Sunday, 23 November 2008

Why I Love (and Now Admire) Bill Bailey

“You have to pick your targets,” he says. “And I've realised that, consciously or unconsciously, I tend to target multinational companies! The world's richest banks, the world's richest retailers, people who aren't vulnerable. Because I think, of anyone, you can take this, me, some beardy bloke, shaking a fist at you.

“That was the thing about the whole Russell Brand and Jonathan Ross affair. It was just the wrong targets.” They mocked the weak? “They mocked the weak. You have got to aim a bit higher than that.”

From an interview with the Times.

I love Bill Bailey for a hundred different reasons, but this is the big one, which he has now handily summed up for me in a quote. "You have got to aim a bit higher than that." I loved him upon seeing his cheerily bemused comedy stylings on Never Mind The Buzzcocks for the first time, I loved him even more when I first saw his incredible musical talent in a stage show, he had my undying love forever when I saw a picture of him in a "This Is What A Feminist Looks Like" T-shirt. Bill Bailey is possibly the most well-loved comedian in Britain at the moment (I'm having a hard time thinking of other contenders), and on the basis of that he could say pretty much anything and get a laugh. He knows that. When you get as popular as he has, you don't have to try anymore. Jonathan Ross and Russell Brand haven't had to try for some time. They went too far, and will be forced to aim for a higher standard, at least for a while. Bill Bailey does it all for himself. He holds the concept of the "easy target" in contempt, not because he has to but because he is better than that, both as a comedian and as a person.

My love for Bill Bailey has grown into admiration because of what he demands of himself. I don't admire many people (never surprised, never impressed) and I almost wish this weren't a reason to admire him, that most comedians thought like this and the Russell Brands of this world were an aberration, but I know they don't and they're not. Bill is an exception, a rarity. I admire him for expecting more of himself, and for expecting more of his industry. In fact, in his honour I'm going to implement a new Thank You feature.

Thank You, Bill Bailey, for restoring a little of my faith in comedy.

Friday, 21 November 2008

Fun With Names

I have a terribly important job doing other people's grunt work. It's a combination of copying things from one place to another and dashing round like a mad thing because a piece of paper has gone missing. As you may imagine, this isn't so taxing for the brain cells, so my mind likes to go somewhere else while my fingers type and my legs dash and my hair goes frizzy. A reasonable chunk of my daily work involves inputting employment tribunal cases to a database (it was actually all my daily work today - grrr, argh, bloody people calling in sick), and I've developed a tendency to invent lives for these people based on where they live, what they've chosen as their email address, the reason they're suing. Of course, sometimes I just laugh at their names. My juvenility has been well-documented here.

Names interest me. Beyond the base level "who would call their child Tangy?" and "hehe, Mr Vincent-Squibb" (I apologise to any Tangys or Vincent-Squibbs that may be reading - this is my problem, not yours), it brings up a lot of gender questions. Often solicitors do not put an honorific on their forms. This leads to many bemused discussions among us grunt-workers: is this a man's name or a woman's name? Is this a male or a female Alex? Is R Jones a Richard or a Rachel? And this, in turn, leads me to wonder why on earth we need to know. I mean, we ask the questions of each other because it affects what we type in - is the salutation Mr Jones or Ms Jones, all that stuff. But why is that necessary? Why do we need to know someone's gender in order to send them a form letter? What, in all seriousness, is the point?

It seems strange to me that in this day and age, we haven't developed a gender-neutral honorific or salutation. It shouldn't, I suppose, since the world hasn't really come round to "Ms" yet. My ex once told me off for putting "Ms" on a form because "that's for divorced women". My mother likes to tell me that "Ms" is ridiculous. No more ridiculous than having to surreptitiously inquire about female colleagues' marital status because I'm not sure how to refer to them in a letter. No more ridiculous than realising you know exactly which women in the office are married but have no corresponding knowledge about any of the men. It's bloody stupid. At this juncture, I'd like to throw in a complaint about "Miss". I hate being called "Miss". It makes me feel eight.

Women have a tricky time with this stuff. Whatever we choose to call ourselves, we will be judged on it. Some people think they can suss out our whole personalities from whether we choose Mrs or Miss or Ms. And then, inevitably, we have to look at the whole surname thing. This is a difficult one to bring up, as any opinions on the subject are bound to piss someone off, and with good reason - names are an intensely personal thing, and we don't want to feel we're being judged negatively when we've done what we feel is the right thing for us. With that in mind, I'll tell you which corner I sit in.

