Remember Eurovision’s Daz Sampson?

Saturday was rough. Real rough.

By now pretty much everyone in Europe will be aware that Britain’s entrant for this year’s (2021) Eurovision scored 0 points.

Ye-ep.

For those who haven’t already seen/heard it…

Compare this to Germany’s entry…

Germany scored 3 points. At the risk of eroding the UK’s diplomatic relations with Europe further, 3 points was plenty.

And before you go all “Alice, you’re from Britain so naturally you’re going to be a sore loser about this” – well, do you remember Daz Sampson? Back from the 2006 Eurovision in Athens?

Let me refresh you.

Daz Sampson was originally part of Uniting Nations, the duo that, in fairness, brought out this one-hit wonder in 2005:

(Side note, was I the only person deeply uncomfortable with the trend to sexualise women in music videos, even back then? Why was this an acceptable thing?!)

Needless to say, the guy knew how to make a club banger.

But when it came to our Eurovision entry, we got this:

Basically the same setup from Out of Touch, but in a school setting, with DJ turnstiles, none of the tune status and, to quote one YouTube comment, “your drunken Dad trying to rap at a wedding.”

Dear goodness.

This is the edited version, in the XXX director’s cut I’d wager the women get on the desks while Daz fans their awkward dancing with cue cards and revision notes.

I mean, just look at the album artwork.

The wannabe hard guy who peddles drugs at the school gates and then tries it on with the 16 year-olds, even though he’s 45 and still lives with his mum. Tell me I’m wrong.

The best bit? We got 25 points that year, 25! By British scoring standards that’s alright, a fair crack of the whip. So please, please don’t tell me that the 2021 entry is of inferior quality compared to that. Don’t tell me it levels with Britain’s only other nil point entrant from back in 2003.

Exactly.

And that’s all I’m going to say on the matter.

What has Daz Sampson been up to since Eurovision?

Still trying to get back into Eurovision…by representing Belarus.

To quote the article, “will the dynamic duo make it to Eurovision?” Well no, they didn’t.

Ironically, Belarus went for another song called “I’ll teach you” which was itself disqualified on account of it’s heavy political agenda, mocking of the ongoing peaceful protests against recent election results. Lyrics (translated into English) here.

Make of that what you will.

I wonder why the country weren’t prepared to enter Daz’s number?

Honestly, I have no words left to say and a cupboard that’s now chronically low on alcohol.

Christ.

I’m off to urgently restock.

(If you enjoyed this, you may also like my other Eurovision-themed post – British Politics, as Told Through the Medium of Eurovision Songs)

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British Politics, as Told Through the Medium of Eurovision Songs

Having been cooped up for what feels like a lifetime, I was overjoyed to hear that Eurovision is going ahead again this year.

In celebration of this wonderfully cheesy event, here are a selection of songs which could describe the stages of British reactions to Covid (anything to make this a bit more topical).

British Politics, as Told Through the Medium of Eurovision Songs

Before Covid, everything was wonderfully normal and all we had to worry about was accidentally winding up on a date with someone you think is famous, but is actually the Bruno Mars tribute act playing at your best mate’s wedding

That, or the effects of drinking river water contaminated by the chicken farm upstream.

And then Covid kicked off, and suddenly it was like we were being plunged into a world were being happy wasn’t allowed.

(Not that I’m comparing a global pandemic to the 1944 genocide of the Crimean Peninsular, both are/were terrible.)

Stuck at home, everyone took to bombarding social media with photos of their baking and back-garden boozing (often at the same time).

And, like the song, it quickly became very old.

But while we all stayed at home and kept our distance, our front line workers in industry and health care continued to press on tirelessly, whilst scientists around the world battled to find solutions to this global pandemic.

And, for the most part, the UK government was like this:

And self-employed / small businesses were lobbying for the easing of restrictions, like…

And young people with buggered-up A-Levels and university studies were like…

But as far as Boris Johnson’s public ratings were concerned…

(Coupled with a bit of…)

It wasn’t all doom and gloom. Initially, we were allowed to go out more than once a day and countryside walks were back on. Mind, the British summer though…

Then the pubs started opening up again, shops welcoming customers. For a (short) period even international travel was back on. Happy days!

And then we c**ped it up again.

Nil-points. Ah well, back to restrictions and excessive handwashing it is.

