Interesting Top Ten Lists

Archive for 2012|Yearly archive page

Top Ten Literary Characters

In Books, Top Ten on November 30, 2012 at 3:58 pm

I first created this list as a lightweight alternative to engaging my brain with daunting MA research but actually found myself very intrigued by what I felt were some of the strongest characters in literature – as well as some choices that may not appear to be the obvious characters to choose. This turned out to be a surprisingly tough challenge and had me consulting my bookcase (yes, I have thus far avoided caving in to Amazon’s demands that I get a Kindle) and choosing from a variety of texts ranging from airport/pulp fiction (Valley of the Dolls’ Neely O’Hara almost made the list) to historical classics (Dickens’ steely Estella from Great Expectations just missing the boat) to the new contemporary, theory driven texts (Jed from McEwan’s Enduring Love – perhaps the limp film adaptation scuppered Jed’s chances?).

Sadly in order to come up with the list I had to sacrifice the many wonderful characters existing in plays as it just became too many to comprehend – so apologies to the Mother Tulls, Miss Julies, Lord Gorings and Willy Lomans and my condolences to Shakespeare’s Iagos, Portias, Falstaffs and hunchbacked Richards.

Finally, before the list – just to say that one of the things that surprised me was that the list largely neglected some of my favourite authors – the characters in Douglas Coupland, James Baldwin, Don Delillo, Tom Wolfe etc clearly weren’t the dominating aspects of those novels.

Also I would like to say that I am very aware that I haven’t read everything! If you would like to suggest other classic characters then let me know! Email me at literaryjarvis@gmail.com – I’d love to hear your opinions.

Now without much further ado:

 

1. Holden Caufield (Catcher in the Rye: J. D. Salinger)
For me Holden Caufield captures the narrative voice of a post-war generation dealing with such grand anxieties as alienation, apathy and isolation. A cynic at just 17, Holden’s skeptical world view keeps the reader enthralled as he views a world that’s phoniness is finally being realised. However beyond these large themes – despite his wise-beyond-his-years criticisms he is also endearingly self deprecating, funny and his hopelessness with women highlights some of the more universal and humble follies of being young, horny and terrible with chat up lines.

 

2.Sebastian Flyte (Brideshead Revisited : Evelyn Waugh)
Perhaps I am only using Sebastian Flyte to express my love that that sad teddy bear Aloysius! More charm than Winnie the Poor with none of the anthropomorphism! Seriously though, Sebastian’s role attracts us with both it’s tragic self destruction and glamorous wit. The eccentric, aristocratic, (let’s face it, brazenly homosexual) alcoholic train-wreck that struggles with his relationships with his family, with poker-faced narrator Charles and the overbearing Catholic shadow that overhangs the Flytes and Marchmains. Through Sebastian and his sister Julia, Waugh’s wit flows sharp and fast. And of course, who couldn’t love a grown man with a teddy-bear…

 

3.Mrs Dubose (To Kill a Mockingbird: Harper Lee)
I first read Harper Lee’s To Kill a Mockingbird at the age of 9 and even then I loved the character of the cantankerous and sharp-tongued wheelchair-bound octogenarian first described as ‘Plain Hell’. At this age the reason why I loved her escaped me, though as I returned to the book and paid more attention to Atticus’ testament to her, I realised it was admiration for her bravery. A dying woman, she resigns herself to kicking the morphine addiction that has plagued her so that she may die beholden to nothing and nobody – “the bravest person I ever knew” – Atticus Finch.

 

4.Boxer (Animal Farm: George Orwell)
Did you cry? I cried. I was never able to look at glue in the same way again. The only non-human on the list, Boxer the horse is pure, dedicated, loyal and hardworking to a fault. In a book filled with loathsome human-like animals and grotesque animal-like humans, Boxer was one of the few characters you could truly feel for. Sadly, though all animals are equal, some are more equal than others and Boxer’s blind faith doesn’t protect him.

 

5.Daisy Buchanon (The Great Gatsby: F. Scott Fitzgerald)
Surely Daisy deserves the mother-of-the-year award for her child, Pammy, who scarcely gets a mention in the novel….perhaps she was left in one of Gatsby’s wine cabinets or rolled under the sofa… The character of Daisy is a much more subtle attack on the American ‘old-money’ aristocracy than her heavy handed husband Tom, it is Daisy’s ultimate cowardice and inability to leave behind the only world she’s ever known to join Great Gatsby – the self-made man – that is his ultimate disservice. Not only is Daisy the unwitting and self-absorbed spider in the centre of the novel’s web, she also gets some of the best lines…. “I’ve never seen such…such beautiful shirts before” (whilst she weeps clutching at Gatsby’s sartorial extravagances).

 

6.Carlo Marx (On the Road: Jack Kerouac)
Ok, maybe I’m cheating here as a way to include my favourite poet – Allen Ginsburg. Jack Kerouac’s on the road may well be synonymous with the pocket-guide for figures of the Beat generation including Neal Cassidy, Alan Ansen, William S. Burroughs and of course Allen Ginsberg, all under thinly disguised pseudonyms (Ginsberg was accused of communist sympathies during Joseph mcCarthy’s reign of anti-Reds fire). For me, Carlo Marx/Allen Ginsberg was what Dean Moriarty/Neal Cassidy could never truly manage – a truly free spirit, reveling in free spirit without the torment of fatherly abandonment and beholdenment to a platitude of abandened women and children. The novel also contains many allusions to its contemporary piece of literature – Howl, the best knownpoem of Ginsberg’s – with Carlo’s waxing lyrical about the Denver Doldrums and many other similar themes.

 

7.Inspector Javert (Les Miserables: Victor Hugo)
Ever read Victor Hugo’s behemoth of a novel? it’s bloody hard work and seems never-endless – I’m still amazed that they trimmed it down to a two and a half musical. A novel spanning most of France and many decades, filled with historical and political backgrounds and acting as a true voice for France’s underdogs – the beggars, the students, the whores, the downtrod and the wretched, it is Hugo’s hymn to the human spirit. It is a mark of Hugo’s phenomenal ability to understand the human nature that it’s primary antagonist, the dogmatic and tenacious Inspector Javert, is not an evil spirit bent on petty revenge for saint-like Jean Valjean’s minor crime misdemeanors but is himself a victim of an inflexible and damning morality, a morality so ingrained in him by his hard-handed upbringing that when his world view is shattered, he can see no other alternative.

 

8.Pauline Mole (Adrian Mole’s Diary series: Sue Townsend)
I sometimes think my actual mother likes to base herself on the chain-smoking, pop-liberalist, Thatcher hating mother of Adrian Mole. Throughout his diaries we follow her three marriages to the same man, immersion in Greer-feminism, fierce maternal pride and contrasting brazen put downs of her social failure of a son – including her utter dismay when his marriage to smart and successful Nigerian Jojo disintegrates. I don’t really have much more to say about Pauline other than I love her and she has made me laugh more than any other fictional character.

 

9.Jean (American Psycho : Bret Easton Ellis)
When reading Easton Ellis’ tour de force, capturing the zeitgeist of late 80s/early 90s materialism and the anesthetization of violence, I remember feeling a constant anxiety for the wellbeing of Jean – the devotee Patrick Bateman refers to as “my secretary who is in love with me”. Possibly the only moral calm point in the book’s turbulent narrative and plethora of grotesque and self-involved consumerist characters, her banal conversation and demure attraction make her the most human character in this dark satire. Also she was played by Chloe Sevigny in the film adaptation. And she rocks.

