Tag Archives: sarcasm

Awkward Conversations with Foreign People

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Hello, reader!  How’s the world treating you today?

One of the best things about living in England is the mutliculturalism.  (What makes it even better is that every time someone says that, Nigel Farage gets a stabbing pain behind his eye.  I have absolutely no evidence to back that up, but you never know…)  This is particularly relevant in London: did you see the re-imagined tube map showing the languages spoken in different parts of London?  Here it is.  How cool is that?!

I don’t understand why UKIP, racists and other generic twats get their knickers in such a twist about British identity.  Firstly, other nationalities have all sorts of beautiful, fascinating and useful things to teach us, as evidenced by all the purloined objects in the British Museum.  If we didn’t think that foreign stuff was cool, we wouldn’t have nicked it in the first place.  Secondly, we’ve kept all the Britishness we’ll ever need.  Seriously, we have.  There are certain British values which to this day remain undiluted, unwavering and inexplicable to people from elsewhere.  Our identity as a nation and our global reputation rest upon these unshakeable pillars of completely peculiar principles.  Here are some examples of things which we Brits are totally fine with, but which we find difficult to explain to people from other countries:

Bonfire Night
“About four hundred years ago, a bloke with a bit of a chip on his shoulder tried to blow up the Houses of Parliament, so now we burn effigies of him.”
“And this is a happy time?”
“Oh, yes.  Fireworks, fairground rides, family outings.  All good fun.”
“You celebrate a four-hundred year-old terrorist attack.”
“…Well, yes.  But it’s a failed terrorist attack, if that helps.”

Queueing
“You just stand in the line?”
“You just stand in the line.”
“What if you’re in a hurry?”
“You have to wait.”
“What if you need the toilet?”
“You wait.”
“What if your feet get pins and needles?!”
“You just wait.”
“What if somebody jumps the queue?”
“Ah, well that’s different!  In that case, you TUT.”
“Yeah?”
Very loudly.  And then you carry on waiting.”

Why Tea is So Important
“It just is.”
“But why?”
“It’s traditional.  It’s English.”
“It’s Chinese, actually.”
“Yes, alright, but we like it over here, too!  It’s comforting!”
“How so?”
“Because it’s…hot?”
“So is coffee.”
“Yes, but…”
“And hot chocolate.  Hence the name, ‘hot’ chocolate.”
“Yes, but you wouldn’t find the queen serving hot chocolate to her guests at Windsor, would you?  She’d serve tea.”
“She’d serve coffee to the Americans, I think.”
“Perhaps.”
“And actually, I don’t think she’d be serving it.  I think she has staff to do that.”
“I’m not having this conversation.  Go and put the kettle on.”

Talking About the Weather
“If you don’t have anything nice to say, comment upon the weather.”
“Why?”
“Because weather is the ONLY thing that you can talk about with absolutely anyone at all, without needing any prior knowledge of them as a person.  Unlike religion, politics, current affairs, art and literature, talking about the weather doesn’t involve having an opinion or risk offending someone else.  It’s an excellent way to start or maintain a conversation with someone by purely stating empirical, uncontroversial facts. No one can argue with ‘nice day today, isn’t it?'”
“If you don’t want to talk to someone about their opinions or discuss interesting topics, why on earth are you talking to them?”
“…I have no idea.”

Sarcasm
“So you’re saying one thing, but you mean the opposite.”
“Yeah.  It’s a type of humour.”
“But why do you need it?  Why can’t you just say what you mean, like America does?”
“Oh yeah, because British people would love to be more like America.”
“Really?”
“NO.  THAT WAS SARCASM.”

So there you have it: the British identity in a nutshell.  Obviously those are all a bit silly, but you know what I mean: we’re a pretty odd bunch, and our identity as a nation isn’t going anywhere.  We are the affable, slightly strange grandfather at the global dinner table, and we’re ok with that.  We also need to be ok with other cultural identities, even if they seem strange to us.  Bearing that in mind, could somebody take Farage’s toys away and send him to his room?  No dessert for intolerant eejits, I’m afraid.

