Friday, 22 December 2017

22. Christmas Presents

No one will listen to my plea to scrap Christmas presents this year, and I simply can't understand it.

I've heard that some people, who manage to maintain an enviously childlike excitement about Christmas, still enjoy giving and receiving presents. But for those of us with poor imagination and male relatives, it's a cruel practice. 

First, there's the giving.

When I asked my husband what he wants for Christmas he said that he tends to buy himself things he needs and so by definition a present is something he hasn't realised he needs.

Well, I'm sorry - if he's not privy to his own subconscious desires then surely I can't be expected to know what they are. A good relationship is not sustained by an ability to detect the other person's unrealised taste in shoes or aftershave. At least, I hope not or we're screwed. I refuse to believe my lack of ideas is a bad sign for our future life together. Keep the mystery alive, ay?

The more I think about it, it's frankly discourteous not to come up with at least one gift idea when someone asks you. All my family leave with me with nothing to go on (men - amiright?) and so I'm left scrabbling around the basement of my imagination, and let me tell you, that basement is full of dust.

I went to Selfridges the other day thinking maybe it would be easier to get everything in one go, under one roof. After half an hour I fled, sweat dripping down my back, buffeted by the sharp corners of huge yellow bags. Hell. 

Then, there's the receiving.

If we wanted presents we'd be able to think of something to say when we're inevitably asked. Curiously, there's any number of pointless material goods I want throughout the year but as soon as December hits it's agony thinking of anything. I morph into a puritan minimalist - there is precisely NOTHING I want. Eventually I think of something, just to help out the poor sod who's asking, but it turns out that whatever I've said is not the sort of thing that person fancies buying, rendering the whole debacle pointless.

Perhaps I'm just a terrible present buyer which begs the question why anyone makes me continue this expensive endeavour. Let's just give each other an African goat and be done with it. Perhaps they like to watch me suffer?

Monday, 23 October 2017

21. Recycling

I am currently embroiled in a battle. A recycling battle. I am convinced that someone in the block of flats next door has stolen my recycling bins, again.

The first time the bins went walkies I blamed myself because I hadn’t put our number on them. An amateur move, I admit. I put it down to experience, ordered new bins and painted our number on with Tipex (an ordeal which culminated in the ruin of a pair of leggings). 

Next Sunday evening I took the bins down and left them in front of the flats next door (that being the only place on my street where they can go), only to find that they had disappeared again come Monday. Something was afoot. I peered through next door’s frosted glass and saw at least six green bins stacked in their hallway. 

There was only one thing for it. I girded my loins and wrote my first ever passive-aggressive, middle-class note. 

“Please leave the green and brown boxes with the number 43 written on them outside, so I don’t have to re-order them. If it wasn’t you who took them, my apologies!”

I decided against adding a smiley at the last minute. Which may have been a mistake because nothing happened. No one came grovelling to my door, no neighbourly friendships were struck up, we did not laugh it off with a glass of wine.

Days passed, and then, as I was walking past the next door flats, a woman came out. I pounced. It's not like me to accost people, but we all have our limits. 

“Excuse me, but I think one of those boxes is mine,” I said, pointing at the tottering stack behind her. 

She told me she had received my note and checked the bins and none of them had 43 on them. A likely story. 

You might question why I am telling you this frankly mundane story. The fact is, the whole debacle is feeding into a much bigger problem - I have insane guilt about the environment. 

I’ve always been a guilt-ridden person, but caring about the environment is a new thing for me. A few years ago I wouldn't have given two hoots about it (and I can admit that, because I am unflinching in the face of my own failings). 

Now, things are different. I internally flog myself every time I throw an avocado pit into the main bin and not the food one. I think about the poor fish nibbling on poisonous plastic. I picture mountains of rubbish reaching to the sky, which weirdly is a line from a song we used to sing in primary school. Gone are the days when I could sing merrily about toxic waste and not feel partly responsible.

But, like everyone else (apart from Al Gore I suppose, but I read somewhere he's a complete knob), I am too set in my world-destroying ways to do much more than the bare minimum when it comes to being more environmentally friendly. And I do love a good Deliveroo and all those delicious things that arrive in individual plastic containers. 

So, as ever, I am left feeling perplexed and unworthy. Is this what adulthood is going to be? More and more guilt until I explode and all that's left is a sad little blob of guilt and attempted righteousness? 

P.s. I wrote this yesterday and you will be pleased to hear that my recycling bins have now been returned (I suspect by the woman who I pounced on). I gave them a spank for going off with a stranger and they have promised not to do it again. 

P.p.s I think the real lesson to come out of this is that we should all talk more and never write passive aggressive notes. I stand by the position I took when I lived in shared university accommodation - pass-agg notes should always be ignored and, if necessary, incinerated.

Monday, 18 September 2017

20. Leaving Parties

If you’re single, congratulations, you can leave parties whenever you damn well please. You can just get up and say, “I’m off!” 

There’s no whispered consultation to be had, no negotiations, no, “OK, we’ll just stay for one more then”. 

When you go to a party with a partner it’s a whole different ball game. You arrived together and common practice suggests that you must also leave together.

But here’s the thing - deep down, everyone knows that people in relationships hate and revile each other when they are drunk. It’s like watching your favourite person morph into an embarrassing, unsympathetic, gyrating lout before your eyes, or perhaps a weeping psychopath with unresolved childhood issues.

