Wednesday, March 23, 2005

The Harry Potter girls

Today my colleague and I were idly talking about Harry Potter and whether JK Rowling actually meant Kings Cross when referring to it in the books. I have a vague hunch she was talking about Euston, but couldn't remember where I'd picked that up from, or indeed whether I'd just made it up. Then out of coincidence I noticed something that confirmed my hunch.

Throughout my association with Euston [Euston station being the main portal to the North-West of Britain] I have always noticed the schoolgirls who mill about in quite an old fashioned blue uniform. Mainly because, ever since Velvet Goldmine, I have had a desire to be a London schoolgirl (in the same slightly pointless way I wish I were a Victorian gay man, but that's another post) as I hold the belief that my mid-teenage years would have been much more exciting had I been allowed to spend them in Camden. For a start, I think I would have appreciated Camden far more as a young teenager when such things as crowds and late nights bothered me less than they did when I eventually made it there as a student. Recently, I have revised this view slightly, imagining that having London at your feet as a youngster might make you a bit blase about it, deprived as you would be of the yearning for excitement that comes from growing up in a provincial place.

If I had thought about it at all, I had assumed that these girls came to Euston in order to take a train somewhere a bit further out such as Watford. But today I was there at lunchtime and many of the girls were there, in their little gangs trying to look as cool as they could in calf-length checked skirts. It dawned on me that they couldn't be going as far as Watford if they still had the chance to be at Euston for a lunchtime cornish pasty. Unless, that is, there was something magical about their route to school. They always seem to be heading for some dark recess of Euston. What if one of the platforms really is thirteen and a half and these girls are, in fact, going through some sort of warp to get to their school of Magic? It would explain the uniforms. It wouldn't be entirely far fetched: I discoverd an AMT coffee next to Platform 15 recently, a whole coffee bar full of smoke and mirrors which had probably been there for years without me spotting. Euston is full of secrets and these magic youngsters could be one of them. To us, just normal teenagers but there they are, wielding their spells and learning to manipulate feathers in some vortex behind platform thirteen and a half.

So spill the beans, JK Rowling. Did you follow these girls and make your billions writing about them? Did you merely introduce boys to bring a little frisson to the plot? If you are reading this, perhaps you could enlighten me.

Tuesday, March 22, 2005

Parallel lives

Since moving back to Stoke and seeing shadows of my old life flit by, I put some thought to the parallel lives going on that I don’t know about. There’s nothing nicer than re-establishing contact with an old friend and discovering all the highlights you’ve missed. Blogging, of course, means that you can keep track of people’s parallel lives. Eve's blog is very interesting, she keeps separate lives and so her posts always have some fascinating little details that she never thinks to mention over coffee. Mustafa is a friend from the days of the University of London and his recent post on Eid-ul-Adha reminds me that none of us ever, ever spoke about religion there, whereas I'm now used to interrogation about my own religion when people hear I work for the Quakers and there is often heated debate in the office. It makes a nice change and I've become much more tolerant about Christianity as a result (though you wouldn't be able to tell that sometimes).

Anyway, Jess's blog has kept me back in touch with her, it's a lot easier to keep updated via someone's blog than to demand they write you long updates of their lives. The coming [actually, going now, this was written last week] of the South by South West Festival in Austin, Texas, reminds me of the time when Jess had disappeared and all we knew was that she had met someone from Texas (prompting thoughts of chainsaws), got married and moved away.

We were concerned, it's fair to say. Texas? We cried! But that, surely, is the American equivalent to Stoke (we said heartily, for we were still young and little realised the eventual pull that would bring many of us back). We knew nothing more than she was in Texas and developed plans to go there and make a film about finding our old English friend. We didn't think there could be many English chappies in Texas and the process of finding her would be an adventure in itself, we thought. Texas, it may be helpful to know, has an enduring fascination for the English, who see it as the very centre of barbarous America. There are frequently Texas seasons on channel four, normally involving statistics on executions and evangelicalism. Anyway, this was before Radio 2, for which as I matured I began to develop the greatest respect, started talking of Austin Texas as "the coolest place in the world". How so? Said I. The South by Southwest Festival, came the reply, by return through the airwaves. And so it came to pass. Texas was the coolest place in the world and there was Jess in the hub of it.

This year, all the old dreams came back. Radio 2 and Radio 1 (for whom I have recently regained respect) are both at the festival this week, picking up new talent as a kitten might pick up tiny fish in a packed shallow stream. I imagined Jess's husband to be on the bill of one of the bars that crowd Austin’s streets, bursting with undiscovered talent. I saw Heath being discovered and launched into stardom by an awed British radio station and Jess becoming the Patsy (surely not? Who do I mean?) to Bowie's David.

