Friday, 30 April 2010

Nomads Are The Norm

Nomad (noun, originating from 1555 from the Middle French word “nomade”, the Latin “nomas” describing "wandering groups in Arabia" and the Greek “nomas” referring to "those roaming, roving and wandering to find pastures for flocks or herds):

  1. A member of a group of people who have no fixed home and move according to the seasons from place to place in search of food, water, and grazing land.

  1. A person with no fixed residence who roams about; a wanderer.

I have been a nomad now for 21 months in counting. In the traditional definitions of the word I'm not a seasonal nomad but move around according to social events and where The Boy is and the money can be earned. My fixed residence is very tenuously my parents' house but in actuality that is merely where my post goes to and I can pass weeks without returning there.

I actively chose this nomadic lifestyle when I left the UK for a year of travelling. I then returned to a less exciting version of this nomadic life when I signed up as a student again and in doing so, embarked on a long-distance relationship once more. Now three months have passed since completing the course and I unwillingly continue with this nomadic existence while I persistently try and break into the seemingly impenetrable Editorial world.

I didn't think I'd be back to teaching but at last supply is at least keeping me afloat and delaying the onset of insanity. In the last two weeks I have found myself living a dual existence – teaching by day and searching/applying for jobs and writing by night. Plunged back into a school environment on a daily basis has been strange but something I have taken in my stride and embraced, enjoying the concept of actually finally making my own money again. I've also found my attitude towards the classroom to be pretty laid back, viewing each lesson as merely an hour to be endured and survived. This makes it sound like my experience of supply has been horrific and torturous, akin to those school scenes shown in film and television where the class take advantage of the substitute teacher who is a cowering wreck in a corner as general mayhem ensues, but I have actually struck it pretty lucky. In the last week I have unintentionally possibly scarred a girl for life referring to her as “the gentleman in the corner” and have encountered possibly the cruelest name a parent could ever give a child: “God's Promise” – need I say more?

As the day's pass, I wonder if I will ever live in a place I can call home again and be able to finally unpack my belongings. At the moment most of my personal effects are still in storage and the few unpacked items are spread between two places and thrown into a bag every weekend to be dragged from place to place. An article in the Evening Standard a few days ago revealed this lifestyle (if you can call it that) is not uncommon among honorary Londoners like me, comparing our existence to 70s sitcom Rising Damp. With the recession still in full swing, more and more people are taking on weekday lodgers who are sick of the commute and want to live nearer to work without having to pay expensive city prices. Landlords are taking advantage of “rent-a-room” tax-free legislation while commuters are enjoying the benefits of reduced rent, lower or non existent bills and shorter journeys to work. reports a 14% increase in homeowners advertising rooms and has noticed the number of landlords registering on the site has tripled.

Being compared to a Rising Damp lodger, isn't far off the mark, although my crash pad is merely a bedroom, my “landlady” is thankfully nothing like Rigsby and it's a lonelier existence than that presented in the sitcom; There is no communal sitting area and my path rarely crosses with the two other lodgers that I share with (a clown and a teacher working in a school the two princes apparently once attended). With very little cash to my name and essentially being a “kept woman” for the last few months, I have certainly enjoyed the reasonable rent, lack of bills and the advantages of paying by the day but I still have to wonder whether I will ever escape this strange unsettled nomadic existence.

Monday, 19 April 2010

Reversal Of The Sexes

Supermarket shopping with my dad a few weekends ago for the first time in years was both enlightening and entertaining. I discovered that I am even more man than I had ever thought.

Over the phone, I had been given the instruction “Tell your father to stop and get cat food and something to eat tonight.” Seems simple enough right? Just a quick stop. Wrong.

Wandering around the aisles of the enormous Sainsbury's locating the cat food became less important than browsing the toiletries aisle and grabbing at luxury self-indulgent items. Our hand-basket was overflowing with items and I was left clutching the excess, having to prop the cat food we finally selected last under both my arms. Our pet food aisle stop was hilarious. I never imaged shopping with Old Dear could be such fun. I was amazed by how long he took to choose a few boxes of cat food sachets, clearly overwhelmed by the choice. As an in-and-out shopper, I had quickly located the cheapest option but was told “the cats are fussy and won't like it, they have expensive tastes”. We walked along the aisle watching the feline models getting younger until we reached the kitten section still undecided but imagining the oldest of our cats, Jenny, doing the shopping and receiving her OAP's discount. Finally at least 30 minutes after arriving we settled on a more expensive brand and a cheaper one to try them out on.