Have an amazing Tuesday!

You Are Not Sandra Dee (Thank Goodness)

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Good morning and welcome to a brand new week!  How the devil are you?

First and foremost, I would like to apologise for the gaps inbetween my blog posts recently.  My work schedule has prevented me from writing every day, for which I can only apologise and offer you a compensatory biscuit.  That being said, I have decided that from now on I will only be posting on weekdays, mainly so that you can go about your weekend unpestered by my ramblings.  Sound good?  Marvellous.

Today’s blog post is about the sneaking suspicion most girls have about themselves, which is (brace yourselves, ladies) that we don’t actually want to be the heroine of a story.  Oh, sure, we want the romance and the struggle and the ultimate happy ending, but we want to be allowed to get there on our terms.  We want to know that we can succeed without the necessary caveat of being beautiful, or the genetic good luck to have incredibly long, climbable hair.  The women we most admire and aspire to are the funny best friends and the sarcastic sidekicks – the characters who get the best lines and the best results.

Female characters who have an amusing foible or a deplorable flaw are, in film, literature and television, much more empathetic to modern women than their swooning, seductive counterparts.  The heroines of stories are willed by the reader or viewer to get the prescribed happy ending, because that’s what we are programmed to expect: give us a pretty girl in a pickle and we are desperate for her to find her bliss.  But show us a character who is less impeachably perfect and more honestly human, and that’s who we want to be.  We want to be the girl on the sideline who manages to win just by being herself.

Wouldn’t you rather be a Rizzo than a Sandy?  Nessa wins over Stacey, outright.  And deep down, don’t you think it would be fun to be more of a Karen than a Grace?  Why do you think movie writers keep inventing ‘kooky friend’ characters, anyway?  Because they know that those are the women we actually relate to.

These female characters are not perfect, but they are perfectly believable, which is definitely more important.  They might be bitchy, crazy or even prone to singing at high school for no reason, but there are worse things they could do.  (Geddit?)  These women are actually doing us all a favour by reminding us that you don’t have to be blonde, adorable or star-crossed in order to get what you want – you can (and should) just be yourself.

And why wouldn’t you be yourself, while we’re at it?  You’re brilliant!

Have a miraculous Monday.

Television Teaches Us

Good morning, reader!  Did you enjoy the sunshine this weekend?  Oh good, me too.

As those of you who read yesterday’s slightly frantic blog post will know, my house mate and I have cause to revise our general knowledge in the next, er…twenty five hours.  I’m sure we can manage that.  You will also know that I have a fondness for the television show Dad’s Army.

It might seem strange that a television show from the seventies about the forties resonates so strongly with someone who arrived in the world right at the end of the eighties, but I love the show because I think it’s taught me quite a lot.  In general, television shows have given me an education that rivals my A Levels in terms of relevance to the world, and definitely overtakes my degree in terms of practicality.  Here are a few examples:

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1) Dad’s Army

Community is important.  Life is full of people with idiosyncrasies, funny foibles and general oddities, and they all matter as human beings.  However bizarre your colleagues, friends and family may be, you are stronger united than you are on your own.  Also, don’t panic (especially if your name is Mr. Mainwaring).

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2) Blackadder

This show is responsible for about ninety percent of my historical knowledge.  My sincere apologies to anyone who taught me History at school, but if you want me to retain information I need to hear it with a massive dose of sarcasm, preferably from Rowan Atkinson.

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3) How I Met Your Mother

Oh, so many things: nothing good happens after 2am; bros before hos (or sisters before misters, I suppose); the Hot/Crazy scale is scarily accurate; never invite an ex to your wedding.  Also, the best thing you can ask for from life is an evening in your favourite pub with your best friends.

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4) Red Dwarf

Similarly to the Dad’s Army ethos, when you’re stuck in a space ship three million years from Earth, you need to be a team.  Even if that team is made up of a robot, a dead hologram, a genetic mesh of cat and human and a Liverpudlian layabout.

