Wednesday, 26 May 2010

On Truth & Illusion

Truth or Illusion, George. You don't know the difference.

*Note to reader: Bear with me; I have a feeling that this post is going to spiral into complete nonsense very quickly.*

Earlier this evening I watched Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf? I'd never seen it before and I was blown away. It's a fantastic film. Emotionally, I am knackered. My mind feels like it's been put through its paces, and I'm ready for bed. Hopefully the constant effort spent trying to figure out what was true and what wasn't won't have scrambled my brain too much.

In case you haven't seen it, one of the main themes is the struggle between truth and illusion. This is something I quite often find myself pondering, usually when I should be doing something more productive, like work. Obviously I'm not quite as attached to a life of illusion as George and Martha, but it is something I think about every now and then - I think the battle between reality and illusion is something that affects most of us fairly regularly.

For example; I didn't realise I had an accent until I went to university and made some very chavvy [and completely accurate I'll have you know] remarks about a film we were studying. My comment was greeted with giggles from the other, posher students, and so began the burial of my Essex accent. However, no matter how hard I try, it's still there. Give me a drink and I'll revert to my natural speaking pattern in no time, leaving a trail of dropped t's and h's in my wake. The older I get, the less I care. I'm more likely to speak naturally now than a couple of years ago, but I'd be lying if I said I didn't occasionally attempt to brush my commoner's accent under the carpet. It seems sensible to fool people I don't know into thinking I speak properly naturally, rather than risk being instantly written off as a chav, so I maintain the illusion that I speak the Queen's English despite the Essex peasant within screaming to be heard.

To borrow a theory from Proust [and Shrek], everybody has a selection of selves that they project to different people or groups. I, among other things, am a son, boyfriend, brother, friend, colleague and client. I behave completely differently in each situation, often without thinking. Does this mean that none of the people I speak to really know me? Can anyone ever get to know someone else completely? If so, can I only be my real self when I'm on my own?

See, I warned you that there was nonsense on the way. I owe this instense brainscramble to having spent the whole day in bed with a hangover, leaving me huge amounts of time to fill with thought. I went to a party last night dressed as a viking - I think I should stick to looting and pillaging and leave these philosophical musings to someone else.

Monday, 24 May 2010

On Flying The Nest

Right folks, I've been considering whether or not to write about this for a while, but I figure I may as well. It's going to sound like a moan, but it isn't - I'm well aware people have bigger problems on their plates and don't mean to sound like a drama queen!

Let me bring you up to date. I'm 25, and I still live at home. This isn't so unusual in itself, except that I have lived away from home (quite far away from home, really) before and so I know what I'm missing. But here the plot thickens. I've never considered moving out since I've been home, because my family all work together to pay the mortgage and the bills. One weak link, and it wouldn't have worked. Before Christmas, my dad lost his job, so things got even more difficult. He's decided to sell the house, which is a decision I completely agree with. With the money he gets from this he'll be able to clear some debt and buy a smaller place outright. Also, my mum is ill and really struggles with stairs, so a two-storey house with one bathroom upstairs isn't ideal. They've found a ground-floor flat that will be perfect for both of them. It's an opportunity they really shouldn't miss.

The only thing is, it only has 2 bedrooms - and I'm far too old to be sharing with my brother who, incidentally, would throttle me within a week. He's a neat freak and I'm...well...not. What's more, my dad won't need my money to make ends meet, I have been rendered somewhat obsolete. I'm free to fly the nest - without feeling guilty. And I'm bloody excited about it. I know it will probably cripple me financially, but at the moment I don't care. I'm just looking forward to moving on - to moving out. I love my family and I love living with them. But I need to stand on my own two feet now. I'm not Peter Pan, however much I'd like to be, and really must continue this growing up malarkey before I'm completely grey.

