Archive for ‘misc’

November 19, 2013

dead dogs

Today, the last of the Zaltzman dogs died.

The first of the Zaltzman dogs died early in the morning on 13th November 1997 (yes, I remember the date, shuddup). All over the lawn there were dark patches in the grey frost, one for each time she had lain down to die. And each time my mother had brought her inside, anxious to keep her alive through the night lest we thought she’d deliberately killed the dog whilst we slept.

The vet committed the final dispatch, invoiced for the service with dispassionate efficiency, and I went to work.

“I’ve buried both of my parents,” said one of the customers, “but you never get over a dog.” He was a retired policeman and WW2 POW, so he’d seen some things; but you never get over a dog.

Later that day my boyfriend was punched in the face and mugged, but everyone continued to be more concerned about the dog.

The second of the Zaltzman dogs died in January 2002 while I was away at university. To raise my spirits, I bought the best sandwich from the best sandwich shop and took it to the best bench in the best park.

An alive dog approached.
It gently lifted the sandwich from my hands.
It jogged off with my sandwich.

CURSE YOU GOD, WHY DO YOU ALWAYS TAKE THE GOOD ONES?

Today, the third Zaltzman dog died after living far longer than expected. For a long time my parents have insisted that she will be the last Zaltzman dog. They want the freedom to travel, they say, but I wonder whether it’s just too much of a risk to allow that emotional attachment again when every 12-15 years the dog dies.

Perhaps they will waver, because for the first time since 1984 there won’t be a dark furry shape standing blocking the television screen, standing in the doorway refusing to budge, standing under the dining table waiting for food to fall. There’ll be no reason to do a lap of the garden in the midnight rain, waiting for the dog to urinate; nor to maintain a collection of chewed tennis balls on the living room floor. Nobody will headbutt the newspaper I’m reading to get attention; nobody will hide cushions in the garden; nobody will continue digging the mysterious pit in the flowerbed by the front door; nobody will fart on my hand while I try to prune the dreadlocks from their back legs (add ‘hopefully’ to all these, because I can’t predict what turns life will take). There’ll be no benign snuffling presence allowing me to pretend that I’m not alone in the room, because today the last of the Zaltzman dogs died.

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September 18, 2013

impending live events

Next week I shall be leaving the house TWICE to participate in live events. Yes! Assuming I can remember where the front door is.

On Wednesday 25th September, I’ll be taking part in a Radio Academy event all about making audio comedy. It’s at the Phoenix on Cavendish Square in central London and will also feature comedy writer-presenters Gareth Gwynn and Jon Holmes, and radio and podcast producers Colin Anderson and Ben Walker. For more information and tickets, CLICK HERE.

Then on Thursday 26th September, I’ll pop up in Brighton at Jo Neary and Friends at the Caroline of Brunswick on Ditchling St, a hop and a step from Brighton railway station. I’ll be presenting a slideshow about my collection of sexist, racist mid-20th century cookbooks. Of course you need to see this, especially as tickets are only £3. CLICK HERE for details of the gig.
[UPDATE: alas I can no longer do the gig. But there’s a terrific line-up so you won’t miss me at all.]

Another event I did in late August, the live recording of Jordan Jesse Go!, is now available as a podcast HERE.

July 16, 2013

iced badger

Yesterday I went to the funeral of a family friend, Katherine. She lived up the road from us and was a striking presence throughout my childhood, more so than most of my blood relatives.

Katherine was remarkable in many ways, but one of the stories from her sons’ eulogy was SO remarkable, I had to share it with you:

Once upon a time, Katherine found a dead badger at the side of the road. She picked it up off the verge, took it home and put it in the freezer.

She kept it in the freezer for many years, and every time her children had a birthday party, she’d take the badger out of the freezer and sit it in a high-chair in the middle of the room. Picture a dead badger partially defrosting whilst dozens of five-year-olds played Musical Statues around it.

The dead badger also attended dinner parties if there were thirteen people at table.

Sadly the badger has since been disposed of, because it would have been so perfect if it had been sitting in its high-chair at the wake.

Goodbye, Katherine, you revolutionary of party-throwing.

July 12, 2013

Women on Air report

3165995838_cff3dc0b84

As a woman who works in radio and a woman who likes listening to radio and a person who wonders why women are a comparative rarity on the radio, Sound Women is a cause dear to my heart. (Obviously, since I make their podcast.)

Today Sound Women released their Women on Air report, which found that only one in five presenters on British radio is female. The proportion is even lower when you break it down by such factors as appearing on air regularly, during weekdays, during primetime, solo, playing an equal rather than subordinate part in a presenting partnership, etc etc. NB The report was specifically researching the gender split of presenters; there is also a known insufficiency of female guests, pundits and so forth. Hence the advent of Sound Women a couple of years ago, as recounted by founder Maria Williams in the first episode of the Sound Women podcast.

