Sunday, 9 August 2015

On peeing

Ladies toilets. The hallowed space in which love lives are drunkenly discussed, phone signals seem possible, and ill-advised selfies are a spacial nuisance.

But it is none of these things that I have an issue with. My bugbear is entirely to do with the intended purpose of the lavatories - using the toilet.

Many women do not like the thought of sitting down on public toilets in case they are encrusted with used needles or spider venom or something. In this case, they choose to 'hover' over the seat while they relieve themselves. Fine. If you want to do that, it's your business. But when you inevitably pee ALL OVER THE SEAT, clean it up afterwards. This isn't a cutesy 'be a sweetie and wipe the seatie' statement; this is a 'stop leaving it for short women' command. Some of us simply lack the leg length to hover over the toilet, and rely on lining the seat and sitting down. I am absolutely fed up and quite frankly nauseated by the amount of pee I have to wipe up before even dreaming of using the toilet. The sheer annoyance of waiting in a queue for ages, only to have one cubicle free up and the seat be slick with urine is immeasurable.

Everyone whines about how disgusting public toilets are, but they would be infinitely better if everyone either lined and sat or quickly wiped the seat after dripping. It is the same people obsessed with toilets being disgusting who are peeing all over them. Stop it. Stop it now.

Saturday, 25 October 2014

Dancing Queen

Attending the Big Reunion Tour in London last weekend brought back a memory so cringeworthy and humiliatingly embarrassing that I had repressed it for 13 years. Looking back on the event, I am now able to laugh at my sheer stupidity and naiveté and I felt that it was a good enough anecdote to resurrect the old blog for...

As a child, I was convinced that I was destined for either TV, the theatre, or pop music. I had never considered the world of dance, as I was resolutely a tomboy and dancing was for girly girls. I would play at being S Club 7 or the Spice Girls, of course, but I was more about the strutting with a stolen board-marker microphone than I was about careful choreography.

However, shortly after starting secondary school, I was made aware of a yearly contest that completely dominated the lives of a large proportion of students every winter: the annual Dance Competition.

When it was first mentioned, I wasn't overly bothered and hadn't realised the sheer magnitude of the event. As it drew closer, though, I realised I was missing out on a vital opportunity to get up on stage and dazzle people (and miss a morning of lessons). I simply *had* to be in that show!

Everyone I knew was already in groups and had been rehearsing diligently for weeks, desperate to transform themselves into troupes of 5ives or Xtinas. This wasn't a problem for me though - I didn't need backing dancers; I was a star!! So I signed myself up for an audition on the first available slot as a solo performer, giving me approximately two weeks to come up with a routine. Easy.

The problem was this: I had absolutely no clue when it came to dancing. The only experience of dance I had had came from aerobics in PE lessons every now and again, and my only exposure was the backing dancers on Top of the Pops. How was I to know that solo dancing was an entirely different kettle of fish? How was I supposed to have understood that solo dancing was more about elegance and intricate, flowing movements and being at one with the music?

To make matters worse, I was actually exceptionally shy and self-conscious, so my rehearsals were limited entirely to one particular five minute slot when my mum was emptying the tumble dryer in the garage at the same time as my dad was out washing the car. I stuck on A1’s ‘Same Old Brand New You’, which was the first thing I had to hand, and began to work out my winning routine. This brought with it problem number two: I had no bloody clue how to make up a routine, short of counting each move for approximately 8 beats. Being so awkward also meant that my movements were about as fluid as a particularly dry sponge and I felt really stupid, even alone in the confines of my room. I decided it would be best to wing it.

The day of The Audition came. What seemed like 1000 students were crowded together in the drama room. Some were warming up, and some were sitting cross-legged on the blue carpet, wanting a good view of the competition they faced. There was a desk in the middle, behind which sat three teachers, and an open space cordoned off in which we were to perform.

Feeling fairly confident (read: naïve), I sat near a group of my friends who were performing a well-rehearsed, complex routine involving chairs to Britney’s ‘Hit Me Baby One More Time’ for their audition piece. I was the only solo-performer there.

