Wednesday, 27 August 2008

Transvision Revamp

Some of you may recall my recent shameful confession regarding makeover shows Help, I'm A Binge Makeover Show Addict!

However in lieu of a show yet to help no-lifers like me, I may as well share that one of the best makeover shows in my view was a series on BBC2 several years ago called 'Would Like To Meet'.

Each week a man or woman who had had a disastrous relationship history - or quite often none at all for many years for whatever reason - would be rehabilitated by a stylist, a confidence coach and a body language/sexuality expert, so that by the end of the show they were fit to face the world and hopefully attract a suitable partner with their newfound confidence, knowing that they really did have something to offer/what that something was.

A particularly quality production, WLTM encouraged participants to be totally honest about themselves without injury to their dignity as human beings, or degeneration into emotional or physical strip-tease for the camera. Unlike subsequent low-budget attempts by lesser channels, you felt the WLTM team maintained a lot of respect for their subjects, as indeed did the viewer.

One of their most startling subjects was an engaging former journalist from Plymouth, Jon Massey. Despite being bright, attractive, courteous and charming, Mr Massey (now McKnight) had managed to get to 41 without losing his virginity and lived alone in a small terraced house eating greasy takeaways night after night and despairing of ever finding love. Rather touchingly he'd decorated his bedroom in romantic-fiction style on the off-chance love should ever come knocking, no matter that he'd allowed his wardrobe to go to pot and childhood toys to proliferate.

My heart went out to him, and far from finding him 'pathetic' as he saw himself, I found my admiration for his honesty about himself and how he came to be in his situation grew as the programme went on. Despite having to uproot and face one deeply-held fear after another, Jon threw himself into the process of his own refurbishment, only baulking at the prospect of a professional massage to get him used to being physically touched by another human being in preparation for finding a relationship, and even that fear he overcame.

Within a year of the show Jon was contacted by the woman of his dreams who'd seen the show, and whom he subsequently went on to marry!

I defy anyone to remain dry-eyed at such a human renaissance, or deny that some makeover shows can achieve life-transformingly positive results.

Jon's case, and those of several other of the WLTM participants, also highlighted that all too often human beings have to reach rock bottom in order to be ready to change whatever is blocking or making them miserable about themselves. Also how an unfortunate background, coupled with the lucky breaks in love simply not materialising for some can have a devastating effect on human confidence. Or as Sting so aptly put it; 'How Fragile We Are'.

It also left this viewer wondering how many decent human beings are going to waste being lonely when they needn't be, because some unfortunate life event or unfounded insecurity about themselves has paralysed them from living a full life or making the best choices for themselves.

The show was particularly poignant at the time as I had just endured a horrible relationship break-up and come through an equally horrible illness, which together had conspired to leave my own confidence and feelings of attractiveness at rock bottom.

It was therefore nice to see an interview with Jon in one of the weekend papers prior to a follow-up show of Would Like To Meet Again being screened this week. Apparently true love is still holding good for him and he is continuing to enjoy being the GTi version of himself! I look forward to watching the show and catching up with him and the others, though one subject who opined that she would never consider dating anyone 'ginger' naturally deserves to stay on her tod and unloved for the rest of her days!

As for me, I joined MatchCom internet dating site for a year at around the same time that WLTM was being screened. But that's another posting!

Tuesday, 26 August 2008

2012 British Olympics Update

Further to yesterday's posting, I am reliably informed that work has now begun on arguing about the new Olympic venues - The Bird's Mess and The Pear-Shaped Cube.

Meanwhile the kebab vans have been hired, the portaloos booked and the marquees requisitioned for the weekend before the start when the Committee suddenly realise they are not going to finish in time and have spent £9bn on giving themselves eight years of Olympian-sized performance bonuses to keep up with their city banker friends.

However they have purchased the lane dividers for divvying up the Thames for the swimming events, not forgetting to leave a modest shipping lane down the middle, and organised handy special Lodgings for the human dolphin at the nearby London Aquarium.

