Tans, tools and trashy television

Some people will watch anything and everything that is on television, and there’s others that will only watch a core selection of programmes and refuse to watch anything else. I, like most people, am somewhere in the middle.

That’s the reason why, when scanning the 4OD website for something to watch during my free week (I’d exhausted BBC iPlayer by this point) I decided that two shows in particular seemed like an easy watch and a bit of a laugh. I was right on both counts.

First of all, Tool Academy. Based on an American format, which has run to three series, this show featured twelve men who believed their girlfriends had put them forward for Britain’s Ultimate Lad, before it was revealed that they were, basically, on a relationship counselling show.

With names such as ‘Temper Tool’ and ‘Football Tool’, you’d be forgiven for thinking they were trying to create a male version of the Spice Girls. The word ‘tool’, by the way, is apparently slang for a penis. No, I’d never heard of it either. The basic premise of the series is to put the ‘tools’ and their respective other halves through challenges to help them improve on their relationship, with the one who has made the least progress booted out each week.

Ah, the other halves. At one point I started to think I’d accidentally put Footballer’s Wives on instead, such were the fake tans and inch-thick make up on the women.  They seemed as though they’d signed up for the fifteen minutes of fame rather than healing their relationship problems.

One had only been with her boyfriend for four months before coming on the show. Another nominated her boyfriend because she thought he was ‘a bit gay’. Seriously, girls. If you don’t like him, dump him. Sure, in the case of the couple that had been married eleven years, counselling could work. But it’s not really needed four months into a relationship.

Another reality show which caught my eye was Big Fat Gypsy Weddings. I’d heard a couple of people talking about this on the bus a day or two previously, and what they said sounded interesting.

Interesting, it turned out, was only one word to describe it.

The first in a five-part series focusing on the travelling communities in Britain, it showed two girls, a seventeen year old bride and a young girl preparing for her first Holy Communion.

The apparent conflict between a modern dress sense and traditional attitudes jumped out as the biggest shock. Dressed in little more than shorts and a bikini top at times, the girls explained to the camera that they were not allowed to go out alone, have sex before marriage and wouldn’t work.

One girl was filmed buying a dress for a wedding and said she thought nothing of her parents spending £300 on a dress she would only wear once. In a community where large families are the norm, so, it seems, are expensive dresses.

The young girl whose Holy Communion was featured was bought a custom-made pink dress which weighed more than her. When she turned up to the church, her classmates appeared to laugh at her extravagent outfit.

In a community where the Holy Communion seems to be a dress rehearsal for the wedding day, the wedding dresses are almost impossible to comprehend. The bride’s dress was almost as wide as she was high, and struggled to sit in both the car and on the chair in the reception.

Reading comments on the show, one thing that seemed to rile users with knowledge of the travelling community was the custom of ‘grabbing’. This was explained to be where a boy would grab a girl against the wall and ask her for a kiss, twisting her arm if she said no.

Many of the comments said that they had never heard of this concept before and those that had explained that it wasn’t as common as the show seemed to make out. Furthermore, the commenters were keen to make a distinction between the Irish travelling community featured on the show and that of Romany gypsies. They felt that it wasn’t made clear that it was Irish travellers, and that it could lead to a negative portrayal of the Romany community.

Both shows are the sort of ‘trashy television’  shows that areusually so bad it’s actually quite good. If you’re looking for a guilty pleasure to while away the cold winter evenings, look no further, even if it’s only to laugh at how orange everyone seems to be.


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2010: friends, festivals and fun

So here we are, at the start of another year. It’s scary to think that the next time I write a round-up of my year, I’ll no longer be a teenager. But hey, that’s a year away. Anything could happen between now and then.

What’s happened in 2010? Well, I started it off with a few A level modules, as you do. The first few months were pretty standard; school, work and hanging out with friends. There’s never a lot of exciting things at the start of the year, really. I went to see Lady Gaga at the O2, which was a really good performance, but that’s about it in terms of excitement.

I left school in May, only having to go back in for exams. I’ve been at the same school since I was eleven, and it’s been a pretty big part of my life for seven years. On the last day we went to the park next to the school for the afternoon until all the teachers came out and we went to the pub. Of course, we were dressed in our old uniforms, and I have to say, attempting a human pyramid in a skirt is something I’m not planning on repeating in a hurry.

Once my exams were over, it was time to relax and forget about them. I took a trip up to Coventry to visit friends, which was a good laugh, even if we did have to constanty inform Mark of the location of his bike every five minutes. It was one of several train journeys I made to new places this year, and I have to say I rather enjoy travelling around the country. Hopefully 2011 will bring some more.

