Lost in London

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

Wednesday, August 30, 2006

It's a girl thing

Why don't magazines like it when women get along? Is a girl's worst enemy really another girl?

Trends in celebrity magazines seem to come and go, but one which has prevailed over the years of Victoria Beckham interviews, features on fat or skinny beach bodies and breathless articles about the latest reality TV stud is the art of turning female against female.

Now that newspapers are relying less on world events and more on Charlotte Church falling drunk out a taxi and slagging off Cheryl Tweedy, we appear to be stuck in an endless cycle of female celebs mouthing off about each other and it's becoming most unsavoury.

I'm not a woman, so won't pretend to know anything about the female inner psyche, but I have had for many years a little theory, which when I tell women about it, they tend to agree. The theory? Deep down, all women, er, hate each other. Now, I know, I know, how to explain the endless hen parties, 'girlie' nights, sleepovers, "best friends for ever" pledges of allegiance etc? Well, like I said, this innate hatred is deep and can, for the most part, lay dormant, but I reckon that a woman's worst enemy is another woman. Whether it's that women bear grudges or men are just too stupid and laidback to have feelings about anyone else other than themselves I don't know and, anyway, it's just a theory and not an entirely serious one at that, but it's starting to look like I'm not the only one that's noticed this. The press as a whole has latched onto it and they are feeding that fire so fast that if it were an actual fire as opposed to a theoretic one, there'd not be a single tree on the planet left to burn.

There are too many examples of magazines made for women by women who hate women to list here, but the stories featured in them are almost all the same. Size 12 women are branded as fat cows while their size 6 counterparts are accused of all manner of eating disorders; articles in teenage magazines tell you how to 'spot the bitch that's after your man/ clothes/ life; gossip columns invent or instigate spats between prominent female celebrities in an attempt to encourage the participants to have a full-on bitchfight across their pages. It happens all the time.

One example is the recent, much-publicised alleged incident between Lily Allen and Peaches Geldof at a music festival. These two particular young ladies have been fantastic tabloid fodder lately: both daughters of very famous men, one has had a number one hit single and has got a bit of a reputation for being outspoken in interviews, the other is attempting to carve out a career in TV and journalism and, er, DJing. Papers, magazines and websites were screaming with the news that Lily Allen had approached Peaches Geldof and spat on her at the V festival. Apparently Geldof had called Allen a cokehead on a previous occasion and the two girls hated the sight of each other. The story ran for a while, clearly doing neither girl much harm and yet rather than letting the story die, Allen posted on her blog that the story was rubbish: a journalist had approached her and relayed the name-calling claim, which Allen then dismissed as being untrue because the girls knew each other well enough to know that no such thing would be said. Now, I'm not stupid enough to believe that either girl was eager to dismiss such publicity- after all, there's no such thing as bad publicity except child porn and murder, and even then that can be spun out to your advantage- but it was refreshing to see a denial made public: a denial which I believe has yet to be widely reported in the press.

So why do women hate each other on the quiet? I imagine it's all men's fault somewhere down the line, but magazines and newspapers can also help to spread the message of insecurity that might make a woman look more unfavourably on her fellow female. I don't have all the answers. That I work in the very industry which propagates this message may well be to my eternal shame, but hey, that's business. Before I get lots of angry comments from women, I must admit I am starting to notice this hate culture's presence in the male press as well. It looks like only a matter of time before we're all ripping each other's hair out, like one great big worldwide lilypond fight between an army of Alexis Colbys and Krystle Carringtons.

Friday, August 25, 2006

You won't like me when I'm angry

I took a 'Which superhero are you?' test, the results of which are below. The questions were odd, varying in style and tone to an alarming degree. One minute they were being deeply psychological, the next asking me if I wore a push-up bra (answer: no). Oh well, thank goodness I'm least like Supergirl; she was useless

You are Hulk: You are a wanderer with amazing strength.

Results in full:
Hulk 70%
The Flash 55%
Batman 50%
Iron Man 45%
Robin 43%
Spider-Man 40%
Green Lantern 40%
Catwoman 40%
Wonder Woman 33%
Superman 25%
Supergirl 23%
Click here to take the Superhero Personality Quiz.

