Tuesday, 28 February 2012

In which Monday night telly's really going places

(This was written for the good people of Worthing)

Who else is watching The Tube on BBC2?

Not right now, although that would be a mighty coincidence, but on Monday nights with the rest of us*? It's an unlikely contender for communal telly viewing, a ritual usually reserved for big hitters like X-Factor and Question Time, but with its wry look into the world under the underground and ample opportunities to guffaw at the idiocy of other humans, The Tube is almost my new favourite programme.

Of course, I wouldn't have watched it at all were it not for my colossal train geek of a boyfriend, a man for whom riding the length of the Metropolitan Line alone is a dream afternoon's activity. "Look how jolly the staff are!" he says as we watch. "They're so patient and cheerful. What heroes." I don't have the heart to point out that the patient, cheerful, jolly staff are probably the only ones they filmed. But anyway, it’s great.

There are lots of good bits to The Tube - seeing your local station, or even a station you frequent regularly, is exciting (you out-of-towners you just get to shout "Look Bev, Covent Garden - where you had your purse nicked" at 15 minute intervals); Learning mind-fuddling statistics like “every day, 60,000 journeys are made and not paid for”, which you can then recite at the coffee machine and sound knowledgeable; last week’s sequence of commuters who had fallen asleep being woken up at the end of the line and gently herded homewards.

But the best bit of all is seeing seeing fare-dodgers get caught. I, as I’m sure you all do too, love a good bit of comeuppance – especially for petty crimes like not blipping a travelcard. In a way it's our version of America's Cheaters, the show where adulterers are secretly filmed, then pounced on by a camera crew and their raging spouse during an opportune moment. We're as thrilled by an oyster fare evader being stopped and promptly fined as our cousins across the Atlantic are by a trouserless man from Milwaukee screaming "IT'S NOT WHAT YOU THINK SUE-ANNE" while she beats him over the head with a shoe.

But I know what you’re saying - ‘We don’t live in London, thanks Lauren. Can’t we just talk about Teville Gate some more?’ Well I urge you, watch it anyway. Make your kids watch it. For they, like me, might one day rely on this underground world to get around and earn a living. You don’t want them to turn into one of those tourists who gets the tube for all of 30 seconds between Charing Cross and Embankment, do you? As the late Whitney Houston once sang: teach them well, and let them lead the way. Or read the map.

Plus, after a 10-minute montage of weekend revellers vomiting on the Victoria line, Teville Gate will start to look rather homely.

*By ‘the rest of us’ I naturally mean Twitter, but you can replace as appropriate with your chosen medium of contact: telephone; carrier pigeon; shouting over garden fence.

Sunday, 19 February 2012

So you've decided to join Twitter...

Welcome, follower. You might recognise me from such conversations as 'Bah, I don't see the appeal of Twitter at all' and 'Twitter's just people chatting about what they had for breakfast, isn't it?' Forget those now. They never happened.

Hang on, don't I know you IRL? By your blank-faced response to my acronym I'll assume you've not been here long… oh yes, look. Four followers and an egg for an avatar. You haven't.

So you've decided to join Twitter. Congratulations! What finally did it? The masochistic limitations of the character allowance? The way newspapers now just report tweets instead of real quotes? The chance to start over with new people who've never seen your Marbella '08 album? Stephen Fry?

If it's that last point, we'd better warn you now - it's not really *about* Stephen anymore. We've moved on. He has too - he's out of the broken-down lift and everything.

But wait, stay - it's still fun here! Look, here's your official welcome pack. It's got a framed picture of your family, a novelty wrist rest in the shape of that little blue bird, and a catheter, 'for luxury duvet days'. Oh and there were some complimentary biscuits too, but we ate them in 2009 while we were waiting.

Image from www.denverstreetfood.com

So anyway, where've you been? Oh that's right, Facebook. And at work, and spending time in the same room as people whose surname name you know. Well that's all going to change now. You don't need to go out, or do your hair nice. Your personal hygiene levels are about to become a little more theoretical too.

