Saturday, March 18, 2017

22 Things You May or May Not Know About Siobhan Fahey

This month marks 25 years since Shakespears Sister reached the UK & Ireland number 1 with this wonderful wailing power ballad.

The video was reportedly banned in Germany for promoting witchcraft (??) and those who were younger at the time (which is everyone who was alive) will remember that how mesmerising, dangerous, dark, powerful and demonic Siobhan Fahey looked in the video. 

If she was a witch (and she wasn't, she was an Angel of Death) then she was equal parts terrifying and alluring. You would be easily tempted into her gingerbread house for a piss-up even knowing she was going to eat you and wash you down with Strongbow & Ribena.

Afrer falling down a internet hole of exploration and appreciation, here's my quick tribute to this trailblazing no-fucks-given Irish rebel.

Below are 22 things you might already know about her but perhaps don't. 

Wednesday, March 15, 2017

The Dark Truth behind 'Row Your Boat'

A supposed human family live above my new home. A mum, dad, toddler, and baby. 

Through the ceiling they sound to all the world like the Honey Monster reenacting a WWE Smackdown between Hulk Hogan and The Undertaker, but I was assured they are actual civilised-ish human beings. Then I saw one. 

I caught first sight of the mum as she ambled past my window with the youngest in a buggy. She was singing - 

"Row, row, row your boat, 
Gently down the river, 
If you see a polar bear, 
Don't forget to shiver."

Inhuman! I was outraged on two levels. 

- Windows are a two-way system. You may stop to peer in at me as you sing your ditty, but notice how my eyes are fixed in the direction of your face. That's me seeing you. I am watching you do this. You don't know how windows work. 

- Those are not the lyrics. You're child will be mis-informed and will only realise your rogue nursery rhyme antics when it comes up during a quirky student pub chat 20 years hence. Your child will undoubtedly come to resent you as much as I do. 

The nursery rhyme 'Row Your Boat' is precious to me on two levels. 'Rowtheboat' is my dad's nickname for me because the first syllable of my name is 'Ro'. Very well thought-through and witty, as are all dad's nicknames for kids. 

Then there's the underlying message. I think 'Row Your Boat' is second to none when it comes to nursery rhymes with a powerful philosophical thrust. Even more so than that battle cry of socialism 'Baa Baa Black Sheep'* 

"Row, row, row your boat
Gently down the stream
Merrily, merrily, merrily, merrily, 
Life is but a dream."

The rhyme is presenting us with a cold and bold wake-up call; Reality is not real.  

It does not matter what you do in this world because reality itself is a mirage. Keep paddling away down that stream trying to get to wherever you think you're going but ultimately it's pointless. There is no end destination. 

One could dip headlong into existential despair at the realisation we are taking part in a elaborate farce but the rhyme offers another solution - go merrily, merrily, merrily, merrily. Life may be meaningless but fuck it, have some fun as you slip downstream. 

And this the mum upstairs substituted with a highly-doubtful polar bear sighting on a river!? The 'neighbours from hell' saga has just begun... 

I'm on Twitter @theroryjohn

*Notice how despite the signalled power structure, the master, dame, and little boy who lives down the lane are all treated as equally deserving in the eyes of the black sheep. 

Sunday, March 5, 2017

Disney's Death Obsession

Another wild weekend of mine rolls from hard-lived reality into the stuff of whispered legend. Future biographers will feast on tales of how I occasionally checked if the socks on the clothes-horse were dry yet whilst watching 'Cinderella' on Netflix. 

It's another one of those Disney's live-action money-churners which I'm quietly intrigued by but never so much so to spend 15 quid on a cinema ticket (I won't forgive you 'Malificent'). Again it features a simperingly perfect Pollyanna lead but is worth a watch for Cate Blanchett alone. 

She is a deliciously camp flash of evil but never strays into hammy pantomime. This arch villainess could become cartoony but instead we get an understandable human - a bitter twisted grasping human, but a human. With great clothes. 

What also struck me was the aggressive amount of parental death chucked at the audience. Elle's beloved mother dies but luckily she has a loving and stable father, who then dies. Meanwhile Prince Kit's mother is presumably already dead, and so he only has his beloved father, who promptly dies. The lesson seems to be 'if you love your parents they will die'. A comfort to any child.

Of course we have learned to brace ourselves for this kind of thing in a Disney film. 