When it was my turn to audition, my heart began to beat a little faster. I knew that despite my obvious lack of talent or practice or stage-presence, I was naturally going to not only qualify, but win... but it didn't stop the nerves creeping through my veins like ice. I faced the back of the room... then changed my mind and faced the judges... then stood with my legs slightly apart... then thought better and put them together... then gave the cue to the kid by the tape deck that I was ready to begin...


Naturally, I had forgotten to rewind the tape, so I rushed over and crouched by the tiny cylindrical tape deck, while the audience muttered.




“Not far now!”


“Aha! There we go…” I exclaimed triumphantly as I made my way back to the circle.

There was a pause where I had rewound that bit too far and then the opening of the song began. You recall, no doubt, that I had no dance actually prepared.

It was awful.

For the verses, I spent my time looking confused, then jumping from side to side for 8 beats, then walking in circles for 8 beats, then jogging on the spot for 8 beats, then punching the air for a few. At the chorus, I remember vividly that I pointed right for ‘another night’ and left for ‘another day’ and shrugged my shoulders for ‘what can I say?’ Then I flailed for something I could do, and went back to bouncing on the spot until one of the teachers said they had seen enough and stopped the music.

Smiling, I bounced (yes, more BOUNCING) off to ask my friends what they thought. To the credit of everyone there, they didn’t laugh to my face. Instead, they said things like:

“I really like that song!”
“That was so brave!”
“A1 are just so good, aren’t they?”
“You’ve never had any formal dance training but you still went up there? Wow.”*

Although I was fairly sure I was being complimented (I wasn’t), I still felt like I could maybe have done better. In English later that day, I asked my friend if she thought I should maybe give the audition another go. She told me that I had probably done the best I could and that she didn’t think they did second auditions and that of course I would get in with my routine as it was.

I didn’t listen.

“Miss… I think I didn’t do very well in my audition this lunchtime. I know I can do better though…! Do you think you could maybe give me a second change at an audition?” I garbled at my drama teacher, who was very obviously trying to leave, at the end of the day.

Perhaps because she was in a rush and didn’t want to be held up with more questions, or maybe because I was a very weird kid with a tendency to start crying, she didn’t put up much resistance before saying that I could have another go – if time permitted – at the following day’s audition.

Given that my parents remained resolutely in the house for the whole evening, I was unable to polish the turd that was my dance competition entry. Still, I remained optimistic that my performance of the previous day had been pretty okay actually, and that this was really more of a safety net in case anyone else had busted some zumba to 911 or something.

The fact that I had rewound the tape in advance was literally the only thing better about the second audition.

Bounce bounce bounce bounce, bounce bounce bounce bounce!
Twist twist twist twist, twist twist twist twist!
Ruuuunnnn innnn aaaaa circleeeeee
Point right
Point left
Bounce bounce bounce bounce-
“OK thank you! I think we’ve seen enough!”

The following week, the list of successful auditions was posted on the wall of the drama room. I was not among them. I started crying and actually went to ask if there had been a mistake.

It wasn't until I was watching the show and saw what a solo dance was supposed to look like that my toes took up their rightful curled position. I never spoke of it again.

*My dancing was described in later years as being like 'a little wooden doll'.

Saturday, 20 October 2012

Ways an English Literature Degree Will Ruin Your Life

As I’m sure most of you reading will know, I am the proud ‘owner’ (if that is the right word) of a BA in English Literature. Now, I know what you’re thinking: My GOD, Katt, how are you unemployed*? I know, I know, shocking.
            Anyway, even though my degree did morph me into a walking cliché, being that I am now a qualified English teacher, I loved it. I don’t even care how nerdy I sound when I say I really love reading and want ALL the words in my face as fast as humanly possible. However, there are certain ways I have noticed my perceptions of the world being changed by studying literature.
            Technically this blog should be entitled ‘Ways reading will ruin your life’, but a. I don’t want to make reading sound like a bad thing; and b. I want my £10,000 piece of paper to have SOME practical use – i.e. this blog dedicated to it.
            Here is a list of the most prominent dangers to look out for should you study/ plan on studying literature at any point in your life. If anyone has any more to add, I would thoroughly enjoy reading them too!

*I’m not actually unemployed. I stand around wearing an oversized yellow uniform, attempting to look fierce for a security company. But it’s only part-time and casual so I think I’m OK to claim otherwise for comic effect.

