Wednesday, 14 December 2011

Lantern moon over Port Meadow

I’ve just seen the Northern Lights. And I’m sorry to say, it was a bit shit. There were no Joanna Lumley moments (I will admit to never having seen whatever programme Joanna Lumley was in gasping in awe at the Aurora Borealis, but it does always seem to come up when I tell people I saw it). It didn’t look anything like the coloured swirls on Windows Media Player. I’ve just found a wallpaper for my laptop depicting this natural phenomenon in all its glory – one of those stunning, unreal images that can be held responsible for nature never looking quite as stunning as we hoped, as human eyes do not view the world through filters and PhotoShop. It didn’t look like that either.

We searched for the Lights on two occasions during our (brilliant) trip to Iceland. Two coachloads of hyped-up tourists trailing around darkened scenery, imagining what the snowy hills must be like in the light, and stealing frequent, improbably hopeful glances up at the sky every few seconds. Coiffed 18-30s Aussies in North Face rubbed shoulders with Bob and Carol from Bognor, and the Tripod Brigade carted their expensive equipment around seriously. The first night’s light-seeking was unsuccessful, and we spent all evening stood in a layby in sub-zero temperatures, walking round and round the coach making up songs and male alter-egos and ideas for Backstreet’s Back flashmobs.

Attempt no 2 seemed more promising, and we headed out this time much further from the light pollution of Reykjavik and the seaside towns, towards Þingvellir National Park. Here we were greeted by stunning moon-on-snow blueness, a clear and expansive view of all the Northern hemisphere’s constellations, and the jagged rift caused by the epic leg-spreading of the American and European tectonic plates that Iceland straddles. This seemed the perfect setting for the aurora to put on its show – to curl and swirl gracefully across the pristine black canvas of the sky.

But alas, it was not to be. The crestfallen tripodists hoiked their equipment back into the coach and the Aussies reprised their analysis of the previous evening’s piss-up. Then, just as we thought all was lost, the driver swerved into a side road and we disembarked, blinking dazedly at the sky that was being pointed out enthusiastically before us.

I resisted a strong urge to yell “Is that IT?!” when I finally was able to make out the greyey-greenish smudges that were The Northern Lights, figment of imaginations, legend of literature and folklore. They built up in the sky so gently you could almost be imagining them into existence; they could easily be mistaken for clouds if you didn’t know what they were. The worst thing was, they moved and swished a bit in what would have been quite a cool way, had it not been for the mawkish, gaspingly exaggerated exclamations of the coach trippers. “WOW. It was soooo worth it wasn’t it?!” I heard Carol exclaim to Bob. “NOT REALLY!!” I wanted to yell into her completely deluded face. You can tell yourself that, that it wasn’t a waste of time and that you couldn’t have been having a delicious meal out in the city instead, that your feet being fully numb is a good return on investment once you have borne witness to this greyish smudge in the midnight sky. You can tell yourself that.

And the Tripod Brigade came out in full force, excitedly erecting their equipment and pointing it paparazzi style at the modest site ahead. Everyone started pushing and shoving and flapping around like flies round shit, as camera flashes did their utmost to fade out the waning view of the lights. I don’t know much about photography (or about a science book, or the French I took – okay scrub that last one), but surely pointing a flash at a black sky hoping to capture an ethereal, non-physical light phenomenon is not a winner? Haughtily annoyed by the almost tangibly self-aware delusion of the other tourists, I retreated out of minus 12 into the coach with a bah and a humbug.

A few weeks ago we took the Guides out onto Port Meadow in the dark. It was cold and misty, the kind of night where you can imagine a be-cloaked highwayman appearing out of nowhere and demanding that you part with your most treasured sapphire necklace. Icy swans floated across creepy-looking lakes formed from flooding either side of the footpath, and the edges of the meadow stretched out into the darkness with Haywain-esque charm. In the distance, the city shimmered and hummed, electric lights blinking magically through the night haze, and an eerie orangeness hued the girls’ faces as they scurried about excitedly. Then suddenly, I noticed a huge, round, yellow lantern balanced on the top of a house to the edge of the field. It looked completely unreal, like a paper lamp imported from an eighties kid’s TV programme with puppets. It took me a few seconds to realise that it was the moon, standing over us and radiating close-up magnificence.

