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 vag, 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 spilling forth from the elegant, compartmentalised washing basket I deemed it fit to buy, 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 are 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 surprising 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!")