I always assumed, fairly complacently, that I would take my husband's name when I got married. Firstly, I don't like my surname very much, secondly, it wasn't something I thought I had much choice about, and thirdly, I'd heard all those practical arguments - what about the kids? This is clearly the best option for them. During my relationship with my ex, I spun right round (like a record, baby, right round) on this issue. I remember telling him I'd take his name. I assumed I would for several years. Then, when we got officially engaged, my mind started rebelling. That's not my name. I said so to my friends, and all of them laughed at me, but the more I thought about it, the clearer it became. That's not my name. Part of this, I'm sure, was my writer's obsession with symbolism - I couldn't stand the implication that I would be leaving my family, which has always been wonderful, loving and supportive, and becoming part of his, which has never been any of those things. I told my ex, either both of us change or neither of us do. We take a new name or we keep our own. And if we keep our own, then have children, they aren't getting your name. I thought perhaps my stance might soften after we broke up, imagining that it was in large part due to problems with his family, but it wasn't and it hasn't. I do like my symbolism, and I will not change for a man who will not change for me. Simple as that. My mother says I should hold off on making any decisions like this, in case the man I marry has a really nice surname. So what? I bet we could pick a better one.

You hear a lot of arguments for changing versus not changing versus hyphenating versus taking a new name, and the only ones that bother me are the ones that hinge on women as a monolithic group should do, as opposed to what's best for the arguer individually. If your name isn't a big deal, fine. If you wanted to take his name, fine. If you would never in a million years want to share a name with your husband, fine. But don't tell me that name-changing is something wives should do for their husbands. Don't tell me that women who do change are tools of the patriarchy. You think the concept of name-changing is bizarre, fine. You think women who do it are bizarre, not fine. I don't feel like any of us have the right to stomp around telling other people how they should refer to themselves, which is why I will never, ever marry a man who demands I become Mrs Hisname, for any reason. Don't tell me what my name is.

On a global, political scale, this issue doesn't matter that much to me, although I am dying to see a reduction in the various stigmas attached to women's choices in this area, and to men's choices to do anything besides keep their names and have lots of mini-Theirnames. I cannot muster up the indignation to criticise a woman for what she wants to call herself. It's her damn name. But at the same time, on a personal level this is intensely important to me, maybe irrationally so. It is strangely vital to me that you, whoever "you" may be in this scenario, cannot tell me what my name is. It must be something I have control over. I must not become a Jones or a de la Garza or a Snott-Pickling simply because of who I fall in love with. It makes no sense. My name, of all things, must be my decision.

Thursday, 20 November 2008

Why Is This News?

(I wonder if this may become a depressingly regular feature.)

John Sergeant has left Strictly Come Dancing. For the international reader: a man who can't dance very well has left a show about dancing because he couldn't dance very well. And not only is this news, this is The Biggest Story In The World, Ever. We can't get away from it. John Sergeant has quit! John Sergeant has quit! I could not possibly care less! Please tell me something interesting!

This has been quietly irritating me for a couple of days, but this has just pushed me over the edge. It is filed under "Politics" because a cabinet minister has been remarking on the story on Question Time. WHY is this coming up on Question Time? Is nothing else happening in Britain at the moment? For ages you couldn't go anywhere without hearing about the whole bloody Russell Brand thing (can't stand Russell Brand, the whole incident was terrible, but please don't make me spend any more time thinking about him), and now that's all been shunted away so that thousands of people can complain that John Sergeant has quit. Hey, I hear we're entering a recession. Apparently, America has its first black president. The BNP membership list has been leaked. I want to hear more about that, if only in hopes of more gems like this one from The Times:

"Some of the information is inaccurate, whether by error or design. One possibility is that simple codes have been used to mangle numbers. For example, the mobile for a top English scientist, said to require discretion because of his job, was answered yesterday by an angry Glaswegian who launched into a four-letter torrent of abuse."

Consider this my Quote of the Day (rather, week). I think a lot of interesting ethical questions are thrown out by the BNP member leak, but I can't read about it because no news outlet will write about anything other than John bloody Sergeant. And I quite like John Sergeant, but for fuck's sake. He's a man who can't dance. A man who can't dance has decided to stop dancing. Please stop this now. This is DULL. For the love of God, give me some actual news, or failing that, several pun-filled jokes. Anything other than John bloody Sergeant. PLEASE.

Saturday, 1 November 2008

NaNoWriMo Blogging: The Procrastination Starts Here

Alright, so let's just say I took October off. Will that do?

So, I'm back, and I'm procrastinating. It's November, which means NaNoWriMo. This will be my fifth year, and I've managed it every year except last year, so I'd like to get back on a winning streak.

I've sort of accepted, given the events of this year, that I'm going to end up writing a therapy novel as opposed to a great work of literary genius. I think I need it, and I also don't have a plot, so what's going to come out is what's on my mind.

I'm having terrible trouble with names this year. It's not usually a problem for me, but I need a name for a guy who's not very nice and I cannot come up with one. I don't want to use the name of someone I know because I am dumb and always feel like I'm casting aspersions. I have like three readers, so I'm probably talking to the air here, but how does everyone else do it?

Just for shits and giggles, a dorky NaNo tally thing:

Word Count: 3446
Junk Food Count: Half a box of After Eights and some Pringles
Dare Count: 2
Pointless Word-Count-Boosting Scene Count: 0
Restart Count: 0
Nervous Breakdown Count: 0