Friday, 31 March 2006

Guest Slapper of the Month III

If you don’t know Mireille of C'est chic I pity you: she’s clever, funny and insightful. Go and read her blog! Hey, not yet! Read her Slap first!

It's interesting when you're given free rein in the best slapping venue available ... and you're in one of your relatively benign moods. But, don't worry, uncharacteristically mild mannered or not, I've still got one slap in me.

And it is an open-palmed tribute to all the passive-aggressors out there. Women, unfortunately, are exceptionally good at this, but I also know some men who have honed the skill to a fine art.

These are the individuals who don't have enough courage of their beliefs to be overtly frontal about what they think -- honestly, openly, in a manner that can be likewise addressed openly and honestly ... but who are willing to snipe and allude and imply and leave vicious anonymous comments.

These are the individuals who can be cloyingly sweet to one's face ... while advising their close circle of friends of the intimate details of everything they detest about your taste in [fill in the blank], what they have noticed about your abysmal absence of [fill in the blank] and how ill-behaved your [husband, partner, children, cat and/or dog] are.

I wonder how they justify this behavior. Often, I think, they are simply unaware of how truly cowardly and cruel it is. They may actually see it as politesse. You know, it's softer-edged to lay a public trail of breadcrumbs that hint about what you think another's insurmountable flaws/mistakes/gross errors of behavior are, than it is to gently, privately take the individual aside and share with them what is troubling you about your relationship with them.

Often this is because the passive-aggressor has no relationship with the individual who is the target of their snipe. In fact, it doesn't really matter to them who that person is, and how much harm/hurt/discomfort their passive aggression may cost that person. They just need to vent hostility and this is the safest way they know.

Now, of course you know I'm not talking about anyone in particular, don't you? Because that would be passive-aggressive, wouldn't it?

Tuesday, 28 March 2006

Têtes à claques VIII

You can’t open a newspaper or magazine these days without reading about the son or daughter of an actor or a celebrity. The same names appear with monotonous regularity.

Above are two Jaggers, two Lennons, one Harris and one Bowie; had I the time or the patience I could have posted three Redgraves, two Thaws, two Kinskis, one Marley, etc. etc.

I don’t care what their first names are; their surnames are famous and, in most cases, one instance of those surnames should have been enough.

Of course there have always been ‘dynasties’, in all walks of life: people have been butchers de père en fils, seamstresses de mère en fille, but the parents were passing on a craft, a trade, a skill of some kind. Lawyers and doctors also encourage their children to pursue the same profession, but that’s because they’ve usually invested in a practice and it pays for it to stay in the family, and the children usually benefit from their parents’ reputation. .

What do actors and celebrities pass on to their offspring, apart from a desire to be famous and having a fun life like Mummy or Daddy? It must be incredibly difficult to resist if, from age zero, you’ve been aware that your parents are being celebrated, flown to exotic locations, photographed and admired.

Some of those actors and artistes are quite talented, but who knows how far they would have got to with their smidgen of talent if they hadn’t been called Jagger, Lennon, Harris, Bowie, etc. It really amazes me when sons and daughters of famous people try to persuade me that they didn’t want to take advantage of their names. No, of course not, so why didn’t you change your name, then? Who are they kidding? Of course sometimes the resemblance between parent and child is so obvious that a different name wouldn’t have fooled anyone (in the case of Natasha Richardson, for instance, it’s the voice) and they would always have had a head start.

Talent is not hereditary. Proof? Keira Knightley. She’s the daughter of a moderately talented actor and quite a good playwright, yet she doesn’t have a modicum of acting talent herself…

They all deserve to be slapped for proliferating so much and getting jobs that could have been done much better by unknowns had the latter had the chance to even be considered for them. How do you say ‘no’ to the daughter of Vanessa Redgrave (herself the daughter of a famous actor) or the son of Robert Stephens and Maggie Smith?


