Saturday Night I Watched The Eurovision Song Contest, and I Knew I Was Home. (And Other News)

Part One
This weekend I settled down with some relatives to watch my very first Eurovision Song Contest in fifteen years. Would it live up to my memories? I wondered. Or has the Eurovision changed beyond recognition -- like Radio One and MTV, belonging to a new generation, the one about 10-20 years younger than me, now wearing leggings, ballet pumps, bat-wing tops, and mulletty hair-dos (just like *I* did, long ago...) But Eurovision did not disappoint. It is still as deliciously awful as ever, still an opportunity for superior Brits to chortle as each and every European country (and that includes Isreal, go figure!) entered their 'top' artists in a 'pop' contest.

Britain is still united this time of year, not because we are rooting as a nation for our entry to win (we came a resounding last, and no one cared) but because we come together in a collective sense of superiority -- a) we are a nation with a long history of producing good music, and so any sense of 'competition' is a farce, and b) we just adore watching as young hipster presenters from Turkey, Serbia, and Iceland butcher the English language with attempts to make the funny jokes and ha ha-s for de international audience. (Yep, the English is still the colonizing language, and don't you forget it!) It's especially funny when the French commentators come on, because they refuse to speak English, and so everyone gets confused when they pronouce 'huit point' for "Arr-may" and no one quite knows which country they are referring to (Armenian, fyi).

But mainly it's the acts. And this year did not fail to disappoint. As soon as I set eyes on the Russian performance 'I Believe' by Dima Bilan, it was clear we had a winner. It was not the overwrought lyrics and wild flayling of limbs in a white open shirt and bare chest that did it for me, nor was it the dramatically writhing solo violinist that accompanied the singer, though these were gifts enough. No. It was the ice-skating.

If you want to share in the whole experience, check it here. (If you want to skip to the good part -- John Denver on Skates -- then fast forward to about 2:30 minutes in)

Part Two (Yes, that's all very well, Joy, but, like WTF???!)

I know. I know. I won't pretend I've not been tempted to just put an 'On Indefinite Hiatus 'post up and give the blog an official breather, but I've never quite been able to do it. I know if I do that, there is a strong chance I'll not come back to it, and while I am not as sure about where blogging fits into my life as I did in those first breathless and excited years, I am not ready to give up on it yet. I've mentioned before, but one reason I find blogging very different right now is that since moving back to the UK I have skewed sense of audience and purpose.

I was chatting to my cousin about it this weekend (and how nice is it to be able to have a cousin over for a weekend) but it's really a simple fact that the context I once shared with other bloggers is not the same any more. The shift here is less about the move to England (though massive this is -- case in point, Eurovision Song contest post that will likely mean very little to you!) and more about the fact that I have so little spare time, and this means I can't read you all and engage in conversation (although I am seriously thrilled that my old partner in crime, Her Bad Mother, has pushed out that boy child, and in a jiffy too!) As I struggle to write a post now, I realise it's not that I don't have material (I have spades of it, obviously). It's because I feel like I am throwing stuff out there, but not really taking part in any sort of community activity (yes. I know that sounds hopelessly cheesy). I can't reciprocate, comment, react, or support any more -- or at least I can't to the same degree. I have very little clue what's going on with everyone, and BlogHer and other conferences last year suddenly seem a very long time ago. It's like looking back at a parallel version of myself.

oh GOD! How tedious and self-absorbed. Ennui...

So long story short, if I am going to keep up this blogging lark, I have to find a different sense of purpose and motivation. You lot are very motivating, but to reap the benefit of that motivation you need to be present, and I'm not and really can't be in the same way. So, will it become writing for writing's sake? What does blogging from this space really mean?

Part Three
We are still Bastard People, and buying a property in England is bastard hard-work. Many moons (but just two posts) ago I said we were likely buying a house. That likelihood has increased dramatically, and it looks like we're set to decamp from this mould-infested rental in a couple of weeks. This both pleases and grips me with stomach-twisting fear. Not ANOTHER move. Not another massive change, another school to settle Jack into. The whole process has been complicated horribly by the hoops we've had to go through with surveys and searches and reports, and the mad things that happen when many many parties miscommunicate with one another.

This rental might be mould-infested, but at least it feels relatively familiar now, and there's a Waitrose in walking distance.

I console myself with images of new fitted kitchens, restored fireplaces, and freshly painted Edwardian rooms. I try not to think about the 30 year dank decor that will greet us on arrival, smoke-stained and stinking of doggies, which we'll have to remove with steam and vigorous applications of chemicals and elbow grease. I tell myself that bashing down the 1970s tile that covers the fireplaces will be fun. The knocking down of the wall between kitchen and dining room, a gas. All sorts of dangerous things for Sam, our now 18 month old, encounter and likely eat.

