Damp squids and veekend viewing

We ventured into the heart of London on Saturday to witness the Lord Mayor’s Fireworks display. Public transport woes and an unsatisfactory ten-minute display left us feeling a little disappointed. A damp squid indeed.

(Before any of you boffins jump to tell me that saying is incorrect – I know. It’s intentional. Keep reading.)

Rugged up good and proper (as my Aussie friends say), we headed off with some friends into central London, to watch the fireworks display. I asked one of our friends what the Lord Mayor’s Show was all about (it took place all day on Saturday) and he said it was to mark the inauguration of the new Lord Mayor of London.  The show has been taking place at the same time each year for 785 years! Read more about it here – such a heritage astonishes me!

First up, our local tube was not operating at all over the weekend. Ideally, we could have jumped in a tube, travelled for about ten minutes and then walked up the road from the tube station to have a good view of the fireworks. Instead, we caught a bus and, as we approached London Bridge, discovered that the bus wasn’t going any further. Because of the Lord Mayor’s Show. This meant a repeat of our walk of last weekend, but in reverse. Not actually walking backwards (although that would have been fun!), but walking from London Bridge to Blackfriars Bridge.

It took us about 45 minutes, with the added challenge of three gorgeous, energetic, small boys running this way and that, fascinated by everything that caught their eye, not least of which were the mounds of autumn leaves which got kicked and thrown and tucked into other people’s jackets!

We got to Blackfriars Bridge, along with the rest of the world and his wife, and found a good spot in the middle of the bridge. The fireworks were due to start at 5pm (at which time it’s been dark for about half an hour). The fireworks are set off from a boat on the Thames, somewhere between Waterloo Bridge and Blackfriar’s Bridge, so you can view from either.

The display began at 4.55pm (just as well we had got there a little early) and were over by about 5.05pm. What we saw was spectacular, but it certainly left us expecting more. Apparently the show is usually much longer and more spectacular, but I guess no-one has escaped the austerity of the budget cuts that the bosom buddies have introduced since taking office.

As teenagers, my siblings and I used to talk about things being “too much effort and not much fun”, and I think that described our venture to Blackfriars Bridge on Saturday. As a teenager I met someone who described a disappointing event as “a damp squid” … I rest my case.

And on to the veekend viewing. I have mentioned before that we are enjoying the current series of X Factor, the reality TV show for aspiring singers. Saturday’s show began with the final nine, which includes fabulous young soloists, a gorgeous and infectiously enthusiastic boy band, a delightful 50-year old Irish woman who describes herself as a belter and who left her day job as a cashier at Tesco to enter the show. And then there’s Wagner.

Hmm, how to describe Wagner? He’s Brazilian. He’s 54. He has long hair, which he usually wears in a half-moon. He can’t sing. And he can’t dance. Apparently he’s in the show for the sheer entertainment of having a former lion tamer in the line-up. (He was actually a PE teacher, but they keep showing a photo of him in his bare-chested youth, holding the tail of a lion.)

His mentor, Louis Walsh, can’t pronounce his name. No matter how much he’s reminded that Wagner is pronounced Vagner, Louise continues to correct everyone by air writing “W” and saying, “No, it’s spelt with a W. So it’s Wagner.”

However, things seem to have backfired for the show. Last year, a bunch of people started a Facebook group to try and stop the X Factor’s winning single from becoming the Christmas number one (which it usually does). They pushed for support to buy Rage Against the Machine’s Killing in the Name and they succeeded; it outsold the X Factor single. X Factor Haters 1. Simon Cowell 0.

This year, the same group – I understand – have mobilised to vote to keep Wagner in the show. And so he survives week after week. His rendition – or shall I say rending – of Elton John’s I’m Still Standing rang false but true, if you know what I mean, on Saturday night. He dances like he’s running downhill in heels. And he sings like he just stepped down a steep staircase and can’t stop himself. Like he’s trying to keep up with the music. The music always wins. He smiles. And his numbers (and outfits) are always over-stuffed into productions reminiscent of Gary Glitter at his tottery-heeled peak.

