Friday, 30 December 2011

First Dance Friday: Johnny & June

I know, I know, it's essentially about a relationship which is on the skids. But the pop and crackle between the couple singing this song is the beating heart of any real relationship: I hate you, I love you, I can't live without you. "We got married in a fever, hotter than a pepper sprout"

And let's not forget the very real love story of the singers: June Carter and Johnny Cash. Now there's a romance that got pulled through hell and back, and still stood til the bitter end. The reed that bends with the wind stands the straightest. No, that's not in the song, it's some ancient Chinese thingy-bobby. Oh you know.

Sam and I LOVE THIS SONG. We were intending to learn it (properly, not like in the car when we can only remember half the verses) and play it together on guitar and banjo at our wedding. But in the rush of the last few weeks, we never got around to it. A real pity, as I think we agreed about this song more than any of the others that we used during the day. And plus, it would have been awesome.

Anyway, here it is, the end of 2011! Happy New Year to you all. A year ago today I wasn't even engaged, and here I am happily married to my own big galoot.

Who knows what 2012 will have in store?

Thursday, 29 December 2011

Sugar, Spice & Superheroes

4 year old Riley's rant about the pinkification of girl's toys has been all over the internet this week, and I love it. Her exasperation is heartening (and adorable), but I'm not sure the big producers are listening. Let's face it, we've heard a lot about the pink backlash in the news and online over the last few years, but we've yet to see it make a dent in the shops.

I don't think I realised quite how bad the princess-pushing was until my friends started to have children and I realised unisex presents are impossible to come by these days. Toys R Us looks like a glittery blancmange has exploded across half the shop. I was a bit of a tomboy as a child -the mere words "dress" and "doll" struck fear into my heart-  how do little girls like me fare these days? What choice do they really have?

Things I liked best as a child:


In the 1980s being a 7 year old liking this stuff didn't mean you were WEIRD or a traitor to your gender, it just meant you were a child (albeit a slightly geeky one). The chances of me being given inappropriately princessy gifts by clueless relatives were nil, I was more likely to get Playmobil or Lego (the latter of which is seen as boy's fare now, unless it's pink and involves a domestic scene) or heaven forbid, a BOOK.

Lego ad from 1981

I hope this nonsense starts to bounce back the other way soon. Children should be allowed to be children, not shoved into the gender boxes they're already destined to spend their adulthoods stuck inside.

Hope you all had a lovely Christmas. Whether you got girlie gifts or software manuals (I got both) I'd like to think it was what your heart desired!

Wednesday, 28 December 2011

A Very Smyth Christmas

It's simply not Christmas without disguises.

Hope you're all having a lovely Christmas week and not working too hard.

Tuesday, 27 December 2011

Grandad George

On Christmas Eve, Sam's Grandad passed away. So Christmas Day was a little different than expected - tradition put aside and the doors flung open for everyone to be together. It was still full of warmth and fun in spite of the sadness- still "a bit loud for me" - as George would have said. I like to think he was watching us, as he always did, sitting in the corner with a smile on his face, surrounded by the family he loved so much.

What a kind, wonderful man you were George. It was a real honour to have known you. I'm so glad you got to see your first grandchild get married this year.


Monday, 26 December 2011

Boxing Day? Cat In A Tree

Spooky has taken all the (silly) decorations off the Christmas tree and is now using it as a (much more sensible) climbing frame/giant chew toy.

Friday, 23 December 2011

First Dance Friday: Wishes You A Cool Christmas

I love Christmassy music, but I think EVERYONE is sick of Slade, Wizzard and Paul McbloodyCartney by now. Having spent the last five days braving the shops, I'm now having recurring Now! That's What I Call Christmas-soundtracked nightmares about being stuck in Primark trying to find Catie some gloves that don't look like they cost 99p, and then waking with Merry Christmas (War Is Over) playing in my head on a loop for the next 12 hours forcing me to contemplate throttling myself (and Catie, so I don't have to buy her any gloves) with tinsel. They use the same repeated song techniques in Guantanemo Bay, you know. It's no wonder everyone's so stressed. Enough is enough! It's time for the little drummer boy to shove his sticks up his little festive bottom.

 Up your bum, Cliff!

Last year I made a Christmas mix with some old favourites slightly less hammered by Asda's instore sound system -the Waitresses, Chris Rea, etc - which was lovely, but I'm already sick of it. Did you know that the full length version of Wham!'s Last Christmas is nearly 7 minutes long! 7 MINUTES! And over half of that is the chorus. I never want to hear it again.

