Thursday, 4 November 2010

Bloggers bite back...

A guest lecturer today told my year of journalism students that blogging is not opinion, it is a conversation. This started me thinking about little old MissWrite, and how I got to where I am with it today. I started off just wanting to comment on things I saw and heard, much like a columnist would (except a columnist usually has some sort of authority or status that makes that column worth reading.) I had only my thoughts, my laptop, and at times, my temper. I have always sort of thought that blogging was about sharing your opinion, and to some extend I still believe that. What Adam Tinworth was saying was that your blog has no commercial value, no stamp of valuable journalism (rather than citizen journalism) unless you offer a concept and engage with other people online in your analysis of it.

This, in turn, got me thinking about the comments function of a blog. I was delighted the first time MW received a comment; a little thrill of 'I exist!' (in cyberspace) ran through me and a blogger was born. We only write to be read, after all. But I have been slapped over the wrist on more than one occasion by commenters who thought I couldn't take fair criticism. I had one anonymous troll (I'm still convinced they're one and the same) who just had it in for me. The different between their disagreements with my posts and others' was that it was personal, pedantic and laced with venom. Every not-quite-literal phrase was picked up and every motive questioned. So I chatted back to them, not in an especially feisty way really, but genuinely wondering what their issue was. And swiftly, I was told by the blogging community that we just don't do that - accept their comments with grace or don't blog at all. I remember someone commenting that 'If I wanted to get into this line of work, I should expect to be criticised.'

I do expect feedback (and get it in gallons on this course, an avalanche of red pen) but which overlord of the blogosphere decided I couldn't react to it? As I suspected, and Tinworth confirmed today, it is a two-way conversation. If people are allowed to comment on my ramblings, I am certainly allowed to comment on theirs. And so the circle continues. Stephen Fry has today - and lots in the past - used his blog to defend himself from rumour and negative press. Good on him - if he was indeed misquoted, why shouldn't he have a platform for rebuttal?

Similarly, a peer brought this blog to my attention today. NME receive a lot of web comments, some clearly on a mission to ridicule their brand in general, and today a couple of their writers got in and debated with the 'trolls' that were beginning to depress them. Why not? It's their job to report on things, and if people are just blandly criticising the topic (which they clicked on), the website (which they clicked on) and not discussing the points made in the blog, I think it's fair game to knock them back in your own comment. What do you think? Is there an unwritten code of conduct for bloggers to remain quietly dignified? Comment away - but don't expect me to stay out of it.

Friday, 22 October 2010

Cute as a cupcake

Since I returned to student life, I must have made about 150 To Do lists, all scribbled on cheap Wilko ruled paper and lost to the bottom of a bag or the floor of a lecture theatre. Every time I tick something off mentally, another task pops up and I panic just a little. So I thought a while back of buying a little whiteboard to keep a rolling list of errands and course work, but even Argos, would you believe, charges extortionately for these things. I'm so glad I didn't buy this clunky school version, because today when I was in good old New Look (buying shoes, I confess) this absolute beauty of a board was in their crafty impulse buy section:


Not only does it pick up my largely-pink bedspread in a very white room, it also has cupcake doodles, is magnetic and makes homework that bit more fun. Oh, and it's only £7.99. Guess I can have my cake and eat it, Argos overlords.

Thursday, 21 October 2010

Hate Never Dies

When I was little, I remember my sisters and I (along with some family friends we thought of as 'plastic cousins') singing a little ditty that went like this:

Margaret Thatcher, put her in the bin
Pop the lid on, sellotape her in

If she comes out, knock her on the head

Glory, glory, Margaret's dead


I didn't think much about it at the time, but this means I've been wishing the worst on Baroness Thatcher (albeit death by bin) since I was about six. I certainly knew who she was - this was John Major era - and in the finest black-and-white logic of childhood, that she was a Bad Person. The curious thing is that, as Thatcher vitriol was presumably not knocking around on the playground, our parents must have taught us this. There is something potent about propaganda in song which meant this zoomed back into my mind when I clicked on this link, posted on Facebook today. I can see how the site might be humorous, but I didn't laugh - I was interested. Something is so culturally consensual about the 'we hate Thatcher' standpoint, whether you're the son of a miner or someone who was three when she resigned. But I only realised today, as I watched people counting down to her demise and making playlists to celebrate, how little I actually know about the woman, her career and her legacy.

It is clear that with this week's cuts came a lot of bad memories, and Thatcher's reported bad health and hospital stays have been consistently linked in with George Osborne's announcements. Unemployment has become a regular part of the news again, and though people aren't quite as vitriolic about Cameron, the resigned feeling that the Tories are going to cock it up again for the Average Joe has been wafting around since before the election. Although unlike Family Man Dave, it seems to me Thatcher never wasted much time trying to be likeable.

Funnier than Is She Dead Yet was the irony of the Chilean miners' rescue dominating what should have been her 85th birthday. People were all over Twitter and Facebook with their Thatcher/Miner jokes. Largely people who hadn't even hit puberty when she was at the peak of her power. Obviously a bad legacy spreads, and we all rightly hate Hitler without ever having been persecuted by him, but it just fascinates me how one woman has dominated decades as the villain of politics. She was our first and only female Prime Minister, a fact eclipsed by her Iron Lady image and the social mess she left. Will we ever elect a woman again? It seems unlikely, for if she has the balls to head up a party she will no doubt be compared to Thatcher, but if she is as saccharine and smarmy like Cameron, she'll have no chance either. One thing people appear to agree on is that these new cuts have a good chance of recreating the depression and turmoil of the 1980s.

Johann Hari thinks that Osborne and Cameron have 'blindly obeyed the ideological precepts they learned as baby Thatcherites: slash the state, and make the poor pay most.' He makes a good case against the depth of the cuts; their disregard of the advice of prominent economists, the Financial Times, and the evidence that countries like South Korea, who stimulated spending following the recession, have made a better recovery. British history, not only the Thatcher years, but the post-WW1 recession, also suggests that this is not the way to go. Forgive me; I am not a politics expert or an economist. It just struck me for a moment how much the shadow of a dying 85-year old continues to hang over the news and common debate. Something doesn't sit well with me about stirring up a mob of people eagerly awaiting a person's death, whatever they've done, however long they've lasted - and while unemployment can have devastating knock-on effects, there was no genocide here, no dictatorship. She was not one person acting alone, in this country is is a party and a parliament who make things happen, for better or worse. Hari may be right about the 'colder and crueller' country ours has just become, but let's not forget the many people, organizations and events that contributed to that. Including your vote.


Image: The Guardian

Thursday, 14 October 2010

Big diff

Ok, so I moved to Cardiff, became a student... and stopped blogging. This is partly because of the exciting brand-new experience that is Cardiff Journalism School, and partly because we've had to start new blogs, open social media accounts from Flickr to LinkedIn, and my head is still spinning from all the online and mobile journo things I'm learning to do. So I will post properly soon. Right now, in honour of my jubilation at being back in Wales, here are my favourite ever Gavin and Stacey moments. Feel free to post your own as a comment - and if you haven't yet discovered G&S (by which I think we all know I really mean Nessa & Smithy), for the love of Bryn get yourself out and buy the DVD. Noswaith dda!

Oh, Doris, where's the salad?

Pete, have you thought about my bhunas?


Tell'em what gwarn' blud


Can we ALL stop calling it a HONEYMOON?


You can't denyyyyy me

It's no way to live
(actually any reference to Nessa's past, but there aren't enough good clips!)

More elaborate post to come soon....

Tuesday, 21 September 2010

TwitPick

Rapper 50 Cent is the latest celeb making waves in Twitterland (if not the music industry) simply by being a chronic oversharer. But in gangsta speak. Tune in to Fiddy and you’ll learn about his oral sex preferences, who he just nailed, his musings on the ladygardens of female celebrities, who he’s just bailed out of prison, and even interior decoration (‘Ima buy this AK47 gold lamp in silver’) if you can find it amongst all the vigorous copulation. I've just realised how euphemistic 'interior decoration' is in itself, but I digress.

The man who once took us to the Candy Shop and invited us most cordially to join him In Da Club is pretty darn funny just by being a walking reality show, but then someone set up English50Cent which translates his tales of bitches and hoes into musings on lady dogs and gardening equipment. Very amusing stuff. Not for the kids though, as 50 thoughtfully broadcasts over and over again. He also tweets as and to his dog, Oprah. You can't make this stuff up. Enjoy!

