Friday, 30 December 2016

New year's niceness

It's about that time of year when we all start getting a bit John and Yoko-ish about life – you know what I mean, the inevitable "Another year over, and what have you done?" period of reflection. For me, this invariably means unearthing my list of resolutions, set 12 months ago in a fit of optimism in some long forgotten notebook, and seeing just how many of them I failed to keep.

Needless to say, contrary to my optimistic predictions, I didn't use each week of 2016 to make my way through the BFI's 50 best films of all time – I'm still every inch the heathen who rewatches Love Actually for the 75th time while Citizen Kane continues to go unwatched. Despite my grand, Nigella-inspired dreams, my skills in the kitchen still leave a lot to be desired. And while I did, to be fair, give my running regime a pretty good stab, even that's fallen by the wayside recently, thanks to a dodgy knee and an inherent laziness that the ever darkening evenings make it almost impossible not to give into.

New year's resolutions are, by their very nature, aspirational to the point of ridiculous. Flipping your calendar over to the month of January won't alter the fabric of the universe – and however much of a flourish you do it with, it's unlikely to mean carbs suddenly lose their appeal. But even still, there's something irresistible about the idea of fresh starts and second chances that resolutions inspire.

It goes back, I think, to that feeling we relished as kids, when we turned up to school after the summer holidays with a bunch of idealistic expectations to match our boxfresh black leather shoes and our shiny WH Smith-purchased pencil cases. That boy who didn't know you existed last year would suddenly fall in love with you, despite your unchanged dodgy fringe and train-track braces. The teacher who inexplicably hated you would, of course, see the error of his ways and stop picking on you when you clearly didn't know the answer in Maths. Those spots on your chin? Ha! They'd be a thing of the past.

To borrow a phrase from the Rolling Stones – and as anyone who went through the horror show that was being a teenager can attest – you can't always get what you want. Which is precisely why this year, I'm taking a different approach to my resolutions. Gone are the false promises that would rely on a personality transplant, a sudden windfall, or a level of willpower that I already know, deep down, I'll never have. Instead, I'm taking inspiration from a podcast that I listened to recently – one in which the presenter shared the attainable resolution she makes year in, year out. Namely: "To try and be a nicer person, every year."

Yes, yes, I know. We've all been programmed from a young age to shudder at the word 'nice'. The way our English teachers spoke about it, you'd have been forgiven for thinking you could get more marks for describing your holiday as "the shit" than the dreaded n-word. 'Nice' is like the One Show of the linguistic world – fairly inoffensive, and tolerable every now and then, but you wouldn't go out of your way to factor it into your viewing schedule – or vocabulary, in this case. 'Nice' doesn't exactly conjure images of fun or excitement. And if I'm being perfectly honest, people who never appear anything but sweetness and light always seem a bit suspect to me. No one can be nice, 24/7.

But the more time I spend in the world, the more I realise that just like everything from sexuality to political beliefs, niceness is on a spectrum – and it's always better to err on the nicer end of it. I'm definitely not the first to come to this realisation – and at this particular time of year, too. As festive films from It's A Wonderful Life to Miracle on 34th Street so aptly demonstrate, believing in the good in people and striving for this goodness yourself comes into particular focus in December.

I experienced this first hand last week, when I went to see what has to be the most famous festive advert for niceness of them all, A Christmas Carol. The film's didactic message isn't exactly subtle – but that doesn't make it any less effective. Watching Scrooge's transformation from a grumpy old miser, one with no time for well wishes or festive cheer of any form, into the generous soul who dances around on Christmas day and donates a turkey to Tiny Tim and co, had just the effect that Dickens must have intended.

I stepped out onto the South Bank and into the path of a man selling The Big Issue – someone I'd walked past countless times without ever stopping – and promptly bought one. "I'm glad I came out tonight," he told me. "Yesterday I barely sold a copy, but today I've sold four in the first ten minutes." I'm not embarrassed to say the virtuous feeling this gave me is one I'm quite keen to repeat.

