1 January: “Look, a new year! During this year I will become more organised, wear more make up, develop a stronger work ethic, learn to walk in high heels, fall in love, take up a sport, learn to heal cancer through the laying on of hands, be kind to children and the disaffected young, finish my book and visit the countryside at weekends. And I will do my tax return on time. That is the most important thing. God, my head is killing me.”
15 January: “It’s mid-January and they’ve put up exactly the same ads as last year, the ones with JAN 31 in huge red letters and a man pointing at them with a subtly sorrowful expression on his face, like, ‘I know you will not meet this deadline, even though it is so big and red, but I want you to know that you will regret it for the rest of your life.’ Also, today is my ex-ex-boyfriend’s birthday. I will text him. No I will not. I will text him. No I will not.”
21 January: “If I do my tax return this weekend, it will be in on time in a way that isn’t even stressful and I’ll feel as though my life is working like a small, well-designed machine whose purpose is comfort – an electric fan, perhaps, or a pair of headphones.”
23 January: “Maybe I’ll go out instead. That will make me happier in the short term. It’s all about living in the moment. Yeah. The moment. The moment is like, a house, and I should just move in and, kind of, decorate.”
27 January: “They only fine you £100 for a late tax return. £100 isn’t very much to pay for the pleasure of having the tax return deadline rolled back until July, when they fine you again for having a ganglion where your brain should be.”
30 January: “Fuck, I don’t understand how to fill out this form and I have no money anyway and probably I don’t even owe any tax so it shouldn’t even matter.”
1 February: “My tax return is late. I don’t want to talk about it.”
Tax returns: How can I be this much of a moron and still manage to feed and clothe myself? 0 out of 10
Review: ShoppingThe things women say to help each other justify buying new clothes! It's enough to induce you to write an epic poem called 'On the Endless Wonders of Being Female' and have done with it. I was in a shop in Holborn the other day, considering a pair of shoes, and a woman was saying to her friend, "See, you could wear them with jeans OR with a dress. They're a bargain", as if wearing jeans or wearing a dress is pretty much the sum of all human experience, or the scale, and wearing jeans and a dress at the same time some kind of harmonious middle point where you feel your own oneness with the universe. I left empty-handed, feeling quietly superior, then went to Topshop and bought a pair of shoes that don't actually fit me at all in any way, though I keep on trying them on hopefully, in case my feet have shrunk in the night.
For a while after my Tragic Breakup (TM) (R), I was completely uninterested in buying new clothes and went around wearing glasses and a grey cardigan, for all the world as if they were sackcloth and ashes, and not making eye contact with anyone. But even at the best of times, I'm a pragmatic rather than a talented shopper. Go in, find stuff, buy stuff, leave. This is considered a male approach to shopping, by people who like to ascribe all rational behaviour (shopping sensibly, being good at maths, knowing how to fix things) to men, and all irrational behaviour (pointless giggling, heavy make up, envy) to women.
It deflates the heart to read about yet another female-oriented website/magazine that plans to exploit women's apparently limitless fondness for enthusiastic consumerism, as if that were the main interesting thing about being female. It makes me want to pretend to be interested in quantum mechanics and early Greek philosophy, although if I were being completely honest I'd have to say, "I totally reject your reductive analysis of me! I am interested in KISSING and READING NOVELS." And the proprietor of this fantasy magazine/website (basically I'm thinking of that ohsoyou thing that got profiled in the Guardian a while ago) would look at me, all aglow from a recent orgasm induced by someone mentioning the phrase Web 2.0 in front of them and making them feel, you know, YOUNG and ALIVE, and refer me to the 'Kissing' and 'Books' sections, all prepared and laid out like a boring fate.
Having said all this, my mother and sister share some kind of recessive shopping gene and can buy stuff for hours on end without any visible signs of boredom or exhaustion, unless it's exhaustion of the finite resources of the soul, which you wouldn't notice anyway against the general background of Oxford Street.
Something that would not be any fun at all, but is kind of interesting to think about (very similar in this way to listening to all the stuff on your ipod all the way through, nonstop, for six days, the idea of which occurs to me every time I look at my itunes... I'd be in a completely empty room, just me and my ipod, and people would bring food and water, and I'd keep a diary... "12.56am: Ice Cube (Greatest Hits): Surprised by a feeling of emptiness") is if you piled up everything you'd ever bought, ever, every T-shirt and chocolate bar and mobile phone and tin opener and plastic action figure, and just, kind of, thought about what you'd done. That would be interesting. More interesting than shopping, anyway.
Shopping: Spiritually impoverishing, materially rewarding. It's a toss-up. 5 out of 10.
Review: Being a bit rubbishI don't update this very regularly, do I?
Being a bit rubbish: Not something I'll think of fondly on my deathbed. Or at all, I hope. 0 out of 10.
Review: Reaching 40,000 on my hit counterSize isn't everything, apart from when it's the size of your soul, man, or the size of a malignant tumour, or the size of the number of hits that have hit the hit counter of your hit blog. Nearly 40,000! And only some of those (say, 5,000 maximum) are me admiring my own work! Many hits, for example, are directly attributable to my mother, my aunt, my grandfather, and perhaps even the odd brain-damaged boy who has taken an interest. I would like to thank you all. I wouldn't be here* without you.
Reaching 40,000 on my hit counter: It may take weeks, but I have faith. 9 out of 10.
*Editing a report about infectious diseases in an office with grey carpets, sickly lighting, and a lovely but essentially useless view of St Paul's out of the window on the other side from mine.
Review: Meeting the famousMeeting the famous makes ordinary, unfamous people do stupid things. If meeting the famous were an age, it would be three or four years old - past the canonical babbling stage but still retaining the tendency to fall over and/or wet yourself at the drop of a hat. If it were a foodstuff, it would be something exciting but nutritionally empty, like salami or a CheezeString. If it were an actress acting in The Vagina Monologues and talking about what her vagina would say if it could talk, then it would report that its vagina would say something totally unsexy like, "I really admire your work" or "Whoops! Dropped my drink." (Someone should make a riposte to The Vagina Monologues called The Silence of the Vaginas.)
I met Patti Smith the other day - not properly, I didn't bump into her at the supermarket or anything, I was at a festival and she'd just played - and I said some really embarrassing things, most of which I won't go into here, but at one point I said something totally stupid that I didn't even mean ("I feel like I'm talking to God"), and afterwards I felt ashamed of myself and my thoughts turned to my own stupid simile. If I had been talking to God, I hope I would have come up with something better than "Lots of people think you're great!" or "I really think it's brilliant how you made the heaven and the earth and, yea, divided the firmament from the waters and saw that it was good." God would be all like, "Yeah, I know." If you had one question to ask God* - I should point out that I'm an atheist - but if God existed and you had one question to ask him, clearly you'd screw it up and say something along the lines of, "Isn't this just the coolest thing ever?" "No," God would say, and there you'd be, hands in pockets, looking kind of shifty and feeling bad about yourself.
I was in the same room as Jude Law the other day (it was a crowded room. We weren't having sex. I don't think he was aware that I was in the same room as him) and the crowd was pretty equally divided between people pretending they hadn't noticed him and girls walking past with their friends and stage-whispering, "Did you touch him? OH MY GOD, you touched him. You touched Jude Law. Can I have sex with your hand?" I think what people really like about being in the presence of famous people is that it makes us feel like we're doing something vaguely interesting and worthwhile. There's a philosopher who developed a theory about how we all might be living in a virtual reality world simulation run by an advanced civilization, and his advice, if you want to hedge your bets in case his theory is true, is to basically be a good person and also hang out with as many famous people as possible, because then the advanced beings are less likely to turn your simulation off out of boredom.
There are no famous people in Seven Sisters. As far as even minor celebrities are concerned, Seven Sisters is a dead swathe of London, like an area on a post-apocalyptic map where the radioactive zones are marked. If a famous person did end up in Seven Sisters by accident, they would probably be met with a lukewarm reception by the Polish grocers and Somali internet shop owners, who would fail to recognise them and try to sell them internet for 50p an hour, or a boiled sausage. Maybe Lindsay Lohan should come up here for a fortnight's respite from paparazzi harrassment, give up drugs, put on some weight. We could advertise. You know it.
Meeting the famous: Like a little machine with a handle that you turn and anecdotes spill out of the other end. 8 out of 10.
*I'm imagining a scenario where there's a long line of people and God hasn't got time for a proper chat with all of them, like when my friend met the Dalai Lama and told him she liked his shoes, but I suppose that if God really cared then he could bend the rules of space and time so that as many people as possible could ask as many questions as they liked. The Dalai Lama cannot do that. Think about that, Buddhists.
Review: AlcoholAlcohol: destroyer of nations, builder of empires, etc. Or, as Beck says, in the song 'Alcohol': "Alcohol, please give me some."
