Wednesday, 2 October 2013

Desperate House (of Commons) Wives

I pissed off a Spanish phone perv once. Language lab tapes at school don’t prepare you for just how difficult it is when you can’t see someone’s facial expression and they sound like they’ve been running for a bus. So when I obliviously and apologetically requested that he repeat the question, but slower, and he obliged, and I still couldn’t catch it, there was a long delay, followed by a massive sigh (several, to be honest). Then, clearly despairing of ex-pats, and with a heavy Spanish accent, the pained voice said in English, “What-Are-You-Wearing?”  
I was genuinely shocked - I had no idea they still asked that. But it’s not just bored men with hands-free phones ‘garnishing their chorizos’ (I’m rubbish at euphemisms. And recipes.)  - the press are just as morbidly obsessed with that question if you’re a political party leader’s wife.
A recent Daily Telegraph front page had a picture of Miriam Gonzalez Durantez after a photocall with her husband Nick Clegg. The caption read, ‘She ditched the sensible Gap Jeans she had worn inside [a school] for a more eye-catching pair of Cos trousers but stuck with the silver shoes from Dune.’
Clearly the Lib Dem conf had just been an infomercial for where a partner in a law company, and mother of three with no official role in the party, who earns her own money, buys her clothes. Did we need the full list of high street retailers or was that released to show us how frugally her husband would run the economy? If this is the rationale, it bodes badly for Samantha Cameron this week. Knowing how hard husband David tries to prove he’s a real boy, there’s a shellsuit with her name on it (literally) on its way to the Tory Party Conference as we speak.
Regardless of what ‘the wives’ do, they can’t escape comment on their look. Michelle ‘Good Arms’ Obama does excellent work campaigning for the prevention of child obesity in the US. When I read Miriam Gonz. Dur ‘had eye-catching Cos trousers’, ‘I’d only heard of Cos lettuces, so I assumed she was supporting the First Lady’s cause by dressing as a healthy alternative to Lady Gaga’s meat dress.  Disappointingly they weren’t made of salad at all, they just had a black and white pattern – quite unremarkable really, but no woman in the public eye can wear anything without a judgemental adjective being applied to it so they had to be labelled ‘eye-catching’ and her jeans ‘sensible’. It’s as if Maggie Smith’s dowager character in Downton Abbey had been drafted in specially for  passive-aggressive duties.
And there are not enough fluffy white dressing gowns and freebie shampoos in the world to compensate for the hell of going to conference when your husband is the party leader.  As everyone overly applauds and guffaws at his and his mates’ speeches with their jokes written for them, all eyes are on you. You sit there mute, smiling and looking demure while people scrutinise what you’re wearing. Then you have to kiss him as if he has just steered a large passenger ship away from an iceberg, so everyone can see how much you ‘love and respect each other’. I may have inadvertently just described some people’s weddings here.
News stories about the pair of you will be widely dispatched, the essence of which will largely be ‘He’s tapping that.’ Every image of you will be dissected, more often than not, by groups of women in TV studios (frequently composed of the self-styled ‘pretty’, ‘practical’ and ‘bonkers’ one). ‘She’s cut her hair into a bob, is that fashionable?’ ‘Very practical for the school-run.’ ‘Is it something to do with Bob The Builder?’  And of course the eternal question about whether you’re supportive enough of your husband’s political career. If it was me, I’d be tempted to confuse them even more by never leaving his side yet wearing one of those T-shirts that says ‘I’m with stupid’.  
In the same way if you mention any problem in the First World, someone will remind you there are children starving in Africa, I’m aware my references to Samantha Cameron and Miriam Gonz Dur will prompt someone to furiously point out there are UKIP wives trapped behind a fridge. But ask yourself when you have ever seen an article about what Joachim Sauer wears when he supports his wife German Chancellor Angela Merkel.
Yesterday’s Guardian demonstrated you don’t have to be a ‘wife’ in politics to be seen as merely the sum of your clothes, you can even be the Home Secretary. Along with the front page photo of Theresa May’s shoes and trousers, deputy fashion editor Imogen Fox’s article states, ‘As she expounded her tough stance on immigration she stood in shoes worthy of the front row at Paris Fashion week.’ And the obligatory price tag info followed.
Fox’s remit is fashion and she positively cheers May’s admirable and bold fashion sense. But why would The Guardian give so much attention to a woman’s trousers and not her words on a subject that is one of the hottest potatoes in British politics at the moment? Can’t women be judged on the contents of their character and not the colour of their cardigan? (with apologies for hijacking and butchering Martin Luther King’s words a bit there)
Needless to say, The Guardian’s coverage of May’s outfit was nothing in comparison to The Daily Mail’s but that’s what the Mail does: make unkind comments about women in the women’s section written by women. There’s no need for the Guardian to start leering at women just because another paper is Charles Manson.

