Thursday, February 22, 2007


This week, I have begun the first of four weeks working in Camden. Which is quite a departure from my usual Southbank base... and the re-introduction of commuting (after nearly four years) into my life is quite a shock. Normally, I take a brisk walk along the Embankment to work, which sets my head up for a day of air-conditioning and strip-lighting in front of a computer screen. So coughing up £53(!) for a bus pass is quite a shock to the system. I hope Ken is spending my money wisely.

I had envisaged spending my bus journeys immersed in books essential to the MA and decided that this would be a good use of time. But I quickly learnt that buses are full of Other People, which is not a good thing. Other People, it seems, spend their bus journeys talking loudly and pointlessly into their mobile phones, coughing in a disgusting manner, arguing with the driver, and generally dribbling on the windows. All of which makes me feel unwell. So, unable to read, I have spent my journeys plugged into my iPod trying to pretend that it's not really happening. All of this cements my knowledge that surely I am meant for Better Things, but I think P is tiring of my pleas for him to make more money so that I can abandon work and actually live my life, rather than exist in it.

This morning, I noticed an abandoned record shop on Camden High Street, formerly called Reckless Records. The windows were washed with that white paint familiar to closed-down shops... But what was really sad was that, from the inside, the former owner had written "No Hope" with their finger in the paint. Considering that I am immersed in Michael Bracewell's 1980s books about dissatisfaction, it all seemed extra poignant.

A good thing about working in Camden is that I am working with my old friend CG, so I have some moral support in my 'There Must Be More To Life Than This' campaign. Our lunchtimes this week have been spent either devouring chocolate muffins as we whinge about men (her), work (me) and Other People (both of us); or abusing the privilege of working for someone we’ve both known for years and taking a two hour lunch break to go to the gym. Yesterday, I surpassed my own personal best, and ran 5k in 25 minutes. I'm warming up for a charity run in the summer, and hope that at this rate I shall get through the whole thing in 10 minutes. But when I suggested this to Paul The Personal Trainer last night, he seemed doubtful that that would be humanly possible. I shall prove him wrong. In the meantime, please sponsor me, as all the money goes to trying to find a cure for breast cancer.

Wednesday, February 21, 2007

The British Library

This isn't the kind of thing I'd normally put on this site, but I've been made aware that the ridiculous men who 'govern' our country are planning to cut the British Library's budget... meaning that the opening hours will be dramatically slashed and we will be charged to use the reading rooms (bad news for students, and also defeats the purpose of a national library that's open to all).

There is a petition on the Prime Minister's website, and please consider signing it. The British Library is an essential resource, and it will be a terrible thing if the hours are cut any more and we have to pay to use it.

Tuesday, February 20, 2007

Site Meter

Every now and then I do look at my 'Site Meter' to see who's been looking at my blog and where they've come from, and I noticed an influx of people from a website called Slate, so I went and took a look. Apparently the folk at Slate, which seems to assess the news of the day as discussed on the web, had taken a shine to my anti-Gillian McKeith comments. So I've added a link to them here, as I approve.

This week, I am pleased to welcome readers from as far afield as Massachusetts, Dakar, Athens and Slough. Welcome one, welcome all.

Monday, February 19, 2007


And I've seen some films. (I'm only adopting this approach to catch up since I've been slack - it's not a new tack).

"Little Miss Sunshine"
A heart-warmingly endearing tale of a gently eccentric family trekking across American in a camper van to get to an inappropriate beauty pagent. Most enjoyable.

"My Beautiful Launderette"
A repeat viewing of Kureishi's classic as background study for the essay. I've seen it many times and there's always something new in the downtrodden but debauched carryings on.

"The Last Of England"
Derek Jarman's anti-Thather, experimental view on society. "Tomorrow has been cancelled due to lack of interest." More essay research. Tilda Swinton is in it. Is that a good thing? Don't know.

"Once Upon A Time In The Midlands"
Shane Meadows is this country's finest young director. He has yet to make a duff film. This one's a bit of an ensemble piece now that he has a reputation, but he's always pulled in the names. Not his best work, but certainly not shit.


It has occurred to me that I am supposed to be writing primarily about books on this blog... but lately I have been more preoccupied with talking about fancy spas and disgusting celebs. So I shall attempt to rectify that with a brief catch up of my literary endeavours...

