Monday, 5 April 2010

Relative values

The Oxford/Cambridge boatrace is one of the few sporting events my family can all watch on the same television with no argument about the station.

Without the usual rugby/tennis/racing Saturday afternoon tussle, Easter weekend could easily turn out to be one of the dullest in our household. However, this assumption overlooks one tiny but crucial detail - Dad is a diehard Cambridge-ite and Mum an equally hardcore Oxfordian - here we now have the key ingredients for an afternoon of first-class entertainment both on and off screen.

The parents' cross-sitting room digs begin in a fairly leisurely manner as the anticipation for the race gradually intensifies during the couple of hours of try-hard-to-be-interesting-but-epically-fail-in-doing-so historical anecdotes and team introductions. Gentle pokes at the opposite crew start here, for example "what's that weed doing on there, shouldn't he be practicing ballet" and "well he hardly looks the brightest bulb, hence I suppose why he's at Oxford" were some of my particular favourites from this year's installment. After this "warm up" there then always follows some "time out" where mum will probably go to make tea and dad will become fascinated by the feature package shown for the time the crews are warming up. By the time everyone is settled with a cup of tea in a deceptively civilised manner there may only be a few seconds to go to the start.

And then they're off - the race beginning unleashes a tsunami of abuse, the likes of which would not be out of place on a standard episode of Jezza Kyle. Now, Mum has never rowed in her life but has been exposed to juvenile wannabe Redgraves for the best part of 30 years - as such she can blag her way through the basics. Dad on the other hand did used to be a very very amateur light blue so whenever mother says something a little too extreme about his beloved Cambridge he'll start spitting out a load of (normally totally unrelated) technalese. Without fail this seriously turns out to be one of the most entertaining fifteen or so minutes of my year as the insults and provocations grow more and more irrational and move further and further away from the actual event.

And then it's over. There's always a small aftershock that includes some rapid back-pedaling and mumbled excuses then the "loser" flees to the kitchen as the "winner" basks smugly in the reflected glory of the eight part-human, part-lean-mean-gun-machines that have allowed them to score one evening not doing either cooking or washing up. Because that would clearly undermine such a worthy champion.

And thus domestic bliss is restored.

Wednesday, 24 March 2010

Food for thought

Over 20% of the UK's population are now obese.
The epidemic is costing the UK economy in excess of £3 billion a year.

But I am not going to preach to the increasing number of scale-breakers across the country. Instead I have a problem with the companies producing the food that is then shamelessly sold to these masses who, some by chance, some by choice and some by sheer misfortune have ended up rolling into this sinkhole of takeaways, fizzy drinks and chocolate. I'm not even going to go on about the monopoly of new fast food places that appear every time you turn a corner either. For this comment I am focussing on the beast that is the British supermarket - whether it be the likes of Tesco, Sainsburys or even Waitrose, I'm looking at YOU!

So, it's great that you can get low fat, very low fat and super-dooper-anorexicsRus low fat varieties, but what I don't get is why these can't become the standardised product. Surely it would be far healthier to label the original product as high fat rather than the norm. Of course the reason they don't do this is money and the sell-ability factor that is the essence of all marketing. But at some point can't the health of a nation provide enough clout to over rule the food giants - if people want the label they're still going to buy the label with slightly different wording. It would give citizens the ability to choose if they wanted to continue buying the fattier versions or go for the skinnier options that would then be considered the average.

To be brutally honest I don't hold out much hope. But I'll continue to think it would be a whole lot easier on consciences just to be able to pick up a standard product, because how many vaguely self - respecting people are going to let themselves be tempted to the fuller fat varieties that mark that unlikely, but still very possible fast lane to an early grave?

Wednesday, 10 March 2010

Top gear politics

So the general election approaches again, and for the first time I can vote!!!