And then there are the contemporary offerings. Seems like all the current indie-schmindies are leaping on the festive bandwagon this year in the hope of  penning a classic that will keep them in royalty cheques until they're sucking on a nursing home turkey dinner (they should never have put About A Boy on telly last year - it gave everybody ideas). But let's face it, they are all, without exception, horribly average. To have staying power in the Christmas market you're much better off aiming for tacky and irritating. Somebody needs to tell Tim Wheeler that nice won't cut it. And don't get me started on that THING they keep playing on Radio 2 that's all about the government and the cold weather. *entire paragraph of snark and sarcasm deleted in a bid to maintain some semblance of Christmas cheer*

So where can we turn for a cool Christmas? Ladies and gentleman, it will not surprise you to learn that BACK IN TIME is the only option remaining. Dean Martin, Brenda Lee, the Ronettes, Andy Williams.... you know the drill. Better yet,  dig hard enough and you'll find a whole range of fabulous versions of golden oldies. Loads of the greats recorded whole Christmas albums doing all the classics so it's easy to find a new twist on a beloved song.

Walking In A Winter Wonderland is one of my favourite Christmas songs. This ace version is by one of the smoothest, most stylin' of them all.

Wishing you all a cool yule - keep control of the playlist and don't give in!  xxx

Thursday, 22 December 2011


2011 will be the first year I'll spend Christmas Day with someone else's family.

I know, I know, my in-laws ARE my family now and all that (not just pleasant aliens who look eerily like my husband) and with such a large and raucous bunch it's going to be a lot of fun. In fact I have been very much looking forward to it. But as the day draws closer, I'm feeling a bit sad about not being with my Mum and step-dad on the 25th.

I'm not even religious, so it really is just A DAY, I have no idea why I'm being sentimental about it. I'm of the age now where everything is in flux, things can't possibly be the same year in, year out. Families grow and drift like tectonic plates, making new continents and islands. This year Christmas will be on a my largest landmass yet (probably China - that's a big one) and I need to go and visit Japan, New Zealand and the Fiji Islands because they're my landmasses too.

In fact I feel compelled to race up and down the motorways every year trying to squish in as much quality time with everyone I like as possible, otherwise I feel I've failed. When Catie and I thought I was going to have to work too much to be able to see her at all over the holidays, we hyperventilated and ended up driving halfway to each other to a pub in the Pennines for dinner, just to check we both still existed. We've been friends since we were 10. It's not Christmas if I haven't seen Catie.

Last year was crazy and I got my come-uppance. I managed 5 Christmases in 4 days (sorry carbon footprint) and ended up wrapped up on the sofa, knackered and ill by the time New Years Eve came round. Now I am married and I have DOUBLED my obligations. Didn't think that one through, did I. WHAT A KNOB.

I don't know what the answer is, I don't know anyone who's got it cracked. You really do need either A. a small and compact immediate family B. Everyone willing to travel to one place, and then have that one poor sod willing to accommodate everyone spilling wine on their carpet and treading on the dog, C. Be rhino-skinned and shut the door to some people or (better yet) everybody or D. Get a job with better holidays.

Goodwill to all mankind is a very nice idea, but it involves a lot of time, petrol and compromises. Write a song about that one, Cliff.

Does anyone else have this problem? Is it just my sprawling family and annoying work schedule that makes the festive period a logistical brain-melt, or does everyone else get equally stressed?

Wednesday, 21 December 2011

My Armies: Now Recruiting

Thanks to my friend Katie, I have recently discovered the prodigiously successful and ludicrously cool Man Repeller blog. This is written by a funny (ha ha) American lady who has so little interest in dressing for the opposite sex that she actively seeks to repel with increasingly fabulous fashion forays (see: harem pants, wedge shoe boots, epic layering) that the straight boys JUST DON'T GET.

Thanks to this corner of the fash-web, I have realised that we can all take yet another step towards the beloved 90s in layering not just your CLOTHES but also your ARM-WEAR. M.R excitedly refers to this as an "arm party", a place where all bangles and wrist adornments can hang out together and swap stories about studs, skulls and braided leather. And maybe drink some Dubonnet. Or whatever bangles drink.

Sounds pretty good, yes?

OK so if you don't write an awesomely succesful trend-zone of a blog, you might have trouble accumluating the necessary designer spangles to cover the whole area from your wrist to your elbow (which, as we all know from Pretty Woman, is the same size as your foot - go on, try it). So I have recently been trucking round shops Christmas shopping with a little voice inside my head quietly chanting "arm party, arm party, arm party" in a bid to be on constant alert for SUPERcheap trinkets with which to deck my armies. Also raiding my jewellery tangle (there is no box) to see if I can extricate any old necklaces or such to use.

