Monday, September 23, 2013

The days are the same you know...

I shouldn't remind myself of anniversaries, it makes me maudlin, and subject to excessive amounts of introspection. And I think about things too deeply anyway - "Think less, Do more" should be my mantra. But then wouldn't I be doing something to distract me from the actual things I should be doing? Anyway, I digress (you see!)....

Ten years ago today I signed The Training Contract for my real, proper job. I'm a totally serious professional for around eight hours a day, five days a week - it's why I can come across as a complete nut-job in my various refuges on the internet - it's a venting and coping mechanism. And those serious, professional, service-focused hours come about because of a chain of events which were set in motion more than ten years ago, but which reached a point where success was virtually guaranteed on this day, in 2003.

The training contract was, as I gather it has always been, and continues to be, a waiting game. As long as you didn't mess up too horrendously, you were going to get to the magic, "final" goal of qualification.  You were going to qualify - and you knew exactly when. For me that anniversary is around two weeks away - let's just say that the admittance rules are "weird" and leave it at that.

Except of course that it isn't the final goal at all - you bang that one in the back of the net and find that there are a whole load more goals lined up behind that one: - the first post-qualified position; the step up to "Associate"; the jump up to "salaried partner"; the Holy Grail of "Equity partner"; the hallowed turf of "Senior Partner" - and it doesn't end there, now that solicitors can and do become judges - it's a never ending greasy ladder, which narrows the higher up it you get, and which becomes ever more precarious each year you cling on to the rungs.

Ten years ago today I walked into the office of a small but lovely law firm in West London, introduced myself to the receptionist, and was shown to my office. It was the first time I'd ever had an office of my own, and I was scared, nervous and excited all at once. I loved the Training Contract years - possibly at least partially a fluke of the firm I was at: - we had conferences in Lincoln's Inn on a weekly basis; I've appeared in virtually every County Court in West London; and at least two different Employment Tribunals; I've held people's hands as specialist Family Judges have delivered utterly unexpected decisions in divorce cases; and on one memorable occasion I've played "guess the amount of damages" with a Barrister and his Pupil (That same barrister owns a DeLorean. Yes, like from "Back to the Future" - the trainee the year after me got a lift in it one day - the grin on her face went from ear to ear!).

I loved the two years I got to live in London, and I was just getting to really establish a social life at the point when it all came grinding to a halt - my landlord epically messed up, and I had to spend the last six and a half weeks sleeping in my mate's kid's room, commuting in from St Albans round the M25 every morning - it was hell on earth and I completely understand why people hate it. And it killed the dream for me. I was going anyway, I wanted a house and the London housing bubble was just about at it's peak - you could pay a Hundred Grand for a studio flat, which I wouldn't have been able to do anyway, and that wasn't what I wanted.

I wonder now, if I had stayed, where I would be in my career? Would I have made partner sooner? Would I have made partner at all? Would I still be at the firm I trained at, or would I have moved on? Would I ever have been able to buy a house in London, or would I be one of the hundreds of thousands of commuters crowding onto packed trains each morning, or one of the millions of Londoners who rent property they will never be able to consider buying even a share in?

I guess much of this post won't make sense - I have made it to ten years - a very, very good achievement (yes, especially for a girl), but the profession is changing, the only certain thing is uncertainty itself, and I find myself wondering what my back up plan might be, if it all goes wrong. Perhaps that introspection is not such a bad idea after all....

Sunday, September 1, 2013

Aerial Hoop

I recently made a new friend - a girl called "Del", and she's into Aerial Hoop. If you don't know what that is, it's hanging off a big metal hoop that's suspended from a convenient ceiling, and contorting yourself into various poses in what is hopefully a pleasing and acrobatic manner. It's sort of gymnastics in the air, with a soup├žon of trapeze thrown in for good measure. Oh yeah, the hoop swings, and also potentially spins, depending on how it's hung.

