This week we’re worrying about…

Checking the news every day, there can be a lot to worry about. To make worrying easier, I have scanned the news for you to make sure your worrying is focussed and effective. Here are the four main things to worry about this week.

Flooding and sink holes

The flood waters are finally subsiding and those poor flooded people on the news are wringing out their clothes and returning, damp and dishevelled, to their depressing new lives of sweeping up mould and ruined carpet. East Anglia escaped again thanks to the good old fen drainage. Phew. But wait. Something much worse could be lurking and ready to strike. A SINK HOLE. You could be sitting in front of the TV, cosy in your front room, smugly watching people throw out their carpets and a sink hole could open up under your house and swallow your whole family into its muddy jaws of doom. Good luck.

White Dee

Channel 4’s series Benefits Street has had everyone talking. Should people be sitting around doing nothing while others go to work? Probably not. But are there legitimate reasons for them not working? Probably. Sometimes. Either way though, they all seem to spend a lot of money on fags which, when there’s not enough for 50p worth of washing powder, seems a bit silly. Mainly what’s worrying me is the rise and rise of White Dee. Self appointed ‘mother ‘of James Turner Street, her name sounds like it should be a candle fragrance, but one that smells of fags. She turned up on TV this week to take part in a debate about benefits. She had a new hair cut (long on one side, short on the other) and a sparkly evening top. Said she can’t work due to depression, but she seemed quite chipper. I’m betting she’ll be the next winner of Celebrity Big Brother.

Leonardo DiCaprio

Leonardo DiCaprio was nominated for a Bafta last week giving us a welcome chance to have a good look at him on the red carpet and a good reminisce about the days when he was our boyfriend (in our heads). As a person who has been genuinely in love with Leonardo for many years, it came as a shock to see him looking…39. With a proper man’s voice and a distinct thickening of the neck. What happened to Romeo? Jack Dawson? That kid from the nightmarish Basketball Diaries, which we were too young to watch, but did anyway because Leonardo was in it, even if he was taking heroin and covered with vomit for a lot of the film, he was still our boyfriend and we loved him. Leonardo Dicaprio is almost 40. Worrying.

Spring

It’s just around the corner! The daffodils are up and ready to go. Shoots! Little birds just ripe for a hatchin’! 11 degrees Celsius. Crazy people in T Shirts walking around town already. But I for one don’t feel ready. I don’t feel like I’ve been properly cold yet this Winter. I haven’t once worn my new gloves from Primark and they cost me £1 (for two pairs). Whereas usually Winter feels endlessly cold, dark and bitter, 2013/2014 has been a cinch. With the exception of massive flooding and massive sink holes, it’s been pretty easy in East Anglia. It makes me think something dreadful is on the horizon. A wet summer? A DRY summer? A dreaded drought! The seasons are increasingly haywire and whether you think it’s caused by climate change or not, we should probably keep recycling and catching the bus just in case.

 

First published by Cambridge News.

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Anne Frank + You – Review

Yesterday I visited the ‘Anne Frank + You’ exhibition in Ely Cathedral. Largely because it was raining and I needed to shelter my daughter’s pushchair and partly because I’d read Anne Frank’s diary as a teenager and fancied a refresher.

As I approached the Lady Chapel, I could hear the chatter and shrieks of excited school children, clearly enjoying a chance to be away from school, and above the shrieks was shh’ing from exasperated teachers, trying to encourage the children to think about the solemnity of what they were looking at.

I remember going on school trips to solemn places. Visiting the trenches of WWI as a child and not really understanding what we were doing there, I spent the day laughing with my friends while teachers shh’ed us. I’m sorry for that now of course. But the horror of war is not for children. They’re not supposed to understand this darkness.

The exhibition, run by the Anne Frank Trust UK, tells the familiar story of the Frank and Van Daan family through words, photographs, video and some pages from one of Anne’s diaries. We’re shown how the families were forced into hiding by the Nazis and lived for 25 months in a secret annexe, before being discovered and murdered. We all know the story, but it still gives you a chill.