Unless you have both mastered that rare art of getting drunk at exactly the same rate, chances are, that on any given occasion involving alcohol, one of you will get to a point where you think, “He/she is definitely drunker than me. I have no desire to catch up. I want to leave within the next half hour.” 

So, you make your way over to said drunken partner and try to subtly communicate your desire to leave. This bit has to be subtle because you don’t want everyone to know that you’re the bore of the relationship (which you obviously are, look at the evidence).

But your charming partner probably doesn't want to leave. They’re having the time of their life, and why shouldn’t they? 

Inevitably, you spend the next two hours swaying back and forth, sipping a drink that starts to taste like tar and which crawls down your throat with all the ease of treacle, holding your eye-lids open and wondering if this relationship is the worse mistake you’ve ever made as you watch hubby/wifey slut-drop, cry, fight with people harder than them, flirt with the DJ etc. 

You may well have a row in the uber home (in fact I'd say it's quite likely), a row which only you will remember and therefore provides no cathartic release whatsoever. As soon as you get into bed you find yourself wide awake, bullied to the edge of the mattress by the deadweight limbs of your beloved, planning the cutting speech you will deliver in the morning which usually begins with, “We can’t go on like this.” 

But, I’m here to tell you - there is another way. (Besides a ruthless dumping, which is always an option.) 

"What is this other way!?" you cry.

Well, I'll tell you. It’s called - the separate exit.

If I get tired or bored at a party, I turn to my party companion and I say, “See you later babe, have a great night, don't ring the doorbell when you get in.” (I actually never say babe, I just wish I did. But it gets to a point where it's too late to start that kind of thing.) 

I’m being deadly serious when I say that some of the happiest moments of my life have been those times when I have arrived home alone and have sunk into a double bed that’s all for me. Utter, utter bliss.

The drunken one might turn up and start setting fire to things in the kitchen at four in the morning, but place an extra comfy sofa in a strategic position and they should remain outside of the bedroom.

Also, earplugs. 

The result of my master plan for health and happiness? I wake up refreshed and discover a quiet, hungover man on the sofa who I genuinely wish well in life, and we carry on our lives in harmony.

Seriously, this is the best relationship advice I’ve got. Don't waste it.

Friday, 8 September 2017

19. Lethargy

It’s half seven in the evening as I write this, and the only thing I have done today that could really be classed as an “achievement” is eating a giant steak and ale pie - with mash. 

The only reason I can even count that as an achievement is because I was raised to believe that finishing a plate of food deserves high praise and cries of “Didn’t you do well!”. When in fact, I have performed an act of gross over-indulgence, deserving only of mild alarm.

But now, as the dark evening sets in, to rub it in my face that I’ve done nothing with the daylight hours, I feel ashamed. 

Real Talk! (I've always wanted to say that.) My life is a constant battle between, on the one hand, wanting to be quite successful and have lots of people notice me and, on the other, constant boredom and tiredness. 

Thing is, I reckon I could be pretty awesome if I put a bit of effort in. I don’t have a problem with underestimating my potential. It’s the execution that I find tricky. 

I frequently daydream about winning an Oscar, writing the next Harry Potter, presenting Blue Peter, or outing a terrorist ring for a major newspaper - the usual. 

But then, I remember - those things aren’t for the lazy and sleepy. 

I blame TV. And sofas. And beds. If none of those things existed I’d be the prime minister, probably.

Oh, and alcohol - that goes without saying. 

Sometimes, I think about my death-bed. What will I think as I lie there, contemplating my life? 

(Hopefully nothing to be honest. I aim to be pumped full of drugs and then to drift off on a happy, delusional cloud. But that sort of honesty gets in the way of my point.) 

Will I care about all the achievements that I failed to achieve? Will I look back and think - if only I’d tried a bit harder, been less lazy, I could have lived my dreams. 

Or will I just think - sure, I didn’t get much done, but it wasn’t that bad. I didn’t hurt anyone, I went to some pretty good restaurants and had a few decent holidays.

I really wish I knew the answer because, if it’s the later, then fuck it, I’ll give up the minimal effort I put in now and attempt to live the easiest life possible. 

But what if it’s the former and I die miserable?

Sometimes, I think I might want to have children and then foist my unfulfilled dreams onto them. Because, if you push something out your vaj, that’s automatically achieving something, isn’t it? And then I can chill out. 

Or is that not how it works?

Friday, 1 September 2017

18. Bottomless Brunch

Sit back and relax. Put your feet up. Grab a cup of tea or, better yet, a glass of prosecco.
This is the 'Tale of the Bottomless Brunch'. 

Brunch and prosecco - unlimited prosecco. That’s all it was, so simple, so sweet. 

In the early days we truly believed. We believed we had found the answer to the empty weekend and its tired routines. 

We asked, “What is happiness?” and we answered, “Excess. In all things, especially alcohol.” 

That is how it began.

We discovered the joy of sipping, sipping, occasionally nibbling. Yes, we paid over the nail for a basic eggs Benedict, but it came with the security of unlimited alcohol and who can put a price on that? 

We didn’t realise that the cracks had started to show. 

Until we did.

We discovered that bottomless brunches were subject to rules and regulations. Gone were the carefree days of fizzy freedom.  We struggled to comply. We fought back and things got ugly.  

