Thursday, 15 April 2010

Recovering otaku

One night recently Oli and I were playing with a set of couples' question cards - you know the sort - 'What was my most embarrassing moment?' (too many!) - 'Would I rather own a BMW, a Rolls Royce or a Ferrari?' (is there a major difference?) - 'What adrenalin rush sport or activity would I most love to do?' (ha!) - and I pulled out a card that made me hesitate before I read it aloud:

'Who is my favourite cartoon character?'

Here was where I would find out if two years of rolling my eyes and stressing, 'anime is not the same as cartoons!' to Oli would pay off. Apparently not, as he listed the protagonists from Fushigi Yuugi (which, incidentally, would have been spot on should the question have been 'Who is my favourite anime character?').

My otaku heyday was, perhaps, between the age of 14 and 19 - a long time ago now, yet I find myself still incredibly protective and defensive of it all, perhaps even more so than I was at the time! Nowadays every HMV in the country has a little 'anime' section (a ridiculously poor and specific collection, but ten years ago it would have been totally unheard of) and most people know - or think they know - exactly what it's all about.

When I was 12, on a sick day from school, I lay on the couch feeling sorry for myself and flicking through daytime TV, which - although endlessly fascinating for me now, I do love my talkshows and antiques buying and property hunting! - was painfully boring. Flicking onto Sky One, I became engrossed in an episode of Pokémon (it was Ditto's Mysterious Mansion, I remember!) and from that day on I was totally hooked.

Pokémon is (still) such a massive brand today, it's funny to remember that at this point nobody had heard of it outside Japan - the games had only just come out in America and the series had only just begun on Sky One. Fortuitously, my mother went to the States a couple of months later, and returned with a suitcase full of Pokémon goodies - plushies, the soundtrack, the TCG packs, posters! The Red and Blue games were snapped up the day of their release and that was that - Jonathan and I were obessed. We recorded every episode onto tape, and sat at our ancient computer every night designing labels to stick on the tapes and browsing a fledgling internet on dial-up for all the news and information we could get.

It was inevitable that in these browsing sessions we would happen across reference to other American-popular anime series - before too long I had memorised the entire plot line to Sailor Moon (which I annoyingly insisted on calling the full, glamorous title of Bishoujo Senshi Sailormoon, naturally) without having actually ever seen an episode - before realising that they showed it (dub, obviously) on Fox Kids, and begging my mum to add it on to our Sky package.

Pokérival Digimon followed, then a shocking incarnation of CLAMP's beloved Card Captor Sakura ("CARDCAPTORS! A MYSTIC ADVENTURE!! A QUEST FOR ALL TIME!" - I mean, seriously??). Actually, speaking of Cardcaptors, it had two of my all-time favourite DubFail moments ever.

Syaoran (or Lee or whatever it was that they called him in the dub) is eating mochi rice balls with a soup.
"Mmmmm, great hamburgers Meiling!!"


Syaoran, bless him, is a little hot and bothered in the trouser department when the gorgeous Yuki is around... This is causing him to walk a little strangely... which the dub explains away as him practicing marching for band practice.


So this is the only anime exposure that was possible when I made my first forages into otakudom... But the turning point was the advent of broadband! Suddenly I could stream, I could torrent, I could read manga online!! And accordingly, as it was made more accessible in my own life, anime became more accessible to the mainstream. Channels like Cartoon Network began to pick up more series, the DVD selection in HMV expanded and merchandise popped up alarmingly in random shops.

Basically, I think the otakus of today (especially the American ones!) are seemingly spoilt for choice, but it's actually to their detriment. I see my sister, exactly as I was at that age, and with her it's all Naruto & Bleach, which are exactly the same series that have dub DVDs in HMV up and down the country. I think the explosion of widely avaliable series is not a advent of choice... rather that it chooses for you. Which is rather sad.

My years as an otaku were incredibly expensive (for my parents!) and incredibly impatient (waiting for import DVDs to arrive or dawdling downloads to complete) - but I wouldn't swap them for the otaku experience of today.

Wednesday, 7 April 2010


He had expected her to be wearing blue, but the dress - the hem twitched outwards in a fan from her wardrobe to show him a few days earlier - was a dull matt grey, the colour of thickened dust or of slush on the roads in February. He hadn't been particularly impressed, but he had to admit that tonight she had managed to bring the colour alive. She stood out, as he knew she would, in a room of pastels and black, swathed in silk of an alien sheen. The dress was like a small sea moving with her about the room, her pleasure the cresting of waves.

When they had first entered, her arm had snaked through his, and made them like a magic trick, a hoop around a triangle with no visible join. Her eyes are lined and dusted with silver and almost level with his tonight, thanks to the heels. Her hair is lightly curled and bounces and tosses as she laughs, and he feels astonishingly proud that he can afford this person, this other, so much joy. He wonders if she feels it too, the feeling of Coming Home for the last time.