Unrealistic expectations of relationships:

One of the more obvious reasons a literature degree can ruin your life is by creating an unrealistic slant on relationships you may become involved in. I’m sure here I should probably be writing about Heathcliffe and Cathy and that kind of thing, but I’ll be honest and say I have never got through Wuthering Heights ever. I’m sure I should like it considering the level of weirdness and necrophilia involved (SERIOUSLY!!!) but no.
            I know this point is totally hypocritical coming from me given my pathological hatred of romcoms for this precise reason (don’t even get me STARTED on Bridesmaids... actually, I may write a blog dedicated to the rage that film invokes in me). But this is my blog and I can be as big of a hypocrite as I like so there.
            ANYWAY, I defy anyone to have read a book and not thought ‘ohh if only’ when reading about a wonderful romantic encounter. In novels, particularly the ones I used to fawn over from Medieval times, you’ll always find true love conquering and being a motivation for a whole range of different conquests. However, it is not from the expecting wonderful romance forever stance that I make this point...
            Think of the last book you read that involved a relationship. DID ONE OF THEM DIE?! DID ONE OF THEM LEAVE?! All of the most perfect relationships in literature end HORRIBLY. I really wanted to put in some examples here, but then I figured I might ruin several novels for you. The point I am trying to make is that if you’re lucky enough to be in love, perhaps it would be wise to invest in people-sized bubble wrap, and watch the skies for falling pianos and suchlike. And that sniffle he/ she has developed? SEND THEM TO THE DOCTOR. NOW.

Never look at violence the same

SWORD FIGHTING. How crazy manly is that? Nothing can show your hatred of another person better than thrusting a sword straight into them. Oh wait, no... a degree in literature will teach you that ANYTHING involving swords/ arrows/ needles/ stabby things/ basically anything that goes into another person for the purpose of hurting them is sexual. Taking some examples from some of my best scoring essays:

On Dracula: Sorry, I am going to ruin Dracula for you here if you haven’t read it. Incidentally, if you haven’t read it, you are not missing out on anything. Every time something exciting starts to happen, they have a meeting about it and suck all the fun out of it. It’s like foreplay followed by a running commentary and evaluation of the situation at hand rather than just finishing the job. In short, an unsatisfying read.
            Where was I... Oh yes, at the end of ‘Dracula’, the ‘gang’ manage to successfully stab Dracula in the heart and he dies and the world is safe again (may be slightly paraphrased). That sounds alright doesn’t it? My essay concluded that Dracula was the real winner because, even though he died, he was penetrated by the man whom he loved all along.
            Given the heavily sexual subtext running below the surface of ‘Dracula’, I don’t think this was entirely unreasonable to argue, and if you do read it, then you will probably notice a certain degree of effeminacy to the antagonist, which could well be indicative of homosexual tendencies.

On WW1: This is my literary baby. If it’s a novel about WW1, guaranteed I have either read it, or will devour it as soon as I hear of its existence. But even WW1 is not free from the clutches of violent sexual imagery. Frequently soldiers in WW1 novels (just as they would have in real life) noted how they were virgins and, should they die, then they would never know the touch of a woman (or man, or horse, or whatever should take their fancy).
            As you can probably imagine, these characters often find themselves torn apart by shrapnel. Which is death by penetration. Which is obviously them being violently raped by war. Boom. (Excuse the pun).

Do you think I enjoy this inability to read ANYTHING serious and not be weighing up the innuendo and sexual imagery?! Stupid question... I do most of the time. But still, as is the case with the previous example, it can be HEAVILY inappropriate! And don’t even get me STARTED on Arthurian battles.

