Tuesday, 25 September 2012


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.

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