Wednesday, 1 December 2010

Ignore The Anonymous















Bloggers - how often do you get anonymous and abusive comments posted on your blogs? And to the rest of you - how many times have you read an article or blog post and found a nasty comment posted by "Anon"?

Those kinds of comments, I've learned, are called "trolls". Fitting really.
read about this on the New York times website, after the article (written by one of their own staff) was shared by Facebook.

It's an excellent piece (which reveals some truly horrendous stories) and it reminded me that I have wanted to write a blog post of my own on this subject, after witnessing these kinds of comments on some of my favourite, highly-respected blogs.

Trolls are easy to spot. As soon as you come across an aggressively rude, no-holds-barred comment, you can almost guarantee it will have been posted under a pseudonym or (imaginatively) "Anon". I'll read the comment, look to the poster name, and that's usually when I'll roll my eyes and think, "Ahhh of course. Loser."

It ticks me off, not because of what has been said, but because of the anonymity of it. The fact that the is person is hiding and taking no responsibility for what they've said.

It harks back to the age-old retort, "If you've got something to say, say it to my face."

It seems that when you can hide behind online anonymity, you can get away with being unsociably rude or just plain mean. There's that tantalizing freedom of being able to manipulate complete strangers, speak your harshest views and hurt people, without repercussions. Basically, you can be an asshole without people thinking you're an asshole in real life. You can have your bitchy cake and eat it too.

It's a shame, because anonymity is helpful in many ways, and it also allows people to share experiences, advice and stories which are helpful or positive, but which they may not have shared without that invisible armour. We need the option to remain anonymous because - to a huge extent - it allows us to protect ourselves... but it also protects the trolls. So "Anon" has now become the pen name for bullies who want to have their say but are too cowardly to admit to it.

The way I see it, if someone has such a strong opinion about something, then why won't they stand by that opinion? If you believe in something so much, why not claim ownership of your words? I'll tell you why - because these people are either cowards who are scared of repercussions, or they actually just don't have confidence in their own opinion.

Either way, it's the same reason: fear. Fear of people disagreeing with them. Fear of backlash. Fear of being disliked. Fear of being found out.

I have had people disagree with my views on this blog, but I'm delighted to say that, to date, everyone who has expressed their views has taken ownership of them, which gives me the opportunity to consider their points in a reasonable way. (I know I don't post often, but readers, I appreciate that!) At the end of the day I would much prefer someone to wholeheartedly disagree with my perspective and open up a debate than to attack my views from behind a pseudonym.

Not that I'd be bothered if they did. The simple truth is, anonymous comments don't deserve any acknowledgement, because they have no foundation. Nothing to support them. They're posted in fear, and there's nobody real there to back them up.

So if you come across a troll comment in future, just laugh and remember those words were posted by some gutless little person at their computer, who doesn't believe the words enough themselves to actually represent them.

And to the real people posting real comments out there, in agreement or otherwise - I salute you.

Thursday, 14 October 2010

Thirteen Miles

Running? Moi? Get outta here. Running, as far as I've always been concerned, was something crazy people did - the kind of people who swim outdoors in winter and eat raw eggs. I wasn't one of those people. I've always hated running.

Yet, because I hated running so much, I always wanted to run a half marathon.

I like a challenge.

Look, I'm no athlete, but I believe there's nothing more exciting than discovering how far you can go under your own steam. I once raced up a Munro and then cried when my legs gave out just below the summit. I got to the top though, and when I did, I felt absolutely amazing. It's that feeling which is worth all the pain and the slog.

Then in May this year, I heard that the brilliant Muireann (aka Bangs and a Bun) had signed up for the London Royal Parks half marathon.
"That girl hates running even more than me," I thought. "Cripes, well if she can do this, I have no excuse."

So I signed up right there on the spot, and took a place with the charity Scope, who strive for people with disabilities to fulfill their potential. I like that idea a LOT. That's what life's about, no? Discovering one's potential?

I know that to some people thirteen miles is a cinch. Just like there are countless people who can cover several Munros in a single day. But to me, this was a personal challenge, and frankly, that's the best kind of challenge to undertake. Muireann's amazing efforts and training updates inspired me to work at this, and my Twitter followers egged me on and helped me raise £550 for Scope. I really don't think I would have made it without the incredible encouragement of the online community.

And so, after sixteen weeks of training, the day had arrived.
This is how it went.

______________________________________________________________

I was standing in a crowd of thousands, donning my least attractive ensemble, and wondering what on earth I was doing there. Look at me, pretending to be a runner! Pffft. Yet I was excited, I couldn't deny it, and nervous energy was zinging through my whole body like electricity. Muireann stood next to me, tapping on her phone and showing me some of the supportive messages sent to the both of us via Twitter. I had to laugh. Good grief, people are awesome. I took a deep breathe, briefly wondered what I was in for, and put my earphones in. My goal time was two and a half hours. I had absolutely no idea if that was even realistic. I had never run thirteen miles before. Ever.

Then the crowd slowly began to move and we crossed the ever-looming start line. We were OFF!

Immediately I decided this was awesome. I loved it! The vibe! The energy! The crowds! I could keep this up. I was having fun!!!

(This feeling lasted for approximately 2 miles.)

Muireann quickly moved ahead, spurred on by her amazing running friend Charlie, as I got stuck into a steady rhythm of my own. As the masses passed through the park, a rather stocky photographer raced alongside us, trying to get the attention of one runner in particular. After a lot of running and yelling, he finally got his photo, then stopped and, hands on his knees, struggled to catch his breath. We runners couldn't help but chuckle. No sympathy from us, mate! We have a LONG way to go!

Racing in that rainbow river of people, we passed Big Ben just as it struck 10am on 10/10/2010. I grinned like a lunatic. I took a moment to absorb the fact that I was running in the middle of the road on Westminster Bridge. When would I ever be here again? I made sure to drink in the views on both sides. Oh London, you beautiful wench.

I felt on top of the world.

About 45 minutes in, racing along the Embankment, I felt a stitch coming on and realised I had increased my pace too much. Oops. I already had a pre-ordained tactic for avoiding a debilitating stich, which was to walk for 30-seconds or so to catch my breath. So I did just that.

However, at that precise moment, I found the world's jolliest girl jogging alongside me.
"Come on now, keep running!" she pipped.
Her encouraging smile was brighter than the surface of the sun. I couldn't help but admire her motivation. I smiled back. And wished she would go away.

All the water I drank, coupled with all the nerves meant I took the opportunity for a loo break. It was a pay toilet and there was a poor race attendent handing out 50p coins to each runner. Times like this I wish I was a bloke, and could join the vast numbers marking their territory all over the streets of London. I must have lost a few minutes queuing for the Ladies'. But then, the best thing about the loo stop was the chance to have sit down. (Yep. I said it.)

Back on the route, I felt truly alive, and excitedly waved to the people watching from Embankment bridge.

After mile four my ankles began to ache but I just stopped to rotate them a bit and carried on. I'd have to just ride out the discomfort - it was early in the race and I guessed - correctly - there would be more to come.

I kept up the pace and pushed on... I was feeling good my friend, feeling good. Naturally it was about this point that I was overtaken by a man in a tiger suit. The feeling I was being slightly mocked quickly made way for amusement. Hard not to giggle with so many ridiculous costumes in the fray - including two chaps carrying a giant fish.

I wasn't in a costume, but I did have vest with my name on it. Scope encouraged their runners to write their names on their tops so people could yell out to them as they ran by. I wasn't certain this would actually work, but decided if anything, it's probably helpful to wear a giant name tag, in case I went insane with exhaustion and got lost in a forest somewhere.

Then I heard it. A cry from the sidelines. "GO CLAIRE! YOU CAN DO IT!" I did a double take to discover perfect strangers were egging me on. THAT was brilliant.

I raced past Buckingham Palace, grinning like a maniac and wondering if all of this was really happening.





As time went on the pain in my ankles subsided and moved upwards, to my shins and calf muscles. I stopped, did some stretches and gave them a massage. Come on legs!! Let's work together on this!

It was a while later, as the route took us back through Hyde Park, that I saw one of the most incredible sights. There were people handing out Percy Pigs. I grabbed up a handful and spent the next 10 minutes hoping like hell nobody I knew would recognise me as I gorged on candy like a starving pack animal. My entire being was buzzing with joy (and a pre-emptive sugar high).

Oh Percy Pigs. You glorious sugary gelatinous swines of joy.

A little later, still on a Percy Pig high, I looked around at the crowds, the supporters, the sun sparkling on the Serpentine, and my whole being burst with happiness. (And sugar). I ran past the Scope tent and they all whooped and yelled and cheered my name. "COME ON CLAIRE!" I grinned and waved my arms in the air. YES!! I felt SUPERFANTASTIC! I saw some little children holding out their hands and without a second thought I high fived them all. YEAH! Then, noting their expressions of uncertainty, it dawned on me that perhaps they weren't high-fiving just anyone - that more likely, their mother was just behind me. Realising I may have just high-fived some stranger's kids, I sprinted off at top speed. I overtook swarms of people in an instant. Apparently mortification is an excellent untapped source of energy.

