Tuesday, 26 April 2011

The language of the Gutter Snipe: my real distaste for the 'C Word'

Interrupting the flow of a saga is not something I want to make a habit of, and I can assure you that the next post published will be the concluding part of my trip to Rio, however an article in today’s copy of the Evening Standard vindicated a new and ugly habit that has gripped society and become highly fashionable in the same token. The favourite byword of aggressive comedians, it can be as blasé in use as it is highly unpleasant in construct. Yes dear readers, in this particular post, and for one time only, I am going to be talking about that once dreaded, now accepted, ‘C Word’… C***.

As you can see from the introductory paragraph I can no longer bring myself to write such an unpleasant word that even in its spoken form is so ugly, nasty and spiteful. This is a far cry from the foolish and naïve 17 year old who thought that the use of this word was the height of literary sophistication. I used the word in a particularly literal and unpleasant scene of a short story and on re-reading the said passage, deeply regretted using such disgusting term (so much so that I re-wrote the whole thing, finding something a bit more sensual and creative). It seems so strange that a word I once used quite freely should now make me so uncomfortable, but I guess that is merely a sign that I am getting older!

The offending article that acted as motivation for writing about my intense dislike for this word was one that I had read in today’s Evening Standard when coming home from work. Flicking through pages filled with super-injunctions, royal weddings and why plimsolls are set to dazzle this summer there was a small article about a recent chat show appearance made by Holywood star and rock spouse, Gwyneth Paltrow. We all remember Paltrow from her early days opposite Brad Pitt and Morgan Freeman in Seven to her propulsion into stardom in the amusing Shakespeare in Love. I have both enjoyed her films and admired her willowy beauty, but on this particular occasion I was left distinctly unimpressed. Chatting to American chat show host, Chelsea Handler in an interview designed to promote her new cookery book, Gwyneth proceeded to refer to her late grandmother as ‘a real c***’. 

Now, I am not saying that her grandmother was not a hideous, malicious and thoroughly unpleasant old battleaxe, having watched the rest of the interview it is not an unreasonable assumption, however I felt that the use of the 'C word' was both unpleasant and cheap shot designed to whip up PR and media attention. Paltrow was once quoted as saying ‘I say what I think, and I stand behind what I say’. I just wish that on this occasion she had reached a little deeper into her internal thesaurus of insults!

It would be grossly unfair of me to say that Gwyneth Paltrow is entirely to blame for the current, and excessive use of this thoroughly vulgar word. I would also be a hypocrite if I said I was above using swear words myself every now and then! But it seems that more and more personalities and influential voices are saying c*** using it in the most derogatory fashion. You only have to look at one of Charlie Brooker’s rants on his BBC show Newswipe to gauge see how this word has become part and parcel of many comic monologues. Ultimately it is a cheap and lazy way of emphasising distain when original and clever critique eludes the writer/performer. I am sure that many of the alternative and edgy crowd who dine out on using the word would be horrified if they realised that they were following in the footsteps of Bernard Manning who was one of the first people to use it on television (incidentally, Roy ‘Chubby’ Brown is also a fan of the word, often using it in his acts).

There is a real difference between s**t, f**k, T****r to name a few than c***. Try saying it to yourself a few time in the mirror and you will see what I mean. With a blunt pronunciation, aggressive emphasis and that it can only be used as a noun it is one of the worst words in the British language and one which I feel should never be used even in the worst of situations. It is once in a blue moon that I agree with anything that Germain Greer has to say, but I support her view that it is one of the only words left in the English Language that still has the ability to shock on exclaimation.  One of my best friends (who may I also add, is an avid reader of this blog) relishes in my dislike of this word and often drops it into a conversation knowing that I will draw him up on it! Cheeky B******!

I fear however, that I am in a minority of people and that over the next few years that this word will proliferate more and more until it starts to receive common usage. Society’s acceptance of the ‘C word’ has never been higher, how quick we all were to overlook and even joke about James Naughtie’s appalling slip on Radio 4’s Today programme (to which I was listening at the time of the incident) when he mispronounced the Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport, Jeremy Hunt’s, name! An initial hoo-hah was made by the press and the story died quickly, yet no-one thought to question the new found acceptance that the British public now have for the word c***. Perhaps this is cause of some concern to the popular psyche. 

