Saturday, 27 March 2010

The Bunny of Disappointment

It's official, Spring has sprung.  Leaves are popping the buttons off their drab winter coats while birds wolf-whistle over rooftops and the knock-kneed lambs practise ninja leaps over the daffodils.

But wait! D'you hear that?

Yes, the unmistakable sound of cheap, ill-fitting satin being given an airing; of propylene wigs getting their first brush out of the season; the low, throaty hum of PA feedback warming up.  For the am-dram equinox is upon us, so let us give thanks for shorter scripts and longer rehearsals.

The new season kicked off down at The Maltings' Stage Door Bar last Sunday evening with another production from the Berwick Broadcasting Corporation.  You may remember I reviewed their debut last Christmas, and this was much of the same silly, enjoyable entertainment.  Miles Gregory, director (aka Jesus of Nazareth), could have just stood there with a sock on his hand and the odds were good that I'd clap like a sea lion on a promise.  But we'll never have closure on this point as Miles, professional to the last, forewent this easy opportunity to impress me with his puppetry.  Even so, the Berwick Broadcasting Corporation still managed to deliver a great night out.

Incidentally, I suffered a crushing disappointment this week second only to the moment I finally acknowledged the asexuality of the Eleventh Doctor. 

How Ten Appears on
the Universal Scale of Wrongness

I received an invitation from The Maltings Theatre to a gala variety show next Saturday to celebrate its china anniversary.    Champagne reception, dancing, special guest stars;  a buffet, for the love of God!  This is the kind of dizzy glitz and glamour I've been waiting for all my life!  It could be the closest I'll ever get to the BAFTAs without actually being involved in the world of film and television, or catching an STD from someone who is.  I would be getting all the benefits of an industry awards 'do' merely by being a loyal customer.  (Are you listening Superdrug, eh?  Are you?)

Me and the jammy-bastard fairy did some serious high-fiving.  There may even have been a chest bump.

And just as I was planning my breakthrough into Berwick society — posh frock, cut toenails — El Hombre reminds me that we'd be out of town visiting family.  Easter, see? 

It's true what they say, the Bunny of Disappointment DOES lurk round every corner. 

Don't get me wrong, I love my home town of Bournemouth but sure as hell it's no champagne reception and my family ain't no cheese and pineapple on a stick.  I am gutted in much the same way as I imagine Judy Finnigan was when she realised her clackers had fallen out during her big moment

Judy fails to hide her disappointments

So the Duns & District Amateur Operatic Society will definitely have their work cut out to cheer me up with their production of Kiss Me Kate the following week.  

Nah, who am I kidding? 

After sitting through last year's panto, I'm looking forward to Kiss Me Kate immensely.  The Society has invested in singing lessons, choreographers — everything.  They have a professional actor as the lead, ferchrissakes, and while some might say that's not strictly in the spirit of am-dram (no doubt the same people tutting over Fern Britton's gastric band, the diet cheat-bitch!), I'm all for bussing in some help.

Surely the Bunny of Disappointment won't strike twice?

Or will it?

Friday, 19 March 2010

Murder, She Blogged

What is the one thing we all tell our kids not to do on the internet?  Besides porn-surfing and selling their kidneys on e-Bay?  What is the one thing we tell them not to do because if they do it they could end up in a ditch somewhere, a culmination of a long harrowing ordeal involving soft toys, hideous pain and a transit van driven by a man called Keith who kept himself to himself really.

And what do you suppose I, in my adult and hypocritcal wisdom, set out to do this week? 

Uh-huh.  Meet someone off the internet.  (Although in my defence he wasn't called Keith, because if he had been called Keith certainly I would've given the whole endeavour much more serious consideration.  I'm not reckless.)

Anyway, I'd been communicating with this guy, @BinaryDad, over t'internet (he's a Northerner), and we'd have a bit of banter now and again, and it was all tickety-boo.  I should take this opportunity to stress that I was not in an exclusive banter relationship with this male, that we were free to banter with other people, and he struck me as the type who needs lots of different banter stimulation from different people.  He was, if I'm honest, a bit of a banter ho'.

@BinaryDad looking for banter

And then he comes up with this marvellous idea of us meeting up.

"Why don't we meet up?"  he says. 

"That's a marvellous idea!" I say.

And it's been all downhill from there.

Monday, 15th March
So Thursday's the day, and what seemed like a great idea is now looking in the cold light of day — in the cold flickering mortuary light of sex-murder statistics — like one of my less sensible ideas. 

