Review: Missing people

AL Kennedy speaks! "It was strange the times you missed people most: just after they'd left, and just before you saw them again."

Well, I'm probably paraphrasing. But I do my best. Other times you miss people are: after you read their blog, when you see their name written down, when you eat something you once ate with them, and so on. God, the human brain is useless and defective. If only it were more like a machine.

Sometimes I miss the most unlikely people. On holiday somewhere, or walking down a street at night dodging the muggers and rapists (the urban version of gazelles versus lions), I'll suddenly think of someone I got drunk with back in, ooh, the late 90s. Or someone I barely know. But who, really, am I most likely to miss? The people I should miss the most are the people I'm most likely to see again.

The vast majority of the people you meet in your life you'll only meet once, or a few times. Even if you meet them every day in the kitchen making breakfast and in front of the TV every night, there's no guarantee you won't eventually lose touch. Best to get used to this missing thing. Maybe even learn to enjoy it.

Which reminds me: I don't like it when reviewers call something "unmissable". I don't need that kind of unnecessary pressure, life is hard enough as it is. The concept of unmissableness is one of the reasons I've never seen Pulp Fiction. Yeah, and I don't care either.

Missing people: Sometimes terrible, sometimes pleasantly bittersweet. 5 out of 10.


Review: Writing

Writing: deeply abnormal. In a 1970s experiment, a group of psychiatrists pretended to be mad and were temporarily incarcerated in mental hospitals. One of them took extensive notes on his experiences during the course of the experiment. An unwitting doctor writing a report on the fake patient noted that he “exhibited writing behaviour”. (Similarly, I often exhibit fat behaviour… This joke is not only ancient, but stolen.)

Someone told me the other day that Dostoyevsky’s epilepsy produced the strange symptom of compulsive writing. Lucky Fyodor! Obsessive compulsive epileptics and talent are like monkeys and typewriters: given world enough and time, something coherent will emerge.

I, too, am like a monkey with a typewriter. The monkey represents my brain, and the typewriter also represents my brain. Writing is putting my brain in a room with my brain and hoping something will come of it. Nevertheless, I wouldn’t give it up, even if someone offered me a flat with a proper living room in return.

When writing, it’s important to remember that there’s no accounting for taste. Tolstoy, for example, thought Shakespeare was crap. Once, when Anton Chekhov was staying at his country house, Tolstoy accused Chekhov of being “even worse than Shakespeare”. Driving home in his horse-drawn buggy, Chekhov was suddenly seized with happiness, and cried up at the stars: “I am even worse than Shakespeare!” God damn it, I just love them Russians.

Writing: Making someone I've made up do some stuff I've made up, in order to inflict a series of made-up events on someone I haven't met. 8 out of 10.

Review: Proverbs

Proverbs were originally composed either by subsistence farmers – “don’t put your eggs in one basket”, “don’t count your chickens before they’re hatched” and so on – or Shakespeare. I was forced to go and watch Macbeth in a theatre the other weekend, and bits of it were quite good, even though it had actors in it, which is a shame. And it had a lot of proverbs that I thought were invented by subsistence farmers, but are actually by Shakespeare.

The Bible is another important source of proverbs, as when a bush burst into flames in the wilderness and advised Moses, “What you lose on the swings, you win on the roundabouts.”

Many people believe that a judiciously applied proverb can help them win an argument, but they are wrong. What can sometimes work is saying something outrageous, but pretending you read it elsewhere, eg "I believe it was Oscar Wilde who observed that all people who wear lipliner are cunts" or "As far as household pets go, cats are better than dogs, as God said".

Proverbs: They eat the bread of wickedness, and drink the wine of violence. 6 out of 10.


Review: Not being in prison

Sometimes, a life free of oppression, violence and major terrorist incident can pass a girl by without her stopping to count her blessings. This is why, I am reliably informed by an unreliable Iraqi (thanks YS), parts of Baghdad are a melodramatic paradise at the moment, full of creativity and partying and random intensity. We need a war like we need an improving head injury.

So, in the spirit of appreciating what we have, let’s spend today reflecting on how great it is not to be in prison. It’s been a close call: thank God I wasn’t born Muslim, or extremely poor. Thank God I don’t have a psychiatric illness, or terrible parents. Thanks, God, for not making me the underclass!

Still, at least prison is a brilliant deterrent, with a negligible 60% of prisoners reconvicted within two years of their release. Sometimes I’m so moved by the greatness of our great British criminal justice system, I get quite tearful.