To me, the one in five number in the report is disappointing, but not at all surprising. Last year I was interviewed by Persephone Magazine and mentioned that I hadn’t ever really been aware of my gender working against me professionally until I entered the radio sphere. It was impossible to ignore the imbalance within the industry. For instance, a few years ago, Olly and I arrived to make a demo at a well-known radio station and, off-hand, I asked the producer how many female presenters they had.

“Errr… Laura does the weather?”

Weather, traffic, news – that’s the female representation on too many radio stations. And yet, so many people I’ve spoken to hadn’t even noticed how few women there are on air until I pointed it out to them. This is the case also with people in radio power: the majority of high-ranking radio execs are male, which means those who could fix the gender problem are not necessarily aware of the problem, and if they are, they are not personally affected by the problem, and therefore not particularly incentivised to address the problem. Happily, in response to the report, I have heard that various radio stations are already planning various schemes to increase the female voice quotient, and I hope these do end up making a palpable difference over the next few years.

But how did it reach the point where the industry has to be harangued to better represent fifty per cent of the populace?

Amongst many radio honchos, the justification for not employing female presenters is the received wisdom that people do not like listening to women – and specifically that even women do not like listening to women.

This ‘fact’ is apparently based on a piece of research, which nobody working in radio today seems to have seen, and if it ever indeed existed it was done decades ago – back when the majority of women on radio were played by Kenny Everett.

Aside from the difficulty of access to the industry and the alleged antipathy of listeners, there’s another possible reason for the paucity of female voices: many of the people I’ve spoken to for the Sound Women podcast have suggested that, in general, women tend to be less apt than their male equivalents to promote themselves, to effect similar confidence, or to be sure that their voices ought to be heard. IE the female talent pool is self-limiting. I wonder whether this is why apparently women are also scarcer in the field of podcasting. Unlike getting into radio, there are almost no barriers to becoming a podcaster: if you want to do it, you can just go ahead and do it.

So: women, speak up. And everybody else, regardless of your gender, be prepared to listen.

July 5, 2013

Holiday!

AMT-holiday

I’m just back from holiday, on which I saw bears and eagles, and bought a brooch shaped like a palm tree with boughs that ACTUALLY MOVE, as if said palm tree is being ruffled by a breeze.

Whilst I was away, we launched the Answer Me This! Holiday, our latest AMT spin-off album full of all-new questions about holidays. Because it is categorised as ‘Music’ in iTunes, even though it is an hour of speaking, it managed to reach number 14 in the overall album charts, a fact which will make me laugh forever.

To find out more about our smash hit Top 20 album, and to buy it if you are so inclined, click here.

SPOILER: this jingle is one of my favourite bits:

May 1, 2013

Sound Women podcast: episode 1

I’m very excited to say that I’m making a new podcast!* It’s called the Sound Women podcast, because I’m making it with the Sound Women network of women (and men) in British radio. Ergo, the podcast is about women and radio, and if you’re interested in either of those things, I hope you like it.

In Episode 1, I interviewed the inimitable Lauren Laverne, who told me how to get rid of earworms and what Jamie Oliver keeps in his toilet; I also spoke to Nicky Birch of Somethin’ Else, who suggests not being a pain-the-arse slacker if you want to get ahead in radio, and Maria Williams to find out why she set up Sound Women in the first place (clue: because the radio industry is sexist, innit). Plus dispatches from SRAcon by Emma Bradshaw, and Ruth Barnes found out from Sinead Garvan how to get to be a reporter at Radio 1’s Newsbeat.

Oh, and Martin wrote the theme music, what a gent.

Have a listen at iTunes or SoundCloud.

*Don’t worry, I haven’t dumped Answer Me This!. I’m just cheating on it with another podcast.

April 26, 2013

Internet daters of the world…

…I need YOU.

If you’re currently doing internet dating, would you be willing to be interviewed by me about it, before and after you go on the date, for a new podcast I want to make? By all means you can use a false name if your bashfulness threatens to conquer your exhibitionism.

If you’re interested in allowing me to nose gently into your private life, then please email me: helen.zaltzman@gmail.com. Think of it as free therapy, over Skype.

Pass it on!

PS Over-18s only, please; sorry kids.

March 23, 2013

for the first time in absolutely ages…

…I’m doing a live gig! Geek Showoff on Tuesday 26th March, at the Black Heart in Camden. Do come along; it’s free, but there’ll be a charity collection to raise funds for Arts Emergency.

March 18, 2013

SXSW

Austin greetings mural

I just returned from SXSWi in Austin, Texas, where I spoke on a panel about podcasting with Colin Anderson, Jesse Thorn and Roman Mars. We were scheduled against talks by Selena Gomez and also Shaq, which made for a very difficult choice for people who were interested in both the monetization of podcasts AND the cast of Spring Breakers.