 

10.Dr. Prunesquallor (Gormenghast trilogy : Mervyn Peake)
Gormenghast castle’s resident physician, complete nerd and self indulgent fop…and unlikely hero. Mervyn Peake reserved the very best of his wordplay for Prunesquallor’s self important babble, whilst we get the impression that he is indeed far more intelligent than the other comparatively medieval characters, his character falls and strange lonely existence with his equally virginal spinster sister make him as much a fool as the others. Nevertheless, it is his own deductions and attention to detail that ultimately saves the castle and its denizens from a Machiavellian villain!

by Daniel Jarvis

Daniel Jarvis is a postgrad student at University of Manchester studying Contemporary Literature. He also works part time in a children’s art centre. He’s a bit of a culture vulture and can often be seen in bookshops, galleries, theatres and cinemas. In his spare time he likes dinosaurs, walking and finding excuses to get chorizo into as many recipes as possible. His ideal pet would be a tapir.

Advertisements

Top Ten Obscure Things That Occurred In Other Countries

In Top Ten, Travel on June 13, 2012 at 2:43 pm

I often consider myself to have had a very boring life. Then I started thinking about moderately out-of-the-ordinary things that have ever happened to me, or that I’ve ever done, and realised that most of these took place outside of the confines of this dear United Kingdom. I don’t make a habit of travelling outside the country very often so certain countries appear in this list more than once, but a lot of weird things can happen on the same holiday. Carry on reading for just ten separate instances of obscure happenings within my life personally. I should warn you though, it’s mighty long.

10: Made A Dolphin Statuette In Woodwork Class [Germany]

I was twelve when I first went away without my parents. It was all part of an exchange trip set up by my high school. My hometown of Ellesmere Port is twinned with the small town of Reutlingen in south-west Germany and so, naturally, that’s where we had the deal with. My German pen-pal was a quiet lad named Christian and it was with him and his family whom I stayed for the longest week-and-a-half of my childhood. Once I had arrived at their house, been shown to my room and left alone with a complimentary tray of a giant bottle of apple juice, a glass and probably some biscuits or something (I can’t remember), I broke down in a state of frenzied hysteria and bawling like a lost child in a supermarket who proclaims “I want my mummy”.

I had to make do, so with my mood as relentlessly stoic as it was, I had to accompany Christian during his day-to-day school life. I don’t remember much about German school other than the first of Christian’s lessons I attended – a maths lesson where, upon realising he had an English exchange student in the class today, the lecturer decided to deliver the entire lesson in English for my benefit, much to the dismay of my Deutsch counterparts – and sitting around in a woodwork lesson watching the other kids continue with their projects. Rather than stare forlornly into the middle distance for an hour, I rummaged through some of the scrap pieces of wood people had discarded over time and found one piece which looked to resemble a leaping dolphin making a small arch shape. I took another plain piece of wood, coloured it in with blue pencil crayon and blu-tacked the lowermost points of the ‘dolphin’ – the nose and the tail flipper – to this ocean-like podium. Of this, I took immense pride.

Years later, I took Woodwork for my A-Levels and barely just scraped a pass.

09: Free Entrance To The Guinness Storehouse [Ireland]

This summer, my University Archery team went on a pre-packaged Tour holiday to Dublin. I say Tour because that’s what many University sports teams deem it to be. I say holiday because that’s how it actually turned out. The company in charge of organising our sport-themed trip were a little lacklustre in their approach to the underdog sport of Archery. It also didn’t help that we were the only Archery team in attendance so it’s safe to assume that we finished somewhere near the bottom of the “Priorities” pile. As a result, our sporting session of a sport-themed week turned out rather unsportly. We ended up facing a good few days of nothing but sight-seeing ahead of us and we felt justified in demanding to be compensated.

So huzzah! The company’s representatives worked their magic and our team-planned trip to the Guinness Storehouse in the heart of Dublin was given to us for free as a gesture of good will. By that, I of course mean that they had to pay for our entry and we didn’t have to pay ourselves. It’s just as well, really. I’m not a massive fan of the black stuff. I managed a whole three sips in the tasting room (which honestly has to be some kind of record for me) before passing the rest of my glass over to one of my Guinness-downing cohorts. As I say, the rest of the week essentially became a holiday starting with that day, which I must say was rather nice getting to socialise with Uni friends.

Pretty much makes the whole trip worthwhile.

08: Bus Ride In Massive Rainfall [Mexico]

We, the family and friends and I, went to Cancún for a couple of weeks to attend the wedding of said friends. It took place towards the end of 2005 and the timing of our holiday could not have been luckier if we’d eaten four-leaf clovers, de-shoed horses and amputated rabbits while we were at it. We went during hurricane season, arriving on the back of one hurricane and leaving just in time to miss another. For a while it was uncertain that we’d actually make it home when we’d planned to because of the forecast. When we returned home, news reports showed of dozens of international families and holidaymakers stranded in the very area we had been. People were taken to temporary shelters which came across like refugee camps and lived off rationed water. It’s fair to say that we well and truly dodged a bullet. And a hurricane.

Still, tropical rainfall season didn’t completely subside whilst we were there. On one of the few days when we actually ventured outside of the all-expenses-paid resort, we ended up catching a bus to an indoor mall just a short way away. It’s only recently that I’ve managed to get my head around public transport in this country, so using foreign transport at a time when I didn’t understand it felt bizarre. Firstly, the awful weather just cast gloom deep within me and secondly, the lack of free seats meant I was one of the lucky ones who got to stand and hold onto the rail handles. And when I say hold onto, I mean hold onto for dear life. Mexican buses travel at approximately 73mph (maybe I’m exaggerating, maybe I’m actually quite close). The fact that I was standing in an insanely fast moving vehicle in torrential tropical rain whilst clinging onto life as I knew it thrust the fear of God well and truly into me. Still, what do you expect for 12 Pesos? (50p for the bus is mighty cheap, no?)

That, coupled with the news that we may not be able to travel home for fear of a forecast hurricane genuinely made me think my life would end in that country.

07: Thanksgiving In (what I believe to have been) Denny’s [United States]

Over time, I’ve come to realise that Thanksgiving in America is practically on the same celebratory level as Christmas in the UK. Upon my sole visit to the States at the ages of twelve (some six months before my German exchange hell), my understanding of this American holiday was akin to that of our St. George’s Day, i.e. you sort of know it’s a pseudo-special day, you sort of make a slight reference to it once, you forget about it and deduce that it’s essentially “just another day”. Our two week stint in Florida came to an end on that particular Thursday of November which just so happened to be Thanksgiving Day. Naturally, my father, mother, sister and I were more concerned with the fact that we had to check out of our hotel fairly early and somehow kill time and eat something before our flight home later that night.

We happened upon a restaurant which I believe was a branch of Denny’s. It might not’ve been since I don’t remember this in its entirety; all I have to go on this are fragmented memories, popular culture references and the loyalty of a magic eight-ball. The restaurant was fairly large, accentuated by the fact that we were virtually the only people in there. There might’ve been one other family over at the far side but, as I say, I don’t remember too well. Staff were limited and we were served by what seemed to be one of only two waitresses. Pleasantries were exchanged, food was brought and hopefully she was charmed enough by our obvious out-of-town-ness (screw it, out-of-country-ness) that she didn’t completely resent us for giving her reason to work on this holiday. As far as I remember it, towards the end of the meal, my mother struck up a conversation with the waitress about whether it’s normal to get people in during a holiday occasion like this and whether this particular diner in this particular state in this particular country has some sort of minimum wage policy. I can’t remember if the girl was paid a decent wage but the conversation compelled my mother to leave a substantial tip when the bill came. In my head, our tip to her was twice as large as what she would’ve earned for the day, but my twelve-year-old brain was mighty gullible and that might not’ve been entirely true.

Also I only found out about Thanksgiving that morning when a hotel maid doing the rounds cheerily wished me and my sister a “Happy Thanksgiving”, to which we nervously, feebly and very Englishly replied with a half-hearted and quizzical “thank you”.

06: Learned To Eat With Chopsticks For The First Time [Germany]

Part of the reason my school-organised exchange trip to Germany shook me up so much was that, not only did I feel such a fish out of water without my family around me, but also the fact that I had only been learning the language for some seven months. Now that my sister lives there (but in a different part, it’s a big country ya know), visits don’t seem as daunting as that first time, mostly because I’m with relatives but also because my German language skills are slightly more advanced at the age of 22 than they were when I was 12. I’m not claiming to be an expert or remotely fluent in the language, but at least now if I were to get lost in a German supermarket, I’d be able to cry out some form of “I want my mummy” in the relevant linguistic fashion.