As the heated coach transported us back to the Hotel Björk, I chortled at how much more beautiful I had found that Port Meadow scene than the famous aurora borealis, and realised that unexpected beauty right on your doorstep is much more memorable than beauty you hunt down and dull because you’ve treated it like a celebrity being hounded by Heat magazine.

Tuesday, 13 December 2011

Weird dream no 4

There were zombies. Lots of them. A dream very obviously inspired by Sunday evening's episode of Misfits. Except in my version, instead of having to thwack them over the head with a cricket bat in order to smash their brains in and stop them eliminating humankind, you had to placate them with one of three zombie solutions: intellectual stimulation, high amusement or death (no 3 being the conventional method of zombie dispatch I suppose).

So in some very odd fitful moments between wake and sleep, I found my imaginary dream self performing stand-up routines and pontificating on the meaning of life in front of a bunch of sceptical zombies, teetering on a knife-edge between succeeding in the demanding task of keeping them entertained and failing to amuse them, which would result in a blood-curdling fight to the death (theirs or mine). I'm not sure the narrative ever got as far as this violence, but the promise of it in return for a lacklustre performance was enough to make me wake up feeling highly unsettled, like I hadn't really been asleep at all.

Thursday, 17 November 2011

Why I can’t stop watching ‘Made in Chelsea’

We have developed a bad habit in our house: watching shit TV programmes that should not be condescended with a look through one of your eyes, let alone both of them. Anyone who has lived with me before will know what a snob I am about these things; I shrink from Big Brother and its shrill shoutiness, am too busy having fun on a Saturday night to be watching manufactured pop crap on X-Factor, and am proud that only one copy of Heat magazine has ever made it into my house (and obviously I didn’t buy it). Predictably for a middle-class left-wing educated girl from Surrey, I think most reality TV et al is a load of vacuous corporate bullshit that only serves to fuel the meaningless cult of celebrity and downgrade the quotient of genuinely edifying culture.

Happily, I also took no enjoyment from any of the above vacuous shit, meaning that I never felt like I was missing out on anything, edifying or not. But now I appear to have succumbed to that now-clichéd idea of a guilty pleasure. The quite unbelievably awful ‘Made in Chelsea’.

This Guardian article sums up my reaction to the programme more eloquently than I could: On a basic level, it’s a pretty standard response to really really posh rich 20-somethings swanning around Chelsea being twats, in “structured reality soap” format (read: people who can’t act acting like they are not acting). But what is it about this most exaggerated example of awfulness that makes me keep tuning in?

It’s so bad it’s captivating – you can’t quite believe anyone would be so lacking in self-respect to be part of it (participants and programme-makers – and me??). The worst thing about it is the fact that it is the pure embodiment of the word “stilted”. Whilst I realise that it is not designed to be a documentary, but rather sets out to be a crude rendering of a type of person you love to hate and who can’t possibly exist in the real world, I can’t help myself: I’m sucked into wallowing in the feelings of self-righteous indignation that the programme-makers have deliberately fostered in me by portraying the dickish antics of people with impossibly Etonian names.

Rarely does this wilful submission to being manipulated by a programme-maker jar on me quite so much… I wonder what their ulterior motive is… I know that when I watch True Blood I am a bit turned on and intrigued by the relationships, just as the writers want; but I can’t stand the idea that with this could-it-be-real-really grotesqueness someone is deliberately playing to my own stereotypes and disgust. I don’t like reacting in the way someone expects so predictably. You are supposed to hate the vacuous characters and pity their small-minded, shit-for-brains life – that’s the whole point. So if that’s the point, feeling outraged by them is a meaningless act and is just one-dimensional – you’re just playing into someone’s hands, which is tantamount to being told what to do – or even what to think (horror of horrors).

Also, it’s interesting(?) to see the in-built artifice of it all – the awkwardly long silent stares, contrived pouting and flouncing. It’s almost as if they’re trying to make some awfully clever comment on the form itself – a postmodern trick that forces you to confront the artifice of all forms of entertainment by slapping you in the face with it. This is the only way I can see someone wanting to make such a programme, because they can’t just be stupidly admiring and capturing these people.

So how real are the people? Maybe it’s the blurred line between real and fake that keeps me engrossed. It’s more comfortable to think that what you’re participating in by watching is layer upon layer of self-reflexive irony. But actually, it’s more likely that by watching these affected caricatures, who think they are better than everyone else, ponce about on your screen, you gain a sense of enjoyment and validation from knowing that you are more intelligent and self-aware than they are – better than them.

