Friday, 27 January 2012

Fake "Friends"

First of all, a disclaimer. I will never care that it is uncool to watch Coronation Street. I come from a family who genuinely have Norris' birthday on our calendar. My stepfather once sternly told off my younger sister for constantly asking questions during one particularly intense episode; "Look, it's either going to be part of your life, or it isn't".

I'll miss you :(
While at university, watching C.S. reminds me of being at home, and is generally my daily dose of the Mancunian accent I do tend to crave after not hearing the family's voices for too long. It also gives my flatmates ample opportunity to mock me for being a little bit pathetic. For example; this week, Becky McDonald left the street, and I'm distraught.

Becky was the ultimate Corrie girl. Rivalled only by Blanche in her genius put downs and classic one liners, she was definitely the most fun character on Coronation Street, and the least 2-Dimensional, as some Street characters are/have been (I'm looking at you, Ashley Peacock). I’m genuinely going to miss her.

My distress, however, didn't impress. Which got me thinking- is it ever acceptable to form an attachment to a fictional character? The answer seems to be a resounding "no", but it certainly doesn't stop people from doing exactly that. Spend ten minutes on blogging site Tumblr or searching through Twitter, and you'll see post after post declaring love for the people from GLEE, Doctor Who, or any Disney film. There's an entire world of die-hard Harry Potter fans, writing fan-fictions and developing finely attuned knowledge of their favourite character's lives, years on after the final book was published.

And it's not all teenagers on blogging sites either. Real life adults have been known to shed a tear during The Titanic (the bit where the old couple get into bed? If you don't cry, then you’re officially considered A Monster) or other weepies. I actually had to pause "The Green Mile" twice because I was balling so much. 

Whenever I pick up a book, one thing that determines whether I carry on reading it or not is whether I like the protagonist. This doesn't always translate to whether I'd want to be friends with them, not necessarily; yet there's a reason The Bell Jar has been lay gathering dust on my bookshelf since I pinched it from a friend’s house. I'm aware it's considered one of the greatest pieces of literature, and if anything, I could enjoy it purely because of how well it is written. Thing is, the main character Esther, is just too self-deprecating, and let’s face it, a little too hipster-y. She'd be a crap person to go down the pub with.

We're all guilty of holding someone fictional dear. Even grown men must feel a tug on their heart-strings when a childhood cartoon character is remembered. Lots of women feel an affiliation with Sex and the City characters, and there are people out there who actually have Disney characters tattooed onto their body. Seriously.

It’s something that everyone does, and a hallmark of good writing and good characterisation- to be able to create a character that people will sincerely miss when you stop writing about their existence. Maybe having a breakdown when Schmicheal the dog was put down is pushing it a bit too far, but at least I know I’m not alone.

Friday, 20 January 2012

How To Behave.

Last year, I was voted “Least Posh” out of the seventeen people I lived in halls with. While it’s one accolade I’m probably going to forget to mention on my C.V., I wasn’t offended. My competition was a Northerner who pronounces “pasta” “paahsta”, and a girl who legitimately owns a yacht. A YACHT.

Despite my democratically assigned title, however, I’ve been thinking a lot about etiquette lately. It has many ways of tripping people up- be it whether you have to wait and hold the door open for the person at the other end of the corridor, or that point in your third conversation with an acquaintance when you realise it’s just too late to ask their name.

For instance, not long ago, I had to rush out of the shower to answer the door. Imagine my frustration when I opened the door to two charming elderly women, who wondered whether I’d ever "encountered God."

I was wearing a towel, lone drops of water were running one after another down my nose, and the shampoo was turning cold in my hair. I was already going to be late and I knew there was a queue for the bathroom, but there was no way I was going to be one of those people that slams the door in a Jehovah’s Witness’ face.

Instead, I stood there, freezing in the breeze that my open door was letting into my already under-heated house, nodding along to what they had to say. I know that people of this particular religion do not walk streets in the cruel cold, knocking on door and door, just because they want to piss people off. And I know that they will get treated rudely on a frequent basis. I’ve always quite smugly thought that should I ever answer the door to a Jehovah’s Witness; despite having no invested interest in forming a religious belief in what they say; I would be at least polite enough to listen.

So I did. And they could clearly see it was not an ideal time for me to explain whether I had ever prayed, so they asked if it would be okay to call back at a more convenient time- an offer I accepted graciously, clutching at my slipping towel as they passed me a leaflet. They never did come back; I imagine the sight of my eye-make up half washed down my face put them off or something.

The point is, even though I was really uncomfortable at that moment, I couldn’t bring myself to come off as impolite. It’s a strange phenomenon often found in people who work in customer service positions. I’ve been insulted by customers, and mocked, and outright ignored by them- but it doesn’t shake the fact that I’m going to be cheerfully courteous to them.

When I’m with friends, though, it’s a completely different story altogether. In fact, on telling a friend what I’m currently writing about, she jokingly responded with “you’re not polite”. I was outraged and immediately shouted at her, probably disproving my point. Whatever, she’s a close friend and is used to my abuse by now.

What really gets to me is flamboyant impoliteness. Not saying thank you to someone letting you pass by. The train conductor who's intent on being as impatient as possible as you hand over your tickets.  Drivers speeding up through a puddle to create a bigger tidal wave over the poor bloody pedestrians. That kind of rudeness that can only stem from arrogance, and is found in the people jumping the McDonalds queues at 4am, post-lash.

So while I might not be the type of person who knows the first thing about polo, I take some comfort in the fact that I find it almost impossible to be purposefully rude to strangers. The title “Least Posh” is fine by me, just so long as it doesn’t translate into “Most Rude” for others. Unless you're a close friend, that is. Then you can expect incessant abuse, and nothing less.

