The Christmas Bird and a carrot for yer reindeer….

Ding, Dong merrily on high you gorgeous, lovely blog readers of mine!  The Christmas Bluebird wishes you goodwill to all men and stuff and raises a glass to toast you beautiful readers who have been following me since this ‘ere mighty blog was established in April.  Whilst in the office yesterday, my boss telephoned from the tennis court : Did I know it was Christmas next week?  Yes, I did.  But had I realised it was Christmas actually?  How was he going to attend all his meetings?  And did I know when the shops closed?  How was he going to do everything? he asked.  My initial thought was to say “Well, get off the tennis court for a start.”  But I didn’t.  He carried on: “You see the thing is, have you actually realised it was Christmas, now, and it seems like the same date as last year?”

Oh for goodness sake.  It’s always at the same day every year, dork.  Anyway, I do know it’s Christmas next week because I have been counting down the wee festive days.  Firstly, let me nail my colours to the festive mast : the Bluebird here loves Christmas.  No.  She loves Christmas.  Truly and utterly and superbly.  Tinsel, trees, baubles and a menorah: fucking beautiful.  This is what in the multi-faith Bluebird Towers is referred to as Chrismukkah.  But truly, it is at Christmas where the Bluebird forgets she is Jewish at all and basks in a glut of telly and geese and a G&T as soon as the shorthand is over the yardarm, and bells ringing, and carols, and Christmas films about tiny people called Tim and goodwill to men and stuff.  That is because Christmas as we know it is a Victorian secular feast  and to most people, nothing to do with religious things at all.  Before Prince Albert dragged over the first Christmas tree from Germany, before Dickens and his lustrous Victorian sentiment got the better of us, people really didn’t bother with it at all.  A Georgian Christmas would be unrecognisable to us today.  The first Christmas card wasn’t sent until 1846 (although, as it was delivered by the Royal Mail, it didn’t arrive until 1973).    Santa Claus turns up to emotionally blackmail children into going bed early at some point in the 1870s.  Getting children to bed early on Christmas Eve is some consolation to them waking up at 6am the next morning and hitting you in the face with whatever was in their stocking while the little darlings scream “Wake up Mummy, it’s CHRISTMAS!”.    Crackers appear in about 1850.  The traditional turkey doesn’t gobble it’s way into the English Christmas dining room until the late 19th century.  Christmas Eve Mass, so beloved of non-religious drinkers bent on hilarity,  wasn’t a regular fixture until well after the Second World War, when it took over in popularity from Christmas Morning Mass.  The great thing about it is that this Germanic / English festival is that, as with all midwinter festivals, it is cut through with a robust wave of paganism.  The red berries of the holly bush were meant to ward off witchcraft (oooooo), whereas ivy symbolizes immortality. Christmas in England is nuts (Brazils, usually).   And no one goes for this riot of Victorian German-ness more than the English.

I have had every type of Christmas Day : the big, traditional family Christmas (many, many of those) which starts with bacon sandwiches and tea and ends with Christmas cake and a colonic, the Christmas where my brother got alcoholic poisoning because we spiked his drink, the Christmas with 8 people in a one-bed flat in town (ill-advised), the non-family Christmas with friends of friends in Primrose Hill who, when I arrived, took the bottle of champagne I had brought with me, put it in fridge and shamefully served wine all day, the non-Christmas with my brother who doesn’t celebrate Christmas, the other Christmas my other brother discharged himself from hospital with double pneumonia, only to arrive in a cab in his dressing gown shortly before lunch and be immediately sent to bed by our mother, the depressing, senseless and dreadful Christmas at the boyfriend’s parents a month before we split up and drunken, happy, box-set DVDs-type-Christmas Days a deux with Mr Bluebird in Bluebird Towers.

Despite the varying qualities of Christmases Past – from the sensational to the dire – this Christmas bird never stops believing in the marvellousness of it all and is eternally hopeful.  Radio Times in lap, on Christmas Eve morning, with no work on the horizon for ten days. ..Is anything lovelier?   The most delightful thing about being an adult at Christmas is you get to be the child again, the child that in adolescence, breathless for sophistication, you couldn’t.  At 15, 16 and 17 there was the round of ghastly parties to attend and take seriously.  You were launched at with sexual crassness by boys, and went very straight-faced about the sobering business of trying to be popular.   It was very, very tense being a teenager at Christmas.  The idea was you submerged yourself into vats of Bacardi and lemonade and hoped to emerge at the other side of Christmas without your virginity.  No wonder we failed.