Not being in prison: A Hungarian poet speaks: “I look down at my shoe and – there’s the lace! / This can’t be gaol then, can it, in that case.” 9 out of 10.


Review: Easter

Once again, Easter has come as a big surprise. I am glad of the extra day off, but remain unconvinced by the whole thing. Sources close to Eskimo tried to go to midnight mass for Good Friday, but couldn’t find one and ended up calling an ambulance instead. Sources even closer to Eskimo brought round a box of Cadbury’s Heroes and watched her select, unwrap and eat the best ones, telling her, “Why don’t you go on a diet? You’d lose those love handles in a week.”

Easter produces mixed feelings: joy, unease, even a little bit of sorrow. On the one hand, Eskimo’s people killed Jesus good and proper; on the other, he allegedly rose again three days later. Ancient Jews: you can’t live with them, you can’t live without them. Oh no, wait: you can live without them.

On a related note, a Radio 1 DJ was saying today that DIY is the main cause of serious injury on bank holiday Monday. I suggest staying away from that hammer and taking up heavy drinking instead. Jesus himself was a keen DIYer, as depicted in Mel Gibson’s The Passion of the Christ, in which the son of God invents the chair.

Easter: The crucifixion as a horrible DIY accident? Discuss. 5 out of 10.


Review: Being laidback

People have lots of smartarse ideas about what the most overrated virtue might be (see: the Weekend Guardian questionnaire), but they’re all wrong. It isn’t chastity, or patience, or punctuality. It’s being laidback.

Laidback people – especially people who use the word “chill” outside the context of wind tunnels or catching a cold – are selfishly stealing calm from others. There is nothing more likely to rile even an averagely engaged and non-laidback person than someone saying, “Oh, I am really laidback. I like to just chill at the weekends, I just take things as they come.”

These people should get a grip: they are worse than Buddhists. At least Buddhists understand that life is suffering. Chilled out people are exactly the type who give astonishingly insensitive advice like “Why don’t you just stop thinking about it?” or “Maybe it’s meant to be this way”. They are so accepting of everything, I start to think maybe they’re terribly depressed and hate being alive.

I like people who shout at the TV and cry about stupid things and have slightly embarrassing enthusiasms for animals or comic books or early 90s rave music. Lorrie Moore speaks: “Those were the kind of people she really liked: the kind you couldn’t really live with.”

Laidback people obviously never watch the news, or talk to anyone apart from their similarly delusional friends. If they did, they’d realise that the world is hardwired for disaster and quickly lose their insane composure. Their one clear advantage over non-laidback people is that you can insult them without fear of reprisal.

Being laidback: There's more to life than pretending you don't mind that there isn't more to life. 2 out of 10.


Review: Dieting

“Low fat is for fat people” – Paris Hilton

I mentioned this to my mother, who doesn’t eat bread or potatoes and sometimes eats rice cakes with marmalade for breakfast. “She has a point,” she said.

Everyone knows that just thinking about being on a diet is enough to make you thinner. I am surprised I haven’t already lost a couple of stone just by thinking thin thoughts. I am not one of those people who wants to be thin “for myself”. I want to be thin for other people, so that they admire me and want to do me. If I were on a desert island, I would eat cream cakes, if I could find any. OK: if I were on a desert island with a patisserie, I would eat cream cakes. I would buy a big bag of cakes, eat some and set fire to the rest, so that passing ships would spot the smoke and rescue me.

As an incompetent dieter, I am caught between those people who look down on me for even trying – “ha, look at me, I eat hundreds of chips and can still wedge myself into these size eight jeans” – and people who look down on me for being crap at it – “ha, look at me, I eat nothing at all and can therefore wedge myself into these size eight jeans”. During my Thin Period a couple of years ago, everything went wrong when the bouncers at the club where I worked started buying me burgers. I’d tell them I was on a diet, and they’d look me up and down and say I didn’t need to diet. And I didn’t have the heart to tell them I looked like I didn’t need to diet as a result of careful dieting. Well, and I liked eating burgers.

The problem with dieting, as pointed out by Helen Fielding, is that you start to think that the optimum number of calories per day is zero and anything on top of that is just greed and lack of self-control. It’s like trying to play hard to get: you start to think that it’s best to show boys no affection whatsoever, so as not to seem weak, and then over several years work up to things like smiling thinly at them and letting them hold your cigarette while you take off your coat.

Dieting: If I read one more article about Polly Vernon’s anorexia, I will scream. 3 out of 10.


Review: The arrival of spring

Aahaha fucking ace.

The arrival of spring: Aahaha fucking ace. 10 out of 10.


