Thursday, 31 December 2009

A Miscellany of New Year Melancholia

SAM PECZEK: I still don’t get excited about the apparent glorython that is the rolling on into yet another year of pointless human chaos.

I’ve long accepted that my life is an unremitting cycle of redemption and despair, and at no other time is this little gem more evident than during these particularly festive days. For the past three days I’ve been blighted with a virus that has rendered my usually accommodating stomach into a hostile warzone in which no foodstuff can remain for more than a few precious minutes before being liquidised and evacuated with startling efficiency. The tricky thing is, I feel fine a few hours later, and so have no way of knowing whether it’s safe to nibble anything until those gloriously tense moments which follow. Yes, I could just grit my teeth and fast my way through it, but that’s a somewhat grim option after the first food-free day when your stomach is starting to eat itself and everyone around you is tucking in merrily to all manner of feastsome fodder. Every time I die a gruesome little death and every time I am born again.

I’m starting to feel sort of invincible, save for those agonising bathroom interludes when it’s all very touch and go. I’ve entered a philosophical phase where I have been able to see my bathroom-centred adventures as a distilled mini-version of life itself: pesky virus or not, how many December days have I felt that this time, this time I’ve gone beyond the point of no return, only to discover that, after the gluttonous storm, a week or so of humble living serves to wash over the damage until the next year. Or my birthday. Or a boring Tuesday afternoon.

Speaking of festivities, I still don’t get excited about the apparent glorython that is the rolling on into yet another year of pointless human chaos. People are telling me to make plans; in fact, they like to make me feel bad about not having any plans, or not having any that are sufficiently painful and hedonistic. But why all the fuss? Even if we overlook the fact that time is sort of fake and meaningless, it’s still just another year. It’s not like we haven’t all seen our fair share of ’em. We don’t get quite so excited about the end of every week ... oh. So if every Friday is reason enough to drink ourselves into a bleak yet reassuringly familiar oblivion I suppose it makes sense that seeing another year to its grisly end is sufficient excuse for a blowout on a larger scale. The futility of our feeble existence endures, even as the world decays around us with growing determination.

Tis true that numerous self-obsessed bastards (ie. pretty much everyone) deem this a prime time to reflect and refocus. Beyond the vapid and the personal, there’s always the world at large to look back on in a sort of “yay! We didn’t bomb our crumbling little ball of rock and waste this year (despite the best efforts of certain folk) so let’s wreak a touch more havoc on the very last night of this year, just to help nudge our collective obliteration along a bit further” way. Think of it as a head start for next year. We’ll nuke this fucker yet.

We humans are also suckers for the notion of starting again. This is because people are not only twats, but miserable ones. Nothing is good enough; it’s all creaking along and falling apart, often getting in the way of other hobbling atrocities and making our dark little days all the more tragic and toilsome. January is the darkest of many months, but also the most magical, for it is the month of when all those changes that we think about but never sort out supposedly gleam with new potential (they don’t really; like all hopeful things, it’s pure delusion).

Needless to say, I loathe resolutions. It’s like doing up your hypothetical house just before giving it to someone else. Why only get your shit together once a year? I demand constant regeneration! We should either sort it all out or let it all rot. Pick a side and stick to it.

Even though I’m not plotting any intentional must-dos, that doesn’t stop the world outside from intervening. Oh yes, at the dawn of our next year I have to find somewhere new to live, not because I want to, but because the landowning powers have decided this would be the most amusing time to chuck the rent children out of house and watch them scatter in the directions of ever more destitute abodes. No doubt I’ll grumble at length over this later, once new developments raise their ugly stumps.

In the meantime, I wish you all well. Not that it makes any difference, since we’re all screwed into our hopeless cycles. Like vermin trapped in our respective hamster wheels, we must trudge on, metaphorical boats braced against the current … These are indeed good times. Lap them up while they last. Read more by Sam.  

SELINA NWULU: Resolutions are made and forgotten within the month and life rolls on. Why does everyone think that the stroke of midnight will suddenly make their lives new and whole?

Ah yes, the shambles that is New Year’s Eve is upon us. Why don’t we all just fast forward to the communal self loathing and pity and save ourselves the big hassle already? The chances are, either you or a friend have had a bad year, so any way you look at it, you’ll either need or be a tipsy shoulder to cry on at the end of the night.