One year my parents decided to do an embarrassingly teenage thing and actually had a Christmas party.  With people standing around.  Listening to music and drinking.  It was just wrong.  They were parents, you know.  They made the fatal error of putting the 13 year old Bluebird and two of her 13 year old contemporaries in charge of the bar.  By half past seven we were rendered hysterical by three shots of Archers Peach Schnapps.  By half past ten my parents friends were drunker than any of my brothers’ friends and the wife of the editor of The Daily Mirror couldn’t walk through the front door in a straight line.  I was most perturbed.   My parents had excelled at festive misbehaviour much more than we could.    Another Christmas I was so disturbed at the person I’d winded up snogging in the Rose & Crown pub on Christmas Eve that I did the only reasonable thing I could have done, which was to leave for Switzerland immediately and spend two days in St Moritz singing Beatles songs to plastic surgeons from Zurich.  I had already been in a pantomime where hecklers from the front row had called me a lesbian, so being in St Moritz only added to the stress.  Was that my lowest point on the Bluebird scale of Christmases past?  Probably.  Usually however, I am such a pervert that I actually enjoy Oxford Street at this time of year.  Every day I battle through it to get home from the office, buying gifts en route.  Remember, dear readers, it is a happier place than it will be next February.  Now we are swept along in this heightened uber-Christmas reality of fairy lights, department stores grottoes, waving Mickey Mouses in the Disney Store and Santas in the windows.  Our world, redressed and aggressively marketed, is transformed into another London reality that, apart from the buses that never move and the constant jostling in the shops, is a show in itself.  The heightened reality that consumerism needs is in full swing, and painstakingly contrived to make us spend more and more and more and more, until our handbags explode and our credit cards blow up.   There she goes – the Christmas Bluebird – weighed down with items from GAP for the gentleman in her life, looking forward to opening the presents for three year old neices so that she can play with them, buying fabric ribbon for present wrapping from the wonderful Cloth House in Berwick Street, stomping valiantly past that calypso band that annually takes up cheery residency outside John Lewis on Oxford Street, and lurching violently into the path of a passing No 10 bus after the office Christmas lunch.

All that remains for me to say is – enjoy.  Enjoy the gluttony and take pride in the telly, rest up and take it easy.  You won’t be able to visit your relatives anyway because apparently we are all going to be snowed in, so put the driving gloves away and open the sherry.  Happy Christmas, dear readers!  Oh – and if I don’t update next Thursday, it’ll be because I will be buried under wrapping paper and sellotape singing Bing Crosby classics and will be unable to get to the nearest internet portal.  Seasons Greetings to all you lovely readers, from The London Bluebird x x x x

Please return to The London Bluebird if you enjoyed this.  This blog is updated every Thursday.

The natives are revolting

Today is a day of student protests in London.  Hard hit by a LibDem back-down that was both sorrowful and inevitable, the vote on fees starts today.   These  student protests, we have been warned, may take shape in forms of disruptive behaviour, violence, physical and mental dangers and, as the Standard growled on its front page yesterday tea-time, under threat of hijack from anarchists.  All the above is true.  All the protesters are cross.  All of them have a right to be.

What was astonishing about yesterday’s Evening Standard was not the tone of thrilling scare-mongering about anarchists mowing down shoppers in Oxford Street, which broken-down logic is typical many of our daily nasties, but the tone of the article that covered the various outposts of protest throughout the University of London.  Surveying sites including SOAS and UCL, the LSE, The Royal College of Art and Goldsmiths,  the mocking tone of the article was blunderingly apparent:“A performance poetry slot includes sets by Northern indie rapper Ruby Kid and Londoner Kate Tempest, for whom the unruly gaggle of students and the odd lecturer finally fall silent.  Later, striking singing Iva of three-piece thrash band Rough Kittens draws a crowd fascinated by her impressive caterwauling and leopardskin leggings.”  This was at Goldsmiths.