Tuesday, 10 September 2013

Middle lane swimming

I’ve been swimming three times this week. I have a bad back so it’s all I can do to help it. People have suggested yoga but I would only be able to do pose of a cat, dog or cobra if they were all roadkill. I have even been getting round my flat on all fours cos it’s easier than straightening up. My neighbours opposite can see inside my flat and possibly suspect I have taken my yearning to own a dog a step too far (Or they’ll assume I’m a sexual sub!)
The only ‘drawback’ of swimming is that I can’t get the smell of chlorine off my skin. Despite slathering myself in orange citrus shower gel and moisturising with cocoa butter oil (net result: craving Jaffa Cakes) it’s still there, but I’m Ok with that.
The hint of bleachiness on my arms reminds me of clean floors in libraries and childhood swimming trips ending in vending machine Quavers., And due to all of this Proustian involuntary memory stuff, the whiff of chlorine on a man is kind of sexy to me despite the fact he could have been disposing of women’s bodies all day.
It was a big day for some fish when they sprung legs like dachshunds and could cope on land. I feel the same about my first pair of goggles that don’t leak in the water.  I can stay in for longer (wondering if I would have been able to survive The Titanic) and swim much better underwater, often pretending to be a manatee or some other creature from the deep as Attenborough narrates, commenting on my size to gracefulness ratio.
I love the sound of my own exhaling underwater and of course the main is joy of having my eyes open is looking at the bit of the pool where is it slopes down massively from shallow to deep. I like to glide over that bit with one arm straight ahead so I can pretend to be Superwoman.
Late night visits to a pool is a filthier habit than smoking when you consider the large area of human skin to have been dipped in it throughout the day but it’s the best time to go because there are so few people and they conveniently divide the pool into three. Like the frigging Goldilocks of swimming, I’m not too fast or too slow - I am very much a middle lane swimmer.
But some people don’t respect what lane they should be swimming in. It’s like when someone uses their phone in the quiet carriage – everyone else has agreed on the main condition of being there, but that particular person thinks it doesn’t apply to them. I recently muttered, ‘For fuck’s sake!’ as the guy sat next to me went to make his third call about how he must be allergic to tequila. He got upset and said there was no need to swear. I explained there was and that it wasn’t the no-swearing carriage. Motorway drivers often speak about people driving ‘up their arse’. In a swimming pool, that phrase is less figurative. Some people swim so slowly in the medium lane that they create a human centipede behind them.
But yesterday I witnessed a new kind of ‘pool rage’. The centrifugal dryer spinning thing that gets the water out of swimwear was broken for the second day running.  It’s a good little machine. It makes a satisfyingly loud noise and does sterling work and I like that in a thing. When I first owned a liquidiser, I don’t think I ate solids for weeks, only soups and smoothies cos the power of pressing the squish button was so immense.
The pool is at the gym and when a machine isn’t working there, they put a sign on it that says something like ‘I’m under the weather. Please use an alternative.’ or  ‘I’m poorly. Come back and use me another day’ or ‘Boohoo, I’m injured. My ickle pulley system is all ouchy. Don’t let them melt me down like they did to the rowing machine. I’ve never met my real dad.’  The worst of these anthrofuckingmorphising notices is on a toilet somewhere in Soho begging people not to put hand towels or feminine hygiene down it; It starts “Hello, my name’s Lou..”.  I’d prefer the more upfront ‘It’s broken because some clueless idiot broke it.” 
The dryer at the pool had a sign apologising for not working just above the instructions for use which were of course written in the first person. It’s simple, just put one costume in at a time, not twelve of them. I don’t know if that’s how it broke, I wasn’t there, but I was there when a German-sounding woman in the changing rooms dressed in just a towel, read the notice (at the same time as me, also only wearing a towel), lost her shit, grabbed my arm and said, ‘Come on, we are going to the men’s to use theirs.’ I exclaimed ‘No. I don’t wanna go, I only live round the corner. I can dry it at home. No, I don’t need to see what’s in there.’
She let me off and strode off towards the men’s. She didn’t get as far as actually going in but stood outside while some bemused bloke she had collared did it for her. She came back in and showed me her dry costume triumphantly. I recognised it from the front of the centipede.