Tuesday, August 22, 2006

So emotional

With teenagers getting yet another battering in the press, I think it's time I spoke up for the dreaded 'youth of today'.

Because of my job, it's my business to know what makes teenagers tick: where they go; what they do; what they're into and what they hate. I quite like teenagers (and not in a dodgy way): they seem much more clued up then ever before and seem to be finding their own identity- or at least an identity- from a relatively early age.

Most ladies and gentlemen of the press, however, don't seem to be very fond of teenagers and constantly attempt to demonise them. Whether they're being slated for wearing hooded tops, hanging around on street corners or binge drinking, it appears that there's not very much love around for the teens of today. The latest stick to beat them with is the 'emo' phenomenon: a fairly harmless movement based around music that has created yet another teen social sub-group. This article from the Daily Mail is a fine example of a journalist completely misunderstanding and, in my opinion, deliberately misinterpreting young people to suit themselves and their own reactionary readers. At one point it screams:

"The Emos - short for Emotional - regard themselves as a cool, young sub-set of the Goths.

Although the look is similar, the point of distinction, frightening for schools and parents, is a celebration of self harm."

Reading the article it's clear that the nearest the author has got to an emo teen is from clicking pages on Wikipedia or asking the fat cigar-smoker in the seat next to her who once saw one on a tube. Writing them all off in an instant as self-harming, deluded ghouls who want to steal away your precious offspring and subject them to all kinds of depraved, sexual, poetry-related torture, the writer can't seem to decide who or what it is she hates. The equally-unpleasant 'chav' moniker even gets a look-in here and the article seems to be less about a small minority of British teenagers, but young people as a whole.

The fact that someone likes Panic! At The Disco doesn't automatically indicate a predilection for hacking their arms open, nor does going a bit heavy on the eyeliner or wearing a tight T-shirt mean that you hate your life and want to die. 'Grown-ups' are very keen to blame fashion and music for the fact that they don't understand young people. Is the truth more that they can't be bothered seeing past the clothes and make-up and try to get to know them? Teenagers are often criticised for being awkward and sullen, but who can blame them when propaganda rags like the Mail consign them to the rubbish bin for daring to show a bit of self-expression? So they all look the same, so what? At least with the supposed emo 'cult', its members are easy to spot and avoid if you really think that's necessary. Devotees of the, in my mind much more evil, cult of the Mail are near impossible to single out as they move freely on our buses, tubes and trains. Won't somebody think of the children?

Thursday, August 17, 2006

Guilty as charged

In a city as big as London, use of language is so diverse that barely a day goes by without you learning a new phrase or another. Most of them wash over my head, but one I've been hearing and reading a lot recently is 'guilty pleasure'. Now, I know the term has been around for donkeys' years but now it seems that conversations are peppered with it and I can't open up Time Out without it denouncing something as a guilty pleasure. And it certainly is a denouncement, because guilty pleasure increasingly refers to things that you like, but shouldn't like and the reason that you shouldn't like it is because other people think it's crap. Such is the popularity of having guilty pleasures that a club of that name takes place in Camden, playing delights such as Bon Jovi and Rick Astley.

For some, this is seen as a liberating experience. No further need to hide your Whitesnake posters or throw away your Joe Bloggs jeans, because now it's 'ironic' and they can be your 'guilty pleasure'. This idea makes me a little uncomfortable. I don't like all this guilt being attached to plaeasure. Singing along to Kylie's Shocked while hoovering in your underwear is hardly on a par with being cruel to animals for fun or looking up dodgy images of children on the internet, two 'pleasures' (to some) of which there's plenty to be guilty.

As far as I can make out from just about every magazine and lazy cultural commentator, the following would be classed as guilty pleasures:

FOOD: Anything from Iceland; fish fingers; Chinese takeaway; cheap margarine; fizzy drinks; Pot Noodle.
CLOTHES: Primark; H&M; Top Shop; Uniqlo; market stalls.
MUSIC: '80s soft metal; anything in the top 10 right now; Kylie; Madonna's early stuff.
TV: Big Brother; Love Island; soaps; Police Camera Action.