As the past year has shown, no one knows quite what the new year is likely to bring. If you'd told me when it started that by the end of 2016, Theresa May would be Britain's Prime Minister, Donald Trump would be America's President Elect and Gary Lineker would be hailed a liberal hero, I'd have pointed you in the direction of the nearest doctor. Life is unpredictable, and resolutions are, as a result, pretty hard to keep.

But unlike gym memberships or extreme diets, deciding to be a bit nicer won't burn a hole in your wallet or cripple you with guilt. You don't even need a list – just a bit of kindness, a smattering of compassion, and a sprinkling of care. Perhaps best of all, it also means absolutely no need to make your January a dry one – and I'll definitely drink to that.

Postcards from the past

Every now and then, one of my best friends sends me a completely priceless gift. I'm never sure when exactly this gift is going to arrive, or what exactly it's going to contain, but what I do know is that it's guaranteed to make me smile. What is it? A letter.

It might seem strange, in the age of instant gratification, when we're at each other's constant beck and call, slaves to the double tick of our WhatsApp messages and forever firing off memes and in-jokes and the latest gossip to our various group chats, that I still have what was once a fairly common relationship status – that of 'penpal' – but it's one that however many apps or advancements they make, I'm pretty sure I'll always have.

Like most 20-somethings, I'm a slave to my iPhone – I wake up to its harsh glare and pretty much fall asleep to it too, fitting in that one-last-scroll before I conk out each night. For most of us, the reasons we keep posting online are the same reasons that keep gamblers returning to the casino – every 'like' that rolls in delivers a hit of dopamine that's like hitting a mini jackpot, the numbers that rack up our very own matching dollar signs.

If social media is the casino of the communication world, then letter writing is definitely the savings account. Instead of rushing in, letting all you have go in a rush of excitement and the desire for instant reward, it's an exercise in patience and commitment. If you regularly write letters, then you store up anecdotes and recommendations like precious pennies, ready to be deposited into your next missive, despite the fact that it would be far easier to blow them all in one ranting Facebook message. But while it takes far more time and effort, just like the eventual contents of your savings account, the end result is tangible, satisfying and has a great deal more longevity than online correspondence ever could.

The real beauty of letter writing, though, lies in the fact that whichever side you find yourself on, writer or recipient, there's the simplest of pleasures to be had. As the writer, knowing that your words (though unlikely to be immortalised forever) aren't going to be forgotten quite as easily as they would if you were texting, you're forced to be more considered, really thinking about what you're saying for once. This means you're less likely to say the daft or sometimes (let's face it) unnecessarily mean things you would over WhatsApp.

You're also forced to reflect more than you might otherwise on recent events, distilling them into just enough words to fill a card from Paperchase, and sometimes, when you really get going, using the blank page as a sort of cathartic medium – there's nothing quite like putting pen to paper when you've got something on your mind, as everyone from the fictional Adrian Mole to the heroic Anne Frank have demonstrated in their own way.

And then there's being the recipient, when you get no end of things to enjoy: the all-important element of surprise, not knowing when exactly you're going to come home to a little treat waiting for you on the mat; the knowledge that someone has taken the time and effort to write to you by hand, and even that they've paid the price of a now pretty extortionate stamp; the contents itself, with updates and stories and news of life in another part of the country or the world; and finally, the knowledge that you have the power to return all these little delights yourself, the ball now pushed firmly through the letterbox and into your court.

And before you start thinking otherwise, there's no pressure to suddenly become Jane Austen-like with your letter writing skills. In actual fact, one of my favourite Twitter accounts is called 'Postcard From the Past' (@PastPostcard), and it's a nostalgic glimpse into the holidays gone-by, written by real-life anonymous people and stretching back decades. The very ordinary cards featured in each tweet have the weirdest and most wonderful messages on them. They can be touching, funny, entertaining or concerning the dullest of subject matter, but all the same, they're little snapshots of people’s lives.

In the hyper-connected world we now live in, snapshots – particularly of the heavily filtered variety – of people's lives aren't exactly hard to come by. You could argue that it's just nostalgia, or the novelty and the rare pleasure that comes from enjoying a dying art (much like record collecting), that makes letter writing feel a little bit more special than getting an email like this one. But there is, undeniably, something special about it. Letters capture a particular moment in time that's already, by the time you've read it, out of date – leaving you with your very own historical artefact in hand. And apart from anything else, in a time when contacting someone takes little to no effort at all, letter writing shows you really care – and there's a lot to be said for that.

