Lost in London

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

Wednesday, February 20, 2008

Blonde ambition

There has been what can only be described as a hoohah during recent weeks over the defection of newsreader and presenter Natasha Kaplinsky from the BBC to five. Much has been made of publicity shots for five’s revamped news programme whish show Natasha about to deliver news of worl events in- gasp- jeans and- horror- on a sofa. The fact that Natasha a) has breasts b) blonde hair c) likes to wear a bit of slap and d) isn’t exactly the ugliest newsreader out there has incensed critics and led to the very boring, predictable accusations of a TV viewership subjected to the ‘dumbing down’ of news and broadcasting in general.

Fellow journalists have been particularly vicious in their attacks on Kaplinsky; Amanda Platell and Quentin Letts of the Daily Mail have been like rottweilers starved of steak who’ve suddenly been tossed an old bone and have ripped her to shreds. Criticism of Natasha is nothing new: she was vilified for her presenting on BBC Breakfast and practically lynched for appearing on Strictly Come Dancing. Commentators moaned that it was hard to take her seriously reporting on world issues in news bulletins because of her alleged relationship with her dance partner and her stints on light entertainment shows. Her propensity for wearing bright pink lipstick saw her branded a bimbo, incapable of the gravitas and journalistic skills necessary to read out a script someone else had written anyway.

I haven’t seen five news; I’m guessing I’m not in its target audience as I don’t watch news much anyway. From most of the reports I’ve read about it- and there have been a lot, only royal weddings and Winehouse get more coverage- it was a fairly run-of-the-mill news programme interesting only because of its presenter and an only slightly different method of presenting the news.

I’m not sure why journalists love to turn on other journalists, women in particular. I’m neither an expert nor a fan of Kaplinsky, but I’m not aware of any massive clangers she’s dropped or hateful opinions she’s had. Perhaps good old-fashioned envy is at the heart of this very public execution.

Those who complain about the dumbing down of news are being naïve and snobby. Who says that the news has to be presented by a dour-faced, suit-sporting main with grey hair spouting long words? Why shouldn’t five target a news bulletin at its audience? Their viewers watch US and Australian imports, their comedy shows and reality and light entertainment. Isn’t it better to have an accessible news programme that speaks to people ordinarily put off by what they might consider stuffy output elsewhere. In a world where commentators bemoan young people’s lack of interest in world events, why complain when a news show tries to be inclusive and inform? Is it better to alienate?

Viewers who are unable to make a distinction between a newsreader participating in a dancing reality show and commenting on atrocities in wartorn Iraq are the current affairs equivalent of soap fans who truly believe that if they head down to east London they’ll find themselves in Albert Square and bump into Peggy Mitchell.

Wednesday, February 13, 2008

Doing it for the kids

I’ve never really rated Reese Witherspoon. She’s been in a few films I’ve liked but for the most part I can’t honestly say that she’s been the best thing about them or that her performance has enriched my movie viewing experience. I rate her even less since I read what I hope was a massive misquote from her. Speaking on Good Morning America, Reese said “I wouldn't want my children to miss out on any of that teasing and bullying and don't you think it kind of makes you who you are?” Er, not really Reese, but please do go on…”This drives me crazy about today. Everyone wins the award and then, you know, everybody's an MVP (Most Valuable Player)? No! They're not! Okay? I distinctly recall the two weeks of crying because I didn't make the softball team. It made me interesting, you know?" Hmm, interesting. What Reese is actually describing there is not being picked for a sports team, not the demoralising, soul-destroying taunts and violence experienced by millions of children every day.

I don’t think bullying is character building at all. That old chestnut ‘it made me a stronger person’, often trotted out by former victims, rings hollow when you think of all the people who harm or kill themselves because of a bully’s actions. While Reese does have a point in there somewhere- that a ‘reward everybody’ culture isn’t necessarily very healthy- to equate not getting picked for a sports team shows a whole new side of cluelessness. I’m almost sure that Reese isn’t advocating being kicked to shit on a school bus or having your head flushed down the toilets as the stuff of well-balanced, upstanding future citizens of America, but what a crass statement to make on national television; how stupid of her to cheapen and trivialise what is, in this country at least, an illegal act. To shrug off bullying like it’s just another facet of school life, like not liking PE or getting excited when a dog interrupts play on the football pitch, gives weight to a growing concern that bullying is being roundly ignored.

I don’t hope that Reese’s children get bullied, but I do hope that they give her hell during those adolescent years. Parenting a boisterous teen- now that’s real character-building stuff, Reese. Good luck to you, dear.

Monday, February 11, 2008

Hopelessly devoted

The other day I told my other half, quite calmly and deliberately, that I was in love with someone else. We were sitting in a pub in Camden (only a few hours before the area started, er, burning down) and on hearing this news my other half took it very well indeed. There were no fireworks, no tears, no tantrums and no bitter accusations. Disappointingly, but understandably, there were no dramatics at all, just a light shrug and even an admission that he could see why I felt this way. Why? Well, probably because I was telling him that I was enamoured of a celebrity I’d never met and knew the square root of fuck all about rather than confessing I was running away with the milkman.

