2013 – the year of abstinence

What are your hopes for 2013?

What is your New Year’s resolution?

What are you giving up for lent?

Well … would I look shallow if I wished to be young, rich, beautiful and thin in 2013? Should I be wishing for world peace and a cure for cancer? Both are equally unattainable so how about a bit of both?

My New Year’s resolution is to be young, rich, beautiful and thin.

I gave up giving things up for lent when I realised that as a lapsed catholic, if I’m not molesting choir boys and preaching homophobic venom, I don’t have to give up chocolate for 40 days and 40 nights to compensate.

But let’s go back to young, beautiful, rich and thin. Can I do anything about that? Clearly inventing time travel isn’t an option but I could probably knock off a few years with a slightly healthier attitude to life. And that healthier attitude could also save me money, make me thinner and more attractive … and I could even throw in a bit of “giving things up” as well.

And this is where the “Year of Abstinence” begins. I do like a challenge. And this year I have decided to give up one thing every month, for a month. It was suggested that I do two months for each thing but frankly that sounded too complicated. So, here’s my year and what I’ll be doing without. I’m hoping I’ll be able to see what really has an impact on my health and well being. Over the years I’ve been told most things are bad for me, only to be told they’re absolutely fine a few weeks later. So I’m going to test a few theories for myself and see what I can cut out for my greater good.

With no further ado … I’ll be a-doing without:

January – ALL alcohol. No brainer. Sober January has been on the agenda for a few years now, but this time I’m not going to live my usual reclusive lifestyle and actually go out and have a life. You can also sponsor me for this one at Just Giving. I’m taking part in the Dryathlon for Cancer Research UK. Give money. It’s a fantastic and essential cause.

February – Crisps. This will be the hardest, hence me picking it for the shortest month (don’t worry, there’s more to come). I reckon if I gave up crisps I’d be thin overnight.

March – Spicy Food. Note – this does NOT include my birthday. I’m not that mad. I get a pass for that. But why spicy food? Bit of a strange one really isn’t it, amongst all the usual “bad” things? Well, I eat way too much food that has chillis in it … I’m pretty sure they’re not good for my skin or for digestion. So let’s see how I do without them …

April – Meat. Reckon this will be pretty easy. I won’t just be giving up meat, I’ll be exploring interesting veggie options. Fresh ones, not ready meals.

May – Sweets and chocolate. I thought about doing these separately but it’s too easy as I just don’t have a massively sweet tooth. I reckon this will be the easiest month. And it’ll also stop me picking at crap in the office just because it’s there.

June – Caffeine. I may give myself a get out clause that doesn’t include holidays in this abstinence as I might have a craving for a cup of tea at Glastonbury … this also means a massive cut down on sugar and dairy as well. I can do Glasto without Jagerbombs though, right?

July – Wine. Should be quite straight forward. It’s summer. I can drink cider. But still a challenge as I do love a large pinot or 12.

August – Social Media. Not something that affects me physically but I wonder if I can survive a month without constantly checking Facebook and Twitter. This blog doesn’t count by the way. Mentally, it’ll be liberating, if I can get few the first few days …

September – Bread. I eat way too much bread. Let’s see if I can cut it out before we get properly into the soup season.

October – Cheese. I love cheese. And of course this also rules out pizzas. Shit. I haven’t thought this through at all …

November – Crisps, sweets and chocolate, aka – snacks! Let’s step things up a bit and see if I can live without all the traditional bad things.

December – Abstinence. You seriously thought I’d deprive myself during the holiday season?

This will all probably go horribly wrong but at this moment (1st January with a hacking cough and hangover) it seems like a good idea. Let’s DO this.

I’ll be blogging my progress – nobody cares but me but it’ll keep me amused.