I like a drink. Sometimes I like a drink so much that I have several (to any adulterers out there: this is a good argument to use when you're trying to persuade your wife not to leave you). Sometimes I have so many drinks that I end up having really stupid discussions about what stuff means, or chatting to the inevitable girls congregating inevitably in the inevitable girls' loos, or kissing someone and then spending the rest of the night giving him advice about his love life, or crying on a street corner as Camden crack addicts tactfully ask me for money, or sometimes all four in the same night, which is the height of depravity. "Alcohol, please take it away from me," as Beck did not sing, but should have.
There's an optimum level of drunkenness, where you feel at one with the world and like everything is probably going to turn out for the best, and you look around the table at your friends and think, "What lovely friends I have. And I bet everyone in the pub is admiring my hair." Sadly, by the time you realise you're at this stage, you've already moved past it by drinking another couple of glasses of wine or whatever you drink (don't want to offend any manly men by suggesting they might drink wine in public). If you were the Buddha, you'd be able to avoid this kind of slippage by being constantly aware of the present moment, but you also would be in the forest and probably you wouldn't be much of a drinker, being the Buddha and all.
Other people seem to enjoy being ragingly drunk. It's a license to sing in the street, flirt with good-looking people and shoplift mints from a 7-11 before trying to set fire to them with a lighter. I'm very rarely extremely drunk, partly because I don't approve of drunken vomiting and see it as a sign of weakness of character, although I'm often slightly drunk, because I don't approve of reality and see moderate drinking as a sign of strength of character.
Alcohol: Your life would be both much, much better and much, much worse without it. 6 out of 10.
Review: The internetMany of us worship at the altar of the internet, but we're not quite sure why. Does it save time? No. Any chance benefit to academics and schoolchildren who can now access information from the comfort of their desktops, rather than traipsing around libraries getting cancer of the brain from all the unread literature, has been entirely swallowed up by the minutes and hours, amounting to days and years, wasted by feckless online layabouts in googling people they knew 10 years ago, looking up the history of toast on Wikipedia, and crafting beautiful towering monuments to their own egos on MySpace. "I saw the best minds of my generation, destroyed by blogging..." as Allen Ginsberg kind of almost wrote. Millions of hypochondriacs who would otherwise have been content leafing through medical journals now have, at the touch of a few buttons, access to a whole world of anxiety, sleeplessness and ill-defined symptoms - did you know that a slight headache can be a symptom of AIDS? Did you want to know? Well, you do now, and never again will you be able to get a good night's sleep. Millions of bright, talented people spend their lives surfing the web into the small hours - time in which they could have been writing books, recording albums or touring experimental dance performances around the Netherlands.
Long after humanity has died out from bird flu, meteor strikes, catastrophic climate change or boredom, an alien race will accidentally stumble across the remnants of cyberspace, kept alive by one ancient server buried in the Nevada desert, and add a new entry to their Encyclopedia of Intelligent Life: Humanity, Earth - Deeply trivial. Mating rituals included shaving off all body hair and making yelping noises on camera. Very knowledgeable about haircuts.
The internet: Good for acquiring useless information, but otherwise pretty rubbish. 3 out of 10.
Review: The smell of bubblegumI was going to start this post with the sentence, "The world can be an exceptionally depressing place", as if I were comparing it to some other, less depressing place - the surface of the sun, perhaps, or the afterlife. The point is I stayed up till 5am last night reading a book called Never Let Me Go by Kazuo Ishiguro, about clones forced to donate their vital organs one by one. If you could sum this book up in a sentence, it would be: "What's the point of it all, when we're all going to die anyway?" When you think of how there are books by people like Dr Seuss and Jilly Cooper that can be summed up in really life-affirming sentences like "Food can taste nice whatever its colour" and "Look, here are some rich people having sex", it makes you wonder why you bother with proper literature at all.
I was in the shower several weeks ago (in Stockholm, which is a long story, a long story involving me living in Stockholm), lathering up a gloopy handful of bright green shower gel, and I realised I'd got it all wrong. All of it! The greatest cultural achievement of recent years isn't a book, or a film, or an album, but artificial bubblegum scent. It's the smell of happiness. The smell of innocence. The natural world has nothing on it. It's like Proust's little cakes crossed with that time in the garage forecourt on a long hot summer car journey with your cousins, when someone bought a pack of apple flavour Hubba Bubba and you blew a perfect bubble for the first time in your life.
I was really pleased with myself for making this discovery, until about two days later when my boyfriend told me that he hated the bubblegum shower gel and it was the least sexy flavour of shower gel ever. I was crestfallen. A few days after that, we had a huge fight and he made me move out for a while to give him some space. (Space?! Space???!!) I'm not sure the two phenomena are necessarily linked, but it's important not to rule anything out in this life (as opposed to all those other lives you'll have, in the afterlife or on the surface of the sun).
The smell of bubblegum: Loses points for lack of eroticism, but otherwise perfect. 8 out of 10
Everything Reviewed is dormant but not forgotten: I have a lot of time on my hands right now and will try to start reviewing things again soon.
New blog: 10 out of 10.
Review: EarringsI had my ears pierced in a shop in Arusha. Between that and learning to drive, which I will as soon as I can get over my fear of the traffic in Dar es Salaam (aggressive 4x4 drivers, minibuses with fifty people inside, cows wandering across the road, potholes galore, headlights at full beam blinding you at night, and other exotic traffic paraphernalia), I am becoming a proper adult. As everyone knows, low-end mutilation in pursuit of beauty is an important aspect of female adulthood. But then, so is trying to make your mind up if your inability to find a boyfriend is because you intimidate men with your phenomenal beauty, wit and elegance, or because you need to lose some weight and stop talking about your childhood on first dates.
I can barely bring myself to discuss men with pierced ears. It reveals a tragically un-ambitious spirit of rebellion. If you want to show your disdain for convention, get the word FUCK tattooed across your forehead or set fire to a church or marry your sister. A single earring in your misshapen earlobe doesn’t impress me: in that respect, I am very much like Shania Twain. (“OK, so you’ve won a Nobel Peace Prize, reconciled the wave and the particle and discovered a new, clean energy source to rival oil / That don’t impress me much.” The woman is made of steel. I once read an article in a men’s magazine that listed reasons to look on the bright side after breaking up with your girlfriend. One of them was something like, “You no longer have to cower at Shania Twain concerts, convinced that a stadium of 50,000 women singing along to That Don’t Impress Me Much are talking about your penis.”)
Earrings make you look like you’ve made an effort, even when you haven’t showered. They also impress the girl behind the donut counter in Shoprite. I live to please her.
Earrings: Kind of anthropologically weird, but don't I look pretty? 9 out of 10.
Review: CowardiceI’m too scared to read the comments on my last, antique post, from several decades ago.
I am also scared of spiders, the fucking horrible malicious eight-legged bastards. If some spiders had put nasty comments on my blog, that would be the worst thing.*
I was talking about one night stands with my friend, who writes operas. “Why would you dig a trench in the same place twice?” he asked, rhetorically. “Because you wanted a deeper, more profound trench,” I suggested. He explained that there's no time for that kind of behaviour because there's a war on.
*It would appear in the top five Worst Things (Trivial) and possibly even in the top twenty Worst Things (Actual).
Cowardice: Fine, I think, as long as there’s not a war on. 4 out of 10.
Review: GossipI love gossip, it lightens the otherwise tedious grind of over-emoting about psychologically decrepit Italian men and writing about tourist destinations. Until recently, I was convinced that men don’t enjoy gossip, for the same reason that they don’t share ice cream out of the same tub or compliment each other on their clothes – it contravenes the international code of heterosexuality. Actually, I was wrong. Given the slightest opportunity, men gossip like wolves.
Much gossip-worthy material flows forth from my colleague’s stupid girlfriend, who has the face of an angel and the brain of a very chatty slug. (Reader! In your opinion, would impersonating an idiot help me have a more successful and fulfilling love life?) We eye her beadily from behind our desks, waiting for her to do something ridiculous so we can pounce on it and pick it apart later. There’s a fine line between gossip and bitching, but we don’t care. Occasionally I am wracked by guilt. I feel the Gossip Sword of Damocles hanging over my head: not a day passes in which I don’t do something so stupid that I’m almost suicidal with embarrassment, and the thought that people will be analysing my faux pas with as much relish as I’ve lavished on theirs is deeply troubling.
I am reading a history of Africa, and it claims that something like 80% of human chat is about people who are not present during the conversation. This was useful when we lived in small forest tribes and scavenged elephant carcasses, but maybe it’s outlived its relevance. Gossip may well be an evolutionary hangover that we should have recovered from by now, like male nipples, double-jointed elbows and long-term relationships.
Gossip: Somewhere between a hobby and a religious practice. Happy Ramadan! 7 out of 10.
Review: The beachWe went to the beach on Sunday. Apparently, this is the whole point of expatriate life in Dar es Salaam: you may be slowly losing your soul, but at least you can go to the beach at the weekend. I went on a speedboat with yet another Israeli, who played screeching rock while the Russian sprawled in the sun, like something out of Heat magazine. I chatted to our captain’s 12-year-old niece, who looked at me in undisguised horror when I revealed that I’ve never been water-skiing. “You haven’t even been normal skiing?” she cried, disgusted. She’s the scion of a family that sell very nice chicken liver wraps in the mind-numbingly anodyne Sea Cliff hotel. The expat children here are old before their time, confident as CNN anchormen and slightly deranged by the constant coming and going of their friends and schoolmates, who are mostly diplobrats whose parents do something pointless for the UN. We sailed on, dragging the girl’s brother behind us in a rubber ring. The fishermen watched from the beach, ruminating over their plan to charge us a week’s pay for one grilled fish.