Hopefully the audio of our session will become available soon; in the meantime here’s a picture of my fellow panellists gearing up in the greygreen room…

Austin green room

…and unwinding afterwards in a sausage restaurant.

Austin post-panel sausages

I reported back to the Guardian’s Media Talk podcast, which you can hear HERE. Aside from a lot of interesting talks about new media and tech, there was plenty other excitement, including several outstanding film screenings (keep an eye out for An Unreal Dream, The Spectacular Now and Partly Fiction), some classic Texan barbecue, and free corporate swag including a branded harmonica, a branded shaky egg and some giant Post-It notes. Got to recoup the cost of my flight where I can.

Then I rode on a train for 37 hours to Los Angeles, for another podcast adventure in Jordan, Jesse, Go! which you can hear HERE. Or even right here:

Jesse, Jordan and me:

LA JJGo

NB if you want to arrive somewhere fresh in body and mind, don’t spend 37 hours on a train immediately prior. But you already knew that.

December 15, 2012

end of year noises

As the end of the year approaches, tradition dictates we look back upon the past twelvemonth, reflect and ruminate, then pick out some of the highlights of that year and edit them into an audio package.

This we have done with Answer Me This! – the Best of 2012 part I is out now, and part II will follow on Thursday 20th. Embedded above is one of my favourite passages; drunk-dialling can be strangely moving.

Olly and I also run through the year’s biggest online events on Saturday Edition, BBC 5 Live 8pm 29th December or available shortly after as the Let’s Talk About Tech podcast; and you can hear us discussing Christmas gadgets and songs on Steve Wright in the Afternoon on BBC Radio 2 on 20th December.

Not finished yet! I crop up on BBC 5 Live’s Radio Review of 2012, which will be on at 11pm on Christmas Eve, repeated 4pm on Christmas Day, or, if you want to listen at a more sensible time, available on the 5 Live website straight after. There’s some very interesting stuff on it, and it’s co-hosted by Jane Garvey – any show with Jane Garvey on it is a show worth hearing.

Lastly, Olly and I also wrote some bits for the Celebrity Juice Christmas Specials; part one is already on ITV Player and part two will follow on Thursday 20th.

And now, having provided a thorough summation of 2012, I’m taking the rest of it off. See you in 2013, assuming that apocalypse is another let-down.

October 27, 2012

Next Radio

In September Olly and I spoke at Next Radio, a great one-day event with lots of rapid-fire talks about the radio industry and where it is headed (there are broadly two schools of thought: 1. somewhere more magnificent than ever 2. straight to Fucktown).

As we began making a podcast in my living room with no knowledge whatsoever, we could hardly go onstage in front of a roomful of radio experts and teach them much they don’t already know. So instead we plumped for a romp through some of the weirdest and silliest things to have happened to us since we started Answer Me This!, and here’s the video of our talk:

Thanks very much to James Cridland and Matt Deegan for letting us take part; click here to view videos of other talks from the day, they are well worth your while.

What you can’t tell from the videos is that we were at the Magic Circle headquarters! While the auditorium was very normal-looking, the corridors and rooms were full of display cases with magicians’ props, puppets, magic coffins etc.

What I hope you can’t tell from the video is that this was my first ever Powerpoint presentation! I rarely get the opportunity to make one in my ‘line’ of ‘work’.

October 26, 2012

Readable music videos: The Wanted

I watched the video of ‘I Found You’ by The Wanted so you don’t have to.

Before you read this post, seek the advice of your parents, because:

However, this is the real warning sign:

There’s a director credit, and some unnecessary aspect ratio bars at the top and bottom. Which means that you need to strap in, because this is aspiring to be arty.

Meet The Wanted.


From left to right: The Bouncer, The Farmer, The Preteen Sensation, The Tall One and Inspector Clouseau.

Since their last single, The Wanted gained a sixth member:

Chicks can’t resist the puppy eyes.

The Wanted are taking the dog for a walk. Dogs require regular walkies, hence The Wanted spend much of this video walking.

See Spot run. See The Wanted walk.

The Wanted stroll to a bar for refreshment. The Preteen Sensation stays outside with a packet of peanuts, because he won’t be able to get served for at least another eight years. Meanwhile, the rest of The Wanted make eyes at somebody across the crowded room.

They are truly enraptured, but by whom?

Ryan Gosling!

“Hey girl…oh, sorry Siva.”

Too bad the ukulele romance will have to wait, because The Wanted have got a job to do and they need to do it now, because if The Preteen Sensation doesn’t get home by 6pm, his mum won’t allow him to have any Frubes for pudding.

I’ve never seen a dog’s bum look less impressed. If you need a door broken down…don’t ask a boyband to do it.