I just feel a bit weary with it. Does it have to be such a big deal? I just want to hide under my duvet and leave the over-zealous with their firework planning, champagne and extravagant plans to their own devices. Because it really isn’t a new year; it’s another day with problems and issues that overflow into the next morning. Resolutions are made and forgotten within the month and life rolls on exactly the same as it was. Why does everyone think that the stroke of midnight and a new calendar will suddenly make their lives new and whole?

Mind you, there are a few things New Year’s Eve has the amazing ability to achieve: bank balances deplete significantly, shabby middle of the road pubs get cocky and suddenly have to power to charge £15+ on entry, taxis become more expensive and people more foolish. Much like birthdays, everyone talks a big game but you depressingly feel exactly the same. Will we ever learn?

And it’s all this hype and big talk that makes you feel like a loser if you don’t participate. Someone asked me one year what I was going to do for New Year’s Eve, and when I said “nothing special” she looked at me like a was some kind of abandoned stray dog – lost, alone and spat out by society. No, love, I just couldn’t be bothered to pay bucketloads to have a mediocre time; isn’t that what The X Factor tour is for? And I’m guessing I’ll have the rest of the year to look forward to that particular gem.

Do we have some kind of deficiency that enables us to forget previous crappy New Year’s nights? Friends who’ve had the worst night out on previous years spring back and go to the same places and do the exact same things the next year. I don’t know how many post-New Year stories I hear that are exactly the same, all of which being of the “I drank too much/spent too much/have a suspicious roadwork sign/cowboy hat/feather boa in my room” variety. And most commonly: “I had a rubbish time.”

This year I, too, have been sucked in, and I have remembered why I hate it: the pressure of planning, the hassle dealing with plans that go awry, that are cancelled and rearranged at the last minute. The panic, as we get nearer to the night, of not having everything completely planned and having nothing to wear. The ironic thing is that throughout all this kerfuffel and stress, I actually don’t care, not really. So why bother?!

Despite my “New Year’s Eve house parties are key” mantra, I have reluctantly paid a ridiculous price to go clubbing and so I will be making sure I have the best time possible by practising my killer (because they are so bad) moves on the dance floor. However I have a feeling that it will all seem (even more) ludicrous and excessive in the cold light of day.

So, all said and done, a very Happy New Year to you all. May your night (and year) be genuinely joyful ... However, if it is more blue than new take consolation in the fact that misery is the nation’s best friend and it always loves a bit of company. Read more by Selina.

SHERMAINE WILLIAMS: We all must celebrate the fact that the earth is continuing its journey around the sun, and that requires spending time in ridiculously painful shoes.

There is at least one benefit to living one’s teenage years in a somewhat debauched manner: I learnt exactly how bad New Year celebrations can really be. If it’s bad when you’re 18 years old, it certainly isn’t going to get any better when you’re rapidly approaching 30.

I don’t know about you but, as I get older, I find myself less inclined to do the things that I did when I was younger. Teenage Me had boundless energy – she was fearless and nonsensical. Now, though, all the hassle it takes to organise even a minor celebration proves exhausting – and that is before actually leaving the house. Everything has to be sorted out well in advance and plans made in accordance with what friends and family are doing.

Do I really want to go out in freezing temperatures wearing less than I would normally go to bed in? Of course not! I want to wear clothes that can comfortably accommodate thermal underwear, but that’s unacceptable because the celebration demands that an effort be made. We all must celebrate the fact that the earth is continuing its journey around the sun, and that requires spending time getting ready, getting your hair done, wearing skimpy clothes and ridiculously painful shoes.

And despite all the strategies created with military precision, one (if not several) of the group will invariably get stuck in traffic or on public transport, prompting a flurry of texts and calls, many of which don’t get through, leading only to further confusion. Teenage Me would think nothing of spending much of the freezing night standing in a queue to get into a club that is already filled to capacity, only to pay for the privilege of storing my coat on a hanger as my brand new hairstyle flops from the sudden temperature change. Present Me isn’t so easily swayed by the promise of a good time.

Yes, there may well be a great DJ, but who cares about that when you don’t have enough room to dance? Who wants to be in a club where a fight breaks out on the packed dance floor because children have managed to find their way into the club? Struggling to move is not my idea of fun.

One year, the icing on the cake was having a drink thrown over me at the stroke of midnight as some over-excited reveller jumped up and took their drink with them. After that anti-climax, all that was left was to fight for a cab home and pay over the odds for it.

It all served a purpose, though: I learnt early on that bigger doesn’t necessarily mean better when it comes to New Year celebrations. I don’t care what other people are doing and don’t feel obliged to follow their lead, even if bacchanal is the order of the day. No, I’ll do my own thing, thank you – sans frostbite, bunions and alcohol-soaked clothes. Read more by Shermaine.