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20 years of hurt …

Over the last 20 years I’ve done a LOT of musical theatre. Sometimes rehearsing for three shows at the same time, I’ve found it hard to turn down the opportunity to get my jazz hands on. Some of the shows I’ve done have hit a standard worthy of any West End show, some of them have been brilliant and hugely enjoyable amateur productions and one or two of them I’ve been glad to consign to history.

I thought my current venture would be the latter. Over the last 20 years I have auditioned for the part of Nancy in Oliver! 5 times – losing out for all sorts of reasons. I’ve always thought it was the part I was born to play. Even more so than Maria in West Side story (only 4 auditions – 4? pathetic, it’s like I didn’t care at all). I’m too old for the part now really. I may chant “playing age 25” on a regular basis but I’m well aware that I’m about as convincing as a 25 year old as Jimmy Savile is as a man with normal sexual preferences. But when the chance to go for it one more time came up, I couldn’t resist, even though I knew it was a small group with no budget, playing in a very basic venue. The last 5 times there have been between 4 and 20 girls going up against me. This time there was 1, and she didn’t want it, using the song as a warm up for the part she was seriously going for. Unheard of. Guess I got lucky.

When I got the part, it actually felt like a bit of an anti-climax. Maybe wanting something so long you build up expectations that reality just can’t live up to. I wasn’t called for the first few weeks of rehearsals and it’s hard rehearsing through the summer – holidays get in the way, including two of my own as well as another production that meant I missed another week. Other cast members have been missing as well – typically on different nights to me so it was a little bit like ships that pass in the night. I didn’t do one scene properly until the Sunday before we opened. So show week arrived and I haven’t been living and breathing Nancy as much as I always assumed I would.

We’re in a tiny theatre (in a school) with a 2 piece “orchestra” (piano and drums), no set to speak of and a Bill Sykes who doesn’t know his own strength, which has resulted in a sprained arm and badly bruised knees. We’ve also been through 4 MDs/accompanists on the road to opening night.

But, and here’s the good bit.

I don’t care. This group has given me the chance to play the part that first got me interested in musicals. I’ve spent more time preparing for auditions for this one than I care to remember. I’ve known the dialogue and songs for so long I hardly needed to pick up a script. So, is it any wonder that I felt a bit teary way back at the audition (last chance saloon) when I realised I might actually get it this time and again last night at the dress rehearsal, I had a lump in my throat during the finale – the same lump that’s been in my throat the five times I’ve missed out and had to watch somebody else taking that bow for one of the best female roles in musical theatre. But this time it was for a different reason and that made it all the more emotional.

I don’t care if we don’t have a huge stage, an 18 piece band, a realistic London Bridge, West End costumes or a chorus full of 20 girls who didn’t get the part and are hoping Sykes will hit me that bit too hard so they can step in tomorrow. Hell, I even like the kids. The cast may not be a troupe of ex professionals but they are good people who haven’t judged me for swooping in and grabbing the showiest part in their production. Having had my confidence, my health and (dramatic though it may sound) my life destroyed by one of the “big” groups, it’s been a long road back to the swagger Nancy demands.

A big demon has been exorcised this week. I’ve proved I can do it. Any other parts that come my way now are just a bonus (except Maria obvs. Even I know that’s pushing it, but Dame Kiri did it at 40 so never say never!)

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Leaving Facebook


I bloody love Facebook. It’s the first thing I check in the morning and the last thing I check at night. I love to “like”, to add friends, to share, to tag, to comment and to update my status. Probably a little bit too often for comfort.

I also use Facebook for work – as part of my job involves responsibility for social media, so I understand its benefits for a brand as well as for sharing what you’ve had for dinner and that you “need a hug”.

But not everybody shares my love of over-sharing. Some people have an account but can’t access it often. Some people just don’t “do” technology. And some people actively avoid having a profile. OK, I admit I find that a bit weird but each to their own.

Around half of the UK population has a Facebook account. For somebody like me, for whom it is an integral part of daily life, that seems fairly low. For somebody who hasn’t jumped on board the social media “revolution”, it’s probably quite reassuring.

