Thursday, June 28, 2007

Lily Gently Blessed Wednesday

Lily Allen is the pop star I wish I’d been – not that I ever was one, I hasten to add. I admit the sight of the refreshingly curvy fashion rebel in strapless fuchsia at Glastonbury on Saturday had me racing for the hairbrush. Yes, that was me quaffing Beaujolais whilst glued to BBC3, singing along to Smile. They don’t do live coverage of my living room so you’ll have to imagine. I warn you, it won’t be pretty.

I love Lily. She’s a genuine London gel with a right proper London accent (i.e. not one of these obscene trans-Atlantic drawls that kids have even if they don’t live within light years of the Trans-Atlantic – hello Sydney). It’s as if someone took thirty years of quintessential London sounds, threw them into a great big grubby old lentil-stained pot from a squat, sprinkled in a generous pinch of bouquet anarchy, had Bob Marley himself stir it up - and served it chilled. That's Lily.

I spent Sunday dancing around my study to YouTube clips of Lily at Glastonbury. Yes, she really was smoking on stage and drinking from a can of cider. How that took me back. Yes, she really did sing Gangster with Terry Hall and Lynval Golding. Terry’s worn well. He looks much better than he did in 1982 when I saw Fun Boy Three at The Venue. I remembered how much I’d liked The Specials for all the reasons I never took to Madness. There is brass and there is brass, jah get me?

By Monday, it was clear there was only one thing for it. At approximately 12.53 and 32 seconds, I exited HMV in Ilford with The Devil Wears Prada DVD – I had no choice, it was only £7 - and a copy of Lily Allen’s Alright, Still. I should have bought it as soon as I realised I was walking along the street singing along to Smile when it first came out. How thrilled London’s coolest gel would be at the thought of a badly aging matron such as moi-self purchasing her CD along with a Meryl Streep film and Pan’s Labyrinth (also £7 – telephone Mark Kermode at one’s adored BBC for explanation), I cannot imagine. My conscience is slightly assuaged by the sight of adolescents wearing T-shirts with Jimi Hendrix’s face stencilled on them. Cross-generational consternation can go either way, you know.

But how can I, or anyone for that matter, ignore a songwriter with the inventiveness to rhyme Tesco with al fresco, as Lily does in LDN,

There was a little old lady, who was walking down the road
She was struggling with bags from Tesco
There were people from the city having lunch in the park
I believe that it's called al fresco

Then a kid came along to offer a hand
But before she had time to accept it
hits her over the head, doesn't care if she's dead
Cause he's got all her jewellery and wallet

(In the London vernacular ‘accept it’ and ‘wallet’ are a perfect rhyme)

You might laugh you might frown
walking round London town

Sun is in the sky oh why oh why
Would I wanna be anywhere else

I hear that and I know that I will moan for at least two years about my estrangement from London when I relocate to rural Australia any minute now. This is what I will miss – not the little old ladies being mugged, obviously, but the inherent understanding and acceptance that London is and always has been a cruel city and that is what makes the rebellious amongst us so potent. A friend said to me today, ‘if you’re not living on the edge, you’re taking up too much space’. That’s LDN.

I love it. I’ll miss it more than I can even imagine right now…

Photo of Lily Allen at Glastonbury from

Monday, June 25, 2007

At last, someone worth voting for


I am coming to the end of my six week work stint and just about over the culture shock. The picture above is of my colleague Michelle Epstein who is a finalist in the ‘Council Worker of the Year Award’. I have to say the quality of the colleagues is a good deal higher than my usual. I wanted to tell you a bit about Michelle and how you can join in the fun of voting for her. You see, you don’t have to live in Redbridge or even Britain to vote. She would be delighted to get support from Abu Dhabi, Wollongong and Wheeling, West Virginia. You don’t have to know her either – you can just take my word for her general wonderfulness. My tastes in humankind, as you know, are impeccable.

Vote here, now.

Michelle is one of those refreshingly no nonsense action-type people that you sometimes think have been purged from local authorities along with the people who know how to buy the right kind of computers and speak in whole sentences. The faith agenda, I have mentioned before, leaves me cold. It often seems like a mechanism for re-empowering the oppressive religious interests that we spent the better part of the last century carefully unpicking from public functions, for very good reasons. But when Michelle facilitated the setting up of the Redbridge Faith Forum, it was with the intention it would contribute to debate about practical problems that affect people’s everyday lives. In 2005 the Faith Forum debated ‘God and Global Warming’. Now that is what I call pulling your weight.

