The Useful Anxiety of Narrative Thinking

I think about being kidnapped far too much.

It should not be high up my list of things to worry about. There is no obvious reason why I should get kidnapped. I am not famous. I am not related to anyone famous. (The late Mo Mowlam was my husband’s father’s stepbrother’s wife’s sister, but so far this hasn’t resulted in a demand for autographs or threats of violence.)

And yet I spend a certain amount of time, on a regular basis, planning what I would say to my husband when the kidnappers let me speak to him, to establish that it was really me. (I’m not telling you what it is, in case the kidnappers read this.) I agonise about what would happen if I had a cold and my nose was blocked, and they gagged me, and I suffocated to death.

More recently,I get stressed because the kidnappers would be unlikely to provide for my mandatory gluten-free diet and mango leaf. Perhaps I should carry even more gluten-free snacks in my bag, enough for a week or so? Would the kidnappers let me eat them, or would they force wheat down my throat, cackling with glee? How long would I be there, anyway? How much could my family raise quickly for my ransom? What if they killed me anyway? Ransoms never seem to work in fiction – there’s always a standoff or a cheat or something, and half the time more or less everyone ends up in a gunfight.

Perhaps I should buy a gun. On the black market. And learn to shoot it. And carry it in my bag ready to shoot the kidnappers before they shoot me. And arrange a phrase with my husband that means “Someone has stolen me! Please do something immediately!” And get a doctor’s letter explaining about the coeliac thing. And agree a maximum amount of ransom beyond which my family should just let me die. (I’m quite frugal.)

No. I shouldn’t. That would be ridiculous. Why am I allowing myself to have trains of thought that lead to guns and pre-arranged ransom limits?

Because of narrative. Stupid, addictive, delightful narrative, constantly telling stories in my brain, trying to fit my life into the patterns of fiction. We all do it. (Don’t we? I assume we all do it.) It’s a variation on believing in fate or karma (or arguably religion, but that may be more controversial than I feel like getting into right now). If someone calls me it’s because I dreamed about them recently; if I get offered a book deal my cat will get run over; if I leave home with my zip undone something hilarious and farcical will inevitably occur and I’ll end up naked in a pool of custard in front of my boss. Evil will be punished, good will be rewarded, true love will win through and the heroine will always come out of the kitchen and be whisked off by a shoe-wielding prince. The patterns you develop depend on what stories you’ve imbibed, but there are similar themes: conflict followed by resolution, happiness then despair and then happiness (and then despair, depending on which genres you go for).

Mostly, I’m pleased about this. I know the patterns are something my mind is arranging for me and I’m usually able to take a step back far enough to look at them. And I can hack myself: I can read/watch the genres that will be most useful for me. I know I need to avoid very realistic stories about bad things happening to children, because my brain grabs onto them like a masochistic limpet and replays them over and over with the eyelids of my mind pinned open. (I declare this the best mixed metaphor ever, by the way.) And I know I like stories where the obvious ending doesn’t happen, because they remind me that life has multiple right – or at least interesting – answers. (The heroine might run off with the prince’s manservant or one of the ugly sisters, or decide to open a shoe shop.)

I think what I’ve learned from thinking about narrative thinking is twofold. Firstly, don’t use the word ‘think’ three times in one sentence or it will lose all meaning for you. Secondly, the best thing to do with mind-patterns is to take control of them. Don’t let other people’s stories take over; take the bits you need, adapt them, create your own story. Much, much easier said than done, of course. But at least it might mean I don’t have to buy a gun.


Feel the Brixton Book Jam and Do it Anyway

Tonight I am going to be one of the writers at the Brixton Book Jam - at the Hootananny pub in Brixton, 7pm onwards, free entry - and will be reading an extract from James Eyre and Other Genderswitched Stories. The idea is that a series of writers do brief readings or talks, then there’s a panel discussion. And there will be drinks, and books for sale, and exciting new people to meet. I’m looking forward to it.

