Lost in London

A look at London and life in general through the eyes of someone who sometimes can't bear to watch.

Thursday, April 20, 2006

Don't dream it's over

I'm starting to wonder what the point of TV is at all. I'm sick of watching it, bored to death of flicking with the remote control for hours and I've certainly given up dusting it. I wrote my name on the screen about two weeks ago and I find it's actually improving my viewing experience not being able to fully see what's going on.

The latest TV to make me roll my eyes heavenward is Chantelle's Dream Dates. The chirpy, uber-tanned Essex doll truly is 'living the dream' (her oft-quoted catchphrase since leaving the show) and has been the subject of two television programmes since her Celebrity Big Brother win. The first followed her around like a faithful Pekinese as she made her first stumbling steps into national superstardom. It tracked her bizarrely sexless relationship with the fittingly-titled Ordinary Boy, Preston, who looks as if he's permanently submerged in a vat of formaldehyde and it also trailed her trips to visit grandparents, mates and other relatives.

Since the newness of Chantelle's celebrity has faded somewhat, she's now transcended the shaky camera moves and stilted dialogue of her own reality TV show to the, er, shaky camera moves and stilted dialogue of her own dating show. Chantelle's Dream Dates (expert shoehorning of the word 'dream' in there. Well done E4!) sees Chantelle in all her hopelessness tottering about London (there are lots of shots of Big Ben and the Thames just so viewers are left in no doubt) looking in the windows of Top Shop and finding a Plain Jane who she can makeover – or rather 'tart up'- and hook up with her 'dream' guy. Chantelle selects three guys who, for no reason that is immediately apparent, get to see a picture of the girl pre-transformation and give her a good slating. The newly-cleavaged and post-hairdo victim then gets to trot out in all her Miss Selfridge finery and pick which one of these meatheads she wants to take on a date; well, yes, I can see why you'd want to date someone who thirty minutes before said you looked like Scarface- brilliant!

Chantelle's part in this is minimal. Looking faintly bemused and as if she's thinking about nothing more taxing than chocolate, she fluffs her lines, blinks, purses her lips and chats away, oblivious to the camera crew, contestants and thousands of pounds of production company money being bukkaked all over this televisual horror. That the contestant outperforms her in confidence, charisma and motor skills demonstrates only too well how utterly useless Chantelle is at anything other than saying 'Oh my God!', no matter how likeable she may be. She can't even be arsed to do her voiceovers on the show, preferring instead to have a narrator telling us what she's thinking and doing. I love trash TV, but this is just shit; there's a difference. If Chantelle wants this dream to continue, I think it's time she actually woke up.

Thursday, April 13, 2006

Bullet in the gun

I am constantly being reminded by that terribly earnest guy that presents Crimewatch that "violent crime is very rare, so please don't have nightmares". I'm not sure where Nick Ross lives, but I'm willing to bet it's a huge, cavernous mansion somewhere leafy and safe like Hampstead or perhaps the Cotswolds. Round my manor, however, nightmares come true.

A man was shot dead practically outside my flat in the early hours of Saturday morning. Yes, shot dead. Thankfully, I slept through the whole thing; it was only when I woke up to see police cordons on the street along with paper-suited forensics in the garden and uniformed officers absolutely everywhere that I realised something might be amiss. We've had a visit from police from Operation Trident, which tackles gun crime in London and whose campaign poster provided today's image, asking if we saw or heard anything and they were obviously disappointed to hear that we didn't. I'm quite glad about this fact, to be honest. Seeing somebody get shot dead would probably tip me over the edge (on which I teeter at the best of times) and I could really do without the worry that somebody who guns people down in the street might think I know what he, she or they looks like. Ignorance, in this case, is bliss.

The journalist that came to my door asked how I felt about the shooting. I said that I felt like I wanted to move house straight away. Her incredulous 'Really?!?' made me realise that to some people living here, a fatal shooting might not be worth the bother of moving on; it happens all the time, after all.

