One of my favourite albums of all time, Radiohead’s devastating dystopian masterpiece OK Computer, will be 10 years old this June. When I first read this, I could hardly believe it. But this disbelief is an all too common emotion these days… the relentless march of time really does appear to be speeding up, damn it. However, this anniversary got me thinking about my life back in 1997. And my golly, how things have changed. It feels like 20 years ago.
1997 was one of the wettest summers last century and on a very grey London day, in a bright silver, grey dress I got wed. Thom Yorke’s brooding, mournful voice and the multi textured musical sounds were a big part of the day (at least the reception) and indeed the rest of the year. And into 1998. I listened to OK Computer so much when I was pregnant with my first child that when he was restless and agitated as a baby it was Thom and co.’s sounds that calmed him down.
However, what struck me most about my life 10 years ago was just how small a part computers, and technology, played in it. I did have a pc – given to me by a techie cousin who is now persona non grata following a bitter family feud – one that even had Windows ‘95 on it. But it was something that sat in the corner of our tiny Brixton flat, dusty and barely used, looking out at our busy lives with its large grey eye, winking at us occasionally when we remembered to turn it on. It must have been quite lonely.
I typed the odd letter and article on the thing and understood from more up to date colleagues that you could do all sorts of wonderful things on it – like mail merging and spread sheets. But I had little need of such things. If I wanted to research something I had to trek to the local library, or Collingwood, holidays were booked at a travel agent and if I needed to know the time of the next train to say, Chester, I phoned national rail and a real, live person gave me the options. Friends telephoned – on landlines – and distant aunts and friends overseas received, mostly handwritten, letters.
I had never heard of email or the internet, let alone used it. I didn’t ‘discover’ email until around the millennium; it could well have been 2001 before I took to it in earnest. But take to it I did, like the proverbial duck to water. As did the rest of the world. Now I cannot imagine how I got by without it but I do find myself wondering how healthy it is. Like all things, best in moderation, perhaps. After all a telephone call can resolve some things in minutes – things that take up inordinate amounts of to-ing and fro-ing via email, or worse, text. I can type pretty quickly but I simply don’t have a well developed enough thumb to text that fast and can’t be fagged to get to grips with predictive programmes. And I know it’s been said a gazillion times before but are we losing the ability to communicate properly – person to real, live person? Also, it’s not often said but computers do malfunction and break down and generally don’t do as they’re told. And we all know how infuriating that can be. There are online games which allow you to thump a pc, smash it to smithereens and I’ll bet some of us have given the real thing a beating. I’ve certainly smacked a few and raged at them. But I wouldn’t dream of smacking a child and yet, computers are still in their infancy. Who knows what they’ll be able to do in another 10 years time. Run our lives for us I expect. They could take over, they’re pretty close already.
So back in 1997 when Radiohead railed against the optimistic zeitgeist and sang of paranoid androids, subterranean homesick aliens, globalisation and being let down they were on many levels, particularly in relation to technology, prophetic. You have been warned.
There was a really fascinating article by writer Nick Louth on MSN recently (read the full piece here http://money.uk.msn.com/Investing/Insight/Special_Features/Active_Investor/article.aspx?cp-documentid=892488) in which he asks the question ‘Are kids worth it?’ He presents a strong argument against having children, mostly financial, but finally reveals himself as a dad and concludes: “However daft it may seem to economists, parental altruism still seems to earn a fat return in love. When so much in the world boils down to pounds and pence, it is somehow comforting that the relationship between parents and their kids isn’t like that.When it comes to kids, love may cost us dear, but we don’t care.”