Friday, 24 March 2006

Stew of the Day

If, like me, you're in need of nourishment and comfort, try:

Lulu's Sunday Vegetable Stew

Go and buy:
Half a red onion, or one very small one
One tin of chopped organic tomatoes
Masses of dried herbs (two or three dessertpoons)
Olive oil
One small sweet potato
One small potato
One large carrot
One red or yellow pepper
Packet of green beans (around two handfuls)
One courgette (zucchini)

Handful of spinach, torn
Handful of chopped fresh parsley or coriander (cilantro) leaves
Tin of organic chickpeas

Now get cooking:
Chop onion into tiny pieces and gently cook in some olive oil in the bottom of a large saucepan or casserole pan until softened. Add the herbs and tin of tomatoes, stir and let simmer for a couple of minutes. Keep the empty tomato tin.

While the onion is cooking, peel, wash and chop all the vegetables. The sweet potato should have larger chunks than the other veg as it goes very soft. The green beans are best in thirds. Make chunks rather than slices, e.g. cut the carrots and courgette in 2cm-in thick slices and cut those in half or into quarters.

Put all the vegetables into the tomato mixture.

Fill the tomato tin to the top with cold water and add salt to it, or if preferred, a dash of soy sauce. Swoosh round and tip into the stew. Stir. Sometimes you need half a can more of water.

Put lid tightly on pan and bring to the boil. Turn down to a simmer and cook for one and a half hours or until the carrots and potato are soft. Taste liquid for salt after half an hour.

If there's too much liquid, take off lid and cook for another half-hour on low to reduce - but do not forget it at this point!

When cooked, turn off heat, put lid back on and leave on warm stove for as long as you like. This helps the flavours infuse. You can't really overcook this dish! It's great with rice or, as a side dish, with chicken, says Lulu.

Trust me, this is scrumptious, whichever way you eat it. Mmm...

Once I am restored I will slap someone. Very soon.

Sunday, 19 March 2006

Neither empathy nor sympathy

I have no intention of using the death of my poor pussycat as blog fodder for the next two years – I prefer to grieve in private, but I must mention it again just this once because I need to slap the person who made the whole traumatic experience even worse.

The vet’s receptionist.

Shouldn’t a basic requirement for such a job be that the person is capable of some measure of empathy and then sympathy towards other people? The silly girl we had the misfortune of dealing with on that terrible day displayed neither. While my partner and I were huddled in a corner of the small waiting room trying to decide the fate of my desperately ill cat, she was having a very loud and animated conversation with two people who’d brought their big dog obviously for a routine check-up, frequently bursting into deafening laughter. She'd seen us come out of the surgery red-eyed and distressed and she knew why we were still there, waiting. At 6pm – the appointed hour – she hustled us (g-d forbid she should go home a few minutes late) back into the surgery. She assisted the vet and attended the passing of my cat and remained cheerful throughout. Her parting shot for us was, “’bye!”, in an upbeat tone of voice.

Tuesday, 14 March 2006

I had a pussycat called Patsy

We kept each other company for 15 years. I loved her very much. She was put to sleep yesterday.

I am told I am suffering now so that she could be spared more suffering. If that is so, I will bear it, but it hurts terribly.

Saturday, 11 March 2006

I've been tagged...

... by CJB of Crazy Jay Blue. She’s asked me not to slap her for it, so I won’t because she’s a very nice woman, but my little fingers are itching…

I’m supposed to list five weird habits or peculiarities. My first reaction was, “I don’t have any”, but I’ve been disabused by my partner. Apparently, I do. Hmm… (Oh, by the way, like CJB, I am always right so thinking that I am is not a peculiarity at all – I do get berated for it a lot, though; in fact, just yesterday someone… nah, it’s too boring…)

1. Starting with the least weird (lots of people, CJB among them, are like me): as it says on my profile, I don’t do mornings. I am the ‘night owlest’ night owl I know. I go to bed when my upstairs neighbour leaves for work. I was rather dismayed the other morning when I realized that it was already dawn and I was still up and about (well, not exactly, more like glued to the PC, reading blogs). My ‘nice’ next door neighbours are aware I go to bed late (ah, the understatement!) and usually try not to do too much noise too early, but the other day they were having their carpet replaced and the man turned up earlier than expected (actually, whatever time he’d been expected would have been too early for me, but, you know, there’s early and there's early: it was 7.50am). I nearly jumped out of my skin when he started scraping around to remove the old carpet. By then I’d only had two and a half hours of sleep and I was going to the theatre in the evening. A nightmare! I tried to go to bed a little earlier a while ago, but failed miserably. It doesn’t make my life easier, I can tell you.