So why is it that increasingly people are only communicating through this one channel?

  • Drinks on Friday night? Send a FB message.
  • New show to promote? Sell tickets via FB.
  • Having a party and want to invite people? Set up a FB event.

Get the picture? But what about the 50% of the population who don’t use it? Are they not welcome just because they choose to use email, telephones, face-to-face conversation?

So, to see just how much it impacts on my life I’m going to try to break the addiction and step away from the Book of Face. At the moment I have at least 3 event invitations that haven’t been communicated in any other way, excluding a lot of people who no doubt would have loved to have gone. I’m voluntarily going to join the “excluded” and see if anybody picks up the phone, sends me a text, an email, makes actual eye contact (shudder).

I have a feeling I won’t last the weekend but in theory it’s an interesting experiment …

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Too much doubt

On Wednesday 21 September, the US State of Georgia will execute a potentially innocent man. Troy Davis was convicted in 1991 of the murder of an off-duty Georgia police officer, Mark MacPhail. For the last 20 years he has sat on Death Row. His execution has been scheduled four times now – with a last minute stay granted for the last three. Can you even begin to imagine how that must feel?

I am completely opposed to the death penalty in any circumstances. Nobody has the right to take a human life – whether that is shooting a police officer, stabbing a pensioner for their savings, delivering a fatal blow to a rival gang member – or strapping somebody down to a gurney and pumping them full of a lethal cocktail of drugs. This is not the Old Testament where justice is dished out “an eye for an eye”.

Putting aside my personal views, the dealth penalty is legal in some US states. But my understanding is that there must be no doubt of guilt. In the case of Troy Davis, there is so much doubt and so little evidence that the fact that we have got to this stage in a civilised society just doesn’t seem possible.

Seven of nine witnesses have retracted their statements; one of the two remaining witnesses is actually a key suspect in the case; there is no forensic evidence; no murder weapon has been found; jurors have come forward to say that they have completely changed their minds given this information.

Yet, for some reason, the State of Georgia has not for a moment wavered from a conviction that Troy’s conviction was the right verdict. I have no idea why. Is it because the state supports the death penalty so to grant clemency to Troy and show sanity would lose votes? Is it because the victim’s relatives have been vocal in demaning Troy’s death for their own peace of mind? Is it racism? Is it a stubborn refusal to admit a mistake?

Whatever it is, it is wrong. While there is the slightest doubt, you cannot take a life. You just can’t. For Troy to be executed tomorrow is absolutely unthinkable, but this injustice is totally in the hands of people who should have seen the sense and the truth and the possibility of innocence years ago.

Amnesty International is asking for clemency for Troy. I understand why at this late stage this has to be the plea but really he should be acquitted as there is not enough evidence to convict him.  The officer’s death was a tragedy and the offender should be brought to justice. But by killing the wrong man, there is no justice. No closure. No peace. How much worse will it be for the victim’s family if further on down the line they learn that the wrong man died.

But what can we do? We can fight to the very end. Visit Amnesty’s website and take a few minutes to add your voice to the global reaction – it may take a miracle to stop this tragedy but miracles can happen.

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Plus ca change, plus c’est la meme chose

Jean-Baptiste Alphonse Karr made a good point. I wonder what the esteemed French critic and writer would have made of this weekend’s TV. Two of primetime’s biggest hits are back on our screens, both having had rather major makeovers.

So, have the new X Factor panel and Big Brother’s move to Channel Five changed these two national treasures beyond all recognition?

Starting with Big Brother – despite it eroding into a launch pad for vacuous glamour models and serial reality TV wannabees, I was sad when the final curtain fell on the programme last summer. So when its return was announced by Five (the channel, not the boyband) just a year after we dried our eyes at the show’s demise, can it live up to expectations?

