Lost in London

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

Friday, December 22, 2006

Merry Christmas

Tuesday, December 12, 2006

The young and the hopeless

It looks as if the Tories are clambering into their DeLorean and heading all the way back to 1992 with their latest report on how the break-up of the family is to blame for just about everything.

I've been so wrapped up in Christmas (pun unintentional) that I have hardly had time to catch much news in the past couple of weeks, but in between memorial concerts for dead princesses and the shocking murders in Suffolk, one story has peeped out to wave at me.

This week, former Tory leader Iain Duncan Smith launched his report on poverty for the party, examining not just people on the breadline, but also those in prison and committing crimes and partaking in anti-social behaviour; les misérables if you like. Mr. Duncan Smith has been chewing his pen for some time and now he's taken his report to the butter-faced leader David Cameron and their conclusions are nothing if not predictable: it's all related to one parent families.

According to IDS and 'Dave', if more couples stayed together rather than getting divorced, there'd be less crime, fewer inmates and reduced poverty. Who knew that staying in a loveless marriage could have such an amazing impact on the community? Outstanding! Apparently, the effect of divorce and single parents costs £20 billion to sort out. This £20 billion comes, I assume, from the famous taxpayers' pocket, a mythical piece of material on which elections are fought and won.

As the 'product' of a single parent family, I refuse to believe that 'we' are the cause of such social ills. I knew plenty of people whose parents were still together and lived in great big huge houses who ended up miserable under-achievers or criminals. I didn't end up this way because I had the determination and ambition to change my circumstances; if the children of one parent families don't have that, might the Tories and the current government want to ask themselves why? Would a drug dealer's life really have been different if dad hadn't gone to live with the tarty blonde in West Ham? Should single mothers get off their arses and find a man- any man- just so that their son won't be a shoplifter? I imagine it's pretty easy to 'stay together' when you've got a separate room, or indeed wing, to retreat to from your estranged partner.

When you're poor, it can feel as if there's no hope. Christmas comes out of a catalogue and repayments cause arguments for the next 11 months until it's time to start all over again. Private landlords aren't interested so you find yourself living on an estate, where everyone is equally without hope. The determined and the encouraged try hard to get away from it and many succeed. What about the ones who are left behind? Apathy and despair are highly contagious. When a parent is so downtrodden and broken by the daily grind of being part of the 'underclass' (which the report gleefully reveals as if this were a new phenomenon) how can they be expected to encourage, to motivate, to guide?

The Tories are saying nothing new. This latest attempt to make those who fill the taxpayers' pocket resent the people benefiting from it smacks of John Major's ill-fated 'Back to Basics' campaign, whose only legacy was that it gave its name to a brilliant club in Leeds. This is like a bad remix of a tune that was already dodgy to start with. Things change, we are constantly evolving. Nostalgia for a family unit that doesn't always make sense in modern society isn't going to solve problems overnight.

The problem with the report is that it tries desperately to find an answer to the country's social woes and just when it looks as if it might get somewhere, plumps for divorce and single parenthood as the main culprit. It's kind of: 'Oh look it's all going wrong; who shall we blame for poverty? I know! Let's blame the poor!' To ram home the point, the figure of £20 billion, for benefits, policing, medical care and the judicial system, is thrown into the mix to work the middle and chattering classes into a frenzy. Why can't all these poor people just accept their lot and stay together to save those hardworking taxpayers a bit of cash, eh?

Thursday, December 07, 2006

Not tonight, Santa

Bells are jingling and halls are being decked, but when it comes to the annual TV promo frenzy, aren't we forgetting someone?

Only someone who had spent the last couple of weeks staring helplessly at Britney's shaven haven and nothing else would be unaware of Christmas quickly encroaching upon us. Yes, the retail juggernaut is almost here as its (what seems like) eight month journey comes to a halt.