My fiancée tells me that in the film The Beach, a wandering crusty informs his stoned and sun-stunned companions that travel is all about “the quest to experience something visceral, something real”. I don’t know about visceral, but I came back with a pretty realistic tan. I’m now adorned with a ghost bikini – I was toying with the idea of getting a tattoo of a bird, inspired by the dragon tattoo that decorates the Russian’s pudenda, but this will do for now.
I want to say that it’s impossible to be miserable next to the sea, but of course this is an outright lie – a talented miserabilist can be miserable anywhere. Maybe it’s just that you can’t be quite as happy inland. Inland isn’t really designed for human existence: leave the elephants to do what they will with it. (“A sort of chessboard effect developed, with people occupying one set of squares and the elephants another… The ‘elephant problem’ was a major concern of colonial authorities throughout Africa.” – John Reader.)
The beach: A blockbusting geographical feature from the God that brought you mountains, ponds and icebergs. 9 out of 10.
Review: HomesicknessMe and my platinum blonde Russian flatmate who belongs in an eponymous biopic had breakfast in the Royal Palm the other day and the grass nearly made me cry. I had trouble squeezing my pastry past the lump in my throat: it was proper, green, tended and sprinklered grass like you might get in a dream vision of Regent’s Park.
I keep having these totally irrational attacks of nostalgia. Last night, I was dancing with an Israeli diamond dealer to the heart-wrenching strains of Haddaway’s famous epic poem What Is Love?, and it reminded me of being at university. But why? The human heart is like a drink-addled word association game.
Homesickness is often difficult to distinguish from existential angst and sexual frustration. In this respect it’s like many other emotions, e.g. confusion, irritation, romantic love. In the grip of homesickness, a girl finds herself asking important spiritual questions. Where am I? And why? What’s the point of me? Will I ever get laid again? Why did that funny Dutch man have sex with prostitutes on my bed while I was away looking at giraffes, when he had a perfectly serviceable bed of his own in the room next door?
Homesickness: Better than being sick of home. 3 out of 10.
Review: MonkeysAll monkeys are wonderful, but some are more wonderful than others. The dancing monkey, for example, grinding her crotch into thin air. The angsty adolescent monkey, writing FUCK in Boots No 17 lipstick on the bathroom mirror. The monkey who is going through a ‘help, I’m 33 and from a Catholic country where everyone keeps banging on about how I’m the same age as Jesus when he died’ crisis and has to run around trying to have sex with teenage girls.
Mister Internet tells me that red colobus monkeys “belch in each other’s faces as a friendly gesture”. They also like to climb trees and watch the sun rise or set, “like messengers of God”, it says here, though it’s possible they’ve got it the wrong way round. Maybe the belches are the message from God, and the sunrise an embarrassing accident.
I went to look at some monkeys the other day, and they were very good monkeys, although all they did was eat leaves. I don’t know what I was expecting: a striptease, perhaps, or a traditional dance. These weren’t particularly expensive monkeys: colobuses are the crack whores of the primate world, costing only around $20 a go; chimpanzees are slightly dearer, although still a bargain at around $40. Gorillas are the primate equivalent of high class hookers, the kind that wear nice shoes and come to your hotel, and the relevant authorities will charge you $300 a day for the pleasure of stumbling around densely forested hillsides looking for them.
Baboons are free, like people who really love you or who are very drunk in a bar.
Monkeys: Man is a sad animal who combs his hair. 10 out of 10.
Review: TrainersI look down at my Adidas and I remember that the world is a beautiful place, that humanity is constantly striving to better itself and that all difficulties can ultimately be overcome with the twin weapons of an open heart and a firmly closed pair of legs. Or I used to, until last week, when I went island shopping down south. We were so busy tormenting the itinerant fishermen with our near-nudity and excessive photography that I failed to notice one of them stealing my trainers from under my nose. The government official who’d accompanied us to the island on a rickety boat, spending the journey entertaining me by looking terrified and saying repeatedly, “I feel that death is very near”, insisted on taking up the matter of the trainer theft with the head of the village. I cowered like an embarrassed teenager. Adulthood: will it never end?
Now I can take it easy for the rest of my life, knowing that I was responsible for introducing stripy sports shoes to a remote community in the Indian Ocean. My boss has now bought the island, so new flavours of corrupt western desire will doubtless be introduced as soon as is convenient for both parties.
My poor, lost trainers! What strange and unappreciative pair of feet are you on today? I’ll get over it soon: my fiancée, who isn’t really my fiancée, has promised to bring a new pair when she comes to visit. Coincidentally, a friend of mine used to have crazy self-pleasuring fun with a website that featured men wearing nothing but Adidas trainers. Apparently most brands of sportswear have a similar following. I suppose it was inevitable, given world enough and time, that humanity would start to develop a bizarre Pavlovian sexual response to brand names.
Trainers: Comfy, though, aren’t they. 9 out of 10.
Review: AnecdotesMan is born free, but is everywhere in chains and incapable of posting on her blog because of living somewhere that isn't particularly conducive to limply witty, semi-ironical commentary. Also, I was kept up all night by Christians across the road singing and praying until 5am, at which time no decent self-respecting god is awake anyway, so I'm tired and will have to write this in the style of Wittgenstein (famous author of the famous Da Vinci Code), as a series of mostly unrelated observations.
Nor have I sent any group emails, except to my family, who would be just as happy if I pdf'd over a signed and dated ECG reading showing that I'm still alive. By rights, I should be sweating anecdotes from my pores by now, but against a background of general strangeness, nothing shows up as particularly strange.
A few years ago I cack-handedly attempted a relationship with a man who was very good at anecdotes. They would always begin with him taking a deep breath and rolling his eyes up until the whites showed, before launching into a stream of exaggerations, embellishments and lies. He used to change the endings: all is fair, in love and the pub. Since then, I've become violently attached to a series of laconic men whose idea of a good chat is to stare into space, occasionally making an observation about someone's shoes. These men are like a chemistry set: the joy is in seeing what makes them react.
My boss is a fountain of anecdotes. He once had a fistfight with Pasolini outside a cement factory in Dar es Salaam. That's my favourite. The rest is silence. The safari park guides have millions of anecdotes, even the Elephant Man, but they all go something like: "And then we saw a lion crawl behind the tent!" and you quickly get used to them and can tune out while they're being told apart from the occasional "How scary! How brave!" Then everyone goes home happy, having successfully fulfilled their gender roles for once in their sorry, psychosexually complex lives.
I am missing the 'dotes of close friends, but my fiancee has promised to write all hers in a Word document, then copy and paste them into every email in order to recreate the repetition and enforced familiarity that I'd get over a normal weekend in London.
Anecdotes: Kids! Why not share your own favourites, on this handy Comments facility! 7 out of 10.
Review: Leaving the countryWell, knock me down with a feather, but leaving the country is stressful. I thought it would be like going out on Friday, only with a passport instead of three bottles of white wine, but it's proper troublesome alright.
Anyway, please look after London in my absence and make sure it doesn't get blown up. Will be blogging more regularly on arrival in Dar es Salaam, reviewing things of increasing irrelevance to your tawdry western existence, eg brands of African beer and having a woman come in to do your laundry.
My flight is now boarding.
Leaving the country: Missing you already. 6 out of 10.
Science review: RadiationI didn’t think I knew very much about radiation, but I’ve suddenly become full of insight since a freak accident in which I was saturated by gamma rays, leaving me with the ability to bend space/time thus altering the rules of probability and endowing me with the strength of a KGB-trained leopard. Well, and also I have been writing biographies of Marvel superheroes for a living.
Radiation is great for the underdog: it really helps them blossom, growing muscles and a desire to devote their lives to fighting crime. (Why so many policemen among the superheroes? Jobsworths, to a man. The world of post-radiation superheroism is a quaint place, rooted in the 1950s. Everyone is married or existentially tormented, and I had to delete, for noble moral reasons of word count, a breathless reference to Elektra’s habit of “loving for thrills!”.) For everyone else, it’s rubbish, because it gives people diseases and makes their hair fall out and then they die either of radiation sickness or because of choking on toast in the kitchen while reading an article about Chernobyl.
I read a book called Brother in the Land when I was quite small, about the aftermath of nuclear war, babies being born without mouths and dead cities and no one being kind to children because childhood is a luxury you can only have when no one has dropped a bomb on you recently (similar in this way to other luxuries eg dark chocolate, quilted toilet paper, Versace ashtrays etc). The book was full of radiation sickness, it was like the common cold in Shakespeare. All this was very troubling to me – I was far too young for the book, it was my comeuppance for having the intellectual equivalent of eyes bigger than my belly. To this day, when I see a particularly lurid sunset, I scan the horizon for accompanying mushroom clouds.
