Thursday, May 20, 2004

I've never really had truck with people who are coy about telling you their real age. I'm 40, coming up to 41, there you go. Not admitting your real age is ridiculous enough if you're one of the handful of people who's pictured falling out of a nightclub on the 3 AM Girls page. How vain do you have to be in the Real World to be self conscious about your age?

There are a few surefire ways of telling how old someone really is. One is the "celebrity hairdresser" strategy, but you'll have to resort to cutting your own hair - possibly a slightly drastic way of finding out if your so-called friend is really 29, but pretty reliable. If they remark "ooh, you could be the new Vidal Sassoon!" - you'll immediately know that they're in their 50's or 60's. "Ooh, you could be the new Nicky Clarke!" suggests someone in their 20's/30's, and anyone who says "ooh, you could be the new Teasy Weasy!" is obviously sitting in a bathchair in a residential home.

To decide, though, if you or someone else is Part Of The Future or Part Of The Past, is pretty straightforward. If you/they can remember when Abba won the Eurovision Song Contest, you/they are past it, basically.

Although their win is looked back on with nostalgic fondness, as far as this past-it individual remembers, Eurovision has always been considered an abomination. Despite the idea of it being a televisual union of European communities and their different cultures, there has always been cynicism about it - even back in the innocent 1970's.

As for this day and age, I can't remember the last time I spoke to anyone else who admits to watching it, even though somebody must. Although viewing figures are down on
years gone by, it still plods on into a new millennium.

Problem is , everyone in Britain involved in Eurovision seems to think It Could Be So Much More. The British just don't want to enter into the daft spirit of things, as if it is somehow beneath us. Even Terry Wogan (not even British, usually fairly witty) now counters his usual mockery with exasperation, as if things are just not serious enough. This year's final saw him endlessy berating the voters (yes, the general public, the great unwashed). Because they were giving top marks to neighbouring countries, he implied there was some kind of sinister political motive behind it. Merely the fact that people tend to prefer familiar sounding music, by someone singing in the same language, more like. Funnily enough, Terry didn't complain about the mutual British/Irish backsplapping. Guess what, our voters like adequate joyless ballads performed by blokes whose ambition is probably to have a long run in "Joseph And His Amazing Technicolor Yawn".

Wogan's other gripe was the quality of the music. In his world, anything silly, dancey or involving poncey costumes was Bad. Any "professional", "heartfelt" ballad by a drably dressed solo performer was The Business. Hence his liking for Britain, Ireland and Cyprus, whose performer was a 16 year old girl, going on 35, from Gillingham.

Mind, Terry is a bit full of himself, and with good reason. He has a powerful influence on album sales, with his promotion of the youthful likes of Katie Mellua and Jamie Cullum, who sell cd's in their bucketloads. It's not even music your parents would like, if they spent their teens scowling to Public Image Limited. It's music your great grandparents would like. It can only be a matter of time before the ultimate Real Music Star With A Twist arrives - 17 year old Josh, complete with waxed up hairdo. "For me, Matt Monro will always be The King, The Master. I can't stand all this modern thump, thump, thump. It's not singing, it's shouting. You can't tell the boys from the girls with all that long hair, either. I tell you though, I'd love to work with Kanye West, he's the bomb, man - total props to the guy!"

All in all, Eurovision this year was the usual barmy spectacle to accompany getting drunk to. Surprisingly, our favourite, the mournfully ethnic Serbia and Montenegro song, was runner up, and the Ukrainian entry (Duran Duran's "Wildboys" but less rubbish) was a perfectly acceptable winner. Neither was liked by Wogan, of course. We were also rooting for the Icelandic bloke, on the verge of spontaneously combusting due to his vocal histrionics, and the Poles, the Poles ... only on Eurovision would you see a man dressed as Hamlet accompanying a stout legged woman singing like the frontman from Blood Sweat and Tears, encouraging you to poke her all over (erm ... I think). They didn't do so well, and Britain's nonentity James Fox (clad in a Paul Calf suit) got rather too many votes for our liking. Still, the presenters, from Turkey via Transylvania, were up to the usual bizarre standards, and Eurovision will no doubt go on and on, until the end of the world. Which will probably be in a couple of years time anyway.

Thursday, May 13, 2004

My weekly plough through the Guardian recently reminded me that the new columnist in the Weekend section is fairly annoying in a thoroughly middle class way. In this particular column, she was complaining about her children's outlook on life and then came full circle by feeling guilty herself about having moved them to a presumably dung-infested corner of Suffolk where they were unable to have any fun or commune with anything other than the occasional sheep. Apparently she had been driving her kids through a ghastly common person's estate when they commented on how "cool" it was that children were playing out in the street and were seemingly enjoying themselves. Madam had difficulty in restraining herself from saying that her children should be made of finer stuff and would as a matter of course develop Good Taste.

