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Who will you be when you grow up?

I’ve started drinking beer. I pointed this out, grandly, at the pub last night. ‘I’m drinking beer,’ I told my friends, whose faces looked a great deal less impressed than I had hoped they would. ‘Beer,’ I repeated, pointing to my bottle. ‘Bottled beer.’ I stopped at this point, because I was concerned that I was sounding like Rain Man. But I took a gulp of my beer vigorously, to prove my point. One of my friends relented. ‘Why have you started drinking beer?’ she asked, kindly. ‘Ah,’ I exclaimed. ‘Thanks for asking.’ 

I have started drinking beer for two reasons. The first is that I’m trying to reduce sugar, although my friend pointed out last night that all booze is pretty much exclusively sugar, so I’ve had to stop trying to do that. But the second, not-as-yet-debunked reason, is because I’ve been re-watching The L Word, and the best character on it drinks bottled beer. 

Trying to reposition myself as a fictional character is nothing new. When I was eight, I spent several weeks locked in a screaming battle with my nannny over shower times. I wanted, like the girls in the Sweet Valley High books, to take a shower in the morning. My nanny, who had three under 10-year olds to get dressed, fed and in the car before 8am, wanted me to shower in the evenings, like my siblings. (Actually, my little brother, who was always terribly behind on these sorts of things, was washed in a hilarious baby bath-type thing, that I was strongly reprimanded for using as a doll swimming pool).

Having lost that battle (and finished the book series), I moved on to my next transformation: as one of The Saddle Club.

I couldn’t ride, and had no real interest in learning, but I badgered my mother so persistently that I was bought a pair of M&S leggings with straps under the feet, which I ardently told everyone were jodhpurs.

A little while later, I drew up plans for a walk-in wardrobe (Clueless), which were refused on the grounds that my little sister needed to have a space to sleep. After this, I was big into making up cheerleading chants (Bring it On), and posing precariously close to passing trains (Anna Karenina), and recently considered buying a pair of red Converse, as worn by Leslie Knope, on Parks and Recreation.

Not all fictional characters are worth emulating, naturally. For instance, I’m pretty sure my little sister is trying to pass as the chicken-under-the-bed-hider from Girl, Interrupted. (Her bedroom, at last count, had six of our glasses, and one had to trample over swathes of clothes to get to them).

Obviously, there are other ways I could try and be more like Shane, the coolest girl on The L Word.

But the beer thing is where I’m really focusing my energies, at the moment. That, and speaking less like Rain Man.

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April 29, 2014 · 11:27 am

How to be a sophisticated reader

The books we read as children stay with us forever. They are our first introduction into a world outside of our own, excessively narrow vantage point (they say it is a mark of growing up when children stop drawing themselves in the centre of pictures, but rather begin to depict their families, but having looked over my childhood offerings I don’t think there’s much in it. Also my little sister and brother were, for several years, very much smaller than me, so by putting myself first and foremost, I was merely adhering to the well-established conventions of realism), enormous sources of pleasure, and for years after, still an important shared cultural reference point.

Which is why I am disproportionately excited that Elizabeth Jane Howard has published the final book in the Cazalet chronicles. 

One of the very best things about growing up with my particular parents was the near-perpetual boredom, whose sheer endlessness permeated every aspect of my childhood. My parents didn’t let us watch TV. We had a single VHS video (The Sound of Music), which to this day we can still recite every line of, a skill which is oddly much less appreciated than one might imagine it to be.

My father had a large collection of Beanos and Dandys from his own childhood, but I dropped one too many in the bath, and they were put back into storage. We had a shared walkman (I actually think it was given to my little sister, but I graciously agreed to ‘help her listen to it’, and three cassettes – The Very Best of Phil Collins, Bat out of Hell II: Back into Hell and an audio story about a family of mice, which played excerpts from Vivaldi’s Four Seasons between chapters. What we did, apart from acting out plays I had written (my little sister famously never had a speaking role, although my grandparents still talk about her performance as a sheep in the Nativity play, where I played The Three Wise men, Mary and God –  it was a terribly athletic and confusing production), was read. 

We were allowed to read anything we liked (with the notable exception of the confiscated Beanos and Dandys), so we did. During the Summer of 1995 I read all four of the then-published Cazalet chronicles. Aged 10, I couldn’t get enough of the Cazalets, a sprawling upper-middle class family living in wartime England. Everything I know about managing a large household staff, I learnt from Elizabeth Jane Howard. I made my mother promise that if we had a governess, and she slowly declined in her old age, we would let her continue to live with us. (My mother, oddly, given the likelihood of this happening, fought vigorously for the imaginary governess to be ‘let go’ once she had ceased to be ‘of use’. It was one of the most involved fights we had that Summer. The other one concerned the possibility of getting two scoops, rather than one, when we were taken out for ice-cream). 