Like many people, I have a complicated relationship with public speaking. At school it was probably my worst fear, along with hockey and being made to dance in public. I basically didn’t want to be either hurt or publically humiliated, which when I think of it like that doesn’t seem unreasonable. As an adult, I still can’t play hockey, but I can both dance and speak in front of strangers, so two out of three is broadly acceptable, as Meatloaf might have said if he were English and didn’t mind his lyrics not scanning.

In the end, my public speaking fears were overcome by a variety of life experiences, mostly a combination of alcohol and having no choice in the matter. The turning point was probably my friend Richard’s wedding, at which I was best (wo)man and had to make a speech: it took place in the USA and I didn’t know most of the guests, but it turned out that an English accent of vaguely RP origins goes a long way with Americans. They liked me, and they laughed where they were supposed to, and I learned two valuable lessons. First, just because you dread something doesn’t necessarily mean you’re terrible at it – in fact, you might end up enjoying yourself. Secondly, you can’t actually die from fright. (Probably. I have not consulted any medical professionals about this.)

I am therefore pleased to announce that, at the age of 37, I have achieved the stage where I would pick speaking in public over, say, touching a spider, and where I can utter recognisable words in front of a group of people I don’t know and expect at least some of them to make sense. Of course, by writing this I have clearly jinxed myself for this evening and will end up tripping over the microphone, forgetting how to read, or suddenly finding myself improvising anchovy-themed haikus on stage. Why not come along to find out which?



Father’s Day Feminism

It’s Father’s Day this weekend. It may be a manufactured holiday but I celebrate it anyway, so I’m in a shop trying to find a card for my dad in the three minutes before the toddler starts wanting to get out the buggy and start destroying things.* I scan the shelves, sigh, and give up.

In all the years that I’ve been buying Father’s Day cards for my father, I don’t think I have ever bought one from the Father’s Day section. My father is not into football, beer, fast cars or jokes about bodily functions, so that cuts out 90% of the options. And if I bought him a card with a message – or worse, a poem – about what a great father he is, that would feel weird. Not because he isn’t a great father, but because it doesn’t need saying. Or at least it doesn’t need saying in rhyme.

It’s all very blue.

It’s odd really. In some ways – perhaps as a response to the waning of the industry – there’s now more choice in cards than ever. You can buy serious cards, funny cards, sentimental cards, cards with badges, 3D cards, addressed to Dad, Daddy, Father, Stepdad, Grandad or Great-Grandad. But in other ways, the choice is tellingly limited. Colours, for example. If you can find me a Father’s Day card that’s pink, I’ll buy you a pint of raspberry beer. And if you can find one that references opera or painting, which are my dad’s two major interests, I’ll buy you an entire yard of it, if raspberry beer comes in yards, which I doubt. A card that features musicals or Dickens novels would be even better, since those are interests we have in common. I’ll be over here, holding my breath.

So what do Father’s Day cards tell us about the current perception of masculine parenting, as filtered through the imagination of the card industry?  Well, there’s not much about the parenting part. What fathers do, in this version of fatherhood, is play sports with their sons, address their daughters as ‘princess’, and earn the money. It’s a depressing vision. And what are children’s images of their dads? Apparently they’re unshaven, overweight lumps in string vests and boxer shorts. Nothing wrong with being any of those things, but again, it’s a bit limiting. Is the assumption that Father’s Day cards only appeal to an extremely specific and stereotypical working-class market? Why?

And yes, this is a feminist issue, of course it is. The perception of fathers and the perception of mothers are all tied in together, and so are the wider perceptions of What Men Are Like and What Women Are Like. Fix one and you start to fix the other**. In the meantime, I’ve bought my dad a card from the general section, with a picture of a giant rubber duck sailing up the Thames. At least it’s interesting.


*I am unfairly maligning her here, by the way. I let her wander around Boots the other day and she began tidying up the shelves. I should start charging shops to let her in.

