Me & Mark Owen, little orange green man

(Originally published on MySpace circa 2007)

Foxymoron (noun): Woman who claims her all time favourite band are Fugazi, whilst simultaneously harbouring love for Take That (and possibly sexually objectifying Howard).

So, I turned my calendar over from rainy July to chilly August and Little Mark Owen’s eyes sparkle as he strums his guitar in an open neck shirt. Possibly the only sunshine I’ll get for the remainder of this month. And I was thinking, not long ‘til December and the next magnificent Take That tour. Only I won’t be going to any of those shows cos I couldn’t get bastard tickets even though I legged it home from the school run to ring two ticket lines simultaneously from two phones for 45 minutes from the second they opened. And then I went on the internet and £40 tickets were already on Ebay for about 3 million pounds each and I realised I just can’t compete with these wankers and I will die unhappy in the knowledge that I never got to see Take That live.

As those who know me know, I like my serious music, but I also love my cheese, and Take That are top of my pops. You can’t beat a catchy tune with harmonies accompanied by a funky dance routine (and Howard in chaps). It’s fantastically gay and I adore it. And it doesn’t get better than Take That. Five were short-lived fun, and I even took my friend’s daughter to see S Club 7 (there was miming involved), but Take That have always given a knowing wink of acknowledgement to the box they’re in. I once met a writer who said he was very reluctantly sent to review a TT show back in the early days and he came out singing their praises (and still straight).

But not all boy bands can be placed on the same pedestal. Boyzone and Westlife are bloody boring twats with bloody boring songs and bloody boring dance routines, including rise-from-the-stool-power-grab key changes, who take themselves far too seriously and, quite frankly, offend me with their smug boringness. TT have always had a bit of an edge to them, in a boy band sort of way. Jason can really dance, even if there’s no evidence to show he can sing; Howard doesn’t get to sing enough, but it doesn’t matter cos he’s got a fabulous bottom; Gary could have ended up in Westlife so probably thanks his lucky stars every day, and Mark is just so small and cute and clearly loves his music (as the failed ‘indie’ career shows). And they do proper shows with themes and dance routines and costume changes. Gigs are all well and good, but sometimes you need a proper show in your life!

So, no TT live for me. I have to make do with concerts on telly and memories from the time I met Little Mark Owen, which I shall share with you now.


In 2004 I’d managed a music and video project with a group of Refugee families when Eureka, the museum for children asked if the kids (aged 4-10) could perform at the opening of a new exhibit thingy. Adrian, our musician couldn’t make it, so the kids had to make do with me leading them on the Djembe. The lady at Eureka told me very excitedly that there would be a special popstar guest. When I told the girls this they were very giddy. They were praying it would be Gareth Gates. I was holding out for the cute, punk one out of Busted.

The girls sat on their chairs looking glum as I dragged the rest of the drums in. “What’s wrong?” I asked. “You told us Gareth Gates might be here and it’s just some rubbish bloke off Big Brother”. I hyperventilated on the spot. What? Who! No, it can’t be… Not Little Mark Owen from Take That? “Yer, him off Big Brother. He’s not even a popstar” (the Legend of Take That was lost on these youngsters in 2004). I couldn’t believe it. I should’ve worn better clothes! So, we did our little gig and I could hardly contain myself as Little Mark stood just metres away doing his little speech.

“Can we go home now, Maria?”

“What?!” I shrieked. “But you can go round the museum for free, you’ve got passes…” “But we’re bored, we don’t want to,” they whined. I got serious “You ain’t going nowhere. YOU’RE MY TICKET TO MARK OWEN.” And they were. Oh, they tried to get away, and most succeeded, but little nine year old Parvana felt sorry for me and did a grand job of pretending to want to meet someone she’d never heard of just so I could. Good girl.

RW 2004 2

So, I got to meet Little Mark, who is indeed very little and was also very orange (glad to see the fake tan has worn off now). He was also very sweet. My friend Taramati, a wonderful older Indian lady who has on occasion taken to the stage to sing lullabies in an Elvis wig, didn’t have a clue who he was, and quizzed him like old ladies do. She got his autograph first then asked “And who are you?” “And what do you do?” He handled this very graciously.

