Monday, 12 August 2013

Ode to 'Neighbours'

Many many TV programmes have passed before my eyes, some eagerly anticipated, commented upon and analysed to death, some passively endured, others scorned, but whilst so many have come and gone, resigned to memory or DVD box sets,  one has always been there for me. And everybody needs it, or them... or something. Anyway, I'm talking about Neighbours!

Happy days. Although I'm not even sure who the girl is to be honest.
It's been an a bit of an on/off relationship I guess you could say- but ultimately I've always returned to Neighbours, and one of its greatest charms is that even after 2 years away from it, give me about 10 minutes with it and I completely understand what's going on/who everyone is. It's almost instinctive. The characters have had some tough times- god knows if I'd had amnesia, MS, being cheated on by my husband muliple times, fostered countless children and had about 6 high-flying careers, I'd be exhausted... but nope, not these guys. They battle on through, continuing to provide the stories I so crave, whilst interfering in everyone else's business along the way. Brilliant.

Neighbours is completely daft. I find myself laughing at the incredulity of it at least 10 times an episode. Even better is if I watch it alongside someone else who also enjoys its complete absurdity. How can one teacher seemingly teach an entire school (note: always in the same classroom, and the same lessson) and does everyone really have to end up marrying some one on the same cul-de-sac as them? Answer: yes. I do worry about their gene pool sometimes.

But this is all very charming in a silly sort of way. Like the sop that I am, I can't help but feel a slight tinge of sadness that in our non- Neighbours reality, we live such nuclear existences where many of us know very little of our neighbours. This is not to say I would like such closeness. (If I ever move to Ramsay Street, remind me to LOCK MY DOOR because the people next door will just walk in at any time, usually the most inappropriate) but there are moments when you know what? I really wouldn't mind being adopted by Harold Bishop.

Neighbours, you are ridiculous and fun, absurdly dramatic and take up too much time in my life, but you've taught me how to attempt a terrible Australian accent, and for that, I love you.

Sunday, 12 May 2013

The unique feeling of being part of the crowd

As I walked along yesterday afternoon, others sidling next to me scarved in their chosen colours of war, all heading on a pilgrimage towards our Mecca for that afternoon, Villa Park, I felt a unique oneness with these strangers next to me.
We all had the same intention, all, for the next 2 hours at least, preparing to experience and witness the same event: a football match.

Lowry's 'Going to the Match'
As part of the crowd there's something incredibly powerful about feeling the rise and fall of this shared mood, hearing the complementary, melodic, unintelligible chants that seem to appear in waves from deep within, yet also seemingly nowhere. There is a sense of the tribal; the primitive within us all escaping. These are cheers for survival.

At moments like this, I can fully appreciate why the Romans sought such crowd pleasing entertainment in the gladiatorial ring. Our stadiums are modern day Colosseums, alive with shared passions and the feeling of thousands all living through the thrills of others. The blood-thirstiness so favoured by those Roman guys and gals was, perhaps, a little extreme, and I can never condone what Russell Crowe had to go through in those leather sandals, but today's world of sending offs, controversial tackles, pantomime boos and hisses reveal that things really haven't changed a great deal over the last 2000 years or so. Filming Lord of the Rings, Peter Jackson used the sound of the England cricket team's 'barmy army' of supporters as the sound of the terribly Orcs. The animal-like essence of the crowd it seems is just as prevalent in what may seem like 'more sedate' spectacles.

Sometimes it feels like our current society is increasingly lonely. With friends and family scattered all over the place, and a tendency to often live more nuclear lives, it is easy to lose sight of any sort of shared experience or community. The chance to feel part of a crowd whether it be at a sporting event, a music concert, the theatre, a royal pageantry, you name it, is such a unique experience. We are returned to our early roots, and with that, what feels most natural.

Tuesday, 2 April 2013

A few things I learnt this week: how to drive (2 ways), cat trivia and chocolate disaster prevention.