A little while later a kid with a giant foam hand was definitely high-fiving everyone. I knew it was safe. I high-fived that kid with GUSTO.

As the route twisted and turned through Hyde Park, I began to slow. By the ninth mile my right leg started to give up. Running on it really hurt - enough to slow me down significantly. I stopped, stretched a bit, ran on, but was capable of nothing more than a limping stride. I struggled to run ("Sod the pain!") but after each short burst was limping again - I imagined I looked a bit like a wounded animal. Although, there were quite a few wounded animals around me. A lot of people hurting. And at this point I was passing a few people being treated by ambulance staff, including a couple of unconcious runners being given oxygen.

I was still standing - I can do this!

My original plan had been to stick with the pre-established pace I'd trained for - which could keep me running for long periods quite happily - and then speed up and sprint the last mile or two. What I had not anticipated was how much pain my joints would be in. As I stumbled down a tree-lined path past the mile 11 marker, the Royal Albert memorial looming up ahead, I knew my original plan would be thwarted. I was in no position to sprint. Disappointment set in, and I tried once again to go faster, but continued to be slowed by the pain in my leg. I gritted my teeth, and set into a quick-limping hobble, pushing on towards the finish.

I cursed my leg. My stupid leg. Oh leg, why have you forsaken me?!

Suddenly up ahead, the finish line loomed. The crowds of supporters were dense on both sides, and everyone was cheering each runner down their final path to glory. This was it! This was what I came here for! All this work! All this time! One way or another I was going to make it!

I guess I had something of a Cool Runnings moment. Because out of nowhere, I sprinted. Grimacing, I raced my way towards the finish, and I made it, in 2hrs 44mins 14 secs. My whole body hurt, yet crossing the line felt amazing.


(And then I felt like I was going to throw up, and I had to have a sit down).

____________________________________________________________

So. Am I going to go out an run a marathon now?
No. And you can all stop bloody asking. I hate running.

But I might do another half marathon. I'd like to see if I can better my time.... as I say, I do like a challenge....

Saturday, 9 October 2010

Idris Elba, Lend Me Your Ear

Dear Mr Elba.

Out of all the classy broads you must come across in your day to day life of absolute coolness, I'm sure you remember Muireann? Your Valentine's Day phone date? She of saucy voice and fabulous hair, of dry wit and sparkling sass? Oh, well I guess you haven't seen her hair, but do stick with me here, Mr Elba, because here is your chance!

Bangsy (as she is known to me, but you can call her "Honeybun") is running a half marathon tomorrow. Impressive, no? That's thirteen miles you understand. THIRTEEN MILES. Almost 22kms!

*pauses for effect*

I realise you run half marathons in your sleep, and you eat criminals for breakfast and all, but this is kind of a big deal for most of us. AND to top it all off, Bangsy inspired ME to run it as well. Thirteen miles. Big deal. Like I said.

Because of Bangsy, I've now raised over £500 for the charity Scope, and on a more personal note, have discovered that running more than a mile will not, as I have always maintained, equal instant death. It's all very exciting, and I owe it all to our gal.

So I ask you, Mr Elba, if you're around Hyde Park could you come down and cheer on Bangsy? (I'm sure she wouldn't turn down a quick sports massage either, but I appreciate you're a busy man.) This is where she'll be. And, tragically, if that's not a possibility and you have some Cool Undercover Business to attend to, then maybe you could at least send a motivational tweet to @BangsandaBun?
(That's "Honeybun" to you).

Sincerely,
Claire.

Monday, 23 August 2010

The Good Shoes

I received a very special gift for my birthday this year. A meaningful one. It was a material gift, yes, but it was what the gift stood for, and where it came from, that meant so much.

I'm hardly going to bore you by discussing my finances, but I will just say that I don't have any disposable income these days. Since going freelance I'm working my butt off to get the rent paid, and that's about it. I've also been hunting for a day job but as yet have not been successful. So when my papa sent me a crisp note in my birthday card, I knew I would treat myself to something.

Unfortunately, I could only get one thing on that big mental shopping list in my head. I mentioned this on Twitter, as a completely throwaway, meaningless comment. I mentioned the shoes I really wanted, but which I would have to forgo in lieu of a new bag. (I'd wanted a new bag for a long time, but then I also don't own many decent pairs of shoes... heck, even the investment of my birthday money required careful consideration!)

Then I got a message from someone on Twitter. Someone I have a great deal of respect for, but whom I had never met in real life. The message I received completely took me by surprise.


This person offered to buy me the shoes.




Naturally my first question was, "But why would you want to do that?"

Their response? They knew about my struggle with the job hunt. They saw my determined optimism. They knew "how much little pick-me-ups can mean and what they can do for morale."

The genuine kindness of this gesture took me aback. I mean, we live in a world of "each for themself". How can someone be this generous?

I wanted to do something in return. Give them something. But they were having none of it. They insisted that the warmth of having done something good for someone else was payment enough. That they were once on the receiving end of a good deed and were now delighted to be able to pass it on.

I have to respect that. It's not hard to be generous but it actually takes a lot of guts. And if it makes that person feel good, then even better. So (partly still in shock) I accepted the offer of the birthday shoes.

Sure enough, the shoes arrived a couple of day later. Despite my stupidly big feet, they fit like a glove. I absolutely love them, but all the more for the kindness that had brought them to me in the first place.



I am not going to name the person who sent them to me, because I don't want them to feel uncomfortable about their generosity going public (plus they might start getting inundated with requests for shoes....). However, I hope they read this, and understand that they have inspired me. I will take the steps in these shoes to make someone else smile.

And you know what? It's not hard to find opportunities to make someone's day. I now keep thinking about all the countless things one can do, and that list really is endless. I intend to pass on the kindness, and I also hope this would be passed on again, until everyone's days are a little brighter.

The great thing about good deeds is that they are contagious. If we all did one little good deed every day, imagine how far they would spread!

So for my birthday this year I was given the gift of shoes, but also the gift of inspiration. A reminder that even the smallest good deeds can mean so much. I won't forget it. Especially when I wear my new favourite shoes.

Thursday, 5 August 2010

Runner, Interrupted

When people travel abroad, and change their existential status from "locals" to "tourists", several other fundamental traits change with them. For instance, the ability to dress conspicuously.
In a city at home, people will wear normal clothes, carry a handbag or wallet, and on a rainy day take with them an umbrella or jacket. In a city abroad, the logic of dressing normally is forgotten, and strutting around in rubber shoes, plastic ponchos and carrying a money-belt is all the rage. I do not get this. Umbrellas pack up small. There is no need to walk around like an drowned, crumpled ghost who needs directions. Also, you CAN get comfortable walking shoes which are not fluorescent and made of rubber. They're called trainers.
As for the money-belt... well, lifting your shirt every time you want to buy a sandwich is hardly the epitome of security. The money-belt is the travelling equivalent of a burgler carrying a sack with a dollar sign on it.
Some subtlety, please.

More concerningly, when people travel abroad they immediately lack spacial awareness. You know - the ability to walk amongst other people without bumping into them. This goes out the window the moment somebody steps onto foreign soil, and leads to a constant lemming-esque pinball effect of people in ponchos. I don't feel I am being unfair when I say that tourists will walk in every direction except the one they are facing, and that there is always an appalled look thrown at anyone who tries to pass through a group of tourists who have lined themselves across the entire breadth of the footpath. (Oh, and note to tourists: when taking a photo of someone which requires standing on opposite sides of a busy pedestrian route, please just take the photo. Don't take a second, or a third...) Awareness, please!

However, I have been a traveller for much of my life, and I am willing to be forgiving - heck, even patient - when it comes to dealing with tourists in my (now) home town. It is easy to become cantankerous and unsympathetic, especially in a city like London, where locals operate on warp speed, and exist in their own bubble. Yet no matter how patient one is, the fact is it can be very difficult for tourists and locals to co-exist in the same space. After all, there are (apparently) over 70,000 tourists in London every day.
The source of my personal chagrin, though, is that the majority seem to congregate on my running route.

It wasn't long ago that I was convinced I'd never be a runner. Running was against my religion. I was allergic to running. If I ran, I would immediately die. But I am also someone who likes to discover my limits (and not just of my patience, eh tourists?) so I started to go for the odd jog. It was the best way to exercise for free, and once I got going it was actually OK. I could actually do it. Running didn't cause instant death. Sometimes (sometimes) I even enjoyed my little bursts of running mania. It felt free and liberating to move quickly on my own two feet, the wind in my hair and music in my ears.

So then, inspired by the awesome blogger, and former anti-running ambassador BangsandaBun, I signed up to run the Royal Parks half marathon this October. This meant, of course, that I would now have to get really serious with my running. My schedule requires me to run for anything from 25 to 55 minutes, five days a week. For sixteen weeks. Clearly I was insane to sign up to something like this, but I'm doing it for charity, (and a charity for people who are physically disabled at that, so if I ever whine about my legs hurting I will obviously be struck down by lightning).

