Sunday, 29 July 2012

God Save the Queen

James Bond and the Queen. A match made in heaven. How Danny Boyle persuaded the Queen to do the tongue in cheek scene for our Olympic opening ceremony, we will never know. But what we are in no doubt about is that our magnificent octogenarian Majesty has a terribly cheeky sense of humour.

After reading the UK press we all are pretty much united in saying the ceremony was fabulous. I then read what our international friends thought of our display as well as all my foreign friends' comments on Facebook. The words quirky, unusual, weird, bizarre, hilarious and wonderful have been bandied around willy nilly, but then, isn't that exactly how we would like to be portrayed? An independent Isle, forward thinking, democratic, inventive and innovative, steeped in traditional values and history... But with a magnificently creative and slightly eccentric side. I think so, and Danny Boyle was the perfect choice to bring all those qualities to life.

A few years ago, my friends and I were in the West End of London. We were attempting to go to see a movie but hadn't booked tickets and it was sold out. We were milling around and saw all these barricades and security guards. Me being me, I asked the nearest security guard what was going on and he said it was the premiere of Danny Boyle's film "127 Hours". We had apparently missed all the stars on the red carpet as they were already inside the theatre but then, just as we were wondering what to do, Danny Boyle strolled out of the cinema. He had probably seen his own film a few dozen times and thought he could sneak out and pop home for a cup of tea or something. But as he stepped back onto the soggy red carpet he looked very disappointed that the crowd had already left. We felt so sorry for him and without thinking I suddenly shouted out "Dannnnnyyyyy. We love you." He looked around at us, gave us a huge grin and waved. He then saw a bunch of fans at the end of the barrier and strolled over to sign autographs.

It was my moment. I demanded a pen and paper from my friend and ran down to join the small crowd. I realised everyone was being very well behaved and polite and so I thrust my pen and paper through to the front and loudly said "Danny, could you sign this please?" Everyone slightly recoiled from my booming request but Danny turned and signed my scrap of paper. I hadn't seen the film so couldn't comment on that and he was probably sick to death of questions about Slumdog. It had only just been announced that he was creative director of the Olympics so the only thing I could think to say was "Danny, how are your plans coming for the Olympics?" He looked a bit gobsmacked to be honest and just smiled and said "Early days. Early days."

Well Danny, you did us proud. What's funny is that to this day, every time we hear his name we still shout out "Daaaannnnnyyyyy" as if we were back in the West End. I have a funny feeling it may be Sir Danny soon. Oh and that reminds me, to my lovely friend who leant me the pen and paper, can I have the autograph back please? Might be worth a bob!

Thursday, 26 July 2012

It's a Bog Ting

The Mattress saga continues...

Regular readers of my blog will already know that my new dream mattress - the one that cost over £650 and purchased back in April - is as far from being heavenly as the Devil himself. It has become the most frustrating purchase of my life. Not only was the first mattress faulty in that it had a large crater in it which I fell into while asleep, but the replacement mattress also happens to be faulty. I know... I couldn't believe it either.

Sealy mattresses are all handmade in Cumbria and take six weeks to make, so all that time I had to make do, sleeping either side of the looming dent. I was not a happy girl. At the same time as having an imperfect and shorter night's sleep I was also having to put up with my opposite neighbours from hell having all night parties and purchasing 3, yes 3 Staffordshire Pit Bull cross terriers, who decided to wait til I had actually fallen asleep to have dog fights. Nice.