Always keen to try a new form of exercise which won't bore me to tears, I went along today to a taster session run by Cloud Aerial in Manchester. The venue today was in the back half of "Wobbleyou" a fitness studio on the edge of the ridiculously hip Northern Quarter. There were three hoops, hung in different ways and at slightly different heights (it'll become important) and a couple of poles, as this was a mixed taster session. I had a little go on the pole whilst I was there - it's very slippy and nowhere near as easy as it looks.

But onto the hoop. Or not, in my case. In two hours of huffing and puffing I managed to get my legs over the thing, and towards the end I was building  up enough confidence to let go with either one leg or one arm, and managed to achieve "Candlestick" (both legs and one arm on the hoop) and half a "Delilah" (I got my leg dangling off the hoop, but didn't have the confidence to release an arm as well). I'd like to add - I only managed this on the lowest hung hoop, I couldn't even get my leg onto the higher hung ones.

What we've discovered from this (as if I didn't know already) is that I have absolutely awful, almost non-existent, upper-body strength. This is not at all a surprise, but it is a disappointment - I used to have fair upper-body strength - my job used to involve lifting quite a lot of heavy equipment, and I used to be good at it. All that is long gone, and now it appears I have the flexibility and strength of a wet week old kitten.

But I had a great time today, and if you're thinking of having a go, then I heartily recommend it. I'll be going back, and in the meantime, I'll be doing everything I can to build up my upper-body strength, and my core muscles, and my aim next time will be the same as today - to get on and off the hoop, unaided, and without hurting myself - but next time, I will succeed!

Sunday, February 10, 2013

Tea @ Manchester Town Hall - a review

Yesterday, myself and The Mothership went to have a nose round Manchester Town Hall - they had a free to enter Wedding Fair and despite having lived her entire life in the city, The Mothership had never previously been in the Town Hall. Also, it's where Me and Him are getting married later this year, so many birds were being killed with one stone here!

Tea at the Town Hall is served in The Sculpture Hall, a small space on the ground floor in the shadows of the two grand staircases. You get the impression that many of the busts displayed round the room have been somewhat haphazardly dumped here over the years, and eventually someone decided to make a virtue of this, and give it a label.

The choice of beverage is, to be frank, somewhat limited. The Mothership had wanted a "Latte coffee" but had to settle for sharing a large pot of tea with me - the only coffee option involved a cafetiere. I reckon we got 5 cups out of the Pot of Tea for two, with just enough Milk to be sufficient. So many places mess up the milk ration, giving you either much too much, or, more usually, nowhere near enough, meaning you either have to try to obtain more for the last cup or two, or drink it black. Here, it was just right.

The service could have been a little faster, but one man appeared to have been abandoned by any colleagues to try and deal with both the tea area and a barrow stall all on his own. He was perfectly pleasant, and once we had got him to take our order the Tea turned up very quickly. A table next to us had sandwiches, which appeared huge and well presented.

The Sculpture Hall is usually only open on weekdays, as the Town Hall itself is not usually open to the Public on weekends, so this in itself was a rare treat. The very reasonable cost of £3.50 for what was a large pot of tea helps to off-set the service niggles. Worth a visit if you're in town during the week.

Saturday in Manchester....

Me, him and the alter-ego went to the theatre last night, a rare and unusual treat. Here's what we thought:

Sunday, April 8, 2012

Strictly Come America

The holy grail of TV shows these days is not just to make a domestic hit, but to devise a formula which can be successfully sold overseas. TV shows these days have more of a tendency to have related spin offs, not just “behind the scenes” type shows such as “The X-Tra Factor”, but extensions of the brand – “Junior Masterchef Australia” anyone? The BBC has an entire arm dedicated to exploiting its brands, BBC Worldwide, which you’ve quite possibly never heard of, as they are quite discrete within the UK.

