Where’s Bogdan? Why we like the TV meerkats…

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It’s a bit like ‘Where’s Wally?’ Locating something interesting and different in the mire of American-dominated children’s TV. I’m not helping make myself any more popular with them over the sea but I have to speak.

The TV meerkats are currently in my top ten of personalities I’d like to get to know. Their mysterious culture, their serious faces and grave humour make them a serious contenders for personality of the year.

They look after their old and are tender with their young.

Even their broken English, their hobbies and histories are refreshingly captivating. They have philosophy and you get the feeling they’re quietly erudite. Which makes them a highly attractive alternative to… the Americans.

No doubt we get the worst impression of America. The media they export (though I hear they export their best) has a strong cultural message which is foreign to us and the mania for consumption that has escalated here over the last 25 years here is (I think) American.

Pop Girl channel with its endless spool of teen TV programmes (which I’m subjected to every day now) consists almost uniquely of U.S. programmes.

The California-tanned beauties and their fit, virile male friends make tedious watching. They snack on leaves and fruit (hah!) and fight for environmental issues, justice and stand up for the small guy.

Their staccato talk (do they really talk in those nasal, whiny voices?) and tales with morals are written (and acted) to a formula. Are we to take these kids seriously when they promote honesty or loyalty?

And I see the same facial expressions, same body gestures and inflection… (we end up watching the same stories with different actors in them. Someone invariably spits out food or has a food fight; someone will adopt that cocky expression and say, ‘Oh really?’ Someone else will frown-smile and say, ‘Okaaayyyy…’ to denote the weirdness of someone else. Yawn…

Now the meerkats… they’re wholesome and seem beautifully unaware of how to present themselves globally. Blissfully un-photogenic and with no idea of what ‘cool’ is, (“Who’s this cool?”) the entire family is clearly lacking any PR exercises. Unattractive (even baby Oleg isn’t pretty), foreign and with no sense of what we in the west are used to, it goes to show we’re capable of accepting the new and peculiar.

One of the most peculiar characteristics is that (I’ve just learned) meerkats are native to south Africa yet they have strongly eastern European accents… Some dark and interesting evolutionary/ancestral episode no doubt.

They feel like creatures I’d like to have in my close circle of friends. They could teach me new things and help me solve problems in new ways.

They wouldn’t understand our desire for buy-to-let or fast food; you get the feeling they walk five miles to the village for bread and have things like smoked tomatoes and pickled apple for supper (they’re all very trim you’ll notice).

Their TV marketing campaigns would be innocent and plain. The moustached chap with the village hardware store – proud of having secured a TV commercial after having been on the list for 15 years – might advertise his shop’s dinner service by smiling widely at the camera with a slogan like, ‘Buy my jugs and pots – they’re very useful!’

No, I don’t want to adopt a toy or buy a book and I wouldn’t want them to have a series. But credit to the creator of these fully formed and novel personalities.

As a backlash against the eternal flow of US culture (we in the UK now have ads directly imported from the US – no editing for the UK market), with its uniform outpouring of values and moralising, the meerkats remind us of the diversity that lies beyond the States. And the value in that diversity.

(Oh God that last line sounded a lot like preaching and moralising… it’s catching I swear…)

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Online shopping: I’m a convert

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The High Street catastrophe is well documented: we’re not shopping outdoors any more. Here’s why (in my mind).

This post comes fresh from a trip to my own High Street. I did things the old-fashioned way today and used my local shops. It was horrible.

These are the things I put up with every single time I shop the traditional way.

I end up putting the shop back together tidily for the incompetent staff. I only have to brush past a rail of T-shirts and they’ll shoulder off their too small hangers and slide to the fluffy floor.

Being considerate and anxious about some fully blurred-foundation-wearing, tarantula eyelashed manager accusing me of vandalism, I hang them all back up. On the right hangers and put them in size order. There, that’s better.

After arranging their shop as it should be, I leave. I daren’t risk dislodging any more clothes. And do I really want to try something on that’s probably been kicked about the shop floor by someone less attentive than me?

That’s the next hurdle: trying stuff on.

Do I really want that jumper/T-shirt enough to venture into a cubicle that smells of someone else’s BO and feet? And might have foot sweat or particles on the floor/mirror? A very easy ‘no’. Even the fact that other people have breathed in and out in that cubicle is enough of a repellent.

And another thing.

In the shop I’m looking at myself with my ‘shopping’ clothes on (smart, coordinated, a bit of make-up even). What if I want to wear those trousers with boots? Or flats? Or sandals? Well as I haven’t got them with me I can’t know if they’ll look OK. Best leave them. Ker-ching. No sale.

