Category Archives: Northern Rants

You don’t have to be Made in Chelsea to work here…. but it helps

This post has taken me a few days to write, as it has required extensive research, seeing as I am about to break a well-established rule and write about something about which I know next to nothing: specifically, TV reality shows; more specifically, Made in Chelsea. 

First, a tangent. There was part of me that was secretly looking forward to getting seriously reacquainted with the gogglebox during my six months “off” on maternity leave; imagine therefore my devastation to discover that, 99% of the time, notwithstanding the mystifying abundance of available channels, there is nothing, nothing on (or at least nothing that I could watch for more than five minutes without reaching for the gin). Of course, there are some exceptions: a) Game of Thrones; b) er…that’s it.

I feel particularly bereft by TV’s current comedy offerings. I was brought up on Monty Python, Vic and Bob, Fry & Laurie, the Mary Whitehouse Experience, Adam & Joe etc., etc., and I lapped it all up, memorising sketches, songs and one-liners like the irritating adolescent I was and probably still am, and there is nothing, nothing on TV that now compares. (Or is it just age? Please don’t say it’s age. Oh god, it’s age, isn’t it).

Having said that, despite apparently sliding into a mirthless maturity, there are still things on TV that make me laugh: Malcolm Tucker in The Thick of It; Adam Buxton generally; Dr Foggerty in Hunderby; Family Guy in a puerile way; and I am made up that they are doing a fourth series of Arrested Development. There are also bits of the current series of Watson & Oliver that I find very funny. I didn’t watch their first series, and probably wouldn’t have watched the second had I not been highly amused by a stare-off encounter between Paul Hollywood and Lorna Watson on a Comic Relief Bake-off spin-off (see here from around 9:04 onwards). I am glad I did, as it meant I got to see the sketch Made in Chelsea General Hospital, a skit of the popular reality TV show itself. I thought the sketch was genius, even though I’d never watched an episode of MIC or, for that matter, of any of its less affluent siblings such as TOWIEThe Valleys  and Geordie Shores, in my life. W&O’s sketch was however brilliant because you only needed the most minimal understanding of the concept behind MIC to find it entertaining. 

So, when the following Saturday afternoon some idle channel hopping whilst feeding the Nipper turned up the repeat of the latest episode of MIC on E4, I was suddenly possessed by an acute and urgent desire to watch it and find out what all the hype was about (which had absolutely nothing to do with the volume of urgent housework to be done before my parents came for tea).

I gather that MIC is currently in its fifth series – finger on the pulse as ever – and is, as I understand it, a “structured reality” show following the lives of a number of young, opulent, Sloaney socialites.  It has never appealed to me for the simple reason that I expected it to be crap. This was a grave error on my part, as I had completely underestimated the skill and talent of the program’s producers. How they are able to generate 45 minutes worth of television, let alone five series, from such vapid human interaction beggars belief. I watched it with the sound on. I watched it with the sound off. I was not mistaken: nothing happens. It was enthralling. I was, like, literally mesmerised, yah?: by the blow-dried hair; the airbrushed complexions; the arrogance; the drinking; the names (Binky? really?); the way they all look and sound so similar; and above all the curious long, awkward pauses in the many, many conversations of which the episode was constituted. I didn’t get it. It was ace. 

Anyway, like all good television, it got me thinking, sort of:

  • Are these people really this country’s “social elite”? By whose standards? Look, I did the BBC Class calculator, right, and it said I was elite and trust me, I am neither rich nor classy nor even that socially well-adjusted (I speak as one who has been stuck indoors wearing the same pair of Primark trackie bottoms and Wonder Woman T-shirt for the past 3 days and is currently drinking a pint of milk from a Guinness glass).  Are these ghastly, dull, congenital idiots supposed to be better than the rest of us? Is this why we watch it? Oh god, we’re screwed. 
  • Is this, as claimed by some, the worst thing on TV? I don’t know if it’s the worst thing on TV. Nobody was murdered, hurt or oppressed, and it was at least no more offensive than the vacuous journalism frequently to be found on breakfast television. It is alienating, yes, in that most of us will never move in these people’s circles; but then would most of us want to spend time with these people or indeed with any star of any reality TV show? Essentially these shows, replete with resplendent characters living out unconvincing storylines, beget the same compulsive viewing and curiosity as a poorly written and badly acted soap opera, and have to be judged in this context, i.e. as harmless, mindless escapism (this reminds me of a theory that was circulated when I was younger that one’s brain activity output was lower whilst watching Neighbours than when asleep).
  • Are these people archetypically southern? Or do Londoners find the stereotyping as offensive as we might a depiction of northerners with flat caps and whippets? On this point, I did in fact gear myself up for a rant about why all these programmes are set in the South when I remembered a) Geordie Shores and b) they did fact attempt this in Harpurhey in the BBC “observational documentary” People Like Us which, if I recall correctly, sparked a reasonable degree of kicking off about “laugh at the chavs” programming, and resulted in various protestors threatening to march on the BBC in Salford until they took it off air, which they didn’t (you see? We northerners complain when the BBC don’t make programs about us and complain when they do).

Amongst the many, many articles on MIC  etc. that I have read in the name of research, one comment in particular struck me: why can’t we have shows about smart, intelligent, compassionate and successful people instead? Well, make of that what you will, but apparently the next reality TV show to come our way will, in fact, be set in Wigan and will be entitled Grim up North. Wigan was apparently selected for its diversity (really?) and will showcase the North “for what it really is” which, according to the same article, is a mix of TOWIE, Shameless and Phoenix Nights. No stereotyping there, then.

Well, we shall see. In the meantime, purely in the interests of sociological research, I had better keep watching MIC. Oh hang on, it’s on Monday nights at 10pm. Clashes with Game of Thrones. Forget it.

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The ten best things* about Manchester

(*Disclaimer: I haven’t been out much in the past year, what with the Nipper and all, so this might not be terribly current)

Let’s start off with a bit of Manchester love:

10. Teacup & Cakes, Thomas Street. Everything you might require in a tea shop: proper loose leaf tea, fish finger sandwiches, pie, and oh god the cakes. And Mr Scruff’s tea. I love, love, love this place, except when I am on a diet.

9.Oklahoma Cafe, High Street.  Why yes, I think I will have one of your milkshakes and then spend the rest of my lunch hour frittering away my hard-earned cash on your lovely trinkets, thank you kindly.

8. Cornerhouse, Oxford Street. I will confess, sometimes I go to the Printworks, have a large glass of cheap white wine in Lloyds and then watch an animated film whilst eating a week’s worth of calories in Ben & Jerry.  This fills me with shame. Going to the Cornerhouse for a glass of wine, a pizza, and (usually) something more cinematographically challenging and inspiring makes me feel infinitely more sophisticated and cultured than I in fact am.

7. St Ann’s Church and Square. Sneak out of a concert rehearsal at the church and sneak in a swift vat of wine at Tom’s Chop House. Drink gluehwein and eat bratwurst at the Christmas markets. Have a latte in Starbucks whilst pretentiously pretending to write your novel. Sidle into Space NK, look at the pretty things and sidle out again without buying anything. That’s how I roll.

6. Bridgewater Hall. It was a toss-up between this and the MEN but the Bridgewater tips the balance for the best gig I have ever been to (Elbow and the Hallé), also for not being at the arse end of Victoria Station. 

5. Manchester Town Hall/Albert Square. Beautiful neogothic building (I know FA about architecture but bees mosaics in the floor and stars painted on the staircase ceiling do it for me). Great for weddings, speaking from personal experience. Also, Albert Square great for drunkenly dancing across with your new spouse the day after your wedding, before retiring to the Midland Hotel (again speaking from personal experience).

4. Cuba Cafe Bar on a Saturday night. Over 30? Been drinking at Sam’s all day (see no. 1)? Drunk enough to think you can dance? Not drunk enough to embarrass yourself in front of young people? Cuba Cafe is awesome – soul, motown and rock’n’roll if I remember correctly (I had drunk an enormous of wine), cool decor and an over-25s policy. Best Saturday night out since the Brickhouse closed down. 

