Monday, 30 November 2009

The bitch in my belly

I would seriously like to confront whichever numpty came up with the name Irritable Bowel Syndrome.

Since it’s a condition that affects so many of us – as many as one in 10 people at some point in their lives, actually – you’d think someone could have thought to give it a name that’s slightly less humiliatingly ugly and ridiculous to say in public or to your nearest and dearest. “Sorry if I’m a bit quiet tonight, darling one, my bowel is super irritable tonight.” Fabulous. Why not ‘sensitive colon’? ‘Grumpy gut’? ‘Traumatised tummy’?

Actually, that last one is not acceptable, and I retract it, because it taps into the annoying tendency for anything bowel-related to be portrayed in the media as childish, a silly little nothingy affliction of the ‘tummy’. Nobody above the age of eight should ever say the word ‘tummy’. I’ve said it many times, and I hang my head in shame. “I have a funny tummy tonight.” How stupid does that sound? We all know what we mean. And it ain’t funny, that’s for sure.

Advertisers of medications for bowel troubles seem to be in a constant panic attack about how to address issues of the bowel, with each different marketing angle branching out into yet more ridiculous imagery, in some preposterous attempt to avoid offending anyone’s sensibilities with the actual science of it.

“Restore your natural rhythms,” we hear, while watching a woman dancing the salsa. How does this translate to our everyday communication about constipation? “Sorry, boss, I can’t come into work because my natural rhythms are simply all over the place.” I think we all know that wouldn’t go down well.

Even worse is when they try to suggest that talking about your bowels with your friends is the most natural thing in the world, as in the advert in which a group of women chat about their hard stools over cocktails and show each other the tablets they carry around in their tiny bags along with their credit cards and tampons.

Then there’s the whole arena of probiotics as a digestive aid, and the advertising of these has always based itself on the juvenile notion of ‘friendly bacteria’, as though we are children who might be a bit scaredy-waredy about the rumblings in our tummies and cannot cope unless we look at probiotics as friendly little superheroes who have come to the rescue.

Look, you can’t make bowel trouble funny and silly, because that pisses off the people for whom it’s a regular blight on their lives. Equally, though, you can’t be too scientific about it because there is definitely still a taboo around using words like ‘bowel’ in polite conversation. We’ve all had that situation where we’ve been unwell and someone’s asked “what’s wrong?” It’s not at all embarrassing to say you’ve got a headache or a bad back or a cold, but what do you say when it’s been a terrible bowel problem? You just can’t utter the necessary words, so it’s “Oh, you know, just a bit of a funny tummy, really.”

Since I was diagnosed with IBS as a teenager, I’ve been through the requisite stages: embarrassment, intolerance (emotionally and nutritionally), grief, defiance. For some time now I’ve been at the stage of acceptance. She’s in there, my bowel that doesn’t work properly, and she isn’t just irritable, she’s a right mardy old bitch – the bitch in my belly – and she’s clearly not budging, so I may as well just learn to live with her and give her what she wants.

Sometimes she can take dairy and actually wants chocolate; sometimes she simply says “girl, oh no you didn’t just give me milk”. Generally she’s better when she’s fed with gin and hot meals and she doesn’t like cold stuff very much. She takes one look at the medications I swallow down to her in the hope that she’ll shut up for a while and she says “Nu-uh, ain’t no helping me. You just gotta wait till I’m ready to calm down.”

There you go; there’s my personal image of my bowel and the bitch that she is, and I feel that she’s a character I can use when talking about my problem. “Sorry, darling, I’m feeling a bit rough tonight; it’s just the bitch in my belly.” That’s more like it. Read more by Maddie.

Sunday, 29 November 2009

Anger in the aisles

I braved the supermarket yesterday, an experience that always gets me jittery. Will they have what I want? Will it be on offer? Will I make it out alive?

Trolleys. I hate them. If they’re not wobbling all over the place – I always get the one with wonky wheels – they’re being pushed by maniacs. Going to the supermarket, for most people, seems to mean leaving their brains at the door. I want to ask them: why do you leave your trolley blocking one side of the aisle when you’re looking at stuff on the other side? Why do you ram your trolley into people’s legs? Why do you suddenly just stop, in the middle of an aisle, when you know that people will be walking behind you? It’s sheer madness!

On this occasion, I avoided most of this – or so I thought – by sticking to the clothes section. The clothes aisles in this particular supermarket are narrow and stocked quite high. I found myself looking at one end, then moving round and going up the opposite end of the aisle, because people kept blocking off the middle of the aisle, ignoring any of my attempts to politely get past. The clothes browsing took twice as long.