We went over last summer as part of a “visit the relatives, slash, have a bloody holiday” kind of trip. If you want me to be a bit more topical about this, it was during the whole hoo-hah over a contaminated crop of beansprouts grown somewhere in the country being widely distributed and hospitalising many Europeans with food poisoning. We ate out one night at a local Chinese restaurant; a bit trippy if you’re English (you know, in a bit of a “what, you mean they have Chinese people here too?” kind of way). During my scouting of the all-you-can-eat buffet trays full of Eastern delicacies, I inwardly expressed my frustration at the lack of beansprouts in this Chinese restaurant, before angrily telling myself “you moron, of course there aren’t any right now, you’re in Germany and there’s practically a countrywide beansprout quarantine going on”. I went back to the table with whatever food I had and ate in shame.

After a long time using the fork, I decided to give chopsticks a go even though I’d never gotten the hang of using them to eat. Miraculously, I somehow managed it with some degree of success and since then, eating Chinese food is now just an excuse to get the chopsticks out again.

05: Shot Archery Whilst Dressed As A Panda [Ireland]

As I mentioned earlier, I recently went to Dublin along with my University’s Archery team (cos I’m, like, so cool, yah?) Even though most of the week involved us having to entertain ourselves by way of museums, shopping and getting free samples of the nation’s drink, the catalyst for it came from the fact that our prospected two days worth of shooting (which is, like, proper Archery speak for firing arrows from bows, you get me?) actually turned out to be about three hours long, in a very small space, with excruciatingly sub-par equipment. The equipment needed for such an event is actually quite intensive when you get down to it. We, naturally, provided our own bows and arrows and other miscellaneous accessories for personal use; all we needed the Tour company to provide us with were a few large targets and stands set up in an area surrounded by safety netting. This we did not get, thus our moaning and subsequent free day out. Equipment was indeed provided, but to a less than desirable quality and of a less than desirable quantity.

Before we left for the venue on the day, however, the team collectively decided – sort of on the spur of the moment – to shoot whilst in fancy dress, namely Robin Hood and his Merry Men and other various Medieval-style peasant-wear. My particular fancy dress in this area was pretty lacklustre; essentially I had an oversized tan coloured shirt to be tied around my waist with a rope and green combat trousers, which many historians reading this might frown upon. Over the course of the morning, the Robin Hood theme became somewhat relaxed and we decided to shoot in whatever attire we wanted provided dress was still “fancy”. Two of us in the group came equipped with oversized character onesies (mighty comfortable to sleep in, by the way) which pretty much meant that we were sorted. It worked out especially for me since I’d slept in mine the night before and, this way, didn’t really need to change. My onesie took the form of a giant panda by the way, just in case you didn’t get it from the sub-title of this event.

Admittedly, it’s not that great when you consider that my costume was outdone by a life-size Pikachu.

04: Made Friends With Kids I Didn’t Understand [France]

For the life of me, I honestly cannot remember how long ago this was. On second thought, I might’ve been ten. Anyway, for a large part of my childhood, we owned a mobile caravan. At least one weekend a month, the family would pack up the essentials, hitch it up to the back of the car and off we’d go for a weekend with the aptly named Caravan Club (it’s a real organisation, check it if you don’t believe me) where we’d meet up with other caravan enthusiasts and enjoy one another’s company. Imagine Brookside meets The Waltons, but with caravans. Some of the family friends we made whilst caravanning joined us on a trip to the West coast of France… in caravans. That meant driving from Wirral to Dover, ferrying from Dover to Calais, then more driving from Calais to wherever the bloody hell it was we ended up (and then back again a week or two later).

Our plotted space of field in the camp-site was directly next to some other holiday-goers, only these people didn’t travel across international borders. The British grown-ups bonded with the French grown-ups over barbeques and tequila, whilst the French children showed off their proficiency with the English language through mimicking the current mainstream pop hits of the day. During the whole holiday, I’d see the French kids at various points around the site: in the swimming pool, in the miniature games room, buying ice creams, playing boules on the gravel. We essentially became friends by default, despite barely being able to communicate coherently with each other. One day I remember them pointing to a motorbike then pointing to me accompanied with the appropriate words “moto” and “you”. I assumed they wanted to know if I owned a motorbike or if I could ride one, or if I wanted to hijack this one. I replied with “no” and they all rolled their eyes as if I’d misunderstood. As I understand it, they were telling me the French word for the vehicle and weren’t satisfied until I told them English people call it “motorbike”. On the final evening, contact details were swapped; God only knows why. At this point in my life I’d never heard of the internet so the only form of keeping in touch was really the telephone. We swapped numbers, along with international dialling codes, and I showed off my proficiency with French numbers which I’d learned from the PC Genius series of educational software. Me and one of the French girls went through my phone number digit by digit: “zéro, zéro, quatre, quatre, un, cinq, un….”

I never did get a call from them. Might’ve been a bit awkward if I had though.

03: Crouched In Back Of Car On The Autobahn [Germany]

I’ve already mentioned my sister living in Germany. A few days before the Chinese restaurant at which I bemoaned the lack of beansprouts, my sister wanted to refurnish the flat. This involved a trip to the Ikea store some thirty minutes drive away. It’s nice to know that my first ever Ikea experience was also the real deal, by the way: signs written in another language, prices given in Euro, food somewhat different and all European-y. Anyway, she ended up getting enough flat-pack living room miscellanea to warrant two trips in the car. This involved her and dad taking the bulk of stuff in the first journey, leaving me, mum and infant nephew with the rest of it, in a foreign superstore, for an hour.

By the time the second journey came around, there was panic that the rest of the stuff wouldn’t all fit in the car as well as the five of us; someone would surely have to stay behind again. But we prevailed and managed to fit it so that sister was comfortable in the driving seat, mum was comfortable in the passenger seat, dad comfortable on the back and nephew comfortable in his booster seat. Lengthy boxes blocked off the remaining back seat meaning that I’d have to stay behind and my sister would have to come back for me in another hour. Being impatient souls that we are though, me and her, I was made to improvise by somewhat crouching in that space in the back seat where your feet go. Face down into the floor of the car, arse up at the window, I was stuck, wedged into the car, trying my best to not moon fellow drivers by keeping my rear end low and suffering the pointy wrath of the window-winder-downer-thing because of it. If ever one had a list of obscure things to do before you die with “Travel 80km/h on the German Autobahn in an uncomfortably crouched position” I could well and truly check that one off.

Also, “Exit car by backwards roll”.

02: Suffering A Migraine In A Swiss Science Museum [Switzerland]

Quite possibly the most surreal of all on this list, probably because I’d almost blanked it from memory all these years, only to dig it up again for use in this. I’ve only ever spent one day in Switzerland. It was with Christian and my German exchange family. Living in the south of Germany, the Swiss border was only a couple of hours drive away, and when you’ve got a foreign guest to entertain, an interactive science museum just over the border seems like a nice day out, so I can’t fault them for taking me there. Forgive me, this day’s a bit sketchy in my head, but from what I remember it was a fairly pleasant day, not least for the fact that science museums are so much fun!