Tuesday, 26 February 2013

Juliet Meyers: wooo-who?

Juliet Meyers: wooo-who?: Someone made me a mix tape for Valentine’s one year. Between tracks they DJ’ed it by chatting away making raunchy comments. It wasn...


Someone made me a Valentine's mix tape one year. Between tracks they DJ’ed it by chatting away making raunchy comments. It wasn’t creepy because it was obvious we liked each other and we were, as the tape's compiler said, 'on the brink'. It was very exciting.

Last week, an eternity later, a Polish decorator in my flat found the old radio cassette player with the tape in my spare room. When I got home he was humming along to  ‘Baby, it’s cold outside’  (Tom Jones version with Cerys Matthews.) I didn’t bat an eyelid, assuming it was radio 2, until suddenly there was a very clunky clunk and I heard the familiar voice make a reference to the sexual nature of figs. At the time of recording the mix tape alchemist was a fruit themselves, but of the forbidden variety, which made it all the more thrilling.

On hearing the distinctive voice, I expected my stomach to do its Pavlovian rendition of  'lift plunges a hundred floors in two seconds'  but rather unsatisfyingly it stopped on the 99th floor.  In the cold light of day all the innuendo suddenly sounded quite full on.

The decorator was oblivious.  He was listening to the cassette because he didn’t understand the chat on the radio, so thankfully I was safe. (I really was; during his lunchbreak while working for friends, he'd watched a bit of Hound of The Baskervilles. When they asked what he was watching he replied quite beautifully 'Is problem with dog'.)

He kept pointing to the cassette player and saying "Is Elvis, I think". I'd explain that it wasn't but he'd just object, "Singer is Elvis. Song is Elvis." And I'd just smile thinking, "Believe me, that isn't the only thing you do not understand about what you are listening to."

The minute he went home, I removed it, complete with its amusingly-drawn label, but the next day he asked for it back. He bloody adored it and played it over and over and over, like a toddler with the Teletubbies. I'd done exactly the same ten years earlier. 
In the words of the other, and my preferred Elvis (Costello), “My dreamboat turned out to be a footnote.”  Shame. We'd both had day jobs but used to skive off midway between our offices to meet for coffee. I wasn't sure if we were about to embark on a relationship or not. As I listened to all the 'My wife doesn't understand me' type stuff, I felt like a pre-coalition Lib Dem: furious at the current regime of girlfriend and swearing if I was elected in, it would all be different. But also knowing with some subconscious relief that my bold promises would probably never need to be delivered as I was not likely to be chosen. I wasn't sure I could do that to their other half, but what if I was chosen? And then I'd start to worry a little bit on the journey back to my work.

When I’d get back to my desk, there would be a Post-it with an absurd message stuck on my computer. My 'admirer' was highly amused that the receptionist wouldn’t bat an eyelid at whatever she was asked her to pass on; often calling and asking to speak to ‘Munchkin Meyers’ to which she’d simply say, “It's ringing for you”. It might not sound much but it made me laugh. They made me laugh. They loved that I laughed. They'd often tickle me when I laughed, just to squeeze out any residual laughs that might be left in my belly and it worked. In retrospect, my role might have been to be amused and admiring while the poor girlfriend got to see the more shadowy sides of their personality.
Never before or since has anyone worked so hard to ‘woo’ me. The constant playing of the tape forced every detail of our failed firework of a relationship to come flooding back. 

Mercifully the decorator finished the job in 3 days. He left his Stanley Knife behind but he took the cassette.

Monday, 11 February 2013

Bon Govey

It's 2002, Jennifer Lopez’s arse is massive and I'm working as an editor in teenage publishing. We are supposed to be partly educational in attitude so I occasionally paraphrase an interview a teen idol has given and write something like "Bon Jovi says 'Stay in school!'".

