Thursday, 24 December 2009

BASKETCASE

I wish I was this relaxed when near a suitcase...

 I mentioned Christmas traditions in a previous post and while I relish the fun parts of the festive season, I also have some less enjoyable traditions that happen each year, including the packing of the Christmas suitcase...


This is because as I tend to visit Belfast for Christmas and since I go for at least a week, it's not possible just to bring a plastic bag with a toothbrush in it and some spare knickers. Instead it requires the kind of organisation that might cause military planners to have a minor fit. By the time I've negotiated a wardrobe warm enough to cope with the fact Belfast is bollock bloody freezing compared to London, made sure the presents I'm giving won't break mid transit, hope that the presents I'm getting will fit in on the return journey and that the budget airline I'm flying with can't destroy this year's suitcase, you'd think the stress would be over and I could relax with a nice glass of gluhwein instead?


No, because while I love visiting my family at Christmas, I also loathe living out of a suitcase even for a few days. After the guts of a year living out of a suitcase and a large laundry bag on my bag like a gaudy tartan snail in a variety of homeless hostels, living out of a suitcase makes me anxious in ways it is hard to quite explain. I think it's mainly because agoraphobics aren't well known for their love of travel and partly because I have strange notions that not packing the right items for a week away will be the end of the world as we know it. Combine that with the everchanging regulations on suitcase sizes and hand baggage allowances and I need something much stronger than festive booze.

This year's panic is being compounded by the threat of snow over the next few days. Do I have enough warm clothes to suffice? Will they make me look like a bag lady if I layer too drastically? How do I create the maximum number of outfits with the minimum number of pairs of shoes? Will my flight even be able to take off or will I be snowed in and spending Christmas alone in London? Is my tiger print suitcase amazing or the tackiest thing on the carousel?

Normally I'd be sitting the corner rocking back and forth quietly if anyone needed me over the weekend...but this time I decided to drink cheap mulled wine in the afternoon and meet friends for an impromptu meal on Sunday evening, before just taking a deep breath and heading to Gatwick with sharpened elbows and a charming smile to make my way through the crowds no matter what was happening on Monday morning. It seemed to work; I made it back to Belfast with barely any delay just before the airport closed for de-icing. I have been sitting in front of a real fire with a glass of cava in hand since then, pretending to recover from my stress-less travels.

I hope everyone else made it to their respective Christmas destinations with as little panic and are now also enjoying a warm welcome and a cold drink wherever they are...have a wonderful day!


Wednesday, 16 December 2009

STANDARDS ARE FALLING...




 Normally when I leave London for a day or two, I feel slightly unsettled. I thought it was just a pretentious Londoner's affectation of pining for double decker buses and sushi at 3am in Soho, but it turns out I just don't like not to know what's happening in the world of local news. I like to be on top of the news at the best of times, but I particularly like the local news and views of London. It makes me feel more connected to a city that can feel incredibly impersonal at times.


However this time when I head out of London for the festive season, I won't suddenly lose grasp on this reality....it has already happened while living here. It's been a gradual slide for a while with the BBC turning their bulletins into chirpy chats about the 2012 Olympics and the opportunity to see what high jinks Boris has been up to today. There is barely a mention of anything in the boroughs outside Westminster or City Hall. ITV have gone one further and simply removed nearly all their local news bulletins from the schedules. And then the Evening Standard went free and can only be obtained if you now know the right people and my last link to the realities of London vanished.


I used to buy the Standard almost everyday, a routine I have had for the entire 8 years I haved lived in London, even when I lived in the outer boroughs and it meant a 15 minute walk to find a shop that sold a paper mentioning London rather than Surrey. I liked the London-ness of the Standard, especially as it was mixed with enough national news to stop it feeling provinicial. I liked its self importance at being the paper that told you what was hip and happening in this bustling global city while missing the mark nearly every time. I secretly loved reading overly opinionated columnists debating utterly middle class dilemmas and bemoaning situations that never seemed to happen to normal people I knew. The ES magazine made me very glad not to be posh. I had a soft spot for their crosswords. In short, for all its Daily Mail overtones, I liked the Standard hugely.


Yet since the Evening Standard went free on October 12, I have probably read it about 4 times. It has suddenly become almost as difficult to get your hands on as a unicorn. No matter what time I pass Brixton tube, there only ever seem to be two or three torn dog eared copies lying around forlornly and I'm not that keen to read it. On the odd occasion I've been in the West End, I have failed to find a copy near either Oxford Circus or Warren Street stations even late in the afternoon. In desperation, I have resorted to the Evening Standard website only to discover that the slightly old fashioned air that was almost charming in newsprint is badly laid out, slow to load and difficult to read online. It's also rather difficult to shove in your bag on peruse on the bus. The modern version isn't doing it for me, especially as the amount of actual London based news it contains seems to have declined, making it ever more tabloid-esque.