**I could also write an entire post about how many of my daughter’s birthday cards I buy from the boys’ section. Because while she likes princesses and fairies, she especially likes football and computer games and Dr Who. This should not be weird to anyone.


A Genderswitched Anthology

But it isn’t only that Jeeves’s judgment about clothes is infallible, though, of course, that’s really the main thing. The woman knows everything. There was the matter of that tip on the ‘Lincolnshire.’ I forget now how I got it, but it had the aspect of being the real, red-hot tabasco.

‘Jeeves,’ I said, for I’m fond of the woman, and like to do her a good turn when I can, ‘if you want to make a bit of money have something on Wonderchild for the ‘Lincolnshire.’‘

She shook her head.

‘I’d rather not, miss.’

‘But it’s the straight goods. I’m going to put my shirt on her.’

‘I do not recommend it, miss. The animal is not intended to win. Second place is what the stable is after.’

Perfect piffle, I thought, of course. How the deuce could Jeeves know anything about it? Still, you know what happened. Wonderchild led till she was breathing on the wire, and then Banana Fritter came along and nosed her out. I went straight home and rang for Jeeves.

‘After this,’ I said, ‘not another step for me without your advice. From now on consider yourself the brains of the establishment.’

‘Very good, miss. I shall endeavour to give satisfaction.’

As detailed elsewhere, I have been making something of a hobby of taking out-of-copyright classics and mildly desecrating them by swapping all the genders round. Not just the main characters, but everyone in the story down to every ‘Oh God’ becoming ‘Oh Goddess’. It’s a simplistic, binary change. It’s not a rewrite; it doesn’t introduce any new writing into the mix, unlike such mashups as (the surprisingly good) Pride and Prejudice and Zombies. But it does have the effect of creating – not exactly an alternative history, but an alternative literary past. Where women get to own property and men get to do sewing.

After I self-published Prejudice and Pride last year, I decided my next endeavour would be James Eyre. However, partway through editing it, I started thinking of other books that would be just as interesting to switch, and before long I realised that my next project was going to have to be a collection.

I ended up with a dozen writers ranging from the early 19th to the early 20th century; a chapter or two from each, and I found I had an anthology which gives the sense of an entire alternative literary canon. I ordered them by publication date, with Austen the oldest and Edith Wharton the newest. Here’s a bit from Sensibility and Sense, just after young impetuous Matthew Dashwood has had a fall:

A lady carrying a gun, with two pointers playing round her, was passing up the hill and within a few yards of Matthew, when his accident happened. She put down her gun and ran to his assistance. He had raised himself from the ground, but his foot had been twisted in his fall, and he was scarcely able to stand. The lady offered her services; and perceiving that his modesty declined what his situation rendered necessary, took him up in her arms without farther delay, and carried him down the hill.

And here, a century later, from The Age of Innocence:

He made no answer. His lips trembled into a smile, but the eyes remained distant and serious, as if bent on some ineffable vision. ‘Dear,’ Nuala whispered, pressing him to her: it was borne in on her that the first hours of being engaged, even if spent in a ball-room, had in them something grave and sacramental. What a new life it was going to be, with this whiteness, radiance, goodness at one’s side!

Virginal boys, chivalrous women and buffonish ladies-about-town advised by their wise ladies’ maid (or gentlewoman’s gentlewoman?) – and we haven’t even touched on The Wonderful Witch of Oz, June the Obscure or The Picture of Daria Gray, which is perhaps my favourite of all.

So if your curiosity is piqued, James Eyre and Other Genderswitched Stories is available in paperback for about £5.99 or on Kindle for about £1.50 depending where you are – links below. If neither works for you and you’d like a .pdf, email me on fausterella at gmail and we can sort something out. In the meantime, have a freebie chapter: Chapter 1 of The Picture of Daria Gray.

And finally, thanks to my father, artist John Harrad, for providing one of his drawings for the cover art, and to James Wallis for providing advice on formatting (though any mistakes remain my own. Or can be blamed on my toddler for climbing on the keyboard at the wrong moment).


