Happy birthday Helen!

Soooo the cat is thankfully out of the bag. Our Helen, who’s twenty-one today – twenty-one! I feel ancient – thought she was going for a meal with la famille last night but in fact it was a proper party with the whole gang present. She genuinely didn’t have a clue, which worries me, because I basically mentioned it to her face about a thousand times.

As is my wont, I have penned a blog in honour of the proceedings. Our Paul read it out last night at the party because I was too much of a wimp to do so. Sorry Helen. Here goes…:

“I remember the day you were born vividly. It was a Pancake Tuesday and I was minding my own business in the school hall with the rest of my class when I spotted Mad Tam and his gravity defying hair pacing by the secretary’s office. Turns out he’d come to pick me and Maria up early so we could see you for the very first time. Mother Goose looked shattered but proud as could be and I was happy with the situation because the sister I already had was sound, so I was willing to add to the collection.

Unfortunately, all memories of you from that point up until you were about thirteen are hazy. Indeed, save for some photographs of you peering out from underneath your increasingly mental fringe, and the memory of you finally being persuaded to swap your dummy for a Tamagotchi when you were about twelve, I’d strongly refute that you lived with us at all.

This all changed when you took the lead part in Bugsy Malone. This was notable for your comedy dancing and the closing rendition of “You Give A Little Love”, which still brings a lump to the throat every time I think about it. After that we couldn’t shut you up, from the Harmonettes and the glorious summer of Liverpool’s Got Talent, to developing a ruthlessly organised streak, there was no stopping you! Amongst many other things, you almost singlehandedly organised the Bridges’ wedding, and, by all accounts, ran the show in Broughton Hall for a year. You’re a force to be reckoned with – in a good way!

Keep going at LIPA – you’re over halfway there now and it’ll be worth it if only to shake Paul McCartney’s hand at the end of it. Thanks for being kind even when I haven’t been, and for being our Paul’s second mum, and for your cleaning skills, and for the open door policy on your wardrobe. Sorry about the fact that I still haven’t taken you to Paris yet like I said I would when you were fourteen and I was twenty-one – I am well aware of the fact that now you’re twenty-one and we still haven’t been! Stick with that David one – he’s a legend and most definitely your lobster. Most importantly, keep on smiling and keep on singing. To loosely paraphrase Bugsy, you could be anything that you want to be.”

Just a little footnote to the above – tragically for you, people say that we look very much alike. Thankfully, that’s where the similarity ends; indeed, I’d quite like to be like you when I eventually grow up. You are one of my best friends and I hope you have the most amazing birthday. I’ll take you to Paris one day…

I love the Brits, even if hardly anyone else does

So the Brit Awards are taking place in London tonight, and I for one cannot wait. The Brits are one of those events that seem to come round very quickly, like the Oscars, and Christmas, and I unashamedly adore them. I even went one year in 2007 with our Maria, after I won a competition on Juice FM against a cocky little fool who was so utterly convinced that they were going to win before we’d even started that they announced “I’ll be taking such and such a person with me, can’t wait!” Actually, pal, you won’t be taking anyone anywhere because you were beaten by little old me. (We won’t mention the fact that the seats were so far away from the stage that we’d have been better off watching at home, because I still hold memories of that sweet, sweet victory dear.)

I know it’s corporate nonsense. I know that all the music snobs will fume when someone like Macklemore & Ryan Lewis wins Best International Group over, say, Arcade Fire. But I really don’t care. I watch it, like I watch the likes of X Factor et al, solely on the basis of entertainment. I love the controversy and the random choices of people they pair up to present awards together and the dresses and the inevitable bad performances. I’m so enthusiastic about it that I’m even in the tiny minority that finds James Corden amusing as a presenter.

As I am currently on Princewatch, I’m keeping my fingers crossed for my beloved Purple One to perform, and for Janelle Monáe to win Best International Female. Neither of these things are likely to happen, but I live in hope regardless. Roll on 8pm!