After a hideous wait, I finally had my replacement mattress delivered. I had only slept on it for a few hours when I had the strange feeling that my feet were higher than my head. I rotated the mattress, got back in and prayed. No... there was also another dent in the middle as well as the mattress sort of sloping off at the end. 'Shite' was not the word I used but it will suffice here. I rang the bed shop the following morning and told the manager. He sighed and said he would put me through to their new bed expert. "Oh" I said, "What happened to Stan?". Stan had been the mattress salesman I had dealt with the first time around. "We fired him, he was incompetent" he said casually. Oh. So, I was put through to Duwayne. It started fairly well on the phone, apart from not quite understanding anything he said to me. Duwayne had a very strong Jamaican accent mixed with South London street talk. Now, I like to think, living in multi-cultural London, that I can decipher most accents but Duwayne not only spoke with an accent but he threw in a lot of Jamaican Patois slang as well. I kept asking him to repeat himself but to no avail. Finally, we managed to understand each other enough to get a date in the diary for him to come and test my mattress. The following Sunday I awaited Duwayne. The first sign that things weren't going to go as smoothly as I wished, were the 4 times he rang me asking for directions to my house. Stupidly, I thought he may have actually made a note of my address and even more ridiculously thought that he may have bothered to look up my address in the A to Z or even...god forbid, the internet to find the best route??? But no, Duwayne had left his house (in Brixton... only 2 miles away) with just my name and phone mumber. So he was proving quite rapidly that he was not the tightest spring in the bed shop!

I started to get a very bad feeling in the pit of my stomach when Duwayne rang to say he was lost in my car park! Without thinking, I grabbed my iphone, put it on top of my stereo in the bedroom and set it up to record our entire conversation. I actually thought it was quite a genius idea. It would be evidence if things went awry. Duwayne finally arrived looking a little flustered and muttered an embarrassed apology. He then began to look at my bed from all angles, standing up, squatting down, took a series of photographs, measured the dip with a ruler and bounced up and down on it a bit. I tried to explain the main problems with it... the sloping mattress, the lack of support in the centre and the fact that it sounded, when pressed, as if it had a giant crisp packet sewn into it. He laughed raucously at everything I said and wrote it down in his notebook. Half the things he said in return I didn't understand or misinterpreted because of his accent. When I later played the recording back, I was in fits of giggles because all I seemed to do was complain a bit and then say "sorry" or pardon".

At one point, Duwayne looked at me very seriously and said "Missus Sallarr (I had already corrected him on that one about 10 times), I agree wiv you the mattress is faulty innit, so I fink you should get a new one from us riiiiight?". I agreed relieved, then protested immediately saying there was no way I would trust the Sealy mattress for a third time and that I either wanted a different product or my money back. He rubbed his chin, shook his head and said "awwwwright Missus Sillar... we be giving you a new mattress. Our new model is so bling right, its got a silver cover and evryfink, it's totally sweet. You will luv it riiiight?". I laughed saying I didn't give a hoot what it looked like, I just wanted it to be good. He said "Oh it's good Missus Sallar, don't you worry, it's got a bog ting innit?" "Sorry?" I said. Duwayne smoothed his hand over my mattress and said again with a knowing look "It's got a bog ting. You know?". I wasn't at all sure, no. "What?" I said. He frowned and said really loudly and slowly "A bog ting. It protects the mattress from bed bogs!" Ohhhhhhhhhh. So the new mattress had some sort of mattress protector to prevent against bed bugs! Right. A fit of giggles from me and he said "I is trying to member wot the mattress is called." He rubbed his chin again and said "Oh yeah... it's called the broccoli." Oh God, here we go again. I pointed out that I was sure the manufacturers would not name their product after a vegetable but he insisted. "I fought vat was weird too innit. And I hate broccoli". I discovered a few days later, the actual name of the new mattress was called the Brockley.

Duwayne left and I was satisfied we had come to an agreement that my mattress would be replaced or I would get my money back. I didn't hear from him for 4 days even after repeatedly calling the shop and leaving messages. I finally got through to the manager who said Derranne (so I'd totally got his name wrong too) had been off sick but had written his report saying he was in total agreement with me and that there was a fault with the mattress. They were just waiting from head office to see how to proceed.