There was much in the piece that got me thinking, as well as wanting to punch the computer screen with indignant rage – how dare he compare kids to a financial investment! – but it was his last comment that stuck. Love does indeed cost us dear and not only when it comes to kids. In the early stages of love affairs I have maxed out the credit cards on lavish weekends away in fantastically expensive hotels, bought expensive gifts and love tokens that I can ill afford, gone completely crazy in Top Shop, French Connection etc. for THE outfit, run up monstrous mobile bills, taken time off work to indulge my passion, and so on and so on. I’m not unusual. We all do completely barmy things when we fall in love and things being what they are in the Western world most of them cost. Not to mention the expense when love breaks down…Children are no different. But thankfully our emotional life is not dictated to by pounds, shillings and pence and love, especially the unconditional variety that comes with kids, is the most powerful emotion of them all. And even if you’ve not got a pot to pee in if you love and are loved then you are truly rich.
I saw Supernanny on Channel 4 last night and as I watched the clueless couple and their offspring fighting tooth and nail I got that lovely warm ‘at least I’m not that hopeless at parenting’ feeling. I often tune in to ‘corrective’ reality TV programmes like Supernanny to make myself feel better about my parenting abilities, wrinkles, dress sense and so on. And there are lots of you out there who do the same if the ratings are anything to go by. For sure you can pick up the odd useful tip – God knows when Supernanny first aired ‘naughty steps’ sprang up everywhere in my neighbourhood – but mostly we watch to feel good about ourselves and either mock the poor suckers on the telly or experience the ‘there by the grace of God go I’ feeling.
Last night’s couple had two boys who were allowed to fall asleep on the sofa in front of the telly each evening. In this information abundant age it amazes me that some people simply haven’t worked out that a solid bedtime regime is good for kids, not to mention how good it is for parents who get some grown up time and with it a chance to hold onto their sanity. Do these people not talk to their own parents or friends with children for tips and handy hints? Do they not read the exhaustive manual that came courtesy of the health centre before baby was even born covering all manner of topics from tooth care to childhood illnesses and immunisation? Of course they don’t, but just about everyone I know does. Where do the production companies who make these programmes find their subjects, for they are nothing like anyone I’ve come across at the school gates? And that’s the key… On the whole those who appear on reality TV programmes are nothing like those who make or watch the finished products. Telly people even have a code when selecting participants… they are never PLUs – People Like Us. So there it is. Programmes made by the supersmug for the supersmug. Mind you, my seven year old kicked off big time this morning and boy did I struggle to bring him under control… not feeling quite so self-satisfied now. Must refer to that manual.
I was talking with a friend at the weekend. We were pondering the look of the future. Not clothes, or buildings or cars or anything. People – what people (westerners) might look like in, let’s say, 40 or 50 years time. Once the preserve of the very rich and famous, cosmetic surgery is now commonplace, even amongst mere mortals. We all know someone who’s been done – even if it’s a so-called non-surgical procedure like botox or a chemical peel.
My mate and I are rather old fashioned and like to think that we can hold out against the surgery tidal wave and grow old, if not gracefully, at least reasonably naturally. But we are of an age when we are starting to talk more and more (no, not quite incessantly) about the relentlessness of the march of time and the often devastating effects it can have on one’s appearance, and my motto has always been never say never…
Back to the future and last Saturday lunchtime’s idle chat. We talked products, procedures and surgery. Do any of them really hold back the effects of time? Hardly. I’ve never seen anyone who’s had surgery and genuinely thought they look younger after it (and God knows, I watch enough of those 10 years younger type programmes and read enough glossies). Better, mostly. But not younger. Even now in these medically advanced techno glorious times surgery only touches the surface and a good haircut, flattering, fashionable clothes and decent make up can work wonders. Costs a lot less too. Most people who have had surgery simply look like older people who have been Done. Others look plain weird. The exception for me is in dentistry and a good bleaching can take years off you – but do beware the Osmond’s style veneers. Very spooky, very American and very ‘Done’.
Of course not all cosmetic surgery is bad – breast reduction for the extremely well endowed can improve health, physical and mental, no end. Facial rebuilding following car accidents or disease offers the chance to look normal once again. But the key issue here is that on the whole the work needs to be done only once. Women who undergo breast augmentation in their twenties are looking at surgery every 10 years – when do they stop? At 50? 60? How do their breasts look then, with skin elasticity virtually nil and no silicon? When does one stop the facelifts? At 70? 80? Does your face hit your chest when you do? What are the effects of 60 sessions of botox on the forehead (first shot in your thirties or forties, twice a year)?
