Friday, 30 March 2012


...and other things that make me hiss with barely-suppressed rage...

Because lists are always fun - unless they're the never-ending "to-do" kind - here's a quick ranty post for you. The five things that make me rage and the five things I will never, never understand...

1) Couples.

I'm allowed to say this, 'cause I'm not bitter and single! Just bitter!
And, as Dylan Moran puts it, a couple is half as intelligent as its most intelligent member. (Worryingly true, I bet you'll find...)

You know the kind of couple I mean... the really coupley kind. They're all walking slowly, stopping to make out in public, then continuing to walk in the same direction... I don't get it. I kind of want to say to them, "Congratulations, you have found someone to put up with you. But calm down, it probably won't last."

What? What?! I wouldn't actually say it. I just think it, and judge them very hard as I walk by. And for the record, the Boy happens to agree with me, so it's rare that we'll indulge in any kind of affection publicly.*
Train stations and airports are allowed though.

*I can't be held responsible for how affectionate I am when intoxicated though. More on that later, perhaps.

And don't even get me started on Facebook PDA's. We have all friends who post sickeningly gushy statuses about their apparently-wonderful other halves... it's just showing off, really. Well done, you're happy. I'm not saying you don't deserve to be, I'm saying shut up about it. Go and be happy instead of telling everyone about it.

2) People who walk slowly..., wait, come back.
I mean in towns and cities, when I'm trying to get somewhere. If you're a pensioner, or a child, then fine, you can dawdle along. But if you're just ambling along the pavement, without a care in the world, while I'm trapped behind you and I need to be somewhere, then hurry the hell up. Please.
Parks and green spaces and open countryside, by all means, dander along. In fact, anyone who's walking with a purpose through some woodland probably needs to be kept an eye on...

3) Arrogance.

If the Boy was reading this, he'd be chuckling heartily. A mutual friend of ours actually remarked to me, about a year ago "God, he's so arrogant." And yes, he can come across as a touch condescending and "I'm so superior with my cut-glass cheekbones and deep posh voice". But it's not genuine arrogance. It's really not, and in any case, I like boys who come across as cocky. It's endearing, it's challenging, it's fun to try and cut down with your own top-notch banter.

What's not endearing is the kind of arrogance where you know that the person thinks they're better than you, and they really do love the sound of their own voice.

And also when people verbalise that judgemental kind of arrogance that I suspect we're all guilty of (I know I am). You know when you're ambling along the street, or people-watching, and you catch yourself eyeing someone darkly and thinking "God, please don't come near me."

Yes, it's not nice to even think that, but to verbalise it is worse, and makes people think you're an arse. Don't do it. Be judgemental, by all means, but be quiet.

4) Narrow-mindedness, or intolerance.

Oh, the irony.

No, what I'm getting at is the Daily Mail kind of attitude. You know, massive generalisations about anyone whose choices or lifestyle deviate slightly from what they think is the "ideal". Be that in terms of sexuality, religion, general beliefs, goals and ambitions, whatever. We don't all want the marriage/kids/picket-fence happy ending.  You can't change people, you can't make them share your opinions if they ...just don't.

5) Bad spelling and grammar.

What was that about tolerance and what-not...?

Seriously though. Unless you're dyslexic, or blind, or... OK, unless there is a very good reason, then if you're over fourteen, you should know the difference between "their", "there" and "they're". Or "you're" and "your".

Rant over... (kind of)

And now for the five things I will never understand:

(I'm going to do this in descending order, mainly because I feel the top one is worthy of the build-up. It's a major mystery, I can assure you.)

5) Asymmetrical hairstyles.

I don't get them. Who, when deciding on a new style, thinks "how I really want to look is like my hairdresser had a stroke halfway through the job"?

(That's harsh. I apologise. Really though?)

4)  Cat people.

How can anyone think a cat is better than a dog? Come on.  Sure, kittens are adorable, but they don't beat puppies.

3) The popularity of Coldplay.

Would a melody kill them? (Probably.)
Chris Martin can't actually sing. I know fine rightly I'm no Maria Callas, but he really can't.

2) Fake tan.

