When the crit hits the fan

January 23, 2015 at 5:51 pm | Posted in music | 4 Comments
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Fans have a rough time. We admit to a Bit of a Thing for someone, and immediately give up all hope of being taken seriously. The Arts World looks on us with faint distaste. Can’t we keep our silly emotions to ourselves? Whatever will become of rationality, if we allow ourselves to be swayed by something as base as looks?

Cumberbitch leggings, by Poprageous

I can’t not have these

There’s so much wrong with this. First, it’s more than just a question of looks. Fans react to the package (sorry): the acting, the singing, the musicianship, and yes, the looks (though looks can, believe it or not, be secondary: think of the Cumberbatch fans who only really fancy him as Sherlock). The ability to inhabit a part, to make us believe; to transport us, to sing us into submission. And, as I’ve pointed out before, esteem takes many forms, and it can be hard to figure out which one someone evokes in us. Admiration, inspiration, identification, #voicecrush, #mancrush…

Second, just because we’re fans, it doesn’t mean we don’t know or care about music. Well, OK, I don’t know much [cough] but others do. And admiring the cut of a tenor’s jib doesn’t negate this knowledge. We know a poor casting decision, a below-par performance, a phoned-in contribution when we see one. And we’re interested in the rest of the production too, not just ‘our’ star.

Third, there’s an element of sexism lurking here. While there’s the odd joke about fanboys, most of the disparaging comments I see are about women. Dirty, dangerous, lustful thoughts, we women have. How dare we? Can’t we have a cup of tea and a nice, safe, clean, intellectual think about things?

Lastly, and most importantly, emotion is part of life. Emotion is, very obviously, part of music. Why is it OK to admit to some emotional reactions to music (joy, pain) and not others (fascination, desire)?

Because YOU HAVE THESE FEELINGS TOO. Yes, you, Mr. Serious Critic. You may think you’re overcoming them, evading them; that your emotional reactions can’t possibly be influencing your intellectual assessment of a performance. But they are, because you’re human.

Iestyn Davies

This picture of Iestyn Davies is entirely necessary to the narrative. (c) Benjamin Ealovega

I’ve been listening to lots of countertenors recently. I bring this up, not just because it’s an excuse to burble on about Iestyn Davies again, but because it’s a good example of a response that isn’t intellectual in nature. I’m busy learning about different genres and techniques and approaches to the art, and starting to understand the immense skill and artistry that goes into classical singing. But I know that part of my obsession is just because some countertenor voices do inexplicable things to me. (Not everyone shares my view: my twitter friends’ reactions have been fairly evenly split between ‘God, that’s amazing! His voice is like a musical instrument!’ and ‘Ooh no, he sounds like a GIRL!’)

So, to some extent, we like what we like. And this is interesting in itself. I’d love to explain to you how the B-52s are the most criminally underrated band in the history of pop. I could go on for ever about the lyrical faux-naïveté, the clean-as-a-whistle vocals, the undercurrent of danger in the drumming. But I know it won’t make you like them (unless you do already, in which case, highfive!).

This fascinates me. But rationality has such a hold on our approach to criticism that we minimise the importance of these responses. People feel the emotion so strongly, and yet are so convinced of lovely clean tidy rationality’s priority over base messy mucky emotionality, that they seek intellectual explanations. It’s in the chord structure, the cadences, the phrasing. It can’t just be me, happening to like it. Do you like it too? You see! It must be universal!

I mentioned this to the boyf, and he brought up Adorno (he has a habit of doing this, but that’s what you get for living with intellectuals). Apparently, Adorno said that our reaction to an artwork is both rational and emotional, and it’s folly to think we can have one without the other. Instead, the tension between rational and emotional reactions creates the ‘problem’ of art appreciation; this ‘problem’ is, of course, what makes art interesting.