A few days later I get a call from an independent mattress tester telling me they needed to look at my mattresses. They had been hired by Sealy themselves as they had severe doubts upon receiving Derranne's report. Noooo, this can't be happening. I was at my parents house at the time of receiving this news and was upset to say the least. I rung Derrane to ask him why they doubted his report and he cut me dead and said "Missus Sellis, did you know it is illegal to record someone's conversation without them knowing?" Gulp! Oh my God. In my frustration days earlier, I had told his colleague that I had evidence that Derranne had agreed with the fault. Stupid stupid girl. The colleague must have told Derranne. He continued "Missis Sallar, i was in the Jamaican police force for ten years and i know my rights. What you have done is a serious offence innit!" Oh shit. "Miss Sollur, if you use this against me there will be consequeces riiight?" I must have gone very pale. All my parents heard me quietly say was "Derrane, are you threatening me?" He laughed heartily and said "Noooo, is awright, I'm just saying is all, innit?" Scary scary Jamaican Police man. Not funny! My Father was having none of it and offered to write, what our family call "A shocked and bewildered" letter to the management. It was brilliant. Beautifully written, sufficiently appalled and incredulous at their behaviour and hitting just the right tone. And it worked.

The next day I got an apology, an email and lots of bowing and scraping. BUT... I would still have to have my mattress tested by the experts in order for me to get a full refund. So the bloody mattress saga continues. I am now awaiting Alan, the mattress inspector, to give me his verdict! I will certainly NOT be recording this conversation. Alan could be ex bloody SAS for all I know!

Thursday, 5 July 2012

Fifty Shades of Grey

Or as I like to call it… Fifty Spanks a day, oh Yay!

If you haven’t heard of Fifty Shades of Grey yet, you either live under a small rock in Outer Mongolia or are in some kind of parallel universe with no access to television, radio, newspapers or any other media source.

Fifty Shades of grey is the phenomenally successful erotic novel written by E L James, the first of a trilogy. It is the story of virginal college graduate Anastasia, falling for, and being seduced by the devastatingly handsome young billionaire businessman, Christian Grey. Yawn… so another classic boy meets girl chick lit novel yes? Well… cough… no! This is chick lit with a twist. An erotic Mills and Boon if you will. The “twist” is what has caught the publics’ (okay, womens’) eye and has made the book the fastest selling novel of all time! One of the themes is BDSM, probably ones of the most googled acronyms of all time too. BDSM stands for Bondage & Discipline, Dominance & Submission, and Sadomasochism. Oooh. Right. Okay. Not quite the average romance novel then.

I had thought I wouldn’t succumb to the hype… that the badly written and cringingly clichéd prose would put me off, but when the book became the dominant topic of conversation at every social event for the last two weeks, I began to waver. The final straw was when several of my more literary friends whispered to me, “Have you read it yet?” as if they couldn’t mention the title out loud. So I indulged… purely for reference you understand.

I remember at school, certain naughty books being passed around, the corners of pages turned down, marking the steamy bits. For a 16 year old, Jackie Collins and Jilly Cooper were terribly risqué. I still blush at the thought of one scene in the book Lace, involving an Arab Prince and a goldfish! Fifty Shades of Grey is the same… it’s unbelievable success is simply down to word of mouth.

The evolution of the book is almost as extraordinary as its content. E L James, real name Erika Leanard, is a middle aged, middle class TV executive and mother of two, happily married and living in West London. She was a huge fan of the Twilight series (quite a disturbing fact in itself) and wrote a story called Masters of the Universe and posted it on a Twilight fan-fiction website. She named her characters Bella and Edward after the main characters in the Vampire series but was asked to remove the story after fans complained of the explicit sexual content! So then she decided to publish it on her own website. She reworked it, changed the characters, extended it and re-titled the now 3-part story as Fifty Shades of Grey. A virtual publisher in Australia picked it up and released it as an e-book. Word of mouth and a few blogs later and Fifty Shades of Grey exploded onto the marketplace. Because of its controversial sex scenes, it was the perfect partner for the discreet nature of e-readers and Kindles. I know I know… I was only saying how awful Kindles were a few moths ago and that they were killing the written book but now I see their uses… its perversity in private. It’s sex on the tube at 8am… one way to make your commute to work a little more exciting!

So the book went viral and once something has done that, everyone wants a piece of it. It was picked up by Vintage publishers in April this year and the book was printed… as a book, with pages, made of paper.