Imagine how my hopes were dashed when, in a short Moo exchange, Jess told me: 'we don't go to that, I don't know why'. Heath the Cruel, you have hurt my daytime musing.

The roundabout point I was trying to make (was it? I can't remember now) as I tried to produce a post that was not about Death, was that if Texas can become the coolest place in the world, anywhere can. I have seen many places called 'cool' in recent months, even Kigali in Rwanda. Even if ‘cool’ is probably not actually the label I’m aiming at, there’s hope for everywhere these days.

Wednesday, March 16, 2005

On death

Having written rather dramatically to my MP confidently asserting my most likely forms of untimely death would not be through terrorism, and posted it up below, during a rather boring journey home (Virgin's music channels having been switched off for reasons unknown), my thoughts, quite naturally, turned morbid.

How ironic, the papers would unimaginitively say, when, after being blown up on the Pendolino into Euston, the hacks unimaginitely looked up me up on Google to find White Llama here as the cyber-memorial to a life often wasted online. 'Look', they will sneer. 'There she was defending the rights of terrorists on the interweb and then one of the bastards slipped his electronic noose and blew her up. I bet she won't be defending them now!' The hacks will chortle, inwardly making a mental note not to let Melanie Philips actually put that in her column this week.

Well, my morbid little mind thought I should put up a response in advance. Should my blase indifference to the terrorist threat lead almost directly to my explosion, don't be using my name to justify your next sweep of draconian legislation. You're probably much more likely to use the name of a tragic child, but should you be scraping the barrel on photogenic victims and feel the picture that the hacks will inevitably use from the BBC website successfully sums up Wasted Youth, well don't. Dedicate me to peace or ending world poverty or something instead.

Anyway, enough to feed fate with. That's two posts touching on death in a row [actually, the other one's in draft and is probably too self indulgent to go up - yes, there are quality controls!] Bring on Spring, for goodness sake.

Tuesday, March 15, 2005

A bit of MP blogging

I know I said I wouldn't be doing so much politicking, but this important. Martin is doing the same on his blog, and the response from Jim Fitzpatrick is very 'attack dog', methinks. By the way, I'm still not confident in the spelling or indeed usage, of habeus corpus, can you tell? :)

Dear Joan Walley

I know that it has been a busy time but further to my emails of Friday I would be glad if you could send me an explanation, as my representative, why you voted with the government on the Prevention of Terrorism Bill. Anything that can help my understanding as to why we have to suspend our basic civil liberties, even temporarily though that was fought, would be useful. I simply do not believe that we are under a sufficient level of threat to justify the measures you are trying to impose.

I appreciate that in the event of a terrorist attack you will need to be able to say you did everything you could but would like to to know what you will say if a terrorist attack occurs despite the suspension of our basic liberties? Will you give them back if it is shown not ‘to work’? You should be willing to acknowledge the relative level of risk to the population from a terrorist outrage in this country, which compared to my everyday risk of death through traffic accidents or crime is, I believe, small. I say this despite regular contact with potential terrorist targets including the tube and mainline trains.

The international work that the government is doing with its other, non-authoritarian, face will do far more to reduce the level of terrorist attacks and I think you could be a lot braver about giving it publicity rather than pandering to reactionary newspapers.

On another matter, I would be grateful if you could send me details of the solid actions the government intends to take in response to the Commission for Africa’s report, which I thought was very good. Will the different departments of the government be taking a coordinated approach to their action?

Best wishes,
Clare-Marie White

Friday, March 11, 2005

Trust Tony

Let him have his way on the terror bill. The security services have told him we are Under Threat From Terrorists. Their advice is to be firm and be tough.

But hang on, didn't he say that about Iraq?

That's all I can be bothered to say.

Tuesday, March 08, 2005

There is an Actor on my train

Not any old Actor either, the one from Four Weddings and a Funeral with the charming manner. The young one. Now, as I have been saying in another draft post (they're piling up, I will probably spare you the one relating the Quaker Plague), I haven't seen much TV recently, which has made me something of a TV enthusiast - for me it has becoming rather like the cinema. The effect may not alway be good: an unplanned sighting of Wire in the Blood shredded my nerves rather more than it probably needed to, though I did think Robson Green was very good, which I don't think anyone under fifty thought was possible.

