Becky says things about … kids’ books

Before I commence, faithful Listener, Stickman has something to say to you.

 

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Oh great, thanks a lot, Sticky. Now can you say that other thing please? And do it properly.

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Why do you have to be so difficult about everything?

Anyway, moving on.

I recently gave my friend’s daughter the first Where’s Wally? book for her fourth birthday. She ruddy loved it. Within minutes she was hunched over the glossy pages and musing ‘Where’s Wally on this page?’ (She was soon firmly telling me that she knew exactly where Wally was on every page, because it was ‘in her brain’. I’m sure Stephen Hawking started with an equally momentous educational training.)

I am very much hoping that Where’s Wally? becomes one of little Lily’s favourite childhood books; which has led me to consider my own favourite childhood books, and would you believe it, there’s a list of them RIGHT HERE!

 

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George’s Marvellous Medicine 

 Roald Dahl

 

Fortunately, this book did not make me want to murder my own grandmother, but it did, however, lead me to make a series of glorious concoctions in the bath, while I was in it, using everything from Dad’s shaving foam, bubble bath, toothpaste, soap, talcum powder, and, on one unfortunate occasion, bleach. Oh yes, I became the Evil Genius of the Bath, swilling around in a murky cocktail of my own satanic invention – until Mum came in and told me to get the hell out and clean it the hell up.

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Tom’s Midnight Garden

 Philippa Pearce

 

A young boy, bored in a 1950s converted mansion house, wakes up on the strike of 13, and ventures out of the back door to find, not a dusty yard with bikes and bins, but a beautiful, verdant Victorian garden and a cast of Victorian characters who have somehow entered his dreams. I would wake at approximately 11pm, creep through the kitchen to the back door, unlock it, and stand irately on our patio opposite the rabbit hutch. What the book didn’t teach me about believing in the power of  my own dreams, it taught me in disappointment.

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The book3Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe

 C.S Lewis

 

See Tom’s Midnight Garden, except replace the kitchen door with my wardrobe, and a foot-stomping, baffled frustration at finding not a snow-draped forest and a friendly family of beavers, but a heap of my old school projects on Vikings and the box of Christmas decorations.

 

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Would You Rather 

John Burningham 

 

Decision-making is one of the most crucial skills a child can learn. Life is crammed with bone-crushingly significant decisions that we are forced to make, so what better way to be trained in this art than considering whether you would rather have breakfast on a river or supper in a castle, or whether you would rather your house be surrounded by jungle, water or fog? In addition, the choices we made in this book may well have given our parents some crucial insight into our developing characters.

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Where’s Wally?

  Martin Handford

 

(Yes, my American chums, this is your Waldo. Let’s not get into that old debate. It is upsetting for us Brits.) I spent many happy hours hunting for Wally as a child, and the books also taught me the first hint of that important adult concept of putting off duties.

 

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The Famous Five

Enid Blyton

 

These books taught me despair. Reading about a bunch of kids my age being let loose on clifftops and in forests and caves, solving mysteries, catching bad guys and generally having a jolly spiffing time, and knowing that I would never in my entire life have as much fun as they were having, was a pretty hard pill to swallow; not to mention the picnics that Aunt Fanny (snigger) would chuck at them to ensure they had sufficient nutrition for fighting evil. Would I have liked to sit on a grassy knoll with my best chums and eat tinned pineapple, ham rolls, hard boils egg and barley sugars? Yes. Yes I would. book9

 

 

 

 

 

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The Railway Children

E. Nesbit

Yes, the 1970 film adaptation taught me that it is possible to cry so much at the end of a film that several major organs are at real risk of collapsing, but the book made me want, more than anything, to own a red flannel petticoat. Okay, it also made me desperate to live in a stone cottage in the country and muck about on railway tracks, but I really wanted a red flannel petticoat. Red flannel petticoats, as well as being stonkingly cool, save lives. 

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So tell me, Listener! What was your favourite childhood book?

Becky says things about … laughing

Since the news broke last Monday about the smackingly sudden exit of our short, furry and funny friend Mr Williams, the Internet has been transformed into a veritable psychology journal, brimming with probing analyses of depression, suicide, alcoholism, hope, lack of hope, life and death. Darling Listener, I don’t want to add to the already lengthy index of opinions on the meaning of life; and besides, who am I to comment on the bleak, crushing force of depression when the saddest moment of my day was realising I left my lunch at home?

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So, most splendid listeners, let us focus on the bright side of life; let us look at what Mr Williams made us do when he put on a rubber mask and shouted ‘HELP IS ON THE WAY, DEAR!’ or when he told Rufio he was a paramecium brain:

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O Listener, I just love laughing. I love every kind of laugh: the painful, uncontrolled giggle that invariably results in an undignified piggish snort; the silent, head-shaking nose-laugh when someone tells you a joke that is wrong on every inconceivable level and you know you are going straight to hell for finding mirth in it; the unexpected, explosive laugh that may well result in an unexpected, explosive emission from your lower regions that you definitely didn’t intend and which you hurriedly try to cover up by making your laughter acutely disproportionate to the thing that made you laugh in the first place.