That year, Michelle was diagnosed with breast cancer. She did the unthinkable and dared to defy doctors – choosing to refuse to continue with treatment she didn’t feel was making her better. Doctors don’t like to be disagreed with and were not best pleased, telling her ‘you will die’. She didn’t and she has been in remission for nearly two years now. One of the great and admirable things about Michelle is that she has faith in herself. She’s also incredibly superstitious – like me. Michelle even knows superstitions that not even I have heard of, like the one that says if you make a pronouncement and someone sneezes straight afterwards, it must be true. And here was me thinking I just know a lot of people with hay fever.

So, after six weeks of sitting in a lovely quiet office in a three star council, working with people who appear to be in possession of a full set of marbles and flitting off across the road to the Oxfam bookshop, (I know I said I don’t do shopping but books aren’t really shopping – they’re more like a permanent loan from the library), I’m ready to park some money in my dwindling account and get back to the serious business of getting this novel finished. For the first couple of weeks, I managed to rewrite a couple of pages a night but then I was writing reports during the day and I was more or less written out when I got home. All I could do was shuffle around the marshes and throw on a DVD in the last couple of weeks.

If this was my last working experience in England, and I’m fairly sure it will be, it has been positive. One council, I call it the London Borough of Towering Incompetence, I’ve worked at four times and each time they’ve managed to embroil me in a major corruption scandal. The first three times the main player was the same guy. This is over a ten year period. He’s in jail now. The last time they had me front a ‘community engagement’ project where I went out to some of the poorest people living in the most disgusting housing and promised them a token amount of money to spend on environmental improvements. After a couple of months, I worked out they hadn’t secured the money. Nasty. But then, I picked up a couple of good friends on that job – I always do. Even in the most desperately awful workplaces, you find nice people trying to do good things.

I’m glad I met Michelle and Roisin, Aslam, Numan, Tony, Mike, Tracey, Lin, Jackie, Carla, Sylvia, Colwyn, Kamlesh, Peter and Claire and, of course John, the lovely man whose seat I’ve been keeping warm for the last six weeks. Oh, and my friend John at the train station and Linda who brings around the tea trolley – yes they even have a tea trolley, and the lady at the Oxfam bookshop. It’s not so bad going to work. Of course, it’s much better not to and I’m quite looking forward to getting back to my life…

Photo from Redbridge Life

Thursday, June 21, 2007

Elegantly Dressed Intentions

My grandmother was a BAG – a born again God-botherer. That’s not her in the photo by the way. This week's ‘elegantly dressed’ photo comes courtesy of The Morrison County Historical Society’s library of unidentified photographs. I have seen my grandparents’ wedding photo. It’s not dissimilar to this one. When we were young, my sister and I used to spend holidays with our grandparents in the country. The photo box was one of my favourite play things – neck and neck with my grandfather’s comprehensive collection of Disney comics – yes, this is how I know so much about Gladstone Gander, Gyro Gearloose and of course, the PM in waiting’s doppelganger, Scrooge McDuck.

‘Grandy’, as we children called him, was a Scot named Donald from the clan Campbell. ‘Mimi’, our grandmother, was second generation Australian from an English Navy family. They got married in 1928 – she in flapper frills and he in his Navy uniform. The photos of that wedding are as much a part of my childhood as gherkin and cheese chunks on sticks and creaming soda. But I don’t know where those photos are. One of my cousins will have them and they’ll show up somewhere, eventually. Meanwhile, I present an entirely different family’s ancestors’ wedding for your enjoyment. The unidentified photos from Morrison County were undoubtedly gleaned from a post-purchase loft sweep by new owners. Honestly, the things I’ve found (and left) in lofts would turn a museum’s toes purple.

One of my most noble intentions is to be a proper historian of my own experience, which is why I’ve always kept diaries. Recently, I’ve been presented with a challenge in that respect. The past filtered through the prism of the present doesn’t seem to work, please correct me if I'm wrong. I could tell you the lovely sepia-toned picture above was of my own dear grandparents. What would it matter to you if it wasn’t them? You wouldn’t care. It would be like a Disney ride through my life. We’re used to seeing ancestor pictures and accepting them at face value. We’re also used to visual representations that aren’t necessarily accurate. I absolutely don’t have a problem with that - unless I was trying to tell you that the people represented above are your grandparents. That would obviously be very nasty.

OK. So I know I need to go somewhere logical with this - hopefully, it is expected of me. To be honest, I can’t say that much about what is happening right now. I can only relate it to the great dilemma of my life – which is:-

The very second I publicly pledge to never, ever again be the ham in an ideological sandwich, an unswervable challenge arrives addressed to Miss Piggy from Two Slices of Bread.

