25 November, 2010

Christmas for the Twenty Something: The Best of Both Worlds

The Three Scrooges

The Coca-cola ad is back on our TV’s, the shops are stocked with Chocs, I’ve had my first Mulled wine and Joe McElderry has switched on all the Christmas lights. Yes, it’s officially one month until Christmas and people worldwide are falling at the first grips of festive fever.

So t’is it now the season to be merry? Fa la la la la? La la la la ...? Apparently not. The majority of adults* to whom I’ve excitedly told “it’s nearly Christmas” (since I’ve been old enough to pose as a convincing adult myself) have whimpered at any mention of the festive season, all bah humbug and ‘not agaaaaaain!’ Booo hissss!

The chances are you’ll have come across the ‘Bah Humbug’ reaction yourself. It tends to come in 3 categories:

Flustered Working Parent (FWP): “Oh god I can’t even think about it yet!” – they’re far too busy living in the real world to plan Santa’s visit and make a wish as they stir the Christmas pud’, but you know they’re going straight home to do a mass gift order online and command the decorations out of the attic.

Adolescents: They’re a bit too cool to get excited about anything, not least an event that means you have to suffer an entire week with ‘the fam’. So they arrange to get pissed on Barcadi Breezers wiv der m8s on Xmas Eve, then spend most of Christmas Day in a massive huff.

The Christmas Controversialists: i.e. – the hip couple who have to stay one step ahead of everyone, including Jesus, and do the polar opposite (literally) of a traditional Christmas.  “Oh well we’re ignoring Christmas this year, yah we’re going to a windmill in the middle of the Mediterranean and Mark’s doing a Beef Wellington.” Oh bah facking humbug – we’ve been celebrating Christmas in this style (turkeys, trees, log fires and family feuds) since Mary got on that donkey (oo-er) and it’s not going to change just because the Trendy McCool’s think Christmas is something they can put in the out of fashion pile, along with their vintage gloves.

What the above listed people don’t know is that Christmas is not just for kids. If you know where to look, you can discover some festive gems – and I don’t just mean in the winter sales.

The Most Wonderful Time of the Year
For me, my mid-twenties are proving to be my Christmas prime; I don’t think I’ve been this overwhelmed by Christmas since I was 3 and refused to go to Bethlehem in the nursery nativity play (true story).  Here is why Christmas for my generation is so damn good**

A Bloomin’ Break
It’s the first time since our cheap, Greek-island sun-break that we’re getting more than a few days off work. An entire week off from deadlines, directors and dodgy colleagues. As we’re still adjusting to the shock of the working world, this is an absolute holy blessing. We can don our University hoodies, ‘stick our heads in the fridge for four days’ and pretend, for a merry moment, that we’re back in second year. Hallelujah!

We get fed. A Lot.
Basically, we’re cooked for because we’re not old enough to host, but we are big enough to cram in obscene amounts of food. "And not just any food. Christmas food. Maybe even Marks and Spencer’s Christmas food." Encouraged to munch as much as we wish, because we can’t afford to eat posh nosh on our own salaries, we ditch the diet ("and get straight back on the poverty diet after New Year.")

The Christmas Spirit(s)
And not dodgy rip offs like VodKat and Rummy. But Baileys, Jack Daniels, Gordon’s Gin…real actual sparkling Christmas spirits that we can never justify buying ourselves, but adorn our parent’s cupboards and put festive joy in our gleeful hearts. (And none of that Eggnog malarkey – wasn’t he a contestant on X Factor 2008?)

We get to see our FABULOUS families
Since finally launching ourselves into the real world and meeting so many weird and awful characters, we’ve realised our families are pretty damn wonderful by comparison. Time with them is precious. They get our jokes, they agree that “Dinner” is “Lunch” and “Tea” is “Dinner”, they feed us (instead of taking food from our cupboards, housemates) and they love us unconditionally. And at Christmas we get them for a whole week.