2. I write funny things on the bathroom tiles in eye pencil. I listen to the radio all the time (Radio 4 – the blah blah radio) and I keep hearing these jokes and quips and clever phrases and you don’t have pen and paper in the bathroom, do you? So what else should I do? I only have to write ‘funny’ things because, although my memory is pretty good for my advanced age, I can never remember jokes or anything remotely funny (Freud explains why somewhere, but it must be a funny explanation because I can’t for the life of me remember it).

3. I don’t eat and drink at the same time. That’s not really a quirk: I suffer from IBS (not Isaac Bashevis Singer, but Irritable Bowel Syndrome) and I’ve been trying to control it for nearly twelve years. I noticed some years ago that I felt unwell at breakfast, when I had tea with toast. I would have a kind of turn; I would go grey and feel faint. So I started having a cup of tea then waiting half an hour then having a piece of toast and, lo and behold!, the malaises stopped. I applied the same rule to the other meals during the day and I like to think that it’s made a lot of difference to my well-being. Like going to bed at dawn, it doesn’t make life easier, and it creates havoc with one’s social life – going to a restaurant is hell, but, then, eating out is difficult anyway with IBS – but being alive and not in pain makes it worth it.

4. I don’t say anything good about any forthcoming event in case I jinx it. Things have happened in the past that have convinced me that I am a witch (yes, some people knew that all along, didn’t they?). I make bad things come true. I’m ashamed to say I am superstitious in that way. I try not to talk about anything in advance. I let it happen first, then I discuss it. It’s not a new thing, actually: when I was young I always refused to say whether I thought I’d done well in an exam, in case it would change the results. I also believe that the content of an unopened letter gets worse as time goes on. Well, ok, I don’t really believe it, but it’s a funny idea, isn’t it? They read a wonderful short story about it years ago on Radio 4 (and, yes, I had to make a note of it on the wall of my bathroom).

5. I go to the loo twice before a theatre performance: the first time about fifteen minutes before the show and the second time as they announce, “Tonight’s performance of X will commence in three minutes.” (Yeah, right, when was the last time, a show started on time?) I know it’s crazy, and it’s annoying for anyone who’s there with me, but I can’t help it. I used to go only once, right at the last minute, but one night someone suggested we go at a time that was too early for me so I had to go again and that was it! A new weird habit!

Nothing to write home about, is it? I don’t think it’s worth calling the men in white coats yet, do you?

The rules of the game dictate that I have to tag five other bloggers, so here are my 'victims':

Jonna of Hrmph
Laura of Laurelines (she might draw her quirks - that would be nice, wouldn't it?)
Mireille of C'est Chic
Red-Queen of She'll be feverish after so much thinking
and Surly Girl of D-Flat Chime Bar

Ooooh, I can't wait to see how weird they are.

Wednesday, 8 March 2006

A typical British shambles

The London Book Fair used to be one of the highlights of the year for me. For 19 years it was held at Olympia, which was great because it's only 20 minutes’ walk from where I live. It was so convenient; it couldn’t possibly last. This year LBF was held at ExCel, in the ‘exciting Docklands area of London’, as a booklet about it states. Try and look for it on a map of London. Go on, try! You won’t find it. It’s off the map. It’s miles away from anywhere – over there, towards the east.

We could have taken the tube and then the Docklands Light Railway, but we drove there (my idea, I’m afraid). It took two hours. Two whole hours! Another 30 minutes and we could have gone to see a play at the Royal Shakespeare Theatre in Stratford-upon-Avon. After driving through some of the least attractive parts of London (I always expect to see Jack the Ripper in Commercial Street: it’s so creepy around there), and past the stupidest building on the face of the Earth – the Millennium Dome, we finally arrived within sight of ExCel. There were no parking spaces available at the centre itself (why is the car park outdoors, by the way?) so we were obliged to leave the car in a distant car park, more like a field really, so far away that we had to take a shuttle bus to get to ExCel. Hadn’t the whole point of driving been to avoid using public transport?

The bus was full of raucous, half-naked Essex girls with orange perma tan, ugly French manicure and cheap jewellery: it was quite obvious they weren’t going to a book fair. It soon became clear that LBF was held at the same time as another show – devoted to Beauty. The centre itself was as congenial and cosy as an airport or a railway station. There were enormous queues at all the food outlets so no water, no snack, no nothing. We were also told – wrongly – there were no toilets inside the exhibition hall so we queued for the loos with millions of other women (there was a beauty show, remember). In the end we used the men’s ones, which were empty, otherwise we would still be queuing right now.