Anyway, remember the pretty gagged blonde lady? Here are two of her extremities:

She put on that duct tape because she heard it gets rid of verrucas. Then it slipped up her feet and now her legs are incapacitated; what a fine mess she got herself into! Thank Christ there’s a boyband on the way to sort it all out.

The Wanted have their duffing-up faces on

and are about to have a big old fight on the stairs. This is what a Wanted fight looks like:


You should have seen the other guy!

Punches are punched. Shoves are shoved. Men fly. Glasses shatter. DVDs are put back on the shelf out of alphabetical order.

HULK SMASH!

Despite her plight, the bound blonde seems entertained by the spectacle of The Wanted beating up the men, because frankly 80% of the Wanted look like they couldn’t even beat up a meringue.


“And then I ripped off his leg and beat him to death with it.”

Against all odds, The Wanted have won the day, and found the lady! They send in The Preteen Sensation to rescue her, because the rest of the band are busy with grown-up things like tax returns and whisky-tasting.

She’s looking forward to having the circulation restored to her feet, but The Preteen Sensation has other ideas.


“Please miss, give us a snog!”
“Ugh, no – your breath smells of Dora The Explorer toothpaste.”

Now we learn that we should not have been fooled by this innocent child face, for it belies a wiley scheme! Having distracted the still-bound blonde with his juvenile osculations, from somewhere upon her body, he extracts a tiny key. And with that, it’s goodbye to the lady – losers weepers!

He’s got the key! He’s got the secre-eh-eh-et! He’s got the key to a…

…box that The Wanted drag up from the river.

Betcha wish you were that padlock, eh girls?


CLICK HERE FOR MORE READABLE MUSIC VIDEOS

October 24, 2012

Readable music videos: Nicki Minaj featuring Cassie

I watched the video of ‘The Boys’ by Nicki Minaj featuring Cassie so you don’t have to.

But before the main feature, a message from the environmental lobby:

Please conserve water. For example, use your grey water to flush the loo, or to pipe through your garden water features.

Nicki demonstrates, by not wasting the leftover water from the swimming pool in ‘Superbass‘:

Ain’t no such thing as grey water in the Minajerie!

End of environmental messages; let the entertainments commence.

Nicki Minaj
in
‘Arson and Arse-On’

In case you missed it:

In case you missed it again:

YES WE GET IT THANKS. You’re hardly making Minaj on the Orient Express here.

It’s a bad day all round in the Minajerie, because before the song has even started, Nicki crashes her car.

“That came out of nowhere!”

“Ha, women drivers…”

Fortunately Nicki walks away unhurt, because she deployed her twin airbags.

NB Jodie Marsh styled this video.

If you think that the rear view is an all too explicit celebration of VPL, then beware the next shot: the front view is an all too explicit celebration of camel toe.

read more »

October 16, 2012

Readable music videos: Taylor Swift

I watched the video of Taylor Swift’s ‘We Are Never Ever Getting Back Together’, so you don’t have to.

We open on Taylor’s apartment. The wallpaper is giant cable knitting. That’s right: Taylor Swift – estimated worth $80m – lives in a tea cosy.

Taylor is in her jimjams, but also wearing immaculate red lipstick, thus issuing a conflicting message to her suitor. Are you receiving guests or are you not, Taylor? It is no wonder you’re being jerked about by your boyfriend when you are unable to make up your own mind.

Immediately from this scene, we can already see why Taylor’s boyfriend keeps dumping her. Firstly, the TV is showing a Taylor Swift video. She’s too self-obsessed to have a proper long-term relationship with somebody else. Secondly, everywhere she goes, Taylor is followed by a gang of plushies. As if this were not offputting enough, add the ‘wacky rubber doll’ facial expression worn by the chief plushy.

“Still feeling sexy? Thought not.”

The plushies possess a plethora of instruments – keytar, autoharp, white violin, a Gretsch Bo Diddley guitar – but they are wearing big furry paws so cannot play them. This is OK because the song does not seem to have much keytar in the backing track anyway.

While they’re busy gurning and miming, over in the Cheeseplant Room, Taylor has a cross chat with her man, who is wisely wearing earphones to block out her nagging. In case you’re wondering just who is this fellow who has caused Taylor such heartache on repeat, he is holding a 12″ record. Consider his character established!

“Oh, so it’s OK for you to define yourself with retro-whimsical objects, but I’m not allowed?”
“Tee hee! Why don’t you ask my Felix the Cat clock?”

Taylor answers a call on the wall phone that she has, because she’s 22 so not old enough to remember that landlines are not actually cool at all. On the other end of the line, her gentleman caller is on a payphone – are we really to believe that neither of them have decent mobile reception?

The action moves to a place we are supposed to believe is a bar because on the wall there is a neon sign saying ‘BAR’. A case of ‘The bar doth protest too much’, for surely if a bar has succeeded in being a bar, it does not need to declare its bar-ness in such an obvious way? This leads me to believe that this is in fact a church hall which self-identifies as a bar and wishes to be treated as such by the world at large.