But there’s something even worse. Though it seems only to plague charity shops and I shop in these a lot.

What am I talking about? The undiscovered vocal marvel.

Some old geezer singing. Loudly. To some obscure rock song. Or some volunteer with aubergine hair who’s missed her calling as Cher or Tina Turner.

They drown out the real artist on the radio and even wander about the shop singing. You can’t get away from them.

I’m flicking through the skirts rail and suddenly the chap with the remains of his hair combed, greased and smelling of tobacco (my intolerance to fags and clothes that smell of fags has got worse since the ban) hurls out a bar of The Green, Green Grass of Home. God! How did you get there?

What he’s really after is for me to ask, ‘Are you a professional singer? /You’ve got a wonderful voice/aren’t you Tom Jones?’

And then he’ll corner me by the household wares and tell me about his claim to fame bumping into Rod Stewart on the Bakerloo Line once or something insignificant. I’ve got to get out of here.

The plus sides to online shopping far outweigh the benefits of the role of supportive community member in my immediate vicinity.

Bring me my goods in clinical boxes by postmen who are cheerful (mine are) and friendly but who don’t sing and I’ll probably spend a lot more money.

Death of the High Street? It had a good running.


Stupendous failures of mine

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Among other things, Drama School, waitressing, revenge and applying make-up.

Youth is full of plans and dreams. Like many young people I felt capable of anything. I was young, fit and loveable. People would be willing to donate their life to my life. It was obvious. Well, I’m older now…

As a teen I thought I might want to be an actress. Well my brother and sister had succeeded on stage, I shared their blood so obviously I could do what they could.

I didn’t even have modest aspirations. I applied to RADA. Learned a passage from one of Ibsen’s plays. So astoundingly beautiful and talented was I, I didn’t read the whole play. Why should I?

I recited it with a few subtle gestures. Probably in one of those unimaginative dramatic monotones. I was sure their silence was out of awe at my ability.

I didn’t get in.

I had the same rejection letters from LAMDA and worked my way down until even the local Tina Jones (or something) drama school didn’t want me.

My dedication ended there.

I did a term at a Drama college where I was swiftly outshone by other youngsters who were brave, creative and born actors. Some had read Ibsen’s plays.

The disappointment wasn’t because I couldn’t act but because I couldn’t do the thing I thought I could. Ahhh, so lacking in direction…

While living abroad I found I was quite good at working in a bar. Blimey didn’t I look cool carrying that round silver tray filled with drinks. I was hugely impressed.

I managed to get people’s drinks right. Three coffees, one black, one American, one normal. Two Fantas, one bitter Kas (has anyone else come across that? Medicinal and very refreshing.) Two waters, one fizzy, one still. Three wines, one milkshake, one brandy…

I got tips and people were nice to me.

When I moved to working in a restaurant, all I got was yelled at by the owner and sulky looks from the customers.

Bear in mind I was abroad. The customers were English, German, Spanish, French and Italian. One owner was Spanish, the other (the shouter) was Swiss.

I wrote down orders in English (often translated from French or German); it was all I could think of to do.

About the third time I did this, the Swiss man came out of the kitchen with my neat order sheet in his hand, teeth clenched, hissing at me that the kitchen staff didn’t understand English.

“Write it in Spanish. What do you expect them to do? They’re cooks. They don’t have time to find the dictionary and look up your English words!”

So now I had to translate orders told to me in French, German, Spanish, Italian and German into Spanish on the spot and make them legible to the kitchen staff.

Errrm, OK, pork chop = chuleta de cerdo; frites = patatas fritas; jelly = ? Jelly! What’s that in Spanish? Gelatina?

My Swiss shouter would bring out a pig’s trotter in a bowl of thickening liquid. He’d shout at me and force me to take it to their table. Just desserts. Punishment for my imbecile order. The customer would shout at me too. Maybe hit me. No, maybe I can persuade them to have fruit salad.

I’ve never been so blatantly hated before or since.

Back in England I failed at operating a switchboard. I connected callers to wrong extension on a daily, hourly basis.

I didn’t succeed at being a travel agent either. My job was to sell customers the holidays that made the company most money. I wanted to sell them what they wanted. My manager and I had a pep talk, then we had a consultation, a one to one, then I had a warning then I left.

When I was a temp in a solicitor’s office, some suited little upstart mocked me in front of other staff members. I did my job well but she frankly didn’t like me. It’s all yours shorty, you post your own letters. I’ve hidden the stamps and crumpled all the envelopes by the way.

