Friday, 29 August 2014

Beard Vs Beard

Oh BBC 1, what have you done? Why would you do this to us? You've taken something that was so cuddly and squishy and comforting and lovely and you've spaffed globs of sticky gunk all over it.

I have loved Great British Bake Off since the first series. It's my ideal comfort telly. I don't really know why, but it's made me quite gleeful over the years. I blogged about it  last year . It's A Thing.

It was there on BBC 2, where all the best programmes are, and then by Series 2 its fame had spread and people were rediscovering the utter joy that is Mel and Sue (LOVE THEM), and discovering Mary Berry (who I'm pretty sure, at this point, is a Replicant) and the mahogany love god that is Paul.

A simple formula, some lovely people, a nice supportive kind of atmos, shots of sheep and squirrels, cakes and actually talented contestants and BAM, there it was. All nice and perfectly baked.

There were shades of manipulation last year with the whole backlash against Ruby (whose main crime was being very young and very pretty as far as I recall) and the encouraging casting of Kimberley as the villain. Custardgate was the first time that a contestant actually interfered with someone else's stuff but it was so obviously mortifying for the culprit and the victim was ever so English about it and thus it passed as a mere blip on the radar.

And then in 2014, Bake Off moves to BBC 1. Not four episodes in and we have TRAUMA. We have someone - brace yourself - walking out of the tent. Actually stropping out of the bake off tent. Have you ever? I have never seen the like. And not only that but the purported reason ginger beard man stropped out was because an old lady apparently decided to sabotage his bake. She decided to do it openly, BRAZENLY and in full view of everyone. So much in full view that Nancy could easily have been implicated as much as her. Of whom do I speak? Of one Diana Beard, that's who.

She's an assassin no doubt. Possibly a plant. I think it was most likely a conspiracy from start to finish. Her with her nervous expression and tear rimmed eyes. Never have I seen such an outright cheat. I'm gunning for her to be the first person on the scaffold when they bring back hanging, personally. Although that's possibly too good for her.

And what did Mrs Beard do? She blatantly and without remorse, y'r honour, removed Ginger Beard's ice cream from said freezer and left it out of said freezer while putting her own in said freezer, guv'nor. Ginger Beard was unhappy with this development and threw his pudding in the bin before deliberately and dramatically walking out of said tent.

Why, you ask? Well, his ice cream had melted and he deemed it to be a bit of a pointless venture.

Weirdly, nothing was said but Mary Berry nearly EXPLODED with passive aggressive jibes (against Ginger Beard) during judging. She praised Chetna for not stropping out like a giant toddler because her ice cream had melted too. Paul made Ginger Beard approach the judging altar on his knees, whipping himself as Jesus did on the way to the cross (did he? That doesn't sound right, but I've only got the Passion of the Christ to go on so it was probably the Jews what done it) while humiliatingly bringing his bin up to be 'judged'.

In this not at all staged episode we witnessed the crappiness of editing in full force. I think they stitched Diana up like a kipper rolled in marzipan and I also think they did Ginger Beard dude a massive disservice by booting him.

What they could have done (and have done before) is not boot anyone because of all the weirdness and boot two next week. Or actually chuck Norman out because, although I adore him rather much, he is a bit shit. But what they actually did was leave it all ambivalent while giving us the obvious nod to blame Diana and basically stir the pudding nice and thoroughly. Hence the world and its wife losing their shit and Diana being abused to fuckery on Twitter and every other website.

I thought that Beardy Ginge acted like a bit of tit. I understand it because I would almost definitely have done the same thing because I have a terrible temper and am not very good at all at dealing with things when things don't go my way. I got refused a mortgage the other day and practically stamped my foot and screamed until I was sick. So I do get it. But for fuck's sake, man.

Diana has now left as well (the BEEB says it's because she got ill but we all know she's in a safehouse) and basically it's all turned into an episode of TOWIE vs Geordie Shore and I am rather Outraged of Seaview about it.

It better get back to normal from now on or I may be forced into writing several very strongly worded letters to the BBC.

And remember, in the battle of Beard Vs Beard, NO ONE WINS.

Wednesday, 27 August 2014

ICE, ICE, baby

I've been experiencing all sorts of ups and downs when it comes to this Ice Bucket thing.