WG Sebald: "The Rings Of Saturn"
This is one for the MA. I started it about a month ago and need to finish it by tomorrow. The trouble is that, while being beautifully written, it is so dull that I am unable to stay awake long enough to read more than a few pages. The other problem is that since it has no structure whatsoever (being a terribly clever and postmodern attempt to dissolve the framework of the novel) I am unable to concentrate on what I am reading, and spend more time wondering what I need to buy at Sainsbury's later. Red snapper, sugar snaps, rocket...

Alan Warner: "The Sopranos"
Another MA one, however I read this by choice years ago and loved it. I'm getting much more out of it the second time around and have nearly finished it. The debauched tale of five or six Scottish choir girls let loose in Edinburgh for the day. Highly recommended. Takes a leaf out of Irvine Welsh's mythical guide to writing a book in Scottish. Don't let that put you off though.

Michael Bracewell: "The Crypto-Amnesia Club"
My tutor suggested this as a possible for my next essay (on how literature reflects Thatcher's ideas of a society-less society), alongside Amis's "Money". So I sped through the 110 pages in two hours. It's very self-conscious and wanky as the title suggests, but it also seems very true of the late '80s nightclub scene and general dissatisfaction with life. I read Bracewell's "Saint Rachel" years ago and considered it to be cod-"Prozac Nation", and why would anyone need that?

Hanif Kureishi: "Sammy And Rosie Get Laid"
I read the script and accompanying diaries (fascinating) thinking it might tie in with my essay (see above), but have since decided the Indian connection is making life more complicated - as I only have 5,000 words. But I may change my mind back as I love Kureishi's stuff. The concepts of anarchy and outrage appeal to my inner teen.

There have been more, but I think these are the most significant...

Friday, February 16, 2007


As I sat on the bus this morning, I was mulling over some really grim celebrity gossip I was privvy to yesterday. Now, in the course of my work I hear all sorts of things about all sorts of people. But yesterday I heard something extra special... about someone extra grim... who got married earlier this week. In all honesty, I've heard quite a few off-the-record nasty things about said person this week, but what I heard yesterday made even cynical-old-me cringe in disgust and left a vile picture in my mind (even now it's causing me to wince). So it's fair to say that when I got home last night, and P revealed the nitty gritty of a separate celeb's hanky panky with a royal (in full detail), I didn't have much stomach for it. Sometimes, I really have to question the integrity of what I do for a living.

However, as I sit here now, waiting for the cromalins to turn up, (7.40pm on a Friday with no sign of going home for at least another four hours and yes, I have been here since 10am) I've been considering how much longer I can really hack it. As much as I've enjoyed (if 'enjoy' is the right word) 'urgh'-ing and 'yuk'-ing over the salacious tales I hear from industry insiders, there is a large part of me that finds it all desperately sad. Sad that readers find the heavily-edited lives of these losers fascinating (I could understand it more if they knew what REALLY went on), and sad that people are making millions out of it. So a certain part of me is relieved that I have a three week booking at a homes magazine coming up... surely my morals will be safe there, sandwiched between a spread on sofas and an article about plumbing - or am I straying into dangerous territory again?

One final word... for all that I've said above, when The Gordon Ramsay Story (yes, THAT one) finally breaks, I shall be the first in line to buy my copy of the News Of The World. I might even frame it. Tee hee. Some things ARE worth sharing.

Monday, February 12, 2007

Gillian McKeith Be Gone

Hurray! At last, the loathsome Gillian McKeith has been exposed for the sham witch doctor we always knew her to be. I write this with a flurry, fresh from reading The Guardian's gleeful slamming of the TV 'doctor'. Tee hee.

It was September 2004 when I was first alerted to Gillian's false credentials. I spent a month working on the launch of Reveal magazine, for which 'Dr' Gillian was then employed as their resident health columnist. And one of my colleagues (a former health journalist on one of the broadsheets) couldn't help but express his fury at the fact she had bought her credentials from an American website. So much so that every time her name was mentioned, you could almost see him frothing at the mouth. I imagine that he is currently jumping for joy, and salivating for a different reason.