Yes, we could have unlimited prosecco but it could only be poured while we were still eating. Once the last morsel left our plates, the booze dried up. Brunch became a strategic game of small bites and staggered ordering. 

We learnt that to nab the bottomless deal we had to order from a “special” menu and eat at least two courses. 

“But it’s brunch,” we wept, “a famously one-course affair”. 

We had to contend with the judgement of irritable waiting staff who became tight-fisted and absent, hiding in corners, clinging to open bottles like newly discovered treasure. Brunch became a constant battle to get their attention and an awkward aversion of the eyes when they finally deigned to pour. 

"I’m not an alcoholic love, I just really want a seventh glass of prosecco at 11 in the morning - ALRIGHT!?"

The rest of the day passed in a hazy stupor. It seemed impossible to sober up and yet impossible to get any drunker. We were stuck in the dizzy limbo-land of the bottomless brunch, mildly anxious for no real reason. We were relieved to go to bed. 

Soon we began to cry, “no more!”. 

Never again will a Saturday afternoon be ruined by the morning’s excess. We will drink in the evening as god wished us to do and let sleep and darkness disguise the horrors of alcohol. 

And that is how the bottomless brunch was laid to rest. 

The End.

Friday, 25 August 2017

17. Cocktails

At school, and throughout most of university, we viewed cocktails as the ultimate luxury. The only time we ever drank them was on 18-30 beach holidays where they were dirt cheap, predominantly orange juice and came adorned with umbrellas and glittery cocktail sticks that we would stick in our hair in a cute and alluring way - the boys went wild - not. Back in London, spending £8 on one drink was inconceivable when you could get pissed on a bottle of Sainsbury's vodka for the same amount.

The only time we ever indulged was when a bar offered a happy hour, 2-4-1 deal. As students with nothing better to do we would arrive at 5pm and prepare ourselves for battle. Within an hour the bar was carnage, the cocktails were terrible and, by the time you’d beaten someone up to get back to your seat, were half empty and thoroughly diluted by the melted ice - they were good days. 

Post-uni, the most exciting thing about my first pay check was the realisation that I could afford a decent cocktail outside of happy hour. It felt frivolous but marvellous to blow hard-earned cash on such tasty alcoholic treats. But, it wasn’t long before cocktails took on a whole new meaning and simple pleasures became complicated. 

It used to be that I could name a handful of cocktails and that’s all that was needed for a good time - Mojito, Cosmopolitan, Daiquiri, Caipirinha - tried and tested combinations of sugar, citrus and alcohol, invented some time in the 1800s (so the internet says). But these days a cocktail bar isn’t worth its stripes unless it offers at least ten bizarre concoctions, each involving multiple ingredients that it will take the bearded bartender fifteen minutes to remember (or look up in a ring binder more often than not) and then drip, dab, shake, stir and bludgeon together while the queue of punters grows ever longer and more distressed. 

If I ever commit a crime, suffer a raging nervous breakdown, end a relationship on the spot or brazenly wee myself in public, I’ll more than likely be queuing for a cocktail as I do it - such is the level of stress involved. 

For the real deal, why not head to Nightjar near Old Street where you can sample the 'Amsterdam', a cocktail composed of Ketel One Vodka, Ale & Hemp Syrup, Grand Marnier, Tulip Essence, Lemon, Gouda Foam and Poppy & Cinnamon. Other Nightjar drinks involve the addition of 'cornflake smoke', 'mugwort herb', 'bamboo shoots', 'grilled rice powder', 'banana bread beer' and 'smoked candy floss'. I suspect these are not real things and that Nightjar has used a random words generator to create them, safe in the knowledge that no one’s going to kick up a fuss if the mugwort is missing. 

Nightjar may be the most extreme example of this trend but the problem is, everyone’s at it to some extent. The people behind the trendy restaurant, Dirty Bones, are the proud creators of the “Dirty Mary”. Their website provides a description: “Rimmed with sour cream Pringles, our signature cocktail of Ketel One Vodka, tomato, lemon & pickle juices and hot sauce.” 

I don't know how to put this, other than to say, that sounds proper grim mate. I love a Bloody Mary. And who doesn’t love a sour cream Pringle? Only a fool. But in a world that make sense - never the twain shall meet. I’d rather not cough up Pringle dust while I try to enjoy a restorative hangover cure. It’s bad enough that the whole debacle is already doomed by the lack of Worcestershire Sauce (or as it’s charmingly called in some foreign lands, English Sauce). 

These days, when I misguidedly part company with my money and receive one of these fancy-pants drinks, I can't help but think - sure, it’s instagrammable as hell, but do I want that thing inside me? (We’re talking about cocktails here). 

Call me a party pooper if you will, but the next time I’m in a cocktail bar I will eschew the menu, march straight to the bar and say, 'Make me a whisky sour please and be quick about it'. At the end of the day, I’m not rich enough to continue paying for rose-infused, willow-smoked surprises that may taste OK but may also taste like someone has picked eight incompatible ingredients and shoved them in a glass. I want alcohol, stirred with sugar and lemon, because I know it’ll taste damn good. 

P.s. Dirty Bones also offers customers ‘Instagram Kits’ to help them take the pictures of their food. It includes a portable LED light, a multi-device charger, a clip-on wide-angle lens, a tripod and a selfie stick. There really is nothing for me to say.

Friday, 18 August 2017

16. Wanting to be famous

I want to be famous. 