Because what do I know about @BinaryDad?  Only what he's told me via Twitter where he's had plenty of time to painstakingly craft every last one of his 140 characters; time to tailor his identity.  Sure, there's a nice photo of him.  He looks friendly, open.  Normal. 

But Harold Shipman was a doctor, a profession in which appearing friendly and non-stabby is pre-requisite.  Dennis Nilsen — there's a man whose looks exuded normality, the last person in the world you would consider having a penchant for killing young lads and stuffing their bodies under floorboards and boiling parts of them on a low heat to separate flesh from bone for ease of flushing. 

Looking normal, I suspect, was part of Shipman's and Nilsen's modi operandi. It's doubtful whether they spent hours in front of a mirror each morning agonising over which face to put on, whether to give the au naturel serial killer face a spin.  Because if you were a potential murder victim, you would suspect, wouldn't you?  You would say to yourself, backing away, "He has a feverish glint to his eye and unless I'm very much mistaken that's the visage of a serial killer".  And then you would leg it like your arse was on fire.  And if you were a serial killer that would mean no intercrural corpse sex for you, which would be a bit of a pisser on your plans for the evening.

I console myself that I am neither frail nor elderly, or a young gay man.

I celebrate my robust femininity.

Tuesday, 16th March
A thought occurs to me over breakfast.  What if I'm being groomed?

Because, looking at @BinaryDad's picture, it's all very well me saying how nice and normal he appears (overlooking the issue of normal-looking murderers, see above).  I'm making the basic, schoolgirl error of assuming that's actually a photo of him.  But really, it could be anybody, couldn't it?  It could be a picture he cut out of a Littlewoods catalogue to pass off as him.  Successful serial killers have to have some degree of cunning about them, I'd imagine.  You can't go around making lampshades out of the tanned hides of your victims without having some kind of three-dimensional thinking.

What if, and bear with me here, @BinaryDad is actually a fourteen-year-old boy who at this very moment is hunched over a Pot Noodle while squeezing a spot in the foetid air of his bedroom?  A fourteen-year-old boy who via nefarious means is insidiously grooming me for hot cougar sex

I think about this seriously for a moment. 

Nope.  It is still definitely wrong.

El Hombre, patience personified, has at no point suggested I not meet @BinaryDad, which some might think a bit strange.  El Hombre knows better.  He knows I am powerless in the face of my own enthusiasm, much as a cat in the presence of catnip.  Or a politician in front of a blank expense form.  El Hombre allows me to soar — a kite on a string tipping this way and that — while he drives the support vehicle underneath for when I need cutting out of brambles from the inevitable crash and burn.  And he hardly ever says "I told you so",  a quality every good husband should possess.  (If our roles were reversed, I'd be rubbing his nose in it 'til the idiot learnt.)

Phew, everyone!  Earlier this evening I received a message from @BinaryDad's wife!  How cool is that?  Basically she reassures me that she has quite high standards and that she wouldn't marry a serial killer no matter how practical around the house he was, and that I'd be quite safe.  I take comfort from this.  Relieved, I tell El Hombre, who shakes out his paper.

"Rosemary West," he reminds me, without looking up.

Wednesday, 17th March
@BinaryDad checks to see if we're still on for tomorrow.  I don't like letting people down.  Once I say I'm going to do something, I try my hardest to stick to it.  It could be one of life's most bitter ironies that I become a murder victim because I'm too polite to say no.

So, my dilemma continues unabated, only this time it's made a lateral shift to encompass the issue of what to wear.  I mean I don't want to give out the wrong signals.  I want to give @BinaryDad pause for thought before he starts fumbling for the Sabatiers. 

I consider a polo neck sweater.  Then I give myself a mental slap.  If I'm gonna die, then my death needn't be sartorial as well.  I decide to compromise by wearing my skankiest underwear.  At the very least the shock will slow him down.   Grey knickers bristling with elastic threadworms might just buy me some valuable time.

There is a bit of a scene over dinner.  Genius Son asks me where I'm going tomorrow night.  This is the same Genius Son that on several occasions has asked if he could meet up with some of his 'friends' from the internet.  My replies, if I remember rightly, all went something along the lines of:

 "Bwahahahahahah!  No." 

I am a hopeless liar.  Hope-less.  So I mumble a bit.  Literally.  I pretend to drop a fork.  Under the table I can see the lie of the land, how this whole situation is slipping away from me.