“I so am a bar!”

Check out the autoharp-strumming plushy wearing sunglasses in the dark bar. What a tool. He will shortly be roadkill, as Taylor and her gentleman friend zoom up in their cardboard car. “Give us a ride!” plead the plushies. “Damn, I can NOT catch a break today,” sighs Taylor’s boyfriend’s penis, as they pile into the boot.

The on-again-off-again couple finally have some alone time outside a garden centre or something, but Taylor’s mood swings strike again: she veers from ‘amorous’ to ‘way unimpressed’ in the time it takes to put a scarf on, so she scampers off for a lie-down and a big phone-moan to her interested friendthe speaking clock. Yet again, she’s using the landline, but at least this time it is a portable phone. Baby steps, Taylor.

Perhaps ‘baby’ is a risky word to use in a Swiftian context, as on her pillow is a stripy knitted toy that would wilt the boner of any adult man who ends up in that bed.

“Sorry, Casanova, I don’t do threesomes. Like EVER.”

We return to Taylor’s flat, where the plushies lure us in for a party: jumping now, dry-humping later. A man-squirrel nearly knocks a picture off the wall, but doesn’t, which is lucky, because Taylor can’t take any more upset today.

‘Knock knock!’ Taylor’s man is at the door – but oh dear, he’s not dressed as a woodland creature, so he can’t come in. HA. Finally, Taylor has managed to close the door (literally and figuratively #clever) on her relationship with Jake Gyllenhaal John Mayer Joe Jonas Taylor Lautner vinyl guy.

Then, as Taylor turns back to the party, we see that all the revellers have vanished. They may have been a product of Taylor’s overheated imagination all along, a fantasy to help her through this traumatic break-up. But she’s not alone; we see her flirting with a knitted bird outside the window.

“Wanna come in and see my etchings?”

Sadly, Taylor seems to relate better to inanimate objects, which will be an obstacle to her forming meaningful relationships with an actual human adult anytime soon. Best of luck to the person who breaks this cycle.

NB don’t break this cycle, which is standing in the kitchen NOT as another self-conscious indication of Cute Hipsterism, but because Taylor has a pedal-powered microwave.

CLICK HERE FOR MORE READABLE MUSIC VIDEOS

October 16, 2012

In defence of Utah

“Why do you want to go to Utah?” said the scornful man at the immigration desk at San Francisco Airport.

“What are you going to Utah for? Just go straight to Vegas and have some fun instead,” said the lady at the alien-themed diner in the middle of nowhere, Nevada.

“Isn’t it all Mormons?” said everybody else, derisively.

I can’t vouch for Utah’s Mormon content, because I didn’t really encounter any*. I haven’t been to Salt Lake City or environs, and I understand that is that is where most of them congregate. If forced to stereotype the Utahns I did meet, they could either be categorised as dreamcatcher-manufacturers, or extreme sports enthusiasts.

My husband and I have twice visited America’s tenth least densely populated state. The second time was this Easter, and the first on our honeymoon last year, a 3,500-mile road trip from southern California to the Pacific Northwest via as many national parks as we could handle.

Through deserts, beaches, rainforests, mountain ranges, calderas, cities, we saw many incredible things – an Eccles cake the size of a dinner plate; a hot-tubs-and-taxidermy-themed motel; London Bridge; a Bavarian themed town wherein lived 5,000 nutcrackers; the menacing glint of cops bearing speeding tickets, twice. But out of a catalogue of wonder, it was Utah that really smacked us in the face and left us reeling.

We knew it would be quite something before we even got there. Eating supper on the south rim of the Grand Canyon, our weary waiter, Eric, said, “This place is alright, I guess…”

[Fig.1: Grand Canyon. S’alright. Inoffensive. Humdrum.]

“…but Utah, Utah is really beautiful. You gotta go to Arches and Canyonlands. My wife and I used to go hiking there all the time.”

Cool! We’re going there in three days’ time.

“But my favourite place is Dead Horse Point. It’s amazing. I scattered my wife’s ashes there last year.”

Gulp.

“Which one of you was having the soup?”

read more »

October 8, 2012

Live 5 Live!

This is the closest I’ll ever get to being an air traffic controller.

Every Saturday evening, Olly and I discuss what’s been happening online on BBC 5 Live’s Saturday Edition with Chris Warburton. We don’t usually get to wear girlband-style headsets, but this Saturday the show was recorded in front of a Live! Studio! Audience! So a couple of dozen people crammed into the studio with us to observe the visual feast that is radio. Click here to consume that visual feast with your ears, which is really the best way to do it in this case.