The incident in question occurred after I’d played about on a certain experiment thing. I’d eaten almost a whole bag of Werther’s Originals on the day too. I’m not actually sure if they’re relevant to the story or not but I like to think that they played a part in my suffering if only because of the sheer gluttonous fact that I’d practically wolfed them down. The experiment involved two exercise bikes on opposite ends of a giant room. Connecting them was a Perspex tube that ran up the wall and along the ceiling. Inside the tube was a canister. Next to each bicycle was a pad of paper and pencils and the idea went thus: you write your message on the paper, you put the paper in the canister, pop the canister in the tube, hop on the bike and pedal a hell of a lot. What transpired was a very low-tech version of message delivery you see in that episode of Futurama where bureaucratic files are popped in a tube and instantly whisked away at high speed. I assume the bicycles powered some sort of vacuum mechanism inside the tube which caused the canister to travel. It is because of this that the bikes required a lot of power to pedal, like deliberately switching to a harder gear when approaching treacle. Ultimately, I think I overstayed my welcome on the bike since I was cycling so hard the veins in my head were probably becoming prominent extrusions. I don’t believe I got a migraine as such but it was, without doubt, the worst, most pounding headache I’ve ever experienced in life this far. Coupled with the fact that I didn’t know what was going on, barely understood the language and didn’t know how to explain the situation to my German guardians without knowing the word “kopfschmerz”, I lay down, clutching both sides of my head, moaning and groaning like a dying hippo because I didn’t know what else I could do.

I didn’t pass out, I remained conscious for the rest of the day, although I don’t remember a bloody thing that happened after that.

01: The First Time I Was Mistaken For Rupert Grint [United States]

I’m ginger, therefore I must, by law, be likened to him who played Ron Weasley in the Harry Potter films.  Now I’ll be the first one to admit that when the first movie came out, my eleven-year-old self bore a striking resemblance to an eleven-year-old Rupert Grint, but ever since then we’ve grown in different directions. His hair is longer, often slightly greasy and he’s able to grow facial hair at an alarming rate. I wear glasses to correct myopia and take about two-and-a-half weeks to sprout sideburns. Not much of a surprise, then, when my eleven-year-old self was spotted in Florida and mistaken for a movie star. After all, we even shared the same nationality.

It was the same trip that ended with Thanksgiving. Twas the November of 2001 if you’re after some specific context; a trip to Disney capital Orlando somewhat overshadowed by concerns of fundamental extremism after the New York skyline was aerially attacked some two months previously. It was also the time that the film adaptation of Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone (or Sorcerer’s Stone if you’re American and don’t understand what a philosopher is) was released unto the world. I was with the family, waiting in line for a ride at one of Disneyland’s many theme parks; I believe this particular one was in the Epcot Centre. Just as we made it to the front of the line, the security guard making sure people went through in a calm and orderly fashion must’ve heard our small group speaking with English accents. She was a large African-American woman, very much in line with the stereotype that Family Guy might pick up on, depicting her as holding up one finger as if to say “no, no” but shifting her head side-to-side saying “mm-hm”. As I moved to pass her and board the ride we’d waited for, she stopped me and in her most obvious, Americanest tones she belted out “oh ma God, ain’t you the boy from Harry Potter?” I’d never been remotely interested in the books and not known anything of its characters. As far as I was concerned, this woman had mistaken a somewhat chubby, pale-faced, ginger English kid with a black-haired, head-scarred, bespectacled English kid. I forgave her her arrogance that all English kids look exactly the same and thought nothing of it for a considerable while.

Once Harry Potter fever gripped the entire planet and its surrounding matter, I was subjected to daily shouts in public of “Ron! It’s Ron! Look, he’s Ron! Look, you’re Ron!” and the relentless pointing, as if everyone believed that they were the first people in existence to have stumbled across this vague similarity and to have possessed fingers.

Just to think, if only I’d known that Harry Potter had a ginger friend who’d go on to make millions from this franchise, I could’ve auditioned, my life could’ve been considerably different, and a relative unknown by the name of Rupert would be recounting stories of his past in a blog post like this in the vain attempt that somebody notices him.

By Jamie Walsh

Jamie Walsh is an undergraduate Creative Writing student at MMU Cheshire, currently based in Crewe. He often lets his brain loose at a computer keyboard, the results of such efforts often appear at hardlyamazing.blogspot.com He also owns the Twitter name @Jimadee and mainly uses it to promote the aforementioned blog and keep track of how many followers he has; currently resembling the population of an abandoned train station.

Top Ten Things I Genuinely Don’t Understand Why People Do

In Top Ten, WTF on June 10, 2012 at 9:14 am
  1. People who rush to get the ‘first’ comment on Youtube videos, Facebook posts and websites. I’d understand this more if there was some sort of reward system for typing FIRST!!!! Before all the other idiots, but there isn’t. Perhaps people get a little rush from being the first person in recorded history to post a reply on Facebook to their favourite band’s announcement that they’re going on tour on the other side of the world. But the problem is that you get about a hundred brain-dead cretins all shouting FIRST!!! At the same time. And THEN you get some scathing ironic burke who decides to be witty by typing ‘tenth’ or ‘three-hundred-and-forty-sixth’. There’s a special section of Hell reserved for these people.
  1. People who appear on Embarrassing Bodies. I know this isn’t saying anything new, but… imagine this. Bob has a very rare condition where his man parts are roughly the same size as those little cocktail sausages you get at rubbish parties. He’s troubled by this. He fears the possibility of sexual encounters and daren’t confide in any of his mates. So what does he do? He goes on Channel 4. By definition, he also appears on Channel 4+1, the inevitable re-runs on More4 and is immortalised forever on 4OD. The only thing I can think of to explain why people willingly appear on live television with lopsided danglies and infected nooks and crannies is that they’re being paid obscene amounts to do it. Or maybe they’re all exhibitionists as well. Who knows?
  1. People that have a seizure when I tell them I haven’t seen a particular film or TV show. So a film comes up in conversation. I mention that in the course of my day-to-day life that I haven’t got round to seeing it yet. The other person chokes a little bit and looks at me like I’ve murdered a puppy. “Ohmygod what do you mean you’ve never seen The Sixth Sense???” I mean, there’s some films that you’d be hard come by to have never seen, but the question is phrased in the same way that someone might say “What do you mean you’ve never eaten a sandwich?” It’s not so much the surprise, but the drama that gets shoved into it.
  1. People who wee on toilet seats. I’m not an expert, but I imagine this is a problem restricted to guys. I’m guessing , though, that after many, many years of having wees fairly regularly, a guy will know whether he’s any good at ‘aiming’. If you’ve got a dab hand for getting it where you want it, then that’s great. No problems there. But if you objectively know that you couldn’t hit the ocean if you pissed out of a boat, it might be a good idea to put the seat up. Just a thought.
  1. Cold callers. I’m particularly passionate about this one, for a very good reason. Somehow, somewhere, some telemarketing company managed to get our home phone number, and now we regularly get about five calls a day. We don’t get many calls as it is, so the chances are that whenever the phone rings it’s Mr. Patel from New Delhi trying to sell us some volcano insurance. Once, as an experiment, I let the phone ring to see how long it would keep on screaming without being picked up and disconnected. After four minutes I gave up and answered. And you know what? They put me on hold. Fuckers. As well as being annoyed as hell, I genuinely don’t understand how they can make a living from this. Who actually talks to them??
  1. Cashiers that hand me my change on top of the note. Maybe I’m just being picky here. But I’m sure you’ve been in the situation, right? You buy something and wait for your change. Instead of being handed the note first and then the change (or vice versa), like a civilised human being, you’re handed the change on top of the note and have to balance it like you’re playing a fucking egg and spoon race as you walk out of the shop, desperately trying to cram it all in your pockets before it falls down a drain. I dread to think what this must be like at a drive-thru. The Owl and the Pussycat may have seemed content to wrap all their money up in a five-pound note, but I’m sure as hell not.
  1. People who spend the entire fucking film asking me what else they’ve seen one of the cast members in. I don’t know. I haven’t seen the exact same films as you have. I appreciate that your need to find out what other parts the main character’s cousin’s wife has played overrides your need to actually watch the film, but everyone else just wants to watch it. Shut up. Either they do, which is forgivable, or they get their phone out in the middle of the cinema to check IMDB. And everyone knows that the light from a phone in a pitch-black cinema is blinding. The most annoying thing of all is when they find out and then have to inform you. “He was one of the guys in the restaurant in Pulp Fiction. You know the one? The one who tried to rob Samuel L. Jackson at the end?” That’s great. Fancy checking IMDB again to tell me what just happened in the film we’re currently watching? I missed it.
  1. People who order a large Big Mac meal with a McFlurry and Chicken McNuggets with extra dip but get a Diet Coke. I mean… this is exactly like snorting crack cocaine all day but turning down a pint. I’m not exactly sure who these people are trying to kid; themselves or the cashier they’re ordering from. I’d be tempted to ask them if they wanted a Diet Cheeseburger as well and give them two slices of bread.
  1. People who fish for compliments on Facebook. You know what I’m talking about. Everyone knows that one empty-headed girl who posts a photo of her looking her absolute best with the caption ‘ugh, so ugly’ or something of that ilk. Ten times out of ten you get a slavering army of sex-starved guys ‘liking’ the picture and trying to convince her that actually babes, you’re well fit in this one. It’s blatantly obvious this was her intention in the first place, or why would she upload such an ‘ugly’ photo? I wish I was brave enough to reply with a ‘yep’ the next time I see a photo like this.
  1. PeOpLe wHo TyPe lIkE tHiS. I mean, sure, replacing the word ‘you’ with the letter U is quicker and easier. As is usually the case when substituting syllables for numbers: 2nite, 4ever, all that jazz. But aLtErNaTeLy CaPiTaLiSiNg EvErY wOrD carries so much bloody hassle that I don’t understand why people do it. The stress of actually typing that out was immense. My Shift key’s never seen so much action.