When I first saw celebs doing it, I thought oh, you narcissistic twats, what's this then. I had to ask someone what the fook it was all about. And then I had to look up ALS. So I guess, from that point of view, it worked to raise my pitiful awareness.

It was originally a thing where you donate money OR you take the ice bucket challenge so I was very confused as to why people were just doing the ice thing anyway. But then it was celebs so that makes sense. We, the sheep proletariat, are preprogrammed to have an orgasm every time a celeb does anything wacky or zany and then we share it on social media and then we have a giant circle jerk where we tell each other how awesome we all because we care. How do we know we care? Because we SHARED.

And then everyone in the world started doing it and my feed, so carefully cultivated to only follow the choicest cuts of friend news, has been deluged in buckets of bullshit. And THEN I thought oh dear, I'm just being a cynical, whiny old bitch aren't I? Doing that thing I do of hating something because it's popular and just not understanding how the apparent narcissism fits in with the whole shebang.

And then people started sharing the things that say if you think the ICE bucket thing is whack, you're a bit of a dick because at least people are raising money and what are you doing, you horrible keyboard warrior.

And then I started thinking well, OK, I guess any charity money raising is a good thing and it is obviously a heinous disease and all research must be a Good Thing. And then Pamela Anderson pointed out that a lot of ALS research inexplicably uses animal research and someone else pointed out that a lot of the money donated this way goes back into some kind of 'awareness' pot, rather than to research itself and so what is it all for really? And then I had a small meltdown.

Is it really about raising money. Have 60% of my Facebook friend group suddenly become enormously altruistic about something that they've never mentioned before? Is that a bad thing? Am I being a party pooper? And, goddammit, why have I not even been nominated? I am so far out of the joiny-in loop that not one person has nominated me. Either that or I have no friends. Or my friends feel the same way I do and aren't doing it. Or I am very unpopular. All of these things are possible.

And maybe that's what social media is for anyway - maybe it's good that we all have a way to tell ourselves we're awesome and tell our friends they're awesome and if some other people benefit then where's the harm. But then someone mentioned Africa and the waste of water. But it's OK because Matt Damon did it with toilet water. Not used, presumably.

And then I read this, and it summed up what I meant to say in this blog post but am too scared, middle class and worried about what people think about me to say it. But then, I'm just one more voice howling into the social media wind anyway, so it doesn't really matter what I say about anything.

Do read this though. I think it interesting:

And for all my lovely friends and all the people I don't really like, who quietly donate money month after month, year after year, and all of those who do stuff for charity all the time and don't make videos about it, I salute you all. Ice bucket challenges and social media fads will come and go (Kony. Never forget), but the slog of putting effort in for your chosen cause is a lifetime thing and that is something worth more than any Facebook like.

Wednesday, 13 August 2014

They say it takes six months...

... for a rescue dog to relax enough to show its full personality. I think it's safe to say that Sushi has now fully reached the stage of comfort and relaxation where she is oh so happy to just lay back and be herself.

Stage 1 was getting her from Romania to here. Stage 2 was falling in love with each other (took approx 24 hours), Stage 3 was letting her know that she is safe for the rest of her days and now we're on to Stage 4. Seven months in and Stage 4 appears to be me running around after her like she's some kind of princess among pooches. Some queen among canines. The most speshul doggie that ever did live.

Recently I've been concerned because she's been stopping a lot on our walks. She used to walk quite happily for around two miles before needing a rest and yet, suddenly, here she is, stopping every few yards. It happened again today. We were going down her favourite bridle path and she just kept stopping. She is then impossible to move. And I mean impossible. She wedges her furry bottom down and will. not. move. So, I either pick her up or I get stared at for dragging a clearly three legged dog across the ground by her lead.

It's happened so often that I was just resigning myself to calling the vet and seeing what's wrong when I had an epiphany. What if, I thought, what if she just doesn't want to walk this way? So I let her lead and she was off like a rocket. This poor pathetic little goggie who couldn't even move even a single step two seconds before was now dragging me up a hill, ears flapping, tail wagging. I had been hoodwinked. Hoodwinked good and proper.

