Tuesday, 29 October 2013

Alternative Wikitravel: Basildon

Basildon is a town in Essex, England, where dreams go to die.  No sane person would holiday there and there is no discernible business one might be called to, so reasons for visiting are scant.


Basildon is a "New Town", built in 1948 to house overspill population from the capital.  It was created from four small, existing villages: the eponymous Basildon, Laindon, Pitsea and Vange; widely regarded as among the most unattractively named places in the UK.  These villages remain is sub-areas of Basildon Town.  The rigid and forced street layout and absence of any architecture dating before the bleak 1940s can be held largely responsible for the town's total lack of personality or charm.

Although English is the native tongue and by far the most widely spoken in Basildon, visitors to the area can be forgiven for not understanding local residents.  One popular theory is that the cockney dialect spoken by the influx of people from the east end of London in the 1940s has been degraded over the intervening decades to form the distinctive Essex accent, which now sounds less like speech and more like the barking of an angry seal.

The Basildonians or "Basikes", as they are often known, are a proud people, despite having contributed very little to the field of human achievement.  Any local to achieve a modicum of fame, no matter how tawdry, is revered by the town, the only logical explanation for the continued career of Denise Van Outen.  Other former Basildon residents to recently come to fame include Kara Tointon, a former Eastenders actress and reality TV star, and Brian Belo, a former Big Brother contestant who achieved instant popularity in Essex after claiming - believably - to have never heard of William Shakespeare.  80s synth band Depeche Mode also hail from the town; every year a three day festival celebrating the band's music and predictably named "Bas Fest" is held in the Basildon.  As many as 100 people are believed to have attended last year's event, many from overseas, explaining the small annual influx of confused and extremely disappointed Italians wandering around the town centre.

Get In

By Train
The most common route into Basildon is by train via London Fenchurch Street, itself a harrowing experience.  Avoid travelling at rush hour as these rolling cattle carts are packed to capacity with the commuter crowd.  You wont get a seat unless you are willing to fight for one, potentially to the death.  Moving and breathing are also both rendered difficult at peak times.  Also avoid late evening trains, particularly on Fridays and weekends.  Finding a seat is easier, but you will have to pick your way through the discarded beer cans and unconscious young women littering the gangway, and the slurring, off duty insurance broker who'll inevitably sit next to you is liable to drop his kebab in your lap.  Journey time from Fenchurch Street approximately 40 minutes, from West Ham 30 minutes, from Barking 25 minutes.

By Car
Basildon is well connected by road via the A127 and A13, with further connections to the M25, a major motorway which can easily be reached from central London and further afield.

By Taxi
The fact that most London airports are actually nowhere near London plays to the advantage of those heading on to Basildon.  London Stanstead Airport is very much in Essex, and a taxi will cost about £40 booked in advance.  London Southend Airport is about as far away from London as you can legally get and still somehow call it London - the journey to Basildon shouldn't take more than 20-30 minutes.  Negotiate a fare when you arrive.  Heathrow and Gatwick are both on the other side of London from Essex, so journeys are longer and will cost between £70 and £80.

By Coach
The National Express runs a coach service from Birmingham to Basildon, via Cambridge.  The journey takes around six hours, though will feel like several years.

Get Around

By Bus
Basildon town centre has a large bus station from which a variety of buses run on and endless loop between the same three places - Laindon, Pitsea and Lakeside Shopping Centre in Thurrock.  Basildon is pitifully connected - there isn't even a bus from the town centre to the nearby Festival Leisure Park, Basildon's designated entertainment area.  Last services usually depart at around 9 - 10pm.  School buses run to Billericay, part of Basildon District, if you look young enough to get away with it.  Otherwise, learn to drive.

By Taxi
There are a couple of taxi companies operating in the town.  You can't flag them down like in London, so look up a phone number before you travel and keep it handy.  You may have trouble booking a taxi late in the evening on Friday or Saturday as there aren't enough to cope with the hoardes of drunk teenagers needing to be taken to sleep it off at a friend's house before their parents find out.  Taxis are generally very safe, as long as you don't look like you hold left-wing views.  Carrying a leftover placard or banner from a protest is an absolute no-no if you don't want your driver to spend the entire journey blaming you, personally, for the downfall of the nation.  If this does happen, answering back is not advisable.  Rates are extortionate.

By Train
The train to London Fenchurch Street passes through the villages of Laindon and Pitsea.  No one knows how to get to he Vange area of Basildon, as no one has ever tried.

On Foot
The whole of the town centre can easily be traversed by foot, although this is not advisable after dark, unless around the well-lit corner of town near the bus station where most of the pubs are concentrated.  The walk to the Festival Leisure Park from the town centre is about 30 minutes, again, do this in the day time only and get a taxi back.  For the more ambitious, the walk from Basildon Town Centre to Laindon is about an hour.  Laindon in particular has some notorious housing estates, such as the Laindon Link estate, known locally as Alcatraz, owing to its more than passing resemblance to a prison camp.  Walking through these areas in daylight is foolhardy, at night, suicidal.