Happy New Year, everyone,
from the bottom of our grumpy hearts

Tuesday, 22 December 2009

Season's greetings? Hmm ...


Am I the only person under 40 who still bothers with Christmas cards? A great deal of time and energy goes into choosing the right one, often starting months in advance. Not only is care and attention paid to the card itself but then I faithfully write a personal message in each one. None of this sign-the-name-shove-it-in-the-envelope business. I’ve decided if you value someone enough to send them a Christmas card then you should at least be bothered to write a personal sentence to them inside it.

I’m definitely in the minority with this philosophy. Without specifically shaming anyone in particular, I’ve even received cards that don’t contain my name at the top, merely on the envelope. Such aloof bits of paper conjure up either a minor celebrity signing away as if it’s the latest kiss-and-tell autobiography or the world’s most stressed woman ploughing through 3,256 cards before knocking out 912 mince pies. Surely no one who sends me a card is that famous, or that harassed?

Totally impersonal cards are like a blank email. Yes, it’s nice to know you dedicated a second and half to thinking of me, but really I’m a little offended you couldn’t spare me the full minute. However, I would take any of these over nothing at all, or worse: Christmas card criticism. The season of joy on earth and good will to all men means I socialise to the point of exhaustion and near nervous collapse. To each occasion I always take cards – for my hosts and for other friends I might see there. Why? Over-zealous card compulsion? Irrational desire to keep writing my own name? No, because it’s polite.

At least I think so. As a child I remember people thanking my mother when she handed these envelopes over, smiling and making appreciative noises. Sadly that’s not my experience. I’m often greeted with a look of definite irritation and statements like “Oh, I’m not doing cards this year”. Suddenly my gesture of good will is four inches square of unwanted paper making all around it distinctly uncomfortable. Longing for the courage gleaned from a third glass of mulled wine, I imagine saying “Well, maybe you should. It is tradition, good manners and stops you feeling so awkward in situations like these.”

Instead I nod and look sympathetic as the excuses start. It’s either “work’s been manic”, or “as we’re away for Christmas we didn’t the see the point” or, increasingly, “it’s not very environmentally friendly”.

With the word ‘RECYCLE’ ready to burst out of my mouth at volume, I find it safer to stick to a non-committal “Mmm” while wondering when the whole world became so lazy that writing out a Christmas card was too much effort.

This maddening trend is symptomatic of society losing sight of the little thoughtful actions which make it a more pleasant place to be. I’m so sick of hearing everyone’s so incredibly busy it’s a miracle they even have time to go to the bathroom. And yet these are often the same people updating their status every five minutes on Facebook announcing what they’re watching on the telly or having for dinner that night.

No one’s suggesting you make the damn thing from scratch in a frenzy of gold pen and glitter – just spend a few minutes, once a year, to remind people why they’re important to you.

However, if that’s still beyond you due to a job as rocket scientist, on-call brain surgeon or self-appointed television critic, then at least have the good grace to thank someone who has taken the time.

At Christmas it’s common to put differences aside, so is it really too much to ask for a little good will towards a well-intentioned friend proffering a few kind words lurking behind a picture of Santa getting stuck down a chimney? Read more by Rosie.


Monday, 14 December 2009

You talkin' to me?

Though I hate it, I can understand the pushiness of many sales people – at least to some extent. Not taking “no” for an answer is their job, after all. I imagine they all take classes to hone their ability to have an answer for everything. The sales people I encounter are in a different class, though: they’ve taken the Advanced Course in Obnoxiousness, the corresponding manual taking pride of place on their bookshelves for whenever they need a top up.

The latest culprit hailed from mobile firm 3. “But you don’t know what I’m offering,” he countered, in response to my immediate assertion that I was happy with my provider. Of course, I could have belittled him by suggesting that maybe he wanted to sell me a timeshare instead of a mobile contract, but only would have earned a response from his manual. Besides, his fake cheeriness was so aggravating that he deserved nothing more than to be hung up on – so that is exactly what I did.

The satisfaction I took from the abrupt end to the call was tempered by my speculation of how much my mobile provider made from selling my details.

Though these random calls I keep getting are annoying, what is even more annoying is the backchat I get from people who are not even trying to sell me anything. I’m in the right and, yet, finding an answer – no matter how flimsy – seems to be acceptable.

