The mystery of obsession

Twenty-four hours ago, I was stood in a clearing in a wood watching a boyband singing to a group of their fans around a campfire. Fake snow lay on the ground and Christmas was being celebrated, albeit nearly two months early. I can’t say much more about the event as I’m sworn to secrecy until a TV broadcast at Christmas, but suffice to say that I wasn’t amongst the groups of fans. Instead, it was a case of “have CRB, have random adventures”. This was a very random adventure. Not only was there fake snow and a campfire, but a night under a tipi’s canvas chaperoning boyband fans.

This is probably the extent of the photos I can currently post of our escapades. 
That’s the tipi lighting & heating systems.

There is much I could write about the last couple of days, but much of what occurred is subjected to the darned embargo. However, what did intrigue me and is more of a general concept, is the nature of fanhood and the obsession it creates.

When I first got offered this bizarre chaperoning gig, I assumed that I’d be responsible for some teeny-boppers – the kind of boyband fans whose obsession is largely financed by their parents and amounts to little more than over-priced concert tickets; endless watching of anything the band has appeared on; learning the choreography for every single song; and buying anything with the bands name or faces on it. I never went through that particularly phase of life, but my sister did – buying multiple versions of the same Boyzone single owing to different B-sides; having a Boyzone themed 12th birthday party; and occasionally dreaming that the band had turned up at our house bearing gifts of savoury pastries.

However, the fans we were in charge of were all over 16. Most were over 18. My tipi of six winners included four who were all in their 20s and who spent most of their time (and money) following the boyband around the country. (As well as memorising songs, dance routines and customising clothes in the band’s honour.) They were so dedicated in their passion that the band’s members knew each one of their names.

While I expected to meet die-hard fans, I was unprepared for exactly what ‘die-hard’ would consist of, and it really made me think…

Psychologists are generally agreed that teenage girls go through crush phases so that they can learn how to be attracted to men, practicing safely on totally unattainable men. Most of us go through such phases to a greater or lesser extent – my teenage crushes of choice were Dean Cain (the Clark Kent in between the Superman movies and Smallville), Keanu Reeves, Brad Pitt and Damon Albarn/Alex James from Blur (depending on my mood). I was only reasonably likely to see the latter in the flesh and despite occasional rumours that Albarn was at a gig at Gloucester’s Guildhall, it never happened.

However, several of the girls we met this week were past this stage of life. The girls in their 20s could have been having relationships with real men, but instead chose to spend their time waiting in the cold for a glimpse of the objects of their desire, fantasising over their next conversation with them, or conducting post-mortems over their last conversation with them. They were so angry about one band member’s new relationship I actually wondered if they’d do her physical harm given half the chance. In some ways, it was terrifying.

Don’t get me wrong – I’m not passing judgement on their choices. But I do wonder if they realise what they’re missing out on? It’s great to be fans of stuff and it’s absolutely fine to have moments of geekiness or obsession (my own passion for musical theatre and particular actors was highlighted by my friends during our conversations on this topic), but surely there’s a point where a line needs to be drawn and reality faced? These girls will almost certainly not spend the rest of their lives with their idols, yet some of them genuinely believe that they will. Is it fair to encourage or allow them to persist with their unrealistic expectations?

The world of the obsessed fan is a truly scary one. Tonight I will be thanking my lucky stars that I’m on my own in the flat, rather than supervising several of them in an extremely chilly tipi.

Take That – and party

Last weekend marked the arrival of a date keenly anticipated for over 7 months – if not 15 years. It was an event of such importance that embargoes were placed upon those getting to experience this phenomenon earlier than us. [In fact, even if I hadn’t spent the last 5 days sequestered in Southport, I would have delayed this post until Annabelle had been.] It had required an encounter with a total stranger outside Goodge Street station for a co-ordinated handover of small, yellow pieces of paper. It even necessitated an e-mail many months ago entitled “TAKE THAT EMERGENCY!!!”…

Yes, on Saturday night, I was amongst 89,000 people watching the mighty Take That (newly reunited with Robbie Williams) at Wembley. Two 2011 Firsts right there. Being a Take That live virgin (and a total newbie to an arena that huge – I’d only ever gone to Wembley to demo before), I learnt many lessons:

Firstly, watching Take That is a surprisingly rigorous physical experience. There’s the queuing (to get in); the standing (to keep your spot); the crush (as the crowd was brought forward); the heat (as people got even closer); the dancing (when TT finally appeared); the screaming (when they got close); the queuing (to get back to the station); the standing (on the tube home)… In fact, I got up from a seat on a bench outside the tube station at 3pm and sat back down again at 11.25pm when the tube reached Baker Street. Exhausting doesn’t even begin to describe it.