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5) Friends

Of course Friends made the list.  There are many good lessons to learn from the show, but in my opinion the main one is that you can know someone for years and still be surprised by them.  You never know how your heart might change: Ross got the girl after more than a decade, and Monica and Chandler didn’t fall in love until they went to London.  (This raises some questions about London being the new Capital of Romance, but we can come back to that another time.)

Obviously it would be nice to think that the lion’s share of my knowledge comes from books, lectures and academia in general, but I don’t think that it does.  I’m not convinced that that’s such a bad thing, though: surely as long as we are learning something, the source is not too important.

That’s what I’ll tell myself while I stick BBC iPlayer on, anyway.  Have a great Monday.

The Polymath Problem

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Hello and happy Tuesday, lovely reader!

This morning I met up with an old friend from university.  We don’t get to see each other often enough, so inevitably our coffee mornings consist of work updates, living situation discussions, frank bemusement at the behaviour of men and excessive giggling.

Sometimes (not always), we get around to discussing our mutual passion: the arts.  This friend of mine has a lifelong passion for the arts in all its forms: she is a wonderful baker of lovely cakes, she dances, makes amazing craft stuff and is, of course, a fellow Drama graduate.  She co-runs a charity called Ingeenium which does beautiful and inspiring work with vulnerable people, she is a nanny and she currently works for the government in a top-secret, slightly scary capacity.  Oh, and she’s also studying for her PhD.  Superwoman?  I think so, but I’ve never seen her wear a cape, so it’s hard to tell.  The posh term for this friend of mine is a polymath, which sounds like something out of Red Dwarf, but is actually a real thing.  I like that word, don’t you?

This morning she and I were discussing the problem with being a polymath, although the terms we actually couched it in were more along the lines of “What are we actually DOING with our lives?”  The answer is, currently at least, loads of stuff: we are both trying to pursue careers which support as financially as well as challenge and inspire us, we feel very strongly about a lot of things but are not sure what exactly to do about them, and on top of everything the spectre of George Osborne looms menacingly, reminding us that whatever we choose to do, we will still never be able to afford a mortgage.  Do shut up, George, there’s a dear.

My friend was saying that she wishes she could just have one job and pursue one goal, but I had two concerns about this:

1) Sure, it would be amazing to know from an early age exactly what you want to do with your life, but what happens if that dream fails?  What if your one ambition in life is to become a footballer, and you contract Motor Neurone Disease?  What happens if an aspiring doctor fails their exams?  How does a person recover from the abolition of a life-long dream?

2) Pursuing more than one ambition is not only practical in terms of personal investment; it’s a really, really good idea.  Being good at lots of things is something to be proud of, and caring about lots of things makes you a more rounded human being.  Working in several domains can actually improve your skills in certain areas: having acted (a bit), I consider myself to be a more empathetic director.  Besides, there are many awesome people who can be referred to as polymaths.

Here are a few examples:

1) Mark Watson

An excellent stand-up comedian, Mark Watson has also written some brilliant books.  His writing style is engaging, unbelievably touching in some places and (predictably) very funny.  The stories are completely unique, but the characters are very true to life (terrible phrase, that, but it’s the best I can think of).  His books are novels with little or no relation to his comedy career, so much so that it took me quite a while to twig that the author of some of my favourite books was the same person I’d seen on Mock the Week.

2) Kenneth Branagh

The man can act and direct simultaneously.  I have no idea how he does it (especially given that I can barely walk and talk at the same time), but his adaptations of Shakespearean plays into films are intelligent, moving and spectacularly performed.  Since acting and directing technically fall under the same sector I suppose he’s not technically a polymath, but I think he should get bonus points for being able to realise his artistic vision (ANOTHER terrible phrase – sorry, I’ve no idea what’s happened to my cliché filter today!) within two separate roles.