So I say it’s time to bring emotional reactions back into the critical fold. Accept them; learn to recognise them in yourselves; see them as part of your appreciation of performances, rather than some kind of dirty little secret you have to suppress. Start to understand their interplay with rational, intellectual interpretation. And stop looking down on fans, with our love and our pain and our joy and our desire so close to the surface. We might be closer to the truth than you think.

How to lose 5lb in a week without taking exercise, doing drugs or being hacked

May 27, 2014 at 4:17 pm | Posted in advice, affairs of the heart | Leave a comment
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Weight-loss solutions abound. Crazy cabbage-soup diets apart, most of them involve sensible eating, exercise, and giving up the stuff you like. However, in an exclusive preview of my new bestseller, I share with you the secrets to losing weight without effort, privation or inconvenience.

wine pic1. Fall in love. This is the very best way to lose weight. The stomach-inverting sensations of lust are only a hair’s breadth from nausea, and you’ll be far too busy mulling over underwear choices while anticipating your next tryst to think about prosaic things like food. Furthermore, once in your sweetheart’s arms, you’re limited to eating what you can reach from the bed.

2. Develop a crush. If you can’t fall in love with an actual real live person, an intense, distracting crush is a fine substitute. Mooning around the crushee’s neighbourhood humming On The Street Where You Live burns off excess calories, and all those hours spent youtubing ancient Japanese chat shows mean you’re bound to forget to have lunch. Moreover, when you realise you will never charm him/ her into following you home after a chance encounter in Pret at King’s Cross, the inevitable crash will catapult you into heartbreak, which is the next best weight loss method there is.

3. Fall out of love. Heartbreak is rightly fêted for its appetite-suppressant qualities. Just as your day is suddenly a black-and-white Wim Wenders film, so the contents of the fridge lose their technicolour appeal. Kindly friends try to tempt you from the doldrums with cake and prosecco, but you are immune to these gastronomic charms. Well, maybe not the prosecco. Go on, then. Just a glass.

But what of those of you who are happily ensconced in amiable relationships, with no hint of discord or need for distraction? Are you doomed to middle-age spread? Fear not! There are solutions for you, too.

Dentist4. Get really, REALLY nervous about something. Stage fright, performance anxiety, interview stress, dental appointments, even talking to your in-laws on the phone can all helpfully induce the racing heartbeat, room-pacing, obsessive fidgeting and sweating conducive to weight loss. True panic may result in queasiness, a well-known side-effect of which is being unable to finish your sandwich. Talking of which…

5. … Catch stomach flu. I lost 6lb in three days. No kidding. If you can’t bear this solution yourself, persuade your partner or child to develop it. Clearing up after them will put you off eating, probably forever.

Martyn Irvine: a BDIPCesque tribute

March 1, 2014 at 11:02 am | Posted in affairs of the heart, cycling | 2 Comments
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The first thing that made me laugh till I cried when I joined twitter was bangable dudes in procycling. Minx and her collaborators indelicately scrutinised the male peloton, staying just this side of NSFW and making fangirls choke on their cornflakes in the process. If you’ve never heard of BDIPC, I suggest you go and acquaint yourself with it before reading on; you could start with this fairly typical example.

Ready? OK. BDIPC’s very American in style (at least, to my English ears); I found myself wondering how an English version would sound. Then Martyn Irvine did his astonishing double-medal-winning feat at the Worlds in 2013, and I suddenly had a subject. I wrote this quickly, in a sweat, a year ago, and it made me laugh*. And after Martyn’s heroic efforts in the scratch and points races over the last couple of days, it seems relevant all over again.

martyn irvine by shane mcmahon

Martyn Irvine (c) Shane McMahon, on Velonation

Hello there, from across the pond! We English girls like a toothsome, athletic chap as much as anyone, so we’re enormous BDIPC fans. But all this upfront talk of bangability still has us a bit, er, gosh. Well. You know. We may be right up there in the top five Nations Who Like Falling Out Of Taxis At 3am Without Any Knickers On, but actually talking about, er, the, ah, you know, the ACT? Well. It has us groping for words.