Cunningly, this turns back on you all the things you purport to hate about them. Neat.

PS Oh Lord, I have just read this quite sincere-sounding article by Made in Chelsea's creator:'re-not-fakes. In the RADIO TIMES. There is no hope for any of us.

Wednesday, 16 November 2011

Self-righteous arse

Yesterday I stumbled upon this email (at the end), which I sent to all staff in 2008. What has become of this impassioned, outraged, inappropriate individual? I wondered if I would do such a thing these days. I think I thought I was funny and that that would excuse me from being dubbed The Green Nazi. Or I didn't care what people thought about me, because I cared about my cause more.

I know we are supposed to become less radical as we get older, but aren't we also supposed to develop into higher functioning versions of ourselves, ones who might be able to aspire towards living out our values in a healthy, productive kind of way? I feel a bit like I have lost sight of some of mine - have contented myself with being a good person on some fronts, and working hard at those... but then what happens to those beliefs that provoked such strident militancy in the past? Somehow I still think they are vitally important, but in a vague, sign-an-online petition, make-a-monthly-donation-to-charity kind of way.

Another thing that strikes me hugely reading the below is the idea of self-concept. That person's idea of herself had environmental values running as a definitive streak through her middle, like a stick of rock. What's the value that defines me now? As I type this I know what it is: it's people. But in a much less abstract sense than the notion that we need to save the planet for the sake of the people living on it, now and in the future (which I still believe by the way). It's a more concrete sense, of being someone who is warm and generous to all people she comes into contact with.

And in that I feel steadfast. I hear myself say "community" a lot. I adore having people round and cooking for them and being hospitable and lending them stuff and being a shoulder to cry on and the person you call when you've fallen over and need frozen peas from the shop. I love thinking of presents and throwing myself into celebrations and writing long newsy letters and not going home until the bitter end. It's almost like I have become more eager to please others - and that's why I wouldn't send the thing below nowadays. It must have pissed everyone off.

But, but... which one's the person I want to be? How, over the course of my life, can I fuse together the person I was born as and the person I aspire to becoming? For all of those of us in our thirties: this is our time! This is my rallying cry: now is the time to become that person you imagined you would be! The one who looks at an empty field and sees it teeming with life and poetry. Scary stuff but if we don't do it, nobody will do it for us.

And I know that always, my friends and family will be there to share it, scoffing food and laughing in pools of ambient light.

From: Kate Parrinder
Sent: 03 September 2008 16:07
To: _Client Support; _Consultancy Operations; _European Offices; _Finance; _Innovation and Publishing; _Learning Design and Delivery Team; _Legal & Company Secretarial; _Marketing; _IT Dept; _HR; _Learning Operations
Subject: Have you turned off your monitor?!
DID YOU KNOW that almost a third of UK office workers frequently leave their PCs running overnight or over the weekend when they go home, resulting in carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions equivalent to the output of 120,000 4x4 cars (source: Energy Saving Trust)?

TURN OFF YOUR MONITOR before you leave – it’s not hard, it won’t give you RSI in your index finger, and quite frankly it GETS ON MY NERVES when I walk round your empty offices and see your screens flashing with their incriminating little orange lights, spewing increments of unnecessary energy into nothing in a chorus of wastefulness. You have to shut down your computer AND turn the screen off separately.

Thank you kindly,

Kate Parrinder
Project Editor

Thursday, 22 September 2011

Weird dream no 3

I turned the heating on for the first time last night. The retained warmth this brought to the flimsy walls of my house was probably limited but nonetheless precluded the need for the double duvet arrangement I had nested on my bed and the wearing of thermal underwear whilst asleep. Instead of being cocooned in the weighty warmth of princess-and-the-pea-style layers, I was sweaty and fretty and the smell of burnt toast pervaded my nostrils – effects that probably conspired to produce the latest foray into imaginative weirdness that my brain had to offer.