Thursday, 8 September 2016

The 'quiet ones'

Last week, I went to see Laura Marling play, and she was just as wonderful as ever. She's tiny, but her stage presence is what a music journalist might refer to as 'commanding' – she walks onto the stage a little tentatively, but once that guitar's in hand, there's no doubt in anyone's mind as to who's in control. She owns each song completely, strumming her way through everything from the wistful, meandering Goodbye Old England to the rapid crescendo of Sophia. It's always a pleasure to be in Laura's aura – there's an ethereal air to her performances that's down to more than just her white blonde hair and floaty blouses.

If I had to sum up her performance, putting my serious music reviewer hat on, I'd probably describe it as quietly authoritative. Which is why the next day, I was a bit surprised to hear the alternative take of some of my fellow festival goers. 'Aloof', they said. 'Didn't look that bothered to be there.' 'Too quiet.' 'Not headliner material.' Where was the entertaining patter between songs, they wondered? I countered these reviews like any true fan girl would – she's not aloof! I insisted, that's just self assurance. She's a great artist but she doesn't love the spotlight, and witty stage banter doesn't come naturally to everyone, after all. I'm not sure they were convinced.

Thinking about it, these criticisms bothered me in more than just my capacity as a Marling super fan. Because you see I grew up being described as all of the words lobbed at Laura – quiet, a bit shy, lacking in confidence. A (thankfully former) boyfriend kindly once told me that most of his friends thought I was boring, which I'm sure was down to my lack of go-getting self-confidence around unfamiliar people. For those of us not blessed with what you could call the gift of the gab – that unfailing ability to immediately make friends wherever you go, breezing through life and groups of strangers like Beyoncé at the Grammys, wowing everyone in your wake – these sorts of labels are commonplace, however misplaced they might be.

I'm going to go out on a limb here and say they're certainly misplaced in my case, because however much people might have assumed it of me, I'm not actually all that shy. I've got just as many insecurities as the next 20-something, but I wouldn't say I'm crippled by a lack of self-confidence, either. I've got plenty of opinions, not all of them stolen from the Guardian, but I also happen to be terrible at articulating myself in a debate, which means I'm forever losing out to men who don't necessarily have the better argument, just the better way of arguing. And as for being quiet – as any of my close friends can attest, I've actually got quite the gob on me.

Still though, for me and many of the other so-called 'quiet ones' among the population, life is one big conveyer belt of challenging social situations. While we might go into such situations attempting to channel the confidence and attitude of slutty Sandy at the end of Grease, more often than not, we come out of them feeling like pre-makeover Sandra-dee, lousy with humility, if not virginity.

And the stress that starts at a young age, with awkward school discos and bouncy castle-filled birthday parties, never really ends. You move on to the struggle of university halls and house parties, looking on from the sidelines as the BNOCs hold court and head off on their 'socials', the thought of which fills you with abject horror. This then gives way to no end of adult challenges – job interviews where you have to talk about yourself for an extended period of time; meetings where you have to voluntarily make yourself the centre of attention; gatherings where you have no choice but to mingle with the strange friends of your old friend's shiny new Tinder boyfriend.

So how do us quiet ones actually cope? Well as you get older, you tend to get better at grappling with the weight of societal expectations. Alcohol is obviously the veritable lubricant for a quiet person's entrance into social circles, so that definitely helps. But it isn't a cure-all, obviously. So practicing a bit of exposure therapy is important: if I could, I would honestly sit at home watching TV every single night, eating Hobknobs and not speaking to anyone. But I know that while that might be the easy option, and certainly the less stressful, you can't just opt out of having a social life. So these days, I say yes to the invitations that I know I'd turn down for no good reason other than the looming spectre of small talk. I try not to merely cackle in the corner with the people I already know once I get there (which I definitely grew up doing), and I also try to ignore the part of my brain that screams 'ABORT! ENGAGE TOILET EXCUSE!' when a stranger starts talking to me.