I'm sure you get the picture. Now, I don't like all of the things I've listed above, but if someone else does, that's OK by me. This is another form of cultural snobbery at work and you don't have to go far to see it. Just mention Big Brother in a crowd of people and see them part like the Red Sea; one camp who think it's great and love Aisleyne and the other shaking their collective head and blaming it for a host of the world's ills.

I don't have any guilty pleasures, I just have pleasures. If I want to watch Big Brother, I will. If I want to play Material Girl, Maneater and the new one by Beyoncé at my housewarming, despite the groans of my guests because it's not edgy enough (have these people actually heard themselves?) then I will. If I've had a hard day and fancy tucking into a bowl of oven chips instead of a salad then I will. It seems as if people are afraid to like what they want to like and can only feel unashamed of their tastes when they are dressed up in irony and accompanied by a knowing smirk. By the time you get to my age, though, you don't really care. Or you shouldn't.

So in a final act of defiance and to speak up for something I like, may I pledge my support now for Aisleyne, London's true representative in the house. Call 09011 32 33 14 or text Aisleyne to 84444. The look on Pete's, Nikki's and, best of all, Davina's face if she romped to victory would be a guilt-free pleasure if ever I saw one.

Thursday, August 10, 2006

Take a bow

I'm going to see Madonna in concert tonight. It seems like only yesterday I was excitedly selling my first born in order to afford two tickets to her show, and the day of reckoning has come at last. Despite the fact that I've watched so many clips of the show on YouTube that I've practically negated the need to actually attend the concert, I am kind of looking forward to it.

I was thinking about Madonna the other day. A music station was showing the video to Borderline and I was watching it and eagerly awaiting the bit where the camera pans out to reveal that she's wearing lurid green towelling socks with yellow heels. Watching the vide made me a bit sad and long for the days before Madonna was such a huge corporation and was still fame hungry and her ambitions didn't include writing hokey children's books or renaming herself Esther. It made me wonder if Madonna sits there watching her videos trying to figure out what happened to the slightly podgy fashion horror with the funky hair. I bet she does watch them; I know for a fact that she listens to her own music.

I've come to realise that while I still follow her career and am interested in watching interviews with her (I don't know why; she's a shockingly dull interviewee), I don't actually like her as a person and I don't think I have done for years. Where she was once innovative and controversial, she now projects the image of a vampiric, try-hard bandwagon jumper. It seems as if I'm a fan out of habit more than anything else. Being a Madonna 'fan' can be hard work sometimes. For a supposedly intelligent woman who has been interviewed scores of times, she sure says some stupid things. When I watch her videos on music TV, she seems dead behind the eyes, as if she's dreaming of her next macrobiotic salad or thinking up a sound bite about a new real ale she's claiming to drink. Musically, I think she's still got a lot to say; on the personality front, she's hard to like. But aren't we all?

That said, she was pretty amazing live when I saw her on her last tour. Although you get the sense that she feels no connection with her fans whatsoever- in fact, she almost appears bemused by them- she certainly gave it her all and didn't stop moving or singing for a good two and a half hours. She seemed to get a little bored towards the end and looked as if she was hurrying the show along. Costume changes ceased and she barely took a breath as she belted out the final five hits on the programme. I hope she takes her time in this show; her hourly rate would certainly justify it.

Monday, August 07, 2006

Living in a box

Is Big Brother's latest twist one step too far for even its most hardcore fans?
An astounding 600 people have written to the television regulator Ofcom to complain about Big Brother's latest twist, namely that four evictees are to be given a second chance at the incarceration experience and are to be voted back into the house next week. Everyone I know who is still watching the show is outraged at this latest development. For me, it's more about the fact that I was hoping never to lay eyes on some of the dreadful examples of humanity that they've had traipsing in and out of their doors this year.

Every year, some bizarre regulator-related scandal seems to befall Big Brother, but this year more so than ever before has the public started to cry 'cheat' at just every supposed twist and turn the show has taken. That the show is on its knees is becoming clearer every day: housemates second guess the producers at every turn; in fact I wouldn't be surprised if most of the show's plotlines- for that is what they are- originate from conversation the housemates have had. Like the long-running lore that says if you leave 100 monkeys at 100 typewriters, they'll eventually recreate Shakespeare, if you leave 12 housemates sitting on the sofas with basic rations, they'll plot out the entire series of Big Brother for you.

