Father? Christmas

Mum had always said the same thing. “He was a crook,” she would sneer, a drool of brandy butter coating her drunken lips. “He was belligerent. He used me for one night and then never even calls. Never wanted to meet you. Hasn’t paid any child support. I’ve got half a mind to take him to court, but what’s the point? No one would ever believe me.”

It was the same every Christmas. Any other time of the year, she would never bring it up. Heck, she never even seemed hurt. She was proud that she’d raised me all on her own. But as soon as December came and I flicked open the first window of my advent calendar, a festive fury took hold of my mother. If she lived alone, she wouldn’t have put up a single thread of tinsel. There’d be no Bonsai tree, let alone a Christmas one. She put bread knives in the chimney.

“God, I can’t stand this time of year,” she’d rage. As soon as ‘Last Christmas’ began blaring out during our Monday shop, she made our next door neighbour go to Tesco for her.

I knew the reason, but I didn’t believe it. She was right – who would believe it? Mum had to get drunk just to tell me. “Have you ever wondered, Natalie, why you’ve never had a father around?” she’d ask. It was the same introductory quiz every Christmas.

“I’ve never really questioned it,” I would reply. And I meant it. Some families had dogs, some had cats. Some had other siblings, some were only children. It never really meant anything to me that I didn’t have a dad. Sometimes I had fantasised about him, thinking he’d left my mother to sacrifice himself in trying to solve world hunger, or he was teaching two tribes in deepest Africa that perhaps religion wasn’t the real reason they were arguing. But, in reality, I just thought he was probably some shady one-night stand.

“Don’t your friends ask you?” would come the response.

“Not really, it’s never bothered them,” I’d respond. I always tried to not give my mother fodder for more questions. She’d prepped them anyway, of course.

“It was Christmas Eve and I was still living with your grandparents,” she’d begin, the swigs of Bailey’s becoming more frequent and frenzied as each memory was unlocked. “It could have even been Christmas morning. I just remember seeing a figure bumbling around in the dark. I’d been out with Karen, Kev and Stu, and I was still feeling pretty buzzed. But before I could reach for the Neurofen I saw him.”

“Go on…”

“Santa Claus.”

That’s when my eyes would begin rolling. Nonetheless, she would continue.

“They should call him that ‘cos he sunk his bloody claws into me,” Mum spat. “He was charming, glowing and incredibly kind. He sat down next to me and started telling me about all the places he’d seen. He loved travelling.”

“He’d make a great Tinder bio.” That was my response last year.

“Of course, I was entranced. I mean, I’d stopped believing in Santa years ago,” Mum would continue. “But here he was, in the flesh. He told me how he and Mrs Claus were not really seeing eye to eye. She was the more stay-at-home type. He told me I’d been good that year and deserved a special present, and that’s when I looked above and saw the mistletoe. Maybe it was a coincidence. Maybe he’d planted it there himself. I think he wanted out of that marriage.”

“Right, Mum, well this is all well and good, but…”

“We ended up kissing and, well, one thing led to another,” Mum explained tactfully. By the time I turned 16, she’d joke that Santa didn’t have any suitable “stockings” upon his person.

So that was my Christmas. Every bloody year. At first, I chuckled heartily. I thought she was just trying to make me smile, even if it was a little seedy. But as I grew older, the story would always be told. It was always the same. Little details would be added – the size of his carrot, the feel of his silk, the tickle of his beard – but she was adamant that it wasn’t some drunken dream.

The older I got, the more cynical I became. My main concern was that this ‘Santa’ could have been Uncle Paul and she’d ended up fumbling around with her own brother (he was always a bit incestuous, especially when he’d offer me a ‘giddy-up’). My other fear was it was a randy burglar who couldn’t believe his luck. When I fooled myself into believing Mum’s theory, even then I had doubts – Santa was on his busiest shift. His only shift. In between taking gifts to Greece and Gabon how would he have the time to get his coals off? I’d heard some crazy theories about Santa having the power to slow down time in order to circumnavigate the globe, and that he could do everything he wanted in seconds. But surely if he was visiting a girl’s grotto he’d want to spend hours in there?

“I wrote to him every week after I found out I was pregnant,” Mum sighed. The brandy bottle was about to be unscrewed. “There had been no one else. I let Kev have a feel of my tights in the pub but sperm can’t threw laddered cotton.”

“And did he respond?” I asked. This segment of the conversation must have happened when I’d reached a more quizzical age – I think I was 14 when I began wondering if Santa used his fingers.

“Nope, just the standard Christmas boilerplate,” Mum said. “And then when you were born, I sent him photos and begged him to come and meet you. I knew that he was probably in hibernation, but I thought he’d make the effort to see his newborn daughter.”

“Did you see him again at Christmas?”

“Nope, he made it pretty clear he didn’t wanna see me,” Mum said. “I got vouchers that year.”