Everyone who knows me is aware of my loathing and distrust of GPs who, in my experience (and, boringly, I have had ample experience), know very little about not much. Example? A friend of P's went to his GP several times recently complaining that things didn't seem right but his GP dismissed him each time. The result? Said friend is having surgery for cancer today (after ignoring GP and seeking out a proper doctor). Another example? My sister-in-law went three times to her GP saying she thought she had gall stones, but he ignored her. The result? She collapsed and was ambulanced to hospital with potentially fatal pancreatitis (caused by the gall stones having become infected since nobody took them out - which would have been a run of the mill thing).

GPs? The clue is in the name. GENERAL practitioners. McKeith may have claimed to be a nutritionist (rather than a GP) but her sham qualifications are as bad as theirs. Let's hope this is the end of her TV career.

Body Shock

Today, I returned to work after a two week break. So yesterday - my body reacting to its embedded allergy at the concept of work - I developed a stinking cold and spent much of the day moping around, downing Diet Coke and making woeful eyes at patient P.

It was all rather unfortunate as Mrs M had come to stay for the weekend, but we had a good time anyway. She appeared on Friday morning (interrupting my new favourite TV show, "Homes Under The Hammer") to drop off her case, and reappeared in the evening when P and I met her in Fitzrovia for dinner at Chez Gerard and then to go to the Drill Hall to listen to a few recordings of Radio 4's "The Wright Stuff", which was more entertaining than I'd expected. Sebastian "Birdsong" Faulks, eh? Who knew he had a decent sense of humour?

On Saturday, Mrs M and I took a trip down memory lane by going to Portobello Market. (Memory lane for me, since I spent four years living nearby; and memory lane for her, since she spent much of the '60s hanging out there when it was far cooler than it is now). My current favourite thing about Portobello? Tamara Fogle (Ben's sister) who sells handbags.

Yesterday, we managed to stumble five minutes round the corner to Tate Britain, where I sneezed, coughed and spluttered my way round a few Francis Bacon's and John Piper's, before giving up and and coming back to the flat to cook lunch for Mum before she got her train... which allowed me to retreat to bed and watch "The Dreamers" on DVD. I'd read the book a few years ago and deemed it "OK-I-suppose", but the film left much to be desired. Unlike "Cocktail", which the ever-reliable Channel Five saw fit to screen last night and proved just the tonic. Hurrah for Tom Cruise.

Thursday, February 08, 2007

De La Soul

Last night, Big P and I went to the Camden Jazz Cafe to see De La Soul, who are in the middle of a two week residency. And they were amazing.

The support came from a Willesden fella, Doc Brown, who was really inspired. Complete with a range of excellent guest vocalists, he was a pretty fine support act for De La Soul - which is surely no mean feat.

And the boys themselves are pure, accomplished pros who seem to be having a really good time... more than that, my personal favourite - Prince Paul - returned from his many, many sidelines to join them on stage. It's difficult to find a favourite moment from a 90 minute set packed with humour, talent and damn fine beats, but I guess if forced to choose, I'd have to go for the 'cooking segment', where DLA attempted to cook (on top of a gas ring) the perfect recipe for the perfect hip hop track. That, and the encore of "A Rollerskating Jam Named Saturday".

In contrast, AB and I are going to see "The Phantom Of The Opera" tonight. Who says that life can't be varied?

Wednesday, February 07, 2007

Bath Spa

It was my birthday yesterday... I am now officially that little bit older. And to mark the occassion, P and I went to Bath (again) from Sunday to Tuesday. The main reason was to indulge in a spa day at the fantastic new Thermae Bath Spa, which was their millennium project and opened last year (only six years behind schedule!). What an amazing experience! Everyone knows Bath is famous for the Roman Baths and the healing powers of the water, so the Thermae people have made the most of this with a fantastic new centre, virtually next door, consisting of three naturally heated pools, a room full of aromatherapy steam rooms, an astounding treatment centre, a swanky restaurant and probably more. For our £95, we had a two course lunch, two hour-long treatments and unlimited use of everything... including the open-air roof top pool: surely the best thing about a thoroughly great thing (see picture and no, that's not me, it's a generic picture from their website!).

We also found time to go and see "Notes On A Scandal" at the cinema, which I was particularly interested in seeing after everyone on my script writing course last year smugly told me that my script was identical to this one. I'm pleased to say... I can see many, many differences. But then I would say that. Cate and Judi were excellent, and it is rare to see such a down-to-earth, no frills, gritty British film.