My friend and I agreed that one possible future is a society divided into the Dones and the Naturals, the smaller group forming a sub-culture all of its own. Maybe it will be hip to be natural… the toothless, grey and wrinkled will rise up and celebrate old age in all its ghastliness? Or what if those who hold out against surgical enhancement are in the minority? Will they be pushed out of sight, ignored and abused? Given that money will no doubt be a determining factor it could be yet another way of marking out the poor and powerless in our world? And given that we change our scapegoats regularly in 40 years time the bete noire of society won’t be asylum seekers but it could be Naturals…
What a lot of brouhaha there’s been following the news that Sophia Loren will appear in next year’s Pirelli calendar. As you’d expect most of it has focused on the fact that La Loren is almost 72 years old, just a smidgen older than another Oscar winning actress Dame Judi Dench, and the last time she posed nude – that’s Loren and not our Judi you understand – was as a fresh faced and, crucially, unknown starlet aged sweet sixteen. It has since been confirmed that the iconic Italian actress will, very patriotically, be wearing a dress by Georgio Armani so the nudity thing ceases to be an issue. A piece in last week’s Grazia magazine shows that the age thing rumbles on …
I may be a dummy but I just don’t get it. Sophia Loren is drop dead gorgeous. She was as a young woman, as a middle aged woman and unsurprisingly – to me at least – is as a mature woman. The truly, classically, preternaturally beautiful tend to remain beautiful regardless of the unrelenting march of time – Honor Blackman, Julie Christie, Audrey Hepburn, Rachel Welch, Lauren Bacall, Twiggy and Cindy Crawford to name the first few that pop into my head. Of course they’ve changed a bit, but isn’t change good? Now I’m aware that some of these lovelies have been surgically enhanced but it’s been done subtly; they look like older glamour pusses rather than weird alien beings from Star Wars II like many American actresses who shall remain nameless. And the Pirelli calendar – probably the most famous and prestigious glamour calendar of all time – is all about honouring beauty. What ever its age. We should be celebrating this shift in our culture rather than slamming Loren for doing something supposedly undignified for a woman of her advanced years.
As Ms Loren said herself it’s fun and much more importantly it sends out a good message. Being older doesn’t have to mean that you cease to be attractive and sexy, stop having a laugh, hold back from new experiences, etc, etc. Signs of this shift are everywhere. Big companies are choosing older faces – Madonna for Versace, Jane Fonda, Andie MacDowell for L’Oréal, Elizabeth Hurley still holds on to her Estée Lauder contract, the list goes on. There are those who will argue that Loren is not representative of female OAPs and you know what, I’d agree. But hell, Penélope Cruz and Naomi Watts who also appear in the 2007 calendar are hardly representative of your average 30 something. The glamour and beauty industry is all about aspiration and aesthetics. If you’re in the public arena and easy on the eye you may get offered a beauty contract. If you’ve a lot to say or you write wonderful stories you may get published. Horses for courses. I for one like looking at beautiful images of gorgeous people, no matter what their date of birth.
And the best thing is that the Italian siren will appear in a normal Pirelli calendar, not a specially made for the oldies, making a political statement one like the Women’s Institute calendar of a few years back – spunky though it was. Beauty is not the preserve of the very young. Anyway, she won’t look like a wrinkly – she’ll be air brushed to within an inch of her life…
I hate it when people say: “If you really want to do it, you can make time.” What a load of old cobblers. We use time, we can’t make it. And those who spout this kind of nonsense are not parents of young children who have jobs and any kind of a social life. Unless they are one of that rare breed like Mrs Thatcher who require five minutes sleep a night. Of course if I really want to do something, like most people, I go ahead and do it. But, and here’s the rub, something has to give. So by spending time writing that short story for the flash fiction competition I subject my family to a week of: living in a pig sty/having no clean clothes to wear/ no food in the cupboard/forgotten lunch boxes, money for the school trip etc/ repeated messages from friends asking why I’ve not returned their calls/ calls from irate clients asking where the latest draft of x,y,z is/ calls from the school/nursery asking why I‘ve not picked the kids up/ a mother who stinks with hair that wouldn’t look out of place on a yak (delete one item only). You get my drift.