But still, Spring has sprung in England, and we have become members of the National Trust. This means we have purchased sensible walking shoes and cagoules for the family so we can enjoy bracing and damp days out at Tatton and Lyme Park to name but a few. I'm learning to enjoy my family in a different way, and have never had so much fun at a wedding as I did a few weeks back when my little brother got hitched.

Life is definitely good, but it's also more different than I ever anticipated it would be.


How to Make A Dalek

In anticipation of the fourth season of the new Dr Who this weekend, I have been getting crafty with modelling clay and a few pipe cleaners to make my own small scale Dalek Legion. And guess what? You can do it to!

You'll need: A lump of modelling black clay; some white pipe cleaners; a couple of double-headed thumbtacks; and finely tuned artistic ability...

First, you need to make your Dalek foundation. This will be the basis for your modelling:

To get this shape, you need to take your clay firmly in hand and just keep moulding.

You may think you'll never get there, but trust me you just need to be patient. Don't be afraid to use pressure, as the clay can totally take it. Also, the warmth from your hands creates a nice glossy veneer on your model.

Next. Place a three thin sausages of clay around the 'head' of the Dalek:

Then proceed with shaping the tiny balls.
I found that to make the balls stick, a little lick will do the trick nicely.

Next, stick a sharp object like a pin or nail into the head to make a decent sized hole:

This is where your 'Dalek Radar' thingie sticks out. You make this with your pipe cleaners, a little knob of clay, and some tin foil:

Et, Voila!

You've gots yourself a Dalek!

I hope you enjoy making this at home as much as I did. Right now I only have one, as I simply didn't have the energy to do it all again in the same afternoon.


Buying a House in Mo-Fo England (much anticipated update)

(Fig. 1. These people are not us. But they have just bought a home, and so have instantly become more Attractive and Fulfilled. This, therefore, is a representation of What We Will Become After We Have Been The Bastard People)

Way back in January, just easing ourselves out of post-Christmas malaise, and wondering what we might do with ourselves that might not involve eating, drinking, or buying stuff, we embarked fresh-faced and enthused into the whole House-Buying business. What better way to spend a weekend than to set up a series of appointments and tramp through other people's houses, escorted by owners who looked upon us with rapt expectation? Initially we felt an instant bond with such owners, we had been in a similar position just a short period ago, of course -- trying to sell our precious house in Michigan while the economy went down the toilet. We understood.

We would not be the types of people to parade through someone's cherished home and then sharply reject it because a hallway was too narrow or a bathroom not palatial. We were not Bastard People. Even if we did not especially like a house, we would at least be respectful enough to let the estate agent know in a timely fashion, and not leave the owners dangling.

Fast forward a couple of months, and witness the path of devastation and dashed dreams behind us. To become a homeowner in this day and age, especially in holymother-of-effing-god-HOWMUCH?? England, one must become The Bastard People.

Pretty soon we were doing dash-and-run viewings, cramming appointments in between nap times and descending on the freshly cleaned homes with two kids in tow -- one of whom drools in copious amounts. Sure, they just spent the last couple of hours making their place spick and span for us, but did it have a third bedroom that could actually be a third bedroom? (lady. a 4ft by 5 ft room does NOT a bedroom make). Sure, mister, you may say that the noise from the train tracks at the end of your garden are 'hardly a bother because trains are electric now' but when the 10:56 am to Manchester went by, we all smiled at one another over the din, our teeth chattering politely as we pretended it was not that big a deal. I think it took your estate agent about 5 days to finally get me to return their call after our visit, desperate for our 'feedback.' "Try a thundering train at the end of the garden" I said.

What I meant to say was "It's a great house with lots of potential, but we've decided to keep looking." Maybe my not-so softly softly approach was kinder in the end, anyway.

Then, one day, the Bastard People found a house that might just work. A fixer-upper, for sure, but decent sized rooms and "original period features" (beneath a century of paint, wallpaper, artex, 1950s tiling, and cigarette smoke, but there all the same). A kitchen the size of a postage stamp, but 'potential to expand.' Right now it looks like we might just be getting this one, but until I know for sure I won't post a picture (also, don't want any of you shitholes to gazump us or anything, because I know what you're like). My husband's home improvement skills are going to be seriously put to the test. But I have faith, and I will be there by his side to support him -- offering whatever advise I can on colour schemes and fabric combinations (actually, I have a feeling I am going to seriously know my way around a wall-paper steamer-offer by the time we're done, but don't tell him that).