By Dan Peacock

Dan Peacock is a student and writer from York. He writes poetry and prose, and his works have appeared in Gumbo Press, Streetcake and FlashFlood, among others. His short story, ‘Entropy’, was recently selected for this year’s 8×8 anthology. He occasionally writes articles for The Student Review, and spends his spare time staring hopefully at blank Microsoft Word documents.  You can find him tweeting as @Danye_West.

Top Ten Lessons I Learned about Smiling

In Smiling, Top Ten on April 29, 2012 at 2:31 pm

1. Tame a Giggle, Train a Smile

I am small and want to giggle like Barbara Windsor. Simple. I need a sound that bounces out and tickles whoever I’m near. I fling my arms about, clutch my chest like Babs in a yellow bikini outside pitched tents. Nothing pops out of me. My mother says Barbara Windsor’s common.

I learnt: There’s NO known way to practise giggling. A giggle is common, but I don’t have the giggle gene. Don’t let anyone tell you anything’s possible.

2. Smiles Stretch from a 1 to 10 rating

Ages 4-15 are all about smiling. School takes annual photos to measure the progress of kid’s smiles. My mother doesn’t have to buy the smile I take home at 6. I forget to tell her the photographer’s coming. I’m wearing the wrong jumper. She tuts at the frayed sleeve and says, ‘You could have smiled at least.’ I thought I was ‘smiling at least’. I start studying smiles to get it right.

I learnt: Smiles are trickier than they look.

3. In the Right Light a Grimace Passes for a Grin

 

I hear about the Mona Lisa and stare. She isn’t pretty, but her smile is famous. This seems the right smile for me. I say ‘cheese’ between sealed lips, but the photographer won’t release me till I show teeth. Two are missing. I’m goofy, but my mother likes the photo so much she buys us wear matching t-shirts and takes us to the baby photographer in the foyeur of Tesco’s. Women with carrier bags stop, watch. I learnt: I can’t think what I learnt.

4.  Classify your smile and bring the right one to the occasion

I’m still bringing photos home. My mother buys them because only the parents of scruffy kids don’t. Not all smiles make the wall. She gets a new boyfriend and takes them down. I classify each. There is the, I’m fat, please forgive me smile, Camera, WHY are you stealing my soul? The Mona Lisa gone wrong. The resigned to being bad at smiling. The You want teeth? I’ll GIVE you teeth.

I’ve learnt: None’s a sure thing. I can do a Mona Lisa, but it is not smiling properly on me.

5. Kylie’s Smile is a Chipmonk on Anyone Else (one size doesn’t fit all)

I notice smiley girls have gold jewellery and get to borrow boyfriend’s jackets. Kylie is a problem. I cover my exercise book with Number One and stand before the mirror trying to shape my mouth like hers. It’s just not the same. When I can’t get Kylie’s smile down, I draw flies in her teeth. Teachers tell me wipe to ‘that smile off my face.’ They sound like my smile leaves dirty marks on tissues like cheap make-up.

I learnt: I can smile, but the one that feels best is the wrong kind.

6. Smiler : Beware

I’m a discerner of titters, chuckles, grins and beams – I don’t actively practise. But when I least expect it my lips do a thing; laughter lobs itself from my mouth. I’m too old for smile progress to be charted much. I bring home my last photo: a documented smirk (Avril was doing something mad with her lipstick.) My mother says I look like my Dad on the photo;  I have his laugh. I etch a protractor in. My mouth is white paper, I practise a better laugh.

I’ve learnt: An ill-thought smile can remind someone of something sad.

7.  Purple Lipstick is a Bad Smiler’s Disguise

 

No photos now, smiles, but the ones I try on when friends have new outfits. I dye my hair black because Morticia Addams and Nick Cave really know how not to smile. Nicola sees me on the bus to college and knocks at my door. ‘I saw you on the bus and thought we might have something common.’ I think she means the purple streak in my hair, but I’m not sure. I let her in.

I learnt: Two people not smiling on a bus of guffaws makes a friend, or something like it.

8. Facsimile Smiles

Gotham Town is a smorgasbord of smiles. One for the guy with the tat of a crucified wolf, one for black fingernails, another for kids who think they’re The Crow. I don’t use the right one each time. Nicola and I stand close for the flash. My smile is a facsimile of hers, teeth drawn. We look like we eat the entrails of smiles for breakfast. She softens hers for a guy who bring Black Russians.

I’ve learnt to fuck smiles, I am, mostly, too cool.

9.  If you can’t quite smile, have a default

I read the Japanese have a different way to smile. It has nothing to do with the endowment of perfect teeth. A Japanese woman looks at a blank husband and knows things. It is all in the eyes. At university there’s a maths student with a gap in his teeth; his smile’s a trap set for people less clever to fall into.

I’m learning: What my lips do when I’m scared passes for a smile. Most people don’t look too hard.

10.  If Someone Else’s Smile is Your Umbrella Beware of spokes

I want my last smiling lesson to be an umbrella, something positive,

but I’m never positive which smile will come out. I can’t count on a smile. The same muscles I move today don’t make the same smile as yesterday. I marry a man whose giggle is the Laughing Gnome. I hope his grin’s big enough for the both of us. Our life is the Pepsi Cola challenge. I’m not sure I can taste the difference between the smile he has for me and the one he does all day. Each night we look at each like other people who don’t speak the same language. I try to read the smile on his lips, he looks for one in my eyes. Learning takes time.

By Angela Readman

Angela Readman writes little things, sometimes people read them. Her stories have appeared in Metazen, Pank and the National Flash Fiction Day Competition. She is bad at smiling, but good at making pancakes.

A Personal Top 10 of Illicit or Intoxicated Film Viewings.

In Intoxication, Movies, Top Ten on March 24, 2012 at 10:43 am

1 + 2 Aliens/Species

I was 11 and Jamie was by far my worst friend. His parents gave him free run of their swanky Hampshire new-build and at school he would regale me with shot-by-shot retellings of the impossibly nasty films they let him watch at weekends. Chief among these was something called Aliens, a semi-mythic slice of space gore in which acid blood and severed heads were chucked around with the sloppy impunity of a Bugsy Malone pie fight. When we eventually sat down to a screening he clung to the remote, fast forwarding the talky bits and rewinding entire sections until I agreed that the surround sound was much better than anything my parents could afford.

Throughout all this, I was fixed to my leather seat with excitement, experiencing for the first time the ambiguous pleasure of wanting the scares to be over but desperately longing to see what might come next. However, that was nothing compared to the weird stirrings I felt during Species, the second part of our double bill, in which Natasha Henstridge’s sexy alien shags and skewers her way across America, pursued by an improbable cast of slumming thesps (stand up, Ben Kingsley). Probably the first onscreen nudity I’d ever seen and most of it was followed by a bloody come-uppance. Way to fuck a kid up, Jamie. Thanks a bunch.