Dancing with My Self


The last few weeks I have been reading the somewhat overexposed Eat, Pray, Love, something I’ve been meaning to pick up after months of recommendations, but was finally spurred to open by of the impending film adaption starring Julia Roberts. For those who aren’t familiar with this bestseller, it is the memoir of American writer Elizabeth Gilbert, who, following an acrimonious divorce and general listlessness, took herself off to Italy, India and Bali for a year, spending an even four months in each. I’ve really enjoyed it, although it hasn’t all been unputdownable; the first section which describes Liz’s initial turmoil, decision to travel and pasta pilgrimage to Rome was a pure delight, but the middle third detailing her time meditating in an Indian Ashram and ensuing spiritual education was, for me, less compelling. I am currently part way through her adventures in Bali, which are back on her more interesting themes of immersion in culture, meeting new people and relaying poignant anecdotes. I am looking forward to seeing the film in many ways, and can certainly understand Hollywood’s eagerness to put EPL on the big screen; the visual feast on the page just lends itself to a film version, although the real heart of the story, Gilbert's constant, honest introspection, will be harder to incorporate. Today in the Indy, Rebecca Armstrong bemoans Hollywood’s frequent fudging of much-loved books and hopes that Eat, Pray, Love will not prove another casualty. It is a precarious case, as meditation on the self + Julia Roberts + a soaring soundtrack could equal something unbearably sappy, but I really hope they have included some of the individual appeal of the book as well as the inevitable shots of smiling Indian children and sunsets.

There has been a flurry of negative pre-release assumptions, from some of my favourite female writers amongst others, dismissing both book and adaptation on Twitter and in the press. The brilliant Lindy West was not a fan (the savvy Telegraph snapped her up for this cutting review) and I’m sure others will follow. Gilbert is accused of being smug, self-obsessed, hypocritical and clichéd in a ‘moany rich woman finds herself’ sort of way, and on these grounds the book is deemed worthless chick lit. I can’t say I agree. While, on paper, her New York existence prior to her travels might be deemed privileged (published author & journalist, wealthy husband, big house, friends, parties) the point of the opening is exactly that – on paper, her life is perfection. Her chronic sadness is openly based on her guilt that she isn’t happier, that she can’t make her marriage work and that she finds she doesn’t want a baby to complete the domestic picture. I have rarely read a writer more frank about her own shortcomings, selfishness and neuroses. This is, I believe, why so many women found the book refreshing and absorbing: we all have meltdowns, panics and periods of unhappiness. Yes, a lot of it is described in group-therapy schtick, but that’s how contemporary Americans communicate. This self-awareness makes us Brits uncomfortable, but also with a slight hint of envy at being able to admit to your own issues. The writer dwells on her own self more in this book than most people will in a lifetime, but she does it with an educated finesse that makes it palatable.

Whatever her motives, a newly-single Gilbert decided to end the pretence of her glossy city life and visit places that fascinated her. The tripartite structure of the book reflects the poetry the narrator finds in everything she encounters; the neat introduction describes how her tale is divided into 108 small stories, the number having spiritual significance in Yogic philosophy. Whatever her sentimental reasons for conveying her story thus, it worked for me. The small, almost isolated anecdotes are each a charming peek into a completely self-centred adventure (in the best possible way.) We meet her new friends, hear their stories, but more often than not we are privy to her own thoughts and ponderings on life. The narrator is shaken up time and time again by natural beauty, the range of human experience and the ability of others to remain smiling, in a positive look at self-discovery if ever there was one.

But the snobbery over this memoir and its subject matter is not only mystifying, it has eclipsed all critical and public acclaim the book attracted when published in 2006. I was really annoyed when the Daily-bloody-Mail ran a ‘novelty’ feature about their egotistical columnist Liz Jones taking the same trip, making a direct comparison to Jones’ preoccupation with herself that disregards all the beauty of the original. Elizabeth Gilbert is apologetic many times in the novel for her overthinking of things, and relays her joy and satisfaction with the world and its inhabitants far more than her misery at her own situation. Her gift is her ability to tell the stories of others and to put the vividness of a moment on the page. The only thing they have in common is daring to think their own lives might be worth writing about. Maybe the problem is that women are not supposed to be selfish, in any circumstances. But regardless of background, money earned and property owned (and Gilbert started life on a Christmas tree farm in Connecticut, not Park Avenue) I don’t think the book is just a whinefest about her rich Western malaise. She gives good reasons for her escape, including her dependence on men for happiness - having been in relationships basically her entire adult life - and her husband’s venomous approach to their divorce flattening her self esteem. I have nothing but respect for someone who is determined to lift themselves out of the torpor of depression, be that with a U-turn in career, ending a relationship or just taking off in search of something new. But some women seem to be embarrassed by such shirking of domestic responsibility. It is puzzling to me, as there seems no better time to take off than following the painful end to a childless marriage. There is an argument that we don’t all have the money to traipse off and sit on mountains every time we feel sad, but she paid for the trip with the publishers' advance for the book – offered to a result of her own reputation as writer, built up by years of hard work.

Gilbert's choice of destinations was also interesting to me. Rome I can completely relate to, where she essentially indulged her taste for fresh, rustic Italian food, the Italian language and the stunning architecture. This was the most moving part for me, as she nurtures new friendships and finds freedom in pursuing nothing but pleasure. There is a sublime passage where Liz and her new friends celebrate Thanksgiving in the Italian mountains, and she realizes just how many things she is thankful for. At another point, she finds the strength to persevere with her Yogic studies by focusing on a nephew she is fiercely protective of. In moments like these I found myself so in tune with Gilbert’s voice that I felt the lump in the throat, the tear in the eye or the surges of happiness as she narrated them. Make what you will of the cliché of a Westerner dabbling in Yoga, religion and Eastern philosophy, but you can’t deny the power of the writing. In India, her language was more difficult to me as her openness to the idea of a non-specific God as well as energy, meditation and enlightenment are so far from my own views on the world. But it is her hope that something greater than herself can enrich her life, rather than a preachy ‘knowledge’ of this, that still managed to charm me. In Bali, her love affair with its quirky and laid-back population is filled with admiration rather than touristy condescension, and the charismatic medicine man she learns from is one of my favourite figures. Perhaps I found the book so arresting because the thought of leaving my world behind and venturing out alone is both terrifying and alluring to me; in all honesty I don’t think I currently have the balls, but I’d love to in the future, and the fact is so many people’s responsibilities and duties prevent it from ever being an option.

Whether the film is fabulous or a flop, I hope people will still read the book if they find themselves intrigued, as I did this month. Whether you are going through an introspective period yourself or simply want to travel vicariously, this is a fascinating example of someone taking themselves out of their comfort zone and actively trying to widen their perspective. Not only this, but the uncommon spirit of Gilbert’s diary-memoir style shows an appreciation throughout of the beauty, poetry and wonderful contrasts of the world and its communities, something rare and to be cherished in a book. I hope the coven of female media types scoffing at the whole concept stop and think about such things now and again; if not, I know which experience I’d rather have. Review of the film to follow...

Tuesday, 14 September 2010

Bitchin'

A massive tee hee to this blog that posts weekly reviews of The X Factor with a strong all-bitching stance. I got hooked on the same anonymous reality-show bloggers during the last Andrew Lloyd Webber casting series Over the Rainbow (where their blog Over the Rainbitch provided a scathing critique of the girls’ performances and conduct.) It’s best to start early on these blogs as the in-jokes and references to the loved and hated judges/contestants do build up. If you’ve been a fan of the ALW shows from the start, you will still enjoy their I’d Bitch Anything blog in retrospect, especially their annoyance at Pirate Jessie and her frequent use of ‘sidegob’. Whatever your poison, there’s a blog for you: Strictly Come Bitching, Bitching on Ice, Bitchwood, The Apprent-bitch and even Bitching’s Next Top Model. One of the reasons these blogs work is because they’re reported by several people, with the others chipping in occasionally. They often have different opinions on the contestants, injecting a bit of banter into the proceedings. Some of my favourite snippets below:


…but what’s this? He has another song you say? The ‘sing another song’ gimmick is this year’s WHO IS DEAD and I am so, so over it already. The Bitch Factor

[Lauren] just makes me wonder if she can do any extreme emotion other than VERY ANGRY. I do enjoy her face on the word "confused", though, which denotes confusion in a Joey Tribbiani style. Over the Rainbitch

Jessie's Cockney accent is even worse; Dick van Dyke is watching this and sighing with relief that the worst Cockney accent committed to celluloid will no longer be his. I’d Bitch Anything

Ads. Cheryl tells us we’re worth it. Alexandra tells us her deodorant keeps working for 48 hours, the shower-avoiding weirdo. The Bitch Factor

Backstage, Jessica reminded us that she's just so privileged to be here, because she is REALLY REALLY NORMAL. Expect to see her running up a mountain and showing us her bra any day now. Over the Rainbitch

Olivia is next, and her zombie picture is hideous, in a good way. Elle loves it because "I haven't seen you look like this!" Well, yes, because this isn't Britain's Next Top Zombie (although I would watch the shit out of that show if it existed). Bitching’s Next Top Model


Do have a read, especially if you are a closet trash-TV lover like myself. Some others rocking my blogosphere at the moment:

My New Favourite Thing
Olivia writes about all things beautiful and quirky, from fashion and cupcakes to travel and teen crushes. This gives me regular bag envy but it’s worth it for the stunning photographs and our shared love of Dolly Parton.