Still, they couldn’t stop us dreaming of a world free of limitations.

Even if some of those dreams were a tad surreal.

And others more nightmarish.

But with vaccine rollouts now taking place in many countries around the world, and shows like Eurovision being staged, it serves as an important reminder that we will get through this hardship. The show must go on!

Reminds me, I better dust off some of my unworn dresses from the back of the wardrobe.

But most importantly. BRING ME MY FRIENDS, BRING ME THE CHEESE AND BRING. ME. THE. PARTY!!

TUNE!!!

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Fancy Chinese Footwear

So here’s a bit of background for you, on the jazzy socks featured in Why Alice is *Still* Single…Probably.

Back when I was living in London I had the absolute pleasure of attending the Tate Modern’s critically appraised exhibition Picasso 1932: Love, Fame, Tragedy. It ran between 8th March – 9th September 2018.

I didn’t attend “1932…” until late on, days before it was due to close. Why? Because I’ll be honest, Picasso had never really been my bag. I appreciated his reputation and there’s no denying Guernica is a masterpiece of political demonstration, but otherwise I just saw the man as someone who took a lot of credit for not a lot.

Don’t shoot me.

In the end, it was a little voice inside my head that urged me to go, that I’d only regret it if I didn’t. (Also, because at the time I could get in for £5. Minor detail.)

I’m so very glad I went. For one, turns out the man is just as trigger happy on the paint brushes as I am on my blog. In one year he produced over 100 works of art (mostly of his mistress). Secondly, some of his work isn’t too shabby.

Don’t get me wrong, I still had questions. Most of my secondary school art projects were on par with Yellow Belt.

And yet God knows, you never saw my Art teacher praising me as the Second Coming. I took a snapshot and sent it to my Mum, she still insisted I keep the day job.

So what has all this got to do with socks? Well, sometime after the exhibition I was browsing the wonderful world of Far Eastern shopping when I came across some socks printed with the iconic painting The Dream.

I’ll spare you my cobble-dash description on this painting but yep, the way he painted the face is intentional (classic playboy Picasso). More information here.

Short story, shorter, I found a pair of socks online depicting this masterpiece (or, as the sellers called them, “style #3 sleeping lady”). Don’t ask how or why, it’ll be easier for us both. Neither did I enquire as to the copyright, given the same people were also selling “magic man” socks of Jesus.

12 million months later my socks arrived, looking something like this:

First observation – no way in hell were these made for a ladies foot-size 5 (EU 38). Definitely men’s socks. But still, the print detailing was alright and the image had been flipped. Without disclosing the price, (*cough* 99p), you get what you pay for.

I couldn’t wait to try them on.

Then I looked down…

Because the socks were bigger in size than expected, I’d had to pull them up higher, and because my calves are the size of tree trunks, the print was stretched-out even more.

Far from looking mellowed after a bit of artist lovin’, Marie looks genuinely pained from having her face stretched to that of a horse. And let’s not even go there with where that places Picasso’s perceived manhood.

Oh well.

I’m still gonna wear them though. I mean, Picasso socks! How cool is that?!

…What? What’s wrong?

Thanks Col, babe. xx

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London Recalling: The Throwback-set

“The past is a foreign country; they do things differently there” – L.P. Hartley

Tower Bridge

A year ago today, I returned from a London city break and published my first post. I’d spent a year living in the UK capital, so for me it marked a refresh of the best bits of city-living, including art galleries, theatre performances and catching up with old friends.

Days after my return I was left encumbered, battling a mystery illness. Those following weeks I pressed on the best I could, putting it down as another one of those viruses which circulate in densely populated environments. A year later I’m no closer knowing what struck me down; we all have our theories.

Back then, my friends and I had whimsically noted the high-adoption of face coverings being worn by the predominantly Asian tourist base. We mused on the foreign illness that was gripping other continents, but to comprehend the possibility that our own country could already be rife with disease was a step too far. We were better than that, we were British. Instead, we continued to pack ourselves into dense sweats to watch live music, feasted in noisy restaurants and embraced fondly.

If only we’d known.

So, with perhaps a naively romanticised view of what were truly the last days of normality (late January 2020), here are all four parts of London Recalling.