"Well?" demands Genius Son, as I resurface.
"Just... just seeing mmpffllmpfff..."

Most Beautiful looks at me with one of her penetrating gazes of ghastly insight.  Why, oh why, could she not have been blessed with my people-reading autism?

"You're meeting someone from Twitter." 

Presented as fact.  Creepy little kid.  For a minute I curse folic acid and the benefits of hot-housing.

Genius Son is going to Cambridge.  He can recognise double standards whether they hide under the table or not.  He crows long and loud and with much justifiable finger-pointing.  He has seen hypocrisy in action and it is mother-shaped. 

Thursday, 18th March
Today's the day and I'm feeling buoyant!  Everyone has been issued with a schedule of my movements, they have my mobile number, information on where I plan to park the car, the pub in Edinburgh where we're meeting, etc, etc.  I am in a happy place.

Over the fruit and veg in Morrisons, El Hombre shows a bit more interest in the finer details.

"So then, what's his name?"
"@BinaryDad," I say, puzzled.  "You know this."
El Hombre, patiently:  "His real name."

I have to think a bit.  It's disconcerting to think of @BinaryDad in real terms.  With a proper name.  And a corporal body.  And maybe an unhealthy love for his mother.

"Er, Liam. Liam Sluyter."
El Hombre takes a moment from inspecting some exhausted broccoli.  "Let me get this straight," he says.  "You're meeting a Mr Slaughter?"

Shit.  My happy place is under seige!

"No!  No!  It's not 'slaughter', it's pronounced 'slooter'.  Sloo-ter." 
"And where did you say you were meeting Mr Slaughter?"
"We're meeting up at... Sloo-ter, not slaughter, he's not called Liam Slaughter!  That would be... wrong."
"Sorry, where?  You and this slaughter guy, what pub?"
"I see where you're going with this, mister!"
"Just so I know.  Tell me again where you're having a drink with Mr Slaughter."
There's a pause before I eventually mumble, "The World's End pub."
"Just so," chuckles El Hombre.  "You're facing Slaughter at The World's End."

That was unhelpful, I think. Un-fucking-helpful.

Friday, 19th March
Obviously I haven't been found in an A1 lay-by with laddered tights and early-stage rigor.  I am here!  Alive!  Writing to you through a cloud of survivor's euphoria!

@BinaryDad turned out to be one of the non-homicidal good guys.  But he does wear glasses, so I wasn't completely way off-beam about him being a serial killer.  Shipman, Nilsen — both spectacle wearers.  Possibly even Peter Sutcliffe, if only for reading and close work.

What was everyone like, worrying?  It was always going to be fine.  All this unnecessary fuss, you guys!  As random strangers go, I can't recommend @BinaryDad highly enough.  I told my friend Nicky (ex-Special Branch), so.  At ease, I told her, sign in your gun and get your head down for a few hours.

"Why?" she says, suspiciously, which is what you want in a bodyguard.

Y'see, I've got a taste for them now, tweet-ups.  And I've been in touch with a lovely young man, @sonofsam, and a friend of his @bostonstrangle1. 

What could possibly go wrong?

Sunday, 14 March 2010

More Than Gender Politics

By now, dear chums, we've established that I know an awful lot about nothing, and thus having set out my stall I thought this week we could discuss politics.

My ignorance of all things political is awe-inspiring in its length, depth and bredth.  The sheer scale of it causes people's breath to catch at the back of their throats; the absence of any real grip of the issues of the day garners pitying looks and sympathetic hand pats.  My dunderheadedness over affairs of state is so mighty, so colossal, so unignorable, that it was actually considered for recognition as a contemporary Wonder of the World, just missing out to Katie Price's poor impulse control. 

The New Mrs Katie Price

Still, it was nothing if not gracious in defeat.

I'm one of those people that hate pointless confrontation — I get a bit sweaty and start breathing through my mouth, but not in a sexy way.  I back away from political debate as if a street performer had broken free from his pitch and was moving robotically amok outside Primark.  

It's not that I don't enjoy debate (but, to remain clear, I do hate street performers),

Keep Britain Tidy, Shoot A Mime Artist

but I've no time for ranters.  The moment my brain clocks someone saying the same thing three times at incrementally increasing volume is when I frantically pat myself down for an imaginary utility belt, praying that I've remembered to pack the Anti-Rhetoric-Spew-Emitter spray.