West End Whingers
In their own words, ‘Phil and Andrew begrudgingly cut into their wine time to tell you whether it’s worth missing the Merlot for the Marlowe.’ A cross between the Muppets’ Statler and Waldorf and Sex and the City’s Anthony Marentino, these two go to see West End shows and report back scathingly or excitably on their findings.

Style Bubble
Susanna ‘Susie Bubble’ Lau takes us on a whirlwind tour of the catwalk, her shopping adventures, street style and anything she thinks is cute. What started off as an underground consumer blog is now an established comment on the fashion world.

PostSecret
One of the best blogging concepts out there, PostSecret is a project where people anonymously send in their secrets (some funny, some shocking, some sombre) and they are posted here for all the world to see. Fascinating.

Monday, 13 September 2010

No... just... No



I love Gaga. I have mentioned many times on this blog my love for her music, her boldness of performance and costume, her immaculately-maintained pop art persona... but this time, Gaga, you have gone too far.



Yep. That's right. You are not seeing, as on first glance, a strangely textured reddish-cream dress. It's meat. Raw, stinking meat that should be on a cow's bones, on the grill, on my plate, but categorically should NOT be worn to the VMAs. After my initial disgust, I was a tiny (tiny, tiny) bit impressed with the inventive use of a whole steak as a headpiece and the meat shoes bound with string. But I'm afraid to say this one has tipped the taste scales for me, especially as La Gaga doesn't seem to be sure what message she's promoting with this avant garde creation:

"If we don’t stand up for what we believe in and if we don’t fight for our rights pretty soon we’re going to have as much rights as the meat on our own bones. And, I am not a piece of meat.” she stated broadly when questioned by veggie Ellen Degeneres. If this is a comment on the pornification of culture (valid) then why not come as a blow-up doll, or lose the porno-platinum locks. If it's genuinely a reaction to fears someone might eat her, to Gaga I say this: you have very little flesh on your bones and would therefore be an odd choice for a lurking cannibal. But until she explains a valid reason, and perhaps showers off the greasy film no doubt left by raw beef under hot stage lights, I cannot look at Gaga for a while. It's not over - I just need a little space.

Friday, 10 September 2010

One to Watch

I have a new girl crush (yeah... move over Ellen.) Taylor Momsen has just whooshed up my fab-ometer, with the grungy sounds of her new music venture The Pretty Reckless.

I love Taylor not only because I'm a confirmed Gossip Girl addict, but because as a kid, she used to do this


So she could have ended up like this





Or this



But instead, at 17, she's decided to do this


And I never thought I'd say this, but I really like their music. The Pretty Reckless' first album, Light Me Up, is strictly grungy, sexy, angry rock - and not Avril Lavigne rock-lite, but a harder sound more than matched by Momsen's gritty vocals. I like her style because where it would have been really easy to swallow painkillers like they're Haribo and get a boob job in order to say 'I never wanted to be the kid in The Grinch, F*CK YOU!' she's saying it with a creative outlet, and one I want on my iPod at that. Lohan was the kid in The Parent Trap even before her cringey Herbie years (enough to give anyone a drinking problem) and Mischa Barton was the little ghost girl in The Sixth Sense, as well as grinning her way through a host of commercials. Both have become Hollywood clichés with their partying, their DUIs and substance abuse issues, but savvy Momsen seems to be more in control of her own destiny.

I think the problem is where cutesy looks give way and the talent underneath is doubtful (remember Lohan's short-lived music career? If you want to, here it is). Momsen has been honing her voice and the band's 'sound' for a couple of years now, and co-wrote every track on the album. I recommend downloading My Medicine and Makes Me Wanna Die to start with, but I think the band as a whole have real potential. There are the obvious Courtney Love comparisons with Taylor's platinum, smokey-eyed vibe, but to me she looks much more together than the mad auntie of rock' n'roll. She works the vampiric style, hopefully minus the self-destruct button. I loved her as the sweet-then-scheming Jenny Humphrey in Gossip Girl, and I really respect the fluidity of Taylor's next career move, when she could probably party comfortably for a few years on the LA scene before having to raise her profile again. Have a listen to TPR and tell me what you think!


Thursday, 9 September 2010

Lunch Lust

Today an unrequited lust, as I’ve heard great things about this place but have yet to sample its wonders. Inamo is one of those ‘revolutionary dining concepts’ (that always conjures up images of a Jetsons/space age set up and then quickly disappoints), but then this pan-asian joint has the added perk of some bargainous set menus, small plates and starters as well as the big hitters like Black Cod and Thai curries. Having chuckled at Ariel Leve’s recent rant about the evils of small plates, I am actually a fan of the phenomenon. One of the nicest meals I’ve had recently was at Yauatcha in Soho, where we asked the waitress for a selection of their best dishes. The rest of the evening was a mouthwatering blur of sensational dumplings, spicy fried squid and jasmine tea-smoked ribs. Inamo looks like a similar order-everything type of place, and the soft-shell crab maki rolls and the salmon and avocado ceviche would be top of my list. Now all I need is someone with excellent taste to take me there…

Monday, 6 September 2010

I is for Inspiration

So many people and things inspire me. Any given day, song or a book can inspire me to be stronger in a personal attitude or make a decision, a friend’s poise and dignity can inspire me to behave in a similar way, a commuter’s bold choice of outfit can inspire me to experiment and those further ahead down the route to being A Writer can inspire me to stop dwelling on the ‘what ifs’ and carry on. I thought I’d write a little ode to those who push me and motivate me and encourage me to be a better, braver or simply more fabulous person.

Caitlin Moran
You probably know this if you’re a regular reader, because I reference Moran’s wit and wisdom quite a bit. It’s hard to describe her if you haven’t read any of her stuff, but as a freelance writer, interviewer and all round journalistic firecracker, she inspires me to work harder or risk never being as well-read, articulate and funny as her. She’s also from humble beginnings and the state school system but works for The Times, as well as having fabulously punky tastes and a penchant for overexcited capitals (usually when tweeting the word *SCREAM*). If you’re still not sure, follow her on Twitter and I guarantee she will have you howling in minutes.

Angelina Jolie
*Sigh*, no, not for the husband-stealing or the wafer-thin calves, but because the woman’s a bloody phenomenon. Jolie shows that no amount of personal craziness or bad PR record can obscure true talent, and looking at her you just know she’s never stopped to think ‘What if this wrecks my chances of getting that next big part?’ Because she’s hypnotic as a psychotic teen in Girl, Interrupted, she’s harrowing as a courageous mother in Changeling and funny as an assassin with a suburban double life in Mr and Mrs Smith. Because she’s the only choice for icons as diverse as Marilyn, Cleopatra and Lara Croft, and because she kicks more ass per movie than most Hollywood males put together. When I read she’d turned down a Bond Girl role because she’d rather be the next 007, I could’ve kissed her. As well as being a thrill-seeking badass and a stellar actress, Ange also manages to be wonderfully chic and feminine on the red carpet. I'm going to ignore all the 'rainbow mom' stuff as i'm sure it's just too many years in Hollywood, but she is also genuinely and deeply involved in the UN and not afraid to speak up on important matters. If you hate her, I'm pretty sure it’s just because you want to be her.

My Mum
My mum is the most direct inspiration for me because she has always seemed to ‘have it all’ – not in the material sense, but in terms of style, intellect, friendships, work ethic, ambition and maternal brilliance. So I suppose she’s always ‘balanced it all’, and taught me the equal importance of further education and being able to whip up a sublime bread and butter pudding. She was an amazing stay-at-home mum (due to being creative with working from home and sacrificing lots of luxuries) for years, studied her socks off to get a degree, worked her way up to management level in fewer years than anyone I know and even managed to wedge in an MA this year as well as getting her dream job and celebrating 30 years of marriage. Need any more reasons? She’s also the best hugger in the entire world – fact.

Lady Gaga
There’s been a bit of a Gaga backlash of late and I honestly can't understand it. People seem to think she’s a fame-whorish type who is all exhibitionist and no substance, but I can only assume they haven’t listened to a note of her music. It’s pop, but it’s crazy, bold, lyrically sharp pop, vocally challenging and endlessly catchy. She’s also absolutely incredible live – I won’t hear a word against this – just watch this for starters. She has famous fans ranging from Elton John, the hard-to-please Perez Hilton, Janet Jackson and Helen Mirren, and is a very vocal gay rights activist, as well as giving all her little teenage ‘freaks’ and ‘monsters’ a powerful role model to identify with during adolescence. In an industry filled with bland, girly, autotuned one hit wonders, we should surely regard Gaga as some sort of female messiah? More than anything, she just seems fearless – I love that she puts all of her money back into her live shows and designs her performance concepts. More vulnerable than Madonna and saner than Michael Jackson, a better songwriter than Kylie and ten times more talented than Britney; she’s just a tiny little thing under all the glitz and theatrics, but Gaga’s a budding icon and should be recognised as such.

