Girl from the North London Country

{April 17, 2010}   The ties that bind

No self-respecting blog would be without a comment on the Great Leadership Debate – or, as it slowly occurred to me to think about it, the most in-depth edition of Blind Date I’ve ever seen (if only Clegg had managed to come up with some decent puns, the analogy would be flawless).   Gosh, it was quite exciting, wasn’t it?  The delightfully laboured (pun intended – see, Nick, that’s how you do it!) descriptions of conversations with ‘ordinary people’ – do these people never gain an insight that’s not derived from some chance encounter? – the sniping back and forth, the slightly shirty way they called each other by their first names, the way that I would now recognise Nick Clegg in the street, all of it. 

However, I must issue a plea (in the unlikely event that any of our prospective leaders are reading this).  What’s with the party colour ties?  Honestly, do you not think we know which party you belong to?  Do you think that if a Tory wears a red tie we’ll get really confused?  Even Gordon’s salmon number just looked as though he lacked conviction, rather than a statement of sartorial independence.   I hereby pledge my vote to the first leader who wears a jauntily-patterned tie on TV, out of sheer frustration.

A more authoritative analysis of the Employment Appeal Tribunal’s decision in DeBique v Ministry of Defence may follow shortly (probably not, to be honest).   Plenty of employment lawyers disagree with the decision.  But that’s no excuse for the vitriolic coverage Ms Debique has received.  Inevitably, the Mail came up trumps.

Quite apart from the content of the article (the idea of the Mail criticising anyone for ‘shrill, ideological certitude’ is pretty hilarious), let’s have a quick look at the pictures chosen to illustrate the article.

Judith Webb

This is a picture of the white woman (a former officer) who wrote the article.

Tilern DeBique's case against the Army will set a dangerous precedent

This is the picture of the black woman she’s criticising.  Not in uniform (even though the article is about how her childcare arrangements impacted on her professional life), not even a picture of her at court, but a picture of her in her home, on her bed, presumably dressed for a night out.   Clearly chosen to undermine her professionalism as far as possible and, indeed, to play on racist stereotypes of women of colour  (I suspect there was an editorial discussion about working a pun on the word ‘bling’ into the article somehow). 

Alas, there go my sanity points for the day.

{March 22, 2010}   Spring forward, fall back

Yesterday was the first day of spring, apparently – a ‘fact’ imparted confidently over a newspaper-festooned Sunday lunch by the same-name journalist, but difficult to establish conclusively, despite a quick look at Wikipedia.  Alas, a doleful 20 minutes shivering on the Piccadily line is testament to the fact that it’s not quite ‘coats-off’ weather, but, still, it’s difficult not to feel a faint stirring of summer in the air.

Indeed, although a quick run-down of the stats is pretty unencouraging, I can’t help feeling a few stirrings of optimism about the same-name journo, after a weekend in which we spent a good 40 hours together and he introduced me to some of his friends.  On a personal level, I’ve developed a sudden interest in tidying my flat; after a few weeks’ abstinence, have been able to listen to Bob Dylan without becoming enraged (Blood on the Tracks is particularly unbearable for the single woman), have upped my gym vists and have even developed a new album obsession (XX by The XX, if anyone cares).  So, this is a long-winded way of saying that until further notice the journo is officially too nice to write about.  I’ll let you know if you need to buy a hat.

{March 17, 2010}   Cultural round-up

Another spectacularly poor performance on the blogging front.  Hopefully I can make up for it with a bit of cultural edification:

London Assurance at the National Theatre – Frothy, silly, brilliantly staged fun.  Fiona Shaw as the marvellously-named Lady Gay Spanker and Simon Russell Beale are both fantastic – I left with a bit of a crush on both of them.  Recommended.

The Indian Portrait at the National Portrait Gallery (private viewing – yes, I truly have been among the glitterati this week).   Interesting art (although it starts to get a bit duller once the English start showing up in the pictures), acceptable white wine, really poor nibbles.  (I mean, crisps in bowls?  Curry flavour ones at that? What?).  The bar upstairs is great, though.