So far we have:

Sam thinks is the grungiest thing since the last time he wore black jeans under his ripped blue jeans. Which is a great thing.

I know it looks a mess already, and I intend to take it beyond messy into ridiculous style statement. Any good tips for cheap arm adorners on the high street? Primark and Claire's have had the best yield so far - mid range high street just don't seem to "get" this thing yet (apart from Topshop - awash with luxe punk studs), and low end are still selling rubber bands to goths so generally a much better bet. Let's take my arms from Nottingham Rock City chic and into a work of couture art!

What have your armies got on today?

Tuesday, 20 December 2011

Baa Baa Book Club

Our book club is rad. I don't know why I keep evangelising about it to everybody, because I always worry that a new addition would upset our beautiful equilibrium and mean that there's less space on the sofa, so somebody will have to sit on the floor, and that person will be me. Although that might mean I'm nearer the snack table, which would be bearable.

BAA BAA book club (aka Books Are Awesome Books Are Awesome Book Club) was started three years ago by a pioneering tastemaker you may know better as me. There are currently six of us, and we meet every month and a bit. We used to talk about the book for about 10 minutes, and then eat food and talk about cats for the rest of the time, but since Liv joined the book talk has expanded to nearly half an hour (!). So we're not very intellectual. Or intellectual at all. We are definitely 66.6% MORE intellectual now Liv has joined, but that's still less intellectual than, say, the front page of Heat magazine. And we still talk about cats a lot.

Ace Things About Book Club:

 -We all get very excited about the snack food, and Sam always eats crisps and humous until he feels sick.

-We do marks out of 10, because that's what they do on Come Dine With Me

-There's normally some sort of exciting disagreement (generally between me and Katie, because she thinks Jilly Cooper is silly and I think reading science fiction is about as interesting as looking at a traffic bollard for the same amount of time)

-There's also invariably somebody who hasn't finished the book, or at least had to read the last 200 pages in the hour before book club, usually furtively, either on a bus or under the desk at work.

-We rarely read anything contemporary that anybody else would have a shred of interest in.

-Half of us appear to have some sort of English-related degree but nobody is a boring twunt about it.

-And best of all, I never thought I would feel clever enough to be in a book club, but I am in this one.

There truly is hope for everybody.

The Kiss Of The Spiderwoman next....

Monday, 19 December 2011

Christmas Crafts #1

Woooo! I did some crafting!

I seem to be the only person I know who isn't mental over gardening, so I thought pretty flower-pots would make good Christmas presents. These terracotta pots were only 79p from Homebase, I base-coated with white and then painted the rest with acrylics. It took pretty much ages, but it was a good excuse to have the Christmas movie channel on in the background on Friday afternoon. It saw out my hangover on Sunday too (after Penny & the Sausages Lady Gaga gig for Nik's birthday - band sambuca shots are becoming a worrying trend).

I didn't use any templates or anything, because I'm impatient. I think the rustic look kinda works though. Going to varnish them with some decoupage craft seal from Hobbycraft.


Friday, 16 December 2011

First Dance Friday: Digs For Fire

I was the first person in my group of friends to discover the Pixies, but in my head I was the first person in the whole world. It felt like I alone had taken my pick-axe to alternative rock and somehow managed to hack my way into a forgotten tomb filled with weird Spanish guitars and hyperactive yelping, untouched since 1989. 

I imagine my listening to the Pixies for the first time must have felt a little bit like finding God. That this band had been there all along looking down on me, nodding sagely, because they knew my whole life was building up to unearthing their back catalogue. And hearing that music for the first time was truly a revelation, an epiphany, a life-changer.

It was so easy it felt like cheating - I always thought that arty rock music should be harder work - less catchy, less silly, less simple. It was SO easy to like the Pixies - I knew I was going to love every bit of them, every b-side, every album. There wasn't this fear and trepidation that the next song would be inpenetrable (Sonic Youth) or a bit crap (Hole).  And they had a girl in them, a girl who seemed ordinary but was simultaneously the coolest person in the whole world. How did she do that?

To me, the Pixies still sound like nobody else. I know everyone says Nirvana ripped them off wholesale, and I think I'm the only person in the world who can't hear it. Maybe that's how I justified all the cod-flamenco punk rock songs I wrote and then peddled to my teenage indie bandmates (only I sang in French, due to not knowing any Spanish. It still felt exotic). Nobody really sounds like them. Not even me when I'm writing songs that sound exactly like them.