Once inside the hall, because the stand numbering was absolutely preposterous, we spent ages trying to find the one belonging to the publishing house my partner (and occasionally I) work for. It was hiding behind the HarperCollins stand (which was about twenty times the size of my flat), behind a massive wall bearing a huge poster of Sean Bean as Sharpe. Not really a prime position. Hardly anyone walked by in that narrow aisle. You could just about hear the hubbub of voices over there, beyond the shadow of HarperCollins.

Luckily the fair itself was great. Books everywhere – from lots of countries. Some nicer and better produced than others. I got given lots of sweets and chocolates. One piece of advice: if you have a stand at a book fair, do not offer crisps to visitors or exhibitors with badges: they will think you’re mean. Blech! Had I been invited to one of the parties that suddenly sprouted all over the place, around 5pm, I could have drunk champagne too. But I didn’t care: I collected (“May I have one of these?” “Help yourself!”) nine ball point pens, seven diaries, two adorable little Google magnets that light up when you twist a small button at the back, two letter openers, a biro masquerading as a red quill, two lanyards (which, I’m sure, will be useful for something), a copy of The New York Review of Books and several catalogues, of course. Oh, and I talked to Stephen Fry for about 30 seconds. He is even bigger than I thought he was. Very nice too.

The fair was supposed to go on until 6.30pm this year, but by 5.30 most people started packing their stuff and closing their stand. We still had to take the shuttle bus to be reunited with the car. By then it was dark and very cold. It took 25 minutes for the stupid bus to get out of the ExCel car park because everyone else was trying to drive away as well. The bus was full of the same women as before, this time laden with gigantic boxes, presumably containing exercise equipment or other useful apparatus like foot spas. For some reason, we were dropped several miles from where the car was parked and, since there was no lighting and we couldn’t see it, we thought for a moment it had been stolen, which could very well have happened since the field was unattended.

We’ve never been so happy to get back to Shepherds Bush.

LBF ended yesterday. Since Sunday we’ve heard that taking the Docklands Light Railway wasn’t a good idea either: apparently the queues to get on at the end of the day were horrendous.

I’m slapping the organisers (they do not even deserve that name) of the London Book Fair. Everyone’s contracted to go to ExCel for five years. As I said, LBF used to be fun. Slap!

Update: I thought the above was the result of teething troubles, but I've just learned that ExCel opened in 2000! Six years! I would have thought that was long enough to sort out proper car parks, catering, toilet facilities, etc. Obviously not.

Saturday, 4 March 2006

Quiet, please!

I went to the cinema on Thursday. Yay! I’ve said before how much I love films and why I stopped going to the cinema when I moved to London – mostly because smoking was still allowed and because eating and drinking was becoming more common, and I couldn’t stand it (also because, when you go to the theatre three nights a week, you don’t have much time left for other things).

I used to live very very close to Portobello Road and I did go to the Electric (the oldest cinema in London) a few times, back in the early ’80s, before it closed down, then reopened briefly as a theatre, then closed down again, then reopened again as an über- trendy cinema and café/restaurant, where the Notting Hill Set (i.e. people who moved to the area after 1995, after that film came out) like to be seen. At the time, the Electric was a big barn of a place, with a Wurlitzer that would come up before the performance, and a kind of indoor kiosk where you could buy a hamburger and chips to munch through the film. The smell of food and cigarette was rather disturbing, but less so than crunchy popcorn, and the Electric was convenient and it showed good stuff. You could sit through great long double bills for very little money. I remember getting an awful migraine after watching The Day of the Triffids followed by several hours of 1900, during my Donald Sutherland phase. It was eccentric and fun. Much more than the awful Odeons and Empires in Leicester Square. I was very sad when it closed down. And by the time it reopened I had already left the area.

Here in Shepherds Bush we were deprived of cinemas for a very long time, until three years ago, I think, a beautiful cinema opened in our local shopping precinct. I went the first week it opened and promised myself to go regularly, but, guess what!, I haven’t. I can count on the fingers of one hand the films I’ve been to see there. Don’t ask me why. I don’t know.