Turns out she wanted to walk further and a different way and it also turns out, if she doesn't get her own way, she screams and screams until she is sick. Or at least the dog version. Which is to pretend that her leg hurts and sit down. Her furry arse seems to turn to lead so that nothing will move her. It's like she's commanding the laws of physics. She only weight 7.5 kg for Christ's sake. And if I pull at her lead she falls over onto her face, JUST at the moment someone walks past and then they clearly think I'm the cruellest, evillest dog mother in the universe. I swear she laughs afterwards.

So she drags me around a two and a half mile loop while not even breaking a doggie sweat. The only time we paused was when she suddenly stopped and hunted out a pork pie. A fucking PORK PIE under a hedge. How? Where? Who is just leaving pork pies under hedges? And how does she always find them? When I'd wrestled that out of her vice like grip (she managed to swallow at least a quarter of it, so that's going to be fun tomorrow) we got home. I then fed her, stroked her ears, booked her in for a haircut and stroked her until she fell asleep on her double pillow/bed combo arrangement.

I really need to get her to doggie classes. That's going to be Stage 5. Before I end up surrendering my bed, food and shirt off my back. (I totally would).

I did try and talk to her about it. She didn't seem bothered to be honest:

Tuesday, 12 August 2014

Fuck you, depression

I've actually never been the hugest fan of the work of Robin Williams, I don't quite know why. I watched Mork and Mindy when I was a kid and I thought it was okayyyyyyyy, and then I watched Dead Poet's Society and found it was just about moving enough to escape schlock. And then... I don't really remember anything else. I've never seen Mrs Doubtfire, Flubber, Jumanji or even Aladdin. I seem to have just sort of missed his whole back catalogue. 

I don't know why this is, to be honest. He had a really kind face and very hairy hands - that's what I remember from interviews. And he always seemed kind of manic. I do know he was almost universally considered a kind, generous man and he had a real soft spot for animals. He rescued many through his life. 

The other thing I always knew about Robin Williams was that he was deeply troubled. I remember my mother telling me, when I was a lot younger, that he was a very depressed guy. I don't know what prompted that - most likely an interview on TV. He was always rather crazy high when speaking, doing impressions and being hilarious. I remember thinking that would be exhausting to be around. 

Now I'm older, wiser and have had quite the gutful of depression myself, I can understand a lot better. For a man that successful, that materially wealthy, that lauded, that popular, that creative, that well thought of, that admired - a family man who did a lot of good in his life - for depression to get even him, well, it's the perfect example of the insidious, evil, unrelenting, icy grip of this illness. 

I speak about it as if it's a separate entity, because as a sufferer, that's how it feels. You're one step away from the edge sometimes. Other times you're many steps away. Sometimes the edge is way out on the horizon and you think you've beaten it, only to wake up the next day and be staring right into the abyss. And it doesn't matter what you have or who you are. You can be a genius singer, a gorgeous young actor, someone who has battled to 63 or someone who only made it to 21, depression takes no prisoners and it has no mercy. 

Sometimes being strong in the way you need to be to live with depression becomes too much. And all it takes is one moment of the false clarity it can give you to know, to really really know, that the world would be better off without you for you to make a decision that would end it all. 

I think many people live on the knife edge of depression and I also think for those who are lucky (so very very lucky) to have never experienced it, it probably seems absurd that someone like Robin Williams chose to die. I don't know the guy, of course, but from what I've read in his interviews, he lived a creative life full of pain. He self medicated with alcohol - something he had returned to in recent years as he went through yet another bout of severe depression - and it got too much, in the end. 

Unlike Rik Mayall's death, I don't feel a personal loss with Robin Williams. I don't really have any treasured memories of his films, but I do have an impression of a warm, lovely, kind man who made millions of people very happy with his work. A man much mourned by his family, his fans and his little rescue pug. And it makes me think of all the other people right now suffering in the same way. 

There's been a lot of worthy stuff spouted since news reports of his death, about depression and anxiety and reaching out to people. I hope people read it and absorb it. For those of you that don't suffer, I am genuinely happy for you (also jealous), I cannot imagine what your world is like. For those that do, please reach out. Talk to someone. Even if the person you choose doesn't seem to be able to help you, keep trying. In the age of the internet, none of us are ever really alone, 24 hours a day. People are out there, on support forums or the good old Samaritans (I called them once many years ago, and I'm so glad I did). 