Can men be funny?

It’s a question some people think shouldn’t even be asked. But today we put political correctness aside and have the courage to say openly: are men funny?

Let’s look at the facts.

- Very few men get to become famous comedians. Is that because it’s just too hard for them? Would they be better off going into a different field altogether, such as, I don’t know, football management or beer tasting?

- Abbot and Costello, Bernard Manning, Jim Davidson… Of course it’s unfair to give specific examples and use them as evidence, but still, look at them. Could a gender that produced these people really rise to the heights of comic genius?

Men can certainly laugh. But can they cause it in others?

- Are men disadvantaged when it comes to humour? Through the ages they’ve been seen as the serious sex: hunting, gathering, breadwinning, governing, all these are weighty pursuits. Meanwhile, women have been able to develop their comic muscles through the boredom that comes of being stuck at home with the washing up. They’ve gossiped with other women, perfecting their comic timing and character creation skills, while men exchanged the odd grunted monosyllable as they roamed the plains together looking for things to kill. Clearly there are sound evolutionary reasons for a difference between the sexes in term of joke-making. What would men even have had to joke about, apart from the odd funny-looking mammoth?

- And, of course, it has traditionally been the case that women do the majority of childcare: an excellent source of humour, partly because it allows for a lot of time to think while performing menial tasks, partly because babies and toddlers can be an endless source of amusement, and partly because the stress of bringing up children helps one to develop a robust sense of fun as a defence mechanism. By being on the whole less involved, men miss out on a lot of material for amusing anecdotes.

- It’s not a criticism, and I’m certainly not being sexist here, but perhaps men do rely a bit too much on male gender stereotypes for their humour. Is it necessary to go on so much about being bad at housework and how much women nag? It all starts coming across as a bit woman-hating, to tell the truth. Men should branch out, perhaps explore the areas that women have tended to cover such as physical comedy (like Miranda Hart) or observational humour (like Victoria Wood). Although it’s not really fair to compare, I suppose: because everyone knows women are actually funnier, there’s unfair pressure on men to compete. Often their stand-up gigs have an air of desperation about them.

- Of course, it’s true that other men might find men funny, but that’s a very niche market since a lot of men don’t really watch comedy in the same way that many men don’t read literary novels – they have a preference for, let’s say, less nuanced forms of entertainment such as rugby and fighting. Or whatever it is that men do for fun. I don’t really know. Anyway, like it or not, women control the comedy market, so that’s probably why women do so well as comedians.

Now, I’m bound to get wild accusations of being a man-hater from all this, so let me be perfectly clear: there are plenty of funny men. Like Stephen Fry and Julian Clary. But some heterosexual ones too: Lee Mack, for example, is often very amusing in his own way, and that cute smile of his doesn’t hurt either.

So don’t twist my words to say that I’m dismissing all men as unfunny out of hand. There will always be honourable exceptions. And given time – and perhaps, if I’m allowed to say it, a bit more effort – men may well be able to rise to the heights of Lucille Ball, Sandi Toksvig, Tina Fey and the other mistresses of the craft. We must be patient with our male wannabe comics. They’ll get there.


Women watch comedy more than men. Probably. I haven't actually checked the research.


(If you want to know why this post was made, please google for “can women be funny”)


Ten Twitter Feeds of Joy

Twitter is an incredibly flexible medium: diary, conversation, promotional tool, link collection, repository of tiny fiction, joke factory, confessional. And sometimes, work of art. For example:


What is it?

Washing instructions delivered in the tone of a despairing apocalyptic scream.

Why is it?

BECAUSE IT IS!!!!! Also, because it just gets funnier with every tweet. At least if you’re a fan of being told how to wash laundry in excitable capslock, which it turns out I am.

Sample tweets:



see also: nothing else is really like hysterical laundry, but some good all-caps accounts include Feminist Hulk, Drunk Hulk and Film Critic Hulk.

Friends season 11

What is it?