And what about small talk, ironically often the biggest issue of all for the socially anxious? There was a time when I thought I was one of those people who just couldn't do small talk. Who'd forever see the office kitchen as a place of echoing tea spoons and stray tumbleweeds. And then I learnt what I think is up there among the most important life skills you can possibly acquire: simply, the art of asking questions. My own epiphany came from one of Caitlin Moran's columns years ago, when she wrote this (for me, anyway) life-changing statement: "Whenever you can’t think of something to say in a conversation, ask people questions instead. Even if you’re next to a man who collects pre-Seventies screws and bolts, you will probably never have another opportunity to find out so much about pre-Seventies screws and bolts, and you never know when it will be useful."

I still can't say I know too much about Seventies screws and bolts, but what I do know is that with this piece of advice firmly in mind, small talk now doesn't seem so scary. More than this, though, I've learnt that while not everyone can spot it, there's a big difference between meek and mild and quiet and commanding, à la Laura Marling. You might not have the loudest voice in the room. Parties might fill you with a fair amount of existential dread. But you still have plenty to offer – and you might just surprise people with quite how much. They don't say 'it's always the quiet ones' for nothing.

Monday, 5 September 2016

The Bette Effect

When I was younger, had you asked me to reveal my favourite Disney character, I would have replied quite emphatically that it was Aurora, the beautiful blonde Sleeping Beauty. She would have been closely followed by the equally beautiful, free-spirited Pocahontas, with Esmerelda, the pretty gypsy who captured the Hunchback's heart with her curly hair and her strong hoop game coming in at third place.

I'm sure I won't be the first to reel off such a looks-heavy list. As kids, however hard our parents might try to balance out the Barbies with Bob the Builder, girls invariably end up aspiring to the picture perfect, fairy princess stereotype. We want the long luscious hair, the slender waist, the sparkly doe eyes and the handsome prince to top it all off. And in many ways, these desires travel with us into adulthood. A quick glance at my reflection as I walked to the swimming pool this weekend was enough to have me hankering after a Disney princess-style physique. And there's definitely a part of me that would love it if my Prince Charming came along with little more effort than some beauty sleep.

Luckily, my model for the perfect woman has evolved a little beyond that of the boring, blonde-haired princess since my Disney-watching days. In fact, were you to ask for my heroine preference today, instead of Aurora, I'd be far more likely to pick her fairy godmothers, the plump, bustling trio who protect the young princess from the wicked witch, or quite possibly the gloriously evil Cruella de Vil, a woman whose commitment to her fabulous fur coat collection I can definitely identify with.

But it's not always easy to remember that there's more to life than good hair. These days, the ads, Instagrams, films, magazines and everything else we absorb on a day-to-day basis continue to peddle the Disney princess myths of our youth, filling our heads with unattainable body goals and making the accolade of 'beautiful' feel like the only one worth striving for. So it's handy when you get a reminder of just how many ways there are to be brilliant.

This weekend, my own reminder came in pretty unlikely form. I was flicking through the TV channels, and without so much as a PC (Pre-Caitlyn) episode of KUWTK to stick on, I found myself watching one of those Alan Yentob BBC documentaries, the subject of which happened to be Bette Midler. I've watched the weep-fest that is Beaches, and I'm sure there can't be many people in the world who haven't heard the soppy funeral favourite 'Wind Beneath My Wings', but other than that, I didn't know too much about Bette up until this weekend. What I know now, though, is that the woman is INCREDIBLE.

Midler started out working in a club that doubled up as a steam room, frequented solely by men wearing nothing but towels, and she refined her comedy routines, dance moves and world-class singing voice on the underground New York circuit, where she earned her nickname, 'The Divine Miss M'. An appearance on the Johnny Carson show would prove to be her lucky break, leading to a career that's spanned everything from Oscar nominations and Grammy wins to a stint at Las Vegas in her 60s, performing relentless song and dance numbers someone half her age would have struggled with. All this, from a woman whose first director pointed out she "didn't look like your typical Hollywood leading lady".