I hope none of this comes across as patronising or offensive to Mr Williams - I don't know what he was going through and I don't mean to pretend I do. I just hope that something good comes out of his death - and if the only thing can be more communication about depression and anxiety (and that means YOU as well, employers and bosses) then that is another good thing he did. 

Rest In Peace, Robin Williams. I really hope you have found the peace you couldn't get here. Without sounding like a cheesy fool, I do think that the world is worse off without you. 

Monday, 11 August 2014

Blackgang Chine - you should go if you want to step into my childhood

I went to Blackgang Chine recently. Blackgang Chine is an Isle of Wight institution. This is mostly because for many a decade it was the only damn thing here.

It's apparently the oldest theme park in the UK, having been there in one form or another since 1843. As is usual with such claims, they stretch the meaning of 'theme park' to its zenith. A rich family basically charged people to come and walk through their land and served them tea for a few decades. At some point they built a gnome garden (yes, an actual garden on gnomes, and no this is not actually Craggy Island, the Isle of Wight is a real place, OK?) and charged more.

As the 70s hit, various bizarro sculptures and attractions were added to the park and they started charging ever more cash to tourists. Due to landslips a lot of the original parts of the place have literally disappeared, crumbled into the sea, so for me, who originally went sometime in the early 80s, again in the early 90s and for a third time in 2014, it's a weird experience.

So much nostalgia and recognition mixed up with constant feelings of displacement and confusion. Was that there before? Was that? What about that?

When I first went in the 80s, I loved it. Absolutely loved it. To grown up eyes it may have looked like a few disparate attractions barely connected with threadbare themes, dodgy design and odd placements, but to an eight year old it was some kind of nirvana. I don't know to this day whether that was because there seemed to be naff all else to do (I don't think so though, my memories of summers on the Isle of Wight in the 80s were sun, sea and barbecues. Oh, and my dad nearly dying of his first heart attack. But let's not open that can of worms right now, eh?) or whether it actually was that magical. I'm going to go with magical. It's nice to think that once upon a time I believed in magic.

I have clear memories of the gnome garden - at that point half way down the cliff with the gnomes looking like they were doing some kind of extreme gnome sport - dinosaurs and Cowboy Town. Cowboy Town was this awesome actual Wild West town, with a saloon and horses and wagons and everything.

In 2014, I wasn't disappointed. Conflicting memories and confusion as I tried to work out what was there back in the day and what's new. The dinosaurs now roar and move:

there's a rollercoaster that definitely wasn't there before and the gnome garden is no more. But there was the Mouth of Hell, a memory buried so deep I had a delighted moment of recollection when I saw it.

There was also this random 70s druggie mushroom that I suddenly remembered when I saw it. I think weed and mushrooms may have been the staple diet of the park designers in the 70s and 80s. It's a trippy wonderland through 'Fantasyland', which just houses lots of terrifyingly gargolyesque fantasy figures and 'Dinosaurland', which is pretty sedate in comparison.

It became more difficult to remember what had been there before and what was new - a trip through one's actual distorted memory is almost worth the extortionate entrance fee in itself.

What I didn't notice as a child was the phenomenally beautiful view over the sea. The actual Channel, not the Solent. When all you see is the Solent, you feel like all seas are essentially crowded parking bays for rich yuppies to stick their yachts and summer boats. All you can see are boats bobbing around and barely any open water at all. So to suddenly be confronted with a vast expanse of silky, hazy ocean was breathtaking. No ferries, no cruise ships, no tankers, just endless ocean drifting into the clouds so that you couldn't even make out the horizon.

Blackgang Chine is essentially a rather short walk punctuated with various 'worlds', the best of which remains Cowboy Town. Kids legging it round shooting each other in an Olde Worlde saloon bar was ace to be around, almost as ace as doing it myself back in the day. Everything was how I remembered it.

A bizarrely English place to visit, Blackgang Chine is full of weirdness and oddities with a total lack of Disney or Tussauds polish that has rendered most places so homogenised. If you can get over the astronomical entry fee - the only place on earth where adults are classed as age four and above? - it's so worth it. Particularly if you have some overseas visitors with you. It'd be worth it for the looks of confusion on their faces alone.

