Tuesday, 24 March 2009

Attack of the Clones

I’ve had a light-bulb moment. This doesn’t happen very often. When it does I like to relish the moment, let it linger in my senses for a while. Savour it.

I was lost in my imaginary world when it happened. Without warning, Bromley shopping centre morphed into the planet of Geonosis and I was attacked by an army of battle droids. Instead of being armed with lightsabers, this load of clones had Clinique lip-gloss and pocket hair-straighteners.

I’m talking about girls. Lots of tweenage girls aged 12 going on 30, with their identikit skinny jeans and waist-belts over cardigans. They hang out in large crowds and one is unable to detect any form of individuality. No wait. That’s a lie. One of the girls had black shoes instead of white. Rebel.

Lost amongst the identikit parade, I had my light-bulb revelation. Firstly, I am old before my time; born in the wrong decade. Or perhaps the wrong era. I am yet to decide which one.

Secondly, the idea that we have lost meaning of individualism saddens me. I had never thought about it before, not with any real ardour. I lived for three years in Brighton, a place drenched in eccentricity. During this time I shut my eyes to the rest of the world. It didn’t matter that beyond the boundaries of Brighton there was a growing epidemic of homogeneity. It is only now that I am fully aware. For the first time I am truly seeing.

With this renewed awareness, there is anger. Yes, reader, my light-bulb moment was one of anger. The aversion I feel to this spate of uniformity leaves a bitter taste in my mouth. It is perhaps unfair to lay all the blame with the clones- sorry, the girls. They don’t know any better. At aged 12, I was probably the same; yearning to fit in, to conform. It is only now, with age and experience, I know better. I wasn’t trying to conform. I was trying to hide. No one can make fun of the invisible girl, lost in a sea of sameness.

I’ll admit that I’m confused as to how we arrived at such a time. I assumed, rather naively, that our modern society encouraged nonconformists. Instead I fear we are on a slow descent into some scary dystopia. The kind only read about in science fiction novels. Oh, it may only be at an early stage, where everyone dresses and acts the same and listens to the same music and watches the same TV shows. But dystopias have to start somewhere.

So who or what is to blame? Is it the media, with its encouragement and celebration of the perfect image? What about mass consumerism? How can one possibly derive any sort of individuality when every shop produces the same monotonous output?

Reader, is my conspiracy-theory-crazed mind in overdrive? Is my insomnia-dazed brain thinking too much? What do you think?

Friday, 20 March 2009


When I was nineteen years old, I was restless. Lost. My mind craved freedom. I yearned to break free from the restraints of routine and normality; an aspect of life I detested. It seems implausible to reach the metaphorical crossroads so young but I guess, rather eccentrically, I have always been about five years older than most my age.

It was this reason that I decided to go travelling. Solo. A loner at heart, instead of filling me with fear, I felt exhilarated. At last, life had direction. Meaning. For two months I travelled around America and Australia with nothing but a backpack, some dollar bills and a trusty map. I finally got that freedom I craved and it sure tasted good. Along the way, I grew up. Learned. Laughed. Cried. I lived. I made some memories, happy, sad. Worthwhile.

Let me share them with you:

The coach, bound for the Grand Canyon, had been driving all day from a small town just off Route 66. As I sat longing for our destination, the coach was abuzz with the chatter of my fellow travellers. Australian and American accents blended with the laughter, the snoring and the faint, tinny chords of music playing from someone’s headphones. From my window seat, I watched the barren, dusty desert rush past so quickly that the golden landscape became a blurry, honey coloured hue in my eyes.

It was late afternoon when we arrived. Necks straining, we all scrambled to look at the view obscured by the yellow dirt ingrained on the coach’s windows. The doors opened with a screech. The heat of the day seeped into the enclosed space, forcing everyone from their seats with a renewed vigour.

The sun was an amber glow, so bright; I had to trail the shadows of those walking in front. We climbed over scattered rocks, following a dirt-lined path of trees, bushes and plants alien to my eyes. As I lifted my gaze from the dust on my boots, I stopped breathing. My eyes, my brain, my senses; nothing from me was prepared for what I saw. The colours of this beautiful, natural rock glistened in the afternoon sun. Reds and golds merged effortlessly into one glorious colour, highlighted by the curves, indents and markings carved by the Colorado River below.