The best route for running in my area is along the river, in a circuit which crosses bridges and takes in City Hall, the Tower of London... all the beautiful sights and fresh riverside air. (As fresh as it gets in the city of London). There are no parks nearby, and running into the busy city is a nightmare. The riverside provides a tranquil space to run. It's also perfect in its flexibility of distance - if the run needs to be longer, I further my route for a few extra bridges. Simple. It is almost the perfect runner's route. Almost.

Tourists.

Oh tourists, I don't hold it against you that you want to congregate outside the major attractions of London. I don't. I wish you well, and I wish you the greatest day of your life taking all those photos of Traitor's Gate. But please, please, can you just look where you're going? It's not a big thing, just try to turn your heads in the direction you're walking. Take a quick glance before you suddenly change direction. And please don't give me an angry, shocked look when I am forced to pipe, "Excuse me!" if your family is taking up THE WHOLE FOOTPATH.

All the stopping, starting, dodging and weaving not only destroys any sense of rhythm & flow and makes the run that much more difficult, but I've come close to injuring my knees trying to twist and duck (yes, even duck) to avoid colliding with a directionless tourist. So, sadly, a while ago I gave up on the riverside route, and found another one through the uneven, cobbled backstreets of Wapping, stopping at every corner and driveway to check for cars. It's ok, and it's better than running into the city centre, but it's not ideal.

Needless to say I was ECSTATIC to hear talk of a runner's lane on the south bank. Cancer Research UK were launching "the world’s first urban running lane, an obstruction-free space for runners in the Capital." The lanes would be in place only for today as a pilot scheme, aiming "to give inner-city dwellers the chance to run uninterrupted by pedestrians and cars, just like a cycle lane. If the lane is successful the charity will look to roll it out nationally."

So this afternoon I went to test them out. There were two lanes, outlined clearly in smooth white lines, right in the middle of the Queen's walk, from the HMS Belfast to Tower Bridge. It looked very promising indeed.
However, I immediately noticed one problem.

Tourists.

Despite the lanes being described as "obstruction free", the tourists were dawdling all over these lanes like nobody's business. Which, ok, is fair enough - one can hardly expect everyone to clear the road at all times. The frustrating thing was that when runners came flying down the lanes, almost none of these people moved. They continued to stand around in a state of incomprehension.
Nevertheless, I pushed through the crowds and tripped over strollers, finally getting my groove on along the track, smiling as other runners passed me in the other direction in the second lane. This felt pretty nice!

Unfortunately it wasn't long before I saw a couple ambling towards me, side by side, one in each lane, dragging luggage behind them. Clearly, somewhere along the line, they had got the impression that these were special lanes for people with wheelie-suitcases. As I ran towards them, I gave them my best "Um, you might want to make some space there," look but they simply stared at me blankly. So I had to lurch around them.

The lanes were shorter than I would've liked - only 1km all up - but this was just the pilot scheme after all. Once they ended I continued through the throng of people to the next bridge, turned around, and ran back the way I had come in order to give the lanes one last go. Coming back was more successful. There seemed to be a few more runners on the track this time, and while there were still a few incognizant people strolling up and down like it was their own personal red carpet, most of them quickly moved out of the way. (Perhaps my violently urgent expression scared them off.) I only had to dodge one man, who didn't seem at all perturbed by the speeding people running straight for him and didn't budge an inch. (No awareness! None!)

Overall, though, this was the best run I had ever had along the south bank. It was also the first time I had run continuously along the Queen's Walk riverside path without stopping. In fact, I got such a good rhythm going, I ran faster than usual, and even OVERTOOK ANOTHER RUNNER. A MALE runner. A FIT male runner.
This was real progress, and I loved it.


Olympic and world gold medallist, Christine Ohuruogu tries out the world’s first urban running lane, an obstruction-free space for runners in the Capital

I would love to see London bring in more running paths within the city. Given how many runners there are here it would benefit a lot of people. I know some will think this is a case of runners being demanding elitists, but that's not true. People run for different reasons: for better health, for better fitness, for stress-relief, for a personal goal, or for a charity event - and in my case, all of the above. It is not only difficult to train if you are dodging people and continually stopping, but it's hard on the body. Having a space where one can run without people getting in the way, or without getting in the way of others would be an improvement for everyone.

I say bring on the running lanes! Space for everyone!
Maybe then it will be easier for tourists and locals to co-exist after all.

_____________________________________________________________




NB: If anyone wishes to sponsor me in the Royal Parks half marathon, in aid of Scope, please visit this link!.

Thursday, 29 July 2010

Real Is Not A Size

The equalities minister Lynne Featherstone has declared that Christina Hendricks, star of the TV series Mad Men, should be a "role model" for women and the fashion industry to aspire to.


In her (absolutely admirable) mission to combat the unhealthy ideals encouraged by the beauty and fashion industries, Featherstone is battling the "unrealistic stereotypes" of stick-thin models in magazines and advertising. And in the process, Featherstone has singled out the buxom, size 14 Hendricks as having the ideal female figure. "Christina Hendricks is absolutely fabulous," says Featherstone. "We need more of these role models.”

I find this a particularly interesting statement to make. Without question, I believe that we need to create more positive and realistic role models for young women. Overtly skinny models are blamed for encouraging a negative body image, and I think that they do create a dangerous ideal for girls. However, holding up the figure of Christina Hendricks as the ideal body is actually just as risky. With her waspish waist and large bosom, is her figure any more attainable than a wispy model’s? I feel that while heralding Hendricks as the perfect body will bring a sigh of relief from the naturally curvaceous girls - who have previously strived for a lithe figure they can never have - suddenly there are new impossible goals for women without curves.

In truth, society might be trying to make things better, but its view on body image is still skewed. In trying to change the attitude that “skinny = good”, it has merely flipped to “skinny = bad”. This is an entirely unfair perspective as of course, many women are naturally thin, and suddenly they are supposed to feel bad about themselves. It’s exactly what the “skinny = good” perspective has been doing to big girls for years. I appreciate what Lynne Featherstone is trying to achieve here, but this is not improving our ideals, it is merely switching them around.

Everyone loves to declare that women come in all shapes and sizes. So why is nobody accepting this fact? The media frequently discusses “real women” to describe anyone size 14 and up. How unfair is that statement? So women who are lean or petite are not real? So they are somehow bad people? I am not of a thin build, but if I were, I would be feeling pretty bad about myself right now.

Creating any “ideal” is going to cause body criticism somewhere else. It creates a divide. For example, I am big-chested and I find it a troublesome feature: as well as trying to find clothes that fit well, a large bust also draws a lot of unwanted attention. Yet society's "ideal" includes big boobs, so I don’t feel I am entitled to complain. In effect, I am wary of discussing how frustrated I am with my excessive bosom, because excessive bosoms are the desire of anyone who hasn’t got them. Any comment I make about being lumbered with their size is misconstrued as bragging... and I am inundated with remarks that I’m lucky and should “show them off” more. Yet on the flipside, small-chested women who discuss their desires for bigger boobs will receive nothing but empathy. This is what happens when you set a single ideal: everyone is expected to want the same thing.

I know naturally slim women who complain about feeling boyish and who long for curves. They too seem reluctant to talk about it, as if skinny women are expected to feel grateful somehow. Why are we unable to celebrate more than one shape? Why must we choose a "side"?

Skinny is only a negative thing if someone is unnaturally so. Just as curvaceous figures are only negative if unhealthily so. I believe if there is to be any ideal it should simply be a healthy, happy version of every woman’s own individual figure. There should be no negativity about a certain shape. The reason we are so unsatisfied is because we are all SO different, and trying to fit ourselves into an ideal is completely disasterous. It sets women against each other, turning critical eyes towards fellow females, and against ourselves.

If you have a body like Christina Hendricks then enjoy it. If you have a body like Keira Knightley, then enjoy it. Whatever it is, your figure is your own. Embrace it. Be healthy and happy. There is no perfect dress size. The term "real women" should refer to women who are real, whatever shape that might mean.

Wednesday, 21 July 2010

It Could Be Worse...

After years of working hard to reach this point, I now work for myself as a freelance writer. I took a huge leap of faith to get here, and I have come further than I had hoped I might. It's been an exciting and rewarding period of my life.

The time has now come, however, for me to go back to a day job in addition to my writing. I've got the proverbial ball rolling, and now I need to keep it going while still paying the rent. Unfortunately, the search for a sub editor/copywriter or similar journalistic/media role has been extremely difficult in a competitive industry where demand well exceeds opportunity. Lately I have found the effort poured into my applications is wearing me down. My confidence has taken a knock, and I feel stuck in a financial and motivational rut.

So it was rather refreshing to come across an email from my last major non-media role, back when I was a receptionist/secretary/office lackey. Those were the days when the idea of being commissioned to write an article seemed like an impossible dream. Any career frustrations I might be suffering from right now seem tiny in comparison to the real, scream-into-a-pillow career rut I was in back then.

This email represents a typical day in my old career life.
It might just be the best dose of perspective I could ever get.