Sunday, 10 August 2014

Tell me why I don't like Sundays

It's Sunday. It's coming up to the Long Dark Teatime of the Soul and I have that familiar feeling. A rock in my stomach. A lump of black in my throat. It's there most of the time, to be fair, but on Sundays it seems to really dig in and let me know how ennui really feels.

A lump of existential despair? Or a throwback to my childhood (as much seems to be) when Sundays really were the dreariest day of the year. A constant conundrum, a dichotomy for kids. You're not at school, ergo it should be a Good Day. But nothing is open past midday. No shops, no cinemas, nothing. And the only shops open up until midday are the tiny newsagents staffed exclusively by grumpy old men who don't like kids.

You can't go anywhere on your own because you're seven. The only thing on TV is Match of the Day, after which you know the worst thing of all will happen. With inevitable monotony. Tea at Grandma's.

This probably sounds idyllic to kids these days. And having spent the last week witnessing how my ma treats my nephew like a living God on earth, I can see why. Apparently in 2014, Grandma means everything and anything you want 24 hours a day. Want to go swimming every day? Boom. Done. Want to go to every attraction within the nearest 30 miles? Boom. Done. Want to eat cake every day. You got it buster. It was lovely to see and my nephew is a lovely boy but back in the 80s - or at least back in my 80s - Grandma meant a nasty old woman who never spoke to us kids, unless it was to say something mean. A woman who was a manipulative old control freak who never helped my parents out, even when both of them were seriously ill. I only ever knew one Grandma,as the other died before I was born, so I genuinely find the whole concept of adorable old woman who's nice difficult to grasp.

And I think she is to blame for the feeling of nausea and dread that I typically experience on a Sunday. I mean, of course she's not, lots of other things are wrapped up in this. But the strongest memories I have of Sunday afternoons was sitting in her overheated hellhole of a bungalow, with the TV blasting out Supergran followed by Bullseye followed by Last of the Summer Wine. Three programmes destined to strike existential despair into the heart of any sentient being, I feel.

Fast forward to Sundays 2014. Specifically this one. I'm alone for the first time in weeks, which is a Good Thing. Shops are open. I don't often want to go shopping on a Sunday but I do like to know that I could if I want to.

As an aside, I recently found out why shops were shut on Sundays in Britain, even though it's mostly a secular country. No one I knew when I was kid went to church or gave a shit about the 'Sabbath' but none of us could go shopping. Why? Because of some dickhead law passed in 1950 and subsequent lobbying by small groups to keep the Sabbath sacred. I mean, what? It actually meant that, before 1994 in England, you could buy porn (mags on the top shelf of the tiny newsagents that were allowed to open) but couldn't buy a Bible (large shops including bookshops weren't allowed to open). Ahhh, the idiosyncrasies of being English. Annnnyway, now they're open for a whole six hours if they're over a certain size. What kind of nonsense is this shit? It's almost like people are using religion to control shit that has NOTHING TO DO WITH RELIGION.

So, I'm alone. I get to do what I want. I don't have to go visiting, I don't have to watch anything, I can write and read and spread my lethargy from room to room. All I have to do is go to work later and serve beer and chips to poshos incapable of saying thank you (by the way, if you tip waiting or bar staff in the UK with Euros you're a solid gold asshole). So why do I feel like I have an exam in the morning?

Years and decades of pre Monday dread have made me into this Sunday loathing person. In the back of my mind, I feel like someone is going to make me go to school tomorrow. I hated school. Hated it. I mostly hated the routine. I had the shock of my life when I realised that adults were expecting me to do this - go to the same building and sit with the same people - every SINGLE day for the next 15 years.

And then I left school and realised that I was expected to then go to an office for 10 hours a day every single day for the REST OF MY LIFE. No way, man. Fuck that shit I said. And so I machinated my life into working from home. Working for myself. True, I probably do more hours than I used to in corporate land, but hell, at least I'm free. Kind of. Sort of.

It seems that, no matter where I go and what I do, the shadow of an 80s Sunday will forever hang over my head. A cloud of grey monotony that not even Morrissey could adequately put into words. A day of anxiety for the week ahead mixed with the pressure to relax and enjoy because it's Sunday. Basically, The Bangles and The Boomtown Rats were wrong.