Archive for July, 2009

hands up, who likes me; the playtime politics of the student union

July 22, 2009

“Hands up, who likes me?”, so said People’s Poet, Rick, from the student-based reality TV show, The Young Ones. And so say the few hopefuls in this years student elections. A time when some of the democratically-minded band together to share polices and ideas. Playing pretend politics. A popularity contest.

The run-up to the elections is a period marred with activists frantically stapling up irritating photo-shopped posters of smug Union-attendees. Shameless distribution of leaflets, plastered with repetitive, misspelt policies and dire slogans attributable to people with trendy names, like Moz or Nob. A commendable recreation of a real election campaign. However, apparently this is not enough to convince the student body they they literally need to vote for one of these awesomely desirably people. No. Next they feel the need to enter in on our lectures – our hours of learning, where some of us hope to pick up something about our degree subject, so that we may actually get a foothold in the big, bad World in a few years, from an actual qualified, flesh-and-blood lecturer. They come in, these preacher-men, and recite some turgid credos, designed to represent policies, and then waft away again, with nothing but their contented sense of superiority lingering. Like an unwelcome fart, that leaves the class feeling slightly uneasy and insulted.

I propose we skip this ‘sham’ – words not from myself, but one of the higher-ups involved in its delicate execution. Why not just see who has the greatest Facebook following. Or follow the example set by the deviant, Pentheus, and strip them naked and parade them, like giddy sheep, across the campus on the shoulders of their Bacchic horde; Thyrsus thrust aloft. Then we can choose for ourselves the one with the most handsome cock, or fewest venereal diseases. At the very least let us do away with the legions of henchmen placed strategically around the forecourts, in order to obstruct us from getting on time to our lectures. The people who, grinning, accost, cajole and generally bully us into taking part. Who force into our pockets their flimsy little gospels. This happens so often that the tables and chairs of all the cafes are mostly lost beneath mountains of screwed up pamphlets, unwanted and securing the campaigner’s undesirable omnipresence.

Childish humour aside, I find it despicable, the number of dirty looks and muttering myself and others get for denying the competitors my vote. Surely the right to abstain is just as important as the right to vote – and I certainly do not have a problem with those who choose to hand over their ballot paper. I do, however, object to the eye-twitchingly irritating sentiment that many have bandied about; that is, ‘how else will we get students involved in politics?’ – like this is some hellish indoctrination ceremony into the turbulent world of politics. We scrawl our little numbers into the boxes and, voila!, we are ‘involved in politics’. Personally, I am relishing in the knowledge that, at the next elections, I will be able to have my say in which party I believe will best handle the gargantuan task of running the country. The student elections, though, feel too much like a farce to get get my vote – a quick look at two candidates running for the same position with exactly the same policies only confirms this. There is too much companionship with the opposition. You can quite happily imagine them engaged in drunken orgies behind the scenes. Livingstone-Johnson? Cameron-Brown? No chance.

So, by all means, elect your representatives. But I have not made use of the Union since my first years freshers fair almost two years ago, I am only on campus for my lectures, so do not bully those of us who do not wish to take part into taking part. Perhaps next year we can have little red stickers to indicate our impassivity. I am quite certain that my opinion would aggravate Rick. But nobody liked him anyway.

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pub culture

July 17, 2009

Pubs, man. Literally, what is the point? This could prove unpopular, but I cannot think of somewhere I would least like to be stuck for an eternity.

Sure, Shaun of the Dead proved to us that they can provide a reliable stronghold against an undead invasion, in Eastenders it has remained a vital location for major plot development – so much so that The Queen Vic is almost a synonym itself for pub. But you must be forgetting, Withnail and the tentatively named Marwood suffered a most unwelcome anxiety attack in the face of some hefty, burly gentlemen in The Mother Black Cap, and this is exactly the kind of experience I resent being subject to in pubs. We are all familiar with it, someone infinitely more confident, more butch, more feminine, more grounded, more weathered approaches you in a pub and already you know you have to act fast you could very well be exposed. (In this article ‘you’ represents ‘me’ or ‘I’ – make sure to substitute it where relevant, as I am very aware that this is the kind of experience that some people get off on; some like Hentai, other likes pubs. It takes all kinds.) It’s not that I don’t think I’m not bad at pretending to be at home in a pub, I can blag my way through most awkward social situations by bringing up a cricket match I know to have happened recently or leaping in, just before the silence becomes crushing, to refer to something I think might vaguely relate to to whomever I am talking, perhaps a beer I know they once drank (“What’s with the prices these days?”, I might exclaim, or even better, “Ah, a pint of *insert name*, solid choice”), in a desperate bid to revive a stagnating conversation, to keep it going like some weary, stilted game of Pong in which no one wins, one is merely the first to walk away. Rather, I’d just not have to experience it all to begin with. But still, I continue to visit pubs – well, pub, and one that I have had the unrestricted privilege to work at, so I already know most of the ‘punters’ – and this would seem to directly contradict my main point; why frequent if you know you’ll feel uncomfortable, and why feel uncomfortable when you know you can stay at home and feel happier on your own.