On the day of the shooting, I went out for lunch in nearby East Dulwich and walked past one of those sandwich boards that scream out the latest local headlines which said "Fatal stabbing in SE15". Well, I'd already had a shooting that morning, so it was all I could do to bother to even roll my eyes. Talk about desensitised. I just felt like saying "Yes! I get it! London's violent!"

London is violent, yes. I suppose it's just the same as every other city. But when the violence jumps off your TV screens or out of the front page of your daily hysterical tabloid, it all becomes a little more real. As if to demonstrate even more what a merciless hole this area is, the first bunch of flowers left at the scene by a mourner were duly stolen. They were replaced by over a dozen further bouquets, all presently still in place.

People have remarked that the area I live in looks so nice that you'd hardly believe the kind of things that go on round there actually happen. I think most areas have a double life, though, don't they? By day, what estate agents call an up and coming neighbourhood and by night, what the police call a crime-ridden hole. You get places like that; kind of like one of those silent types that wears their cardigans buttoned right up to the top during the day and then peels them off at night to reveal nipple clamps and crotchless long johns. I think that my relationship with this particular double agent, however, has come rather abruptly to an end. It's time to find a new bit of London to call my own.

Tuesday, April 11, 2006

I said never again but here we are

And so, the Madonna circus has all kicked off again with news that the self-proclaimed icon is to go on a world tour, taking in, as usual, London's dreadful Wembley Arena. I went to see the pop chameleon at that very venue on her last world tour in 2004, and while I enjoyed myself, I did resent paying £100 to stand at the very, very back of a colossal auditorium while an ant in a basque and a curly wig threw a few shapes seven miles in front of me.

I've no idea why then, against my better judgement, I have decided to repeat the experience and pay £110 to be a little bit nearer than I was before, albeit twenty kilometres higher on a tier. After the last tour, I resolved that I had 'seen her now' and could 'tick that off the list'. As adverts began to appear for this new tour I was cold and without emotion; I'd seen her before and didn't need to repeat the experience. Why then, on the morning the tickets were released, was I clicking through Ticketmaster and signing away hundreds of pounds to stand in the afore-mentioned shed squinting at whatever's going on onstage?

Going to gigs is a big part of living in London, I'm told. I like the idea of going to see live music but the reality is often not quite up to scratch. Ninety per cent of them take place in fire-hazardous, rundown, filth-encrusted hovels and are populated by freeloaders, feral fans and hangers-on. I almost always dress inappropriately for these kinds of night out (the very fact that my clothes are freshly laundered seems to be the biggest faux pas) and it doesn't take long for the pogoing crowd/ plastic glasses/ fuzzy amplifier to get right on my nerves. I know that this sort of thing is the very essence of live music, but it's kind of like choosing between going camping and staying a in a nice hotel: no contest. Clearly, I'm generalising and I do go to gigs, but you get the idea.

The Madonna live experience, then, is probably as close as I'm going to get to being a concert buff without all of the dirty stuff. It's slick, effortless and, thanks to the lion's share of her audience being gays, Persil-fresh. Oh, and at least I'll know most of the words.

Wednesday, April 05, 2006

Pretty vacant

If you're a boy who wears eyeliner, a girl who pokes her thumbs through holes in the sleeves of her sweater or the parents of a child who listens to emo music and slams a lot of doors, you'll probably have heard of Camden.

Situated just north of Central London, Camden is a haven of market stalls, faded punks, stroppy teens, shops selling bongs and general filth and despair. People flock to Camden, mainly on a Saturday and Sunday for many reasons; each one more peculiar than the last. Here are a few I've picked out at random.

No sooner have you put your first white Converse out of the exit of Camden tube than you're being offered a cornucopia of drugs of all classes. Speed, Es, dope, smack and acid are just among the delights awaiting the endless hoards of pre-sex teens dying to see what all the fuss is about. What these dealers seem to forget is that only an idiot would buy something like that off the street in full view of the world, so targeting anybody but the afore-mentioned teens is a waste of time. Do I look like the sort of person who would buy a 'microdot' from a panting, dreadlocked skeleton dressed entirely in combat gear and binbags? I do? Well, I'm not! Once you've bought your drugs you can also buy tins to store them in, bongs to smoke them with and hash leaf T shirts to wear while you're taking them. Coca-Cola would kill for such brand coverage.

