Thursday, 23 October 2008

Pretty in pink

They are making us wear pink to work tomorrow. If we wear pink, we give them money. If we don’t wear pink, we give them more money. Sounds like a good business model. (Yes, I’m grown up now and I have a career and I can use expressions like ‘business model’ without laughing. Well, almost.)

Unfortunately, I don’t have any pink clothes, apart from a pair of shoes I fell in love with because they were so rock’n’roll. The reason I don’t have pink clothes isn’t because I don’t want to; it’s just because I look terrible in pink. If it didn’t make my face look a weird colour I’d wear pink all the time. Because, as everyone knows, that’s what middle-aged women do.

I hate jokes about ‘menopause pink’. Because they’re cheap and lazy and misogynistic and ageist. But there’s some truth in them. When I was young I used to wonder why women of a certain age tended to wear fuschia. Now I know. It’s because they can. Because they’re not scared any more of what people think. Because they’re not scared any more of letting themselves be feminine. I blame Enid Blyton.

You’re more likely to hear me say ‘I blame Margaret Thatcher’ or ‘I blame Bill Gates’, but there are times that I blame Blyton. For denying a generation of women the chance to express their femininity. Think back to the Famous Five. If you were a girl, who did you want to be? George of course, the ‘tomboy’ who wants to look like a boy. (Have you ever seen the word ‘tomboy’ outside an Enid Blyton book? Did she invent the concept?)

As a tiny child I preferred blue to pink. Barbie had been invented for a while but the major marketing hadn’t really kicked in. By the time I reached my Blyton years I wouldn’t consider pink again for decades. At eight, I cut off my hair and was delighted when someone did actually mistake me for a boy.

At 18, I cut off my hair again as a punk and barely veered from my jeans and T shirt, one-of-the-boys image for years. In my late 30s and newly single, I was unreceptive to my best friend’s attempt to give me a makeover. She kept talking about ‘sweetheart necklines’. I still don’t know what they are.

I was around 40 before I had the nerve to flaunt my assets. When it was almost too late. What a waste. Not long ago, I was at a works do, standing in the queue for the Ladies and listening to a drunken conversation along the lines of ‘who has the best tits in the company’. (Yes, chaps, this is what we discuss among ourselves when you’re not there. All that talk about shoes is just a front.) And as I listened to the names - which didn’t include me - I had one of those ‘I used to be a contender’ moments.

It’s true you don’t appreciate what you’ve got until you’ve lost it. So, I’m not afraid now to dress like a girl. But I won’t be wearing pink tomorrow, except on my feet. I won’t be regretting it too much. On reflection, it’s a relief that I’m not tempted too far in that direction. The logical conclusion is, after all, Barbara Cartland.

Monday, 20 October 2008

Never mind the adverts

I don’t watch much TV so I’ve only just caught the famous Johnny Rotten butter advert, although several people have told me about it. They seemed to think I’d be upset. Funnily enough, I don’t care.

John Lydon sold out when he re-formed the Sex Pistols. What he does when he’s not being a Sex Pistol is no concern of mine. He’s making a good job of reinventing himself as a great British eccentric and national treasure, and I quite like that. This latest project seems to fit his new role quite well.

It’s not as though the ad is for anything that actually matters. And it’s not as though there was anything in the punk manifesto about poverty being a good thing. Lydon’s first band, if you remember, made a career out of getting money from corporations for very little, and winding everyone up. This seems perfectly in keeping.

PS It’s on YouTube, obviously. But I’m not going to put a link to it because that’s what they want.

Thursday, 9 October 2008

Poetry in motion

Today is National Poetry Day and the theme is work. Which I do not find inspiring as a theme but which does at least inspire people to get some poetry into their workplace. My own working day was considerably happier for the appearance throughout the day of ‘random poems’ (as the young people like to say) around the office. I felt like your parents pretending to be Father Christmas as I crept in ten minutes early and put a carefully chosen poem on the desk of each of my colleagues. Paul Farley is poet in residence for National Poetry Day and writes in his blog about work poems:
it’s worth bearing in mind that writing poetry has an element of play, albeit serious play, which is the very antithesis of labour.
Reading it, too - which meant that every poem I read today was the opposite of working. Which is absolutely fine by me.

Sunday, 5 October 2008

Started out with nothing

I liked Seasick Steve’s song title I Started Out With Nothin And I Still Got Most Of It Left. Partly because it’s amusing and partly because it’s economical: it tells you everything you need to know about the man - his image and his music. Which mean you don’t actually have to listen to him.

We’re watching him on TV, and Partner (who is a guitarist) says: the blues is much more interesting to play than it is to listen to.

When you think about it, that probably applies to most music. Jazz? Definitely. Folk? Often. Rock? If it’s guitar solos or drum solos, almost certainly- although, at its best, I still think it’s the type of music most likely to excite and entrance the people listening as well as the people playing it.

Actually, you can probably apply the theory to most kinds of artistic activity. Lots of people paint but it doesn’t mean their paintings are any good. Lots of people write poetry but 99 per cent is crap. (OK, lots of people write blogs as well... I’m not sure I like where this is going.)

Over the years, I’ve been the bored recipient of a lot of mediocre music, writing, exhibitions, theatre, television and film. The great thing is that it hasn’t stopped me continuing to search out all these things. Even in the cultural desert I now call home, there’s not a week goes by that I don’t come across something that makes me want to shout: take notice of this, someone here has a vision. And it’s in those moments of discovery that I’m happiest, because just for a while I can forget I’m supposed to be a middle-aged cynic.

Thursday, 2 October 2008

You can't put your arms around a memory

I’ve just come back from Liverpool where I spent some of my formative years. There’s a bit of a nostalgia fest going on there at the moment and it’s left me feeling more confused than ever about the fact I’m not 20 any more and what the hell I’m going to do about it.

Emotional roller coaster? More like a bloody ghost train. Liverpool in Capital of Culture year is buzzy, user friendly, full of public art and high-profile events (and shops). It’s famous. When I went there as a student it was still full of bomb sites. And infamous. No-one wanted to know.

So why do so many people wish it was 1977 (or thereabouts) again? Because if you were in the right place at the right time, there wasn’t a better place to be. I suppose everyone feels like that about the place where they first learned to be themselves. But Eric’s club in Liverpool, which three decades later has been well and truly commodified, was something special.

That’s just a fact: I’m not going to go on about it. The fact that other people are going on about it is what is making me so uncomfortable right now. I don't want to pretend that those times didn't happen, or didn't matter. I just don't want to be one of those people who live in the past. The hard bit is working out how to be true to the person you were then, without always looking backwards. Between embracing nostalgia and rejecting the past, there must be a way that works. Liverpool’s grown up now, but beneath the corporate stuff it hasn’t lost the vein of anarchy and playfulness that was always a part of its culture. I’m grown up now but there’s got to still be a link with the self I discovered back then. I guess every mid-life crisis is the point where you realise it's time to start that search.