Turns out, after nearly 6 months of living in an urban-ish area, we realise that while in theory we are Country Mice (lulled by the idea of stunning views of the Peak District outside our charming cottage home) we are, in fact, City Mice, who like the idea of the country as a place close by to visit on weekends. We like our ameeeeenities, you see.

So please, wish us luck, and know that the Bastard People period was just a mercenary phase that should hopefully soon pass.


I Blame Coldplay

Hello! Remember me? I used to be a blogger who posted upwards of 3-4 times per month?!

(insert apologetic rambling stuff riddled with excuses about not posting here...)

Good. Now that's out of the way, let's blog baby!

Now, where was I? Ah, yes. 'I blame Coldplay.'

Actually, maybe it's Kate Bush's fault. It was with Kate Bush that I discovered a great new game I could play all by myself at 11 years old. A game called 'let's pretend you're in a 'Music Video.''

Here's how you play-- whatever you are doing, be it walking down to the corner shop, sitting in the backseat of your parents' car, sulking in your bedroom, pretend that you are in fact in a 'Music Video.' You will need some background music for this, preferably Kate Bush's 'The Man with A Child in His Eyes' but Human League's 'Don't You Want Me Baby' will serve you equally well -- especially if you are tonging your hair.

If you prefer to go with a 'live' performance then a hairbrush is a must-have (naturally) and I would recommend the privacy of your own bedroom, where you can play 'your music' on a 'record player.' If you are taking this to the streets, then a Sony Walkman to play your 'cassette tape recordings' is required.

Once you have these items in place, you have a great deal of creative flexibility as to how you perform in your 'video.' With Kate Bush you might like to gyrate wildly but very, very dramatically around your room -- especially if that song is Wuthering Heights (Heathcliffe! it's me, your Cathy, I've come ho-o-o-o-me. It's me in your windo-o-o-w). But take care with the lyrics -- they are seriously deep and need to be intoned (or mouthed if you prefer) with the appropriate expression of mysterious and yet penetrating angst.

If you are making your video in public, then a certain level of discretion and a good deal of imagination is required. Yes, to an onlooker you might well look like some pimply-faced teen slumping down the street with a pair of head-phones on, but little do they know that a camera is on you and the end result will be a highly produced (quite possibly black and white) montage sequence: 'disaffected working class girl walks through scene of urban blight.' That's you missy, and guess what, you're in the new Smiths video!

I wish I could say that I have grown out of this adolescent game, but every so often an instance avails itself where I just can't help myself. Coldplay on the iPod while I commute is a surefire trigger. One minute I'm charging through the ticket gates to only just catch my train (again) and the next minute I am deep in the reverie of 'Warning Sign' (When the truth is,
I miss you. Yeah the truth is, That I miss you so) . Lights. Camera. Action. And I'm ON.

Add to that an email that appears on your PDA from a dear friend Back Home who tells you of a dream where you appeared back in Michigan...

"When I went to hug Joy, she said I shouldn't get near her because she had some kind of communicable disease.... Then, when we put Jack and J___ [our sons] together, and thought they'd be excited to see each other again, they didn't even really remember each other. I felt very sad in the dream, thinking that they were forgetting each other."

Add that and suddenly you're a blubbering mess on the train, and so the only way to stop your fellow passengers noticing your outpouring is to retreat inside your head and be in the Coldplay video about Loss. Channel that sorrow into a brilliant performance that your adolescent self would have truly envied.

(I miss you too A. Horribly. And everyone there. But, uh, 'communicable disease'??)


To Jack After the Valentine's Disco...

Dear Jack,
Last night when I got home from work you were ready and waiting in your 'smart clothes' and excited beyond all reason. I was going to drive you to school where they were hosting a Valentine's Disco for you and all the other 4-6 year olds. I had been forewarned by your Daddy, who had made a similar trek with you to the 'Halloween Disco' in October, that this was pretty much an hour of complete and utter insanity. Good lord, was he right. When we got to school we couldn't get in right away, so you went careening around outside the doors aping at the other children and admiring the boys in their Cyberman shirts.

It doesn't matter if you know a kid, if they are impressive to you, then you'll head right up to them and say 'Nice shirt!' I don't know if it's their englishness or the fact that you can perhaps stun people into silence, but they normally don't react very openly, but when you turn away from them I see a slight smile of pride as they look down at themselves.

