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!")

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. 

(Pause)

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. 

Friday, 26 May 2017

7. "Strong not Skinny"




When I was a young whippersnapper, it was all about being thin. Kate Moss ruled the world and belly tops were for displaying flat, desert like, stomachs - not an abdominal to be seen. Obviously, I didn’t particularly enjoy this skinny obsession and I never could hold down an eating disorder, but there it was.

Thankfully, Ms Moss’ remarks that “nothing tastes as good as skinny feels” have been largely discredited through the introduction of sourdough pizzas and Deliveroo. But I can’t see that the replacement mantra is really any better.
Now before you have a go, which I know you will, I accept that “strong not skinny” might be better for us physically. It's good to be strong, as long as you’re not a sumo wrestler or one of those really big rugby players who push everyone out the way. For anyone young, impressionable and liable to obsession, it’s surely better to focus on strength rather than starvation. But psychologically speaking, I don’t believe that blazoning “strong not skinny” across pictures of toned buttocks is doing us any good at all.
There is a small proportion of the world who find being skinny very natural. There is also a small proportion of people who enjoy going to the gym and who genuinely take pleasure in building muscle (I know, it's a mystery to me too). For everyone else, both desirable physical forms are a pain in the arse to acheive. And whether you’re telling us to be skinny, or telling us to be strong, it all rests somewhere in the realm of preachy and annoying.
Also, being strong requires a great deal more physical effort than being skinny. Being skinny can be done in bed. To my mind, it always has that going for it.
If the phrase was “healthy not strong”, things might be different. After all, healthy can come in many shapes and sizes and is something we can all aspire to, whether we’re bulging with muscles or as puny as a new-born lamb. But then, alliteration is very pleasing.
"Healthy not Hangry"?


Tuesday, 23 May 2017

6. Taking Pictures of Food


There are people on Instagram who have so many followers, they get paid to take pictures of food. And good for them, I suppose. OK, they're not exactly furthering humanity, but who is these days? (I have a friend who’s a neuroscientist, so I suppose she's a fair example, but I try not to think about her).
There are also people who take pictures of food for Slimming World/Weight Watchers/insert the dieting organisation of your choice. There is an online community who finds that sort of thing useful and I ain’t gonna say that’s wrong.
But, what about everyone else?
What on earth are they doing, leaning over the table, annoying their companions? Nothing of any use to man nor beast as far as I can tell.
At first, I put taking pictures of food into the same box as selfies – the box labelled “heinous developments of the early 21st century”. But now, I’m not too sure. I can understand selfies because 99% of us are extremely vain and self-centred and we enjoy looking at our own faces/hot-dog legs/whatever body part the kids snap these days.
But food? Pictures of food? If I keep saying it, will it make sense?
Apparently not, because I say it a lot.
Very occasionally, I see a picture of food and think it’s worth looking at. Perhaps you went to a Michelin starred restaurant and the plate is akin to something hung up in the Tate – I’m very slightly not bored by looking at that (although, let’s be clear, I could live without it).
But your toast? Your avocado? Your smoothie, the palid colour of grouting paste?
Once upon a desperate summer, I worked in a sweet shop. Every day a poor, anorexic girl, used to come in and stare at the sweets, knowing she’d never eat them. Have we all become sweet-starers, gorging ourselves on photos of foods we’ll never know? Do we flick through food-porn and lust after exquisitely-iced doughnuts, as illicit as a threesome in a parking lot.
Is food better than sex?
I digress.
Perhaps it’s just plain old-fashioned showing off. The avo post tells me you’re healthy, the cocoa nibs tell me you're on-trend (I miss the days when blueberries were on-trend, it was a simpler time). The fusion hot-dog in a plastic tray tells me you go to pop-ups and have more fun than me. It's just an extension of all that social media is - a desire to have others care about what you do and, it seems, what you eat. If Instagram was a personal depository of photos that no one else would ever see, would anyone take pictures of their food? I doubt it. My family have plenty of photo albums stuffed in a cupboard, but as far as I'm aware none of them contain pictures of the brunches my father ate in 1996.


Or perhaps we simply have nothing better to do these days. After all, if you take pictures of food you can claim eating as a hobby, right?

Thursday, 18 May 2017

5. Kindles

mconnors@Morguefile.com

Don't get me wrong - people who won't move with the times are annoying. There's nothing worse than nostalgia for the good old days because, most of the time, the good old days were shit.