I felt overwhelmed. A shiver trailed the length of my spine. Hairs stood proudly on the back of my neck. My heart beat so loudly that blood roared in my ears, deafening the world outside of me. I looked to the side, an empty space, air, nothing but the realisation that I had no one to share such an amazing experience with. Loneliness pained me; sadness seeped into my very core. I looked around at all the people, fingers pointing, cameras flashing. I wondered why anyone would want to take their own eyes off such a sight, just so they could take a picture. It wouldn’t do it justice.

I walked closer to the edge, looked up, down, left and right. My eyes greedily ate the view as if I would soon be blind. In that moment, as the sun started its descent, the shadows grew taller over the canyon and an eerie quiet took hold of the people around me. I had never felt so small, insignificant and yet so alive.

Monday, 16 March 2009

Top Ten: Books

I'm a fan of lists. If lists had a concert, I'd be first in the queue to get tickets. Okay, so I may have overdone the metaphor for my love of lists. But it's true. I have hundreds of them. My 'what to buy just incase I win a million pounds' list. Or the 'stuff I should do today but am putting off until tomorrow' list. And my favourite, which is stuck to my notice board yellowing and slightly frayed around the edges, the 'things I must do before I die' list. I fear I've said the word 'list' too much here, so much so it has started to lose all meaning. What's a list again?

Anyways, to quench my thirst for writing random lists, I thought I would introduce a Top Ten to my blog. I envisioned a variety of the culturally specific kind; books, songs, films, places to go...etc...and my lovely readers could then debate or berate my choices. Sounds like a plan, doesn't it?

I am aware that things could turn ugly. I could be vilified. Readers could turn away in disgust at the thought that I actually enjoyed the movie 'Twilight.' I'm kidding here. It was awful. But that's another story. I don't want the Top Ten series to come between our budding blogosphere relationships. I was hoping it could bring us together. Liven debates. Share minds. Obviously, I'm seeing my Top Ten on a par with world peace.

The start of the series is my Top Ten Books. Now this was a toughie. I have read a lot of books. I mean, we all know about my escapades with the Mills and Boon. But seriously now, this list was hard to write! I just couldn't narrow it down. Well, that's a lie. I could. I did. I'm just scared to print it. My literary tastes will forever be known as the ten books I highlight here. Alas, it's too late. I cannot change my mind. Deep breath, here goes:

The Colour Purple by Alice Walker
2. The Catcher in the Rye by JD Salinger
3. Nineteen Eighty Four by George Orwell
4. Roots by Alex Haley
5. Jane Eyre by Charlotte Bronte
6. Brave New World by Aldous Huxley
7. Speak by Laurie Halse Anderson
8. One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest by Ken Kesey
9. Exodus by Julie Bertagna
10. The Lovely Bones by Alice Sebold

So reader, what do you think?

Sunday, 15 March 2009

The Three Faces of Eve

My name is Eve White.
I hide behind a white pinafore,
Shielded by a white picket fence.
I make a home for my daughter
And a wife for my husband
While I live the American dream.

My head aches,
I see white flashes
I hear white noise...

My name is Eve Black.
I bare long legs in black stockings
Exposed in a black cocktail dress
Press blackcurrant lips to the child
And that man I don’t know
While flirting with every man’s dream.

I close my eyes
I feel a black void
I sense a black hole...

My name is Jane.
I hide behind a white pinafore
Exposed in a black cocktail dress
I make a home for her daughter
And that man I don’t know
While trying to wake from this dream.

My head aches
I close my eyes
I see white flashes
I feel a black void
I hear white noise
I sense a black hole
I fade to grey...

My name is Eve White.
I never know what or who I’ll be:
Yesterday was my subconscious whore
Tomorrow may be my greying bore
But they lost me the American dream.

Saturday, 7 March 2009

Now I've heard it all...

Have you ever read something that caused your jaw to slacken and your head to shake wildly in disbelief? This is usually followed by the words ‘no way!’ Or if you’re me: ‘no fucking way; what a load of bullshit bollocks!’ What can I say, I like swearing. It’s cathartic.

Anyways, the Daily Mail revealed that British students can now study how to be a redcoat at Butlins. In case any of you have no idea what this is, let me explain it for you. Butlins is a cheap and cheerful cheese-fest of a holiday camp. Camp being the operative word here. A redcoat is the nickname for the entertainment staff who work there, singing and dancing through cringe-worthy routines all the while wearing- wait for it- red coats! The mind boggles, it really does.