3. What Lies Beneath

15 and unusual, my parents stage-managed a trip to the cinema for myself and a group of my primary school contemporaries, now convent school girls of impeccable moral standing. Intent on demonstrating my new found sophistication I smuggled in a bottle of vodka and supped approvingly throughout Robert Zemeckis’  sub-standard spookathon, chuckling at each weary jumpcut. God, I thought, sucking down drafts of £5 muck, I must look so cool. There were to be no further dates arranged.

4. Evil Dead 2

While op ed columnists berate today’s youth, complaining that they’ve never felt the lash of a cane or the grinding indignities of national service, I rue the fact that they’ll never know the agony of sitting up past your bedtime and praying that the video will stop grinding and squeaking as it kicks into record. I first watched Sam Raimi’s comedy splatterfest on just such a night, cross-legged in my pyjamas and muting the volume whenever anyone got up to go to the bathroom. It’s fair to say I haven’t been the same since.

5. Dawn of the Dead

Bruce Campbell’s deadite bashing sparked my taste for gore and I soon built up a library of illicitly recorded shockflicks. I decided to screen George Romero’s zombie classic for some of my classmates and we occupied the school TV room one rainy Wednesday afternoon. There was an impossibly tense passage in which my hated housemaster wandered in and sat out one of the rare lulls in gut chomping. While we’d chatted and marvelled our way through the opening reel, now none of us dared look at each other and we sat in a thick and awkward silence. Satisfied that nothing immoral was taking place, eventually he continued on his rounds. Moments later, when an onscreen shotgun blast popped a skull like a bloody watermelon, a triumphant cheer rose from the assembled crowd.

6. If…

This was a wonderfully mis-directed bit of pastoral care from my 6th form tutor, a briefcase clutching conservative who sensed growing dissent among my peers as we gradually outgrew the rugby worship and snobbery of my ever-so-minor public school. He arranged a showing of Lindsay Anderson’s 60s classic and bought in a crate of cut-price supermarket beers, hoping we’d sense the futility of Malcolm McDowell’s rooftop showdown and mend our ways. Instead, we wandered back to our boarding house hugging squiffily and plotting revolution. A particularly treasured memory.

8. Bad Taste

Much of this list can trace its origins to Empire magazine and their endless features with titles like ‘The 50 Most Shocking Moments in the Movies.’ I was a sucker for those sorts of things and I’d read all about the sick-drinking excesses of Peter Jackson’s splatterpunk debut. So, when I chanced across a copy in a reduced pile at my local HMV, naturally I pounced. There was some awkward chat with the cashier in which I tried to pass myself off as a mature adult by stroking my incipient stubble and nodding sagely. He didn’t twig and I soon I was riding the bus home, clutching my new find like so much treasure.

This was something that needed to be shared and I resolved that I would share the experience with my two younger brothers, then 8 and 14. Naturally we needed a cover and we developed the cunning ruse that, should we be interrupted, we’d simply present our questioner with the video box for Uncle Buck. Being ignorant fossils, they’d find it impossible to spot the difference between a popular 90s comedy and an excessive blast of comedy gore made for tuppence in a New Zealand backwater. Thus, when were rumbled 20 minutes in, I thrust the aforementioned box into my father’s hands. He surveyed the back cover blurb and looked up at the screen, where a frantic Mr. Jackson was desperately piling his seeping brains through a crack in his punctured skull.

‘Hmm,’ he said, ‘where exactly is John Candy?’

I suppose he had a point.

7. National Treasure

Apparently this Disney romp actually has some sort of plot, pitting treasure hunter Nicholas Cage against Harvey Keitel in a rare ‘trousers on’ turn as a dodgy FBI agent. My only memory from a viewing at the Guildford Odeon is of being woken from a boozy snooze by an usherette who hoped I might identify my then girlfriend. She had gotten impossibly lost while returning from a stomach purging visit to the bathrooms and was clinging to the edge of my seat for comfort. Ah, young love.

9. Bad Boy Bubby

In my third year at university, my friends and I took it upon ourselves to induct the freshers into the rigours of student life. We bought a copy of this weirdo Australian flick online and tonnes of Polish apple vodka. The new intake were bound to be impressed by our cosmopolitan ways and we spent ages draping the walls of our sitting room with ropy blankets. Half an hour in, as the titular character clingfilmed his incestuous mother to death and escaped the grotty bunker in which he had been cruelly imprisoned, a girl started crying hysterically and had to be taken home. An excellent introduction, I thought.

10. A Matter of Life and Death

Just before graduation I broke my knee falling down a 13th century spiral staircase (we’ve all been there, right?). Bizarrely, I wasn’t prescribed any painkillers until I found myself convalescing at home some months later. The pills I was given were custard yellow and fiercely effective and I spent a wonderful afternoon watching the Powell and Pressburger classic, medicated to my eyeballs and oozy with relief. I vividly remember Kim Hunter‘s red lips swimming somewhere in the haze as she talks David Niven through his opening earthward plummet.

By Nick Garrard

Nick Garrard writes about books and films and tweets tiny stories as @nevervane. He is also unemployed. These two things may not be unconnected.

Top Ten Randomised Book Pairings

In Books, Top Ten on March 20, 2012 at 9:08 am

After years of having my books thematically organised I decided it would be much more fun to have them in no sequence whatsoever.  So I pulled them all off the shelves, shuffled them around, then replaced them completely at random, with absolutely no conscious engineering of which books might go next to each other.   I would strongly recommend this exercise, it’s very liberating.  Moreover, it’s also quite entertaining to look along your shelves afterwards, and see which books have ended up next to each other.  I came across some interesting “pairings”, some of them funny, some eclectic, some surreal, and some downright disturbing.

So here are my Top Ten randomised book pairings, in no order of preference.

1.         100 Great Lives

            Weird Deaths

It’s the juxtaposition of the two extremes in the titles that I like about this one. Life and death, side by side.  One book contains mini-biographies of 100 famous people, from Alexander the Great to Winston Churchill.  The other provides short and true anecdotes about bizarre and crazy ways of dying – about 150 of them (so death certainly has the edge).  One is supposed to be inspiring, the other will make you collapse in a helpless heap of schadenfreude.

2.         Wild Swans – by Jung Chang

            Tragically I was an only Twin – by Peter Cooke

Jung Chang is a clever woman and an excellent writer, but she can be stern and serious, and I suspect she would be rather grim company (well to be fair she did have a rotten childhood growing up in the Chinese Cultural Revolution).  But being next to the anarchic and foul-mouthed Peter Cooke might do her good and lighten her up a bit.

3.         Weaveworld – by Clive Barker

            Very Good Jeeves –  by P G Wodehouse

The master of gruesome horror fantasy is now sitting alongside an English upper-class dimwit and his forbearing butler.  What a strange conversation that could be.

4.         River out of Eden – by Richard Dawkins

            The autobiography of Roy Keane

This could easily end up in a punch-up: angry Catholic footballer versus angry atheist academic……

5.         Among the Believers – by V S Naipaul

            Sylvia and Christabel Pankhurst – by Barbara Castle

            A Room of One’s Own – by Virginia Woolf

V S Naipaul is a male writer who recently spoken rather disdainfully of female writers.  Now he’s sandwiched in between two forthright and formidable women, Virginia Woolf and Barbara Castle, not to mention the Pankhurst girls. Serves him right.

6.         Writing Home – by Alan Bennett

            Selected Letters and Journals – by Lord Byron

Two gifted humourists together – they could have been very amusing together, but I fear Alan Bennett would just be too incoherent with excitement over his new neighbour to make a decent contribution

7.         An English Madam: The Life and Work of Cynthia Payne – by Paul Bailey

Stories – by Oscar Wilde

Cynthia Payne is the cheerful lady who devised the ingenious sex for lunch vouchers scheme, which were apparently popular with high profile judges and political figures.  I’m very happy to say that she is now in the witty and genial company of Oscar Wilde. What a delightful pairing and what bawdy gossip they could exchange!