3. Northern Quarter. OK, this is a cop-out non-specific entry, and bits of it can be a bit too cool for school, but no visit to Manchester would be complete without including this eclectic, bohemian mix of bars, restaurants, shops etc. It also has a wool shop. (I told you I wasn’t cool).

2. Location location location. Another cop-out entry, but where else in the country can you access, so easily, all of the following: Scotland, the Lake District, the Yorkshire Dales, Wales, the Peak District, even (gasp) London?

1. Sam’s Chop House. This has to take first place. Proper wine, proper wine glasses, proper pub, proper food, and Lowry at the bar.

What I have missed? Answers on a postcard please… (or just comment below).

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Hello blogosphere

First, a confession: this blog is entirely self-serving. I am slightly concerned that the transition, albeit temporary, from fourteen hour days at work dealing with relentless emails, phonecalls and, er, lunches, to what appear to be twenty four hour days at home changing nappies, watching endless repeats of Friends and eating toast, might cause me to completely lose my already tenuous grasp on reality without something vaguely intellectual and constructive to do when the Nipper is sleeping and H is at work. I have therefore done what it seems all sensible parents do, according to Mumsnet, and started a blog, to keep the grey matter fresh and to maintain a healthy interest in things going on outside these four walls. (I should clarify that in doing so I do not harbour any delusions of being offered a publishing deal, or taken on as a columnist for the Independent). (What am I saying? Of course I do).

Having said all that, I do appreciate that writing about the day to day minutiae of my maternity leave might cause me, or indeed anyone else foolish enough to read it, to gnaw off an arm out of boredom, unless I make at least a vague attempt to shoehorn it all into some form of niche. So: the plan is that I will blog about things I like, and on occasion things I don’t like, all  from a northern perspective.  This is in part for the unremarkable reason that I am northern, and I live in the North. The concept of this blog has also evolved from my perennial frustration at what I perceive, rightly or wrongly, to be the ubiquitous southern bias in the lifestyle sections of the weekend broadsheets and the national media generally. I do understand, thank you so much, that this reflects the demographics of the nation, but I am increasingly wildly irritated by the lifestyle divide that is perpetuated in the printed press and the reluctance of, for example, BBC Breakfast News to acknowledge the existence of a landscape north of Milton Keynes (examples to follow in subsequent posts to avoid a premature descent into relentless ranting).

What this blog is not (I hope):

  • An “eee by gum it’s grim up north” whine. It certainly can be; I have done my time in grim Lancastrian market towns populated by B&M Bargains and frightening teenagers in hoodies, waking to find a pint pot of piss on the garden wall, or a kebab on the car windscreen. I am sure there are parts of the South that are equally charmless to live in, if not more so. However, I think Manchester is sound in every conceivable way, and that life in the village in which we currently live in the Peak District is, on the whole, not at all grim.
  • A twee, chintzy “isn’t-life-funny-in-the-provinces-but-deep-down-christ-I-wish-I’d-moved-back-to-London”-style journal. I don’t own an aga, or a labrador,  or a Land Rover (actually I wouldn’t mind any of those); I don’t socialise with the vicar; I don’t bake cakes; I don’t hunt; I am terrified of village social events. I like where we live because it’s beautiful, and you can walk out of the front door and be climbing a hill within 15 minutes.
  • A yummy-mummy, know-it-all, smug, self-satisfied exposition of how much more I know about things than anyone else.  Nor do I profess to be at all cool, or have my finger on any sort of pulse.
  • A true “you know nothing, Jon Snow” rant about the inequity between North and South. I recognise and respect that the issue of the North-South divide carries political and economic ramifications about which I know next to nothing, and about which therefore I don’t intend to write (much). However, I do reserve the right to talk about it in a shallow, superficial way, and to make further Game of Thrones references at every conceivable opportunity.

So if you, like me, are an older, professional, working parent, perhaps daunted as I am by the changes parenthood brings to your professional identity – or even if you are none of these things – think of me as your northern correspondent, idly rambling on about things in the hope that a snippet or two might distract you.  And if you like what you read, or even if you don’t like what you read, please do comment; I always love to hear that I’m awesome/a twat etc.

ta-ra

northernlikes

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