There are people out there — and a lot of them if Twitter and Facebook are anything to go by — that seem to use venting their politics as a kind of cardio-vascular work-out, a replacement for thirty minutes moderate digging  five days a week.  They delight in their fury, wallowing in the great muddy hole of their indignation, rubbing themselves down with their own brisk cleverness.   Onanists to the last.

Because they don't want us to join in, these ranters; they don't, for heaven's sake, want an exchange of views!  We're meant to be passive receptacles of their wisdom, bullied into mute respect.

And I'll be honest with you, I nod until they run dry so I'm complicit here. Hands up.

Now, being a politico-spacktard actually gives me an advantage, to whit:  because I hold no allegiance to any political institution, this independence of thought (some might more accurately call it 'indifference', a key objective here in The Flyte-Tipping Party) enables me to make some interesting observations.

What with an election on the horizon, let's start with the main political parties in Britain today:  The Labour Party, fronted by gloomy-gus PM Gordon Brown, and the Conservative Party led by the oleaginous (<— nice, 10 points) David Cameron.  Allegedly there is a third party, headed up by Nick Clegg, but I can't remember its name.  I could Google I suppose, but what would be the point?  A party whose leader bears a striking resemblance to David Cameron AND shares half his name with the leader of the BNP is obviously nothing more than a decoy political party, quacking softly in the margins in order to lure the unsuspecting voter into ballot-box confusion.

This is where it gets a bit like Runaround (God bless Mike Reid, now sadly an angel in Reactalights and a camel hair coat).   If you base most of your decisions on how you feel about them, run to the left; if you base most of your decisions on how you think about them, run to the right.

Runaraahnd... naaaaahhh!

Because roughly speaking in broad strokes with gross generalisation, this seems to be how the two main parties work, the fundamental difference.  'Feelers' vote Labour, 'Thinkers' vote Tory, neither being better than the other but 'Feelers' definitely being in the ascendancy ever since Diana forgot to clunk and click. 

A computer-generated image
of how Diana could  look today.

Tory bods recognise this and are twisting themselves in knots to appear emotionally connected.  It's not pretty.  I want to take them to one side and tell them gently "No, love", and teach them the lesson I tell my kids about how you have to be true to yourself and never change just to please somebody, but I can see they've gone too far down the emoting track to turn back.  Doesn't seem to be helping though.  A friend the other day mentioned that despite David Cameron mourning a child she still found the Tory Party cold and lacking in empathy, the irony of which was lost on her. My friend wants a government who cares about her as a person, as an individual, and who wouldn't?  It's a lovely idea.  Just, sadly, a tad impractical when you're dealing with millions of people and a limited budget.

So Labour must be the way to go, right?  They're naturally sensitive.  They care without it hurting.  They're just like us in that all they want is acceptance and credibility. 

Now just as I find the Tories dressing up as Grandma ridiculous and nauseatingly insincere, I find Labour an enigma wrapped up in, um, a baffling confusion. 

Any sociologist will tell you that society works by consensus.  That for society to flourish and be successful, different interest groups must have a shared sense of belonging, a shared sense of a common goal.  Society as a whole is a finely tuned balancing act; a living, breathing machine, utterly dependent on each individual component part working in harmony with the one next to it.   That's us, by the way, for the less imagery-driven reading this.  We're the nuts and bolts.  We're the funky Audi ad.

But in recent years the right of the individual component has taken precedence over the wellbeing of the machine as a whole.  And this is Labour policy in action.  A socialist party.  Ironically, to defend the underdog, to protect and support every minority, to promote diversity, to grant dispensations, to make us all feel special and nurtured — all this flies in the face of accepted sociological theory on how to create a fully functioning society.

Does your head in, doesn't it? 

On the one hand you've got Labour promoting individualism — something they used to tar the Conservatives with — and on the other you've got the Conservatives cynically trying to get in touch with their feminine side, formerly the preserve of the Labour Party.  With so much cross-dressing going on, is it any wonder voters are confused? 

Of course, you could vote for the other lot, but to be frank I've reached the extent of my political curiosity. 

What I do know is this. 

I do love kittens.

Sunday, 7 March 2010

When Possession is Nine-Tenths of the Law

It's said that size doesn't matter.  I disagree.  I think size does matter, although maybe not in the way you imagine.  A change of perspective, a switch of aphorism; you need to think small.  Good things come in small packages, right?  So you need to go from this:

 Pandacus Giganticus

To this:

Pandacus Minimalis

So let's talk dirty.  Let's talk apostrophes.