I think I gave birth in this dream to a little gremlin figure – a twisted, gnarly-looking assembly of reddish limbs reminiscent of early photos of me as a newborn. Then somehow the little creature, still recognizable as a human lifeform, did some kind of undefined body swap with a shrunken version of a human adult. The fact of what had happened did not dawn on me at first, and I was quietly freaked out by the sudden animation of my offspring as it detailed articulately for me all of the physical miseries of inhabiting this undeveloped body, the inhuman indignity of not being able to control its own bodily functions, or walk about. Trapped in its very own infantile locked-in syndrome, the anguished soul seemed to embody the very essence of the human condition.

As I realised that the sci-fi-inspired body swap had occurred and found the explanation for my weird-out, there was the vague feeling that in the corner of the room, the husk of this adult was writhing, occupied with the ill-formed soul of my baby.

And before you ask, no I am not pregnant.

Wednesday, 7 September 2011

The inconsolable feeling of loss that comes with a momentarily defunct brain

On a hazy Saturday morning, when the promise of rain hung in the air and the fact of the weekend put a spring in my step, I set off for my parents' house jauntily carrying my carefully put together peasant salad and revelling in all things clean and middle class. I knew my timings were optimistic at best, but still didn't realistically think I was going to be actual late. As the seconds and minutes reeled away I filled up the car with family party paraphanalia in the same methodical, robotic way I used to serve up milkshakes at Burger King, ticking things off lists mental and paper-based and peering through the window to will the sun to come back out, holding on to my weekend morning.

As the minutes grew into half hours the truth of my lateness began to truly dawn on me, and it is that realisation that I think has the capacity to turn a person from a rational, laid back human being to a hysterical, swearing wreck. It starts with the jittery anxiety (the clock hand moving on relentlessly, ticking away the minutes of freedom and turning them into a slow march towards your inevitable death), the lists turning into roll calls of the people you are letting down by your incompetence, the slow creeping of self-loathing gradually enveloping you. But it's still salvagable, just get the hell on with it and get out of the front door and all of the perfectionist car packing will not matter. Panic starts to set in though - surely you can't have brought everything? You always leave something behind, everyone knows you have a reputation for leaving important medication and phones and little trails of kirby grips behind you, must have forgotten phone, where is it?? Can't see it, look upstairs, ring the bugger, oh no there it is in the bag the whole time! Panic over, now I just need to get the car keys and drive off.

Keys. Where are the keys? Not here, not there, not in any of the usual places, places I put things because I know I lose them, places that can be relied upon to prevent this inane mindlessness about personal belongings having any real impact. Places that are defaults in the everyday autopilot of opening and closing doors, making things safe and making things move. They must be here somewhere, this is ridiculous! I had them in my hand literally a few seconds before. Already late, the creeping feeling comes back, the panic and the self-loathing escalating into a furious, door-banging rage that erupts out via venomous invectives of irrational self-flagellation. At this moment there is no-one I hate more than myself, my incompetent, sham of a person, going through the world masquerading as a plausible adult who can lock and unlock things. Layer upon layer of disbelief, retracing of steps and maniacal emptying of bags and drawers comes to nothing and the anger piques me and reaches its horrifying crescendo as a whack myself on the head trying to reboot the fucking hideous shell of a brain that appears to be resident in my useless skull.

Thank goodness for Tim, who finds the keys in an innocuous paper bag containing a birthday present for my mum, ingeniously hidden away inside the car. Embarrassed and still shaking, I thank him shamefacedly and start the engine, a burnt-out shell of a brain in charge of one-and-a-half tonnes of moving metal.

Saturday, 30 July 2011

Friday night in the pub

Any Friday, 5.30pm: you’ve crossed off the last thing on your oh-so-anally-retentive to-do list; the orifice is already a deserted place, the buzz of bullshit conversation, macho corporate posturing and echoing ringtones pleasingly absent as the laptop-wielding sentries have left their posts and you can finally breeze through the tasks that involve headspace and quiet; those with families return to their identities as fun-loving parents, shedding their veils of colleague-ness as they whizz away down the M40 towards the weekend. And with others, the parting greeting is “See you in a bit”, not “Have a lovely weekend”.

Ideally within this tableau the sun is shining unguardedly and the pub invites you to sup a crisp cool pint to cut through the muggy oppressiveness of your officey existence. But it’s not the setting or the drinks that spark the little bit of excitement about Friday night boozing. It’s the mouth-watering anticipation of being free, relaxed, unguarded, witty and unprofessional. The exhilarating contrast between your sober assertions of competence in the workplace and your revelation of who you really are in the magical realm of the pub.