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Just today I have experienced that joyful, convulsed state that is brought on by perhaps one of the most delicious laughs of all: the ‘finding-something-vaguely-amusing-at-work-and-trying-not-to-laugh-because-the-office-is-quiet-and-people-are-working-which-makes-it-a-thousand-times-funnier-and-eventually-you-are-choking-on-your-own-fist-and-tears-and-sliding-wetly-around-in-your-chair-like-a-floppy-otter’ laugh. Can I remember what made me laugh? Can I bobbins. The laugh made me laugh. The same naughty and forbidden laugh we all experienced a dozen times a day at school when we passed a note that said ‘Mrs Lamos has a hairy back’ during silent reading time.

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Laughter is in everything: that well-timed belch in the middle of a meeting; the little trip up a kerb that you have to turn into a run; the accidental sign-off ‘Love Becky xxx’ in an email to an extremely important and solemn chief-executive; the tail-end of a conversation overheard in the street.

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But we all know that there is no greater joy, no laugh more acute, than the laugh expelled at the misfortune of others. O, Listener, how many ribs have I bruised guffawing at the suffering of my friends! When my chum slipped over on the wet deck of the Statan Island Ferry, going from a perfectly stationary position next to me –

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– to this position –

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– in less than a second and for apparently no reason, I laughed so much that a concerned German had to walk the entire length of the ferry to help her up.

The story of another buddy, a normally dignified yet cumbersome sort of fellow who, whilst stomping home with a bag of fish and chips, fell over his front gate and was deposited in a flower bed, will cause me to erupt in a splatter of glee every time I think about it. My father running into the patio doors, my best friend tripping down her stairs and landing in a heap at the bottom; my sister – crouching and mid-wee – falling backwards down a grass verge into nettles after panicking when I told her there was someone coming (there wasn’t); my boss pretending to use his office chair as a wheelchair and promptly wheeling himself out of it; my pal drunkenly stumbling through a park at night and failing to notice the large pond in the middle of it – all these things make me ecstatically happy.

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Sadistic, you say? Nay, Listener – tis not sadism. Tis merely a keen appreciation of slapstick comedy. We all laugh when Oliver Hardy is bashed in the face with a solid wooden plank, or when Stan Laurel is run over by a trolley bus – why shouldn’t we laugh at our friends and family members doing stupid things?

Life throws up many surprises. Some, like a leaky roof or syphilis, aren’t particularly pleasing – but others, like discovering the wit of our fellow humans, are magical. The world is full of funny people. You, my most dear Listeners, are hysterical. There is barely a liquid I haven’t dribbled painfully through my nose whilst reading some of your blogs or your comments to my posts. And, whilst some of those liquids were especially painful, I loved every second.

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We are all used to comedians showing off their best jokes and their most sparkling wit – but it is the ordinary Colin on the street that makes me laugh the most. Overhearing a grumpy exchange between two old blokes in a pub can brighten my day tenfold.

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What’s better than trudging through your daily commute with a thousand other sorry souls, every single one of you despising the human race and everything it stands for, and then having your train driver come over the speaker and say ‘Good morning everyone – as you can see, we’re going nowhere fast. I wish I could tell you why we’re stuck here, but I can’t, so instead I’m going to tell you that today happens to the be the 30th anniversay of the release of Wham’s astounding hit single ‘Wake Me Up Before You Go Go’… and if someone could please wake me up before we go go, that’d be very much appreciated.’

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I made myself laugh yesterday when I went to get in my mother’s car, which I begged her to let me use while she’s on holiday, and to which she eventually agreed against all her better judgement – and I discovered its battery was flat. Dead as a squashed badger. I left the lights on. Is this a royal pain in the arse, and one that will potentially cause me stress and grief and a ‘Rebecca, you can’t be trusted with anything’ comment? Undoubtedly. But I have to laugh. Particularly because I have no intention of telling my mother, and she will only find out by reading this blog post from her hotel in Greece.

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Listener, there is sadness and sorrow and despair in the world. We know this. Anyone more than five years older than us delights in telling us this every single day. But there is also laughter. And Mr Williams may or may not have contributed to some of the laughs in your lives, but he has been the cause of a billion smiles over the world, and I’ve certainly enjoyed mine. Wherever he is, I hope he’s trying on his old Mrs Doubtfire costume, parading in front of a mirror, and chuckling.

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Charlie Chaplin said ‘A day without laughter is a day wasted’. And, whilst it is undoubtedly easier to laugh on some days than others, this isn’t a bad mantra to live by.

 

Becky says things about … music

Excellent Listeners, you did not let me down: I asked for ideas on what to say, and I was rewarded with a veritable bombardment of majestic suggestions, from the perils of wearing high heels to work, to being a superhero, to bees and calligraphy. A superb spectrum of proposals, I’m sure you’ll agree.

And then the excellent Pieter suggested I say things about music. And that’s what I’m going to do, right this second.

Onward.

Classical

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I was brought up on a musical diet of Beethoven, Mozart, Elgar, Chopin, Handel, and all the other excellent dead old dudes; but, like heroin or watching your friends fail, I had to pretend I didn’t enjoy it.