At one point she disparagingly used the expression "boxy newbuilds". Hah! Even as a Wimpey Estate dweller, I didn't take offence. Oh no. Mainly because I find hilarious the middle class preoccupation with paying way over the odds for a big, drafty house riddled with woodworm, damp and "real individuality, unlike those characterless new estates which are going up everywhere, usually on some greenbelt land which should be left well alone". Almost as funny as the insistence of such people that on holiday they are "travellers" rather than "tourists". It seems that everyone loves to have a pop at anyone in the social class one or two rungs down from them: perhaps people think "there by the grace of God - fortunately, due to my intelligence, tenacity and Good Taste, I have escaped such an awful fate!". Yes, how awful in the scheme of things to run a double glazing business, or to be a woman wearing a pink velour tracksuit.

Similarly, the often heard opinion of your "decent, law abiding, hard-working, taxpaying" end of the working and lower middle classes is turned against Single Mothers On Benefits who've Had It Too Easy. Or the unknown quantity of east Europeans who are allegedly about to swamp Britain with their savage unEnglish ways. Presumably, it's only when you are at the very bottom of the heap that you can find no-one else to kick.

It's pretty common knowledge that there's always somebody worse off than you. Whether they want to admit it or not, most people would take just as much comfort from the fact that there's always somebody with much worse taste than you.

Monday, May 10, 2004

Unconfined utility room joy ... Shane Richie has just won best actor at this year's Soap Awards. "Eastenders" always seems to be the most popular soap down in the cockerny smoke. Perhaps there is much to be gained from watching the constant stream of miserable ashen faced women, useless gangsters, crap dialogue and unremitting grimness which constitutes the average episode; one viewing every 10 months or so is enough for me, and keeps me up with the storylines. I can only imagine that in such a murky setting, Shane Richie's Alfie Moon must stand out like a little ray of, ahem, moonshine.

His receiving the award has, however, reminded me to obtain a copy of his autobiography, preferably by foul means, or at least by borrowing it from the library. Paying for it would, of course, be beyond the pale. I was moved when seeing that a copy had been kindly 'donated' by a customer while I was in a Canterbury charity shop. It had been left sneakily on the counter, the customer obviously too ashamed to admit to owning it.

The highlights of "From Rags To Richie!!!!" were serialized in a national newspaper before Christmas and seemed so ... impressive. Well, from what I remember of them - they may have taken on a rose tinted sheen since, so bear with me as I precis a couple of the stories.

Apparently, Shane was born Neil Nigel Neville Richie in London's own cockney east end slums in 1932. Times were tough, but were the making of the young would-be Shane. He was booted out of home at the age of eleven after announcing he was going to be a song-and-dance man. "No son of mine is going to be a bleedin' fairy" raged his rag-and-bone-man father, throwing him out of a fourth storey window.

Anyway, moving swiftly on to the early 1980's, when Shane was by now a Butlin's Redcoat. He took great pride in recalling having been 'taken' by 26 young women one night in a chalet (a great feat of engineering that they all fitted in there, as it were). Perhaps he took advantage of his slight resemblance, in a poor light, to the 'Welsh Elvis Presley' Shaking Stevens, then causing a sensation everywhere with his "Green Door".

Really, if I'd remembered more, I could've gone on and on about what is sure to be a real page turner. But is what I've remembered anywhere near the real story? Shane's life seems more far-fetched than an "Eastenders" plot ... but possibly my mind has embellished facts, as it tends to do more frequently as the years go by.

Time to put the kettle on.

Sunday, May 02, 2004

Out here on the perimeters of the commuter belt, we is not, as the dead rock and roll wildman Jim Morrison may have put it, stoned, immaculate. Mind you, there are advantages to living in the middle of nowhere, the foremost of which is that you can be fairly anonymous ... unless elderly people move into the area.

The elderly grew up when there was a sense of community (supposedly) and everyone knew everyone else's business. This would give them the opportunity to take the moral high ground, something which they try to maintain in the modern world, despite its cold indifference. Should you happen to bump into them by accident they may well start conversations with you about the state of the paths or roads. The best way to avoid the elderly is by not "popping out" to the shops at the same time as them: fairly easily done as they prefer to go out to the newsagent at 6.30 in the morning. I am convinced that postmen's rounds now seem to start later in the morning as a response to being confronted by the elderly attempting to discuss bumps on the roads, and how as a postman it must present problems for them as cyclists. Still, not to present too negative a picture of those of advanced years: apart from the fact that they have to put up with their selfish offspring farming their brats out to them as often as possible ("it keeps mum and dad young, babysitting!") they are reliable in some ways. Foremost of these is in relation to any building sites which suddenly appear locally. Ask a pensioner what's happening and they will furnish you with all the details of whether it's a new business, or worse, a pub, and when the completion date is due. Still, best not to be too critical. Becoming elderly is a path we all have to tread. It's also a state of mind.

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