  • Brooke House At the heart of the hideous 1960s concrete hell hole that is Basildon Town Centre lies this nightmare on stilts - yes, they built this giant concrete tower block on giant concrete stilts (hey, the architects had a theme, and they ran with it).  Predictably this monolithic monstrosity houses council tenants; just another example of how the government punishes people for being poor.  Although perhaps the residents of Brooke House are having the last laugh, being, of course, the only people in Basildon who can't actually see Brooke House.  Brooke House was granted Grade II listed status in 1998, presumably because the person in charge of the list was drunk and thought it would be funny.
  • Mother and Child Fountain The focal point of the town centre, the bronze statue/fountain by Maurice Lambert was unveiled in 1962, the first and last time the "fountain" part of it actually worked.  The now rusted bronze statue is set in the centre of a - you guessed it - concrete pool.  Strikingly, this is Basildon's second Grade II listed feature; perhaps the world is short on pools of stagnant water filled with floating litter.
  • St Martin's Bell Tower Finally, something in Basildon Town Centre that isn't made of concrete.  This 30m glass and steel bell tower is somewhat at odds with the small, dull church it is attached to, and was officially opened by the Queen in 1999.  The tenor bell was cast in London in 1441 by Joanna Hille and is the first bell in the world to have been cast by a woman, making it simultaneously the only object in the town with any history behind it, and the first and last stab by anyone or anything in Basildon at making a feminist statement.


  • Festival Leisure Park Also known as "Bas Vegas" and "The Gateway to Hell", if there's anything to "do" in Basildon (assuming you're one of the few people there who don't view petty theft as a hobby), it'll be done here.  Festival Leisure Park is essentially a centre of enforced fun, located just outside the main town, containing a small, decaying cinema selling popcorn which tastes like it pre-dates the building itself; a bowling alley; a Harvester pub/restaurant plus several fast food chains; a pub popular with old men and underage girls alike which is disturbingly called The Honeypot; and a Chicago's bar/restaurant which is inexplicably referred to by the entire population of Basildon as "Cheeky Go-Gos".  Standing at the heart of the park is the triumvirate of terror - Jumpin' Jaks, Liquid and Envy.  Jumpin' Jaks is exactly what you'd expect from a nightclub which describes itself as "the home of cheese in Basildon", and so, so much less.  Avoid unless you enjoy paying through the nose for overpriced vodka mixers which you'll only end up throwing in the face of some lairy, 50-something cockney wannabe who's either attempting to grope you, start of fight with you, or both.  Liquid and Envy are two adjoining nightclubs occupying the first and second floors of one building and play "pumping house, urban, grime" and something called "bashment" (anybody?).  Formerly known as Lava and Ignite with about a million other monikers in between, one can only assume the management keep changing the name in a desperate attempt to stop chavs who keep trashing the place from finding it again.  Festival Leisure park has no public transport links and is only accessible by car - an advert for drink driving in a town that probably didn't need the extra encouragement.


  • Basildon Town Centre A fairly standard central shopping area comprised of Eastgate shopping centre, slightly newer Westgate (see what they did there?) shopping area and the central square around the fountain.  Bog standard mix of high street chains, tacky discount clothes shops, charity shops and pound shops.
  • Basildon Market The home of knock-off Nike and second-hand pound shop make-up.  Also a few fast food vans (get your salmonella to go!), fresh fish and fruit/veg stalls (expect obnoxious hollering) and a tailor and watch repair guy, who both, to be fair, offer a good service at a reasonable price (an oasis of humanity in an otherwise unfeeling universe).
  • Laindon Centre A victim of the "doughnut effect", even the sex shop closed down.  It now contains a post office, a Gregg's, and the last known Gateway supermarket in the land.  Less of a concrete jungle and more of a cardboard one, as almost everything is boarded up.  The air is thick with the stench of despair.


  • McDonalds, KFC, Pizza Hut, Subway, Gregg's Not even classy enough for a Pizza Express.


  • The Moon on the Square (Opposite Basildon Market) A particularly grotty Wetherspoons and typical old man pub.  Gets surprisingly violent on a Saturday night.
  • Yates Wine Lodge (Opposite Basildon Market) No one has ever ordered wine there, and it's not a lodge.  It's ALL A LIE.
  • The Edge (Basildon Town Centre) It's got to be good right?  It's called The Edge...House speciality is something called the Ogre Burger.  I wouldn't, if I were you.
  • The Towngate (Basildon Town Centre) Steel toe-capped boots are banned.  One can only speculate why.
  • The Railway (Pitsea) Gained brief notoriety after appearing on tv in "Britain's Worst Pubs".  Shortly thereafter it was condemned and is due for demolition.
  • The Joker (Laindon Centre) Decrepit inside and out, it has never quite recovered from rumours that someone was knee-capped there, and is due to close.
  • Four Seasons (Laindon, Durham Road) Mostly a food pub, although it does have a small dedicated bar area.  Last time I ate there they forget to bring us any cutlery.