And I’m pretty lucky. I’ve a bloke who is not totally adverse to washing dishes and putting the kids to bed. But the truth is that there simply isn’t enough time in the day to get everything done. How did we get to this point I often ask myself? We have all manner of labour saving devices. But we also have all manner of time gobbling gizmos – email, texts, answer phones, the internet. We’re expected to spend oodles of time improving ourselves in all manner of ways – as parents, as lovers, as home makers, as professionals, as friends. And if we’re to keep our friends we have to be totally up to date with Lost/Big Brother/Desperate Housewives. Schools and nurseries send kids home with enough paperwork for parents to read and deal with to require a small area of rainforest to be felled each week. Then there are the kids’ social arrangements and activities…And we spend more time with our kids than parents in the 70s ever did. I’m exhausted just thinking about it all. No wonder I haven’t had time to pen the 21st century version of War and Peace. And another thing, I’ve my blog to write…ahhhhh.
“There is never enough time, unless you’re serving it.” Malcolm Forbes, author and publisher.
A friend who has been away travelling for six months returned home last week. Her aged father had not wanted her to go away at all so on her return she put aside personal needs and hoofed it back to her ancestral home. To her utter astonishment the old man did not enquire as to her well being or about her adventures in the Far East, Antipodes and Americas but proceeded to rattle on about his own (dull) existence. As she was recounting the misery of the visit it occured to me that his behaviour was far from unusual. Indeed I’d argue it was typical of the over 70s. Let’s face it how many times have you visited an older relative to spend two hours sat in an overheated room, sipping sweet tea listening to them narrate, in miniscule detail, the story of the operation that Mrs Jones from next door but two’s daughter (who you have never met) had on her gammy knee? Or something similar? Not only are some older people cantankerous old buggers they are self-absorbed and parochial in the extreme. Worse of all, they can be as boring as hell.
I have made my husband promise to organise my immediate euthanasia if I display any symptoms of becoming a self-obsessed old girl. Anyway, less about the old folk let’s get back to more interesting subjects, me…
How I cheered when I read recently that skinny jeans are on the way out and that the boy-cuts’ star was in the ascendancy on planet fashion. Since the rise of skinny jeans the generational divide, leg wear wise, has been clearly marked. A few short years ago it was (almost) impossible to age a woman by her choice of denim – not so in the past couple. No mature woman of right mind larger than a size 6, except a blessed few including Kate Moss, would dare to venture out in a pair. Unforgiving and uncomfortable only fashion slaves in desperate need of an eye test and the criminally insane ventured into skinny territory. And let’s face it there’s a clue in the name, though really skinny would have been more descriptive. I have never felt more gargantuan than when, in a moment of utter madness, I tried on a pair of skinnies. Teenagers look fab in them even (strangely) those who commit the now unforgivable crime of being larger than a size 12. It’s their youth that allows them to carry skinnies off. Young fat is firm fat and older fat wobbles in a distinctly different, and much more unattractive, way.