For instance: Simba's father is trampled to death in 'The Lion King', Bambi's mother is shot dead, Tarzan's parents are eaten by a leopard and his adoptive father is shot dead, Shan's father killed in battle in 'Mulan', Quasimodo's mother beaten to death in 'The Hunchback of Notre Dame', both Cinderella and Snow White's mothers are dead, Tiana's dad is killed at war in 'The Princess and the Frog', Tod's mum is hunted down and killed in 'The Fox and the Hound',  Lilo's parents were killed in a car-crash in 'Lilo and Stitch', Arthur has no parents in 'The Sword and the Stone', Ariel's mum is dead in 'The Little Mermaid', Belle's mum is not mentioned in 'Beauty and the Beast' and she's held captive away from her father, Cody's dad is dead in 'The Rescuers Down Under', the parents drown in 'Frozen'  Mogli's mum was killed by Shere Khan in 'The Jungle Book', Dumbo's mum was locked up for supposed mental health problems, and more recently in 'Big Hero 6' both the hero's parents are dead. 

So what's that about?

I'm very far from the first person to notice Disney's mummy-death obsession and there's a great article on 'Hopes & Fears' here outlining the main theories. The most frequently raised is that Walt Disney was acting out his guilt over the death of his own mother. He bought his parents a swanky new home in Hollywood, but a year later his mum died by breathing fumes from a faulty furnace. Walt reportedly never forgave himself. 

Hmm. The issue there is that most Disney's stories are adaptations of stories written hundred of years before that faulty furnace. It may have been a subconscious personal fixation for Walt but to be fair, fairytales and fables have been bumping off parents since writing began. 

It's a simple story need. Stories are about change and parents represent stability. This is not just a Disney issue, Luke Skywalker, Oliver Twist, Annie, Dorothy Gale and Harry Potter are all orphans who follow the same route to independence. 

For our main character to grow they have to be thrust into a state of change. The archetypal story follows a hero as they go from stable contentment to a fragile state of uncertainty, to overcoming these fears and obstacles and becoming triumphant and self-sufficient. This is the outline of many stories because it's the outline we tell ourselves about life itself. It's one story we all relate to. 

If parents are in the story then the hero has no reason to tackle the world alone. We need death of stability as the catalyst for growth. 

As Disney producer Don Hahn says "One reason is practical because the movies are 80 or 90 minutes long, and Disney films are about growing up. They're about that day in your life when you have to accept responsibility. In shorthand, it's much quicker to have characters grow up when you bump off their parents. Bambi's mother gets killed, so he has to grow up. Belle only has a father, but he gets lost, so she has to step into that position. It's a story shorthand."

It does sound darkly morbid but if that uplifting story is going to work, there has to be a parental bloodbath.  

I'm on Twitter @theroryjohn

Friday, February 24, 2017

My Life: The Brand New Series!

This week my life began what was once dubbed 'a new chapter' but which I see as 'a new series' with all the hyped hyperbole that entails - "New faces, new challenges, new adventures... nothing. will. ever. be. the same. again!"

This time two weeks ago I lived in a bedsit which I had originally planned to be a three week stop-gap shelter but ended up being home for two and a half years; a testament to my intense aversion to organising, packing, and lifting.  

I lived a type of existence which was obviously signed-posted for and end of series twist. One where the protagonist almost gives up on this weary world only to win the lottery (having bought tickets thrice weekly to hurry this final twist along). The twist never happened. Instead I just moved. 

I went from what was a bleak comedy (without the comedy) in the style of Rising Damp, mis-matched souls bound together in a bedsit divided house, to what is closer to the show I always hoped adult life would be like - This Life

I'm now living in a house-share of young(ish) professionals though with less wine-swilling and ill-advised shagging and instead much more tea, early pyjamas, and scoffing at the telly. 

Am I alone in sometimes considering life as though it's a TV show? It may be because it is literally my day job as a TV producer, it may be because my generation were weened on simple story constructions with happy endings and dramatic cliffhangers, or more likely it's because I'm a raving narcissist who sees the world around him as a mere backdrop to his boring adventures. 

This thought first occurred to me at a friend's wedding a few years ago (there have been approximately 34 such occasions in the last five years, all brilliant). We were all friends from our teenage years but were soon to separate across the globe, our diverging paths and differing life choices clearly marked. As I took in the group drunkenly embracing and howling out Westlife's 'We Got A Little World of Our Own' (this has become oddly standard at Irish weddings), I remarked to a friend, 'God, this is just like an end of season finale!'. 

