Sunday, 28 October 2012

Team Strictly...

...and whatever else I need to get off my chest. Such as:

1) It's going to be really freaking embarrassing if I've failed my dissertation;
2) Does anyone else's family cause them terrific amounts of stomach-clenching guilt?
3) I don't want to go back to work tomorrow; I want to be back in Spain, drinking all the beer and eating all the chorizo (that's no euphemism, by the way).
4) Why are my 16-year-old brother and 12-year-old sister both taking their laptops on holiday to Dubai with them? Why?!

OK, that's that over with, now to this...

For the first time in four years, I'm spending autumn at home in Sussex. This, coupled with having a job that requires a wake-up time of 5.50am, means that to my disappointment, I've become a lot less discriminatory in what I watch on TV. Which is, admittedly, a bit rich coming from someone who has no problem saying she enjoys Made in Chelsea - something the Boy felt the need to let slip at the pub the other night. A friend genuinely spluttered into his pint. We did all agree, however, that "well, at least it's not TOWIE".

Like all good Freudians, for my worsening taste in television, I blame my mother.

Let me explain. Mum's an early bird. She's in her dressing gown by 7pm, in bed by 9.30 at the latest and up at half 6 in the morning. She doesn't really do 'relaxed'. She's had one lie-in in the last twelve years. It was quite recently; I remember it well. I was genuinely concerned that she was gravely ill when I found her in bed around mid-morning. It's going to go down in family legend as "Remember that time Mum had a lie-in?" Right there with the mayonnaise-on-the-rhubarb thing. My gran took the wrong tub out of the fridge after a Sunday roast one time. Why we didn't stop her before a dollop had landed on someone's portion of crumble is anyone's guess. Where were we? Oh yes.

So yeah, it's Mum's fault. When it gets to about half-7 in the evening, and the dinner things are in the dishwasher and the table is set for breakfast (I kid you not), Mum settles down with the newspapers and mostly, some God-awful TV. She even enjoys The One Show.

Thanks to her, I've recently got quite into Holby City. And I can see why people get hysterical over Downton (that was pretty emotional when Whatsherface died, wasn't it? Good grief, is it always like that?) And I am absolutely, vehemently, definitely anti-X Factor - and therefore, Team Strictly all the way.

Note: while I am aware that Simon Cowell no longer appears regularly on X Factor, he is the target of at least some of my rant because he owns Syco, which produces the show. And I like to think of him as some evil Dracula/puppet-master.

It's probably not news to anyone that I'm anti-X Factor, actually. I've always been very much in my own world, musically-speaking. When my classmates were into Britney and Billie (Piper), I was digging out my mum's Celine Dion records. Yes, records. When the world calls for Adele, I say, "Right, enough, I'm off to find Thea Gilmore". You say Mumford and Sons, I say The Decemberists. You say Taylor Swift, I say Michelle Branch. It's the just the way it is. When I came in to find my housemate watching the Brits last year, the first thing she said was, "there was this weird girl with an acoustic guitar, you'd like her". She meant Laura Marling.

It's a question of authenticity, I suppose, and there is nothing authentic about The X Factor. No-one can argue that it's about the music. They can try, but they will be shouted down.

 Yes, if you want fakery and glitter, Strictly delivers in that, in spades. But Strictly is upfront about it. The dresses, the make-up, the razzle-dazzle - that's the whole point of Strictly. It's panto - it knows that it's a glorious, rollicking-good-fun panto that lasts from October to (fittingly for this analogy) Christmas. What's more, SCD is harmless.

 And harmless is precisely what the X Factor isn't, to my mind. During a Mock The Week appearance a few years back, Lauren Laverne came out with a brilliant line about how Simon Cowell had "slit the cultural throat of Britain and was drinking its still-warm blood". They say that Brits have a habit of slagging successful people, and yes, Simon Cowell has been a tremendously successful businessman. But I don't envy him his success, or his money. In fact, if I'd made my money the way he has, I'd feel very uneasy about the bottom line of my bank statements.

There's as much of the pantomime in X Factor as there is in old Strickers, but with XF it's (a bit) subtler. Villains have been played by Katie Waissel, Jedward (kind of - or are they more jesters?), maybe Rylan this year, I don't really know. Prince Charming has been played by Matt Cardle and all of the One Direction boys, to name a few. The judges are, for the most part, the Fairy Godmothers of the piece. And the ghosts whose chains rattle and clank in the wings, they're the harder-to-pin-down, but definitely more talented kids, like that Aiden chap, and Lucy... Lucy Jones? Yeah, her.

 I want to see the acts playing shitty pub gigs, to an audience of 8 (one of which would be the pub's resident elderly Labrador). I want to see the contestants locked in rooms, alone, with either a piano or an acoustic guitar, and not let out until they'd written one complete song. And if there was so much as a whiff of cliche, anywhere in the lyrics, they'd be battered over the head with a copy of this and promptly sent home. And all this before the live shows. That would sort the Waissels from the Rebecca Fergusons, wouldn't it?

The people who complain that Strictly is just a bunch of has-beens trying to have one last stab at fame are missing the point. I don't think I've ever seen a celebrity taking part in Strictly not bloody loving it. When they show the footage of the training, the famous person is always gushing about how hard it is, but how much fun. Strictly seems to project this sense of fun - even Craig has a wry glint in his eye when he's dishing out criticisms harsher than a Russian winter. X Factor just worries me. A lot of people - boys, mainly; do you guys just enjoy other people's misfortune? - admit to not minding the audition stages, because the woefully untalented and deluded are there to be laughed at. I cannot watch those shows; I just can't put myself through it. Watching the talented ones make their way through to the live shows makes me just as uneasy, in a way - the urge to shout at the television, "Retain your musical integrity! You do know that you won't have any control over your career if you persist in this? They will make you into who they want you to be!" rings in my ears.