August saw my first festival. I went to V Festival in Chelmsford with three of my friends from school, and we had such a good time. It’s hard to pick a highlight, but I’d have to go with Kasabian’s headline performance on Sunday. It was tipping with rain, but the crowd went wild, and when you’re in the fourth row, it doesn’t really matter. The atmosphere was incredible. I’d definitely recommend the festival experience to anyone that hasn’t tried it; I really didn’t want to leave.

The timing of V Fest was such that we went the day after A level results day. I did really well (ABBC) and so got into Bournemouth University. I was shaking so much when I went online to check Track at half six that morning, and the whole house was awake by seven. I desperately wanted to go to Bournemouth; even though I liked Nottingham Trent, which was my insurance choice, Bournemouth was where I knew I wanted to go.

There was a month between results and moving to uni, and in that time I did so much shopping for everything I knew I was going to need. I quit my job at Morrisons and said goodbye to everyone, then in September, I left London for the south coast.

I have to say, I love it there. The work’s hard, but I’ve got some awesome friends and it’s such a nice town to live in. I’ve grown up so much since moving to uni, but I wouldn’t change it at all. I’m going back in a week, and I’ve actually missed it.

Anyway, that’s my 2010 wrapped up. Here’s to a top 2011.

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So This Is Christmas

This is the first year I’ve spent the build-up to Christmas away from my own home town, and while I’m looking forward to going back on Saturday, I’ll also miss Bournemouth. In it’s own quirky way, it’s become like my second home. The past month in particular I’ve noticed how much character it actually has.

Firstly, there’s the German-style Christmas market, with 20 or so little wooden cabins selling all manner of gifts. They’re a little on the pricier side for what they actually are, though, so I’ve not actually bought anything, but they look pretty to walk past. Then there’s what appears to be an outdoor bar. Down in the town centre where the market is, there’s a larger hut selling drinks. Unfortunately I prefer the warmth of the nearby Wetherspoons to have even considered drinking there.

I think the recent snowfall certainly added to how nice it looks in winter. The rooves of the huts did, when covered in snow, resemble an alpine town. It was easy to forget we were only a five minute walk from the beach. There is also a large Christmas tree, naked of decorations but when it was covered in snow it just looked so beautiful, so natural and I think any tinsel or baubles would have just ruined the effect.

Of course, being a seaside town, the wind comes in from the coast and when it’s cold, it’s very cold. Even a fifteen minute wait at the bus stop makes me thankful for the warmth when I board it. But never let it be said that Bournemouth isn’t a stylish town; the hat parade is out in full force. There seem to be three main types this year: the ‘Dappy’ hat, so-called because it’s the attire of choice for the star. (It’s the one with the long tassles for those of you that have managed to avoid seeing photos of him.) The second is the animal hat, with a face on the front and two bobbles resembling ears. I’ve got one of those. The third is a Russian style fur hat with ear flaps. I’ve seen large quantities of all three about, including a few hybrid forms. Still, it doesn’t matter what you wear as long as you’re warm, right?

I haven’t seen a lot of houses illuminated, and although it makes a change from seeing the house near my school where their electricity bill in December alone must be more than the rest of the year combined, I do quite like looking at how creative people become with their homes.

In my flat, we’ve decorated the communal area with tinsel, paper chains, snowflakes, fairy lights and of course a tree in the corner. It’s going to look bare when we take it all down. It’s interesting to notice how different the Christmas celebrations are in different towns. One thing I have missed from home is the Santa’s sleigh which tours the streets in the first two weeks of December, towed by a car and all in the name of charity.

It’s due to snow on the south coast again on Thursday, and I’m hoping I won’t get stranded here over Christmas. But if the worst comes to the worst, I can always celebrate Australian style. Barbecue on the beach, anyone?




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Fighting for the Future: the Tuition Fee Protests

Unless you’ve been avoiding the news completely, you’ll know that the student protests about the planned rise in tuition fees up to as much as £12,000 a year have been taking place all over the country today.

Following the massive demonstration in London two weeks ago, which saw 50,000 people take to the streets and a small minority start a headline-grabbing riot at the Conservative headquarters, the aim of today’s protests were to show solidarity in local communities.

London had a march yet again, and other major cities such as Manchester and Leeds turned out in the cold weather to protest. I was at the Bournemouth protest, wrapped up warm and armed with a paper poster to hold in the air.

