Posted by: J M | December 22, 2010

N is for neighbours

NThere is much derision by those who don’t live in the capital at the fact that not many people in London know their neighbours, as if it is a bad thing and that without the camaraderie of the old East End, you can’t have a fulfilling experience in your ‘community’. I have only briefly seen any of my neighbours in the six-apartment block we all share, perched precariously at the corner of two main roads, with a Nando’s, a McDonald’s and a Pizza Hut within spitting distance. My neighbours’ main contribution to my life is via pollution, be it noise or air or otherwise.

The flat directly below me seems to have changed occupancy in the last two or three months. The deafening silence of my days and nights have now been replaced by thuds, bumps and beats, sometimes not starting until midnight and going on through the early hours. No genre of music is left untouched: dubstep, dance, rap, R&B, classical, TV themes and even the lambada have all, at one time or another, filtered ‘gently’ through my floor, making my furniture shake and sending a not entirely unpleasurable vibration through my couch and up my spine. Read More…

Posted by: J M | October 16, 2010

E is for elderly

Unless we’re hit by a truck or get a nasty fatal illness in our youth, we’re all going to get old someday. Society as a whole is getting older. I like to put my fingers in my ears and turn my gaze skyward whenever confronted with the inevitability of old age. It’s a far-off state – a land of pensions, incontinence and wrinkly skin that is as real to me now as Sleeping Beauty’s kingdom was to me as a five-year-old. It’s a bridge I can just about spy in the distance that I fully intend to avoid crossing when I come to it.

The reality of what it’s like to be old was brought home to me via a figurative, yet determined, punch in the kidneys when I went to visit my grandmother in a residential care home. For various, boring family politics reasons, I hadn’t seen my grandma in around 18 months or so. My cousin and I agreed to go together to visit our last-remaining grandparent. Unused to preparing to visit someone who may not be a particularly captive audience — Grandma’s senility had been evident for a while — we frantically bought flowers and checked each other up and down to ensure that what we were wearing was suitable to present ourselves to an elderly relative. My cousin smoked purposefully as we walked there in battering wind that seemed determined to turn us back. ‘You don’t want to see this,’ it seemed to be telling us. We continued regardless. Read More…

Posted by: J M | October 4, 2010

G is for gay

I don’t often think about my sexuality these days. Having recently celebrated a decade of finally admitting to myself the fact that I preferred rice to chips, my homosexuality has now become more of a comfy old jumper or threadbare pair of jogging bottoms than the Gucci overcoat and matching loafers it was back in 2000. Why don’t I think about it? Because, I suppose, it doesn’t really matter to me any more. I am who I am, it is what it is and that, I suppose, is that.

But that is never that, is it? Even though my sexuality now fits me like a glove and is just another component in the burning mass of contradictions and personalities that make up my everyday life, for some people out there, their sexuality has a vice-like grip over every thought and action, at times protecting them and at others throwing them out into the world alone, isolated and confused. Read More…

Posted by: J M | August 29, 2010

C is for coffee

Some people take coffee very seriously. ‘I need my coffee fix’ is a phrase I often hear, along with the terms ‘caffeine injection’ and ‘espresso boost’. I have always been slightly suspicious of people who can’t function without throwing a hot beverage down their throat. If you need to obtain your get up and go from a steaming hot Americano, what does that really say about you? Caffeine addiction is almost the slightly less strung-out and fucked-up cousin of crack addiction, isn’t it? And only just easier to manage.

I gave up caffeine about 9 years ago. I had bad skin at the time and was told ditching caffeine would help. It didn’t work miracles, but there’s a lot to be said for removing stimulants from your life. Around a year or so after, nicotine got the boot as well and I have to say that for a few years, I certainly slept better. Read More…

Posted by: J M | July 22, 2010

T is for travel

Getting on buses. Striding onto tubes. Dragging my carcass on trains. It’s all I seem to do. Most of my travelling is heartbreakingly functional: 2 or 3 methods of transport per day, depending on which client’s office I’m working at, with only an unfamiliar desk and a stained mug awaiting me. It was this ‘métro-boulot-dodo’ dull existence that spurred me on to start going places more often. I wanted to go away. Away.

Luckily, a seed was planted when some close friends of mine moved to Barcelona recently. After giving up their London flat and fulfilling a long-held ambition to travel to South America, they have decided to spent around a year realising ambition number two: to live in Barcelona. After that, it’s back to London to breed and read the Sunday papers and make casserole, but until that fateful day when they get to hear someone chirp ‘Mummy!’ or ‘Daddy!’ at them incessantly, they’re living the dream. Read More…

Posted by: J M | May 19, 2010

D is for dating

Having just come out of an eight-year relationship in the New Year, I am a stranger to dating. In fact, it is a land I have never conquered: before my last relationship, my couplings were mainly made up of friends of friends or colleagues or fellow students or, after a long night in the uni bar, whoever was within arm’s reach. Behaving like a red-faced tourist from Ibiza Uncovered is all very well in your teens and twenties, but when your mid-thirties are standing over you with their arms folded ready to take hold, you have to be a little more civilised.