Christine Stovell
I have only had the pleasure of meeting Chris once, but I follow her blog and have watched the well-deserved publication of her brilliant book Turning the Tide in the last year. She is inspirational because she decided it wasn’t too late to do the thing she’d always wanted to do, and proved she had the metaphorical balls to do it. Not only do I respect her as a writer, but she has reminded me that the urge to write never goes away; so on those days when a nondescript but well-paid job beckons to me with its perks of a stable life and steady income, I know I shouldn’t give in so easy. Follow her on Twitter and look out for her next book!

Blair Waldorf
Oh well... there had to be a fictional one. Gossip Girl's Blair is a purely aesthetic idol of mine, a perfectly groomed Park Avenue princess with pearls, gloves and a pout to match. It's funny as it isn't really my style, but the first time I saw actress Leighton Meester as the scheming anti-heroine of the show, I just fell in love with Blair's buttoned-down look. If you're unfamiliar with the addictive trash TV that is Gossip Girl, this blog explains Blair's look pretty well. She may not be the 'world peace' type, but she's impossibly chic and I can't help but covet her from her beret to her Mary Janes.

Jason Robert Brown
Finally, an inspirational male! Brown is one of my favourite composers (and in my opinion, one of the best in musical theatre), and I'm practically hyperventilating at the thought of seeing him performing his work live in less than three weeks' time. His musicals and song cycles, including Songs for a New World, Parade and The Last Five Years include some of the most beautiful songs I have ever heard, so technically complex and lyrically witty, moving and brutal that I never get tired of listening to them and always hear something new each time. JRB is so good that I bought two of his piano books - and I can barely play Happy Birthday. If you're not a fan of the genre (described amusingly in Bridget Jones' Diary as 'men standing with their legs apart, bellowing') I suggest you listen to Lauren Kennedy's album Songs of Jason Robert Brown, but if you do like a musical - and a real story, none of your Sweet Charity nonsense - I would recommend The Last Five Years.

Nigella Lawson
I adore Nigella. I adore her buttercreamy, olive-oily, chocolate-saucey TV shows and cookbooks, her cooking community website, and her glorious sex bomb image that confirms that 50 really can be your prime. They say that after a certain age you have to choose between your face or your arse (the logic being, I presume, that plumper women have a sort of natural collagen effect happening) but I think Nigella is living proof you can have your cake and eat it.

Jo March
My favourite literary heroine, a tomboy with a hot temper and a desire for independence who never lets the fact that she is a girl push her to give up her dreams or conform to a small-town ideal. I like Jo because she's flawed, impulsive and has big dreams, as well as being the at the centre of one of my favourite childhood books. If Louisa May Alcott and her literary avatar Jo could pick up a pen and compete with the male novelists of their time, hindered by huge petticoats and cultural prejudice, I really don't have a reason to moan in 2010.

Lindy West
Another writer, brought to most people's attention with her less-than-rave review of Sex and the City 2 (some harsh language, folks) and who keeps me smiling regularly with her original style and ponderings on the world. Her column in Seattle paper The Stranger is a cult hit, and many of my favourite writers have followed her work since that review. Why do I love her? Because no subject is too obscure to comment on, from hippy rituals to liquorice. She can transform anything into excellent reading, and that inspires the hell out of me.


This ended up being a slightly weird combination of the very real, the loosely acquainted, the fictional, the obscure and the mega-famous. But it's all true, and I don't think a girl should have to pretend she's only inspired by Mother Teresa or the Lorax. Feel free to drop me a comment with your own inspirations.

RIP GMTV


Last Friday early morning classic GMTV was laid to rest in favour of a dire new concept called Daybreak, and like so many things (Opal Fruits, Woolworths, my youth), I just didn’t realise how much I’d miss it until it was gone. It’s a good thing of course, lifestyle-wise; I used to chop and change between BBC Breakfast and GMTV during my toast-munching time, thus missing out on valuable current affairs snippets in favour of red carpet gossip and stories about heroic pets. It’s a new dawn, and that dawn will be filled entirely with disheartening news about house prices and graduate jobs. But I forced myself to watch a good six minutes of the first Daybreak this morning, just to see if it had any of GMTV’s trashy warmth, silliness or unintentional hilarity.

Reader, it did not. Even if you can stomach the toxic combination of Bleakley and Chiles (really?), they are wedged in far too close to the camera in an uncomfortable ‘we get on great!’ proximity. Her rubbery spitting-image smile and his melting caveman expression make it difficult to decide which side of the screen is less painful to focus on, and while today’s weather probably wasn’t a production decision, the vast greyness behind their heads just added to the notion that this was a dark, dark day for breakfast television. The news (and I know no-one ever watched GMTV for the NEWS) was like any other third-rate channel’s news – dull, read by an attractive but nondescript woman and with the same terrible 80s-looking graphics as the rest of the show. Purple and yellow? Outside of an Easter Hat Parade these colours have no business appearing side by side. It’s hard to believe this is the big shift in ITV’s morning schedule, months in the planning. It looks like they had to come up with something in 24 hours, planned using only post its, purple crayons and a perpetual soundtrack of James Blunt in the background.

'I'm gonna punch you in the ovary, that's what I'm gonna do. A straight shot. Right to the babymaker.'

It’s not that GMTV was a sensational piece of topical television; it simply stood for a time when I had options. Bleak day, hungover day, can’t-bear-to-hear-another-economic-reason-my-life-is-about-to-suck day? Ben Shephard’s boy-scout charm and the ramblings of their (clearly on crack) TV guy Richard Arnold would momentarily disperse the challenges of the day ahead. Bad satellite links, verbal stumblings and crying babies drowning out interviews were all part of its wayward charm. Transparent timewasting – during their World Cup coverage, Shephard had a troupe of vuvuzela players competing with an English brass band for a number of minutes I will never comprehend – provided a good opportunity to flick over to the real world, aka BBC Breakfast. But while I know many of you were always exclusively Breakfast watchers, there is a small part of my brain, the same part that enjoys reading Cosmo in the bath, that just doesn’t know how it will get through some segments of a purely-BBC morning. The other day one of their correspondents was wedging himself through small tunnels in a cave for what seemed like hours, as some sort of topical nod to a big cave-related story. I can’t even remember what the point of it was, so traumatic was the coverage. It also doesn't help that the hosts are as forgettable as they are professional, and the business and sports presenters are snoozeworthy even when sipping your first caffeine fix of the day.

So farewell, GMTV: farewell to the interchangeable blondeness of Penny, Kate and Emma, farewell to the Pussycat-Doll-esque weathergirl, farewell to Real People interviews marred by grizzling babies, to Andrew Castle’s valiant stabs at being ‘cool’ and ‘hip’, to Fiona Phillips’ inability to be remotely likeable, to Richard Arnold’s pun-a-minute, ‘ooh matron’ TV coverage, and to many other little moments of lightness in my weekday mornings.

Thursday, 2 September 2010

TwitPick

I follow a great many wise and witty Tweeters, but this week's pick of the bunch has got to be the inimitable Dolly Parton. Yes, a lot of it is clearly run by her 'people', but Dolly has long been a fascination of mine - not just that voice and those songwriting skills, but the deft combination of everything I usually detest in a woman (fake blonde, cartoonish surgery) and everything I adore (self-deprecating wit, straight-talkin' savvy, one's own theme park.)


Some recent Dollyisms include:

I hope people realize that there is a brain underneath the hair and a heart underneath the boobs.

Find out who you are, and do it on purpose.

Some of my dreams are so big they would scare you!

Smile, it enhances your face value!

and my personal favourite,

Don't get so busy making a living that you forget to make a life.


Even if you think this sort of mantra just puts the twee into tweeting, I implore you to stick a bit of '9 to 5' on your iPod and just feel it erase all the tension of even the vilest working day. Dolly, I salute you.

Friday, 27 August 2010

Lunch Lust

As I make the transition from working life to student journo, I'm going to incorporate some regular slots into the blog - Twitter & blog recommendation, style crushes and most deliciously, a bit of a restaurant watch.

This week's lust is Artisan and Vine (the site of my first online dating experience). I already knew they sourced delicious local and specialist wines, but from next week they are starting a new lunch menu which, reading it through, could have been created in my most delirious dream.

Fishcakes with hollandaise? Moules? Goats cheese tart? And all with the know-how behind the bar to set you up with the perfect refreshment. I feel a little drunk already.

GlobeStrutting

I love to travel, and it grieves me that the only real way to get started as a travel writer is to travel as much as you can and document your adventures. This is tricky as a would-be writer, because if you’re doing all you can do get into the industry - work experience, internships, further education - you probably can’t afford a constant stream of worldwide jaunts. You save for periods of unpaid work like others save for holidays, and while they’re often great fun and invaluable experience, on grey and drizzly weeks like this that have no place in August, the lack of vitamin D and new sights can really drag you down. This is the first year I can remember that I haven't been abroad, and I have felt it. I live vicariously through travel sections, friends’ tourist photos and travel blogs, visually cruising through New York, Brazil, Vietnam and Australia and mentally jotting down my ‘to go’ list. Those who trot the globe in style constantly inspire me and make me long to extend my travel knowledge further than my own (lovely) continent and the US.