Five have decided to kick off with a celebrity version, probably a good idea as it’s a shorter run and will allow them to have a bit of a dress rehearsal before the main feature begins in the autumn. I would have thought running a successful celeb version of Big Brother would be quite straightforward … get a bunch of celebs that we want to watch. Simples.

Mistake number one. There are ten people in the house (eleven actually but for some reason twins John and Edward are treated as one being). None of them are exactly jaw droppingly famous. Watching the Hoff’s ex wife talking to a male model makes you long for Rula Lenska and George Galloway (would you like me to be the cat?). Hollywood star Tara Reid is no Stephen Baldwin (particularly when we were all expecting Charlie Sheen). Hell, she’s not even Mini Me. Throw in serial reality junkie (no pun intended, oh alright, pun intended) Kerry Katona and a few other nonentities and it isn’t exactly a recipe for gripping viewing.

Davina has gone. In her replace we have the gurning awkwardness of BB2 winner Brian Dowling – a nice enough guy but not a natural presenter, particularly with a live crowd. There’s no live feed and the edited highlights are blatantly edited – including some bizarre musical montages to set up the various scenes. Maybe the one positive move is that viewers can now vote to save rather than evict. If we’d been able to do that on the real Big Brother (I bet I’m not alone in thinking the Five version isn’t real) then it would have been much more interesting in the final weeks which tended to be a bit of a love-in when the big personalities had been voted out by a short-sighted public with knee jerk reactions to their obnoxiousness.

I was sucked in for about five minutes but I’m over it already. The only thing worth tuning in for is to hope that Paddy from Big Fat Gypsy Weddings wins it – just to see the outraged reaction in the Daily Mail.

And what about the X Factor? It has seen an even bigger facelift – and one that was probably much more needed. Well, I say a big facelift. It’s actually just a change in the judges. Gone are the high-waisted trousers and perfect teeth of the Cowell, Cheryl’s big hair and vacuous platitudes and Dannii’s common sense. In comes Gary Barlow and his sense of humour that is drier than Robbie’s drinks cupboard, Kelly Rowland (the one in Destiny’s Child who isn’t Beyonce and who didn’t piss us all off on Strictly last year) and Tulisa off of N-Dubz. I will admit to being horrified at the appointment of the latter – I loathe N-Dubz, their chavvy image, their terrible music and their all too regular appearances on the Chris Moyles Show (a record that these days seems to be broken by Olly Murs, but more on him later). I don’t know much about Tulisa other than the fact that she talks with a street twang and is supposed to be “real”. She is also too young to be a judge, too niche to comment on mainstream music acts and, in her N-Dubz persona, absolutely the last person you want as a primetime role model for your kids. Allegedly Tulisa wasn’t actually dragged up on the streets of a rough council estate as she claims – she’s had a privileged upbringing and it’s all an act. If that were true (and to be honest, she seems smart enough to know she wouldn’t be able to cover something up to that extent), she’d be an even more terrible role model as why on earth try to hide you’ve had a decent start in life? Not convinced by either story really. There seem to be two Tulisas – Tulisa from N-Dubz, chavvy, street, aggressive. And real Tulisa – well spoken, articulate but not particularly inspiring. What annoys me is that she seems to accept that she needs to dumb down. I’m not a fanatical Cheryl fan but she has never pretended to be something she isn’t. It’ll be interesting to see how Tulisa gets on as she’ll need a clever combination of both personas to be a hit. It will also take a lot to convince me that she would be capable of mentoring a Rhydian, a Lucie Jones or a Ruth Lorenzo. Proper singers then. I doubt time will tell as she’ll probably get either the boys or the girls and go down the urban route. Go on Tulisa, prove me wrong!

The first audition show was a massive disappointment. The main focus was on the judges but as we’ve had so much build up about the wretched judges, I really don’t care. There weren’t many auditions and even less talent on display. In fact I can only think of five auditionees from the first hour and a bit of programme. So, what were they like?

