Monday, 2 September 2013

Embarrassing Anecdote 1

I'm not exactly what you'd call 'a looker'. At the moment I look like Danny Baker after a particularly harsh night out, which will make this next statement come sharply into focus: I'm better looking now than I was ten years ago. Yes, Quasimodo's ugly brother looked even worse a decade ago. There aren't any photos of me from the age of 16-24 as once they were developed the image of my face caused the developers to instantly burn the pictures and join the nearest monastery. I didn't have my first kiss til 17, and the thought of asking someone out was terrifying as who'd want to be arm in arm with the blob? So what possessed me to chat someone up in Jabez Clegg that night? It was doomed to hideous, embarrassing, cringe-making failure. Here's my story.

 When I was at college, I had a small but close group of friends. A mix of genders, ethnicities and interests. One of the girls from our group was dating a guy from another group, and as such both groups would go out clubbing together. Our club of choice/necessity was Jabez Clegg. Jabez was, to be honest, a bit of a flea pit. It was hot, crowded and the floors were sticky but it was also cheap and the staff had a somewhat laissez-faire attitude to the licensing laws as far as underage drinking went. It also was somewhat of a cattle market. Guys and girls getting off with each other left, right and centre. Apart from me, the fat wallflower.

 This night was different.

I'd ended up with the guys from the other group, so maybe my inhibitions were down and I wasn't too worried about what my friends would think after seeing me crash and burn. Maybe I just wanted to get the sting of rejection out of the way. Whatever it was I decided tonight would be the night I chatted someone up. We were dancing close to a couple of girls. I caught the eye of one and walked over. At this point my brain decided to pop out for some milk or something and I was left with my mouth in charge. Not a good idea. I reached the girl, leaned over and said:

 "Is there any point in me trying?"

 Well done Aaron you fucking idiot. What in my head had sounded like an offbeat, funny line came out as a pathetic, self pitying dribble.


 Brilliant. She hasn't heard. I decided to check out, cut my losses. Sadly my brain was only just coming back from the shops (he'd picked up some cheese and biscuits so was late) so the message didn't reach my mouth. I repeated the shit line. I. Repeated. The. Line. By now the guys had seen I was talking to the girl and I was aware of the six pairs of eyes glancing over. Jesus, what was I doing? My role was to make the other chaps look good in comparison, not to strike out on my own. There was no way of getting out of this with any sort of dignity. I had to plough on.

 "You know, to chat you up." (Cringe).
 "Ah, my boyfriend is at the bar."

 A way out. Out of nowhere a lifeline. I could head back to the guys, tell them she was attached. No shame in not getting off a girl with a boyfriend. Again, my mouth was the spanner in the works.

 "I won't tell if you won't"

 What the actual fuck? Now I'd turned all creepy and weird. I'd become a sleaze. Everything I'd wanted to avoid. I was ready to walk off when....

 "Are you sure you won't tell?" Whether it was pity, alcohol, or she was genuinely impressed by my tenacity I'll never know but her arms were round my neck and we were snogging. I'D MANAGED TO CHAT SOMEONE UP! Her friend looked appalled, the guys cheered, I felt ALIVE! We broke apart and I walked off, proud and elated. It was worth it. I'd avoided embarrassment. Then I did a victory fist pump. Oh God. When I look back, it's not the cringeworthy way I chatted her up that makes me wince, it's the juvenile, laddy, dickish celebration. I never chatted a woman up in a club again. Probably for the best.

Tuesday, 27 August 2013


Before I begin, I'd like to apologise for the terrible pun that is the title of this entry. I am ashamed of myself.

Anyway, this blog entry is about what puts people off seeing Shakespeare plays. Anyone who knows me knows about my love of Shakespeare. Ever since I saw a production of Julius Caesar at the Royal Exchange in Manchester in 1993 I've been hooked. I love the excitement and passion in his words, I love the depth of the characters and the richness of the worlds he creates. So when people say they don't like Shakespeare, or have never been to a play for whatever reason, it baffles me. Especially as some of the reasons are grounded in fears about not understanding it, or that it's too 'highbrow'.

I asked this question on Twitter 'What, if anything, puts you off seeing a Shakespeare play'. What I'd like to do here is a quick examination of the two main reasons and my responses to them.

'Being made to study it at school put me off'

I totally understand this. At school I had to study Lord of the Flies and I ended my GCSE years hating that book because of the seemingly endless picking over of minutiae. It must be even worse when studying plays, which were never meant to be studied. All I can say on this is the experience of seeing a play live beats reading it a thousandfold. Seems obvious, but seeing a play helps the language come to life. I've done a lot of work in schools for 1623 Theatre Company, helping break down the barriers between the text and the understanding of it and you can almost hear the penny drop with kids who've previously taken one look at a soliloquy and ran for the hills.

Maybe Shakespeare should be taken off the English Syllabus and replaced by sessions in which companies are invited in to perform Shakespeare (or any other drama come to think of it). Something should be done, as thousands of people are turned off from this amazing body of work before they even reach adulthood.

'It's too highbrow/difficult to understand'

Shakespeare's plays were the popular entertainment of his time. Yes he wrote for royalty and gentry, but also for the common man. A common way to make plays enjoyable for all is to put jokes about sex in them. Yeah, Shakespeare loved a nob gag. Even Hamlet, the pinnacle of English Literature (it is. No arguments) has jokes about cunnilingus in. They aren't even that sophisticated or hard to spot. The plays are amazingly well written, with fully rounded characters and an endless supply of
universal truths. Doesn't mean they are highbrow, just means they are quality.

