Harlequin Oddities Found About Town: Music Cassettes and VHS Video Tapes

Isn’t it amazing how much of a relic these things are these days? Twenty years ago, VHS and music cassettes were a normal craze; where winding up cassette tapes with pencils and the magic of recording TV shows on black video tapes were our versions of the iPads and mobiles of today. Oh, except we had funkier, bigger hair and questionable bumbags.

I saw these in a local shop a few days ago, and had to take a sneaky shot (the shop-owner didn’t realise I’m just trying to be “ironic” and also probably doesn’t read my blog, so I had to be sneaky about it). It made me smile because we used to stalk this shop every weekend when I was a child to rent out the latest video to watch, and which was a big event in our house because it meant we got to pick something WE wanted to watch. Even though there wasn’t much to pick from, the films weren’t very new and we usually had to pick from Rambo, E.T. or Hellraiser (or something of the same calibre), it was still a thrilling evening for us to pay £1 (or £2 for the weekend!) to borrow a video tape.

These days the shop seems to just display them for fun (plus the layers of dust kind of shows that it’s been a while since anyone knew what to do with them), and they’re all Bollywood and Tollywood tapes, which are kind of redundant now that the big world of The Internet has shown us how to watch these.

Still, they’re a nice reminder of the simpler things in our childhood, and the terrible films we used to watch.

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Growing up in the ’90s: A British-Pakistani looks back

Signs that you grew up in the 90s to Asian/Desi parents, or, 12 cheap ways to save your household costs

I am often reminded of the various facets of myself which has roots in various places; I am a British-Pakistani Muslim woman, waist-deep in Western culture and society, the other half of me in Middle Eastern and Pakistani idioms. Like many of my peers. I have followed various influences through high school colleges and university, and found myself in the nine-to-five workplace. I’ve watched the popular American television series, the dry-wit British stand-up shows, the silly YouTube videos gone viral and the thought-provoking Islamic lectures and Ted Talks. Not to mention all the Lollywood and Bollywood films you can think of, which certainly added a spice to my cultural awareness.
I’ve spoken about my family briefly before, and certainly think that growing up in the 90s had its own charm, and also was its own nightmare. One of the reasons we can relate so much to the classic 90s tv series awesomeness that was Goodness Gracious Me was that they were able to capture so well everything that makes us British-Asians – being cheesy, sarcastic, admiring our roots while recognising how embarrassing we (and our parents!) are. This post was long overdue in the list of things which I’m sure many of you will recognise in your own family’s upbringing (although please note I’m not trying to write anything offensive, and if anything I should be the most offended that most of these things happened to me in my poor, defenceless childhood)

Not us, but there’s parts I can relate to.

1. Cover everything with plastic – the carpet, the sofa, the remote control, half of the furniture in the house (it took us a couple of years to convince my parents to take the sheeting off our new dining table set) and even our mobile phone screens – remember that? We were one of millions of forward-thinking families to ‘protect’ and cover the hallways with plastic runners (all of which are pretty much identical in every house). Years later, when we finally convinced our parents to remove the plastic, the carpet underneath looked as brand new as the day we bought it, and the ones that were exposed looked like something had died and decayed on it. But the thing is, it was a normal thing to do in the nineties, because every other house down the road did exactly the same thing. Another thing our mums did? Cover the cooker over top with foil so that any food that spilled would get caught in the foil, which you could just pick up and throw away. My mum stopped doing that about 10 years ago when she got fed up of the foil getting caught on fire, and also because  I think she didn’t see the point in covering (wasting!) in foil when you’d still have to clean the cooker because some piece of food wriggled underneath. Something my mum still does is line all of the cupboards and drawers with old wallpaper or sheets, but that’s probably good practise (and not so funny either,  I suppose). My mum even used to lovely sew pretty sofa covers (which we could have tried to pass off as boho and eclectic throws, but it blatantly wasn’t), with frills and all, to cover the sofas. I’m not sure what we were trying to do, whether we wanted to preserve the sofas and carpets for the next ten years, especially as we don’t have any of the same furniture of carpet now. The first thing we did when we bought a new television a couple of years back was, yep, rip off the plastic before my mum even opened her mouth to stop us.