There is a replica of Anne’s annexe bedroom, looking very much like a teenage girl’s room. A few movie-star pictures are pasted on the walls, but there’s sparsity to them. It’s clearly the best she could do with what she had and it gives the room the sinister air, which I’m sure the real room has in spades over in Amsterdam. Standing in the room, my daughter and I alone for a moment, the sadness is confronting. A young girl forced to grow to a teenager in this cramped space and even sadder is to know that the precious hope she protected so vivaciously within that room, came to a bitter end in a Nazi concentration camp.

As you move through the chapel, the boards tell other stories: Muslims murdered in Yugoslavia and Bosnia, the murder of Stephen Lawrence, racist clashes in sport, teenager Malala shot by the Taliban for speaking out against the oppression of girls – it goes on. It sounds bleak, but it’s not. Dotted everywhere are messages of hope. Quotes from Anne’s diary like: “How wonderful is it that no one need wait, but can start right now to gradually change the world.”

Anne Frank reaches out to young people as a peer from the past, offering them hope and inspiration to make a future for themselves where the tragedy of racism doesn’t exist. Here’s hoping.

My favourite part of the exhibition is on the way out. There’s a wire tree where you can leave a message and hanging from a branch is one that says, ‘Sorry you’re dead. I think you will be safe in heaven’ – by Evan, age 6. Very good use of the apostrophe for a 6 year old there, Evan. Anne would be proud of you.

First published by Cambridge NewsImage

The Restaurant Man

New series The Restaurant Man, starring Russell Norman, kicked off last night on BBC2. London based Russell is the founder of successful restaurant chain Polpo and is a very accomplished restaurateur. Looking like a cross between Robin Thicke and Pete Postlethwaite, he strode purposefully around London in the opening sequence telling us all of this, with success and trendiness practically pouring out of his shoulder bag. Can you sense the sarcasm?

First lucky duo to be given the Russell Norman treatment, were best buds Matt and Rich. Matt looked like quite a normal guy, but not Rich. He wore braces and a stripy blue T Shirt and actually had one of those French cartoon moustaches, perfectly twiddled into two little flicks. He might as well have a string of onions round his neck. Maybe Matt had met him at a French themed event. Who knows. So French cuisine it is then? Pas du tout! C’est le burger!

Matt and Rich wanted to take the upmarket burger (I’m assuming every time they said ‘upmarket’ they meant ‘disgustingly marked up’) to Southampton. ‘They want to what!?’ we shouted. People in Southampton still live in wattle and daub huts and boil whole hog’s heads for supper don’t they? They trade in grain and bits of flint. They won’t understand this trendy food from London! Surely Matt and Rich must be out of their minds? We were worried. So was Russell. ‘Is Southampton ready for the high end burger vibe’ Russell asked us in a worried tone. To be honest, we just didn’t know.

Rich had a little practise working in a burger kitchen first. Turns out neither he nor Matt had ever been in a kitchen before, so his burger flipping was a bit dodgy. They called in some burger experts who commented on the coarseness of the burger meat. Did you know there was a coarseness numbering system to burgers? I didn’t. But Matt and Rich’s burgers had a nice American vibe apparently. The expert said that ‘in America, everything is finer and easier to chew’. Surely not everything? Those massive cars they drive? Their huge buildings?

There was also the issue of decorating the restaurant. In the end they went for the ‘reclaimed distressed look’ which Russell told them was ‘perfect for the high end burger experience’. I have to agree with Russell there. On a Saturday night at 3am when I’m enjoying a burger in a doorway, I find the distressed look of the pavement really gives it that high end feel.

Not content with all the Southampton bashing so far, Russell continued to totally offend practically everyone by telling Matt and Rich, ‘this is not the sort of place people have expense account lunches. It’s a bit grotty’. Russell, you do realise this programme goes out nationally don’t you? It’s not just a special channel for people who live in London? Ok good, just checking…

So, to opening night. The simple folk of Southampton came suspiciously up to the door, peering in at the lights and fabulous distressed, reclaimed decor. Some of them even came in and amazingly, enjoyed the food. Sniffing it at first and then poking it with their staffs, they tucked right in. Rich’s moustache remained unflustered as he flipped thousands of burgers and he and Matt made a packet. Seems like the rest of the country is ready to spend £10 on a sandwich after all, just as long as it’s served to them in a distressed red plastic basket and they can sit on a reclaimed chair. I’ll be tuning in next week for more trendy tips.