Precious – In a moment of madness, having gone to a cinema on Leicester Square at 3 pm on a Monday and found it all but deserted, I had a rush of blood to my head and agreed that they could ‘supersize’ my nachos and diet Coke.   Christ alive, does anyone actually manage to finish these?  When I saw the enormous, surely 2-litre cup the woman behind the counter was brandishing, I pleaded with her to let me have a smaller one – I didn’t want my money back, but I wasn’t even sure I could carry it.   Shaking her head sadly, she told me she wasn’t allowed – although after several minutes of impassioned entreaties, did agree to fill only a quarter of it.   Anyway, by the time I’d sat down I was all but exhausted and feeling slightly ill at the thought of how much junk food I’d just purchased – definitely not the right frame of mind for Precious, which is  mostly grim, often sickening, occasionally saccharine and only momentarily uplifting (at the end).  Lenny Kravitz is pretty unconvincing, Mariah Carey is surprisingly good, the best supporting actress Oscar for Mo’Nique was definitely deserved.   The nachos, on the other hand, were left dispiritedly half-eaten.

An Education – Again, all acting accolades for Carey Mulligan richly deserved, but an amazingly slight and unsatisfying film.  (This time watched in the comfort of my own home, with the kind of slightly random food I eat when on my own – chickpeas with Worcester sauce are a particular favourite).

Dave Lewis’ 1 Up/ Noel McCalla at the 606 Club – brilliant band, let down slightly by the ego radiating from the (admittedly great) singer.   A funked-up version of ‘What’s Going On’ was a highlight.  The venue was as lovely as ever; just the right blend of scruffiness and sophistication – and, indeed, the same could be said for my delightful companion, the same-name journalist.   A good time was had by all, and he’s coming round for dinner and a movie on Friday – although, having lived in Spain for a year, I’m concerned that he may subject my standard dinner party menu to a rather closer critique than it normally gets.   Anyway, that’s quite enough blogging – I have floors to vacuum, legs to shave and a carefully casual iPod playlist to construct.  More updates soon.

{March 16, 2010}   How not to succeed at the gym

19.37:  Arrive at the gym.   Change into your hitherto unproblematic outfit of sports bra, ropey vest that came free with a magazine and slightly baggy leggings.   Plug yourself into your iPod, skip downstairs and merrily hop onto the running machine.  Switch the TV screen to BBC News, crank up Fleetwood Mac and away you go.

19.41: Slowly realise you feel slightly uncomfortable, without being able to pin down why.

19: 42:  Realise that the be-frilled shorts donned so gaily that morning suddenly, for some reason, don’t feel terribly comfortable.  Maybe they’re hitching up a bit.  Attempt to redress the situation one-handedly, without breaking stride or drawing attention to yourself.

19:44: That’s still not quite right, though, is it?   Something’s just not quite working back there.  You feel slightly…bisected. 

19:47:  This messing around’s no good.  You just look more conspicuous.  Maybe what it needs is just one firm tug to sort things out.

19: 48:  Maybe that’s done the trick.

19:50:  Oh dear.  Your vest’s riding up a bit now.  Need to sort that out.

19:51: DAMN! DAMN! Realise that your attempts to take the problem in hand have spectacularly backfired, that a significant portion of the frills are now somehow, madly, ABOVE the waistband of your leggings and, thanks to the underperformance of your vest, are now on show to the entire gym, a slice of lower back clearly visible between multicoloured frill and baggy black lycra.  Yank up leggings, pull vest down as far as it will go and turn red for reasons wholly unrelated to your (unimpressive) running speed.

19:52: Nearly fall off the treadmill by attempting to look in the mirror to establish who was using the shoulder press immediately behind you when ‘Frillgate’ occurred.   Creepy old guy who once asked you to show him how to do a squat?  Hunky gay guy? Unfeasibly athletic blonde girl who blow dries her hair wearing only her thong in the changing rooms?  Fail to reach any definitive conclusion on this.

19:53:  Maybe no-one actually witnessed the incident. 

19:54:  You’re just not that lucky, though.

19: 56:  Realise vest is also inside-out.  Decide this is insignificant in overall context.  

19:57:  Start ‘cool-down’ section of run.  Accidentally catch eye of person on the next machine.  Smile ruefully, as if to suggest that this kind of thing could happen to anyone.

20:03:  Thank goodness.  Running’s over with, at least.  Walk, seemingly calmly, to rowing machine.  Decide that this offers far less scope for public humiliation.

20:05:  Where do you put your iPod, though?  Wish you’d bought one of those fancy arm things. 

20:06:  Under the strap will be fine, won’t it? 

20:16:  Hmm, this is quite tiring.  Maybe a couple more minutes.

20:19:  Where’s it gone?

20:21: Spend what seems like an eternity fishing round in your shock absorber to locate the iPod, which has apparently made a bid for freedom.  Finally manage to find and extract it, but in your enthusiam adopt a gesture not unlike a magician pulling a rabbit out of a hat, and accidentally send the iPod skimming across the room.  Eventually locate it under the cross-trainer.  Smile and shrug apologetically at no-one in particular.