Radiation: On balance, not that great, but useful for manufacturing half-men half-beasts with the agility of an Olympic gymnast, the sheer brute strength of a Sumo wrestler and laser beams for eyes. 4 out of 10.
Review: Big BrotherIt’s disgusting how lazy some people are, failing to update their blogs in favour of lolling around watching Big Brother and reading the Big Brother online forum and talking to people about Big Brother.
Jumping on the bandwagon late, as ever, I’ve fallen in love with reality TV this year. TV drama disgusts me now: as BS Johnson wrote, “Enough of all this lying!” Why make stuff up, when you can watch a cross-dressing teenager paint his toenails, an aspiring rapper from Leeds cornrow his hair and the most beautiful man on TV walk around in his pants? Why leave the house? I am furious that the weather is perfect: it’s eating into valuable BB obsession time.
Pearls of wisdom so far include, “I go for a girl’s personality as well as her looks – I know that makes me sound like a mincer”, “If a human touches a dolphin, it’s like putting it in acid”, and the revelation that there are people out there who have never gone without sex for more than 25 days. That’s what it’s like, when you’re an experienced sailor on the… OK, will give hilarious Relation Ship pun a rest for now.
Big Brother: I’ll miss it when I’m gone. Unless they have it in Tanzania, with Big Brother voiced by Bob Geldof and insipid theme tune composed by Chris Martin. 8 out of 10.
Review: Charity braceletsMy little sister was reeling off a list of worthy plastic bracelets in her possession:
Little Sister: “I’ve got Make Poverty History, diabetes, breast cancer, cruelty to children, and another cancer one. I wanted to get a Live Strong one from Nike Town, but they’d sold out.”
Me: “What’s Live Strong?”
Little Sister: “The yellow ones.”
Me: “I know, but what are they for?”
Little Sister: “They’re for Lance Armstrong. He’s had cancer, so he’s a walking charity.”
As Chunky Munky observed recently, there’ll be hell to pay when the kids get sick of these plastic bracelets. I have a bright pink A Future Without Diabetes wristband, courtesy of Little Sister. Diabetes makes you eligible for disability benefit and free cinema tickets. My mother spends the disability benefit on designer children’s clothes for Little Sister. I once asked her why that was. “That’s what you’re supposed to do with it,” she said. Visions of women in wheelchairs comparing shoes: “They’re Marc Jacobs. I got them with my disability benefit. Best thing is, they’ll never wear out, because I can’t walk.”
Charity bracelets: I was thinking of creating my own, with Make Eskimo Rich printed on them. I am underpaid and drink too much, but am I a walking charity? 5 out of 10.
Review: The word 'Eskimo'Google teaches us that the word Eskimo is a term for the Inuit invented by the Southern Algonquin, God knows who they are, meaning “the eaters of raw flesh in the north”. People are forever making these wild, implausible claims for words in foreign languages, as you will realise if you have ever listened to a debate being translated into different languages. Once, I was listening to a Hungarian go on and on for what felt like hours, as they tend to, and when he stopped, our translator said, “He disagrees.” We were suspicious: there are long words in Hungarian, but not that long.
A list of racially sensitive terms in the Mayfield Handbook of Technical and Science Writing (with Google I’m like Moses with the commandments, I don’t judge, I don’t ask, I just chip away at the tablets because I don’t have a pen handy) notes that “in Canada the official term for local native people is Inuit rather than Eskimo. Many Alaskan natives also prefer this term.” Canadians are very pleasant people, very polite, although I find the books of Margaret Atwood disappointing. The Inuit for ‘Inuit’ translates as ‘real people’, apparently. In this respect, the Inuit are showing an upsetting lack of cultural sensitivity.
There is a scene in the film Heathers where Christian Slater underlines the word 'Esquimaux' in a girl’s copy of Moby Dick before making it look as if she’s topped herself. I liked that scene, as an impressionable child:
“Heather Duke underlined a lot of things in this copy of Moby Dick, but I believe the word ‘Eskimo’, underlined all by itself, is the key to understanding Heathers pain. On the surface, Heather Duke was the vivacious young lady we all knew her to be, but her soul was in Antarctica! …We'll all miss Sherwood’s little Eskimo. Let’s just hope she's rubbing noses with Jesus!”
Here is Herman Melville on the subject: “Only the most unprejudiced of men like Stubb, nowadays partake of cooked whales; but the Esquimaux are not so fastidious.” Maybe Herman Melville and the Southern Algonquin had some underhand and secret pact to muddy the good name of the Inuit.
The Eskimo language neither exists nor has an unusual number of words for snow. Here is Geoffrey Pullum, author of an essay called The Great Eskimo Vocabulary Hoax, on the issue:
“There seem to be only a handful of roots that really are snow roots in the languages of the Yup'iks and Inuits, maybe four or five, not very different from the number found in English (snow, sleet, slush, blizzard).”
The word Eskimo: Statcounter tells me that someone arrived here recently by googling “naked Eskimo girls”. It breaks my heart to disappoint you, sir or madam. 9 out of 10.
Review: Being singleIt is a truth universally acknowledged, that a girl in want of a boyfriend, must not shave her legs very often. Those with boyfriends might well reflect on how much time, energy, effort, willpower, water, and soap could have been saved had they showed a bit more restraint, instead of whoring around bars trying to find an occupant for their boyfriend vacancy.
There’s a page in Cosmopolitan called Why It’s Great Being Single or something where women celebrate the ways in which being single has freed them up to look for a boyfriend. I am not sure whether or not it is great being single. It’s a bit like asking a badger, “Is it great being nocturnal?” The badger would merely look you up and down, in that supercilious way badgers have, and go back to foraging for insects.
“First comes love,” as Chaucer observed in Troilus and Criseyde, “Then comes marriage, then comes the baby in the baby’s carriage.” Only, Criseyde runs off with another man, and Troilus dies, but apart from that it’s just as I said. The best thing about getting married is wedding lists. This is where people buy you stuff for no reason – like begging, or busking, but with matrimonial vows instead of Stairway to Heaven on an accordion.
My mother, who is vigorously monogamous, doesn’t really do being single. Here, nevertheless, are two of her important insights:
1. “I wouldn’t live with a man again, unless he had a separate flat in the same house and I didn’t have to see him except when I wanted to.”
2. “Men are disappointing.”
Being single: Yonge fresshe folkes, he or she, / In which that love up groweth with your age, / Repeyreth hoom from worldly vanitee. 7 out of 10.
Review: Race relationsA friend of mine who works in South Africa went to the beach with some black people last weekend. Well done, friend!
I find her example inspiring and intend to spend the next few weeks making friends with black people who are not related to me. Next month, I’m moving to a country where everyone is black. Last time I was there, I received this brilliant summary of my racial identity, from a man in a market: “You’re white,” he said, “but a funny colour.” Thinking of the money I’d saved on buying books by Paul Gilroy, I bought a sack of rice for 20p.
A few years ago, my father, who is Jamaican-Irish, decided to rediscover his African roots. He took to wearing batik-print gowns and yin-yang necklaces, in a triumph of mixed cultural messages. Before dinner, we’d do a libation to the ancestors, which is where my dad went out into his Manchester back garden and poured a bowl of water on the tomato patch. Go the ancestors! Roots, I believe, should stay buried underground, where they can make themselves useful.
The benchmark for a truly inclusive society is an STA Travel advert in which a racially mixed group of attractive young people gambol around in a tropical paradise, raping the local culture. Advertising has always led the way in the area of race relations: when my brother and I were small, people in supermarkets used to congratulate my mother on her children, saying we were just like a Benetton advert. This was before the period when Benetton adverts featured Death Row inmates and AIDS patients. It seems obscene, now, that Benetton ads used to be culturally relevant. The 1980s were a desert, even worse than the Noughties.
Race relations: As a child, I was under the impression that we weren’t allowed to eat South African fruit because the man from Del Monte killed black people. Later, I worked in a bar with the daughter of the actor who played this heartless monster. True story! 6 out of 10.
"Like killer whales, they are not actually whales, but dolphins."
-BBC News website, 2 June 2005
False killer whales: Glad we've cleared that one up. 10 out of 10.
Review: ParanoiaNow that the national archives have helpfully exposed Harold Wilson as a paranoiac of the first order (Russians spying on him, portentuous omens around Downing Street and so on), it's become obvious that mental instability is no barrier to a successful career.
All over the country, the drug-addled breathe a sigh of relief. Cheap and plentiful recreational drugs have made psychosis a common social hazard, equivalent to the possibility of being sick when drunk.
Everyone has their story: one friend of mine used to have incredibly boring hallucinations of sofas and assorted soft furnishings after taking Ecstasy, another became obsessed with the meaning of time after smoking dope continuously for a couple of years, another claims that he managed to "sort himself out" by taking acid and sitting in his room, alone, for five hours.