This is making me insanely excited, despite the fact I know that my vote will instantly be cancelled out by my mother's and even though it will involve me having to be more Clarkson than Clegg as I make the 3 hour journey up from Wincanton (where I will be working godforsaken hours for barely anything, but doing a job I absolutely adore). You see, for this skip across the West Country I will be on my own in a car - there will be no nice green lift sharing involved. This is because I intend to be fully focused as I zero in on that little square on the little piece of paper to put in the little box in the little church; where, as it happens, I performed in far too many nativity plays habitually playing the same crucial role of fourth shepherd.

I have been looking forward to this nano-second of impact on political power for nearly ten years and I will not miss it for the world.

Historically university (particularly a redbrick) spawns socialist principles as offspring from all but the most well - heeled families, are reduced to scrabbling around under the bed to find the last penny to add to the small pile of shrapnel that will pay for a pint as opposed to the desperately under-used washing machine and the even more desperately needed trip to Tesco. But when put against each other now the ratio of students in this all too common position to the number of students who will actually vote for a party that best represents all those endeavouring to find the coppers, is very poor.

The upshot is the sparse youth vote that provided Labour with a very thin safety blanket in the '70s, has now almost entirely evaporated and if Mr Brown wants to keep hauling in the voters he's going to have to put in some serious legwork to beat off Dave, his hoodies and that unnaturally smooth forehead that is the secret envy of every 40 year old from Belfast to Brighton.

In my highly qualified opinion, were this a drag race the Conservatives would be the Porsche and Labour the Citroen - a victory would look almost assured for the blue boys but would they run out of fuel before the finish line and let the reds squeak ahead....I suppose that just depends how long the race is.

As the battle of hare and tortoise gathers momentum once more, only one thing can be assured - the LibDems are always going to choose the G-Wiz.

No matter what.

Friday, 5 March 2010

Why do women wear heels when they go out?

This really grates with me. Over time a heel – wearer’s feet will become more twisted than a government spin-doctor and above a certain height any girl who says she can walk in them is Pinocchio’s long lost sister. High shoes can also be acutely painful, so why would anyone dream of putting themselves through this?

Well, I suppose there are benefits; heels do make legs look longer thereby allegedly enhancing sex appeal and epitomising the age - old stereotype of the unsteady, vulnerable girl needing the strong, sturdy man to protect her. Also, in the extraordinarily short-term mentalities of the people who fall victim to the Topshop, New Look and - if it’s payday - Prada, ideals; a night out is just not complete without the “investment” resulting from an inevitably guilt-ridden trip to town.

There are a host of other tenuous rationalities for going through the torment that heel wearing brings, but these are too lengthy, irksome and quite frankly dull to go into here. This is because I currently have a far more distressing reality to address; I am a heel wearer.

Certainly not on a daily basis, but generally if I go out, I will eschew the pain factor in favour of the High Street’s latest offerings. The one thing that settles my conscience as I get ready is that I do consistently ask myself why I’m going to put myself through all the angst that heel wearing brings. The answer is – I like being tall. When I’m tall I feel in control. True, after a few vodka and cokes I may have to strive for levels of concentration I never even considered whilst sitting my A-levels and at the end of the night the bliss that ensues from taking the shoes off is utterly amazing. But I will have felt empowered for the past few hours, and that beats everything.

Scratching six foot in my most extreme bone-crunchers means I am in a prime position for people – spotting in crowds. I can talk eye – to – eye with my male friends who normally I have to look up to (physically if not metaphorically!) and I always know exactly where I am because I can see. And I really love that.

When I do go to the most painful extreme it must be for the sake of feeling equal. However, I have wondered if there is a tiny, devilish part of me that actually craves authority, rather than this infinitely sweeter equality. Completely countering this, I do occasionally worry that it must be fairly strange, even to the point of emasculating, for my male peers’ ancient role as “protectors” suddenly to be thrown out of kilter when their “protectees” are taller than they are. Just a thought.

As it is I know I will have continue to try to win my own argument whenever I go out – determinedly trying to trick my mindset into thinking I look empowered rather than vulnerable when I leave the sanctuary of my room. From past experience I know I can succeed in this.

At least until I rock up at AnE in the wee small hours with a broken ankle and half empty bottle of Smirnoff.