In other recent fixtures, I also pipe up on the latest episode of the Guardian’s Media Talk; and I was interviewed by Persephone Magazine, so click here if you care to read me waffling on about feminism and my mum and such.

October 3, 2012

jury service

The other day, a Twitterfriend asked me what jury service was like, prompting me a year and a half after the fact to collect my thoughts upon what was one of the most interesting experiences of my life.

People either seem fascinated or horrified by the prospect of jury service and I definitely fell in the former category, perhaps because I’m freelance without a Real Job that would be disrupted by two weeks in court. Altogether it bore little resemblance to my usual existence, since in all other circumstances I eschew responsibility, gravitas and teamwork. Here is what happened.

On a Monday morning, seventy-odd jurors were summoned to a South London crown court and were sent to await the call for duty in a holding pen – a long, low-ceilinged room with hospital waiting room decor, no external windows and the old school smell of burnt cottage pie from the snack counter down one side. Whenever a new trial was about to begin, fifteen names were called, and those people would file down to one of several courtrooms, while everyone else waited on. Thankfully I’d brought a hefty book with me, because I spent six hours in the holding pen before being called. I was nonetheless relatively lucky, as some others were still waiting three days later.

Jury Tip no.1: take a good book. Free wifi? Dream on.

After an eon breathing in the cottage pie and staring out of the window onto a wall, fifteen of us trooped down to the courtroom. The judge had all our names on little cards and drew twelve, to ensure that the selection of jury members was as random as possible. The unchosen three returned to the holding pen to await another call; the rest of us took our seats. Everyone else was already in place: the judge higher than everyone, the defendant at the back behind a wall of glass. The room held a very diverse sample of society, and this particular mixture of individuals would under no other circumstances ever be brought together to share breathing space.

The judge was like a benevolent god. Clerks sallied in and out the room on mysterious errands, every few minutes conducting phone calls in absolute silence. We never saw anybody move; whenever a witness was brought in, we were always sent out until they were in the box. When you’re a juror, you’re always kept in the places where you’re supposed to be, and only shown what you’re supposed to see, a very theatrical effect which was enhanced by the judge, barristers and even all the clerks wearing the courtroom costume of robe, wig and elaborate high collar. When you see people wearing this get-up, you automatically know that Serious Business is taking place, and within a system which transcends individuality, i.e. I would have struggled to recognise the barrister I’d just stared at for the past six hours if I bumped into them wearing a tracksuit straight afterwards.

Jury Tip no.2: take copious notes. They provide you with pencils and paper, so write down absolutely every bit of information that is imparted. The act of note-taking helps you concentrate during proceedings, and the notes prove invaluable later during deliberation. The barristers spent the best part of six days blowing rhetorical smoke in our eyes; when we retired to deliberate, we had to force ourselves to concentrate only on the facts and ignore the impressions they had succeeded in creating in our minds.

We spent two whole days deliberating our verdict, locked in a blank white room until home-time. During deliberation, we were no longer allowed in the old beefy holding-pen; we had to enter the courthouse via an obscure back door, frequent corridors that were empty of jurors on other cases, speak about the case only to the rest of the jury, in its entirely. Aside from loo breaks, we always had to remain in the group of twelve. Always. This meant that when somebody wanted a cigarette, the following procedure had to happen:

1. We buzzed a clerk, and waited many minutes for one to reach our room.
2. We handed the clerk a written request to be allowed outside for a smoke.
3. The clerk took the note down to the judge, who was presiding over another trial.
4. Once the judge’s other trial had arrived at a suitable break, we were brought back into the courtroom.
5. The judge would tell us that we were allowed to go outside for a smoke for ten minutes, but we all had to stay together.
6. So we all stood by the back door in the cold until the cigarettes were extinguished, then returned to the deliberation room until the next cigarette craving.

I don’t smoke, and I never hated smokers more.

Jury Tip no.3: don’t smoke. Else you’ll be jittery all day without a regular fix, the non-smokers despise you, and you’re wasting the legal system’s time and resources.

Jury Tip no.4: take a flask of tea and some snacks to sustain you during deliberation. A clerk brings in service station sandwiches for lunch, and there is water, but if you’re deliberating for a long time, as we were, you may yearn for a hot drink and some food with actual nutritional value.

We deliberated and deliberated and deliberated. After a day of it, the judge dropped the unanimous requirement down to 10-2, but even then, I thought the deadlock might never end. Possibly not every juror wanted it to end. When the foreman suggested that, to clarify our thoughts, we all spend half an hour in silence writing down our perceptions of the case, the juror sitting next to me spent that time drawing a massive doodle of his name. Then he complained about wanting another cigarette.