The kind of rampant paranoia that drugs can produce is no fun at all, but in its milder forms, paranoia is the perfect urban outlook. With heightened peripheral vision and pepper spray in hand, the paranoiac is an expert at city living. And paranoia can be a beautiful thing: all this CCTV and a glossy ID card, just so MI5 can trace your every move. What is the government: some kind of obsessive ex-boyfriend?
Paranoia: Neither am I paranoid, nor are they out to get me. I am living a quiet life, and have lost my passport, so am temporarily without identity, like Sandra Bullock in that film. 5 out of 10.
Review: CourtshipCourtship has rules: you have to declare it first, the UN needs to ratify it, and once you’re in it you shouldn’t use cluster bombs or landmines, because they might blow the limbs off innocent children. For some people, courtship is a walk in the park, even if it’s taking place in a bleak, icy wasteland where the only thing relieving the monotony is a crevasse in the ice into which you could fall at any moment. For others, courtship feels like a bleak, icy wasteland, pocked with crevasses into which either party might fall at any moment, even if actually all you’re doing is walking in the park, or having a pint in your local. Who am I, to explain the differences between these two groups? If I believed in God, which I do sometimes, I’d say he was spiteful and mean and this was his idea of a joke, cf Cain and Abel, Sodom and Gomorrah, etc. (There is so much evidence for the Spiteful God theory that I suspect that theology is a self-perpetuating industry, like lightbulb sales, deliberately designed to avoid the obvious solution.)
Courtship sprang up around the same time as Alexander Graham Bell invented the phone. The first sentence spoken over the phone was, “Mr Watson, come here, I want to see you.” Since then, nothing has changed among the monkeys, except that, metaphorically, Mr Watson and Mr Alexander Graham Bell are now engaging in a torrid relationship via text message. Now the most important detail to remember while courting someone is that you must never, under any circumstances, phone them, as this will make them think you’re overly keen and some kind of bunnyboiler. As long as you remember this, you’ll have a full and happy life – no relationships, perhaps, but a full and happy life.
Like relationships, courtships tend to be full of holes and kept buoyant only by hope. A successful courtship will eventually see the two (or more) participants boarding the HMS Relation, and sailing off into the sunset until the iceberg of death or boredom abruptly shipwrecks them. Meanwhile, unsuccessful courters wave from the docks, amid much wailing and gnashing of teeth. Never mind, kids! With the appropriate Security Council resolution, you too might board the ship one day.
Courtship: Alexander Graham Bell's wife was deaf. 7 out of 10.
Review: Dinner partiesThere is a difference between eating some food with some people, and meanwhile getting drunk, which is good, and having a dinner party, which is bad. I'm not sure exactly what the difference is, but I'd know it if I saw it.
The worst thing about dinner parties is the way people make orgasm noises to show their appreciation of the food, instead of just eating it. Makes me sick. I feel similarly about people who make loud, protracted orgasm noises during orgasm: they are trying far too hard, and the proof of this is that no one screams and wails like that when they are having quality time on their own with their right hand.
That isn’t actually the worst thing about dinner parties, though: I was being over-hasty, back there when I said that. The absolute worst thing is the mini-industry that has sprung up around the dinner party, with cookery schools and cooking holidays in Tuscany and bizarre foodstuffs like hazelnut oil and smoked pigeon, all of which exist purely for the purpose of impressing guests at dinner parties. If you are going to eat very expensive food, it should be in a hedonistic and mad way – perhaps taking off your clothes first and smearing sauce on your skin, that would be good – but actually dinner parties are very Blairite and Protestant.
I have been to a few dinner parties, even though I’m far too young for it, and they were terrible in principle even if they weren’t actually all that terrible. Normally, faced by a social situation I find morally reprehensible, I courageously drink a lot of wine very fast, which is unhelpful when there are a couple domestically abusing each other at the next table in a bar, but fine at dinner parties, where really the best thing to do is get dead drunk and then pass out under the table.
Dinner parties: Stop playing with your food, just eat it like a normal human being. 3 out of 10.
Review: CommentsHarry Hutton (the kind of man who, one day, with sufficient hormonal assistance, I hope to grow up to be) no longer allows comments on his blog. I’ve nicked the subject of this review from Hungbunny, which is artistically criminal, but that’s how the internet works: a big chamber of bollocks, floating around in the ether, rolling and bumping into each other and creating long chains of bollocks. Strange to think that, in the event of nuclear holocaust and the violent death of the human race, our bullshit will live on, circling cyberspace, waiting for the next intelligent species to develop the technology to re-access Hotmail.
This is not the point though. The point is: it’s quite impressive, isn’t it, to demand that no one comments on your blog. Very Marlene Dietrich. I hardly ever commented on Harry Hutton's blog anyway, because everyone there was always either exchanging facts about South American politics or talking about sleeping with underage prostitutes in Bangkok. I'm shamefully uninformed about one of these topics, and the other one makes me feel slightly nauseous, but you have to guess which is which.
I like getting comments, even the one from Rob ages ago about frigging muffs or something. My love of comments remained unshaken even when Hungbunny had a fit of paranoia a few weeks ago and accused me of deleting his comments. I think there should be a comments function on everything, including novels and strangers on the bus. You could write on people’s foreheads what you thought of them, and it wouldn’t even be hurtful because they wouldn’t be able to read it.
Comments: Maybe Harry Hutton is playing hard to get. 7 out of 10.
Review: FutilityMany of us work at the rockface of futility, chipping away at it day after day and then sticking the chips back on. Futility is now a major British industry, with an annual turnover of £3 billion.
It seems to me that…
Ah, what’s the point.
Futility: The engine behind several major technological advances. 3G mobiles, anyone? 2 out of 10.
Review: EnvyEnvy is a terrible thing. I know this because I’ve been going to hot yoga. After hot yoga, there are naked showers. And in the naked showers, there are women with beautifully landscaped pubic hair, like a small garden, and manicured toenails. We make polite conversation, us naked women, but you can tell people are distracted, secretly wondering, “Are her nipples better than mine?”
Envy is a speciality of egotists and narcissists – a single weak spot that highlights the vastness of the rest of the ego, like a sliver of moon. “Why do you have that thing,” says envy, in its nasty Rupert Everett voice, “when I want it and don't have it? Do you think you deserve it? Do you think you're better than me?” The envier’s view of the world is even more spectacularly irrigated with power and injustice than the paranoid’s. To the envious, there is a beauty pie, and an intelligence pie, and a success pie, and anyone doing particularly well for themselves is taking more than their fair share and should be punished, or at the very least become fat - morally, metaphysically fat.
Being a naturally envious person is like being naturally competitive, in the sense that it’s not a good idea to combine either character trait with laziness and incompetence. If I could be bothered to moisturise, diet, wax and pluck at the rate recommended by women’s magazines, I would be sleek and hairless as a seal all year round, and people would riot every time I took off my underwear. City centres would be laid waste. Government officials would visit and, shielding their eyes, would beg me to put my clothes back on. I would envy myself. I would implode, in a shower of beautiful limbs and bits of flesh.
Envy: Avoid it like the emotional Black Death it is. 1 out of 10
Review: GermansI met some German architects on Saturday. They were brilliant. We are planning to write a musical about a German architect who falls in love with an Indian girl, also an architect. Their mutual passion for Gothic towers is a catalyst for their love. But she is promised to another. It will be semi-autobiographical, and there will be a scene where someone bursts into a church (possibly a Hindu temple) to interrupt a wedding.
Well, this was nothing but drunken chat. But I’m full of a new respect for Germans. I lived with two German women, many years ago, and they were terrible. I was terrible too at the time – I was 18 and deranged by ballet – so it’s hard to see where the blame lies. Still, it’s time to let bygones be bygones. Let’s forgive the poor benighted Germans for all those complex issues surrounding the washing up and the cleaning rota. Let’s extend the hand of friendship, nation unto nation, and say as one: “I’m sorry me and my friends got drunk on absinthe in the living room when you were trying to sleep. Let’s write a musical and take it to Broadway, where the Americans live.”
Once you open your heart to the Germans, they can delight you with their use of the past continuous, eg: “David Haselhoff was being number one in the charts when the Berlin Wall fell, with a song that was being called Looking for Freedom.” They can tell you tales from a country in which the 80s were a time of political drama and transformation, rather than of political comedy and leggings.
Germans: Surprisingly excellent. 9 out of 10.
Review: O2Everyone knows that it’s humanity versus the mobile phone networks, but no one’s prepared to put their MoD where their mouth is and declare all-out war. I could respect a government that effected regime change in the dark and faraway country of the O2 boardroom, international law be damned. The public could really get behind that kind of illegal war.
O2 has taken to charging me sums of money that it has plucked out of thin air and disconnecting my phone at random, for the hell of it. Rather than link my charges to my calls, they employ shamanic soothsayers to go deep into the forest, drop acid, and emerge days later, hands aloft, crying, “Eskimo’s bill is £120.87!” What am I going to do about it? They’ve got my figurative balls in a vice: I’m an addict. I get twitchy if I can’t check my voicemail. I send text messages of such breathtaking inconsequentiality that they’re almost profound, eg: Hi! I'm on the bus. Just saw two pigeons having sex.
