Monday, 29 November 2010

Excess Baggage

So, it’s Monday night and I’ve just over indulged on homemade stew, Frazzles, Milka and a rather lovely Californian Red. I am feeling bloated. Even though I have a stinking cold as an excuse, I am well overdue a trip to the gym. And my jeans are starting to notice.
So, tomorrow, my friends, I will go to Body Balance. At seven. In the morning. Yes, you read that right. Extreme though it may sound, it acts as quite a nice start to the second day of a working week five days too long. Yes, it needs to be done.
There is only one small problem, aside from crawling out of bed hours before your average milkman. My bags. No, not even the ones under my eyes. You see, after a morning session at the gym, I have to carry my gym kit around with me for the rest of the day, along with my laptop and day-to-day work bag, filled to the brim with diary, note book, a small selection from Boots the chemists and my latest book club challenge to name but a few.
In normal circumstances this wouldn’t be too much of a problem. On most Tuesdays I head to the office and dump my smelly trainers and make up selection under my desk, but tomorrow I have a meeting at another office, followed by two others in swift succession. Which means my pongy footwear will literally be following me around all day. Niiice.
Of course, if I had a car, this wouldn’t be a problem. I would just throw the offending article into the boot and fumigate with Febreeze on my return home. But, being a Londoner, I don’t have that luxury. I just hope that the smell doesn’t permeate through the lining on my Roxy rucksack.
Then, of course, I have to explain my appearance to everyone, which quite honestly rivals that of your average bag lady. No, I don’t want to sleep in your doorway, I just want to attend the meeting on the second floor please. Embarrassing doesn’t even come close, especially as I try to squeeze my cargo onto an overcrowded rush hour tube.
But, you know what? I’m past caring. So what if my spine is completely misaligned after a day of lugging my life around with me all day? Who cares if I get a few dirty looks on the tube? I am a woman on the go and I don’t have time to worry about people’s reaction when I fall over my cotton carrier bag as I disembark off the escalator at Kings Cross on my way to another Pilates class. At the end of the day, I have a job to do, a social life to keep and a body to work out, and not a lot of time to do it all in. So if you don’t like it I suggest you hire me a limo and get out of my way before I accidentally take you out with an innocent swing of my laptop case.
You have been warned.

Sunday, 21 November 2010

Artistic Licence

I like art. Always have. Even studied it at university and still occasionally dust off my easel and dig out my old paint brushes.
I like going to exhibitions too. The only problem with London is that there are so many to choose from, and so little time. I usually end up just going to shows by artists I already know and like or to my favourite annual competitions. Not that I quite understand how art can be judged so objectively.
Despite my reservations on such matters, on Friday I took my yearly pilgrimage to the Turner Prize. What I like about the Turner Prize is that it acts as a barometer of what is hot and what is not in the world of contemporary art. And, every now and then, you discover a new artist you really love.
Alas, this was not one of those years. Okay, I had a definite favourite, but I still can’t help but feel a little bit cheated. Okay, so there were a couple of artists who had applied paint to canvas and presented it in two very different ways. And, yes, the film art was very interesting, but I didn’t really have 387 minutes to watch it all, and, if I’m honest, I don’t really see how re-working an entire series of a documentary on Greek history is, well, art. The final exhibit didn’t even have a visual component to it. Interestingly enough, this was my favourite. A fact which, in itself, speaks volumes.
The problem is I think artists, like a lot of people, have started to lose a bit of perspective. For me, art is there to evoke emotion and challenge my understanding of the world. This year, only one of the artists managed to do this, end even they fell into that all too familiar trap. Yes, I am all for pushing boundaries, trying new things and moving into the unknown. But at the expense of real substance and meaning? I don’t think so.
Okay, so maybe I have missed the point. In fact, I’m sure I probably have. Its ten years since I graduated and last really looked at art with a finely tuned critical eye. Having said that, I still can’t help but think that progress and innovation has got in the way of what is really important.
So, if you happen to be wandering along Millbank and have a spare £8 in your pocket (yes, really!), take a look. And let me know what you think. Feel free to educate me. Like I say, I have an open mind about these things. However, I think you will see what I mean.