I had a friend with me, and we decided to have lunch in the supermarket. The food itself was grand, and only £6 for the two of us (!); however, when we came to sit down, there were no clean tables. Who knows what the table cleaner was doing, but nothing was cleared. We sat down at a dirty table which remained like that until we left. She managed to clear all the tables around us, but not ours. I fumed my way through my £2 sausage, beans and chips.

My supermarket experience could’ve been 10 times better had I actually said anything to anyone, but I guess my British reserve enjoyed my silent anger much more. Read more by Sian.

Bloody apologising

I was recently involved in a disagreement in which I was obviously inalienably right and the other person was completely wrong. After two days of self-indulgent posing – “I’m not angry, I’m just disappointed” etc – I was extended an olive branch, only to find they’d pencilled all over it “I don’t really mean this”. Ugh.

I’ve never understood why people are so reluctant to apologise for things. My mum, for example, infuriatingly never admits to being wrong, not even about actual empirical facts, and this churlish tendency of hers generally leads me into outrageously childish behaviour to try to make her admit fault. But sadly, chasing a 54-year-old woman around the house, trying to make her look at an internet printout which proves beyond doubt that Paul Shane was in Hi-de-hi not Lovejoy, is not a situation in which anyone can truly say they’re the winner. Even if they are right.

It’s a tendency I don’t understand at all. Who wants the burden of being infallible? Furthermore, I always thought of saying sorry as a ‘Get out of jail free’ card; once you’ve said it the other person automatically has to stop harping on about how you’ve stained whatever and why can’t you be more careful blah blah because, if they don’t, they are not accepting your apology in good grace. Once you’ve apologised, any further berating by the other person means you can be annoyed with them and settle comfortably into the driving seat of the injured party, which they’ve helpfully warmed up for you by droning inexorably on about stains.

The comedian Daniel Kitson astutely summarises that much conversation is essentially a big game of ‘let’s see who’s best’ and I suppose that, for some, admitting to being wrong and apologising is seen as losing the game. These people are wrong and I know that because I am definitely right.

All relationships basically involve some form of sacrifice; time, money, effort, picking someone up from the station when you really can’t be arsed, not putting mushrooms in shared meals even though they are lovely, looking mental by scaring pigeons off the pavement for someone you love who is scared of them ... the list is pretty endless. But these are teeny weeny in comparison to other sacrifices; sacrificing pride for example, as in just bloody apologising.

And it is because of this that apologies are slippery little bastards. Getting an insincere apology can be more infuriating than not getting an apology at all – but then, a vast number of apologies are insincere. I doubt I’ve ever really been sorry for being late, I’m certainly not sorry when someone else has walked into me, I’m rarely sorry when I can’t hear what someone has said because they can’t be arsed to enunciate and I’m sure I’ve never sincerely meant apology to an employer, unless it was “I'm sorry you don't feel the need to pay me more”.

The worst culprits are people who use it as a preface – “I’m sorry but ...”; “I’m sorry to have to say this but ...” – which has never in the history of the world been an admission of regret and is universally said by someone with such tangible delicious self satisfaction that they are moments away from masturbating, so unsorry are they.

However, it’s equally annoying to be confronted with someone who is so loving the duvet of smug self righteousness that they actively make it difficult to apologise at all. I have, in the past, said the phrase, probably in some second-rate Tennessee Williams’ heroine manner: “You’re not apologising because you think you’ve done anything wrong but because you don’t want me to be cross with you anymore.” That might be thunderingly accurate but it’s not exactly helpful, serving only to infuriate the person who obviously had to swallow some pride to do an apology they didn’t believe in in the first place.

Since uttering those words, I have realised it’s precious and makes you a bit of a dick, basically the equivalent of saying to a boss: “The only reason you’re paying me is not because you think I’ve done a good job but because you’re legally obligated to.” Who cares? I should have taken it in good grace and to that person I am sorry. There you go, I just typed that – it's easy.

I am rapidly coming to the conclusion that the second someone utters the first words of an apology, whether I believe it’s heartfelt or not, I’ll just give them a cuddle and run off with my fingers in my ears, treasuring the delusion that, had I let them continue, the rest of the apology would have gone as follows: “I am very massively sorry, I have learnt from this that I was totally wrong and you are right as well as being generally brilliant and having excellent hair.”

I don’t need to hear that; that would be embarrassing. No one likes a sycophant.

Saturday, 28 November 2009

Here come the girls

Groan. It’s that time of year again, when we young, sprightly females are supposed to get all excited about the impending party season and start planning a vast wardrobe of outfits. Or, if we’ve been following the tips from the exceptionally condescending Gok Wan and from various women’s magazines and shop windows, we will be very busy building a sort of ‘capsule work-party wardrobe’ that can take us effortlessly ‘from office to bar’ with just the addition of some damagingly high heels and an itty-bitty clutch purse.