Ultimately, It seems obvious that I am going to receive a backlash of criticism from all quarters, who – I am sure - will feel that I have overreacted. Yet I feel that I have been silent on this topic for long enough, and it is high time that someone said something in criticism of this unpleasant, vitriolic and frankly upsetting word. If however, you feel that you have found some way in which the word can be used in a witty and intelligent way, then please do not hesitate to let me know!

Saturday, 16 April 2011

Give Me the Night: If George Benson had been to Brazil - Rio Part II

As we whizzed down the waterfront in one of Rio’s highly efficient and ludicrously cheap yellow cabs, my mate warned me that it was not done to go walking through the scummy, fluorescent tunnels that intersected the city at night. Prime borderland for many of the cities drug-fuelled gangs they were apparently highly dangerous. Luckily I assured him that I had no desire in trying to traverse those rat and needle infested concrete tubes as I had a desire to live a few more years on this planet, and so the matter was dropped.

The city lights and sites whizzed by and I was conscious that I had consumed a few too many Caipirinhas and beers at supper and then post-supper drinks – as I was assured by my companion, the nights there didn’t really get started until around one in the morning.

As soon as we stepped out of the cab and into the bohemian district of Lapa, all memories of ‘Old Songs’ by Barry Manilow and ‘Hard to say I’m Sorry’ by Chicago (as played at the previous bar in Ipanema) faded into insignificance as our ears were pounded by a collection of the latest hot tracks from the European club scene and Samba remixes. The street, which was more like a large square overshadowed by an aqueduct heaved with people all going in and out of the clubs and bars that flanked it. Street cellars with portable fridges sold all manner of local brews and were more than willing to poison naïve tourists with their highly potent cocktails – their version of gin and tonic is the reverse, with ¾ glass of neat gin and a splash of disgusting ersatz-lemon fizzy water. We opted for beer and I was informed that from then on I needed to start pacing myself as we were in for a big night and if I didn’t I might not survive the heat of the kitchen… whatever that was.

Making our way to what was probably a very pretty, Portuguese influenced streets by day were thronging with people, shouting, playing a selection of brass and percussive instruments. A large sign informing visitors that this was an area of cultural significance had a large Botafogo (One of the big Rio teams) sticker adhered to it. If the music and the low roar of thousands of people hadn’t been so loud, the sound of many flip-flops clapping on the floor would have been equally deafening. In fact, I seemed to be one of the only people who had chosen not to wear this type of footwear, opting instead for a pair of Zara loafers. Before we had gone out that evening and were getting changed from our beachware, I had donned a pear of blue jeans, pink gingham shirt and a pair of Shipton & Heanage suede loafers…
‘You are not going out like that.’ My companion said.
‘What?’ I replied, ‘This is alright isn’t it.’
‘Look, this is not the King’s Road, it’s Lapa and frankly I wouldn’t be surprised if some drug dealer took a dislike to you and gave you a good stabbing… I know I would if I hadn’t seen the kind of people who hang out on the King’s Road.’

My pride wounded, but not by that much, I had taken his advice and swapped to a Sting & The Police tour T-Shirt and some less offensive shoes, the jeans ‘would do’ I was informed, the Cheek! It was advice that I was glad I had taken and was immediately thankful for it when I saw that every guy was in shorts/jeans and a T-Shirt!

After liaising with my companion’s mates outside the chosen club we first tried to subtly cue jump. Now, subtlety in speech and movement are two different things. Whilst I am well versed in the former, the latter has never been my forte. Trying to slide underneath the barriers without the bouncer seeing was a naïve and fruitless exploit on my part as I was immediately ejected and made to join the back of the queue. The bouncer gave me a filthy look and I realised that I would have to be on my best behaviour – if that has ever been possible!