Each week when Dermot announces that Wagner is safe (he hasn’t yet been in the bottom two), the X Factor-watching public sighs. No doubt the X Factor haters punch the air. And Louis grimaces – like he doesn’t know what to do next. And week after week talented youngsters slink off the stage, into a future that I hope will bring them more meaning and success than the X Factor drama. And Wagner prevails.

And ve continue to vatch. Vy, I ask you, vy?

Sunshine signing off for today!

So this is where I learnt to speak funny

Moving country and home so often during my youth, I always worked hard to blend in. To learn the local slang. And not to sound like a stranger. Living in London I realise I have a new perspective. I’m okay with being and sounding forrin.

I like that I have a strange accent and I speak funny. I like that I say now and now now, that I say off as if it’s spelt orf. I like that I say shu and use hey far too often and inappropriately, and that when I say shame I mean sweet, or pretty much any other word that might fit into that sentence. I like that I have to explain certain words that I use that have no place in local usage, and that I have to ask the meaning of a local word or expression that I haven’t heard before.

You see, London is full of people like me. Yes, Saffas and Zimbabweans, but also people who are living far from their home, their language and their custom. So, while I don’t blend in, I blend in just fine. We all do. It’s like that in the Big Smoke.

Listening to the radio this morning, I heard the latest gossip about an X Factor contestant. My first thought was, “Sheesh, what a waster.” Which took me back to my high school days in Zimbabwe … I thought about my teachers and my friends, and how we used to speak. So allow me to take you on another trip to Bulawayo in the mid-1970s.

I went to an all girls’ high school. Moving from a small, private boarding school to a large, government school was a shock to the system. I soon settled. I always did. I had a few teachers that I will remember always.

Our English teacher, Mrs E, was a Jean Harlow lookalike. Her hair was lily white. She was meticulously fussy about grammar and the correct use of English. We were NEVER allowed to say different to or different than. It was compulsory, in her class, to say different from. Hopefully could only ever be used as an adverb and all hell would break loose if we talked about quotes rather than quotations. She was a delight, she loved her subject and, with her guidance, we all did well in our external examinations. (Not exams.)

In my early years of high school, we had ONE male teacher in the school. Two things about him were so not in his favour: firstly, his surname was the same as our school’s name. And secondly, he had a lisp. His subject was maths, which he pronounced mathth and he would regularly call us naughty goblinth and throw chalk at us. He didn’t stay too long at our school, but he did marry one of our other teachers. Bleth.

In my last two years at school, a few new male teachers joined the staff. Our new English teacher was SO cool – Mr K was his name. He would walk into the classroom and, to begin with, we would all stand as he entered. The first few times he said to us, “J***s, sit down, I’m not God.” He would then take his place at the front of the classroom, stand with his left foot on his desk, lean his elbow on his left knee, and talk poetry. Or literature. He wore short safari suits; he was clearly a fan of the King as his blond hair was expertly greased and coiffed into a snazzy Elvis flick and duck tail. He wore long socks and tucked his comb into one of them.

Our French teacher, Mr B, looked quite similar. Except his hair was black, and the grease was natural. He was always quite sweaty and struggled to push the words out of his mouth without a little spittle. Our favourite challenge was to get him off the subject, which we managed to do with regular monotony. We would feel so self-satisfied if we’d spent a double period of French learning about his exploits in the army, and giving French grammar a miss. He would protest with much saliva when he realised he’d been hoodwinked. Again.