But on Thursday my partner and I saw Goodnight, And Good Luck, at 5pm – while people were still at work (ah, the life of a freelancer!). We had a 2-for-1 voucher (which helped a lot with the decision to get off our butts and actually go there) and we managed to get our favourite seats: the ones in the back row that face the aisle, i.e. with an unobstructed view of the screen. Hooray! Except that, apart from us, there were only four other people in the entire auditorium, which meant we could have sat anywhere.

Just before the start of the performance, a young couple turned up and stumbled over our feet to get past and sit at one end of the back row. Ok. But then they talked loudly all through the trailers. Fine. Surely they would keep quiet as soon as the big film started. Not a chance. They carried on talking until we shouted at them to please shut up. Luckily, they were silent from then on, but ten minutes from the end of the film they stumbled over our feet again and went out. Did the woman have a crush on George Clooney and was she disappointed that it wasn’t a romance? They left separately – did they have an argument halfway through? Or was it too difficult for them to keep quiet for another ten minutes?

I’m slapping them for spoiling the first fifteen minutes of that wonderful, stylish and thought-provoking film, and everyone else who thinks they are in their living room when they go to the cinema. Stay in and watch DVDs, please!

Wednesday, 1 March 2006

Guest Slapper of the Month II

Last month I wrote that this slot would be by invitation only unless I was really scared of someone, in which case that person would automatically be next. Well, Lulu has scared me a lot over the past few weeks, so when she said she had a bone to pick with someone I said, “Be my guest!”

You all know Lulu: she’s a helpful little thing. But she’s not a happy bunny today.

No one stays the same

There was someone I used to have a crush on. Let’s call her A.M.

I first met A.M. around 11 years ago. At the time I didn’t have that much experience with that type; I had been much more familiar with more conformist bosses. But A.M. was just soooo cool. I met her at work, as soon as I started a new job, and it was clear from the start that liking her put me in a small but select club - running against the pack, as it were. It’s hard to resist being invited to be included in the hip group, the in-crowd, especially when it never happened to you at school or college. By being around A.M., I was suddenly among designers, photographers, musicians - creative, enthusiastic, positive, exciting, inspirational people.

A.M. was difficult and demanding, quirky, perfectionist and occasionally irritating; sometimes it seemed she was being bl**dy awkward just for the sake of it. You had to work hard at understanding her; she didn’t make it easy for anyone. She had a great sense of humour that was clearly a direct line from the people who made her - a set of in-jokes that you had to learn to get.

A.M. was what by anyone’s standards you would call a colourful person. A rainbow of vibrancy. She had phases of colour - in a largely beige and black working world she would turn up every day in turquoise, raspberry pink, bright green, then she went for rich jewel colours like burgundy red and dark blue and emerald. They always suited her. Appearance mattered to her, style was vital, but she backed it up with substance too. I never knew her put a foot wrong at work. Whatever I wanted to achieve, she always saw a way to help me do it. She made me feel anything was possible and that she was there to make the journey that tiny bit pleasanter. Individuality was her watchword - I don’t think she ever made any of her decisions with the intention of pleasing anyone.

So why am I slapping? Well, in the past couple of years A.M. has changed. It started when she ditched the colours and started dressing in black and white only, in a self-consciously ‘stylish’ way instead of the sheer fun of before. I think what also happened was that she began to get really interested in making money - she had one really successful work idea and the universal acclaim and financial rewards went to her head. Then she started trying to please everyone. She deliberately hid her subtleties, her complexities, and she started copying other people. She dumbed herself down, basically. And then she got insecure and started devising ways to keep the new people loyal to her by trickery, with information they couldn’t use elsewhere, where before she relied on her brilliance alone to hook people. And now she keeps changing every few months, so you just get invested in one of her new ideas or projects and the next one will be introduced, at such a rate that you are continually having to spend more time and money on keeping up with her latest fad. Instead of helping with the work, it becomes work just keeping up with her changes of mood. The loyalty of her original supporters goes unrewarded; I feel betrayed, as if she’s only interested in new young conquests.

Another role model bites the dust.

If it carries on like this, I might even have to abandon my beloved Apple Mac (aka A.M.) after 11 years and (horror) change to Windows.