I am not a good cook, mainly because I don't try and prefer to spend my time doing other things. Don't get me wrong – I love eating, in fact I love it far too much, to the detriment of my clothes and figure. When I food shop there is no list involved but I have an idea of how many days I am buying for and the kinds of items that I want. Quickly locating these items and the cheapest brands, I am keen to get out of there.

After my hilarious shopping trip with my dad that concluded with both of us in fits of laughter in the pet food aisle, I decided to check out the stats on male shoppers. I found a helpful article at that told me more than half of men claim to do 60% or more of the family shopping, while more than 85% of women say they do most of the shopping.

Men get lost in today's fast-paced supermarkets, says David W. Stewart, the Robert E. Brooker Professor of Marketing at the University of Southern California's Marshall School of Business: "More and more men are picking up items at the grocery store but they are frequently following the instructions of the female in the household. Traditionally, the woman was the decision maker and shopper. Now the female is still the primary decision maker, but the shopping is more often shared by two individuals."

David Mick, PhD, professor of marketing at the University of Virginia's McIntire School of Commerce and president-elect of the Association for Consumer Research agrees, saying: "There is no doubt that men's and women's shopping roles have changed. Men are more often going into grocery stores and buying categories of things they would not have bought a generation ago. It has been going on for the last 20 years, and has been steadily rising but that is a much more modest phenomenon than the rising trend of the female giving the male a list - complete with brand names. Men tend to go after specific grocery items while women are more likely to browse but it is not that males are more decisive, they are basically following orders. Women in many families are probably still expected to be the primary procurer of goods for the household; You might say it serves them in that role to have a wider radar of what is in the store and what is good for the household."

From this research it seems Old Dear and I have undergone gender expectation role-reversal. He was given a list that he followed and significantly embellished on while my average food shop is a quick affair with a mental check list closely followed. Perhaps all this will change when I have a family to cater for but in the meantime, I think perhaps it is best if Old Dear is confined to online shopping.

Thursday, 15 April 2010

Lost In Translation

Due to Cineworld's incompetence at its appalling Wood Green branch (yes, I am slating it again but for some reason repeatedly go back for more!), for the second time in the last week and a half I found myself watching another Turkish romantic comedy.

Steve Guttenberg's bizarre appearance in Ay Lav Yu tempted me along to the first but a sudden last-minute need to kill time before Julianne Moore's diabolical recent release Shelter, saw me sitting in a near-empty theatre surrounded by Turkish folk clearly a little bemused by my presence. Getting my ticket I was warned by an equally confused vendor that the film was Turkish and asked if I was sure I wanted to see it. I wasn't sure but the prospect was more attractive than sitting through The Spy Next Door.

Imaginatively named Romantik Komedi, although no masterpiece was actually quite an enjoyable watch. The film reminded me of the pain of Google translator. Doing an internship at Journeyman documentary distribution company, one of the tasks I was set was to translate a script about the effects of the recession on Iceland. Armed with Google translator, I copied and pasted small sections of the script back and forth until I was able to go through an “English” script, attempting to make it more understandable and improve the flow. Things weren't going too badly until I came across a bizarre translation about huge erections. My attempts to translate a Portuguese script about sex trafficking in Brazil were even less successful with huge swathes of dialogue being incomprehensible.

Romantik Komedi reminded me of these tasks as the film is all in Turkish with the only English coming from a sexually obsessed character who exclaims: “Girls, I'm horny”. Some of the cumbersome jaunty translations possibly derived from Google translator destroyed some of the subtleties of meaning. “It's not the job of my ideals” and “Tell me how your perceptions are unblocked” are just two examples of subtitles littered with awkward phrasing, reminiscent of communication during those Turkish holidays of old. Much of the meaning was lost in translation and a film that could have been marketed to a wider British audience, lost its opportunity.

Saturday, 10 April 2010

Winning My Vote?