So back to waster… here’s another mini-lexicon of Zimbabwean slang from my high school era:

  1. Waster – a good-for-nothing.
  2. Skate – at high school, our uniform was a striped dress, short socks and brown lace-up shoes and a straw boater/hat with a school ribbon on it. If we had long hair we had to tie it back and we had to wear school-colour ribbons. If you were a skate you’d wear the boater as far back on your head as you could balance it, you’d wear the shortest ankle socks you could find, you’d wear non-regulation shoes with buckles, and you either wouldn’t tie your hair back or you’d not wear ribbons. And you’d always go out every weekend and party and meet all the cool guys. Skate = a slight reprobate or rebel. But mostly in a harmless way.
  3. Hood – similar to skate but perhaps less harmless, and always male. My dad might refer to this type as a wide boy. I had a boyfriend who used to drive an old truck. He would stop outside our front gate and hoot for me. I would run out, jump in the truck and go out with him. He was a hood, but my dad used to call him … actually in that instance he used a different expression from wide boy.
  4. Tune – this verb means the same as say, tell, chat up, mock, make fun of, lie, flirt or stir. If someone tuned you, you could be angry, flattered, informed, misinformed or provoked. It all depended on the context.
  5. Own/oke – this noun means guy. I went to the disco and this oke was tuning me.

I guess that’s the end of the Zimbo lesson from London for today. There is more to come, so keep your notebooks handy. Someone once said that when the world ends, all that will be left will be cockroaches and Zimbabweans. Do you think she was tuning me?

Sunshine signing off for today!

The glare of the no

This was a big weekend in the life of one of our favourite reality TV shows – the X Factor. Last night’s show ended with the top 12 acts being picked for the live shows. I cried.  I could so relate.

Not with the acts going forward. But with those who didn’t make the cut … rejection is an ugly thing to deal with. The contestants had pinned their hopes on “making it” in the music industry by getting through to the top 12. Many of them didn’t want to go back to their normal lives, they felt this opportunity was a make-or-break one for them. I do feel sad that so much rode on the show for them, and I do hope there was emotional support for those of them who didn’t get through. It’s tough to get a no with 13 million people watching.

For those of you who don’t know the show, it is a singing show, a lot like Idols, but with a slight spin. The acts are divided into four categories – boys (under 28), girls (under 28), groups and the “overs” (male and female, over the age of 28 but with no top age limit). There are four judges and each judge is assigned a category to mentor, so the competition ends up being not only between the contestants, but between the judges too. I know it is starting in the USA in the fall of 2011, so watch out for it if it’s the kind of show you enjoy.

Last week was “bootcamp”. Acts that made it through from the initial auditions held all around the UK had to perform to the judges again, and, after a series of whittling downs, eight acts per category were chosen to go to the judges’ houses. Each of the judges was assigned a category, and their eight protégés flew to their homes to sing for their place in the top 12: boys went to Australia (to Danii Minogue’s home), groups went to Marbella in Spain (Simon Cowell’s villa), the “overs” went to Dublin (Louis Walsh’s ‘castle’) and the girls to Ascot (Cheryl Cole’s estate).

On Saturday night we watched each of the categories, in turn, singing for their mentor and on Sunday we watched the mentors telling each of the acts, in turn, whether they had been successful or not. In true reality TV style, the emotion is squeezed till the tears drop; and the wimp that I am has tears rolling down her face from start to finish. The ones who have been successful scream and whoop and jump and stomp and hug their mentor. The ones who are unsuccessful sit and sob and hug their mentor.

I can’t imagine how the mentors feel, to have such power to bring tears of joy and tears of disappointment. I applaud anyone who has the courage to enter such a show, and my hope for each one of them – top 12 or not – is that they go on to make their dream happen, away from the glare of TV lights and sensationalism.

So what does this mean in my life? Apart from being a huge fan of the show – I can’t deny it – I also love watching young and exciting talent and hidden confidence unfurl. I always support the slightly shy guy who doesn’t look like a star but sings like an angel. My favourite favourite is exactly that, and he made it through.

But for me, I can so relate to the disappointment of being so close, yet not making it through. One of the contestants said last night that he has heard no so often, it would be easier to deal with a no than the unknown of a yes. He got a yes, and I threw my arms in the air. I look forward to the day that I hear that all-too-unfamiliar word too. And I might just scream and whoop and jump and stomp and hug. Even if no-one’s watching.

Sunshine signing off for today!