As I got older I started to meet people who would also dance to Debaser at indie discos, and I realised I wasn't the only one who held a gigantic flaming torch for Black Francis and co. In fact, I would say that the Pixies are the most universally loved and listened to band in spite of a lot of people not owning anything by them. They're everywhere - on adverts! And films and TV and everything. They are seamlessly ingrained in our collective cultural consciousness so that people who haven't even heard of them can't have escaped them. That pivotal reveal in Fight Club? Wouldn't have been the same without Where Is My Mind? playing in the background.

Gratutious Picture Of Brad Pitt

Your favourite Pixies album also says an awful lot about your psyche:

Doolittle: Lots of friends. Likes a chorus. 

Bossanova: Reads a lot. Crushes on Juliana Hatfield.

Trompe Le Monde: Secret metal fan. Enjoys the bleakness of winter.

Surfer Rosa: Mad bastard. Shoes on backwards. 

You only get one guess which is my favourite (clue: it's the best one)

Sam was actually Joey Santiago of the Pixies in the winning band at the Leeds punk rock Stars In Their Eyes one year (my Susannah Hoff of the Bangles was better - we were robbed, but that's another story) and we both hold a place in our heart for their music. Unfortunately there is very little appropriate for a first dance among the back catalogue (we toyed with Gigantic, but it's about  willies, I'm telling you, and our joint favourite song "Hey" just has too many references to whores).

The best lovey-dovey song really is this one....

...but it's just not their best. It's not even sung by Frank Black. We would have been selling our love of the Pixies down the river.

Maybe I should have changed my name to Allison.

Thursday, 15 December 2011

Deck The Halls With Elf & Gremlins

The fact that I am not feeling festive this year is directly proportional to the number of Christmas films I have FAILED to watch so far.

I peaked too early. I got excited and watched Elf in October. (Elf is my favourite Christmas film and I couldn't help it. We made mulled wine on my birthday weekend and it was the next logical step. And I was hungover and open to suggestion. It just happened)

Now everything else is paling in comparison. It's looking like I'm going to need an entire day of Christmas film watching to get me back in the mood. Just one film is not going to cut through the humbuggery of Nothing-Being-Elf-ness.

I'm going to need Miracle On 34th Street AND The Muppet Christmas Carol, back to back. The sappier the better, in fact why not throw in Nativity (recent, with Tim off the Office, more feelgood than a reindeer on a Christmas jumper), and Sam's favourite It's A Wonderful Life. I'm going to also need A Charlie Brown Christmas, Home Alone and possibly even the Snowman (although maybe I'll save that one for Christmas morning when I get up before everyone else - not much has changed since I was 8).

Sod it, I'm going to need those terrible films on the 24 hour Christmas movie channel.

On a drip. Straight into my brain.

Elf in October? Damn my weak will!

Wednesday, 14 December 2011

The Nightmare Before Christmas

Before I arrived at Minehead Butlins last weekend, I had this idea that music festivals were just for farting around with your mates in fancy dress and randomly stumbling over weird gypsy punk bands at 4am.

But the previously alien concept of timetabling bands suddenly became critical at All Tomorrow's Parties. This is because most of the music is GREAT. Every amazing band I missed due to time clashes sent me into paroxysms of disappointment, meaning any extra-curricular activities were swiftly sidelined in case I missed something life-changing.

I only made it to the swimming pool complex for a drift round the Lazy River once in the whole weekend. Once! And I spent that whole time squinting to see if Carrie Brownstein from Wild Flag/Sleater Kinney was in the pool.

Carrie Brownstein: Not On The Water Slide

 After a fun stop-over in Bath on the Thursday night (very pretty, got drunk and lost my scarf) we had a leisurely drive to the coast on Friday, where I got typically over-excited about being able to the sea. The Friday night was curated by long-time heroes and all round crazy bastards Les Savy Fav, and we saw Marnie Stern, Wild Flag, Archers Of Loaf, Hot Snakes and a brilliant and very glittery closing set from LSF all without having to leave the kitsch, Butlins-tastic Centre Stage.

Les Savy Fav: spangly belly

The complex is entirely indoors with only a few outside sprints required to get from chalet to venue (just as well as it was freezing cold and occasionally very wet). As you'd expect from a holiday park, there's loads to keep you occupied - including a huge arcade in the middle of the Pavilion which was great for keeping our drunken clan entertained between sets. The bouncy ball Chris won in a grabber machine kept a whole crowd of strangers engaged in a game of catch at the back of Cults on Saturday night.