The merchandise is on order (from the US, to make sure it arrives in time!), so as you can see nothing has been left to chance and the Royal Family trapeze act to open is also coming on a treat!

As Steve over at Bloggertropolis has just reminded me, we even have our very own asset (or should that be 'ass'?) in the form of Sir Les Patterson-style cultural attache - Boris Johnson. Coupled with late Brit kiddie serial killer Myra Hindley as a mascot, what could go wrong?

Let's remind ourselves of that inspirational winning logo once more...

Monday, 25 August 2008

A 2012 Olympic Cynic's Opening Ceremony

Shanghaied into watching the closing ceremony of the Beijing Olympics with my partner (I was born missing the sporting gene), I was expecting a prancing dragon and a couple of fire crackers, but found myself swept away by the sheer opulence, originality and grandeur of the event. The Chinese had evidently taken their time on the world's stage deadly seriously and were not about to miss out on their opportunity to impress the watching globe to the max - to the point where you wondered how many Beijingers may have died or suffered to make it possible to pour that degree of an economy's revenue into an event which would pay it minimal dividends other than in international kudos. As for the amazing purpose-built venues, how many citizens' houses were swept away to create them? Were they adequately compensated? What will they be used for after this weekend? Somehow I can't see Mick Hucknall filling The Bird's Nest on his next world tour.

The sheer spectacle of this Olympics naturally leads to the question, how will Britain compete in 2012? On any level, not least as we have just been told the finances have been scaled down and not a penny more than £9.35 billion will be spent. As for our £400,000 2012 logo (bottom), it looks like a 1980s High School art project and 80% of the British population loathe it!

Nor am I looking forward to our opening event; The Complete Standstill of the Underground Tube System or some of the spectator sports such as 'Can you last two hours until it's your turn for that WC cubicle?' or 'Buy The Last Congealed Burger in the Olympic Village for £20 or Starve' As for choreographing the acrobatic display of our LED light-suited Beefeaters and the Metropolitan Riot Police Sychronised Swimming Team for the closing ceremony, methinks that'll need some work.

And let's face it, Londoners may as well just book a month's holiday and let their homes out for the duration of the London Olympics, making the day of all the newly-built overpriced hotels that the remainder of the East End is being bulldozed, er, sorry, 'regenerated' to erect. To expect that London will be able to function on anything more than skeleton level during the games is ludicrous. In fact it is ludicrous to stage the Olympics in one of the world's most overcrowded cities in the first place in a country renowned for grinding to a halt at the slightest excuse.

Besides which Milton Keynes needed it far more, and has already bulldozed all architecture of any worth in readiness.

On a separate topic, once all athletes are using performance-enhancing drugs in order to have any chance against rivals who already are, will that make the Olympics a 'level playing field' again?