If I tell someone (let’s call him Moron #1) to take his defecating dog off my property, then I expect him to do it – its my property, dammit! Responding with a lie, eg. that the dog is just sniffing, will only result in the belligerent inner me coming to the surface. Note: I didn’t ask what the dog was doing; I said: “GET OFF MY PROPERTY!”

Same goes for ignorant ticket inspectors. Moron #2 wanted to see my ticket when I was already off the bus – yep, disembarked, no longer a passenger. Earphones in and not expecting to be asked for my ticket, I walked straight past the imbecile, only for him to stop me and tell me I should listen to what I didn’t hear from someone who hadn’t shown me any identification. Miss Belligerent came out to play again, treating him to a few choice words and some instruction on how to do his job before letting me get on my way. If Beyoncé can have an alter-ego, so can I.

Moron #3 is a master – he could teach Moronic Behaviour. Somehow assuming that I’m happy to stand at my front door gabbing all day, the idiot actually had a response for my excuse to leave. Bear in mind, this absurd man disturbed me in the middle of the day for no good reason and I told him that I had no time for his nonsense as I was busy cooking. Now any normal person would take this as their cue to leave – Moron #3 asked if I had cooked enough for two! Seriously. Needless to say, he got the door shut in his face.

Is there some sort of consensus that no one should admit being in the wrong? If so, I didn’t get the memo. People seem to assume that they can get their own way by force, and I don’t like it.

My suspicious mind tells me that being a petite woman has something to do with it – I’m sure that a 6’5” male ultimate fighter wouldn’t have experienced such insolence whether he was in the right or not.

People judge me on my looks and never count on my alter-ego. Don’t be fooled. Beware of Miss Belligerent: though she isn’t male, her superpower is retaliation and she does a mean De Niro. Read more by Shermaine.

Friday, 11 December 2009

Office etiquette stinks


I have few pleasures in my working day because I am a slave to dull administrative tasks and now, apparently, petty rules. The management team at my nameless, faceless place of employment has decided today that the best way to spread Christmas cheer and winter warmth through the office is to ban the consumption of hot food.

No longer can I spend my lunch hour supping homemade soup with a nice crusty roll while catching up on blogging or internet browsing at my desk. No longer can I walk the three steps from my desk to the office microwave to heat up delicious leftovers for sustenance. If I want hot food now, I either have to go out in the cold and battle against the hordes of students all craving hot lunches in the wintry climes or I have to schlep halfway round the building to find another microwave and then go and sit in some dark and poky little room entitled lovingly and creatively The Staff Room

Apparently there are people who work in my office who find the smell of hot food offensive. I am really struggling to get my head round this; that someone could be so pathetic as to be offended by their colleagues enjoying winter-suitable lunches. The other reason being bandied about by the management is that we’ve received complaints from students who come into our office for assistance – the very students who spend at most 10 minutes each at our front desk whilst we listen to them bleat on about their problems and then do our utmost to send them away happy and sorted. Surely that should be the crux of our interactions with them, not whether or not one of us has last night’s leftovers warmed in tupperware on our desk.

They haven’t banned hot drinks, though, so the managers who brew up cafetières of expensive and frankly stinky coffee are fine to continue. The lady who has Cup-A-Soup is also allowed to continue supping her warming liquid because it is in a cup and therefore a drink. On that principle, I am going to start drinking my homemade chunky soup from a cup. I might even go as far as blending my solid leftovers into a drinkable substance.

Frankly the whole thing stinks; as will the Camembert, Limburger and Stilton sandwiches that will replace my lovely warm lunches. Read more by Alice.


Thursday, 10 December 2009

Peace on earth? Err ...

How the blummin heck did it get to Christmas time already? Since right after Halloween we have been drowning in images of snow, baubles and rosy-cheeked children sitting on the knee of that bloke in red who calls himself Santa, all in the hope of becoming warm and fuzzy. Ah yes, peace on earth! Merry Christmas! Good will to all men ...? Did the people who came up with these phrases ever go Christmas shopping?

As a newcomer to London, I naively decided to meander casually down to Oxford Circus for what I assumed would be a quick dash of Christmas shopping. What I discovered was essentially pure pandemonium. Imagine a plague of rats haphazardly running towards a tiny block of cheese ...except, in reality, we were the rats and the block of cheese was Selfridges. There were queues, seemingly at a standstill, in every direction, frantic elbows shoving everything aside in a fight for survival, along with hysterical yells from adults and children alike.

Where was the good will when a crazy woman barged past my shoulder with her bulging Harrods bag without so much as a glance behind her? Or the festive cheer when a woman drove through a red light and then shouted at me for getting in her way? Sure, we all want a peace, love and happiness-filled Christmas but to what lengths will we go to get it?