Sometimes I wonder what it is about being a bit drunk that I like so much. Why I and people I know aspire to getting shitfaced and why those stories of drunken idiocy are the funniest of all. Is it our culture influencing us relentlessly, outside what it really feels like to be pissed? Society that dictates that it is cool and fun and invites us to talk about it, every time ignoring the inevitable hangover that will ensue? Some kind of strange machismo of youth that says drinking makes you strong and belong? Maybe that’s what makes you start it, but I’m old enough now to realise that I wouldn’t carry on doing it if it wasn’t enjoyable – and Friday night in the pub really typifies what is most enjoyable about it.

Starting out with relief at the fact of Friday, and the catharsis of saying what you really mean about the day’s events, the cool beery nectar loosens your tongue and your energy is released again. Sparking off your friends you set out to shock them with frankness and tickle them with vulgarity. Laughter erupts and the volume increases, and the whole thing becomes entrancing and addictive. The beer garden is covered with an energetic duvet of Friday flirtiness and excited conversation, until the surface is pierced by one overly drunken individual who likes the sound of his own voice a bit too much. Apart from that guy we all become more likeable and full of beans.

Some slip off early and return to families and boyfriends and bed, and I can’t help thinking they are missing out on being part of the witching hour, the time of night when only the hard core are left, those that amuse each other the most. We become fond and everyone goes back to mine, anxious to spend more time in the company of people they like so much. It’s smily and silly and it makes me feel warm and cushioned and I suppose it’s what it’s all about really. People and laughter.

Wednesday, 20 July 2011

Weird dream no 2

First I dreamt that I was sitting at my desk at work, and a helicopter silently, calmly crashed through the ceiling, killing all of my colleagues - not violently or gruesomely, they kind of just went to sleep. I went into a panic and ran downstairs to tell IT (?!), but after ascertaining that my issue was not IT-related and that I did not have an issue number for it, they proceeded to ignore me and continue tapping away at their keyboards.

Then last night I dreamt that I was on board a big jet, like a 747; in the hold there were tubes that appeared to be filled with empty air, but I knew that they in fact held the conceptual, abstract Truth. There was some scrabble to access the hold, and a feeling of disappointment, before the whole structure came crashing down and I was no longer a passenger but a bystander, watching the smoke curling out of the broken wreckage.

I suppose these dreams are not so much weird but obvious allegories of a confused state of mind that feels a little out of control.

Friday, 8 July 2011

Hooves that thunder and my mortal body

When I am dashing about on my various travels, picking up space hoppers in Kidlington, storing giant chilli stalks in the back of my car and directing mayors in car parks, I often think to myself what a relief it is that I know how to drive. Without any effort, without having to think about it or plan, I can glide about hassle-free and transport all of the ridiculous paraphernalia of Guiding around with me with ease. I enjoy driving because it’s something I can feel effortlessly competent at. And sadly, it doesn’t feel like there are many practical skills that that is true of.

Weirdly, it strikes me that there were more things that I was actually really good at when I was 18 than there are now. Really? I know that seems illogical and that over the years I should have developed some facility at something (deciphering editorial hieroglyphics? Talking extreme bullshit? Lifting a pint glass repeatedly to my mouth?), but I sometimes get nostalgic for the days I could leap on a horse and subtly control it with an imperceptible leg movement and shift of balance. So I have taken up riding again.

For some reason in doing this I was roped into doing a Scottish Borders rideout last weekend – a glorious cavalcade of horses parading through towns in the Borders to commemorate the repelling of the English away from their beautiful rugged lands. English as can be, Isla and I gamely joined the pack that left from Jedburgh to complete the circular route via Redeswire, the site of an infamous battle where the Angles were royally whipped by the bagpipe-toting Scots (insert Braveheart-inspired racial stereotype here). Despite having been warned that the rideout was a seven-hour-long 20-mile odyssey involving up to 80 horses, I seem to have been surprised by the fact that it turned out to be a seven-hour-long 20-mile odyssey involving 80 horses – about a third of it completed at full-pelt gallop. It’s different knowing something logically and knowing it by the debilitating aches and pains of your vulnerable body complaining that you have entered a marathon when the only running you’ve done recently is for the bus.