Anyway: I digress. As I passed the Actor in the vestibule (that's a technical word for the bit between the trains, the place where they shoot you if you try to smoke out of the window), I had the strange feeling that I've also experienced in the presence of Harry Enfield. As it happened, I had seen Harry Enfield twice in quite a close time range (I must have been in Soho a lot at that time) and so said Hello to him without thinking about it. Now, I was much younger and less self conscious in those days and so now I felt a lot more awkward. You obviously have to look at the Actor you see, to check he really is who he claims to be, but really when you've seen someone on TV quite often there's rarely any doubt. And he was talking on the phone, in that voice we know so well from such programmes as that spooky scottish drama and that other detective one.
So anyway, when you look at the poor actor, you immediately feel a bit bad, because it must feel a little odd when people look at you in that familiar way all the time like they know you, even on Virgin Trains, where the punters are much friendlier on the whole than other commuters. Then you feel awkward, and hence the odd sensation of bumping into someone you knew years ago but who you no longer really know well enough to talk to.

The Actor is sitting in my carriage and not in first class, so let's hope he feels more comfortable amongst the poor commuters than the first class, where people think nothing of asking you personal questions because they've paid far more for their ticket and think you're the special guest celeb. He probably knows that people will automatically think better of him for not sitting in first class, apparently not something that occurs to MPs.

Let's hope he's not thinking about all the people writing draftposts for their blogs, texting their mums and sneakily taking pictures on their phones. For my part, I will only be doing one of those things.

Coincidentally, at the moment I am reading a book called the Long Winded Lady by Maeve Brennan, who wrote for the New Yorker in the fifties and sixties. The Claire with an I lent it to me and it is very good. Very bloggy actually, and a good book to read if you're spending quite a lot of time alone, for example on trains as it makes you Observe more. You have to be a very good writer to really pull it off, which is doubtless why I will remain in the realms of blogging and not have a collected works in 50 years time. It is also a good book for anyone who misses New York, for it constantly reminds you of names and places and makes them seem rather more glamorous than they really were. She spotted many celebrities round New York, such as Greta Garbo, and she writes that it is acceptable to stare at them because you recognise them and therefore know them. And also that they are so used to people staring at them that you, the starer, becomes invisible. Which is, in a way, true. And not entirely undesirable.

Monday, March 07, 2005

TV withdrawal

This post is a bit of a test really, to see who's back on my blog (as everyone can answer this question) and whether every post I put in my relaunched blog is going to be invaded by an unwelcome political type posting in a slightly innapropriate style.

So, anyway. I don't have a TV at the moment and I've started to mull over what I might be missing. The OC is on tape, as I really can't live without some californian glamour, but what about ER? Did anyone in Brat Camp ever escape, only to die of thirst in the desert? Is Nip/Tuck back to tell us who the father of that strange looking boy is? Have they really started torturing people before the commercial breaks on Channel Four and what did John Snow look like without glasses? Popworld, Popworld, which American songstress have you laughed at recently?

Although I am missing TV, its absence has made me feel like there is more time in my house and the major advantage is that I have rediscovered pop music. Every now and again I go into a retreat to another decade - it is usually the fifties - but there is a very enjoyable bout of modern music going on and my enthusiasm is even stretching to learning the names of some new bands. The Stereophonics have released a good song, which I don't think anyone expected. And I find myself enthusing about the McFly song which probably isn't cool, but gosh, it is fabulous. This means TV can wait, but is there anything I should really be trying to watch at the moment? Readers, tell me - and try not to be too political or irrelevant (Alex, from you a cutting political interlude is allowed, so don't be put off) - what should I be trying to watch?

Wednesday, March 02, 2005

Identity crisis

We received an amazing bundle of papers from our solicitors with the full history of our house through all its deeds and covenants. It is sad to imagine that our own deed (which will reside with the bank until we are middle aged) probably doesn’t look nearly as Elizabethan as the one produced in 1933.

The papers reveal that, unlike the rest of the country which thought that a dictionary would be a good idea in the mid 18th century, Stoke seems not to have adopted standardised spelling. Without wishing to disclose too much about where I live on the world-wide-stalker-web, our street is spelt with or without an E seemingly at random. We had noticed this during the buying process: the land registry says E while the local authorities have blithely abandoned it.

Although I am considering starting a lengthy and irritating (for them) correspondence with the council to try and restore the E to our street sign, as I think it is the original and rather more charming form, it is probably better to leave it ambiguous. After all, I sense that I have enough annoying and lengthy correspondences to deal with in regards to a certain utility company, about which expect a lengthy and VERY ANGRY post as soon as they are out of my hair. I have lived with the curse of Clare my whole life, even occasionally spelling my own name with an I, so I think I shall leave the missing E to reside in our deeds and my imagination.