Later in the article, over at the LSE “In a grubby anteroom, a small group polishes off some sugared doughnuts while sketching out a three-metre-long banner.  One student’s proud dad had picked up a bag of Brick Lane bagels that morning, which “went down amazingly”.” Alarmingly, it took three people (presumably over the age of 10) to write this article. The impression it led the reader to was that this students protest against fees is the childish, misguided brainchild of  feckless, doughnut munching layabouts, who have papered together “Cut Capitalism” banners with a well-meaning, yet vague ideology.  In the face of an ethically robust demand for free tertiary education in the city they care about, the Standard mainly saw fit to lampoon students, not venerate them.

Despite the fact that I bet you the Evening Standard will be the first to show the bloody pictures of people’s faces in Friday’s edition, they failed to grant the students they met political or ethical legitimacy by accenting that this was a campaign run by liberal idiots wearing Che Guevara T-shirts, lacking neither basic organizational skills nor fortitude. The Standard’s implication is these children have not yet woken up to smell the ConDem coffee.  They should grow up and maturely stop fighting, shouldn’t they, these daft, over-educated prigs?  Incidentally, there are plenty of protestors at ULU who are better educated than the rest of Britain, financially articulate, adept at calculating costings regarding the financial impact on students at the drop of a hat outside the LSE, but Georgina, or Louisa, or Victoria, or whoever from the Evening Standard didn’t interview them.

It is one thing to take sides on the university fees debate, but it is quite another thing to deny the noble beliefs of morally centred protestors their ethical ground by taking the piss out of them.   Is it a great myth, perpetuated by adults normally,  that when you grew out of education, decide on a job and go to work, the political and moral idealism of adolescence becomes inappropriate; distasteful; something one grows out of, like wearing braces on your teeth.  Many people over 25 are, shamefacedly, embarrassed in the fact of idealism.  To demand a right, to stick to your guns, to fail to compromise oneself, all of these are misinterpreted as views only for the unworldly and the ill-prepared.  That is because to be morally bankrupt in the world is a vast asset, particularly if you want to acquire power, political levy or become a banker.   To have moral gumption, to be of noble sentiment towards students (and sentiment these days is a very, very dirty word) is to be a pain but we absolutely need far more of it.  The world would rather you went to work, earned your money, shut up, pay your taxes and then died.  Curiously, the world has its views very often the wrong way round.  It may be that the Standard will continue it’s stance on accenting the violence of protestors with indignance.  The annoying behaviour of political protest, which forces our cars to take circuitous routes around London (oh what a pain) and disturbs the glut of Christmas shoppers in town, will be aligned with civic irresponsibility, whereas it is actually civic responsibility in action.

So much focus has been pulled toward the economic value of education that the civic value of it has slipped out of view, because the newspapers don’t write about that.  If we have to prove to the public that higher education is something worth paying in terms of its value in a civilized and cultivated society then something has gone terribly wrong.   Regardless of what you think about the current student finance situation, you would have to be a selfish philistine to not be moved by the end of 500 years of free tertiary education in the UK, and not to empathise with those to whom the prospect of £9,000 p.a. fees would knock further education on the head altogether.  100 years ago it was part of a citizen’s moral duty to be concerned regarding the civic implications of political change in society.  In its original meaning, Ruskin explained that sympathy was “the imaginative understanding of the natures of others, and the power of putting ourselves in their place” and that it was “the faculty on which virtue depends”.  Eighty years earlier, in his dictionary of 1775, Samuel Johnson defined sympathy as a “fellow-feeling; mutual sensibility…” rather than its modern implications of being primarily about pity.  The original definition of sympathy would be welcome today.

For an article that actually uses joined-up thinking, a more helpful guide than the Evening Standard is offered through the BBC website :

The current argument must be contextualized in economic reality but it must also be viewed with sympathy regarding the civic implications of charging for university education.  London and Londoners would suffer.  It should be our civic duty to care that the only noble people in last night’s Evening Standard were not capable of receiving respect for what they stood for, irrespective of what the readers’ views on student fees may actually be.   The Evening Standard‘s careless riposte was chilly, derisive and abrupt, and to mock those who are less cowardly and more hopeful than the rest of us is morally reprehensible.  Our city’s only evening newspaper should be ashamed of itself.

