Blurred Lines and Wrecking Ball: or, Songs I shouldn’t like

Miley Cyrus...with added clothing

Miley Cyrus…with added clothing

I have a confession: Over the past couple of days my internal soundtrack has gone like this: Blurred Lines, Blurred Lines, Wrecking Ball, Wrecking Ball, Blurred Lines. Just now, I realised I was a hair’s breadth away from humming “hey hey hey…hey hey hey” as I walked through the office, and last night as I got on my train home it took me a good few minutes before I cottoned on to the fact I was mouthing “all you ever did was bre-a-a-k me” while striding down the platform. Hammers not included. Go ahead, judge me (you already ARE?! Oh.)

Because that’s the thing. Late as I am on the commentary on the most-debated song of the season, Blurred Lines, Miley Cyrus’s newly divisive antics have achieved the same effect as the controversy over Thicke’s misogynistic masterpiece. Namely, that I’ve listened to them, watched the videos open-mouthed and disbelieving, cheered the parodies, and heard each tune far more times than I would have without the fanfare they’re received.

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Ten reasons why The Queen can stay, by a usually-fervent republican


They’ve said it all…

I’m conflicted. A state of being that I appreciate befits me many more times a day than there are days in the week, but, on this issue, I’m especially conflicted. You see, I would usually call myself a republican, and happily so.

And yet, over the most ridiculously royalist past few days – I’ve found elements of my resolve crumbling like shortbread in a cup of English Breakfast.

Only a few short days ago, this blogpost could very easily have been the simplest of rants on my utter disbelief at how the entire nation ‒ usually able to contain itself with dignified decorum and the stiff upper lip for which we are known when disaster strikes, such as during the London bombings ‒ suddenly falls over itself in a bunting-strewn haze of anachronistic, imperialistic, faux-nostalgic, mindless and vomit-inducing fervour whenever anything remotely royal threatens to present itself on any sort of national level.

Flag waving

Flag waving….wow, just wow

The sponsored national love-in that was the Royal Wedding was bad enough; the Diamond Jubilee threatened levels of bunting on a frankly apocalyptic scale…

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Riots: The view from London

Hackney TV riots

Riots erupt in Hackney, as covered by BBC News (photo by Stuart Bannocks)

For most of us, it began properly late yesterday afternoon. Rumours and first pictures of riots on the streets of Hackney suggested that a situation which had previously been contained to the northerly borough of Tottenham had suddenly spread much closer to home. Colleagues in the office decided to leave earlier than planned as phone calls of closed roads started to come in, and the BBC launched a live feed as the first suggestions of a serious situation hung jaggedly in the air.

By the time I got home, the situation had escalated beyond belief. I couldn’t tear my eyes away from the apparently literally burning screen as the minutes ticked by, only succumbing to the thought of my 6:45am alarm clock at a still-riotous 2am. A straw poll of colleagues suggests I wasn’t the only one gripped to the news as fresh pockets of violence erupted all over the capital, including a truly horrifying blaze in Croydon. Hurried texts and Facebook posts to friends and family to check if all was OK as reports from breathless and scared journalists flooded in from borough after borough (and eventually, other parts of the country as well) revealed to me just how much my life has seeped into the fabric of the city. Except for Tottenham, I know someone who has lived, or is currently living or working, in pretty much every area affected. To be connected, however tenuously, to some semblance of ‘community’ in the local area in which I am currently living, is a very rare sensation for me.

I often balk at the catch-all word ‘community’, with its faux-political overtones and suggestions of peeling-paint town halls, and as a one-time ex-pat who has moved schools, homes and neighbourhoods more times than I care to count at the moment, have as such cultivated a benign but resolutely unattached stance to most places I live in. I like them yes, I travel through them yes, but I don’t belong. Where I am at any given moment usually feels temporary, even if I’ve been there a while. I’m aware that living arrangements can change quickly, and know that to get too attached to a place (or indeed, a person) for too long leaves you wide open to pain and the unquenchable sensation of loss when, as seems inevitable, you need to leave. Usually, I quite like it this way, because to me, belonging isn’t physical, it’s mental; emotional. But, watching the devastation across several hours last night, I began to understand what ‘community’ might mean to so many, but to so many of the looters, seems to mean tragically nothing. I was suddenly struck by a tender sense of belonging. It may not have been my street, or a friend’s street, that was burning, but it could have been – and in many cases rioting and looting was taking place mere minutes down the road (my house included). The pictures, so like scenes from a tragic film, were now suddenly real.