No one looks good in orange. No one. It never looks like a real tan, I can assure you.
And why the hatred for being pale? There's nothing wrong with being a fetching shade of pale blue.

1) The male preoccupation with breasts.


I don't get it. I really don't. And believe me when I tell you I have had far too many long conversations on this topic. 

I don't know if it's a what-you-don't-have-being-desirable thing, or if it really is just a but-they're-fun-to-play-with thing. The first - and most common - response I got from any guy I talked to about this (never let it be said I don't do my research) was "They're just awesome."

(Then there'd be a silence, during which I'd wait expectantly for further clarification of the matter. The male in question would then turn to me, attempt to look less wistful and say, "Sorry, that's really all there is to it.") 

They're inconvenient, is what they are. And I say that as a 34B. If they were any bigger, I would be mightily unimpressed.

I'm going to leave you with this - it's a dirty, catchy little number, and it will get stuck in your head. Just don't sing it around small children:

Saturday, 24 March 2012

On serious things...

Apparently people have started actively checking for new posts - you know who you are. And I am pathetically grateful, and really appreciate it!

So then, serious things...

I have to confess, when deciding to do a Masters, I don't think I thought it through thoroughly enough (try saying that after a beverage or two) - for some reason, I didn't think that signing myself up for a further 11 months of academia would be quite the commitment it has turned out to be.

And for the record, this is what I actually do:

Having spent the preceding however-many-years writing essays, meeting deadlines by the skin of my teeth, procrastinating endlessly and talking about how much work I should have been doing, I thought one more year of it wouldn't be a problem. It would be beneficial, in fact. But right now, the idea of spending my summer writing a 20,000 word dissertation fills me with nausea.

This post actually comes out of a particularly grumpy, hormonal Tuesday - I had a bit of an internal tizzy the other day about how if I'd left school at 16 or 18, and gone to train as, I don't know, ANYTHING - a plumber, an electrician, a hairdresser, a dental nurse - I'd have money in the bank and I'd be doing something useful. Instead, I read about language. I talk about language. I write extensively about language - and indeed other things, writing is something I will always enjoy, almost regardless of what it is I'm writing about - but is it actually of immediate use to anyone? Is what I do actually relevant to anyone outside of an academic setting? I chose Forensic Linguistics specifically because I thought it was one of the few areas of linguistics that is in fact relevant to the "real world" - and I must admit, I haven't been proved wrong on that score. But this "get me out of academia, stat" strop did get me thinking about the value of higher education (i.e. post-sixth form/age 18), and how useful it really is...

Because, as I said, I could have money in the bank, and possibly a flat of my own by now, if I'd chosen differently. I'd have some real independence, as opposed to the pseudo-independence that being a student brings.

I should probably add that, to be perfectly honest, my parents (well, my mother) weren't going to let me not go to university. She as good as told me that. And I'm grateful - don't get me wrong, I am so grateful, and I count myself incredibly lucky to have parents that cared as much as mine did about my future, and also my interests - for as long as I can remember, Mum has said "She'll go to uni to do English, she's always reading..." I'm lucky she noticed, I'm lucky she embraced my academic strengths in the way that she did, even if at the time it felt like she was just nagging me to do my homework. 

It's somewhat obvious to say that I'd be a very different person if I hadn't gone to university, and had gone straight to work instead. I might be a little more organised and motivated if I had gone straight into a work environment, but I've had part-time jobs since I was 14. I know how the workplace functions.

It's also somewhat obvious to say that after considering the question, "How valuable is higher education?" I had to come down on the pro-university side. Because ultimately, I think the last three and a half years have allowed me to develop skills and qualities that I wouldn't have had the chance to develop otherwise.

My writing skills and style have improved (honest!), I've learned to research effectively, I've learned to form arguments and find evidence for them, I've learned to see all the sides to a given issue (something my grandmother says a lot, "You're very impatient, darling, and you always think you're right, but you're always very fair"). 