It isn’t all bleak though; I really enjoy reading about someone’s connection with a place, and there are some excellent blogs out there, in particular. A friend recently went to Tokyo and wrote a street-style piece about her trip on her great fashion and pop culture blog. A girl on the same journalism course as me this autumn has a great account of her travels through Vietnam, as well as some fab film and music reviews, and for completely unrealistic travelporn, you can’t beat the luxe offerings of the Mr and Mrs Smith blog. It might sound a bit sad to muse about travel heaven when you have neither the time nor the funds, but one day I will and all this inspiration will be put to good use.

I think a lot of people that know me would laugh at the thought of me roughing it on a shoestring in foreign climes, but isn’t that the point of the Big Travel Experience? I didn’t do it at 18 and don’t regret that; I think I would have been overwhelmed, frizzy and subsequently diva-ish for most of it, not especially making me a better person. But while even a week in the med is unattainable travel heaven in my current lifestyle, it’s nice to think that a few years of hard graft and experience could lead to more of an adventure somewhere. I do think it’s important to do it, even if that means sacrificing a hot shower and fluffy white towels in favour of grubby sleeper trains and greasy locks once in a while… what else are dry shampoo and baby wipes for? Granted, I’m not usually a festival type, but I’d do it for the right destination. I also have a split in the places I’d want to hit with a bit of cash (Tokyo, New York, Cairo) and those I’d be happy jetting off to on a budget (Bangkok, Prague, Budapest).

I think if someone handed me the money right now - where’s that anonymous benefactor when you need them, eh? - I would probably head to Asia, as it’s somewhere that I’ve never been and has always fascinated me. Something like Thailand (travelling 101) – Vietnam (history & culture) – Hong Kong (shopping & skyscrapers) – Tokyo (style & sushi) – and then rounding it off with somewhere beachy and glorious like Bali would be heaven. I’ve never been that desperate to hit Australasia; it does look gorgeous but I’d want a more alien experience, but I can imagine it being perfect for a career gap or family trip later on in life. South Africa is a little daunting but also rich in sights and culture; I think I'd need to go with someone I felt safe with and later in my travel life. Another friend recently went to South America for a few months and has been posting endless stunning photos of Brazil, Bolivia, Peru, Belize and Guatemala amongst others. It helps that she’s as ridiculously photogenic as the scenery itself, but that was definitely my biggest pang of travel envy this year. So that corner of the world is firmly on the list as well. At this rate I’ll have to win the lottery and take a few years off to work through it, but one can and should dream.

Here are the top 10 I’d love to explore:

Vietnam
Japan
Hong Kong
Thailand
Indonesia
Brazil
Cuba
Hawaii
Madagascar
Southern India (Kerala etc)

Monday, 23 August 2010

Timeless

At the weekend, my sisters and I threw our wonderful parents a surprise party to celebrate their Pearl wedding anniversary. The surprise part was a bit of a first for us, but we pulled it off (as my dad's best man later remarked, it had better-kept secrets than parts of the Gulf War.)It was a truly lovely day and I felt it somehow refreshed my attitude towards life; not merely making me feel hopelessly single and miles away from my dream career, as I had suspected, but renewing my belief in several more fundamental things. Firstly in people genuinely enjoying each others’ company and being good to each other for such an impossible time span as thirty years - rare, but it happens - and secondly in lasting friendships, as I watched them greet people they’d shared their younger years with, as well as our childhoods, and who we knew as the cast of many fond and hilarious stories.

Something else that celebrated thirty years of success this month is the excellent film Airplane! which my parents, who have impeccable taste in comedy as well as life partners, introduced me to years ago. The Guardian celebrated it with this article, and even more significant than their hefty praise are the 129 (and counting) comments that come below it. I am a little bit obsessed with reader comments, as you may have realised from my posts about other online press, but I find the comment function a fascinating cyber-addition to the press. You can absorb a massive wave of public feeling, wit, anger or mockery just by scrolling down a little further than the last published line. The Guardian website’s commenters are also very, very funny (although they have competition from the Daily Mail’s less intentionally hilarious readers.)

Obviously with the mention of 30 years of Airplane! came a lot of quotation. It is probably one of the most-quoted movies of all time, and even before I can remember cracking up at the laugh-a-millisecond script, I know my parents were saying things like, ‘…and don’t call me Shirley.’ I caught a bit of Team America: World Police last night – very funny, but still one I can promiscuously channel-flick during – and it struck me how Airplane-ish the humour was, with a much more four-lettered Parker/Stone twist. While the design & puppetry are sheer genius, Team America just feels so heavy-heanded in its delivery, and sacrifices all the lightness and joy of its 1980 predecessor in favour of more accepted obscenities and racial issues. This year one of my favourite nights in included having some good friends round and watching Airplane!, and we still chuckled our socks off at the brilliant disaster movie parody and off-the-wall moments. There are too many sublime gags to pinpoint; it makes more recent comedies just look lazy. Someone commented on the Guardian article that they’d been on a plane recently where a small boy was taken by cabin crew to see the cockpit, and a nearby passenger couldn’t help leaning out and commenting ‘Joey, have you ever been in a Turkish prison?’ These moments just lodge themselves in your funnybone and refuse to leave.

I love how the combination of silliness and deadpan have made this film so enduring, where the swearing, puppet-sex and casual racism might make something like Team America more divisive (the Airplane! team also didn’t need to resort to a five-minute vomiting sequence to pad out their story.) The latter is probably top of my comedy list, and if somehow this cultural gem has passed you by, I suggest you grab the DVD now.

Incidentally, I believe a capacity for silliness and humour is a large part of my parents’ success, and their shared love of films like Airplane!, along with Monty Python’s Life of Brian and these days, everything from The Simpsons to Gavin and Stacey, have made me able to laugh at others and myself in a good way, I think. I can only hope the film-makers of this century’s teens will rise to the challenge and create more stellar comedies that will stick around into their tricenarian years (and if someone wants to stick around with me for that long, I’ll count it as a huge blessing too.)


'Looks like I picked the wrong week to stop sniffing glue...'

Friday, 20 August 2010

Daily Fail



Further to this post, and this one – I think we can agree that spelling Nazis are awful, but somehow brilliant. I’d like to think my corrective Tourette’s is limited to verbal exchanges, but when people are so irked that they grab their pencil in a blind spelling-fury it does tickle me exceedingly.

I remember being in the toilets of my university department a few years ago, where someone had thoughtfully blu-tacked an advert for a housemate on the inner door of the cubicle, with some foresight as to the maximum time one spends stationary in such situations. They were obviously eager to fill the spare room, and their big sell went as follows:

Two students; one male, one female, looking for a friendly, clean, non-smoking housemate. Recently refurbished house; rent 260 excluding bills; 5 minutes to Tesco; 10 minutes to uni; 15 mins to

At which point the text broke off, and someone had neatly scrawled, ‘ponder the use of the semicolon?’ Granted, this was the English department, but it greatly amused me that someone had bothered to stop (possibly mid-flow) to find a pencil and gently correct a fellow student’s writing.

It's the guerilla tactics and passive aggressive point-making that really makes my day. This was recently re-tweeted by @BadJournalism and shows a similar frustration with everyday errors and typos; it sounds odd, but it can seem disrespectful to misspell something like the announcement of a death. It’s like someone trying to spell ‘Will you marry me’ in rose petals or spaghetti or something and getting it wrong – it just seems careless. As is substituting all punctuation with that most vibrant of symbols, the question mark.

I do recommend BadJournalism if you’re jumping on the Twitterwagon. They find and are sent tips of brilliantly bad-taste headlines, subbing fails and hilarious subject matter. I recently drew to their attention, for example, the Daily Mail’s groundbreaking announcement that 'Nearly 70% of working mothers in the UK are now employed.’Good on them, I say.

Wednesday, 18 August 2010

I Believe in Love


I didn’t know what to expect when I skipped into the West End to see Hair the musical last night. Hair is one of those unavoidable chunks of culture; you’ve heard the music (even if it’s via the Müller ads), you’ve vaguely picked up on references to the nudity and you probably know more than you think about the premise (hippies/drugs/Vietnam.) The main reason I still felt unsure, despite this psychedelic frame of reference, was that I hadn’t heard any standout songs and the synopsis itself didn’t draw me in hugely. But the iconic nature of the original late 60s production, the hit songs it produced and the buzz this year as the new Broadway revival was brought to London all made me curious about the show. I don’t particularly adore the music that I do know, but I had heard that it was such an infectiously uplifting night out that many friends were going back for more. So last night, just a few weeks before its schedule closure in September, I finally went to find out what all the fuss was about.