The fear of the language being too hard to understand is a common one, but again it can be overcome easily by watching the plays! If a production is well acted and well staged, there shouldn't be too many problems in figuring out what's happening. And besides, the plays were wrote *in English!* Yes, some words have changed meanings over the past 400 years, or disappeared altogether, but the majority of Shakespeare's language survived today, mainly because he invented (or at least put into popular use) several words, phrases and idioms we use today.

Not a complete examination of course. And there are many other reasons people are scared of Shakespeare, but hopefully, maybe, this might help with people exploring a 'Brave new world'.

Sunday, 25 August 2013

Above the baseline

I did a Sociology A Level. I was awful at Sociology and only did it to balance out my other, more creative subjects. I was so bad that in my first exam I got a U. I did so badly that after the papers were upgraded (when one student complained and her marks were adjusted) I was upgraded to a slightly better U. I ended up with a B overall, and instantly forgot 99% of what I had learned once I finished the exam but one, vague idea stuck with me. The idea that there are several viewpoints held on what caused the ills of society, all with evidence and convincing academic papers written on them. From one baseline of 'Poverty exists, this is bad' (stop me if I'm getting too technical) there were dozens of conflicting reasons as to why Poverty existed and how to solve it.  It struck 17 year old me that in that case, Sociology was bollocks as no one could agree on anything except the baseline.

This idea strikes me now with the expansion of progressive movements within equal rights causes. The baseline is always something that most sane people agree with; women deserve equal rights; people's sexualities shouldn't mean they are discriminated against, ditto genders and gender fluidity; racism is bad, m'kay. The arguments should be taken to people who disagree with those basic truths. Instead, no one can agree with anything above the baseline. We agree that sexism is wrong, but there are clearly wide definitions of what is sexist. What is a joke to one person is an insult to another. Same with any form of discrimination. There always seems to be be infighting.

The end result is that the basic causes are harmed and held back. Anyone have any solutions?

Thursday, 22 August 2013

Jokey jokes.

I haven't been keeping in touch with the Bradley (Now Chelsea) Manning story as much as I probably should have, but one thing about the resulting media coverage has struck me, and it's not to do with the leaking of documents or the rights and wrongs of Internet surveillance. It's to do with her identification as female (apologies if I've used insensitive terms, I appreciate that terminology is important) and the resulting, inevitable jokes.

Twitter allows users to respond to news instantly, and topical humour is a reason I find it so entertaining. The jokes around Chelsea Manning however make me feel a bit uneasy, especially as a lot of the people making these jokes would be amongst the first to call out any homophobic, sexist or racist 'humour'. It's making me wonder where the lines should be drawn. If Jim Davidson cracked a joke about a black man he'd be taken to task about it, why should it then be ok to make a joke about another section of society?

 Humour *should* have leeway to be offensive, and different people have different boundaries of taste but are we in danger of making trans* people the bottom of the comedian's food chain?

Saturday, 17 August 2013

Semantic squabbling

Hello lovely person reading this. I'd like to let you know, before you read on, that I am an idiot. I am a buffoon with as much understanding of how to word an argument correctly as a slug. Or A.A Gill.
With that in mind (and seriously, please do keep it in mind) I'd like to put forward my two pence on some aspects of the following article by Laurie Penny, in particular her talk of Semantic squabbling.

Basically, as far as I can understand, using 'Men' as a catch all phrase for 'Men against feminism' is ok as at the heart of it all, all men have a responsibility to push forward equal rights and unless one is actively involved in doing something, then you are setting back the cause. She argues that to say 'some men' rather than 'men' to describe patriarchal abuse of power is just semantics and a non issue.

If I've misunderstood I apologise, but I disagree that these labels are just semantics, and unimportant. When a statement is made which accuses or damns one section of society the reaction is to baulk, to become defensive. To prompt that reaction seems counter productive.

Another example (and again I am treading WAY away from my meagre sphere of experience) was the #fuckcispeople trend on Twitter. The anger the trans* community must feel from being marginalised, terrorised, abused is impossible for me to comprehend and I admire the strength, intelligence and bravery of those fighting against the hell they face. But drawing the battle lines against EVERY CIS person is only ever going to foster unrest. I can't tell people who have struggled against discrimination how to react, of course I can't. Especially as I'm a straight, white male. But instead of punching out, would promoting dialogue not be a better way ahead? And wouldn't a way of starting that to be using language more effectively and fairly?

All I can see at the moment is a game of 'inequality Top Trumps' with infighting and no pushing towards the ultimate goal of equality for all.

Thursday, 15 August 2013


Dear Shadow,

I'm not sure what to call you but Shadow seems appropriate. You follow me around and take my form and sometimes, like today, you loom large over me and threaten to envelop me in your black eternity. We've fought so many times and sometimes you may think you have won but I promise you that you never will. You never will. There have been days where it is more tempting to lie down and let you take what light I have in my mind rather than fight for my sanity, but soon I will be blessed with a little girl that needs her daddy to be strong. If I give in to you and let you win I will never be able to look her in the eye and tell her I will fight the monsters under her bed, because deep down i'll know that I am scared of my own shadow. 
Today is the closest you have come to winning. You will never get that close again. Not because I'm stronger, but because I cannot afford to be weaker.