Watching this, it made me think: thank god for women like Bette, who do far more than 'pretty'. Women like Michelle Obama, with her boundless charisma and cool in the face of endless scrutiny and self-sacrifice. Lena Dunham, who continues to put her body and her politics out there when people in their thousands tell her she doesn't deserve to do either. Chimamanda Adichie, the author whose words famously now grace Beyoncé songs, who it was revealed recently managed to have a baby without anyone in the media noticing, because she refused to "perform pregnancy" for anyone. The likes of Jennifer Saunders and the late great Victoria Woods, who proved women were funny enough to earn prime time TV slots. And there are of course, countless others.

However sad it might be, watching that documentary was just the reminder I needed that the goal posts in life don't have to be set to those of a Disney princess. As Bette herself pointed out: "If only I'd known my differentness would be an asset, then my earlier life would have been much easier." So, the next time I'm confronted with the sight of some washboard abs, feeling guilty that I can't stick to a Deliciously Ella-style regime of fat-free, organic-only rabbit food, feeling unpopular, or unloveable, I'll remember women like The Divine Miss M – those who prove that there are endless ways in which to measure your self-worth – and hopefully the Bette Effect I felt this weekend will kick in, and knock some divine sense into me.

Monday, 25 July 2016

Cynicism go...

Unless you've been hiding under a rock somewhere this week, you'll know that Pokemon Go is officially go in the UK. Pokemon passed me by the first time round, so while I might just about know my Pikachu from my Jigglypuff, the urge to download it hasn't taken hold as of yet. Lots of people I know however are well and truly on the Pokemon hype: while my target stumbling down Dalston high street this Saturday night was a greasy burger, stat, one of my friend's was an elusive character called Gloom – a pretty apt discovery for the queue in McD's.

My initial reaction to this throwback craze was a big ol' eye roll. And with news of people falling off cliffs in their pursuit of Pokestops, plus this batshit Poke-themed shop that's popped up in LA, my eyeballs have been at risk of repetitive strain injury. But here's the thing: it turns out that already, Pokemon Go has been used to raise awareness about the Syrian refugee crisis. It's bringing AR – a technology that would have blown my generation's younger, Pokemon-card swapping minds – to the masses. It's acting as a new and less Tinder-shallow way of meeting people. It's encouraging people to get off their arses and leave their offices at lunch time. And, let's face it, it's taking their minds off the state that is the world in 2016 – which can't be a bad thing.

But I'm not really here to defend the honour of Pokemon Go. Instead, I merely want to point out that while you can roll your eyes all you want, when you think about it, each and every one of us is a little bit ridiculous. Tom Hiddleston, a man up until recently known for little more than being one of Britain's best (if a little beige) actors, voluntarily wore an 'I heart TS' vest top for all the world to see a few weeks ago. One of my friends reliably informs me that last week a well-known actor (and grown adult man) threw a diva strop on an ad shoot, demanding that an X-Box be installed ready for him to play between takes. Every year, thousands of people pay hundreds and hundreds of pounds to travel to a field in Somerset and spend a weekend knee-deep in mud. Mrs Brown's Boys has seven million viewers, for goodness sake.

Us Brits are a cynical bunch. Most of us spend our lives as if we're auditioning to take the reigns on Charlie Brooker's Weekly Wipe, constantly watching out for things to take the piss out of. We reward other people's talent for snark in retweets. We view the cheeriness of our Stateside counterparts with contempt. For every person with a 'Keep Calm and Carry On' novelty mug, there's someone who'd happily nuke them all. Our last Prime Minister forged a political career out of being good at a well-timed insult, as a scruffy Jeremy Corbyn learnt to his cost in a now-famous PMQs exchange.

Most of us, wherever we're from, are guilty of being quick to judge, and this instinct for piss-taking has no doubt been fine-tuned and fired up by social media, which allows us to shoot out cutting remarks without even putting a face to the assumed faux-pas. And it's for this reason that I think we should all make a conscious effort to stop and take a moment before the next time we do. A similar policy, if you will, to when you get a text from an ex – before firing off your reply through the red fog that's suddenly formed in front of your eyes, always ALWAYS give it a little time before sending one, if at all. You know you'll regret it if you don't.