Tweet-length pitches for a new season of Friends.

Why is it?

Because somewhere, I choose to believe that a small and imaginative film crew is actually producing these, possibly using Lego version of the actors. Or finger puppets. If nobody is doing this, I suggest they start now.

Sample tweets:

‘The One Where An Unlikely Number Of Limbs Burst From Rachel’s Torso Like Spring-Loaded Toy Snakes.’

‘The One Where Monica’s Birthday Is Ruined When The Clown Rachel Hired Performs A Impenetrable Beckettian Monologue About Decay And Memory.’

This is Iceland

What is it?

It is the tweet of the country Iceland. Not the government. The actual land.

Why is it?

Because Iceland wants to be your friend. And because this, in an ideal world, would be the start of a global trend which resulted in every country in the world having its own Twitter account.

Sample tweets:

‘Many humans are talking about same-sex marriage. It is not only legal on me, but my people’s prime minister is a woman, married to a woman.’

‘I am bigger and brighter and wider than snow.’

See also: We Are Ukraine

My Toaster

What is it?

It’s a toaster.

Why is it?

It toasts, therefore it is. Also it has 1,500 followers, which isn’t bad considering it mainly alternates between two tweets. Which are below.

Sample tweets:


‘Done Toasting’

see also: pothos, although that has more of an actual function.

Tweet of God

What is it?

It is the Word of God in sardonic 140-character form.

Why is it?

Because if the Tweet of God is anything to go by, God has some things to get off his or her chest. And has picked up a few modern idioms since the Bible. Also, apparently the only human he likes is Justin Bieber.

Sample tweets:

‘Next time you feel guilty about the kind of world you’re leaving behind for your children, remember how whiny they get in the car.’

‘If for budgetary reasons I had to eliminate one of the three dimensions of space, which one would you miss the least? Just, uh, asking.’

Feral Pigeon

What is it?

It’s the life of a Trafalgar Square pigeon. I don’t know which one. Maybe that grey one over there, in the corner, with the tiny laptop.

Why is it?

Presumably even pigeons need creative expression.

Sample tweets:

‘flap flap’

‘coo coo coo’

‘shifty look’

The Scream

What is it?

It’s the painting The Scream in word form.

Why is it?

Because it has a mouth and it must scream?

Sample tweets:

‘AAaaaaaahhhhh!!! #moveslikejagger’

‘Aaaaaaaahhhhh!!!! #ImNotCrying #IToldYouImNotCrying’

Hirst Skull

What is it?

It’s Damien Hirst’s skull. Not his actual skull, though that would be interesting too. The shiny art one.

Why is it?

Possibly to keep Hirst Shark company.

Sample tweets:

‘I’m eyeless’

‘I’m noseless’

‘I shine’

Hipster Dalek

What is it?

I don’t want to alarm anyone, but Twitter is overrun by Daleks. Republican, Communist, unemployed. poetic, flamboyant, happy, lethargic – every flavour is represented. (Including, for all I know, actual flvours. Raspberry ripple Dalek, anyone?) The one thing they have in common is that they all want to exterminate you. Yes, you specifically. Hipster Dalek is a bit more laid back about it than most, though.

Why is it?

Because Daleks are people too. Well, no, they’re not, but they still get to listen to indie bands.

Sample tweets:



Not Tilda swinton

What is it?

It is a thing of beauty, a joy forever, and (I assume) nothing to do with the actual Tilda Swinton. It’s also the newest big thing on Twitter: when I started following her a couple of days ago she had about 400 followers, now it’s over 15,000.

Why is it?

I think she may mean to kill us all. But we won’t mind because she will do it so beautifully.

Sample tweets:

‘I spent a year riding a grizzly bear piggy-back, my legs tied into his fur. He was my brawn, and I was his brain. We were called Prita.’

‘Ask your neighbor over today. Cover your basement floor with salt and pebbles; braid each other’s hair while weeping. This is connection.’