And a lot of what I've learned - most of it, in fact - hasn't involved a lecture theatre or a deadline in any way - I've learned that bills absolutely must be paid, landlords tend to be a bit mad, I've learned to cook (a little bit, anyway), I've learned how to drink (and how!), and I've learned more than I ever wished to know about boys (still haven't entirely solved that mystery yet, though). Because while heading straight out to work at the age of 18 probably would have taught me all that too - and possibly a damn sight quicker - in terms of independence, university life does provide a "halfway house". You're responsible for yourself most of the time, but you're still a student (so family members do tend to take pity from time to time, and spoil you a bit). It makes the "flying-the-nest" process a little easier; you do it a bit at a time. Which must make it a bit easier on parents, too. Especially if you're the first one to go, as I am.

I'm aware that this has turned into more of a pro-university post than anything, and I hope it's clear I don't think that going to uni is better than going out to work after your A-levels. I'm simply saying that it was probably the best thing for me (I'll let you know, though, in a year's time, when I'm unemployed and overqualified for some things and woefully underqualified for others).

Because, if nothing else, over the last few years, I've learned this: both inside linguistics and outside, in the real world, there are far more questions than there will ever be answers.

Still not convinced about this dissertation lark, though.

Sunday, 11 March 2012

Music-based musings...

...The book thing naturally sparked a music version, and I am one of those infuriating people who thinks their taste in music is Right, and everyone else's taste in music is inevitably Wrong.

So here are the 8 artists/bands that have had the most impact on my musical life... feel free to judge, 'cause I would.

1) Thea Gilmore

If any friends are reading this, it's OK, I can hear the collective eye-rolling and "you're banging on about her again?" Yes, yes I am. Because she really, really, really is that good. Every time I see her live I swear she gets better - and trust me when I say I have lost count of the number of times I have seen her live - and it's been exciting to see how her style has matured and developed.

See for yourselves... Don't be put off by the somewhat basic approach to video-making; she's really not about slick marketing and selling herself as a product. What she is about is crafting intelligent, witty lyrics and not overcomplicating or over-producing her records. She deserves to be so much bigger than she is, but I'm a little scared that if she was, I wouldn't be half the fan I am now. (And not in a hipster, "she's sold out, man" kind of way. Honest.)

2) Alanis Morissette

Just as Anne Frank was a predictable choice for the book list, Alanis is no surprise here. I spent 7 years as a teenage girl, of course I was going to have an Alanis phase at some point. I started writing songs at the age of about 11 (interestingly, I believe my first song was called "Real Love". What an eleven year old knows about real love is, well, bollocks-all, quite frankly, but I bet I could still hum it to you), and heard Jagged Little Pill for the first time about a year later. It did change the way I thought about female singer-songwriters - there's a lot of female rage and bitterness on that record, as well as several lighter moments - and it was the first time, I think, that I'd listened to a girl singer who wasn't slick and choreographed and polished to perfection. Her songs highlighted the confusion and conflicting feelings that relationships and their breakdown can bring, and that was a revelation at the time.

Though I doubt I realised it.

3) Michelle Branch

If those two examples aren't enough, I'll shut up and retreat with a sigh, shaking my head at your awful taste...

In all seriousness, though - Michelle Branch emerged about the same time as a certain Ms Lavigne, who seemed to nab Branch's spot when it came to being the charts' guitar-wielding girl singer/songwriter of choice. This was, to my mind, totally unfair. Michelle Branch never made it as big in the UK as Avril, but in my opinion is so much more talented. Her incredibly strong voice, her simple but never simplistic lyrics, the way she also gets better and better... Yeah. Little bit of a girl-crush going on here. Actually, I think I just want to be her. Just for a day. She plays a Gibson Hummingbird, too, which is the top instrument on my "guitars-to-buy-when-I'm-rich" wishlist.

4) The Calling

Remember them? "I'll go wherever you will gooooooo..." (Actually, you probably do remember them, given that Charlene Soraia did a very yelpy, whiney cover of that song a few months ago.) Well, I'm somewhat loathe to admit this but it was the intro to that song, the soft guitar picking bit, that made me pick up the guitar in the first place. Their first album - incidentally I think the first album I ever bought with my own money - was actually pretty strong; it certainly wasn't all soft-rock ballads like their most successful single, and it's a shame they didn't last longer than they did.