How to drive 1) a tractor and 2) a golf ball  (sort of)...(on both counts)

  • Having never driven anything bigger than my mum's Polo, this week saw me take on the challenge of driving a tractor. Being a particularly poor manoeuvrer and a bit of an Annie Hall-esque parker (you really can enjoy a pleasant stroll to the 'sidewalk' when I pull up to the curb) this was a bit of a daunting prospect. But it turns out it's really quite fun and the basics are just like driving a car. Steering wheel, brake, clutch, that 'look where you're going' thing and all that jazz.  I'd recommend having a go if you get the chance. Moving what feels like a hefty piece of machinery made this unpractical person feel vaguely capable (and also, I must add, terribly, terribly powerful, like a farming wizard) It wasn't too hard at all, or at least, driving around with loads of help in an empty field with no chance of hitting anything, EVER, wasn't too hard. So, as long as it's always like that then count me in for the next series of 'Strictly come Top Gear Tractor Wars.'

  • It's a little far-fetched to say I actually learnt how to drive in golf this week, because I was so appalling, but I certainly went to a driving range and had a go. Now it is true that the ball did either stay exactly where it was because I kept missing it, or zoomed off at a sharp 90 degree angle which, believe it or not, was not some clever tactic, but rather my complete incompetence. However,with a few tips such as 'always keep your eye on the ball'- it's amazing how hard this seems- and 'keep your arm straight'(which arm? When? How??) hopefully some of this advice sunk in... subconsciously at least. Who knew there was so much to think about? Head, arms, knees, feet, toes, eyes,  (a children's song in the making!?) let alone the fairly essential ball and club themselves.I can certainly say I am not ready to be called 'Tiger' just yet. Maybe more of a house cat...

Which is a terribly tenuous link to the next thing I learnt this week....

Why cats knead (/'make biscuits')

  • With the detective help of my lovely friend Emily, also curious about this common cat trait, we delved into the mine field of kneading. After a little investigation we discovered curiously that the colloquial term for kneading is 'making biscuits.' (Firstly, is it?!? I've never heard of that, but do let me know if you have. And secondly, what kind of biscuits?!)  We then moved on to the reason cats knead and found a very interesting answer. It is not in fact just because of their love of tasteful furnishings and good quality fabric (although I feel sure this must play a vital part in it), but because it is an instinctive trait from when they are kittens. They massage (i.e. knead) their mother during feeding to help her to produce milk more easily. You'd think they might have learnt by now that the particularly cosy cushion on the sofa doesn't actually produce anything but snuggly moments of joy, but I guess they don't mind that- the crazy kooks that they are.  Fascinating stuff anyway!!

And finally, in this week of Easter related goodness it seems only right that I learnt:

Where not to leave your Easter egg
  •  The answer: in a sunny spot in your room, because this will happen:

A potentially artistic, but really quite scary, result.

Sunday, 24 March 2013

I'm packing in packing

I am currently in the process of unpacking everything I packed only just a couple of days ago.

Packing and packing, and unpacking and unpacking, knowing that probably in the not too distant future I will have to pack and pack and unpack and unpack all over again. This is both a physical and mental torture, and I only really (although you'd never guess by looking at it) had one room's worth of stuff to pack. I dread to think what it must be like moving a whole house. The best way to summarise the last couple of days is this: I have never had so many unpleasant and annoyed exchanges with a group of coat hangers in my life.

I used to read a book when I was little called 'But No Elephants' in which, after various amusing episodes involving an old lady rejecting an elephant as a house guest, the elephant, to help her with her relocation situation, simply carries the lady's house to a lovely sunny new place on his back. None of this boxes/suitcase/ plastic bags.. oh the plastic bags... nonsense. Plus, there's a free elephant ride to boot. Where can one find a helpful service like this and, more seriously, what sort of planning permission would I need?

Anyway, aside from the agony of remembering where I've put everything and feeling horrified at the sheer amount of clothes I have (I say horrified- this is a ruse; in truth it's a joy to rediscover so many jumpers which I'll never wear but absolutely must hold on to), with all this packing comes a natural packing up of a way of life, of memories, of relationships formed, and it is this which is the real hard thing, even though it involves very few coat hangers.! I've left Cambridge, where I lived for the last 19 months, boxed it up and put it into the overflowing boot of a car. This is only the physical part of it of course, but it still felt poignant. Moving, as all of us I am sure know, can be very moving. And though I am really very happy to be moving, my memories cannot simply be packed away. They'll  resonate with so many experiences in a place I felt I actually did 'grow up', if that's possible; a beautiful, thought-filled city where I made some very lovely and close friends.

 All this dwelling doesn't speed up the unpacking process however, so I must get back to it. That is, if the cat, helpful as ever, will let me.