So where am I today?

Well none of the above. Obviously.

I tell people I live off the fat of the land. I manage the family’s estate. I’m a poet’s muse…

My failures were painful at the time. When that young, we really have such energetic aspirations and no experience to support our desires. I thought I really wanted those things.

Some of the blame lies in lack of training, some in just being a young fool with no confidence and a lack of direction.

Bring back military training. I could have done with an officially-sanctioned slap by some uniformed swine. “You’ll never be anything but a second rate person…! Go scrub the mess floor with a toothbrush!” Literally or metaphorically, I seem to do that a lot now anyway.


When the Queen smiles…

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We’re used to seeing a serious Queen. But what is she thinking when she smiles? Or even laughs.

My sense of inferiority tells me she’s scoffing at her humble subjects.

I like her. I don’t know her but I think she must have difficult things to do and duties none of us would take on. So that’s that out of the way.

But… I see her smile and feel awful about myself.

Is she thinking, ‘Hah, you scruffy little people. You’ve done your best but you still look deprived dear.’ Worse, when I see her with other family members, my feeling of being a creepy crawlie increases.

The image that inspired this was in The Evening Standard. The article told us how she was delegating tasks to other, younger family members.

She and Camilla and Charles (why can I use their first names and not hers? More echoes of my peasant roots…) were together seemingly sharing a hilarious joke (us?)

She mocks and laughs and has endless jokes about the lives we lead and our histories.

“My ‘Dad was a king. Top that!”
Hearty laughs.
“Did you know that those people” pointing to us from her balcony “call McDonalds a restaurant?”
Chortle chortle. (I’m with her on that one mind you…)
“Charles… Charlie…” catching her breath in between fits of laughter “I’ve just found out that lady blogger on WordPress has never had a book published. Ever. But” (suffocating on laughter “listen to this. She gives herself the title of writer!”

Collapses in heap on gold-buttoned chair and calls for butler to bring her something with a French name. “Canapés, petit fours, a baguette with jambon et fromage… Don’t mind…”

She reclines and wipes her eyes. She decides that everyone is to speak French for the rest of the day.

Makes her sound like a scornful character that has no understanding of ordinary people. I’m willing to put aside the fact that she got her position through mass murder, trickery and the sheer bossiness of her ancestors. I still like her.

We demote royals to pop snack names like ‘Wills and Kate’: we don’t do that to HRH.

Why? Because we fear being beheaded. Well I do. She is still the Queen.

These are my closing thoughts. Let’s keep our Queen stony faced. Serious, glum even. Let’s not urge her to smile, giggle or laugh. And especially not with other royals. We may think her sulky but the alternative is so much worse.

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A world full of princesses: the new feminism?

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Home…

Princess car stickers, princess T-shirts and baseball caps, princess lunchboxes, booster seats, luggage… Stop! We’re not all royals!

In Britain (how is it in the rest of the world?) parents douse their daughters in this sickly pink, totally false and irritating fantasy. Every month, some innovative manufacturer designs a new childhood accessory which can be ‘princessified’.

I have to ask why.

A few things strike me.

1.     Why don’t boys get the same treatment?

2.     What do parents have planned for their girls?

3.     If our Kate and William have a girl, will they have this paraphernalia?

I fear those parents might be raising the most self-centred, boorish people. After all, as laypeople, how do we perceive royalty? That they get everything they want. Is this how these glittery pink girls live?

Hoards of princesses now populate the UK. Will they all end up vying for power and kingdoms in their virtual world of monarchy? Millions of girls who’ve been brought up thinking they’re princesses because they’ve got a plastic tiara and some daft plastic shoes. (I wouldn’t have my daughter wearing those…) will one day have to make the transition from royalty to subject.

Something grates on me when I see a girl in a silly T-shirt claiming to be a princess. I want to know what’s behind it.

Is it simply attention-seeking? If so, who’s the attention for? Is it the latent wish of parents (maybe Mums more so, though I hate to point the finger) to dress up as a princess? Be treated as special?

Do parents hope their little one will get red carpet treatment? Is the subtext for this, ‘Please treat me nicely, I’ve been neglected all my life’? I suspect so. Or is it to show the world that if they have a special daughter, they too must be special (Kings and Queens, we assume…)

In fact I think they’re two sides of the same coin. The equation looks something like this: neglect as child = hunger for love in adulthood = craving for attention to substitute lack of real love (including through one’s own offspring) = lost and desperate buying of shiny, bright princess stuff for daughters… It’s just an educated guess.