Benefits Street has won me over

Greetings comrades! Apologies for the veritable dearth of posts during the last couple of weeks; I’m sure you have all been deeply upset by their absence. It’s mainly down to the fact that I’ve started a new job (the first week of which was an unmitigated disaster because I was a nervous wreck and kept bursting into tears like a big baby), coupled with the complete lack of my usual frothy favourites like Made in Chelsea to pontificate about.

However, I couldn’t let the final instalment of Benefits Street pass by without saying my piece, frightful keyboard warrior that I am. I’ve only blogged about the first episode, but I have been engaged in many a…errr…discussion, shall we say, about it since. The first episode unfortunately did its job – it sensationalised and demonised people who rely on benefits. However, it’s won me over since. The rest of the series has been, in fact, far more measured in its coverage, and featured, at times, quite tragic cases, but the first episode meant that the scene had been set for all of James Turner Street’s inhabitants to be labelled as scroungers.

Take Mark and Becky as an example. Members of their respective families have gone on the record as saying that both suffer from learning difficulties; however this has not been referred to during the show. Instead, they’ve been branded benefits cheats and had their parenting technique criticised, when it was plain for all to see that they did love their children, they just didn’t have a clue how to discipline them (the scene featuring the “Punishment Porch” made me wince) – and rather than being given support and a push in the right direction, they were instead humiliated on national television. Mark’s been labelled a scrounger for never having worked before. But surely his learning difficulties make gaining employment even more difficult? There was a scene where he attended a workshop to compile his CV. He had no work experience and barely any qualifications to speak of. Of course he is going to struggle to create a CV, let alone get a job. Even when he did find work and we witnessed him going from door-to-door in a smart suit, he didn’t earn a penny – it was commission only.

I’ve spoken to (ok, argued with) people who’ve sneered at the likes of Fungi who, despite relying on benefits, never seem to be short of booze or ciggies. Yet, if you look at the bigger picture, Fungi is a recovering alcoholic and heroin addict, who’s hinted that he was abused as a child, and is not allowed to see his children because of his lifestyle. He lives in squalor. He has had no electricity for eight weeks. Yes, he’s spending all of his money on alcohol and cigarettes. But this is not a man who is having fun at the expense of the taxpayer. I don’t watch his scenes and feel angry. I feel sad.

White Dee has been especially vilified as being a lazy scrounger. I think I read somewhere that she has been deemed fit for work and is now actually claiming Job Seeker’s Allowance after being a long-term sickness benefit claimant. But who are we to judge whether she was well enough to work or not before she claimed JSA, solely on the basis of about thirty minutes worth of footage in total? She said herself that she is on anti-depressants – not everyone is visibly ill. Plus she is clearly an intelligent woman, who cares about her neighbours, and who is instilling a work ethic in her daughter that would suggest that she doesn’t want her to follow in her footsteps.

Other people I’ve spoken to about it have said that they think it glamorises being on benefits. This train of thought leaves me, frankly, incredulous. How could anyone watch Benefits Street and think that it was a desirable way to live? Another said that they thought food banks were a joke; people getting free handouts for food “whenever they want.” I agree that they’re a joke – it’s a joke that they exist at all. I don’t think anyone would visit a food bank for a laugh. Don’t forget that people who work are having to rely on them as well. And food whenever they want? They’re only allowed three referrals in a rolling twelve months!

As I mentioned in my other post, I’m not for one second saying that there aren’t people who are abusing the benefits system or who are claiming and are committing crimes or being anti-social neighbours (and indeed, you only had to watch last night’s episode to see poor Ewan, one of the few employed residents of the street, trying to live a quiet life, with his Billy Idol vinyl collection, and failing.) My issue is that people are living like this and are being ignored. Danny, featured in the first episode, is in and out of prison constantly. It’s all he’s ever known. Are we supposed to think that that’s ok? Are we meant to ignore a deprived area, like Winson Green, and just leave it – and its future generations – to their own devices?

Next week the residents of James Turner Street are being given the opportunity to answer their critics and defend themselves. I am genuinely looking forward to it – I hope that they are given a proper chance to put their point across, and that it is edited fairly. I don’t think White Dee will pull any punches…