Now that's out of the way, I shall carry on moaning about the good old days. And today's piece of technology I can't/won't/haven't actually tried to embrace - Kindles.

The problem I have here is that there's no way to verbalise my dislike for Kindles without sounding like a bit of a dick. Describing the pleasure that comes from reading a physical book smacks of a high-school student writing a poem for National Poetry Day. It’s all rough paper beneath the fingers, curled edges, the soul and character of ink on the page.


In search of some more concrete reasoning I asked the internet to tell me the downsides of Kindles. The best I found was somebody's lament of “inability to skim as effectively”, which, along with sounding like some sort of sexual criticism, still feels like a pretty weak attack (as much as I love a good skim).


Slightly more compelling is the “death of the book-shelf” argument. If nothing else, books are useful decoration. A nicely displayed bookshelf makes you look intellectual (if you hide the easy books at the back).  And there’s something about a living room filled with books that speaks to Sunday mornings with coffee and croissants and sun pouring through the french windows (never-mind that you live in a third floor flat with a smokers' balcony that overlooks a rubbish pile and a man playing the accordian outside Sainbury's.)

And anyway - what is the point of  a Kindle? Does anyone really read so many books that they need to carry more than one at any given time? I know Kindle books are cheaper (it's something I'm cross about), and I know you get them instantly rather than waiting for the postman - but isn't a bit of delayed gratification a good thing? And think of all the posties you're doing out of a job. I don't see any of you writing letters for them to deliver.


Ultimately there is no way to express my dislike for the Kindle without embracing the tortured soul of the high-school poet. I like the feel of a book in the hand, the cosiness that comes from curling on the sofa with something tangible, something without a screen that can be bent and dirtied. And yes, the ability to flick back easily to the last chapter is a joy. Let us skim!

Wednesday, 10 May 2017

4. Candles


dpawatts@Moreguefile.com


There was a time when I would go round to someone’s house and only notice the smell if they had a wet dog or, like the old lady who lived round the corner, had smoked heavily for so many years the tobacco had seeped into the wallpaper.  (That lady also had a statue of a panther in her living room - visiting her was disturbing in so many ways).

 These days, no matter how small and grotty my friends' apartments might be (it's London after all), my nostrils are caressed on entry by the most gratifying scents. Jasmine, gardenia and pomegranate vie for attention. In the bathroom, sitting politely on the top of the loo, is one of those pots with bits of wood sticking out, gently releasing its fragrant oils. The chemical fumes of a Tesco air-freshener will no longer cut it - olfactory bliss is the order of the day.

 I can’t tell if this is a modern phenomenon or if it’s simply to do with getting older. While I think nothing of blowing £60 on a new dress, I baulk at spending the same on some scented wax. My friends however, have grown up. A fragrant home is as valuable and uplifting to them as a fantastic new frock. But isn’t it all a kind of vanity? As we learn to care a little less about our appearance do we transpose those hang-ups onto our unwitting homes?

I now find that I am ashamed of having people over if there aren’t candles guttering in every alcove. I linger in the homeware section of Selfridges, agonizing over the unbelievable expense of a DiptyQue candle. These ancient lumps of light have been elevated to exorbitant luxuries and we have lapped it up, almost as if their heady aromas have hypnotised.

The other day I caved and bought a candle whose wick crackles to emulate the sounds of a roaring fire - what kind of middle-class hell have I succumbed to?



P.s. The restaurant, “Restaurant Story”, serves a candle starter. The candle is made of beef dripping that, when lit, forms of a pool of delicious molten fat in which to dunk bread. Now that’s my kind of candle.   

Friday, 5 May 2017

3. Instagram



I recently did something wonderful and I’m going to advise everyone to do the same. I don’t expect anyone to follow my advice, they rarely do. But, I will get a perverse satisfaction in knowing that they will be all the unhappier for it.


This is what I did - I went through all the people I follow on Instagram and I unfollowed every fashion blogger, beauty blogger, “lifestyle blogger” etc. Essentially, I deleted anyone extremely pretty and/or thin, thus removing from my life a load of advertising hidden in prettily-tinted photos.


Then, because that didn’t leave me with much going on, I followed accounts to do with nature, geography, space and “real-life” people with much harder lives than mine.