YUCK. Yes, the adverts on telly have started, showing gaggles of 20-something women all looking essentially the same, tarting up in tulip dresses of various colours, hair straightened, pins polished, trotting along to a Christmas party. “This is your time, gals!” the adverts seem to scream. “Get your legs out and have a little dance!”

I hate this. I hate it because it suggests that we are all the same woman. And that woman is trapped at her desk in her office all year round, wearing her work clothes, having a boring, repetitive life, until she gets released and becomes her ‘real self’ or, as one advert says, her ‘party me’.

Look, I like a party as much as the next woman. I even like getting dressed up and feeling glamorous. Of course I do. But I totally object to this image of young womanhood that seems to become prevalent around Christmas, showing us all giggling and wobbling about and thinking about nothing but sparkly clothes and hair, as though the rest of the year has been a constant round of serious tedium.

For me, the build-up to Christmas seems like the worst possible time to go out to more parties than usual. I mean, for one thing it’s blinking freezing outside. Gok Wan wants me to show flesh in a little dress? I can’t see that looking very attractive when my knees start trembling with the chill. The girls who do fall for the image of the ‘party girl’ are the ones we see teetering about town centres with no coats on – because they don’t want to waste their tequila money on a club’s cloakroom fee! Gosh, whenever I see one of those girls I just want to rush over and wrap my big coat around her.

For another thing, television is so good around Christmas. Who wants to go out in an uncomfortable outfit, stalking around in the cold, spending loads of money, when you could be snuggling down for Strictly Come Dancing, The X Factor or I’m a Celebrity...?

In my world, the Christmas season has no room for partying. Far from wanting to slip into some killer dress and go out and seduce, my aim is to thoroughly indulge from the comfort of my own home: eat lots of fabulous, seasonal food, drink well, sleep well, enjoy the company of my family, and keep warm. Ho ho ho. Read more by Maddie.

Friday, 27 November 2009

The plight of the unemployed


Becoming one of the 4.5 million UK unemployed has been frankly my most humiliating experience to date. And no, not because you can be spotted popping to the corner shop at midday in your pyjamas to buy a pint of milk for those endless cuppas, but because of the wholly embarrassing process of dealing with recruitment agents.

If you are a lucky enough – and it is pure luck – to get a call from one of these heinous monsters, they will chatter incomprehensibly down the phone to you before asking you to attend a meeting in approximately 15 minutes, on the other side of London.

You arrive in your suit, either because you have been outright told to, or because it is assumed you will, to find some run-down rabbit’s warren of an office on the fourth floor of a crumbling old building, usually in a swanky part of town. They greet you in practically their slippers and a dressing gown and from the word go you feel overdressed, out of place, and a total pillock.

They will ask you to complete a form which tediously contains identical information to that of the CV you have just emailed to them, but is apparently much more useful in your own illegible hand. I can only assume at this stage they are trying to weed out the candidates who eat the clipboard and stick the pen up their nose.

Then the real humiliation begins ... They plonk you in front of an antiquated computer and subject you to mind-numbingly banal or ludicrously impossible tests, and often a combination of the two. 15 minutes copy typing the six rules of good communication and they have the audacity to ask if you maintained full concentration throughout!

Then the outrageously obscure commands on Excel and Word which you are expected to perform instantly. Amazing that I have survived to the ripe old age of 24 without ever having created my own digital certificate for self-signing a macro before! Or my personal favourite: “Are the numbers 114286 and 114236 a) the same or b) different?” I only wish I were joking.

So you endure this torture, often receiving diddly-squat feedback, which really hammers home how utterly pointless the exercise has been, before the consultant sits you down and patronises you by telling you how perfect you are for this role, or for a role which may or may not appear on their desk in the next 12 months.

“You may well be rejected for a job you could do
with your eyes closed, hopping on one leg
eating a Curly Wurly, with a hangover.”

Now, I may have been sucked into this approach if whilst I had been taking my moron and/or computer nerd test the recruitment agent had not given precisely the same spiel to two other candidates who walked into the office to apply for exactly the same job! These creatures are notoriously two-faced, but telling three people they will definitely get the same job in the space of 15 minutes in front of each other takes them to a whole new level of despicability.

And if you do eventually secure a couple of measly interviews from all your draining persistence then you will endure the further degradation of having to reinvent yourself to suit the firm’s poxy values and ultimately abandoning all that you hold dear. You will lie and hear yourself do it and wonder how you will sleep at night. You will politely reel off facts and figures from the website when they are self-righteous enough to ask you “What have you managed to find out about our company?” And you will inevitably emerge feeling dirty and used.