We make a profit
We still sign out parent’s gift tags, yet cheekily receive our own presents in return. And given that we’re 24 and too old for a hobby horse this will probably be cash. Hey, we don’t get Christmas bonuses, we’re not married and we earn a pittance, so what if we want to use our Christmas money to prevent an extension of the never ending overdraft? (we’re very greatful)!

Daytime TV
“I can’t wait to watch Elf 1,000,000,000 times this Christmas” read one friend’s Facebook status yesterday. One month before the main event. This is because be it Elf or The Grinch, Home Alone or Deal or No Deal, It’s a Wonderful Life or Jeremy Kyle – we don’t care. We’ve missed daytime TV oh so much. And we’re oh so happy with the Christmas selection. PJ’s on. Vodka Spiked hot choc at the ready. Joyeux Noel (Edmonds)!

And to all a good night!
We get to party. Again. Now that we’re all big and grown up and live in different cities to our friends, we spend a good month leading up to the big day travelling around the country, having the annual ‘festive celebrations’ with our various peer groups, stopping just in time for a rest and some food with the family over Christmas before we recharge our batteries and continue the merriment right into the New Year. Cheers!

We’re the kid again
We don’t have children of our own just yet which means we’re technically still the  children of the family. I, for example, still have a stocking, my dad still sends me an advent calendar, my Nanny still hangs golden chocolate coins on the tree for me and I still wake up super early on Christmas day in a fit of excitement. In a world where we have to do everything for ourselves and responsibility increases by the day, where we get up at 6am in the dark to go to work and still don’t have a penny to put in the old man’s hat…we relish the chance to be wrapped in the warm magical blanket of Christmas. Thought I was too old for Santa’s Knee? Nooooo.

We’re merely over-sized children- we’ve just swapped stockings for Chardonnay and nativity plays for Christmas parties (which, lets be honest, often end up being just a real life adaptation of Mary and Joseph, stumbling around at midnight, looking for a place to stay…minus the donkey.)

Bring on the Santa Banter
Real grown-ups can groan at the thought of the stress inducing, purse emptying, stomach fattening season they've to endure. But me and my mates have picked names for the Secret Santa, we’ve planned where to put the tree in our brand spanking dapper pads (yah, right), we’ve propped up our advent calendars and talks of New Year aren’t far away. Best of both worlds anyone?

So when the big giant Santa face joyfully winks at me from the back of the Coca-cola lorry, reminding me that holidays indeed are coming, I will wink right back and remind myself to dig out my stocking, purchase a party dress and stock up on ibuprofen to kick of the merriest season in the whole wide world. Merry Fackin’ Christmas!

*This does not include my own mother
**All quotes are from real-life 20 somethings

13 November, 2010

Guilty Pleasure? X Marks the Spot

It has arrived. The sun is shining, the kids are kidding, the parents are sleeping, the girls are gossiping, the boys are…boy-ing, the runners are running, the players are playing, even the cynics are smiling and only the winos are whining. Yes, there is a buzz in the air and a skip in Simon Cowells step that can only mean one thing – it’s Saturday. And a universal excitement has crept up on the nation and is buzzing its way through hearts and houses far and wide.

Could it be because we don’t have work today? Because today we’re going to finally treat ourselves to that dress we’ve been eyeing up all week? Because tonight we’re going to elatedly down the wine and/or beer that’s been chilling expectantly in the fridge since Monday tea time? Or maybe it’s because it is officially only 6 weeks until Santa fails to appear on our rooftops again (and aged 24 we’re still slightly disappointed) and we get to be festively merry?

Maybe. But tonight is extra (terrestrial) special, because tonight the nation will be joyously united in the singing, dancing, bitching, judging, crying, laughing, opinion splitting, back stabbing, heart stopping, wine requiring extravaganza that is THE X FACTOR.

Now then, I know it’s not cool to admit you’re arranging your Saturday night around a reality TV show, it’s certainly not chic to ask your friend to arrive at 7.48 “because that’s when Dermot O' Leary comes on” and it’s even less a la mode to arrive at your Saturday destination 10 minutes after the final performance, claiming you were “stuck in traffic.”

