Lost in London

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

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

How the other half live

TV presenters poking their noses into the lives of Joe Public is nothing new. From telling them what to wear to noseying through their worthless heirlooms via picking apart their home decor and repainting everything in terracotta, the fascination with telling the viewing public what to do has been a staple of mainstream TV for years.

Recently, however, this has taken a new turn. Now we see a worrying trend where the super-rich are being encouraged to have a prod and a poke at some of the country's most unfortunate citizens. A few years ago, politician Michael Portillo attempted to 'raise' a family on benefits for a TV experiment. He was followed by fellow MP Ann Widdecombe raking through the 'lifestyles' of prostitutes and other unfortunates of society.

These invasive shows have now moved up another gear, with Sarah Ferguson, the Duchess of York, slumming it on an estate in Hull and nodding and smiling in all the right places as decades of desperation and misery are laid out in front of her. Last week saw iconic soap bitch and notorious Concorde and Champagne devotee Joan Collins commissioning a Bentley and zooming down to Plymouth to inject a bit of glamour into the tired lives of three women. It was hard to tell whether Joan's facial expression was due to bemusement or the years of surgical assistance her line-free visage has enjoyed, but as she quizzed drunk locals about their tattoos, I got the distinct feeling Joanie was out of her depth. Joanie's prescription for glamour seemed to involve going to Primark and picking out outfits she wouldn't be seen dead in. La Collins freely admitted that she shopped in M&S occasionally, but when pressed by her charges into revealing her other favourite shops, she had to confess they'd be more likely to line Bond Street than be found in a gloomy shopping precinct.

Just a week after Joan's relatively harmless crusade to wring glamour out of a New Look cardigan, TV is at it again. '7 Days on the Breadline' takes four famous faces and uproots them from their various bases in LA or London and plonks them in the middle of some of the roughest areas of Leeds, a city I know quite well.

Spice Girl Mel B, fashion fascist Trinny Woodall, rugby player and Strictly Come Dancing twinkletoes Austin Healy and, er, bon viveur Keith Allen have all taken up residence in council estates across the city for a so-called social experiment. Mel has been left in charge of a family of five with just benefits to see her through. Trinny has been paired up with a remarkable elderly lady who sleeps on the sofa as she can't manage the stairs. Austin is with a smaller family who seem to be relatively well-off, but the elder son smokes dope. Finally, Keith Allen is head of the household with a slew of boisterous boys (and one girl) to look after.

We're only one episode in, and this opener was mainly taken up with the celebs meeting their new 'projects' and being shown round their modest abodes. Trinny's pensioner, fantastically, didn't have a clue who she was which knocked the wind out of the style guru's sails. Trinny's not doing too well at fitting in: she was a liability when taken to the local bingo hall and she gasped in horror at the 'all you can eat' Chinese buffet she was taken to afterwards. To her credit, she did unflinchingly empty a commode- albeit down the kitchen SINK rather than the toilet; my mother would have been HORRIFIED- and seemed to genuinely feel empathy for her buddy. Perhaps her 'journey' will be the most revealing.

Elsewhere, Mel B sported an array of lurid tracksuits so she could stand out even more, endured endless catcalls from passing cars and bizarrely seemed to think that free gym memberships for all the brood would help lift them out of their doldrums. That Mel has been in LA too long was clear to see. She asked the extremely reticent children for hugs and spouted forth about 'getting to know each other' and forced family meals upon her squirming, embarrassed charges. All very admirable, but totally alien to your average Leeds youth.

Keith walked around his new home in abject horror, fighting a losing battle to clean and tidy it. The teenagers in his family cause trouble at school so they get sent home. They say they want to join the army. Keith doesn't quite know what to say so re-arranges the kitchen. A shopping trip to Asda is excruciating as Keith peers at every food's origin or fat content before putting anything in the trolley, pushed by a resentful teen who'd rather be in bed.

Austin's faring a little better so far. His works has thus consisted of gruffly calling in the teens for dinner and then having big manly chats about 'cannabis' over the meal, the awkwardness of his words ringing off the walls like a pealing church bell.

But why do we need these programmes? Do we need famous people undergoing a culture shock to make serious social issues more appealing, more entertaining? Would a hard-hitting documentary be roundly ignored?

Are these shows really highlighting the plight of the 7 million people who live below the breadline in the UK and bringing it into the wider consciousness? Or are we enjoying a little bit of poverty tourism, where we can watch in horror at the celebrities picking their way through dirty washing, thanking our lucky stars that we can afford our little luxuries? Before switching off and thinking about something else entirely.

Saturday, October 17, 2009

The great pretender

I generally think of myself as someone as devoid of bad habits. If anyone asks me what my worst habit might be, I say something really boring like "Oh I can be really untidy" or similar.