I just keep having random thoughts about what's going to happen to the black bags stuffed full of memories in the loft. Or the tools and garden furniture cluttering up the shed. Or my dad's books, which line almost every wall in the house. There won't be room for these things. It's amazing how many memories flood back. Stupid ones like being told to finish my dinner in the garden because I couldn't stop giggling at the dinner table. Or staying up late to finish GCSE coursework, and my mum coming down at 3 in the morning to check I was ok. Or trying to push my dog (the late, great Dave) off the sofa so that I could sit down. I could go on forever. I think it was easier living away before because I knew this place would be here when I was ready to come back. It won't be soon, and that will be a really, really odd feeling.

Still, one should always look on the bright side, which is what I'll be doing. My mum will be safer, my dad financially sorted and I, finally, will be a law unto myself, returned to the wild, just like that Killer Whale from Free Willy.

Saturday, 22 May 2010

On Sticking My Oar In

Mishieru @ Upside Down gave me a Super Comments Award! I'm not sure that she realises what she's done, encouraging my habit of being a nosey bastard and preaching my opinions all over everyone's blogs - now I can only get worse. If my comments clog up your posts - you know who to blame! [I am of course only joking - thanks Mishieru!] So, onto the meme...

1. Why do you blog?

It started as a way to document the bizarre thoughts that pass through my head that I don't share with people in 'real life'. It's also something I can look back on, to remind me what I've done, what I've achieved (if anything) and how I've felt. Oh, and I love talking about myself. It's all me, me, me. Now it's turned into something else, the content is the same but the way I feel about it is different. And of course I've discovered loads of other blogs that I look forward to reading, which spurs me on further.

2. What are your best memories?

God knows. I don't want people to think I've had a miserable life. I haven't. I just find it hard to pinpoint any one moment. I also tend to wriggle out of anything that feels even vaguely momentous. I didn't attend my graduation from university, for example. Nor did I throw a party before leaving for or returning from Italy (where I spent ten months). I tend to skulk through life. Like a spy.

3. If you had to change your real name, what would you change it to?

Erm...during a recent night-out, we were all assigned random names (long story, much of which is now hazy). Mine was Henry Fawkes, which I quite like.

4. Name 5 things you can't live without?

My I-Phone; I resisted it for so long. Now I couldn't function without it. Coffee - black with no sugar. I don't care if it's instant, freshly ground or what - as long as it's got caffeine in it. My Oyster Card - God forbid I ever have to buy a paper ticket. I think I'd go mad with worry that I might crease it, or have bought the wrong one. A Book - whichever one I happen to be reading. The commute is dull without one. My Man Bag - to hold all of the above, except the coffee, which would be messy.

5. What are the four best books you've ever read?

The Master & Margarita - Mikhail Bulgakov
Dracula - Bram Stoker
Crime & Punishment - Fyodor Dostoevsky
One Hundred Years of Solitude - Gabriel Garcia Marquez.

6. Tell me something unique and interesting about yourself.

My middle name is Paul, after Pauline, my nan who died before I was born. Her mother was landlady in the East End, and my nan was named after a brewery (Paulin & Co I believe). Therefore, I believe my near constant urge to 'nip to the pub' or 'go for a swift half' is fully justified. It's in my blood, obviously.

7. What do you love about yourself?

I don't know that there's much to love. *violin music*

8. What is the best movie ever made?

Good one. I think I'll say Roma Città Aperta, directed by Rossellini for its no holds barred, raw account of the Nazi occupation of Rome. I think Hollywood could learn a lot from neorealism - you don't need big names, special effects and pyrotechnices if the stories you're depicting are worth telling.

9. If you had a 'freaky Friday' experience, who would you change places with, and why?

Tim Burton. I would love to think how he thinks.

10. What's the best part about being a woman?

Erm...well...of course I don't know, but the thing I'm most jealous about is women get to shop in Accessorize. I'm like a raven in that if it's shiny or metallic I'm drawn to it like a moth to flame. I'd quite happily spend hours in there.

I hope my answers haven't bored you too much, and thanks once again to Mishieru for the award! I'd like to pass it on to all of serial commenters who haven't already received - you know who you are!