You see, classical music was not cool. Whilst my school chums were singing Take That or Boyzone, or arguing over what the hell Michael Jackson was actually saying in anything he ever wrote, I was quietly listening to The Nutcracker on my Sony Walkman.

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This was not cool.

But as I got older, and being cool became less important, I gave in to the wondrous absorbing brilliance of an orchestra bashing their way through the 1812 Overture, or gently sighing through The Lark Ascending, or snapping their strings with the sheer heartbreak of Elgar’s Cello Concerto, or being deliciously creepy in The Rite of Springand what’s more, I realised that classical music was cooler than Colin Cool the Penguin cooling himself down with a chilled beverage on an iceberg in the middle of a particularly cold Antarctic winter.

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Because what’s not to love about a genre of music that not only allows but expects you to poke out the eyes of everyone near you with a Union Jack and belt out EXCELLENTLY LOUD AND GLORIOUS WORDS THAT NO ONE CAN EVER REMEMBER BUT IT’S OKAY BECAUSE WE’VE GOT A HANDY SONG SHEET, revel in a bit of pomp and circumstance and gradually get LOUDER AND SLOOWWEERRR

AS

THE PIECE

NNEEARRSS

IIIIIIIIIIIIITS

EEEEENNNNND?

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Phenomenal.

Chillout

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There’s a lot of enjoyment to be gained from some swishy synthesized strings with a mellow beat and the occasional stoned guitar player having a casual twiddle. I do most of my writing to chillout music, on account of its ….. laid back…. non-offensiveness…. and …… atmospheric…. ammmbbiiieeeennncceeee…

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But chillout music doesn’t always chill me out. Occasionally, after I’ve trawled YouTube for playlists with ambitious and grammatically-indifferent titles like ‘Chillout Euphoric Relaxation Beach Sunset’ or ‘Ambient Solar Liquid Grooves’ or ‘Atmospheric Relaxing Peaceful oh my gosh you are going to be so relaxed you will lose control over your colon’, and settled down to do some writing, I shall have the holy Moses scared out of me by sudden incredibly loud whispering bursting forth from the music and telling me to do things like ‘EMBRACCCCE YOUR SOUL AND BREEEEEEATHE’ or offering useful information such as ‘A NEW DAWN IS RISING’ and ‘THE QUEST FOR HAPPINESSS BEGINSS IN YOUR HEEAARRRT’.

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This is not relaxing. This is terrifying and ………. infuuuuuriaaaating.

Garage

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So while I was desperately trying to listen to Mozart’s Requiem on my Sony Walkman at school, I was also desperately trying to understand what the bloody hell garage music was all about. As far as I was concerned, the genre consisted of flippy beats that sounded like a load of mice in tap shoes scuttling down a gutter, accompanied by random bleeps, quite often an incongruous guitar, and a singer that took their time over most of the lyrics but then suddenlystartedsingingreallyquickly

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costheydranktoomuchliquidoverlunchwiththeirhomie

andtheywishedtheyhadn’teatenthatwholebowlofmacaroni

nowthey’ll

andthey’ll

andthey’llleaveirritatinggapswherethereshouldbewords

butinsteadthere’llbeanoiselikeaTWANGoraPHHHP

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and then they’ll relax and calm down and continue singing normally like nothing ever happened and they didn’t just have the musical equivalent of an epileptic fit.

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But now, at the ripe old age of 29, guess what? The music I once sneered and jeered at has been painted with the brush at which you can neither sneer nor jeer: the nostalgia brush. Yes, Craig David, the Artful Dodger, So Solid Crew, can all propel me back to my school days (sorry, ‘skool dayz’, to quote my garage homies), and I’ll happily admit that I can get misty-eyed over Shanks and Bigfoot. Why? Because Sweet Like Chocolate is a choon.

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Jazz

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Ohhhhhhh smoooooooooooooooothhhh jaaaaaaaaaaaazzz. You make me want to have sex with myself. You make me want to drink melted chocolate. You make me want to lie naked in a night-time field and smother myself with dew. You make me want to don a red dress covered in sparkles, smoke through a cigarette holder and drape myself over an old man in dark glasses. You make me want to drink gin cocktails in a bath of Chanel.

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There are few things more delicious than a saxophone slinking and oozing its way over a double bass and a piano. As a teenager, I would spend my hard-earned cash in HMV on jazz CDs, from Nina Simone, to Louis Armstrong, to Easy Listening ‘Smooth Jazz’ and ‘Midnight Jazz’ and ‘Smooth Jazz at Midnight’ and ‘Jazzy Midnight Smoothy Smooth’, and I would play them on loops in my bedroom and lie on my desk and pretend I was a lounge singer on a piano in a New York basement jazz club (I’ve said too much).

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Jazz made me gutsy. Jazz made me sassy. Jazz gave me the confidence to wear my zebra skin coat to school on mufti days. Jazz inspired me to adorn myself with all the jewellery I owned at every available occasion, and strut through my teens looking like the love child of Barbara Cartland and Judy Garland when she went all crazy and drug-addled. And for that, I thank you, Jazz. You smooth, sexy, naughty beast.