I’m constantly being told by smug articles in even smugger magazines that the best way to meet new people is through friends. That’s all very well, but when you share a lot of friends with your ex and have known most of them a very long time, it doesn’t somehow seem appropriate for you to expose yourself as some kind of sexual predator, hopping up onto a friend’s breakfast bar brandishing a cava cocktail and demanding to be ‘hooked up’ with some ‘hot friends’.

So, it’s down to the internet, then. When I told my mother that I was going to try online dating, she immediately revealed an intimate knowledge of the subject, gleaned from those weekly magazines that cost 50p and feature stories about people giving birth to their own eyes. Apparently, my mother said, it could be ‘anyone’ at the other end of the ISDN line: a murderer, a rapist or — even worse — a dirty old man lying about his age. I did explain that most people have to put photos up and that you don’t blindly wander off to meet them in a bar before even speaking to them, but she wasn’t to be convinced. Read More…

Posted by: J M | May 3, 2010

E is for England

St George’s Day has to be one of my least favourite days of the year. Much more so than a birthday spent covered in cold sores or Christmas Day with flu or two weeks in summer stricken by chicken pox. While St George’s Day has no adverse effect on my health, it seems to do something strange to a significant number of English people. In short: it turns them into idiots.

April 23 is, of course, the feast day of the patron saint of England, St George. A supposed dragon-slayer and almost definitely not English, St George is not so much celebrated as staunchly defended by his admirers. Quite what he has done to earn this unwavering respect is unknown, mythical lizard-murdering aside, of course. Read More…

Posted by: J M | April 16, 2010

I is for ‘I think you’ll find’

If you have any sort of online presence at all, it’s important to remember that  everybody’s watching you. You are not writing in a diary, or scribbling a note down in the fiddly memo feature of your scratched mobile phone; you’re shouting from the virtual rooftops, laying bare your flaws to the world. And for every person throwing their words around, there’s at least three pedants waiting to jump on what they say.

Pedantry, for a while, became a lost art,. Wild exaggerations and faux pas were broadcast into the world and, nine times out of ten, nobody could be bothered checking the facts, save for a few hectored subs on newspapers. Now, however, with the advent of the dear internet, the whole world is your sub. And instead of ‘hello’, their greeting is usually ‘I think you’ll find…’ followed by a slamdown of whatever it is you’ve done incorrectly, be it a misplaced apostrophe, a strange verb agreement, or attributing the wrong year to the time when Donna Summer hit number one with I Feel Love. Read More…

Posted by: J M | March 22, 2010

N is for ninety-nine

NThe first encounter I remember with the number 99 was when I first saw it on the side of an ice cream van.

The proud cornet filled with soft, fluffy ice cream and crowned with a phallic, although later inspection would prove it to be rather short, piece of Cadbury’s Flake.

I didn’t really like the wafer that cornets were made of but nice cream and chocolate — TOGETHER — were a fascinating concept and I craved one. I was never allowed one. They were too expensive.

Expensive, yes, but not 99p, as I had mistakenly thought as a youngster. 99p in those days would have been rather overpriced, but 99p now is the ultimate bargain. There’s hardly anything you can’t get for 99p. No, seriously. If you have to pay more than 99p for anything, you’re being robbed. Read More…

Posted by: J M | March 5, 2010

B is for beginnings

The start of something new is always exciting. You can never recapture that feeling you have when experiencing something for the very first time. Your personal première.

Take moving to a new area, for example. For the first two or three weeks it seems as if there is literally no place more weird and wonderful on Earth, even if you’re not keen on your new surroundings.

New supermarkets are explored as if the Andes, local bakeries and butchers cooed over as if new babies, and your new pubs and restaurants bring a thrill second only to being seated next to Joan Collins at The Ivy.

Familiarity, as they say, breeds contempt. After a while, you begin to resent the fading of the freshness and the enthusiasm you once felt. Quite quickly, you realise that your local pub is actually a shithole frequented by tramps, hookers and estate agents. You’re bored by the same old places and faces. The local bakery that was such a ‘find’ has dubious hygiene standards. Your local butcher is a homophobic dunderhead with paedophile tendencies. Your local supermarket stocks the wrong kind of cous-cous. Everything turns to excrement.

And then you get comfortable. You start to love again your rough-around-the-edges local boozer, and the nightly stabbings are just an added bonus and a distraction from the karaoke.

There’s a reason why people hanker after ‘fresh starts’ and ‘new beginnings’, usually because they’re associated with the end of something that’s gone before. But there’s also a childlike quality about finding the new and different fascinating. There are so few genuine opportunities to look at things with a fresh pair of eyes and the wonderment of a child that we must grab them while I can.

When I move house next week, you’ll find me in aisle 3 of Morrison’s, gazing in awe at the selection of savoury rice as if Jesus himself had plonked them down on the shelf in front of my very eyes.

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