It reminds me of Michael Caine in The Cider House Rules instilling in the orphans that they were loved, wanted, special: ‘Goodnight, you princes of Maine, you kings of New England.’

But I take it even further. What kind of philosophy does this teach girls? That they can only marry princes (rich guys) or that they’re too good for anyone! (Come on parents, time to get those ‘prince on board’ stickers on your car.)

I’m not a great one for banging on about women’s rights: people need right and that’s that. But I feel slightly frightened about what these boa-wearing, blinged-out, precocious girls will grow up believing about the world.

Is this a parent’s way of opting out of the whole issue?

I think some of it is rooted in the lack of time parents have for their children (boys and girls). So the princess culture is a sort of wholesale, easy, throwing all the elements of good parenting at their daughters in a feather-ridden, diamante, netting-flounced heap. There! Now be a good girl…

Well I’ll watch with interest as a generation of girls realise somewhere in their teens that

  1. there are millions of other princesses out there and
  2. a princess sticker doth not a princess make

If anyone needs royalty status, it’s boys today. My God! Surrounded by waves of these overblown, proud girls who are too good for everyone! Boys, better watch out!


I didn’t realise anyone cared enough to sponsor me

P&G – proud sponsors of Mums”

I was hoping to learn that as a mother, I could apply to them for funds spent on spa breaks (to catch up on those years of lost sleep – feeding, rocking, soothing, mopping brows, holding hands, making up comforting stories at 3.10 in the morning about unicorns who breathed magic sleep spells on wakeful children…)

Or a course of manicures (years scraping things of school uniform minutes before we’re due to leave the house).

I’m due some serious osteopathy from carrying children and pushing pushchairs laden with child plus as many groceries as the basket will carry. There are other treatments and services I could apply for but why can’t I find a form on their website? ‘Mums: apply for funds here’ sort of thing.

Is their site unfinished? Or broken? Have I missed some deadline?

No!

When they say, ‘Proud sponsors of Mums’ they means they put a couple of us on TV (in ads selling their products no doubt) and have done with it.

I’ve trawled their site and can’t find anything more ‘sponsor-like’ than this element. A marketing nod at the people who probably buy most their stuff. Ta, P&G but you can keep it.

I think ‘sponsor’ is the wrong word. ‘Acknowledger’ or ‘mentioner’ or even ‘Proud to have a few Mums appear for free on TV and save us from hiring a professional to sell our big brands-er’

This feels more like ridiculing mothers.

Get P&G’s name out there, give the impression that they value mothers and … well… get their name out there. Feeble marketing. And mothers aren’t stupid.

Give us real things that help us in our job as mothers and we might start telling our rich and powerful friends (other marvellous mothers) that P&G is a good brand.

There’s no denying we’re great; but once big companies get incolved, it’s a case of payinglip service to who they think is their target audience (P&G’s main brands cover make up and cleaning chemicals).

Give me a break (At Ragdale Hall spa please…)


Are the obese the new persecuted?

It’s just that they’re beginning to look like they’re at risk of being oppressed.

Firstly, I’m not obese; not overweight either so I’m not writing this as a subjective plea for understanding and tolerance.

Secondly, why the focus on this group recently? Yes, numbers are growing, yes, questions about why they’re growing need to be asked but why are drinkers still being ignored?

The obese population is being blamed for a huge burden on our (UK) health care system with more hospital beds being taken up by those with associated health issues. They’re virtually scorned. And you only need to watch one US TV programme made for young girls (Zoey 101, Sabrina the Teenage Witch, Really Me…) to see how they view anyone with more than just skin covering their bones.

The fat (or normal-sized) person will always be uncool, have a weird personality trait, be over-emotional, not be part of the core ‘sleek and skinny’ group. They’re just portrayed as ridiculous.

I’m wondering whether the next step is to make ghettoes for them. Or special homes, or camps…

If they’re a drain on the health service and on taxpayers money; if they’re not being employed as much as thinner people, aren’t we doing the opposite of helping? These news stories and documentaries only assist in cementing our existing dislike of larger people. And I think it extends beyond the obese.

It seems to encompass the slightly overweight. God help us if we adopt the US model of body beautiful.

In UK society, we’re already leaning towards a prejudice towards not just slim but skinny.

But… it’s the big folk carrying a lot of food storage who’ll survive in a national crisis. Famine and food rations and disasters where food is scarce will be water off a duck’s back. The bony, starved skinny mob will die within a week. Leaving the genes of the large to repopulate. Ha! What a surprise, in evolutionary terms!

Just a thought.