I am not one of those people who chugged on one too many bottles of White Lightning in days of old and now can’t stomach cider. That is not to say, I never sat in a park or woodland clutching a White Lightning or White Star bottle. I am no stranger to the pain of that acidic sting as cider courses out of your nostrils while you vomit and retch. In fact I am sure I fairly frequently drunk one too many bottles but for some reason, unlike other beverages, no matter how bad my hangover, I have never been put off supping on alcoholic apple juice.

I have never been a beer drinker, much to the annoyance of other mystified alers and at times to my own detriment; Pints of beer are always the cheap option. In Uni days, I went through a phase of re-testing things I didn’t like in the hope that something inside me had changed. Forcing the odd pint and scrambled, fried and boiled eggs down me, I had to admit, my tastes had remained faithfully the same.

During my days travelling, in many countries beer would be the only option, aside from particularly lethal local spirits. On a budget and trying to be sociable, I attempted to drink beer again but was left bloated, entirely unconvinced by the taste and purchasing lemonade on the side to make more bearable pints of shandy. It seems I am destined to remain a freak of nature as a non-tea, coffee and beer drinker.

The only thing that has changed over the years is my taste in cider. Gone are the days of strong nasty urine coloured liquid with “white” tellingly included on the label. I have recently found myself to be quite the discerning cider drink – some might say, I have even become a cider snob. Over the last six months, I have denounced Bulmers, Magners and Strongbow, walking out of several pubs after discovering that they only sell one of these three “big names”. For a short while, I was an avid Magners and Bulmers drinker but that was when they were novel and a welcome change from Dry Blackthorn, Woodpecker (tasty but effectively very sweet appleade) and Strongbow. As their popularity grew, stocking Magners and Bulmers became commonplace and suddenly Blackthorn and Woodpecker started to disappear and when sold, were a more attractive prospect – at least a pint of either didn’t cost an extortionate amount like the re-branded trendy Magners/Bulmers (it’s the same drink anyway!) with ice.

Us cider drinkers, have been hard done by for far too long now. Compared to beer, there is so little choice in pubs and bars, it is insulting and insinuates there is an assumption that dirty cider drinkers will be happy with whatever they can get their mouths round. I seem to have begun an almost obsessive quest to find the perfect pub that caters for the underdog cider drinker. Trailing around pubs in Amsterdam, we failed to find a single one serving anything other than the dreaded Magners – it was only in the Hague that we accidentally stumbled across one such place.

Wetherspoons might be cheap and cheerful and in some people’s eyes characterless, dirty and rough, but at least they always stock a few other decent cider options. Ad campaigns have started to try to win over more cider fans by marketing it as trendy and a refreshing alternative to beer and supermarkets have started getting their act together and making my weekend. So why then were the government attempting to pick on us minority cider drinkers?

Back in December pre-budget reports indicated potential threats of a review of the duty levied on cider to bring it into line with beer. A 10%-plus-inflation change on cider duty, on top of inflation, was introduced on March 29 but will now be reversed on June 30 unless Labour wins the election. The increase was postponed so that other key legislation can be passed before the dissolution of parliament on Monday.

The original decision announced by Alistair Darling triggered a huge public backlash, most noticeably through the Facebook campaign, Leave Our Cider Alone, that attracted 55,623 members. Through the site cider fans expressed anger at the prospect of paying an estimated 5p a litre more for still cider, and 9p extra for a 75cl bottle of sparkling cider.

West Country band The Wurzels, who recorded the farm classic, The Combine Harvester, also expressed their disappointment. In a statement, the group said that: "We are all very upset that Scrumpy cider, being one of the few pleasures that we cherish down here on the farm in the West Country, is being hit by such a tax rise. We all realise that, in these current times, we have to tighten the string on our trousers but we must admit that having to cut down on this local favourite leaves us feeling that we are being unfairly penalised, and we'll tell [Darling] something, he won't be the Darling bud of our May. We would like to offer our 50 years of experience of cider drinking, and of playing within a cider community, to the government in an advisory capacity and the public can be assured that we would obviously register our interests in cider before any lobbying commenced."

Cider manufacturers view the decision to drop the controversial 10% cider duty increase as a temporary reprieve rather than a U-turn. Simon Russell, spokesman for the National Association of Cider Makers, said that Gordon Brown's decision to freeze the duty on cider between 2004 and 2008 had doubled the size of the industry and led to huge innovation, which was now at risk.