Please return to The London Bluebird if you enjoyed this.  This blog is updated every Thursday.

Get it or regret it: every Wednesday!!

And get it, we did.  Every Wednesday, for the princely sum of 65p, we would hungrily consume the periodical above, which seemed to be hot-wired into the world of the rich and famous.  “Posters! Advice! Stars! Gossip! Boys!”  it gleefully promised in its tagline at the bottom.  The last word was a bit odd- boys?!  What boys?  Surely not the boys we knew who were our age and frankly, prats.  And how rude to think that the nicest thing they can find to say about Andre Agassi was that he was less boring than Boris Becker.  Anyway, the boys Just Seventeen referred to in it pages were Ralph Macchio, Rupert Everett, the singer from Brother Beyond (please comment with name of that one, if you can remember?  I bet one of you can!), Kiefer Sutherland Mark One (the Julia Roberts years), Pat Sharp, Jason Donovan, Rob Lowe (pre scandal), George Michael, Patrick Swayze , Peter Schofield, and the entire male cast of “Neighbours”.  Every week there was a poster called “Phwooar!” usually of one of the above gently in a seductive pose- such as the Rob Lowe copyrighted look of chin tilted on a resting hand, other arm bent at the elbow beside the face.  Just Seventeen were also clever in their use of chairs:

A numerology guide adorns the cover of February 15th 1989, which may be of some assistance to Kiefer Sutherland, who appears to be trying to count his own fingers by sticking them into his face.  What other publication could grant you an interview with Rupert Everett and Barry from Brookside in the same edition? This is sheer publishing genius.

All of these  “Phwooar!” posters ended up on my wall.  At one point I had 19 of Kiefer Sutherland alone, in his late 80s, trademark, blue jeans, black suit jacket and white sneakers combo.  We used to trade them at school – swapping “Phwooar!” posters like feverish World War Two traders dealing in black market cigarettes.

if you wanted to find out how to get the boy you want and also peruse an article on Martika on the same page, you bought Just Seventeen.  An interview with Debbie Gibson, a Kevin Costner “pin-up” poster and advice on how to dress like Neneh Cherry sums up the August 30 1989 issue.   For style and up-to-the-moment activities there was the glorious guide of the  “What’s in, and what’s out column” (from my 1988 copy I have What’s In: “Eastenders and Mel and Kim.”  What’s Out : “Coronation Street and Pepsi and Shirley”).  For those who were tentatively beginning romantic adventures, there was the terrifying wonder at the “Position of the Week” on the penultimate page, which almost always involved two drawn stick people imitating sexual intercourse in a bathroom.  Want to know whether Philip Schofield believes in love at first sight?  Well, the January 6 1988 edition told you all about that.  And then there were the unmissable reader’s makeover articles, where unsuspecting 15 year old girls from Aldershot were thrown at the mercy of the J17 stylist team, who would turn them into provincial Britain’s answer to Gloria Estefan, and they would be left at the end; a startled mass of L’Oreal Studio line hair products and gaudily-coloured bomber jackets.  There were interviews with the latest blouson-jacketed Stock Aitken & Waterman prodigy who would be wearing either luminous green socks (the boys) or luminous yellow hair scrunchies (the girls).  These were made up to appear unrelentingly innocent and to conceal the young readership from the vague nastiness of life on the road in a band.  Stock, Aitken and Waterman weren’t called the factory for nothing.  Every quote smacked of the manufactured production line.  So, whilst the truth might be that “Brian caught a nasty disease from a girl in Doncaster”, Just Seventeen would print pictures of manufactured  bands smiling in the van, with a caption that says “The boys hate it when Mark eats all the bananas!”

How prophetic that the tagline “What does the future hold for you” appears on the front cover of this edition from January 1989.  Shortly before Brother Beyond and their pseudo-cowboy, buttoned up, 70% cotton shirts disappeared from the music scene altogether. And who can imagine the thrill of winning this week’s competition “a wardrobe full of denim”?