I’ll keep you posted – yeah, right...

Picture from

Saturday, June 16, 2007

A Coat Before Dying

This time last Friday I was hurtling across London in the tube like a right proper commuter drone with my visiting best friend Jo tucked under my arm for safety (hers, not mine) when a couple of stage kids from the Italia Conti School got on and pleaded with us in their best little Oliver! voices to vote for Lewis and Danny. Not that reinforcing the message was necessary, but they shoved photocopied leaflets under the work-glazed eyes of a full tube carriage and pleaded some more. It's remarkable just how stage-kiddy stage kids look, like they were re-moulded from melted down waxworks of Bonnie Langford.

Jo was nonplussed when I carefully explained our unique method of casting musicals, which is to scour the country for people who can neither act nor dance but can sing a bit and put them on television for months on end and have them bleat cabaret and pop songs for which they have neither aptitude nor motivation week after week to Andrew Lloyd Webber’s Spitting Image puppet. That’s a story in itself. You see, they were having a bit of a clear-out at one’s adored BBC when someone came across the long abandoned puppet and also a vintage Kermit the Frog. Both had frankly seen better days but, ever keen to get value for money for us out of our mandatory licence fee, those clever BBC folk got out the sewing kit and transformed musty old Kermit into something they christened Graham Norton. Unfortunately, the budget didn’t stretch to, err, stretchy sewing thread so there isn’t much movement in the faces of either, probably just as well really.

Any road up, having done such a marvellous job of re-leasing life to these moth banquets, our intrepid BBC set itself the seemingly insurmountable challenge of building a show around them. Luckily they also had one John “Barrowboy” Barrowman lolling about. His disconcertingly shiny face, I explained to Jo, is due to the many skin grafts needed after he barely survived the self-immolation that was Torchwood. If ever there was a need for eye candy, or even someone who looked vaguely human, it was prevalent in Any Dream Will Do, the quest to find a star for Joseph etc, the Lloyd Webber musical immortalised by the legendary Jason Donovan and then some by the unforgettable Donny Osmond. (I’m not sure it’s possible to improve on ‘immortal’ – any Highlander fans out there? Your expert opinion would be welcome).

Step up to the diamante plate Denise Van Outen, fresh from standing in for Ellen DeGeneres's current significant accessory Portia de Rossi (or plain old Mandy Rogers to most of us). Denise was keen to get a word in edgewise after her stint with the velvet-jacketed motor-mouth. Unfortunately she was parked alongside the Barrowboy, so any hope of being heard was dashed before the red light even went on. Happily, she had her grand-dad sat next to her for the whole season. I can only assume they came as a package and were able to comfort each other in some way that only theatre folk understand. It was a national blessing, if not a miracle, that the Barrowboy managed to complete a whole TV show without succumbing to the compulsion to stick his tongue down the throat of everything that happened into his line of vision. It's nice to know that the broadcasting regulator is at least alive and well and not having a relationship with Barrowboy.

Jo informed me that in Sydney they still cast theatrical productions in the old fashioned way – read not innovative, now or modern or now – sorry – I said now already. Can I really go back and live there? After all, I’m used to the wonderfully chaotic way in which we do everything in Britain. Apparently, what they do if they want to put on a musical in Australia, is ask all the actors who’ve done one before and are not doing anything at the moment, if they’d like to be in a show and get paid and invite them to come along and do a thing called ‘an audition’. This takes up very little of their precious unpaid time, involves no obvious torture to their precious unpaid bodies and doesn’t require the entire country to witness said unpaid torture and make a decision on something about which they know absolutely nothing. I have to say, where is the fun in that?

So there we were on the Circle Line at peak hour on a Friday, with two stage school kids shrieking the following,

‘Vote for Lewis – he’s really talented and he goes to our school.’

‘Vote for Danny – he’s really talented and he goes to our school.’

Clearly, script writing is not taught at the Italia Conti School, more’s the pity. Mercifully, we zoomed into Liverpool Street just as our Hogwartian hopefuls reached fever pitch. As we struggled past them I declared,

‘I’m for Lee.’

All right, already. I did watch a bit of it. Lead stage kid replied,

“He shouldn’t even be in it. He’s a professional.”

Well, quite right too. Certainly the last thing I would ever, ever in the world want to do is pay £60 to sit in a theatre and watch a performance by someone who had been trained to entertain people and had considerable experience in doing so. How positively gauche would that be?

As we alighted from the train at Liverpool Street, I remarked to Jo,

“Welcome to my country. My hovercraft is full of eels.”