Don’t get me wrong, I don’t want to be famous all the time. There must be times when fame is a pain in the bum. 

For starters, I’d have to seriously up my game appearance-wise. A friend of mine once bumped into me during a Sunday morning dash to the shop and genuinely mistook me for a homeless person (no offence to homeless people intended, but it’s hard to avoid looking like you sleep on a street when you do, in fact, sleep on a street. I, on the other hand, have no excuse). I favour a tracksuit/pyjama combo on most days or, when I have to venture further than a hundred metres from the house, a conglomerate of whatever skirt and old shirt I can find, preferably clean and not plucked from the festering mound of clothes sat on top of the compartmentalised washing basket, but that’s only a preference, not a hard and fast rule. (I value comfort above all - the unrealistic pencil skirt expectations of the corporate world were one reason for my hasty retreat from that sphere). 

In short, the paps would have a field day with me. I know we’re into low-key celebrities these days, but there’s low-key and then there’s hairy-legs-and-greasy-hair. I imagine that somewhere betwixt the two is a line the magazine-reading public don’t want to see crossed. 

Also, if I was famous, I’d feel obliged to use my voice for good. If a million people listened to my every word I’d have a lot of power. If I was clever, I would use that power to recommend beauty products and get a big, fat commission from the beauty brands. But what’s more likely is that my interfering, guilt-ridden conscience (which snuck into my skull, fully formed and ready to go at the age of ten) would ruin that for me. 

Everyone’s listening to you, it would whisper, you better highlight the plight of orangutans, stop eating palm oil, provide an opinion on current affairs and attend protest marches (or those other marches that don’t have an obvious point but everyone marches because they’re empowered and radical). As it is, no one listens to me, so I can use my voice to write rambling diatribes about my meaningless life and, I can stay inside - hoorah! 

But, at other times, I long to be famous. I long for it so bad. I know it’s an unacceptable thing to admit. Once you reach eighteen and have failed to exhibit a talent that could lead to fame and fortune, admitting you want to be famous screams of a disturbing need for validation from strangers and therapists should be involved. Nevertheless, it’s what I want, and I reckon everyone else does too. 

You’ll have your own reasons, but the reason I want to be famous is because of airport arrival halls. 

Stay with me. 

I find arrival halls deeply depressing. The build up is too intense. There’s the wait by the baggage carousel; the gnawing feeling that your bag was dropped into the Atlantic en route and then the relief when you see it chugging towards you. There’s the straight-faced walk through the “nothing to declare” customs bit, aware that you have not got a sweet clue what should be declared and dimly wondering whether the woven Colombian table mats stuffed in your case should be declared or not - not that there’s anyone there to check, so who cares. Finally there’s the grand reveal. You turn a corner and are a celebrity for a nanosecond as all the waiting people turn their heads. Then they realise you’re not who they’re waiting for and lower their eager eyes, dropping their welcome home banners and bunches of flowers. They’re not for you - no one’s here for you. 

If you’re lucky they’ll be a cabbie holding a whiteboard with your name scrawled across it - that’s always nice. But imagine if those crowds were desperate to see you. Imagine them calling your name as security guards usher you along, like the precious cargo you are.

Imagine being so popular, you require staff to protect you because people literally can’t stop throwing themselves at your feet. It wouldn’t feel depressing to come home from holiday then. It would feel amazing. 

I tend to pop to the bathroom after a long-haul flight to check the damage. Not bad, I think. Hair slightly ruffled, but in a charming, distressed way. Eyes a bit bloodshot but nothing some dark glasses wouldn't solve, if I owned any (which I would, if I was famous). Purposeful walk with a wheely suitcase - nailed it. It’s not half bad, I think. And it’s all a waste. 

If only I were famous.

Thursday, 6 July 2017

15. The “for her” section of Marks and Spencer’s birthday card range

For the benefit of my legions of international readers (ha ha), M&S is a sort of middle-class mecca, selling everything from quality food stuffs to multi-pack knickers and everything in between. And let me tell you, nothing hammers home the fact that gender stereotypes are thriving more clearly than the “for her” birthday cards I discovered there the other day.

I was forced to go to M&S when my boss, forgetting my vital role and mistaking me for some sort of errand-boy, sent me to buy a birthday card for one of our colleagues. I wondered around in a daze (for no real reason, that’s my general demeaner during the working day) until finally I stumbled upon an absolute nightmare of butterflies, flowers and pinkness. The generic pastel-coloured prints brought on instant fatigue. I closed my eyes, stuck out a hand and grabbed at random (I got pink butterflies). A quick poke of the head around the corner revealed the boys’ section - all in blue.

Surely we are better than this? Surely we don’t really believe that girls only like pink and boys only like blue. Perhaps it says something about the average age of M&S shoppers. I don’t want to generalise, but older people are more likely to uphold this traditional colour designation, right?

I was on a train the other day and an older lady asked to borrow a pen in order to write out a birthday card. I told her I only had a red pen (because I did) and she said, “Oh I better not, it’s for a boy”.

See, I told you. Even red is under fire for spawning pink.

I could have taken my custom to a hip card shop, like Scribbler or Paperchase. Their “for her” section is less pink and flowery and is based mainly on alcoholism and eating disorders. You can spend your cash on inspiring slogans for the ladies in your life like:

“All We Need is Gossip and Alcohol!”