“So he didn’t slide down the chimney?”

“No one did that year,” Mum said. “But no, he didn’t even take a sip of the whiskey I left out for him. I thought that would remind him of our time together. Whiskey seemed to pop his belt, if you get me.”

“I don’t need to hear this,” I said. “Mum, are you absolutely sure? You told me to stop believing in Santa when I turned 10.”

“Yes, because I don’t want you supporting your father,” Mum replied. “He’s never supported you. I have to buy and wrap your presents. I have to cook Christmas dinner. I was the one fighting the other mums down at Toys-R-Us. Where was he? Probably burning my letters on his fire, the fat shit.”

“I mean, wasn’t he a bit old for you?”

“He had the gift of the gab,” Mum said. “I wouldn’t usually go for a guy like that but I felt wanted. The way he scooped me up in his arms. I felt safe. Don’t get me wrong, he wasn’t all gentle, but…”

Mum tried her best. I had a pretty good upbringing. She worked as a supervisor at a hardware store, although had no knowledge of what a hammer did. Her boss, Reggie, had been in love with her since the day she started, and continued to keep her on and promote her despite her thinking an L-pipe meant a dodgy uterus. My nan and granddad always helped out with babysitting, but eleven months a year my mum was working until 6, picking me up, cooking tea, reading my bedtime stories and making sure I never needed a dad. It was only on the last month of the year where things would go a little haywire. The only time where I would have actually favoured having another person in the house.

There had been times when I thought about tracking down my dad myself. On my 30th birthday, I felt a sudden yearning to know. It was like an alarm clock had gone off in my head, that all this time I had been incomplete. That there had been a paternal piece missing. What if I died the next day and I’d never even seen my father? Never even knew his name? Mum had done amazingly well in bringing me up, and ensured that I got a good education and had loads of fun, but I was old enough now to know what happened.

“I’ve told you what happened,” Mum snapped.

“Mum, this isn’t Christmas Day, you can drop that story.”

“Are you implying I’ve been making this story up? For thirty years?!”

“I don’t know what I’m implying, but…”

“Yes?”

“I just think I deserve the truth.”

“You’re drunk, Natalie. Just enjoy the party and we’ll talk about this tomorrow.”

“No, not tomorrow, now,” I said, grabbing her by the arm. A droplet of wine escaped from her glass and Mum gave me a look as if I’d just shot her in the kneecap. “I have to spend every Christmas listening to your tale of unrequited romance with Saint Nick, and every year I have to smile and sympathise. Well, I think I’m old enough now for you to tell me that you didn’t actually shag Santa.”

“I can’t believe you’re bringing this up now,” Mum said. “This is your birthday. Stop embarrassing yourself.”

“You embarrass yourself every Christmas Day!” I said. There was no going back now. Kev looked across, anxiously hiding his hands. “Didn’t you ever think I wanted a normal Christmas? With all the family around? With loads of presents? With my mother sober?”

“Enough! I’m not discussing this anymore. Why would I lie to my own daughter? I’ve spent every bloody Christmas telling everyone what that man did to me. But of course it’s me that’s ridiculed. I’m the one that looks crazy, while he gets to go and see the world and probably impregnate a lonely mother in Moscow.”

With experienced precision, Mum gulped the remains of her glass and strode off into the night.

 

As Mum walked off broken, I realised maybe I’d gone too far. I just wanted to put a stop to it all. To end the nonsense. But it’s been 30 years – how can anyone keep a lie going for so long? Maybe it had happened. Maybe she needed me on her side. She needed someone to believe in her and I shunned her.

“Hope you’ve had a great birthday, sweetie,” Kev said, noticing me deep in thought. “Is your mum okay?”

“Thanks, Kev. Oh…I think so.”

“Look, nothing happened that night,” he said, a panicked sweat protruding from his forehead. “I went to grab my own knee and accidentally grabbed hers. Twice.”

The next day, I left my apartment early and made my way over to Mum’s house. I knew she wouldn’t be expecting me – she thought I was a drunken mess and was blissfully hoping I’d be spending all day vomiting over my cat.

“What do you want?” she asked.

“Can we talk about last night?” I asked, trying to remain calm and controlled.

“Yes, of course we can,” Mum replied. “It was a fantastic party, all the right friends showed up, Paul tried to pull the coat-check girl. Everyone had fun. How’s that?”

“Mum, you know what I want to talk about,” I replied.

“You want to make me look a fool once again, do you?”

“No, I want to help,” I said. “Are you gonna let me in? I bet you’ve still got that Neurofen from that night, yeah?”

We sat down and Mum began Irish-ing up her coffee. I gave her a flat refusal and nursed a glass of water.

“So let’s say Santa is my dad,” I began.

“There’s no ‘say’ about it. He is your dad,” Mum said.

