Monday, 25 January 2010

In which I've never milked a cow or shot a mugger,

To be printed 28/01/10.

This morning, I had one of those moments of amazing coincidence. I came downstairs singing a song, a song I’d woken up with in my head, then mid-way through my rendition I turned on the radio to find it in the middle of the exact same song. At the exact part I was singing. It was like Radio 2 had finally cut out the middle man and started broadcasting live from my own brain.

But while you’re lying on the floor, aghast at colossal intricacy of the universe, I ought to admit that it would have been a more amazing moment, really, if the song in question hadn’t been Journey’s Don’t Stop Believing. Which of course is not only in my head, but perpetually on a loop in the communal head of the nation. As anyone with ears will know, is now officially the Greatest Song Ever to Have Existed. 
One of the nicest things about the new shape of the music industry, where the internet is like a big ol’ Pick’n’Mix of potentially delicious discoveries, is moments like this, where one song will suddenly rise from the mists of the past and into everybody’s iTunes libraries. Sometimes it happens for no discernable reason, like when Total Eclipse of the Heart suddenly became THE song to sing in pub loos in 2007, but this time round there are several clear factors contributing to the track’s greatness.

Firstly: Glee. Ahhhh, Glee. The award-scooping musical high school sensation has high-kicked its way into our hearts and charts simultaneously, with the show’s cast recording of Don’t Stop Believing sitting smugly at number three this week. Secondly: Joe McElderry, who was refused permission to release the song. This therefore makes it a sort of anti-X-factor statement for polite people. Like Rage Against the Machine, but without the rage. With jazz hands.

And thirdly, the song starts with the words, “Just a small town girl…” Those are magic words. The sheer power of that phrase sets the tone from the off – this is a song about a journey (it’s also BY Journey, which makes it much easier to remember. Their follow-up releases ‘Leaves on the Line’ and ‘I Left my Heart at the Little Chef on the A24’ were less successful).

It’s a sentiment everyone can instantly recognise, particularly at the moment, because small town girls and boys are everywhere. They’re having a vogue. You can’t turn on the telly without encountering some reality TV whippersnapper, bleating, “I’m just a kid from a small town… I can’t believe it... This time last week I was up to my armpits in cow placenta, now I’m living the dream!” Even better if the inhabitants of the ‘small town’, Doris and Cletus and Toothless Bob, can get together to wave some banners and talk about how their Local Boy Done Good is the best thing to happen to Smalltownville since Daisy the prize Llama killed that skunk.

But what I want to know is this: do I count as a small town girl? With a 100,000-strong population, Worthing is not small. It is a large town. But “Just a large town girl…” as a punchy song opening really doesn’t have the same ring to it. The large town girl doesn’t need ‘Don’t Stop Believing’. She needs a decent parking space and access to a Tesco Express.

In fact I’m beginning to realise that as large-town inhabitants, we’re pretty much excluded from cultural referencing. Think of all the songs that have been written about cities. Then think of all the ones written about the countryside. Then try, if you will, to think of one written about a large town. Go on. Anything? “When you’re alone and life is making you lonely you can always go… to Durrington.”

I also frequently find myself in those conversations where people dual their urban and rural upbringings, and I have nothing to contribute. “Um. I’ve never shot a pheasant. Or been to a squat party with a transvestite. But y’know, we have a decent sized New Look… and a pier.”

So while we can all feel inspired by Don’t Stop Believing, I’m really holding out for a song about a girl from a large town, who knows an average amount about life, taking a medium-length journey, to fulfill a reasonably attainable dream. It can be called Findon Calling. Catch it live, on Lauren’s Brain FM.

In which I get my badrags on.

ShinyStyle column on the curse of occasion dressing:

Why Occasional Dressing Doesn't Suit Everyone

In which I want to be one of the contactable people.

Printed 21/01/10.

The thing about desire is, you never know when it’s going to sneak up on you. For months you can feel completely ambivalent, and then one day, BAM. Out of nowhere, you’re suddenly consumed by longing. It’s all you can think about, and it’s reflected in everything you see and do. And it’s surprisingly, really, because you never even realised you wanted an iPhone.