London Recalling – the Mini-Series

Part One – Straight Lesbians, Like Us

Part Two – The Creative’s Curse

Part Three – Solo Sell-Outs

Part Four – Wapping Old Stairs

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London Recalling – The Boxset

Want to revisit any of the London Recalling series? Links to all four installments below. (Also available through the Very British Travels page, via the navigation pane.)

London Recalling

 

Part One – Straight Lesbians, Like Us

Part Two – The Creative’s Curse

Part Three – Solo Sell-Outs

Part Four – Wapping Old Stairs

 

London Recalling…Solo Sell-Outs

Well things are really not going my way, are they? Just when I think I’m starting to shake this illness off, boom! Tonsillitis.

Given breathing state is a bit wheezy I’ll have to try and not get too ahead of myself when typing in hurried excitement. That’ll be the hardest part, just like when my teachers used to tell me off for smudging ink all over the page and up my hand. They never really did see the other side, that I couldn’t help it. That I was so keen to write everything down in my head, too impatient to let the ink to dry.

Bruise on the leg has near vanished too, so at least my body is still capable of some level of self healing.

London Recalling

This post follows Part 2, The Creative’s Curse

Part 3, Solo Sell-Outs

It was that very same night as the Sofar Sounds gig that I experienced my minor calf injury. After the meal in Wapping I found myself casually wandering around St. Katharine Docks, a delightful patch of water and wealth next to Tower Bridge. Where rich people flaunt their yachts and people like me walk along raised walkways; enjoying the chance to look down at privilege. It’s also the location for one of my favourite views of London, where Tower Bridge appears from nowhere as a mighty giant of architecture.

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At this time the light was lacking, so I decided I’d return another day to take the above photograph.

There had been a steady drizzle of rain throughout the afternoon, causing the paths and walkways to be more slippy than usual. While the Underground stations blared the same warning to passengers over and over again, on a near silent Sunday night in January the message was perhaps less ingrained in my head as I strolled around the Marina.

Eventually the expected happened, walking down a flight of concrete steps in my flat, sodden, pump shoes, my foot skidded on the slippery surface and I tumbled forward. Thankfully I was near to the bottom, my hands jutted out of my pockets just in time to break my fall down the two or three steps remaining of the flight. My calf however suffered their bite, the impact of these remaining ledges grazing their teeth along the bone, from foot to knee.

It was too dark for anyone to see, too quiet for anyone to notice, too quick for anyone to spot; within half a second of me falling flat in a heap I’d hopped back onto my feet and carried on my way. It was only later when I got back to the hotel I discovered the full impact of the fall was more substantial than I’d originally thought. Lesson learnt; I kept my hands of out my pockets and tread more carefully for the rest of the trip.

**

Monday morning, and now it felt like the time was all mine to play with. Done were the previously agreed engagements, the catch-ups and the pre-booked tickets, now I had the freedom to do whatever I wanted while the rest of the city got back to work.

From my bedroom window I watched the suited men and women in their designer shoes and trainers as they all scuttled in the same direction, towards the heart of the financial district. It drew me back to all those times before when I’d walked the very same path, head down, headphones plugged in.

In amongst the crowd I saw one individual less sure of themselves, less familiar with the route they were taking. They reminded me of myself all that time ago, those first few days where impatient workers would dodge and tut as I stopped frequently to check the direction of travel I was headed in.

Back in the present I knew my place, I would only head out after the walking rush-hour had ceased; after 09:00 when the world was a little calmer on foot.

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I’d never been to the Museum of London which had always struck me as odd given it was one of the few tourist attractions I’d seen so frequently day-to-day working in The City. It’s imposing lettering on the side of a large brutalist wall that trailed around a roundabout and off towards the Barbican.

Deciding there is always a first time for everything, I skirted around a large school party waiting outside and dived into the building to get a head start on the exhibits.

The first thing that struck me was the music playing loudly across the speakers. The sound of punk music overflowing into exhibitions on prehistoric London seemed initially a strange pairing, until I realised that it formed part of a temporary exhibit on The Clash’s 1979 album London Calling. The album was playing on a loop to help draw people in. As I walked past staff members I wondered how many repeats of the title track would it take before they grew sick of such an iconic band.

The music stayed in my head long after I left the museum. I may have seen some wonderful artefacts and learnt a lot about London’s rich history, but it would be the feeling of seeing Paul Simonon’s broken guitar in real life that would come to brand the entire city-break. I’d never been an avid follower of the Punk movement, but the first time I understood it a little better. I was able to appreciate it for what it represented; the first act of civil disobedience, the first time youth made a strong impact. “No, we will not be silenced!”