First published by Cambridge News

Was Channel 4’s Don’t Look Down documentary irresponsible?

Oh my GOD – did you watch Don’t Look Down last night on Channel 4? I don’t think I have ever said ‘Oh my God’ more times as I did during this documentary. The previous record for ‘Oh my God’ television was when Felix Baumgartner jumped out of his spaceship and fell to Earth, but this made that look like a little trip round your Granny’s. Felix had a parachute…

Urban free climber, twenty-three year old James Kingston seemed nice, if a little serious. Sitting in his bedroom, he explained his hobby to us with an unsmiling face and cold grey eyes. James spoke of enjoying a life outside of the comfort zone, but as he lived with his mum we weren’t initially convinced. All fine so far. However, James went on to explain how he had transitioned from a reclusive teenager, in his bedroom, at his mum’s, obsessed with gaming and being a bit dull, to a person who liked to climb up cranes and hang from them. HANG. From CRANES. Woah there James, I can barely climb the stairs. What are you talking about…?

In was then, during the montage of James’s crane escapades, that my hands truly started sweating. A head-cam showed James’s feet as he looked down at the city below and took some tentative steps along mind-bendingly narrow strips of steel. Cars whizzed and rivers flowed beneath him. This would be bad enough (my palms are sweating again now as I type – I hope this wears off later. Cheers James) but James then liked to do the unthinkable and allow himself to dangle into the void, holding on with his bare hands and then letting go with one, hanging by just a few fingers. ‘James!! Are you out of your mind?!’ we all shouted, as he smiled up at the camera. Who was filming that bit? Oh don’t think about it, it makes you too dizzy.

This went on for a while. James, climbing cranes. His friend driving him to building sites in the early morning and waiting for him to come back down. His poor mother, sweating in her kitchen as she waited anxiously for him to return home for his breakfast. It was a terrible melting-pot of sweating and cold steel for everyone involved and then after the adverts came the worst bit of all…Mustang Wanted…

Mustang Wanted is a Ukranian lunatic, infamous on YouTube for daring free climbing. Cranes? Pah! Mustang climbs cranes in his sleep. Mustang’s montage of free climbing was almost unwatchabley terrifying. James flew out to Ukraine to meet him and maybe discuss doing some climbing together. It was like watching exchange students, who’d spent the school term corresponding about their hobbies and families, finally meeting each other, but in a horrible, sweating nightmare gone wrong.

Using an interpreter, Mustang told James he wanted to hold his hand and dangle off the Moscow Bridge. Now, people have said this to me before and usually it’s the point where I tip my hat and bid them ‘Adieu’. Not James though. He was tentative at first, but Mustang convinced him and like two monkeys they shimmied 377ft up the bridge to perform the trick. With Moscow nauseously far below them, they held hands and swung off the bridge. Then James did a back flip. Classic James. When he showed his mum the footage later at home, she buried her head in her hands, but I think I detected a flicker of pride on her face. That’s my boy.

Following the programme, there has been some concern that Channel 4 broadcasting this programme may have irresponsibly invited copycats to follow in the dangerous footsteps of James and Mustang. All I can say to that is…. ‘umm don’t worry.’

First published by Cambridge News

On the subject of Christmas cards

It’s Christmas! (Please no, not in a Noddy Holder voice). Someone in your house has probably already risked their lives in the loft retrieving the decorations. You’ve probably done some mediocre Christmas shopping, comprising mainly of having a panic attack around the ground floor of John Lewis. You’ve watched Elf, or if not, you’re saving it for when wrapping gifts in front of the fire, surrounded by empty mince pie tin foil cups, roasted ham and brimming with anticipatory yuletide cheer. Is there anything more heartening than this scenario? No.

Sadly however, my personal merriment is increasingly marred each year by one thing. The seemingly harmless and well intended Christmas card. As each morning arrives and I hear the post land on my doormat with a (slightly noisier than usual, seasonal) clatter, my heart sinks. I haven’t sent my Christmas cards yet. I haven’t even got my Christmas cards. Even if I did have them, I haven’t got anyone’s address and it seems arbitrary to text people now asking for it. They’ll know what I’m up to. My Christmas card sending will be expected and thusly ruined. It troubles me deeply and makes even delicious, sweet sherry taste bitter in my mouth.