* This is a real email; names of all but myself have been changed

------------------------------------------------------------

From: Jones,Steve
Sent: 24 October 2007 13:29
To: Morris, Audrey
Cc: Jackson, Tim
Subject: Gents toilets

Dear Audrey

I would be grateful if you send round a plumber to fix the Gents toilets. It would appear that some members of staff are having problems flushing them which leads to unpleasant surprises on a daily basis.

Thanks very much.
Please feel free to contact me should you need any assistance.

With kind regards

Yours sincerely
Steve Jones

Corporate Finance

------------------------------------------------------------


From: Morris, Audrey
Sent: 24 October 2007 13:37
To: Jones, Steve; Nelson, Claire
Cc: Jackson, Tim
Subject: RE: Gents toilets

The toilets are maintained by the landlord and any problems should be reported immediately to the help desk. Claire please do this now.


------------------------------------------------------------


From: Nelson, Claire
Sent: 24 October 2007 13:42
To: Morris, Audrey; Jones, Steve
Cc: Jackson, Tim
Subject: RE: Gents toilets

Hi Audrey,

I have actually reported this twice recently (the previous time was just last week).

However, on both occasions after repairmen have come to take a look, I was told by facilities that the flushes do work, but that they take a couple of seconds to flush when you hold them down. Apparently as they are not actually faulty, they are not replacing them.

However, I can speak to them again.

Claire


------------------------------------------------------------

From: Morris, Audrey
Sent: 24 October 2007 13:44
To: Nelson, Claire; Jones,Steve
Cc: Jackson, Tim
Subject: RE: Gents toilets

Please explain the problem to them in detail so they can properly resolve it.

If special instructions on flushing are necessary, they should be clearly posted for users...


------------------------------------------------------------

From: Nelson, Claire
Sent: 24 October 2007 13:53
To: Morris, Audrey; Jones, Steve
Cc: Jackson, Tim
Subject: RE: Gents toilets

I have explained this to them thoroughly Audrey, and apparently it is just a matter of holding the flush down.

But as I said I will talk to them again and push the matter toward a better resolution if I can.

Thanks,
Claire

Wednesday, 7 July 2010

7/7: Five Years On

Five years ago today, I was a wide-eyed New Zealander who had been in London for only two months, and was still a stranger to the city. I was living in Cricklewood, London, and had just started temping as a travel consultant in Tower Hill. I didn't know many people, and would regularly email home from the internet cafe across from my flat. I was relishing the strangeness of it all, and it was a wonderfully exciting time.

Then the bombs went off. This is the actual email I sent home that day.


-----Original Message-----
From: Claire Nelson
To: Home
Sent: Thu, Jul 7, 2005 9:41 pm
Subject: A very strange day.

A series of bomb attacks on London's transport network has killed more than 30 people and injured about 700 others. 
 
Thank you for those who have sent me texts and emails - yes I'm safe and well, although it has been the most surreal day. 

This morning I got on the tube as usual, changed at Westminster, and stood packed shoulder to shoulder with hundreds of other commuters. I had my headphones on, and thought how ridiculous it is for people to be squashed in like this but that I was somewhat used to it now. Then, just before we were to pull into Tower Hill station, the train suddenly stopped. There was silence.  (Well, I was listening to T-Rex, but only very quietly). The thing is, I started to feel a bit panicky. There was no reason to – this sort of thing happens all the time – but I did, and I felt silly for it. There was no announcement from the driver initially, and it started to get really really hot. Sweat started to trickle down my face. 

I took my headphones off and looked around me. People were all looking very uncomfortable. I held a cold drink in my bag to my forehead and wondered how long I could stand the heat before I went crazy and smashed a window. I decided I would not be the first to wuss out! Then the driver announced that there was a power surge which had caused the signal failure, and we would be up and running again shortly. And we were. 

As we all stumbled out of the station at Tower Hill there was a barrier up stopping people from coming in. It was raining, and outside there was a large crowd looking furious. An old lady pushed past me into the station. “Sorry ma’am, you can’t come into the station,” said a security officer. I thought there must have been a problem with the line. I didn’t think it was anything serious. Why would I?  
 
I got to work late, and was left to man the phones while the others had a meeting. A man called to speak to the boss in our area and when I said he was in a meeting he said “Well let him know there was a bomb at Liverpool St Station.” 
Really? 
Then calls started coming in from colleagues’ family members and friends, checking that they were alive. When the team came back they were all shocked by the news, and suddenly no one could do any work. We managed to get onto the news websites and found out what had gone on.  More bombs had gone off. One of the girls I was working with said she would have been at Liverpool Street except she decided to go swimming this morning, and she was pretty shaken. 
All morning we had more and more updates, and each time it was worse. Suddenly it was luchtime... the morning had gone so quickly... but no one took their breaks. We had even been told at one point not to leave the building, although we knew other places had sent their staff home.

The mobile networks had been shut down so no one could reach anyone else. The rumour behind this was that the bombs had been set off via mobile (as the Madrid bombings had been). I had emailed most of you before I really knew what was happening but once I realised it was serious, I was so relieved to get emails from a lot of you. I thought, “What are you lot doing up so late!” But it made me feel really cared about, so thank you.
 
I left work early, at 4.40pm, and didn’t arrive at my doorstep until 8:15pm. 
That has to be the longest commute of my life! It involved a 2 hour walk from Tower Hill to Euston station – one of the only stations to be open, and from there I could catch a mainline train to Kilburn Park – not quite home, but somewhere in that vicinity. The underground was closed completely, and all inner-city buses were suspended. People were worried about getting home and many were booking hotels or arranging to stay with friends. I couldn’t do either, so decided to leg it.

When I left my office building and came out into the bright sunshine of the street, there were hundreds of people, most of them in suits, walking the streets with maps. Everyone I passed seemed to be talking about finding a way home. A big shaven-headed fellow walking near me looked at me and shook his head.
“Chaos, innit?” he said. 
“Bit like that.” I replied. Then he asked me for directions. I had a lot of people asking me for directions, probably because I was clutching my A-Z rather desperately.

From there, my walk inevitably took me past Aldgate, Liverpool Street and Kings Cross Stations, each of them a target of the bombings. I passed Aldgate first, being close to Tower Hill, and saw it was blocked off in every direction. There was a tent outside the station amongst the ambulances, which must be for taking care of the injured, or perhaps the dead. 

It was hard to work out a route home on my A-Z as so many streets were cordoned off with tape and police officers. People were wandering all over the place, looking bewildered, following other people, but not exactly knowing how to get home. It was like mice in a maze. The roads had mostly been closed off so there were very few vehicles about... just a few taxis and a lot of police cars & ambulances.  I wandered down Bishopsgate, past Liverpool Street. This had been the street I spent my lunch hours wandering along a couple of weeks back when working for the European Bank. If I had still been working there then I would have definitely been at Liverpool Street Station at 8:49am when the first bomb went off in the tunnel there. I can't let go of that reality but I feel a bit sick to think about it. 

All the shops in the area had long been closed, and the windows were dark. People filled the footpaths, wandering in a mass exodus towards the station, which to my surprise had just been reopened. A crowd surged in through the entrance. There was no way in hell I was going back into the underground today – I didn’t even contemplate it. I bought a paper outside the station, which was packed full of dramatic headlines, and carried on.

The weather was off and on all day. It was getting really hot, and I was sweltering. I didn’t really know where I was going, but tried following my map along main roads to keep it easier.  I overheard a man telling someone on his phone that he was heading to Euston station so I followed him for a bit. He was wearing an olive green suit so it was easy to tail him.
 
Passing Kings Cross a little later was unnerving. It is such a large station, and a bit of a landmark, but the streets all around were closed. Even little side streets with small hotels along it were closed. Police stood at each street entrance and were giving people directions for detours. Looking down each street you could see the station looming at the end of it, no sign of damage to the outside, but looking rather dead, as if you could sense the awful scenes inside it. That may sound silly to you but it gave me the shivers.
 
Cherry pickers with camera men on the top stood at the ends of some of the streets, getting close ups of the station. It had started to get cold when I finally reached Euston station.  Total madhouse – again, entrances were cordoned off nearby, camera crews were setting up all over the place, not to film the station but to film other scenes close to it. I didn’t stop to see what they were filming, I just wanted to get home.

*[I later learned I had just walked past the scene of the bus bomb at Tavistock square]

I spoke to a nice ticket man who confirmed that yes, my travelcard would get me on the Silverline to Kilburn Park. But what the nice ticket man didn’t tell me was that Kilburn Park station was not open today. It was weird enough getting on the train after what went on this morning. There was a general sense of unease in the air. Strangers on the train were all talking to each other about conflicting information they’d been given regarding stations and which ones were open. But then we were off, and it wasn’t until I ended up in [?] that I realised this train wasn’t any use to me. I stood on the platform, feeling rather deflated. It started to rain and I was currently carrying the world’s smallest umbrella. I really wanted a cuddle and a cup of tea at that point. Instead, I got directions from a rail representative, and caught a bus back towards home. It took two more buses actually, before I arrived in Cricklewood. 
 
I wanted to crawl into bed and read a book but the sun has come out again and it's still light.  There is a strange energy in the streets, and I can’t stop thinking about today. I keep thinking that I shouldn’t be so dramatic, it’s over, and that’s the end of it, I have lost no one and nothing, and I am grateful for it. 
But then every few minutes the enormity of it all sinks in a little and I feel a bit shaken.  I am sure by tomorrow I will feel normal again. 