Well, I think it has something to do with fitting in. I know the people at the pub remark on my anti-social behaviour, and perhaps I’m trying to counter this by going through weeks in which I’m the very definition of decadence (by my own meager standards) by drinking myself to the edge of sickness at the bar and then generally accosting people I once vaguely had a sort of friendship with. Except, by doing this I inadvertently expose myself as a massive fraud – it’s clear from my bar-hanging and my ridiculous attempts at talking about sport and drinking that this doesn’t really come very naturally to me. I much prefer the pretentious, metrosexual (what does that even mean) aura (probably quite a metrosexual word) of a coffee bar (definitely a metrosexual place) to the testosterone injected air of my local. Pubs just aren’t very fun. They’re a trial. A test. An exam. I have enough of them at university. But still, if I do not try this, if I don’t attempt to visit the pub every so often and fake my way into normal society, I shall feel as though I’m merely cementing what has already been suspected of me by my ex-co-workers and ex-patrons, that I am not really pub material. If this was X-Factor, I’d have dropped out long before the queue of people began to filter through the auditioning room. Simon Cowell would never have had to think of some biting, if somewhat bland, put down to my pathetic charade of pretending to be a barman. He wouldn’t even know I existed. And this, I think, is better. Better than having to appear every so often and act and drink like the majority of people I used to spend a great deal of time with, albeit in a ‘work environment’. But very few of my friends actually like coffee, and even less coffee bars (a tragic failing on their part, I like to believe). So it is, I frequent the pub to keep my flickering IV connection with the real world alive.

Don’t get my wrong, these are all tremendously nice people – and do not seem to mind that I do not match with their own view of life. I just feel fake. And their ever-welcoming arms, and their ever-ready pints just make this fact even worse to bear. We all know this is just some silly, social charade, but, dammit, it’s what we must endure to maintain expected convention.

I also seem to always, totally unconsciously and somewhat accidentally, over do it. I always drink far too much. I always talk far too freely. I always hang around for far too long. The business men who come in, order a pint, down it, and drive off at a billion miles an hour to some orifice-tightening meeting, in which the very fate of our world is discussed, have the right idea. If only I could mimic them. If only I could nip in, say my ‘hello’s’ and ‘how are you’s’ and be done like that. Then I think the pub wouldn’t be such a daunting place, simply because I’d be in for a lot less time. So, you stupid fucking moron, I hear you say, why don’t you just spend less time there? Well, I’ll tell you why. Because when I am there, and drinking inadvisable amounts of potent fluid, I begin to think to myself, actually, this isn’t too bad, I’m actually quite good at socialising, yes, I think I shall stay a little longer. Unfortunately, a little longer turns into the entire night, and by the end of it I’m saying my awkward goodbyes to people used to hugs and kisses and God knows what else. I arrive and fall into a hideous möbius loop of cigarettes, alcohol and ridiculous conversation. Yes, this isn’t the first time I’ve used the möbius loop as an analogy in an article, well observed – I fear my life is dictated too often by those infernal strips.

Pubs are too promiscuous. Are people flirting with you? Or are they simply pretending to flirt? Or are they, in fact, just acting like any normal human being, and that, because of my social hibernation, I have forgotten how normal conversation works. The pub I frequent used to have an employee ratio that veered heavily towards the XY chromosome pattern. Not so anymore, there are at least three times more women working behind the bar than I used to know, back in my comfort days. This makes it even more difficult, re; the flirting. Obviously if a guy was flirting with you it was a joke, or a very ill-judged… judgment. As a straight male, it’s much easier to avoid going to bed with a man than it is entertaining the idea of going somewhere, to do something, with a woman. Just. Though with a man there’s none of the post-coitus hassle; nobody is pregnant, and there’s a higher chance both of us came, thus both parties are satisfied, we could both go on our way with none of the bitter parting that I’ve generally come to know. I’m aware this point, this nervous teenage-hangover is completely my own doing, but still it exists, and I’m acutely aware of it when at the pub and drinking, and drinking, and drinking; don’t say anything silly to a girl, don’t say anything silly to a girl, don’t say anything silly to a girl. To date, I’ve offended them with a liberal use of ‘cunt’, I’ve completely lost their interest, and thus their company, and I’ve come over as either overbearingly feminine or miserable. But I haven’t come across as sexually perverse or excited. So, in a strange sort of way, I’m doing quite well.

Perhaps, because I used to work at the pub, I feel an unnecessary burden to meet and greet everyone I think I might have known in ‘the past’, like the mother of some irritating child at their primary school fête. A quick word of advice, don’t do this, it’s just stupid. As a result, my conversation becomes like some repetitive PowerPoint presentation of my life up until this point, some insipid slide-show in which I tell them the same tales I told them last month, last year. Maybe it’s best to move to an entirely new pub, in which nothing is expected of me, and I quite happily sup my cappuccino from the darkened corner of the room, whilst I flick anxiously through a book I’m pretending has my complete, undivided attention. But that’s a whole other ball park, a whole new set of social fears and mistakes of etiquette to be made. That, in other words, is for another time.