Musicals

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Have no fear, sweet, patient Listener. I have saved the best for last.

Along with food, drink, shelter, and oxygen, musicals are an integral part of staying alive. What would happen, dearest Listener, if, whilst alone in your bedroom of a Monday night, with only the howling wind outside for company, you were not able to break into a spontaneous rendition of Food, Glorious Food or Oklahoma! or Big Spender? What would happen if, on a night in with the girls, you were not able to shriek ‘LET’S SING MUSICALS!!!’ and spend the next four hours delighting your neighbours with songs from The Sound of Music, or Singin’ in the Rain or Sister Act (1 or 2, I don’t mind – they are equally monumental)?

I’ll tell you what would happen. This would happen:

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Wouldn’t it be loverly to dance all night to your favourite things? Oh, what a beautiful morning it would be to consider yourself over the rainbow with a spoonful of sugar, to climb every mountain on some enchanted evening, to forget your hard knock life and give them the old razzle dazzle, because you’re going to live forever as long as you remember that anything goes and there’s no business like sitting alone in your bedroom and belting out a show tune.

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And if I haven’t made you want to have dinner with your homie Debussy whilst chilling out to some funky ass beats in a smoky candle-lit basement following a matinee performance of Showboat, then I just don’t understand who you are.

Becky says things about … Christmas as a grown-up VS Christmas as a kid

YULETIDE FELICITATIONS TO YOU, MOST CHRISTMASSY LISTENERS!! 

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The season of goodwill and gastronomic assault is upon us, the fairy lights are twinkling, the crooners are crooning, the kids are wetting themselves with excitement that Father Christmas is going to shower them with gifts, and the grown-ups are wetting themselves with fear that the tree is too big, the turkey is too small and the bank account is empty – which begs the important seasonal question: is Christmas as brilliant for grown-ups as it is for kids?

The Run-Up to Christmas

KIDS: You are in a constant frenzy and on the verge of soiling yourself. School is a dream: you spend lessons doing festive-themed wordsearches, colouring festive-themed pictures, or – and this is the most brilliant thing in the world – your teacher greets you with the words ‘I thought we’d watch a video today’, and she wheels the TV to the front of the class, shoves in a Disney film, turns off the lights, and life has never been more spectacular. 

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The world has become a sparkling, magical place. You are dribbling over Polly Pockets and Barbies and Lego and are hoping against hope that Father Christmas gets the letter you sent him, although you’re suspicious about the effectiveness of a postal system that involves chucking the letter up the chimney, especially as you saw said letter flutter down behind the fire grate and land amongst a load of dead woodlice, but your parents have assured you it’ll get to Lapland (wherever the hell that is. WHO CARES??) The house smells of pine, and the lounge furniture has been rearranged to make room for the Christmas tree, a necessary process which never ceases to be unfathomably thrilling.

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Christmas is the best thing ever ever ever.

GROWN-UPS: Work is becoming more tolerable because all you are doing is eating Celebrations, leaving post-its on your colleague’s monitor that say ‘All I want for Christmas is… you to stop bringing in f***ing leftover chilli for lunch’, and spending days trying to cure your hangover from yet another Christmas booze-up the night before.

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The world is a magical sparkly place, and you are enjoying the warm glow of lights twinkling in windows, but you are NOT enjoying the gladiatorial skirmish of Christmas shopping or the constant ejaculation of money from your purse, or the realisation that everything on your Christmas list are things you need like a new slow-cooker or a dustbuster or a nice practical desktop filing system, or the fact that you’ve done your back in rearranging the bloody lounge furniture.

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WINNER: Kids. The run-up to Christmas is a parade of relentless glee, mainly founded on a shroud of lies about a mythical avuncular stranger bearing gifts, the value of which you have no concept, and life is magnificent. Grown-ups are just finding the whole thing a bit tiring.

PRESENTS

KIDS: You have come out in prickly heat because you just cannot decide which of your phenomenal presents you are going to play with first. Will you perform an elaborate and heartwarming drama with your new Sylvanian families in your new dollshouse, involving Master Owl hiding all Mrs Badger’s silverwear under the stairs, much to the chargrin of Mrs Hedgehog the Cook? Will you construct the greatest feat of architectural mastery the Lego world has ever seen? Will you dress up your new Barbie in her sparkly ballgown that is so beautiful it is breaking your heart?

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It doesn’t matter what you play with first. Because the day ahead is a neverending heaven of playing, eating, playing and playing, and you wish it could be Christmas every day.

GROWN-UPS: You are smiling politely at your new desktop filing system, and spend 49 seconds arranging it neatly on your desk. You are thrilled with your new perfume and spray it on your wrist. Then you place it back in its box. Then you flick through your new book for a bit. Words and words. Then you sniff your new bubble bath and consider how nice it will make your skin smell after your bath. Then you think you should probably clean up those pine needles under the tree with your new dustbuster, and go and put the turkey on.