There have been speeches and dinner and dancing but still the celebration of his return continues on into the night. She won't let on, but the balls of her feet are tender and burning in the borrowed shoes and she shuffles restlessly on them. The hairspray is losing its grip and her hair falls limp again, and she feels like the pumpkin after midnight. He, still beside her, occupying the spot from which he was so long absent, is as bright and alive as ever, happy to have the same conversation over and over again with every single well-wisher.

And finally the torrent of people wanting time with the man of the hour slows, and he takes his chance. He braces her forearm and leads her out into the gardens, half a bottle of champagne in his free hand, her sister's shoes dangle from hers.

The dawn is coming on now, the grass is already slick with its moisture and they both laugh as she slips in her bare feet. The dew creeps up from the hem of the dress, little dark veins on the silk, and she hikes it up to hold it bunched at her thighs. Her skin is as white as bone in the moonlight.

He spreads his jacket on the ground – brand new, expensive, but no matter – and she drinks a mouthful of champagne from the bottle before lying down. He lies down heavily beside her; the elbows and upper back of his shirt are soaked through in seconds but already she's pointing straight upwards and in a voice thickened with champagne and sleep she talks about the constellations, and her mouth forms the elongated O of Cassiopeia like a kiss.

You talk too much, he tells her with a smirk as he settles back on one elbow to watch her profile as she stares up at the wheel of stars above them, narrators of ancient stories, and allows himself - just for a moment - to feel very small, very insignificant. But - on the other hand – he is so overwhelmed by the sense of providence that has given him the best friend he has ever had, that brought two separate people crashing into one another's lives all those years ago, almost as if with this night in mind.

There is no rush, not now he's home to stay, but then again he can't see the point of waiting any longer. That part of their lives is over, and what has tonight been about other than new beginnings, old obstacles surmounted?

So he kisses her quickly, before allowing himself to think about it too much. Her nose and her cheeks are chilled by the pre-dawn air but her mouth is warm, and she tastes like summers and afternoons, with the flavour of champagne sharp underneath. The skin on the back of his neck tingles in a way that brings to mind the image of those champagne bubbles evaporating off his skin. She doesn't pull away and she doesn't reciprocate, but her breath grows quick and heavy under his lips and when he moves to look at her he can see even in the bleaching moonlight that a band of colour has reddened her face. She sits up, wordless. He wonders, perhaps too late, if she was as ready to stop waiting as he.

Suddenly shy, he rubs her bare shoulder roughly with his free hand as he searches for the right words to say, the right steps to take. He lets the hand drop to skim down her arm and take up her cold fingers in his.

You look so beautiful tonight, he tells her, and resolutely he kisses her again.

Tuesday, 6 April 2010

What's in a name?

Woman on phone rings up and says she is tracing a person who died in one of our blocks 11 years ago. I politely tell her that we have only managed that particular property since 2008 and so wouldn't have any information, but even if we did, I couldn't just give it out over the phone... She tries to reason with me for ages, and in the end I give her my email address and tell her to submit a request for more information in writing... After I do, she closes the conversation:

"I'm sorry... this might be a bit of an impertinent question but... how do you live with a surname like that??"
"... ... I'm sorry?"
"Your surname, it's dreadful! Is it your married name?"
"Er... no, maiden..."
"Oh that's okay then... better get married off quick. Thanks for your help."

No joke, she was totally serious the whole way through... not a hint of teasing or mischeiviousous. She was an old posh battleaxe and my surname genuinely distressed her.


Almost Famous

Nice vote of confidence for them to put me up on the website before my probation period is over!!

At least they made it teenytiny and black and white... in the full colour picture I looked crazy and drunk!!

Thursday, 1 April 2010


Last night I added a load of albums to my iTunes, but couldn't be bothered to sit there and take songs off my 6gb Nano to make space for them... So I dug out my old 40gb iPod Classic and quickly updated it.

This morning, waiting on the tube platform, I pulled my iPod from my bag and started to untangle the earphones. Middleaged man I have never seen before in my life smiled at me and asked, 'Where's your little purple one this morning?'

... ... weird.

Well, weird that he's probably there every morning and obviously WATCHES ME go about my daily commuting business without me noticing.

And speaking of commuting, I would just like to say a big fuck off to all the people who got on the Northern Line during rush hour today with massive suitcases. Yes, you're fantastically lucky to be going on holiday over the long weekend... and I'm not jealous or bitter at all, oh no... my beef is that you could fit about 3.5 Erins into the space you and your luggage are taking up, but did you have to pay for three travelcards? I doubt it.

Rarghhh commuter raaaaaage!!!