Some Christmas enthusiasts even take the trouble to write a personalised message in their cards. They’ve probably also done their Christmas shopping by November 30th and are kicking back watching Elf as we speak. Smug so and sos. Some go much further and send out a family newsletter. ‘Little Harriet passed her violin exams’, ‘Peter fell out of the loft getting the decorations down’, ‘We’re all off to Cornwall for our holidays to see Grandma’ etc. Much as I enjoy reading these, it only cements my feeling of Christmas shame. No newsletter will be winging its way from my family I’m afraid. I couldn’t get it organised.

Occasionally I’ll receive an E Card. Sending these is even more tragic than not sending cards at all. Or sometimes in to the inbox pops a musical E Card with my face transposed onto the dancing body of an elf. Strange and unnerving. Please don’t send me these.

If by some miracle, you do manage to buy a packet of cards and have an up to date address book, there’s always the quandary of what the picture ought to be on the front. Religious, robins or reindeer? Whatever you pick needs to cover all the bases. Do you buy an assorted box of 100 cards from Tesco? What if they all just have Santa Claus on them and you look foolish? It’s a risk.

Perhaps worst of all are the cards you receive from your neighbours. Everyone else, you don’t have to see for a while and hopefully when you do see them again, your shameful lack of formal season’s greetings will be forgotten. But your neighbours are always there. To All at Number 27, Merry Christmas from Bonnie, Ronnie and Donnie. A cheery reminder that you’ve failed to do your cards, but this time hand delivered while you’re trying to enjoy your dinner. Give me a break.

At least it’s an excellent way of finding out all their names. Last year I made a diagram of my street (which of course I have now lost) but for thirty special minutes in 2012, I knew the name of every neighbour on my street.

Oh well, perhaps if I get my cards now, they’ll be done for Christmas 2014. My loved ones won’t know what’s hit them! Merry Christmas everyone, Happy New Year and I’m very sorry but you probably won’t be receiving my card.

First published by Cambridge News

The Secret Life of Cats

If you’ve ever wondered where the neighbourhood cats go, or what they get up to when you’re not around, then this was the programme for you.

In the village of Shamley Green, fifty unwitting pet cats were fitted with GPS trackers and Cat-Cams so that finally, we could get some answers. ‘Finally’ we thought as a nation, as we prepared to watch an hour of whiskers, fur and cats jumping up on fences. We sat back on our sofas and crossed our arms. ‘Let’s see it then. Let’s see what they’re doing out there’

First, to add some credibility to the project, they brought in Cat-Scientists John and Sarah. I don’t remember the ‘Cat Scientist’ talk on career day but it looks an excellent job. If only I’d known.

‘Cat HQ’ was fitted with high-tech monitors to track the volunteers (cats), as well as an impressive looking video wall, showing footage of cats running and frisking about – presumably to motivate the Cat Scientists and keep them at it.

After 24 hours, the GPS results looked as mental as you’d expect. Multi coloured lines representing different cats, zigzagging all over the place, up the road, round the garden, down the local woods. No surprise there. That’s pretty much what it looks like they’re doing to us anyway, and we haven’t even GPS’d them. What else have you got?

Well, the Cat Scientists were fascinated as they pawed (sorry) over the data. With further analysis, it was clear that our volunteer cats were very territorial and operated sophisticated patrol systems involving shifts, leaving clues and purring.

As well as the GPS, ten of the volunteers were fitted with a Cat-Cam. This gave us a visual of their patrol routes and the camera angle offered a nice view of the world ‘through a cat’s eyes’, framed by whiskers of course, which hung down over the lenses. Whiskers add a certain authenticity to a Cat-Cam, don’t you think?

It wasn’t all feline fun in the woods though. Some shocking behaviour was exposed. Cat volunteer, Ginger, deviated from his patrol each night just to meow, snarl and generally wind up another cat, before scampering back to his zone. Bullying.

Volunteer Claude liked to burst uninvited through cat flaps and eat other cats’ dinners. Claude’s owner was most embarrassed to be shown that particular footage. How embarrassing we all thought, your cat is a thug.