Take the type of man who dismisses make up as being pointless and shallow, and feels the need to tell a woman who's made the mistake of applying lipstick that he prefers the 'natural look', for instance. Ok mate, but think about it for a sec: the hours I've spent painting my face, I'm sure you've made up for in time spent watching grown men kick a ball about in a painted field. To me, makeup is an art form. To you, football's the beautiful game. And hey, why can't they both be true?

All I'm saying is, we all have our very own Pokemon Go. For every episode of Miranda I've watched, maybe you've watched one of Robot Wars. I'm wary that I'm starting to sound like the type of inspirational quote Cara Delevingne might post on Instagram ('EMBRACE YOUR WEIRDNESS'), but bear in mind before the next time you scoff at something that those in glass houses – or immersed in Pokemon Go games – shouldn't throw stones. And if you really can't help yourself, at least have the decency to expect a few lobbed back.

Monday, 18 July 2016

Going phone-free

Digital detoxes are a complete cliché by now. We've all read the magazine feature or watched the Youtube video where the Internet addict goes cold turkey for a weekend, at home or in some far flung, zen-heavy type tropical location. But I've realised that for years (quite literally) and in all the time I've been reading and watching things about these experiments, I hadn't done one myself.

Lately I've felt my internet reliance becoming too much: I'd noticed Instagram was having a bad effect on my bank balance (too many tempting clothes!), my self esteem (too many beautiful people!) and my sense of self worth (far too much FOMO!). Twitter, meanwhile, was having a bad effect on my mood (Brexit happened, need I say more) and my self-confidence (too many writers achieving better things than me). Facebook on the other hand has started to feel like how I imagine I'd feel were I to revisit my university town – once, it was home, now, it's just a place populated by strange but vaguely recognisable faces and places, with weddings happening and babies being born that I have precisely zero part of and absolutely nothing to do with.

All of it wrapped up together was getting me down. My attention span these days is appalling – a post on this blog once preached just how easy it is to read a book a week, when lately I'd be happy to manage one a month. When I leave my phone in another room, my fingers itch for it, and I don't feel quite right 'til I know it's safely stored in my palm or pocket. If I post something online, it worries me to realise quite how much seeing the likes rack up pleases me. Is this what it's come to, setting my sense of achievement on bumping up past that 11 likes mark on Instagram?

This evening is what I believe has been the hottest of the year so far. On the clammy journey home from work, I felt my phone overheating in my hand, and I realised it wasn't just down to the 29 degree temperature (multiplied by god knows how much on a crowded commuter train). I'd been overusing it, constantly refreshing apps and getting unreasonably enraged when passing a spot without signal. So I did what I don't think I've done since said phone came into my possession, and turned it off. Not just airplane mood; I went all out 'Power off', two words that very few 20-somethings can be accustomed to hearing these days.

My own digital detox hasn't exactly lasted very long – all of a few hours, in fact. But I genuinely already feel better for it. I sat in the garden with a glass of prosecco (to complete the stereotypical millennial picture), inspired by the neighbours I could see eating al fresco with a glass of vino a few doors down, and powered through 50% of the book I'm reading on my Kindle. The same book I've been reading for a good two weeks, polished off in just over an hour. I can practically feel the brain cells regenerating. I realise the irony, rushing to write my thoughts online, but this is honestly the fastest and the smoothest words have come to me in months.

I'm not going to pretend it's now a phone-less life for me. I need rambling WhatsApp chats and silly memes to keep me going just as much as the next tragic 20-something. But I also need to wean myself off that compulsion to refresh every other minute. Even if you do miss what happens for a few hours, is that really so bad? The #KimExposedTaylorParty of today will be tomorrow's chip paper (or yesterday's Snapchat), after all.

Cliché or not, if tonight's anything to go by, the occasional digital detox is vital for retaining your 21st century sanity.

Wednesday, 13 July 2016

The Magic touch

At my house, there's a worn out copy of Micky Flanagan's stand up tour 'Back in the Game' on DVD, which I stick on occasionally when I could do with a laugh. Last week, after coming to the end of my latest Netflix binge and not being in the mood for the gloom and gore of Peaky Blinders, I put it on once again. This time, thankfully, I wasn't watching in the presence of my Nan (I'm hoping the part in which he demonstrates tea bagging a vicar went over her head...).