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WINNER: Kids again. You can play with stuff. All day. You won’t hear a grown-up gasping ‘Please can I plug in my new slow-cooker and cook something really slowly now????’

FOOD

KIDS: You are astounded by the abundance of festive victuals. You haven’t had lunch yet but you are already stuffed with mini mince pies, half a chocolate reindeer, a box of peppermint creams, and all the Quality Street toffee pennies. You are beside yourself at the presence of sausages with your roast dinner. That’s like two meals in one. You eat Christmas pudding until you feel sick, and then you spend half an hour puking it all back up again in the downstairs toilet while your mum rubs your back and tells you off for having eyes bigger than your stomach.

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You finish Christmas Day delighted with your gastric prowess, the puking incident is forgotten, and you go to bed and eat the rest of your chocolate reindeer under the covers.

GROWN-UPS: You are astounded by the abundance of festive victuals. You haven’t had lunch yet but you are already stuffed and a bit drunk with smoked salmon, scrambled egg, half a bottle of Bucks Fizz, a box of chocolate liquors and all the Quality Street big purple ones. You wish you’d cooked more sausages, you eat two meals’ worth of Christmas dinner, but you refuse Christmas pudding because you’ve never really enjoyed it since you vomited after eating too much of it as a kid. You finish Christmas Day in a drunken haze with your face in a Vintage Gouda and a vague despair at the weight you’ve put on but you don’t care because there’s CHEESE.

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WINNER: Grown-ups. Your stomach is bigger, your tastes are more refined, and you’ve learnt from childhood vomiting experiences. And you can drink enough mulled wine, champagne and port to sink a ship whilst laughing at the kids for having to make do with crappy squash.

CHRISTMAS FILMS

KIDS: You cry and cry at the end of The Snowman because the little boy lost his Snowman friend and he had had such a nice time with his Snowman friend and it’s just so sad that the Snowman friend had to melt like that, and what’s more, the fact you’re crying at Christmas is making you cry even more because no one should cry at Christmas, but oh my goodness me your new rollar skates are the best things ever and you immediately forget about the sad melted Snowman friend. 

GROWN-UPS: You cry and cry at the end of The Snowman because the little boy lost his Snowman friend and life is so brief and joys are so fleeting and everything good ends up dark and shit and death is only round the corner, and the fact you’re crying at Christmas is making you cry even more because it’s the ninth ruddy time you’ve cried this Christmas because everyone cries at Christmas and where the hell is the eggnog and you can’t stop thinking about death.

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WINNER: Kids. A blissful ignorance of all the profoundly depressing themes that permeate almost every single Christmas film is essential for festive self-preservation.

FAMILY

KIDS: After the initial shock of being manhandled by various people you vaguely remember from last Christmas, you are required to present to the assembled company a comprehensive list of your Christmas presents, after which you will be told you’re a very lucky girl and that they didn’t have nearly so many presents when they were children. Once the fourth batch of mulled wine has come out and Uncle Clive has started playing House of the Rising Sun on his guitar, you seize your opportunity to escape and resume building your neo-Gothic inspired Lego mansion. You return to the lounge an hour later to find everyone asleep and you cannot fathom how insufferably boring it must be to be a grown-up who falls asleep on Christmas Day.

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GROWN-UPS: After the initial shock at how many kids your cousins have managed to churn out and ignoring a look from your mother that says ‘When are you going to have one?’, you get heavily involved in the alcohol to numb the bewildering amounts of noise the kids are making as they leap around to something called a Wii, and after the fourth batch of mulled wine has been handed round you get a warm fuzzy glow of affection for these mental relatives who are currently dancing madly to Uncle Clive playing House of the Rising Sun on his guitar, and two hours later you wake up with Aunt Audrey dribbling onto your shoulder and her false teeth in your lap, and you are mortified that you have become so insufferably old and boring and grown-up as to fall asleep on Christmas Day.

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WINNER: Grown-ups. Kids have the benefit of being able to escape the ridiculousness of grown-ups at Christmas, whilst grown-ups have the benefit of being able to drink enough alcohol to remember that they adore their relatives and then  pass out to escape the ridiculousness of kids at Christmas.

So there we have it. Kids: 3, grown-ups: 2. A close call, a small victory for the small people, and one that we should instantly forget about because Christmas can be ruddy brilliant whether we’re 8, 28, 58 or 88 (although grown-ups have the staggering benefit of MULLED WINE, and enjoy your crappy squash, kids).

Happy Christmas one and all, thank you for being such amazingly devoted and wonderful Listeners to the things that I say, and may Father Christmas bring you everything your hearts desire (within reason – a latex bodysuit is a frankly perverted desire).

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Becky says things about … the madness of technology

What’s that you say, splendid Listener? Another iPhone? With even more advanced things that it can do?

What do you mean it can tell when I’m not looking at it? How can an inanimate object tell when I’m not looking at it? That’s ridiculous. I’ve just got used to the preposterous fact that some telephonic devices can use our fingerprints to unlock them. Listener, fingerprints can only be used to unlock things in spacey-future movies, like Men in Black and Star Trek. In spacey-future movies fingerprints can also be used to unlock slidy doors that go phhht in whitewashed, neon-lit corridors populated with men in shiny black suits and immaculately made-up women with severe haircuts carrying clipboards and talking about xeno hackers infiltrating their nuclear centrifuges.