Secondly, don’t enter into such a situation if one is easily angered or hormonal. People get very territorial at these events. One woman sat on my feet multiple times in order to extend the area her group had. I hadn’t moved an inch, so I definitely wasn’t encroaching upon her space – I resisted conflict, but it was a close-run thing. When I’m hot, I can’t bare touching other people’s bare skin or hair – often an issue on the tube. For several hours on Saturday, I was touching three strangers’ bare skin and had one girl’s ponytail flicked into my face incessantly. It was all I could to keep my sanity and cool while rage was rising inside me! Actually, I nearly (or possibly did) lose it with a woman who deliberately obstructed my view of Robbie by waving her arms and deliberately pushing mine out of the way every time I tried to take a photo – it resulted in my having a long scratch from her watch down my arm. I got this photo though, so it was worth it!

Thirdly, going to see boybands live in concert will cause you to regress in behaviour to that expected of a 13 year old. Yes, I mocked my friends for their matching I ♥ Gary t-shirts (see above) and when they totally crumbled when the aforementioned Gary [Barlow] appeared less than 2 metres from us [the words “Oh my God, I never thought I’d be this close to him!!” were uttered by one of them…]. But later, when Robbie appeared in the same spot, all sense and sensibilities of someone turning 30 in 3 weeks time departed, and I screamed like an adolescent.

Fi and Ange are SO excited to be SO close to Gary Barlow…

The good man himself
Despite the fact that I wasn’t a big Thatter in my youth – I didn’t cry when Robbie left and I never considered watching them live – they are an indelible part of my teenage years. I can vividly recall the scene in my form room the morning after Never Forget was performed on TOTP for the first time. It was full of 13 and 14 year old girls raising their hands in the air and screaming – in much the same way that rather older women did during the finale on Saturday night, with the added excitement of the now returned Robbie. It goes without saying that my favourite part of the gig was the really old stuff, performed as a five-piece again after so many years. Oh, and finally getting to see Robbie live – I know he’s an arrogant twit, but he’s an awesome performer. Take That put on a show and their 2 hour set was well worth both the money and the physical exertion. And I will forgive them for including masks not once, but twice, in their dancers’ costumes – being close to the stage was great for viewing the boys, but less great for not being able to hide from the masks. 
Masked dancers acting as Thurifers – possibly a first for a boyband arena tour?
It wouldn’t be right not to link to some highlights, so here are a few:
Alice in Wonderland – Mark singing Shine while sat upon a large, pink caterpillar.
The Flood – there was water, abseiling and a breath-taking jump. Awesome. 
The retro TT medley – beautiful.

The gig got me thinking about a couple of other things that may turn into blogposts at a later date, but I think one Take That themed post in a week is quite sufficient! 

Further pre-pubescent ramblings

This is possibly the closest I could get to public humiliation (actually, who am I trying to kid, I could get a lot more humiliated than this, quite easily), but there’s something so innocent and enthusiastic about what I’m about to share that I couldn’t resist it.

Remember how last weekend I delved into my diaries? Well, there were a whole host of unexpected surprises in the box – in addition to the holiday diaries that proved to be so illuminating – not least an envelope marked ‘Random Diary Pages’. This contained a diary that my sister (I think, but it could’ve been me) had torn the cover off, as well as extracts from a holiday journal from 1991 and some very random pages of nonsense including the start of a story, some cartoon-like drawings of primary school companions and this…

You can probably read it if you click through, but if you can’t be bothered, this is the gist:

I, Elizabeth Lesiele [spelt wrong!] Clutterbuck vow that in at least 15 years time, I shall be competing in ice dancing at the Olympics. I have decided this after watching Jayne Torvill and Christopher Dean skate to Bronze at Lilahammer [also spelt wrong]
Hopefully I shall be able to bring home a GOLD medal! 