And of course, well before we get to the, um, act, we have to make the unsuspecting boy aware of us. We’re not too good at striding up to people, locking eyes with them and suggesting, well, golly. How can we do that, when we’re too shy even to tell our best friends?

Picture me, long ago, skirt waistband rolled over as soon as I was out of sight of the house, school-illegal plastic sandals on my feet, gripped by a new, crippling crush on a sixth former. Best Mate is DESPERATE to know. ‘Who? WHO?’ ‘I can’t. He’ll see me looking at him.’ We cook up a subtle plan: as he saunters by, I’ll turn to her and utter a prearranged sentence. We roam the school corridors at breaktime, giggling. Finally he slouches into view, tall and wan, hair falling studiedly over his face. As we draw level, I ask her, casually, ‘How did your mother’s barbecue go last night?’ Best Mate whips round, looks the poor lad in the eye and exclaims, ‘HIM?!’

So, of course English girls swoon over pretty Euro cyclists, and we’re jolly keen on those Americans who look so delightful all covered in mud.  But sometimes, we hanker for a fellow who knows where we’re coming from. Someone who’ll laugh at our jokes, get on with our brothers, and who might even be nervous and cack-handed, like us, when it comes to chatting to people they, er, oh, you know. People they LIKE. You’re making us blush, now.

Martyn Irvine’s storming performance at the Track World Championships, bringing him two medals in the space of an hour, dragged our attention right away from the crossword. Golly! There was a chap with GRIT. And an Irishman, too! Every English girl likes to imagine she’s got a bit of Celt in her. Transfixed, we watched him digging ever deeper, holding on longer than we dared hope, finding the reserves for that last, game-changing push, and finally bringing off the impossible. Our teacups wobbled in their saucers. There he stood, bathed in the post-race glow, pushing his flop of ginger hair back from his glistening brow, his diffident, delightful attitude matched perfectly by his gentle Northern Irish brogue. And as a nation, we leapt from the sofa, strewing pussycats and Hobnobs left and right, and declared, ‘HOW DID YOUR MOTHER’S BARBECUE GO LAST NIGHT?!’

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* I offered it to Minx as a guest post but she declined**. I’m still utterly devastated by this.

** She did say it was ‘hilarious’, though. [wipes eyes] [blows nose]

Valentine’s Day special: What your cycling fantasy says about you

February 14, 2014 at 8:17 am | Posted in affairs of the heart, cycling | 2 Comments
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Warning: This post contains scarily bad fan art*. Readers of a nervous disposition may wish to look away now.

I know, I know. You watch cycling because it’s the toughest sport on earth. You admire procyclists’ athletic prowess, their immense tactical nous, their superhuman ability to suffer. Skinsuits are the sensible aerodynamic choice, and leg shaving is merely practical. It never crosses your mind that the peloton is made up of hot young men and women at the pinnacle of physical fitness, honed muscles straining beneath the merest wisp of lycra, sweat illuminating the maps of bronzed forearms, mouths open and brows furrowed in the intense peak of the sprint. You buy Cycling Weekly for the articles.

I believe you. I really do. This blogpost is not for you. No, this is for the rest of us, the mere mortals, who take part in serious discussions about team transfer rumours and technical innovations while secretly googling ‘Matti Breschel beach’.

Happily, you need hide your immoral thoughts no longer. As I revealed exclusively last week, proper, full-on crushes have deep psychological significance and may serve up to three (3) important purposes. But even transient, fickle, mildly diverting fantasies can tell us interesting things about ourselves. Read on to find out what your cycling fantasy says about YOU.

fabs croppedFabian Cancellara

Perfect, designer-stubbled, red-carpet-ready Fabs is the ladies’ choice. While he never puts a foot wrong professionally, Cancellara’s tweets in his own personal English-Swiss German hybrid, Fabianese, hint at a kooky inner life. You like a man with hidden depths: you’ll insist it’s movie-star looks that attract you, but really you long for a soulmate who’ll admire your Hama Bead creations and help you write Star Trek-Sherlock crossover fanfic.

