Wednesday, 30 January 2008

Mum's the word.

Once the festive period has passed, people viciously attack the selection box of Christmas television to which they were cruelly subjected. Yet the weeks before they plonked themselves down in front of the gogglebox, munching and slurping their way through fridge-fulls of treats, without batting so much as an eyelid.

It seems that each year the listings somehow manage to out-do the year before in the sheer volume of worthless, superfluous and in a word trashy TV that is produced. There are only so many repeats, best ofs and Christmas specials any British family can digest along with the third day’s serving of cold turkey sandwiches.

So presumably, come January, television is back on track. Well, one evening’s schedule certainly had me more than bewildered. I could not, and nor, I imagine, could the rest of the nation, decide which was more mind-boggling, the half tonne mum or the all-singing, all-dancing fake babies.

For those of you who didn’t manage to watch either of these psychologically disturbing documentaries, let me fill you in. 9pm: the largest woman ever to undergo gastric bypass surgery, weighing in at an almost humanely impossible 64 stone. That’s the weight of a large baby rhinoceros. 10pm: a collection of pseudo-mothers who push plastic dolls around in prams. Dolls with real hair. And breathing mechanisms. And made-to-order facial imperfections. I don’t see anything wrong with this. I just don’t understand it.

Now, a friend of mine who didn’t manage to have her sanity totally scrambled by this latest display of astounding social behaviour said she had heard they were both real tear-jerkers. The lady whose synthetic offspring replaced her dead son was certainly moving, albeit simultaneously troubling.

But I stand by the fact that the only thing that was genuinely “sad” about the American supermom was the fact that she single-handedly managed to ruin the lives of both her poor children. These poor kids will spend the rest of their lives – alone – having a totally erratic and unhealthy obsession with food. The thirteen year old had already been thirty pounds overweight at the age of 10.

But the poor lady was bedridden for four years following an accident, I hear you cry. Well, firstly, who had been feeding her during this time? And secondly, she was already “super morbidly obese” before the incident.

Surely, if she truly loved her kids and cared about their future, then she would have sought serious psychological help and medical intervention long ago. And been given a gastric band without the added complications of an extra twenty four stone.

What a strange world we live in. On the one hand we have women playing mums and dads with synthetic substitute babies. And on the other women blessed with children of their own turning a blind eye to the responsibilities that must go hand-in-hand with parenthood.

Sunday, 27 January 2008

New Year. Same old you?

I am the kind of person who, perhaps ever so slightly compulsively, makes lists. I make lists on heart-shaped post-its, on kitchen roll, on the back of both hands. But I am also the kind of person who purposefully adds things I have already done onto the list. Purely so that I can delight in crossing them out with a red pen and a flourish. So for me, the idea of a list of New Year’s resolutions is both exciting, and ultimately, pointless.

The problem with these resolutions is that many of us set out with the best intentions in the world. But simply end up totally frustrated with and utterly disappointed in ourselves when, come the 3rd, we shamelessly gulp down a bottle of Jacob’s finest, or hurriedly scoff three dairy milks in a row, or frantically chain smoke a packet of fags, or joyously cut up our one year gym membership. Or for some “sinners,” all of the above.

So then we spend the rest of January, that little bit plumper, plagued by an irrepressible sense of guilt. Instead of which, we should be hitting the sales. This constant preoccupation with remorse and culpability doesn’t do anyone any favours.

I suggest we take a leaf out of Nigella’s sumptuous cookery book. Any time we pause as we pick up a delectably chocolately, sexually-fulfilling cream tart, we should listen to her as she leans over our shoulder, perfectly wrapped up in her pink silk dressing gown like a strawberry cream Quality Street, and whispers in her caramel-smooth voice, “oh go on, just another won’t hurt.” Hmmm.

And for those of us embarking on a gruelling path to starvation, those M&S adverts don’t help either. Nor do programmes like Supersize Me. A friend of mine is known to have watched the health-destroying, organ-consuming documentary and driven straight to the nearest golden arches.

But ultimately, resolutions are there to be broken. Just like diets. And school rules. And nails. As soon as you tell yourself “no,” your body, mind, soul and Ms Lawson immediately scream yes.