Review: Patriotism

Like any right-thinking person, I understand that England is a desperately mediocre country where everyone is always either embarrassed or drunk. The main things this country has going for it are Topshop and my friends. But for some reason, in conversation with the Elephant Man, who is resolutely foreign, I find hidden reserves of patriotism I never knew I had. He makes some very good points – restaurants are expensive and bad here; everything closes early; people dress badly – to which all I have to say is “Italian pop music”. QED.

My grandfather and his brother have been doing some delving around in the family history recently – elderly people like this kind of thing, as they are running out of living people to be younger than. The key finding of these investigations, by their lights, is that their grandfather was in fact a naturalised British citizen, making the family “more British than Michael Howard”. How we celebrated.

I once went for an interview at the British Council for a job teaching English in Senegal. They asked how students overseas might perceive the English. Having spent a month teaching Spanish and Hungarian teenagers, I was prepared. “They think we’re all a bit gay,” I said. They asked me how I might overcome this “misconception”. I looked at them, perplexed. Their office is only ten minutes’ walk from Soho, for God’s sake.

They offered me a job in France, which I felt was missing the point slightly.

Patriotism: On the one hand, the Daily Mail; on the other, Marmite and cryptic crosswords. Still, best not to get overexcited. 4 out of 10.


Review: Advertising

Recent adverts have urged me to have something called “a semi-religious experience” at the Burning Man festival, to “live my myth” in Greece by allowing a cherub to blow at my face, and to come back to BT after briefly abandoning it for a fictional telephone service provider. All these experiences, which would perhaps have been fun or enlightening, are now tainted with meaninglessness.

Not content with dominating the world of consumer goods, advertising is gradually sucking everything into its gaping craw. There’s nothing, from AIDS to ziggurats, that can’t be used to sell the public a new car or innovative sanitary towel. And we suck it up greedily. “Ooh, I never knew I needed an iPod, because I never use a walkman or buy music, but now I’ve got one anyway. Sometimes I imagine myself in silhouette, dancing.”

Advertising and its evil sister, marketing, are the reason that going to the supermarket now feels like taking part in a boring game show rather than buying some food.

But I can’t help but feel a glimmer of respect for advertising, as its vast, slogan-bestrewn jackboot stamps repeatedly on my face. I often find myself staring, hypnotized, at the TV as a series of actors with Botox-severe faces wave products at me. At the cinema, overwhelmed by the sheer size of the ads, I’ve been known to grab the arm of the person sitting next to me and swear, with tears of rapture in my eyes, “I’ll buy it – whatever it is”, only to find that it’s an advert for something impossible like a credit card or flying business class.

Advertising: Sometimes depressing, but probably an inevitable by-product of civilization. 4 out of 10.


Review: Maternal impulses

Once, tormented by a relentless onslaught of media-mother whingeing about the traumas of “juggling” a job and two children under the age of five (it’s all in the wrist), I asked my mother if having children really was the endless nightmare that mothers who write newspaper columns make it out to be. She thought about bit. “It’s quite tiring sometimes,” she said. That’s it.

I know a lot of people who claim not to like children, but they always have at least one exception to the rule. There’s nothing wrong with not wanting to have kids, but for the love of God don’t go on and on about not liking them. It’s like claiming that you don’t like adults, which is possible but smacks of psychopathic tendencies.

So I have no problem, in theory, with maternal impulses. I often experience them myself, but then I have to put them away in a box marked Unworkable. Children under five are particularly great: like little acid casualty mystics, but without the motor skills to make a peace sign.

My own mother has in the past said many brilliant, mad things such as “This is the kind of cinema a psychopath would attack in” and “The cat is deliberately shitting on the floor because she’s angry we made her infertile”. She also once phoned me to tell me that Rachel Stevens is Jewish, as if this meant that I too could join S Club. She stopped spitting on a tissue and then using it to clean my face a few years back, but I can tell she still wants to.

On a related note, there was once a lioness in Kenya who liked to adopt baby oryxes, which then got killed and eaten by other lions. And for all I know, she lives there to this day.

Maternal impulses: Useful in the wild, as long as you stick to your own species. 8 out of 10.


Review: Camera phones

There is a Portrait setting on my phone, but it might as well say Crack Addict Effect, and the Night Vision setting is like seeing the world through a lens smeared with butter and tar. Basically, it is useless for any rational photographic purpose.