You probably also lust after: Kristian House. Dr Who.

Marianne Vosvos cropped

Dominant but magnanimous, quietly confident, inscrutable, Marianne is the stateswoman of the peloton. You yearn for firm but fair leadership: a woman who’ll impose her way on you absolutely, but without causing conflict. Maybe while wearing leather.

You probably also lust after: Lizzie Armitstead. Birgitte from Borgen.

cav croppedMark Cavendish

That diminutive, boyish exterior barely veils his wildly ambitious, supremely confident core. Perfectly polite until extremely provoked, Mark is boy, gent, and trained assassin all rolled into one. You’re drawn to men who know what they want, and are utterly persuaded they can get it. And who can assemble an AK-47 in fifteen seconds, blindfold.

You probably also lust after: Daniel Craig. Moriarty.

Laura Trotttrott 4 cropped

Gorgeous, giggly Laura, the girl next door who’ll walk your dog and tear your legs off and sprint until she pukes. Your desire for Laura expresses your inner turmoil: the contrast between how you seem, and how you know you really are. You long for a woman who’ll push you to extraordinary heights, who doesn’t know when to stop, who’ll demand the ultimate from you. And then make you a cup of tea and laugh at how you’ve gone all red in the face.

You probably also lust after: Laure from Spiral. Molly from Sherlock.

irvine croppedMartyn Irvine

Lovely, diffident, self-deprecating Martyn, with his gingery hair and his pitiless killer instinct and his habit of making mincemeat of his rivals. He’s the poster boy for your desire to overcome your self-doubt, stay focused through the ups and downs of fortune, and discover your own inner grit. Or perhaps it’s just the Northern Irish accent. Say ‘now’, again, Martyn. Mmmm.

You probably also lust after: Colin Morgan. Dr McCartney from Green Wing.

Sean Yates/ Beryl Burton/ Roger de Vlaeminck/ Eddy Merckx/ Eileen Sheridanyates cropped

Steeped in nostalgic longing, you’d really rather go back to the days when men were men and shorts were short and TVs had dials and Eddy bossed the race, hair bouncing like a matinee idol, while his competitors did struggleface under damp curls. Modern life is a challenge for you, but your romantic nature allows you to see the best in people and imagine them as heroes of less complicated times.

You probably also lust after: Philippe Petit. James Dean. Audrey Hepburn. A young Harrison Ford.

boris croppedBoris Johnson / Phil Liggett / Jeremy Clarkson/ Jeannie Longo

You’re an individual, ploughing your lonely furrow through life. One (wo)man, swimming upstream against the tide of popular opinion. You pride yourself on seeing beyond the surface to the unique charm buried deep within. You’ll start a fight in an empty room, and like nothing better than baiting innocent bloggers until they pop. Oh, hold on. OK, you had me there. Very funny. Ha ha.

You probably also ‘lust after’: Michael Gove. Rod Liddle. Nurse Ratched.

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* My excuse for the scarily bad fan art is that I wanted pictures, but I didn’t want to get into trouble for nicking them. And once I’d drawn the sketches, they made me laugh so much I couldn’t see, so I had to include them. I’m sorry, Laura. I really am.

Why crushes are perfectly OK and not at all worrying

February 8, 2014 at 1:49 pm | Posted in affairs of the heart | 9 Comments
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Who’s your crush? Go on. You can tell me.

If you won’t, it’s probably because you’re suffering from a) guilt b) fear or c) shame*. Lie on the couch. I’ll address these in turn.