  • Premier Inn, Holiday Inn, Travelodge (Festival Leisure Park) Your run of the mill chain hotels, aimed at "business travellers".  Who it is that travels to Basildon on business remains unclear.
  • Hotel Campanile Basildon East London (Between Basildon and Southend) Bafflingly named, it's a toss up between "hotel" and "East London" for the most hilariously dubious claim made by this budget accommodation brand in its title.  Best described by this Trip Advisor review: "The only thing it was missing was the chalk outline of a murder victim on the floor".

Get Out

Walk, run, hitch hike if you need - just get out, and never ever look back.

Saturday, 12 October 2013

Guy Code

Today I was thinking about some of the things men have said to me, and about the gigantic gulf between what men say to women, and what they actually mean.  So I decided to write this little key.  I'm sure men will continue to lie to me much, much more, so call it a work in progress.

"I really like you" = "I want to see you naked"

"You're special to me" = "I really want to see you naked"

"I believe the Mayans were right" = "I'm deep.  Please sleep with me"

"Being with you makes me think about the future" = "You are not in it"

"I don't believe in relationships" = "I don't believe in having a relationship with you"

"I love how you're so opinionated" = "I am threatened by you"

"You're so intelligent" = "Butterface"

"I've never done this before" = "I've lost count of the number of times I've done this"

"I'm aware I haven't treated you well" = "I'm aware.  I'm not sorry"

"I'm sorry if you think I behaved like a cunt" = "I'm still not sorry"

"You're such a great person" = "You're dumped"

"It's not you, it's me" = "It's not you, it's me.  I'm a bellend"

Thursday, 25 July 2013

On Internships: the system is wrong when you have to break the law to get a job.

So, couertesy of the Guardian, I learned something rather alarming yesterday - for two weeks last month, I was breaking the law. I'd love to say killing spree, but my crime was rather more boring than that; I was, apparently, in contravention of the National Minimum Wage Act 1998. Again, sadly, this was not because I was running an illegal sweatshop from my basement (first problem with that being that I don't have a basement). No. I did an internship.

It should have been obvious really. It is illegal to pay anyone over the age of 21 less than €5.93 an hour.  I hadn't realised it, but working for less than €5.93 an hour is also a crime (way to penalise the victim there).

So to clarify: if you do an unpaid internship both you and the person who hired you are breaking the law. Yet, I never questioned the legality of what I was doing, because it's just so ingrained in all our minds that working for free is just something you have to do to get a job. How the hell did it come to this? To a state of affairs where it is considered the norm for thousands of people to be forced to resort to criminal measures to get a foot on the career ladder?

I expected it to an extent with the industry I'm trying to get into. In journalism, your portfolio is your cv, and it's just always been a fact that you'd have to offer your services for free in exchange for those crucial bylines. I worked two days a week at my local paper for four months while I trained, and for a full week at The Times. In retrospect, I don't know which was worse; the Basildon Echo happily employing me as a junior reporter, keeping me in the office all hours working on stories without any pay or The Times offering me "work experience" only to use me to fill in for their receptionist while she was on holiday. Neither of them even paid me travel expenses. But I didn't mind, because I accpeted this was something I needed to do. Where I went wrong was thinking afterwards that I had paid my dues.

So I found myself, several years later, accepting the offer of an unpaid internship at Popdash, the music news website. I fucking loved it. Even though 90% of my output was related to Cheryl Cole (and about 10% of that was likely to actually be true) I loved it, because I was doing what I wanted to do - spending all day writing. In most jobs you spend a certain portion of the day watching the clock, and fucking about on Facebook and Twitter in workplaces kind enough to allow you to do so. I can honestly say I never checked the clock except when I was on my lunch break. My boss had to literally force me I had to go home every day because I always wanted to stay and finish one last thing. I could have checked Facebook, or Twitter, or my emails, but it never occured to me to do so.

I felt productive, felt valued, like a member of the team - exceedingly foolishly, it would turn out, as two weeks into my month long, supposedly rolling internship I got an email telling me not to bother coming in any more. I was only doing two days a week, they'd found someone free to do the whole week, so they wanted to go with her instead. Makes more sense they said. And of course, it does. The fact that they told me they only wanted me to do two days a week and then held it against me doesn't make any sense, but I'm done driving myself mad over that one.

So my foray into the murky criminal underworld has left me feeling bereft and utterly fucking used. This wasn't an opportunity for me to learn vital skills, like anything masquerading as "work experience" should be - I was a trained journalist and received no further instruction from them. This was just an opportunity for them to have someone come in and supplement the work of the ONE permanent writer on the website for free. It was the same at all of the titles in the stable - each was run by one permanent writer, who got to call themself the editor, and a rotating cotarie of interns. Talk about fucking cheap. I worked out on day one this wasn't going to lead to my being offered a job there. And because I was unceremoniously booted out ahead of schedule, I never even got to sit down with my editor and discuss my performance, ask where I could improve, and ask for his advice on breaking into the industry, which I was planning to do. I didn't even get to pick up my travel expenses. I'm not sure exploitative even begins to cover the extent of the dodginess of that operation.

But like I said, I at least, was prepared for this. When did it change from creative jobs like writing and design requiring people to "pay their dues" working for free to ALL jobs? Every week I am inundated with emails from job websites, particularly those aimed at students/graduates all advertising internships: "Marketing Internships", "IT Internships", "Finance Internships". It reached it's absolute zenith, however, last week, when I spied an ad for an "Administration Internship".