Unhealthy obsessions with past events

This is something I have already touched on, but literature can leave you feeling in some way connected to past and/ or fictionalised events, in a way you really have no business being connected to. In my case, this falls into two major areas: WW1 and King Arthur.
            I am sure historians feel the same way about whichever period they feel most interested in, but the method by which you learn as a literature student differs. Almost everything I learned about WW1 came from novels. Now, even the most thoroughly researched, accurate novel cannot escape the inevitable emotional ties to characters readers may feel. If you’re reading about WW1 in a text book, you’re going to be faced with facts such as how 60,000 people died on the first day of the Somme, and you might say “oh no, that’s a big number” because 60,000 is, essentially, just a number and the concept of that representing an amount of lives lost is incomprehensible. Though you can appreciate fully that it was a horrific event in an abstract way, you’re not necessarily emotionally invested.
            When you learn about these things through the medium of literature, YOU WERE THERE, MAN. Characters you have grown close to over a period of maybe hundreds of pages are dying horribly in front of your eyes. Tears are streaming down your face as you’ve found yourself in a shell hole filled with dying and decaying bodies, moaning for the end to come or so disfigured you cannot tell even which side they were fighting for. To make it worse, the book is written in third person, over the shoulder narration, which means there is a strong likelihood that the character you are sharing thoughts with is going to die too in the end. And to make it EVEN worse, you know that everything you’re reading is based on FACT so you can’t even tell yourself it’s only a story.
            While studying for A Levels, I became so intensely engrossed in WW1 that I would frequently argue about how much of a travesty it was that it was not commonly taught in schools. It got so bad that I lost my faith in everything: humanity, the country, religion. I was having nightly nightmares from The Front and bursting into tears every time I read ‘Dulce et Decorum Est’. (It got so bad that my mum banned me from reading any more WW1 texts for fear I was going insane, and bought me some timid novels about dogs and autographs).
            Anyway, my point here is that if you’re studying literature, you never know when an obsession may strike and then, before you know it, you’re full on living in a past dreamt up from the pages of a novel.

Empathy for the clinically insane

I’m sure we’ve all heard the phrase “an unreliable narrator”. I spent a long while explaining the concept to my A Level classes during my five months as a teacher. Often this is fairly harmless and occurs most frequently in first-person narration. It can merely be the case that your opinion of another character is entirely based upon the character you’re following’s observations, and these may well turn out to be not all they seem. Or you may start to realise that thoughts don’t quite add up and make sense. Take ‘Hamlet’ for example. At first, the eponymous character’s father died a few months back; by Act 4, he is claiming it was a matter of days before!
            Anyway, some of the greatest novels (in my sick and twisted opinion) are those that make you uncomfortable. I’m not necessarily talking about unreliable narrators; I’m talking about protagonists who are most definitely not quite right. The most obvious example that springs to mind is ‘A Clockwork Orange’. Once you’ve managed to unpick Burgess’ web of prose, you’re at one with Alex’s psyche. Given Alex’s lust for ‘rape and ultraviolence’, it seems bizarre that you may grow attached to someone who is so abhorable. But in spite of yourself, you will almost certainly find yourself rooting for him.
            More disturbingly is the effect of ‘American Psycho’. The film adaptation sees Christian Bale rather fabulously hacking his peers to bits in quite a tongue-in-cheek manner. Come on, who hasn’t laughed at the bit where the naked chick runs down the stairs as Bale chases after her, crazed and wielding a chainsaw. The book is absolutely not funny in any way, shape or form, and it is one of the most difficult books I’ve ever read. The most horrific murders are left out of the film adaptation, but on a number of occasions, I had to stop reading for a while lest my eyes widen to the point of falling out of their sockets.
            The part that is not different from the film though, and that is the most disturbing about the novel, is that you don’t hate Patrick Bateman. Not even when he’s wandering around a dead guy’s flat with a dead woman’s head stuck on his still-erect penis do you think ‘this guy is awful’. Or perhaps that was just me and my questionable taste in men.

There are many more reasons a literature degree can ruin your life. For example, I was going to write a section on how it makes you sound like a pretentious dick-hole by accident, but I feel this speaks for itself in my casual referral to famous texts. Also in my passionate hatred of ‘King Lear’ even though it’s, like, ohmygod, totally famous and Shakespearian. BUT I decided that the angles I have covered were enough to get my general point across and I hope you have enjoyed ploughing through this – belated – blog post.

Sunday, 10 June 2012

How to Fail Your Driving Test

Those of you reading this who know me, will know that I have a special talent for embarrassing myself spectacularly given half the chance to do so. So I thought, what better way to open this blog, than with an account of all the magical ways I found to fail my driving test.