Guilt. There’s plenty of guilt associated with crushes, not least because you should be working instead of scrolling through whatareyouwearingBenedict.tumblr.com and cooking up elaborate fantasies about meeting John Simm ENTIRELY by chance in the station pub in Huddersfield. Your partner’s getting grumpy at the little involuntary moans you emit while watching House, and at being dragged off to yet another book signing, even with the promise of Pizza Express afterwards. So you feel guilty.

Fear. This chap thinks you’re a stalker if you have a crush, and you’re a sad sack who should get a life. What if everyone else thinks that, too? What if the crushee finds out, and gets a restraining order? Most importantly, what if everyone starts pointing and laughing when you talk to her/ him? You fear being found out.

Shame. Aren’t you a bit old for signed photos and giggling? We think of crushes as a teenage thing, and yes, some of us ARE eternally stuck at that point in development where we were convinced no-one was going to fancy us back EVER, and spent our daTelephone Cordys scribbling feverishly in diaries and trying to get the phone extension to stretch into our bedroom so we could shut the door and discuss what he meant when he said ‘OK, see you’, what did ‘see’ really mean, did it mean he liked us or was he just being polite, or was he playing with us because he KNEW, or what? And however much we kidded ourselves we wanted something to happen, we were relieved when it didn’t, because we could stay safe from the scary mess of a real relationship. Now we’re grown-ups, we’re supposed to put all this behind us. We read edifying literature and watch Newsnight and listen to classical music and do Proper Relationships. So we’re ashamed of our crushes.

These are thinking errors.

Guilt: As long as you’re not driving obsessively round your crush’s training routes in the hope (s)he’ll have a mechanical in a hailstorm and need a lift, you’re not hurting anyone. And everyone needs a screen break.

Fear: Not only are most of us far too lazy to be effective stalkers, we HAVE lives and families and jobs and stuff. We know the difference between fantasy and reality, thanks very much, and frankly fantasy is often MUCH better, so why would we want to conflate the two?

Shame: Relax. It’s not really about him/ her, is it. George Clooney said to Benedict Cumberbatch on the subject of how to deal with half the internet wanting to sleep with him, ‘It’s so much about projection.’ (I’ll just give you a moment to ponder George and Benedict having a little heart-to-heart. Let me know when you’ve finished.) We don’t know George, or Benedict, or John Simm. They probably cut their toenails into the sink, and whine about taking the rubbish out, and talk over the questions in University Challenge. A little fantasy about how we’d like them to be, and how we’d like to be, passes the time on a rainy afternoon, and exercises the brain more than watching Bargain Hunt. Moreover, crushes can serve important purposes.

The important purposes of crushes

1. Bonding. This might be the most important purpose of all. Ever since I prowled the school with my best friend at lunchtime looking for that mod in the sixth form, I’ve built friendships around shared secrets. In a minute, I’m going to DM someone in mock agony about a crush who’s mysterioiphonefaketextusly stopped talking to me. Does he suspect something? Are all his mates elbowing him in the ribs and sniggering? Is there any way I could reasonably entice him to the station pub in Huddersfield? And she’ll DM me back about how she’s gone off her crush, no, really, she has, since he said that thing about you-know-who, it’s OVAH, oh, but did you see that picture of him on the turbo, with his arms and everything?

2. Distraction. Being an adult can be pretty terrifying. It’s not just about avoiding doing your expenses; some of my most vivid and absorbing crushes have coincided with tough times. Trying to get pregnant. Feeling isolated and incompetent with a tiny baby. Hating my job. Off work with stress, I disappeared into a crush for a couple of months; I couldn’t bring myself to talk to anyone face-to-face, but I had real and imaginary conversations with him. (OK, the imaginary stuff wasn’t just conversations. You know. Come on. It’s pre-watershed.) Not having to deal with life for a bit while you have what @VecchioJo calls ‘a proper think’ about your crush gives your brain room to decompress a little. And when the crisis passes, often the crush does, too.