All of this made getting up on a Wednesday morning worthwhile.     There were adverts for chemically questionable beauty products, such as “Bright Eyes”, which you would drop into your eyes before parties at tennis clubs, and which would produce such a vehement reaction that you were promised glittering, dripping and no doubt carcinogenic eyes all evening.  “Does he fancy you!!?” “Will you snog?!”  “Call 0898 4004000!!!” would glare out the adverts at the back, as if you would actually telephone the number listed and get a full point-by-point report of your personal future snogging calendar.  Published fortnightly by the time I started buying it, it was untouched by Americanisms in its writing “What’s on telly over Chrimbo?” screamed the Christmas 1988 cover.   They would trail the streets across the country, photographing teens who looked cool in the way they dressed and commenting on their Body Shop Morello Cherry lip balm.   In 1990, with  the Madchester oversized trousers-rage in full bloom, most of the pictures now look like people snapped walking down Chester High Street on their way to be a clown at a children’s party.  These photographs were always associated with soundbites that summarized the subject’s personality. “Emma is 17, from Norwich, and likes Rimmel lipgloss, ice-skating and Young Guns”.

What did girls want for 55p on December 20th 1989?  I tell you what they wanted – they wanted to know “What Girls Really Think About Boys” and for a black-suited Jason Donovan to turn up on their doorsteps and wish them happy yuletide. with an ISBN reference between his feet. The biggest news story in this issue is not that Jason wishes the snowman next to him was made of a very different kind of white powder, but that SHOCK!  He doesn’t believe in Santa.  Knock off two pairs of white socks you naughty, naughty, Jason.


Someone called Marty from “The Fear” is talking about being a Dad.  As this is March 23rd 1988, Marty’s probably a grandfather putting in for his bus pass now.  And – free badge!  free badge!  That sort of thing was rather exciting in the 1980s, you know.  Like finding out that your mum and George Michael got their blonde highlights done at the same salon.  And let’s not even engage with the lunacy that that might have been had Boy George actually managed to rule the world, his desire for which is proudly stated on the cover here.

If all of this wasn’t enough glamour and excitement for you, you could flip to the very back page to the photos of celebs “snapped” out on the town.  Patsy Kensit with Dan Donovan, Amanda de Cadenet sitting on someone (she was always sitting on somebody), Emily Lloyd at a party, Johnny Depp and Winona Ryder looking pale and dressed in black, Emilio Estevez and Charlie Sheen smiling nervously, or a comical picture of Matt Goss pulling a goofy expression on his way out of Our Price on Kensington High Street.   Michael J Fox always looks pissed.  These shots would be captioned by a hilarious comment, in a bright orange text box, set at a rakish angle and words in size 10 Arial font like: “Emilio Estevez and his puppet Charlie take their ventroliquist show on the road – gottle of geer, boys!” or “Matt Goss doesn’t fool anybody – we know he buys his own records to keep sales up! Ha Ha!”

Oddly, I have kept a vast selection of this stuff, pasted into a photo album, which has a montage on its cover of – yes, you guessed it – a series of Kiefer Sutherland J17 posters.  I even have an interview with Lou Diamond “La Bamba” Phillips during the time of the Young Guns press junket, in which Lou is resplendent in woollen knitwear on a Santa Monica beach, with his first of his three wives, telling that hilarious story about the time the Young Guns boys dressed a goat up in alluring clothing and left it in Charlie Sheen’s trailer.  Nothing has changed since that article was printed in 1989.  Lou is still working his way through a selection of blonde-tressed lady wives who have all been “fitness instructors” at his gym, and Charlie Sheen is still cavorting in trailers with various forms of livestock.  Kiefer Sutherland – of whom a vast amount of column space is given during his two year relationship with Julia Roberts – is the same these days but with less hair gel.  “I cry when we’re apart!” says Kiefer in March 1991 of Julia Roberts.  Well, wait until June, when she calls off the wedding and bizarrely runs off to Ireland with a friend of yours called Jason.  That’s when you’ll sob, my friend. “Are you about to get dumped?” asked the cover, somewhat rudely, in November 1990, before listing ten pointers inside of what to look out for if “you’re going to get chucked”.  They should have given that edition to Kiefer Sutherland.

