A classy business

A photo article on ‘things posh people like’ is currently doing the rounds on the social media networks. It cites such accoutrements as ‘upturned collars,’ ‘expensive pets’ and ‘blazers,’ and pokes fun at ‘insanely long surnames’ and the tendency of the rich to ‘make lists of other posh people, most of whom you’ve never heard of.’ In short, it’s funny. Or at least it is to people like me, who regard themselves as middle class and consider this self-classification a prerequisite for being permitted to relentlessly mock the upper classes, with whom we obviously share no common ground.

For most people, identifying with a social class provides a meaningful form of identity. The ‘upper classes’ are easier to mock because they’re perceived as ‘having it all’ – something the lower and middle classes doubtless envy (even if they’re quite certain they wouldn’t behave in the same way should they themselves come into a substantial sum of money).

The stereotypical posh kids who are depicted on programmes like Made in Chelsea do little to make being ‘upper class’ look classy, parading around in sports cars and having friends over for champagne tea served by the maid before indulging in a spot of croquet and a polo tournament. They portray a life of undeserved over-privilege, which is both offensive and alienating to Joe Bloggs on the street, who’s struggling to put food on the table at the end of each long day.

But whilst ‘posh’ is easy to mock, isn’t it a kind of inverse snobbery that operates when the ‘lower classes’ club together to mock the way the upper classes look and act? Perhaps, but it’s human nature to seek out those most similar to ourselves and form a bond as a way of reaffirming our place in society. There’s strength in numbers, as the saying goes.

But whether we’re rich or poor, posh or common as muck, we mustn’t forget that we are all human beings – our outward circumstances may be different but inside we’re all the same, with the same insecurities and fears. So what if some of us like wearing tweed and others double denim? The chances are deep down we’ve got more in common than we realise – or perhaps that we’re prepared to accept.

Now if you’ll excuse me, I’ve got to meet a man about a peafowl….

enhanced-buzz-18798-1367242095-1

The paranoid extrovert

Human personality theories tend to divide people into two categories; extrovert and introvert. Whereas once it was accepted that for an individual to rank highly on one scale they must automatically rank lower on the other, later theories such as those of Carl Jung claimed that it was quite possible for an individual to exhibit characteristics of both, though one would be more dominant than the other.

According to the Merriam-Webster dictionary, extroversion is “the act, state, or habit of being predominantly concerned with and obtaining gratification from what is outside the self.” Introversion, therefore, is “the state of or tendency toward being wholly or predominantly concerned with and interested in one’s own mental life.” It follows, therefore, that extroverts are generally more talkative, outgoing and gregarious, and their introvert counterparts quieter, more withdrawn and less at ease in social situations.

What category, then, would the world’s writers and artists predominantly fall into? Is the spectrum as wide for this sub-category of the human race, or do the lines blur into one another a little more, like watercolour paint bleeding onto canvas? I only ask because I am (or at least I like to think I am) one of these strange creatures, and because whilst I would put myself firmly in the extrovert camp if asked the question, on further thought I wonder to what extent this is really true. Or rather, whether it’s possible to be an extrovert on the surface, but an introvert deep down inside, where insecurities breed like cancer and one thought spirals into a tornado of many.

Sometimes, for example, I’ll be mid-conversation with someone and my brain will put the brakes on and whisper like a bully in the school playground, “They aren’t remotely interested in what you’re saying, you know, it’s only through politeness that they’re pretending to be.” Even if the person with whom I’m conversing does seem genuinely interested in what I have to say, the voice in my head eats away at my confidence, making every word seem – to me at least – more laboured, less relevant, or just plain wrong. It’s a type of paralysis – thought paralysis, if you will – that makes me want to stop talking and run away and hide. And it’s really rather odd, because if you asked any one of the people closest to me they’d laugh and say that isn’t me at all.

Perhaps it’s wrong to link introversion with insecurity and a general lack of confidence. Many introverts may be supremely confident in themselves and their abilities but simply have no interest in hogging the limelight in social situations. It’s quite possible that makes them more rather than less confident, because they don’t feel the need to seek praise and affirmation in the way the extroverts do.

The part of the definition of being an extrovert that both grates on me and resonates with me is the “obtaining gratification from what is outside the self” part. Why do we extroverts feel the need to seek approval and reassurance to validate our place in the world? Why can’t we accept what is and be happy with our achievements irrespective of praise? All questions that my inner introvert is just dying to answer…

Not sure this picture – taken on my Raleigh expedition in 2011 during filming of a ‘music video’ – quite illustrates my point about being an introvert….

