Following bountiful Christmas fare, and with emotions loosened by the Malbec, we plopped onto the sofa and cried our way through Mama Mia, Here We Go Again on DVD and Call the Midwife on the Beeb. Others, meanwhile, took to Google in search of something altogether less wholesome and more carnal. I do hope those dropping into pansyland looking for ‘pussy lovers’, ‘pussy galore’, ‘sticky knickers’ and ‘sex emporium’ weren’t too deflated to read about cats, Bond girls, a heat-wave and two old poofs on holiday.
It’s often said that the strength of the English Language is its extraordinary ability to absorb, evolve and invent. All fine and dandy. Otherwise we’d still be grunting like Beowulf. But being old and increasingly resistant to change, there are some modern verbal twists that make me want to scream – literally.
Here are a few of my least favourite things.
I like ‘like’. It’s a likeable little word with an ancient pedigree – Old Norse – handy for many a sentence. Handy that is except when it’s repeated ad nauseum by some reality TV nobody in terracotta tan and Brazilian.
“She was like, ‘you aren’t using that word correctly’, and I was like, ‘yes I am’. That’s, like, so unfair.”
No it’s not, like, so unfair. It just makes you sound, like, a bit thick.
Can I get…
Strictly speaking, it should be “may I have…” or “I’d like…” but I’m not that much of a purist. I’m okay with “can I have…” even though it’s actually a question not a request, but “can I get…”? No, no, no, it’s just ugly.
These days everything is awesome. No it’s not. The Niagara Falls are awesome. The annual migration of wildebeest across the Serengeti is awesome. A meal at Nandos is just chicken.
So, it seems anyone explaining something or telling a story – from learnéd professors on the Ten O’Clock News to the trendy young things on Graham Norton’s big red chair – begin with ‘so’. So, literally everyone’s at it. So, even Mr Norton’s TV company is called ‘So Television’.
And when asked how they feel about something, the response invariably starts with…
You know what?
No, I don’t. That’s why I’m asking, stupid.
Or they’ll say…
I can’t lie.
Which, of course, is a lie.
And then there’s ‘myself’, ‘ourselves’ and ‘yourself’. Why have people suddenly started speaking like a copper trying to talk posh in the witness box? What the hell is wrong with ‘me’, ‘us’ and ‘you’?
A phrase used to describe the variable quality of services across the realm, used over and over again by lazy journalists. Frankly, I’m only interested in the actual postcode lottery and only then if I’ve won the twenty-five grand.
You smashed it/you nailed it/you made it your own/you blew the roof off.
The mindless verdicts delivered by talentless talent show judges to some wannabee who’s just butchered a Whitney Houston classic. Someone really should tell the tele-fodder that their pop career will be shorter than the life cycle of a fruit fly and that the only one really nailing it is Simon Cowell.
Do you want a bag at all? Do you have a Nectar card at all? Do you want a receipt at all?
What’s the ‘at all’ about? All of what? Yes, of course I want a bloody receipt – all of it. How else can I bring something back?
Where once we used to challenge, expose, question, examine and probe, now we ‘call out’. Even Maybot (our current prime minister who may not be in Number 10 by the time this nonsense goes out) says it. And her a grammar school girl too. I blame Harvey Weinstein and the rest of the neanderthals who’ve been ‘called out’ with their knickers down.
I’ll give it 250%
Er, no you won’t. You literally can’t.
In politics, optics trump metrics
I think I first heard this techno-babble on the BBC’s Newsnight. Apparently it translates as ‘belief overcomes fact’. Nothing new there – religion has been playing that trick ever since Adam and Eve uttered the words ‘where do we come from?’ In my day, metrics were all about metres and litres and an optic was a device for measuring the hard stuff in a pub. Can I get, like, a double?
And last, my most disliked…
So, everyone’s gone literally crazy. It’s literally this and literally that.
“I literally jumped out of my skin.”
No you didn’t otherwise you’d be in the morgue with your vital organs hanging out – literally.
So, I’m, like, calling out this dreary repetition and misuse of, like, certain words which are, like, literally sending me, like, bonkers.
“Can I get, like, a crappafrappaccino?”
I don’t know, can you?
Here endeth the lesson from a fully paid-up member of the grumpy old farts club.
Would you Adam and Eve it? Our washing machine and dishwasher conked out within a few weeks of each other. It wasn’t entirely unexpected. They were both installed when the building was converted into flats about eight years ago and had been worked to death ever since. Still, to lose two appliances at once looks like carelessness, to misquote the marvellous Oscar Wilde. The equally marvellous Co-op came to our rescue with instant, no drama service. Quite fitting as we live in an old Co-op warehouse.
The replacement washing machine is from Beko, a Turkish brand. We’re doing our bit to keep the Turkish economy afloat. We chose cheap to keep our own economy afloat. The dishwasher is British made but you’d hardly know it from the manual. I’m not bad at English. I’ve got an O Level in it. But even I can’t fathom the meaning of:
The rapid light flicker fleetly.
Answers on a postcard.