Thor Hushovd3. Aspiration. Think about mancrushes: avowedly heterosexual men suddenly going a bit silly at the sight of Thor Hushovd. There are many possible explanations, but a simple one is that admiration takes different forms, and it can be hard to work out which form someone evokes in us. Do we want to bang them, befriend them, or be them? (Channel 5 can have that one, for free.) I have mild crushes on an array of brilliant writers. (They mostly make me weep with laughter, too; this has long been an effective way to get me into bed.) I type obscure jokes, and sweat, waiting to see if they’re reciprocated. I live in hope that they’ll read my writing and laugh. One insomniac night, it struck me that they were, simply, what I wanted to be**; if I could imagine their approval, maybe this meant my dream of doing something similar wasn’t completely unattainable after all.

So I’m not ready to give my crushes up, just yet. When my life is sorted out and I’ve achieved my dreams and I have perfect confidence and an unshakeable sense of myself, then I’ll give up. Probably. At least, until they bring back Green Wing. Julian Rhind-Tutt in Green Wing

* or d) you genuinely don’t have one, which is too weird to contemplate

** I know this is crashingly obvious, but it came as a blinding insight to me. Call me slow.

Twitter: a love letter

January 24, 2014 at 7:46 pm | Posted in cycling | 4 Comments
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It’s commonly assumed that twitter is a place for those who have nothing better to do. No trendy, witty friends, no quirky-but-satisfying hobbies, no demanding-yet-fulfilling work, no thrilling sex life.

imageI’ve got all of these, of course (well, I’m not working much at the moment, which explains why I have so much time to google around for Sherlock/ Cumberbatch/ procycling / cobbles/ cake/ fancrafts crossover blogs to submit Benegent-Wevelbatch to). With such a full, rewarding life, what can twitter possibly add?

I know people who say things like, ‘Oh, I get all my financial news through twitter,’ or ‘I just use it for interacting with students,’ or ‘It’s great for finding out what’s happening in the world of publishing.’ These people are either lying, or they don’t understand.

Here are the real reasons to love twitter:

  1. Silliness. I’m not talking cat videos here (though if you haven’t seen the kittens on the Roomba set to Rite Of Spring, go and watch it immediately), but highly-refined, top-grade, personalised, industrial-strength silliness on a daily basis. Whatever you find funny, there’s someone out there who will take it to the next level. And then make a .gif of it, just for you.

A completely randomly-selected picture of someone else’s procycling crush. Not mine. Obviously

  1. Thoughtfulness. People remember stuff. @_mmmaiko_ makes sure I get a copy of every procyclist’s birthday cake that goes past in her timeline. @pariswheels sends me emergency pictures of my procycling crush when I’m in the doldrums. And an army of people spot and link to tweets about procycling dreams to feed revesperminute.
  1. Help. Post a dilemma and within minutes, people are offering advice. Then criticising each other’s advice, then getting into full-on name-calling scraps (this has only happened once, so far. Oh, actually, twice.). People DM about their own experiences, and offer real-life help: coffees and bike rides and cyclocross lessons. Someone will always tell you to man up (I’m looking at you, @rebecca_slack) and take the mickey out of you kindly (I think @broomwagonblog’s being kind, anyway).
  1. Motivation. No, not Alain de-sodding-Botton. People, out there, doing what they do: biking, painting, thinking, creating, writing, reading, racing. Not stars, or celebs; just people, Getting On With It. I’m inspired to Get On With It, too.
  1. Like minds. I spend my whole life searching obsessively for people I click with. Those rare, insane, mind-meld moments where you think, with a cold rush, ‘Oh. You really GET this, don’t you.’ Everyone who hung glumly around record shops as a teenager, hoping to meet a real live person they had something in common with, is now on twitter. And you can weep helplessly with them over the word ‘haunches’, and play pun games that nobody else finds funny, and help them imagine the cast of Downton Abbey doing cyclocross. And it’s just marvellous.

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