Things that make you go hmmmm

I loved that song when I was a teenager.  But there are many more things that make me go hmmm nowadays than ever did when I was a militant 14 year old wearing tie-dyed dungarees, going on marches, shaving my head, and wondering why I couldn’t get a boyfriend.  The marches I went on were Free Nelson Mandela (result!), CND and feminism marches.  A band called Velvet Fist played at one of them.  Terrible band, but the name has inspired a comedy poetry duo that Pippa Evans and I do from time to time.  It’s much more fun than anything Velvet Fist came up with.

The thing that really made me go hmmmm this week (and most weeks if I’m honest) is the way women are.  Or maybe the way advertisers would like us to think women are.  But also, actually, the way women seemingly ARE.  It started (a few weeks ago) with a woman unable to walk across a stage unaided, because of the shoes she was wearing.  This is a woman who is heralded as something of a role-model for young women (she’s not stick thin, so that’s good, but she is, to my eyes, utterly vacuous and lacking in talent, but she’s a millionaire and on tv so what do I know?)  A woman, on International Women’s Day no less, unable to walk without leaning on a man (Keith Urban I believe), because of a fashion choice she had made.  That made me go hmmm.

Later, I went hmmm when an advert came on.  There were 12 people standing in a sunny field, with butterflies and flowers,  each sporting “ooh that’s a nice smell” faces.  Then some lift doors opened and we realised they’d all been standing in a lift smelling that smell. How delightful, someone must have plugged in an air freshner.  Oh, no, silly me, it’s because one of the women in that lift was wearing a scented panty liner.  Getting past the fact that I can’t stand the phrase “panty liner”, what on EARTH is this suggesting?  You can just imagine the man who’d been standing behind her, and when she got out pulled a “ooh, she’s quite nice” smug face, saying later to colleagues and friends, “A lady was in my lift at work today and I couldn’t smell her vagina AT ALL.”  Ahhh lovely.  Firstly, if you need to mask the smell of your bits with a panty liner, you need a doctor, not Always; secondly if you wear those scented panty liners, soon you will have bacterial vaginosis, which will smell much much worse than any natural musk you are masking with aforementioned products.

The next thing that made me go hmmmmm was a discussion on the new lexicon which includes phrases like “nom nom” and “three sleeps til…”  Now I’m aware that a lot of my friends use these phrases, and I apologise to any of them if this offends.  But STOP USING THESE PHRASES.  The infantilisation of adults.  Use that phrase instead.  Where did these phrases come from?  I never, as a child, said nom nom.  I never as a child counted down to something exciting in “sleeps”.  And if I had, I would have stopped by the time I was wearing badges saying “Make tea not war” and “Save the Whales” and wondering why I didn’t have a boyfriend.  “Tasty” is a perfectly good, adult word for something which tastes nice.  And “only three days til…” is a perfectly good way of describing an impending event.  And it does seem to be, in the main, women who use these phrases.  It doesn’t help the cause that I marched for 20 years ago (alright, 23 years ago) and it makes me a bit sick.

I blame the telly.  And Nigella Lawson, who has made the infantilisation of experiencing food an art.  After she’s sexualised it.  Which leaves a very bad taste in the mouth.  As do her brownies.  And don’t even get me STARTED on the current trend for women to sing as if they are pre-pubescent girls, in reedy “oh aren’t I cute, even when I’m singing about heartbreak” voices.  Particularly if they are cover versions of Smiths songs, or aggressive punk rock anthems.  SING PROPERLY.  Like an adult.  You are NOT a child anymore. (I’m going to stop ranting about this because Lucy and I have a great idea for a song in our radio show based on this and I don’t want to plagiarise my own material.) Perky, relentlessly smiling adult “girls” are revolting – especially if they’ve put their hair in bunches – NO.  In your 20s you’re pushing it, but by 30?  Bunches should never be seen on anyone who ovulates.

I’m aware these things that make me go hmmm aren’t really connected.  But they’re all things I don’t like.  Dumbing down.  Becoming childish at the expense of your own intelligence.  Trying to sell me something by assuming I am incredibly thick and will be blinded by pretty pictures of flowers, and/or a tricky “here comes the (pretendy) science”.  And I speak as a person who plays for a living, who tries to find the inner child (about which my therapist once said, “the thing about the inner child is, it’s meant to be inner” – I took that as a compliment) and be child-like.  But child-like by embracing my intelligence, not belittling, belying or degrading it.  Don’t make me get those tie-dyed dungarees out of the loft.  No-one wants that.  Least of all me.

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I miss my typewriter

I’ve recently acquired an iPad.  When I say recently, I mean October last year.  But I am very bad at time (I’ll deal with that in a later blog if I continue blogging and remember).  So it feels recent.  I’ve been putting apps on it.  Like a painting app, which inspired me to do a painting course at the City Lit (starts in April, can’t wait); a music theory app so that I don’t feel like a dunce when the Showstopper musicians start talking about musical intervals, arpeggios and the like; a yoga app to encourage me to do even a modicum of exercise; loads of free games which I play obsessively for a week and then when they get a bit hard, stop playing; and most recently, today, a typewriter app.