Remember those beautiful studs? Mmmm smell that plasticky freshness

2. Buying new things was a big event in our house, and even bigger was  then showing them to family and friends so that they would go out and buy the same thing if they liked it. I remember my aunt coming to our house and seeing our red and cream patterned sofas, then buying the same ones for her own house (which were there for years). It is with great relief that I can say none of the original furniture from my childhood remains in the house (except possibly my parent’s my dad’s old bookshelf which has gotten away with being in the hallway, and which no one moves because it’s a good place to surreptitiously put unwanted plastic bags and extra creams that mysteriously appear). Similarly, we’d all be involved in a trip to go buy something like a vacuum for the house, my dad would expertly examine it for flaws (and then never be the one to use it), while we all sat bored and begging to go to the toys aisle.
We weren’t a well-off family and didn’t often have new things – one thing we all remember is hand-me-downs from older siblings (I didn’t have it as bad because I was the youngest, but one of my sisters remembers having hand-me-downs from my brother which was less pretty!) My parents were very thrifty and careful with what they had, and it’s a trait we’ve all manage to inherit – it also meant having an array of junk in our house because things were on sale/free/being given away. These days internet shopping is a great revelation in my house (and not just because I buy a lot of junk, my dad is the worst) – it’s a big jumble sale out there and it’s easy to go crazy. Except for my mum, who still buys everything in cash and almost always finds a bargain in any store.

3. Who says you can’t fit eight people in a five-person car? You’re just not squeezing people inside hard enough. Coming from a family where I was the youngest of five, I spent most of my childhood squashed/half-couched in the feet area of the back seats (back then I was the skinniest and the smallest, which meant I got the least space). Oddly enough, although we should have spent half our journeys terrified of the police stopping us over for overcrowding a vehicle, we never worried about it, and it never happened to us. Booster seats for toddlers and seat-belts? Pah. Our car wasn’t that glamorous either, we had an ugly white Nissan when I was a child , which then got upgraded to an ugly red Nissan a few years later – although both of which still weren’t as embarrassing as the yellow three-wheeler down the road.

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4. Reading books are full of nonsense and put silly ideas in your head. My sisters and I are all avid readers, and have been since we learned our alphabet as little toddlers. I remember holding my sister’s (sometimes my Dad’s) hand and being led to the local library which was minutes up the road as a child, and being in awe at the sheer number of books lining the shelves, getting greedy over how many we could take home. My parents, on the other hand, hated it. They hated the fact that we’d go glazed-eyed and deaf once we got stuck in a book (they had to shout at us up the stairs a good few times to get our attention), the fact that we wouldn’t stop reading for hours, or the fact that our books took up piles of space next to our beds. I remember being engrossed in books which I refused to put down even when eating, ignoring the television to put a book next to my play and accidentally drip a bit of food into the pages, which would drive my parents nuts. Even now our rooms (in all of our respective houses!) still fill up with books and crowd the bookshelves (which our parents keep threatening to dump in a landfill every so often, but we know they’re just empty threats).

I’m pretty sure Roald Dahl must have based Matilda on a Pakistani family. Minus the witchcraft and car-swindling parents.

5. PG films didn’t apply to us. As long as there wasn’t any inappropriate scenes about K-I-S-S-I-N-G, we became pretty desensitized to violent films, because our parents didn’t see them as unsuitable. Mind you, the kissing thing became pretty old, we could be watching a scene from an innocent, joyful Christmas family movie, and as soon as any kissy scenes came on, the channel got changed, and we’d lose control over the remote.* Gory killing scenes in Predator were okay though, cos that was just men running around with knives. There’s been many a film that we didn’t see the ending of because of this problem.

Predator – just a film about getting exercise and fresh air in the jungle. With guns.

6. Yes, our parents were those ones who said if you didn’t get A grades, you might as well not have bothered. Admittedly, we were lucky enough to be that family which were high achievers at school and who made our cousins’ lives (unintentionally) miserable because their parents were always smacking them on the head asking them why they couldn’t get our grades. Also funnily enough, when I got my GCSE grade, the majority of which were A grades, my dad pointed out that I only got a B in Maths, which was a bit of a let-down – yet a day later a few of my uncles congratulated me saying my dad had praised my grades. My dad wanted one of us to be a mathematician (because it was his favourite subject) and my mum would have preferred it if one of us did something respectable like become a doctor or lawyer. Seeing as no one in the family has yet to reach these lofty statuses yet, I’m still waiting for them to transfer their attentions on the grandkids.