We're a little bit different here, you see - there are a few more semi-political gags, a few less photos of people you went to school with's infant offspring - but you'll adapt pretty quickly. Swap your exclamation marks for CAPITAL LETTERS, that's a good place to start. Oh, and don't waste your finger muscles tweeting at celebrities. You'd be better served screaming pithy replies into a vacuum.

A few things you should know before you begin: 1) contrary to popular opinion, you CAN tweet about what you're eating for breakfast. But only if it has some entertaining merit, and not if it involves wheatgrass. 2) Do not fear hashtags. Think of them as Twitter nutmeg - tasty when sprinkled in moderation, potentially fatal in high doses. 3) Don't brag. Don't even humble-brag. If you must tell someone about your career success/expensive new flat/dinner with the Middletons, try writing it on a napkin followed by lots of exclamation marks, then burning it and throwing the ashes out the window. 4) If you retweet a Follow Friday, somewhere a kitten dies.

What's that? You feel as if nobody's paying attention to anything you're tweeting? Don't worry - that's because they're not. You have four followers and three of them are pornbots. But stick at it! It's going to be a beautiful journey.

You should now be ready to start your life as a Tweeter. Good luck. And remember - if you cock it up, there's always Google +.

If you would like a fun Twitter factsheet featuring guidance from experts including Joey Barton and Tom Watson's intern, please send a stamped, self-addressed envelope to the address below.

Tuesday, 14 February 2012

Romantic things that aren't romantic at all

By the time you’re reading this, St Valentine will have been and gone again for another year, and you’ll be picking up rose petals, or little bits of your heart, from whence they were scattered before trying to remember how to make pancakes.

But as I’m writing this at the beginning of the week (coo-ee, future! How’s that milder weather treating you?) we’re going to have a look at a nice list of romantic things… that really aren’t romantic at all.


This shouldn't need to be said, so I'm loath to waste too much page space on it. But if your Valentine is over the age of 14, any form of stuffed toy is tantamount to giving them a note that reads "secretly, I think you are an idiot," wrapped up in a polyester bow. Clintons have lied to you. Wise up.

Valentine's-specific novelty items

This includes World's Best Girlfriend plaques, heart-bedecked kitchenware and anything else with your current relationship status emblazoned across it. Now, we all know you're madly in love and will live happily after f'rever and ever and so this concern needn't bother you in the slightest, but still I ask you to consider: if you break up, will she still be able to get some use out of it?

She’d have to overcome a wave of emotion every time she wore it/drank from it, of course, but when you've spent the princely sum of £14.99 on a trinket, having it burnt in a sacrificial bonfire because it said STACY and GAZ 4EVA across it in glitter just seems like a waste.

Long walks

Get your fleece on! We're going for a long walk somewhere scenic, where we will hold hands and laugh at nothing in particular and kiss as the early evening light glints attractively through branches overhead!

What's that? You've got a blister and your nose is running, and we don't live near a heath or moor so we have to have a romantic walk round the block to Londis? And the couple in front is significantly more attractive and laughing far more at nothing in particular than we are? Oh. Let's go home and eat biscuits.

Slow dancing

Remember slow-dancing? If memory serves, I last did it to the Backstreet Boys at my year seven leavers’ disco. It was the special brand of slow dancing where you stand as far apart from each other as possible while maintaining physical contact – fingertips on shoulders, fingertips on hips – and twelve classmates gather round taking photos on disposable cameras and jeering.

I’m aware another type of slow dancing exists because I’ve seen it on telly, in rom-coms from the 80s and reality TV wedding shows, but so far in my six-odd years of adulthood (or six odd years of adulthood, if you prefer) I’ve never witnessed it with my eyes.


We all know about the oyster's supposed aphrodisiac effects (they’re full of zinc, the ‘hey lady, let’s have babies’ mineral, and Casanova reportedly woofed a modest 50 for breakfast of a morning).

But aside from their phlegmy texture and the inevitable chorus of slurping that accompanies them, oysters fail on the romance-o-meter because you must spend the twelve hours afterwards continually assessing your stomach wellbeing in the faint fear you’ve had a dodgy one.

Which, let’s face it, you might already be doing with regards to your date.