Tuesday, 5 February 2013

Shelf help for self help

I was very intrigued to hear the news about a new scheme asking GPs to prescribe self-helf books to patients suffering with depression,anxiety or relationship troubles. They will be recommended books to read from their local libraries (woop woop for the libraries by the way!) in a bid to encourage self-healing. Some examples are: How to Stop Worrying and The Feeling Good Handbook  as well as 'feel good' fictional works designed to cheer us all up- The Secret Garden and Goodnight Mister Tom were a couple, as well as, somewhat curiously 'To Kill a Mockingbird'...('cheering up' doesn't have to be overt I guess)

I am sure the non-fiction self-helf books contain a lot of very useful information and advice, and can suggest very useful and practical ways of coping. I really, really, really hope those recommended are nothing like the awful articles you get in womens' magazines telling you 'how to cope with this, that and the other' or '5 easy ways to CHANGE YOUR LIFE' which, firstly, erm, 'NO' and secondly, 'stop making me feel worse.' They present an ideal, goals and achievements that perhaps you do not want, or certainly cannot achieve, but now  you suddenly feel you should. Having so-called 'steps' (note: created by some magazine who has never met you and doesn't really care) only makes you more aware of how you have failed at achieving any of their suggestions.

What most interested me, however, was that the act of reading itself is suggested to be so beneficial, and I couldn't agree more. The very act of such concentration needed to read seems like an excellent way to avoid the distractions or worries you might be facing. Further still, I recently heard how a study had suggested reading classic novels, in particular, are especially helpful. The attention needed for reading a classic is often quite great, therefore only enhancing our ability to forget our daily troubles.

Another reason classic novels are so effective, I believe anyway, is because we can enjoy and become engrossed in the stories and characters, but without necessarily applying it directly to ourselves- as we do so obviously with self-helf books. Novels can be so much more subtly cathartic, winding their experiences, lessons or mistakes into our subconscience quite easily. We can empathise and engage with these characters' experiences, but not worry so much that it will happen to us. The alienness of the settings and often language to our present day and current situation mean distancing ourselves, gaining some perspective and rationality, is much more possible, and often the very best thing.

Having empathy with someone else can certainly put our own worries into perspective, When I read Sons and Lovers by D.H. Lawrence, I found for the first time in my life, my own thoughts, anxieties and fears mapped out on the page before me. I couldn't believe it. That 'gosh- someone else has felt like this too' moment (you don't necessarily have to say 'gosh' by the way)  has never been stronger than through that book. Lawrence's ability to present that feeling so gently through beautiful language, a delicate choice of words and rhythm of sentences meant it sat much deeper within me than any magazine article ever could. I was effectively hyptonised. I was also both distracted by something else, yet entirely engulfed by it.

Perhaps this is hugely hypocritical. Here I am, offering advice up- the very thing I preach against. Feel free to ignore it completely. But my prescription for us all is this: Less reading about how to help ourselves and let DH Lawrence* do it for you.

*or more specifically, a writer YOU like

Wednesday, 30 January 2013

Nostalgia's patient

My name's Polly, and I am a sufferer of nostalgia.

There, I said it. I wonder, placed within a supportive, hand-holding sort of environment, how many of us would also confess to this. Most people, I would predict.

You may think 'sufferer- that's a litle bit strong isn't it?  Well, if we were to be all learned about it (which we are, momentarily, forgive me) nostalgia in fact comes comes from the greek words 'nostos' and 'algus,' meaning 'return' and 'suffering.' The very word itself, therefore, makes no pretence that feeling nostalgic is always an easy ride.

This, in many ways, might seem odd. When I  first think of nostalgia, I picture sepia-tainted images, knitted jumpers, smiles and cosy fires. Why this is, I'm not sure, as I don't remember my life ever being particularly sepia-coloured, or having much access to a log fire. (Knitted jumpers, however, tick!). I guess this is very much the 'concept' of nostalgia as our culture has moulded it.

A manufactured, consumer-focused nostalgia is currently everywhere.Our lives can be solely constructed of  retro, vintage, antique, second-hand, 'not-really-vintage-but-kinda-look-like-we-are' clothes and things, (oh the things), if we choose. We can spend our days baking, drinking tea and handmaking everything- lovely! And I genuinely mean that- these things are wonderful, and I can't help but think to myself  'gosh- everything was so much nicer and more wholesome in the past- I wish it were like that now.'