Of course, I have thousands of bad habits, but I prefer to think of them as quirks. I mean, what does actually constitute a bad habit? It's something you do regularly that other people might think is, er, bad. Right? Whereas you think it's perfectly fine. While I no doubt share some of my habits with others- nose picking, bottom-scratching that kind of thing- one of my 'worst' habits is also one of my favourites and I know I can't be alone in doing it. Put very simply, I always- and I mean ALWAYS- pretend I haven't seen someone when I have, in fact, spotted them ages ago. In any occasion. Let me explain.

Scenario 1: I have arranged to meet a friend at a pre-designated spot. If I arrive first, I will wait patiently. As I see them approach, I will stare into middle-distance. If they wave madly enough, I *may* break at this point and allow a flicker of recognition- if only to stop them making utter idiots of themselves- but usually I will wait until they are practically on top of me before I acknowledge their presence. If I am second to arrive, I will march ahead determinedly toward our meeting spot, even if they attempt all manner of waving, jumping up and down, calling out (which makes me cringe as I hate being hollered at in the street) or- God forbid- whistling. I do not flinch until I am relatively close and even then offer only a small smile of acknowledgement. I don't know why I behave like this. Sometimes I get a tiny wave of pleasure as I look impassively at their vain attempts at attracting my attention. It's not normal, is it?

Scenario 2:
I am 'out and about' and see someone I know. If I am in the street, walking past them, I will usually let them go by (unless it's a good friend; I'm generally talking about acquaintances here). I will try my best to avoid eye contact and do my good old middle-distance peering at some non-existent point of interest way off beyond their shoulder. If they stop me, well, that's all well and good, but if they don't, I don't and we float on and get on with the rest of our lives. If I'm at a party and I arrive, I will pretend I've not seen the host- or indeed anyone else of interest- until they come right up to me. If someone arrives 'fashionably late', in other words shamelessly attention-seeking, I will simply look the other way or become particularly engrossed in whatever conversation I'm having until it becomes unavoidable, whereupon I will call on my best acting skills and act surprised to see them.

I suppose this quirk is now too ingrained in me now and I will never be free of it. I'm sure that everyone does it at some point or another, if not with my startling regularity. If you do happen to see me in the street, don't feel you have to say hello; I can hardly blame you. Just so long as you know that I have seen you. And I saw that you saw me too.

Monday, October 12, 2009

41 things

I have not done a meme for what seems like an eternity. Lubin Odana did one and urged me to do the same. I have to say that a lot of my answers would have been very similar to his, so in those cases I chose another answer to make it more 'interesting' for the 3 people and 17 spambots who glance at this blog de temps en temps.

1) My mother once: told me to leave my hometown as soon as I was able. It was sound advice
2) Never in my life: will I understand tax
3) When I was five: my hair was bright golden blond
4) High school was a: Grammar School where I come from. I hated every second.
5) I will never forget: the feeling of leaving home. Horror, excitement, fear, scheming
6) I once met: the Cheeky Girls
7) There's this person I know who: is a rampant Tory. I really like her but it disturbs me intensely. I fear Tories.
8) Once, at a bar: I had my first drink. I kind of wish I hadn't bothered.
9) By noon I'm usually: weary.
10) Last night I: drank a bottle of prosecco and ate olives
11) If only I had: not been quite so cautious when I was younger
12) Next time I go to church/temple: I will be at yet another bloody wedding
13) Terri Schiavo: I don't know who this is
14) I like: bread but it doesn't like me
15) When I turn my head left, I see: my kitchen. I think officially it's a 'kitchenette', but sadly that word has died out, it would seem
16) When I turn my head right, I see: my a lamp I paid £2 for from Asda
17) You know I'm lying when: I'm overly enthusiastic
18) In junior school: I should've hit back more
19) If I was a character written by Shakespeare: I would be scenery
20) By this time next year I: will be almost 35, which I find in turns amusing and horrifying
21) A better name for me would be: something else beginning with J. No-one ever used to get my name right when I was a child
22) I have a hard time: a lot of the time
23) If I ever go back to school, I'll: ditch Spanish and English Literature A-levels and do the ones I actually wanted to do
24) You know I like you if: I start being affectionately rude to you
25) If I won an award, the first person I'd thank would be: Mummy!
26) I hope that: the Tories never 'get back in' again
27) Take my advice: don't bother smoking. It really stinks and make you look UGLY
28) My ideal breakfast is: porridge, no sugar, no honey, no nothing
29) A song I love but do not have is: yet to exist
30) If you visit my home town, I suggest: Valium and blinkers
31) Tulips, character flaws, microchips and track stars: Is this a lyric?
32) Why won't anyone: instantly 'get me'? Getting to know people is boring and hard work
33) If you spend the night at my house you'd have to: not bitch about me drinking decaffeinated tea. Seriously, Starbucks is >>> that way if you're one of those dullards who needs caffeine to inject a bit of verve into you
34) I'd stop my wedding: I actually wouldn't start my wedding
35) The world could do without: parsnips, fennel and celery
36) I'd rather lick the belly of a roach than: not be right
37) My favourite thing is: out there somewhere
38) Paper clips are more useful than: Angelina Jolie and any magazine she graces the cover of
39) And by the way: If I want your opinion, I'll give it to you
40) The last time I was (really) drunk: I woke up feeling absolutely fine
41) My grandmother always: adored me. Both of them did. Much to the consternation of my cousins. I still smile about it now. Ha.