The club was huge and operated on what I thought was a rather novel system (although I was later told that this was quite common practice in clubs across brazil). After presenting the entrance clerk with my ID, he handed me a card and charged me not to lose it, implying in fractured that in doing so I would incur a weighty fine. I nodded earnestly, the nights boozing already having its effect. Looking at the card I came to realise that this was how the drinks system worked. Rather than paying up front, you handed the card (which listed all the available drinks) to the barman after you ordered and he ticked off the relevant drinks. This in turn was handed to a clerk as you left who processed it and charged you the required sum. It certainly reduced bar waiting times but you could certainly see a large number of shocked and indignant faces as you left the establishment!

Having been introduced to the British ex-pat community who live a life punctuated by intense business and heavy nights out we hit the dance floor. I was emphatically informed that the floor is the reserve of the Brazilians (who can dance) and the bar the reserve of the Brits (who are apprehensive of dancing). As soon as even the slighted inkling of a finger click came to my mind, or my foot started tapping, I was met with a steely gaze from one of my companions which implied that what I was doing was not the ex-pat way. But soon the alcohol started to take its hold of my limbs as well as my brain and in no time at all I had ignored the emphatic pleas of my companions and was tearing up the room the best way a Brit knows how… really badly! But, to be fair on the Brazilians, I found no animosity from the locals and my scrappy moves were tolerated and in some instances even indulged. There is a really touchy-feely culture to the dancing out there, quite removed from the staid awkwardness so prevalent in British and I was surprised how many beautiful women came and danced with me when many over hear would either stare or walk on by!

The night wore on and on, and I mean that in the most precise terms. By this I do not want to seem ungrateful for the fantastic glimpse into Brazilian night life afforded to me by my guides, but by the time we left the club it was six in the morning and the night was still swinging. It was a real culture shock, but to my existing – and newly made – friends it was an average weekend in the New York of South America. We ended up, sated and debauched at the seediest beach bar known to man as the waves lapped at the famous Copacabana Beach and more lagers were ordered. Tonnes of painted ladies skulked around the vicinity, looking for fresh prey – which no doubt they had no trouble in finding (the strip joint next to the establishment we were at seemed to be doing a roaring trade)…

The night started to blur and in my forgetfulness fortunately got the better of my usually sharp memory. I must have had some fractured negotiation with a taxi driver as the next day I woke up back in the hotel room with a splitting headache and a desire for a Berocca tablet and a can of coca cola. Before I knew where I was at, it was anouced that I had an hour to pack because we were about to head out the ‘Hamptons’ of Rio State, Buzios. Yet another adventure and yet another tale which will be recounted in the third and final instalment of my trip to Brazil, only on How to be a Bloody Good Chap!

Thursday, 7 April 2011

Passport to Rio - Fun in the South American Sun...

Dear, Dear Reader I must apologise… for two weeks I have been absent from your computer screen. I was selfishly basking under the Rio sun and put the blog as far from my mind as possible. I attempted to write some marvellous, verbose piece of bloggery but the lure of the Caipirinha and Stephen King’s ‘Cujo’ proved just to great! But now I am back and determined to make up for my holiday by telling you all about it. For the purposes of maintaining interest, I have rolled a number of events into one day as otherwise the next 10 posts will be about my time there. This is the first of three posts about my trip, which I hope will give you an informed if rather schizophrenic and jumbled picture of Rio de Janeiro…

We took off from London Heathrow on one of those typically glorious Spring mornings; the ones that always seem to come out from hiding every time you go away. Having gone through check in and the absurdly overbearing security of Heathrow Terminal 5, we enjoyed a glass of Champagne or two in the Concord Lounge before embarking on our flight. It had been two years since I had been on my last flight abroad and as such I was extremely excited. I love take off and, as we left the runway, I was filled with the anticipation which accompanies the feeling of leaving all your cares behind at home.

Heston had obviously not visited the plane that I took as the victuals on offer were of a rather suspect nature – The combination of rubbery Cajun Chicken with creamy Fusili is not one I will be repeating at home! Having said this, the advantage of flying BA is the relatively open drinks cabinet, and, after enduring a few cracks made concerning the vivid purple jeans I was wearing at the time (from the cabin crew) I was able to help myself to as much beer as I wanted!