And then I realise, wait- you were not even alive during this era you feel so attached to. You are recreating days you have never lived and sentimentalising a time you don't, really, know much about. Nostalgia only focuses on the good times, forgetting to mention all the less lovely, or at least, non-uber cool, things that happened. That is exactly why, compared with the present, which funnily enough I know very well in all its ups and downs, seems so much better.

At the same time, we can all feel deeply nostalgic for times we actually have lived, days passed, emanating only with the happy memories we have carefully attached, and often modified, to them.We all, at some point,  pine for the past, people, situations, places and long to return to them. The future can bring hope, but also uncertainty and fear. The present is too fleeting to ever capture. And the past, though it may contain regret, well, the past is safe. It has gone, and we survived it. It is, therefore, ours to remember as we choose to.

I wonder, through cherishing something so unreliable- our memories- or indeed eras that we have never even lived through, are our perceptions of the present consequently worse. The present day is falling victim to a comparison with an unreality? Longing for something we can never have again only makes the present more painful surely.

Maybe that's a little morbid. Perhaps nostalgia is becoming so integrated to our present that is now part of it,  in fact.. Let's also not forget the simple enjoyment we gain recreating all things old-school.  As we 'play' at being something or somewhere else, we return  to childhood in a way...yet another form of this nostalgia lark.

I sometimes wonder how people will look back at our present in the future. Will they, too, doubt their own era and cherish our own which we currently seek to escape? What would they recreate though- our love of nostalgia?  It could be a new era in which nostalgia pines for nostalgia itself.


Sunday, 13 January 2013

Can you hear me screen?

Scene 1:
 Man and woman walk in to a restaurant. Both seem to have made an effort, especially the woman whose hair is immaculately coiffed, nails finely polished and carved, earrings dangling playfully. Man and woman sit down on a table, candle placed between them,. (One of those candles in a wine bottle type things too- the best kind) The scene is set for a romantic evening of food, wine and interesting conversation.

Scene 2:  
After 30 seconds, man gets out his iphone and spends the entire evening staring at it, scrolling through who knows what, completely ignoring the woman and her nicely coiffed hair.

The end.

So, I'll admit, it won't be an Oscar winner (or nomination, sob); the script is a little thin currently, but this is a real-life epic, based on an episode inspired by a couple who sat at the next table along from me last night. I felt like suggesting to the waiter that the man should be served only virtual food through his iphone screen- he'd probably enjoy it more that way.His iphone screen was an unbeatable opponent to the lady opposite. Perhaps she wasn't what you might call a hoot, I don't know the gal, but nonetheless, please, Mr iphone, enjoy the moment, her presence, or at least the strangely faux spanish atmosphere La Tasca (scene of said incident) has to offer.

I am being too harsh on this poor fellow as I am well aware he is not alone. He is probably just another one of you or I. We are a world of screen enthusiasts, screen addicts, screen drones and sometimes, well it just makes me want to... screeeam. We might stare at beautiful countryside, only through another screen, our camera lens, and never have really seen anything. We sit on trains, surrounded by people we've never met and never will again, whizzing past scenery that'll never look quite the same again, and yet we stare at our screens. The days of awkwardly catching the eye of the person opposite us are rapidly fading folks, because, don't worry, we don't actually need to look at anyone anymore. It's ok, we have our soulless screens for company.

The word 'screen' of course means to protect, to shield.  And, when used in such excess, this indeed seems to be the role of our modern day screens. With protection naturally comes restriction, and we are increasingly losing our ability to just look, freely, at what is in front of us. To screen also means to filter, and I can't help but feel we are filtering out all those tiny details and experiences only the human eye and its awareness can detect, because that constant screeny glow is grabbing all the attention. 

This is a completely one-sided argument, I know, but I hope that's allowable. This isn't a well structured essay but a silly blogpost. I know screens have opened our eyes up to visions we never thought we could possibly see. We can experience two hours of incredible emotional and visual immersion through a film , and witness animals in the sub-sahara desert we'd never catch with our own eyes thanks to them. And I am grateful. I am.  But though screens have enabled us to look at things more than ever, I worry that if we let them dominate quite so much, we will eventually see far less.