PS : Congratulations to Lee Mead – the professional actor who eventually won the part of Joseph.

PPS : Great news for TV Licence payers - the Lloyd Webber puppet has since been hired out to ITV where it has been festooned with crucifixes and turned into something called a 'David Gest'.

Picture : The Kiss by Gustav Klimt

Saturday, June 09, 2007

Pants a loon

Today I can be totally lazy because my thoughts on thirty things are published on the wonderful


Read, enjoy.



Art by the magnificent Leunig

Thursday, June 07, 2007

Elegantly Best Friends

Few things are as annoying and saddening as to read in one’s beloved Guardian that,

‘Close friendships among teenagers appear to be declining, according to research showing today's 16-year-olds are less likely than their counterparts 20 years ago to have a best friend they can trust.

This is the conclusion of a study submitted to the Good Childhood Inquiry this week. The inference drawn by almost everyone is that children aren’t developing proper social skills, or physical fitness for that matter, because some paranoid parents won’t allow them out to play with other children. The continuing high profile of the disappearance of four year-old Madeleine McCann has kept the alarm about children's safety at fever pitch. The McCanns have their own reasons for wanting to kept their missing daughter’s photos on the front pages and have proved very adept at it. I am not saying they are wrong to do anything they can to enhance the little girl’s chances of being recognised, but there is damage being done out there. Parents are terrified of letting their children out alone.

That said, I would like to present the case for sensible child supervision, not that I know anything about rearing children mind, but it’s never stopped me weighing in before. Last summer my sister Cass and her then nine-year old daughter Ruben came to stay. As you know, I live in Hackney, ostensibly the worst place in Britain. I’ve mentioned before that all the children and young people, (of which there are many), in my neighbourhood are lovely and gorgeous and I just don’t get this fear of youth thing.

Well, Ruben was only cooped up in my flat with me and her mum for five minutes before she was itching to get out. I don’t think she’d ever been in a flat before, and although Cass and I regard ourselves as cool and bohemian, we are ancient by nine-year old standards. Fortunately I was on nodding acquaintance with a few of the local kids. They all looked bigger than Ruben but I went out and located Shakira and Alberta (pictured above with Ruben) who were hanging out in one of the closes. It was about six in the evening. I asked them if they’d like to come up to meet Ruben.

The first ten minutes with the three of them sat in my living room with Cass and me there as well were a little awkward but only about three questions were necessary before they established common ground. Cass and I made a quick exit to the kitchen – me to a gin and tonic, she to a nice cup of English tea. After about half an hour Ruben popped her head around the door and asked if she could go out to play with the girls. Cass looked at me. I made an executive decision. Of course it was fine for my niece whom I love and adore; who is from the Sunshine Coast in Australia; who has no London-style street wisdom whatever; to go outside at six-thirty in the evening. I asked her to come back in an hour for tea. I did think, if it doesn’t go well, at least she’s got the excuse that she’s got to go home. I also asked the girls not to leave the estate.

Half an hour later I looked out of my kitchen window and there the three of them were in the park across the road, turning cartwheels. It was all fine. Ruben did come back around an hour later for her tea and, half an hour after that Shakira and Alberta buzzed to see if she could come out again. And that’s how it went. Every night she was in London, Ruben went out to play with her new friends and many others that she met too. She was told to come home before it got dark – and she always did. She’s a good kid. I might get a barrage of emails saying 'how could you have taken such a chance, could you ever have forgiven yourself if something had happened to her?' Well, no, I couldn't have. But neither could I have forgiven myself if she'd come to me in ten years time and said, 'I can't believe that there were all those kids where you lived in London and you didn't even let me go and meet them'.

That was a year ago. Last night I stumbled back from my elderly jog around Hackney Marshes to find Shakira and Alberta hanging out along the towpath. They were excited because they’d had an MSN with Ruben in the morning. They still don’t quite understand about the time difference and that she lives so far away and they wonder when she’s coming back. Later, around nine, I looked out the kitchen window and the girls were playing basketball in the carpark with two black boys and a white girl. I watched them for ages because it was such a joy. They didn’t hit any cars with their ball, or have a fight about whose turn it was and they were all just as skilled as each other, and the laughter… Memo from me to ‘community cohesion’ policy wonkettes down at Whitehall – come down to Hackney, we’ll show you how normal ‘people from different backgrounds get on well together’.

Speaking of best friends, my own best friend Jo is coming from Australia on Friday. Better go and wash the sheets then…

Photo by Me or maybe it was Cass

Tuesday, June 05, 2007

How Logo Can You Go?