8          (Oh dear!)

Heidi – by Johanna Spyri

            Justine – by the Marquis de Sade

I felt so queasy when I came across this one – little Swiss Heidi in the company of the man with the filthiest imagination in Europe – that I broke my rule and rearranged them.  They’re no longer even on the same floor – the Marquis’ new neighbour is a book about the rules of the game of boules, which should keep him out of trouble, and Heidi is now safely snuggled up to Squirrel Nutkin.

9.         Candide – by Voltaire

            A Drink with Shane MacGowan – by Shane MacGowan & Victoria Mary Clarke

A sophisticated philosopher and a permanently rat-arsed songwriter, both geniuses in their own ways, a shame they will be mutually unintelligible.

10.       The Marx Brothers Scrapbook

            The Second Sex – by Simone de Beauvoir

Although none of the foregoing are in any order of preference, I think this one is my favourite.  I keep imagining the austere de Beauvoir playing the Margaret Dumont role, stoically forbearing,  as Harpo tries to steal her turban, and Groucho makes insulting remarks about the size of her feet. It’s a wonderful scenario.

By Mary Redshaw

Former public servant and international relations practitioner, now cheerfully unemployed and keeping busy with reading, blogging, pratting around on the internet, walking the dog, and watching telly.

Competition

In Uncategorized on March 2, 2012 at 12:30 pm

I have some books to give to you.

 

But I want you to work for them.

 

To celebrate World Book Week, I want you to write me a top ten about books. It can be on anything relating to them, but the theme has to be related somewhat to books.

 

The prizes will be a couple of books for the winner.

Send your entries in before Friday 9th and the winner will be announced shortly after. Submissions information can be found here

 

 

Top Ten Forms of Procrastination

In Procrastination, Top Ten on February 18, 2012 at 10:22 am

Top Ten Forms of Procrastination

  1. Watching Jeremy Kyle re-runs. I’m working from home for the day, and I CAN do this.  I sit down for breakfast and flick on the telly for ten minutes.  Max.  So imagine my dismay when, at some point mid-afternoon, I find myself nestled into a goodly depression in the sofa, having spent a number of hours inanely catching flies in front of twelve consecutive Jeremy Kyles.   And as I watch I realise I’ve seen this one before.  I know full well that Sammi-Jo is lying through her teeth and Romeo is not the father, but still I feel it necessary to gape open mouthed, perched on the edge of my seat, captivated.  Perhaps it’s the suspense in the studio, Jeremy fumbling with the oversized envelope, Big Will poised on standby.  But something makes me think that – oh God, I don’t know – maybe this time it will be different.  Maybe Romeo is the biological father of little Shanice.

But Shanice’s fate, trapped in a pixelated continuum, is fixed and unchanging.  Unlike my employment status.

  1. Reading About and Judging ‘Celebrities’.Oh Daily Mail Online, how I relish your uncomplicated lure as deadline day looms.  I’m sat at my desk, fresh mug of coffee to my left, all relevant material fanned before me.  I have a press release to compose and distribute for a fairly important client and I must begin right away.  I’m ready to go.  But what’s that you say? Katie Price dons unsavoury leggings and crop-top combo for a night on the town?  Kerry Katona dumped again?  OH GOD, HOW YOU HAVE FORSAKEN ME.  Rich with the misfortune of irrelevant celebrities, afternoons are sacrificed mercilessly at the hands of tabloid journalism.
  1. Watching My Twitter Feed.There is nothing more time consuming than keeping up with one’s Twitter feed.  When following a wealth of fascinating characters, reality TV stars, organisations, and Lord Voldemort, there is simply too much enjoyment to be extracted from observing in no more than 140 delightful characters, the intricacies of others’ existence.

So. Much. Irrelevant. Information. To. Process.

  1. Having a Bath.Ahh bath-time, an excuse so rich in plausibility.  For cleanliness is essential.  And of course if I’m drawing a bath anyway I might as well go the whole hog and get the bubble bath out.  I won’t be showering later tonight if I bathe now, so I’d better wash my hair too.  And where are those candles…

But alas! You cannot take a laptop in the bath.

Now if you’ll excuse me, I’ve left the taps running…

  1. Eating. Woe betide my 30-year-old self.  Merely informed guesswork, but I doubt spending my 20s shovelling any form of edible matter in the general direction of my face every time I find myself approaching an important deadline will bode well for my figure in the long-term.
  1. Fine-Tuning My Blog / Fixing the Stats.Continually refreshing my own blog page in a vain attempt to up the stats.
  1.  Rayman.A classic tool for procrastination, this PS1 favourite never fails to sufficiently distract when I find myself with a project of considerable weight hanging over me.  How, I ask, could I concentrate on a task so trivial as paid employment when the Great Protoon is at the mercy of Mister Dark, thus compromising the future of Rayman’s world?

To the Cave of Skops!

  1. Researching Old Flames On Wikipedia.And by ‘old flame’ I don’t mean ex-boyfriends.  No, no.  I am referring to past celebrity crushes. You know, Zac from Hanson, Aaron Carter, Adam Rickitt of Corrie fame. Though their heyday may be over, I often find my old favourites have crafted delightful new paths for themselves. Whilst Hanson are still very much alive and Mmm Boppin’, and Aaron Carter powers on in the eternal shadow of his elder brother Nick, Adam Rickitt has enjoyed a rather more colourful destiny.  Though currently starring in New Zealand soap opera ‘Shortland Street’, Rickett still holds dear an ambition of a career in politics, even once threatening to overturn Nicholas Winterton as Conservative MP for Macclesfield.  Big dreams.

And obviously, having this information is of paramount importance.  Knowledge is power, after all.

  1. Physical Exercise. A last resort, granted.  But when Jeremy Kyle finishes and the kitchen is bare, I can think of nothing with more tremendous benefit than slipping into some quite questionable sportswear and heading off on a light jog.  Slash walk.
  1. Writing Lists of all the Things I Should Be Doing Rather than Procrastinating.Or, indeed, a list of my top ten forms of procrastination.

by Laura Moulden

Laura is a 23-year old wine enthusiast from Blackburn. Currently residing in Manchester and quite dangerously self-employed, writing is her passion and procrastination her talent. Can often be caught early in the morning drinking coffee and reading magazines. If spending an unjustifiable amount of time on less important tasks didn’t get in the way, she would most certainly give more time to her blog: http://www.lauraem.blogspot.com/.

Top 10 things I would’ve invented if someone else hadn’t beaten me to it

In Inventions, skills, Top Ten on February 14, 2012 at 3:24 pm

There’s an old saying/lie that goes something like ‘everyone has a novel in them’ but I reckon we all have at least one invention that would make life better/easier/more enjoyable for all. Here’s ten I would’ve invented if someone hadn’t beaten me to it.

1 – Pockets: Did you know that pockets that were first thought of by a Roman, Julius Pocketus? He would hang the cloth pockets from his toga and keep useful items in them like small change and the keys to his chariot. However, in Roman times, coinage was made from very heavy metal and chariot keys carved from granite, so Julius’ toga was often falling down, so pockets never caught on. The modern idea of a pocket as being an integral part of a garment was resurrected by forward-thinking tailor, Robert ‘Bob’ Farah, as he wanted somewhere to store a comb and his wallet while out of an evening and really didn’t want to be seen carrying a bag.

2 – Toast: With the addition of butter, bread is pretty awesome on its own. However, if you add a little bit of heat to the sliced bread and you’ve got perhaps the greatest, simplest meal you can make. In fact, The addition of a nice cup of tea to this makes a food/drink combination that is without equal.