“There comes a time in every woman’s life when the only thing that helps is a glass of champagne”

“Gluten free, dairy free, fat free, Kirsty loves this champagne diet!”

They’re alarming in their own right but at least I’m not bored to tears by the sight of them. Though that fatigue could set in very soon.

The more you think about cards the more you start to doubt their worth and wonder if they’re part of a great conspiracy by corporations to rob us blind - a bit like Father’s Day or marriage or a university education. I’ve started to resent them to a disproportionate degree. This can’t be my great crusade in life – can it?

Sunday, 25 June 2017

14. "Checking in" on Facebook

I wasn’t allowed MSN Messenger when I was at school because my dad was convinced that paedophiles would use it to track me down and kill me. (When I was finally allowed into those hallowed halls everyone else had moved on and it wasn’t cool anymore, which is pretty hard to take, aged 15.)

We all morph into our parents eventually (hopefully not physically speaking, although an old family friend saw me recently and exclaimed “You look just like your father!”, so you never know - clearly lasering my moustache has had a negligible impact). It’s happened to me - my father’s fear has rubbed off on me and I harbour a natural suspicion for the internet and all its murky corners.

I’m always a bit shocked therefore when I see people “check in” to places on Facebook. The bit of my brain that is now my dad (it lives in the shed at the back) thinks, But everyone knows where you are, you’ll be killed!

More to the point, if you’re busy checking in somewhere my natural assumption is that you’re not drunk enough or interested enough by your companions to be having a good time. And why tag everyone else you’re with? I already guessed you weren’t alone, or if I didn't guess, you're past help.

The choice of places to check in to is also baffling. A quick glance on Facebook tells me that 68 people have checked in to “Kebabs and Fried Chicken” on the Old Kent Road - probably not something I’d advertise willingly - a donor kebab may taste great but it’s always tinged with shame. In my local area a number of people have checked into the bakery, the dentist and the doctor’s surgery. I can just about understand wanting to show off that you’re somewhere fun and interesting, but the doctor’s? Everyone will immediately wonder what's wrong with you. It'll be like when my dad really wants to ask why I'm going to the doctor but he can't, in case it's lady business. Do you really want people speculating about your repeat prescriptions?

When the feature was introduced in 2010 Facebook sold it as a “useful tool”, to let friends know where you are, check if your friends are nearby and to create “a trail allowing friends to see what the writer did there days or even years ago”.

A few things - if you’re busy checking which of your friends are nearby it begs the question, why didn’t you invite them in the first place? Also - calm down stalker. And the whole thing about creating a trail? Personally I’ve never found it that helpful on arrival at a given location to learn that someone else was there four months ago with people who weren’t me. Clearly I am missing the essential usefulness of the device.

The main flaw with checking in is that it opens you up to even more targeted advertising and who needs that. We’re all supposed to be scared of the fact that the Internet King's (I presume there are such people) are tracking our every movement, reading our every word and perving on us through our webcams. Though I’m not hugely concerned about this because my internet presence is so boring no one’s going to waste much time lurking around (I certainly do very little to get excited about in front of a webcam these days), I still don’t feel the need to fuel the fire.

All we’re really doing when we check in is a bit of free marketing work for whichever establishment we’re providing with custom - they saw us coming. ("Quick, Roger, you'll never guess what, we can sack the marketing staff, the customers are doing it for us!")

Sunday, 18 June 2017

13. Slogan T-shirts

Slogan t-shirts are in.

Due to my ceaseless following of fashion (I walked down Croydon high-street the other day), I can confirm that the fashion mags are not wrong about this.

What's apparent is that things have really stepped up a gear since my youth. When I was nine I had a baby-blue dress with the word “BABE” blazoned across my non-existent chest. I don’t remember slogans getting much more deep than that.

Now, a slogan is nothing if it doesn't seek to change the world. Fashion designers know this. Just check out Dior's famous "We should all be feminists" t-shirt, a real below to misogynists everywhere (at $700 a pop). At the cheaper end, head to Topshop, who offer a range of political or feminist slogans including: "Make a stand", "Love will save us", "VOTE", "Save the future", "Females of the future", "Real girls bite back", "Not your honey", "Femme forever" and, somewhat conversely, "Not my problem".

The concept isn’t new. Think back to MP Caroline Lucas' “No More Page Three” top or Harriet Harman's “This is what a feminist looks like”. More recently the US election spawned "I'm with her" t-shirts.

What's new is the sheer popularity of the tops and the fact that most of them aren't linked to a particular issue. Instead, for our convenience, they offer all-encompassing, meaningless phrases for everyday wear.

The Topshop website is where the power of a political slogan goes to die (a loud and shouty death). Unless you’re doing something radical in your t-shirt, you look like someone wearing a radical t-shirt while doing nothing radical. It's a bit like those pre-printed birthday cards for people too lazy to write. The bit on the inside that says "Have an amazing day!" carries zero emotion or meaning because it's been printed on thousands of generic, mass-produced bits of paper. At least with those cards, no one reads the printed words. When that empty message is plastered across your chest, people will read it, and they may judge accordingly.

These t-shirts are popular because popular people are wearing them, not becasue of some burgeoning political-consciousness in today's youth. Thousands of girls and boys, strolling the streets of England in these t-shirts, might suggest there's a movement afoot, a new generation with things to say, but I don't buy it. I wonder if women in the clothing factories of China or Bangladesh, working for low-pay and in poor conditions, laugh and shake their heads as they make t-shirts for rich, western girls, printed with the words "Love will save us". More likely they don’t raise an eyebrow; they’re used to empty words.