If words didn't actually fail me, the ones 'that's so pants' would spring immediately to mind. This is either the worst joke since we won the Olympic bid (oh frith, let that be a horrible dream), or this is the really, truly and final (you can all go fuck yourselves if you don't like it), set in stone, or indeed Photoshop, logo for the London Olympics.

I could say I don't think SebCo is necessarily mandatory but what difference would it make? Would it really look any better without him?

Is it just me or does it spell ZOK? You know, ZOK as in Batman - ZOK, BAM, KAPPOW?

I believe The Claw has chosen me for the beach volleyball team. I knew my chance would come one day...

Photo from

Sunday, June 03, 2007

Owly Lone

200th Post!

Back in October, I revealed that I had purchased at great expense, a hypo-allergenic owly cat called Barney. He has the body of a cat and the head of an owl and was especially designed to meet my personal lifestyle needs. I wanted company but didn’t necessarily want an active relationship with that company, if you see what I mean. I could have gone out and got a slothful, disinterested boyfriend as there seem to be plenty of those out there. It would have been cheaper but I still wanted the sofa to myself. Barney has been the perfect companion as he lives in the loft and I only ever run across him occasionally in the kitchen when he is fixing himself a smoked salmon sandwich and a saucer of Rachel’s organic semi-skimmed milk. He is a bit jowly, even for an owly.

Now the flat is sold, incredibly to a man called Barney. What are the chances of that happening? I am faced with a dilemma. I have asked Barney (the owly cat, not the man), if he wants to come to Australia but he has said he prefers to stay put. This is a trifle annoying as I have gone to a lot of trouble to get permission for him to immigrate to Australia. It’s a very strict country when it comes to imported wildlife so why they let Leo Sayer live there is anyone’s guess. The Australian authorities were very impressed with Barney’s hypo-allergenic status and as his DNA is predominantly feline, I have been able to get him classed as an exotic breed of cat which means that he would only have to spend six years in quarantine and be sprayed with triple strength DDT three times a day. Small price to pay for a simple tax system, I think.

Barney has pointed out to me that he neither pays taxes (hypo-allergenic hybrid pets are tax exempt, which is worth bearing in mind if you are put off by the US$4,000 price tag), and he has no desire to spend six of his nine lives in prison being poisoned. Leaving aside the slur on my native country’s paranoia about protecting its unique nativeness to the point of causing permanent insult to the rest of the world, I find his attitude thoroughly disingenuous. It is true that there is still some dispute about how many lives Barney is entitled to. People wonder why I get so annoyed with British officialdom. Here is a classic case in point.

The Department for Animals and other Furry Things (DAFT), which is responsible for the classification of genetically engineered pets, originally ruled that Barney was only entitled to 4.5 lives as he was only half cat. Barney’s fear is that if this ruling stands, he’d have to spend one and a half years of his afterlife in quarantine as well as his whole earthly one, and he really doesn’t want to do that. He has heard that in cat heaven there are smoked salmon the size of killer whales and Rachel herself pours the organic milk into your saucer. I am hoping to have the ruling overturned on appeal on the grounds that, not only is Barney’s DNA predominantly feline, but he has the wisdom of an owl. Theoretically, this superior reasoning would prevent him from doing a lot of the crazy things cats do to endanger their lives in the first place which is why they need so many of them. He ought to be entitled to at least nine lives, if not twelve. I think if I could get him twelve, that would swing it.

The worst case scenario has to be considered. I can’t really let him go in the woods, although that is tempting, especially in the light of his present intransigence. The cat part of him might turn feral and remember that, in the wild, he would eat birds and then he might devour his own head. It would be cruel to let that happen (although rather fun to watch, I imagine). I tried putting him on e-Bay but the fashion for fake fur has waned with everyone now wanting the real thing again. I got no bids at all for him but I did get an offer from Springwatch for just his head. Unfortunately it was was not enough to justify shredding the last of my morals.

In the final analysis, I think the best solution is to include him in the sale. I have a form to fill out which describes everything in the flat that stays behind after I have taken out all my personal possessions. This form is so long, I doubt that anyone is going to read all the way through it. I suppose there are some unscrupulous people out there who might take out the bath and sell off the roof tiles separately but it seems unlikely. Anyway, I might slot him in between the light switches and the door knobs and hope no one looks too closely. The new owner might wonder for a while why his milk and smoked salmon keep disappearing from the fridge and why there is a funny hoot-meow sound every time someone says his name, but I expect he’ll get used to it…

Original picture from