Anyway, midway through, post tea-bagging, there's a part where Micky shares what he calls one of the best discoveries of his adult life. And what was it exactly?

"Magic. F. M."

Yep, that's the Magic FM home to "More Music. Less Talk", former employer of dodgy DJ Neil Fox and purveyor of never-ending cheesy tunes. After a quick burst of Oleta Adams' Get Here If You Can (a Magic classic, as any listener will know), Micky adds: “You’re untouchable with Magic.” Even after the news bulletin details the world's latest terrible catastrophe, he points out, it's straight back in there with "When I wake up in the morning loooove...".

Watching this, I was reminded that Micky and I have more than just the dropping of our Ts in common. Because Magic FM has almost certainly been one of the best discoveries of my life too. Admittedly, my love for it comes under the category of things I can’t quite explain, like my post-War and Peace crush on Paul Dano, or love of watching YouTube videos of spots being squeezed. It’s not exactly revolutionary, after all. There's only so many times you can listen to Bonnie Tyler without your ears starting to bleed. It’s definitely not cool. And it doesn’t define your music taste, either. It’s just...there. It is to life what ketchup is to a bacon sandwich…cracking without, but with, it adds a certain something (not spice, that's for sure).

Life is full of changes, fads and phases. I no longer care quite so much for Hello Kitty as my 13 year old self. I've given up my childhood ambition to work on the counter of WH Smiths (as the step mum in Juno would say, "WOAH dream big"). I don't particularly like half the clothes hanging up in my wardrobe. But if there's one constant in life, it's Magic.

I love the dulcet tones of the one and only Angie Greaves on Mellow Magic. I'm very fond of the Ten at Ten, the ad-free treat which reminds me of being driven back from somewhere in the dark, drowsily watching the lights flash by through windows speckled with glassy beads of English rain, She's Like the Wind or Careless Whisper my appropriately wishy washy soundtrack. But most of all, I love how it somehow even manages to provide even the most ordinary of evenings with a certain romance.

Speaking of which, I had my first Infernos experience recently (bear with me here). I’d heard the rumours about this questionable establishment in Clapham, as most Londoners surely have, but didn’t think it could be quite as bad as expected. Oh, how wrong I was.

Cheese I can tolerate, as the subject of this very newsletter demonstrates, but Cotton Eye Joe is a Eurodance step too far. But, as my friend and I finally managed to escape the horror of the dance floor and piled into our Uber to be shuttled back south east, we were greeted by a familiar sound. Mamma Cass started up, and we warbled along to Dream a Little Dream as well as you'd imagine after a night spent downing anesthetizing gins. A pretty tragic scene, of course. But suddenly, all was well with the world again. However shit your night was, there’s always the welcoming embrace of Magic FM.

No matter whether it's a cheesy club or a house party where they’ve been blasting techno all night you're emerging from, and the steely silence of your driver is all you get in return for your enthusiastic greeting – desperation for a good rating and intoxicants combined – the dulcet tones of Magic will swaddle you like a baby, somehow turning an intimidatingly shiny new Audi into a comforting cocoon.

Most of the music Magic plays is the epitome of the universally loathed ‘easy listening’ genre. It probably doesn’t bring you back to a specific time in your life, or cause you to go misty-eyed remembering some important musical awakening. In fact, for some people, it’s the soundtrack to some of their worst times – like working a soul-crushing minimum wage job with middle-aged women who have the radio permanently tuned to it, or sitting at the dentist's waiting to have a couple of wisdom teeth taken out.

But it’s this very background nature of Magic that I love: It’s the soundtrack of trips to the corner shop. The building site you pass on your way to the station. Local charity shops, and cafés that definitely don't feature avocado on the menu. I don’t particularly seek it out these days, but whenever I snatch a glimpse of Magic playing somewhere, it reminds me of home, and where I’ve come from, and how certain things will always be there, on the sidelines, even if you're not always thinking about them or looking for them.

Like I said, life is full of changes, fads, and phases. But there’s always going to be a little bit of magic.