It doesn’t come as a surprise. The place is full of confusion. The city of Stoke-on-Trent is not actually the same place as you arrive at on the train, which is Stoke-upon-Trent. It is more of an imaginary construct somewhere north of Birmingham but south of Manchester. The city centre, reasonably enough, is called Hanley. The Potteries – as the city is also known - is supposed to be made up of six towns altogether, but the only author of any note dropped the one where his mother in law lived (so the story goes) and therefore the vast majority of pub-quizzers would, quite naturally, imagine it to have five towns.

Arnold Bennett (not to be confused with Alan Bennett) also renamed all the towns for the popular imagination, so Burslem, my new town, might as well be renamed Bursley if they’re ever going to make a success of it as a tourist destination. Though that won’t stop the locals calling it Boslem. My favourite renaming of his is Swan Bank to Duck Bank, which is far more appropriate to the local idiom. Confused? Try driving around there.

Tuesday, March 01, 2005


A recent visit to my old student union haunt reminded me of one of the most horrifying facts about modern politics. Sitting in my old bar, listening to some old acquaintances shouting to each other from across the other side, I remembered: our parliament is fed by the National Union of Students. In May, a brand new crop of ex student hacks is going ot be unleashed onto the hapless electorate. Most will be shiny young Blair babes, of both sexes, while a few will have accidentally strayed across to the right and will be placed on the list to hep Michael Howard score points with ‘minorities’ of whatever sort they might be. They will be airdropped into constituencies with names they have never heard of and soon will be turning their distant form of charm onto people they don’t really like much at all, all so that they can continue to get food and alcohol discounts at the grown-up version of the crèche that was the student union.

This isn’t just a trip down memory lane for me: the sight of baying NUS hacks in my old bar actually sent my blood cold. There’s no need to beat around the bush: these people are the enemy of democracy. Oh, they may be fluent in the language of diversity, they may talk of equality and opportunity, but the inflated powers given to student union officers creates a system where decisions are made entirely without accountability and the student electorate is kept, through structural exclusivity, as far out of the bubble as possible. An example of this was in one of my favourite meetings in which we were told by an elected officer that students were known to come in and attack luminaries like herself and so security locks would be much more appropriate than any form of drop-in reception. A rare beast was the student newspaper editor who had not experienced any attempt to censor them by the union that funded them to provide what was supposed to be a free press for students to learn in.

There is a simple way of showing how this translates into the world: Charles Clarke. The ex-NUS president who, in the interests of our security, wants the freedom to imprison us in our own home without recourse to trial, with or without a jury. A true man of the people there.

As we lead up to the next general election, we find ourselves in a political landscape that has been paralysed by ‘spin’ (a meaningless word in itself). The media and politicians are all trying to shout loudest about issues that do not in any way address the real problems of people but merely distract them. Like students and their unions, the public have not yet found the voice to challenge this established system. The signs of rebellion are there: dropping newspaper sales as well as dropping voting figures: but what will the alternative be? The internet might lead the way forward, as might small community-based action groups: people are showing engagement even if they are not being heard by the ‘powers’. It may not be long until the ‘powers’ prove themselves to be as irrelevant as all those chirping NUS barflies.

The return of I

As periodically happens with me and my blog, it's time for a change in direction. I'm going back to diary style for the time being, which might be a relief for some of you who politely read the serious posts but, let's face it, didn't find them as exciting as the posts about tube strikes. The switch to mememe llama was inspired mostly by Jess. I never was sure if diary blogging wasn't a bit selfindulgent and/or dull, but having read about her adventures in Texas, as well as other friends' blogs [see right] and enjoyed them, I have been reconciled to the idea.

There are a few other reasons for the change too. I find myself engaged in a form of social experiment. Having read one too many sets of statistics showing that the average house in London costs roughly ten times the average salary, I headed North of London. To a place called Stoke-on-Trent-home-of-pottery, to be precise, from where I am now commuting a few hundred miles a day. So here will doubtless be more on the success or otherwise of this experiment. Having moved North of London, I am aware that many of my London friends think I'm dead. In the modern age, what better way than the blog is there to show anyone that you are, in fact, alive? In other news, the first of March is seeing me start a new job, the consequence of which is that I need no longer produce a worthy blog in the hope that I will one day be 'discovered' and paid for my words. Thanks to the kind Quakers, who are now employing me full time, my words can become freely available (unless they are Quaker related, in which case they are available for the very reasonable sum of £60 a year, see Its my job to say that now).

So meet White Llama, the long distance commuter, in which you will find the firstperson, news on my adventures, possible OC comment and almost certainly still the odd rant on the appalling state of politics, the media.