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Do you ever wonder, most delightful Listener, whether technology is just going mad? Do you ever get pangs of nostalgia over a time when the most exciting thing in the world was getting your holiday photos developed in a shop??? Or your dad letting you use the one computer in the house to play Chip’s Challenge for half an hour before bedtime? Or spending hours scrawling through the amazing selection of screensavers on Windows 95 and realising you can make your computer screen turn to BUBBLES!!!?????

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Isn’t everything now just a bit too slick? A bit too easy? What about the excitement of not knowing whether your printer would actually print your document?? Of not knowing what mood it was going to be in?

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EXTREMELY LONG PERIOD OF SILENCE.

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YET ANOTHER INCREDIBLY LENGTHY AMOUNT OF NOTHING.

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MORE SILENCE THAN YOU CAN EVER IMAGINE, UNTIL…

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Or what about having to work stuff out for ourselves?? Where is the fun in the following conversation:

Person 1: Have you ever wondered what the moon is made of? I mean, imagine if it was made out of frozen milk, or glass, or tiny space-fairy wings woven together with the delicate thread of interstellar spiders? Imagine if we discovered that everything we thought we knew about it was wrong, and it is actually  made of diamond and eventually a spaceship will chop up the moon and distribute bits of diamond to everyone on earth and we’ll all be rich?

Person 2: Hang on, let me Google it….. It’s made of a solid iron-rich inner core and a fluid outer core primarily made of liquid iron.

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And what about the sheer beauty of the household scramble to record TV programmes? The stern circles in the Radio Times, the obnoxious post-its on every available surface to remind every person in the house to RECORD SILENT WITNESS TONIGHT? The frantic last-minute dash of fiddling around with the controls, swearing effusively at this ruddy video player, and the tenterhooked anticipation of whether it has actually recorded?? A successful recording meant domestic harmony and contentment; a failed recording meant slammed doors, ripped-up TV schedules, tantrums, and curses against the sheer crapness of technology and everything it stood for.

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So then what did we have to do? Wait until it came out on video!!!! And how satisfying and brilliant was it when we could finally see that documentary on Ancient Nord armour inscriptions? 

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And as for games – well. The silent, dulled concentration of children and adults alike as they stare into their flashy hand-held games consoles is quite spooky. They’re like something out of 1984. How many countless tales have I heard of parents who despair of their children’s ‘playdates’, during which all the kids do is sit in their bedroom side by side and silently tweet, bleep and fiddle on their gadgets? Do they talk to each other? Does anyone actually talk anymore?  I talked as a child, Listener. I talked plenty. Through a tin can on the end of a piece of string. Was there any better way to talk?

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How much more fun was that than exploding tiny pink bricks on a small screen?

Loads.

And it’s only going to get more mental. Magic Mirrors, anyone? Yes, it’s a thing. Your bathroom mirror doesn’t just need to be a useful surface in which to study that pesky spot on your chin, or do your make-up – it can show you the news or the weather forecast. You can answer your emails, do your online shopping, and check your bank statements, all whilst brushing your teeth. How much of a marvellous start to the day could that be?

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I just think it’s all gone a bit mad and a bit creepy. Maybe I’m just bitter that, if it weren’t for all those videos of cats falling over or holidaymakers being chased by rhinos on YouTube, I would be the author of several books by now – or maybe it’s just because I’m a little bit worried that one day, in the not so distant future, the world will be a flashing, blinking place, with the only sounds the incessant bleeping of gadgets and automated voices saying ‘Fingerprint recognised.’

Becky says things about … terrible confessions

I recently made a throwaway confession on my Facebook page which went thus:

Porridge is revolting. There, I said it.

The comments I received were so numerous and passionate in their defence of porridge (good book title, that: In Defence of Porridge. Hands off, that one’s mine) that it rather took me aback. It also pleased me greatly that I had done something I don’t normally do: made a controversial statement. It made me feel quite the new woman.

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So, spurned by my new-found rebelliousness and disregard for people’s opinions, I decided I would make some more confessional controversial statements. It’s rather liberating, you see. Rid myself of my deepest, darkest secrets and put them out there for people to do with what they will. Because I just don’t care. I am a law unto myself. FREEDOM!!

1. I quite often find children intolerable.

Thought I’d start with a nice evil one, but also one which I know will have a lot of you biting your lip and nodding in a ‘Thank God someone else does too’ kind of way.

Kids are cute, I’ll give them that. Not all kids, mind. There are some repulsive children out there, the sort where it is literally impossible to smile benignly and say to the mother ‘Awwww, she is adorable, you must be so excruciatingly proud to have spawned such a beautiful creature.’