Friday, 22 August 2008

Photographs & Memories

Aaron was a 30 year old part-time DJ with bad teeth and a welded-on 80s leather jacket who lived with his parents and fancied himself as the next James Herbert in the horror-writing stakes.
I was an impressionable 19-year old of similarly limited wardrobe and writing talent desperate for intelligent company in Coventry.
Aaron began to visit me in the greetings card shop where I worked bringing me home-compilation tape after home-compilation tape of all the music he insisted I must listen to.
At some point I visited his parents' house and sat in his black bedroom with its grey, black and red geometric curtains as he plied me with track after track of rare pop music for my delectation, but which in actual fact washed in one ear and out the other as I enjoyed the curiosity of his company for its own sake. Boys and their attention were still a tremendous novelty to a girl from a sheltered rural Northern Irish upbringing and it was rather daring to be alone in a room with one I hardly knew, even if his parents were watching Family Fortunes downstairs.
I confessed to a liking for soul music and before I knew it had acquired a dozen compilation tapes of the hard stuff - not just the right tracks, but the definitive versions sung by the definitive artists according to Aaron.
I should have seen the signs that he fancied me, but as far as I was concerned, Aaron and I were just friends (and fellow writers) who hung out occasionally.
A trip to Alton Towers ensued during which he sulked as I eschewed the three-hour screaming kid queues for dinner-raising rides and was content to just wander about the parkland wasting whatever exorbitant multi-ride admission tickets Aaron had laid out for. On the train back to Coventry he complained bitterly.
I decided he really was a bit controlling in a way I didn't care for, much though I realised even then he was probably quite a good moulder of my scant musical knowledge.
That night, possibly as a conciliatory gesture for being a somewhat ungrateful mare, I allowed him to kiss me goodnight outside my grandmother’s house where I then lived. It turned into a full-blown moneysworth snog. I didn't resist, but found myself guiltily repulsed by the acrid smell of his breath and sticky tackiness of his leather jacket in the chilly Autumn air.
The next time I saw him he was full of plans for our next date, a local concert to see a band I now forget, but I felt it was only fair to come clean and admit that I didn't want to date him, just be friends. He was furious and stormed off, displaying a pronounced limp I had hitherto never noticed, seldom to be seen again, except to tell me in no uncertain terms I had made a big mistake and would regret it for the rest of my life.
For a week or so I wondered if he was right and then forgot about him except to occasionally put a tape on and slowly over the years form an appreciation of certain tracks such as the wonderfully overblown soul number ‘Patches’, much though I could take or leave most of the rest which seemed altogether more middle of the road, despite Aaron’s lyrical waxing.
But there remain two other things I still thank Aaron for - firstly introducing me to Jim Croce's hauntingly beautiful 'Photographs & Memories' despite the fact that he and I were to revel in no ‘morning walks and bedroom talks’ of our own, and secondly, and less flatteringly, for giving me a whole new appreciation of comedy series 'Garth Merenghi's Darkplace' when it came along – the spoof of a horror-writing hack who succeeds in getting his improbable dialogue, continuity chasms and holey stories screened on the most obvious of shoestring budgets.
Yet I find I make this second observation with surprising affection for someone who could at the very least have been a ‘cult’ had he but known it and stopped trying to take himself so anally seriously.

Mind you it came as a bit of a shock to find Jim Croce looked (to coin a line from fellow poet Sue Johns) 'like Burt Reynolds washed at the wrong temperature' when I looked him up on YouTube (see my first attempt at ‘embedding’ below) I had always had a highly romanticised view of him as a bit young Justin Hayward-ish in my head.

But then aren't things always more romantic in our heads...?

Monday, 18 August 2008

Elder Stubbs Allotment Festival!

This is where I was on Saturday reading poetry as one of the 'Bards In The Woods' at Oxford's 'Elder Stubbs Allotment Festival' - surely a unique event in England! As you will see I was also competing with snakes, falcons, scarenuns, swingboats, ferrets, belly dancing, samba drumming, sculptures, the Headington Hillbillies (amidst other free bands) and lots of stalls - which strangely I didn't get round to photographing. Not to mention 'Mr Wilson' the baby giant tortoise who was zooming around trying to snaffle courgettes from people's stalls - and for a tortoise he was no slouch!

This event happens once a year and is the best day out in Oxford for £1 that I know of, as you never know what you are going to find! All proceeds go to RESTORE local mental health charity who run the allotments as a kind of gardening therapy for those who need it.

Usually the weather is amazing, but this year it was a little overcast, hence the not-so-sunny photos.

Friday, 15 August 2008

The Lost College & Other Oxford Stories

Next Tuesday night in local pub Far From The Madding Crowd sees the launch of a second book of Oxford short stories - 'The Lost College & Other Oxford Stories' by the OxPens writer's co-operative, of which yours truly is a member.