It’s a totally useless thing.  There is no need to have it.  I have plenty of writing apps, which mean I can sign PDFs or edit word files.  This is purely an app that has a keyboard that looks like a typewriter, and has the shift key, and the thing that changes the ribbon from black to red, and the swipe-y thing that takes you to the next line.  And I love it.

When I was 8, I asked for a typewriter for my birthday.  A portable typewriter, that came in a carrying case.  Generally I didn’t get what I asked for as my requests were usually outlandish or impossible.  The two times I did get what I asked for were when I was 5 and asked for the Big Yellow Teapot, and when I was 8 and asked for a typewriter.  I loved that typewriter.  I wrote terrible stories on it.  (I also typed up all the library fines that my stuffed animals and bald dolls – another long story – had run up – they were awful at returning the books they’d borrowed from the library that I ran in my bedroom – I had a date stamp and everything – though the date stamp had 4 numbers and a month missing as the rubber had disintegrated.)  I put it on the desk next to my office telephone (Dad had brought a defunct one back from the office, and given it to me.  I spent a month taking it apart and putting it back together again, I think inspiring hope in him that I would be an engineer or something useful, but then I lost some of the bits and it stopped ringing and the lights stopped flashing so that was the end of that) and pretended I was a VERY IMPORTANT WRITER.  And I wrote, and I wrote, and I wrote, like a miniature Jessica Fletcher.  Generally not about murder.  I wrote about teddy bears and libraries.  I still have some of the terrible stories.

One of them is an awful derivative story I wrote when I was 12 years old and living in America, in Cleveland, Ohio.  The typewriter had not gone the way of the Big Yellow Teapot and was still in my possession, not taken down to the Help The Aged shop on Orpington High Street.  And it was one of the things I could NOT leave in Orpington until we got back 2 years later.  It had made the journey across the ocean with me – well, not exactly with me; I’d gone on a plane and had been allowed to pop into first class, where there were an awful lot of awfully drunk businessmen smoking – that tells you how long ago this was – smoking on a plane, imagine.  The typewriter had gone with the rest of our stuff in freight by sea, and took nearly two months to get to us.  In a way, I think I’d have preferred to go the same way.  Moving to America was a massive culture shock, especially for an introverted child, who resisted any change, and was just beginning to become aware of changes in her body – let alone in her life.  America was utterly alien.  It wouldn’t be like now, when we have in the UK become much more Americanised (and this is not a good or bad thing as far as I am concerned, merely a thing) – we still only had 4 TV channels, and one of them was pretty new.  In America they had HUNDREDS. HUNDREDS.  I’d never been in a house with a basement before.  EVERY house there had a basement.  I’d never had Baskin Robbins – 33 flavours of ice cream?  Are you INSANE?  I’d grown up with the staple three flavours (and my mother, in our 2 years in the States, only ever had vanilla.)  Ben and Jerry’s were unheard of here.  Air conditioning? What? And not just in buildings – in CARS!  You could be cold in a car in summer!  A shopping mall?  A what?  Bromley didn’t yet have The Glades when we moved; there was no Westfield, no Bluewater, no Thurrock Lakeside.  I think I’d seen a mall in a film, but didn’t really understand what one was.  And there were so many.  And so many different kinds.  A mall, a strip mall… alright, two kinds.  I don’t think I can really tell you how alien that place was to me, and how uncomfortable I was for the first few months I was there.

But “A Brit And A Yank” would tell you, for that was the terrible story’s title.  It would tell you all about it.  In clumsy, 12 year old terms, I was expressing how unhappy and lost I was, but how I was becoming happier every day.  It would tell you how every night, in the attic bedroom that I now had – I slept in the attic!  I had my own private space that people had to climb stairs to get to – I’d always liked that – bunk beds, tree houses that sort of thing – anyway, it would tell how every night in that attic bedroom, I listened to Love Light on WMJI 105.7 (how American was that?) that was all Air Supply and Phil Collins and Bette Midler.  It would tell you how I was just starting to realise that boys might be more interesting than annoying, that they were more than just my brother’s stupid friends, who I would hit occasionally, and who I was generally bigger than, and was certainly fatter than, and was always intimidated by.  It would tell you which American writers I was influenced by (then it was S E Hinton, and Cynthia Voigt, and Madeleine L’Engel.  I moved on to Fitzgerald, Faulkner and Steinbeck later.  Though it’s interesting that they were mostly women authors in my formative years…)  It would tell you how much I loved writing on that typewriter and how much that typewriter kept me rooted in home and how that typewriter gave me the courage to enjoy away.