Meanwhile, you have your own little cohort of friends, and once we got inside the building you all had a marvelous time 'dancing' (and I use that term loosely) and piling onto one another in great heaps. Before I had boys I was very much on the 'nurture' side of the debate, but watching you and your pals say hello by wrestling one another to the floor makes me seriously wonder, and this creeping realization is only heightened by the fact that as you writhe on the floor all around you are pretty little girls in red and pink valentine's dresses, dancing much more skillfully to the beat.

For you the disco is about hurtling around the room with your friends but mainly it's about the Sweeties. Over to the side of the hall was a little shop selling packets of chews and gummies -- you are drawn to this place irresistibly over the course of the hour. Spinning off to tumble and then every few moments returning to beg for more sweets, more 10 pence pieces to buy them. "But puh-leeeeease, Mummy."

After about 4 packets, I had to put my foot down.

All that sugar and running around, and you got completely overheated. You were begging me to let you take your clothes off, which was something new and also somewhat alarming. Rather than draw such unwanted and dodgy attention on ourselves (I imagined you chasing around the hall in your spongebob undies) we opted to roll up your sleeves and trouser legs, and you reared off again with your pale legs poking out like sticks.

Finally you returned back to my side, and asked to go home. You happily place your hand in mine as we work our way out. That simple hand-holding. I wonder how long I have left of that.
I'm not being maudlin or anything, because I know that it's only natural that one day soon you'll be less likely to hug me on a whim or plant a wet kiss on my cheek, but it's also good for me to remember that one day I'll be looking at this time and wondering where it went.

I love you, sweet boy.



I just believe in me, that’s reality (Hubs Guest Post)

Well, finally on this day of days, when the “Beatles” (did they really exist? Were there two or four? Was it all a dream?) song Across the Universe (did they even write it?) is supposedly going to be beamed out into “outer space” (prove there’s such a place), the Truth has been received! Finally, 25% of Brits have come to realise (see I am writing like them now and that means I am one of them; join us join us) that Winston Churchill (who would name a kid after that Bulldog Insurance logo?) and Florence Nightingale (a bird? a plane?) are fictional characters designed to keep us all numb and obedient. We have lived in fear of the so-called Crimean War long enough! Didn’t that Iron Curtain keep you warm? I don’t think too many owed too much to too few, do you? (how Seussian! Or should I say Geiselian?). We have at last seen through the veil of the simulacrum and come to know reality for what it is! Schizo-criticism had us in its clutches too long, and now you fucker Frederic Jameson, you’re gonna pay! Yes, it’s a new day for revisionists everywhere (there’s one in every pot, along with that so-called chicken we were promised; and why does everything taste of chicken? Alien mind traps, that's why!). Soon we will all see what the great doctor has said all along (Doctor Who, that is): it is better not to know what is good or bad, or what is real or false).

Other things once thought of as true:

Cary Grant saying “Judy Judy Judy” (he only said “Judy” or maybe “Judy Judy”, but c’mon; it is preposterous to think he would add the superfluous Judy!)

Humphrey Bogart saying “Play it again, Sam” in “Casablanca”. (in fact, he just said, “you played it for her now play it for me. Play it!”)

Shakespeare writing, “Alas poor Yorick, I knew him well.” In fact he wrote, “You mean I kissed that dead guy!? Yuck!” (The Complete Shakespeare)

It doesn’t surprise me that so many people are getting history wrong. It seems that within the last 40 years, the whole enterprise of history has been to dismantle itself bit by bit. I have taught in my classes how there are myths surrounding George Washington and Thomas Jefferson, and it would appear that those lessons have taken root … a bit too strongly. True, Existentialism teaches us that we cannot be certain anything exists, with the exception of oneself (and here I always compliment my students on their imagining such a handsome professor), but what have we lost now in suggesting that nothing is real. Is 25% of the British public being ironic? What makes Churchill so unreal, and Holmes so lifelike? (I neglected to mention that the same 25% believe Holmes and Watson actually existed).
The article that I got this story from is clearly criticising the dumbing down of all Western societies, and it has a point; however, it is all an outgrowth of our dependence on the sound bite and the medium of television, which states outright that if it is on that box, it must be true. One only need recall the Presidential Debates, where George W. Bush denied that he had ever said of Osama bin Laden, “I don't know where he is. I -- I'll repeat what I said. I truly am not that concerned about him.”

John Kerry quoted him nearly verbatim in the debate, and all Bush had to do was say, “There you go with one of your exaggerations.” More than half of my students thought “W” had bested Kerry with that remark; few had stayed around long enough to hear the tapes after the debate that repeated Bush saying those very words.