3 – The internet: It would’ve taken me a while but I would’ve invented the internet if Sir Tim Berners-Lee hadn’t beaten me to, but I’m not one to complain so hats off to Sir Tim. The internet is a the first modern wonder of the digital age and has brought all manner of delights from across the world to your internet-connected device. The £10 a month I spend on Spotify is easily the best value tenner I spend a month and Skype is a godsend for keeping in touch with family all around the world. Also, Berners-Lee is a nice bit of rhyming slang for a cup of tea.

4 – The right to roam: In his fabulous folk song, The Manchester Rambler, Ewan MacColl wrote that ‘no man has the right to own mountains’ and he was right. If people hadn’t have trespassed up Kinder Scout a while back, I’d climbing over walls instead of stiles now.

5 – Central heating: Though it’s probably the root cause of global warming, central heating is the bees knees. It’s so great to have that you only really notice it now when you visit somewhere that doesn’t have central heating, like New Zealand. New Zealand is a lovely country which can get quite cold in the winter. But instead of having central heating and insulation they use warm air heaters and electric blankets. This means you end up being in a house that has heat, not a warm house. Also, your washing never dries! I might move to New Zealand and introduce central heating and claim it is my invention.

6 – Family and friends: I really don’t like to think about this because it’s too big for my little brain to ponder for too long. But be safe in the knowledge that If family and friends hadn’t already been invented, I would’ve saved you from an awful life of constant loneliness.

7 – Recycling: Whoever thought that putting rubbish in a big whole in the ground was an idiot: “We’ll just dig a hole and throw our rubbish in it.”
“But won’t it fill up eventually?”
“Nah, it’ll be alright.”
What a doofus. Well done to the person that invented recycling. I’m glad you beat me to it.

8 – Spoonerisms: I don’t come up with these in my everyday speech, I just like the way they sound and subvert the original phrase, like a lack of pies, or a sock cucker. Well done on your early invention Reverend William Archibald Spooner, I’m glad it’s named after you because Gowism doesn’t flow all that well.

9 – Fresh sheets: You can be skint, down in the dumps, dumped, hungover, dog tired or just want to treat yourself on a Sunday evening;  and what is the simplest most effective way of giving yourself a touch of luxury? Putting clean, fresh sheets on your bed and sliding under the duvet. No rogue hairs, no PJs under the pillow, no leftover hot water bottle, and certainly no crumbs. Just you and the cotton. Or, if you’re posh, silk. If fresh sheets weren’t with us I’d have invented both washing powder and washing machines just to make this happen.

10 – The Dictionary: Full of words you’ll never need to know and words you’ll never know how to spell, no matter how often you look them up. The only place that liminology and limousine can sit comfortably side-by-side. For those who like lists (and if you’re reading this site then I guess that includes you), the dictionary is the ultimate list. Bow down and accept, that no matter how good your one invention is, it is never, ever, ever, going to come close to the dictionary.

by Aaron Gow

Like most ‘aspiring’ writers, Aaron writes guff like this all the time sporadically. If you want to read it then check out his blog.

Top Ten Movie Moments I wish had happened to me

In Movies, Top Ten on February 9, 2012 at 11:24 am

As Marina Diamandis, of Marina and the Diamonds fame, put it: ‘Hollywood infected your brain / You wanted kissing in the rain / Living in a movie scene / Puking American Dreams’. Well yes Marina you’re right, I did/am (you have only a fleeting grasp of staying in tense it seems). There is a scene in almost every film I watch where I sit in front of the TV or cinema screen thinking: ‘That could be me…’ Here are ten of my favourite ‘I wish that had happened to me’ moments.

10 – Sugar High, Empire Records

I can’t sing and although I’ve tried everything from the recorder to electric guitar I can’t play any instruments either. Despite this I harbour secret ambitions to be in a band, much like Ms Zellweger’s character Gina in Empire Records. As chance would have it, only a few short hours after confessing this desire to her friends Gina finds herself on top of a record store with a full band being asked to sing (if you can call it that). The song is perfect, shouty enough to cover any dodgy vocals and bouncy enough to accommodate nervous jumping about. Perhaps now I have sent my dream out into cyberspace I too will be called upon to sing Sugar High on top of a shop? Maybe not. I’d probably just forget the words and bounce myself right off the roof.

9 –House Fight, Mr and Mrs Smith

If I found myself in a fight to the death scenario in my kitchen I would like it to be with Brad Pitt. I would also like to know that I was a world class assassin with a huge arsenal of weapons at my disposal and enough money to rebuild the kitchen after we’ve finished blowing massive holes in it.

8 – Diamonds Are a Girl’s Best Friend, Moulin Rouge

I once spent a summer attending Circus School and learning how to perform tricks on a trapeze. No, really. I came home after every lesson with hideously bruised arms and rope burned thighs. Not so for Nicole Kidman in Moulin Rouge. She gets to sit pretty on a giant trapeze, singing a song about being showered with jewels, as she is lowered into a crowd of happy revellers. When I fell off the trapeze I landed on a blue gym mat and got shouted at by a scary woman from Latvia. When Satine falls off she is caught by a muscled man and gently borne away to her dressing room. Yes she’s dying, but she looks beautiful doing it.

7 – Learning to Fly, How to Train Your Dragon

Okay, so it’s an animation and he’s a small Viking boy, but he has a pet dragon. Any sort of pet that breathes fire and doubles as free transportation is a winner with me. I always wanted to have a dog big enough to ride around on when I was little. I used to try and saddle up the cat, but you know cats, selfish little bastards.

6 – Blowing Up the Old Bailey, V For Vendetta

Should I ever have call to need saving in a dark alleyway, it would be a huge bonus if it happened to be by a highly articulate, masked man with a coat full of knives and a predilection for pyromania. Viva La Revolution!

5 – Telekinetic Dancing, Matilda

Wouldn’t it be great to be telekinetic? I became mildly obsessed by the concept after reading Matilda when I was in Primary School. I wasted many an hour staring hard at inanimate objects in my bedroom and trying to move them using only the power of my mind. Like Matilda in this scene I imagine that if I’d ever achieved it, a large portion of my childhood would have been spent dancing to 1950’s Rock and Roll whilst making my mum’s ornaments whizz around above my head.

4 – Dance Magic Dance, Labyrinth

Did I want to be the beautiful girl fulfilling an important quest to save her baby brother from a terrible fate? No. I wanted to be one of the little goblins dancing around with David Bowie. I was either very cool or very disturbed. I’m betting on the latter.

3 – The First Fight, Sucker Punch

Okay, I’ll admit that this is a bit of an odd one. Obviously I’m not wishing for an evil step-father to send me to an insane asylum for a lobotomy. But, if that did happen then I would like to discover that I am in fact a hardcore, kick-ass, heroine type. As someone who spends their days creating fictional literary worlds, it would be nice to think that should I fall into a reality filled with abuse and torture that I could just magic up a new world in which I could overcome any foe without breaking a sweat or ruffling my hair.

2 – Ferris Wheel, The Notebook

Noah is so desperate for a date with Allie, a girl he has met for two seconds five minutes earlier, that he throws himself onto a moving Ferris Wheel to talk to her. The closest I’ve ever come to this sort of grand gesture is a drunken phone call in the early hours of the morning from a boy who’d got my phone number from a friend. Hardly comparable. What I really love about this scene though is that Allie unfastens his trousers and leaves him hanging there in his grimy pants for all the town to see. That girl has enough self-confidence to power the Large Hadron Collider.

1 – Kissing in the Rain, Breakfast at Tiffany’s

What woman doesn’t want to brand herself a free spirit, capriciously reject the love of a beautiful man and throw her cat out of a taxi, only to change her mind upon the production of an engagement ring and have everything turn out just fine? She even found the cat. In my world Cat would be long gone, Paul would have met a supermodel the second he stepped out of the cab and my make-up would have run down my face in the rain. Some girls have all the luck.

by Jordana Hill

Jordana Hill is currently studying for an MA in Creative Writing at The University of Manchester and working on her first novel. She tweets nonsense at @jordana_hill