Wednesday, 11 January 2012

Degrees of Awkwardness.

Working as a waitress in a restaurant with an excruciatingly slow debit card reader means you frequently become a host of small talk. My favourite waitressing-chatter is to ask where the customers are from. Then, wherever they tell you, you have a failsafe response; “Oh, not far then”. The genius of this standardised reply is a) if the place they are from is genuinely not that far away, and you have just made a correct observation; or b) if it is far away, you have just made a joke. Congratulations.

Sometimes the fact that I am a student gets dragged into the exchange. Which I don’t mind, but there is one question I dread. And not solely from customers, or any polite small-talking strangers.  Family and acquaintances too. Actually, I don’t doubt that every other clueless undergraduate has to stifle their cringing when they are asked the one question innocently designed to flatten any self-esteem:

 “So what are you going to do with that?”

I envy other students. The ones studying law or midwifery or accountancy. The ones whose degrees line up with what people expect from a three year course, the ones whose degrees have a purpose in the eyes of strangers. Not because I think their degrees are any more valuable than my own, or because I think all students studying medicine are going to become General Practitioners, but because they don’t have to come up with stumbling justifications of their education in these very situations. When an engineering student tells someone that this is what they are studying, people assume he wants to be an engineer. Whether this is true or not is irrelevant, he might want to become a poet or a nightclub manager, WHO CARES. The point is, he completely sidesteps this horrible uncomfortable question.

When a “languages and linguistics” student tells someone what they’re studying, it’s a different story. These strangers DEMAND to know what you plan on DOING with your life, as though it’s their birth given right to question the validity of any degree they haven’t heard of. I splutter and mumble and basically panic. “I DON’T KNOW YET, SORRY” flashes like a beacon in my mind, but I’m not telling a STRANGER that. They’ll think I’m doing my degree as an excuse to live in halls for a bit. But I can’t tell an outright lie to someone I’ve just met, so I need to come up with something plausible, something that seems important and impossible to do without this very degree. Fast.

And it’s difficult.

Students of art history, Hispanic studies, geophysics, and philosophy; I feel your pain. We rationalize our choice of education so often we may as well rehearse our reasons before we leave the house each morning. Barefaced lying to distant family members. Having your parents completely incorrectly explain to their friends what your degree consists of, and not correcting them for the sake of an easier life.

I tried lying once, faking an intention to become a speech therapist. However, that one backfired, as I was instantly questioned on why this particular stranger’s son just COULDN’T get over his stammer, and do I have any advice? Which obviously, I didn’t. So now that stranger not only thinks I’m personally useless, but that the whole field of linguistics is useless in relation to helping her son’s stammer. Great. Won't be using that one again.

In the end, after a great deal of spluttering and a little indignation on my part, I offer up something vague about “communicating with people” and shuffle off. Yes, I know it does little for justifying three years spent agonizing over Phoneme Boundaries or X’ Theory, but by this point there’s usually another table who need my attention, so I can cheerfully whizz off to them anyway. Thank God.

Friday, 6 January 2012

This Is Not a Photo Blog

But here's a couple of pictures anyway. (Variety being spice of life, etc.)

Taken on platform four of the train station, the train that takes me home to Huddersfield. Usually it's quite busy, so this was a bit of a rare opportunity to have the place to myself.
 This is my friend on Bonfire Night last year, in the campus Costcutters. I'd always wanted to catch a sneaky shot of the campus shop, but felt a bit too self concious getting my camera out, so this was a rushed affair. and on what planet pineapples are in season in the middle of November, I don't know.

 From my first few weeks in York, exploring the gardens on campus known as "The Quiet Place". These bushes from the outside look oddly futuristic and (in my humble opinion) a bit over groomed.

This was "Mexican Night" in my halls of residence. Making fajitas for 18 people isn't a job I take lightly.

I Hate Fireworks

The New Year brings out this unnecessary urge in humans to set off fireworks. To go out with a bang (dyageddit?). To stand with your gormless faces pointed towards the sky and go “look at awl de pweddy colours!”

Well, sod that. You all look like morons. While you’re all stood in the freezing cold, waiting for some creepy uncle to set fire to Catherine Wheels (that were probably damaged as they fell off the back of the lorry- therefore have an added safety risk), I’ll be inside sulking, warm and protected by entire brick walls from what can only be described as a disaster waiting to happen.

Though it’s not like I can avoid then from inside- is it? They’re LOUD. The first one is always the worst- giving you the fright of your life. Has someone been shot?! HAS A BOMB GONE OFF OR SOMETHING?! No, it was a bloody Rocket that caused you to scald yourself with burning hot tea. And now you have to brew up again. With burnt hands.

And they’re everywhere. Every city in the world had some form of fireworks display to see in 2012. What better way to begin a year than by throwing flaming packets of gunpowder into the air, after all? All those terrified puppies hiding under beds just scream “have a happy new year”!

Fireworks aren’t even that impressive. Once you’ve seen one sparkly thing in the sky, you’ve seen them all. So why year after year, thousands of people line the icy streets to ooh- and aah- them like some excitable pantomime audience, I’ll never know.

Having once had a firework thrown at me (Manchester was tough, growing up), I can reliably inform you that they are as terrifying up close as they are boring at a distance. Hearing one whizz gleefully past your ear to burst into “pretty” sparkles a few feet ahead of you (not surprisingly) certainly takes the shine off how attractive you find them.

In fact, who CAME UP with them? The “entertainment” that can be used as a weapon against pets and teenagers walking through parks everywhere? Who looked into the star-speckled night sky, and thought “that needs more explosions”? Who thought that letting children wave sticks of skin-melting goodness around was a clever and well-rounded idea? An idiot, that’s who.

-In the (attempted) style of