Monday, 15 November 2010

The Big Issue

This is going to sound really harsh. But please bear with me. The thing is, I have a really big problem. With big people. Fat people, to be precise. Hang on, before you turn off your laptop in disgust, let me clarify. It’s not with fat people themselves, but with how people react to the tubby underground.
I have been there, you see. Overweight. Obese, even, in my younger years. It wasn’t much fun. Yes, it was my own fault. I ate too much, and, abracadabra, a moment on the lips became a lifetime on the hips. Until I got my head together and started eating what my body needed rather than pigging out at every given opportunity.
The thing is, a lot of fat people eat to comfort themselves. Some people smoke, some people drink, some people inject heroin into their veins. Some people reach for food. The difference is, you can’t hide food like you can a lot of other things. A Mars Bar too many a day has a very noticeable, visual impact, in the way that a lot of vices do not.
Okay, so your average crack addict might be easy to spot for most of us, and no-one likes sharing a lift with someone who has just smoked a packet of Camels or downed a bottle of Jonny Walker. But, generally speaking, they are left alone. No one would dare openly criticise someone with a proper addiction, would they? It’s an illness, surely?
However, when it comes to fat people, things are very different. Being overweight is associated with being greedy, lazy, “letting yourself go” even. The NHS cries about the impact obesity has on its overstretched resources on a weekly basis, failing to mention that vast amounts that has been spent for years on other unhealthy lifestyle choices. Then there is the media. Daytime television is crammed with stories of fat people desperate to turn their lives around, and Z list celebrities happy to help them on their way to a place in our slim society.
It’s not that I think it is wrong to help people lead a healthier life. But I think we have got to the point where those above a healthy BMI weight are ridiculed for their weakness. “Slovenly”, “heaving”, “gut-busting” are all words that are often used to describe those of us who are above your average weight. Experts are sent in to help them mend their ways on prime time television. As for drinkers and smokers? No-where to be seen.
Several weeks ago I was listening to the radio when a DJ was talking about the “obesity epidemic”. His solution was to have fat people followed by a version of Mr Blobby making disgusting squelching noises 24 hours a day. Apparently this was very funny, in a way that having an alcoholic followed around by the glugging sound of wine being poured from a bottle is not.
So, what does this teach us as we sit in front of our televisions, deliberating over which vice we should turn to in our hour of need? Do we choose fags, which make our clothes stink and will no doubt lead to lung cancer when we get older? Booze, which will make our nose go red and bulbous before our liver packs up? Either will do, because, at the end of the day, they are addictions. They are taken seriously. Users receive sympathy, not ridicule. But, food? A big bag of Kettle Chips and a slab of cake? Don’t even go there. Yes, there are health problems attached to all of the above, but worse still is the mocking of the media that your lack of control, your sloth, your greed, that eating too much will be sure to provoke.
You have been warned.

Tuesday, 9 November 2010

Strike it Unlucky

Tonight I am feeling a little bit apprehensive. You see, tomorrow is college day. In Clapham. Do I have an exam in the morning? No. Do I have an assignment to hand in? Not this week. So, what is the problem? You may ask. The problem, my reader, is getting there.
Okay, so I don’t anticipate having any problem getting south of the river tomorrow. But after last week, I am worried about having flash backs. Those of you who have been asleep for the last month or maybe don’t live in London may not have been aware that there was a tube strike last week. The RMT took a stand against job cuts, which could potentially leave some stations unmanned. I can see their point. I have visions of anarchic tube stations at night, people left to fend for themselves against feral hoodies as they wait for the last tube home. I have nightmares of having my Oyster card pick pocketed and being left stranded at the other side of the barrier, praying for someone to appear in that all too familiar yellow jacket to save me from a life wandering around London’s underworld.
Okay, so I’m exaggerating, but you get my point.
There have been tube strikes before. But, to be honest, they’ve never really bothered me. You see, I walk to work and am relatively central to most meetings I have to attend for my job. But travelling further than a short bus ride away? Never had to do it in these circumstances before.
I admit it, I was naive. A colleague told me the Northern Line was usually okay during strikes. I had a contingency plan: Get the train to Gospel Oak, then to Willesden Junction, then to Clapham Junction. A bit around the houses, but it would get me there.
However, I made a mistake last Wednesday morning. I listened to the radio. A good service is running on the Northern Line, it reported. Oh goody, I thought. So I headed to the tube station. As I travelled down the escalator, a lot of people stood opposite me on their way out. Certainly more than usual. My heart sank.
On the platform, the countdown clock confirmed my fears. Eight minutes until the next train. I waited for eight minutes, watching the platform become more and more crowded. The train finally arrived, packed tighter than grapes in a carton of Welch’s. It pulled away without me. I looked at the countdown clock again. Thirteen minutes to go. This clearly wasn’t going to happen.
I gave up. Back in the fresh air, I headed to the bus stop and got on the first bus headed south that I could squeeze on to. After a quick calculation, I figured I could change at Oxford Circus for the 88. Happy days.
Unfortunately, the rest of London had the same idea and had taken to the road. It took me an hour to get to Kings Cross. I started to panic. For a moment I contemplated jumping off the bus and trying to catch a train. In my heart, I know this was a bad idea. The chance of me getting on a train from Kings Cross headed south via the City? Pretty slim. So, I stuck it out.
To cut a (very) long story short, it took me three hours to get to Clapham. Three. Hours. Stressed doesn’t even come close. When I finally arrived, someone asked me if I had got the train. With great self restraint I didn’t kill him. However the banshee in me leapt out and he scuttled away for cover.
So, what is the moral of the story here? Well, for one, do not underestimate the power of a tube strike. It is frightening how much we rely on public transport, and how we suffer without them. Secondly, have a plan B, C and D on how to get to your destination. Thirdly, don’t listen to travel advice. Tfl tried desperately to minimise the destruction the strike caused on local media. In short, they lied.
And, finally, fourth. Just stay at home. The rush hour is soul destroying enough at the best of times. But during a tube strike? Don’t do it to yourselves unless you really have to. Take the day off. Work from home. Whatever. But if you do venture out? Take a (small) book to read, walking shoes, a flask and some Kendal Mint cake. And give yourself three times as long as normal to get where you need to go.
You have been warned.