And it was. Old feuds were resolved, old romances put to bed (or brought to bed), everyone united in nostalgia whilst acknowledging deep change was ahead. Freeze frame on group happiness. Fade to black. Insert frustratingly small text on black background giving poignant updates on what happened next. 

And so my next season begins. Much may change but some show standards are expected - villains from past make unwanted reappearances (boo! hiss!), fresh romantic interests will prove unrequited ('jeez when will he learn? It's actually boring now'), and old fan favourites from seasons past will make welcome special reappearances to spike interest. 

Ideally the series' go-to storyline of 'hangover-never again-again-hangover-never-again' will finally die off due to critical mauling. Could I also request some episodes might slip into a post-watershed slot? Maybe that would push the limits of believability. We don't want to jump the shark. 

I'm on Twitter @theroryjohn

Monday, February 6, 2017

A Basic Bert

I have realised that I am more Bert than Ernie.

Despite what my autobiography may one day refer to as 'the questionable cider decades', I am not a wild child. I am no rebel. My spirit is not free. My spirit wears a cardigan and insists on strong tea. My Fitbit told me so.

For those who don't have one yet (they are an inevitability), the fitness tracker gives your arm a buzz when you reach the daily target of steps. My daily target is 10,000 steps which I always reach on the way home... outside the exact same Spar.

This may not seem surprising (or lets face it, even vaguely interesting). I take the same route to work and home so it adds up to much the same and YET this also means all my caffeine-addled dashes to the kettle, my impromptu consultations with colleagues (aka bad office flirting), toilet trips, lunch-break wanders, and any free-style jigs I partake in all add up to the exact same amount, give or take a margin of five steps. Sit down Alan Partridge, that's world champion level dull predictability.

Further evidence of this bludgeoning of spontaneity came with a recent trip to Topman. I bought two fresh identical plain black jumpers as the two identical plain black jumpers I already have are sometimes in the wash. These are always worn with one pair of my six pairs of identical plain black jeans. Topped off with one of two identical plain black hats. To add a cheeky dash of excitement to this outfit  I chucked in two identical plain black t-shirts because why the hell not? I was thrilled with myself. Or as thrilled as someone who dresses like Goth Rosie from Corrie (2005-2006) can be.

I have previously talked of my love off being a cafe regular and so it could seem my lust for ordered routine is turning into a mild obsession. But I just prefer to run the background bits of life on autopilot as much as possible. I know how some folk embrace the challenge of assembling a statement outfit and can imagine how creating and stepping into a fresh character each morning sparks joy as they strut the pavement. I whole-heartedly admire a put-together 'look at me' look in others. I'm just not arsed myself. I was not put-together, I hit the snooze button three times and nodded off again in the shower.

While I still have an Ernie side (yes, I have had spontaneous fun, reasonable night transport home allowing), I will always champion the Bert. The Bert side is old enough to know what it likes and how it likes it. The Bert side welcomes buying the same jumper again because the last one went bobbly in the wash. The Bert side shamelessly orders the same lunch five times a week because it's what you like to eat. The Bert side savours getting to bed before midnight. The Bert side doesn't need every banal life choice to be a whizzbangpopper of an adventure.

If you don't know (and secretly love) your own Bert side yet, you will. He's coming.

I'm on Twitter @theroryjohn

Sunday, February 5, 2017

Don't Have a...Cow!?

Some phrases are stealth nonsense. They creep into daily speak and hide in plain sight for generations. Accepted, maintained, and passed on without assessment or particular affection. But one day you might catch their shifty eye and see them for what they are - gibbering bullshittery.

Which brings me to, as ever, my bone-achingly dull commute to work. Somewhere between Mill Hill Broadway and Hendon I wondered where 'Cor Blimey' came from (I was fondly reminiscing over the rooftop sunset scene in Mary Poppins "...the rooftops of London, 'cor what a sight!", as you do)

With a quick google I discovered it's a corrupted pass-me-down of 'God blind me', which is an odd way of saying 'I'm quite surprised' to begin with.

Slipping down an etymology Google hole, I discovered that 'Crikey' was a mid-1800s substitute for 'Christ!'. It seems a decent chunk of our vocab stems from that familiar scenario of beginning to curse, catching your mum's eye, and swerving the end of the word - "Oh shhhhhhhh... ugar".