3) Laura Lexx

Another friend of mine from uni, Laura is excellent at pretty much everything she puts her mind to.  It’s mildly sickening.  A formidable academic success, Laura is also an excellent writer (of blogs, plays and more), an hysterically funny stand-up comedian, a queen bee of baking and “one of those” actors.  By “one of those”, I mean those people that you see on stage and wonder how on earth other performers can bear to compete.  She’s also a very lovely person with an excellent impersonation of a dinosaur in her repertoire.

4) Hannah Barnett

Yet another superwoman that I am lucky enough to be friends with, Hannah is *deep breath* a producer, actress, stage manager, unbelievably talented guitarist and singer with the voice of a particularly well-behaved angel.  Hannah is simultaneously the most organised and most easily distracted person I know.  That takes a lot of skill.  Why do I surround myself with these sickeningly talented people?  Oh, yeah – because they’re awesome.

5) Josh Widdicombe

Putting aside the fact that I love Josh Widdicombe quite a lot anyway, he is a brilliant example of why it’s good to have many talents.  Well-known as a stand-up comedian, he is also a talented DJ who hosts a weekly show on Xfm, which he uses as a platform to promote his friends and colleagues in the comedy world.  I am a massive fan of “paying it forward”, i.e. using your experience and opportunities to help others in similar situations.  (One of my favourite things about my university year group is that even now, we still tell each other when we see jobs or opportunities on IdeasTap that we think others in the group would be interested in.)  Josh Widdicombe is substantially more successful than any of my lot are right now, but he still uses his multiple roles to help out his mates.  I think that’s brilliant.

There are dozens if not hundreds of other examples of polymaths around, including national treasures like Stephen Fry and Michael Palin, and they are all to be congratulated on their ability to pursue many dreams.  It’s wonderful to have a passion in life, but I think that being good at and enjoying several activities is a more realistic and open-minded way to live.

By the way, actors turned models and anyone turned reality television “star” (please read enormous sarcasm into the speech marks around the word star, there), do not count.  Being pretty, greedy for money or desperate for attention cannot in any way be classed as a skill.  That’s just sad, and those people need a hug/slap/stern talking to.

Have a glorious afternoon!

Stuff I’m Definitely Going to Teach My Kids

Hello, reader!  I hope you know that by getting this far on a Monday you are a champion.  Mondays are rubbish, and you are clearly owning this one already.  Good for you.

Yesterday I wrote a blog about stuff we the mid-twenties team are too old to do now, and my house mate Ash wrote a brilliant response about stuff she knows she shouldn’t do, but still does: take a look at it here.  Ash and I both have birthdays around the corner, which could explain why we have ageing and childhood on our minds.  As Ash points out in her blog post, when you’re younger your birthdays are milestones of opportunity – you can drive now, you can drink now, you can drink in America now – but as the milestones go by you start to look back and see what you can’t (or shouldn’t) do anymore.

It might seem a bit rich for two girls in their mid-twenties to make grand, tragic statements about the perils of ageing, so my apologies to anyone who thinks that we’re drama queens.  I can only defend us by saying that a) we are so recently past the last “good” milestone that we are still adjusting to the idea of birthdays being bad, and b) we are drama queens.  We have our own tiaras and everything.

Today I have decided to take a more positive approach about this loss-of-childhood thing: I have thought about what kind of childhood I will want my kids to have, and what kind of lessons I most want them to learn.

1) How to Bake
My mum is wonderful for many reasons, but I think one of my favourite things about her is that she taught us all how to bake.  I can whip up a sponge cake in half an hour (including cooking time.  That’s right.  Don’t hate me ’cause you ain’t me) because many years ago my mum took the time to show me, and to have fun with her daughter as well as teach her a great life skill.  Baking is one of the few loopholes that allows grown-ups to behave like kids: you can make a mess, you can make incredibly unhealthy but yummy food, and you can decorate the crap out of said food with glitter and icing.
Baking also results in being able to feed people nice things.  It’s probably the Irish genes coming through, but I love making people birthday cakes, biscuits and what have you.  Ash (who is, if anything, even more obsessed with baking than I am) would agree with me that one of the greatest joys in life is giving people cake.  Such a simple activity results in so much joy.  I want my children to have fun learning to bake, and to spend the rest of their lives using that skill to make themselves and other people happy.