I grimaced as her interjection shattered my skull. “Okay, sorry. So he’s my dad. Is there no way I can get in touch with him?”

“Maybe you could take a two-week vacation to the North Pole. Or Lapland. He’s got properties everywhere.”

“Actually, Santa was born in Turkey,” I said. “He might have a villa out there.”

“Istanbullshit! He didn’t even have a tan when I saw him!” Mum said. “He was as pale as snow.”

“He probably doesn’t spend much time there,” I said. “But I guess it means I’m part Turkish.”

“You’re not much of a delight, though.”

“Haha.”
“I don’t know what to suggest other than wait until Christmas. It’s only a few months away. It seems to come quicker every year.”

“But how would we even see him?”

“We could stay up.”

“He’s probably still avoiding me. He knows what he did,” Mum said.

“Well, I’ll write him a letter,” I said. “And I’ll implore him to see me. I won’t ask for money or weekly visits to Greenland. I’ll just ask that I can meet him one time, just so I can say I have spoken with my father.”

“You can try, but I don’t think it’ll work,” Mum said.

“We owe it ourselves to try it.”

As I began scribbling, I tried to remember who exactly I was doing this for. Was it actually for me? Was it to get the closure I’d wanted for all of one day? Or was it to give my mother some kind of comfort, a kind of reassurance that there was someone else on the planet that actually believed her story. By the time I signed my name, it didn’t really matter.

The next few months segued into December before I even knew it. I was never a big fan of Christmas, mostly down to my mother’s annual outbursts, and at work they were all very aware of it.

“Why don’t you like Christmas, Nat?” Dwayne asked me one day.”

“I just don’t,” I replied.

“Come on, you can tell me. Are you Jewish?”

“No!”

“So you’re just tight.”

“Dwayne!”

He laughed cockily and flashed me a pout. “Sorry, babe. Look try and get in the spirit this year, yeah?”

“Alright,” I said. Before he could swagger over to the photocopier, I grabbed his hand. “Dwayne, can I tell you something?”

“Sure.”

“Come closer.”

“Babe, not here.”

“Don’t flatter yourself, Dwayne. Look it’s a secret,” I said. “I am a little excited this year. I’m actually gonna meet my dad.”

“Oh, that’s swell, Nat,” he said. “I mean, I’ve asked for a new tie, myself, but…”

“You don’t understand,” I whispered. “My dad is…Santa Claus.”

Dwayne burst out laughing. “Oh, Natalie, you’ve got such a dry wit,” he said. “I can see why you hate Christmas now. Your daddy always buying other kids’ presents and not spending any time with you. My mum’s the tooth fairy and she never once gave me a pound coin.”

“Dwayne, I’m being serious,” I said. “Mum tells me every Christmas that Santa is my dad and I always laughed at her. But maybe she’s telling the truth? I mean, she’s told me this every Christmas since I was born.”

“But Santa doesn’t even exist,” Dwayne said. “Who ordered his morning Uber, one of the elves?”

“I knew I shouldn’t have said anything,” I said. “You just think I’m crazy.”

“No, Nat, I don’t,” he said. Even Dwayne realised his jokes were going too far. “But if he is your daddy, what are you going to do about it?”

“Well, for a start, can you please stop referring to him as ‘Daddy’,” I said. “And secondly, I wrote him a letter a few months back and begged him to meet me. I don’t even care if he brings me any presents or not. I just want to meet him, and I want him to talk to my mum.”

“But it was a dick and dash,” Dwayne said. “He won’t wanna carve the turkey now he’s cooked it.”

“Charming,” I said. “It’s more for my mum than me. I want him to see what he’s missed out on.”

“Well, good luck,” Dwayne said, although I could tell he was still sceptical. “Tell you what, I’ll even guard your front door that night. We can have walkie talkies and I’ll let you know when he goes down the chimney.”

“It’s an apartment building so I presume he’ll inform the doorman,” I said. “But that would be very nice of you.”

“But look if he’s a deadbeat I’m not punching him for you, I just had a manicure.”

“Man being the operative word.”

“See you later, Santa lady.”

On Christmas Eve, Mum and I lay quietly in bed together. She squeezed my hand and flashed me a grin. She looked vindicated. Loved. It had been a long time since I saw her smile at Christmas.

“Do you think he’ll even show up?” Mum asked.

“I’m confident he will,” I replied. “Why don’t you have a nap and I’ll let you know if I hear anything?”

Mum cuddled up and closed her eyes. I lay still, my mind racing. One moment I was cursing myself for entertaining Mum’s crackpot theory, but the next I was pleased I finally took a step back and considered her story viable.

The hours passed. Mum’s nap had turned into fully-fledged slumber and I wasn’t far from joining her. All I could hear was the gentle tick of the clock and Mum’s occasional throaty snore. Suddenly, I was woken up by a loud crash. I tried to stir Mum but the drool trail from her mouth suggested she was done for the night. I hurriedly got out of bed and checked through the curtains, hoping I’d see him. Even if he turned and gave me a cheery wink. But there was nothing but two cats giving each other ‘gifts’ by the bins.