Want to dress like Bros?  Of course you do!  Here’s the mag on June 1st 1988 to tell you how.  Does anyone else remember “The Grove”, Just Seventeen’s own soap opera?  Who is Sebastian from Network 7 and why on earth have they sent him to China?  And Snap! are going to Montreux?  What on earth is happening?  And how delightful to finally have Charlie Sheen “in colour”.

Of course, no one actually read Just Seventeen when they were actually seventeen.  I mean, come awwwn….. You read Just Seventeen when you were 13, if you parents let you, which they probably didn’t.  At 14 to 15 it was the norm.  By 17, you hoped that you would have developed such ground-breaking sophistication that you would have gravitated on to Elle  or Marie Claire , which are a lot less fun.  Magazine reading was never so much fun again – mainly because we were bereft of cynicism, believed advertisements, were desperate to be grown up, and the world that it promised was fresh and new to us.  In 1994, Just Seventeen was selling 260,000 copies a week.  By 1996 it had shrunk down to 160,000, having been having been beaten to a pulp by Sugar magazine which was launched in the mid-1990s.  Just Seventeen finally closed in 2004.  It did, however, outlive all of its contemporary 1980s rivals, including My Guy and Oh Boy.   Research tells me that Jackie magazine ran until July 1993, but I don’t remember that even crossing my teen radar.  There was, of course, the huge Smash Hits, but if you were more interested in Hollywood Brat Pack than what jackets Simon Le Bon was wearing, Smash Hits always came a second runner to Just Seventeen.  A cursory internet search will show just how little of this journalism has ever got online – there is precious little record of these magazines.  So low is the availability of any of the information inside these editions that a rare copy from 1987 with the little known Pepsi and Shirley on the cover can be yours from Ebay for £10.00:

This is mind boggling..  How on earth could Loadsamoney learn the facts of life?  And if you see back of card for a newsagents order form, you too can win a day with Bros.  You can swap white socks and ask them when you’ll be famous.  The girl on the front is so depressed at the idea of having to spend the day with Bros that she has brought along her own rope to hang herself with first.  Fortunately, the centrespread of Morten Harket returns J17 to its former glory.  Still boosting about their colour printer possibilities, this week’s it’s Neighbour’s Guy Pearce “in colour” in their poster.

Flicking through this month’s Elle last night, there were articles on how to tell if you think your partner is cheating, how to stay healthy throughout the Christmas party season, and how to lose that tricky half a stone – essentially the same articles that magazines have been writing about women since about 1937.  All in all, then, a Just Seventeen “Does he fancy me?” article for the grownups, with all the fun removed.

I want the fun back.  Come on, who’s with me?!  I want a free luminous pencil case with this week’s edition.  I want a “Phwooar!” poster of Michael Jackson and Philip Schofield.  I want tips on party hair and L’Oreal mousse and I don’t want tips on shopping (Just Seventeen was pretty bereft of this in its early days).  I want my star sign to tell me how much fun my week will be if I wear those new shoes, not whether I’m battling energes with Uranus, frankly.  I want a Brother Beyond  poster of brylcreamed chaps, I want a Young Guns calendar.  I demand that grown up ladies magazines are fun again.   Isn’t it very true that girls still need “Blush-proof ways to ask him out!”?  The world of such things has clearly not changed at all.  The idea of “growing up” has been launched by conspiracy theorists who imply that that adult world of work and financial reality is something we seamlessly grow into, rather than the truth – that we are hesitant and recalcitrant for life to stop being a bit fun, and that it is completely unnatural to spend your life in another’s employ.   It’s not immature to admit that the adult world is complete bullshit, in its failure to tell young people that nobody – nobody – actually wants to work anyway, that we prefer leisure and liberty, and that we would all rather get excited about a fun thing like sitting down and reading a good mag.  I reckon young people have a better sense of what’s important anyway.  Rob Lowe poster, anyone?

Unlike the glorious publication of Just Seventeen, the London Bluebird publishes on a Thursday, not a Wednesday.  Please return on Thursday to The London Bluebird if you enjoyed this.