Monthly Archives: June 2009

Liberian Girl


It’s 1987.

I’m 14 and and at boarding school in the Lake District.

After lights out- Walkman smuggled under duvet- Michael Jackson is my escape route…

Here we go, lots of dreamy G notes and exotic birdy sounds.

‘Naku penda piya-naku taka piya- mpenziwe’

Does that mean something? Sounds a bit silly.

Ooh, I know, maybe it’s Liberian. Where’s Liberia? I hate Geography.

Definitely hot; you can’t wear leather there. Or white gloves.

‘Liberian girl…

You came and you changed my world’

Here’s the slow beat, here’s Michael. He’s smitten. She’s done lots of changing, this girl. Maybe she gave him Bubbles. And coconut hair oil.

Now the second verse and – what a treat!- a key change so soon. Normally you have to wait until the end of a song for that.

Plus- Double Fantastic!- Michael’s splitting himself into two, high and low.

She can’t doubt his feelings now, with the oral pincer bonanza.

‘More precious than any pearl’

Gosh, I’d love to be more precious than that. Will I be one day? Not to any of the boys at the school dances; they wouldn’t understand.

Now she’s asking if he loves her and he says it out loud: ‘Endlessly’.


Oh, Michael, I think I love you like that. Your voice isn’t very masculine but that’s O.K., that’s Motown.

‘You kiss me then,

Ooh, the world,

You do this to me’

Michael, I’m here! On the top bunk in Kirkby Lonsdale.

I’m wearing my froggy nightie but I’ll be a woman soon.

I’ve already been sick on alcohol!

And she’s still changing his world and now he’s changing hers back and when he tells her he loves her this time the notes aren’t descending, they’re rising, and he can’t suppress it! Out to the hot night sky! He’s mad for the girl!

‘All the time!’

And now multiple Michaels. All over the place. You can’t stop them.

Singing ‘Girl’ and ‘I want you baby’ and all the loving stuff.

She must be thrilled. I am and he’s not even talking to me…

Press rewind. All over again. Maybe 3 more times.

I’m there, I’m there.

Batteries sound drunk. Press pause.

Listen to see if my sexually-precocious room-mates have finished talking about doing unspeakable things to boys.

Yes, they have. Walkman away. Time to dream.

On a beach in paradise with Michael Jackson moonwalking back to me.

‘Just like in the movies’…


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Running is the exercise choice of people without imagination, so that they will be fit enough to tackle regular day-trips around megastores, such as Homebase and IKEA.

Everyone know it’s almost as bad for your knees as getting too friendly with Kathy Bates but it breaks the requisite sweat and doesn’t look as stupid to perform as aerobics.

Jogging sessions are comparable to long-term relationships: you’ll make it through if you keep your head down and don’t try any fancy footwork.

Bodies, meanwhile, are like partners: you need to know when to listen to them and when to tell them to shut up and get on with it.

Runners divide into three types: those who like to take a friend and talk breathlessly at the pace of a snail around the park; those who use treadmills because they can focus on every calorie being burned; and those who intend to overtake Forest Gump, still wearing cycling shorts and a swimming cap.

Each will feel the inexorable pull of an event at some point: the first to a local 500 yard charity run where their friends will post amusing obscenities on their Just Giving website; the second to the London marathon, which they will complete under duress in 14 days, dressed as a chicken; and the third up Everest, sponsored by an Investment Bank.

Alth0ugh it is perfectly possible to run in a t-shirt and a pair of shorts The Serious People know they need all sorts of tight, stretchy, N.A.S.A-designed specialist aerodynamic gear.

Sit them down and ask them the difference between a tennis and a running shoe and four hours later your ears will start to bleed.

What is not perfectly possible is to run without an MP3 player. It is better for your foot to fall off than for your iPod to run out, surrendering your head to consider the task underway.

It is also better for your foot to fall off than for your earphones to fall out and confirm to a passer-by that, yes, you were mouthing to ‘Man in the Mirror’.