I might even go back on the underground in the morning... I really don’t fancy that walk again.
 
Lots of love,
Claire

Grow Up Lindsay

Lindsay Lohan has been sentenced to 90 days in jail for violating her probation.
In 2007, Lindsay Lohan pleaded guilty to being under the influence of cocaine and two counts of drunk driving and one count of reckless driving. She has since breached the terms of her probation, and missed the meetings she's agreed to.

Yet what HAS she been doing all this time? In May 2009 she was fired from a film she was meant to be starring in. In autumn 2009 she worked on the film Machete, and in September 2009 she became an artistic advisor for fashion brand Emanuel Ungaro, which received a "disasterous" reception, according to sources, and she left the brand in March 2010. She was a guest on Alan Carr's "Chatty Man" chat show in March this year and made a TV appearance on Double Exposure in June.

Oh, and she has apparently been swanning off to the Cannes Film Festival, and trying to save the children.

Busy girl, huh?

No.

No, Lindsay, you were not too busy to meet the terms of your probation. They were pretty simple, really. You were irresponsible and you could have killed someone. Just because you are a pretty celebrity, doesn't mean the law does not apply to you. BE AN ADULT.

Lindsay has been let off lightly once too often. At her hearing in 2007, she was sentenced to four days imprisonment and 10 days community service. She was also ordered to pay fines and complete an alcohol education program, and was given three years probation.

However she only spent only 84 minutes behind bars before being let out, apparently due to "overcrowding and the nonviolent nature of the crime".
Lucky girl.

THEN she missed a probation hearing in May because she was apparently "stranded" in France (*coughcoughCANNEScoughcough*) because - according to her lawyers - her passport was stolen. I know you can get an emergency passport within 24 hours, and it should be especially easy if you have the cash to flash to get it done. So that's no excuse.

As a result, Lindsay was fitted with an alcohol-monitoring bracelet, which TOTALLY clashed with her designer gear. This prompted her to post a message on Twitter: “can CHANEL please help me out by getting me some stickers to put on my scram bracelet so that i can at least wear a chic dress?! maybe!? x”. Nice try Lindsay. Do the crime, do the unfashionable time.

Of course being stuck in France is one thing, but as for the alcohol education courses she was supposed to attend, she didn't complete them on time and missed several meetings. According to Lindsay she thought she could do two one week and then miss the next week if she had to work. She says, after her sentence, that "it confused me because I was there thinking it was ok that I had missed those classes... had I known differently, again, like I said I would have made sure that I was in town each week and I would have balanced my work around that..."

THAT'S WHAT YOU SHOULD HAVE DONE IN THE FIRST PLACE LINDSAY.
It's a court order, not a party invitation. You have to be there, or else there are consequences.

No it's not nice to witness the misfortune of others - but she has brought this on herself. She is 24, and must learn to take responsibility for herself like the rest of us have had to. She can't cry her way out of this.

Her parents have hardly helped her cause. I find it grotesque that Lindsay's mother Dina Lohan is a TV celebrity simply because she rode in on the wave of her daughter's fame. She's launched a career of having famous daughters (Lindsay's younger sister is now becoming a pop singer) and Dina even signed up to a reality show, "Living with Lindsay Lohan". I've seen that show, and it made me feel sick to my stomach with the fame-hungry HORROR of it all. It starts to make a bit of sense that Lindsay is coming off the rails so young.

Following the jail sentence, Dina's reponse was: "It's not fair to do this to my child."
Actually, Dina, Lindsay did this to herself. And you also kinda brought it on.

Don't blame the law, nobody asked Lindsay to break it.


Sunday, 4 July 2010

Free the children

I feel sorry for the children of today. It sometimes seems as if they have so much more than the previous generations, but the sad truth is, they don't have it easier at all. Having cellphones, email and fancy toys might be one thing, but what they are missing out on is the freedom to be children.
I was reminded about this issue today while reading the Sunday Times, where I learned that two children, aged eight and five, cycle to school every day on their own. Because of this, their school is threatening to report their parents to social services.

Social services? You have GOT to be kidding me!

This 1-mile commute to school may have become a source of consternation to the school and other parents, but it has also become a unwitting protest for the few freedoms children are given. Ignorance and intolerance from adults seems to be at an all-time high.

Case in point, a quote from the headmaster of the school:
"If a school feels a child in their care is at risk, they have a legal responsibility to notify the local authority. Is an eight-year old responsible enough to come to school with a five year old and take responsibility when it comes to crossing busy roads? What would happen if the five year-old has a tantrum?"

This is a frustratingly narrow-minded attitude. If a child of eight is not given the opportunity to act responsibly, then they will never learn to be responsible. To mature and develop a child needs the freedom to grow. The same goes for a child of five; and why would a child throw a tantrum while they were cycling? If they did, how is this a threat to themself or their older sibling? Kids are pretty good at dealing with their younger siblings when they need to be. It is a shame that this headmaster undermines the potential of the children in his care.

However, more crucially, this is another example of ways in which families are being damanged by the bureaucracies supposedly set up to protect them. Misguided interpretation of laws can only lead to misguided reactions. The Department for Children, Schools and Families allows schools to play the social services card at the slightest whiff of risk, even if it prevent parents from raising their children the way they feel is best. Why does a headmaster get to decide what is best, over a child's own parents?

After all, we're not talking about child neglect, or child abuse, or lack of parenting altogether. This is about a normal happy family, and the quest for a decent, healthy childhood. It's a bike ride to school, one mile, where they pass by busy roads but cross only where a lollipop lady is on duty. Why social services need to get involved (when there are plenty of children out there who really ARE in danger, and nothing is being done about it - but I digress) is beyond me.

The mother of these two children, Gillian Schonrock, says: 
"The benefits to our children far outweigh the potential risk from 'stranger danger', road traffic accidents and other factors."

Their father adds, "We wanted to recreate the simple freedom of our childhood. We would love it if our kids could just pop around the corner to see their friends, but that's totally out these days. These days children live such regimented lives. They can do nothing unless it's planned."

I completely agree with these parents. And this makes me suspect the headmaster is laying down the law to appease other worried parents, who cannot fathom a child going out in their own. The fear of some is forced to become the concern of all, and this is what drives the greatest threat to us all - 'the Nanny State'.

It's unfair to wrap children up in cotton wool. It offers no benefit to the child - in fact, trying to avoid any possible risks does more harm than good.
Taken from the article again:
Frank Furedi, professor of sociology at Kent University, said he had been contacted by dozens of parents in a similar situation. He believes the state is steadily encroaching and that excessive protection of children harms their development: "The irony is that the measures these parents took actually protect the children by developing resilience and resourcefulness through facing challenging situations."

I cannot imagine the physical, burning need a parent has to protect their child. But going overboard to protect them from one thing (paedophiles, dangerous drivers) can automatically cause new, and less obvious dangers (lack of confidence, distrust in other people, emotional neediness, and inevitable rebelliousness).
I personally think the latter should be more of a concern than perverts and kidnappers. For as long as a child grows up with a fear of danger and a suspicion of others, then they will never truly develop into someone open to relationships and prepared for what life throws at them. And this is damaging.

The key to a child's development is not in trying to keep them away from risks, but through giving them the opportunities to overcome them.

I feel very strongly about this, because I was lucky enough to be given the very freedom the Schonrocks are trying to give their children. And I have never doubted this gave me the strength and the confidence I needed to be who I am now.

My own childhood was full of freedom.... and yes, even some risk-taking. My parents trusted me to be responsible and I did my best to withhold that trust. In fact, my younger brother and I were the same ages as the Schonrock kids when we used to cycle to school by ourselves.
If my parents were worried about this, they did not project those fears onto me. We were educated about stranger danger and road safety, but once equipped with those lessons we were set free to enjoy ourselves. Of course I could have been hit by a car, or followed by a strange man in a mac, but the fact is I wasn't. And if I had been?
Well, what if I had choked on my dinner one night and died?
How far does one go to protect from the "what if"s?

Nobody can deny that the times have changed. Yet I think the only marked difference between a childhood today and a childhood 20 years ago is that parents have become more afraid. They are more suspicious. More likely to take their children under their wings and not let them out to fly. The Schonrocks seem to be in a minority of parents who are not letting their worries overcome their children's need for independence. It's very easy to believe that these days there are more bad people, more violent encounters, more bad drivers. But these things have always been there. What has changed is the level of our mistrust, and the extremity of our precautions.

Perhaps my views stem from living in a different place, rather than a different time.
I grew up in New Zealand, where paranoia was not so abundant. When I was eight years old my biggest fear wasn't drunk drivers or paedophiles. I was more scared of earthquakes, tsunamis (and big spiders). At school we would practice earthquake drills and told time and time again that "The Big One" was years overdue. Our teachers told us to stock up on canned food and bottles of water in case of emergency.
As far as I was aware, ANY MINUTE NOW the entire country could be shaken to its core and everyone's homes destroyed. THIS was my biggest fear, and given that it was out of my control, I learned that I just had to get on with life. Take precautions, but don't stop living. As a child that's an incredibly liberating lesson to learn. If only more adults would realise that too.

