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17 July 2019updated 21 Sep 2021 6:30am

First Thoughts: Live-tweeting Love Island, puppy love, and why even as a teen in Ohio I knew about Boris

By Sarah Manavis

Like millions of people around the country, I have spent the past six weeks watching Love Island. And, like any good millennial, I have spent each episode religiously posting my bad analysis of the programme on Twitter. My timeline hasn’t been inundated with any complaints about this practice, nor is it particularly unusual for journalists to live-tweet the show. However, one reader felt differently, and sent me a lengthy email detailing his shock at my enthusiasm for the reality programme.

He – and based on the content, I presume he – started with the subject line “Conundrum of being a snob” in which he initially wrote a quite flattering set of paragraphs about my work as a digital culture writer. He kindly said I opened his eyes to a new world he’d otherwise never know about and said he found my work insightful and even enlightening. But then he went on to detail the shock and horror he felt at discovering that I watched, of all things, Love Island. “I just can’t contain the perplexity that someone seems to genuinely, non-sarcastically enjoy that TV show. And that person happens to write the articles that I read!”

So it is with regret that I must inform men on the internet: some of your favourite commentators do watch Love Island. And, in fact, some of them even do so with something approaching unhinged enthusiasm.

Carrot and shtick

With the coronation of Boris Johnson nearly upon us – words that, as I write them, fail to compute in my brain as actual fact – I have been reflecting on just how well Johnson’s bumbling buffoon shtick has worked for him. As an Ohio teen, I was relatively engaged with the non-American world in comparison to my peers, but even I couldn’t tell you much about Britain’s political figures beyond the Royal Family. However, the one British political export I could name at 15 years old was the next prime minister. His bad hair and goofy demeanour charmed not just me but much of the country, with his anecdotes about London (and his 2012 Olympics zipwire stunt) on The Daily Show with Jon Stewart. As fooled as I feel now, I have to hand it to him: even in the depths of the late-Noughties Rust Belt, a Midwesterner could have picked out his awful blond mop in a line-up.

Sugar rush

Despite my incredibly pale skin, blonde hair and American accent, half of my genes are Greek. My dad and grandparents took a boat (yes, a boat) to America in the late Sixties and have split their time between my native Ohio and their native Corinth for the past 50 years.

Corinth is an incredibly working-class area, home of the now mostly destroyed Ancient Corinth, and has some of the best beaches you’ll find anywhere on Earth. I’ve spent idyllic childhood days there eating oranges and walking through apricot orchards, and it has been hidden away from tourists. That is, except for one particularly keen and notorious tourist – none other than Alan Michael Sugar. Yes, the knighted and ennobled billionaire Apprentice host seems to be the sole celebrity to have taken an interest in my ancestral village, most recently live-tweeting his third trip through the Corinth canal on his mega-yacht.

Going stir crazy

When my boyfriend and I got a puppy in September last year we knew it would be somewhat limiting. It would mean going out less, a few more expenses, and the end of weekend lie-ins with 8am toilet trips. But we did expect our puppy to have the body of, well, a 12-week-old. Instead, Martha has the back-left knee of a cockapoo pensioner, meaning at the end of June we had to take her in for intensive surgery.

While she’s doing great now, her recovery period is six weeks, meaning that we’re only about a third of the way through the gruelling process. Martha can’t jump on furniture or go upstairs, and for the first week had to be kept on a lead, even inside the flat – full Fifty Shades of Grey style. So, at the age of 25, I’ve crept into the habits of middle-age – spending all my free time watching an excitable infant like a hawk and doing my best not to go completely insane.

The one way I’ve learnt to combat my stir-craziness is through cooking. And, after discovering an Asian supermarket about ten minutes away from our flat, we spent the most of one recent Saturday prepping a pan-Asian smorgasbord. We made mandu (Korean fried dumplings), gai hor bai toey (Thai deep-fried spicy chicken wrapped in pandan leaves), and a homemade ginger ice – all of which were stunningly good. And while I would love to say I got our recipes from a traditional, authentic cookbook, the embarrassing reality is that all of these knock-out recipes came from none other than the Hairy Bikers, the white, northern English cooking duo who found fame through recreating British comfort food classics.

The one escape I did get in recent days was to have breakfast with my mom in west London, at the justifiably trendy Snaps + Rye, in the north end of Notting Hill. It was an affordable, stellar brunch that lived up to its “Top 100 Restaurants in London” hype. It’s worth a visit if you’re ever in the capital.

In with the new

Later this month, the New Statesman launches our first-ever weekly newsletter dedicated to everything but politics (I’ll leave that to Stephen Bush and his team). It will feature some of your favourite NS writers, such as Amelia Tait, Anna Leszkiewicz and Megan Nolan, and will cover everything in the world of culture – from books to art to pop culture to memes. Dropping weekly on a Friday morning, it will give you the best of the Culture and Back Pages alongside fresh analysis of the week’s trends – and some useful recommendations. 

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This article appears in the 17 Jul 2019 issue of the New Statesman, The Facebook fixer