My verdict? It was great, but it wasn’t incredible. The music and the story didn’t blow my mind, but the vibrant vocals, colour and energy did. Audience participation is something I’m usually horrified by (my reserved Britishness finds it cringeworthy and my love of storytelling jars with the breaking of the fourth wall) but the rambly chattiness of the charismatic stoners and the weaving of the cast in and out of the audience, stroking hair and giving out flyers, was utterly charming. I would like to be able to say that this would also have been true of a British production, but I do feel the full-on Americana of the cast is what made it the solid, confident and slick spectacle it is. The quality of each singer just launches it into a different league to the rest of the West End.

The part I found baffling in such a hit was how hard it was to follow; I’m pretty clued up on the Vietnam war period, but the speed of the lyrics and the lack of diction (perhaps a conscious decision, but it didn’t work for me) meant I spent much of the first few character ‘snippets’ feeling completely lost, if very entertained. I hadn’t appreciated how much it had clearly influenced Rent, one of my favourite musicals, with its scenes of anarchic camaraderie, shock factor and loveable characters. But the tribe, whilst charismatic as a dancing, chanting, belting whole, did not have as much individual appeal as the bohemians of Rent. Caissie Levy really stood out for me with her honeyed vocals and subtlety of performance, but the limitless riffs of Aquarius soloist Dionne and the soaring optimism of leading man Gavin Creel also took my breath away. The group songs are the lifeblood of the show and the ensemble, most of whom have been together since the beginning of the Broadway revival last year, create a gloriously unified sound.

By the end I was certainly feeling the Love, the twin ideas of Peace and Love being a central part of the show. The air was fragrant with incense, the set lit with rainbow colours, the cast (on a bog-standard Tuesday night performance) seemed fresh as a daisy and high on life. I wasn’t as moved as I thought I’d be by the Vietnam war theme, perhaps due to the surreal ‘bad trip’ sequence that once again entertained and baffled me at the same time. This baffletainment sort of manages to work though, and there are quite a few laugh-out-loud moments. Most of all you just want to be part of the gang, and even as someone who loves a power shower and loathes tie-dye, I had never found hippie life so seductively portrayed. For something less gripping than Wicked and less moving than Les Miserables, however, it is a shame that there is no option for cheap tickets. For £29.50 though, you can get into the Dress Circle, which we soon realised was prime hippie-partying ground. I didn’t have anyone dance along the back of my seat, but a tribe member did take a sip of my coke. So if you’re wandering the cloudy streets of London in the next couple of weeks and feel a bit bleak about life, I suggest you Let the Sun Shine In and bask in the transcendental aural trip that is the cast of Hair.

Monday, 16 August 2010

Miss Write: Unplugged

This article made me so sad. And not just a brief moment of tut-tut-what-is-the-world-coming-to sad, but strong-desire-to-throw-my-laptop-out-of-the-window-and-drown-my-mobile-in-the-nearest-beverage sort of sad. Technology has been a part of my entire adult life – I got my first brick-like Nokia 3110 at about 13, way behind most teens at my streetwise school, and joined the dark cult of texting, instant messaging and constant miscommunication. I suppose when we flippantly say ‘technology’ we suppose it to be internet and mobile phone based ‘extras’, when of course the original landline phone is a piece of technology in itself. But it is the extras, seemingly endless, that are causing problems in my social sphere. Blackberries, iPhones, laptops and Wifi mean everyone is online everywhere they go; it is incredibly liberating in the sense that if you send someone a query via Facebook, Twitter, Blackberry messaging, voicemail or a good old fashioned text, you are pretty much guaranteed a response within minutes or hours. But on the other hand, it is incredibly frustrating if people don't or can't use one of these nifty mediums to get back to you. The basic assumption is that everyone is connected now, 24-7. No one is out of touch. Re-read that sentence. Is it a positive one? Are we even allowed to be out of touch?

I would describe myself as a technophobe, yet I am a Tweeter, a Facebooker, I have both webmail and Outlook accounts, an abandoned MySpace page, a Blackberry and a touchscreen phone. I had to be bullied into the latter as I was solemnly told by the 3Mobile goblins that only the touchscreens, Blackberries and ‘smartphones’ (the basic Nokia evidently the D student of the class) were compatible with the best contract deals. I stubbornly resisted for some time, until being coerced into purchasing a touchscreen LG this summer. This phone and I haven’t really settled into a honeymoon period yet; it sends blank and unfinished texts, its predictive dictionary is bizarrely devoid of any useable words and most unsettlingly, the display flips over into landscape from portrait if you so much as tilt the handset. I am clearly not as smart as my smartphone. If it even qualifies as a smartphone, which I suspect it does not. iPhones make me slightly queasy, and although I have a freebie BlackBerry which is very useful for free instant messaging and things like the GoogleMap application, it still has roughly four thousand logos standing for functions I can’t even begin to comprehend. So maybe I am just a technophobe by my generation’s standards.

I often come home from work to find three or four family members and friends perched on our sofas, each engrossed in the laptop in front of them. This remarkable combination of companionship and isolation is surreal to look at, but I know I have joined in on more than one occasion. My own laptop is no longer with us, having hung on admirably through six years, several knocks and drops, and resurrected itself more than once. It lasted its final months with the screen half hanging off, lots of amateur sellotape surgery holding it together and a tendency to simply switch off mid task. So now I watch people’s close relationships with their laptops with a certain detachment, before I rejoin their ranks in a month or so with a much-needed replacement for my impending student year. This woman’s description of her text and email-based relationship with her sons was a bit of a wake-up call, although it’s something I’ve been gradually coming round to for a while. How on earth do you break the cycle of cyber communication?

A couple of my friends have managed it; I may have to call them up via the alien device that is the landline phone and ask them if there is some sort of nirvana at the end of the process. The unfortunate fact is, for those who can’t bear to be out of the loop (and by the loop I mean recent photos of great days and nights out, invitations to future ones, and the general stream of wit and banter that Facebook has to offer) it is a huge step to remove oneself from a social networking site. I fear for my monastic ambitions to really take root, all of my favourite people would have to similarly shun the good ‘book and make a profound pact to call each other or, in a maverick twist, actually MEET UP to share conversation or pictures. There are people I haven’t seen for actual plural years who I consider myself ‘in touch’ with. Would the removal of myself from social cyberspace encourage more real-life contact and more tangible memories? Once something moves down the endless feed of Facebook debate and exhibitionism, it is forgotten. I’m just not sure what these endless options for instant communication are doing for our friendships.

Of course, there are so many advantages, logically speaking. With a Facebook message I can put out an idea of an outing, get everyone’s feedback (visible to all other guests) and summarise with the actual plan. Events are a fine way to get a head count and for people to RSVP easily, and I can’t say seeing people’s feedback on your photos is entirely disagreeable. But it brings out the worst in me and so many others. Trying to get over a break up in dignified silence? The temptation to make him feel bad and elicit sympathy from your friends will prove too much to resist. Getting married/having a baby/moving house? Boring people with the daily details is always a risk. Enraged by an acquaintance? Why not passive-aggressively bash out a generalized rant about ‘certain people’? Because if you drag your gaze away from the screen and glance in the mirror, you will see the distinct glaze of crazy in your eyes, that’s why.

So I’m considering the neo-Luddite route; Lily Allen’s done it twice (or thrice, it’s hard to keep track) but however much she tries, La Allen finds it just too damn simple to announce something like a pregnancy or a ‘retirement’ through a press release or an interview alone. Where’s the fanfare? There’s something deliciously controlling about reporting constantly on your own movements and actions. Even our parents are getting in on the act, if not seamlessly (my mum still asks us to ‘send’ her photos on Facebook, the tagging process continuing to elude her). The UK’s eldest Twitterer, Ivy Bean, recently passed away at the age of 103; greatly missed, if only for the quaint concept of being on Twitter at such a grand age. But I don’t like the fact that if someone’s busy, they can still be ‘in touch’ without having to actually see you. It is harder than it should be to explain why twelve texts and a funny wall post doesn’t constitute having seen someone, but maybe we don’t feel who is really there for us with this bizarre set-up of communication from all angles. Equally, maybe we are not really being there for a friend if we ask them what’s up on Facebook chat or respond to their Tweet. My biggest problems with the world of technology at the moment are the misunderstandings, the unread messages, and the odd frustration at those who are not as communicatively wired up as we are. It is easy to ‘overhear’ other friends planning or discussing a recent meet up on these mediums, and be offended at your exclusion. And in the event of heartbreak, the breaker is maddeningly visible to the breakee if they are not strong enough to hit that ‘remove’ button. Perhaps if we signed off, retired the mobiles and returned to a traditional phone call at least, we might get on a little better, move on a little faster, and say what actually needs to be said.