But come on people! 14.9 million of you tuned in last week to see Katie “weasel” Waissal sing for survival yet again, 14.9 million of you put money in Simon Cowells too high up pocket just so you could see if Cher Lloyds swag was still on, and 14.9 million of you sssh’d your loved ones so that you could fully appreciate Matt Painter/Decorater without his hat on. One of you even fell asleep after the sheer exhaustion of the X factor rollercoaster, thereby missing your entire Saturday night out (not me)! That 14.9 million suggests to me that the X Factor is currently the UK’s biggest collective guilty pleasure and we should not be ashamed.

But quite why has X Factor fever taken hold of level-headed adults, restless students, too young to know what’s happening 2 year olds and unable to follow the ‘plot’ grandparents?

First of all, X Factor gives us license to do the taboo and openly bitch, judge and stereotype like never before. We can’t do it at work, for that would be schoolboy and could lead to our professional and financial demise. We can’t do it at home, because aren’t family dynamics too complex to even go there? We 100% will not do it amongst friends, because we love our friends like we love Dermot O’Leary in a suit. But we can do it behind the safety of a TV screen, unheard and unseen by our targets, securely on our sofas, brazenly shrieking at them over our wine glass.

We can laugh when Katie cries and she won’t see us. We can hiss when Danni does another annoying “you go girlfreyyyyynddd!” gesture and she will never know. We can moan inappropriately when Matt descends the stage in strangely sexy but oddly coloured trouser and he’ll never realise we’re a little bit psycho over him. X Factor is an official license to express judgment we just could not get away with in the real world. And we love it.

Second of all, it warms our hearts. Girls or boys, men or women, drunk or tea-totals, minted or skinted, lonely or with friends, in bed with a bowl of ice cream the size of your face or in a bar with a bottle of champagne on ice, northern or southern, gay or straight, Scrooge or Santa – everyone’s loving it and everyone’s watching it.

You know when you’re secretly enjoying Wagner, someone 300 miles away is surreptitiously loving him too. You know when you’re laughing at Louis Walsh’s shocked cry of “every week you come out here and sing!” and millionth “…you remind me of a young [insert example]” someone is laughing with you. And you KNOW that when you’re looking at Cheryl Cole with a creepy expression on your face, somewhere in the region of 14, 899, 999 others are doing the same thing. And that makes you happy.

Finally, it is just damn entertaining. Who doesn’t love it when Katie sits on the stage and exclaims “OH SOD IT” after trying to prove she deserves to be in the competition and is in fact “like totally just like myself, just like this is me and I’m like totally loveable and genuine honest”? Who actually doesn’t get tingles and tears when Rebecca declares in perfect harmony that she just wants to make us feel her love? And really, who doesn’t enjoy it when every now and then Simon criticises Cheryl and she totally wipes the floor with him? No one. And if you disagree, you’ve either a shoddy heart of stone or a lack of television.

So do not deny, X factor lovers, that you have the forbidden fever and that come the grand finale, there will be a hole in your heart, a void on your sofa and an embarrassing number of views on the Youtube repeats. You are not alone! And if your near and dear try to deny their love for the shameful show, you can throw 14.9 million in their face until they beg for mercy and join you on the sofa tonight.

07 November, 2010

When the World's too Busy for Vowels

I am ashamed to say that a few weeks ago I was the epitome of irritating busy business person in a busy hurry, who busily orders non-fat xtra-hot grande skinny lattes, thx.

There I was, London St. Pancras @ dawn, freezing, perched at a table in a cafĂ© full of suits, suitcase by foot, Blackberry in hand, tea in other hand, hand bag in other hand, meeting notes in other hand, tickets in other hand, waiting for the train that would earnestly carry me to client meeting folly. I was that person that day, and I almost didn’t realise it. 

