the Conservative party who are also (barely) living statues). They’re only good for scaring children* (*me) and showing us what a policeman or cowboy would look like were we still all in black & white, before colour TV. And street performers who sing – no, I don’t like those. You’re just far too showy, and if I want to scoff at a scruff amateurishly singing a song I probably don’t like in the first place, there’s The X Factor. The Dalai Lama himself would have to hold back from roundhouse kicking some shabby hipster in the Underground warbling Savage Garden at you.

Small towns need more street performers. Tell your friends, neighbours and colleagues in the hope of inspiring them. Give your Gran a unicycle, or teach your vicar how to slutdrop. It’s a bleak world in which we live – things like ‘double-dip recession’, ‘The Big Bang Theory’ and ‘Peaches Geldof’ exist. Gin and screaming alone won’t make these things go away; although they certainly help, I don’t think it’s too much to ask for the complete set by throwing in the occasional fiddler outside Peacocks. Or perhaps I should just cash in on this incentive, and create a “Sounds of the Streets” download for the devices of the modern town-dweller too busy to use their ears to take in their surroundings. Featuring such classics as “Cool Calypso” and “Sweary Tramp #2”, I’ll be on that private yacht in no time. Or flat broke and performing on the streets.

- Charlie