So maybe the way forward is to put no bars or barriers on anything, and then we would be less tempted to be naughty. Now I’m not talking about legalising prostitution, or class A drugs – although maybe even that’s not such a bad idea. All I am saying is that maybe we shouldn’t deprive ourselves of the little things in life that make us happy, albeit momentarily. After all, there is only ever size 16 and above left in the sales.

Sunday, 30 December 2007

There's no smoke without fire.

Jersey, The OC of England and my home town, will soon be celebrating the one year anniversary of its much overdue smoking ban.

For the past twelve months, I for one have been spared waking up the morning after the night before with a stonking headache and the added disgust of having to face stumbling into the shower smelling like the inside pocket of a 60-a-dayer. Trust me, trying to get the putrid smell of nicotine out of hair as long and as thick as mine is the last thing you want to do.

But aside from this slight, yet much appreciated alleviation from hellish hangovers, and the added incentive of “smirting,” (the practice of simultaneously smoking and flirting for those that way inclined) has the ban actually made one jot of difference to the wider world?

Local doctors tell us that the number of smokers on the island has dropped to twenty per cent. Ok, so that’s a start. Apparently the number of heart attacks is also on the decrease, especially amongst us passive smokers. Yippee. Meanwhile, more and more families are frequenting pubs and restaurants safe in the knowledge that they are not clogging up their youngsters airways.

Yet if we set aside these rather unsurprising facts and figures and the blatant message that screams “stop smoking and you may not kill yourself quite so quickly,” the ban has actually managed to make life a little more unbearable in some respects.

For one, the frequently inebriated tobacco-toker is now forced to step outside the sweaty, grotty pit of death that is a nightclub in order to have a poisonous puff. Result? The bouncer and his bulging biceps get a great deal more action as the sozzled smoker becomes a tangled mess of tongue-tied slurs and noxious fumes in a bid to prove his manhood or her sobriety and be allowed to stagger back in.

Add to that the inevitable noise that a cluster of cancer-cane addicts creates outside the back door of a watering hole and you have one mad neighbourhood.

But it’s not just a nocturnal nuisance. Need I point out the stagnant carpet of cigarette butts strewn across the pavements during the daylight hours? Or the wall of smoke you have to penetrate when entering any sort of establishment at any time of day? As you desperately try to hold your breath and make a run for it, only to cave in half way along the tunnel of toxic fumes, you probably end up inhaling even more tar than usual.

So, in order to combat this particularly horrendous ban-induced bother, it has just been announced that as from next year, States employees in Jersey will no longer be able to sneak outside every hour or two for a fatal drag on the old sin stick.

Well personally, so long as they are at the back door and not blocking the fire exit, I would much rather they carried on, and that the rest of us able-lunged individuals got awarded the equivalent time wasted as an extra ten day holiday a year.

Thursday, 27 December 2007

All I want for Christmas is a Number One.

So Leon did it. Well done him. I’m sure his mum is over the moon. Now, I don’t know about you, but I didn’t know who would top the music charts on Sunday, and neither did I really care. But it seems to me that this annual competition did have a rather worryingly large sector of this barmy nation utterly gripped in festive anticipation.

I was always under the impression that the race for Christmas Number One was a time for any old songster to give it a shot and whip up an irritatingly catchy ditty to flog to the masses. A time when cartoon characters and ageing crooners come back from the dead, hell-bent on reinventing themselves through abysmal pop tunes.

Quite frankly, I just thought it was another one of those over-hyped and over-played musical events to be completely blown out of all proportion. A bit like The X Factor. Although I must admit that as soon as I discovered that Rhydian was Welsh, I suddenly became viciously and patriotically supportive of the white-haired, opera-singing starlet and even considered getting one of those rather unsightly t-shirts.

But why is this show so bleeding popular? It seems that for all its faults, this country does have one major strength, and that is supporting the “talent” of lifeless, wannabe popsters. They can be young or old, fat or thin, singers or screechers. It doesn’t matter. People will still rack up their phone bills to vote for them, sport their hair-dos to copy them and pin up their posters to idolise them.