I checked my watch. It was nearly 4am. The entire complex was quiet. No movement. It was strange, but part of me thought he’d actually show. That he really was my father. Maybe he is and he’s scared I’ll ask him to teach me to ride a bike or give my ex-boyfriends a sound beating. I guess it would have to wait for another year. I went out into the living room and saw the tree, bereft of presents. When I was younger it was never particularly full. I don’t think Mum could really bare going out Christmas shopping, getting bombarded with Band Aid, tinsel and mulled wine. I decided to give up and hit the hay.

“Natalie, are you okay?” she murmured, before rising suddenly. “Has he been?!”

I sat on the edge of the bed. “Yeah, Mum, he’s been.”

“You’re kidding me?! Why didn’t you wake me up?”

“I…He said seeing you would be too painful.”

“Yeah, well, once I’d kicked him in the balls I guess it would be.”

“He did say he was sorry.”

“Seriously?”

“Yeah.” I lay down next to her. “He said he was sorry but he could never raise a child when he’s technically looking after billions across the world. He said he was proud of me, though.”

“And is he going to give me some money? Is he going to be at your wedding?”

“Mum, let’s forget about all of that,” I said. “I don’t need that. I don’t need him. I stopped needing him when I turned 10.”

“I guess so, darling. Well I hope he told you this month’s been a bit tight and you might only get a jumper.”

I laughed. “As long as the jumper’s not tight.”

She went back to sleep and I poked my head through the bedroom curtains. Maybe I’d never meet him, but I’d gone through Christmas Eves believing in him and not believing. This would be the first one where I was caught in between.

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Steven Patrick Mugabe – Impeach Morrissey!

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It didn’t begin, it blossomed. It was a sign of positivity, of unity. He was a spokesman. But something went wrong…very wrong. Now an outcast, even the most devoted of fans are turning their backs on him. As Mugabe and Morrissey’s reigns come to an end, we investigate the parallels between the Mancunian miserablist and the Zimbabwean despot…panic on the streets of ‘Babwe?

“Presidents come, Presidents go,” sighs Morrissey on his new album, “and oh, the damage they do.” It’s a swipe at Trump, but it could also be pilfered as a neat summary of Zimbabwe leader Robert Mugabe. For the 93-year-old despot has caused almost irreparable damage to a once fertile land, turning a thriving nation into the second poorest country in the world.

Four decades after his reign began, his time is now at an end, with his impending impeachment removing him from his role as leader. On the music side of things, maybe an impeachment of Morrissey would not be such a bad idea.

When once you would bristle at the odd questionable remark, you would show leeway when listening. It’s, after all, well established that Morrissey is a twat, but his music was enough to make us forget such frivolity. In fact, when he made a two-fisted comeback in 2004 with the striking You Are The Quarry, we greeted him like an old friend. Now we look at his Twitter and remember why we stopped hanging out with him in the first place.

While Mugabe was given accolades such as an honorary knighthood in 1994. Mozzer, meanwhile, was voted the second greatest living Briton in 2006 (coming as close runner-up to David Attenborough, no less). Several years later, Mugabe has been stripped of his honour while Morrissey would probably lie somewhere in between Jeremy Clarkson’s hairhole and Katie Hopkins’ salacious jaw. Both Mugabe and Morrissey’s reputations lie in tatters, both of their achievements are almost long forgotten and both face 2017 as worthless peons, bygones of an era no one wishes to remember.

Mugabe’s downfall, of course, is long-awaited and for obvious reasons. Morrissey has fallen on his own puffed-up petard. He’s often been forthcoming with a contrary comment, from blasting the “blustery jingoism” of the 2012 London Olympics to calling Brexit “magnificent”, but in 2017 he seems to enjoy being deliberately divisive. The Pope of Mope’s PR company must be pulling their quiffs out as he defends Kevin Spacey and Harvey Weinstein, claims a UKIP election was rigged and bestows Berlin the title of “rape capital.”

Yes, the Spacey interview was translated. Yes, maybe he did, deep down, have some kind of relevant point. But why bring it up? Why indulge an interviewer? And this is me giving Morrissey compassion, when in actuality we know that he probably meant every word. He has become a man living in his own bequiffed bubble, and just like Mugabe, has become almost invulnerable to criticism, to anger and rage. Everyone else is wrong, Mugabe and Morrissey are always right.

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Things started so well for both Mugabe and Morrissey. Both came to prominence in the 1980s, and both came as welcome relief to movements that had long grown stale. As racist Rhodesia became independent, Mugabe was a progressive leader, aligning two warring races and promising a brighter future. Morrissey, meanwhile, was a leader for the wistful, a knitted anachronism singing with Wildean wit and kitchen-sink despair. As time lapsed on, though, so did their good points. Mugabe’s stranglehold over Zimbabwe choked it of its economic stability; Morrissey’s post-Smiths output became highly politicised, polemic and polarising.