Looking cool
Walking along Camden High Street is a bit like being at a casting for a goth slasher movie or standing in the queue for tickets to something awful at the Astoria. There are teens everywhere. None of them live in Camden- it's the natural habitat of one-time bass players and girls who work in sandwich shops- so they must come from all over London to be a 'part' of it. They are usually funds-free; I've never seen any of them buy anything except fags or crepes. Perhaps they think that standing within 20 metres of a wrinkly old punk will earn them the credibility that a lot of young teenagers crave. Camden is the land of the eternal individual: they all go there because they feel 'different' and 'nobody understands them', yet all dress identically.

Camden is awash with markets. There isn't a lot that you can't buy in Camden, and there isn't that much you would want to buy. The hunger for vintage clothing means that charity shop shit has never been so popular. There are practically whole markets devoted to clothes you wouldn't have been seen anywhere near when they were enjoying their first time around on the trend scale, yet suddenly appear desirable as soon as you bung them in a room with other clothes flung out by relatives of long-dead fashion victims. Such is the volume of polyester and nylon apron dresses and vinyl clutch bags you have to wonder where it's all coming from. Sweeney Todd the barber killed his clients to fill pies, didn't he? I wonder if there are there crack teams of vintage-loving assassins knocking off an old dear for her handbag. As well as old clothes there's also the chance to buy new ones, most of which will certainly not survive long enough to be the vintage chic of the future.

If Camden didn't exist, you'd have to invent it and even though I have slated it, I have actually enjoyed going there at times. And after all, with its slew of unwashed shoppers, Camden does a great job of keeping the flies off Knightsbridge for the toffs.

Sunday, April 02, 2006

This is your life

It had to happen sometime. In a world where a nobody can win Celebrity Big Brother, it was only a matter of time when Joe Public got a magazine all to himself.

Real life magazines are nothing new. Bella, Chat and Take a Break have been around for years, offering their readers the opportunity to take a peek into other people's lives without twitching their yellowing net curtains or rummaging through the dustbin of 'her next door'. What originally started out as gentle journalism which told stories of courageous labours ,elderly women thinking their Yorkshire terrier was their dead husband and weddings has not turned into a freak show, with each magazine in this genre desperate to out-shock its competitors.

Commonplace on these covers are stories like: 'I was raped by me dad and now I've had his baby'; 'My tumour weighed more than my head'; 'Seduced by a tramp' and so on. Some of those are actually quite tame. The latest nag out of the stable is Love It!, which is true to its title in that it really does relish telling these salacious stories of incest, rape, vaginal disfiguration, boob jobs gone wrong etc. It seems as if the readers are lapping it up too. On the whole, the celebrity magazine market has peaked; this is probably due to the fact that stars have been deconstructed and demystified to such a degree that there is little apart from a bit of cash to differentiate them from everybody else. The world and his wife have had botox; we've all been in a limo; cocaine is as easy to get hold of as Strepsils and designer clothes are a mere swipe of the MasterCard away.

Perhaps what readers of these real life gossip mags don't realise that the articles within are exploitative; they're no better than laughing and pointing at a Burberryed-up chav in the supermarket. Subjects are paid very little (usually around £100-200) and sign away control over the final copy. You could say that these people know what they're getting themselves into but, clearly, they do not. You only have to read a few lines to see that the people portrayed in these features are damaged, vulnerable individuals. While telling their story may seem therapeutic for a short while and can offer a much-needed cash injection, the after effects are rarely considered. These magazines are a print version of TV circuses like the excruciating Trisha or the odious Jeremy Kyle. I don't know why working-class people are so keen to be judged. Are they too blinded by the customary fifteen minutes of fame to look beyond it towards the next forty years? In 'my day', dirty laundry wasn't supposed to be aired in public, but it now seems that the world can't wait to wave its mucky smalls in my face.