Saturday, October 03, 2009

I got you babe

Like loads of other people too tight or anti-Murdoch to get Sky, I had to retune my Freeview box the other day. It’s said that some viewers may have been confused as to how to do it or might forget, but I find that hard to believe, given that every time I turned the TV on or changed channel, a reminder would flash up. It still flashes up now, even though I’ve already done it. Match that with alarmist stories in the press about Freeview boxes blowing up and very patronising news reports where a journalist would stand in a Currys (I wanted to write Rumbelows there for creative effect, but it doesn’t exist any more does it? Sounded better though) giving a slow, step-by-step guide on how to press two buttons on your Freeview remote, and surely everyone was in the know.

Since retuning, I have noticed only two differences. A few channels have switched themselves around, moving down a few ‘doors’ in some kind of telly channel house swap. The other thing I’ve noticed, and it’s difficult *not* to notice, is that there are now FIVE channels in a row dedicated to a usually devastatingly-unattractive female rubbing her minge on a pillow. Yes, I now have Babestation!

I’ve seen Babestation before, many years ago. I used to share a flat with a guy for whom masturbation was the only sexual option he was ever likely to have. He had two boxes of Kleenex by his bed and his last girlfriend was such a distant memory, all his photos of their time together were sepia-tinted. He was the first person I’d ever known who had ‘Sky Digital’ as it was then called. I would come home from work or doing something much more interesting to find him watching Babestation. It then consisted of two women reading out texts from pathologically lonely bank tellers and deputy managers of leading supermarket chains. Occasionally they’d lick their lips or plump their (always blond) hair. And that was that really. Endless hours of waving to ‘Gary’ or ‘Steve’ in a tight top. I admired the girls in a way. It really was money for old rope.

Fast forward ten years later and Babestation is a different animal. In fact, animal is probably the best way to describe it. As I’m working late evenings at the moment, I’m getting in at around two-thirty in the morning, so perhaps it’s not quite so bad at other times, but at that time of the morning, Babestation has gone on to the next level. And it’s not an upward journey.

There’s a lady. Oh she’s got no top on. She’s got two or three tattoos. Her boobs are VERY round and look like they’ve been stuck on. Her hair extensions are a bit frazzled. Ooh look she’s on the phone, but I can’t hear her speaking. She’s lying on her back and humping the air in the sheerest, flimsiest of thongs ever. I can see bits of her that even she’s probably not investigated in any depth. Oh where’s she putting her hands? Oh no is she going to put them insi… hmm no she’s not she’s just putting them ‘tantalisingly’ close to the band of her ‘panties’. Now she’s turning over and is on all fours. Her boobs look like huge oranges. They look quite painful actually. The skin is stretched over them like a bad facelift. They’re straining to escape. Now she’s lying flat and, oh, she’s having sex with a pillow with mad, forceful thrusts. Now she’s stopped. Now she’s thrusting again. Now she’s stopped. A lick of the lips. She’s just put her boob in her mouth. It appears that she’s not some bored housewife entertaining herself while she’s holding the line to the British Gas call centre: there’s someone on the phone telling her what to do. As she replies to the mystery caller, her face contorts in what I imagine she thinks are sexy expressions but in fact she looks spiteful, as if she’s telling him what a small penis he has. I wonder what her voice is like. Strong, dominating, persuasive and sexy? Husky and sensual?

I soon find out. After a few calls, the gyrating lady will be tossed a microphone which allows her to speak to us, in order to entice more viewers to call her. She sounds like the woman who does the tannoy announcements in a Stockport Asda. “Yeah hi guys I’m Stacey and I’m really lookin for-wood to talkin to you. Call me now for some sexy chat.” If you get bored of the Stockport senorita, you can always ‘flick’ on to the next channel to watch a slightly thinner girl with huger breasts or a more curvy girl with extra tattoos. The last couple of babealicious channels are in fact Babestation imitators with what viewers might think are less attractive ladies- they don’t have hair extensions and their bodies aren’t like melons glued to a pencil.

At the moment, while the girls are topless and thrusting, nothing particularly sexual is happening. I’m already desensitised to the sight of Stacey rubbing her knock-off Janet Regers on velour cushions, so to her regular viewers it must be as sexy as watching Corrie. Eventually, perhaps with the promise of an extra fiver, the knickers will have to come off and then, perhaps a year or two down the line, God knows what will be going God knows where.

I’ll have to check back on them in 2019.