What was uncovered was an underworld of stealing, anti-social behaviour and unfortunately in most instances, the murder of smaller creatures. The long-suffering pet owners dutifully collected any furry victims each morning: shocked looking mice, stunned looking moles and even a rabbit, which the owner had stuffed into the designated box (provided by Cat HQ – naturally), but clearly couldn’t get the lid on, so that it gruesomely loomed out of its box. Its furry eyes closed for ever. Its cotton tail never to bob again. A ghostly parade of woodland tragedy, lined up on a bench. What more was there to say?

While the show aired, there were numerous tweets from viewers showing photos of their cats watching the programme. Their secret lives exposed. A scandalous Horizon expose. Ginger and Claude will have some explaining to do today no doubt…

Needless to say, I woke up this morning suspicious of all cats and where they were last night.

Also, I wonder how many times can I say the word ‘cat’ in one article? 27 it seems.

First published by Cambridge News

The Apprentice: Our Verdict

Season nine of The Apprentice kicked off last night. There were all the usual trappings: Prokofiev’s Dance of the Knights, contestants striding purposefully round Canary Wharf, over bridges, wheeling their little suitcases and the narrator reminding us to marvel at Lord Sugar and how he clawed his way out of the East End into a life of wealth using nothing but a wrench, a broken bottle and a dream.

If it’s possible, the candidates seem even worse this year. Sixteen businessmen and women all vying to win £250K investment from Lord Sugar himself. ‘I’m prepared to drown the others if I have to’, ‘I just won a ‘coldest heart’ competition for stamping on a child’s ice-cream’ – I’m paraphrasing but you get the idea.

The first thing to note about this year’s candidates is they all had utterly lunatic eyebrows. Monobrows, brows drawn on with a biro – this group have every type. It was distracting initially, but then we were into the first task.

Leading the girls there was Jaz who describes herself as ‘half machine’ (I couldn’t work out which half) and leading the boys was Uri Geller lookalike Jason who proclaimed, ‘my intelligence is like a machete’ (whatever that means).

Each team had to shift a shipping container’s worth of tat including: union jack mugs, Chinese waving cats, ukuleles and toilet paper in just one day. Cue lots of shouting into phones, taxi rides and massive amounts of ‘I’m talking, I’m TALKING, let me finish, I’m the best, I’m the tallest, my eyebrows are drawn on!’ and so on.

Jaz’s project managing style could be summed up as ‘hyperactive holiday rep’, with a demented smile and motivational speeches shouted into the faces of chilly, sceptical looking team mates, who clearly just wanted her dead. Whichever half of her was a machine, it went on the blink fairly early doors.

They got off to a bad start, with ‘ruthless’ Rebecca selling two cases of water for £15 and as the day progressed the team ended up wandering hopelessly around a boarded up China Town, trying to flog Lucky Cats to bewildered shop keepers. The in-fighting didn’t disappoint either with classics like Luisa exclaiming to Leah, ‘I’m in sales and you’re just a doctor’. Ah the topsy-turvy world of The Apprentice.

The boys team weren’t much better. There was Welshman Alex, owner of the most demonic eyebrows of all and who bore an uncanny likeness to Dracula. After accidently dropping and smashing a lucky cat on the pavement, he expressed concern that they shouldn’t carry the ukuleles into appointments, to avoid looking like ‘purveyors of tat’. Sorry Jason but I think that ship had already sailed. Neil wasn’t too bothered about the smashed cat, exclaiming ‘I despise cats to be honest’. Wow, who despises cats?

At the end of the task, each team had made a few quid, but had unfortunately spent over £4 million each on taxis.

Winning by £58 was Uri Gell…sorry Jason and the boys. Desperate to be noticed, Tim made a full-body cringe, self-promoting speech, as the underwhelmed panel (Nick, the newly coiffed Karen and Sugar) looked at him in violent disgust before Shugsy silenced him with a, ‘shut up, you won’.

The girls were sent to the losers’ café to snarl and point fingers at each other over polystyrene cups and then back to the boardroom where it was inevitably project manager Jaz who got the chop. She did admirably try grabbing around, like a drowning woman, momentarily getting hold of Sophie who, being Chinese, she insisted had portrayed herself as an ‘expert on lucky cats’. I wish I had that on my CV don’t you? Also, I don’t think I was alone in wishing Lord Sugar would give a lucky cat wave as he said ‘You’re fired’, but he didn’t.