In my hour-long phone calls to O2, I’ve adopted the worst kind of relationship tactics: bursting into tears, threatening to leave, making spiteful little comments about how things were when we first met. All this is only occasionally effective: more often, the harassed call centre monkey explains, sounding affronted, that it’s not their fault. Whose fault is it? God’s? Should I treat my phone company like a powerful deity, cringing under its whimsical natural disasters and cravenly grateful for its occasional acts of munificence? Oh, wait, I already do.
O2: The devil is among us, but he’s going to have to put you on hold for a moment. 1 out of 10.
Review: IllnessIllness is caused by tiny microbes that live in the air and are full of malice and spite. Other causes of illness include staying out till all hours or putting on your coat indoors so you don’t feel the benefit when you go outside.
I always look forward to illness, imagining it as a rose-tinted paradise in which I’ll lie in bed, clear-skinned and glowing, while well-wishers bring me grapes, magazines and cups of tea. The real thing is disappointingly painful and boring, but that’s exactly the kind of selfish and feckless behaviour I've come to expect from reality.
I spent most of the weekend languishing in bed, too ill to do anything but watch romantic comedies, eat soup and dream mad, Nurofen-addled dreams of boiling Ethan Hawke to make stock. At this rate, if my ibuprofen dependency continues unchecked, I run the risk of turning into a poor man’s Pete Doherty.
My favourite onscreen depiction of illness is Jennifer Lopez’s aneurysm during childbirth in Jersey Girl. Her perfectly coiffed head tilts back, her eyes roll up, and she’s dead, leaving Ben Affleck to bring up his daughter with only his chin and Liv Tyler for company. Lopez has set the Beautiful Corpse bar higher. I too want to die in full make-up, if I have to die at all, which I am still uneasy about.
Illness: Not all I’d hoped for, but lucrative for pharmaceutical companies. 2 out of 10.
Some people, on being rejected, seek terrible vengeance. On principle, I approve of revenge, but I lack the organisational skills to carry it out. That bunny won't boil itself, you know.
Being rejected is a craft, but rejecting is an art form. Subtle approaches tend not to work: a sudden fierce interest in baby names or wedding dresses is deeply off-putting to the average man, but not to those who have already become morbidly attached. Another rejection red herring is attempting to stay friends: you are unlikely to have a beautiful, mutually enriching friendship with that special guy who’s taken to loitering outside your house with a camera phone in the hope of getting a picture so blurred that he can imagine it’s dirty.
The mark of a true homme/femme fatale is a finely honed disregard for the rejectee. Surveying the trail of broken hearts behind them, they might manage a thin sneer, like a general surveying the carnage of the battlefield after a decisive victory. My own technique is piss-poor in comparison, and involves expressing disbelief that anyone could be so lost to good taste and decency as to want to have sex with me. If you can’t be sophisticated, at least be kind. Failing that, a swift kick in the shins tends to work.
Rejection: Better than a kick in the teeth… oh no, wait… Very much like a kick in the teeth. 2 out of 10.
Review: ImmigrationTears sprang to my eyes this weekend as I watched yet another heart-wrenching documentary exposing the plight of immigrants desperately seeking a second home in the Loire valley, preferably for less than £120,000.
Later, on Sunday night, there was another one of those TV programmes in which a well-spoken, middle aged man wanders around the provinces asking ugly people earnest questions about immigration, in response to which they say things like, “Polish bus drivers: I won’t be having it.”
I suspect that these programmes are even cheaper than Channel 4’s interminable Top 100s.
My dad once had a lodger who was seeking asylum in the UK. He was supposed to stay two weeks and ended up staying six months, while my father and stepmother refurbished the house around him, too embarrassed to ask him to leave. He seemed happy enough amid the exposed wiring and brick dust, but then as my dad pointed out, short of simulating a miniature civil war in the living room, it would have been hard to create the kind of conditions that might compel him to leave the house.
Without immigration, this election would be the most boring since records began (although things are looking up since Charles Kennedy remembered Iraq), and we would basically have nothing to eat, as I realised the other day when trying to find an English restaurant in London. There are about two, perhaps, serving a variety of offal, and the rest are jumped-up greasy spoons serving bad pasta dishes.
Some of my best friends are immigrants, man: Americans, Canadians or Australians who came over with only a backpack to their name, fleeing parental oppression, clinging precariously to the luggage rack of a Boeing 767 as the BA air hostesses snarled nastily in their general direction. Welcome, friends, welcome!
Immigration: I demand more of it. 7 out of 10.
It’s best to view Silvio Berlusconi’s entire political career as a series of practical jokes. He’s turned the Italian media into a nationwide Forza Italia fan club with added nudity; he’s shrugged off the small matter of a few Swiss bank accounts; he’s had so much plastic surgery that his face is in a permanent wince.
Now he’s refusing to resign and reform his government, despite the collapse of his coalition. Instead, he wants a confidence vote. “Don’t look at the voters, look into my eyes…” The man is a genius. And I bet he’ll be so grateful to his parliamentary supporters that he’ll give them a nice gift in a lovely brown envelope.
Italian politics: Gets better when you realise it’s supposed to be funny. 7 out of 10.
Review: Other people's expectationsLook at that poor Paula Radcliffe, having to do a press conference every time she moves her bowels. That’s what comes of allowing other people to have expectations of you.
Expectations can beset a person on all sides: good expectations; bad expectations; the expectation that every time you open your mouth, the thin, grey dust of boredom will settle on everyone in the room. The expectation, for example, that just because someone has been running a major internet reviews publication, they will necessarily update it every day. Or even every week. Or ever again. In your face, internet fame.
There is some, minimal fun to be had with challenging expectations – anyone remember the 1980s playground classic, where you held out your hand for a high five, and then withdrew it sharply, while quoting MC Hammer’s seminal You Can’t Touch This? Those were the days. In the playgrounds of north London, my eleven-year-old sister tells me, they do a variant of this where you hold out your hand, saying “Friends?”, and then whisk it away, saying “Go get some.” Try it next time you have a business meeting, or drop in to collect your JSA.
One of my favourite ways of managing expectations is to say things like, "Well, sometimes I think I'm a psychopath" during the early stages of a friendship, so that, should any psychopathy arise at a later date, you can say "But I told you I was a psychopath!" in an aggrieved tone of voice.
Other people’s expectations: Better than when they can't remember your name. 6 out of 10.
Review: LyingLike George Washington, I am crap at lying. Not for moral reasons, but for reasons of incompetence. Still, this enables me to lord it over my morally dubious friends, who merrily lie away unhindered by guilt or helpless shiftiness while I loll about on the green grass of the moral high ground, eating the ice cream of righteousness.
I used to be better at lying: between the ages of 13 and 17, I spent a lot of my time impersonating an 18-year-old. At the time, I thought this was a brilliant success, but looking back I wonder if the city’s bouncers and barmen were more impressed by our fake IDs (constructed using a photocopier, Tippex and someone’s older brother’s driving license, and resembling nothing so much as a Blue Peter-inspired arts and crafts project gone horribly awry) or our Baby Slapper outfits. Those were the days, when a miniskirt and blue mascara seemed to scream maturity.
On a related note, I saw Abi Titmuss in a bar on Saturday, dancing among Sharon Osbourne impersonators. “Abi,” I said, “I really admire your work.” No I didn’t. See: a lie! Or a joke. Is a joke a lie?
In any case, my teens were my lying glory days. Now I just can’t do it. I can’t act either. I told an acting student this the other day, and he said, “It’s really easy. Just pretend you want this glass of water.” “But I don’t want it,” I said, baffled.
Back in the day, I had a mercifully brief “friendship” with a young man with an unhealthy fondness for Samuel Beckett, The Smiths and women’s clothing. I once told him he had hurt my feelings (by being a mental, but I didn’t mention that part). “That’s basically a lie,” he said. At the time, I found this monstrous, but looking back it seems quite funny.
Lying: An important social skill, but just not one I happen to be very good at. 4 out of 10.
Science review: ChaosChaos theory is where, if a butterfly flaps its wings in Somalia, I am 20 minutes late for work. An excellent excuse for when you next stagger into a meeting half an hour behind schedule and everyone's heads swivel around to judge you as a waster: it was the butterfly. Be careful, though: Pope John Paul II once said that excuses are worse than lies, as they are lies in disguise. I bet he was never late for meetings. Although now he is the late Pope.
I have welcomed chaos into my life. Right now, for example, I am hoping that writing this review will trigger a chain of events that will lead inexorably to my room packing itself up into boxes and transfering itself up Haverstock Hill by osmosis. (Osmosis is another popular scientific activity, fact fans.) And why not? Once you let go of your bourgeois expectations of causality, anything is possible.
To the irritation of efficient people, us chaotic people like to make a big fuss of our inability to do anything right or on time. Some people even go so far as to buy fridge magnets that say things like A Tidy Mind Is A Deranged Mind or You Don't Have To Be Incompetent To Work Here, But It Will Help You Make Friends Around The Office. I can see why this upsets organised people, but they should watch out: if they get too upset, they could become unbalanced and suddenly find themselves staring vacantly out of the window, thinking "It probably only takes about ten minutes to get from one side of London to the other... Oh, a squirrel".