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7. Clothes and fashion in the 90s wasn’t as glamorous as they are for us today, and we didn’t have it all thought out. My sister and I are 18 months apart, which meant that as kids, we got dressed exactly the same. We looked nothing the same as kids (and even less so as adults), but this didn’t stop my mum from dressing us up exactly the same, and for relatives to ask if we were twins. Another cost-saving fashion method we had was to buy a roll of fabric and for all the girls in the family to have the same outfit stitches (which we’d have to wear at the same time) – hence our aversion as adults to wear anything pink, frilly, netted or similar to anything any other sister is wearing. And my brother wasn’t spared either, we have many photographs of him growing up displaying his stylish shell-suits with his curtain hair styles.

Can you see that look of scepticism in my face? My sisters (behind) had the same frilly dresses as me in yellow, which were our mum put on us for special occasions.
Can you see that look of scepticism in my face? My sisters (behind) had the same frilly dresses as me in yellow, which were our mum put on us for special occasions.

8. Bollywood films were a staple when we were going up, as much as Power Rangers, Blue Peter and the Indiana Jones films were. Every week, my mum would send one of us to the corner video shop to pick up the latest pirated Bollywood video tape and watch huddled together in the living room (they were a lot more family friendly than they are now, no kissing scenes here). My dad hated us watching Bollywood films, so we would watch it whenever he went out with (blatant, over-acted) ‘stealth’, – whenever we’d hear the sound of his key in the door and him stepping into the house, we would be scrambling around to switch the VCR off and pretend to be staring at the news/carpet/empty bowl when he came in.

Die Hard had nuthin’ on this guy.

9. Weddings in the 90s were a world away from the grand affair they are now. Weddings in the 90s were purely about eating food, wearing puffy dresses and tinsel, and lots of cramped seating. And don’t get me started on the cringe-worthy wedding videos and their ‘special’ effects (one of my uncle’s wedding videos features the cameraman’s hand holding up a piece of glass to make a kaleidoscopic effect in the lens. It worked, too). Compared to the bridezillas of today who take a microscopic look at wedding dresses, cakes, flowers, seating arrangements and a hundred other things, wedding back in the day involved booking a hall and food, turning up, watching at least one fight and leaving as soon as you ate. The poor bride was usually miserable and spent the whole time with her head down, and the groom was usually an obscure figure on the stage. The best thing I remember about those days was running around with the other kids and picking up loose change on the floor (and feeling really rich!)

10. Family portraits were another disaster in our household, and not just because of the fashion faux pas – I don’t think we have a single family picture which has everyone with a straight face (one of us were usually sniggering or hiding behind someone else). My sisters remember my mum telling them not to smile too much (and keep their teeth inside their mouths) because it didn’t look respectable in pictures – which is a far cry from the fake smiles and poses we all have today (I’m pretty sure we could submit a lot of ours to this website). A lot of our pictures from an early age look quite serious and sombre, usually because we were sitting on sofas in the front room which we weren’t usually meant to go in, which is ironic because I don’t think any of us were particularly miserable children. These days we’re all about arty-farty pictures and looking our best in pictures (okay that’s probably just me, but still), and the grandkids in my family have grown up with camera phones in front of their faces.

Me and my sister’s hijabi selfie

11. Food in our house was another affair which hasn’t changed. I watched Russell Peters at one of his stand-up shows once, and he correctly talked about how our mums only ever cooked whatever our dads wanted, no matter whether we wanted it or not. This was the same in our house – I can remember countless number of times that my mum made my dad’s favourite food (usually lentils) while we all moaned about wanting chicken and chips. We also didn’t eat out or have much junk food as kids (which is probably a good thing in hindsight) – I think I was about 13 when I had my first McDonald fish burger. Whenever we wanted junk food, my mum would make us home-made fish and chips (peeled and chopped potatoes, of course!) on Sundays, or otherwise make us home-made kebabs to put in burger buns. Over time we discovered halal chicken burger shops, and I remember making weekly trips with one of my sisters after saving up all of our 5ps and 10ps to buy burgers from the local shops (with all of our change in our hands, who needs purses?)