So, these are the memories I will take to my death bed. No TT prancing about in hot pants, but at least I got to have my picture taken with a genuine popstar, even if he was orange. And sensibly dressed.

There will always be a place in my heart for cheesy boy bands. And, bloody Nora, in my photo album.

Postscript, 2016: I totally went off Take That when they turned out to be tax-dodging bastards. Apart from Jason Orange, he seems alright.


Retroactive Distractions

heart bum edit

Pic by Jan Wells


Ten years or so ago I had a MySpace page where I spewed love-hearts and vitriol for different aspects of pop culture. It was a way of re-visiting my fanzine making days, but with uploads instead of Pritt stick. When you landed on my page ‘Art Bitch’ by CSS played automatically, and I spent most of my time there searching for music and friends I hadn’t seen for years. It’s weird that enough time has passed for early-days social media and all its naivety to feel nostalgic. MySpace was actually pretty ace until they re-branded it, the home page took 3 minutes to load, and everyone’s stuff got deleted (including classic blogs by my brother like ‘Soap Dodger Ruined Our Christmas’). Then we all fucked off to Facebook, Twitter and various blog platforms. I don’t really understand how MySpace carries on, but it does.

Finding myself in something of a muddle just recently, and in dire need of distraction, I was rummaging (in the computer sense) through old photos and files, and happened upon drafts of a few blogs I’d posted on there. They’re all rather trite and random, from a review of the film 300 (which I can barely remember seeing) to a confessional piece in which I apologise to Jamie Klaxon for drunkenly abusing him (but abuse him again in the process of apologising). Oh, and how I bullied a group of children into helping me meet Mark Owen (before we knew about him and Gary being tax-dodging bell-ends).

I figured in the next few days, weeks, whatever, I’ll re-post some of these old blogs. This will serve as both personal, indulgent distraction and reminiscence, almost certainly peppered with a good deal of cringing.

To think The Klaxons are retro, nostalgic fodder now. Who saw that coming?!*

(*answer: EVERYONE. They made one good album then tried to turn Bacofoil into a fashion accessory).

Ageing Disgracefully

I’m going to make shallow judgements on women and their appearance in this post, which is a crappy thing to do, but we all do it on a daily basis, to ourselves and others, it’s ingrained.

I recently turned 46 and had a moment of “Wow. I’m closer to 50 than 40, now…” which I realise is daft, even arbitrary, but we all age with a mix of fear and fascination, right? We’re changing all the time, mostly subtly, peppered with moments of “Shit the bed, where did that crevice come from?” I’m intrigued and even derive pleasure from my sprawling grey hairs, how some are wiry and spiral vertically, whilst others zig zag sideways like my ‘80s crimpers have been at them. But then I’ll despair a little at the fact cellulite is starting to appear on my arms (the rest of my cellulite has been around long enough to really not give a shit). On the plus side I still don’t have any grey pubes.

As women, ageing is inevitably tied to the tiresome spectrum that is sexism. We ain’t no George Cloonies. We’re not allowed to simply get old, there are a variety of internal and external pressures to ‘fight’ the ageing process. And it’s a double-edged sword, as you’ll be demonised for trying too hard or for not trying hard enough. You no longer get wolf-whistled when you get older (unless it’s from behind then followed by an embarrassed ‘sorry’ when they see you’re old enough to be their Mum) and, even though it’s pretty great not having to decide whether to a) ignore it b) swear at them or c) employ some of the superb tactics shared via #EverydaySexism, it’s also directly linked to being ‘over the hill’ (unless you are cougar MILF, of course, lucky you, eh?). Society doesn’t value middle-aged and older women the way it should.

Screenshot (29)

Yes, that account is called ‘UK TV MILFS’ FFS…


The recent focus on Susan Sarandon’s knockers is a case in point. Some people will say “she looks good for her age” (when in fact she just looks bloody good) whereas others are decrying and denying her natural form. Some people only like to look at fake tits and on younger women, they can’t handle this amazing 69 year old confidently carrying her cleavage. My knockers high-fived each other when I saw those pictures of her, I was so happy. Others were unimpressed, like this article tagged ‘sad sagging Sarandon’ -that reckons “Sarandon isn’t the only, too-old-to-wear-that celeb who has bared it all on the red carpet or gone over the top in inappropriate situations. Other actresses have tried holding onto their youth by wearing outfits that no one wants to see them in”. Pfffft. Possibly even worse than this, Piers Morgan waded in, because we all value his opinion on women’s appearance, don’t we?