Still, camera phones have their uses. Following the appalling, tragic theft of Paris Hilton’s mobile, pictures stored on the phone were posted on the internet. The pictures were heart-warming: some were of Paris’s breasts, some were of her snogging a female friend, and some were of her making a Sexy Face by angling her head and pouting. Paris has finally made public what many of us have known in private for ages: the main function of the camera phone is narcissistic porn.

This is in the grand tradition of technological advance, which is as follows: someone invents a new thing, people start to use it, newspaper columnists hail the end of civilization as we know it, and finally people use it to broadcast nudey pictures and sell tat. Examples: the printing press, film, the internet. New technology never turns up new perversions; it just freshens them up and wraps them in different paper. “Thanks, science!” we say. Then: “Didn’t I get you this last year?”

Camera phones: Conspiracy theorists! Camera phone as covert surveillance equipment? Come up with your own conspiracy theory, though, because I can’t be bothered. 6 out of 10.


Review: Packaging

In the olden days, when you went shopping for, say, a saucepan, you would get just the saucepan. Then you’d carry it home in your basket. Now baskets have gone the way of all accessories: drained of usefulness, but worn decoratively by girls pretending to be Sienna Miller. And when you buy a saucepan it comes shrinkwrapped in plastic, swathed in tissue paper, inside a plastic ball inside which is a box inside which is a layer of bubblewrap.

When the planet is entirely made up of landfill, the oil has run out and we’re scratching around in unheated hovels worshipping the memory of electricity, we’ll regret that we screwed everything up for a few extra layers of packaging. Or maybe we won’t. Maybe we’ll think, “OK, so my circumstances aren’t so great now – but, man, that bubblewrap was really incredible!” Maybe the memory of the beauty of cardboard inserts will sustain us through the gradual decline of civilization.

I'm reminded of a scene in Serendipity (pleasant romantic comedy; don’t go out of your way) where Kate Beckinsale’s hideous jazz-flautist boyfriend presents her engagement ring in a series of ever-smaller boxes: boxes inside boxes inside boxes. “What a twat,” you think. And sure enough, you’re right. A brilliant piece of character development.

Packaging: Really unnecessary, and prevents things from fitting neatly inside your handbag. But good for things like raw chicken or filo pastry. 3 out of 10.


Review: Black people accepting Oscars

Personally, I can't act to save my life, so there are very good reasons why I should be prevented from playing the romantic lead in a charming Miramax feature. Nevertheless, it is horrible to endure Americans saying things like "Finally, black actors are getting some recognition", when the recognition they are talking about is Halle getting her baps out again for yet another treatise on US race relations, which are the only Hollywood films that black women are allowed to be in apart from when they're spouting psychobabble in nauseating "feelgood" family sagas, or adding ethnic texture in the background of a high school comedy.

It pained me to listen to Jamie Foxx (what is a foxx? is it like a sqqquirrel?) thank Sidney Poitier when accepting his Best Actor statuette. For what? Leave poor Sidney alone: he never asked for a Ray Charles biopic. Next year, I hope to see every white Oscar recipient invoke the great heritage of DW Griffith and Leni Riefenstahl, crying bittersweet tears as they recall the long lineage of white acting talent that went unrecognised, waiting tables in LA for years while a callous world stood by, and finally moving back to Ohio to teach grade school.

Black people accepting Oscars: A fun party game: name five black film directors, not including Spike Lee. 2 out of 10.

Review: Crying

Crying feels constructive, but isn't. In this respect, it's similar to writing a review of crying. It might be a little masturbatory, but it's as widely understood as the universal symbol for "Got a light?" (clench fingers, wag thumb up and down, look imploringly at owner of lighter).

Crying is mildly shameful, pleasantly cathartic and best done alone - OK, so it's more than a little masturbatory. In recent years it's been taken as a sign that men are in touch with their Emotions, so you get interminable celebrity interviews in which an anodyne actor admits that he cried only two days ago, as if he should win a prize for it. Get you, Mr Actor: your job is only pretending to be someone else for a living, which is basically lying, so you can get off your high horse right now.

Men who cry for a proper reason like their wife leaving them or their dog dying are one thing, but men who cry about stupid things are deeply unnerving. You start thinking they're premenstrual, and then you remember that they have no womb. (Girls, please note: if you find yourself in front of a repeat of Men Behaving Badly, crying because of a certain tragic quality in Neil Morrissey's face, it's probably hormones and not existential angst. Existential angst has better taste in sitcoms.)

This year's Oscars was less of a fake crying jag than in previous years, but we still had to endure footage of Hilary Swank hyperventilating about trailer parks.

Crying: Fine for me, but if an actor does it, rescind their Oscar. 7 out of 10.