First up was Frankie – a cocky 18 year old boy with the names of 7 girls tattooed on his arse, which he shows us. Classy. He is in it for the fame (so at least he’s honest) and tabloid reports since his appearance have told us he wants to sleep with as many girls as possible. He’s like Harry from Wand Erection without the posh boy facade. He sang a raspy version of The Zutons’ Valerie. It was – to borrow from Mr Cowell – distinctly average. Frankie obviously fancies himself as a bit of a stud rocker so it was quite amusing that his play-out music was the hideously bland and twee Wand Erection single – itself a total rip-off of a song from Glee. Very rock and roll then. Teenage girls like Frankie as he’s dangerous. He’s a twat. Predictably enough, Kelly and Tulisa react as if Robbie has just walked out on stage. Classy girls. Can’t help but think that Dannii would have smiled politely and said nothing!

Then we have Kitty – a carefully rehearsed Katie Waissel tribute act. She is a competent enough singer, a bit nasal and a bit shouty, certainly nothing special. But her “quirkiness” (i.e. carefully rehearsed spontenaiety) sees her through. I doubt she’ll make the live shows. Surely they learned from last year with Ms Weasel. Kitty has already been on something like 33 different TV shows. ’nuff said.

Next is Janet – she’s 16 and she’s very nervous and shy. This apparently excuses a weak vocal and we must worship her. She does a carbon copy of Ellie Goulding’s version of Your Song. It’s a bit too low for her and her breath control is appalling. She deserves to go through to boot camp but is not remotely original or exciting. She’s a bit like Diana Vickers but less original.

That’s it for the talent. The other two auditions of note are:

Goldie – a middle aged Asian woman who can’t sing a note, vomits repeatedly in the wings before taking to the stage (this was more tuneful than her singing) and who gives Gary a lapdance as the highlight of her act. Shockingly bad, so of course she goes through. Louis sighs – he has just seen the first of his top three when he inevitably gets the overs.

George – a returning auditionee who had a bit of an attitude problem two years ago and now wants to show us he has changed (innit). Amazingly Tulisa recognises him – which is odd as I could have sworn N-Dubz hated all things X Factor and didn’t watch it, let alone memorizing every crap audition … sorry, did I hear you say scripted? George can’t sing. He decides to go for an aggressive stroll round the judges table, stopping right by Tulisa who has been glaring aggressively in his direction since he took to the stage. She needs to work on her poker face. Predictably George then decides to have a go at the nation’s new sweetheart and with a carefully scripted put down she deals with him.

Obviously this wasn’t remotely set up to get a cynical public on side for the least well known judge? Oh no, of course not. Yawn …

And that’s it. After some initial whooping and screeching Kelly settled down well and will probably take the Dannii role of taking it all seriously and doing a good job. Gary tries a few Cowell-esque put-downs but generally comes over well – of course he does, he’s in Take That, what’s not to love?!!! Tulisa is fairly invisible, a few predictable cliches but she looks pretty. Louis is totally invisible, without Simon there to take the piss out of him, he’s lost his mojo, and his purpose on the panel.

I didn’t watch Xtra Factor. Last year it was compulsive car crash viewing with the dire Konnie Huq presenting, fluffing and screwing up all over the live stage. This year she has been replaced by the very competent Caroline Flack and loathesome Cowell puppet Olly Murs. Unfortuantely, Olly Murs is very high on my top five celebs I despise list. His “music” is so bland that it redefines the word, his cheeky chappie persona so grating that I have to switch off a TV when his vacant grin fills my screen and switch off the radio when his “I’m really fick but you love me anyway” Essex boy cockney wanker act comes over the airwaves. I just don’t get the appeal – an average looking lad with a huge ego and very average talent. So, no Xtra Factor for me.

The success of this year’s X Factor will only be something we can judge when we get to the live shows – last year was ruined by manipulation from the judges – sending home good acts in favour of headline grabbers and relentless promotion of mini Cheryl (Cher) and shambolic miming boyband Wand Erection. This year’s judges only need to let the acts do the talking and I’ll prefer them (even Tulisa) … time will tell. Whether I’ll be watching when we get to that stage remains to be seen!