I have never been one for fancying people out of my reach or pining for celebrities to come and take me away from all this. My teenage infatuations were thin on the ground and confined to people I’d actually met. I think ‘infatuation’ is too strong here; my adolescent pashes were infrequent, short-lived and weak. I never agonised over romantic verse, scrawled it in an uneven hand in a Valentine’s card and placed my lips upon an envelope before posting it to an unrequited love under cover of darkness. I’m of the opinion that once you get in with the unrequited love nonsense, a whole other world of ‘un’ is unleashed upon you: unsatisfying; unfulfilling, unaccompanied; unbalanced; unashamed; unwelcome.

So who has caught my eye after years of staring straight ahead? Well, strangely enough, it is a British-born musician called Mark Ronson. I think he’s quite cute. I never think this about famous people. I think, for example, Jake Gyllenhaal is attractive, sure, but I don’t fancy him. Not at all. Not really.

There’s something about the not-quite-geeky, not-quite-hot Mark that I find appealing. It probably helps that I quite like his music and the work he’s done with other artists. He first came to my attention a few years ago with his debut single, a track called Ooh Wee which was not a tribute to the piss club scene of Vauxhall but in fact a cool little hip-hop dance song. He is now recognised, of course, for his work with Amy Winehouse and Lily Allen and now for winning a Grammy for Producer of the Year. In interviews I’ve seen he seems cool but not that personable and his accent veers between tuneful and irritating, but who cares? That’s the beauty of admiring a star from afar, as I’m finding out: I don’t have to address the bits I don’t like because I’ll never meet him and probably wouldn’t like him if I did.

So my other half is very understanding about my new obsession (although I’m actually not obsessed and it’s only on writing this down I’ve actually realised how weak my ardour is, but, you know, I’ve started now), but he did scowl a little when I told him this morning that I had dreamt about Mark Ronson and Amy Winehouse last night. Even though I explained it was not a dirty dream (I’m not the kind of person who has dirty dreams) and all we exchanged was a chaste, brotherly kiss (in full presence of Amy), I could tell that in his mind I had dreamcheated.

And so I will have to let Mark go. I much prefer the reality of my other half to the fantasy of a musician and all the trumpet-heavy cover versions and geeky haircuts in the world can’t replace what we have. So having found myself in the flush of my first schoolboy crush at the age of 32, I can now tick that experience off my list. It was nice while it lasted, but I don’t think I missed that much.

Tuesday, February 05, 2008

Three for sorrow

February has arrived at last, banishing January, which doesn’t really feel like part of an exciting New Year anyway, thanks to its hangovers, restrictive diets, gym worship and weather. For me, 2008 has really only just started.

It may be a new year, but there’s nothing new happening in the news. Tabloids gleefully report on the supposed meltdowns of Amy Winehouse and Britney Spears as if they were characters in a soap opera, not real people. No detail is too trivial, whether Britney is popping out to the shops or Amy chugging on yet another LSD-dipped Marlboro Light. There must be mixed emotions now that both ladies are receiving help for their problems- Amy in rehab and Britney in a psychiatric hospital- as tabloid editors agonise over who will fill their pages. Happily, Amy nipped out to get a visa for the States today, so the front page famine was averted. Much has been written about Winehouse and Spears’s troubles, so I won’t scribble too much further about them, but I can’t help but wonder if their downfalls would have been covered with such ferocity if they had happened to two famous men. Even Pete Doherty didn’t come under such scrutiny. One paper has ever kept a counter, detailing how many days we are into Britney’s meltdown. Tasteful as ever.

Another woman who’s given the tabs a belated Christmas present is Cheryl Cole, pop puppet and well-documented bigmouth, who has now suffered the tackiest of all tabloid cover stories like a thousand miserable MP’s wives and wallflower girlfriends before her: the kiss and tell. Her footballing husband has been exposed as what the tabs love to call a ‘love rat’. After allegedly boning and offering abortions to every blonde in the south east of England, Ashley Cole has helped to propel his wife to the frint covers she adores to appear on, but for all the wrong reasons. After the first fling story broke, Cheryl- rather stupidly in my opinion- did a double page spread in a Sunday tabloid, claiming she knew all along about the story, rubbishing the claims and standing by her man, albeit almost damning him as impotent after a couple of pints. Columnists begged her to leave him, but Cheryl wouldn’t budge. Now that there are only a few women left who haven’t claimed to fucking her husband, Cheryl has wisely buttoned it and left the marital home.

If there is anybody left out there who still craves to be famous and is poised to fill out a form to appear on reality TV, one can only hope that the experiences of our three unfortunates persuades them to put the pen down and stay out of the limelight.