Talent shows have been around as long as television, and watching other people put themselves through things we wouldn't put ourselves through will continue to be, you know, a thing. But I can't help grinning when I see that SCD is beating X Factor in the viewing figures battle. Frankly, anything that slows Simon Cowell down, even a little, makes me smile.

I'm going to stop, 'cause this is getting a bit wordy, even for me.

Being on holiday meant that I was able to reacquaint myself with the long-forgotten activity of reading for fun, and I can highly recommend:

1) David Mitchell's autobiography, Back Story - it's so very him (shocker, I know), and a great read from a funny, articulate man. The chapter on Victoria Coren may have jerked a tear or two - it's everything I've ever wanted to say about love but, well, haven't bothered to.
2) The Crimson Petal and The White, Michael Faber - like Dickens, with all the descriptions of its London setting. You really feel the grime and the grease, the damp and the chill. But this ain't no Great Expectations. This is darker, and raunchier - and for an 800-page tome, it zips along nicely.

A double whammy of musical deliciousness for you tonight:


And this:

Wednesday, 17 October 2012

Why I don't slag off National Rail...'s mainly because I'm one of those people who a) works in the middle-of-sodding-nowhere-ville, and b) is feeble enough to not be able to drive. (I tried, for a long time, but kept being beaten by the fear of the disasters that can occur when one is travelling at high speeds in a metal box. I think there's something wrong with my brain.)

The job I have, if I'm honest, is far more hassle than it's worth. Rail fares are jumping up, I spend over three hours on a train most days, and the job itself makes my brain melt with its lack of creativity. After doing the Sodding Masters (to give its technical term), I was happy to rest on my academic laurels and earn some money by reading bills, insurance policies and the odd textbook for hours on end. The only good thing I can say about it now is it keeps me from having to sign on for Jobseeker's Allowance. Not that there's anything wrong with that, I just feel it's better to stay employed if the work is there. And it gives me something to do and, more accurately, something to complain about.

Knackering though the commute is - and it really is* - once I'm on that train, I really don't mind it. I get uninterrupted time with my iPod/a book/my own thoughts. I can people-watch, people-judge, and people-crush to my heart's content.

*When you're a kid, you imagine adulthood to involve eating Smarties for breakfast, staying up late every single night and never having to do Maths homework. Turns out it's just "get up hideously early, spend hours on a train - often with morons - do a job that both bores and frustrates you (also often with morons), spend hours on a train, eat dinner, sleep". On repeat.

I've said before that I fall in lust regularly whilst travelling on trains - and I've found that I'm pretty open-minded about who I lust after. Men, women, anyone's fair game. Recent train-crushes have included the geek-chic, suited and bespectacled chap with whom I shared a smile, once, when we both jumped at Boris Johnson's "today's the day, folks!" Olympic message as it boomed out across the station. This guy looked like Francis from Made in Chelsea, if that helps. He doesn't get the 08.13 to Caterham anymore, which is a shame.

Then there was the glamourous woman who looked like Rosamund Pike (like this), and was dressed immaculately in a navy maxi dress with a butterfly print and a cream mac. And the nice, friendly conductor who was sweet in a David Miliband sort of way, but who lost points for saying "that's a long way" when I bought a ticket from Littlehaven to Uckfield. Don't I bloody know it, sunshine. The impeccably-dressed guy I saw for 2.7 seconds this morning - shirt, jumper, jeans, Converse, long wool coat, stubble and untidy hair. The pouty blonde girl with the amazing eyelashes, who looks like she has moody tendencies and maybe a useless boyfriend she has to keep tabs on (she's always on her phone).

Then there's the rare,  but warm-and-fuzzy "aww!" moments. Like the tiny little black girl who wears a stiff school uniform topped with a red beret. All I see when she walks down the platform, escorted by her mother, is huge brown eyes and a little hat. Too cute. And the guy I saw a couple of weeks back, who looked kind of thuggish but was clearly besotted with the well-behaved Staffie that sat at his feet, eyeing up the pigeons.

Sure, there are people that annoy the living daylights out of me (this wouldn't be me if it was all warm-and-fuzzy and puppies 'n' rainbows). The girl in the paint-splattered jeans who knocked into everyone today, and who positively reeked of weed. The couple who look "alternative" and are all cute and publicly affectionate. I don't care how in love you are, 8am is too early for that shit. And the girl just looks like someone who would describe themselves as "quirky", and the boy seems pretty whipped. (I'm really getting my bitch on tonight. Eek.) The business types who look important as they hash out Powerpoint presentations on their MacBooks and talk in infuriating, meaningless jargon. Please. Speak. Properly. Or I'll re-brand you.

I'm definitely guilty of romanticising train travel. If I had my way, we'd still be relying on steam trains. Young wives running alongside trains as they pull away, waving their handkerchiefs at stern, yet kind men, who're saying "I'll write every week darling, I promise!" would be a regular occurrence. With all those people in such a small space, you could meet your soulmate on an otherwise very ordinary train journey. If you believe in soulmates.

It was Samuel Johnson who said that when one is tired of London, one is tired of life. I'd re-phrase, and mangle his idea: when you're tired of quietly observing all kinds of people as they pass through somewhere like a busy railway station, then you're probably tired of people.

On that note, have a bit of this. I'm not sure if I'm late to the party as far as this song is concerned (I'm not great with singers other people have heard of. Sad but true):