When it isn’t trying to teach to world to cook, BBC Worldwide is encouraging celebrities with two-left feet to get up and shaky their booty on an altogether artificial dance floor. The juggernaut that is “Strictly Come Dancing”, or, as it is known practically everywhere else “Dancing with the Stars” (DWTS), continues to be a twice yearly feature of American TV, and Season 14 has just started. Such is the insanity of the TV import/export business, and in a move which would make Del Boy exclaim that you can indeed sell coals to Newcastle, that sometimes you can watch the US seasons of DWTS on “Watch”, a UK satellite and cable channel. It’s insanely popular* amongst the Watch audience, but the powers that be at Watch, which is itself partially owned by BBC Worldwide, and who presumably get both “first dibs” and a discount on the price, aren’t showing the current series. Now presumably, their reasoning for this is that this series has a relatively low number of “people the Brits will have heard of”, but I’m not sure that’s why people are watching. Much as with Strictly, which has become as much about the pro-dancers as the celebs, I think the same thing has happened with DWTS, at least for the UK audience. I was genuinely upset when I heard that Lacey Schwimmer wasn’t going to do this season, and conversely very pleased when I heard that both Maxsim and Val Chmerkovskiy were going to be pros this season.
Also, the “not enough people the Brits haven’t heard of” argument flies out of the window in the face of Gladys Knight, Martina Navratilova and Katherine Jenkins – AN ACTUAL BRIT. Plus, several of the pros have a strong connection to the UK; Mark Ballas has a British mother, and grew up here. Derek Hough, another of the pros spent his teenage years living with the Ballas family and both of them were known to Len Goodman from Ballroom Dancing competitions before the TV show was a twinkle in an Executive Producer’s eye. Hough also previously worked with Bruno Tonioli. Bruno and Len are two of the three judges on DWTS. Tristan MacManus is the Irish representative, and seems to have been parachuted in to fill the Anton Du Beke roll of being partnered with “ladies of a certain age” – except he actually challenges them and gets good results, rather than patronising them with shite choreography. Alan Dedicoat, who narrates on Strictly, narrates on DWTS as well (I presume he’s doing it over a phone line or something). In short, there is enough “British” interest for Watch to justify a reverse deal. They’ve opted out this season though, which leaves us reliant on YouTube clips and the Wikipedia entry to find out what’s going on.
And what’s going on is that Katherine Jenkins is shaking her booty like a Valley girl possessed. Her Jive in week 2 was fantastic, and her two ballroom efforts have been superb. She should go quite a long way in the competition, assuming she doesn’t have a complete collapse of confidence and technique. Martina has served one into the net and was eliminated first. Gladys is still going. I suspect she won’t get further than half way through, as her sense of rhythm isn’t actually all that great. That’s the beauty of DWTS, people who you suspect will be good, very often aren’t, people who you may have written off surprise you with their ability.
This season has started very strongly; we’ve already had 3 Tens awarded, all in the third week of competition, 2 of them to Miss Jenkins. The season is shaping up to be a corker, and it’s a real shame that Watch won’t let the UK audience see it. They could still step in at this point, snap up the rights, have three weeks of broadcasting two episodes back to back to catch up, edit the results shows to reduce the running time and cut out the singers and bands we’ve never heard of (it’s obvious from previous seasons that they do this before we see it anyway) and to cut out some of the repetition which has to be included when you can barely get through ten minutes of air-time without an advert break.
DWTS – you should be watching the highlights on YouTube. A Brit might come good, or at the very least launch her international career, and you’d be thoroughly entertained watching her try to do it!
*yeah, that link might very well have entirely different frothing on it by the time you click through. At the point I'm typing this, 15 out of 20 posts on the front page of the forums are about why Watch aren't showing DWTS.

Sunday, February 12, 2012

Got to Dance

I love "Got to Dance", currently occupying your TV screens on Sky 1 on Sunday evenings. It's kind of like "The X Factor", but for dancers, and without the cruelty. Or the ego that is Simon Cowell.

The format is fairly typical of many "talent quest" shows that are on TV now - we see auditions for the first few weeks of programmes, then we get an episode where the judges decide who will make it through to the next stage, and they go and tell those people who we have seen in the auditions round to tell them the good or bad news, then we have the live semi-finals, with public voting, and eventually we'll be at the live final 'extravaganza'.