Monday, 1 November 2010

The American Dream

It’s official. I am a 49ers fan. Okay, so I might not know who their quarterback is or know why they are called that (something to do with San Francisco being founded by Miners?) but I don’t care. Because, you see, yesterday I went to Wembley to see them play the Denver Broncos. It was the second American Football game I have ever watched, and as my American friend who was also there is a ‘Cisco girl, it was a no-brainer. Okay, so they might be at the bottom of their league but last night they won. And I was there to watch it.
Him Indoors is an American Football fan. I’m not sure why, being an English boy with a twist of Italian in him. He supports the New England Patriots, purely because of the “England” part (it was nearly the New York Giants for the same reason) and, given half the chance, will happily stay up all night to watch a game. So, for his birthday, I bought two tickets for the game. Well, I couldn’t let him go on his own, could I?
About a month ago, I began to receive emails telling me about the tailgate party before the game. A couple of weeks ago, I sat through my first ever game, recorded on Sky Plus and watched at a more sociable hour than the usual three in the morning. On the 19th October the tickets arrived. Yesterday, at Kings Cross Station, we started to spot supporters proudly displaying their team jerseys. The atmosphere on the train was jovial despite the array of teams represented. At the tailgate party, fans from all corners of the USA watched others practice their skills, check out the 49ers Hall of Fame, eat hotdogs and drink Coors Light. The atmosphere was not unlike that of a music festival. Even the high consumption of alcohol did not provoke any aggro. Queuing up to buy my 49ers t-shirt, I got into a conversation with a guy from California who was travelling around Europe. No agenda, just a bit of banter before the game. It was great. Relaxed. Fun.
After a few hours of partying, we headed into the stadium. Broncos and 49ers supporters sat side by side, cheering for their respective teams. On the screens at either end of the stadium we were asked to text any unruly behaviour to a special number. The cheerleaders entertained the crowd with their moves. A troupe of drummers got the crowd going in between quarters and music filled the stadium at every given opportunity. Flags were flown, chants were started and a Mexican Wave did four laps of the stadium.
Okay, so I admit, I did get a bit lost at times. Not only is my grasp of the rules a little shaky, but I kept getting distracted by the entertainment, which made figuring out who had the ball after the snap (see, I’ve picked up some of the lingo) with my dodgy eyesight a bit of a challenge. But it didn’t matter. The carnival atmosphere made up for any confusion. And the fact that the Niners won was the icing on the cake.
I recently asked a Nottingham Forest supporting friend to let me know if she ever had any spare tickets. You see, at the grand old age of 30, I decided it was about time I give a good old English football match a proper go. And, having grown up in Robin Hood country, it seemed like the obvious choice. But something tells me it won’t be the same. The Americans have got their game down to a fine art, balancing entertainment, good spirits and competition. I suspect they would put the average Premiership match to shame.
Tickets for next year’s game will no doubt go on sale early next year. I think I might just have to indulge. And even if the 49ers don’t come back to Wembley, I will wear my new t-shirt with pride.