20:22:  Decide to cut your losses and go home.

{March 8, 2010}   Noisy neighbours

A nagging mystery apparently solved.  For several weeks, I’ve wondered what on earth the heavy, rhythmic thumping coming from the upstairs flat’s living room could possibly be.  Obviously, my initial assumption was, unimaginatively, that it was just some particularly enthusiastic late-night ‘romping’ (a tabloid word I’ve grown to love), so I just turned up the TV and let them get on with it.  However, curiosity got the better of me tonight after it had been going on for three hours.   Turning down the volume on my TV, I realised that as well as the thumping I could hear a rather tuneless vocal rendering of ‘Paperback Writer’.   Yes, the couple upstairs have clearly invested in ‘The Beatles: Rock Band’ and have taken to playing it together – indeed, one of them is obviously doing their best to prove that poor old Ringo really was quite underrated.   Possibly this is some kind of revenge for my occasional strumming on my battered old acoustic guitar.  To be honest, I’d be less upset if my initial assumption had been right – at least there would be some imminent prospect of it ending.  A dose of Ibuprofen beckons.

A Sunday lunch date with the same-name journalist turned into an 8-hour extravaganza involving multiple gin and tonics, a disappointingly unspicy Bloody Mary (and an incredibly arsey barmaid: is a little Tabasco in a £6 drink really such a big sodding ask?), hours of conversation and curling up on his sofa late at night with toast and peanut butter, watching ‘Talk to Her’.  I’m pleased to report that all intentions were entirely honourable on the latter score; even the most ardent lover’s mood would surely flag a little with the gory bullfighting and creepily sympathetic/sympathetically creepy portrayal of a man’s obsession with a comatose dancer.  Our mutual love for Spanish cinema’s enfant terrible-come-elder statesman is certainly a good sign, as is his enthusiasm for a trip to my favourite jazz club (its mind-bogglingly inconvenient location notwithstanding), so, hopefully, a fun Friday night beckons. 

One disconcerting note, though; the lack of identifying cultural clutter in his flat.  Don’t get me wrong; there was the usual ‘bloke’s flat’ mess; bicycle gear everywhere, an inexplicable mattress in the living room, the piles of paper and discarded coffee mugs you would expect from an endearingly scruffy, caffeine-dependent writer – but no overstuffed-bookcases, no towering pile of DVDs, no neatly stacked CDs – in short, nothing to scrutinise for clues.  I’m surely not the only person to head immediately for the bookcase when going to a new lover’s flat for the first time – the combined forces of Facebook and Google might have taken some of the mystery out of the dating game, but, to my old-fashioned way of thinking, cyber-stalking can’t quite compare to the insights you glean by nosing around a book collection.  Of course, I have my irrational prejudices in this area as in all others (more than 5 Lonely Planet books is the sign of a gap-year bore, no-one over the age of 20 should still think that Brett Easton Ellis is worthwhile and never trust a man who reads Margaret Atwood), but otherwise it’s an interesting exercise.  Is a stack of Murakamis a sign of a sign of intellectual ambition or hipsterish pretension?  Is a D. H. Lawrence fan a rampant misogynist or just in touch with the anomie of post-industrialised living?  Is a fondness for Thomas Hardy a warning of depressive tendencies?  High Fidelity-esque cliche though it may be, it’s true that what you like is as important, in a way, as what you are like. 

Anyway, all such speculation will have to wait until date number three, although another idea floated in High Fidelity does appeal to me; maybe the answer is to give him some kind of questionnaire to complete before Friday.   All suggested questions welcomed.

Those lovely people at WordPress give us narcissists plenty of grist to the mill.  One particularly fine feature is the graph showing you how many people viewed your blog on any particular day.   Currently, I’m managing a pretty steady 10 – 15 views per day (amazing what you can achieve by guilt-tripping some long-lost Facebook ‘friends’) but for reasons unknown I had a surge of interest on 2 March, achieving a mightily-impressive 41 views.  If anyone can proffer an explanation (Spring is in the air? Belated St David’s Day excitement in the Welsh community? Some sort of single-girl feast-day?) I’d be most grateful for the enlightenment.