First published by Cambridge News

Five songs to add to your Summer playlist

Can you feel that? A strange feeling creeping across your skin and making you want to take off your jumper? It’s warmth! The endless winter seems to be ending, and the sun is finally out! It’s only early May but, without getting too carried away, we’ve suffered enough. I for one cannot wait any longer so, let’s crank up the stereo and celebrate the long weekend by throwing on some summer favourites.

Here are five scorching tracks to get you in the groove this bank holiday weekend:

1. Mungo Jerry – In the Summertime

An undeniably feel good intro, leading merrily into Mungo Jerry’s shaky voice, singing about Summer. It’s as if he’s been out enjoying the sun so much his voice has started packing up. What’s not to love about that? The sun is out and Mungo’s got women on his mind However, there are some troublesome ethics in his song, such as the instruction to ‘have a drink, have a drive, go out and see what you can find’ – no Mungo, that’s very dangerous. Or the notion that ‘if her daddy’s poor, then just do what you feel’ – suggesting a tendency for exploiting the lower classes when the sun comes out. Mungo, come on man, it’s a nice day, let’s not turn it into a crime scene.

2. Madonna – Holiday

Do me a favour will you? If you’re going away this summer, have this downloaded and ready to press play the minute you walk out of the office door/school gates. Nothing will bring you more summer joy than this Madonna classic. You’ll be like James Baskett in Song of the South, but with a whole flock of bluebirds on your shoulder. And some on your head. And one to carry your suitcase, in its little blue beak. A great song that makes you feel like going on holiday immediately.

3. George Michael – Club Tropicana

Following on from ‘Holiday’ – When you and Mr Bluebird arrive at your destination and put down your suitcase, he gives his beak a little rub, (that was heavy you cruel brute, how could you make him carry that all the way here? He’s just a tiny little bird!), let’s keep everything crossed that you’re on exactly the same holiday as George Michael in, ‘Club Tropicana’. This summer jam has it all. Free drinks, fun, sunshine, sun tanning, strangers taking you by the hand? (Hmm maybe not that bit George). A perfect summer Bossa Nova which makes you want to buy cocktail umbrellas and get a paddling pool for your back garden.

4. DJ Jazzy Jeff & The Fresh Prince – Summertime

‘Drums please!’ Is there anything that evokes a summer feel-good vibe better that this old school classic from our favourite rapper/movie star Will Smith and his jazzy mate, Jeff? No, I don’t think there is. If you could bottle it, this would be pure summer, distilled into four, smooth minutes of sound. Basketball courts, barbeques, washing your car and then driving at 2 miles an hour? That sure sounds like summer in Cambridge to me.

5. The Beach Boys – I Get Around

There are so many summer classics from this group, it’s very hard to choose just one. Their entire catalogue sounds like it was recorded by a beach, with a load of buddies hanging around outside the studio, in dusty cars, having sodas and other Californian-style fun. Beach Boy harmonies are world famous mainly because they make us feel happy and sun kissed even though, sometimes the lyrics are a little dubious. These guys get around. They never, ever miss with girls. They’ve got a car and basically they’re just going to do whatever they want ok? That’s the gist of it. Wa Wa Wa Oooh indeed.

That should keep you going for half an hour. Enjoy the sunshine!

First published by Cambridge News

The Jacksons – A Review

The Jacksons. Not the Jackson 5, for obvious reasons (sob). Last night was their much anticipated (by me) reunion show in London. I’ve always been a huge fan of The Jacksons and when it comes to Michael I’m one of those crazy, crying, hysterical fans, so I was pretty excited to go last night but also apprehensive that it would be like watching a load of backing singers, flailing without a lead. Well I needn’t have worried…

The Jacksons Unity Tour
The show began with the obligatory warm up. A lady called Denise something or other, who told us afterwards that she’d be hanging around in the foyer, if we wanted to buy her CD. Sorry Denise, your singing was really good, but we’re Jackson fans.  It was a tough crowd and we were there for one reason only.