Past tense

If you get a chance to see the soon to be released Kings of Summer, one of this year’s Sundance Film Festival’s offerings, you won’t be disappointed. Unless, that is, you don’t like American coming of age dramas, in which case you might be best advised to steer well clear. But, for the purposes of this post, let’s assume this type of film does float your boat. Reminiscent of Stand by Me and set, in the main, in a house in the woods that three teenage friends built together, it covers the well-trodden territory of friendships made and broken, turbulent parent-child relationships and first love. The script is both funny and poignant, the setting charming and the actors superb; in particular the three boys who are the focus of the film. In short, it’s an engaging snapshot of the innocence of youth.

Ah, the innocence of youth; a time when everything seemed possible, the endless road of life stretching into a distance too far away to see and therefore too far off to worry about. There were immediate concerns, of course – like who was going on dates with whom, how you could get out of gym class and whether you could procure some vodka for the party at the weekend – but in the main it was so simple then. Wasn’t it? Or was it?

Remembering the past with fondness is a good thing because, whether good or bad the things that happened to you then have shaped the person who you are today. But clinging onto the past and believing that things were better than they are now isn’t healthy. What’s even worse is if you feel the best phase of your life is past, that you’ll never look as good again, or be as carefree, joyous or happy-go-lucky.

The passage of time makes it all too easy to forget the negatives and re-paint the past with a rosy hue that wasn’t always (if ever) present. When things go wrong in life it’s easy to revert to happier times in our thinking and to ardently wish we could rewind the clock and do it all again – only this time making different choices to avoid making the same mistakes.

But if you find yourself flooded with nostalgia about days gone by, ask yourself this: If you could choose to flick a switch and be your fifteen year old self again, go through your adolescence again, warts and all, would you take it – really? Or would you rather keep the memories of roaming the woods with best friends, long summers and first kisses as just that – memories to be treasured, but not pored over as examples of better times?

No matter how old you are the future seems far too far away to see. Who knows what adventures still lie ahead of you? And how many opportunities you’ll miss by always looking back?

photo (2)

“He who tires of London tires of life”

When you live in one of the most famous cities in the world it’s surprisingly easy to forget the myriad reasons why it’s so famous. The views, of course, are self-evident (nothing beats the London skyline as dusk falls over the South Bank), but it’s the hundreds (if not thousands) of attractions, exhibitions, walking tours, wine tastings, cake makings, tea drinkings, secret supper clubs, underground speakeasys [sic] and quirky activities that often get disregarded by the folk who reside here.

Why? Because, after spending five days of the week battling through the crowds on public transport to and from the office – not to mention attempting to juggle catching up with friends, working late and working out – they’re usually too exhausted and/or hungover to do anything other than throw themselves into an arm chair with a cold beer and vegetate for two days.

Most city workers don’t even contemplate a trip to the National Gallery, a cruise on the Clipper boat from Greenwich or a cocktail making master class on their long-awaited weekends. Or, if they do contemplate it, it’s usually too late in the day to actually make it a reality.

And on those rare occasions when they do have the energy for a weekend excursion it’s usually to somewhere outside of London – because after the week they’ve had the last thing they want to do is run the gauntlet of tourists in Piccadilly or Oxford Circus, or any of those other tourist meccas.

But Londoners really should take the time to appreciate the city in which they live. Especially the young professionals who know their time here is limited, that they’ll move on in a few years when another opportunity – possibly the desire to start a family – presents itself. Because it’s often only when you leave a place that you realise how incredible it really was – and feel nostalgic for the things you never did, even though you had the chance.

411654_10151162262550057_238806214_o

 

April showers

The alarm goes off. You open one eye, wary of the encroaching day. One foot hangs over the edge of the bed and you wiggle your toes to determine the air temperature before reluctantly throwing off the covers and getting up. As you trudge towards the bathroom you pull back the curtain and grimace. The sky is full of dark grey clouds, pregnant with rain. You fight the urge to return to bed and continue on your slow pilgrimage towards the shower mecca (which may not make you ready for the day but will at least erase the fug of sleep from your head and the dried spittle from the corners of your mouth).

You shower and dress in sensible clothes that are appropriate for the gloomy weather; a woollen dress, thick tights, a cardigan and jacket. You grab an umbrella and head out of the door. It starts to rain as soon as you step outside the door but you’re prepared, and so you open your umbrella and continue on your journey to work.

By lunchtime the wind has got up, rendering your brolly useless against its mighty power. You battle your way through the hurricane to buy your lunch and retreat back to the office, thankful that you were at least sensible enough to bring your winter coat.

After work you step out of the office to find the wind has died away and the sun is shining brightly. It’s several degrees warmer and there’s not a raincloud in sight. As you’re going for drinks it seems ridiculous to take your winter coat with you, so you decide to leave it in the office, along with your umbrella which is also hardly required in these conditions.