When I'm not busy working for free I do temp work in offices, reception, general admin, that sort of thing. Have done for many years, while I was still modelling, travelling etc. This is what I do formoney, and more pointedly, my first job after uni when I had no experience whatsoever. So I was racking my brains trying to think what on earth someone could want to do in the administrative field that would require/justify some form of unpaid training. So I clicked on the details, and job description ran thusly: "Working behind the reception desk, answering calls, greeting visitors etc, plus filing, data entry and ad hoc administrative duties". That's not an internship, that's a receptionist/officer junior role, a school-leavers job, full time, for no money. That's what I won't get out of bed for less than €7.50 an hour for (I'm so rock and roll), for FREE. I'm sorry but whoever is behind that is taking the fucking piss, and should be ashamed of themelves, because they're not helping anyone but themselves with that "great opportunity to gain some experience in the challenging world of office administration". If you need to breal the law to get a job anwering phones now, Cod help us all is all I can say.

As for my experience, it hasn't got me any closer to a career in journalism. Maybe I should have been hacking people's phones.

Monday, 1 July 2013

Adventures In Internet Dating

Here's a fact you might not know about me.  I have, in the past, dabbled with internet dating.  I know what you're thinking; I'm a sulky, six foot (well, nearly) misanthropist, with weird hair and an excellent line in sarcastic put-downs  - surely I'm every man's dream?  I must be fighting them off with a stick!  I hate to shatter your illusions, but, alas no.  My shouty feminism has thus fair failed to bring all the boys to my yard.

Over the years, various people have proffered a baffling array of suggestions as to why this may be: I'm too attractive (ROFL), I'm too intelligent (WTF?), men are thrown into paroxysms of confusion and fear when they see a woman with short hair.  I'd personally have gone with "weird face and a bad personality", but I'm sure each idea is not without its own merits.  The one word that does keep recurring though is "unapproachable".  I don't know if it's my hair, or my clothes, or the fact that I'm quite often muttering to myself about "fucking cunts" (have you tried navigating the tube in summer?  I swear, tourists were only invented to make my life unbearable), but apparently I'm not the sort of person you want to start a conversation with.  A radio DJ once told me he "wouldn't want to bump into me in a dark alley" and we'd only ever met over the PHONE.

All things considered then, my crippling shyness and vast social ineptitude, in general but particularly around the opposite sex (the last time a man I found even remotely attractive offered me a simple greeting, I trilled "Helllloooooo!" in a register I have never consciously spoken in before, and may have only been audible to small children and dogs.  To this day I don't know if he heard me) included, you'd think I'd have hit upon the idea of internet dating sooner, but it's something that didn't, and still doesn't appeal to me.  Call me a snob, or out of touch, or both, but no matter how en vogue it currently it is to look for love online, I've always been stuck with the sneaking suspicion the dating sites aren't really full of busy professionals who just don't have time to meet people the traditional way; more like they can't meet people the traditional way, because there's something horribly wrong with them.  Cod knows, there's enough wrong with me.  Now, given that a few of my friends have been or currently are signed up with dating sites, and all my friends are proven fabulous ("V Doesn't Hate Me" is a hard-won badge which should be worn with pride), I'm willing to accept this may be an at least partially groundless prejudice, but hey, we all have our foibles.  

Nonetheless, I have dipped a cautious toe into the warm waters of computer dating twice, in short bursts, both several years apart.  I blame the Match.com ads for glamorising it.  Do you remember the early ones, when it first started, maybe 2005 - 2007, with the two achingly beautiful young hipsters  who start an accidental jam session in a vintage music shop (where else) and realise they've met "the One"?  I think that's what first sowed the seeds of doubt in my mind, making me subconsciously wonder if there might not be a sub-section of tragically misunderstood young people with perfect hair on the internet dating scene after all, despite the fact that the pair in the advert were clearly models who were very unlikely to have any problems finding anybody to fuck them in real life, and more to the point, they met in a shop, not online, so I'm not sure if they really thought that campaign through.  

Anyway, what prompted me to actually sign up the first time was someone's featured profile in the adverts on the side of a website.  I'm not sure exactly when this was, but it was an advert for thelondonlove, the wankishly named online personals section of the wankishly named thelondonpaper, which folded a few years ago, so you can probably make a fairly accurate guess.  Basically, the guy was hot.  Not Brad Pitt hot, admittedly (I don't actually fancy Brad Pitt, but I'm lazy and it's an easy reference), but very cute and totally my type (moody, indie haircut).  Being nothing if not predictably shallow, I signed up immediately and sent him a message.  Bastard never replied.  (I hope you're reading this, random online dating featured profile guy - you could have been dating an internet blogger by now).  Still, for a short while, I threw myself into it.  After all, much like Facebook, an internet dating profile is a way to present the very best version of yourself, or at least, in my case, to choose photos where I'm covered in the least amount of biscuit crumbs.  Plus, for someone who sought the solace of the written word from an early age because they found it easier to express themselves that way in the first place, the idea of communicating entirely by email, at least in the early stages of meeting, was pretty appealing.  I can't remember how many men I talked to, though discounting the messages I was instantly inundated with from men in their fifties (I specified an age range of 22-34, which I think wasn't unreasonable given that I was only young myself at the time) and men who lived Kent (I said I wasn't willing date out of zone 4, I was hardly going to fucking date outside of the M25), it wasn't many.  It may have actually only been the two guys I ended up going on dates with.

