Lost in London

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

Thursday, November 30, 2006

Life as we know it

I've always been of the opinion that TV shows of the past are best left in history where they belong. Retro is all well and good but the chances are you're a totally different person from the one you were when you first watched and enjoyed the show, so to avoid disappointment, it's best not to revisit.

So it's with some surprise that I find myself at the very edge of exhaustion, with eye bags like suitcases and a deathly pallor thanks to BBC2 showing repeats of This Life back to back at 11.20 in the evening. Once again, Miles, Anna, Milly, Egg, Warren and Ferdy have taken over my life. And I couldn't be happier.

The repeats are to commemorate the show's tenth anniversary and also lead up to a reunion at Christmas. I'm dreading the reunion because it will probably be shit, but at the same I'm time massively excited. It seems that in ten years, not a lot has changed. The housemates could just as easily be living in 2006, except that there's no way they'd be able to afford that house and nobody's using mobile phones except the drug dealers.

Seeing the show back on TV is a bittersweet experience. When it was first broadcast, I was in my third year at university, living in a pretty run-of-the-mill student house with some friends. I would sit agog at these fucked-up lawyers/ couriers/ receptionists/ café workers and watch their problems unfold with intense fascination. Back then, my biggest ambition was to move to London, an ambition which took a further five years to actually fulfil. Even though the capital was little more than coincidental to the plot- strolls across Southwark Bridge, black cabs and the odd tube station the only clues to the location of the show- it made London more real to me than EastEnders ever could. Quirky camera angles, long silences and showing people on the loo without being gratuitous helped bring these characters to life. Sometimes an episode was pretty boring: all court cases and moaning about bills; life's like that.

Ten years down the line and I'm a very different person but the repeat-showing versions of Miles et al are, of course, just the same. I catch things I didn't really get the first time round and find myself identifying with the characters in whole new ways. Milly's awkwardness at simply not being able to stand somebody for no particular reason is something that happens to me a lot. Anna's still great but can be a performing seal at times: a quip here and a putdown there rather than talk about what's really bothering her. Egg is still an idiot. Ten years ago I wanted to kill him for his stupidity and I still do. And yet his bursts of determination and energy, followed by feelings of hopelessness, despair and the inevitability that few of his dreams will ever become a reality, make me feel sorry for him.

I'd forgotten how much I'd loved this show until I started watching it all again. The plotlines have come back to me as if they were family memories. I'm not so stupid as to think that the reunion is in any way a good idea. The original creator is back at the helm despite having nothing at all to do with the far superior second series and I can envision lots of things being 'resolved', which just doesn't happen in real life. As much as the viewing public may long for the reunion to end with Miles and Anna getting together at last, if they did it would defeat the whole point of the show: that life can be cruel and things usually don't work out for most of us, least of all five neurotics in a house in Southwark.

It says a lot for the current TV output that the best thing being broadcast at the moment is a ten-year-old drama about absolutely nothing. The BBC's bizarre decision to put the show on as a double bill ending at around 12.40 in the morning is giving me the most horrendous eyebags; I think I've aged ten years just watching it for the past three or four weeks.

Wednesday, November 29, 2006

Hey big spender

Christmas + Oxford Street = nervous breakdown, no matter how many roads Ken pedestrianises.

I'm sure I can't be the only person in London who's been receiving those money off vouchers for just about every retail outlet in the West End this weekend. To encourage even more Londoners to cram their arses onto Oxford Street, the bigger brands have been whoring out sweeteners via email to all and sundry, teasing with promises of 40% off here and maybe even the extra thrill of an additional 20% off just there.

According to some stats Ken flung out a year or so ago, the terrorist attacks have out people off maxing out their credit cards and selling their first-borns to get the latest Calvin Klein fragrance or La Senza knickers, with shopaholics in their droves going cold turkey at home. In an effort to get us back into crippling debt where we all undoubtedly belong, Ken has decreed that Oxford Street will once more be pedestrianised. Ken claims that this is to allow us to shop in more comfort and without the fear of being flattened by a bendy bus, but I'm not fooled for a moment; it's clearly to accommodate even more retail slaves than usual and cram as many debit card-holding bodies onto that street as possible.

The inevitability of it all makes me feel tired. Why fight it? I know how the story goes. Like most people, I've just been paid so this weekend is ideal for getting cracking on Christmas shopping. I have done some shopping online, but a) don't think it's particularly 'bargainous' and b) I'm still a sucker for the actual shopping experience: being able to feel and properly peruse the items; the exhilaration of handing over your card; jostling with that austere woman to get a look at the scarves; turning the air blue as yet another fatty stands on your toes; the disappointment at the store selling out of what you want a mere milliseciond before you get there. That's what it's all about. Online shopping is so clinical and can't really compare.

Thankfully I am sharp of elbow and low on compassion so I will be making my way through the crowds with the best of them and anyone who gets in my way may well be spending the festive season in traction. Or maybe I will...

Tuesday, November 14, 2006

Walk this way

A funny thing happened on the way to the office...

I walk to work most of the time. It takes me around half an hour and I do it for three main reasons:

1. It's free! And I'm tight!
2. it's the only exercise I get apart from loading the washing machine and walking to the pub.
3. It's a great opportunity to observe Londoners in their natural habitat.

Walking to work gives me the chance to have a good stare at people who live in London and are also on their way to work. Just some of the things I have noticed:

A-hem
There is a whole generation of men who has absolutely no idea at what length your trousers should be. On my daily stomp into work, I'm greeted by all manner of socks and shoes combos. The problem is that I shouldn't be able to see the socks at all, and only a very little bit of the shoe. Did these men have growth spurts since purchasing the trousers? Have they shoved 'dry clean only' trews in the washing machine? Do their wives hate them and have taken to shortening the trousers every time the husband chucks a barb at how shit her cooking is? Or are they shit at buying trousers and don't know their inside leg? It's disturbing, it's wrong and I won't have it any more. I'm thinking of handing out sewing kits.