So hurrah, hurrah for fickle fashion. Skinnies out, baggies in. I’ve been the proud owner of a pair of Top Shop boy cuts for two years now and they are without a doubt my favourite pair of jeans. I wear them a zillion times more than my boot cuts, straight legs, cropped, knee highs and so on. Comfortable, flattering and now edgy – what more could a mature girl want! Oh, banishment to fashion wilderness for leggings…
I am so bloody excited about my new blog that it’s verging on the tragic. Unless it’s my excitement at the forthcoming England match that’s spilling over into other aspects of my (desperately unexciting) life. Still haven’t done the mountain of washing up downstairs so perhaps not… The Beautiful Game – yes, once every four years I rediscover the artistry, grace and awesome loveliness of football, or is that footballers? I love David Beckham. His talent, his style, even his peculiar little voice. But I love the World Cup more. I love the excuse to loll around watching loads of telly, hollering and shouting at the top of my voice, drinking beer and behaving like a bloke. I love the rampant tribalism, the feeling of being part of a great big, massive gang with a mutual goal (sorry), the heady optimism of believing that we stand a chance of holding that little gold cup aloft. Although as my 7 year old son pointed out the other day, it’s not a cup at all, rather more like a strange tasteless ornament that your gran might once have proudly displayed on her sideboard. Whatever, it’s what the thing represents that counts. So what exactly does it represent? The best in the world? The luckiest in the world? And does it really matter? Well of course not, in the grand scheme of things – as, say, compared to global warming, the conflict in the Middle East, child abuse and so on. However, it’s bloody good fun and I’m all for that. There’s not enough of it around. Likewise optimism and community spirit. It’s not often we get to feel like we’re part of something bigger than ourselves, we’re all rather insular these days, and big footie competitions like the World Cup have the potential to bring us all together, albeit in a small way. And OK, it’s a total illusion – one that we’re all complicit in – but an injection of magic and faith into our lives is all right by me. As is the bonhomie. I enjoy chance conversations with complete strangers, the nod and wink you get from others who wear their (English) hearts on their sleeves, hats, cars and even flips flops. Yes flip flops. I saw flip flops in the shop window of Primark yesterday with soles decorated with the St George cross. What a gas. It’s rare for us Brits to speak with fellow members of the human race on buses, tubes, in the supermarket etc. unless the weather is uncommonly rubbish or good and I’m all for anything that gets us doing more of that. The World Cup also facilitates pride in England and Englishness – an elusive quality most of the time – and during the World Cup Englishness is defined by our national team and their achievements. It’s also been defined by the behaviour of our fans but let’s put the distasteful aspects to one side for a moment. Like the trophy itself the World Cup competition throws off a warm, golden light. It casts a spell. A trick of a tournament. We are one nation, one community. We are great. At least until we get knocked out following a penalty shoot out. Ouch. COME ON ENGLAND!
Am I the only mother to suffer from this affliction? Getting back into some kind of shape after the birth of a baby is a priority for many women. That and getting some sleep and time to ourselves (ha ha). But whilst we’re focussing on our tums, bums and boobs all kinds of weird things could be happening to other, often neglected, areas of our bodies.I imagine my problem is mostly confined to women who, like me, have produced more than one thumping big baby. Both sons’ birth weights topped the 8lbs mark – my first boy was closer to 9lbs and my second only missed such dizzy heights because he was whipped out two weeks early. As toddlers they were best described as ‘solid’. Lugging them here, there and everywhere meant that there was no need to focus, exercise wise, on the upper arm area. They were weight training in themselves. In fact my youngest isn’t quite three so I’m still hauling him round when he decides that his (chubby) little legs cannot walk any further. He rarely gets into his buggy these days. So what’s your problem you may be asking? Well, the easiest way to cart a small child round is to plonk him or her on your hip and support their back with your arm. As with other things, like handwriting, I tend to favour one side. And though I do shift them to the opposite side on occasion this is usually only once chronic stitch has set in. I’m right handed, or right sided, and I have noticed that my right arm, bicep to be precise, is considerably larger than my left. I’m lop-armed. When I pointed this out to my fella he confirmed my fears, laughed and commented that I now resemble a Russian shot-putter. Actually, it was me that made the Russian shot-putter reference but the point is he didn’t deny it. My dilemma is whether or not to try and work my left arm up to the same level of beefiness as my right for balance? Or stick to wearing three quarter length sleeves in dark colours to disguise my problem? Much as I admire the fabulous Mrs Ritchie I really don’t want to be as muscle bound as she is in any area of my body. And whilst I’ve been obsessing about my chunky arm my stomach has started developing too – outwards. Yikes!