To add insult to injury you may well then be rejected for a job that you know you could do with your eyes closed, hopping on one leg eating a Curly Wurly, with a hangover. “Another candidate’s skill-set matched our needs more exactly” – which essentially means they have a two-month GNVQ in photocopying rather than a cripplingly expensive degree from a prestigious university.

And you know what? They’re right. I certainly know which of those two candidates is the brightest.

Better dash; I have to complete an online hula-hooping test for an audio typing role based in Bromley. Read more by Cat.


Thursday, 26 November 2009

My hat differs from your hat

My biggest bugbear in language at the moment is the seeping in of the construction ‘different than’ instead of the correct ‘different from’. I think it’s an American usage, as I’ve heard it on US TV shows many times and also have a feeling my American friends say it. In UK English, it is incorrect and sounds so lazy it makes me flinch.

‘Different’ is starting to be used as though it’s a comparative word, where in fact it’s just an adjective, based on the verb ‘to differ’. So you’ll hear that something is ‘better than’ something else, which is correct, but then you’ll hear that it is ‘different than’ something else. It sounds horrible! “My hat is different from your hat” sounds so natural and neat because, of course, what I’m saying is: “My hat differs from your hat.”

I’m also grumpy about the ugly but increasingly prevalent ‘fed up of’. I actually saw this used in The Times the other day by a columnist I like and respect. It’s an expression that uses a literal concept of being fed with something to the point where you are full and feel jaded by it (picture feeling fully fed after a roast lunch) to express a figurative idea of having had enough. If you take the expression literally, you would never say: “I am fed up of roast chicken.” You would say: “I am fed up with roast chicken.” You have literally been fed with roast chicken. Roast chicken is the food with which you have been fed.

If I could convey to people who use this expression wrongly that the reason it’s a nice expression to use is precisely because of the visual imagery of being actually fed with something up to the limit, would they see that saying ‘fed up of’ is simply not doing justice to the expression? Read more by Maddie.

The idiots on the bus go round and round

Ugh. Having an altercation with a stranger in a public place is just awful, isn’t it? Sometimes, though, we Grumpy Young Women feel this irrepressible need to tell someone that what they’re doing is unacceptable. We don’t half make life awkward for ourselves, that’s for sure. Most people just get their heads down, keep calm and carry on.

This story takes place on the P4. Know it? All the way from Brixton to Lewisham. It’s a miserable place at the best of times, but it was also caught up in traffic and taking longer than usual, quite crowded because it was full of people going home after shopping in Brixton on a Saturday afternoon, and it was also pouring with rain, causing everyone to be sort of steaming and more irritable than usual.

This woman got on with her kid, sat down in the double seat next to me, and promptly switched on some kind of music player. Full volume. No headphones. The P4’s got this new sign up, next to all the ‘feet off seats’ and ‘keep free for the disabled/elderly’ notices, saying ‘do not play music out loud’, and this girl was sitting directly in front of the sign, blatantly contradicting it.

After about 10 minutes, I had really had enough of the jangly R&B thing she was playing - apparently to lull her kid into being calm and quiet - and I said to her: “Do you have any headphones?” She replied “No”, so I said: “In that case, would you mind turning your music off?”

Now, you might think I’m a moaning middle class idiot, and you’re quite right about that and I don’t care. If you don’t stand up to this sort of anti-social stuff then eventually it just wins. She was the one in the wrong.

“What’s the problem? Everyone’s talking on the bus.”

Interesting one, this. So her theory went that playing her music out loud was just a small extension of the general hubbub of people’s voices and therefore was perfectly acceptable. So, if I drink booze on the bus, I could defend that with “What’s your beef? Everyone drinks water on the P4”, or, if someone decided to have sex with their boyfriend on the back seats, they could pipe up with “Chillax, man, people kiss on the bus all the time.”

“Sorry, but this is a public place, and not everyone wants to hear the same music as you do," came my rather cringeworthy reply, after which I swiftly buried my head in my scarf and hoped we’d come to the end of this interaction. Unfortunately she began to mutter defensively at everyone else in the bus, and I caught one of her remarks: “She’s the only one complaining. She’s probably drunk.”

Would you have let that go? I’m afraid I did not. I turned and flashed my eyes at her. “I haven’t had a drink actually,” I began, lying of course. I’d had a Chardonnay at the Brixton Ritzy. “Why would you say that?”

“Don’t talk to me. Don’t talk to me. Don’t talk to me,” the woman replied, in potentially the most defensive tone I’ve ever encountered as a direct response to something I said. What do you say to that? If I’d started saying something I’d have got another “Don’t talk to me”, so it was pointless. I turned, hid and fumed.

“Thank you,” she said. She might as well have added “I win”.

It took her another five minutes but eventually I noticed the music had stopped and the bus was quiet. Woman on bus: 0. Grumpy Young Woman: 1. Read more by Maddie.