I’ve always been quite content as the happy owner of rubbish phones. My aversion to flashy handsets stems back to about 2001, when a Nokia 3310 took over from scented gel pens as the most coveted classroom accessory. Traditional lunchtime activities – spot-squeezing, eyebrow-plucking, mooning over Charlie from Busted – gave way to epic phone festivals, in which we sat and listened to each other’s ringtones until we couldn’t differentiate the Mexican Hat Dance from the blinding tinnitus in our own heads.

Convinced that phones were going to be the downfall of my generation*, I resisted for ages. For about a year I sat in my own smug bubble, amid all the snake-playing and technological jollity, saying things like “You’re 13. Your only social activity is Guides. Is anybody really trying to get hold of you, ever?” Then eventually I changed tack and got myself a replica of the mobile used to call for help on the Titanic. It was the telephonic equivalent of a mangle. It had an actual aerial. With it, I spent a year texting in capital letters as a form of protest (for ‘protest’, read ‘didn’t know how to change the setting’).

Since then, I have had a succession of increasingly cheap and plasticky phones. Partly because I can always find something more edible or wearable to spend my money on, and partly because I have a strong awareness of my own ability to sit on things and break them. My current one cost me £20, and I bought it because it looked a bit like a tictac. And, until very recently, I thought it was all I needed: It called, it texted, nobody wanted to steal it, and it could be momentarily dropped into a bowl of soup without combusting.

But no longer. In the last few weeks, ever since starting a new job pretending to be a fashion TV researcher, I’ve discovered phone shame. Sitting in meetings while everyone taps away on their Blackberrys, I’m exposed as the Meed-yar fraud I am. Of course I’ve tried to be resourceful with what I have (“Hey guys, look! I can’t check my emails or tweet, but it is the perfect size for slipping under the leg to sort out this wobbly table! Eh? Eh?”) but the fact is, I need a fancy phone.

What if, for example, someone sends me an email on which my entire career depends, and I am somehow indisposed? Like, locked in a public toilet or stuck in a lift? And because I can’t access my email from the confines of my lift or loo, the life-changing opportunity gets offered to someone else (Fearne Cotton, say)? And because I missed that email, I have no prospects, lose my job and end up banished to a life on the sofa eating cheese toasties and wondering what could have been?

There, you see. I need an iPhone. I have paid my dues in amateurish technology, and now I want to join the club. I need the false sense of professional confidence, and the illusion that I might, at some point during the working day, know what I’m doing. Let’s just hope there’s an app for that.

Tuesday, 12 January 2010

In which... it snowed, did you notice?

To be printed 14/01/10.

This last year has brought about some sad milestones in my ageing process. It was the first Christmas we didn’t leave a mince pie and sherry out for Santa (though considering my youngest sibling has started shaving, we’ve had a pretty good run), it was the first year I didn’t use a sparkler to do the S-Club ‘S’ in the air, and, most poignant of all, it’s been the first year I haven’t been excited to see snow.

It’s distressing, it really is, the first time you look our of the window to see the white flakes falling and your instinctive reaction isn’t whoops of gay abandon followed by visions of tobogganing larks, snowball fights and being allowed to drink hot chocolate once an hour as a sensible health precaution, but instead, “Ruddy marvellous, that’s my trip to Tesco scuppered”. It feels like defecting to the Other Side, joining the ranks of the enemy who tut about grit and rail delays and bah, those schools could have opened, the kids don’t know they’re born.

Perhaps I’d still have found it in my withered, miserly heart to be excited if I’d actually got a snow day like you folks did. I would have LOVED a snow day. There’s such a perverse pleasure in that feeling, of having numerous things you ought to be doing but physically not being able to do any of them – time is suddenly suspended, and you are freed of all obligation except to eat biscuits and look out of the window once an hour. It’s brilliant. But sadly, one of the downsides of living in the metropolis is that we’re always the first place that gets up and running again. Because it’s where all the celebrities live, I presume. So the tireless semi-competence of Transport for London has meant I’ve been going into the office every day, while you’ve all been building giant snowmen without me. I know you have, admit it.

From where I’m sitting, the rest of the country has suddenly taken on the allure of the exotic. Using the little nuggets of snowformation I keep overhearing on buses and stuff (“Up to their necks in Gloucestershire!”; “My Yorkshire uncle hasn’t seen his dog in four days”) I’ve sewn together a sort of mental tapestry of how Everywhere Else looks. In it, people are racing huskies through town centre precincts and skating on frozen lakes like scenes from Victorian biscuits tins.