Ken Livingstone

Former London Mayor, Ken Livingstone

Reasons have been given by some to try and explain (but not justify) the behaviour of the rioters, some of which were as young as 12 or 13. The divisive Guardian journalist Polly Toynbee has tweeted (to a chorus of dissent, as expected) that ‘cut[ting] EMA, benefit, youth service, holiday schemes, police, estate maintenance, speed inequality’ is a recipe for disaster (being clear not to justify the riots), while former London Mayor and hopeful Mayoral candidate Ken Livingstone appeared somewhat controversially, and some say cynically, on the BBC News channel criticising the Government’s policing strategy. He went on to connect the violence with ‘anger and disaffection’, saying that young men (and, one sorely hopes, he means young women as well) ‘have no prospect of a job’ and ‘feel that no-one at the top of society cares about them or speaks for them’. Because belonging isn’t just about staying in one place for long enough – it’s much, much more. Perhaps only people who, for whatever reason, feel they have absolutely nothing to lose risk injury and punishment for a new pair of trainers?

Basically, though, as both Toynbee and Livingstone admitted, much of the violence seems to stem from boredom, lack of respect, lack of connection with the local community, a deeply worrying sense of entitlement, and above all, a staggeringly wanton, reckless disregard for the law – or as Livingstone admitted, ‘out and out theft’. Possibly one of the most devastating pictures of the violence was the YouTube video showing youths helping a young, dazed and injured man to his feet, before another looter steps into the frame and simply helps himself to the contents of the still-stunned victim’s rucksack. Beyond the searing orange fire balls punctuating the night air amid bottles thrown at riot police, it is scenes like this that are so shocking – such callous treatment of defenceless people on perfectly normal streets seems to speak of an ugly,  extremely frightening vein of criminality running deep in the psyche of those rampaging through the capital. I would not even begin to suggest that I know the reasons behind it or solutions to solve it, but evidence of a serious problem is clear.

However, coincidentally, and seemingly unconnectedly, yesterday I also spent a good half hour looking over the ‘Acts of Kindness’ website. This, an art project by the London Underground, features a series of artworks and testimonials from travellers who, when travelling via London’s most central network, have been struck by unexpected outreaches of help from the usually impassive, busy commuters. Tears gathered in my eyes as I read stories of random commuters looking after the embarrassed, lost, ill, drunk, clumsy, vulnerable and frightened Tube travellers, with no expectation of recognition or thanks. But for the grace of whatever you believe in, the stories remind you, it could be you in these situations ‒ and you benefitting from the kindness of strangers. It might not shout so loudly, it might not force police helicopters out over sleeping streets (thank God), it may not burn businesses to the ground, but kindness is out there, and while meek and apparently rare, the effects are much longer lasting than the physical devastation ever will be.

The general response, over Twitter and Facebook, and among people I know, is of sheer disbelief, horror, condemnation of the violence, and mobilisation for good. Already volunteers are being amassed to help clear up the mess, while donations for those who have lost their homes and livelihoods were already being sought late last night. The video of the Hackney woman shouting decisively and eruditely at the criminals destroying her streets has already gone viral as people seek to share her point of view across social networks. As usual, when something widely devastating occurs in this capital, the people band together. It may not be anything as horrific as the London terrorist attacks of 2005 (four years before I moved here), it may be simply a case of out-of-control youths ransacking anywhere they can get away with without rhyme, reason or cause, and it may only (as unpopular, perhaps, as this is to admit) as yet be affecting small pockets of certain areas, but it’s still shocking when places you know, and in which friends live, suddenly erupt in flames on your television screen.