We gathered on the Arts University College Bournemouth (AUCB) campus, a combination of students from there and Bournemouth University uniting as one, and marched through the university and down the road to a local park. Car drivers hooted their horns as about two hundred students with banners and megaphones marched past, chanting their hatred about the government for all to hear.

I was given the opportunity to shout into one of the megaphones while one of the guys recovered his voice, and although the chanting wasn’t exceptionally loud at this point, it did meet some reply.

In the park, the local college and sixth form students had already gathered, and us university students tagged onto the group before heading on as one through the park and down to the town hall. The numbers had doubled by this point and the loudness increased even more so; enthusiasm enhanced by seeing more students involved.

We stood outside the town hall protesting while a couple of members of the crowd went in to speak to someone important (I don’t actually know who.) This was the time where radio journalists from local stations came around interviewing students involved in the protests, and there were several intelligent responses to the posed questions.

We moved on to the town centre, to alert more members of the public to our plight. Someone raised the cry of ‘sit down’, so we did, in the middle of one of the main roads through the shopping area. The group stayed there for about five minutes, holding up the traffic, before turning round and heading back, stopping halfway towards the town hall and sitting down again.

This time, we had a guest speaker, one of the lecturers who agreed with our cause. His talk was met with cheer and approval from the crowd. On the walk back to the town hall shouts of ‘tip the bus’ could be heard, but there was no violence that actually took place. Banter was vocal rather than physical, as it had been intended as a peaceful protest and the seventy plus police officers present meant any troublemakers wouldn’t really stand a chance.

The protest eventually ended up back at the park, where it disbanded two and a half hours after it had started. Whether or not the politicians actually listen to the voice of the people is another matter, but I left satisfied and proud for standing up against the injustice of raising the tuition fees, especially when the ones making this decision had free university education.

One of the more common questions is why current university students are protesting when it doesn’t affect them. If they were to go on and do a masters degree, they would be subject to the higher charge, if it was implemented. Even if not, it shows support for younger siblings, cousins and friends who are faced with the injustice of having to pay more to attend university.

Agree or not with the protests today, it was certainly a good way to spend a Wednesday afternoon, and if more are held, I wouldn’t hesitate twice about joining in.

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Late nights and lack of mornings

It’s eleven thirty in the evening, and I’m sitting on my laptop. I know I should go to bed, as I’ve got a nine o’clock lecture in the morning, but I can’t. My body clock won’t let me sleep even if I do go to bed. I’ve got into such a bad habit since coming to university that going to bed at midnight is an early night for me, whereas that was late when I was at home.

It’s got so bad that at the weekends I rarely see morning. I’ve been getting up at midday, having breakfast, then lunch at four and dinner about eight. My routine has been altered so dramatically over these last couple of months, I don’t know how I’m going to cope when I go back home for Christmas.

I’ve been trying to get a job, but nowhere seems to want to hire me. If I did, however, I’d most likely be struggling with early mornings and forcing myself to get early nights so I don’t burn out. My routine would be changed massively again.

I’m not complaining about getting used to late nights, in some ways. It’s fun to go out in the evening; not so fun having a full day at uni with only four hours sleep, but a girl’s got to do what a girl’s got to do sometimes. Somehow I made it through; how, exactly, still remains a mystery.

I’m more impressed at how quickly I’ve adjusted to my new routine. Everybody says university is a massive change in life, and that’s certainly true. I’ve been trying to get by on £30 a week, which isn’t a lot when you factor in bus tickets, laundrette tokens and food shopping on top of socialising. The way Asda Smartprice has been my saviour is another story, though.

And on that note, I’m off to try and get an early night.


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NaNoWriMo: A month of madness

If you haven’t already worked it out, and from my tweets and such it’s been pretty hard not to, I’m partaking in NaNoWriMo this year. The challenge of writing 50,000 words in a month is something I’ve never done before, made all the more fun by the fact I’ve never written a manuscript of that length before. The longest I’ve got is 46,000 words, accumulated over a year. So this is going to be fun.

I haven’t yet hit the ‘I want to give up’ stage, but no doubt it’ll happen at some point. I just have to keep persevering, and I’ll get there. I like the idea I’ve come up with, it’s fully planned out and the characters are rather animated, so hopefully I won’t change my mind and want to kill them within the next 28 days.
The challenge is to write the novel you’ve always wanted to do but never had time to, and although I’ve known about NaNo for the past couple of years, it was time that had prevented me from entering before. The amount of free time I get at uni, though, means it’s a lot more doable for me than it had been in previous years.
To any fellow NaNoers, good luck, and don’t give up. I’ll be keeping my blog updated throughout, with excerpts if I feel particularly nice.
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Unplugged – could you go 24 hours without media?