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But I can handle ugly children. I’ll just look at them and wince a bit, and there’s no harm done. It’s children’s behaviour I can’t handle. Now, I know that by their very undeveloped and uneducated and un-everything nature, children can be expected to act in ways that are perhaps socially and humanely undesirable, such as throwing tantrums when they don’t get their own way, or crying when they’re tired or hungry, or winging and being unreasonable and refusing every offer of food, sleep, warmth, entertainment and affection, but I just can’t help wanting to kneel in front of them and say very quietly:

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And as for letting them win at stuff – well. Perhaps fortunately, I am yet to have my own children, because those children, when / if they eventually turn up, will have to learn the hard way that, guess what: LIFE IS NOT A BOWL OF RUDDY CHERRIES. So you’re not very good at hitting a shuttlecock with a badminton racket, and you’re desperate to beat your mum or at least get the bloody thing over the net, and your mum might shout words of encouragement and advice from the other end of the garden, but you know what she won’t do?

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Hell no. Because you haven’t won, have you? You can’t even get the bloody thing over the net. And years later, when you sit down in an interview room for the job of your dreams and the interviewer doesn’t say ‘You sat down in that chair very nicely, you’ve got the job,’ you won’t be disappointed. Then you’ll thank me.

2. If I were Queen, I would ban football, tennis and golf from ever being shown on television.

It’s a Wednesday evening. You’ve had a hard day at work. Your boss doesn’t respect you and someone used up all your milk. You want a nice quiet drink down the pub to relax. You get to the pub and are confronted with this:

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You spend the next hour listening to loud and fascinating opinions on the rules of football and the moral integrity of the referee, punctuated by brain-imploding cheers or teeth-aching expletives, knowing that at the end of 90 minutes you can look forward to a detailed analysis of the previous 90 minutes by those people who have just spent 90 minutes watching the 90 minutes and talking about the 90 minutes whilst watching the 90 minutes.

Or you get home from work one day in late June to find that your house has burnt down, destroying every possession you ever owned, with no hope of salvaging anything whatsoever, and you call a friend for some support.

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Or you’ve just run someone over and you’re quite keen to get it off your chest, so you go down the pub and sit next to your mate and have the following conversation:

You: Mate, I really need to –

Mate: Shh.

You: What? I just need –

Mate: Shh.

You: Why are you shhing me?

Mate: Tiger’s about to take a par 6.

You: What?

Mate: Shh.

You: Look, me talking in a pub in England is not going to disturb Tiger Woods playing golf in Florida –

Mate: Shh.

You: Mate, I really need some support here –

Mate: Shh.

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Enough said. Of all sports, it’s those three that ruin the most lives.

3. I couldn’t really care less about animals.

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Now let’s get one thing straight. With the exception of cats, I do not want to perform animal genocide and rid the world of every living animal on earth. I’m fine with coexisting in a world with animals. I really like dogs. I quite like sheep, and I’ve definitely got quite a lot of time for most ducks, especially mallards. But a photo of a horse leaning down to nuzzle its foal and the words Motherhood is Beautiful written across it will take me dangerously close to animal genocide. 

And I resent the fact that, just because I can’t get excited about your 3,503 blurred photographs of the back-end of an elephant from your African safari, it does not mean I deserve this:

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And yes, that is the blood of a newborn kitten I am drinking.

4. I have never seen Back to the FutureThe GodfatherRocky, The Karate Kid, Labrynthe, The Breakfast Club, Star Wars, or Top Gun, and I thought Ghostbusters was rubbish.

When I was a child, having to admit that I had never seen any of the above films was something I dreaded. It was social suicide. Mockery, shunnage, and active disdain would ensue. My pleas of ‘But I have seen Gone with the WindSingin’ in the Rain, The Man Who Would Be King, and I thought the BBC adaptation of I, Claudius was simply marvellous’ fell on deaf ears.

But as I got older, identifying a social situation in which I could drop this bombshell gave me more and more pleasure:

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You know what, I’ve got through 28 years without ever having seen those films, and I’ve done okay. And what’s moreI’m shocked and appalled when you tell me you’ve never seen Strictly Ballroom, Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves, Calamity Jane, Mary Poppins, The Railway Children or Monty Python and the Holy Grail. And the more shocked you act when I tell you what films I haven’t seen, and the more you tell me I absolutely have to watch them or else I will be a social outcast for all eternitythe less likely I am to ever watch them.

That’s just how it works.

5. I would rather have a holiday in Las Vegas than help build a school in Africa.

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I’m a nice person, honest. Just like you’re a nice person. We’re all nice people, really. But if someone said to you ‘I’ll pay for you to go to Las Vegas, stay in the most expensive suite on the Strip, give you £5,000 to spend, and book you in at the best breakfast buffet in the city, or … you can go to a small African village and help build a school that the community so desperately needs’, think very long and hard about your answer.

Believe me, if I had Bill Gates’ dosh, I’d get a whole heap of schools built over there – I mean, they wouldn’t be able to move for schools and wells and hospitals and housing.

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I’d just also spend a hell of a lot of time squandering heaps of cash and indulging in sordid debauchery in Las Vegas, that’s all.

I feel much better after confessing all that. All that remains for me to do is sit back and await the hate mail…*

*Please don’t send me hate mail.