You cannot control the things you are afraid of, and letting them prevent you - or your children - from living life is, in fact, the greatest danger of all.

Me, age 8, and my brother, age 6, cycling to school in 1990:

video


* [original article from the Sunday Times by Kevin Dowling] 




Wednesday, 30 June 2010

Whining and Wine - SATC2

Last week I went to Sex & the City 2.

I am a massive fan of the TV series. Largely because it started out witty and clever, and offered an excitingly different style of television series. Then later, because it was a form of escapism... and despite it's subtle slide away from relationships and towards fashion, I had fallen into a vicarious friendship with the characters.

I want to clarify that Carrie Bradshaw irritated me from series 2 onwards. I understand that as the lead character, everything tends to revolve around her, but Carrie really did think the world orbited her Manolos. Not only was her selfishness towards her friends rather frightful, but she was a terrible girlfriend. Case in point...

Sick of being dicked around by the commitment-phobic Mr Big, she dates the attentive Aiden, who adores her - for reasons which are not clear. He takes her to his country cabin, to which she wears high heels, and screams when she sees a squirrel. They have nothing in common, but he's so good to her that she complains to her friends that her relationship has no problems.
("What was wrong was, for the first time in my life, I was in a relationship where absolutely nothing was wrong. Nothing but calm seas and blue horizon as far as the eye can see.")
So then she cheats on Mr Perfect with Mr Big. They break up. Then, when Aiden finally gets over her, Carrie sees him again, asks him out, and they get back together. In time he proposes but despite not wanting to marry him, she says yes. Then treats him like dirt because she resents having to be engaged.

However, The Problem with Carrie Bradshaw is a whole other blog waiting to happen. Suffice to say, I am not a Carrie fan. I loved Miranda, for her realistic combination of cynicism and emotional fragility. Samantha, for being (especially in contrast to Carrie) an incredibly loyal and unselfish friend, and for her brutal honesty. Charlotte for her hilariously prim and sweetly childlike optimism in happy endings.
The series ended with a wonderful overview of where each of the central characters had ended up, and all of them seemed happy. It was nice.

Then there was the movie.

When Sex & the City: The Movie came out, everyone was curious to see what it was going to offer. Fashion - undoubtedly. Yet I am disappointed that fashion has become its focus. What of the characters?

Quick overview of the first film:
Carrie is now a richer version of her TV self, dating uber-wealthy Mr Big, (who tells her she makes him happy, but doesn't write her poetry, the bastard.) They decide to get married, if he agrees to build her a walk-in closet, and she becomes so wrapped up in the fashion and frenzy of their upcoming wedding that she forgets about her husband-to-be. Oh yeah, that guy. The commitment-phobe she spent six series chasing. He feels neglected. Neither of them talk about this, of course. Mr Big sulks outside the wedding, drives away, changing his mind just too late enough to run into his ditched bride who deigns never to speak to him again. The whole world has now ended.
Miranda is still working hard as a partner in a law firm, married to the ever-likeable Steve and struggling to look after their one kid with the help of their Ukranian housekeeper-slash-nanny. The sex has gone out of their marriage, as these things do. Neither of them talk about this, of course. Steve has an affair. Miranda leaves him, and they juggle custody of their son. She is not allowed to be dramatic about this though, because Carrie has a crisis.
Samantha is now living in LA with her younger movie-star boyfriend. He's away a lot, so they only have sex fifty times a month, and her extremely high-profile PA job doesn't require her to do very much. She feels constrained by her new life waiting around for a man. They actually do talk about this, because Samantha doesn't beat around the bush (excuse the pun). Overall, Samantha is bored, and misses her carefree days of easy sex in New York. This is her big crisis.
Charlotte doesn't have a crisis. She is wealthy enough that she no longer works. She is married to the adorable Harry, who worships her, and they live in their massive apartment with their really cute adopted daughter. The writers tried to be fair though, so in one scene Charlotte poops in her pants.

Everything works out in the end though - Carrie gets back with Mr Big when he sends her poetry. Miranda gets back with Steve after they talk things through. Samantha breaks up with Smith and is now free to sleep around. Charlotte gets her pants cleaned, and has a baby.

All in all the first film was fun - ridiculous in parts, and disappointing in others, yes (for all Jennifer Hudson's charms, she felt too much like the token young/black/not-a-twiglet character) - but fun. I even cried when Steve announced his affair, because I care about these characters, y'know? The movie ended with an even bigger, shinier bow than the series had, and that, we all thought, was the end of it.

It wasn't.

When it was announced they were shooting a sequel, I knew things were really going to go downhill (although clearly none of the character's jowls or bank balances). What tricky problems could they come up with now that everyone was living happily ever after? How far fetched were they going to have to go?
At the end of the day, there is little point in exhuming the corpse of a horse and continuing to flog it, because it can't go any further. Really.

Yet, the release of Sex & the City came and went, and the reviews were predictably divided between "OMG loved it THE FASHION!" and "I want to throw up in my mouth at this visual pit of shallow overconsumption."

The trailers revealed that the four women go to Abu Dhabi, all expenses paid, for reasons nobody is really sure of, except it was more convenient to set the movie there. Apparently releasing a movie about rich women in America during the recession was a bad idea, so they went somewhere they could get away with expensive and over-the-top fashion. I guess that makes sense... but did anyone stop to consider the plot? And, you know, the characters? The ones draped in the expensive and over-the-top fashion? I began to feel afraid.

The reviews started coming in, and statements of disgust were showered all over the internet. I heard stories of Samantha throwing condoms in the marketplace and screaming "I have sex!" Of Mulsim women throwing off their burkhas to reveal couture. Of Charlotte crying because her life is too hard. Of Miranda quitting her job to become a stay-at-home mother. Of Carrie whining about being married. That Aiden comes back. And something bad happens.

Despite my hesitation, I knew I would have to see this film eventually, and so I did. I went with my best friend, and the decision to get blotto on wine before (and during) the movie seemed like a good idea at the time. I felt it would at least allow me to not take it all too seriously. Right? The only problem with this plan was that it resulted in my inability to see straight, and for most of the movie I had to close one eye to stop seeing two of everyone.

So if my judgement is slightly skewed, or I get facts wrong, this is why. That's my disclaimer and I'm sticking with it.

Sex & The City 2: The Overview

(Spoiler alert: although really? are you that worried?)


The film opens with quick flashbacks to how each of the characters looked when Carrie first met them all those years ago. It was disappointing that, with all the CGI available these days, they were happy to let us pretend they didn't all look like middle-aged women in 80's get-up. (I suppose to be fair, the film budget was set aside purely for the designer labels, rather than special effects). Oh, but it was a bit of fun, I guess. I did have to laugh at Miranda's appearance.



The girls are getting together to buy a wedding gift for someone from Bergdorf Goodman. This particular scene offends my intelligence. There, I said it.
It OFFENDS MY INTELLIGENCE AS A HUMAN BEING.

The foursome walk up to the registry desk to buy a gift for what we discover is "Carrie's-best-gay-friend" Stanford Blatch's wedding. I guess there is meant to be some sort of suspense here about who he is marrying, and lo and behold, he's betrothed to "Charlotte's-best-gay-friend" Anthony Marintino. In case this is lost on anyone, Charlotte squeals, "Her gay best friend is marrying MY gay best friend!"

If you haven't watched the series, I shall take a moment to clarify that Stanford and Anthony spent the entire series HATING EACH OTHER. Their rivalry was deliciously bitchy and completely believable and I loved it. Yet here we were, shopping for their wedding gift.

At this point, standing in the store, Miranda asks the question that is on every intelligent person's mind -
"How did this happen? I thought they hated each other?"
THANK YOU Miranda. Thank you for asking the question we're all wondering ourselves. However, you would think that someone would have asked this before this point? Perhaps when they got the invitations? Or when they discussed meeting up to buy the wedding gift?
The writers are not even trying.
This is proven further when Samantha answers Miranda's question with,
"It's like musical chairs: the music stopped, and they were the last two left standing."
Really? Is that how it works? Because frankly, this OFFENDS MY INTELLIGENCE AS A HUMAN BEING!

The gay wedding goes by with gay cliche after gay cliche, and everyone making snide remarks about potential cheating. Ah, love. Then Liza Minnelli appears, because apparently, if there is this much gay energy in the room, Liza has to show up. (Miranda's words, not mine).
She sings Beyonce's 'Single Ladies (Put a Ring On It)' which was.... interesting. And kinda fun. I can't really knock Liza. She did her best. Word of warning, though - Liza doing a Beyonce requires a two drink minimum.

Back to New York, where the real plot begins - ie. everyone's lives are now so much more stressful and problem-filled than ever before!

Life in Carrie & Big's world continues in a haze of dripping wealth; Carrie continues to go to the shops in full designer garb. It's their two-year wedding anniversary, and Carrie gives Big a vintage Rolex (because what else do you give the man who has everything?) Then Big presents Carrie with her gift, which is a flatscreen TV, so that they can curl up in bed and watch old movies together. Carrie is visibly appalled.
"A piece of jewellery would've been nice," she says.