5) Damien Rice

Male readers, if they are anything like the Boy, may well be sighing and spluttering and generally finding it hard to believe I dare refer to myself as someone with good music taste, if I'm going to put Damien Rice on this list. I do not know many guys that admit to liking him, it's true. Boy himself keeps extolling the virtues of Newton Faulkner over the Rice man, but I much prefer Rice's lyrics. O was a funny little record - I only liked two or three songs on it when I first listened to it, but oh, how it grew on me. There are dark, bitter moments on it, and subtle, light moments, and it is the album that is home to the ultimate anthem of unrequited love: Cannonball. If you need any more persuading that Damien Rice isn't simply the Irish version of David Gray, then go listen to "Dogs", from Rice's second album, 9. Then come back and tell me I'm wrong.

6) Bruce Springsteen

Stay with me...  I expect, if my uncle knew how to use the internet, and could read this, he would be quietly punching the air with pride. He's probably been waiting almost 22 years to hear me say that Bruce Springsteen has had any sort of influence on me. Because, as you've no doubt gleaned, my uncle is quite the Bruce fan. More obsessive than I am about Ms Gilmore. I don't like everything  Bruce has ever done - indeed, I haven't heard most of it. But there are a few songs of his that really make me happy - Radio Nowhere, The Rising, Lonesome Day, and it almost goes without saying, Born to Run. Plus, anyone that comes up with the phrase "dancing in the dark" has got to be a songsmith of pretty high calibre...

7) Lissie

She's got an awesome voice, she plays guitar, she never seems to try too hard, she looks like she'd be wicked fun to get drunk with, and she's mates with Ellie Goulding. I cannot love her more. Anything else? Oh, this:

Pure class.

8) Grace Potter (and the Nocturnals)

Who? This one:

Yes. Exactly. That voice is pure sex and grit and rock'n'roll. I am so jealous of her voice, it's unreal. Why she's not super-world-famous on a Lady Gaga scale is beyond me. Check out Medicine for further convincing. Like you need it.

All right, I'm off now. Only for more internet procrastination, I expect. You should check out at least one of the above if you haven't already; I do have impeccable taste. Of course, if you've stumbled here by mistake and you're more of a death-metal person, then I won't be offended if you don't. Much.

Friday, 9 March 2012

What linguistics students talk about...

...books, obviously. (As well as regional accents, our favourite and least favourite words, and grammar and spelling Nazism...)

I was watching a TV programme the other night called "My Life in Books" - presented by Anne Robinson (possibly the most wooden presenter in history, not helped by the fact that she can barely move her face), it features two famous people who've chosen the books that have had the most impact on them. As a reading geek, I love the concept, but it struck me as I watched it that it would be better suited to radio - but I suspect something similar already exists.

Naturally, I started compiling my own list. I thought it would be easy, being a life-long book worm (my mother used to have to tell me off for reading at the breakfast table, and used to catch me reading under the covers by torchlight long after I was meant to be asleep. Even now, I can while away hours in Waterstones).  It wasn't as easy as I expected. I went for six - no idea why, just seemed like a good number at the time; five wasn't enough and ten would have been a stretch, I think. I had some pretty stringent conditions, too - the books I've chosen have genuinely had an impact on me and/or my reading life. They're the books that have made me exclaim breathlessly "ThisisAMAZING", or the books that have made me urge the next friend I saw after reading them, "OhmyGodyouHAVEtoreadthis!" Or simply, as in the case of (3), the books that have made me think, nod, and go "Oh, yeah, I get it now..."

1) The Diary of Anne Frank

Yes, a predictable choice for a girl who will freely admit to having the mental age of a 17 year old, and I do think the power of the diary was lost on me a little, as I read it when I was ten or eleven, which is probably a bit young. I've re-read it since, and been both inspired and saddened by it. In fact, as I write this I'm also scanning the Wikipedia page for the book, and it's making me want to dig it out and read it again.