That was when I really became aware of it. I was reading a magazine, drinking a cup of tea and half-watching Newsnight on BBC2 on April 19th. I remember the date so vividly because of what I heard the presenter say. I was waiting for the serious news stories of the day to be discussed when he said “now some of this we can’t read out on Newsnight, even at this late hour, but there is mention of anal intercourse, genital clamps and whipping…” . I coughed up my tea, snapped my head up and stared open mouthed at the television screen for the next two minutes. Oh My God. The poor man squirmed like an uncomfortable schoolboy as he interviewed E L James about the book and asked her about some of the more deviant sexual acts. As he read out the list, I cringed in hopeless empathetic embarrassment for the man as E L James tried to hide the smirk on her face. It really was one of the funniest and most uncomfortable moments I’ve ever seen on television.

E L James though, came across as very likable, normal and quite stunned by all the attention. She had no idea as to why it had become so successful. Then she looked the presenter in the eye and said “well, I suppose it’s a love story at the heart of it and the character Grey is rich, good looking and knows what to do in bed.”  She paused, smiled and said, “which all women like”.

But erotic fiction is nothing new…, yes, since the Twilight stories there has been a huge increase in what is called Paranormal Erotica which covers everything from bloodsucking Vampires and deviant Pixies to bonking Trolls (believe me, I did my research!) The scary thing is the statistics. Fifty Shades of Grey has sold almost 30 million copies and is topping the bestseller chart in 37 countries. E L Grey is estimated to be earning 1.3 million dollars a week with current sales. She has already sold the movie right for 5 million dollars and has stars queuing round the block to star in it and amazing writers lining up to write the screenplay. Blimey! No wonder she’s gobsmacked.

So although erotic fiction has been around since writing began, it has never been quite this successful. I was stunned though (again, all in the name of research) at how popular erotica was in history and read by huge numbers. The Kama Sutra was written around 400BC and is still one of the most read or looked at pieces of fiction! Much later, Nobleman Goivanni Boccaccio wrote one of the first erotic short stories in 1353 about lecherous monks and seductive nuns! It was a huge hit. Then came the Tale of Two Lovers in 1444 written by Piccolomini, who later become Pope Pius II. It was the bestselling novel of the 15th Century. Samuel Pepys wrote in his diary about the erotic fiction he was reading in 1660. Fanny Hill, written in 1748 by John Cleland, set a new standard in literary smut, the full length novel! And so it goes on… although we can’t forget the man who was so infamous for his depraved writing and cruel sexual exploitations, that the actual word Sadism is named after him. The Marquis de Sade, the French aristocrat with a penchant for deviant behaviour and the man who wrote so lucidly of his exploits that he was imprisoned.

We have always had it but it has never been considered mainstream and that’s where Fifty Shades of Grey breaks the mould. BDSM or any other kind of fetish has always been talked about in hushed tones, practiced in bedrooms, basements or secret London clubs. It is private and considered a sort of sub culture. Many people do it but it’s still a sort of secret society. Everyone loves reading about naughty politicians, photographed in bondage gear. We are titillated by it... giggling like children! But God forbid we do it ourselves… doesn’t that mean we are perverts? E L James has brought the private to the public, the deviant to the normal…. And it seems now, that everyone is willing to give it a go, experiment a little more at home. Husbands are writing to E L James’ website in their droves, thanking her for spicing up their sex lives. Sales of handcuffs and bondage paraphernalia have increased so much that some on-line sex shops sites have crashed.

Of course it’s still secret, ordered anonymously, read quietly on Kindles, or at home after the kids are in bed. Apart from me it seems. I bought the book yesterday morning and started reading it on the tube on my way to work. I felt about 20 pairs of eyes on me. Amused glances from women who have either read it or are about to do so; smirks and knowing looks from men who have either read it or has a wife or girlfriend that has.

They may be the ones with smiles on their faces or they may be simply grimacing with pain at having been strung up overnight in a pair of nipple clamps!