We felt pretty prestigious as we paraded through Jedburgh in our finery (tweed jacket on a boiling day anyone?!) behind a marching band and the red-coated herald, in front of whom one must avoid riding at all costs. He tootled away on his bugle and we jogged happily up a hill road towards the stunning countryside: dark hills and lush fields spreading out before us. And the galloping! So thrilling – 80 stone of muscular horseflesh pounding away as fast as it can, given free rein to reach top speed. Your heart flutters and tears stream down your face as your burning eyeballs push the air forward in front of you.

Four hours later and my body was starting to groan under the pressure: ankles weakening and buckling when rising trot was attempted, arms fixed in rein-holding position, bottom unable to bear the unrelenting pace of trot for much longer. The physical weaknesses start to impede on the psyche, and contrary to my youthful riding days, characterised by the arrogant belief that no ill would ever befall me at this dangerous pastime, I started to catalogue the things that could go wrong, from horse heart attacks to tramplings to head-splitting. Curiously, I recalled a whole database of incidents from my own horsey folklore to fuel my imagined tragedy (Willow the chestnut pony who collapsed into a ditch on Fens Lane rider on board; poor old Sun-Up who broke his leg and was put to sleep in a shavings-lined box to the extreme distress of his teenage owner) – incidents that never worried me much at the time, but that now acted as scaremongering doom-sayers on our interminable ride.

Still, I was enjoying the thrill and the feeling of being on the edge between control and anarchic galloping, along with the increasing in-tunedness you get as you start to mould yourself into the animal. Losing both my stirrups in gallop I thought I was going to come a cropper, but in the end I wasn’t the one person who fell off. Just before the last leg I nearly had a bit of a cry, but a friendly shot of port perked me up and we gritted our teeth and concentrated hard on not falling off.

Dismounting was a tricky affair, with legs buckling underneath me on contact with the ground. With relief we returned our mounts, removed our chafing chaps and staggered to the pub for a well-deserved pint.

And now I have experienced what being really old will feel like. All-over body aches, slow, stilted walking, a groan and a wince when sitting or standing, and the need to lower myself gingerly onto the loo. And have my butt cheeks fused together into a single mono-butt (like Barbie, as Abi commented)?! They used to be two "U"s - now they are two capital "D"s back to back. I need to get used to the idea – being really old strikes me as feeling achy all over, like this, plus permanently drunk, like early Sunday morning (oh and wetting yourself and all your friends dying – excellent). Anyway, I became painfully aware of my own mortality as I felt my knees crunch about and made a genuine decision to buy a stock of cod liver oil.

So what am I going to do with my life before this temporary decrepitude becomes a permanent feature??

Tuesday, 28 June 2011

Fucking horrid bastard moth bastards

A British-style ‘heat wave’ has started. That is, three days of semi-humidity, requisite British moaning about the heavy moistness of the air and the little drip of sweat rolling explicitly on the insides of undergarments. The buzz in the air and the romance of the city clothed in glorious sunshine.

I opened up the French windows and decided to make the garden another room; a perceptual shift that made me want to hoover the grass and mow the carpet. Housepride creeps imperceptibly outwards. The doors flung open in Mediterranean, outlandish holiday fashion, the ground reverberates with retained warmth spreading a delicious outdoorsiness onto our prosaic Monday evening.

And now. The doors are shut, the night remains prosaic, but the walls. The walls are alive with little fucking hideous moths, even smaller antsy variants on moths, fluttery intruders and feckless, skimpy daddy-long-legses. Little brown terrorists who’ve come inside to build their communities of pointlessness on my walls.

Yes, yes, moths are barely any different to pretty flutterbys, if only on their antennae blobs or some such, and I’m sure they do something good for the environment. But firstly, I hate butterflies too (the first time I went into a butterfly house with my sister and our friend, we had totally bought into the idea of the delicate, colourful butterfly as an exotic adornment to the fleshy, pregnant species of plant in there. We entered the tropical atmosphere of that glasshouse wide-eyed, expectantly hoping for their mystery and beauty to inspire us, when WHOOSH! The biggest fucking butterfly you’ve ever seen, a giant monster face on a killer eagle’s wings, dived-bombed our heads and from that moment we ran ducking through the butterfly house as fast as we could, screaming our heads off. This story has in no way been exaggerated by the passing of time and the comic potential of hyperbole). And secondly, there is no logic in the world that will ever make me not hate moths, because once when I was about 15 one of those little fuckers thought it would take a magical mystery tour into my ear, attempting to gorge itself on my gooey brain and suck out the lifeforce of my nascent intelligence. Did it see the light coming through the space between my ears? I can still feel it’s cracked little wings scrabbling dryly against my ear canal as I pranced about demonically, banging my temples with the club of my hand.