With this uncertain temporary “victory”, I might be forced to join my first facebook group and follow the election more closely than I normally would. The Conservatives have made a pledge that might just force me into action, whether they honour this promise is another matter...

Thursday, 8 April 2010

The Guttie And The Squattie

What do Steve Guttenberg, a squat toilet and a corpse on a plane have in common? No joke - all three somehow featured in my day…

Having watched Don’t Tell Her It’s Me (also confusingly named The Boyfriend School), on Saturday night I was reminded of the mighty Guttenberg (Three Men and a Baby, Police Academy, Cocoon, Short Circuit...) who starred so heavily in many 80s classics – some of which I own in those great neon coloured oversized video boxes. Or perhaps I shouldn’t admit that? Seeing the master at work posing as Kiwi biker Lobo, to win the heart of the girl that he loves (another 80s “hero” Jami Gertz), I couldn’t help but wonder what had become of him.

Several days later and I find myself in one of those discussions about what has happened to certain celebrities, namely DeVito. Being a bit of a geek and a huge fan of IMBD, I can’t help but do a little research and discover that Guttenberg is still a pretty prolific actor, although the kinds of films he is in aren’t necessarily ones we’d hear about on widespread release…. I’ve seen the sign for Ay Lav Yu on several occasions while visiting my favourite cinema in Wood Green and thought nothing of it. Now I know better. It is a Turkish comedy and bizarrely enough, Steve Guttenberg’s latest role.

Holing up for the night, I decide for old time’s sake I will go and see if I lav his latest release and before bed spot a story about two women trying to smuggle a corpse onto a plane. I awake to the same story on the front page of Metro the next morning. Shocking to some, this doesn’t surprise me at all. Navigating my way through Kolcutta’s underground, among all the warning signs and notices spelling out the rules, there were the words “no corpses” to be brought onto trains. If people have to be told it is not acceptable normal behaviour then perhaps carrying dead bodies around is normal practice? Perhaps cultural differences meant that the women catching the flight had no idea wheeling on a corpse would be frowned upon.

Watching Steve Guttenberg’s most recent offering was more surreal than Metro’s front page. Ay Lav Yu is about American Jessica falling for a Turkish guy called Ibrahim. Her family go out to the small community of Tinne where Ibrahim is from to meet their future in-laws before the wedding. The film is predominantly in Turkish with English subtitles and the four non-Turkish cast members are Jessica and her family. The only Turkish speaker in the family is Jessica and Ibrahim speaks very little English so much of the communication between the two groups is awkward, stilted and full of misunderstanding. What Steve Guttenberg is doing in this film is beyond me – did the film’s Turkish director, Sermiyan Midyat, think "I must have Guttenberg"?

Ay Lav Yu is my first exposure to Turkish film and certainly comedy. Despite the film being out since March 12, the cinema was packed out and only a few tickets were left. I didn’t seem to find it as funny as fellow viewers but judging from my neighbours, I think a large percentage of the audience were Turkish. Although the film seemed to be playing on cultural stereotypes, having been to Turkey on numerous occasions (admittedly some time ago), much of the fun-poking was actually grounded in reality.

In the film what struck the biggest chord was a scene involving a shed and a squat toilet. In the scene Guttenberg’s character, Christopher, doesn’t know how to use the toilet so keen to please, Ibrahim brings him a special invention he made just for him in anticipation of his arrival - a wooden chair with the seat cut away for him to place over the hole. Later in the film locals ask to try this chair, clambering up and squatting above the hole in the chair. Watching this scene, I am reminded of signs in Cambodia stuck to the inside of cubicle doors for the few western toilets that we saw, giving instructions on how to use these new sit-down style toilets. The signs featured a picture of a figure standing on the toilet seat squatting above it with a red line through it. In England, no one thinks of placing these signs up for foreigners, instead we are patronisingly shown how to wash our hands. Why there isn’t a sign featuring a picture of a full toilet with a line through it, is beyond me. Step by step diagrams of how to flush a toilet would be of more use than how to wash your hands. I may be wrong but as far as I know, everyone knows how to wash their hands and those who don’t aren’t doing it out of ignorance but choice.