This follows the success of our previous anthology;

which was launched almost two years to the day in the same pub in 2006, to a gratifyingly packed venue with copies flying off the table, and which, with the help of various marketing-minded members of the group, went onto enjoy success and profit for all thirteen of we contributors (if not quite enough to renounce the day job), beyond our intially-modest breaking even hopes, being both Blackwell's and Waterstone's no. 1 local fiction seller for some time.

Far from 'vanity publishing' (a process by which you hand an over-inflated sum to a shyster for a set number of often poorly produced books over which you have virtually no quality/editorial control - and who seldom offers after-sales or marketing services), knowing ourselves to be quality and capable writers, we made a conscious decision that we wished to take control by publishing ourselves, using a reputable 'publishing partner' to produce a high quality, bookshop saleable collection on a par with anything to be found from a terrestrial publisher.

This enabled full cost/editorial/jacket control, the option of marketing help and to go the print-on-demand or POD route so that if our first volume was less than a success we didn't have boxes of the darned things cluttering up our living rooms and tying up assets we didn't have for years!

Thus we have been able to order them in batches of 100-200 as needed and mostly supply Oxfordshire shops directly (gift as well as book), not forgetting to ensure a presence on various online bookshops including Amazon. In addition we have solicited reviews wherever we can and been lucky enough to have an author friend or two in a high-er place who has been happy to say nice quotable things about us, and genuinely so - we didn't need to bribe them or anything! We also had the splendid luck of the aid of one of Oxford's finest artists, Valerie Petts, with our lovely eyecatching wraparound jackets.

As a group who have often had agents and publishers come and talk to us over the years, we realised some while ago that the majority of authors (however good) are depressingly now shut out of mainstream publishing, with most publishers and agents refusing to take on new authors and having dispensed with the 'readers' who used to read slush piles to pick out the next JK Rowling, so the DIY approach made ever more sense rather than an UnpublishedWriters4Justice stunt abseiling down the Houses of Parliament to get noticed! Not least since those of our members who have been conventionally published in the past now struggle as much as the rest of us to get anything further published in this increasingly competitive climate.

Sure we've had endless meetings labouring over every comma and the odd disagreement along the way, but we've (nearly) always managed to stop short of inkshed, and most of us have been pretty pleased with the results.

Should you be stuck for an Xmas or birthday present for the Oxfordophile in your life, you can purchase either or both titles here;

The Lost College & Other Oxford Stories

The Sixpenny Debt & Other Oxford Stories

I've slightly reduced the body count in my latest short story!

Tuesday, 12 August 2008

When Late Night Digital TV Starts To Have A Detrimental Effect On One's Poetry

Romance Isn't Dead

He's 'sofa surfing' for a 5' 2" brunette with a spare hour
Who likes dressing up as a pony girl within a five mile radius
And will wink suggestively while eating cream puffs
Preferably flaunting black and white striped toenails
While dancing a Cuban mambo along his spine
On a rainy Tuesday at twenty past three
His Google search engine returns 'thirty three'

© LS King 2008

*The TV programme (in case you hadn't guessed) was about saddos who surf for extremely 'Brief Encounters' with strangers. Be quite funny to know what actually turned up on their doorstep in real life though - knowing the internet!

Monday, 4 August 2008

Ingredients For A Hit (or How To Be A Pop Star)

Insert Rapper Here

Lift a riff or two from Bowie or whoever
Insert a rapper if your song is lacklustre
Select your chosen beat
Stick your synth on 'repeat'
A line here and there
Scream 'yeah' as you layer.
But if you really want to cash up
You can't beat a mash-up,
Drop an 'angel' in the mix,
Or make it a 'love 'n' Christmas' hit.
With a fee for every play
You'll make more royalties that way
And girlfriend, it's yo' duty
To shake that liposuctioned booty
Flaunt that silicone valley
In a push-up balcony.
Make out you're a filthy slut
Available 24/7 for a non-vanilla f**k
And did I mention rehab
And falling knickerless out of cabs?
It'll boost your pink diamante clothing lines
And push your doll to the under-nines

© LS King 2008