In 2017, even the most devoted of fans of Morrissey – myself included – are tired of fighting. We’re tired of defending him. We’re tired of saying “just listen to music, not the man.” We want the beloved, deadpan spinster back to make remarks like “I’m a humasexual…interested in humans, though of course, not many.” That comment was made in 2013 and was probably the last humorous thing Mozzer uttered.

As for Mugabe, Zimbabwe may, one day, breathe a much-needed sigh of relief. Robert, it really was nothing.

Man-free festivals – Segregation that the Gender Deserves

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There has been great progress made in improving the safety, most of all sexually, in festivals across the UK and beyond. More than that, there has been much more awareness – in terms of social media blackouts and, in Glastonbury’s case, the Sisterhood – in creating gender-specific spaces.

However, the issue in Sweden is, at least on a reported scale, spiralling out of control. Bravalla Festival may have hosted some of music’s globe-gobbling anthem makers (this year saw The Killers amongst the headliners), but beneath its commerciality lies sordid tales of sexual violence that stretch back to the beginning of the noughties. Over the past two festivals, a combined total of nine rapes and 34 sexual assaults have taken place. And they are the ones police are aware of.

The shocking numbers have resulted in an announcement from the festival’s organisers cancelling next year’s festivals, blaming the fact “certain men don’t know how to behave.” Even in context, it’s a statement that is not only odd and clunky, but clumsily understated – on the surface, men misbehaving is tantamount to accidentally spilling a beer or smoking a spliff – rape is far, far away from bad behaviour.

The only positive to come out of the situation is Sweden’s first exclusively non-male festival, which will take place instead of Bravalla in 2018. While festivals in the US have previously hosted successful ‘man ban’ festivals, this action throws into raw reality that despite technological advancements and added security at festivals, sexual abuse remains a disgustingly potent, and prolific, risk.

The news of this has, of course, sparked mixed reviews. The traditional war cry of ‘not all men’ has reared its head, as has the victim-blaming boilerplate of ‘segregation’. Yes, this is segregation. But this is a necessary move. If men are, as the statement deemed it, unable to ‘behave’, then a blanket ban is the only way forward. Alcohol or substance abuse can turn even the staunchest ‘not all men’ chanter into an altogether different beast, and by offering only a segmented segregation, surely the purpose of this festival is thwarted? This is a chance to show that men need to take action and behave in an uniform manner – it is not a case of nice guys finishing last.

It is also not about pinning the blame of one gender. Men, of course, are also victims and can be victims of sexual abuse, but this is a reaction of sexual abuse within a specific, and confined, space. The sheer volume of rape that occurred in Sweden alone warrants such a ban; I’m sure if the genders had been switched and it was men who had been subjected to such staggering statistics, we would have a man-only festival.

Whether or not England will follow suit in the future remains to be seen, and hopefully Sweden will also provide bands that have at least one female member in them, but the threat of sexual abuse continues to be all too real prospect.

The Only Positive? A Whole Generation Has Become Enarmoured With Politics

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There was a time during the 1980s where stand-up comedy, thanks to the hedonistic hellraising of Steve Martin and Eddie Murphy, became the new rock ‘n’ roll. It had happened before with American luminaries like Bob Hope, but this time it was different – younger people, a new generation, were filling stadiums to not watch a five-piece band rattle the room, but to hear the barbs and blasts of one man, standing alone on an arena stage but demanding the attention of thousands.

In 2017, there has been something of a similar resurgence, although the proceedings, and the eventual outcome, proved to be no laughing matter. It was a Tuesday evening in Birmingham, a traditional English summer evening mired by moody weather and threatening speckles of rain. To an ignorant passer-by, the bulging crowd – made up of staunch, old-fashioned socialists and young, passionate and fiery faithfuls – were assembled for a shoegaze concert. However, instead they were here to heed the words of the general election’s good guy, the belittled battler Jeremy Corbyn, who had amassed the populist zeal like any indie outfit.

When Theresa May had announced the general election, it was supposed to be a victory lap. It was meant to be May and the Conservatives strengthening their stronghold on the country, like a creeping vine ready to finally take hold of the first floor. In short, it was meant to be easy. The die had been cast and the plans had been set, but one thing the Conservative party failed to realise was that May, unlike their predecessor David Cameron, lacked the articulation and natural ability to talk and debate with fire and skill. In short, she could barely speak – even her victory speech felt fumbled and stilted, like a radio intern being forced to step in front of the mic for a drivetime show.