{March 5, 2010}   The perils of Google

Another day, another dollar, another date with a journalist.  This week’s twist is that he and I share a first name (my androgynous name has caused many such difficulties over the years, not least the confusion on the part of many a client when greeted by my fluting tones) .  On the plus side, he writes about law, so there is at least a vestige of good sense to the man.    However, over gin and tonics in the (most excellent and highly recommended) Toucan in Soho, it became increasingly clear that finely-honed research skills don’t necessarily make for a comfortable conversation.    Eventually, after a few attempts at feigning surprise, we were obliged to confess to each other that we had comprehensively stalked the other prior to the date.   So, he already knew that I was a jazz-loving, occasionally swing-dancing vegetarian, and I was fully up to speed on his efforts to obtain a pupillage, his top ten interview tips and the thrills and spills of his TEFL course.   A good 30 minutes of ice-breaking discussion totally scuppered.   So, in the slightly ‘meta’ way which is the hallmark of 21st century single life, the only real option was to talk about the various methods for gathering information on potential romantic prospects, the downsides of doing so (and, indeed, this moderately entertaining NYT article on the subject – rather sweetly, he sent me the link the day after with the caveat ‘I may have overhyped it.  No pressure to enjoy it or anything.’ – what every girl longs to hear), and the relative merits of LinkedIn and Plaxo.    Anyhow, after the initial awkwardness, a good time was had by all, and a Sunday lunch in De Beauvoir Town beckons (although the feminist in me was rather disappointed to discover that it’s not named after Simone after all).  Only minor quibbles at this stage: i) the name thing; ii) his apparently unconditional belief in astrology (I wouldn’t mind, but us poor Taureans only ever get ‘robust’, ‘stubborn’ and ‘thick neck’ – sexy, no?); and iii) the nagging sense that I’ve developed an absurdly narrow ‘type’ – lanky journalists living in inaccessible parts of London (yes, he’s another Hackney type with an iPhone and a bike).  Watch this space.

One of my favourite  guilty pleasures is binge-reading the Sunday Times – preferably in a pub (to the annoyance of my friends) the extraneous sections (sport, business, property, travel) carefully filleted out and only the ranting main section, deeply silly style mag, occasionally enlightening culture section and increasingly content-thin news review remaining.   Oh, the rush you can get from a quick 45 minute delve-through!  Not unlike a sugar-high, with a similarly emetic aftertaste.  For sure, the Observer is eminently more editorially sensible and the arts coverage in the Indie is sometimes more interesting, but for sheer, enraging, trashy pleasure, the ST is hard to beat. 

Alas, however, this weekend’s edition might just be the straw that breaks this particular camel’s back.  Goddamnit, I may have to run screaming into the arms of the Observer after all.

Exhibit one: This delightful little rant castigating modest-sounding proposals to encourage students from ethnic-minority backgrounds to pursue careers in the judiciary, on the basis that this will lead to a ‘lowering of standards’.   Particularly charming is the assertion that the legal profession is already awash with ‘positive discrimination and politically-correct initiatives’ –  perhaps it’s worth bearing in mind here that according to numerous surveys, the upper echelons of the profession aren’t much more diverse than they were in 1890 ( .  Even better is the fact that the entire premise of the article seems to be derived from a few chats in the pub (bar-room braying being a notorious  source of well-reasoned good sense) and the apparently shocking discovery that some CPS lawyers aren’t terribly good.   The comments section is a cess-pit; take a look at your peril.

Exhibit two:   The article itself isn’t especially offensive by Times standards (sneering, slut-shaming references to benefits-claiming single mothers are pretty vanilla stuff in this context) but, please, editors, could at least some of you get on board with the idea that Vicky Pollard isn’t a real character but a parody, and an exceptionally misogynistic one at that?

Exhibit three:  Another edition of this weekly rant about ‘what’s wrong with women’.   It’s always pretty poor, stereotype-drenched stuff (Women talk too much! Women ask you to clean the house! Women…oh, who cares), but this week’s expression of gender-hatred comes in the form of poetry.  Really bad poetry, in fact; the kind that would be rejected by even the most inane college magazine (even my own alma mater’s rag, which once published the deathless line ‘he tickled my wonder with marble-like maleness’). 

Exhibit four: This otherwise fairly anodyne piece was illustrated with a slavering picture of some semi-naked women in the paper edition – as, in fact, has virtually every newspaper article about this rather sobering report on the sexualisation of mass media culture.   I think this is called ‘having one’s cake and eating it’.    

Oh, and in no particular order, Rod Liddle, Jeremy Clarkson and the way that an article about teachers’ pay is, bafflingly, listed under the ‘Life and Style’ section on the website.   I mean, what?   A more cynical soul than I once described journalism as ‘the challenge of filling space’.   Personally, I’ve always had a certain respect for the humble hack – but, alas, pace Bernstein and Woodward, a Sunday’s increasingly-outraged reading has convinced me that, in the case of the Sunday Times at least, leaving the page blank might sometimes be the better option.

et cetera

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