‘I once dove to the deepest part of the sea, only to tell the ugliest fish they were beautiful to me. They told me they needed no pity.’


Things to which I have been up

I think building her a snow throne may have given her ideas above her station.

I haven’t been making blog posts as often this year as I did last year. Partly because last year I had a baby who slept a lot, whereas this year I have a toddler with very firm beliefs about how often Mummy is allowed to sit at the computer before she gets to have a go too. Resulting in the very real possibility that anything I write will accidentally end up with ‘dfjgoehodnvlos!!!!’ in the middle of a sentence. Soon she will learn to type and I’ll probably have to implant a virtual iPad in her head or something, but for the moment, she’s mainly of use as an agent of chaos.

And partly because I’ve kept half-writing posts, then having a crisis of confidence about whether they’re too dull, controversial, niche, obvious, or all of the above. (All of the above would be quite a feat, admittedly.)

However, I have done a few things that you wouldn’t immediately be aware of from this page, so here they are:

- My eight-year-old has written some more stories for her bit of this site. I’m pleased I set this up for her, because it’s motivating her to finish stories rather than getting halfway through and then wandering off to kick trees. (Don’t ask.) I particularly like ‘Friday‘, which features grape-eating cutlery.

- I wrote some ebook reviews, and am in the middle of writing some more (but it’s taking a while – the good books are hard to write about and the bad ones are hard to read).

- I did a guest blogging stint for The F-Word and wrote three posts for them about musicals, porn genies and why I can, in fact, take a joke.

- I wrote a guest post for Choler speculating on whether David Cameron saw himself as a plucky maverick or as a Bond villain.

- I wrote a post on Sherlock Holmes and genderswitching for Bookshelf Bombshells, as part of their blog bonanza for the start of Sherlock series 2 in the US.

- I had my novel reviewed by The Future Fire!

- I created a Pinterest board of all the things you’d have had to own in the 1980s to equal one smartphone.

-  I started using tumblr, which turns out to be fun, although I may be reaching my social media threshold soon.

- I created The Almost Art Project: photos of found-around-the-house art accidentally designed by my children.

I’m trying to write a second novel in theory, but – well, see my first paragraph: it’s hard to find the time. So while I wait for my children to get older and less needy*, I’m working on a couple more genderswitching projects – an illustrated ebook of genderswitched Grimms fairy tales, and an ebook anthology of genderswitched extracts from classics including James Eyre, June the Obscure and The Picture of Daria Grey. To be continued…


*Sometimes people take things I say very literally. I would like to clarify that I am not spending my time resenting my children and waiting for them to get older. Well, not all of my time. Sometimes I sleep.  


Smashed and Gleeful: some notes on a tiny genre

US show-about-a-show Smash starts on Sky Atlantic this weekend. Like Glee, to which it is constantly being compared, it’s a TV series with musical numbers. But that’s the same as saying that Agatha Christie’s Poirot and 24 are both cop shows. In a world with as many musical TV shows as there are detective series or thrillers – a beautiful, shiny world that sadly only exists in my head – it would be obvious that Smash and Glee are quite distinct examples of their genre.

This shot, for example, could only have come from a Busby Berkeley show.

Film musicals don’t necessarily have clearly delineated subgenres. Instead they tend to be categorised by their star or director or choreographer: Vincente Minnelli musicals, Bob Fosse musicals, Busby Berkeley musicals. But you could also categorise them in other ways, for example:

- By degree of realism: do people just burst into song (e.g. Grease) or are they always on stage performing (e.g. 42nd Street)?

- By level of comedy vs tragedy: can you be certain that everything will work out in the end, as in all the Astaire-Rogers films; or will the climax be sad or ambiguous, as in Dancer in the Dark or Hedwig and the Angry Inch?

- By family-friendliness: Mary Poppins and Annie are at one end of this sliding scale, Rocky Horror and Cabaret at the other. You can roughly calculate this by counting up the number of children in major roles.