Walking into Minehead for fish and chips requires unimaginable layers of clothing
Saturday was probably the least exciting for me in the programme, I didn't really get Battles or the Thankyou - they all seemed to be excellent musicians but the music didn't hang together right in my brain. Above mentioned twee popsters Cults were pretty dull -hence the ball game, as was a possibly botoxed Gary Numan -we missed him playing Cars too, which was annoying. I had been looking forward to seeing the newly reformed Bitch Magnet (without whom we would never have had Mogwai, or possibly post-rock at all) ever since we found out they were playing, and they were the evening's highlight for me, as well as unexpected treats from the ear-shatteringly bass heavy Flying Lotus and techno awesomeness from Chilean maestro Matias Aguayo which we danced to til silly o'clock. We then crashed a bizarre chalet party and bogled in somebody else's kitchen to a calypso version of Cars until we were too tired to stand any more.

 Alex & Penny Benj: Dancing to the music

Sunday dawned. I still couldn't decide if the big fat white bird plodding round the chalets was a skua or not. Hipster spotting was more succesful than bird watching: more horn-rimmed glasses and beards than you could shake a plaid stick at. There was also some Christmas fancy dress, but I would have liked more.

Coming as Chris's doppleganger, however, is EXCELLENT fancy dress

Our chalet-mates kindly made breakfast while I lay uselessly on the sofa watching the X Factor repeat, before stumbling out to watch the first Caribou set, then rolling back to mine and Sam's tiny 2 berth to fall asleep in front of a Tim Allen Christmas film. I prised myself out of bed for my festival highlight, the terrific afro-futuristic avant garde jazz of the Sun Ra Arkestra - 11 old men dressed in spangly outfits tearing up the stage. My favourite was definitely band leader Marshall Allen, an 87 year old saxophone genius who raced up and down his instrument like a set of funky stairs, only pausing to get out what Sam neatly described as his "space kazoo" - a weird Akai developed electronic whistle. They had four saxophones, people. FOUR.

Sun Ra Arkestra: Jazz In Space!

Also terrific was the Syrian stomp of the awesome Omar Souleyman, who I bounced to so much that I couldn't bend my knees the next day and the ever-brilliant Four Tet, who made me dance even though I was clearly falling asleep again. Fifteen minutes into the closing Caribou set and I was slumped on a chair at the back and ready for bed. Crawling home past Crazy Horse I heard the thump of my beloved Theo Parrish and paused.... but it was all too much, I was ATP'd out. I'll catch him next time he's in town.

Lessons learned: a spreadsheet would not be a bad idea next year, hipsters can't dance for shit (hilarious, they really can't!), and don't bother buying BAKING ingredients at a festival just because you're excited about there being an oven - you won't bake. You just won't.

 Happy friends joy. No baking here.

Tuesday, 13 December 2011

New Years Resolutions

It's not too early to start thinking, is it?

Because I totally failed last year, and I don't want that to happen again.

2011 marked 10 years since the last time I actually sat down in a studio and recorded some music that was just my own. So in December last year I resolved to make another record. I had no  desire to come up with anything earth-shattering or ambitious- I've long since passed the days of wanting my Mum to see me on Top Of The Pops (and I'm fairly sure she has long given up hope). I just wanted to sit down again and make something I was happy with. A whole, finished, musicky Thing.

And then, just 20 hours into 2011, I got engaged. The first half of the year vanished in a puff of smoke - wedding planning took over my brain and any other spare minutes were spent studying for my Pilates qualification and working a tedious, stressful day job. Suddenly we were back from honeymoon, and it was the end of September, the Christmas decorations were going up in the shops, and I hadn't written a note.

Is this what happens when you get older? All those childish dreams seem to get pushed aside by the practicalities of real life, which is lovely and grown-up and everything, but, you know.... It's a shame. There's not as much time for sparkle or rock n roll as there used to be.

Maybe I just want the moon on a stick.


Actually making a record involves finding somewhere to record and someone patient enough to help me do it. It means painfully building the calluses back up on my fingers, working out where I can hide myself away in a house full of people and cats who like to earwig in and pounce on uncut guitar strings. It involves setting myself up for not being very good at something I used to be OK at. Them's a lot of obstacles right there.

Maybe I set my sights too high last year.

But I still want to do it.

What are your new year's resolutions? Big things or small things?

Monday, 12 December 2011

Monday Cats!

Hi everyone, it's Monday! Have you had a heavy weekend? Really fucking gutted to be back at work?

Don't be sad - have some MONDAY CATS!

Here is a song about how much this lady loves cats. If you haven't seen it yet, you ought to. If you squint a bit you can pretend it's me. Because I also love cats so much I want to cry.

Hurray for CAT MONDAY!

Friday, 9 December 2011

First Dance Friday: Oh!

You'd think that a couple who both love left-field indie music would have a huge amount of cross-over in their CD collections. Sadly, not for me and Sam.