May’s decision ended up akin to the late Jade Goody’s decision to return to Big Brother – what was supposed to be a simple ascension became a blemish that would curtail their career. May’s steadfast refusal to debate Corbyn and her violent switches in decision-making left the Tories’ campaign in ruins.

But enough about the Tory party. The outcome has proved to be disappointing and incredibly divisive, even dangerous. What positives can that passionate crowd from Birmingham take from the outcome? There isn’t much as of yet. But is a generation engaged and enamored with politics a minor victory?

Social media proved to be one of Corbyn’s greatest collaborations, whether he was aware of it or not. He tapped into a generation adept with Snapchat and Instagram, his policies chiming with people naturally concerned with the great gulf between themselves and the Conservative party’s archaic, inclusive beliefs and disgustingly archaic desires of fox killing, NHS privatization and dementia tax. Not only that, but the Labour party had found a leader with the charisma and steadfast beliefs of Tony Blair. But this was different from Cool Britannia – instead of Noel Gallagher chumming it up at Downing Street, Corbyn was keen to connect with even the most disillusioned of voters, becoming an honorary member of Boy Better Know.

What’s more, Corbyn no doubt left the Tory party and their carefully stitched together PR in tatters – their verbal grenades, focused on Corbyn’s IRA ‘past’ and polemic personality, failed to detonate once the public finally got to see Corbyn exposed – here was a speaker that had the confidence and devotion to his manifesto, an unwavering belief in the younger generation that, in turn, took him to their hearts like the scruffy grandfather of a long-lost CBBC sitcom. The Tory party had invested heavily in May but found themselves floundering when it became apparent her delivery was wooden and her promises flimsy, while even Corbyn’s fiercest detractors were surprised by his fire, zest and ability to connect.

After the results poured in, there was only one political candidate who should stand down. Corbyn had done his party proud, he had made a kinship that Ed Milliband tried and failed to do, and dragged Labour back into the limelight after taking damaging hits during the mid-noughties (like a political R.E.M.). May’s chief anecdote was a bizarre quip about running through wheat, while Corbyn was able to negotiate lighter questions with the right amount of gravitas.

The number of young voters that headed to the polls was the biggest in 25 years, and throughout the campaign there has been hunger, passion and desire from a generation wrongly riled and pilloried as uninterested, uninformed and flinty in their beliefs. With an outcome that’s damaging, disappointing and even dangerous, we have to take the positives. A young generation thirsty for change and passionate about politics is a silver lining that needs to stay.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Theresa May announces The Magic Gang and The Night Café as UK tour supports

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Theresa May’s upcoming UK tour, Straight Outta Brexit, is set to be one of the highest-grossing indie sensations since Two Door Cinema Club and Sundara Karma linked up earlier in 2017 (if you weren’t there, you missed history). But May was not willing to be outdone – in order to align indie kids to her Thatcher-esque pomp, she’s announced that The Magic Gang and The Night Café, two bands synonymous with support slots, will join her on the road.

May’s tour will cover the length and breadth of the UK and is rumoured to include a number of post-gig DJ sets. Recently, she discussed her favourite bands and admitted that Blossoms, Circa Waves and the new Kasabian were all under her rotation, while she also expressed an admiration of Sleaford Mods, even though she “didn’t really understand it.”

Of the tour, the two support bands’ representative and promoter Ronny Leaves said: “We make it our mission for both The Magic Gang and The Night Café to be constantly on the road, preferably in some kind of support slot. We’re not too picky about the acts we choose, so when Theresa rang and said she’d heard both bands enjoyed bulking up a bill, we were more than happy to get them out there.”

May is currently working on her debut solo album, with Mark Ronson behind the producer’s chair.

 

 

Love, Friends and Grunge – The Legacy of ‘Singles’ As It Turns 25

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It contained a who’s who of grunge artists in its soundtrack (as well as new compositions from an outright alternative rock legend). It showcased a generation in a realistically confused way. It inspired the television behemoth Friends. Despite all of these plus points, the movie Singles hasn’t quite carried the legacy it deserves. This year, its snapshot of 1990s, Generation X-strewn America will celebrate its twenty-fifth anniversary, and it is high time it deserved some renewed praise.

Singles served as a product of its time, but it is what has come after that has made its legacy more appealing. The film was written and directed by Cameron Crowe, who would later go on to cement his place in the Hollywood pantheon with Jerry Maguire and Vanilla Sky (both starring Tom Cruise, no less). It featured a cameo from another directorial titan, Tim Burton, whose legacy thereafter needs no introduction. It helped propel the careers of Matt Dillon and Bridget Fonda. These factors help give Singles more of an assured place within the celluloid world, but even when assessed on its own merits, Singles is much more than a time capsule.