The first was my favourite.  He was called Congressional, or something similar (I can't for the life of me remember his real name, but he might have been a James.  I've been out with an inordinate number of James', by which I mean two), was 27 and actually pretty cute.  We exchanged increasingly florid emails for a couple of weeks, maybe a month and I was, if not smitten, then suitably impressed.  I can't remember what he did for a living (I want to say something in finance?) but he was a brilliantly talented writer.  I mean, could-have-written-for-the-G2 level good, which is my standard of greatness.  We met on a Tuesday night, after work, at a small pub in the east end.  He wasn't quite as attractive as his profile photo, and the conversation wasn't quite as sparkling, and it also emerged that he had actually found me through the online personals section of The Times, it being part of the same publishing group as thelondonpaper, a fact which vaguely horrified me, because lets face it, nobody cool reads The Times (he was clearly equally unimpressed by my common habit of picking up free papers on the tube), but nonetheless I did enjoy myself, and after a kiss on the cheek he gave me his number and said to text or email if I wanted to meet up again.  I emailed the next day, bastard never replied (de ja vu).  I was also sick as a dog the next day, and had to call in sick to my temp job, which resulted in them sacking me on the spot (I'd told them I was going out, presumably they thought I was hungover) so I lost money over it too.  I know I wasn't hungover because I only had one drink, and I rarely get viruses; someone jokingly suggested that he might have been a creep who drugged my drink.  So you know, there's that I suppose.

My second internet dalliance was a brief encounter with a man who was possibly called Sean.  Or Paul.  Or Sean-Paul (isn't Sean-Paul a rapper?  Did I date a rapper?  Surely not).  We had a shorter online introduction and I can't remember now why I agreed to see him other than that he asked.  In real life, he looked like he'd eaten the man in his profile picture, which was slightly disappointing (this makes me sound shallow; I contest the accusation - it's been pointed out to me by several friends recently that I do seem to have an occasional thing for guys carrying a bit of extra weight, plus You're The One For Me, Fatty is totally my favourite Morrissey song).  I don't think we'd discussed it before meeting, but it turned out he liked the Manics, and he actually was a journalist, I think, so we had a bit in common.  No spark, but we did chat on MSN Messenger (remember when people still used MSN Messenger?  Gosh I feel old)for a while after (he briefly terrified me by suggesting he was going to get tickets to a gig I was going to which for some reason I took to mean he was going to start stalking me), but eventually that died off, as did my faith in love, or at least thelondonlove, which folded a short while after.

My second adventure in internet dating happened several years later, and was even less successful than the first, by which I mean not successful at all, because if you thought the first time went well you've clearly had an even more disappointing love life than I have.  It was February or March, I'd just moved into my new flat and wasn't getting a great deal of work at the time, London having apparently developed a monsoon season which was driving even the most foolhardy Americans and their plastic ponchos off of the open top tour buses.  Match.com were advertising on tv again, and for some reason I was getting loads of emails from them too (maybe spambots can smell fear) and largely out of boredom and a spirit of "how bad could it be?", I signed up for their "free" profile.

Here's the thing you need to know about Match.Com's "free" profile - it's useless, and a complete con. After spending hours crafting perfect responses to all of the questions they ask you that form the basis of the information on your profile, trawling through all my albums to find the photos of myself where I'm looking at my least deranged (I accept, in retrospect, including a photograph of myself pretending to be crucified on a giant cross in a nightclub may have been a mistake) and painstakingly setting my parameters and my "deal-breakers" (still no 50-year-olds.  Sorry guys, I don't have daddy issues) I was online and ready to go.  Match.com being populated by a slightly more active (read desperate) membership, the winks (seriously, Match?  Seriously?) and the messages started flooding in.  This is when it became apparent that a free profile is literally that - a profile.  You cannot see the men (it could have been women, or unicorns for all I know) who have "winked" at you, and you cannot read any messages you receive beyond the subject line (usually a concise if not particularly illuminating "Hi"), and you sure as hell can't reply.  It's the online equivalent of writing your own phone number on a toilet wall with a note saying "call for sex", only in that case not being able to read the messages you received would probably be a blessing.