The result - I am so much happier!


Because I tend to have a little Instagram peruse in bed when I first wake up, to gird my soul for the tedium of another working day, it’s essential that the messages I am feeding myself are nourishing - like muesli with no added sugar. Every morning I get up, my mind fed and watered by images of rolling hills, armadillos and the like and, miraculously, my appearance diminishes in importance. Do I really think an Iowan farmer, driving his tractor through fields of golden corn cares that I’ve gained a few pounds? Does the giant otter care about acai bowls and matcha lattes? Of course not, it has to eat 2kg of fish a day just to survive, you fools.


And if things are really bad I can read a story about extreme hardship in Peru and tell myself to get over the inexplicable spasm of morning anxiety and be thankful for each day.


The only fly in the ointment is that the sponsored posts are slow to catch on to my transformation. An Adidas clip popped up yesterday featuring someone called Carrie Kloss. She was working out and then taking pictures of herself. She doesn't care if you take photos of her sweating, but that my friends, is because she looks like a beautiful, sweating angel. The post failed to convince me that I too would look like a beautiful, sweaty angel if I only I would wear Adidas.


So I win.

Funny that it doesn’t feel that way.

Tuesday, 2 May 2017

2. The Balance Festival



There is something called the "Balance Festival" occurring in London on 12-14 May. It brings together "well-travelled foodies, world-class fitness trainers, awe-inspiring yogis, and real people who share a common vision - to achieve a better self".

Achieve a better self, I thought, as I passed an advert for the Balance Festival on the tube, what a laudable goal! The festival must be full of suggestions as to how we can help the poor, give more to charity and create a life in which, every day, we do something fundamentally useful for society.

Eager to improve myself, I looked it up as soon as I got home.

It seems I got it all wrong.

You see, what I hadn't realised was that the path to a "better self" is discovering "3 refreshing (and sustainable) coconut water recipes" and attending talks on how to "get toned the right way" (because god forbid you get toned the wrong way). Festival-goers can also "explore how best to live in the moment, be mindful and enjoy a more fulfilling life balance".

Look, I don’t have a problem with this festival existing (OK, I do have a bit of a problem, but I’m all for live and let live). I suppose one could argue it's not doing any harm. It promotes a healthy diet and, full disclosure, there's some sort of triathlon with a bit of small print encouraging donation to an African charity.

Back in England, I remain unconvinced that this festival, its incredibly beautiful and thin exhibitors and the expensive products they promote, are a positive thing for people with normal bods stuck in a cycle of hating themselves (i.e. everyone). I also doubt that it is the answer to our country's obesity problem, not least because anyone more than a pound overweight wouldn't dare set foot in the place. But, I concede that the Balance Festival is probably not the devil incarnate.


What I do have a problem with, and reserve the right to complain about, is the way the festival is marketed. I have a problem with middle-class, wealthy people, deluding themselves into thinking they are becoming better people by attending this festival and drinking green juice. I have a problem with this festival being seen as anything other than self-indulgence - with added kale.

I can't abide the notion that someone is "better" than someone else because of the way they eat, exercise, and/or meditate. People attend this festival because they want to look hot first, be healthy second (if being healthy comes into it at all). It's an extension of our teenage obsession with looking like the girls and boys in the magazines. It is advertising.


I am convinced that the "clean eating"/"wellness" phenomenon is intended to create division, the opposite of the "clean" people being the "dirty". (Unless of course, the whole thing is actually a conspiracy by date growers to take over the world, in which case, good on them).


I resent the fact we have replaced the word "skinny" with "lean" and it's suddenly OK to tell people how they should look. I can't take the sentence "if plant based cooking sounds over-complicated" seriously and I dislike the lack of scientists at an event so over-stuffed with scientific claims about food I'm surprised the Daily Mail isn't an exhibitor. If they prove that turmeric cures cancer, i'll drink it. Until then...

I am also slightly perplexed by the concept of "real people" which pops up on a number of occasions on the website. Perhaps this is to distinguish between the "well-travelled foodies" et al on the one hand and the heaving masses of disconnected normals on the other.

If you would like to attend the Balance Festival you will find it at the Old Truman Brewery. Needless to say - not the best place to go if you're hoping to bump into me.

P.s. If you do go, please report back on the "boys of yoga".