I love these women, they’re breaking stupid ageist, sexist rules. I have a little crush on Jessica Lange at the moment. Also in her late 60s, she hasn’t succumbed to Hollywood homogeneity, and wears her own skin with pride, her beautiful arms and hands wrinkled, veiny and strong. She is one gorgeous woman, but I’m guessing plenty would disagree and just see an older woman who hasn’t even bothered with botox (as far as I know, she looks naturally wrinkly and fab to me). Lily Tomlin and Jane Fonda are also flying the flag for older women in the sitcom Frankie And Grace, because – Shock! Horror! – women in their 70s can still have sex!  Kim Novak on the other hand got serious stick at the 2015 Oscars because she has gone down the plastic surgery route, which in itself is an issue, as former Hollywood ‘starlets’ probably feel the pressure to mess with the natural ageing process more than anyone. A surgeon – someone who makes shit loads of money out of our obsession with appearance – comments that she’s gone from ‘dainty and feminine’ to ‘masculine and over-inflated.’ Yeah mate, she’s also gone from 25 to 81.

If you’re in or near Yorkshire, go visit Cartwright Hall in Bradford where an exhibition of photographs by Nancy Honey celebrates 100 Leading Ladies – 100 women aged over 55 who also happen to have defied gender stereotypes and made huge achievements in their respective fields. Though I can’t relate to most of them (there are a lot of Baronesses and Countesses in there who, inevitably, are mostly white) it’s still pretty cool, and on until April 10th.

And have you come across Iris Apfel, yet? She’s 94, furiously funny, funky and rocks massive bangles like no one I’ve ever seen. She also advises “I think you can be attractive at any age.” Go find Albert Maysles’ documentary about her, it’s well worth a watch. She’s precisely the sort of inspiration we need to age disgracefully, raising a middle finger to all those pressures and being true to ourselves.


Me Vs HMRC/Concentrix

If you read my blog about being investigated for what essentially boils down to Tax Credit fraud, here’s an update. I sent them all the documents they requested (as best I could) and on January 22nd they sent a letter saying they’d completed their check and no changes would be made to my award. In the meantime, I sent a Freedom of Information request demanding to see the information they claimed they had, information that implied I should be claiming as part of a couple, not a single parent. I waited way more than 20 days and got no response to the FOI, so I re-sent it.

Today I got a response. They have sent me photocopies of all the documents I sent them, including my own bank statements; rent statements; utility bills; the sarcastic letter I posted on my blog, my own FOI letters. The only other documents are standard letters about my claim, which I also already have. In short, they have sent me things I already have, because they belong to me. The only thing they sent that I don’t already have is a glossary of codes and abbreviations that’s six pages long and of no consequence whatsoever.

So the battle continues. I’m pretty cross.

Here is my latest letter to them:

To whom it may concern

Your Ref: xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxx
NI number: xxxxxxxxxxxxxx
Case no: xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxx

Today I received a package of photocopied documents in response to my Freedom of Information Request, initially sent on 20th November, then re-sent on 11th January after I received no response.

I specifically requested to know what information you had causing you to investigate me, demanding to see private, personal documents so you could ‘get a full picture of my circumstances.’ I have enclosed a copy of your original letter (via Concentrix) and highlighted the paragraph, which states:

“We have information that suggests there might be another person linked to you or your address between 06 Apr 2015 and 03 Nov 2015. We need to check whether this is someone you should be claiming with as part of a couple.”

I specifically requested to see this alleged ‘information’ or at least be given an explanation as to what it is. And WHO is this mysterious ‘someone’? You have not answered my question, instead you have sent me, presumably at the expense of the tax payer, photocopies of documents I already have, including my own bank statements and the letters I sent you. You have not responded to my request.

If your initial letter of 4th November 2015 was in fact a ruse to gain access to my bank statements, bills, rent agreement, etc, with no real grounds to investigate me and threaten to stop my tax credits, at the very least you should admit this. Otherwise I demand to see the ‘information’ you claim to have on me.

My Freedom of Information Request stands. I expect a response within 20 days.

Yours faithfully

Maria Spadafora