My MJS lecturer encouraged us all to take part in a global experiment called Unplugged, to last 24 hours without any form of media. Phones, iPods, radio, computers and newspapers were all out of the question. We had to write up how we found it afterwards. Here’s what I said.

Going without media for 24 hours didn’t seem like it was going to be too hard. As a student, a substantial part of that was going to be spent sleeping, and of course you don’t need any technology to help you with that. Getting up, on the other hand, required the use of a proper alarm clock rather than my mobile phone.

I started my 24 hours at 7pm on Tuesday evening, when I left my flat to go to a live music gig with a couple of friends. As soon as I met up with them, I turned my phone off and spent the evening listening to guitars and drums rather than my iPod. I noticed how much more sociable I could be in public when I didn’t have to worry about responding to texts in the middle of conversations, and there was nothing to distract me from the live music.

Once I got back to my flat, instead of loading up my laptop and posting a Facebook comment on how much I enjoyed myself that evening, I simply made myself a drink and went straight to bed, getting more sleep than I would have otherwise had. By the time I woke for my lectures at 7.30am, I was over halfway through the experiment.

It was when I got to uni that I struggled to avoid the media. Although I missed listening to the radio while getting ready, and my iPod on the bus, I was able to cope, though it did seem a little too quiet for me. Being one of those people who hates complete silence, I just tuned in to listening to other people’s conversations on the bus instead.  At the university, though, a lot of my classes are in the media school, which, among other things, has four large televisions showing different news channels constantly. Thankfully, the day I selected to do Unplugged meant I didn’t actually have to go into the building.

In my first lecture, we were taught with the aid of a Powerpoint presentation. I made my notes with paper and pen, which I do anyway, but it was tough seeing other people using their laptops (and getting distracted) and knowing I couldn’t just go on mine. We watched a short television clip, which although broke my time of going without media, I couldn’t exactly walk out of the lecture, as it was obviously being shown for a reason. It demonstrated to me quite how much technology has become a learning tool, in that I couldn’t sit through a two hour lecture without it being constantly in my face.

During the break between my lecture and my seminar, I went to the library to do some work. Instead of going on the computer to find what book I needed, I had to go to each floor to work out which one had the books I needed (second floor, so lots of walking) and find which ones were relevant through reading the blurb and contents pages. It took a while, but eventually I left the library with three books in my bag.

During my shorthand seminar, we didn’t use any technology, as the very principle of it is learning to take notes. My lecturer did tell off a few people for using their phones in class, which made me automatically move my hand to my pocket, only to remember I didn’t have it with me.

I made conversation on the bus on the way home to pass the time, and once I’d made myself lunch, I realised I only had four hours left of the experiment. They were the toughest, as once I was in my room, I was tempted to put my radio on while I studied, like I usually do. I really didn’t like the silence, so I gave up studying and started playing my ukulele for a while. I made progress with learning the chords, but it didn’t help that I wasn’t actually doing any university work, so I had a look through my notebook to see which assignments I could actually do.

It turned out that, short of copying up my lecture notes from earlier, there was nothing I could do that didn’t require me loading up my laptop or making a phone call to arrange an interview. Instead, I decided to start tidying my room, but without the background music, I found myself in silence again. Needing to get out of the flat and hear something, I went to Asdas, and had to deliberately not look at the newspapers and magazines on the rack as I went in. There was advertising everywhere, which I tried my hardest to avoid, but it was impossible to completely ignore it. By the time I got back, it was six o’clock, so I cooked myself an early meal to pass the last hour, and once I’d eaten and washed up, it was seven and I could go back to my technology.

The experiment made me realise how dependent we actually are on technology, as I had to go out and talk to people to get any form of social interaction, and not rely on phones or the internet. The first thing I did was turn on my music, and once my laptop was loaded, I visited the BBC news page to see what I’d missed in my day of isolation from society. The breaking news of the spending review had bypassed me completely, and made me wonder how I’d have reacted had a major disaster like the London bombings had occurred on my technology-free day. I think I would have heard through word of mouth, and having family back in London, would have to have broken my ban and made a phone call to see if they were safe while checking the news coverage online. Thankfully, no such thing had happened, but it certainly made me think.

I did find a day without technology tough, but I would definitely repeat it, just because it made me aware of how dependant we are on it. Other people around me using phones and computers made it harder; if it was everyone in the same situation it probably would have been easier as you could see how others reacted and dealt with it. Since the experiment I will try not to be so reliant on technology, although I do still need my music. That’s one thing I think I will struggle to ever give up.

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