I have a love-hate relationship with Christmas. I love all the other things people love about it but then I reserve my venom for it because it unashamedly interferes with the one day ion the year when it's supposed to be all about me: my birthday. Despite being around for 30 years, I don't think I've ever forgiven my mum for popping me out at that time of year and depriving me of undivided attention for 24 hours only. Instead mine is a world of joint presents, Christmas cards with 'Happy Birthday' written inside and nobody ever having any money or inclination to do anything in the way of a celebratory night out. Bitter? Of course not.

Christmas this year looks only slightly different to those of other years. I'm definitely noticing one key figure missing from all of the proceedings. No, not Jesus; he became a supporting role in this a long time ago, I'm afraid. I'm talking about Santa. Where's he gone? The answer: he's just not cool enough. For M&S, Christmas 2006 is about ageing songstrels serenading models of all ages in what looks like an iced-up rendition of Jabba the Hut's court in Return of the Jedi. As Dame Shirley beats the last inch of life out of Pink's 'Get The Party Started' and Twiggy's ceramic teeth glint in approval, I feel a little bit sick inside. Santa's also been pushed aside by Argos, Asda and a whole host of other retailers and replaced by smug lower-middle class mums in long cream jerseys beaming as they head to the dinner table and in the middle of it plonk a turkey on the silver trivet that they, along with everybody else on their street, bought for £1.95.

One of the few cameos Santa's deigned to make in the Christmas promostravaganza is for Coca-Cola, the company which is often (falsely, I am told) credited with 'inventing' the 'version' of Santa we most recognise today. Yet instead of the cheery Santa we know and love, the sugartastic soft drinks firm has hired one with a really, really scary melted face. The little girl who's tapped on the shoulder by this red suited burns victim can barely contain her shock at being confronted by this beast, and she was being PAID to look at it.

I'm hoping that Santa's absence is due to the fact that he's knocking up something extra special for me and not because a few focus groups in the Wirral decided to think outside the box and try and make Christmas something it was never meant to be: fashionable.

Friday, December 01, 2006

Oops she did it again

From divorcée to Paris wannabe in less than a month. Have Britney's knickers, or lack thereof, damaged her post-split credibility?

It's not even a month since the celeb-obsessed were screaming hallelujah and doling out the odd 'I told you so' at the news that Britney Spears had called time on her marriage to Kevin Federline. To many, this was a new start from Britney. Fans got excited at the prospect of a new album, K-Fed haters revelled in his misery and most sane people thought 'Oh well at least I won't have to read about it any more'. Britney, however, had other ideas and now the backlash has begun thanks to Britney flashing her, er, beaver, not once but twice in the space of a week.

Now to hear the tabloids talk you'd think that Britney has hitched her skirt above her head and ran round Trafalgar Square bearing her all, but in fact that's not quite the case. Ms Spears has committed the cardinal sin of not wearing any knickers and deigning to do so not just on a night out but on a night out with the dreaded/ fabulous/ inspiring/ waste of bone* (*delete depending on which celeb mag you read most often) Paris Hilton. Ah yes, Paris. Not only is she a model, heiress, actress, singer and very bad at looking like she enjoys sex, Paris is also now Britney's latest CPF, confidante and, from the look of some of the pictures, walking stick. Fans are up in arms, paparazzi photographers love it and the rest of us can't believe that someone forgetting to wear knickers is front page news.

Of course, most of us like to think we're media savvy enough to spot a publicity stunt. Talent contests, behind-the-scenes shows and frank celeb interviews have served to strip the gloss from showbusiness, leaving a trail of cynics and naysayers in its path. Personally, I find it hard to believe that someone is so desperate for column space that they happily allow their genitalia to be photographed, but then again one should never underestimate the power of Paris Hilton. Maybe she whipped Brit's kecks off just as the limo pulled up to the club? Perhaps she had a spot on her nose and wanted to deflect the attention? Either way, it's time someone told Britney to either wear trousers or get some serious bucket knickers.