I wasn't willing to pay for membership so it ended there, but there is another reason why.  Even though I couldn't even look at the profiles of men I received messages from, I could browse a limited number of profiles in general, along with my daily "matches", emailed to me along with notes saying "You're Profile Is Proving Popular!"  It was apparent fairly immediately why I was so "popular" - I was clearly the only person on there whose parents weren't related by blood.  I've never seen such a sorry-looking collection of freaks and weirdos in my entire life, and not one man or woman whose eyes weren't weirdly close together.  I know I said I'd gone into this assuming that everyone using online dating would have something wrong with them, but I hadn't necessarily anticipated that thing being them looking like their faces had half melted off in a freak industrial accident.  Plus, Match.com, a service which supposedly specialises in "matching" you with your prefect partner apparently still has a lot to learn in terms of matching people properly.  Every day my "matches" included men who didn't fit any of my stated criteria (plus, I didn't exactly say "no self-obsessed bankers who drone on about their luxury flat in Marleybone and whose tagline is 'The only thing I love more than money is me!'", because it didn't really come up in any of the questions, but really, it should have been implied), and the one time a guy turned up in my matches who only looked vaguely like he was from Norfolk, it turned out his criteria insisted upon a fictional woman much shorter, curvier and more successful than me, which was just cruel.

I never actually deleted my profile, though I assume it's deactivated or something by now, because I'm mercifully spared the daily deluge of my inbox nowadays.  One day, if I become rich, I might sign up for real, just to reply to all the men who messaged me, because it's just rude to not reply, though I hope they understand it's Match forcing me to forgo my manners with their oppressive payment structures.  In the event, I actually met someone in the real world, as it were, shortly after signing up (it didn't last), then someone else soon after that (that also didn't last) and I've now lain unsullied by the touch of man for nearly six months and it's starting to get on my nerves, to put it mildly, but will I resort to internet dating again?  Um, no.  Maybe when I'm 50.

Friday, 14 June 2013

This Is Not A Review: Art Brut at the Scala (10 Year Anniversary Show)

This is not a review.  No idiot would attempt to write a review of a show that happened two and half weeks ago, particularly when said idiot is in possession of the sort of short term memory that regularly leads to them going into the kitchen and promptly forgetting what they wanted there (you know how some really thin celebrities shrug off concerns about their weight, claiming they "forget to eat"?  Yeah, that actually happens).  I meant to write a review, the next morning and tout it to the various online music rags I've written for in the past, but as it turns out, the life of an unemployed tour guide is very busy, and I'm actually doing a lot of hair modelling at the moment  and blah middle class problems blah.   And I can't find a setlist online (I just found one in my draw, which is interesting, as I have no recollection of acquiring it, but I think it's from the other year), so this is not a review, but I wanted to write something, since I'd been planning it so here are some things that I wrote about it.

First surprising thing of the night was there was a fairly sizeable queue outside the Scala an hour before doors opened.  Given that I was on my way to the pub first, not joining the line it was fairly troubling - the first time I have ever experienced queue anxiety at an Art Brut gig (if you don't know what queue anxiety is, ask a Manics fan.  It's why we sleep on pavements.).

The setlist wasn't much different from usual for it being a greatest hits show, because Art Bruts gigs have always taken in the entire span of their career (I remember being mildly disappointed the first time I saw them that they didn't play more from Art Brut vs Satan - their current album at the time - though that was probably, I suspect, because I didn't know much of their earlier stuff then. For reasons which remain unclear to me I bought a fancy imported version of Bang Bang Rock And Roll a year later in a boutique record shop in Berlin for 18 euros instead of getting it on eBay for 99p like a normal person).  Eddie took "requests" from the crowd all night, from people like "the man with the big face", the girl with the hat" and the "guy with the beard" - kind of like a real life version of Guess Who? - which by remarkable coincidence always matched the setlist taped to the stage in front of me.

Sexy Sometimes was a surprise (I accept I may have been the only one surprised, given that it's on their greatest hits), which Eddie explained he had written after someone at their former label had accidentally cc'd him in on an email saying he "wasn't sexy enough" (not sexy?  Please. Dude clearly has no taste).  Sexy Sometimes is one of my favourites from Brilliant Tragic, so it was a good surprise, although Eddie skipped my favourite lyric so null points for that Argos!

Unsurprisingly, new tracks We Make Pop Music and Arizona Bay both got a hearing; I bloody love Arizona Bay (sample lyric: I was lucky to survive/There was never a chance I was going to die).  however serious Art Brut are being when they talk about being a classic rock band, I think Arizona Bay does cement them in that status, to me, at least, because it's 10 years on and the lyrics are as sharp/witty/charmingly self-deprecating as they always have been and the music is as fun and catchy as ever (I'm not very good at talking about music, as you can probably tell, I appreciate good music but I'm more a lyric person.  Guess it's the writer in me.  That's probably why I like bands that make other people knit their eyebrows together in bafflement and say "but he's just talking".  And why I've always been confused by people who listened to Kevin Carter and did not immediately look up who Kevin Carter was.  I mean, how can you not care?  Were you not listening?!  In my opinion, how attention you pay to the lyrics is a good measure of your worth as a human being.  You don't have to like them, just listen.  I once accidentally took a friend who I later found out despises Eddie, and Jasper for that matter, with a passion burning to the very core of her soul - I forget why, it was something complicated about a unicorn - to an Everybody Was In The French Resistance Now! gig, and even she said she liked the idea, if not the execution, which I respected.  See, I only ask that you listen.), and of course they're as good live as they've ever been, better actually.  Don't know what was up at the gig we went to in Kingston, but the atmosphere was a bit wonky and everything seemed kind of off.  Though that might have been the amount of brandy I accidentally decanted into my coke.  I'm not good at measuring shots from a hip flask.  Scala was one of the best gigs I've been to for a while because it was so clearly about five people on stage really fucking enjoying what they're doing, and the crowd really fucking enjoying what they're doing, cos let's face it, Art Brut don't have many casual fans that I know of, and the atmosphere was one of joy and exuberance which was only later spoiled by the queue at the cloakroom stretching halfway around the universe and back.  If I hadn't shamelessly pushed in I'd have missed my last train.