At last we reached a verdict. We had to wait to deliver it until the judge had reached a hiatus in his new trial, and the defendant and barristers had been fetched and assumed their positions in the courtroom. So in another depressing windowless room we waited, jittery, because if we’d got it wrong, it would have a huge effect upon somebody’s life. One juror broke the tension by telling us all about how he was a psychic – the Shining runs in the family – and I’m sure I wasn’t the only person in the room to wonder whether he was fit to sit on the jury (or whether it gave him an unfair advantage, if he could read the minds of the defendant and witnesses).

Finally, we went in. The foreman gave the verdict. The defendant – who never testified, I didn’t know they were not obliged to – showed no reaction at all. Then everything turned into a movie-style final act twist, as the judge told us all sorts of other information about the defendant, including their legal history, and we knew that our verdict had been the right one.

Then we were sent back upstairs to the holding pen and all reallocated to new juries. (My next case was far more straightforward, lasting only a day, under the impatient command of a new judge who was irascible in the Paxman style.) I had spent eight intense days as part of a unique twelve-headed organism, which was now disbanded back into its constituent parts; we melted away to our different parts of London and a week later, I could no longer remember any of their names.

August 15, 2012

South by Southwest

Readers, I have a favour to ask.

I’ve been enlisted for a panel about podcasting at next year’s South By Southwest festival. I’ve heard it’s like North By Northwest but with people talking about tech and film rather than crop-dusting.

The line-up is decided by public vote, so I’d be terribly grateful if you could vote for our panel, which includes Jesse Thorn, Roman Mars and Colin Anderson. You have to create a profile, but it’s no biggie, I promise. Here’s where to vote: panelpicker.sxsw.com/vote/2769.

While you’re there, please also vote for my friend Mary O’Hara‘s panel HERE, because when Mary suggests you do something, you bloody well do it, OK?

Thanks very much! If we get enough votes, I’ll bring y’all something nice back from Texas.

June 3, 2012

I’ve got a great view of the Jubilee flotilla

April 16, 2012

Lies about love

As of next week, I will have been married for one year. Which, according to my divorce lawyer friend Nick, means I will be able to get divorced!

I’m not planning to, and hopefully neither is my husband; but I thought that I would mark the occasion by writing, for once, not about audio entertainment or handicrafts, but love. I cannot claim expertise – and anybody who would is not to be trusted – but I have loved and been loved by the same person since 2002, which I am pretending sufficiently qualifies me to debunk some of popular culture’s most prevalent falsehoods upon the topic.

Love will keep us together
Incorrect. While love might bring you together, what will keep you together are such things as compatible life goals, selective hearing, and respect for each other’s private bathroom time.

Love will tear us apart
Here, Joy Division confuse ‘love’ with ‘hungry tigers’.

Love is a battlefield
It is not love to place tin soldiers on your partner’s prone naked body and pretend they’re Normandy. That is just a sex thing.

Love means never having to say you’re sorry
Are you kidding me? You have to say you’re sorry all the time! ‘Sorry I broke your glasses.’ ‘Sorry I ate all the sausages.’ ‘Sorry I forgot your birthday.’ ‘Sorry – I was drunk, and I promise I really thought she was you.’

Only sociopaths would not apologise when apologies are expedient, and sociopaths are not renowned for their capacity to love.

Love is patient, love is kind (1 Corinthians 13:4)
Let’s see how kind love is when you tiptoe in the dark to go to the loo in the night and trip over the pair of shoes your beloved left smack in the middle of the doorway. Let’s see how patient it is when you explain for the sixth time that the reason you’re not going to be in tonight is because you’re going to Jane’s birthday dinner and IF YOU REALLY LOVED ME YOU WOULD REMEMBER THE FIRST TIME I TOLD YOU.

All you need is love
In an ideal world, sure; but it is hard to love if, for instance, you have nowhere to live and nothing to eat, and your liver is packing up. But it is easier for multimillionaire rockstars to gloss over that.

Love me, love my dog
A common folly is to think your loved one needs to love all the same things you love. In fact, both of you need to reconcile yourselves to your differences. Healthy relationships involve a fair amount of compromise; and while you can’t reasonably expect to change somebody, you can decide whether or not you can live with what you perceive to be their particular deficiencies. For instance, in theory a hairy back or a love of Kate Hudson romcoms might look like dealbreakers to you; but in everyday life they are not actually significantly disruptive.

With that in mind, now amend your fridge magnet to, ‘Love me, be prepared to tolerate my dog.’

Love can build a bridge
Nonsense. Had the Clifton Suspension Bridge been constructed by love, instead of builders and Brunel’s engineering brilliance, we’d all be forced to take the long route through Bristol.

Love and marriage, love and marriage
Go together like a horse and carriage

I was ready to scrape this straight into the ‘Rhyme is no substitute for meaning’ bin. Quick analysis would suggest that a horse is surely better off without the encumbrance of a carriage, which is not necessarily the case with love and marriage. But surprisingly, upon applying it to my own experience of marriage, I discovered this is quite a complex analogy.