Take my hand and come with me on an apostrophic journey.  Together we will demystify this typographical fleck no bigger than a spider's eyelash that seems to cause so much hand-wringing.  Find out why the apostrophe actually isn't scary, how its sole purpose is to make your life easier.  No other punctuation mark manages to spin so many plates.  Gasp!  at its mastery of the possessive.  Swoon! as it abbreviates with panache.  Cheer! at its good-natured handling of the imperial foot. 

The unsung hero of punctuation, in all places at once, rushing hither and thither selflessy peppering a page with meaning and clarity.

Let's go... apostrophe myth busting.

Exploding Apostrophe Myth #1

"Dear Chastity,

You know how you say apostrophes are, like, essential to have a good understanding of the written word, yeah?  At the end of the day, I find them just a bit too small and f*cking tricky.
Kimberley, from Brentford"

Now hypothetically I receive many letters like this one from poor Kimberley in my postbag.  And here's how I theoretically reply.

"Dear Kimberley

Using an apostrophe isn't tricky at all but to help you appreciate the difference, here is a list of things with a 'small' feel that are quite tricky:

Quite Tricky Small Things 
  1. The behaviour of quantum particles;
  2. The working of the human body at cellular level;
  3. Nanotechnology.
I hope this helps to clarify the situation.
Regards, Chastity" 

Exploding Apostrophe Myth #2

"Dear Flyte-Bitch

Yous just tryin to oppress the masses with your elitist punctuation, innit.  Yous must be a Tory bastard."
Yours in anticipation,
 Shagwolf from Surrey"

"Dear Mr Shagwolf

It would be all too easy for me to reply with a succinct and perfectly formed 'bollocks' (n. pl.) [nb:  no apostrophe. Unless you were stating the 'dog's bollocks', ie. 'the bollocks belonging to the dog' (sing.)]

Knowing and appreciating where best to deploy this most modest of punctuation marks does NOT count as elitism;  it does NOT guarantee a place in government or Who's Who, an unequal distribution of wealth, or the right to censure-free cottaging.  However, Shagwolf, my darling, it will stop you from making a tit of yourself on the News at Ten when waving an anti-capitalism placard outside McDonald's.

I wish you all good things for the future.
Affectionately, Chastity"


St Peter's Lea - the grassy area/field of St Peter

St Peters Lea - a papally approved easy-listening duo from the Seventies

You see how easily confusion can arise?  How helpful the apostrophe is for averting a crisis of meaning and ugly faux-pas?

You may have read about Birmingham City Council's decision to ban the apostrophe from road signs, believing that when witnessed first-hand, the apostrophe will cause road users' brains to detonate thus leaving the Council exposed to claims of compensation and adding substantially to their street cleaning budget (already under strain from prevailing economic conditions).   It's that old classic.  When something isn't understood, it is feared.

Exploding Apostrophe Myth #3

"Dear Chastity

I think you need to recognise that English is an ever-evolving language, that the decline of the apostrophe is merely a price to inevitably pay for our mother tongue having such wonderful richness and flexibility.
Babs, from Carlisle"

"Dear Barbara

I think in all your excitement you overlooked a split infinitive.  Fret not, for I am not the sort of person to let sloppy grammar cloud my opinion of your right to comment. 

I should point out that I love a good neologism as much as the next person, and I agree — English is always in a state of developmental flux.  Not surprising really, first invaded by the Romans, then the Jutes, Angles, Saxons, Danes, French... over the centuries the English language has pretty much been gang-banged by the whole of Europe.   Goodness, with so much linguistic activity happening on the wrong side of the covers, it's only to be expected that modern English consists largely of bastard children.

However, the apostrophe's decline doesn't seem to be a part of a natural embracing and discarding of vocabulary.  We still need clarity of meaning after all.  No, I feel its fall from favour hinges on the fact that a wee bit of effort is required to bring it to heel, and that a recessive gene of can't-be-arsediness stowed away on the first Gallic shrug to come ashore in 1066.

You might do well to examine your family tree, Barbara, my dear.
Yours sincerely, Chastity"

So come on, people!  Let's pull together and make an effort to squash the lazy Frenchman inside us all.  Open your heart to the apostrophe and welcome it back into your life as the best punctuation friend you're ever likely to have.