Hello? Hello?
There is an unusually high number of mobile phone users before nine in the morning, screaming instructions to recorded messages, having loud conversations about inappropriate sex acts at bus stops and generally abusing the telecommunications service at a time when the only sound I want to hear is Nicola from Girls Aloud telling me "Cant dance, no pain, no gain, no show. Jump to the beat all night don't roll" or whatever it is she says in their latest single. Apart from terrible emergencies, I can't imagine why anyone would want to have a hot, cancerous lump of plastic and metal welded to their ear at that time in the morning, unless you were married to one of the Cybermen.

Trainer danger
People wearing trainers with office clothes only to change into spike heels/ gleaming brogues when they get to their place of work. How very Working Girl.

Smokers
Lots of people are still smoking. And most of them are doing it on Tower Bridge at 8.30 in the morning and blowing it in my face.

Red lights
Taxis and cyclists are immune to them.

Mind you I suppose it makes a change from the nose-picking, ball-stroking, tit-staring and Metro-reading that my previous travel companions of the Tube used to do. And for that I am grateful.

Thursday, November 09, 2006

Say hello wave goodbye

So Britney's done what the papers are telling us she should have done months ago, but why is everybody so pleased to see yet another marriage break up in the blink of an eye?

It seems but two minutes ago since I was boring all four of you about Britney's interview in the States where, pregnant for the second time, she had wept at the press intrusion into her marriage and questioning of her motherhood. Since those supposed 120 seconds have expired, Britney's been through a lot: she's given birth to her second son and has filed for divorce from husband Kevin Federline.

I am unmoved by this news. I liked Toxic and give a few of her other tracks a 'spin' sometimes, but I've never felt the urge to get so deeply involved with her to the point where I care about who she's married to. Britney's huge and quite militant fanbase are a whole different kettle of sea bass, however. On messageboards the world over, Britney's no-doubt relatively traumatic marriage breakdown has been feted as if it were a lottery win or the birth of a much-longed for heir to the throne. K-Fed has now become Fed-Ex (how drole) and the media love it. I haven't seen such great pleasure been taken in a divorce since, well, I just can't think of an example at all. Can anybody help me out here?

So why the big hoo-hah about Britney finally kicking her husband of two tumultuous years to the kerb? Could it be that her spouse already had two children from a previous relationship? That he had tattoos? Or was it just that the world couldn't really accept that Britney had chosen not to wed some other superstar, but just a regular guy rather like her?

Anybody who knew a bit about Britney's background wouldn't be surprised that she was married and a mother at her age, but the tutting and chattering classes wheeled out the good old accusations of trailer trash to explain her behaviour. The media never really gave the marriage a chance. Where a whirlwind romance with an A-lister would probably have propelled Britney up the popularity stakes, the fact she chose someone so ordinary must have rankled.

And so, it's over: Britney's on the market again and, as this is divorce Hollywood-style, she's already been seen in public flashing her veneers and looking great and the divorce papers were on the web faster than K-Fed's arse could touch the ground outside Brit's palatial mansion. As well as the fact there are children involved here- not only Britney's two but also Kevin's other two, who've now just lost a stepmother- there's a whole bigger issue about tabloids and fans turning against the partner of their idol for no reason other than they don't approve. But, hey, as long as the pages stay full and the album sales are maintained, I can't see many others complaining.


Wednesday, November 08, 2006

The Saints are coming

They were one of the most successful groups of the late '90s and now they've kissed and made up and are heading back up the charts, but they're not fooling me for one minute.

Does anyone remember the pop group All Saints? Marketed as a 'cooler alternative' to Spice Girls, insofar as they wore combats and trainers instead of corsets and sky-high platforms, they had two or three years of pop prominence before disappearing overnight in a swirl of infighting, accusations, negative press and, best of all, arguing over who got to wear a particular jacket on stage. When the band first hit the 'big time', I was still at university. They made some good singles, as well as some really awful covers, and when they were gone I didn't miss them. Now, six years or so after that pesky jacket put paid to any further chart success and following the odd reality TV appearance and a slew of failed attempts at replicating this success without the others, All Saints are back and this time they really do like each other. Or so they would have us believe.

There's not a lot that's scarier than a group of girls who used to be good mates but aren't any more, and All Saints' descent into strangerdom was particularly unpleasant. Two members in particular, the sister Nicole and Natalie Appleton, were very vocal about their hatred for the other half of the quartet, even going so far as to write a book which may as well as painted them as witches. The ladies now claim that they've made up- just like that- and that they're more happy about just being friends than they are about being a pop group again. I'm not remotely convinced.

In interviews, the girls still seem at odds with each other. They talk over each other, biting their lips as one of them answers a question or rest their head on the shoulder of another with all the affection of a lion about to bite a ringmaster's head off. One member in particular- Shaznay, the principle songwriter- looks as if she can't believe it's taken making up with these harridans to get people to listen to her music again. There's no greater insult to a former group member than to see your solo career met with little more than a shrug from the very people who screamed your name only a few years before.

To their credit, everybody else seems to be buying into it and their comeback single 'Rock Steady', which wasn't particularly worth the wait to be honest, looks set to enter the top three on Sunday. Let's hope they buy four of each jacket this time to avoid any nasty misunderstandings. They may have aged a little since we last saw them, but judging by the look on one member's face as another of her number was interviewed, they've not mellowed. Here begins the countdown to the next catfight...