So now my reflex when I see them flouncing pointlessly towards me is to flail around like a small child, not a fully formed adult in possession of a degree of poise and rationality. And now I am just wondering what little moth bastards are awaiting me in my bedroom and whether one of them will crawl into my mouth when I’m asleep and lay moth eggs on my brain.

Monday, 20 June 2011

Weird dream no 1

Last week I dreamt that me and Dave Grohl from the Foo Fighters were chasing my sister’s boyfriend’s sister down the road. She was driving a white mini with hair on it made out of rubber. Dave and I were on a quest to find the key to the mysteries of the universe, or perhaps a global conspiracy theory, using two halves of a t-shirt we had each bought separately in H&M in Kingston. The t-shirt was covered in red runes that would unlock the meaning of life, if only we could find a way of deciphering them.

I also dreamt the week before that my sister and I discovered that we had a secret brother who was living in the attic. We followed some arrows that had been biro’d onto the carpet and found him up there doing bench presses and wearing a yellow motorcycle helmet.

Welcome to my warped brain.

Monday, 13 June 2011

An ode to eggs

As many people know, I have a mild obsession with eggs – their perfectly smooth, rotund form, the number of different amazing things you can do with them, and, most of all, the delicious oozing of a perfectly liquid, bright yellow yolk crawling magnificently out of the solid white, preferably onto a crusty English muffin or a wholesome bit of seeded batch.

Mayonnaise is made from them. Cakes are made from them. They top a healthy salad with an air of indulgence, but they’re still healthy. Are they magic?

The ultimate weekend pleasure: poached Burford Browns on their Benedictine mattress – smoked salmon – and topped with yellow, buttery hollandaise (also made from – who’d have thought it – the genius egg). Or scrambled in just butter – not overdone and rubbery, but runny and creamy and rich and exquisite tasting.

Such a small little object, the egg, and yet one that brings me consistent, unadulterated, unambiguous happiness. I love the fact that such a simple, easy phenomenon creates these little pockets of time where all there is in the world is me and my cherished friend the egg, where I am a relaxed yellow yolk and the walls of my house are an agreeable shell cocooning me into a cosy rotunda of contentedness.

Thursday, 9 June 2011

At what age are you the most human?

I’ve been reading about the care homes scandal with horror. People employed to care for vulnerable elderly people have instead been slapping, standing on, kicking, sexually abusing, waterboarding and psychologically torturing them. Is this possible? To take someone fragile and sensitive and unleash this cruelty onto them?

Much of the analysis seems to be political – rightly highlighting the risks of cutting costs and focusing on investment opportunities within healthcare, which only seems set to get worse if the Tories are insistent on letting any willing provider look after us when we most need an expert, trustworthy cushion to settle on.

But is it really true that “Too few badly paid, under-supervised carers will often mean neglect”? Is it being underpaid and poorly trained that prompts multiple individuals to practise inhuman cruelty on the generation above them? We call their stage in life a ‘second childhood’, but would those same individuals really practise the same abuses on small children? Would our reaction be different if they did?

What I see is age being devalued all the time, whilst youth and childhood is revered to the point of ridiculousness. I hear people constantly talking about “being the wrong side of twenty-five” or bemoaning the descent into middle age, which begins at 30 apparently (why on dating websites are blokes of 28 only looking for women between 23 and 29? Do they turn into psychotic, shrivelled banshees as soon as they hit 30, plucking out curly nasal hairs and wailing about their need to be impregnated before 35 creeps up on them?).

And, clichéd pet hate as it is, I cannot bloody stand those “Baby on Board” stickers. They symbolise to me the ultimate deification of childhood over humanhood. As if I am going to ram the back of their car if I know they have their granny on board. As if a child or baby deserves to be treated with more respect and kindness than an adult. Because I don’t think they do. A child’s life is not worth more than an adult’s – they are both human. Is it something to do with children’s potential, and the fact that they haven’t yet lived and experienced all the things that adults have and can? If we value this experience so much, why do we value it less in those who have it, or who might be right in the middle of experiencing the wonderful things our mollycoddled kids have such a right to? Enjoying and excelling and contributing much more to society than a semi-cognisant baby drooling on its own drool in the back of a car.