So kidding aside, it is becoming increasingly problematic determining what is the truth (or what the truths are and what they mean). Politics has become simply about who can say something that sounds true, or as Stephen Colbert puts it, the winner must have “truthiness” – not, indeed, the truth, but the appearance of truth. And in this day and age where we cannot believe in the sincerity of anyone’s motives, for to do so would mean we have always already been duped, who could believe that there was once a leader who was a drunk, who was somewhat common, who made crass remarks about women being ugly, yet who stood tall in the face of an imminent threat (and then collapsed later)? Who could believe that some nurse on the battlefields of a place no one can even locate on a map could have been the impetus for so many humanitarian ideals? (and remember, nurses were supposed to be sluts then, or something barely above actresses).

The title of this entry comes from John Lennon’s song “God”, where he lists off all the things he doesn’t believe in: Elvis, Dylan (in one version he uses Zimmerman, Dylan’s actual surname – see, you can’t trust even your favorite folk singer … or is he rock because he went electric? Is he still Jewish?), Kennedy, kings, Gita, all concluding with his shocking “I don’t believe in Beatles!” He was an idealist, as we all were, and perhaps as very few are allowed to be today, denying the value of so many things that are put upon pedestals. We are repeatedly told heroes don’t exist anymore, and I think the statistic that was published today is the result of our embracing that idea.

Oh, and it is also because our schools suck and our kids are all morons! Go read a book, you stupid kids! You’d think all you had to do was play fucking Playstation!!


In his Second Life My Husband Wants To Be David Bruce Banner

A couple of nights ago the old man and I settled down for a nice night in front of the telly (er, like pretty much every night) and found ourselves drawn into a BBC Documentary on 'Virtual Adultery.'

Main thrust of the programme? There are people out there with crappy real married lives who create insanely sexy online counterparts for themselves in Second Life. Big-boobed Girl Avatar meets Six-pack Boy Avatar, and the mouse-controlled bump and grind of naughty avatar bits begins...

The question. Is this adultery?

As we watched one husband talk about how his wife spends up to 14 hours a day in their bedroom in front of the computer with her 'boyfriend' while he's left to run the house, looks after four kids, and earns a living for them all, we thought that 'adultery' might well be the least of this family's problems.

In the concluding moments -- after this wife had spent some of the family's hard-earned cash to fly out to London to meet her 'boyfriend' in real life (and boy, did he look disappointed when she turned up at Heathrow) only to return to the bosom of the family -- her loving husband declared that his wife was 'Jenny' to his Forrest Gump -- she was wild, lived at the edge, hungry for life, but no matter what, he would be as steadfast as Forrest and remain there for her forever. To which my husband said:

"Yeah. But Forrest Gump was retarded"

We began to see why a virtual life with 'Elliot' might look so enticing to the woman, b'yatch though she was. And there was her husband, trying to make sense of it all by viewing it like the movies. We all want to escape, and for him it took the form of pretending he was a slow-witted adult male from the deep south.

Of course, all this gave the two of us an opportunity to look inside our own hearts, our own marriage, and ask one another the searching questions that had plagued us as we watched side by side.

"So. If you could create an avatar in Second Life, what would it look like?" I asked

"David Banner" "Bruce Banner"

The certainty and swiftness of his reply was impressive.

"Which David Bruce Banner? David Bruce Banner when he's on the verge of becoming the Hulk, you won't like me when I'm angry, David Bruce Banner?? David Bruce Banner in tattered trousers? Or worn out and depleted David Banner as he walks down the side of the road thumbing a ride?"

"Well who would you be?" (dodging the question -- pussy-ass)

"Cate Blanchett" (yes. I am seriously predictable)

"Cate Blanchett-as-Bob Dylan Cate Blanchett, or Cate-Blanchett-as-Galadriel Cate Blanchett?"

"DUH! Like you have to ask that question. Do you even know me at all?"

"You'd go for the pointy ears"

"Of course! I know you're a sucker for the pointy ears! I'd do it for you!" (also. who wants Bob Dylan wiggy hair?)

David Bruce Banner and Galadriel, shacking up together in Second Life, saving up a few Linden Dollars to buy me a boob job and some property on the cyber-beach. We could be happy there.

UPDATE: And here's me sneering at the idiotic ways of idiotic people, and writing an entire post about how my husband wants to be DAVID Banner, when I meant BRUCE Banner.
So far I don't think my husband has any aspirations to be a Dirty South Hip Hop artist, but then, he continues to surprise me. Such is our love.