Chaos: Scientists beware. 7 out of 10.
Review: JeansA good pair of jeans can bring dignity and honour to even the most threadbare of lives. A good pair of jeans can make you understand that the world is essentially benign, despite the human race’s fondness for whooping it up with bombs and instruments of torture. The search for decent jeans, as pointed out by an Australian I once knew, is a kind of lifelong grail quest, with moments of dizzy success (Miss Sixty Supertommy jeans, the Diesel shop in Covent Garden) alternating with tragedy (rips in the crotch).
Even the denim power suit (jeans and jeans jacket) can be made beautiful. If worn in the right way, it says to the world: “I am so crazily, disturbingly attractive that I can get away with wearing denim and denim. I could probably even get away with the beige culottes that Eskimo bought in a spirit of experimentation in Urban Outfitters, and now can’t bring herself to wear – that’s how beautiful I am.”
On the other hand, realising that you can only just squeeze into a pair of jeans that used to fit you perfectly is pretty high up the list of Worst Things (Trivial). It’s climbed up the charts since a close Eskimo affiliate introduced me to the phrase muffin tops, to describe the roll of fat that curves over the top of a girl’s too-tight jeans. Is that sexy hot? No it is not. But has the unexpected benefit of making it harder to sit around navelgazing.
Life trivia alert! I ordered a beautiful pair of jeans from Ebay a couple of weeks ago, at a fraction of their retail price of £130, and they are currently languishing in the post office, perhaps irretrievably. This is an excellent example of hubris, literature fans.
Jeans: Their slow progress towards world domination is hampered only by the equal and opposite force of the muffin top. 7 out of 10.
Well, I'm probably paraphrasing. But I do my best. Other times you miss people are: after you read their blog, when you see their name written down, when you eat something you once ate with them, and so on. God, the human brain is useless and defective. If only it were more like a machine.
Sometimes I miss the most unlikely people. On holiday somewhere, or walking down a street at night dodging the muggers and rapists (the urban version of gazelles versus lions), I'll suddenly think of someone I got drunk with back in, ooh, the late 90s. Or someone I barely know. But who, really, am I most likely to miss? The people I should miss the most are the people I'm most likely to see again.
The vast majority of the people you meet in your life you'll only meet once, or a few times. Even if you meet them every day in the kitchen making breakfast and in front of the TV every night, there's no guarantee you won't eventually lose touch. Best to get used to this missing thing. Maybe even learn to enjoy it.
Which reminds me: I don't like it when reviewers call something "unmissable". I don't need that kind of unnecessary pressure, life is hard enough as it is. The concept of unmissableness is one of the reasons I've never seen Pulp Fiction. Yeah, and I don't care either.
Missing people: Sometimes terrible, sometimes pleasantly bittersweet. 5 out of 10.
Review: WritingWriting: deeply abnormal. In a 1970s experiment, a group of psychiatrists pretended to be mad and were temporarily incarcerated in mental hospitals. One of them took extensive notes on his experiences during the course of the experiment. An unwitting doctor writing a report on the fake patient noted that he “exhibited writing behaviour”. (Similarly, I often exhibit fat behaviour… This joke is not only ancient, but stolen.)
Someone told me the other day that Dostoyevsky’s epilepsy produced the strange symptom of compulsive writing. Lucky Fyodor! Obsessive compulsive epileptics and talent are like monkeys and typewriters: given world enough and time, something coherent will emerge.
I, too, am like a monkey with a typewriter. The monkey represents my brain, and the typewriter also represents my brain. Writing is putting my brain in a room with my brain and hoping something will come of it. Nevertheless, I wouldn’t give it up, even if someone offered me a flat with a proper living room in return.
When writing, it’s important to remember that there’s no accounting for taste. Tolstoy, for example, thought Shakespeare was crap. Once, when Anton Chekhov was staying at his country house, Tolstoy accused Chekhov of being “even worse than Shakespeare”. Driving home in his horse-drawn buggy, Chekhov was suddenly seized with happiness, and cried up at the stars: “I am even worse than Shakespeare!” God damn it, I just love them Russians.
Writing: Making someone I've made up do some stuff I've made up, in order to inflict a series of made-up events on someone I haven't met. 8 out of 10.
The Bible is another important source of proverbs, as when a bush burst into flames in the wilderness and advised Moses, “What you lose on the swings, you win on the roundabouts.”
Many people believe that a judiciously applied proverb can help them win an argument, but they are wrong. What can sometimes work is saying something outrageous, but pretending you read it elsewhere, eg "I believe it was Oscar Wilde who observed that all people who wear lipliner are cunts" or "As far as household pets go, cats are better than dogs, as God said".Proverbs: They eat the bread of wickedness, and drink the wine of violence. 6 out of 10.
So, in the spirit of appreciating what we have, let’s spend today reflecting on how great it is not to be in prison. It’s been a close call: thank God I wasn’t born Muslim, or extremely poor. Thank God I don’t have a psychiatric illness, or terrible parents. Thanks, God, for not making me the underclass!
Still, at least prison is a brilliant deterrent, with a negligible 60% of prisoners reconvicted within two years of their release. Sometimes I’m so moved by the greatness of our great British criminal justice system, I get quite tearful.
Not being in prison: A Hungarian poet speaks: “I look down at my shoe and – there’s the lace! / This can’t be gaol then, can it, in that case.” 9 out of 10.
Review: EasterOnce again, Easter has come as a big surprise. I am glad of the extra day off, but remain unconvinced by the whole thing. Sources close to Eskimo tried to go to midnight mass for Good Friday, but couldn’t find one and ended up calling an ambulance instead. Sources even closer to Eskimo brought round a box of Cadbury’s Heroes and watched her select, unwrap and eat the best ones, telling her, “Why don’t you go on a diet? You’d lose those love handles in a week.”
Easter produces mixed feelings: joy, unease, even a little bit of sorrow. On the one hand, Eskimo’s people killed Jesus good and proper; on the other, he allegedly rose again three days later. Ancient Jews: you can’t live with them, you can’t live without them. Oh no, wait: you can live without them.
On a related note, a Radio 1 DJ was saying today that DIY is the main cause of serious injury on bank holiday Monday. I suggest staying away from that hammer and taking up heavy drinking instead. Jesus himself was a keen DIYer, as depicted in Mel Gibson’s The Passion of the Christ, in which the son of God invents the chair.
Easter: The crucifixion as a horrible DIY accident? Discuss. 5 out of 10.
Review: Being laidbackPeople have lots of smartarse ideas about what the most overrated virtue might be (see: the Weekend Guardian questionnaire), but they’re all wrong. It isn’t chastity, or patience, or punctuality. It’s being laidback.
Laidback people – especially people who use the word “chill” outside the context of wind tunnels or catching a cold – are selfishly stealing calm from others. There is nothing more likely to rile even an averagely engaged and non-laidback person than someone saying, “Oh, I am really laidback. I like to just chill at the weekends, I just take things as they come.”
These people should get a grip: they are worse than Buddhists. At least Buddhists understand that life is suffering. Chilled out people are exactly the type who give astonishingly insensitive advice like “Why don’t you just stop thinking about it?” or “Maybe it’s meant to be this way”. They are so accepting of everything, I start to think maybe they’re terribly depressed and hate being alive.
I like people who shout at the TV and cry about stupid things and have slightly embarrassing enthusiasms for animals or comic books or early 90s rave music. Lorrie Moore speaks: “Those were the kind of people she really liked: the kind you couldn’t really live with.”
Laidback people obviously never watch the news, or talk to anyone apart from their similarly delusional friends. If they did, they’d realise that the world is hardwired for disaster and quickly lose their insane composure. Their one clear advantage over non-laidback people is that you can insult them without fear of reprisal.
Being laidback: There's more to life than pretending you don't mind that there isn't more to life. 2 out of 10.
Review: Dieting“Low fat is for fat people” – Paris Hilton
I mentioned this to my mother, who doesn’t eat bread or potatoes and sometimes eats rice cakes with marmalade for breakfast. “She has a point,” she said.
Everyone knows that just thinking about being on a diet is enough to make you thinner. I am surprised I haven’t already lost a couple of stone just by thinking thin thoughts. I am not one of those people who wants to be thin “for myself”. I want to be thin for other people, so that they admire me and want to do me. If I were on a desert island, I would eat cream cakes, if I could find any. OK: if I were on a desert island with a patisserie, I would eat cream cakes. I would buy a big bag of cakes, eat some and set fire to the rest, so that passing ships would spot the smoke and rescue me.
As an incompetent dieter, I am caught between those people who look down on me for even trying – “ha, look at me, I eat hundreds of chips and can still wedge myself into these size eight jeans” – and people who look down on me for being crap at it – “ha, look at me, I eat nothing at all and can therefore wedge myself into these size eight jeans”. During my Thin Period a couple of years ago, everything went wrong when the bouncers at the club where I worked started buying me burgers. I’d tell them I was on a diet, and they’d look me up and down and say I didn’t need to diet. And I didn’t have the heart to tell them I looked like I didn’t need to diet as a result of careful dieting. Well, and I liked eating burgers.