The alarm goes off. You open one eye, wary of the encroaching day. Your head is pounding from the previous night’s excesses. As you trudge towards the bathroom you pull back the curtain and grimace. The rain is beating down so hard the street is barely visible. Still, at least you’ve got your winter coat and umbrella. Oh no, wait…they’re at the office. You admit defeat and retreat to bed.

The view from my office window demonstrates the unpredictability of April weather – one set of white fluffy clouds and one set of foreboding grey ones, with a strip of blue sky inbetween. Talk about confusing – how’s a girl ever meant to know what to wear?!

The dark side of ‘celebrity’

In a recent interview with GQ magazine, Beyonce Knowles was reported to have said: “I am more powerful than my mind can even digest and understand.” Elsewhere in Celebville, the normally mild-mannered Reese Witherspoon got arrested for drunkenly slurring at police, “Don’t you know who I am?” Whilst we might expect such behaviour from traditionally ‘troubled’ celebrities such as Lindsay Lohan, these latest displays of arrogance are more surprising. Are we, one wonders, to assume they are momentary lapses of concentration – wherein the masks of niceness that Beyonce and Reese wear so well have slipped and exposed the ugly natures that lie beneath? Or could it be that they were goaded into making what many no doubt view as being obscenely self-indulgent remarks – that these incidents were, in fact, one offs, never to be repeated?

To be fair to Reese she was – allegedly (no libel lawsuits here thank you very much) – under the influence of considerable amounts of alcohol at the time she made her remarks, so we could perhaps give her the benefit of the doubt. But Beyonce? It’s hard to speculate, but subsequent news reports insinuating that the only photographers allowed at her concerts are those employed by her own company (lest she be photographed from an unflattering angle, revealing – once again – that in reality she’s actually less than perfect) add weight to the argument that she’s a control freak; a quality that is in itself but a hop, skip and a jump away from blind arrogance and egotism.

Whether we like it or not, the fact is that obsession with celebrity is a feature of our times. We have, by virtue of our continuing interest in the lives of pop stars and actors such as Beyonce and Reese, created the monster that we see before us. It may well provoke outrage that stories of celebrities mouthing off about their power and success are interspersed on popular news sites with ‘real’ news stories – like those of the Boston bombings, Waco explosion, Chinese earthquake and recent factory collapse in Bangladesh – but the truth is our society is just as interested in them, if not more so.

Of course everyone is entitled to a slip of the tongue every now and then. And there’s no reason why celebrities shouldn’t revel in the fame they’ve worked hard (in most cases) to achieve. But before they revel too much it might be worth sparing a thought for their legions of adoring fans, and considering the example that they’re setting for future generations. You may well be powerful, Beyonce, but why not use that power for good instead of as a bragging tool for ugly self-promotion?

Image

Didn’t have a suitable pic for today so I improvised – never let it be said I’m not creative!

Keep the dream of reading alive

Last night was World Book Night. Described on the official website as “a celebration of reading and books which sees tens of thousands of passionate volunteers gift specially chosen and printed books in their communities to share their love of reading,” it also happened to fall on the birth and death day of the Bard himself.

To honour the occasion a host of events were held across the country, among them the Southbank Centre’s annual soiree, hosted by Hardeep Singh Kohli and attended by a wealth of current literary greats including two of my favourite authors, JoJo Moyes and David Nichols, who read passages from this year’s list of books.

But this year’s World Book Night comes at a sad time for literature, at least of the printed variety. Worrying levels of literacy amongst the younger generation can in no small part be attributed to the advent of the digital age. Today children up and down the country prefer to spend evenings playing computer games rather than reading fiction. Even if their parents loved nothing more than curling up beside the fire with an Enid Blyton or Roald Dahl book when they themselves were children, it seems the art of reading for pleasure seems to be dying out – and not just where young people are concerned.

That’s why the idea of World Book Night is such a charming concept. Not only does it encourage people who have drifted away from reading back into the literary fold, it also reminds them of the joy of holding a book rather than just seeing it on a screen (don’t get me wrong, the e-reader has its place, but it’s no substitute for the real thing; the touch and smell of a brand new book are amongst life’s greatest pleasures). And even more than that, it helps people to get back in touch with their imagination – something that this hectic world can all too easily oppress.

Whether your bookshelves are lined with alphabetised classic novels or the whole Fifty Shades series, it’s likely reading has had a significant impact on your life, whether you realise it or not. The digital age is here to stay, and children who are born into it won’t know the joy of reading unless we teach them. It’s up to each and every one of us to keep the art of reading alive for generations to come.

I thought it would be appropriate to post a pic of what I’m currently reading – so here it is!