2) City of the Beasts by Isabel Allende

I've included the link because you may not have heard of the book. A paperback version is also available, but this was the edition I read, and boy, I'd never read anything like it before. Beautiful, original, truly captivating... with a neat little twist at the end. I read it when I was twelve or thirteen, and if I'm ever asked about my favourite books now, it is one that I will name without fail. It was so unlike anything I've ever read before, and so had all the more effect on me because of that. Which is unusual for me - I'm not the best at getting out of my comfort zone, in any area of life - but I can't recommend this highly enough. If you know of a 12 year old, boy or girl, who's a reluctant reader, give them this. I mean, there's always Harry, I suppose... but give them this first! (On no account give them Twilight. Please.)

3) Great Expectations by Charles Dickens

Again, it's probably no surprise that Dickens has made it on to this list - but I didn't read this until a couple of years ago, when it was on my reading list for a module on 19th century literature. I don't recall finding it easy to read, and I do remember drawing out a rather complicated diagram to remind myself who was connected to who, and how, but I remember being pleasantly surprised. Until I read Great Expectations, I'd thought of Dickens as a rather dry, somewhat impenetrable writer whose books were a slog to get through (literature afficionados are spluttering and groaning to themselves as I type, I can feel it) - but Pip is such a lively character, and his story arc unfolds so cleverly, that I found myself converted. 

4) Guitar Girl by Sarra Manning

Don't be put off by the slightly clumsy title - yes, it is very much a teen drama, and the boys probably will run a mile from it, but it does what it does very well. It's witty, funny, touching and sad by degrees, loaded with references to pop culture and all the angst of being a slightly awkward teenage girl. Who just happens to have started a band that's got famous... I was fifteen or sixteen when I read it, and it was such a relief to find a heroine who didn't always know what to say, who believed that songs can change your life, and who let a boy get right under her skin. 

5) Marie Antoinette: The Journey by Antonia Fraser

Sofia Coppola's 2006 film Marie Antoinette divided film critics - it was an arty, indie take on the life of the queen, but did bring home the fact that when she was first sent from her home in Austria to marry the Dauphin of France, she was little more than a child. Coppola used Fraser's biography of Marie Antoinette while making the film, as it is a very detailed biography. In 2008 I wrote an A-level History assignment about the Diamond Necklace Affair (not mentioned in the film, and indeed the subject of its own, lesser-known film). Marie Antoinette had been the victim of almost relentless criticism, both during her life and subsequently, and Fraser looks at all the evidence and really comes out on her side. Fraser's is certainly not the only biography to paint a more sympathetic portrayal of the woman who never actually uttered the words "Let them eat cake", but the detail and the writing are truly remarkable.

6) Taming the Beast by Emily Maguire

I'm almost ashamed of this - and indeed, if my mother ever overcomes her technological incompetence and read this, I'm going to have to retract this choice and deny all knowledge of it - but it fulfils my criteria for "books that have had an impact on 'me". It's so raw, and shocking, and explicit, that you read it dry-mouthed, gripping the pages with white knuckles. In fact, I remember reading the first chapter or two at the station, then on the train, and thinking "I shouldn't be reading this in public", while casting fearful glances over my shoulder. It begins as the story of an affair between teacher and pupil, but soon grows into something far darker and more twisted than that. It will widen your eyes and break your heart.

Two more...

...while I've been writing this, I've thought of two more, and I can't fathom why I didn't think of them sooner. The first is Wuthering Heights (Emily Bronte, in case you didn't know). The only thing that the two central characters have going for them is their love for each other. It's a dark and wild barely-even-a-love-story, set against a dark and wild backdrop, but it's haunting and passionate. Read it.

Also, Eating Myself by Candida Crewe. As someone who, as a child, was a chubby little thing, and as a sixteen year old, took things a little too far and was underweight for a little while, food rarely comes without guilt, or some sort of emotional process. And I think that's the case for a lot of women, and growing numbers of men. We cannot escape the fact that there is pressure to look "perfect", and no amount of boys telling me in protesting tones "But curves are hot! We don't want to grab hold of twigs!" is going to change the mindset that, if possible, I'd rather be on the slimmer side. Eating Myself is an honest account of everywoman's internal monologue where food is concerned. Read it and you'll find yourself laughing and almost crying in recognition. Ever said "OK, I'll have some chocolate now but tomorrow I'll just have soup and salad"? Then you'll know what she's on about.