Some of the slogans flogged by top designers are plain irritating. A recent article in Vogue informed me that Henry Holland's' "I’d Get on All Fours for Michael Kors" shirt, "guarantees a smile". To me it suggests that the wearer is willing to take it from behind by a fashion designer, simply because his name is stamped on the bag of every lady in London. It also suggests that the wearer wants people to know that she has money. But isn't that the point of Michael Kors bags anyway, so I guess it links rather nicely.

I've read quotes from several top designers and magazine editors, claiming that these t-shirts can make a difference; that they are important in a divided and fractured world. Frankly, I wish they'd stick to pretty clothes and give it a rest.

Tuesday, 13 June 2017

12. The Guinness World Records

Do you know what’s happening on 5th July in London’s Hyde Park?

I do.

Thousands of people are gathering in an attempt to beat the Guinness World Record for the largest high-intensity interval training class (otherwise known as a HIIT class). Hoorah!

The current record stands at 2,387 people and the aim is to reach 5,000. The class, led by “The Body Coach”, Joe Wicks, must combine “alternating high-level intense exercise with lower-level recovery exercises, and each participant will have to exercise continuously for an entire 30 minutes”.

Now, I don’t seek to comment in a derogatory way about any individual because, as everyone will tell you, I am a kind and warm-hearted person. Joe Wicks may do as he pleases - may he never eat carbs before exercise again.

My issue here is on behalf of that proud and upstanding institution - the Guinness World Records. Quite frankly, records as dull as this one give the Guinness World Records a bad name and anyone attending this event should think long and hard about their contribution to society. If I worked for the Guinness World Records (and who knows why I don’t, come to think of it), I’d say, “Buck up your ideas chaps”.

I used to love the Guinness books when I was little. Those huge, hardback, shiny covers promised so many weirdos and amusing animal stories. I’ll never forget the man with the most piercings on his face or the man with the longest fingernails, they were a creepy but much-loved part of my childhood. No one can say those guys weren’t dedicated to their art; no can say they didn’t suffer. OK, so I wouldn't want to be trapped in a lift with either of them if I’m brutally honest, but that’s not the point. The greatest stories are always slightly disturbing.

The plus side of all this annoyance is that I have discovered the website of the Guinness World Records and now my life has meaning. You will be relieved to hear that they are still fighting the good fight, even if they do have to resort to boring, fitness-themed events to drum up a bit of publicity. I have just spent a happy hour reading about the longest ever noodle (548.7m), the fastest tortoise (0.28m per second), the longest moustache (4.29m - say whaaaaaat), the most ice-cream scoops balanced on a cone (121!), the most cosmetic procedures (47 - held by Cindy from the US, obviously) and the largest pizza (1261.65m). Unfortunately the pizza was gluten free, which goes against my beliefs, but it was bloody massive. These are proper records.

P.s. All participants at the HIIT event will receive a “branded water bottle”. Let no one say I don’t pass on all the alluring details.

P.p.s. I spent a far less entertaining few minutes on The Body Coach website - turns out there’s something about before-and-after pictures of people in their underwear that disagrees with me. It might be because none of the photos include the people’s heads; it’s just so many nude torsos in varying states of fat-loss. But then, I’ve never been a huge fan of other people’s flesh, be it skinny or rotund. Also, some of them look quite good in the “before” photos to me, but what do I know.

Saturday, 10 June 2017

11. Haul Videos

Of all the nightmares modern life has to offer, the haul YouTube video surely has a VIP seat in hell.

Don’t know what I’m talking about? Type “haul” into YouTube and you will enter a world you’ll wish you never knew existed. You’re welcome!

Just in a case you need a summary, a haul is when a girl goes shopping for clothes, beauty products or toiletries and then films herself either trying the products on or holding them up, all the while maintaining a banal patter of chirpy chatter. Sometimes they’re specific (see “Primark haul” or “Lush haul”), while others are more general (see “Huge haul” or “Winter haul”).

It’s a phenomenon that’s for sure. Millions of young women dedicate their time to sharing their shopping antics with others. Some of the pretty ones even make money out of it – paid for shopping!

With hauls, bigger is better. The very use of the word “haul” makes me think of industrial diggers. I'm imagining an army of heavily made-up thirteen-year-olds raiding Primark with a stolen JCB. These videos project the message that owning stuff makes you happy, clothes make you happy, money makes you happy. If you’re too poor to haul – unlucky love.

OK, most of the hauls are from cheap shops, but even shopping at Primark adds up if you treat it like an all-you-can-eat buffet. In one video I watched (strictly for research purposes), the vlogger bought three of the same item in slightly different patterns. The item was a throw. No one needs three poor-quality throws. Fashion-wise the message seems to be -  you can get away with cheap shit, as long as you have ten tons of it.

As someone who is addicted to buying clothes I can confirm that they do not for happiness make. Every time I buy something I think, “This is it! This is the item that will make my life complete”.

The first time I wear it I feel transformed. The second time, I catch site of myself in a mirror and realise it’s hideous, I’m hideous, I have made a terrible mistake. I spend the evening picking the hairs off the offending garment in the hope I can still return it.