Also I liked Eddie's new classic rock band front man move with the crowd-surfing at the end, although it got a bit hairy and at one point I wasn't sure whether I was more concerned for his safety or that of the people in that section of the audience who didn't look at all prepared for it.  And I liked the fake encore, and I was going to say I liked that they played Maternity Ward, but now I'm genuinely not sure if they did or if I've just completely made it up.  I would have liked a few more b-sides and rarities, actually.  These Animal Men Swear or Just Desserts would have been awesome.  I would have made a request, but you know, I don't have any distinguishing characteristics like glasses or a hat...

Wednesday, 12 June 2013

A Weekend In Street Harrassment

Anyone who has been following Everyday Sexism on Twitter (and I imagine that's most of my followers) will know about the current vogue for taking a stand against street harassment in all its insidious forms.  With that in mind, I'm not really sure why I'm doing this, as it's not anything new or special, but the subject has been at the forefront of my consciousness recently, and after experiencing two very different forms of street harassment over the weekend, I thought I'd do a little compare and contrast.

Let me start my saying I'm very lucky in that I don't tend to experience too much street harassment as a general rule.  Like almost everyone else I've spoken to about it, it got significantly worse when I moved to London, and both instances at the weekend happened in the capital as well.  I'm not saying men in Essex aren't natural born street harassers (I'm absolutely certain they are), I really don't want to let Essex off the hook when it comes to any criticism I could level at it (I'm not a fan of my hometown, I'm not sure if you picked that up), but I've a theory I don't experience harassment so much in Essex because the only time I venture out in it is to leave it, and my route to the station doesn't involve much scope for human interaction (deliberate, let me assure you).

Anyway, I digress.  I don't encounter a great deal of street harassment and my stories are far from as harrowing as some you'll see over on Everyday Sexism.  No one has tried to touch me in the street that I recall (though a man in Subway did once pick me up and move me like a fucking human chess piece); I'm enamoured of the suggestion that it's because I look pissed off enough already, and most men realise it'd be the fastest way to lose an arm.  A radio host did once say he "wouldn't want to meet me in a dark alley" and he hadn't even seen me, just listened to me ranting on some topical debate programme for 10 minutes.  So this isn't a tearful plea for sympathy, I can handle myself.  This is, simply, the tale of my weekend.


On Saturday I got off the London Overground at Brockley around lunchtime and was halfway out of the station when some bloke started shouting "LEGS!" at the top of his voice.  The dearth of other people in the vicinity at that exact moment and a cursory glance over my shoulder at the culprit led me to believe that I was the target of his attentions, which never extended beyond him aggressively chanting "LEGS! LEGS! LEGGGGGSSSS!" like a cross between Father Jack and excitable two-year-old until I was out of view, which happened fairly quickly as I was feeling quite intimidated and in my flustered state hurried off down the wrong road and momentarily got lost yet again on a journey that legendarily takes less than one and a half minutes by foot.

Now this, is my opinion, is yet another example of how street harassers are getting lazier.  Legs what?  What was he trying to tell me?  That I have legs?  That he liked my legs?  That he didn't like my legs?  Was it a critique on my sartorial choices that day, which did involve a playsuit cut fairly high on the leg as I'd somewhat optimistically dressed for the fact that it was June, and not for the fact that it was Britain and the skies were grey?  Come on dude, if your opinion's that important that you have to shout it across the street at me, you should at least properly enunciate it.  It reminds me of the time a friend and I were walking down the main road just off my street in SE London and a car went past from which a man yelled "SUCK MY COCK!" (I'm not sure which of us it was aimed at, he didn't express a preference and my guess is he couldn't exactly afford to be picky), but he didn't slow down, much less stop the car, so how was I supposed to find him to suck his undoubtedly lovely and disease free cock?  As is so often the case, he simply hadn't thought his harassment through.


On Sunday morning about 11am I was hurrying down a quiet residential street somewhere between Brockley and New Cross, late for the train again, and a young guy, younger than me, teenage, maybe, was walking towards me from the opposite direction.  He looked me up and down, and in the fraction of a second as we passed on the narrow pavement he leaned in and whispered "You're gorgeous" in my ear, which managed to be both far less intimidating than the previous day's shouting and about a thousand times more creepy all at once.  It clearly wasn't a genuine declaration of romantic intent because he didn't miss a step, and I very much doubt I was really a vision of beauty to him the morning after the night before with bad hair no make up.  So who knows what this guy wanted either?  If I had to choose which kind of irritating twat I had to deal with on a regular basis on balance I think I'd plump for the latter, but ideally, I'd prefer to be left to go about my business without the social commentary.