Oh dear. At least, aged 12, I had some sort of ambition – albeit a totally unachievable one! For one thing, I was rubbish (still am) at basic ice skating, let alone trying to leave the ice while jumping and pirouetting. For another, 15 years from 1994 would have made me 27 – which is old for an ice dancer – and 2009 wasn’t even a Winter Olympics year. Nevermind. 
Having read this gem, I wonder what my actual ambitions were at that age. I do remember a year previously declaring in a RS lesson (I’ve no idea how the topic came up) that I wanted to be Linzi Hately, who at that point was appearing as The Narrator in Joseph in the West End – I’d say this was possibly more doable than my ice dancing ambitions. It’s also possible that I still wanted to be Kylie Minogue, albeit in her new mid 90s more risqué incarnation. But there is nothing practical that springs to mind, clearly all I aspired to was Winter Olympic glory, the West End stage or popstardom – I guess that’s fairly typical for a 12 year old. 
It has to be said that re-reading these early diaries has been highly amusing and illuminating. There’s nothing more reassuring than realising how much you’ve changed (for the better) since your pathetic teenage days of writing about angst, reports, music and more angst. However, there is definitely nothing more depressing than realising that in some ways you’ve not changed at all and have simply repeated the same mistakes over and over for 16 years! 
On reflection, perhaps I ought to formulate a plan for these diaries once I’m gone. I don’t think I want the otherwise model archive I’ll leave behind to be tainted by these lunatic ramblings… 

Storytelling

You can’t beat a good story. Especially ones that illicit shrieks of amusement and/or horror from the audience. Over the last few days I’ve had some wonderful moments of sharing stories (not one of my own, one shared via the best of oral traditions – in the pub). There’s nothing better than a gaggle of people hanging on your every word and responding in the right way at precisely the right moment…

Sadly, the particular story in question only really works in a face-to-face context so isn’t particularly good blog fodder. (This is why I was especially pleased to have an unexpected coffee with Katie of Bristol yesterday – she was most amused, as was the rest of Baker St Starbucks’ basement…) All I can tell you is – like most stories which amuse innocent Christians – it involved nakedness and a great calamity.

In other titillating (yet completely nonsensical to those who weren’t there) news, here are some quotes from last weekend that are rather good when taken completely out of context:

“I can’t ravish someone if I have no breath”
[This was actually to do with breathing technique when singing the word “ravish” – of course.]

“I’m sorry, have we crossed from Ely into Eastern Europe?”
[On emerging from a ‘snicket’ (yes, first time I’d come across that word) onto an exceedingly pot holey road.]

“The thing is, to get it to make a good noise, you have to blow the bagpipe really hard. I was rather good at that…But the really good thing is that you use the same fingering as for the clarinet, so I knew what to do.”
[I’m not entirely sure why I was surprised that so much could be inferred from bagpipe playing – I really ought to learn when to keep my mouth shut.]

“J-Dizzle”
[What you get when an 18 year old takes up the challenge of rapping within a worship song…we were all somewhat taken aback at this new way of referring to the Lord.]

“And then they offered me a sausage sandwich!”
[The brilliant last line from another (nakedness involving) story.]

If you see me in the next few weeks and are interested, just remind me to tell you the story about the basement – you won’t regret it.

Retro reincarnation

Another fabulous birthday gift (by the way, this isn’t me trying to rub in the fact that I’ve just had a birthday, it’s more taking pleasure in what I was blessed with last week!) was from Flatmate, who happened to remember one of the many conversations we’ve had recently about great TV shows.
I may finally have found something to lift me out of the Gilmore Girls rut I’ve been stuck in all year (only one and a half seasons left to go!), though sadly there is only a single season’s fix of this gem: My So Called Life.
Watching it 15 years after it first appeared is quite a surreal experience. For one, I wonder how I got away with watching it (especially as my Dad occasionally had campaigns to stop us watching Grange Hill and EastEnders!)
It also brings back memories of fashions long forgotten – leggings as trousers (not simply under something else); flannel shirts; DM boots; weird red hair dye; Laura Ashley style dresses worn as fashion statements…bizarre stuff. Plus, I’ve realised I now seem to empathise with Angela’s parents! It’s a sad moment when you discover you have a parent mentality, not a child’s one! Very worrying.
Then there’s the classic 90’s soundtrack, which would have me hunting for my NOW 29 cassettes, were it not for the fact that I know they got chucked out during a house move. It means that half the time I ignore the dialogue, finding myself singing along to song lyrics buried deep within the recesses of my brain.
Not to mention the discovery (or remembrance – I was one after all!) of what teenagers did pre mobile phones and internet. They simply sat in their room listening to moody music, writing in journals, gazing into space and obsessing about their latest crush. Weird how quickly we forget!
A little regression is good for everyone, as long as you’re able to cope with how much time’s past since you were actually a teenager and how you may well now officially be ‘old’.