You have to wonder why these videos are so popular. On the face of it they sound hilariously dull. If a friend tried to talk me through the contents of her wardrobe or, even worse, her bath bomb collection, I’d scream, “Put it away love, or at least fetch me a bottle of wine!”.

But the terrifying thing is, there’s something addictive about haul videos.  You can waste an evening on it; you can waste a life on it. They suck you in like a black hole. Perhaps it’s the calming way the girls produce garment after garment from a hidden bag, like a fashion-conscious Mary Poppins, or maybe it's the rhythm of their voices as they point to a scalloped collar or a beaded headband that they are obsessed with (they are obsessed with a lot). Beneath a well-known vlogger’s haul video one girl commented, “My flat-mate was out tonight, so glad I could have dinner with you instead!”

I guess that’s what it’s all about - having a chum, someone to turn to in the dark of the evening, when life is otherwise depressing. (Just don’t think too much about the fact that the person on the screen has not got a sweet clue who you are, otherwise you really will be depressed.)

It’s not a huge surprise that these videos are overwhelmingly the domain of young women, but it is disturbing. These vloggers do and say nothing inspiring - they shop and they spend. Oh, they’re positive and bubbly sure, why wouldn’t they be? They’re young, privileged and beautiful. But then that’s not how it works, is it. Young, privileged girls are so often miserable and image-obsessed. I’ll go out on a limb here and say that I don’t think haul videos are helping. A lot of the top vloggers have opened up about their anxiety problems – in ten years’ time will we all be asking, “Which came first, the haul or the anxiety?”.

Probably not, but we should be.

Tuesday, 6 June 2017

10. Weekend Plans

If I ran an office (which, to be honest, I aim never to do), my first act would be to implement a policy which states that on a Friday no one is allowed to ask anyone else what they’re doing at the weekend.

Why? Because hearing about other people's plans for the weekend is the pits and everyone knows it.

When someone asks me my plans for the weekend I pick one thing and share it in sparing detail. Still boring obviously, but short – short is key. Occasionally, I'm doing something quite interesting but I choose a generic activity because it won’t involve follow-up questions. It means I can quickly escape the tedious conversation and go back to whiling away the Friday hours in peace. (I do realise that this attitude may be peculiar to my particular brand of small-talk aversion and I don’t necessarily recommend it.)

The problem really kicks-in when I have to return the question. Sometimes, as a fun little game, I leave the other person hanging and see how long I can last. Let me set the scene for you:

It's Friday afternoon in the office and I want a cup of coffee. I keep my eye on the kitchen and choose my moment carefully. When the coast is clear I make a dash for it. I do a subtle dive for a mug, a hasty swipe for the coffee granules, a practised running of the boiling water. And then the fridge door betrays me. Milk in hand, I step back and realise I have company. Unlike me, this person does not avoid human contact.

"Hi," they say. "How's it going?"

"Yea, good thanks," I say, "glad it's Friday".

(conspiratorial nodding and chuckling)

"What are you up to this weekend?" they ask.

"Oh, it's my friend's birthday and we're going out for dinner," I say.


I stand with my cup of coffee, resilient.

The person stirs their tea.

(Slightly uncomfortable silence now)

I stir my coffee.

And in my head I'm thinking, don't ask them, don't ask them, you don't care. 

But then the pressure of societal norms comes crashing down.

"How about you?" I say.

The sassy-bitch part of my brain goes, noooooooooooooooo.

I know I’m in trouble when the response begins, “Well, tonight I’m going to…”

It means that they are not only going to tell me what they’re doing tonight, they are also going to move on to Saturday day, Saturday night, Sunday day and Sunday night. They will lay out their plans in painstaking detail including the length of time it takes to drive up to their mother's in Gloucester. Why do they think I care? I know I asked but come on, that was obviously not because I wanted to know.

It's not as if the answer is ever interesting. It invariably involves brunch, seeing friends, dinner, a gym class, a wedding.

No one ever says, "I'm going to go out and get totally pissed and sleep with a married man on Saturday."

No one ever says that.

Another response I often get is, “I don’t really have any plans this weekend which is sooooo nice once in a while because it's sooooo rare isn't it?”.

Is it? Only if you're the sort of person who foolishly makes too many plans and that's your cross to bear mate. And anyway, I certainly hear it too much for the so-claimed rarity of the situation to be true. What’s so shameful about having no plans anyway? 

Next time someone asks me what my plans are for the weekend I might respond with, “I don’t have any plans this weekend because I hate plans and I don’t want to see anyone.”

Then maybe they'll know not to ask me again and I can get on with staring into space/reading the internet (in my case Jay Rayner's restaurant reviews, but only the really bad ones).

I only get enjoyment from small-talk when it's with my friends. They can tell me boring things and for some reason I’m still interested - perhaps that’s what friendship is.

Wednesday, 31 May 2017

9. Street Food

I’m so over street food.

There are many, many things I like about eating and it turns out that most of them are ruined by the street food experience.

It’s taken me a while to reach this revelation. Many a time I have conned myself into believing I am enjoying an evening of "street" dining (not usually in a street but in a run-down courtyard in East London
or a railway-arch/shipping container south of the river). But those halcyon days are gone.
I like sitting down. That's what it boils down to. I'm not one of those people who happily stands on the tube. My life is always improved by a seat. Do I have webs of spider-veins spreading across my thighs because my short legs rarely reach the floor and I have crushed them through so much sitting? Yes, but such is life. We must make sacrifices to appease our laziness.