And of course, good ol’ fashioned, raw talent is bottom of the list. Which is exactly why Rhyd didn’t get it. Oh, that and the fact that he is a relatively normal youngster without the emotional baggage of a suitcase-full of personal disasters worthy of any English soap opera.

But, I hear you cry, Leon has only just started his crooning career whereas Rhydian has been professionally trained! Oh boo hoo. That’s precisely why he’s so damn good. You can actually sit there and watch the Welsh wonder and chill out. You don’t have to be teetering on the edge of your seat, digging your nails into the sofa and squinting tentatively, praying that he hits the right note.

And throughout the show he was just so unbelievably humble. And grateful. And generally just a nice guy. But without getting carried away, there is something about Rhydian, a kookiness and a quirkiness, which could bring a much-needed breath of fresh air into this rapidly stagnating and “same old, same old” pop music industry. These musical talent shows are simply mass-production empires churning out band after band and artist after artist with neither an ounce of individuality nor a smattering of star quality between them.

Yet the beauty of it all is that despite not having seized the X factor crown, the Voice of an Arc Angel will probably end up being ten times more successful than anyone else in the competition. And failing that, he can always marry Miss Jenkins. Or me.

Tuesday, 18 December 2007

Christmas Unwrapped.

Am I the only one who is somewhat confused, and even slightly shocked by the new Oxfam Unwrapped advert? Now don’t get me wrong, I can see exactly what they are trying to do, but I just don’t really think that it works.

Shipping in the odd A-lister to promote goods seems to be a sure-fire way of success nowadays. So the international charity has roped in an eclectic mix of super stars. We’ve got – in black and white house-style, of course – a sighing, head-shaking Helen Mirren, a rather unemotional and cardigan-clad Will Young, a cackling Helena Bonham-Carter with a Big Mouth Billy Bass and a confused-looking Rob Brydon clutching one of those snorting, shuffling little piggies.

Ok, so an electronic, singing fish does get the idea across; you’d be much better off spending your pennies on a loo for an impoverished African village. But there is something slightly grating, even distasteful, about the way in which it is portrayed.

I’m not against the idea per se, just the way in which it has been packaged. I expect Oxfam ads to be a beautifully crafted mix of dramatic pictures of wide-eyed, swollen-bellied African children which tear at your heart strings and tug at your purse strings. Instead, I get a load of celebrities moaning about the crappy Christmas gifts they’ve been given. It jars.

Also, I really don’t think that the actual concept in itself is going to be much of a hit. Sure, so it’s a wonderful idea on paper. The idea of providing an AIDS-ridden village with a bumper pack of Durex is undoubtedly a fantastic and positive one. And herein lies the appeal.

The giver of the gift will be able to sit back in his leather sofa, guzzling mince pies and slurping snowballs like there’s no tomorrow, or poverty on the other side of the globe for that matter, safe in the knowledge that he has done his bit for mankind.

But then again, in this era of cynicism and scepticism, there are many people who refuse to happily dish out donations to these global charities for fear that that their money would be used to fund the chief executive’s annual holiday to the Seychelles.

Another problem is that Madonna hit the nail on the head. We do live in the most obscenely material world imaginable. Consequently, I cannot help but feel that the receiver of a piece of paper with a picture of a pile of camel dung on the front may be pretty miffed at having missed out on his Ralph Lauren polo shirt.

And another thing. Last year, everyone bought every member of their extended family a goat. And not because of their fertilizer-yielding properties. Oh no. But because they thought they were cute. Subsequently, not only did this cause more harm than good as the cattle mercilessly munched their way through all the African crops, but it also showed just how utterly ignorant the West really is.

Saturday, 8 December 2007

Santa’s Ho-down.

Love it or love to hate it, Christmas is well and truly upon us once again.

As a child, I used to get a frisson of festive delight as soon as the Coca-Cola adverts appeared on the telly. But it looks as if Mr Coke may now have to silence his red-suited, red-faced Santa Claus in order not to cause offence.

Father Xmases on the other side of the globe are being banned from saying “ho ho ho.” And for two equally amusing and equally ridiculous reasons.