However, less impressive was Billie Piper in the opening night of her debut stage play "Treats" at Bath Theatre Royal - also starring Kris Marshall (from "My Family" and the annoying BT ads). Billed as a comedy, the mis-named "Treats" is an incredibly short play about a tedious love triangle... which bears no resemblance to a treat. The whole thing comes to the Garrick in London next week, and sadly P and I anticipate that Billie's West End debut will be critically panned. But maybe we'll be proved wrong. It wasn't so much the acting skills of Billie, Kris and the other one, more the complete lack of plot or any trace of subtle sub plot. Perhaps we, erm, lost the plot altogether? Still, it was enjoyable enough and Kris Marshall provoked a few laughs.

We're back in London now and off to see De La Soul tonight in Camden... so expect more on that soon.

Friday, February 02, 2007

Pen Pusher 4

A few weeks ago I picked up a copy of the fourth issue of Pen Pusher magazine, which, because it is also their first anniversary issue, comes in a champagne gold cover. Lovely. I was excited about the magazine because it includes my feature on the Victorian literary legends Thomas and Jane Carlyle. But the reason I've held off mentioning it is this...

As someone who has subbed a lot of copy for many years, I realise that subs believe they can write better than other people. However, I feel that the sub who handled my copy took an unusual approach to the business – leaving it reading as if two people who had never met had written it (the printed feature was alternate paragraphs by me, and alternate paragraphs by a sub writing in the style of Heat magazine).

I've mulled this over for a few weeks. And having gone from "What if someone I know sees it?" to resigned disappointment, I've decided to do the grown up thing: have a whinge on my blog-that-no-one-reads and leave it at that. I just hope the people at Persephone don't see it (it features one of their books) as it would completely blow any tiny chance I had of them ever considering asking me one day, in the dim and distant future, to fulfil my dream and write a preface to one of their books (after I've written my thesis on a Persephone-related topic and alerted Persephone to my literary genius. Ho hum.)

But when all is said and done, the Pen Pusher people are good-hearted and generous enough to put out a free magazine four times a year, on high quality paper with a professional look to the whole thing, and fill it with contributions from those they meet who share their enthusiasm for books. And there's not many people who get off their arses and actually do something.

A Week Off - Part One

It's been a quiet week on the VE blog, as I've been "working from home" (a polite way of saying "unemployed"), and I never like to spend much time infront of a computer when I'm not being paid to. But rest assured, it's been far from a quiet week in my world.

Embracing the prospect of a fortnight left to my own devices I've been doing all the things I'd like to do if only my time was my own. Highlights include:

Thanks to a free trial from Love Film, I've been watching DVDs of "My Summer Of Love" (very, very good - Paddy Considine, as always, is outstanding, and it was interesting to see "The Devil Wears Prada"'s Emily Blunt again); all three parts of the BBC's "The Line Of Beauty" (also very good - and relevant to this term's course, so, technically, homework); "Snakes On A Plane" (hilarious) and "March Of The Penguins" (heart-breaking - but how cute are the baby penguins?).

I've also been going to the gym most mornings - by far the best time to go, as when I go after work I'm generally too tired, and also eager to get home, so I don't stay longer than an hour. But in the mornings I can do a good two hours. After a week of mostly sprints and weights, this morning I attempted a 'proper run' and was excited to break my personal best for the 5k... 30 minutes. Which I'm sure is rubbish by most people's, but it's a start.

And if anyone's interested, I had a really good tutorial with my new tutor on Wednesday about my essay - which turned into a 75 minute discussion about Scritti Politti with a bit of Martin Amis thrown in. Who'd have thought it, eh? Having managed to write a coursework essay on George Michael and Wham! for my BA all those years ago, why can't I do an MA on Scritti? Have also given a lot of thought to my PHD, but I won't bore you with that now. One thing at a time.

Anyway, next week - to celebrate(!) turning 29 on Tuesday - I have planned a whole eight days worth of activities to mark the occasion: a pampering session at the Bath Spa, De La Soul at the Jazz Cafe in Camden, "Phantom Of The Opera" with AB, and all sorts of other treats. The fun starts tomorrow...