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From the Museum of London I skirted on down past St Paul’s cathedral, through the buzzing crowds of tourists and across the Millennium Footbridge to reach the banks of Southwark. In my sights I had my favourite branch of Caffe Nero; one located in Oxo Tower, but before I could reach it I caught myself on an installation placed outside the Tate Modern. A walk in cuboid-like structure, hung with column upon column of white paper cups (save a couple of black columns at the front).

‘We use 5,555 paper cups a minute in the UK,’ the sign read. ‘Oh which only 555 are recycled.’

I took a step back and, like a few of the passers by, were moved by how explicit the instillation was in showcasing the amount of waste in this country. However, what was equally striking was how the majority of people had responded to the stand-alone piece. All around people were scribbling messages onto the paper cups; some were deeply emotive on the destruction of the planet, others as two-dimensional as a statement that someone had been there, like lover’s hearts engraved on trees. Whether or not the artists has intended their work to be graffitied in this way, it seemed there was no stopping it, the piece had only been erected for a matter of days and yet was already covered in human sentiment.

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A ballpoint pen burning in my handbag, I walked forwards and scouted out a suitable cup to make my mark. Not entirely sure what to write, I eventually scribbled down some words. I stepped back to admire my work, only to find myself cringing at the terrible handwriting and the surrealness of the wording. It was missing something.

I pulled out one of my business cards from my bad and, with the help of a few drawing pins and some blu tac, I attached the small square of card to the small paper cup. ‘Yes,’ I thought. ‘That looks better.’

The final inscription read:

Alice E. Bennett, 27/01/20. Mermaids do exist and they can’t survive in our polluted oceans. Instead they are forced into moving to Swindon!

(After attaching the card I also added the words, ‘get curious’.)

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I took a couple of photos before moving on. As I walked away I realised a few people had been stood watching me the whole time as I awkwardly attached my card to the cup. An international tourist was quick to swoop in to give it a read, though I felt quite certain they wouldn’t have the faintest idea what I was on about, I barely knew myself.

Whether I had intended it to look that way or not, I’d effectively sold out on an environmental protest.

**

I strategically placed one of my ‘duff’ business cards (ones which were printed with a spelling mistake) under the empty coffee cup as I walked out of Caffe Nero, the space somewhat busier than I expected for a Monday lunchtime. I retraced my steps and entered the Tate Modern just as the heaven’s opened and it started to pour with rain.

‘Better take my time, then!’ I thought to myself, making my way into the turbine hall to admire the dramatic water fountain, Fons Americanus, created by American artist Kara Walker.

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I strolled around several of the art galleries, in truth I saw this as a mere fill-in experience for old time’s sake. It’s funny how spoilt you can become when you experience something everyday, in that very moment I only sought out a quick hit whereas for many this would be the highlight of their day or even their trip, to London.

A number of the galleries hadn’t changed since the times I’d been there and for me that felt bothersome, like the Tate was being lazy and people were being cheated out of an experience. But then a quick survey of the people visiting at that moment in time reminded me that for most they knew no different, they were just like me that very first time I’d entered the old factory. Just as fascinated, just as keen to photograph. I knew the issue lay more with me than anyone else; so I put my internal-tantrum to one side and took myself to a different part of the establishment.

I will spare you the War and Peace version of how I view art, but on this visitation I seemed to feel a stronger feeling of hate, divide but also a call from artists to remember we are all human. I suppose it’s not a surprise, artists always have had a reputation for expressing more liberal sentiments than other segments of society. But watching Igor Grubic’s video East Side Story where far-right extremists attack a Pride match with bloody consequences, it felt like the message was stronger now than it ever had been before.

(Warning: video below contains strong language, violence, and homophobic language.)

And then there was hope; that if we recognised the contributions of others we could be a part of something much greater than if we work in isolation. Nowhere else did I see this more strongly than in Yinka Shonibare’s The British Library, a room installation which makes the point of showing how fundamental other cultures, notably African, have played a role in shaping English literature.

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A room of books, each covered in bold and heavily patterned fabric, all the colours of Heaven and Earth itself. Not in such a long time had I found myself at pains to stand behind the thin bit of wire that prevented me from reaching out to touch, to feel, the books before my eyes.