Becky says things about … social media vs human brain

I am troubled, Listener. Imbued with angst and feeling a little perturbed, and I shall tell you for why.

So here in England a 17 year-old girl has been appointed a ‘youth police and crime commissioner’ (no, I’m not sure either) to represent young people across the country. In the last few days she’s been flung about like a mauled rabbit in the jaws of our Media for tweeting some rather silly thoughts that could be loosely construed as erring on racist and homophobic. Needless to say, chaos has ensued, and there’s been lots of footage of this boundlessly-coiffured young lady sniffing and apologising for everything she’s ever done wrong in her life. In an interview –

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Oh for heaven’s sake, Stickman, you once portrayed a woman who’s just lost her virginity, so I didn’t think a bit of a 17 year-old hairstyle would hurt. But fine, forget it. You do make a fuss over nothing sometimes.

Anyway. In an interview with the BBC about why this young lady felt the need to send these thoughts toddling into the public domain, she had this to say:

“Older generations haven’t grown up with Twitter and social media – they know how to talk to other people about [their feelings], but for young people it’s different: you don’t want to bother people with your problems, you just think ‘I’m annoyed: tweet.'”

Now. Here in England we have a newspaper called The Daily Mail. The Daily Mail would take the following stance about this story:

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I am not going to venture quite this far. If anything, humanity will be buggered by moral degradation and gratuitous salt-intake long before social media gets its claws into it, but that’s another story for another time.

However.

I am still troubled.

We all know that the social media revolution has ripped our brains open and encouraged us to splatter our profound cogitations (‘You’re sure you know someone and then they go and steal your last Custard Cream. TRUST NO ONE.’), our niggling concerns (‘I think my forearms might be slightly hairier than they used to be’.), and our banal musings (‘I need a poo.’) onto the face of the world for everyone to peruse at their leisure and take as seriously or as lightly as they wish.

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But I’d like to think that for those of us who still remember how to think and deal with thoughts and emotions using our consciousness inside our heads, communicate using our lungs, vocal cords and lips, and use a pencil to write words on some paper in order to express an emotion or a deep desire to kiss Graham from Accounts or to assassinate Mrs Fitzwilliam from next door for leaving out smoked mackerel for Cuddles the Cat and thus single-handedly causing the worst fox plague your street has ever seen, the splurging of thoughts on our Facebook walls is a choice rather than an unequivocal imperative.

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Shut up, Stickman. I was very proud of ‘unequivocal imperative’. You’re always raining on my parade. Just because you don’t know what ‘unequivocal’ means.

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Hah. That shut him up. Don’t challenge me to a word duel , Stickman, I’ll trounce you all the way from here to Thesaurus.com.

But focus, Listener. You don’t half digress.

We of the private consciousness and vocal cords and pen and paper generations surely remember how to deal with strains of thought that enter our little heads in a quiet, peaceful and private manner? We know how to deal with these musings, don’t we? No matter how agonising and potentially defamatory they may be.

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See? Stickman beautifully handled a very difficult anxiety. He acknowledged it, accepted it, and decided upon a strategy with which to contend with it. All inside his own sticky little head.

But what if he had done this?

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He would  have been branded a nature hater, forced to apologise to the Royal Horticultural Society, the National Trust and English Heritage, probably lost several friends, been disowned by his parents (National Trust members) and his life would never have been the same again.

But for those ‘young people’ whose lives in their living memory offer the ability to project every thought that enters their head onto a public wall, might they eventually lose – or, as time goes on, not even properly develop – the inclination or capacity to think thoughts and deal with emotions by themselves in private? What if the faculty for maintaining an interior monologue diminishes because there is no need for one?

I have conducted an in-depth, multi-billion pound scientific study of how the advance of time and technology has impacted on a human being’s handling of his interior monologue and how society has adapted to it. Please see following exhibits:

Exhibit A

Stickman decides to let loose his interior monologue on the world in 1993, with the following results:

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Exhibit B

Stickman decides to let loose his interior monologue on the world in 2013, with the following results:

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Finding A: Our concept of what constitutes information worthy of public expression has become considerably screwed. A statement such as ‘I’m going to buy a sandwich’ may now hold the same gravity as ‘My right kidney fell out of my bottom this morning and I’ve had a marriage proposal from a man who claims he is the Messiah and dresses up as a giant turnip on Thursday evenings.’

Finding B: Society’s willingness to accept the public expression of these banalities is potentially limitless. Will there soon be Tweets that simply say ‘I am currently breathing’ or ‘Living on ground under the sky’ or just ‘Alive’?

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There are no conclusions, as yet, to these questions that trouble my consciousness interior mind inside my brain in my head. We’ll just have to wait and see. When the social media generation is old enough to become our teachers, doctors, politicians, artists and grown-ups, we might see what damage, if any, has been done. Or maybe things will just be so different there’ll be no need for a private consciousness. Maybe Facebook will change ‘My Facebook Wall’ to ‘My Facebook Brain’. Maybe in 50 years’ time we’ll be looking down at generations of vacant-eyed grunters. Or maybe not.

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Whatever makes you happy, Stickman.