The new CEO didn’t know anything about adolescent tastes but his neighbours’ kids had said they liked J.Lo.

At his first planning meeting, he declared I should put J.Lo into all the magazines. I mentioned that I had indeed already featured Jennifer Lopez on the cover of each of our 5 titles.

“Yes,” he snapped, “but we should have J.Lo. The girls next door think she’s great. AND she’s Latino.”

Me through gritted teeth: And for all those reasons we have already put Jennifer Lopez everywhere - too much probably.

Him through nicotine-stained gritted teeth: But I’m not asking for her, I’m talking about J.Lo.

Then J.Lo and behold! I saw on his list of things to discuss it said ‘Jay Lowe’ and the penny dropped. He hadn’t a bloody, cotton picking, public-school confidence misplacing, photocopier jamming, powerpoint presenting, smug-smile wearing, MBA quoting, fucking clue.

Previously I’d only bumped into him when he had demanded the IT department change his email address. The company style was first initial then surname so I was The company wasn’t called that but I can’t tell you what it was called for legal reasons. Neither can I tell you what my boss was called but his first initial followed by his surname made it sound like he was a lady who ran a brothel. Someone more secure might have carried it off but not him. Publishing is full of slightly prefecty but clever women and he hated being corrected by them.

His predecessors at the Acne Gazette (it wasn't called that either) were no better. The rollerblading years were the worst. The endless whacky pictures of rollerblading postmen, rollerblading dogs and for the Valentine’s Day issue; a dated picture of a French boy and girl holding hands while they rollerbladed in front of the Eiffel Tower.

I held teenage focus groups and geekily researched teen trends but it was no good telling my boss that the craze for in-line skates had passed because a. He would have said "I’m not talking about in-line skates, I’m talking about Rollerblades." b. He was so convinced he was right that he refused to listen.

But all that was 'back in the day' as I believe the kids today might say, so why mention it now? Michael. Gove. Like every single one of those bosses at ‘Puberty publications, Gove swooped in from Up-his-own-Arseland thinking he knew better than the grassroots people who had immersed themselves in the practicalities and issues of the job.

I know the education system has flaws and needs to adapt to a changing world but let’s just say if Gove becomes Secretary of State for Health, many hospitals will be taking delivery of a heck of a lot of leeches to fight MRSA.

He changed his mind about the EBacc this week and I credited him with facing facts and doing a 180 of his own accord. But apparently not. Like a U-turn in a driving test, examiners forced him to do it.

I don’t disagree with everything he has ever suggested; learning a language at primary school seems a good idea. I wasn’t sure about learning poetry by rote but some educationalists have claimed that reciting things word for word can be both comforting and inspiring in later life. And I guess it helps politicians regurgitate the party line on Question Time.

But why does Michael Gove seem so keen to change things in the face of what people tell him is actually required? Some cite his own face of course. (Is it me or does a lot of topical satire at the moment hinge on the words ‘ugly’ and ‘posh’?) Some people will say it’s because he’s a Tory which seems a lazy explanation. There was a lot of dumbing down caused by Labour in my opinion. But there is a large dose of ego and careerism at play with Gove and it isn’t helpful. There’s no ‘I’ in ‘team’ and perhaps there should be no Gove in Government.

I taught stand-up comedy to kids with anger issues for a few weeks. They were amazing but I was a novelty and they were actually encouraged to express their frustrations. Every morning I sat in the staffroom with the real teachers; mostly women, who dealt with having 30 kids in a classroom, all with different needs at the same time, every day. And the crap they have to put up with.

If you think the world’s leading martyrs’ website is Al-Qaeda’s, you’re wrong. It’s Mumsnet. Many on there, along with hack comedians will point out the long holidays teachers get. But teachers have to be robust and dedicated for concentrated periods of the year.

I don’t know any more about raising educational standards than the boy Gove. If it was left to me I’d say make TV more challenging. Teaching seems to be like going on X-Factor, there are some naturals but there are a lot of idiots who think they’d be brilliant at it without actually knowing how hard it can be or ever doing it. These are the types of people that say things like “Those who can’t, teach.” Yeah, right, or become The Secretary of State for Education.