- By old versus new, which often makes a major difference in tone. The tropes of classic 1930s musicals and 1950s musicals are well known; more recently, there’s less homogeneity except for a tendency – like all other film genres – towards more sex and swearing.

Smash and Glee are far from polar opposites, but they occupy quite different positions in the musical oeuvre. With this in mind, I shall therefore attempt to weigh Smash and Glee against each other using my own personal totally-not-made-up-on-the-spot categorisations.

Grown-Upness: Glee is a high school show. Smash is an adult drama, albeit one set in the not-terribly-adult world of making a Broadway musical. This is the basic and important difference between them. Smash has exactly one teenage character and he’s minor and annoying; Glee, of course, is primarily made up of teens. Themes such as coming to terms with sexuality and deciding what you want to do in life, so central to Glee, are mainly absent in Smash. Smash’s characters mostly know who they are and what they want (fame, success, sex, money, everyone else losing); it’s how to get it that frustrates them.

Having said this, I should note that the family-friendliness of the shows is roughly equal, in that both have sex and sexual themes in them. (Although not swearing. One of the quirks of American TV networks, I think?)

Gayness: Glee is definitely gayer than Smash. The number of LGB characters is about the same, but Glee’s queer characters feel queerer. Possibly because they’re teenagers in a small town rather than adults on Broadway, so their sexuality stands out more.

Note: Smash contains a major character, Derek (Jack Davenport) who expresses some mildly homophobic views. I think this is probably quite realistic even for Broadway, so I’m happy that they’ve done this. I don’t get the impression that he actually dislikes gay men, for what it’s worth, more that he clashes with one specific one and likes shocking people. I admit that this may because I am blinded by Jack Davenport’s stubbly, irritable, butch handsomeness.

I mean, look.


Eye Candy, or some less shallow term that basically means the same thing: It depends on taste, and maybe I’m biased by the relative novelty of Smash, but Jack Davenport and Megan Hilty (playing Ivy) win for me. Though Glee has a bigger and younger cast, of course, and I wouldn’t want to do down any ensemble that has Mark Salling (Puck) and Naya Rivera (Santana) in it. And obviously, Heather Morris dancing is the best thing ever. So on the whole, it’s a tie.

Most Musical Numbers: Glee wins outright here, though I may be in a minority for thinking that more is better. I have been bemused to discover that there are people who watch Glee but don’t like the musical numbers, which is like watching The West Wing but tuning out all the politics. Personally, I am a musicals geek and I want as much singing as possible: an entirely sung-through TV show would suit me fine. So for me, Smash doesn’t have enough songs in it. It does have more original songs, which again you may or may not see as a plus. And is more showtune-oriented. But there’s still too much talking for my taste.

Realism: A quick rant here. If you think that people suddenly bursting into song in hallways is silly and offputting, that’s fine, but you must understand – and I can’t believe I’m having to say this at all - that’s what musicals do. It’s like maverick cops or slow-moving zombies: some tropes are intrinsically part of the genre and bitching about them is pointless, not to mention annoying. (Affectionate mocking or subversion of them is absolutely fine, of course.)

All of which is to say that I love it when people burst into musical numbers, especially when they feature an invisible orchestra and a large cast of synchronised background dancers, and I think real life should be more like that, frankly. Glee and Smash both run the gamut from this to practically-realistic numbers sung on stage, and that suits me fine.

Plot and consistency: I’ve read a lot of reviews of both shows, and critics tend to complain that both lack focus, consistency, coherent plot strands that make sense etc. I don’t deny it. But go watch Top Hat, one of the most beloved musicals of all time, and then talk to me*. Musicals have never particularly tried to make sense. That’s not what they’re for. They’re for the moment, and if the moment works, then the show works.

Moreover, how much sense does Castle or House or, I don’t know, Heroes really make? (I don’t know the answer to this. I’m a bit vague on shows that don’t have songs in them, unless they’re True Blood. But I’m going to assume that none of them achieve 100% sensibleness, and that they’d be less fun if they did.)