Warm-up exercises are the ego stretches performed in the middle of a run when you are exhausted and would like to pause and vomit but someone attractive is approaching in the opposite direction. Even athletes don’t do them before races, preferring to shake their legs and make signs of the cross instead.

Nothing on earth is more satisfying than being spotted by an acquaintance while on a run, especially if they are just finishing off a Krispy Kreme doughnut. Anyone will do- even your local newsagent: ‘Yeah, this is me. This is the way I live my life, (Lardarse)’.

There are three strands of fast leg mobilisation that bear no resemblance to the traditional sort: marathon running, Sports Day participation and speed walking.

Marathon running is the Buddhism of the exercise world. Its physical stamina, mental endurance and unbending willpower are almost abstract. The zero body fat, on the other hand, is very real: Paula Radcliffe would rather digest John Inverdale than a jelly baby.

Sports Day participation should be FUN, FUN, FUN. In a floral dress, shaking a mane of shiny, fragrant hair and laughing like Diana, Princess of Wales. Hitching up your skirt and belting for the finishing line with an egg stuck to your spoon by chewing gum is missing the point.

Speed walking -practiced by the clinically insane- is walking with action man arm movements, wearing a baseball cap. Those afflicted would achieve a greater level of fitness setting up a sun-lounger on the back patio but they will be the ones sniggering in the hospital corridors when you have your knee replacement surgery, albeit gently so that they don’t tweak their stomach staples.

Running in the gym has a sexier, more 1980s feel than its outdoor alternative, stirring corporeal urges as much as stretching the ham strings.

In fact, treadmills are virtually synonymous with work-outs in movies featuring New York Skyscrapers, to the point where you are tempted to stop moving when the belt is at full speed and fall comedically off the end.

However, there is one jogging variant that manages to transcend distracting dramas altogether and that is running on the beach.

Dodging waves listening to high volume tunes with the sun blasting down, it’s not exercise any more: it’s freedom.

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Conjoined twins Justin Timberlake dilemma

Twin 1: I fancy Justin Timberlake.

Twin 2: I don’t.

Twin 1: I like his sexy in-your-face dancing.

Twin 2: I think he looks like his bones are made from rubber bands.

Twin 1: I think he’d be hot.

Twin 2: I think he’s one wrong turn away from being beaten up.

Twin 1: He’s in touch with his feminine side.

Twin 2: He’s a girl in an over-grown adolescent boy’s body, who still goes to bed in his Mickey Mouse Club pyjamas.

Twin 1: You don’t want to sleep with him then?

Twin 2: No, thank you.

Twin 1: Oh. I’m disappointed.

Do you think you could…

Twin 2: …pretend to be asleep?

No, I could not.

Twin 1: Who do you fancy then?

Twin 2: Dominic West.

Twin 1: Who’s he?

Twin 2: You know, McNulty, from The Wire.

Twin 1: Oh, yes, yes! I fancy him too! I’d be awake for that!

Twin 2: Great. We’ll have our hair done first.

Twin 1: Don’t finish my sentences. It’s annoying.

Twin 2: Fine. Don’t talk about turtles.

Twin 1: Where shall we find him?

Twin 2: Hammersmith Grove. He cycles along there a lot. We’ll stake it out.

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My parents, the yobs.

Hattiejakestattoos elderly

My father, a man with a submariner’s oddly twinned attributes of a well-attuned social etiquette with a mild misanthropy, has- in his old age- become something of a liability behind the wheel.

Shielded, he believes, from the necessity of polite interaction with his fellow man he can let rip and vent his state-of-the-country spleen at the extra-vehicular world, with impunity.

Imagine his surprise, then, when pootling to Waitrose with my mother in the passenger seat, he was upbraided by a large be-spectacled woman for allowing his car to straddle the pedestrian crossing leading to its entrance.