UNTIL amidst the stress of my mental (and actual) juggling act and internal monologue of “6 hours until the weekend, 6 hours until the weekend, 6 hours until the weekend”, I received a lovely, supportive text from a sweetheart friend telling me it was indeed nearly the weekend. Ordinarily such a text at such a daunting hour on such a taxing day would steer me into smiling spirits, but on this occasion it was all I could do to groan at the inconvenience that this gave me another task in texting them back. When I found myself frowning, whilst hurriedly checking the time, standing to retrieve tickets from one of my many hands and simultaneously absent-mindedly sending a heart-felt reply, I had to take a look at myself. My ‘heart-felt’ reply that morning had me for the first time in my literal life abbreviating “thanks” to “thx” and ,worse still, to someone I actually care about.

As I pressed send and scurried off through the ticket barriers, tea splattering on my tights, the internal monologue took a breath, and my conscience got a word in edgeways – “when did I become too busy for vowels?”

The above described moment was always a ‘when’ not an ‘if’ of the future I’m in such a hurry to meet. For we live in a society with an ever-accelerating ‘fast-pace’, the need for not 1 but 8 coffees ‘on the go’ (to a very particular description or else we just cannot function), we’ve no time to queue in supermarkets (oh no, we’ll serve ourselves thx), we’re too busy to update both Twitter and Facebook stati of a day so we use an app that synchronises them, we’ve too little time to set a wake up alarm so our iphone sets them a month in advance, we’re too frantic to enter our friend’s BB pin so we have an app to scan a barcode that inputs it for us, too pushed to push so we opt for a c-section that can guarantee what time we’ll be discharged so we can tweet about it at optimum tweet time. Aged 24 and just jumping into my social media career, the busy in business was always going to catch up with me, but at what cost did I clamber aboard that bus?

Over the past 6 months, 2 years since graduation and a year or so into proper jobs, I have noticed myself and an increasing number of my early 20’s friends showing serious signs of “just so busy” syndrome. Other than eliminating vowels, we’ve put time limits on lie ins, planned our one free Sunday of the trimester 7 weeks before it arrives, felt panicked in the first week of November that we haven’t done any Christmas shopping, got up at 5am on a Saturday just to get it all done before we can ‘enjoy’ the remainder of the weekend…the real low point was when I recently agreed with one friend that we were both free for a phone call at 14.30pm on Wednesday lunchtime. In two weeks time. It’s no life when the close uni friend who’s bed you once lay at the foot of for hours on end of a weekday afternoon has become little more than an appointment in your mid-week diary and a reminder in your outlook.
Iphone, iwork, irun, iplay – the irony of the iness in business that leaves us so self-absorbed in our own hectic schedules.

What’s more, it is all so unnecessary. High speed trains to Birmingham from London – what because we absolutely have to be at New Street in 49 minutes and the extra half an hour would just break us? You can send a text 4 ur nxt bus from a bus stop to find out when the next bus will be to the minute…because the electronic display and manual timetable just don’t quite cover it? You can voice-dial people, because speed dial and having to press 1 button just doesn’t cut it anymore (though I have to say voice dial really does not save time when your best friend and your sister are called Abbi and Abi). And now even those time-saving abbreviations have come full circle and started to elongate. I am a self-confessed culprit of this crime, but when we’ve started pronouncing OMG as “oh – em –gee” and thereby omitting no syllables from the original expression (that’s ‘oh my god’ for those who weren’t around in pretextoric times) we’re in trouble world.

Since that fateful day of “Thx” a few weeks ago, I have watched myself intently for signs of “just so busy” syndrome so as to nip this in the bud, because it’s not cool, it’s not likeable and it’s not fun. So when I was on yet another train last weekend and found my finger hovering over the “doors open” button five minutes before my stop, ready for pressing the instant the lights came on, I carefully retreated, stepped back and smiled sheepishly at the old dear who was still rummaging to find her seat reservation 1 mile from the final stop. We could all take a leaf out of her dithering book (except on market days, that’s just annoying).

Not only will nipping this syndrome in the bud save me time in the long run (you know, when mid-30’s they tell you you’re going to have heart attack if you don’t slow down and work extra hard at relaxing and you wind up putting in a good few hours of mediation every day) but also mainly I don’t want to see the demise of Countdown. “Another consonant please Carol…another consonant please Carol…another consonant please Carol…anthr cnsnnt pls crl…” doesn’t have the same ring really does it?