Ten years ago, come Saturday night, you’d find me shaking my booty to the Freemasons surrounded by topless hairy marys. Ten years on, I’m on the sofa thumbing through a dishwasher manual watching sequinned men shake their booties on Strictly Come Dancing. Sad but true. And strangely satisfying.
A couple of weeks back, Liam treated us both to a slice of cabaret at Norwich’s trendy Playhouse Theatre. We were front and centre for a night of song and gossip from veteran actress and national treasure, Anne Reid.
Ms Reid first electrified the nation when she was fried by a dodgy hair dryer in Coronation Street, Britain’s longest running soap. It was 1971 and the untimely death of her character, Valerie Barlow, had 18 million viewers on the edge of their lurid orange velour sofas – about 30% of the entire UK population at the time. After taking time out to do the family thing, Ms Reid returned to the boards and popped up all over the place in film and television. Later, as a 66-year-old jobbing actress, she bedded the future 007 Daniel Craig in the 2003 film, ‘The Mother’. She received a BAFTA nomination for her performance. I would too, if I had the chance to bonk James Bond.
Anne Reid hasn’t looked back since. These days, she’s better known as Celia, the Daily Mail reading bigot with a lesbian daughter in the romantic drama ‘Last Tango in Halifax’, playing opposite old-school socialist Alan (Derek Jacobi). It’s an engrossing tale of family dysfunction with tight, fast dialogue. The show’s been an unexpected worldwide hit for the BBC.
Back to the Norwich Playhouse. Thanks to Ms Reid’s touching renditions and recollections, we left the theatre on a nippy night feeling nothing but warm inside.
I’ve always admired Alan Bennett’s writing – witty, insightful, dead pan and very British. He has a remarkable knack of making magic from the ordinary and finding humour in the humdrum. If only I had a fraction of his talent. So when the adaptation of his play ‘The Lady in the Van’ was released, we bought our tickets and nudged politely past the grey herd at Cinema City, fruity red in hand. ‘The Lady in the Van’ is the far from ordinary tale of a crabby old woman living in a battered Bedford van squatting in the driveway of Alan Bennett’s North London home. He offered a parking space for three months. She stayed for fifteen years. Alex Jennings’ portrayal of the unsentimental and stoic author is uncanny and Maggie Smith as the aromatic old eccentric with a van-load of dark secrets is splendid. Top notch film acting is all in the eyes and the delivery. Maggie Smith lit up the screen with both. I feel a BAFTA coming on.
The clever script, littered with crisp one-liners, gradually unveils the old girl’s back story and, in doing so, reveals quite a lot about the author himself. To write any more would only spoil the plot. The supporting cast playing the hand-wringing Camden Town socialistas, desperate to see the back of the old bag, is rock-solid. There are some nice cameos from a few of the former pupils from Alan Bennett’s ‘History Boys’ too.
Here’s the trailer…
According to a recent article in the Independent newspaper, Norwich is the second most tattooed city in the land, with 41% of people saying they sport more than six images. Coincidentally there are six tattoo parlours in the city centre, all doing a roaring trade. There was a time when tattoos were the preserve of randy roughs and frisky seamen. These days, the streets are teeming with cocks of the county wearing their body art with pride. Everybody’s at it. Some are so well adorned, they could be skinned and hung in the Tate. And yes, the image above is a tattoo of Norwich’s ancient cathedral. Is nothing sacred? Norwich tattoos even get a brief mention in Turkey Street.
‘F-f-fwend,’ said Sean, holding out his hand to an ageing skinhead with a trio of studs in one ear and a spider tattoo crawling up the side of his neck.
Turkey Street, Chapter Thirteen, Blesséd are the Meek
I’m not against tattoos per se. In fact, I’ve got one myself. It’s a sad little thing resting on my shoulder, long faded with age and disfigured by a mole. I had it done many moons ago and have never repeated the experience. It was like having glass dragged across my skin. No, a little body engraving is fine by me, it’s just, like most things, less is more. When the lovely Iwan Thomas was the first to be ejected from this year’s Strictly Come Dancing on the Beeb, maybe it had more to do with the sudden exposure of his breast plate embellishment than his stompy cha-cha-cha. And I do wonder, when the ravages of time take their inevitable toll and taut young bodies are distorted by bingo wings, double-barrelled bellies and thunder thighs, how many men (and women, of course) will regret the artful decisions of their youth.
Image courtesy of BBC/Guy Levy
Yesterday was my date with Stephen Bumfrey on BBC Radio Norfolk. I was a tad nervous. I needn’t have worried. Stephen has a natural charm which immediately put me at my ease and the conversation turned effortlessly. We talked about my memories of a tropical childhood, the curse of the whinging emigrey, my hopeless language skills, the challenges of a Mediterranean winter and, of course, my book, Turkey Street. It was like catching up with an old friend over a sherry or three. What fun I had. Thank you, Stephen for letting me shamelessly plug my book.
If you didn’t listen live, you can catch the podcast here. It’s available for the next 29 days only. My gig starts at 2:37 into the show.