Monday, 6 February 2012

In which I launch Operation Creep-be-Gone

I did a good deed the other week. On the scale between replacing the loo roll when you’ve finished it and pulling a child out of the way of a speeding bus shouting “Little Jimmy, nooooo!” then I’ll concede it’s closer to the Andrex end, but still, I felt proud.

My deed was this: I saw a woman, on a busy Euston Road at 6pm, being hounded by a man. He wasn’t being outwardly aggressive, but he was sliming round her like a slug in an overcoat, asking questions and ignoring all clear signals (headphones in, one-word answers, refusal to make eye contact) that she wasn’t interested.

I caught the girl’s eye and mouthed "are you ok?", to which she shook her head. So then I had a decision to make, quickly. To barge in like the Green Cross Code Man and say "STOP, letch! She doesn't want to talk to you. RETREAT," before blasting him with a sonic ray gun, or the alternative; pretend to be her mate.  "There you are!" I cried, launching myself on her (for if I'm going to do a good deed I may as well get a hug out of it). "Hi!" she faked, as I dragged her away. Then we stood together on the pavement miming friendly chat like a couple of am-dram actors, while Slug Man stared, lingered, and eventually slithered off back to his cabbage patch.

She was pretty grateful, or at least acted like she was. "I always attract the weirdos too," I told her, in what I thought at the time was a reassuring manner. Then I disappeared off into the night, swishing my imaginary cape and feeling proud.

Why don't more people do this? Seriously? There must have been 20 people within view and earshot standing nearby, yet nobody else paid the slightest attention. I assume for the same reasons more strangers don't tell you when you have food on your face - because we are all really hermit crabs, and unprecedented human contact is more often than not a big ol' faff.

There's the worry that you're going to get 'involved in something', of course, and I can appreciate that. But nobody's saying you have to leap in with your handbag swinging. Even a stern glance or a calm, disapproving presence could help. A well-timed 'tut' might still go some way to helping these lowlifes learn that harassing us for the simple crime of possessing ovaries is Not Ok.

This isn't necessarily about sisterhood, either. I stopped and rescued her because I've been in her place enough times to know it's awful, and because it makes my blood boil that street harassment is still so commonplace when it ought to have gone the way of the permed mullet. But a bloke could likewise have stopped and rescued her because he's a decent person, and it makes HIS blood boil that street harassment is still so commonplace it ought to have gone the way of the permed mullet.

So let's make this a new thing - street harassment crusaders! Operation Creep-Be-Gone! Bolshy builders, drunk leerers at bus stops, creepy guys who hang around asking you your name at train stations - all beware! For before you know it, a Fake Friend might leap out of the shadows and stop you in your tracks. Who's with me?

(Capes optional)

In which I've done some stuff, but not all of it

I turned 24 this week.

"Oh no!" you're thinking, "She's going to do another column on all the things she has or hasn't achieved in 24 years and how generally ill-informed she is as a barely functioning human adult!"

Well, I'll have you know I'm not. Relax.

I'm pretty relaxed about this birthday, as it happens, because 24 is a complete non-event of an age. It's merely another step on the gradual plodding progression towards my natural, internal age, which I've known for a while now is about 43. I'm far too old by now to be any sort of prodigy, or 'youngest ever' at anything, so that's a lot of pressure off (though the days I spent trying to be the youngest ever person to master Handel's Messiah on a kazoo is frankly time I'll never get back).

 Likewise I'm still far too young to need to have done anything as concrete as legally acquiring a building or other human. I think of this part of your twenties as 'The Meander'. It's nice. If you do something significant then hey, well done you! If not, don't worry - your Mum still sees you as a six year old in a tutu anyway.

Besides, the groaning list of Stuff You Should Have Done By Now can always be balanced out nicely by the Stuff You Didn't Expect To Have Done But Have, which is the more exciting collection by far. So, for 'accumulated some savings', I can swap 'saw Dolly Parton in concert and cried.'  In the place of 'reaching a moderate level of personal fitness', I have 'invented Toblerone porridge and its sequel, Christmas cake porridge'. I may not have married or produced offspring this year, but I did get up at 5am to watch the Royal Wedding in Hyde Park with a lavish picnic, a level of commitment to public cheer that I doubt I'll ever equal again. I didn't think that by the ripe age of 24 I'd have both appeared on and humiliated myself on a TV game show, or met Dave 'Voice of Come Dine With Me' Lamb and told him that his voice made me hungry. They were nice bonuses.