Like the housemates locked in this dayglo prison, the audience is becoming more media savvy. This is making them restless; their slavish devotion to the programme has given way to cynicism; absolutely nobody believes that the editing is unbiased and many see that the punishments which entailed all housemates being up for eviction were nothing more than producers getting twitchy and wanting to cut the dead wood. Another spear in the side for the show is that the presenters have all but given up any signs of impartiality. Witness Davina and Dermot's fawning disbelief that once-popular Nikki had now been left to languish in the pages of Heat and Nuts or Davina's strained exit interview with the Auton prototype Susie, which had all the grace and charm of a Jobcentre claims investigation interview.

And so now, in what seems like a final act of desperation but was in fact planned from the very beginning, four evictees will re-enter the compound and live in the 'secret house', with one of them being given the chance to go back into the real house- and here's the bit sticking in everybody's craw- to compete for the final jackpot prize of £100,000. That Big Brother was formerly a test of endurance and popularity seems to have passed its current production team by: how can this housemate not go back in and blab what's been going on in the outside world? Isn't it unfair on those who have stayed the distance? What about all those people who spent a fortune voting out Lea and Nikki? Is the prize money really worth being humiliated for yet again? These and many other questions are just some of the issues I couldn't care less about.

Every year, TV critics the country over say that Big Brother has jumped the shark and should come to an end. This year, they've got a point. I think it's time I switched off.

Tuesday, August 01, 2006

Room with a view

I've fallen victim to my itchy feet yet again; I'm on the move.

I have decided to move house again, to yet another pocket of London. This hasn't been a snap decision; I've pretty much hated the area I live in for a while. Now that I have decided to take the plunge, this means that I am going to have to start the beyond arduous task of viewing other flats. At first, this is exciting: you get to have a nose round loads of different flats and get carried away with imagining yourself living there. After a while, though, when you're being shown round absolute shithole no. 10, the novelty wears off and you find yourself seeing 'certain charm' in a flat with no kitchen or pigeons in the bathroom, such is your desperation to find a dwelling.

Our current flat was the first one we saw last time I was flat hunting; we had a holiday to go on and I couldn't be bothered pretending to enthuse about yet another slew of magnolia-painted boxes with horrible flooring, so we took it. The time before that had been a nightmare, with 14 fruitless viewings finally leading us to a flat nowhere near as nice as others we had seen. Such was my rush to find somewhere I forgot to check that it had central heating (it didn't) and failed to notice that it had mouldy, metal-framed windows, a beige carpet and a bed that had a huge dip in the middle. We spent a fairly miserable two years there, freezing our balls off in the winter and then sweating them off in the summer.

Never let it be said, however, that I don't learn from my mistakes. Last year's flat hunting was pretty streamlined, but this year I'm taking the organisation of it to an almost maniacal degree. I've already set aside my special notepad and have begun pre-filling it with key points, questions to ask and a handwritten form for each separate viewing so I can rate them or slate them accordingly. My increase in organisational skills has shocked- and at times, scared- me. I think London makes you that way: you have to keep on the ball or you'd simply disappear into a mound of travelcards, litter and unpaid bills. Another reason for my schizoid organisation of each viewing is that I want to let the estate agent know very early on that I am not to be fucked with. As a student and during subsequent tenancies, I have been dicked about by letting agents so much that I could keep the consumer researchers at Watchdog busy for a hundred years investigating every crooked fuck that's crossed my path. I've since learned that, like most situations in life, if you take the upper hand at the beginning it pretty much stays with you.

Our first viewing is tonight and I reckon that the flat is likely to be extremely unsuitable, but I shall enjoy it all the same. I'll be marching on in with my notebook out, scrutinising every nook and cranny, politely but firmly asking questions and smiling as I shake my head while trying to negotiate a lower price. It's what Kirstie and Phil would want and expect and I shan't let them down.