Driving test number 1 was the stuff of legend amongst my friends for a while and, gradually, I learnt to laugh at my idiocy. I was 17 years old, and had been learning to drive for about 9 months. I felt so certain that I would definitely have built up enough motoring prowess to pass, and I was convinced that my parents would definitely love me more if I passed my test at 17 (not that they didn’t love me anyway, I just felt it was always a failing in my family’s eyes that my knowledge of cars extended solely to what colour they were and if I found them aesthetically pleasing).
            SO, on the way to my driving test, I was feeling pretty nervous, but also quietly confident. I was a driving GODDESS. Better than at least 99% of drivers on Sutton-In-Ashfield’s roads. What’s more, I was going to ace this test with no minors. Such was my ideal scenario as played out in my head.
            HOWEVER, somewhat inevitably, things did not go to plan... I drove out of the test centre and turned left as directed. I drove towards the traffic lights I was to eventually turn right at as I was told to, and as I approached, they turned amber. Somewhere in the murky depths of my useless brain, I remembered my instructor telling me that if the lights turn amber as you approach them, it can be safer to continue than to stop. This certainly does not apply when you’re driving at about 20mph up a hill, with no cars behind you, and the light turns amber with a plentiful stopping distance. I thought it would impress my luminously-clad examiner and show him how confident a driver I was if I drove through it. My foot went down on the accelerator; his foot went down on the dual-control brake.
            I knew full-well that as soon as the examiner uses the dual-controls, the test is failed. But as I sat at the traffic lights at the crossroads I was to turn right at, I convinced myself that it was OK; that because the test had only been going for about 2 minutes and I wouldn’t have actually killed anyone if I had been allowed to go through, I might still get away with my error.
            The lights turned red and amber, and then green. I drove out into the middle of the crossroads, and turned the wheel right... almost into the path of a car travelling straight on from the opposite direction. Again, the examiner’s foot slammed onto the brake until there was a safe gap for me to turn right through. I hadn’t been taught about the rule RE: roads with no arrow filter, where you have to wait. Shaken, I exited the crossroads, and my examiner asked me to pull over when I found a safe place. A normal part of any driving test, so I wasn’t overly fazed. That is, until he uttered the immortal words that will remain etched in my memory for all eternity:

“In the interests of public safety, I am terminating this examination.”

That was it. In under five minutes, I had accumulated a serious fault, and a dangerous fault, bad enough to earn me the mythical ‘walk-back’. I trotted behind the examiner in his fluorescent DSA jacket, with every resident of the town knowing precisely what must have happened, until I got back to the test centre and had to wait with one of the other driving instructors (whose student passed, if you were wondering) until mine returned. And that is how test #1 ended up.

My second driving test occurred in the September after the first one. Sadly, I was feeling MUCH less confident this time around, but secretly hoped that my humbleness would be rewarded with a blue certificate. I’d given myself a pep-talk in the bathroom mirror and told myself that I would NEVER make a mistake while driving ever again ever.
            True to form, I stalled while pulling out of the test centre. I then drove as carefully as I could around the rest of Sutton, until I was asked to perform a parallel park. I had never messed one of those up, like, EVER. Even the first time I ever did one, I was fine. So when she told me to pull up alongside the silver car and park behind it, I was secretly rejoicing. I slowly edged up beside the silver car (I can’t mix up my vocabulary as, like I explained before, I remember nothing more than the colours). I reversed and checked my blind spot before spinning the wheel left, then right, then left again and beautifully into position....
            HA as if that’s what happened. After I checked my blind spot, I turned the wheel left, then left it way too late before turning it the other way, so I bumped the kerb. Then repeatedly tried to rectify it for the next several minutes before the examiner said: “OK, I think I’ve seen enough. We’ll leave it there for now shall we? Drive on and follow the road ahead.”
            She was so nice about it that I thought maybe she really was letting me off the hook, having seen how gracefully and non-swearily I handled the situation. I was so busy concentrating on how nice she’d been that I forgot to look when turning at a T junction. Nothing happened! But it certainly was one of the things listed at the end of the test.
            Yes, I made it through the entire 40 minute test. But in that 40 minutes, I had managed to accumulate 1 dangerous fault, 2 serious faults, and 16 minors. Considering you’re only allowed a maximum of 15 minors in one test to pass, I had failed on FOUR COUNTS. Impressive.