What makes this different is, mostly, little things, but it makes the viewing experience much nicer, and less like the "freak show" that, for example, "The X Factor", often becomes. There is an unseen round of producers auditions, where the acts perform in front of the shows producers, not the judges, and they do seem to have eliminated most of the no-hopers, meaning that the quality of the act you see in the audition shows is already high.

The judges know their stuff. Oh boy, do they know their stuff. Ashley Banjo, from all conquering "street crew" Diversity, Kimberley Wyatt, survivor of The Pussycat Dolls, and Adam Garcia, tap supremo. I admit to being a little bit swoon-some about Adam. He's hot, he's got a cute accent, and have you seen what that man can do in a pair of tap shoes? Hell, I'd kill just to dance with him, let alone anything more fruity! This year, there was a "warm up show" before the series officially started, and they sent the judges back to their homes, to show you where they came from, and the extent of their dance background. This shows the hard work and dedication needed to get to the top of the dance industry, and hopefully gives the audience both a firmer grasp on the hard work and years of toil needed, and an appreciation of the sort of skill levels we are seeing on the stage throughout the auditions.

It's also not too long. The whole thing has, in terms of Sunday evenings, been running since the first weekend in January, and will finish with the Final on 4th March. The whole thing is done and dusted in two months - it doesn't drag on from August till December. They have, this year, introduced a weekday early evening show, which features expanded footage of the auditions. From this it becomes obvious that the judges really are trying to give constructive criticism, and they aren't there to stroke their own egos. We've also seen both Ashley and Adam have a go at pole dancing, and Kimberley getting to do her "Diva Strut", which she is really exceptionally good at.

We're at semi-final stage right now, with the acts for the final being chosen by the public. I'm not sure the judges have always chosen the right acts to go through to the semis, but then there is of course a large element of personal preference at work here, and they only get to see each act twice (once at the auditions, once in review on tape), and we don't know whether some of the people who made it onto "the judge's shortlist" subsequently drop out, or get disqualified, or if the producers give them quotas for dance styles to be in the finals which effect the decision.

But, you do get to come back next year if you don't win, even if you've been to a the semi-final stage previously. I like this, it encourages development, and we've seen this year a lad - "Luke" - who did well last year, subsequently got a place at a dance school, and has come back this year greatly improved. He's still in his teenage years - he's going to be frighteningly talented in a few years time, and could be a great dancer if he chooses to stay with it - and I hope he does.

"Got to Dance" is thoroughly entertaining, without resorting to the cruelty we so often see in these types of shows. The judges really, really know their stuff, and are also grounded enough to know that it's not about them, but about trying to find a great dancer. Davina is nice to the contestants, without being patronising, and there's a great air of encouragement surrounding the whole thing. If you've avoided it because it's on Sky 1, you might want to rethink your early Sunday evening viewing, before you're too late for this year.

Wednesday, January 11, 2012

Pineapples are not the only fruit

I kind of stopped watching Big Brother and it's various spin offs a few years ago - I just sort of grew away from it really. I always kind of kept an eye on who was on the celebrity version ("CBB") just for voyeurism's sake.

CBB is back now, on Channel 5, and I only half noticed who the cast mates were. Mr Annelle turned the TV onto Channel 5 by accident on Sunday, to discover that Andrew Stone was one of the inmates. Now, "Pineapple Dance Studios", and it's follow up "Louis Spence's Showbusiness" ("LSS") are two of my most recent TV guilty pleasures. As you may be able to tell from my limited entries on here, I like Dance, and my obsession with Pineapple extends to the ownership of two tops, a bag and a following of now ex-receptionist Laura Pye on Twitter. Andrew Stone was one of the featured members of staff on Pineapple and LSS. He is portrayed as a serious wannabe, a self styled "Triple Threat" (genuine 'Industry Speak' for someone who can Dance, Sing and Act) and the front man of the frankly comically mediocre band "Starman". I suspect some editorial bias here - the producers already had "the wacky camp guy" in Louis, and Andrew can't compete with that. So he was portrayed as the seriously delusional ego-maniac instead.