I hadn't banked on reaching my partying peak and progressing to a state of complete, feeble alcohol intolerance by my mid-20s either, and yet it is so. Despite its negative impact on my already-shaky street cred, I like to think that being teetotal so early has freed up a large part of my life that would otherwise be given to weeping into my handbag on Friday mornings while Barbara from accounts hands me a Berocca and tuts. I wouldn't be surprised if my youthful recklessness spontaneously manifests itself in some surprise way instead, like getting a giant tattoo on my face or paying my council tax bill a month late.

By this point the more astute among you will be going, "hang on, she's writing exactly what she said she wasn't going to write about!" And yes, I lied. But we can learn from this. We can learn that when you write a column for nine years, some ideas are going to end up being recycled. Thankfully, I've got exactly a year to think up a new one.

In which The Proclaimers have 487 miles on me.

I've just signed up to walk half a marathon with my friend Liz. For those of you familiar, it's The Moonwalk - not a mass exercise in walking backwards like Michael Jackson, before my father can make the joke, but a nighttime hike through London, wearing nattily decorated bras, to raise money for breast cancer.

I've wanted to do it for years - in equal parts to raise money for breast cancer and because lots of people I like to stalk on Twitter do it. But until I signed up, handed over my registration fee and thought up a hilarious team name (The Worthing Domes, if you'd like to reward us with a few rofls), I hadn't given much thought to the walking-13-miles part of the deal.

I know you're all terribly fit and virtuous people who jog to Eastbourne and back before breakfast, and so to you this won't seem much of a chore, but I'm apprehensive. Actually, my legs, feet and cardiovascular system are apprehensive. My head, meanwhile, is going "Pff, it's walking! How hard can walking possibly be?" while ordering a second slice of pie.

In theory, I can do walking pretty well. I can do it in heels, while holding several full Sainsbury's bags, texting and reading a book, and 85 per cent of the time still not walk into a lamp post. During my short but enthusiastic time as a gym-goer, walking on a treadmill was certainly the thing I was best at. Had walking been a PE subject at Davison, I might have been Games Captain*.

 But since I've had sufficient income to buy a weekly travelcard, walking has become a skill I don't use as standard, but regard as something impressive to be saved for special occasions  - like a Boxing Day stroll down the seafront, where I will repeatedly take deep breaths, do power arms, and sigh "I do LOVE a good walk" to anyone in earshot. The trouble with living in London is (and I'm sorry to anyone reading this in drizzle at a bus stop, having waited 40 minutes for a Stagecoach to High Salvington), we have a lot of transport. Loads. It's not always reliable, of course, but still there's scarcely a journey I make that doesn't have the option of a nice dry bus or tube to save me using my joints for half an hour.

And as having a travelcard means that I've basically prepaid for ALL OF THE TRANSPORT in zones 1-3 for a month, it simply seems bad economy not to entrust my backside to TFL whenever possible. From Euston station, for example, there are two buses that can carry me one stop to the door of my office. It's a distance I could practically forward-roll if required, but still - the buses are there. Right there, calling to me. If anyone from work might see me, I naturally keep on walking out of shame; but if the coast is clear, I'm on that bus quicker than you can s - oop too slow, I've arrived!

So, you understand extent of my challenge. I won't be able to get a bus during the Moonwalk. Or a skateboard, or a piggy back - I know, I've checked the rules. It'll just be me, Liz and my bunions, for 13 miles. My best plan of action, I think, is to try to make it feel as much like Boxing Day as possible, so I'll eat an enormous turkey stuffing sandwich beforehand and sing Slade on the way.

*Provided all conventional sports on the syllabus were removed and replaced with 'sitty downy badminton', at-desk disco dancing and  high-impact backcombing.