I am fortunate to exist in a country and century where there’s no societal or religious imperative to marry. Even when my parents married in the relative liberation of London in 1970, it was the only way for them to live together openly, and for my mother to be granted a mortgage. They married some seven months after first meeting, which would be considered quite reckless nowadays, but was fairly normal back then: marriage preceded the relationship, and in effect your choice of spouse was something of a gamble. Whereas for my husband and me, forty years later, marriage followed almost a decade of relationship, much of which was spent cohabiting and allowing ourselves such proto-marital privileges as joint bank accounts and being too lazy to go out on Friday nights. So what does marriage mean, if you don’t need it, and you pretty much are living it anyway?

I can’t answer this question, but it was at least very clear to me that wedding ≠ marriage. I was far less invested in the former (a day!) than the latter (a lifetime!); but to become married you have to have a wedding, and if you have decided to get married, you might as well get married, and not sneak out to Bromley registry office on Tuesday lunchtime, then return to your separate workplaces as though nothing of note had occurred. Therefore a wedding had to be prepared, and as my husband was much busier than I was, the task largely fell to me. I am very shit at planning anything, and I’d never even mentally concocted my dream wedding as a young girl, or as an older girl; but I thought perhaps his proposal would force open a distant trapdoor within and unleash the bridezilla.

Instead, I hated it. I hated the admin. I hated the friends who appeared to enjoy their own wedding admin (‘wedmin’). I hated friends asking whether we were having a religious ceremony, even though my husband and I are lifelong atheists. I hated having to flip out because the ceremonial venue we’d booked and paid for went bankrupt with just weeks to go. I hated the presumptuousness of people – even strangers, especially strangers – about our characters and our relationship and what we wanted for our wedding. I hated everyone saying, “It’ll be children next!” when, had that been our ambition, it would have made better sense to have the children rather than the wedding, and instead of squandering all that money on cheese, booze and registrars, save it up lest they eventually wanted to pursue tertiary education. I hated people asking whether our wedding had a theme, as if we were decorating a three-year-old’s bedroom, and as if ‘wedding’ was not theme enough, and one we were ever going to use for any other party in our lives. I hated people unsolicitedly telling me to do as they had done at their own weddings. I hated how much effort it took to forge our own path and not succumb to homogeneity. I hated that, by trying to maintain individualism, I had to make a thousand decisions about which I did not care – for example, people will sit, and therefore chairs must be obtained, and therefore choices need to be made about which chairs, and those choices had to be made by me. I hated having to think for more than a nanosecond about something so prosaic as napkins, and I hated spending as much as £70 on napkins, especially since nobody was going to notice the napkins if the wedding was fun, and if it wasn’t, the napkins weren’t going to save it. I hated chair bows for existing. I hated marriage itself, for begetting the wedding industry which encourages the existence of chair bows.

Yet at no point did I hate my husband. (Even though, in the run-up to a wedding, your nearest and dearest have resigned themselves to the likelihood of you losing your decency and using them as slaves and whipping-posts. So really I was wasting an opportunity.) But the fact that I didn’t turn my hate-beam on him, despite the months of tedium and aggravation looking to be vented upon an innocent target, confirmed to me that the relationship itself was not the problem, and thus it had proved itself worthy of enshrinement in marriage. One could then counter-argue that, since the relationship demonstrated itself to be in decent fettle, why actually bother getting married? Similarly, whenever people ask me, “How’s married life?” my truthful answer is, “The same as the preceding 9¼ years of unmarriage” – again proving either that the relationship was good enough to turn into a marriage, or that marriage doesn’t make a difference so there’s no point to it.

Whichever side of this argument you support, the common fact is that the relationship has to work. Which not-neatly returns us to the horse and carriage. I bet there has never been a horse which thought to itself, “I am a sub-par horse. My legs are gammy. I’m not very fast. My tail is sparse. My breath stinks. But ever since that carriage was strapped onto me, I’ve turned into the best, healthiest, shiniest, speediest horse you’ve ever seen!” Marriage does not magically transform relationships. It cannot solve problems within a partnership or the individual; and while marriage celebrates a good relationship, it doesn’t convert a bad or adequate one into a good one. That would be putting the cart before the horse.

Marriage becomes meaningless if you treat it as an end in itself. A large number of my friends, male and female, have no desire to get married, ever. However, looking down from my state-sanctioned Smug Perch For Two, I don’t consider their long-term relationships to be somehow inferior to mine, or less committed, less loving, less likely to last until death do them part. In the terms of the love+marriage=horse+carriage analogy, I just think, “That’s a wonderful horse.” As for those who fixate upon getting married more than cultivating their relationship, or who hanker after marriage in isolation, regardless of a relationship – in that horseless carriage, they’re not even going to make it out of their driveway.

Love is like candy on a shelf
This simile does not work in any way.