Those people who are granted access to my highly infrequent and often cryptic musings on Facebook, will have been aware that in November, I spent a weekend in London. I wasn't going to waste the opportunity, and on the Thursday evening rocked up at Pineapple intending to participate in Andrew's "R'n'B Jazz" class.

I was greeted by Giles, who also featured in Pineapple and LSS. I managed to maintain my composure and not be a weird fan girl for long enough to engage in conversation about the suitability of the class, pay my door fee, listen to the directions to the changing room and the Studio I needed, and then I was in!

I was early, very early, and so had enough time to change at my leisure in the frankly very nice ladies changing rooms - much nicer than they seem on TV.  The changing rooms were in the basement. The studio I needed was on the 2nd Floor. It is a long way up, and the stairs were very, very steep. I was, to be frank, out of breath by the time I got up to the appointed space. A few minutes later, Andrew arrived. His hair was just plain brown, with none of the highlights the TV audience is so used to. He seemed polite and keen, and a little bit cheeky.

I am used to dance classes of this style, if even very vaguely, but was also well aware that I was out of shape and at the end of three days of intense activity in the day time. The lights went down, the music went up (J Lo's "Dance on the Floor" - I had it in my head for the next 24 hours) and we started sweating. Given Andrew's slight celebrity status, and the relatively good time of the class (6pm) I was surprised that, even allowing for late arrivals, there were only 7 of us plus Andrew. Pineapple works by hiring their rooms to the teachers for the hour of the class - they also publish their hire rates on their website, and assuming that there isn't any discounts for teachers, I suspect he made very little, if anything from this hour.

I was knackered by the end of the warm up, and when we got on to sit-ups (a favoured warm up of some dance teachers), I was ready to sleep the sleep of the just. Andrew by this point was dripping with sweat. The two girls at the front who were obviously class and club regulars were doing just fine keeping up, myself and the other newbies at the back were panting along showing willing. We then moved onto the routine, which was challenging but achievable. It involved some frankly scary floorwork, but we only had to handle that in the last section of the class. We then did the usual showing of the routine - the two regulars were fab, the rest of us were enthusiastic.

And so, what did I think of Andrew? He is very, very good. He knows what he is doing, and the attitude that comes across on TV as cocky, is because he knows he is good, and because he is just absolutely oozing passion for what he does. He is physically very fit, and given that he is 39 now, his stamina and ability to still be carrying on in dance, especially with the intensity he demonstrated here, is very impressive. He wants to show you how to do what he can, and he wants you to know that he loves this, and you should too. He has obviously had some classical dance training, and he actually corrected my technique on a couple of occasions, something which is often lacking in classes of this type. I had an absolutely fabulous time - when I am next in London, I will go to his class again.

Oh, and the "but is he gay?" question. Hmm. On reflection, I don't think he is gay. He's certainly very camp, but then he's been in showbiz for about 20 years, and the insanity of that business does rub off on you eventually. In essence, if you and I didn't spend 8 hours a day engaged in the 9-5, with a commute at either end, we'd probably be as wildly keen about our lives and our daily experiences as Andrew is. We could probably all learn a lot from this - this is how you get to live your life if you haven't had the passion and joy sucked out of your life by the brutality of the mortgage, the school run and the horror of the weekly supermarket shop. "Camp" is different to "Gay", and actually, I don't think he is all that "camp" - as I say, he just obviously loves what he does and exudes that joy and passion in a way that can be, and seemingly frequently is, subject to mis-interpretation.

As I write this, Andrew has just been evicted from the CBB house, to a decidedly mixed reaction. He's taken it quite well, I just hope he doesn't do anything foolish, publicity wise, over the next few days, in response to that.

And at least he'll be able to teach his class at Pineapple tomorrow night!