Wednesday, 5 June 2013

Top 5 Most Bullshit Reasons Why Doctor Who Shouldn't Be A Woman

I'm going to start this post with full disclosure - I don't watch Doctor Who.  I used to, when I was young, though this was largely because my father appeared to consider it a mandatory part of my upbringing. This is why I'm also fairly well versed in Star Trek (and Prisoner: Cell Block H, oddly enough.  That was a lot of sex and murder, and sex that ended in murder, to process as a nine-year-old.  But I digress). So I'm coming at this from a feminist angle, rather than as a fan - I'll leave it up to you to decide how much of a "right" I have to speak on the subject.

What has prompted me to write this, though, is the outright misogyny that some Doctor Who fans (I'm not calling them Whovians.  I refuse) have been spewing all over the internet ever since the incumbent actor, Matt Smith, announced his resignation, and writer/producer Stephen Moffat didn't immediately issue a statement saying that the next actor wouldn't be female, which, given the speed with which the subject came up, is apparently something some Doctor Who fans live in near-constant terror of.  It must be very stressful, living with this malice, even when no one had resigned and made it a pressing issue.  I imagine the average Tuesday for these people goes something like this:

(Our Doctor Who fan, let's call him Mike, walks into his workplace)
Colleague: "Morning Mike!  How are you?"
Mike:  What if the next Doctor Who is a woman?  Oh God, I CAN'T TAKE IT ANYMORE!!!"
(Mike collapses, sobbing, against the photocopier)

So, without further ado, I present to you, The Top 5 Most Bullshit Reasons Why Doctor Who Shouldn't Be A Woman, with (not wholly unflippant) responses.

Bullshit reason number 1: It just wouldn't be the same.

Do not respond to this.  This is not a reason.  If you cannot be bothered even to formulate a simple argument beyond "Arrrgh!  Change!" then I cannot be bothered to engage with you.

Bullshit reason number 2: But Doctor Who being a man has been a tradition for 50 years!

So was slavery.

Bullshit reason number 3: It would divert attention away from some of the other strong female characters who sometimes appear on the show.

Yes, this is a common problem in television.  This is why writers and casting directors are so reluctant to put too many men in any one show, lest it detracts from the strong, male characters.  Oh no, wait THAT HAS NEVER HAPPENED EVER.  There have been plenty of programmes with all male and near all male casts, and people, by and large, have not struggled to distinguish between the characters, so unless it's actually the population at large, rather than just Daily Mail readers who view women as one homogeneous mass, I think we'll be able to appreciate the individual attributes of at least two female characters at once.

Bullshit reason number 4:  Young boys would lose a valuable role model.

This one's actually from the Daily Mail, if you couldn't guess.  Apparently Doctor Who is good role model, because he's thoughtful, and moral, and has no discernible sex life (I presume the latter is one of the reasons why they like him).  Take this away from young boys and they will have NO ONE to look up to.  Apart from maybe the all male writing team?  Or, like, 70% of everyone appearing on television, anywhere, ever?  Boys are lacking anyone in the public to look up to?  ARE THEY FUCKING SERIOUS?!

Now lets take this moment to think about female role models, shall we?  What about female role models in this very show?  One of the reasons I found my youthful affection for Doctor Who waning is because I grew increasingly uncomfortable with it's representation of women.   You can't deny that the last run of assistants have all been very much "something for the dads".  Always attractive, grown up but still very much young, women, younger and more attractive than their male leads (I'll grant Matt Smith was only 26 when he took the role, which a lot of Who fans threw their toys out of the pram over.  I'll also maintain that, in my opinion, he looks like he was beaten about the face with a breeze block by someone who then had an attack of conscience and tried to reverse the damage by ironing his head). What's more, they're always the sidekick.  I'm not denying that these women can be fiercely intelligent, warm and passionate in their own right, or saying that they don't have many other admirable qualities.  What are young girls, watching this show for the last 50 years, going to learn?  That they can be strong, sassy and independent, that they can be anything they want, so long as what they want to be is second best.  And that they're under 26 and look good in a tight jumper.  So no, I don't think the programme would suffer from introducing another female role model.  Unless you choose to believe our Daily Mail commenter, who said, and I quote, "Girls have already got lots of role models, like Rihanna, Lindsay Lohan and the Kardashians."  I genuinely don't know if he's being serious, folks.  I JUST DON'T KNOW.

Bullshit reason number 5: Doctor Who is married to a woman, River Song.

Yeah, our misogynists are starting to scrape the bottom of the barrel now.  This was also from the Daily Mail, who's main objection seemed to be that a female doctor would thus be a lesbian by default.  Why aren't I surprised that people who don't want a female doctor who don't want a gay one, either?  And don't kid yourself that there haven't been pre-emptive "And he should stay white, too!" comments.  You could almost hear the sound of them all hitting the floor as they all fainted from horror in unison when Idris Elba's name was floated.

So yeah, oppose a female Doctor Who, if you have a valid reason.  If it's for one of the reasons above, you're aligning yourself with homophobes, racists, and worse, Daily Mail readers.  Is that really something you want?