Overall, Carrie feels stuck in a married rut, and hates the fact that Big just wants to stay in with her, eat takeout food and watch TV.
Carrie: "It's become all about the couch and the take-out."
Stanford: "Count your blessings. Remember when you couldn't even get him to sleep over?"
THANK YOU Stanford. I've always liked you. I'm sorry they married you off to your arch nemisis.

Carrie doesn't discuss her concerns with her husband though, or suggest things they can do together. She sulks, and spends a weekend at her old apartment (yes, they keep her old apartment as a spare) writing her column.
[Tangential question: can anyone really keep a job writing a column about sex after 20 years? Columnists? Editors? Your thoughts?]

Life is tough for Carrie Bradshaw

When she gets back from apartment number two, Big admits he liked having the house to himself  - no doubt because he was free to watch TV without Carrie whining - and suggests they make it a regular thing.
Carrie: "So you're telling me that you want two days off a week from me?"
Big: "You know.. so I can watch TV, do all of the shit that bugs you."
Yes Carrie, so he can get some space from all your whining.

Carrie takes it personally. And as usual, she doesn't discuss it with Big, she whines to her girlfriends.
Of course, her girlfriends all have Major Issues of their own.

Miranda, the kick-ass lawyer, has had her views at work cast aside one too many times and she's fed up. Rather than change firms, or - as the Miranda of old would have done - stand up for herself, she takes Steve's suggestion and quits her job altogether. To be fair, I can understand this because I've been there myself, and like all Miranda's plot-lines, hers is actually the most realistic. Although apparently Steve's bar is making a KILLING because money doesn't even seem to be an issue.

Charlotte is struggling to be a mother to her two kids, despite a team of hired helpers, and has also just employed a nanny who for some reason doesn't like to wear a bra. And she SHOULD wear a bra. I spent a lot of the movie shaking my fist at the screen and yelling "WEAR A BRA!!" whenever the nanny came on screen.
I am not sure why Charlotte hired someone who dresses so inappropriately in the first place, or why she didn't just have a quiet word to this person she has hired to take care of her children. Most likely she is too stressed out trying to handle those few snatched moments where she actually has to look after the children by herself and they vie for her attention. This is shown in the scene where Charlotte is baking with the two girls, and Lily puts her dirty hands on Charlotte's skirt.
"AHH! My vintage Valentino skirt!" screams Charlotte, and then hides in the pantry in tears.


I like Charlotte, and I want to try and sympathise with her struggle, but I just can't. Not even when she says, for the sake of the viewers, "How do people without hired help do it?" I don't know Charlotte, but they probably don't wear vintage in the kitchen. This entire scenario INSULTS MY INTELLIGENCE AS A HUMAN BEING.

Samantha, meanwhile, is struggling with menopause. Well, by struggling, I mean fighting against it like ageing is the scourge of the devil. Which, according to this film, it is. She pops so many pills and has so much botox, and spends a large part of the film ranting and raging against anyone who dares question her age-appropriateness. It just sounds like insecurity to me, and I wish she would just grow old gracefully.
When she looks at a skin-tight dress in a store, the shop assistant asks,
"Isn't this dress a little young for you?"
Clearly that shop assistant deserves a slap upside the head - although she was only saying what we were all thinking. Samantha replies,
"I am fifty f***ing two and I am going to rock this dress."
Well, fair enough, and I want to back her up (sisterly support and all),
but just because you say it, Samantha, doesn't make it true.

Samantha gets a PR deal which involves flying to Abu Dhabi all expenses paid. This includes bringing the other three girls (I need to know someone in PR who gets these kinds of opportunities. Anyone? Anyone? Bueller?) and given how stressful their lives are these days, they all agree to go.

While in their first-class luxury in-flight sleeper pods, they all deal with the shitty hands life has dealt them:
* Carrie reads a negative review about her latest book in the New Yorker - it effectively tells her to stop whining. THANK GOD.
* Samantha has her hormones confiscated at customs and as a result loses her libido. THANK GOD.
* Charlotte starts worrying about her husband running off with her bra-less nanny. COME ON!

With problems like these, I'm amazed they haven't all committed hari kari by the time they land in the United Arab Emirates.

At the resort, Carrie talks to her manservant (yes that's right) and learns that he only sees his beloved wife every few months because he can't afford the airfare. The next bit irked me incredibly. Carrie then tries to EMPATHISE with him by comparing it to her husband wanting some space once a week, which means she has to go hang out in her spare apartment.
[Cue more shouting from me at the cinema screen, and some violent popcorn-throwing.]

At some point, the girls all go into the desert. They ride camels. Charlotte falls off the camel because she's trying to talk on her cellphone. I shout at the screen some more.
They meet a man named Rikard ("Dick") Spurt - which is bad enough, but Samantha nicknames him, "Lawrence of my labia."
I regurgitate popcorn and wash it back down with some more wine.

The girls go to a nightclub, and Samantha wears spikey things on her shoulders. They sing karaoke, despite this actually going against all four character types... none of them would sing karaoke. Are you kidding me?

Afterwards Dick Spurt asks Samantha out, but she turns him down to hang out with the girls, (although she gives him her card and the offer of a good time the following night, natch). As he leaves, Carrie praises Samantha's sacrifice of (yet more) easy sex. Samantha says of her friendships with the three women,
"We had a deal. We're soulmates."
Wow. She gave up an easy lay? What a soulmate!
THIS INSULTS MY INTELLIGENCE AS A HUMAN BEING!

The girls all go out into the souks of Morocco - I mean, Abu Dhabi. (It was filmed in Morocco as they couldn't get filming permission in the real Abu Dhabi. Maybe it's just me - I was in Morocco only a couple of weeks after they filmed there - but I can't help but see Morocco all over it.)
Anyway. There Carrie bumps into Aiden, the man whose heart she has trampled on more than once, and for reasons which are not clear, he is happy to see her. They even make dinner plans. The other girls learn of this and try to tell Carrie it's a bad idea. As usual, Carrie ignores them and meets Aiden where they complain about how mundane married life is. They kiss.
The details are hazy because I was onto the second half of the bottle of Pinot, but suffice to say, this is bad news. Carrie then panics, and calls Big to tell him what happened. A part of me couldn't help but think this is her trying to play the jealousy game with the husband who has neglected her for the television.
[Another part of me yelled this at the screen.]

Meanwhile, Miranda and Charlotte have a heart-to-heart about the difficulties of motherhood... it wasn't too bad, and it didn't want to make me throw popcorn, but it did make me shout, "YOU HAVE HIRED HELP AND YOU DON'T WORK!"


Meanwhile, Samantha has a date with Dick Spurt and is caught being intimate with him on the beach and, this being Abu Dhabi, she's promptly arrested. The Sheik, who had been funding the whole trip, called off the PR deal and withdrew all the perks. The girls were now destitu... no, wait, they were wealthy in Abu Dhabi. Sorry, no sympathy.

As they prepared to leave, Carrie realised she'd left her passport in the souk. Amazingly it was still there when they went to find it. (No comment). And hey, since they're in the souk, Charlotte decides she should get some last minute presents for the family. Shopping for bags, they are taken into the back of a shop and pressured into making a purchase.
For reasons I can't remember (*cough* wine haze! *cough*) they decline, and leave. However, one of the shopkeepers thinks Samantha has stolen the bag she is carrying and they chase after her. They grab her bag and the contents spill onto the ground, including her standard collection of condoms. The men in the street take offense and start yelling.
Samantha says, "Yeah, I have condoms! I have sex!"
Fair enough, Samantha, although I don't know that any of the locals were surprised by this revelation. I do have to say that this scene was in no way as offensive as everyone had made it out to be.

With the men in the marketplace enraged, the foursome make a quick exit, but are beckoned down an alley by some burkha-clad women. There they meet some Muslim women who reveal that under their burkhas they are wearing modern, fashionable clothing. This wasn't shocking to me either - Muslim women DO wear modern clothes under their burkhas. They have pride in their appearance too, you  know. Does this mean they all want to be like Americans? No! Ladies like a bit o' pretty, is all. No matter where they're from.

The foursome escape the souk by borrowing some burkhas to wear. And before too long, the women are safely back in the land of the free - good ol' recession-hit New York. Carrie goes home and finds that Mr Big has got rid of the offending Black Diamond flatscreen, and replaced it with a black diamond ring. Ten points for style, Mr Big.
Now Carrie has the jewellery she wanted, she is happy and the crisis is over.

Charlotte's crisis is solved when she realises her bra-less nanny is a lesbian, and therefore her husband won't run off with her. What a relief!
Miranda does the smart thing and finds a new job where she is appreciated. What a relief!
Samantha.... well, she does what she's always done. Fighting old age and having sex.
Carrie deals with the daily grind of her two apartments, rich husband, new diamond ring, and accepts that watching movies isn't so bad after all.

I wish I could say the same about this movie.