After two years, we came home to Orpington.  Me and the typewriter.  I became a grumpy adolescent who hated being back in England and went back to the States as often as I could (oh, fickle, fickle child!)  The typewriter languished unused, its ribbon drying out, as I wrote most of my essays by hand, and rarely wrote for pleasure.  Then we got a computer, and that was that.  The typewriter was put in the loft, and remained there until my parents sold the house when I was 30, and mum threw away things people “wouldn’t be interested in”,  like all the letters and poems my dad wrote to her while they were engaged and in the first year of married life (“Well, really, who would be interested in those?”), and my typewriter.  With its broken case, split down the middle, but handle still in tact.  Keys all in working order, but a dried up ribbon making them useless.

And that was that.  Until today.  When I started typing on a typewriter app, and the appearance of that page brought back tons of memories.  And made me think, “Perhaps I’ll buy a typewriter.”  But the lovely man would kill me if I brought any more junk into this house, and the computer barely fits in the study as it is, and it’s totally impractical.  But it’s romantic, and it brings back memories, and that sound, that clack clack clack is the thing that made me fall in love with writing, and would perhaps encourage me to do so again.

Although it would be a real bugger to write a blog that anyone could read.

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An attempt at a start of a regular blog…work

I know, I know.  I’ve tried and failed blogging regularly on a regular basis.  But this time, I’m serious.  I’m going to do it.  Because I have the time.  Last year was very nice thank you – lots of work, and most of it fun.  This year, I have no work.   When I say no work, I mean, apart from the weekly rehearsals for Showstopper, and the touring gigs,  I have to write a radio show with my comedy partner Lucy Trodd – a four part Radio 4 show requiring around 45 minutes of material for each episode.  That’s a lot of writing, but somehow in my mind that doesn’t constitute work.  It is work.  It is decidedly work.  We are being paid for it (amazing!) and it takes up time and energy and brain power, but I am caught up in, what I can only assume is my parents’ definition of work.  I have to remind myself that when I have a gig in the evening, that doesn’t constitute a day off.  Literally during the day I will not be working, but that night I will be, and so it’s not “a day” off.  It’s just that my leisure time is the opposite to most of society.  I do my relaxing between 9 & 4 (assuming there’s little travel involved) and then I work after 4 til I’m done.  Unless I’m also writing in the day, which means that I work from when the lovely man leaves (about 9am) til 4, when I get ready for a gig.  But still, it doesn’t seem like work.  It doesn’t seem like work when I can watch Homes Under The Hammer most mornings while doing emails and admin.  And can take breaks whenever I want, to make tea and eat Nutella off a spoon.  Sometimes, at lunch, I watch Neighbours.  That always makes me feel like I’m bunking off school.  Because that’s what I’d do when I bunked off school.  Sometimes, I also watch the made for TV afternoon movie on Channel 5.  It’s quite interesting on a narrative level to watch these things – they’re no different storywise from most successful Hollywood narratives, but why are they lesser films?  Because they are not very well made, they are laughably predictable and the acting is full of (the lovely man’s phrase here) the “Hollywood Huff” (check it out – it’s when an actor does a weird breath thing before or after – or both before and after – they speak – it’s utterly meaningless, but somehow makes them look like they’re acting and have an interesting interior life – they don’t, it’s a trick – and it’s becoming universal).  As are a lot of successful films.  I can do all of these things while “working” – answering emails, booking gigs, updating Spotlight (haven’t done that for a while), coming up with ideas for sketches or blogs or sitcoms, getting out costumes for that night’s gig (is that work? it’s to do with work and it’s not quite the same as simply getting dressed for work, or is it?).  But I can’t shake the feeling that I’m not really doing anything.  That I’m not working.  Or that I’m not working hard enough.   And that is really the crux of it.  It’s a work ethic thing.  I’m not doing enough.  I could be doing more.  I should be doing more.  And I could.  I absolutely could.  I could be writing a blog every day.  Or every week.  Or at least once a month.  But is that work?  Yes, in a way it is.  Certainly it’s more work than watching my mate Donovan in a made for tv movie about cowboys where he played a character called Pickles.  And got scalped.  Maybe it’s because deep down, despite what I say and despite the career I chose,  I don’t believe that work should be fun.  Because when I think of the word work I think of the word hard.  And not in a good way.  But why shouldn’t I think of the word easy?  Semantically because work suggests difficulty and effort, but effort doesn’t necessarily rule out fun. 

And that is my theory on work.  I am now going to do some work.  It includes updating my website.  Doesn’t seem like work, but I guess it is.  I think my real problem is that I don’t really understand what work is.  I understand “farmer” and “teacher” and “miner” – I don’t really understand what people do in offices though.  And I have worked in one.  What do they really DO?  Maybe what I’m looking for is meaningful work.  But that is a whole other ballgame.  Or ballwork.

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