The problem with dieting, as pointed out by Helen Fielding, is that you start to think that the optimum number of calories per day is zero and anything on top of that is just greed and lack of self-control. It’s like trying to play hard to get: you start to think that it’s best to show boys no affection whatsoever, so as not to seem weak, and then over several years work up to things like smiling thinly at them and letting them hold your cigarette while you take off your coat.
Dieting: If I read one more article about Polly Vernon’s anorexia, I will scream. 3 out of 10.
Review: The arrival of springAahaha fucking ace.
The arrival of spring: Aahaha fucking ace. 10 out of 10.
Review: PatriotismLike any right-thinking person, I understand that England is a desperately mediocre country where everyone is always either embarrassed or drunk. The main things this country has going for it are Topshop and my friends. But for some reason, in conversation with the Elephant Man, who is resolutely foreign, I find hidden reserves of patriotism I never knew I had. He makes some very good points – restaurants are expensive and bad here; everything closes early; people dress badly – to which all I have to say is “Italian pop music”. QED.
My grandfather and his brother have been doing some delving around in the family history recently – elderly people like this kind of thing, as they are running out of living people to be younger than. The key finding of these investigations, by their lights, is that their grandfather was in fact a naturalised British citizen, making the family “more British than Michael Howard”. How we celebrated.
I once went for an interview at the British Council for a job teaching English in Senegal. They asked how students overseas might perceive the English. Having spent a month teaching Spanish and Hungarian teenagers, I was prepared. “They think we’re all a bit gay,” I said. They asked me how I might overcome this “misconception”. I looked at them, perplexed. Their office is only ten minutes’ walk from Soho, for God’s sake.
They offered me a job in France, which I felt was missing the point slightly.
Patriotism: On the one hand, the Daily Mail; on the other, Marmite and cryptic crosswords. Still, best not to get overexcited. 4 out of 10.
Not content with dominating the world of consumer goods, advertising is gradually sucking everything into its gaping craw. There’s nothing, from AIDS to ziggurats, that can’t be used to sell the public a new car or innovative sanitary towel. And we suck it up greedily. “Ooh, I never knew I needed an iPod, because I never use a walkman or buy music, but now I’ve got one anyway. Sometimes I imagine myself in silhouette, dancing.”
Advertising and its evil sister, marketing, are the reason that going to the supermarket now feels like taking part in a boring game show rather than buying some food.
But I can’t help but feel a glimmer of respect for advertising, as its vast, slogan-bestrewn jackboot stamps repeatedly on my face. I often find myself staring, hypnotized, at the TV as a series of actors with Botox-severe faces wave products at me. At the cinema, overwhelmed by the sheer size of the ads, I’ve been known to grab the arm of the person sitting next to me and swear, with tears of rapture in my eyes, “I’ll buy it – whatever it is”, only to find that it’s an advert for something impossible like a credit card or flying business class.
Advertising: Sometimes depressing, but probably an inevitable by-product of civilization. 4 out of 10.
Review: Maternal impulsesOnce, tormented by a relentless onslaught of media-mother whingeing about the traumas of “juggling” a job and two children under the age of five (it’s all in the wrist), I asked my mother if having children really was the endless nightmare that mothers who write newspaper columns make it out to be. She thought about bit. “It’s quite tiring sometimes,” she said. That’s it.
I know a lot of people who claim not to like children, but they always have at least one exception to the rule. There’s nothing wrong with not wanting to have kids, but for the love of God don’t go on and on about not liking them. It’s like claiming that you don’t like adults, which is possible but smacks of psychopathic tendencies.
So I have no problem, in theory, with maternal impulses. I often experience them myself, but then I have to put them away in a box marked Unworkable. Children under five are particularly great: like little acid casualty mystics, but without the motor skills to make a peace sign.
My own mother has in the past said many brilliant, mad things such as “This is the kind of cinema a psychopath would attack in” and “The cat is deliberately shitting on the floor because she’s angry we made her infertile”. She also once phoned me to tell me that Rachel Stevens is Jewish, as if this meant that I too could join S Club. She stopped spitting on a tissue and then using it to clean my face a few years back, but I can tell she still wants to.
On a related note, there was once a lioness in Kenya who liked to adopt baby oryxes, which then got killed and eaten by other lions. And for all I know, she lives there to this day.
Maternal impulses: Useful in the wild, as long as you stick to your own species. 8 out of 10.
Review: Camera phonesThere is a Portrait setting on my phone, but it might as well say Crack Addict Effect, and the Night Vision setting is like seeing the world through a lens smeared with butter and tar. Basically, it is useless for any rational photographic purpose.
Still, camera phones have their uses. Following the appalling, tragic theft of Paris Hilton’s mobile, pictures stored on the phone were posted on the internet. The pictures were heart-warming: some were of Paris’s breasts, some were of her snogging a female friend, and some were of her making a Sexy Face by angling her head and pouting. Paris has finally made public what many of us have known in private for ages: the main function of the camera phone is narcissistic porn.
This is in the grand tradition of technological advance, which is as follows: someone invents a new thing, people start to use it, newspaper columnists hail the end of civilization as we know it, and finally people use it to broadcast nudey pictures and sell tat. Examples: the printing press, film, the internet. New technology never turns up new perversions; it just freshens them up and wraps them in different paper. “Thanks, science!” we say. Then: “Didn’t I get you this last year?”
Camera phones: Conspiracy theorists! Camera phone as covert surveillance equipment? Come up with your own conspiracy theory, though, because I can’t be bothered. 6 out of 10.
Review: PackagingIn the olden days, when you went shopping for, say, a saucepan, you would get just the saucepan. Then you’d carry it home in your basket. Now baskets have gone the way of all accessories: drained of usefulness, but worn decoratively by girls pretending to be Sienna Miller. And when you buy a saucepan it comes shrinkwrapped in plastic, swathed in tissue paper, inside a plastic ball inside which is a box inside which is a layer of bubblewrap.
When the planet is entirely made up of landfill, the oil has run out and we’re scratching around in unheated hovels worshipping the memory of electricity, we’ll regret that we screwed everything up for a few extra layers of packaging. Or maybe we won’t. Maybe we’ll think, “OK, so my circumstances aren’t so great now – but, man, that bubblewrap was really incredible!” Maybe the memory of the beauty of cardboard inserts will sustain us through the gradual decline of civilization.
I'm reminded of a scene in Serendipity (pleasant romantic comedy; don’t go out of your way) where Kate Beckinsale’s hideous jazz-flautist boyfriend presents her engagement ring in a series of ever-smaller boxes: boxes inside boxes inside boxes. “What a twat,” you think. And sure enough, you’re right. A brilliant piece of character development.
Packaging: Really unnecessary, and prevents things from fitting neatly inside your handbag. But good for things like raw chicken or filo pastry. 3 out of 10.
Review: Black people accepting OscarsPersonally, I can't act to save my life, so there are very good reasons why I should be prevented from playing the romantic lead in a charming Miramax feature. Nevertheless, it is horrible to endure Americans saying things like "Finally, black actors are getting some recognition", when the recognition they are talking about is Halle getting her baps out again for yet another treatise on US race relations, which are the only Hollywood films that black women are allowed to be in apart from when they're spouting psychobabble in nauseating "feelgood" family sagas, or adding ethnic texture in the background of a high school comedy.
It pained me to listen to Jamie Foxx (what is a foxx? is it like a sqqquirrel?) thank Sidney Poitier when accepting his Best Actor statuette. For what? Leave poor Sidney alone: he never asked for a Ray Charles biopic. Next year, I hope to see every white Oscar recipient invoke the great heritage of DW Griffith and Leni Riefenstahl, crying bittersweet tears as they recall the long lineage of white acting talent that went unrecognised, waiting tables in LA for years while a callous world stood by, and finally moving back to Ohio to teach grade school.
Black people accepting Oscars: A fun party game: name five black film directors, not including Spike Lee. 2 out of 10.
Crying is mildly shameful, pleasantly cathartic and best done alone - OK, so it's more than a little masturbatory. In recent years it's been taken as a sign that men are in touch with their Emotions, so you get interminable celebrity interviews in which an anodyne actor admits that he cried only two days ago, as if he should win a prize for it. Get you, Mr Actor: your job is only pretending to be someone else for a living, which is basically lying, so you can get off your high horse right now.
Men who cry for a proper reason like their wife leaving them or their dog dying are one thing, but men who cry about stupid things are deeply unnerving. You start thinking they're premenstrual, and then you remember that they have no womb. (Girls, please note: if you find yourself in front of a repeat of Men Behaving Badly, crying because of a certain tragic quality in Neil Morrissey's face, it's probably hormones and not existential angst. Existential angst has better taste in sitcoms.)
This year's Oscars was less of a fake crying jag than in previous years, but we still had to endure footage of Hilary Swank hyperventilating about trailer parks.
Crying: Fine for me, but if an actor does it, rescind their Oscar. 7 out of 10.