Additionally, poor Denise was hopelessly scuppered by the appearance of Peter Andre in the audience at the back. Pete tried to sneak in without notice, but word spread round the auditorium that he was there and before long there were camera flashes going off in his face and people scrambling to shake his hand. Oh well, it provided a bit of interest while we waited for the show to begin when finally, at 8:30… the lights went down, the four microphones appeared on stage and suddenly, there they were…

Subtly choreographed and effortlessly slick, it was immediately clear that these guys were old pros. Tito on guitar, looking thinner than you’d except, Jackie the oldest and quietest, yet somehow more charismatic than Jermaine (the usual peoples’ choice) and then Marlon. Super fans will tell you that Marlon used to get the belt from Old Papa Joe Jackson more than any other sibling – apparently for his failure to dance correctly. I watched very carefully to see if he screwed anything up and can tell you that I think Joe was a being a little bit harsh.

The set list was a fabulous mixture of 25 tracks: Old favourites like ABC, I Want You Back, Blame it on the Boogie and Never Can Say Goodbye combined with lesser known songs from their enormous back catalogue of albums such as Push Me Away and Man of War.

Sharing the singing was Jermaine, who took most of the high stuff, Marlon who gave it his best shot (bless him – WHACK) and Jackie, whose smooth tone is clearly made for back up but nevertheless, did a pretty good job. Marlon interspersed the singing with little speaking interludes, telling us his memories from The Ed Sullivan Show, or occasionally busting out a ‘Michael Jackson spin’ which looked about 0.1% as good as Michael, but maybe was one of those things that was probably Marlon’s idea to begin with and Michael probably pinched it, like brothers tend to do with your stuff.

What was especially nice to see, was how much the brothers obviously enjoyed doing the show. I guess 50 years of singing back up for your electrified, super talented brother and then finally taking centre stage, was bittersweet.

the jacksons unity tour

Of course, it was unavoidable that Michael Jackson would feature heavily in the show. But it was done not with mawkishness, but with ownership. The space left by Michael was filled with tributes, images, glittery costumes and songs and the concert was not only a beautiful memorial to a clearly much loved relative, but a spectacular showcase of the group’s collective talent.

Jermaine sang Gone too Soon, to a background of Motown clips, stills and later photos of Michael looking unfortunately, progressively more drowsy. The obligatory kiss to the sky and subsequent applause, that lasted just that little bit longer than usual, was heartfelt, not indulgent. This was and is a real family.

The musicians forming the band were introduced towards the end, where they each took their turn to show off. Needless to say, these guys were the very best of the best. From guitars, to drums, to percussion to keyboards, not only did they sparkle but they made the Jacksons shimmer against a back drop of jaw-dropping musical ability.

The two hour show ended with Michael’s hits Wanna Be Starting Something and Don’t Stop Til you Get Enough. The audience, who’d been on their feet for most of the show, were enraptured. The Jackson’s had them in the palm of their hand, which was a situation they were more than familiar with.

I’m glad I saw them live for the first, and what I suspect will be the last, time (Jackie is 61 years old, not that you could tell) and I can certainly see why they’ve stuck around for so long. In a boring era of transient, vapid and disappointing pop music, where a fast buck is more important than a developed talent, The Jacksons are real life singing relics from a time when music was really music. Ten out of ten from me and if you’re in Germany or Australia where the tour is rolling onto, I’d recommend catching this special moment in music before it’s over.

Beyonce Dazzles at Glasto

Old skool critics were worried that Glastonbury would not be ready for the jelly. Some were opposed to welcoming a headliner so self-evidently and completely bootylicious. Some would have preferred that the boss-eyed drone Thom Yorke had had more prominence, or that King Bono could have taken over the stage (world) and churned out more of his old hits while we swayed along obediently. But nevertheless, the Beyonce extravaganza was allowed to go ahead and by the end, it was hard to see how anyone, even the most serious of music listeners (it’s meant to be FUN you dreary bores), can have thought it to be anything other than a spectacular show.

She burst onto the stage like a golden fireball of hair and energy and at first appeared to have forgotten her trousers. We quickly realised with collective relief that the gold ensemble was actually designed to show off her ultra-thighs to their most intimidating and advantageous. Glitteringly gorgeous in her gold jacket and black spangled boots, Beyonce whipped up the crowd and had them on side from the very first minute, launching into fan-favourite Crazy in Love.