In fact, take Singles‘ plot and position it into another era and there would be proof that the backdrop isn’t a case of turd polishing. Granted, the flannel shirts, the appearances from Pearl Jam and a reliance on garage door opening buttons would need to be written out among the meme-drenched, Buzzfeed countdowns of the ’10s, but the awkward push and pull of a new relationship, the aloof and cocksure man, the women trying to fit in and accept themselves for who they are – all of these traits still, sadly, play out in the present day. Only the music has changed…somewhat.

Romantic comedies can be an awkward beast to tame – rely too heavily on the romance and you end up with a story as slushy as Gerard Butler’s ski boots. On the flip side, rely too much on the comedy and you wonder why the couple are even together in the first place. For Singles, Crowe manages to provide a realistic and relatable series of situations for twentysomethings, without it ever falling into sentimentality or shoehorned wisecracks. It is also refreshingly delivered in a bitesized, episodic format, taking us from couple to couple, problem to problem, and allowing each story to breathe.

The trailers tell you that one of the key couples is Janet (Fonda) and Cliff (Dillon), and from the offset they are all wrong for one another. Janet is struggling as a coffee shop barista (as an unsurprising sidenote, the movie is also set in Seattle) while Cliff’s grunge band Citizen Dick are struggling to crack the country. In truth, though, the most appealing story that plays out is the one between Linda (Kyra Sedgwick) and Steve (Campbell Scott). Both have the bruised melancholy of a string of failed relationships (some played out on camera, some not), both are beginning to feel the turbulent impact of adulthood and are thrown together in an endearing fashion.

Their romance is allowed to play out in a subtle but convincing way, but crushingly one of the most realistic facets is the doubt that begins to creep into Steve’s mind. To call or not to call. To come on strong or remain taciturn. All of those worries have lingered in our conscious at some point, but here it isn’t hackneyed or predictable – the scene in which Steve’s friends begin issuing predictably awful advice about dominance and playing it cool has no doubt been played out in millions of living rooms and bars.

We get to follow these young couples throughout this process, and while there are no real revelations that occur, this helps with the relatability. These are young and confused people with nothing in their fridges, tonnes of records from when they were college DJs and the only real friends they have are the ones that have moved in across the hall. Jobs are lost, accidents happen, people move away, people come back – it’s not just a postcard of an era, but of real life.

The brilliance of Singles is its relationship, not reliance on, with the world around it. Seattle’s earthy, grunge-fuelled scenery plays out like a flannel-flecked polaroid, while Steve and Linda actually meet at an Alice in Chains concert.

Which brings us to the soundtrack. The Smashing Pumpkins, not quite yet the globe-gobbling rock stars they would become, recorded a track, but the real highlights come in the form of former Replacements stalwart Paul Westerberg. ‘Dyslexic Heart’ is a fittingly sweet, brittle jangle that uses his weary timbre to winning perfection, while ‘Waiting for Somebody’ has a lamentable, breezy guitar crunch that’s urgent and elegiac in equal measure. Further props are awarded for the soundtrack including the twinkling motifs of R.E.M.’s ‘Radio Song’, the irrepressible riff of The Cult’s ‘She Sells Sanctuary’ and, of course, a smattering of Pearl Jam classics.

In terms of Generation X movies, Ben Stiller’s Reality Bites may be one of the first films that springs to mind, but while Singles arrived a lot sooner, it pips the former in terms of a sparkling script, likeable, relatable characters, and a setting that’s pivotal without being dependent.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Gilmore Girls – A Nostalgic Liar or a Compelling Comeback?

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Revivals are a funny thing. One on hand, if a show has been mothballed long enough – and, perhaps more importantly, enjoyed an alarmingly devoted fanbase both during and after its run – then it will automatically be greeted and received with feverish enthusiasm. We will gawk at how that character is now bald and slightly more rotund around the middle. We’ll gawp at how the lead character hasn’t changed one iota, sans for a more nimble nose. We will find the same feelings of sympathy and satisfaction we had when we watched it in our salad days.

That’s all a given. Even a franchise as fraternised as American Pie flushed us with feelings of love and awe when they released their reunion movie. One could even argue (though would probably be forced to leave the room or, fittingly, hide in a toilet cubicle sucking one’s thumb) that Dumb and Dumber To, for all its lack of progression and ‘90s anachronism of a script, gave the audience, for the first fifteen minutes at least, a sugar rush of delight that characters we align so close to halcyon happiness were back frolicking on screen.

But let’s nip this in bud – nostalgia is a pretty liar. You know it, I know it and the makers of these products bloody well know it. It’s the girl you used to have sex with back in sixth form, the one that gave you the thrill and thrust your ex-wife never could. You’re naturally going to be glad to see them when you bump into them at that local bar. It’s the boy who gave you your first dance before jetting off to spend his father’s trust fund, leaving you to ponder what might have been. Nostalgia injects us with a giddy sense of wistful wonder and joy, but when the drug wears off, all these things must be judged on the ‘now’ and not the ‘then’.