12. Storing and hoarding is a trait that probably all Asian (and other ethnicities) family have – we can’t bear to throw anything away. We have a cellar full of junk from our childhood which we are constantly trying to clear and then end up filling up again. Granted, we’re a lot more neater at storing our junk than those weird shows you see on tv (and we uses to think that the number of books we had were bad, until we drove past a house once which had newspapers and books lining the hallway in stacks until it reached the front door). Part of the problem is we hate to chuck something that we’d paid for, especially because we think we’ll need it again (we won’t). My dad even built a shed (which we’ve named the cow-shed) to ‘store’ our extra tools and things, and which is our latest dumping ground (plus it’s a haven for spiders so everyone’s too scared to go in there).

Another habit we all have is storing and stockpiling enough food and toilet paper to fuel a small country, even though my mother goes shopping every week to buy more of these. We always say that if there’s ever a siege, at least we won’t starve or need toilet paper.

All in all, there were plenty of embarassing moments (this is just the tip of the ice-berg, really!) but there were also lots of perks. Things were simpler then, video games were easier to play (have you tried to play one now? jeez.), cartoon shows were better, we weren’t obssessed with mobiles and the internet, and being an Asian nerd wasn’t always a bad thing if it meant you got A grades at school instead of beats (I rememeber a boy in my class on results day who didn’t go home for two days because he was too scared to tell his parents his grade, when he finally came home they told him they’d been waiting for him to come and show his results).

I’m sure there’s a part two of this coming soon, but in the mean-time, I’m off to browse 90s films to make fun out of (starting with this one, one of the funniest re-caps I’ve read!)

*Ownership of the remote control is a serious thing in our house (I have no idea if this is a thing in other people’s house, although I suspect it is) ‘Having’ the remote is taken pretty seriously, and whoever has it is a lucky devil because they can hold on it and control what everyone else watches. The only exception to this is my dad who has the power to take the remote and change it to Geo channel or BBC news at any and all times, no matter how much we might complain.

A Mini Fairground

I saw these pretty things in a shopping mall a while back (they’re still there, I always look out for them when I go past!) – beautifully crafted mini ferris wheels and funfair-style toys. I love the old-timey style of these toys, they almost remind me of the wooden toys that used to be popular decades ago – which may have been simpler than today’s toys, but they also were beautifully made and lasted a lot longer!

So here’s something for the weekend to look at, I’d love to buy one of these for my nieces to play with but these weren’t for sale and I’m not sure where to find them, but I’ll keep looking!

World Hijab Day 2014

I wasn’t aware until recently there was such a thing as World Hijab Day, but I’m very glad there is. I LOVE the concept behind this movement. Rather than an act of worship in this case, it’s a way to promote awareness about hijab as well as the idea of modesty in Islam, the emancipation of women and of women everywhere sharing their stories. (I was meant to post this yesterday but I didn’t get time to, so just assume that this has been continued from 1st Feb!)

The brainchild of this movement is a New York resident, Nazma Khan, who came up with the idea as a means “to foster religious tolerance and understanding by inviting women (non-Hijabi Muslims/non-Muslims) to experience the hijab for one day”.

Personally, I think this is a brilliant idea – the best way to combat ignorance, or if not ignorance then genuine questions about hijab and Islam, is to get people to see it through your eyes.

I’ll be posting more about this soon, but for now, I wanted to know your views on World Hijab Day – would you participate if you didn’t wear hijab? And do you think it’s a necessary event?

From my view, I think it’s an excellent excuse to celebrate my hijab and my choices (*throws on sequinned blingy scarf and matching disco lights*) – and I’ll leave you with this statement below:

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Superman: True Brit

Superman: True Brit is a silly, tongue-in-cheek satire about what life would have been like for Superman if he landed in Britain instead of the USA to live the American Dream. This book is a part of a series of ‘Elseworld comics which take DC Comics superheroes and takes characters out of their normal settings to theorise their alternative lives (for example, there’s another Superman novel called ‘Red Son’ about Superman landing in Ukraine to become U.S.S.R’s hero!)