This test occurred nearly a year after test #2, as shortly after taking test #2, I had had a little mishap while practicing with my dad, where I had misjudged the speed of traffic entering a roundabout and then I don’t really remember much apart from being stranded in the middle of the roundabout with a car beeping at me and my dad desperately trying to pull the handbrake on. I didn’t crash thanks to the quick reactions of the beeping car, but it was very close and I took a few well-earned months off driving.
Anyway, once I felt confident enough to start driving again, I had a new instructor and a new test booked. My examiner for test number 3 took an instant dislike to me on account of the fact that at my ‘towering’ height of 5 foot 2.8 inches, I was about a head taller than him. He made a point of telling me before we had even got to the car that he had a wife and a child. To be honest, I was concentrating more on not vomming up the snakes of nervousness whirling around in my stomach, than on whether or not this man with a chip on his shoulder was getting laid.
This time I made it to the end of the road before I stalled the car. Go me. The first time I was aware I had failed this test (oh come on, you knew where this was going; that wasn’t a spoiler!) was when I was driving down a road with traffic parked on both sides. Another car came pelting from ahead on the other side of the road, and I had to make the “difficult” decision of whether to drive sliiightly too close to the parked cars on my side, or crashing into the oncoming car. Apparently my decision to do the former was wrong(?!) and as soon as the car had passed me, the examiner gently touched my steering wheel and told me I was too close to the parked cars. Examiner intervention = test fail. Again.
I was pretty cross because I was (and still am) sure I was in the right, but nevertheless I continued on with the test for the experience if nothing else. Driving along the dual carriageway, the examiner asked me to “take the next exit, by the traffic lights.” There were traffic lights about half a mile in the distance, so I got ready to indicate to come off, when I noticed a slip road appear to my left. I asked, confused, if this was the one he meant. He said it was, so I swerved haphazardly onto it, forgetting to actually change into a gear and ended up revving in neutral for a moment, entirely losing control of the car for several seconds.
            The result of at the end of the test was one serious fault, two dangerous faults, and seven minors. Well. At least I hadn’t failed on minors...!!

Test number four occurred after a two-and-a-bit year gap. Once I could afford to buy myself driving lessons in university, and I’d realised I would need to be able to drive should I get a job, I decided it was high time I got this pesky test over with. After about six months of lessons, I found myself in a new waiting room, awaiting my fourth examiner.
            In-keeping with tradition, I stalled as we left the test centre. However, the examiner, having seen how desperately nervous I was (seriously, I was white as a sheet and shaking so much I’d dropped the car keys twice while getting into the car), kindly told me to turn off the ignition, take a deep breath, and start again.
            WELL. I had the test from hell. As soon as I’d left the test centre, there were policemen on motorbikes whizzing about all over, directing traffic. Then we entered a queue of traffic, and as soon as that had begun to clear, an ambulance came tearing up behind me and I had to deal with that. Then, about 5 minutes later, a car broke down in front of me and I had to manoeuvre around it. Then, when I merged onto the dual carriageway, it was busy despite being early afternoon. Then a lorry broke down in front of me just as I was getting ready to exit. After this, I was asked to reverse around a VERY steep, VERY tight corner, and to do an emergency stop. Then I approached a left-hand bend and encountered a mahooosive lorry waiting to turn out of it and blocking it off. Guess how many seriouses I had? None. I had passed all of these things absolutely fine, with only a handful of minors.
            My fail occurred at Culverhouse Cross. I was asked to turn left when the lights turned green. Dutifully, I turned left as instructed, and then came face to face with pedestrian crossing markings on the road, and red lights either side, so I stopped. A moment later, I realised that the red lights were for the traffic on the opposite side of the junction, and had a car NOT chosen that moment to drive behind me from where I’d just come from, I would have got a minor. But, in true Katt-style, it was another test-failing serious. The examiner did note that she wished she could have just given me a slap rather than a fail, so I suppose I win in the most minor way possible.

Test number five was my lucky one. Despite going the wrong way* in the bit where I was supposed to direct myself in accordance to a map the examiner had shown me, and despite positioning too close to the centre line when turning on a tight, right hand bend, the examiner saw it in his heart to pass me with two minors. BOOM.

And that, ladies and gentleman, is how to fail a driving test four times, in the most spectacular ways possible.

*certainly a sign of things to come.