One lunchtime, my parents’ guests overheard me explaining to my little sister that everyone had ‘lost all respect for Zoe, because of her affair with the American’, and later hesitantly asked what I was talking about. ‘Oh, Zoe is having an affair,’ I told them. (I had absolutely no idea what an affair was. I think I thought it was a little like having an imaginary friend- something most people did, but no-one talked about). ‘It’s OK though,’ I continued cheerfully. ‘Rupert is hiding in France with a lady, and everyone thinks he’s a POW.’ (I also had no idea that POW was an acronym. I wanted to be a POW that Summer more than I wanted a double scoop of ice-cream). ‘Oh,’ my parents’ friend replied slowly. She turned to my parents, who were, as always, unfazed by my oddness. ‘It’s a book she’s reading,’ my mother explained. My mother’s friend stared at her, searching for an appropriate response. ‘How sophisticated,’ she said uncomfortably.

It was not until very much later that I realised that other children didn’t read the same books as me, growing up. Worried that I had missed out on vital shared experiences, I sent an email to my friend. ‘What books did you read as a child?’ I asked her. I waited anxiously for her reply. Not having watched TV, I was loathe to miss out on another cultural reference point. ‘Well,’ my friend told me. ‘I was a very sophisticated reader.’ 

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April 4, 2014 · 9:26 am

Don’t come as a sexy cat

My Mother is having a Christmas party. ‘It’s Russian themed,’ I told my +1. ‘Don’t come as a sexy cat.’ 

There are some things one shouldn’t have to tell other people. Unfortunately, it seems that other people don’t realise this. While I waited for my friend to decide on their outfit, I made this helpful guide to things you really should already know.

1. It is not appropriate to attend any party, Halloween parties included, as a sexy cat.

Sexy cat is the costume choice of the ill-informed and unimaginative. It is the lowest common denominator of costumes. It would be simpler to draw a fraction on your face, circle the denominator and go to the party like that. 

2. No matter how engrossing and interesting your conversation is, when a person is on the loo, do not continue talking to them. Only two words ever need to be said to someone who is on the loo. These are: ‘Toilet paper?’

3. When you enter someone’s home for the first time, you need to say something. Preferably something positive, but if that’s not possible, an enthusiastic statement of fact is useful: ‘You have a kitchen!’ or ‘Carpet!’. Do not, as my new cleaner did, scrumple up your face into a picture of dismay, and say nothing. It is deeply insulting. Particularly as I was asking her what she thought of my new coat.

4. Compliment people on their new coats.

I would have written a 5th point, but at this point my friend got back to me. ‘Oh, no problem,’ ‘Russian themed?’ my friend replied cheerfully. ‘I’ll come as a sexy bear.’ 

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November 25, 2013 · 12:31 pm

Priorities

We are trying to find a dinner date. Emails are flying back and forth as people suggest dates and people (not always other people- some of us are not really on top of our diaries) reject them. We are trying to find a dinner date because our dinner last week fell apart because I was dying.*

‘This is ridiculous,’ I said to my colleague. ‘It is simply impossible that 4 people can’t find a time to have dinner together before January. No one’s that busy.’ My colleague nodded and mumbled something incoherent about ‘having to work’, but I bumped into him later and had a more in-depth conversation.

We were in the men’s toilet.

‘What are you doing here?’ He yelled when he saw me. ‘This is the men’s toilet.’ ‘Yes,’ I replied calmly, nudging him to the left. ‘Someone has jammed the cold tap in the ladies, so I’ve come here to wash my hands. Regular hand washing drastically reduces your risk of illness. Have I told you about my recent brush with death?’

My colleague was silent, so I continued our earlier conversation. ‘I wonder which of my friends isn’t prioritising our dinner?’ I asked him thoughtfully, leaning over him to grab a paper towel.

My colleague had left by this time, noticeably without washing his hands (apparently he ‘no longer wanted to wee’ once he had the pleasant surprise of me joining him in the toilet), so I began composing a sternly worded email to my friends. I touched on love, loss and the importance of prioritising eating with me over eating with other people. Suddenly, an email popped into my inbox. ‘What about next Monday?’ A flurry of acceptances followed. I checked my diary with growing alarm. ‘I can’t go,’ I wailed to my colleague.’It is absolutely awful how busy we are these days.’ He stared at me for a moment. ‘Well,’ He said slowly. ‘Some of us are.’

 

 

*A future blog post on my brave and self-sacrificing battle with certain death will be published soon. 

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November 12, 2013 · 12:50 pm

‘Do you think we’re getting old?’ I asked my friend recently. ‘A bit,’ She replied thoughtfully. ‘It’s not good, is it?’ I said. ‘I think we may be falling behind.’ My friend stared at me in confusion. ‘Well,’ I explained helpfully. ‘I saw the Katy Perry movie.’ The Katy Perry movie, whose title I have forgotten entirely, but whose scenes flash before my eyes daily, is one of the most engrossing and thought-provoking things I have ever seen.

It’s about Katy Perry, who is an extremely famous singer, and was filmed while she was on her very first world tour. 