It was a bit of fun, it was entertaining - but mostly because I was lacquered - and, frankly, I don't ever need to see it again. I know it's not a film I'm supposed to take seriously, but as a fan of the TV series, I would at least have liked it to have kept some of its original wit and reality. Instead the humour was predictable, the characters cartoons of themselves, and the plot completely unrelatable. Don't the writers realise that this is what made the series so popular? That women could relate to the characters?
I'll stick to watching re-runs of the TV series. I shouldn't have to get drunk and wake up the next day with popcorn in my bra in order to be entertained.

(Not at the movies, anyway).

[NB: Apologies to anyone who attended the same screening as me and therefore had to witness my shouting and popcorn-throwing first hand. I can only hope you agree it was justified... or that you joined in - admittedy, my wine haze prevents me from remembering if you did.]

Wednesday, 23 June 2010

Nothing To Lose

In 2009 I happened upon a documentary about an Englishman who, rather unusually, cycled from Alaska to Argentina on a tandem bicycle. On his own. The really compelling part, however, was that he would pick up strangers along the way to ride in the second seat. For once, I thought, there is an adventure tale that I can feel something for. This was an expedition about people - the physical challenge was secondary to the bonding of strangers and cultures. There was no segregation of possibilities between myself and some hearty sportsman breaking a world record by climbing a mountain barefoot at record speeds. (I haven't really heard of anyone doing this. Although am sure it won't be long.)

I was so taken by this journey that I kept an eye on what this Englishman was going to do next. His name is Dominic Gill, and as it turns out, his next project was going to be even more incredible.

So incredible, in fact, that I wanted more people to know about it. I spoke to Dom Gill and pitched an article to a silly number of publications, but nobody seemed interested. I'm used to pitches and proposals being ignored, but this time it made me feel disappointed and frustrated in equal measure. "Don't ignore this one," I pleaded silently. Yet ignore it they all did.

All I want to do is tell this story, however, so if I have to do so here, on my blog, then so be it.

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THE DOM & ERNIE PROJECT

Ernie Greenwald, a 74-year-old from California, is going to fulfil the dream of a lifetime by cycling across the America he’s never known. It is no easy feat, but in this case it will be a far greater challenge, because Greenwald has lymphocytic leukemia.
Travelling with him is British adventurer and film-maker Dominic Gill, who proposed the idea to Greenwald after a chance meeting in 2006. Despite his condition, or perhaps in spite of, Greenwald accepted. As Gill explains, “Ernie wants to prove as much as possible that life is for the living. It’s almost as if he’s woken from a dream and thought ‘I’ve got nothing to lose’.”

Together Greenwald and Gill will travel coast-to-coast across the USA on a two-seater bicycle, taking in the country that Greenwald has lived in his whole life and never had the chance to explore. They will discover a variety of landscapes and culture, and hope encounter some good old American hospitality along the way.

Gill, 29, previously cycled a tandem bike from Alaska to Argentina for the documentary and book
Take a Seat, inviting the people he met along the way to fill the second seat and join him in his adventure. It was on this journey that he met Ernie Greenwald, whose days as a keen cyclist were, it seemed, well and truly behind him, but who overcame his hesitation and took the opportunity to get back in the saddle.

They met while Gill was stopping for refreshments in the quiet concrete city of Lompoc, central California. Local resident Greenwald, a cycling enthusiast, was studying the tandem with some interest.
“He didn’t look like a keen cyclist anymore,” admitted Gill, but he offered Greenwald the opportunity to ride with him the next day. Greenwald’s hesitation was followed by the explanation that he had to stay and take care of his ailing wife. This might have been the end of their encounter, but 20 minutes later Greenwald came back and accepted Gill’s invitation. The next morning Gill and Greenwald cycled the 60-odd miles to Santa Barbara in the sultry Californian heat.

While physically it was tough, Greenwald enjoyed the challenge. It was not until later that Gill learned the sorry truth: that Greenwald’s wife had died six months before, and on top of that he was also suffering from chronic lymphatic leukaemia (CLL). Yet Greenwald relished his time on the tandem. Gill says it was as if Greenwald realised that he “could wallow in self pity or take an opportunity of a lifetime.”

Since this chance meeting, Gill could not forget Greenwald’s story. So he came up with a particularly edifying plan for his next adventure. “I contacted Ernie and asked if he would ride across America, if I facilitated it,” explains Gill. “He said he trusted me, and agreed.” And so the Dom & Ernie project was born.

Gill and Greenwald will set off from Santa Monica Pier in Los Angeles, on June 26 2010, cycling through the bottom of Utah, Montana, the Mid-west and across to the Eastern coast where they will finish in New York City. On the way they hope to take in Death Valley, the bright lights of Las Vegas, the wild grandeur of Yellowstone National Park, “windy” Chicago, and North Dakota.

The two will be cycling a Pino Tour bike from Hase - a semi-recumbent tandem. The special features of the bike include the position of the gears and steering rod at the back, rather than at the front, as on a typical tandem. This allows Greenwald to ride in front whilst still being the stoker’s position (which is normally at the back). The Pino Tour also has a freewheel mechanism which allows Greenwald to stop pedalling when he gets tired, and Gill to carry on cycling.

The two cyclists will also be accompanied by Greenwald’s RV, in which he currently lives alone with his two small dogs. As well as the benefit of carrying their gear and supplies, this will make the journey physically and emotionally easier on Greenwald.
“By taking the RV he has his bed, his dogs, nothing changes,” explains Gill. “And anything that gets Ernie across the States on a bicycle is good with me.”

Physically, Greenwald will have to be carefully monitored. Due to the cancer limiting his blood cells he gets very short of breath. He also has an erratic heart so has to take medication and therefore feels the cold.
“Ernie will struggle,” admits Gill. “But I will also struggle. I will be carrying about 70% of Ernie’s weight. However strong Ernie is, his upper ceiling is low.”
Greenwald’s oncologist has agreed to be at the end of a phone if needed, and there will be tests every month for his blood cell count and check his metabolic level.

Gill says the Dom & Ernie project is not a test of Greenwald’s physical endurance, but an opportunity for him to explore his country. “This is not about bravado, it’s about showing people adventure is for everyone. Ernie wants to give as good as anyone else gives.”
The Dom & Ernie project hopes to raise donations for Livestrong & the Lance Armstrong Foundation, which provides support for people suffering from cancer across the globe.

While this challenge is largely about Greenwald fulfilling the dream of a lifetime, Gill also has his own additional motivation for taking the journey.
“I want to change the misconception that the world is out to get you. We’re going to the most fear-filled nation, and I want to prove that if you stick your neck out, you won’t get your head chopped off.”




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SINCE THE ARTICLE....

Of course, this is not the whole story. In late May Ernie's health took a sharp drop and since then he has been in and out of hospital, and has had to undertake a brief course of chemotherapy.





LATEST UPDATE


Just yesterday, Dom made the announcement that Ernie would not be able to make the journey. At least, not the whole journey, and not yet. 
"I have just been to see Ernie in hospital. I have decided that he's not going to make the journey... maybe a portion of it, but not all of it."


I cannot begin to imagine the disappointment Ernie will be facing. One can only hope he will be strong enough to undertake at least part of his goal. However, it seems that now the project is going to become something special for even more people. The journey that Ernie has hoped to undertake to inspire others may become their own journey.


"During a visit to see Ernie in hospital two days ago, he said in no uncertain terms that the show must go on, if not with him, with other willing volunteers."
Dom is now looking for anyone with any ailment or disability which may have prevented them from completing a cycling journey or other physical challenge - or simply anyone who wants a "pick me up" - to take Ernie's place in the stoker's seat for a while. It's Take a Seat part 2, but with a greater goal.

Can you help?


- Do you have a friend with a disability that prevents them from getting outdoors as much as they would like?
- Do they live anywhere approximately on the
 Dom & Ernie cycling route ?
- Would they be excited about the prospect of a cross-country cycle journey on a tandem?
- Would they be happy to talk to a hand-held camera on the bicycle (held by Dom)?
- Would they be prepared to camp if all equipment was provided by way of a support vehicle (that can also be used to travel in should a problem arise)?

If the answer is yes to all of these, Dom would love to hear from you or them. He says "Being fit and strong is not necessary (I can take up the slack) but being prepared to cycle for 2 to 20 days and being up for the challenge is.The Dom & Ernie team are currently trying to source funding to ensure their riders have return travel to their start point."

"The journey - with an almost confirmed departure date of Wed July 3rd 2010 - has the potential to not only make an incredible story but provide and inspirational example to those that are striving to get out and achieve something in the face of adversity. We are all hoping that Ernie, the inspiration behind the project, will be well enough to undertake a stage of this journey, but for the time being will be relieved as and when he makes a full and speedy recovery. In the meantime, help us find others will to give adventure cycling a try - no previous experience necessary! Can you help us keep this dream alive?"







You can contact Dom Gill via the project's Facebook page, and to learn more about the project, visit www.domandernie.comPlease spread the word, and let's show Ernie, and Dom, and everyone involved, absolute support.

"Only those who will risk going too far can possible find out how far one can go."
~ T.S.Eliot