Monday, 2 July 2018

24. Makeup

Once upon a time, there was no such thing as Youtube. (The first ever Youtube video went up in 2005 and it featured one of the teenage founders at the zoo - it's really not worth watching, no really, don't do it). 

It meant that teenage girls had to learn how to put on makeup through a challenging, and frequently mortifying process of trial and error. It involved nicking foundation from mum’s cupboard, or possibly from Boots (ummm, just kidding). Many mistakes were made, green eye shadow being one of them. Baby blue eyeliner another. Navy get the picture. 

These days, there are more makeup tutorials online than you can shake a mascara wand at. It’s nice, watching smooth-skinned beauties play about with lotions and potions as they describe the “literally life-changing” effects of a tinted moisturiser, and say things like, “I’m just blending this cream into my eyelids, right up to the crease.” 

As ever though, I have my doubts.

You see, when it comes to makeup, I believe that a certain amount of natural intuition is the best weapon against looking a touch clowny. It’s the same with clothes. Just as a short, generously thighed gal should steer clear of oh-so-fashionable calf-length culottes, so should some people never wear orange lipstick. In short, fashion is not our friend and trends conspire to make us look ridiculous. 

The problem is, these Youtube tutorials make out that everyone can copy the same makeup style and still look good. There are tutorials that promise to make you look like Emma Watson or Taylor Swift or Bella Hadid that never acknowledge that those people have had their makeup meticulously matched to their faces.  
It’s nothing to do with attractiveness, it simply comes down to skin tone. One of the most formative books I ever read about makeup (okay, the only book I ever read about makeup, I do have a life you know) was called Colour Me Beautiful (available in all good book shops, by which I mean, Amazon). It's an excellent tome, published some time in the 1980s. 

The book asks a series of questions and then divides everyone into four seasons depending on skin tone, hair colour etc. It then provides a set of colours to suit each season. So, a black jumper that looks striking on a Winter will only wash out a rosy-cheeked Summer. Brown eye shadow that would compliment an Autumn, will look like poo when smeared on the eyelids of a Spring.

The book is, it has to be said, quite eighties. Some of the hair styles are frankly intimidating. But these women knew their stuff. Most importantly, they knew that blindly copying some else’s style is not a recipe for ravishing beauty.

Another thing the book offers is a sense of simplicity. Less is more and other such cliches apply. Is it me, or are there an awful lot of products around these days? Whenever the opportunity presents itself on the morning commute, I watch women go through makeup routines of alarming complexity. Pot after pot of flesh-coloured goop emerge from heaving, powdery sacks, probably home to more bacteria than the average toilet seat. At best, the products simply disappear into the general mass of stuff already on the face. At worst, they don't.

You see, humans are fairly good at seeing. It means we can normally tell what a person looks like beneath their makeup. An eight-out-of-ten might jump to a nine with a bit of mascara and concealer, but a nine is where they will stay, even if they apply fifty more products. And that is why, from now on, I shall be eschewing any product that calls itself "highlighter" with a firm hand.

P.s. I’m talking about real life people here. As we all know, people on screen are a totally different kettle of whatsits. And that is the trouble with screens. Whichever fool said the camera doesn't lie must turn in his grave every time someone applies a filter.

I’ll tell you what doesn't lie - sunlight. Which is why it’s very important to make anyone you admire for their looks stand in direct sunlight for as long as it takes for you to feel less bitter.

Monday, 12 February 2018

24. Twitter

I feel unqualified to use Twitter.

It reminds me of living in university halls where the chief currency in social situations was one’s ability to crack a pun and engage in wisecrack banter. It was like a never-ending  game of witty one-upmanship. Then, and now, the whole thing makes me want to lock the door, lie down and read a classic novel.

Thing is, I’ve always been crap at puns. I’m not sure I’ve ever made a successful pun in my life. Sadly, it was mostly the blokes at uni who were good at them. I'm starting to wonder - did they practice? Is there a place where boys go to learn puns, banter and the self-confidence to use them? Is there an old pun-master locked in a basement somewhere who'll give me the gift of the pun?

Don't get me wrong - I'm hilarious. I just don't pun.

Then again, maybe I'm better off out of it. Like most things in life, there’s a few good bits to Twitter. But in general it’s just a load of people pushing their own agendas, re-tweeting meaningless aphorisms and abusing famous people for being fat/left wing/female - the usual.

Every now and then there's a "movement", created by the temporary proliferation of a hashtag (we won't get into the ins and outs of hashtags here because I have neither the time nor the motivation to debate it or dredge up past harassment). But more often, when something big happens, the chief goal on Twitter is to say the funniest thing possible about it and then wait and see who wins the game. 

I just have this sneaking suspicion that the whole thing is a fabulous waste of time. 

Saturday, 13 January 2018

23. Trolls

Let's enter the confessional shall we. I've always liked the idea of airing my sins. 

Once, several years ago, I wrote a snarky comment on someone's blog. It was one of those aspirational lifestyle blogs in which a woman makes money from good bone structure and a willingness to wear a bikini on the internet. And I don't know what happened, let's blame it on a bad day, but I just thought, fuck you and your success, I'm going to make an utterly unnecessary remark about this unjust situation. If I remember rightly, I said something along the lines of: "Don't you ever have to work?" 

Not the most heinous comment the internet's had to contend with, but it was indicative of something pretty bleak lodged in my soul; the internet had brought out my darkness. Embarrassed to admit I was quite enjoying the blog, I felt the need to attack it. The next day I was filled with remorse, but mostly, with shame. 

There's nothing sadder or more shameful than a troll. But most of us harbour the impulses that lead to trolldom. We follow people that we find annoying. We stare at people who we "love to hate". Most of us don't bombard the victims of our secret disdain with hateful comments, but if we wrote down the thoughts in our head they'd sound pretty sour. And yet we go back for more. We voluntarily read and look at things that annoy us, when all we really have to do is just - not look. But not looking at trash on the internet is like trying not to gawk at a car crash.

The internet has provided our troll-y thoughts with a place to call home. Most people manage to resist the call to put their thoughts to the page but many people apparently cannot. The comment section under any piece of journalism is a trove of nastiness. 

The first time I wrote a piece on the internet I received, not exactly a torrent, but a small trickle of abuse. The piece was about my time as a lawyer and the commentators told me I couldn't write, was talking a load of utter rubbish and was clearly an idiot. Perhaps they were right (only joking, they were obvs wrong) and I was thrilled by the attention (everyone knows boys are mean when they fancy you, right?) but why were they bothering to harass me? What was in it for them? 

I love a bit of hearty debate as much as the next woman but there are fewer skillful arguments to be found in comment sections than there are coloured gowns at the Golden Globes. 

It got me thinking. The site I wrote my piece for was aimed at lawyers and most of the people commenting were presumably the sorts of people I used to work with. People who, on the face of it, don't spend their time flinging bile at strangers on the internet. In short: THE TROLLS WALK AMONG US. 

It seems too simplistic to say that all trolls are nasty people, or complete weirdos. Evidence, including my own shameful tale, suggests that a proportion are normal people. Which makes the sheer level of vindictiveness even more alarming. Is a troll made, or is a troll born? Do we all secretly hate each other? 

P.s. There is a South Park episode in which Kyle's dad becomes a troll which neatly encapsulated my suspicion that the trolls walk among us (and are probably someone's dad)...

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?