Wednesday, 19 May 2010

On a Good Deed and a Half Century

Firstly, it would appear that Monday's post was my 50th so I'd like to take this opportunity to say thanks to everyone who has stopped by, followed my blog or commented on my posts. THANKS! A lot of my posts are complete drivel, so I do appreciate the effort you've put it in to sitting through them. Fifty(one) blog posts...not bad for a technophobe! :)

And on to the good deed mentioned in the title, which will surely be a disappointment. It's only worth mentioning because it's so rare that I actually go out of my way to perform one. I'm not a horrible person, but I usually worry that my interference isn't necessary won't be appreciated, and while I'm dithering about that somebody else usually steps up and steals the glory.

So - picture the scene, if you will. TbR is on the tube reading Wolf Hall. It's boiling hot. The man sitting next to me is an American fellow (which I cunningly deduce from his accent - I'm that clever. He's also wearing shorts, which most natives haven't dusted off yet). He chats merrily away to his friends about how funny it is that we have a politician with the surname Balls. Erm...Bush, anyone? Together they'd make quite the rude-sounded team.

The tube empties at Tower Hill. I'm behind him and his friends all the way up the stairs and out into Trinity Square. All three of them break into a run, frolicking about in the sun like carefree children at a panic. As the man skips along his travel card falls out of his pocket. He doesn't notice. But TbR, of the eagle eye, does notice. TbR doesn't miss a thing.

My first effort at attracting their attention is a rather pathetic "Excuse me!" It doesn't work. The happy Americans continue their fun game. Now I'm standing in the street, the man's travel card in my hand thinking, "What do I do now?! I knew I shouldn't have picked it up. If I can't give it back, is it theft? Am I committing a crime? Oh God..."

The next thing I know, I'm running. They're too far ahead, I'll never catch up. I shout. This time though, I inadvertently slip into my natural accent and end up sounding like a chimney sweep in Mary Poppins [have you ever noticed how ridiculous your own accent sounds when you talk to someone with a different one?]. The polite 'excuse me' is gone, replaced with a still polite but not quite so posh "SCUSE ME MATE...YOU'VE DROPPED YER OYSTER!" One of the girls in his group hears my cry, and turns round. Bless you, I think, bless you for sparing me from a life behind bars.

And, what's more, she looks and sounds genuinely grateful when I explain why I'm chasing her down the road. I'm not sure how I would have reacted if I'd been in her position; turning to see a madman wailing like a banshee with an oystercard in one hand and a bulky hardback in the other. The man to whom the card belonged was still galloping around somewhere in the distance, but I'm confident that the two were travelling in the same group, so I consider my good deed done.

What this essay amounts to then, is this; today someone dropped his travel card. I picked it up and returned it to him. See, I told you it would be disappointing.

Monday, 17 May 2010

On What Went Before

I pass through Fenchurch Street Station every day. In the book I'm reading, set in the 1500s, Fenchurch Street is mentioned as a hub for tradesmen and merchants, as it is today for bankers and city slickers. This parallel, between London past and London present, has made my commute ten times more interesting, in the same way as the novel London Belongs to Me did a couple of months ago.

It's reminded me of the history that is hidden beneath the surface, overshadowed by skyscrapers and ignored by commuters. If the thought of the thousands of people that live and work in London today is a daunting one, then the thought of all the people who have lived and worked here in years gone by is even more impressive. The place is in a constant state of flux; the skyline and the road maps are more or less always changing. Downmarket areas transform themselves from places to avoid to the places to be - from urban decay to city chic. The history of the place is almost impossible to comprehend as old gives way to new, but it's impossible to escape, too. There's a plaque outside the Gherkin (pictured) in memory of the Roman girl whose remains were discovered when digging the foundations. Part of a wall built by Roman soldiers nearly 2000 years ago still stands outside Tower Hill station, and gives its name to one of the busiest streets in the City. Blue plaques mark houses that were once home to people of note; their stories have been preserved along with the buildings they lived in - but what about the millions of others whose stories, and homes, are long forgotten, buried under what came after?

I imagine the same can be said of anywhere that's home to so many; it's nice though, every now and then, to be reminded that you live somewhere special - especially when it's so easy to take it for granted and concentrate its faults.