This whole jovial “on the twelfth day of Christmas my true love said to me” vibe is juxtaposed with this ruthless must-buy-at-all-costs consumerist mentality and it’s as though we all suddenly turn into shadows of our reasonably sane selves. Although I’m admittedly fairly grumpy, I’d like to think that I’m a good person who actually begrudgingly cares about people know, in an abstract, don’t-make-too-much-physical-contact-with-me kind of way.

But as I stood in a queue, with an OAP counting out £5.99 in coppers on the counter to my left and to my right an exasperated mum who thought it was a good idea to take her four young kids Christmas shopping during peak time, I actually thought to myself without any reservation: “I hate people. I actually hate every single person in this shop.” Well, Santa, what do you make of that?! Hardly the “ding dong merrily on high” thing we were going for, right?

Throughout all this havoc all I could think was: “Can we all just chill the hell out?!” If we did then maybe I’d be able to appreciate the jolliness, the Christmas carols and the “good will” speil – and isn’t that a large part of what Christmas is supposed to be about? Last time I checked, a cat fight over the latest iPhone wasn’t a key feature in the nativity scene.

Shocked by my own Hyde-like transformation, I removed myself from the situation, called it a day and embarked on the slow and overcrowded journey home.

My next stop? Internet shopping – it’s a beautiful thing. Read more by Selina.

Sunday, 6 December 2009

Look left, right, left again. Oh, just bloody cross the road!

Being a pedestrian in London is pretty much unbearable, what with the zillions of crossings you have to contend with on every road. If you’re actually trying to get somewhere on foot – as opposed to just mooching about, as so many people in London – cough, tourists – seem to be doing – you actually have to add on about 10 minutes just to allow for the huge, exasperating faff of having to get across roads.

Firstly, there’s the fact that you always, without exception, arrive at the crossing just as the green man is being swapped for the red – that absurdly long ‘safety’ period in which it would actually be perfectly possible to cross, comfortably even, but you end up hovering there at the curb while car drivers stare at you like you’re a total idiot for waiting. I’m just never quite confident I have enough time to get to the other side, so the cars and me are just there, at a standstill, the green man having disappeared from view but the red man having not yet made his appearance.

Then there’s the terrible situation when you have chanced your luck and stepped into the road during that ‘no man’ period, but you’ve left it just that little bit too late due to a few seconds of stupid dithering, so you end up starting to walk at exactly the same moment that the cars move off. Do you break into a silly little run to get to the other side? Do you retreat? I’ve tried the retreat before and actually ended up backing into another person who had also risked crossing, and that person became a sort of bumper, bouncing me back into the road again, leaving me with no option but to dash across and make an exhibition of myself, causing cars to brake to let me across.

What about when you approach a crossing to find a clump of moronic fellow pedestrians who, due to absurdly strong group dynamics, are all just standing there waiting, blocking your opportunity to dash across if you found a gap in the traffic? I’ve been known, many times, to duck through the clump and dart into the road, self-righteously and quite rudely – ugh, if anyone pushed past me in the way that I do other people, I’d be writing them a strongly-worded letter for sure – leaving all the timid people behind on the curb while I relish the feeling of having used my individual initiative. Usually, though, I’m punished for my self-righteousness by finding the road not actually as clear as I thought, and having to trot the last few steps to avoid getting run over.

But, even if you do misjudge it occasionally, isn’t it better and more intelligent to make your own decision about when to cross, using your own eyes and brain, for goodness’ sake, than to just stand there like a total lemming until some poxy little green man says ‘go’? We are built with legs and brains; getting across a road is elementary human instinct! It’s just so irritating when crowds of people are utterly obedient like this, gawping up at the traffic light for a signal to take action, rather than just looking and bloody going.

And don’t get me started on diagonal crossers. Oh, it makes me bristle! It happens on zebras, mainly. You get the picture: man starts into the road beyond the corner of the zebra on one side, taking big strides right across the middle on a diagonal, gradually squashing over everyone else who has been waiting at the curb, so now everyone’s unavoidably crossing in a big, diagonal wave when many of them want to be walking the other way.

It’s all just unutterably irritating. Of course, if I look at pedestrian crossings from the point of view of a driver, I get thoroughly annoyed by these arrogant pedestrians who think they can attempt to cross when they don’t have a green man. But then that’s exactly the prerogative of a Grumpy: anything that irritates you is wrong, unless it’s you that’s doing it. Read more by Maddie.