Of course, the major flaw is that I wouldn't be able to blog (or promote it in any way.) But I also wouldn't care who was reading, what they thought or if I was offending anybody. Today it feels infuriating that I want to do something so entangled in communication and self-marketing. In another life, or maybe a few years down the line, I would unplug everything, get away somewhere less polluted with the buzzing of phones and the pinging of emails, and do something very simple with my time. And maybe have clearer relationships as a result.



Thursday, 12 August 2010

H is for Hospitality



I love being the hostess. I have no idea why; it’s often a stressful, thankless, one-sided thing to open your home and feed and water people, but maybe it’s my own personal control freak thing. I love the triumph of a good night, well thought-out snacks and drinks, themes and celebrations and the sounds of people laughing and talking in the comfort of my home. When I was little and at Brownies, we were set the mammoth challenge of achieving our Hostess badge: this involved putting a small shop-bought cake on a plate, making a cup of tea and serving them to a volunteer ‘examiner’ (the intensity was in no way lessened by the fact that this was my mum.) I think I did fairly well, although I’m not sure what the criteria for failure would have been – spillage, plate-smashing or insulting your guest, perhaps? I remember the task vividly, even though in hindsight you’d think it was a quaint finishing school assignment rather than a 90s after-school project.

When my most exotic relative, my aunt from Switzerland, would come to stay with my family, my sisters and I would often create a ‘hotel’ environment for her; carefully-scrawled menus for breakfast in bed, 24-hour service and welcome notes in her guest bedroom. It is unclear why this generosity was reserved for her alone, but she played along admirably during her stays at the Swan Hotel, even when Weetabix and Coco Pops were the only items offered in the Continental breakfast. So I’ve always enjoyed hospitality, in play if not work – my few stints in catering and bar work were less enjoyable, rude customers, sticky floors, complaints and all. My mum and my grandma both have the inclination as well, in that when people visit there will be premeditated refreshments and a selection of drinks on arrival.

Lots of my food and drink memories are based around this civilised touch – on hot, sticky driving holidays through France, Spain and Italy, we would stay at Eurocamp sites, where you would be met by the reps as you pulled in, taken to their tent and fixed a drink of your choice to unwind from the journey (always exciting). I lived with an excellent hostess in my second year at university (not usually the domain of domestic goddesses), who taught me the grave importance of quality shot glasses, proper coffee and matching your party food to the ambience of the event. I left that flat a much better hostess and full of enthusiasm for full on, fifties-style hospitality. In a less intelligent life I think it might have been fun to be a party or wedding planner, and in retirement I still think it would be incredible to run a sweet little café or tea room.

This isn’t to say I want to abandon all career aspirations, become a WAG and suppress any irritating backchat that might upset the all-important man in my life. But I like taking pride in my hosting skills, love a bit of home baking and definitely think cocktail hour should be reinstated. And never underestimate the joy that a pretty Cath Kidston teapot, a nice cake stand (or if you're not the afternoon tea type, premium vodka and a beautiful set of martini glasses) can add to your social gatherings.

Stung by the Spelling Bee


‘We can definately seperate this in one manouver.’

Does the above make you bristle just a little?

The Telegraph reported last week that 'separate' is the most commonly misspelt word, followed by definitely and manoeuvre, according to a study of 3,500 Britons. I have ranted before about how much constant misspelling bothers me, but ‘definately/definatley’ is certainly the blunder that I see the most. I think I’m a good speller for a few reasons: reading a lot (i.e. constant exposure to correctly-spelled words), genes (both my parents are pretty immaculate spellers) and a slightly photographic memory. I tend to be able to memorise phrases and passages word-for-word fairly easily, which made English a natural subject to continue with after school.

Separate is interesting though, as it’s one I remember being corrected by spellcheck and teachers in my teens, by which point I had most words pretty well absorbed. Some words definitely take longer to stick, especially in a language full of exceptions and quirks. It’s usually a phonetic issue, for instance we do say ‘sep-er-ate’, so the logical written form might well have an e where there is an a. This doesn't work for everything - by the same logic, definitely would be spelt 'definutly'. But I had some good teachers who offered me ways to remember the right spelling (I remember someone pointing out that ‘finite’ was the root of definitely, and I never forgot it.) Surprise is another one; we tend to omit the first 'r' from its pronunciation and thus 'suprise' makes much more sense. I am interested in the words in our hotchpotch of a language, I like to know where they come from and how they are linked internationally and to Latin, Greek and Scandinavian roots.

I do sometimes wish I was someone who is blissfully oblivious to the little errors of spelling and speech, I do recognise in an out-of-body way how annoyingly pedantic it is. There is a Mitchell and Webb sketch where David Mitchell’s character casually shoots people in a meeting for referring to espresso as ‘expresso’ and saying ‘pacific’ instead of specific. It’s so true though, for some people it just feels like an itch that needs scratching. I apologise for myself and the others, but let us correct you – we need to – and then go about your business, probably thinking slightly less of us. For now, be thankful you are not this particular young (I hope) Facebooker:




Wednesday, 11 August 2010

Twitter gets bitter

A few people have asked me lately about Twitter, and why people bother using it in the Facebook-dominated world of social networking. A year ago I probably would have agreed that it was a pointless addition to our modern obsession with constant communication and self-exhibition, but I became curious after I began reading the Tweet Beat posts on the brilliant blog Jezebel. These bizarre and funny snippets from people in the public eye were very entertaining, and I thought I’d give it a go. So I joined in September, following the few people I was interested in: some journalists, publications, news feeds, comedians and the odd celebrity. Twitter for me is not for connecting with friends, but a tailored feed of witty banter, breaking news and insider information. If you’re into theatre or music, you can follow venues and artists and get the earliest offers and news of gigs and shows. If you’re an avid reader of Heat, you can follow drunk, indiscreet and scandalous celebrities and chart their highs and lows. If you’re a journalist you can follow a variety of news sources, PRs and public figures to get the speediest and most accurate information. I don’t tweet my own thoughts and movements that much, often just re-posting great links and recommending people to follow, but I go on to catch up on things once in a while and end up reading articles and finding out about things I never would have via standard print or online news. Plus, most people tend to be quite witty. And unlike Facebook, you can cull your ‘following’ list guilt-free and pare it down to only the very best tweeters. However, unlike Facebook, when too many people converge on the Twitterverse one is often confronted with the Whale of Doom – meaning ‘come back later’, but an image both irritating and distressing.

However, it does have a nasty side. Once you’re used to people getting sucked into rows it becomes merely boring, but the impersonal side of this sort of blind networking means that people find it very easy to hit out at others. A while back a friend of mine made a benign comment about a flavour-of-the-month popstar, and some deranged fans started hurling very explicit abuse at her and anyone who tried to defuse the situation. This was my first encounter with the saddos that use the site for stalkery and mischief; before then it was all Stephen Fry musings and Ed Byrne chuckles. There is a lot of Outrage on Twitter as well, which can become wearisome – usually Jan Moir related (chill out and stop reading the Mail, people!), at one point leading to people trying to post the writer’s personal details and home address so people could admonish her directly. This is the kind of mob mentality that has started to show a nastier side to the innocent-birdie-fronted website. Obsessive fans gather and start huge campaigns against people; Stephen Fry - one of the site’s most popular celebs - once mentioned that a user had referred to his tweets as boring, and it wasn’t long before his followers were baying for blood. Fry had to swiftly follow up his comment by asking people not to harass the poor guy.

Today Dom Joly, usually fairly jovial or at most a little acerbic, started a row when he dropped in a casual allusion to Keith Chegwin’s joke-stealing ways to his Independent column last Sunday. From the look of Joly’s war of words with his unimpressed followers since then, Chegwin has a crazed army of tweeting fans ready to take down anyone who makes him the butt of their (original) joke. Instead of maintaining a dignified silence, Joly has argued with, insulted and re-tweeted his least literate and most indignant followers, despite constant claims of being ‘bored’ with the furore. This is the fascinating thing about a constant stream of activity available for all to see; reading Joly’s tweets back, it is evident that he is more than a little riled by the negative reaction, not finding it ‘hilarious’ as insisted. Obviously I’m team Dom here – Cheggers is an pilfering little twerp who would clearly sell his granny or sleep with Susan Boyle to cling on to his waning fame. But the ensuing row showed an ugly side of a funny guy for a while there. Perhaps the Twitter backlash is beginning as celebs begin to see the dark side of the public having unfettered access to them. Equally, if you slag someone off on Twitter, you’ll likely use their ‘@’ identity to refer to them, and thus send the criticism in their direction as well as your followers’. This makes every bit of negative feeling public and aggressive, rather than privately aired in frustration.



