That’s My Face!

“But you don’t understand, they’re using my face!” I shrieked down the phone. The ever soothing voice on the other end crooned,

“That must be very distressing for you sir. Perhaps you could clarify.”

And that’s when I realise I’m speaking to a program, a program written to placate and calm irate callers, but not to fix anything. I angrily put my phone in my pocket (I want to slam it down, but its expensive) and look again at the advert on the Tube station wall: A sunny beach, a happy couple on a sun lounger, and a spotty geeky twat leering in the background. And that twat is me. It’s not the first time this has happened either. I’ve appeared in adverts for toothpaste, shoes; this one is for an alcopop. And I’m always the goofy fool, the comic foil. Maybe if I was portrayed as the sexy one I wouldn’t complain, but still it is my face, it should belong to me alone.

So how did it happen? Well, let me tell you a few secrets. Adverts don’t use real people anymore. They haven’t done for some time, you see real people are expensive and computer programs can do the same job as effectively, more cheaply and without all the fuss of going on location. But the faces that computers create are an amalgam of features, generic representations of personality, age, gender. That’s why they all look more or less the same, even people of different races conform to a generic appearance – you’ll see Chinese people, but not too Chinese. African, but African with just enough Caucasian blended in. They play with the different possible components of face and body and come up with some whole new being. Supposedly.

But it seems like whoever wrote the algorithm is as lazy as the rest of us and instead of inventing properly new faces, they just repeat the same generic stereotypes. And one of those stereotypes is me. And how do you think that feels? To know that I am the spotty generic sad-case?

It makes me feel angry. Not like the kind of angry when you get tricked into watching a ten minute video that promises to tell you Five Foods that are Making YOU Fat, but doesn’t; the anger goes deeper than that. It makes me feel slighted and the rage gets right into my blood. It makes me want to fight back. Because they never expect the spotty sad-case to fight back. They think fighting back is for the generic, tough, good looking ones. They think that people like me haven’t the gumption, they think that I am going to behave within the confines of their stereotype. Well, gumption is borne of rage, and now all I need is a plan.

Doing Christmas Your Way

 

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A Mexican Santa

Here’s to the Rebel Christmas!

Here’s to all of you who do Christmas your way. And all of you who don’t, but want to.

There are many rules for Christmas: turkey, stuffing, cranberry sauce, Christmas cake, Christmas pudding, crackers, decorations, cards. And then the rules within the rules about how to do each of those things. It can end up being exhausting and stressful, instead of merry. For me, the best Christmases have been when I’ve abandoned the rules and found a new route through the festive season. A rebel Christmas doesn’t have to be anything fancy, it just has to be what you and those you’re spending it with, truly want.

Whether it’s huddled around a two-bar fire with your loved ones, with the only decoration a Christmas Cabbage tree (with tinsel); or on your own, eating chocolate pudding in the bath and singing along to the radio; or a rowdy drunken family Christmas shouting at the telly, the turkey, and each other.

My favourite Christmas was also one of the toughest. I had just moved to Mexico City with a guy I barely knew. We had had plans of finding work, but Christmas is not a good time for that, so we found ourselves broke and living in one hotel room. The streets were filled with sparkling coloured lights, but unlike home, these lights all played Christmas songs in bleeps, most of them slightly out of tune, all of them clashing. We saw Santas climbing up the side of buildings, reindeer on rooves. We went to markets and saw row upon row of little white Jesuses, and then row upon row of little black Jesuses. Mexico City loved Christmas. it was fun, but also threw into sharp relief the fact that we had no idea what we were doing or how it would work out.

We couldn’t afford to go to restaurants, and were living off cake; mountains of cake. We even tried the ham and sugar glazed doughnuts that the bakery sold (an incredibly inventive place). My companion, let’s call him Spider, got sick a few days before Christmas. So I found myself venturing out into the polluted, bewildering streets of Mexico to find something to cheer him up. I found strawberry yoghurt and a bookshop that sold books in English. I bought some spy novels and a Mills and Boon.

On Christmas day itself, we had a feeling of fearful doom and displacement, but together me and Spider fought the blues and spent the day reading our new books to each other in silly voices. We treated ourselves to a meal (with vegetables!) and the TV was showing the film Night at the Roxbury. It’s not the most sophisticated film ever, but it was just the kind of daft, joyous nonsense that we could deal with. We weren’t sure we were going to survive Mexico, but we were sure as fuck going to enjoy Christmas.

(note: we did survive Mexico, it’s an amazing city and once Christmas was over it wasn’t so difficult to find work.)

So to everyone making their own celebration, whatever you call it, however you do it, Merry Delightful Christmas to you. Relish every small delight on this day, when all the usual humdrum stops and can be replaced by whatever.