Saturday, 15 May 2010

On Being a Football Fan

In the early hours of Tuesday morning, I set off on an epic car journey from London to Hamburg to watch Fulham Football Club play Atletico Madrid in the Europa Cup Final. For those of you that don't know, we lost in the dying minutes of extra time after putting up quite a fight. Since the defeat, I've had a lump in my throat. I can't read the papers, I haven't watched the highlights and I try not to talk about it.

That must sound absolutely ridiculous to those of you that don't follow the Beautiful Game. I feel I should try to explain myself. Firstly, Fulham played their first Europa League game almost a year ago. Since then, it's been a rollercoaster ride of crushing defeats followed by miracle victories with which Roy's Boys fought their way into the final. It's not rare for people to cry at a 90 minute film, with characters who aren't real to whom you've only just been introduced - so I feel justified in having such an emotional reaction to a football match, given that I've followed the players through thick and thin for a ruddy long time.

Secondly, I think there's an almost tribal element to it. It's an amazing feeling watching your team score. When Fulham equalised on Wednesday night I was jumping about like a mad chimp at the zoo. There is an actual sense of belonging that you get by supporting a team, wearing their colours and singing the songs that football's detractors sometimes mock.

I know that many people hate football, and of course everyone is free to hold their own opinions, but to anyone who hasn't experienced a game before, I really recommend it. N grew up in South Africa where football isn't particularly popular and when I first met him he hated it. After a bit of nagging he agreed to come to a game and a year and a bit later he's a diehard Fulham fan. Partly because of his ability to absorb useless information like a sponge, he now knows more about the League than I ever have. And while I was doing my mental-monkey dance, he was busting some similar moves to my right, only in a slightly more macho way.

There's a lot about the game that you'll never know unless you give it a chance. Of course, I can't deny that there are still problems associated with it, but times have changed since the heyday of English football hooliganism, and you'll find most fans share your exasperation with the phenomenal sums of money that regularly change hands between clubs. When next season starts, if you ever find yourself at a loose end on a weekend, put your feelings about hooliganism and adulterous players aside and go to a game. Any game - it might be completely different to what you'd expect. It has just given me one of the best few days of my life.