I will continue to read the Standard if I can find it on my not so extensive travels round London, mainly because the crosswords are the only ones I will do. I will read the BBC London online pages and occasionally depress myself with the South London Press in order to try and find out what's going on in my locale, but mostly I will resign myself to the fact that it is just becoming a fact of life that local media is being dumbed down horribly in the modern day. I'm sad to see it happen, especially when it meant all the Evening Standard vendors vanished almost overnight, but I don't know what I can do to help slow the decline? I might as well get used to not knowing what the hell is going on in my city anymore. Maybe ignorance really is bliss?


Sunday, 13 December 2009

POD PEOPLE...



 At risk of causing the Daily Mail to have a heart attack at the thought of its interference, the EU has suggested a maximum volume on MP3 players to help protect listeners' hearing. Some may think this is the ultimate in the nanny state, but personally I think it's a marvellous idea...

This is not because I worry about my hearing. In fact, I may be the only person in the UK who doesn't own an MP3 player of any type. No, it's because I couldn't be more fed up with listening to other people's music in public. Every time I leave the house I am bombarded with the tinny overspill of someone's overly loud iPod and it drives me nuts. Admittedly it isn't as bad as actually being subjected to someone's shit Rn'B played on the bus on a mobile phone, but it still grates on me like you wouldn't believe.

Partly it's because music never sounds good mumbling along through bad headphones competing with the noise of modern life around it, but also partly because MP3 players seem to help erode what few manners most people have left. They are the electronic equivalent of a security blanket for those who own them. They cannot spend two seconds in your company without fiddling with their increasingly tiny music player, usually at the expense of conversation or eye contact with you. The way people insist on shoving their earbuds in before they've even left your house or fitting their iPod to the car before doing up their seatbelt makes me think that most people value the opportunity to listen to music above interacting with a real life human being these days. It's like an itch they can't stop scratching.

This insistance on fussing and fiddling with bits of plastic and wire instead of paying attention to the world around you is rude, dismissive and in many cases dangerous, as people are too busy trying to skip a track rather than pay attention to the road or street around them whether they are driving or simply dandering round a crime-ridden city. Plus I've lost count of how many people have trodden on me on public transport as they frantically try to adjust their iPod as if leaving it be for 30 seconds will cause them to expire on the spot...

I obviously have no objections to people using MP3 players with some regard for the world round them, unlike  the man I went on a date with a few years ago who turned up in the bar to meet me with his earphones in and music still blaring from his iPod as if he was surprised to see me waiting where we had arranged to meet...by all means block out the noise of screaming children or the generally unhinged on public transport or add a soundtrack to everyday things, but please turn it down, buy some decent headphones and try not to fiddle with your MP3 compulsively like a dog with a bone when dealing with other people. Or just try eavesdropping on other people's conversations when you're out and about like us iPod-less folk do...

Friday, 11 December 2009

FESTIVE FROLICS...


In case you weren't aware, Christmas is exactly a fortnight away and I'm starting to get rather excited. I can't help it, I'm a big kid when it comes to Christmas!


Christmas encorporates many of my favourite things. I love shopping at the best of times, but my favourite sort of shopping is buying things for other people....and then wrapping them up in beautiful glossy paper and shiny ribbons! My festive feeling starts each year when I make my Christmas pilgrimage to Paperchase and scare my bank manager with the amount I can spend on bits of paper. Even the crappiest present become something special when wrapped to look its best and I like my presents to be both thoughtful and beautiful.


Once I'm stocked up with pretty paper, I like to indulge my aesthetic side even further by getting out my Christmas decorations and gussying up my living room with lovely shimmery sparkly things on my tree. The rest of the year is sadly lacking in opportunities to dress one's house up to the nines so I do like the chance to crack out some tasteful baubles and a plastic penguin or two.

Of course once all that is done and dusted, it's time to spend time with those you love whilst eating and drinking and frankly it just doesn't get better than that for me at any time of the year, especially if there's roast poultry and veg in the offing! I have simple tastes in life...

This year I will be spending Christmas with my mum and then New Year with my brother. While it would be nice to spend the big day with both of them and watch my brother's face when he realises I have outdone him on our traditional attempt to buy the weirdest present for each other possible, my split celebration allows me to double up on the fun and food and I'm not complaining about that!

What say you? What's the best bit about Christmas for you?

Friday, 4 December 2009

SMOOTH OPERATOR...




In seven short days from today I will hopefully have achieved my longest held dream...I will have smooth clear acne free skin thanks to finishing a year long course of Roaccutane...