I read the article and the above happened. My jaw slackened. My head shook wildly, exorcist-style. Through my disbelief over this new educational development, I did some research on what kind of degrees are available here in the UK. The results shocked me. If becoming a redcoat isn't your thing, what about about a BA in Gambling? Or a BA in Boats? And my lovely old University of Sussex even do a course in bee-keeping. Yes. Bees.

Reader, what is happening to our education system? We used to value skills so highly; basic skills that would help us in our careers. A mathematics degree may be difficult, it may be a struggle, but I’m pretty certain that any owners of this degree have guaranteed jobs at the end of it. Can they say the same about the owner of a BA in boats?

Don't get me wrong here. I admire any dedication to a subject. It takes a lot of strength to continue learning past the legally required age. Plus I'm all for learning something new. Widening the minds, gaining new skills. Variety. But bees? I really have heard it all.

What’s next, a PhD in the art of pillow fluffing?

Tuesday, 3 March 2009

The Secret's Out!

I've been Mills and Booned. It sounds dirty, doesn't it? Trust me, it isn’t.

What is it, to be Mills and Booned? Well. It involves shuffling down the book isle in Sainsbury’s. Then one pretends to be interested in the best-selling books when really you’re looking at the bottom shelf. Shock! Horror! The bottom shelf, she says. Why yes. Those lust filled romance novels published by Mills and Boon sit there, seemingly unwanted. Because, after-all, it's embarrassing to admit you read them. Let alone buy them.

It started a few years ago. Boredom had crept upon me, sudden, without warning. I had rifled through my bookcase, longing for something new to jump out at me. Alas, I had forgotten I don’t have a library in my house. Not yet.

The Hobbit sat there. Spine bent, scratched. No. I hates it. I hates it, I does! Or there was Ulysses. Spine pristine, untouched. No. It wasn’t the time to attempt a reading marathon. I wanted light-hearted. I wanted mind-numbing fun. I wanted romance!

Jane Eyre caught my eye. I picked it up. The spine had melted. Pages, unglued, fluttered to the floor, bewildered. I didn’t have the patience to put them back together. The same problem occurred with Pride and Prejudice. My bedroom floor was suddenly littered with an amalgam of Mr Rochester meeting Miss Bennett and Mr Darcy lost somewhere in Thornfield Manor. Interesting? Yes. But wrong on so many levels.

This is what happens when you read a book a thousand times. It starts to lose its patience with you.

I mentioned my boredom to my mum. With her usual eye-rolling grace, she directed me to her wardrobe. I was intrigued. I hadn’t envisioned curing my boredom with a good old game of dress-up. That hadn’t cured boredom since 1992.

A quick tug of the doorknob, I finally saw the sense of her plan. Hundreds of brightly coloured books poured out of the wardrobe and landed in a pile at my feet. Hunky, chiselled men; their arms wrapped seductively around a woman, graced the covers. Titles such as The Billionaire’s Secretary Mistress’ and His Virgin Bride’ jumped out at me. I laughed. They certainly weren’t Jane Eyre. I could almost see Charlotte Bronte frowning at me from beyond the grave.

‘Don’t read that!’ she gasped. ‘It will infect your brain. It’s mindless. It’s not literature!’

Her pleas were still ringing in my ear as I sat down with a cup of tea to read my very first Mills and Boon. I can’t remember the title. It was some laughable formulaic gibberish. A bit like the book itself. I have since come to realise, they’re all pretty much the same. It goes something like this: arrogant, self-made billionaire meets woman. Said woman thinks she has too small breasts, too red hair or is too curvy for said man to find her attractive. But woman is wrong. Man loves woman but treats her like crap until she can’t take anymore and he realises what he’s missing. There’s usually an unwanted pregnancy in there somewhere. Plus a vomit-inducing cringe-worthy profession of love at the end. Because a happy ever after does exist! For Mills and Boon, at least.

My relationship with Mills and Boon hasn’t been an easy one. I grapple with the shame that comes from reading them. That’s because I’m a self-proclaimed book snob. And because they throw out all the rules I learned during my writing degree. They state the obvious. They tell rather than show. And I can pick out the times they’ve used a thesaurus to find a better word.

Still, I can’t help but love them and their uncanny knack of putting a smile on my face. I love them for their championing of happy ever afters and their 100 year belief that true love never dies. But mainly I love them for their amazing mind-numbing abilities. It’s escapism at its best.