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The rain still coming down in medium sized droplets, I hurried across Blackfiars bridge back onto the Northern bank and then, from there, Northwards to reach Trafalgar Square. When I’m set on an idea I can become really stubborn to it, even if it makes absolutely no logical sense to anyone else. In this instance I’d got my heart set on a visit to the National Gallery before it closed at 18:00. I left the Tate Modern at 15:00 which, factoring in travel time, would give me a safe two hours in the gallery before hitting the Tube to avoid the peak rush hour at 18:00.

Maybe in a bid to avoid the rain outside, the National Gallery was considerably busier than I had expected it to be; an old building full of hot, wet bodies.

I took a quick turn through the galleries, although I found myself stopping and starting multiple times as soon as I came by a suitable seat to perch on. I hadn’t quite factored in how much walking I’d done today, and in fact every other day, until this very moment. Of all the views within and looking out of the building, the best that day came simply from that of a window seat, where I could idly watch people ascend and descend a large staircase built in a recent extension.

Because I’m me, I did find a couple of humourous bites in some of the artworks; including this piece which reminded me of all the times my friends had placed bets on the length of my hangovers:

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And this piece which looked like a screen grab from some type of low-budget documentary. Something along the lines of…”don’t tell me how to raise my kids”.

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However, when all was said an done I found myself surprisingly keener to leave the gallery earlier than I had originally planned in my head. After about an hour of breezing through the classics, I left the National Gallery, breaking my route back only momentarily to stop off in a nearby Waterstones. I couldn’t resist plunging myself down to the basement level to enjoy one of my favourite sensory experiences; the smell of new books.

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That night I returned once more to St. Katherine Docks to enjoy a meal at the restaurant chain Zizzi. The looks people gave me when I walked in by myself! You’d have thought I had a third arm growing out of my waist! Used to these looks of surprise, curiosity and mild judgement, I pulled out a reading book as the staff placed me on the last free table in the house. I settled down for a chilled Monday night with a glass of wine and good company (i.e. food).

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As I sat there later, sipping on coffee and making it clear to everyone I was in no rush to leave, I pondered on the art works I’d seen throughout the day. From The Clash, to Shonibare, right through to the classical masterpieces in the National Gallery, they had all been individuals not afraid to make their mark and show off their talent to the world. They would never have considered themselves arrogant or forcing their talent on the world. They may have had rocky patches, but they’d always had a firm belief that the route they were taking was the right one, when The Clash coated brick walls with their posters they wouldn’t have worried about what people said or thought. So why did I still on occasion find myself blushing when friends rolled their eyes at me, ‘putting up another business card Alice? You’re such a sell-out!’

Just then a waiter came by, sensing his chance. I reached into my bag and pulled out a card, tapping it swiftly on the hand-held device to make the transaction and ensure the staff hassled me no more.

I opened up my phone case and pulled out one of my business cards from the inside. As I flicked the small piece of card around my finger, reading and rereading the contact details printed on it, I mused on the idea of all artists being sell-outs. That to be and be regarded and accepted as ‘something’ you have to be prepared to stand out; you have to be a peacock in a field of pheasants.

Image result for drawing peacock

I lifted myself from my seat, applying my coat onto my back in a sweeping movement. I cried out to the remaining staff who responded with a polite smile.

‘Thank you! Have a good evening!’

And then, just as I picked up by bag from the floor, I placed a business card brazenly on the table before walking out into the darkness with a secret smile on my face.

We’ve all got to start somewhere.

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Places visited (in order):

NB – I was not paid to visit any of the above, adding links for reference.

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London Recalling Series:

Part One – Straight Lesbians, Like Us

Part Two – The Creative’s Curse

Part Three – Solo Sell-Outs

Part Four – Wapping Old Stairs

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Bennett on Brexit

On 31st October I was fortunate enough to be invited by radio station BBC Wiltshire to sit on a panel to talk all things Brexit in the light of the failed October exit day and the announcement of 12th December election.

It was all very last minute, I got invited in at 16:30, an hour later I was in the radio studio! However, having since listened to the entire recording I happen to think it’s turned out better than expected. An example of when not having the time to overthink a situation can be a good thing!

Below is the edited audio featuring all my interview segments, an extended clip with everyone’s hopes for the future of the UK and a delightful secondary discussion around pizza. Enjoy.

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