‘You are witnessing my dream!’ she informed the delighted crowd of muddied onlookers. ‘Tonight, we are ALL rockstars!’ to which a cheer rose joyfully from the crowd – Not really true though is it Beyonce? YOU are quite clearly a rockstar. You have a gold jacket and a voice that can melt the coldest heart, but we’re not rockstars. I’m at home in my PJs with a cup of decaf, and they haven’t had a shower since Tuesday and are gearing up for another night with their heads in the slurry. Oh well. As if realising this fact she suddenly shouts ‘I want you to forget all your troubles and lose yourself in this music!’ and with that she begins to perform ‘Single Ladies’.

The ‘Single Ladies’ routine is memorising. We already know it is from the music video. As Kayne famously insisted it is, ‘the greatest video of ALL time. Of ALL TIME’ – However, I do think poor Kanye was just another statistic in the consequences of Beyonce’s power-thighs. We secretly thought that famous dance routine was maybe all done with clever editing and some mirrors, but now 170,000 eyes are fixed on the ultra-thighs as they whirl around and jerk this way and that and then,  ‘Ladies! Put your hand in his FACE and SING, wuh oh oh, oh oh OH oh oh’. Well this sure got the audience going. Men, who had so far been quite enjoying things, suddenly fell ashen as 100,000 women started giving their faces some major Gloria Gaynor attitude.

Quickly though, it passed and Beyonce went on to perform Naughty Girl (good) and then Baby Boy with a peculiar guest appearance from Bristol rapper, Tricky. This was the only part of the show that seemed to go massively wrong. Tricky looked like he had just been given some horrifying news and then been pushed through the stage curtains. ‘Mr Tricky, we’re afraid the Inland Revenue are repossessing your house and your cat has been found in the washing machine…it was on ‘woollens’. We’re very, very sorry’. He completely froze up. I think he perhaps wasn’t quite ready (career-wise) to contribute to a Beyonce mega-concert and looked a little sick and not a little COMPLETELY paralysed with fear. She did her best to help him along but after around 2 minutes of mass audience cringing, he disappeared from the stage… Probably to have his head kicked in by Beyonce’s management team.

Bee ran through all her big hits and it was a very good reminder of just how many of them there actually are. ‘If I Were a Boy’ showed off her  vocal talent. There was more audience participation fun with ‘Irreplaceable’ and then a jolly medley of Destiny’s Child hits. At one point she went off stage and her back up group, ‘The Mammas’ sidled to the front of the stage, like the three hyenas from Lion King, purring and muttering something about the men in the audience looking ‘damn fiiiiiine grrrrl’ – the men folk spent the 90 minute set in the most confusing and paradoxical state of being encouraged to dance, look at Beyonce’s memorising power-thighs and then being told that they were replaceable and to hit the road. Such is Beyonce’s message. Poor Jay Z’s head must be spinning.

We assumed Beyonce had disappeared off stage for some kind of outfit change, or maybe to get some trousers, but when she emerged in the same gold jacket we guessed she was actually just being given oxygen or possibly was having a heart attack.

No matter. Beyonce doesn’t need to change outfits to keep our attention. She then sang an utterly beautiful cover of Etta James’s ‘At Last’ which she’d historically performed at the inauguration of President Obama – and lest we forget that fact, there was footage of the special moment on the screen to which the Glastonburyers would cheer their approval whenever Obama flashed up. ‘Yaaaaay! We approve of your president! The vibe is very chilled here at Glastonbury! Nuff respect to the brothers and sisters!’
Next it was quirky current single ‘Run the World’ – Nothing to say other than, ‘who run this mutha? GIRLS’.

And then to finish, an understandably (after all the love she was getting) quite emotional looking Beyonce was guided down the stairs by an extremely cautious security guard, whilst singing ‘Halo’ and came to the railing to touch the willing hands of some very wide-eyed fans. Some wide with pure adoration, but most wide from dropping so much acid since they’d arrived on Wednesday.

So to conclude, from my PJs and behind my cup of decaf, Beyonce was outstanding and by that I mean literally that she stands out. Streets ahead of her peers in the industry and clearly from a different planet to the rest of the world’s 28 years olds. A planet where ultra-thighs laugh in the face of trousers and men cower behind rocks crying, with question marks floating above their heads. Who run(s) the world? Ummm…looks like it’s definitely Beyonce.