But as Londoners rally round, and the rest of the country reacts with fear, shock and disgust, a show of strength is emerging. Prime Minister David Cameron, fresh from a week and a bit in sunny Tuscany, may have done the right thing in coming home from holiday ‒ albeit a worrying belated response matched only by Boris Johnson’s own lackadaisical approach, although he is home now nonetheless ‒ but despite his much-needed appearance, said nothing that Londoners themselves had not already asserted hours before. It’s not clear exactly what the fallout from the riots will be, what effect it will have on the organisation of the police, or, even, the less-pressing concern of the damage done to the international image of the capital, as newsreaders keep irrelevantly reminding us, one year before the still-unpopular Olympics come to the city.

But while groups of fatally misled, criminal youths might have robbed small businesses and set the city alight, they certainly do not speak for London. London, this great, antique, crumbling, majestic, dynamic, grubby, multi-coloured, crowded, evolving and beautiful city, now more connected via social media like never before, will speak and is speaking ‒ as ever, for itself.

Video: Riot clean up in Clapham Junction – helpers applaud police

‘Tube Crush’: a harmless bit of fun? Sorry, but I don’t think so

Londoners commuting

Surely this is the 'Tube crush' they're referring to, right?

If you count yourself among the substantial portion of Londoners that uses the Tube to get to work every day, you’ll be familiar with the endlessly-frustrating, somewhat soporific routine of wait, push on, breathe in, stop, stop, stop…push off – but if you’re like me and your journey begins at the far, far edges of a line (the Northern), you’ll be one of the blessed few who manage to get a seat, in which case you’ll have to insert ‘scramble, park yourself, arrange bags around feet, put on iPod, get out book, open Metro, look down or up, and studiously refuse to make eye contact with anyone else for the rest of the judderingly long journey’ to the above list. But, even for us lucky seat-hermits, every now and again, something happens that makes us look up from our slumber, and (thank goodness, not a pregnant woman, guy on crutches, or wobbly elderly person, the three people for whom you still have to give up your seat, quite rightly, but you know…) the appearance of a delectably good-looking man in your carriage is the happy visual treat new blog TubeCrush has decided to capitalise upon in its near-daily posts.

TubeCrush has a simple conceit; people take photographs of good-looking guys on the London Underground and Overground (and one assumes, general train) networks, send them in, the blog author writes a suitably witty comment and bored, or especially discerning, people can rate them if they feel such a need. A quick scroll through the photographs reveals a tongue-in-cheek, gently funny collection of posts, which seems an entirely harmless amusement to liven up the dreary A-to-B time that is a fact of life for the many travelling across London.

But is it harmless? Imagine the sexes were reversed. A blog which specialised in men taking cameraphone shots of women without their knowledge, posting them online, making objectifying comments, and then allowing anyone to rate the images?
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The end of the affair: Why I’m not in love with the Royal Wedding

Kate Middleton and Prince William

William and Kate: The new face of the monarchy?

Couple of the moment Prince William and Kate Middleton have been lauded as the ‘new, modern face’ of the royal family, making it appeal to young people like me, and looking fabulous doing it to boot. But here’s why I won’t be looking to them for life lessons any time soon

“The fresh, young, modern and new face of the Royal family, Will and Kate, are taking lessons learned from past mistakes and finally bringing the ‘Firm’ bang up to date for a new generation at last. And how lovely do they look doing it?”

As far as I can tell, this pretty much sums up most of the news coverage of Prince William and Kate Middleton’s upcoming nuptials (save a few dissenting voices from The Independent and The Guardian). The couple is of my generation; has had a respectably long relationship, is good looking, well-dressed, erudite, polite, scandal-free; Wills does a ‘normal’ job, Kate’s from a ‘normal’ family, and for many, together they represent the beautiful affirmation that the girl meets prince love story really can work in today’s modern ‘real life’. A love story for our times, a couple we can all admire and look up to, and with their wedding less than a week away, the media coverage is exploring all aspects of this new face of the monarchy. So why does every mention of the pair make my teeth hurt?

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