Saturday, 8 May 2010

On Made Up Money

Not empty for long...?

~~~DON'T WORRY - this isn't another post moaning about how broke I am~~~

Economics, along with politics, is something I've never understood, nor really tried to. I had a conversation with my dad at the beginning of the economic crisis about how I didn't understand exchange rates because they are basically human inventions, so how can we all be at their mercy? Trying to explain my point I waffled through a long monologue that went something like this;
"I just don't get it. Exhcange're human inventions so how do they have this power over us? If you really think about money and stuff, it doesn't really exist".
"Not in your bank account it doesn't," he replied. Good one, father. Obviously I have since looked into the above and now understand things a little better (well, I could hardly understand them less) and you know what, things are looking up...

In recent weeks I've received a number of e-mails from wealthy people from all over the world, desperately trying to find a willing recipient for the millions of extra dollars, pounds or Nigerian naira they have in their accounts.

One god-fearing lady from UAE e-mailed me to say that her beloved husband had recently died and left her a rather princely sum of money. She wanted me to have all of it (I assume she kept a little back to live on - but I won't hold that against her, her husband has just died after all). She wanted me to have this money so much, because she knew that I'd use it in a respectful way and not for anything that would make God frown upon me. Her children couldn't be trusted you see, they had lost their way. She was obviously barking up the wrong tree, in the wrong forest, on the wrong fucking continent. I am going on such a massive bender with her husband's inheritance that it will probably make the news in Dubai and break her heart.

A bank in Nigeria e-mails me quite often too. I say often - it's not really that frequent, but they e-mail me far more often than all the other banks dotted around the world with which I have absolutely no dealings. They seem to have a lot of surplus USD that they need looking after. Why I'm the obvious candidate I don't know - maybe the holy woman from Dubai told them that I can be trusted? Still, send it over. I'll look after it for you. I'm nice like that.

And just this morning a nice man from a famous charity e-mailed me to let me know I've been granted $850,000. For no reason, just because they can I guess. Perhaps they collected more money than they knew what to do with DURING THE RECESSION and thought they'd reward me for the 20p I once dropped in a collection box. Here's me thinking that all the proceeds from the charity shops and collections go to people in real need around the globe. No - it goes to people like me, in the form of grants, which I'll add to my funds received from the religious widow and the Nigerian bank and start my immense pub crawl, to which everyone is invited. It looks like I've just won a German lottery too - would you believe I don't even remember entering it! So the drinks are on me - I'm minted!

And when we've all got killer hangovers, there's a Canadian pharmacy that keeps offering great prices so we'll stock up on aspirin.


On the other hand, things like this are actually quite scary. Being moderately technologically savvy, I know that these emails are rubbish and wouldn't think twice about sending any details or even replying (although I did once, in a drunken state, tell one to eff off and never email me again. I'd had a bad day). There are people out there though, I imagine, who will believe them. I don't think I'm going to let my mum on the internet any more, she's always looking for a get-rich-quick scheme.

Tuesday, 4 May 2010

Just Finished: Mao's Last Dancer by Li Cunxin

This is not a book I ever would have chosen myself, but, in an effort to broaden my literary horizons I've joined N's book club. The reason I would never have chosen it is that it's an autobiography - whenever I hear that a 25-year old footballer or Z-list Big Brother survivor is penning a written account of their life thus far I get angry. I understand that not all autobiographies are written by brainless, gold-digging halfwits though, and that many have a true story to tell.

That's the case with Mao's Last Dancer - Li Cunxin is not a writer, so the writing style can be a bit difficult at times, but for me this made it that bit more real - it reads like he's telling the story himself, there's little embellishment or polish, it's raw. And it's really interesting - Li Cunxin grew up under Chairman Mao's regime, and was chosen by Madame Mao to leave his poor commune near Qingdao to study dance in Beijing. The effect of Mao's politics on China is well documented through Li's descriptions of his life in the dance academy and at home in the commune, particularly the indoctrination of the populace and the fear of being seen to disagree, or question, any of Mao's teachings.

I'm still not a fan of the autobiography as a genre - one thing that got on my nerves was Li's sentimentality, but then again how difficult must it be to remain objective when you're writing about your own life and the people you love.

Li Cunxin did lead an incredible life - from intense poverty in communist China to affluence in the West - and his story gives a fascinating glimpse into both the hardship of living under Mao's regime and the heartache of being separated from everything you've ever known. I suppose I should give his autobiography a little more credit - if it had been labelled as a novel I probably would have moaned about how grossly unbelievable the plot was - it's definitely a story worth telling.

That said, I'm ready for a bit of fiction now so have chosen a big fat novel to sink my teeth into.

Next up - Wolf Hall by Hilary Mantel

Saturday, 1 May 2010

On Various Methods of Procrastination

Despite having tamed my rogue I-Pod, the War with Technology continues. My work computer is still valiantly trying to stay awake, alive and kicking, though more often than not fails miserably and gives itself up to the Blue Screen of Death. Because of the long periods of enforced inactivity thrust upon me by this antique piece of office equipment, I've turned from Facebook, YouTube to new methods of passing the eight hours a day I spend at my desk:

I make Morph, my little desk buddy, lift cars. He's very strong is Morph, and quite enjoys the physical exertion. He's also very fond of the scarf I found for him (modelled in this picture).

I nibble at the delights delivered in my weekly Graze box (the Wasabi peas are bloody lovely).

I make origami animals. Please be introduced to the Happy Whale Family and Samsung the Panda.

I design complex costumes for the fancy dress party I'm attending next week. This is a frog costume - it's still in the planning stages but I'm hoping to get it through production this week!

And I leave notes next to home-made, people-shaped snacks.

Add a dash of office banter, one lyric quiz, an extended lunch break and a generous helping of day-dreaming, and you too can have a fun-full Friday that will pass in the blink of an eye.

DISCLAIMER: Should any of my colleagues stumble across this blog, please note that the italicised phrases are intended ironically and should not be taken seriously. That said, if you do fancy getting me a brand spanking new machine and, by doing so, increase my output tenfold, please do so.