Superman: True Brit is more of  a silly, light-hearted version of the story, with puns and plenty of poking of fun at the old British boys – although that’s to be expected with a graphic novel co-authored by the writers from Monty Python! So here’s a quick review-slash-recap of the graphic novel (*be warned, there’s spoilers ahead!*), I enjoyed reading this graphic novel simply because the idea was pretty funny, and it has crossed my mind a few times that Superman may have been a different person in a different country, rather than the all-American boy.

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So we start off with an alien baby landing – in all places – in the heart of the British Empire (or not quite), Weston-super-Mare, where he is found and brought up as Colin Clark; taught to mind his manners, suppress his powers and not scare the farm animals.

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His adoptive parents play their part, satirising middle-class British values (perhaps in the 1900’s, can’t say society is like this today!) with a social-niceties, paranoia about the neighbours and reminders to always wear clean underwear.

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In the meantime, Colin meets his girl-crush, Louisa Layne-Ferret, a Page 3 girl and ambitious journalist (with a convenient resemblance to her American cousin Lois Lane, who we also meet later on!), and has a fe20131117_125344w mishaps at school (such as playing cricket a little too fiercely and impaling a school-fellow with a cricket bat. Oh dear).

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Soon after (and inevitably), Colin is unable to suppress his powers and finds an outlet for them instead – in his alter-ego, Super Man, dressed in disguise to appease his parents while saving the country from disasters.

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Soon however, he is set three challenges by the skeptic public and his less-adoring fans – which of course turn out to be typical British complaints (and also satirical comments about British society!) The first task turns out to be to make trains run on time – Superman solves this by speeding up the trains and introducing the train staff to schedules (“Radical thinking!”)

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The second task turns out to be to reduce waiting times for hip operations, which Superman ‘solves’ by advising surgeons to play less gold and work more. Of course.

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The third and last task is challenging Superman to raise the quality of BBC programmes – which he resolves by scaring BBC executives into less ‘dumbing-down’ of television and more shows for  under-30s age gap.

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Despite all of this, poor Superman falls into more trouble, with the Bat Man out to get him (the previous victim of the cricket bat incident), the editor of the Daily Star out to defame him, and worst of all, his parents trying to run away from the embarrassment of their son being Superman.

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On top of this is the news that the ‘Three Impossible Tasks’ that he apparently succeeded in have had some negative results, meaning that Superman has to pay fines, gets further bad publicity, and his love life is not working out with Louisa quite how he wanted it.

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Eventually though (although slightly predictably, and in a very Monty-Python-ish way!), there’s a happy ending to be had, and Colin Clark reveals himself as Superman to avoid being black-mailed, and urges the public to stop supporting both the Bat-Man and the slimy editor of the Superman-hating newspaper. I loved this comment at the end, where Colin resolves to change his name – to Kent Clark.

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And Superman goes back full circle to say he is emigrating to the US for new opportunities (not before some references to The Rutles and a few digs at British society), changing his British-flag costume for a more recognisable one, complete with a Christopher Reeves-ish hair-curl.

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Overall, this graphic novel was certainly a lot less serious than the other DC comics I have read – and certainly, it’s not meant to be taken seriously. I liked the humour of it, but found it a little clichéd at times when it came to British traditions (I can’t help but wonder whether Americans still view us British at tea-and-crumpets-with-the-Queen types, although I did like the depiction of Queen Elizabeth in wellies and a crown!)

This is certainly something for Superman fans to read, especially if they want to get away from the dark tales that Superman sometimes comes across (and even Batman fans, which has plenty of dark humour and depressing stories!) Although this may not be to everyone’s liking, and some may find this a little patronising, it’s good for a few chuckles, and it certainly gives a good send-up of British media and culture.

Pencil & Mosaic Eyes Are Watching You

I’m not sure what I was thinking when I did this one, back in the day. I did each of these separately (the pencil drawing of the eye is part of a bigger picture which was actually a self-portrait that was not flattering). The mosaic was meant to be part of an inspired self-portrait too, but I ended up just trying to finish the darn thing the night before it was due in (Art coursework, those were the days!) so it ended up looking a bit like a grey Avatar-ish creature.