For, it seems, that inclement South Coastal weather begging for ventilation of one’s transport via the means of open windows, his retort of ‘Oh, get out of the way, you big fat thing’, did not go unheard.

‘Who’s calling who fat?’ bellowed the large sailing ship, presumably discombobulated by the tracing of the offensive verbal abuse to my septuagenarian parents in their pressed Marks & Spencers apparel.

‘Well, I’m nothing like as large as you,’ persisted my Father, somewhat unchivalrously.

Whereupon my disgraced relatives revved the Audi to 5 miles per hour and parked in their regular disabled space, my mother lithely liberating the badge she earned for a bad back donkey’s years ago and smugly planting it on the dashboard.

I like this story so far for its silver-haired-hoodie-by-the-sea flavour but what’s best is next.

Instead of clutching her handbag close and making tutting signs at her uncouth husband my mother sighed and said, ‘Well, I hope we don’t end up on her ward next time we’re in Worthing hospital’. (My parents take mini breaks there about 15 times a year.)

‘What ward?’ asked my father, newly concerned.

‘She was wearing a matron’s uniform,’ replied Columbo-Mum.

‘Oh,’ offered my father inadequately, dense regret and dread creeping into his tone. ‘I thought it was an overall.’

And so the grocery shop passed in muted humour, the car windows firmly closed on the journey home and a slightly off taste to the daily mince pie luncheon treat.

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The Wrestler: A review


In the shadow of their press headlines movie stars can struggle to convince; it takes concentration to believe in Brad Pitt getting younger every day when you know how he celebrated his 43rd birthday.

The Wrestler is a film that takes this and uses it to full advantage. Mickey Rourke’s boxing background, his troubled personal life and disastrous career decisions bring an invaluable authenticity to his role as Randy ‘the Ram’ Robinson, a washed up professional wrestler with failing health, working the week-end promotion circuits.

It is unclear to us as the audience- maybe to the Ram himself- if wrestling became his family because he messed up his real-life one or if he messed up his family because of his devotion to wrestling. (Certainly the violence, training, celebrity and narcissism that go with it wouldn’t seem to encourage domestic bliss.)

Either way, it becomes the only constant he can rely on, the ring both his saviour from a hostile real world and the destroyer of his fragile body.

The film gives a fresh twist to the ‘one last fight’ formula by tracking his clumsy yet affecting attempts to claw back some emotional meaning to his life following a heart attack before the ultimate re-match that will end it all.

Darren Aronofsky’s gritty direction is key to the telling of this story. Borrowing from the honesty of his style in Requiem for a Dream his camera is never needy, documenting more than manipulating and seeking no approval from the audience.

What we observe is a flawed man with integrity negotiating the tough reality which has been largely of his own making- trying, effectively, to reap more than he has sown. A man so wedded to his profession he is out of place anywhere outside it- his overbuilt body, tan and blonde high-lighted mane the physical expression of this.

The improvised scenes in the deli, in which Randy awkwardly presides over the meat counter, encapsulate the heart of the film as much as those in the ring where, bouffant hair stuffed into counter-staff plastic hat, the more he tries to ‘do normal’ the more he feels like an outsider.

The scene where he bleeds on the ham slicer and rages angrily out of the store is the zenith of his predicament and it is testament to both the intimacy of Aronofsky’s direction and Rourke’s performance that, however alarming a figure the Ram cuts, our empathy is with him. We understand his actions because we know his history, which makes one ponder how many strangers’ transgressions we would forgive if we knew theirs.

But this is not a depressing film. There is warmth and humour throughout- from the camaraderie of the locker room to stripper Cassidy’s ‘tart with a heart’ and daughter Stephanie’s thwarted affection. Not forgetting the genius comic cameo creation of the weird wrestling fan chick with the fireman fetish and pet ferret.

Rourke’s plastic surgery mask acts like a billboard to the rough ride of his life, lending a touching pathos to his performance. A fighter’s stoicism and give-a-shit attitude, meanwhile, ensure that ‘the Ram’ never plays as victim. He inhabits the role without apology, in the way that only a man who has experienced pride before a fall first-hand could.