Precious Books: Lady Cottington’s Pressed Fairy Book

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Created by Terry Jones (yes, that one) and Brian Froud, I discovered this book back when I worked in a pokey remainder bookshop on Charing Cross Road (I’m being dismissive, but I loved that shop). It is as the title suggests, a book of fairies, their images preserved like pressed flowers, squashed between the pages. It’s based loosely on the Cottingley fairies, which were photographs of fairies taken by two young children in the early nineteen hundreds, although in contrast to Lady Cottington’s fairies, those photos eventually turned out to be fake.

The text that accompanies the squashed fairies, is the handwritten diary entries of Lady Cottington, starting in childhood as she squashes the poor fairies between the pages of her notebook. The fairies (and goblins too) get their own back occasionally by taunting her, but sometimes it seems they actually want to be caught. The notes continue into her adulthood as the fairies continue to visit her and she struggles with being disbelieved by her family.

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I wanted to write a post about this book, even though it was published over twenty years ago, because there really isn’t anything else like it. The paintings of the fairies are delicate and bizarre; the writing is entertaining, and although it is difficult to like Lady Cottington, we get caught up in her adventures.

A brilliant idea executed in a perfect way.

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Flash Fiction: The Supernice

Joelly was supernice. Everybody said so, Joelly made certain of it. With her blonde curls, big eyes and squeaky voice, who could ever call her anything but nice? She sat in the college canteen, twirling her hair around her finger and sharing her understanding of the world as seen through the eyes of nice.

“You know what? There should be a place for nice people. A village. Keep all the nasties out,” she declared to her classmates. Her shyness always vanished when she didn’t need it. “And we’ll keep that Andrew out, he doesn’t deserve to be with nice people.”

“Andrew’s ok, isn’t he?” Tim spoke up as all the faces swivelled his way with accusing eyes: was he questioning Joelly? and Joelly spat back,

“He’s a horrid little boy. You know he asked me out? Me! As if I’d want to look at his spotty face for a moment longer than I have to.”

“That doesn’t make him horrid. Misguided maybe,” tried Tim, a little desperately . “I mean, people ask each other out, right? That’s what people do.”

Joelly pulled back a little as if he had struck her, then she tipped her head to one side, opened her eyes wide and adopted an expression like a kitten abandoned in the rain. Tears started to well up. Nobody ever disagreed with her, and the shock felt almost violent. Quickly the others started to cluck and soothe her as she choked out the words through her tears,

“And you’re a horrid little boy too!” she gasped, and ran from the room, leaving Tim to the judgement of his peers. He glanced around in panic, suddenly knowing what kind of Hell Joelly’s village of niceness would be.

“You made her cry!” they hissed, and Tim knew he didn’t stand a chance.

Shut Up, Millennials are Great!

A Positive Monday Post

Ok, so I’ve been mulling this post over for some time, all the while reading the bitchy comments about  millennials across the Internet and hearing people complain about them in real life. The usual criticisms are millennials are lazy, self-absorbed, always on their phones, narcissistic, spoilt, irresponsible and whiny.

I (aged 43) work with quite a few of this generation (people now in their teens and twenties), and while there are a few who fit that description, most are delightful; a total contrast to my own ridiculous generation when we were in that age. So here’s my response to the criticisms based on my personal experience, but no scientific analysis whatsoever.

Lazy – IME millennials tend to be oddly focused. They have an actual career plan worked out, they even know what a career plan is. Sometimes that focus can get in the way – they are wary of wasting time on anything that won’t be of benefit in the future; but that is largely because they have so little guaranteed future. Unlike my generation, who took basic survival for granted so instead of planning, could just bum around getting wasted and dreaming of success.

Self-absorbed – wow, young people being self-absorbed? Who’d have thunk it? This just seems like a massive distortion of the past to me. My generation were self absorbed, we didn’t have Facebook and selfies to help us prove it, but the trait was still there. The evidence of this can be seen in the number of people in their forties and fifties who have leapt onto Facebook with glee, despite being old enough to have filled their lives with all the other stuff life has to offer.

Always on phones – as am I and everybody else who has a smart phone (which means everybody), we’re connected to the whole world, a constant stream of fascinating information. And young people have been desperately trying to find a way to  avoid eye-contact and conversation for decades, we just didn’t have the technology to do it before. I didn’t even have a walkman til I was fifteen, and even then I was stuck awkwardly trying to squirm out of the attention of others, it was awful.

Narcissistic – there are some alarming statistics about this, that narcissistic personality disorder is far higher – I do wonder if that’s something to do with increased diagnosis though, the same way that autism appears to be more prevalent. To be honest, even if millennials are more narcissistic, it’s only because my generation flooded the media with celebrity guff and consumer “you’re worth it!” delusions. It’s our fault, we started it. And we were just as hungry for fame as young people are now, we simply didn’t know how to go about getting it.

Spoilt – there’s a definite theme in my response to these. We were spoilt too. Every single generation has seemed spoilt when compared to the previous generation because every generation has had more than the previous generation. I remember how disgusted my nan was at all the toys I had, she thought I was ruined for life. Ironically that situation of increased wealth seems to be finally ending, so as this generation grows older they won’t have more than us. Most of them seem very aware of this and try to appreciate what they do have.