At its worst, the Katy Perry movie is an ear-assaulting manifesto on Katy’s continued ‘love for her fans’ and ‘ability to hug unwell children’. At its best, it is an astonishingly complex narrative on the choices we make, the consequences of our decisions, and the curious powerlessness that comes alongside the power of celebrity.

We see Katy weeping as she is woken up before a ‘meet-and-greet’, begging her handlers for ‘5 more minutes’ in a way that recalled being forced to go to school so strongly that I later dreamt I was in assembly. We wait as the voice over tells us breathily ‘Katy loves to have a good time’, only for the camera to follow her to a theme park with her sister. (And, I am sure, various members of her entourage- though perhaps they did not sign their releases, as they are rarely featured). 

Apart from all the on-stage showing off, Katy’s life seems to be equally divided between sleeping, getting to work and making small talk with strangers.

‘Ah,’ I said happily to my friend. ‘It’s OK. We’re right on track. We have pretty much the same lives as a world famous multimillionaire.’ ‘I’m not sure that’s true,’ My friend replied. ‘You’re right,’ I said. ‘We should do much more showing off.’

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October 30, 2013 · 12:11 pm

Sleeping around

‘I think there’s something wrong with my sister,’ I said to our flatmate yesterday. ‘Why?’ He asked. ‘She’s always asleep,’ I replied matter-of-factly. ‘Perhaps she has one of those terrible tropical diseases. That would be awful. Think of all the attention she’d get, and all the time we’d have to spend moping about her hospital bed.’ My flatmate stared at me. ‘You’re right,’ I continued thoughtfully. ‘I could turn her bedroom into a walk-in wardrobe.’

My little sister is working nights (read into this as freely as you wish. I regularly inform her that she won’t make any money if she continues to leave wearing medical scrubs). ‘Show a little skin,’ I yelled at her out of our kitchen window as she crossed the road. She ignored me, but an elderly gentleman looked up at me approvingly. My little sister is working nights, which means that we don’t see each other very much, despite living in the same flat.

This is because she spends all her time sleeping. You would not imagine how inconvenient this is. Although she sleeps in a single room, her sleeping presence permeates the flat. ‘Evening,’ Our flatmate whispered to me as I walked in the door last night. ‘Evening,’ I replied in my normal dulcet tones. ‘Ssh,’ He replied. ‘She’s asleep.’

‘She’ is the reason we can’t talk in our normal voices in our own flat. ‘She’ is the person who disturbs me when I walk blearily to do my 5am wee, startling me with her cheery clothed awakeness. ‘What are you doing?’ She asked me yesterday. ‘Sleeping,’ I replied. I would have assumed given her own behaviour that she would have been less dismissive of this. ‘She’ has also started leaving little gifts outside my door, left, I am certain, with the best of intentions, but which are in reality tiny lethal death traps. ‘Aaagh,’ I shouted this morning, falling over a plate of sweets just outside my door. ‘Ssh,’ My flatmate hissed. ‘She’s asleep.’

Whether she has a tropical disease or not, it’s looking increasingly likely that my little sister will be spending some time in the hospital.

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October 10, 2013 · 11:13 am

Don’t put your penis in a toaster and other advice

 

I was at home yesterday, thinking of doing some work, when I became inexplicably distracted by the TV. (This sentence reminds me of the delightful article by Suzanne Moore, who, upon discovering that the Fire Brigade had issued a notice to men ‘Not to put their penises in toasters’, wrote about the endless excuses people make when admitted to hospitals with household items inside them. ‘It fell in’ is apparently the most-given excuse, rendering the domestic world a place much more fraught with danger than anyone previously realized).

 

Whilst properly enamoured with The Wire, and Orange is the New Black, and various other ‘excellent’ TV shows, I have a deeply held love for terrible TV. This is not a particularly useful trait, unless you are talking to young, or mentally deficient people, who you will soon discover share the same love for all of Fox Family’s TV schedule, or who can quote Nickelodeon’s latest tween drama alongside you.

 

I was happily settling down to watch 1600 Penn, a poorly-reviewed sitcom about a presidential family, whose eldest son is an idiotic yet loveable college-dropout, when I noticed that one of my flatmates had left a TV guide on our coffee table. (I wrote that sentence so that everyone would be aware that I am both literate and in possession of a coffee table. Wait until you hear about the new handwash I have just put in our bathroom. I should probably increase my home insurance).

 

It seems as Summer draws to a close, what the British people most want is to be distressed and frightened, at least whilst watching TV. Dead family members returning to haunt the living? Bleak investigations into child-killings in small towns? Something maybe about depressing sex with that lady from Mad Men? Fill your boots. I’ll be on ABC Family, watching a fantastic new show about a family Summer camp.

(It’s called Camp, in case you want to join me. The dialogue is clunky and awful, the characters are one-dimensional and tired, and the plot is predictable. It is a dream). 

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August 13, 2013 · 12:18 pm