Yes, kids are cute and cuddle-able (apart from newborn babies, who are frankly ugly, writhing little animals). But adults are complex high-achievers – gloriously fucked up, and who knows what unbelievable thing they will create or what hideously inappropriate and amusing thing they will say next?

Perhaps youth is simply revered because it is farthest away from death, which we are supposed to fear so much. But we need to come to terms with ageing, right? Brace ourselves for the changes our faces will undergo, redefine in our imaginations what “I” look like… and then perhaps our culture won’t inflict such loathing on our elderly. Take example from our parents, who cared for their parents tirelessly and with dignity; prepare ourselves to do the same for them, and appreciate this time now, when all of us are physically able – not pushchair or wheelchair bound… talk, gather stories, create memories. This is what will make us all equals in our humanity.

Apparently Carl Jung said: "The afternoon of life must have a significance of its own and cannot be merely a pitiful appendage of life's morning." Can we make a car sticker that says that instead?

Thursday, 2 June 2011

The reluctant cyclist

What is this thing that prevents me each morning from getting on my bike? My house is a matter of metres from my work, my morals purport to be green and eco and shit, my bike is a pleasingly designed Dutch-bike-reminiscent curvaceous beauty whose gears flip effortlessly as I whir along the suitably maintained tarmac, and it only take seven bloody minutes. But somehow, regardless of what time I manage to drag my reluctant corpse out of bed, I am reliably late every morning and end up making up an errand I need to run so that I have an excuse to drive my little red berry car the short hop up the road.

Instead of my perception of that cycle as an arduous trudge up a shallow but long slope, lactic acid pumping round my leaden legs just in time for a sweaty, red-faced ending (phnah phnah), I need to reimagine the cycle. To think of biking in Oxford as liberating – breezing past beautiful old buildings and people stuck in their cars in traffic. Swooping through the airy streets glowing with spring-morning incandescence and oozing the history of centuries of fellow bikers rolling two-wheeled to their destination, seeking enlightenment and hope. Ahhhhh…

Come on come on come on Parrinder, get off your arse!!

Tuesday, 31 May 2011

The Car Wash

Whoever invented the car wash was a total genius. It’s just such a great concept, brilliantly executed. First you are sprinkled with a smattering of rain-like drops that penetrate the parched, dusty car surface, preparing it for its oncoming pounding. My little red Clio seems like a round shiny berry on an unnameable shrub, being watered with the hosepipe at the end of a halcyon-style day. Then you are coated all over with luscious foam, cocooning you inside your vehicle, which has become a fluffy cloud ship, at least when you look at the outside of it from the inside.

Then, my favourite bit: a distant rumbling sound seems to be approaching, but because of your cloudy coating you can’t see what it is. Shockingly, the tentacles of a giant, rubber bottle brush flop onto your windscreen, thwacking it with a dangerous-feeling intensity, the roller building in speed and advancing on you, clearing away the foam in a violent, uncompromising catharsis, and for a minute you wonder if it’s going to bear down on you, whipping off the roof and snapping your defenceless little corpse in half. This must be the closest people in ordinary, mundane lives can get to being in the middle of a sci fi action thriller movie, having their fictional ordinary lives turned into a film-worthy struggle for existence, ducking under the relentless roller and dodging shampoo bullets as they grab their cute child (not forgetting the teddy) and sprint to the edge of the frame, just as the Esso petrol station goes up in a giant mushroom cloud behind them, obliterating the Seacourt Business Park as it goes.

As it is, the genius who invented car washes included some kind of clever sensor in the design that allows all of the knobs and whistles to adapt the cleaning programme to the exact dimensions of your car. If only they had included funny robotic hands and arms coming out of the sides to sponge and chamois. As it is, your thoroughly foamy vehicle gets a good old rinse, and then the 360-degree hairdryer comes out, blowing a wall of hot air all round the car, rolling little beads of water over the glass like, well, solid beads of glass.

And before you know it, the show is over; you can take off your handbrake, screw your aerial back on and accelerate off, your metallic red bodywork glinting in the afternoon sun. No wonder they wrote a song about it.