With all those beers on offer, as I am sure you can imagine, the flight went rather more quickly than I had thought. Touching down in Rio and having negotiated passport control we wended our way by Taxi to the smart Leblon district and the functional, if flawed, Hotel Ritz. Tired and hungry we dumped our bags and went out for a quick and unspectacular meal (not worth mentioning here) before conking out. I awoke the next morning to find the city basking in blazing sunshine and the temperature a very respectable 29 degrees.

No one can look at the geography on which Rio rests without thinking (apart from the ocean access) that it is a wholly inappropriate place to build a city. Nestling between sheer granite ‘monolithes’/mountains and lush rainforests, it sprawls across the South Brazilian coast as the Favelas and high rise apartments grow daily. Nowhere can this be better observed that from the famous Sugar Loaf Mountain. As seen in the truly hilarious but highly mediocre Moonraker (1979), Sugar Loaf is quite astounding and the accompanying cable car makes for an enjoyable ride. As we were precariously pulled to the top on a lone steel cable I was delighted that I did not spot Roger Moore and Jaws doing battle on the roof of the cab! 

Once at the top you are afforded with the most stunning view of Rio (with the exception of Corcovado) and a collection of naff tourist boutiques filled with Jesus figurines, mugs, ashtrays and the like. I grabbed a beer from one of the kiosks and surveyed the great presence of the city on the tropical landscape. After the beer was finished I took my leave. Unlike many I have never been one to linger on upon views and landscapes like a character from a Caspar David Friedrich painting and soon I was back the bottom and was hankering for some grub.

I approached the food in Brazil with apprehension, chiefly for the fact that I had no idea what it was. Consulting a number of food encyclopaedia, I found a few entries for the cuisine. Heavy on barbecued meats, Portuguese dishes with a heavy emphasis on Bachalau (salt cod) and a national dish ‘Fajueida’ I was not that optimistic about what I would find.

What I found was far removed from the descriptions that I had found in my reference books and on the internet. Sushi – yes sushi – was the main food on offer around the area in which we were staying and in fact the whole of the city centre. In fact, every other restaurant seemed to have their own take on raw fish, whether as a starter on a more extensive menu or the whole thing altogether. It is the food of aspirational Brazilians and it says something that the most exclusive restaurant in Rio ‘Sushi Leblon’ is a Japanese one! But whereas in most parts of the world, this Eastern delicacy is eaten in moderation, the Brazilians wolf it down as if it were egg fried rice.

The one thing you notice going into any restaurant in Brazil is the sheer amount of food that the patrons eat, plates are piled high, filled with all sorts of proteins and carbohydrates (it is usual for most meals to be served with rice, beans and fries simultaneously). In one restaurant that I visited, three men out on a business lunch managed to polish of almost the entire contents of an aquarium judging by the size of the platter and the variety of fish on offer. Hugh and his gang of ichthyomaniacs would have been quite horrified, but having tasted the highly exploited products that they were tucking into, you couldn’t fault them on taste! As you can probably guess from this, my first proper meal and many more to come on my first visit to Brazil was sushi!

Lunch was followed by a trip to the renowned Leblon beach. Teeming with bronzed men and women clad in next to nothing (more often than not it was far from flattering – I must have seen more cellulite and sagging midriffs than on Skegness beach!). However I had my own problems to deal with… I stuck out like a sore thumb, the ‘gringo’ that I was with my pasty British complexion, rugby shorts and insistence on drinking coconut juice through a straw straight from the fruit. ‘What a wally!’ I can hear you exclaim - dear reader - as you shake your head at the screen. Anyway, after an afternoon of frolicking in the ocean waves under the intense sun and numerous beers it was time to head back to the hotel as the beach became overcast with the shadows of evening. 

After another fine supper full of more beers and Caipirinhas we were soon on our way to the most popular nightspot, the Lapa district. It was time brace ourselves for an evening of fun, madness and debauchery as only the Brazilians know how to provide…

Tune in for part two tomorrow evening in order to find out how to have fun on a night out in party town, and to keep yourself up to date with the adventurous life of this Bloody Good Chap.