Irresponsible – nope. They don’t drink as much as the previous generation, do as many drugs, sleep around as much as my generation (and this is one backed up by statistics). They take education more seriously and think about pensions at an age when I barely knew what one was. Compared to how millennials look to me now, I was a wasted mess of thoughtless behaviour.

Whiny – I think this comes mostly from the PC movement, I certainly don’t see evidence of it elsewhere. And there is a lot of SJW style complaint about language and behaviour that seems extreme, but maybe it needs to be. I remember when PC culture first happened in the eighties, and even though I was very anti-racist, anti-homophobic and so on, I thought that the PC movement was dictatorial and uptight. I thought that it made the idea off treating people with respect a joke and so would never help, but the truth is, it did. I see how open minded and accepting young people are now and it’s beautiful, and it certainly didn’t come about as a result of reasonable discussion, that never gets anyone anywhere (I would really like it to, but when it comes to changing the thinking of a whole society, it’s useless). So if some nagging, whining and fuss leads to us eventually becoming a better more accepting society, then I’m all for it.

As I’ve stated this is just my view, seen from my singular perspective, if you see things differently, or even if you agree, I’d love to hear about it in the comments below.

 

Reasons to be Cheerful part 2

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Not a picture of me, but a beautiful lady I met in Mexico many years ago, who was growing older with style and grace (which I won’t be doing)

Continuing my looking-for-good-things on Mondays…

It’s very easy to get down about getting older, we are told to feel as if life will end when we get old and decrepit, but this week I have been compiling a list to put me in a good mood. My plan for when I’m too old to work and gad about:

Computer games – I’ve played them on occasion, they’re quite fun, but they just seem to eat time and when there are so many things I want to do while I can, I tend to avoid playing. However, once I’m old, and computer games are even more advanced than now, then I’m throwing myself into them with abandon. Fighting zombies in a bombed-out city with a machine gun? Brilliant. Going virtual diving in the sea looking for buried treasure? It’s going to be incredible.

It won’t matter that the world is going to Hell in a hand-basket – well, it probably isn’t doing that any more than it was when I was young, but I’ve spent a life time stressing over global warming and nuclear war and when I’m old that can stop. I’m not saying those things won’t matter to me anymore, but my time of being able to do something to fix them will have passed; it won’t be my world anymore so I’ll stop fretting.

Vanity – I’d say on the whole I don’t worry about how I look. The last time I got a haircut was in 2000 and I haven’t worn make up in years. However, there’s still a small part of me that panics that I’ve got something stuck on my tooth, or that my clothes look scruffy. When I’m old, I’ll look any which way I want and it will be called eccentric, people will excuse my odd appearance with fond, patronising smiles. It will be wonderful. As the poem says, I will wear purple.

Alcohol, drugs and smoking – I used to be a bit over the top with drug-taking and self destructive behaviour when I was younger, in many ways it was great. Then I grew up and became super careful, concerned I might cause myself long-term harm. When I get old enough for long-term not to matter anymore, I will make the most of this. It will be ace, I’ll be a tripping, smoking junkie granny. There may even be some exciting new drugs by then.

These are just a few of the things that no one seems to mention, and there are still all the traditional reasons to be happy – family, going on holiday (if you’re able) and even studying (my mum got her degree when she was seventy). So how about you? What’s going to make your twilight years a joy?

The Continuing Wisdom of Bert

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Bert could barely suppress a smile as he groaned his way into his armchair. A good groan was like a fine wine, something to be savoured; plus it served as a segue into a new conversation. While his wife tried to watch Doctor Who, he explained the thought that had occurred to him on the toilet,

“I’ll tell you what’s odd; dogs never used to smile when I was young, but you see them now and they’ve all got big grins! All over the Internet.  Tom posted a picture of one on Facebook, a big doggy grin it had. That’s genetic engineering that is. That’s modification. Centuries of inbreeding. Isn’t it? Isn’t it, Becky?”

“Uh huh.”

“But what I’ve been thinking is, when are they going to work on cats? I mean dogs were always happy creatures and we had the wagging tail and licking, so there’s no real mystery about how they’re feeling, but what about cats? No one ever knows how a cat is feeling. They could do with smiles. When they going to modify cats to smile? Becky? Becky?”

Becky didn’t answer, and Bert sat back, contented. They could carry this on later, over dinner.

 

Picture pinched from here

Banishing Gloom – a Monday Good Thing

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A lot of bad things have been happening in the world recently, and now it’s cold, everyone is miserable and I keep forgetting to notice all the good things that are around me.

So I’m going to make a point of, every Monday, posting something good from the week. Either a photo, an observation, a piece of news or a delightful fact.

So what about you, what has brightened up your Monday? What good things are in your life right now?

If anyone feels like joining in, that would be fantastic, I’m happy to link or feature.

This Monday’s good thing, some photos of the frost where I work…

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