Marisa Tomei, meanwhile, plays a woman whose split public (Cassidy) and private (Pam) personae make her a sympathetic love-interest for the Ram. She plays the role with an appealing softness and while her body is fantastic she has a face just the wrong side of beautiful to be believable.

The Wrestler is a successful film because, in common with much good art, it tells the unique story of an individual while illuminating the truths of every man.

It does not shy away from identifying that our capacity to make mistakes can outweigh our capacity to forgive but that the boundaries we set ourselves are sometimes as harmful as those we fail to set.

Above all, it is a human film about loneliness and belonging and our fundamental need to be loved- by a father, a daughter, a lover, a fan.

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Other People’s Heads vs. Me


Event: Being told by a friend at a party that he got a tan from his soft top car and replying, ‘Wow, really? Do they let through UV rays?’ to be told after an incredulous pause, ‘No. With the roof down’.

In his head: Holy Freaking Cow. Was she putting that on? Is it possible to be that clueless? Wait, she said she’d been to Seattle recently. Healthcare’s good there. Maybe it was for a frontal lobotomy.

In the real world: ‘I’ve got to go now. Take care. Please.’



Event: Slightly losing the plot with a mobile phone call-centre chap after a 40 minute conversation, culminating in the tearful outburst: ‘LOOK! MY PHONE IS BROKEN! I WANT IT TO WORK! ARE YOU GOING TO MEND IT?!’

In his head: This woman is unstable. Her broken phone is worth more than my yearly wages. I’d like to suggest a place where she can insert it.

In the real world: ‘Yes, Madam. We are going to mend your phone.’



Event: Guessing the number of coffee beans in the jar at a farm shop tasting day and joking with the lady that it will take her a long time to count them.

In her head: Does she think I’m a fool? I have no intention of counting the beans. I’m going to weigh a percentage, count them and multiply the result accordingly.

Event: ‘You are going to count them, aren’t you?’ (me)

In her head: Here we go, it’s the bean police. I should have noticed that Monica-from-Friends look in her eye.

Event: ‘Actually, no. I’m going to weigh a percentage, count them and multiply the result accordingly.’ (her)

In my head: How completely unsatisfactory. Everybody knows that would give you an average because the beans are different sizes. And this is a bean-quantifying competition. Lazy, cheating bint.

Event: ‘Oh, what an excellent idea!’ (me, laughing)

In the real world: I didn’t guess the beans right. But I did receive a call to say there were 468 sweeties in the sweetie jar and I was closest with 472 and have won the jar of sweeties. Fabulous, cheating bint.



Event: Making small-talk with the local butcher leading inexplicably to the question, ‘Do you eat a lot of fish?’

In his head: Let me see. I’ve been a family butcher for 400 years. I’ve won a lifetime of awards, live meat, talk meat, cut meat and sell it every working day of the year. But when I go home what I really enjoy is a nice sardine. Crikey, I’ve got legs of lamb with higher IQs than this cat.

In the real world: ‘Actually, Love, I tend to eat a lot of meat.’



Event: Receiving a smile and a nod of recognition from the same Flat White coffee barrista about whose style I had previously written and feeling anxious he knew about it.

In his head: It’s that chick who clearly travels specifically into central London to get tweaked on coffee. She looks worried. Maybe I make her feel nervous. Maybe she fancies me. Terrible Gaydar. She needs to update her accessories.

In the real world: ‘Hello again. Flat white?’

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Tony Soprano voicemail

You’ve reached the voicemail of Tony Soprano. What, do you think I give two ganools if you leave a message? BEEP

Tony, it’s me, the desperate mother. You remember that little situation about the primary school waiting list that I wanted you to take care of? Well, fuhgetaboutit, capeesh? We got the place. And there’s something about clipping kids that feels wrong… Ciao and grazie.

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