(bear with me here, the point is tenuous and meandering, but there is a good song at the end)

Sam thinks things that go crash-bang-wallop are silly, whereas I think things that go widdle-widdle-time-signature-change are deadly dull. I say potay-to, he says potah-to. I say Jesus Lizard, he says Karate. At ATP this weekend, Sam's all about the complex noodlings of Archers Of Loaf, whereas I am wetting my pants about the frenetic tub-thumping of Les Savy Fav and Hot Snakes. I know it may all sound gibberish to you, but I TELL you, it's different, and when it came to choosing our first dance it was an-NOY-ying.

There is one band we agree one though. They've got enough clever-buggery to keep Sam's brain engaged, and enough crashing rock guitars to satisfy me. Throw in some amazing pop hooks and sweet, sweet girl harmonies and you have the one indie-rock band we agree on.

This song is probably my favourite of theirs - it's one of the poppiest and it is being giddy with love. Sleater-Kinney have inspired legions of admirers and endless copyists - if you have any interest in guitar music, they are essential listening.

2/3rds of them have reformed as the just-as-brilliant Wild Flag who are playing a few gigs around the UK in the new year off the back of their debut album - catch them while you can.

Thursday, 8 December 2011

All Tomorrow's Parties

It's finally here!

Today Sam and I are driving all the way to Minehead to luxuriate at Butlins for a weekend of terribly exciting music. Not only have I never been to a winter music festival before, I've never been to a proper holiday camp (I don't think Center Parcs counts - far too middle class and I only went for the day). I am tempted to take a glockenspiel to wake up Sam with  every morning.

Good morning Campers!

The prospect of being at a festival where you can actually plug your phone in is filling me with excitement. I can take a large suitcase full of belongings and not have to worry about carrying it above my head through waist-deep mud for miles on end, like some sort of indie-pop tribeswoman. I can wheel it on its wheels, like a normal person.

I can take my hairdryer. The laptop. We can take the toastie machine!!!

And although there are many, many bands I'm excited about seeing, I can't deny that the mini-golf could well be the pinacle of my weekend. And the water flume.

I am also participating in the Nightmare Before Christmas Big Pretentious Mix CD Swap. This is exactly what it says on the tin-a load of poseur bell-ends like me trying to feel superior about having heard of more obscure bands than everybody else in the whole world ever. With irony. Of course.

Bad Penny will naturally rattle on in my absence, so be sure to come back for an ATP-friendly First Dance Friday tomorrow, and some hungover, braindead nonsense on Monday.

In the meantime, here is a track by an artist playing tomorrow night who I am very, very excited about seeing. Her name is Marnie Stern, and she shreds like a motherfucker.

Sound the girl-crush klaxon!

Wednesday, 7 December 2011

Hipster Or Fancy Dress?

We should all know by now that inappropriate clothing is my favourite kind.

Sky high shoes, ridiculous hats, frilly skirts, unnecessary makeup, side ponytails. It's like every day is fancy dress day for me. Instead of becoming a mature grown-up, I seem to be retreating further into my dressing-up box as the years roll by.

It started innocently enough with my annual pilgrimage to the Secret Garden Party  (where other inappropriate dressers are triumphantly outed in an explosion of glitter and animal masks - allowed to roam free wearing handbags as hats, and knickers as earmuffs) , and now my recent holiday to Williamsburg where daily dress is, quite frankly, bizarre.

But I have to say, sometimes it annoys me on other people. I find it laughable, irksome or at worst  offensive. And we all know I only moved out of Headingley because I was sick of the Otley Run forcing me to queue behind wacky students dressed as smurfs in Safeway every Friday night. Grow up! I thought, hypocritically.

Then I looked back at my own wardrobe.The Frank Usher shoulder pads, the stripper shoes, the garish makeup, the over-sized spectacles.

When does expressing yourself turn into looking a fool? I may not be wearing anything with a press-stud front, or ears, but surely I'm old enough to know better.

This website, say it all really. The line between fancy dress and normal dress has blurred to the point that we can't tell who is taking what seriously anymore. And that's not just in Williamsburg - it's everywhere. I saw somebody dressed as a tiger in Kirkstall Morrisons last week. It's like everybody went to a festival in the summer and just couldn't be bothered to go back  to wearing their normal clothes. 

Maybe it's the economic downturn and we're all craving escapism. Maybe we're in a Peter Pan state of not wanting to grow up.

Or maybe, just maybe, we're all twats.