And in my imagination, while they’re doing it, they’re wearing wellies. And snow boots, and tennis rackets strapped to their feet, like the sensible, snow-hardy folk they are. Meanwhile, tramping over my very non-imaginary pavements of compacted ice and slush, I’m wearing heels, because they’re the “grippiest shoes I have.”

Honestly. After a swift appraisal of my 56-strong shoe collection last week, I was forced to conclude this: I do not shop for nature. I have plenty of flats, but they’re all slippy-soled, foot-bearing affairs. I have boots, but they’re more hole than shoe. I have plimsolls, which are grippy but also made of canvas, serving as much use in the snow as shorts made of sponge cake. And I have heels. Heels in which I’ve spent all week stumbling to and from bus stops, with people looking at me like I’m Mad Auntie Millie, who lives in an attic and thinks she’s Duchess of Fife. 

Which is proof if ever there was that I don’t deserve your hardcore provincial snow. I couldn’t hack it. I would have got buried in a ditch somewhere last Thursday, and never be seen again. I will content myself with my unexciting, semi-inconveniencing snow and leave the dramatic stuff to you folk. But I do plan to write my name in the slush with a twig. I haven’t lost all sense of fun, after all.

Wednesday, 6 January 2010

In which we all hail the January sale.

My post-Christmas assail on the sales:

In which I pour myself a cup of ambition.

To be printed 07/01/10.

I’m starting a new job tomorrow.

If that sounded a little muffled, it’s because I currently have a duvet on my head. The new job is a Scary Thing, and of all the traditional mechanisms of scary-thing denial – comfort shopping, playing solitaire for five consecutive hours, eating an entire trifle – I’ve decided that hiding under my duvet is the best way to cope with this one.

I realise it’s pathetic, at the grand age of 21-and-11-months, not to be able to start a new job without having to hide in a fort made of bedding. After all, I have started plenty of new jobs in my time. I am a practised job-starter. I know the drill – relentless enthusiasm, alternate the words ‘sure’, ‘great’ and ‘yup’ when having things explained to you, and if in doubt about food protocol, eat your lunch in the loos.

And it’s true that of all the jobs I’ve started, none resulted in me breaking anything, hurting anyone, or being ejected from the premises by a massive boot on a spring. But I didn’t have to worry so much, eat as may trifles or build as many duvet dens about those jobs, because they were just that – jobs. There was never much resting on them. I had the beautiful buffer of full-time education to save me if everything went wrong, and at no time was there thought of the c-word (that’s ‘career’. Behave yourself).

But now things are different, because I need this job. I need it to, like, live, and eat and things. There’s also the slight chance that if it goes well (ie. I manage to look like I know what I’m doing for seven hours a day, and don’t accidentally kill the boss’s dog), it might form a stepping stone on the path towards my dream job. Or towards Waitrose to get a week’s shop in, whichever is a more attainable goal.

So yes, it’s pretty important that tomorrow goes well. As my starting point for new job success, I will refer to my Granny’s advice to my mother on her first day at school – “Just make sure you know where the toilets are, and how to get out.” Next I will prime myself for potential office politics, such as the eternal Hot Drinks Conundrum. Which is: when getting up to make a coffee, do you offer everyone else one? Is it the done thing? And if so, how many do you offer to – just the people either side of you or everyone within earshot? Will you end up trapped in a perpetual drink-making cycle, never get any work done, and end up having an unsightly breakdown one day when someone asks for a latte? The other option is never offering anyone anything, which gets you out of the whole milk-and-two-sugars rigmarole, but also might make everyone hate you.

Then there’s the can-I-can’t-I-go-on-Facebook dilemma, the have-I-been-here-long-enough-to-join- them-at-the-pub quandary, and the does-that-guy-hate-me-or-is-it-a-facial-twitch predicament. Which is all without considering how rubbish I might be at the actual work. In fact the more I think about it, the more I realise I should have opted for a career that didn’t involve interacting with people. I should have been a professional online poker player. Or a trappist nun.

On which note, I’m finished. I thought that discussing the whole thing with you, dear reader, might make be a little bit calmer. Sadly it hasn’t. (If anyone comes looking for me, don’t tell them I’m under the duvet).