There are moments of genius though; after Jeremy Clarkson’s book came out with the testosterone-packed tagline ‘Read Clarkson. Think Clarkson. Act Clarkson’, writer Caitlin Moran poked fun at the PR machine by inviting her followers to ACT CLARKSON that day and tell her about. The resulting hashtag (creating a separate feed of tweets on that subject) was pure brilliance. When a large event is happening – the world cup for example, or the final of a reality show – Twitter is filled by witty commentary on the events unfolding. When the BP spill happened, someone took the name ‘BPGlobalPR’ (since taken down) and tweeted tongue-in-cheek ‘official’ comment from the corporation’s HQ. Some genius is posing as the Queen, and flits between describing their gin-induced hangovers, Prince Edward’s cross-dressing and changing song lyrics to include the word ‘one’ (One wants to ride one’s bicycle, one wants to ride one’s bike…)

It’s a funny old invention, really – excellent for raising awareness (my sister’s charity have had their messages and links re-tweeted by the likes of Bill Bailey, Sarah Brown and Lorraine Kelly to their thousands of followers), PR, arts & culture recommendations and instant reviews, as well as just making your daily reading material more diverse. But I don’t enjoy the speed at which criticism of one person can build up and spread, resulting in a sort of grown-up cyber bullying of an individual. I hope anyone who becomes a Twitter convert uses it to educate and entertain themselves, rather than combating their own insecurity and frustration by belittling others (I wonder if my own Anonymous is on there?) But I think it’s essentially A Good Thing as it’s put people’s PR into their own hands and sped up things for the media and communications industries. Let me know if you are pro or anti-Twitter, I find it to be a bit of a cultural Marmite.

Friday, 30 July 2010

Easy, Breezy, Beautiful


I do love this September ELLE cover, tweeted earlier by their Executive Editor, Tom Macklin. Not only do I adore Miss Blunt (for her style, for her Brit cool, for her show-stealing character in The Devil Wears Prada, for having dated everyone's guilty-pleasure crush, Michael Bublé... the list is endless.) I like that ELLE don't just stick the current face of L'Oreal in a jewel-coloured frock and make her laugh next to a wind machine. The pose is striking, the lace is chic and autumnal, the kohl-smudged eyes grab your attention and she looks porcelain yet very real. And not to get too curvy-girl crusader-y, but they notably haven't emaciated her shapely thighs with an overzealous airbrush. Big thumbs up to ELLE; this will no doubt shine out on a shelf full of cluttered, psychadelic covers. Can't wait to read the star interview.

Wednesday, 28 July 2010

Internships: heaven or hell?

At the weekend The Guardian brought this issue to my attention, and it's quite nice to see a range of opinions on it in the piece itself and the fervent web comments below. For a long time the topic depressed me because I was living it; for the eighteen months following my degree, I flitted between internships and unpaid work experience placements, drifting around London on the airy high that comes from being (albeit superficially) in the industry you desperately want to work in. To the credit of the UK's major publishing companies, I was rarely out of ‘work’ – it just so happened that the work was challenging, unpaid and with no guarantee of progesssion.

Being an intern is a giddy sensation at first. You’re in the big city, in my case in the chic West London HQs of the glossy magazines you’ve been reading for years, everyone’s very glam and you’re walking past Stella McCartney, Selfridges, McQueen and admiring the displays before work (while worrying about forking out for that essential H&M purchase in your lunch hour). You don’t even think about the money to start with, you just feel lucky to be there. Then a few months go by, you learn some skills and gain confidence, you feel qualified to comment on things and contribute ideas and you start to feel the hours and the poverty kicking your ass a bit. I have always been very fortunate to work at places that are reasonably grateful to have interns, that pay expenses (bar one or two publications) and crucially, that give you exciting things to do.

Working at top magazines, you do see that the fashion interns have it harder. There are more of them, usually 6-8 girls - all tall, slim and stylish with a hungry look of ambition in their eyes (that might actually just be hunger). They get the everyday mundaneities of sending out and calling in merchandise, keeping records and tidying the fashion cupboard – but once in a while there’ll be a chance to go to an incredible shoot, personally assist a fashion Ed or contribute to the style pages, and thus competition is fierce. And all while looking chic and on trend with hardly any bank balance to work with. It’s a bit like an episode of America’s Next Top Model, but without the big mansion and the raw sexual magnetism of Nigel Barker. So I do appreciate that fashion interning can be a thankless task. If I hadn’t had the fairly frequent boost of seeing my words in print, I don’t know if I would have hung in there as long as I did.

Features is different; I think you learn a lot quite quickly because you’re constantly having ideas knocked back, writing picked apart and being sent on wild goose chases in your research – you have to get tough and work harder. I think if I hadn’t had those eighteen months I wouldn’t be as resilient and as sure as I am that it’s still worth it. Going straight into a salary would put more pressure on you – Am I earning this? What if I don’t know what I’m doing? What if this isn’t right for me and I need to get out? – with an internship, you are allowed to get things wrong, try again, and leave with zero guilt if it’s not for you. You also learn useful things for your career decisions, such as there are no straight men (I've maybe met three in total in the magazine world), some women are just allowed to act like Mariah on a daily basis, and there are a lot of fun freebies and invitations to keep you going on even the bleakest day. People forget to mention that internships can be fun - and if they're not fun at all, maybe you're in the wrong work environment.

But I do agree that you shouldn’t have to do it forever. Unfortunately all my enthusiasm went into my first few months of whirlwind unpaid work experience, and by the time I was a paid features intern at Elle, I was feeling the grind a bit. It was still the best work experience I’ve ever had, responsibility and opportunities-wise, but being the young not-quite-staff-member amongst all the regulars was hard. So this is where the sheer length of interning time at the moment is a drawback – there is the potential to become jaded before you’ve even found your first job. In the media no-one seems to have moved up since I started doing work experience back in 2007. The people I met as juniors and assistants back then are for the most part still in those roles, and as no one is getting pay rises or promotions, and people are fearful of leaving because of the recession, there is no natural movement up the ladder. I’m staying focused in the hope that this will change. What is true in the Guardian piece comments is that there is an elite club of media hopefuls being bankrolled by their parents, who can of course afford to be in London on zero pay, mingling with the hot new faces in the hot new clubs, and drifting home to a comfortably central flat paid for by Daddy. Lucky them - but surely this doesn't make for an ideal range of young writers and trendsetters? As suggested by Caitlin Moran recently, we don't want to end up with a media industry filled with braying Hatties, Fenellas and Sheherazades - so there have to be opportunities for the less-than-minted state school brains to come through. Internships are a way of doing that, and if you're savvy enough you can do one, work for a bit and save, do another, and so on. It may take longer but it will feel much sweeter when you do break through the wall of blonde hair and jodhpurs.

What many people point out in their comments on the Guardian article is that many artistic and creative industries are frivolous, expensive and not essential to our economy. Why shouldn’t it be a little harder than getting into them? In my bohemian-wannabe generation everyone seems to want to be an actor or an artist, but equally want the money and the lifestyle they are used to – as such people end up pursuing their dream for a few years after studying, then slipping into a more corporate role as they realise bills must be paid and actors are often little more than auditioning waiters. Industry placements help you weigh up what’s worth sacrificing and what’s not – a bad experience can turn into something wonderful for your career perspective. But this doesn’t mean I want to hit 26 or 27 and still have gotten no further than being a student and an intern. Especially without having had gap years or long periods of unemployment. That would be taking the biscuit, and I wouldn’t hesitate to find a more attainable role. I do think fashion and art should be harder to get into than being a nurse or a teacher, as they’re often better paid (and with a lot more perks) at the top than those socially vital roles.

In relation to this article, I must contradict commenter TaylorHarrison when they suggest that Guardian News & Media themselves are just as bad as the cutthroat high-fashion industry. I have only had two weeks in their delightful Kings Place building (at the lovely Observer Culture section), but I found them to be flexible with my hours, a suitably buzzy and creative environment and somewhere that kept me very occupied, including getting a couple of bylines. That may not sound like a lot, but for two weeks - which is really the maximum you should do completely unpaid – it actually did more for me than many of my month-long placements. From lunch and walks round the canal with the team, to the fact that when people google me now the Observer pages will come up, it was beneficial and exactly what it said on the tin – an experience of the job. The bad thing with being so ethically organised is that they won’t have people back after the appropriately short unpaid placements, for fear of exploiting them, when I would dearly love to be exploited by the Observer for a more sustained period. So magazines have it right in terms of lengthier intern opportunities – special mention must go to Elle here, who regularly employ multiple interns on a modest but significant salary, as well as being generous with exciting opportunities, invitations and assignments. Others could do better, but everyone’s just watching their costs at the moment, and that can’t be helped. It can’t be any nicer to work for 20 years in the industry, get to the top and have your pay and budget frozen for the same economic reasons.

There is a real camaraderie in an industry where pretty much everyone has been an unpaid lackie, and thus know what they’re looking for in a newbie but want to help them grow as a writer, designer or stylist. Internships can be bliss and they can be hell, but I think you can lose sight of their value if you constantly think about the money or the time. There is no better time to be out of pocket and rich in life experiences than your early twenties, so try and make the best of it.

Image: mises.org