Tuesday, 6 December 2011

The Cult Of The Family Christmas

I'm mostly into Christmas for the wrong reasons. I'm not religious in the slightest, I don't have much goodwill at the best of times, and I'm rendered (merrily) empty-pocketed by the consumer riot of red-cups-and-santa-hats that abound on our local high streets. I love buying presents, I love awful Christmas albums, I love rushing around baking wonky mince pies with an over-inflated sense of my domestic goddessery. It's not what the baby Jesus would have wanted really, is it? I always feel as if I ought to know better.

Thankfully, my favourite bit of Christmas is actually nothing to do with spending money, and everything to do with what Christmas IS actually all about.

Christmas traditions!

Oh you must have some. Those things you and your family/loved ones do every year, without fail. Whether it's going to the pub with your old school mates on Christmas Eve, eating pork pie for breakfast on Christmas morning, playing Monopoly on the afternoon and your Mum always cheating, having cheese with your Christmas cake (the NORTH!)or going round to Aunty Pat's on Boxing Day to eat turkey curry and watch Noel's Christmas Presents.

There is something comforting about these little routines, however standard.

Sam and I have a bit of a thing about establishing as many stupid Christmas traditions as possible before we have a family. We hope to indoctrinate our children with a million quirky rituals that they will end up being teased about when they realise, in horror, that not everybody's Christmas is quite as bizarre as it is in their own household.

Our favourite one so far has been adapted from a traditional French game, where you bake (or otherwise surgically place) a penny into your dessert on Christmas day. Whoever ends up with it becomes the king- or "le Roi". For the rest of the day (the WHOLE DAY) every time the king takes a drink, the rest of the room must chant "Le Roi Qui Boit!" until somebody goes mad.

Quite brilliant, I think you'll agree.

We also wear Santa hats all day, which is quite excellent for diffusing any potential arguments (even better with antlers) as everyone looks far too ridiculous to take seriously.

And we are hoping to come up with more silliness this year, seeing as it's my first Christmas with Sam's family -creators of the "Say Your Favourite Pudding With Your Mouth Full", "Remove Your Sticky Moustache Without Using Your Hands" and "Who Can Eat A Breadstick The Fastest"* games.

What are your Christmas traditions?

*It took  me at least two years to get into the good books of Sam's eldest sister after I dethroned her as reining breadstick eating champion at a Smyth family party. People be warned, if you are the new girlfriend, let the dominant sibling win.

Monday, 5 December 2011

Bag For Mercy!

I may have moaned about the unnecessary baublification of high-street party dresses this year, but my wrath does not apply to handbags.

Look at these beauties!

 Tiger clasp clutch by Wilbur & Gussie for House Of Fraser
Glitter box clutch half price in the French Connection sale!

You can now be a clever bugger and wear an understated, classy dress and rock up the wow-factor by adding a stonking handbag, thereby lowering your WAG factor by about 100%.

I am a lover of all the box and envelope clutches about at the moment, the more they look like they've come out of the Dynasty wardrobe department the better. I would ideally like one that's in the shape of a jaguar's head, with rubies for eyes and smoke coming out of its nostrils. Please let me know if you see it, I would love for it to exist outside of my sweetest dreams.
...or this one by Marni would do.....
....or this one by Di Von F. Shoulder pads ho!

The problem with clutch bags is that I like to dance. And gesticulate. And get my purse out with a drink in my hand. All of these actions require putting my beautiful hand candy DOWN somewhere. What's a girl to do? I lost my fit gold clutch twice at my friend's wedding the other week, abandoning it on a table for four hours and then triumphantly leaving it in the hotel bar as a final flourish.  Luckily I didn't get anything stolen, and the bar staff kindly put it to one side for me to sheepishly pick up in the morning. I won't be that lucky in a public bar.

I need my belongings to be fixed to me, people, physically STRAPPED to my body, or I will lose them. And cross body bags aren't cutting it. Does Joan Collins have a satchel? No.

What to do?

Possible solutions:

- Use clutch bag as a prop for dancing with (I'm imagining sky-writing with it, like a glittery sparkler)

- Purchasing a tiny bag and an enormous coat with pockets big enough to shove it in

- Attaching it to my body with a series of powerful magnets.

Seriously ladies, how are you managing to do this? Let me in on the secret.

Friday, 2 December 2011

First Dance Friday: Loves Covers You Thought Were Originals

Sometimes it's nice to be just a little bit clever with your first dance. Choose something kitsch and make it into an all-ages, crowd-pleasing classic.

So it's nice to learn that Tiffany wasn't the first to warble all over this number. Better yet, the 1967 original is more hilarious and brilliant than you ever dared to dream (Wikipedia has it filed under "psychedelic rock" - as if you needed any more reason to press play).

