Saturday, 24 September 2011

None of the above.

I have had a very auspicious week. On Thursday, Facebook chose something I’d posted as one of its TOP NEWS STORIES for the last 15 minutes! I think Facebook’s rebranding as a rolling news channel is really going to propel it to a new level, although they may need to rethink their editorial policy if they’re going to lead with the remark I overheard at Willesden Green Tube Station.

Then, as if that weren’t exciting enough, the Mayor of London contacted me PERSONALLY because he is interested in what I think! This is incredibly touching, and feels as if it’s a recognition of a sort. I’m not hugely active in politics, but I do like to spout an opinion or two from time to time, and the idea that Boris wants me- me!- to help him decide on what policies to do is flattering and humbling.

Boris’ mailshot took the form of a questionnaire. I was very careful to answer as honestly as possible, because I could tell he was genuinely interested in my opinion- that’s why the page was headed ‘Tell Boris what you think!’ in a chirpy font. So, when section 1, ‘Local Issues’ asked ‘If there was one thing you could change in your local area, what would that be?’ I replied ‘A different mayor’. This was also the answer to ‘How would you improve transport in London?’ and I was beginning to think that I might have to write it in every single little blue box. But then Boris- perhaps thinking of the recent riots that took place in as many as four small pockets of London- took to asking me about crime. ‘Which area of crime do you think needs more attention?’ There wasn’t a little box for ‘a better understanding of the social and economic causes which lead young people to disengage from society’ so I just ticked ‘other’.

These questions had all been fairly generic so far, so I was pleased to see that Boris was keen to find out what I thought of a specific policy. ‘Since being elected’ he asked ‘Boris Johnson has quadrupled London’s rape crisis provision. Do you support his efforts to increase support for victims of rape?

This was a real thinker. Like all humans, I am a massive fan of rape, and there’s nothing I hate more than seeing support for its victims increased. It was incredibly brave of Boris to risk asking for feedback on something where opinions were likely to be so polarised, when he could have asked about less controversial topics such as the 55% rise in bus fares in the three years since he came to power.

The next section, ‘Cost of Living’ pointed out that there was a huge increase in Council Tax under Livingstone, before asking what the mayor could do to help with the cost of living. Unaccountably, ‘stop raising the price of public transport year on year by loads more than the rate of inflation’ wasn’t an option, so I went back to the tried and tested and wrote ‘resign’. The next question showed a penetrating understanding of what is most important to Londoners in the current recession, with jobs being lost and services cut. ‘Boris stopped the production of Ken Livingstone’s propaganda sheet ‘The Londoner’ which cost London tax payers £3.1 million per year. Do you agree with this cost saving decision?

Well, I hate propaganda, and I’m glad to see that Boris is so strongly against it, too. Unfortunately I never saw a copy of Ken Livingstone’s propaganda sheet ‘The Londoner’, so I’m unable to judge whether my c35p a year was being well spent.

For some reason I was feeling quite depressed and angry by this point, and my answer ‘Jump in the Thames’ to the question ‘what do you think the Mayor could do to make planning your finances easier?’ may have been a little churlish. I could hardly concentrate on the questions that followed, about the Olympics, and by the time I was asked how I’d voted before and how I would vote in future I was barely able to summon the strength to write ‘not for you’.

I can’t wait for my letter back from Boris, telling me how he’s going to be putting my suggestions into effect. Meanwhile, I’m going to have a very exciting weekend, courtesy of Ken Livingstone. You won’t believe this, but he’s emailed me- me!- to tell me that he’s announcing an important new policy on Monday, and, get this, if I click on the link he’ll tell me about it FIRST! At first I thought I must have misunderstood, but when I read again it was very clear: ‘If you want to be the first to know click here to sign up to receive a text before anyone else!

I mean, that is huge. It’s like when Emma Willis tells you who’s nominated who, the night before the main show. I’ll tell you, if I’d clicked on that link I’d be swaggering around the streets of Cricklewood bursting with pride at the knowledge that I’d been told one of Ken’s flagship policies 48 whole hours before he released it to the press. I don’t quite know what I’d have been signing up to by clicking the link, but I bet it will have been awesome.

Boris Johnson and Ken Livingstone have always been known for the maturity and dignity with which they carry themselves, and I can’t wait for what is bound to be an elevated and sophisticated mayoral campaign. These first shots are very promising; wouldn’t it have been awful if they’d treated us like we were really, really, really stupid?

Thursday, 15 September 2011

Madeleines? They're the little cakes, right?

I remember the moment I first realised that I couldn’t remember. I was talking to a friend about ‘Guys and Dolls’, a musical I adore. I think I might actually have said ‘I know every note of that score’.

Then I suddenly remembered, to my surprise, that I didn’t just know it, I’d performed it. In 1994 I played Benny Southstreet in a student production. Just so you know, Benny is the part to play if you enjoy fun and laziness. He has about twelve lines, every one of which is a belter. He sings solo, prominently, in three of the show’s best numbers- ‘Fugue for Tinhorns’, ‘The Oldest Established’ and the title song. There’s a bit of dancing- never my strong point- but hell, if you’re the klutz with twelve lines, nobody’s going to care if you look ungainly. If you’re rubbish, nobody will notice. If you’re good, they’ll notice.

I really, really enjoyed playing that part, all those years ago. But when- probably about three years later- I was quacking on about how much I loved the show, I was pulled up short. I had literally no recollection of having been in it. Not the rehearsals, not the performances, nothing. Something which had- presumably- filled my brain for- presumably- a few weeks, had slipped out of my mind and memory, never to return.

Tonight, watching a TV programme about Jamie Oliver taking his wonderful Fifteen franchise to Melbourne, the same weird realisation hit me. There were some shots of Sydney. Now, facebook tells me that I was in Sydney two years ago today. Intellectually I know that to be the case. There’s a stamp in my passport. I can just about picture Circular Quay, and the view of the Harbour Bridge and Opera House. But I have no visceral recollection of what it was like to be on the other side of the world. ‘What’s Australia like?’ you could ask me. ‘I don’t know’, I’d have to reply. I remember that I danced around my hotel room listening to Little Boots. I remember reading the football section of the sports news and thinking that it focused on people like Cahill and Schwarzer, Aussies in the Prem. I remember seeing Cate Blanchett in 'Streetcar', but that's just a 'watching a play' memory, not a 'being in Sydney' one. Those are my memories of having had the privilege of visiting the actual other side of the actual world.

And that’s the thing. I’m not an amnesiac*. Some things in life remain in glorious technicolour. There are countless, unimportant experiences in my life that I could recount to you in tedious detail. But how odd that some of the biggest- running a marathon, sitting by my father’s bedside in his dying days, being in love, going to the other side of the world, most of my undergraduate life- should be things that I only remember as a series of facts, things I remember because I know they happened rather than because I can recall how they felt.

I can tell you -without even having to furrow my brow- who was relegated from League Division Two in 1982 (Cardiff City, Wrexham and Orient, since you ask, and Orient weren’t known as Leyton Orient then, so there). My boundless memory for the little things remains intact. The big things- they’re in 2D. And I suspect I’m not the only one.

*hilariously, I had to google ‘amnesiac’ just to check it meant what I thought it did. Shush.