Firstly, Aussie Santas working in shopping centres have been forbidden from hollering their conventional call of Christmas glee for fear of frightening children to death. Recruitment firm Westaff, which supplies hundreds of Santas around the country, says youngsters may be scarred for life by the aggressive, deep tone of the scary man in the red suit bellowing out this time-honoured greeting.

Nothing at all to do with the fact that they are forced to walk alone into a dark, spooky, little room to sit on a stranger’s lap and ask for a Transformer. God forbid you take sweets from strangers. But it’s perfectly a-okay in today’s world to take budget plastic toys off a potential paedo.

The other reason for toning down the jolly phrase is that it could be seen as offensive and derogatory to women. Now for those of you not up to date with the current parlance of American street slang, “ho” does in fact mean lady of the night. Now do little innocent 6 years olds really know what this means? Actually, they probably do.

As a result of this utterly preposterous proposition, Santas are quitting left, right and centre. The Ebenezer Scrooges of this world are attempting to change something so deeply ingrained in the Christmas tradition simply in order not to offend, scare or provoke. Please.

It seems that being politically correct has become an international obsession. It is at the top of everyone’s agenda, has everyone constantly tiptoeing on eggshells and has, quite frankly, got totally and terribly out of control.

I hope that parents and kids across the sphere stand up against this festive lunacy and let Santa have the last laugh.

Tuesday, 4 December 2007

Ban the Tan.

So the Government have decided that it might be a good idea to outlaw the use of sunbeds for under 18 year olds, or perhaps prohibit their use altogether. Well about flippin’ time. There are many reasons why I would try anything to restrain anyone from so much as setting foot in a tanning booth, and skin cancer is only one of them.

Firstly, the “you’ve been tangoed” phrase has not been coined as simply a reference to the sickly-sweet, tooth-rotting, stomach-churning fizzy pop. Any A to Z list celeb who has undergone any form of fake tan looks, quite frankly, orange. The colour one’s skin turns when being blasted by toxic rays or smothered in brown paint is about as far from natural-looking bronze as can be.

A particularly tantastic acquaintance of mine has a rather interesting attitude to the phenomenon of the golden complexion. “Sun beds might give you cancer, but you’re gonna die of something, so why not die looking like you’ve just spent a fortnight in the Caribbean?” Well, I doubt she’ll be thinking the same when she’s a 60 year old crinkly facing skin grafts to cure her melanomas and possessing a skin tone a hush puppy would be proud of.

Some may say that everyone is aware of the potential risks of sunbeds, so people should be able and free to use them responsibly. Now, seriously, are the people of this earth able to do ANYTHING responsibly? Facts and figures would beg to differ. Drink responsibly? I don’t think so. Eat responsibly? Definitely not. And don’t even get me started on smoking. So why on earth would people be able to soak up noxious rays responsibly? They wouldn’t.

And another thing. Doesn’t being sun-kissed all year round, come rain or partial shine, take the whole point out of tanning? I’ve always thought it was a way of showing off your bank balance. Beautifully brown equals beautifully minted and living a life scattered with long weekends hopping from one tropical island to another. On a yacht. With Donatella et al. The concept of being ever-brown takes the fun and challenge out of sun bathing.

Oh, and did I mention it can kill you? How can teenage girls, body-obsessed and economically-challenged not want to leap into a tanning booth when they are being advertised on Oxford Street by a rather sullen looking man holding an enormous neon-coloured placard offering five minutes for £5. Stupidly cheap considering it could cost them thousands in the long run when they’ve been diagnosed with cancer.

Of course sunbeds should be banned. I’m utterly perplexed as to how they have been allowed to continue their dastardly deed for so long. Once upon a time, being tanned was considered a mark of poverty because those who basked in the rays of Helios were the plebs, not the prosperous who would remain milky white and cancer free. Ok, so they were also rather obese. But that aside, pale can be pleasing to the eye, just look at the likes of Ms Kidman, Blanchett and Knightley.

I’m the first person to rejoice as soon as the sun comes out to play, but we all need to learn to bathe in its beams sensibly and be pale and proud the rest of the time. Burning these malevolent booths wouldn’t be a bad start. Now, where’s that holiday brochure?