Seriously. They need to make another Austin Powers film purely so they can put this on the soundtrack.

Listen to it twice and you'll forget the 80s even existed.

Thursday, 1 December 2011

All I Want For Christmas Is............Granny Chic

I'm not sure when it happened. I used to be dangerous and rock 'n roll, but one day I just woke up and I was old. A Saturday night out sounds like hard work, the weather/bus fares/young people today are always ripe to be moaned about and every pull or tear or sprain I've had starts to ache a little bit more each winter. I sit on reception every day, having a whinge with the old dears "oooh, that cold! It gets right into your bones doesn't it?", extolling the virtues of glucosamine and a nice hot bath. I love cakes, comfy slippers and my cats. I am old and there is nothing to be done about it.

Maybe if I try hard enough I can convince you that all this stuff on my current wish-list is cutting edge and cool. But really we all know the truth.

I love this. Apparently kitsch Christmas jumpers are all the hipster rage this year, but I promise you I will be wearing mine with zero irony. Look how cheerful it is! £69  on a jumper is a bit steep mind (as is £3.80 for a return to town - shocking). Hoping they have something similar at Home Bargains.
 I really want this. You may think jigsaws are sad and pointless, but I think we need to bring them back into vogue. I feel Christmassy just looking at the picture. Look at it, it's brilliant! Get that mulled wine on the stove and just let me at those corner pieces.

There was a box of Cadbury's Roses in the office the other week, and I was devastated to discover that there are no longer any toffees on the menu. I love the toffees! And the coconut ones, which have also vanished.  So I'll need a box of these to while away the winter nights while the young fashionable people trough on that Celebrations shite.
And, finally, now I'm an old fart I'll need a drop of  sherry to slip into my morning tea when nobody's looking. I hate sickly booze, so it will have to be bone dry, which is lucky because dry sherries are on the up again so I can pretend I'm just keeping up with the trends.

See, it's booze, I'm still rock 'n roll. A bit.

Now let's switch on the wireless and listen to the hit parade.

Wednesday, 30 November 2011

Run For It!

It's no secret that I'm a gym bunny. I love working out so much that when I was unceremoniously dumped from my TV job I decided to move into the fitness industry.

However. Needing sufficient brain power and co-ordination to teach classes through the day and most evenings has put the mockers on training hard for myself. I simply cannot grapevine in the correct direction without going over on my ankles, not to mention remembering that right is actually left, if I have trained hard for my usual hour or (ideally) hour-and-a-bit during the day. So while my classes keep me generally very fit and a lot stronger than I was, my running fitness (always the first thing to go without focused training) has dwindled to pathetic.

Now I love to run. Since I've been a personal trainer I feel very proud to have got a lot of people -who swore blind they couldn't do it- into this high-endorphin buzz club. Running makes you feel better, it is addictive and brilliant for controlling weight and also re-focusing people who are fixated on unnecessary weight loss because it immediately gives you a new set of  healthy targets. It makes your bones and your heart stronger. It gives your brain a boost. It helps you sleep. It eases depression.

It is no WONDER I feel like crap for not doing it regularly any more.

What do I do if my clients get out of whack with their running, or need an extra push? I get them to sign up for a road race.

Confession: I have NEVER done a road race. The reasons being:

-I HATE competition

-I HATE competition even more when I know I'm not the best at something (yes, I realise competition when you're the best at something isn't technically a competition, it's SHOWING OFF. And that's the only competition I like. What of it)

-I am a REALLY slow runner.

When I say slow, I mean SLOW. My focus has always been on increasing my distance (although I've never run further than 15k - so clearly not THAT focused of a focus) and never my speed. I am a plodder. I LIKE running slowly, I'll admit it. I like the soothing thump-thump of my feet on the floor. I like to think about things other than what I'm doing - generally what crazy tricks the guitarist is shredding at during the solo whatever ludicrous band I'm listening to at the time. So although prior to my hiatus I was a manically regular runner (no less than 4 times a week, ideally 6), I've never really improved. I've genuinely never wanted to try any harder. Running was my stress release, my escape. Not a punishment.

But now I realise I need a target to get me going again. And I think this is it. The Harewood race gives me about 3 and a half months to get back into regular training, and hopefully then get my 10k time down so I don't embarrass myself completely (although I realise this is still almost definitely going to happen). Unless I can get Catie to do it as well, and we do it as a 3-legged race. So that we both lose.

Have you ever done a race? Want to do this one with me? Any tips for being a gracious loser?*

*Advice on losing at Monopoly also appreciated - another competition I have avoided for years for similar reasons. Although I like to think it's because of my kind and generous nature that I can't even hold on to FAKE money.