The latest fodder to be thrown into the comeback canon was Gilmore Girls. It may have added the extra A Year in the Life, to propose feelings of freshness as opposed to a mere ‘Kirk is back and being goofy’ session, but all in all it was hard to ignore that warm feeling of homeliness that spewed forth. When Rory and Lorelai, the quick-witted, coffee-quaffing duo that demonstrated a solid independence and intelligence that was so endearing, walked together in snowy Stars Hallow, it was like someone had lit a Yankee candle in a room silenced by darkness. All of a sudden, that homely, heartfelt pang rushed through your body and the world felt alright again.

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And as the show has gone through the different seasons, it has certainly been a hoot to see what the characters have been up to. Lest we forget, Gilmore Girls was as much about the town as the Gilmores themselves, a goldfish bowl that always teetered on the right side of Blue Velvet-esque distortion. It was a thrill to find Kirk was still as loveably eccentric as ever (his Oober racket just about worked without being too annoying), it was great to see Digger Styles, seemingly unchanged, drag up his off-centre banter at a funeral, and Babette and Morey were still a queasily approachable couple who you never knew where the line was towed.

However, once dust of nostalgic delight had been swept away, judging A Year in the Life on its merits reveals some flaws that you just wish would go the way of Taylor’s septic tanks. The main issue is the characterisation of Rory. Of course, the whole idea of nostalgia is that we want our characters to have been frozen in amber – we wanted Paul Finch on American Pie to be the same snobby intellectual he was at school. We wanted Mulder and Scully to share the same detached, wry outlook on their work. And, with Gilmore Girls, we wanted Rory to be the same sprightly, sympathetic girl she was in the show’s salad days.

That’s where the danger of nostalgia comes in – Rory has changed and grown up, which is obviously good; too much of the mild, inquisitive teenager of old might have not worked on a 32-year-old woman. However, at the same time, the Rory many viewers envisioned as a grown-up probably didn’t coagulate correctly onscreen. In this revival, Rory seems deflated, downbeat and, in some cases, even arrogant – there was always a defiance and determination within the youngest Gilmore, which is what made her character so endearing and influential. Here, though, it seems wrapped up in self-satisfaction – she shrugs off a website chasing her signature and, when she finally realises she could do with a steady income, decides in an “it’s a living” lurch that it’s the job for her. But it gets worse – she botches the interview after doing zero research or planning, and seems aggrieved when the CEO, however annoying she may be, isn’t won over. For the first time watching Rory, I wasn’t rooting for her.

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Maybe that’s the point? That we needed to see Rory experience a downfall or two (in the second episode, ‘Spring’, a lot of her walls come crashing down) in order to show the brutal realism of adult life. But it would be more compelling if it was Rory questioning the karmic alignments of life (why is the girl who did everything right being given such a raw deal?), but in actuality it’s of her own doing – her faith in a sketchy feminist drunkard is slightly blind, as is her seemingly unshakeable faith that her portfolio alone will secure her work on a whim.

This is before we’ve explored the deeper issues. A particularly frustrating scene, and one that is thrown away as a comedic sidebar, is when Rory tells Lorelai she had a one-night stand with someone dressed as a Wookie. It’s brushed under the carpet using the standard Gilmore banter boilerplate, but is this what Rory has become? There’s nothing wrong with the odd dalliance in the bedroom, of course, and this is the modern world. She’s a modern journalist. But this is the girl who, at the tender age of 16, couldn’t tell Dean she loved him because she wasn’t sure she meant it. While she admits it was out-of-character, it feels way too dissimilar to Rory to ring true – no matter how tanked Rory gets, the idea of a girl so aligned to responsibility knocking boots with a Trekkie just feels a mighty stretch.

Then you get to the other men in her life. The idea of one of her three suitors occupying a romantic position feels right – otherwise it would just be a trio of shoehorned cameos that linger on past love (i.e. Jess). And it makes begrudging sense that it would be Logan, the man who was born into money and thus can offer Rory a plush pad. But in Rory’s role as ‘the other woman’, a role she seems to happily accept, is that destroying her character further? The old Rory surely wouldn’t be satisfied in being a dirty secret, someone who can watch on happily as a man cheats on his fiancée? Her conscience wouldn’t allow it. And yet here she uses Logan as a pillow as well as a sex-chum, and doesn’t really seem to care that he’s hitched. Sure, she slept with Dean when he was married, but there was a beautiful naivety to her first time. Here it just feels like pointless fucking.

Rory’s story arc rings the least true, simply because it feels like it has too much of an agenda – Rory is built up and knocked down, her previous innocence tarnished in a sea of freelance jobs (surely no journalist these days can afford to fly from London to the USA so frequently?), pointless trysts and an unplanned pregnancy. Gilmore Girls was a delightful reunion that tugged at the heartstrings and gave us the same sense of comfort it did before, but like all things comforting, it can be bad for you in the long run.