Still passed, though.

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Good thoughts by Roald Dahl

I seem to be seeing a lot of Roald Dahl quotes recently (this may have something to do with the fact that it was his birthday two days ago), so I thought I’d jump into the fray and add a few quotes that I adore (although there’s so many of his I love!)

“We are the music makers, and we are the dreamers of dreams.” ― Roald Dahl

“And above all, watch with glittering eyes the whole world around you because the greatest secrets are always hidden in the most unlikely
places. Those who don’t believe in magic will never find it.” ― Roald Dahl

“A BOOK?! WHAT D’YOU WANNA FLAMING BOOK FOR?…WE’VE GOT A LOVELY TELLY WITH A 12-INCH SCREEN AND NOW YA WANNA BOOK!” ― Roald Dahl, Matilda

(the last quote was because my parents used to shout and me and my sisters all the time for getting lost in books!)

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Happy (belated) birthday to one of my all-time writing inspirations and idols : )

Journal Your Ramadan – Day #4: Currently Reading

I’m a big reader, which means I have piles of books in my room, several hundred ebooks on my laptop, book reader and mobile, and about three or four pages of lists of ‘To Read’ books to collect. I also have quite a bad habit of reading more than one book at the same time so that I’ll have about three or four different storylines in my head which I pick up again when I’m reading a book.

Here’s what I’m reading at the moment, a novel about a Slovakian Gypsy in World War Two, Zoli; a book on my eReader called The Perks of Being a Wallflower, which I’m really enjoying, a graphic novel called Superman True Brit, which I’ve mentioned a few times before, and which I’m trying to re-read so I can post a review/re-cap of the best bits on my blog; and lastly a book given to me by my sister called The Four Agreements, which is more of a philosophical self-awareness book (which I’m not usually into, but it comes very well recommended and I’ve heard good things!)

Over the years, I’ve had less and less time to read (and I’m sure you can all relate) as I get more commitments, more things to do at home and work, and less time to myself, so it’s nice when I do get to sit down and read. I’m always in a ‘cycle’ when it comes to reading too, sometimes I’ll feel like reading a lot of fantasy, sometimes it will be a lot of murder mystery, and then this could be followed by a lot of dystopic sci-fi. At the moment I’m leaning towards historical and epic novels (and Batman comics), although previously I was reading a few novels by Charlaine Harris which were all based in The South (of US) which was interesting!

Ramadan is the best time to read the holy Quran during thee month, but there are other things to read too, to improve your day-to-day life or to reach inner-peace –  with some talks, some stories of the Prophet, or even just a few verses of prayer which can be read with prayer beads. It’s easy to forget to do this in this time, we’re tired, hot and not always able to concentrate, but time and time again I’m reminded of the value of praying and reading so that we can reap the rewards.

Also on the subject of reading, here are a few Ramadan Links to read for those of your who want food ideas, kids activity ideas or just lectures and talks to listen to – have a browse!

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Even Batman needs to mind his Ps and Qs

Saw this in a Batman comic –I mean graphic novel– book I was reading yesterday and thought it was hilarious.( Yes I’m a grown woman who still read comic books, don’t you judge me), I love finding little silly things like this in serious scenes (Batman’s trying to find out some information about his ex-protege who was killed in this scene), and I just thought this whole bit was just cute.

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Image taken from ‘Batman: War Games‘ by DC Comics

Flowering Magnolias and Blue Skies

In China, the symbol for the magnolia flower is beautiful woman. I don’t know about you, but I’d say that the meaning is pretty apt, magnolias are certainly beautiful, and are graceful flowers which have lasted almost a millennia, unchanging, strong, and almost un-evolved, which is seen from their early flowering in February – sparks of colour in wintry, cold weather.

Here’s a few which I shot snaps of in my mother’s garden a couple of weeks ago, they were the first flowers to appear and are still freshly and growing even now. I love their silhouettes against the blue sky, and the pretty hues of pinks and whites. And soon, while the other flowers which are brighter, bigger and sunnier will soon take your attention, while the magnolias’ petals will fall and close, the tree will remain, waiting until next early spring to be the first to show its new buds again, which will grow into these beautiful magnolias. : )

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