Finally, a recommendation: if you like adult TV shows with musical numbers, and especially if you actually do want a plot as well, you’re going to want to watch Blackpool. It’s a six-part British show from 2004, it’s got David Tennant dancing in it, and it’s so good I think I might need to go and watch it right now.


*The plot of Top Hat rests on Ginger Rogers believing that Fred Astaire is the husband of her best friend and thus romantically unavailable, despite the fact that she spends several days with him, the best friend, and the best friend’s actual husband, who is himself Fred Astaire’s best friend. So she impulsively marries her narcissistic cod-Italian tailor, but it’s OK because the vicar who married them was actually the butler of Fred Astaire’s best friend and not a vicar at all. I adore Top Hat, but I have never watched it without shouting at the screen “JUST TALK TO EACH OTHER!” 


Skull bunnies, zombie Peeps and the Eggbot: Easter links

Easter! Time of chocolate, pastel-coloured items and… some religious stuff that is less related to chocolate. In honour of the occasion, have some links to demonstrate the very soul of the season.

- For your basic scary rabbit needs, I recommend Fork Party’s gallery of terrifying Easter Bunnies (complete with children caught at the exact moment their lifelong rabbit phobia took hold). I also give you this, a soft toy rabbit with a skull for a face and, most weirdly, a natty tie to complete the nightmarish look.

I would eat your face, except someone already did that to me.

- Speaking of bunnies, you know how at Easter, they give birth to chocolate eggs, in defiance of all natural laws? Little-known fact: when the eggs hatch, twin baby dragons emerge. And eat you. Probably.

- Oh, and you know how at Easter, giant rabbits hunt you down with sad yet hungry faces? True story.

- We don’t really have Peeps in the UK, which is a shame, because they make great film tableaus. If you don’t wake up in the night screaming about the Walking Peeps coming to eat your tasty chocolate brains, then… um, good for you, I guess.

- Looking for ways to decorate eggs? Meet lEGGo, light-up eggs, steampunk eggs and the Eggbot. Or just admire this collection. The Dalek is especially cool.

- And finally, the obligatory Easter-is-satanic link. Did you know human sacrifices are performed throughout the Easter Holidays? No… me neither. *hides corpses*. Still, at least it isn’t April 19th yet.


Look at their delicious dead eyes.


I Am Sad Because I’m Not Beautiful Like Samantha Brick

A few weeks ago I read an article about Shin In Geun, the first person known to escape from a North Korean prison camp. Up until today I thought he had probably the hardest life I’d ever read about: institutionalised, tortured, controlled. And yet today that crown has been stolen. Stand back Shin: Samantha’s here.

Yes. Samantha Brick, handily named for the item you most want to throw at her, has written today in the Daily Mail about her own torture: being too pretty. Her ethereal, transcendent beauty leads women to hate her (although, as per an earlier article, luckily it’s also brought her enormous wealth) and this makes her sad.

Not sad enough to stop working out and eat her own bodyweight in chocolate, though, which has always been my preferred method of preventing men from throwing themselves in front of me as I walk down the street. (It was getting annoying having to step over the bodies.) And not sad enough to wear a bag over her head, which would presumably solve many of her problems, although it might create some new ones.

I’m sure that being pretty does bring its own problems. But like complaining about having too much money, it’s not really a great idea to go public with your issues in this area. There’s really no way of coming out of it well. Particularly if you’ve already written about how great it is being attractive, which was the point at which any lingering sympathy I’d had trotted off into the distance, muttering darkly to itself.

And yet perhaps I should sympathise. Brick is a product of her environment, and I can only imagine that said environment was startlingly shallow and image-obsessed. More generally, she’s a product of a society which does have a very polarised and contradictory view of women’s appearance. Moreover, Mail writers are apparently often manipulated into writing what the paper wants. Maybe Samantha Brick is a modest, unassuming woman who is about to sue the Mail for gross misrepresentation.

Maybe not. But possibly I shouldn’t actually pick up that brick.