Another prominent example of a cursing u-turn is Bart Simpson's 'Eat my shorts'. A phrase the show trumpeted back when Bart was a t-shirt slogan spewing rebel and 'The Simpsons Sing the Blues' was THE cassette album to have.

(Note: Once I casually mentioned this album to a work-experience college student. They had never heard of it. Nor 'The Bartman'. To be fair this is because the album came out 27 years ago. Darkness fell across my emotional landscape.)

'Eat my shorts' was not a Simpsons invention and had previously been used in 1985 classic 'The Breakfast Club'. Looking at it afresh it's a very obvious censor-appeasing swerve on 'Eat my shit'.

And what of Bart's "Don't Have a Cow Man"?

Roughly speaking it means "don't freak out like you're trying to push a calf out of your down-below bits". It stems from "to have kittens", a more familiar phrase on this side of the Atlantic which means 'freaking out' as cats are notoriously nervy during kitten-birth. 'Don't have a cow' became the US adaptation, because Americans just had to go one bigger.

And about other early 90s tshirt-friendly-cartoon-slogans? (And nothing is more early 90s than a tshirt-friendly-cartoon-slogan.) 'Cowabunga' long predates Michelangelo. The Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles Michelangelo that is.

The pizza-loving 'party dude' brought it to a new generation but surfers used it when catching a 'narly wave' in the 1960s, and it debuted on the 'Howdy Doody Show' in 1953. The wild-west puppet show featured some questionable Native American stereotypes, as was the fashion at the time.

On some lowly corners of the internet it's rumoured to be derived from the actual Native American exclamation 'Kwa Bungu', though it seems to be a neat coincidence considering 'Howdy Doody' writer Eddie Kean says it was pure nonsense babble he made it up.

If you can think of any other familiar slogans or phrases you'd like me to investigate just give me a shout (because let's face it, this is what I do with my weekends now).

I'm on Twitter @theroryjohn

Sunday, January 29, 2017

It's Still Good To Talk

I got a Whatsapp from a friend asking if I was in fact going to come and to witness his debut DJ set. I had accepted the invite on Facebook but he was unconvinced. I suspect he was cynical as I fire out ''I'll absolutely be there" replies to everything but cannot make a firm decision about anything that isn't happening within the next three minutes. The future beyond that is an unknowable darkness we should not try to impose order on.

He was right too. As work is an gluttonous time-stealing beast there's little to absolutely zero chance of me transporting from Shoreditch to a 90s pop filled Reading pub by 8pm. I was going to give him the highly-expected 'sorry i'm a flake again' text but realised it's been months since we spoke. This is a friend I could, and would, talk to for days on end about aggressively silly things, mostly while impersonating the two Edies from Grey Gardens.

Yup we were those 'wacky' folk. At least we entertained ourselves.

So instead of sending a quick message before getting on my train, I rang him. And felt nervous about it. I know I hate getting unexpected phone-calls when a message would do, especially as I get panicked over how to wrap it up politely at the end (I really should adopt every Irish parents' method of "Well, I'll let you go..", which my own have been using more and more frequently of late). I was worried he would see my name flash up and feel that punch of dread. 'Uffff just text me you utter dickplant'.

15 minutes later, my whole day was lifted with a huge happy reminder of just how very funny my friend is, how solid friendships always pick up easily from where they left off, and how he sees right through me like no other. For example on the subject of Disney World...

Me "I thought I'd really hate it... "
Him "...because you pose as a cynic who is above popular things..."
Me "...yes exactly! But actually it was the most fun thing ever."
Him "Yes. That's why it's popular."

What could have been a 16 character text was a brief but happy chat about random shite, a friendship refresh button, and a good laugh to boot.

Warning: here comes the 'ugh sweet suffering jaysus, another social media think-piece' piece... Facebook likes and Twitter favs don't keep us in touch with each other, they just mean we're keeping tabs. It says 'I know you're still alive, I am too, we used to know each other, and kinda still do, but not really, let's all stay in our lanes '.

Which brings me to my favourite TV ad campaign of all time. In 1990 a meeting was called to make the idea of paying phone bills not such a scourge for men (still a time when execs said men paid bills and women made phone calls). They came up with Bob Hoskins, a seemingly gruff's man's man with a twinkle of sentimentality, telling the nation that 'It's Good To Talk'.

(Before that, here's my friend's DJ night, do check it out!)

I'm on Twitter @theroryjohn

Check out all the ads after the jump!