2) Creativity is a Super Power
Speaking of my mum and baking, I have to take this opportunity to say that the woman makes INCREDIBLE cakes.  Kids’ cakes, wedding cakes, beautiful cupcakes arranged in a weird tower thingy: you name it, she can do it.  Look at these:600133_10151800790980083_1127455735_n photo (5)646_112469255082_353_n

The woman made a DINOSAUR CAKE, for crying out loud.  That is the closest thing to a super power that anyone could have, in my opinion.  She passed her amazing artistic abilities down to us in varying degrees, but the most active artist among us is my brother, who paints stuff like this:

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It makes me sick that he can paint so well, and I can’t even draw stick people.  These are just two examples of the kind of creativity that makes my jaw drop, but my life is full of people who excel at singing, acting, writing, dancing and all manner of other things.  I want my children to understand that having a creative outlet is a wonderful thing that allows you to process all kinds of thoughts, emotions and impulses, and that creativity in others is something to love and respect.  Which leads me neatly onto my next lesson…

3) Respect
This is a big one, and it covers all sorts of things.  If I ever have a daughter, I want her to respect herself.  I want her to ignore global media’s insistence that women are supposed to be as thin, tall and beautiful as possible.  If I have a son, I want him to respect himself too.  I want him to shun masculine stereotypes and just be himself, not what society tells him to be.  I want my kids to respect their family, their friends and their colleagues.  I hope that my children will understand from an early age that it is not acceptable to take their stress out on other people, and that every person they meet deserves to be spoken to politely and listened to attentively.  They will say “please” and “thank you”, they will not judge others based on race, religion, sexual preference or appearance, and I’ll be damned if they ever do the unthinkable and jump a queue.

4) Learning is for Life, not just for Christmas
My family is full of people who learn like it’s going out of fashion.  As far as I’m concerned, my maternal grandfather knew everything there was to know, and he instilled a passion in me for knowledge and understanding.  Similarly, I have absolutely no idea how my dad’s head can contain all of the information that it does, or how he has had the time to acquire so much knowledge.  My eldest sister is passionate about travel, and she loves exploring far-away places and learning about their cultures.  This also ties in with my genetic predisposition to read everything I can, which I sincerely hope my children inherit.  Life is a long and fascinating process of discovery, and I want my kids to love learning.  Curiosity may have killed the cat, but wanting to understand the world we live in is a wonderful trait, and I prefer dogs to cats anyway.

5) Passion
If my genes are anything to go by, my children will be stubborn, impulsive and in all likelihood addicted to coffee by the time they’re sixteen.  They will probably be very sociable and prone to excessive sarcasm.  That’s all fine.  They will also, I hope, have dreams and ambitions.  I want them to have the commitment and energy to pursue their passions, and to encourage others to do the same.  I also want them to love people whole-heartedly, and to avoid the commitment-phobic, “we don’t want to put a label on it”, casual relationships that dominate my generation.  I don’t know how things will have changed in the dating world by the time my kids are of age to fancy people, but if they have the self-respect and ability to love that I want them to, then they will know better than to accept sub-standard relationships and undefined entanglements.  If that fails, then hopefully the future father of my children will have a shovel at the ready to discourage would-be unsuitable suitors.

There are loads of other little bits and pieces that I want to teach my children, such as how to ride a bicycle and where babies come from, but these five lessons represent my future parenting priorities.  I also realise that this blog has essentially been a vehicle for me to extol the virtues of my lovely family, but I don’t think that’s surprising given that they are the people who shaped my childhood.  I owe them a lot, and I can’t wait for my future children to meet them.

Have a cracking Monday!