There are sometimes seats at these street food events but they're usually communal and, let's be realistic, no one enjoys touching thighs with a stranger (OK, it depends on the stranger, but we’re speaking generally here). The choice of food is overwhelming and stressful. There’s one guy doing a burger, one guy doing a pizza and one guy doing a curry. But If I wanted a burger, a pizza or a curry, wouldn’t I be better off going to an establishment specifically designed to serve me that cuisine? A place with far better facilities and cleanliness standards?

The chefs are all trendy and far too young to be convincing. I always spill food down my sleeve because I'm trying to balance a drink in the other hand in a desperate bid to get drunk enough to enjoy myself. There’s always someone serving mac 'n' cheese with added lobster. Why? The lobster is a fine and beautiful thing, not improved by the liberal application of bulk-bought cheese.
There’s a definite whiff of innovation for innovation's sake (my local establishment sells something called "chick’n" (it's vegan chicken - these are the times in which we live). In an attempt to be original, the stall-holders all invent some sort of sauce, the sauciness of which only compounds the difficulty of eating standing up. There’s normally one desert stall, run by someone who clearly does not eat desert but gets a sick pleasure out of feeding it to other people. It's always the way with anyone who bakes cupcakes.
The result of the whole debacle is that I wolf down my food in record time just to be rid of its burdensome presence.
Nope, it's the restaurant life for me chums.

Sunday, 28 May 2017

8. Weddings (part 1)

With this short post I have reached the pinnacle of hypocrisy; I am scaling the Everest of self-depreciation. I can only complain about the modern-day wedding with any authority because I am throwing one, a term I use intentionally to reveal that what I am in fact doing, is hosting a massive party. A party to which everyone I invite will be obliged to attend, even if they are out of the country; a party that celebrates me and the fact that I got lucky and stumbled (literally, I was very drunk) into a relationship good enough to justify the risk of entering into legal relations; a party that brazenly ignores the sexist and oppressive origins of marriage that I have chosen to disregard.
The modern wedding is, let’s be clear, utterly ludicrous. My parents popped to the town hall, went for a walk round the park and my mum wore a skirt-suit. That we even consider spending the amount we do these days suggests that a sort of generational insanity has taken hold. And don't go thinking it's enough to simply spend a ton of money, you must be crafty and artistic too. A quick glance on Pinterest or on any wedding blog will reveal the true horror of the scene. A wedding is nothing these days without handmade wooden signs, make-your-own-Bloody-Mary wedding favours and photo-booths, complete with dressing-up box. For my own wedding I am hand-making 100 origami butterflies. As an otherwise sane, disparaging person, something is afoot.
Then there’s the fact that it’s pretty sickening to ask people to celebrate the fact you’re in love with someone else. The other day, a mate of mine informed me that she's been invited to a party to celebrate her friend’s relationship  - an in-lieu-of-actually-getting-married party, if you will. I was immediately outraged and wondered who these weirdos were, only to be smacked in the face by the realisation that I am doing exactly the same thing. 

But then again, am I?

I’m certainly taking a bigger risk. Breaking up when you are married is more complicated than breaking up when you are not - there's money on the line. And although marriage is pretty pointless (unless you need a visa and I've heard there’s some sort of tax benefit – snore), there is something to be said for formally committing to someone else. The risk that we'll have to engage lawyers to disentangle ourselves from each other lends a bit of gravitas to the event.

But still, why make such a big fuss? How does it come about that someone like me, for whom public displays of affection are bile-inducing and who finds the very idea of openly declaring non-platonic love in front of friends and, even worse, family, is so happy to do so in front of 90 people, some of whom I don’t know that well. Obviously I love my husband-to-be (thank god, or this would be a very expensive mistake), but I would love him with or without the big country wedding and the poofy dress, so I can’t really claim it’s got much to do with him.
After much self-reflection, I have come to the conclusion that the reason I am so happy to throw a massive wedding is that I enjoy being the centre of attention and, as an adult, the opportunities are slim. When I was a kid I always wanted to be an actress (not willing to let crippling shyness deter me). Perhaps this wedding is my way of recapturing the dream of stardom - the aisle shall be my stage, the speech shall be my glittering d├ębut (yes, I am giving a speech, down with the patriarchy!).
Thankfully, I have no problem admitting that I enjoy being the centre of attention and so I don’t have to pretend that my wedding is anything other than a vehicle to achieve that dream. It’s so much easier to do something barefacedly self-indulgent if you’re happy to admit to being barefacedly self-indulgent.

p.s. My brother bought me a wedding magazine as a hilarious joke. In it, there is an article entitled "Our seven day eating plan for stress-free, radiant brides." The diet will ensure that I glow from the inside out, with "no bloating, clear skin, glossy hair, better quality of sleep and tons of energy". Well that's one worry to cross off the list! If only someone had told me that persistent acne, digestive problems and crippling tiredness can be cured by "harissa eggs on pea pesto courgetti". And stress too! Personally I can think of nothing more relaxing than a regimented eating plan. Throw in a candle and some dolphin music and call be a Buddhist. 

p.p.s Did you know that good fats like eggs and coconut oil are good for your sex drive? So that's the consummation sorted. Chuck me an egg-mayo sarnie and I'm your gal.