At the moment, despite the changes it’s all a bit “same old shit … different channel, different panel”.

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100 words for stylist.co.uk … “All Aboard”

So, stylist.co.uk is running a daily microfiction competition, in which you have to write 100 words based on a photo. Here’s today’s image for inspiration:

Man getting on train

All Aboard!

All entires had to be posted between 10am and 3pm. I saw the image at 10 to 3. Unfortunately my work laptop is on the go slow of all go slows today. By 5 to 3 I had my little story. Then my laptop crashed and now it’s too late. Boo! Anywhere, here are my typically morbid 100 words of fiction:

Sunday evening in any northern town. Friends, families and lovers are busy enjoying the weekend’s last gasp in the late summer sunshine. But I’m standing alone on a grey platform waiting for a grey train to take me 200 miles from my home and my heart to a new life in London’s grey city of no soul. As half-dazed memories of our last painful farewell skip through my head I contemplate stepping out into the abyss. Teetering. A snap decision and a rush of grey steel in front of my eyes and the moment has passed. This time. All aboard.

Oh well, there’s always tomorrow …

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Words words words, I’m so SICK of words

Being a grammar nazi and language snob, there are a lot of words that pop up regularly in marketing copy that do my head in. I have a major aversion to anybody who refers to their office space as “[name of company] Towers”. It’s particularly prevalent amongst media owners. Heat Towers. Absolute Radio Towers. News International Towers … well, probably not so much these days … I also find myself massively tutting and rolling my eyes at people referring to anything as “shiny” and “new”. If you work for the Royal Mint and have just launched a new coin with my face on it then, yeah, you may have a point. As that is not only shiny and new but also sycophantic enough to press all my buttons. I digress. My objection … you are highly unlikely to have a shiny new website. Or a shiny new Facebook page. Or, worst of all, a shiny new newsletter (too many uses of the word news to scan properly you see, grammar suicide).

But I’ll forgive you. My pet hate of the week is a word that should never be seen away from the pages of a 1950s children’s novel, filled with lovely posh kids drinking lashings of ginger beer and solving petty crimes. Or in a computer geek’s well-thumbed comic about a mutant handyman who by night wears his underpants outside his trousers and saves the city from evil.


Super? Really?

What on earth would possess anybody to use the word “super” in marketing copy that aims to engage young and intelligent people in social events?

Sadly, if you enter the word “super” into the search box on my company’s intranet (and disregard the techy stuff that nobody reads about super-users for new-fangled IT equipment), you will find the word used to the sort of excess that your stereotype tourette’s sufferer is alleged to use the “c” word.

Win a super Christmas hamper.
Come along to our super summer drinks night.
Take advantage of this super discount on theatre tickets.
Last week’s quiz was a super evening.
There is a super new range of sandwiches in the café.
I can guarantee you a super time.

It’s super annoying. And really lazy writing.

Unsurprisingly our social events are not massively over-subscribed. Probably because our 800 staff don’t live in the 1950s or a Marvel comic..

Like them, I don’t want to know that at Christmas the party will be super. I want to know about the free bar and the crap DJ.

Do I need my sandwiches to be super? Or do I want them to be cheap?

Was the quiz a super evening? Or was it quite funny to get drunk on free booze and watch the nerds from research get into a row with the office history buff over the date man first landed on the moon?

My rage at this inoffensive, twee little word has seen me logging onto the intranet from home and editing copy late at night. Unfortunately while I do this, our office “Super Man” is logging onto my brilliantly crafted articles and adding his five letters of doom. It’s a vicious circle. It’s a chicken and egg situation. I’m going to have to phone my intranet super-user to ask for a solution …

Next week I will mostly be ranting about swear word substitutes.

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