Tis the season to be sullen


Few have failed to notice that the dreaded season is upon us – reclusive agoraphobics without a television excepted.

No doubt, your first instinct was to assume that I was talking about Christmas – groan – but, I’m afraid, you would be wrong.

At least when it comes to Christmas, we know what to expect. We know that the relentless advertising will begin in October, gently encouraging our descent into complete and insatiable consumerism.

Of course we know to expect the party invitations and excruciating ‘work do’, each one requiring time, effort and a new outfit – all this to spend time with people you barely speak to the rest of the year, creating an atmosphere in which you drink enough to make an alcoholic proud in a bid to make the whole event more bearable.

We realise that every shop, no matter what they sell, will bombard us with colourful promises of bargains that aren’t really bargains because we don’t really need them, but we buy them anyway as The Suits in the retail industry are very adept at making us think that we need their wares even though we wouldn’t ordinarily touch them. How can anyone resist a ‘buy one get one free’?

One of my favourite predictable aspects of the festive season is all the forced Christmas cheer; though I have to admit that I get a great amount of strange pleasure from witnessing those I know to be exquisitely evil pretending to be nice in the name of Christmas. Bah humbug to them all.

“Instead of wishing for sparkly things and useless tat, I wish us all journeys without delays, cancellations or crowding and I hope we all get to our destinations on time, dry, non-windswept and without murderous intentions.”

It is an anti-climactic holiday – I know and accept this – but I don’t mind as I am easily pleased: as long as I eat lots and spend ridiculous amounts of time in front of the television, I’m happy. I can handle it all because it’s as traditional as family arguments on Christmas Day and you know it’s coming. Rest assured, I am not a Grinch.

The dreaded season that I speak of is winter itself.

People always talk about how quickly Christmas rolls around again, but what about winter? Last year’s debacle is still fresh in my mind and it’s happening again!

I begin to get apprehensive as soon as the leaves start falling from the trees. It isn’t that it’s cold; you have to be used to the cold in this country no matter how much you hate it. No, my complaint is that winter seems to be inexplicably linked with ineptitude. How is it that weather conditions that are actually normal for the UK cause everything to fall apart?

It starts with the leaves because they inevitably cause delays on the decrepit railway system – leaves! Then the rain comes, not only making a mockery of your attempts to keep dry on your way to the bus stop/train station but also flooding underground and rail stations, closing them off completely and causing more hassle.

Then it snows – hateful stuff, snow – and all hell breaks loose: buses slide across roads and crash, leading to them being unable to provide any service at all.

We know it is capable of snowing in this country so how is it possible that we continue to be so ill-prepared? Other countries manage to deal with a massive amount of snow in an efficient manner but the UK falls to pieces. As usual, we are lagging so far behind that, despite the weather forecasts, we ran out of grit, yep, we ran out of grit. Laughable.

Whatever side of the climate change debate you are on, it can’t be denied that the weather seems to be getting worse which can only lead to fallen trees and landslides on the railways and all manner of ensuing drama.

So, as the season approaches, instead of wishing for sparkly things and useless tat, I am actually wishing us all straight forward journeys without delays, cancellations or crowding, and I hope we all get to our destinations on time, dry, non-windswept and without murderous intentions.

I wish for the employees of our Councils to have enough sense to put some of our extortionate taxes to good use in order to grit the roads and pavements to prevent us all falling on our arses.

Alternatively, I wish you skin that doesn’t bruise easily and strong bones, and I suggest waterproofs, padding and leaving early. Let’s face it; wishful thinking will get us nowhere so it is up to us to do what we can to avoid the trauma of a winter wonderland.

Sing it with me: “Tis the season to be sullen, tra la la la la, la la la laaaaaaaaa.” Read more by Shermaine.

Friday, 4 December 2009

Fashion is a bitch

I like fashion; I really do. I’m obliged to make this clear before I plunge into this rant and seem to completely contradict myself. But is it just me or do all clothes look the same these days?! I left the country for a year and have come back only to find millions of people looking like Adam Ant doused in glitter and spandex. All the high street shops seem to have turned into elitist havens designed for small-chested, small-hipped clones.

Take Topshop, with Ms Kate “Nothing tastes as good as skinny feels” Moss as their patron. Whenever I walk into the shop I almost feel as though sirens will go off and fashionable trilby-wearing daleks will come out, arms a-flailing, screaming: “OVER A SIZE 12! OVER A SIZE 12! DIRECT TO MATERNITY WEAR OR EXTERMINATE! EXTERMINATE!” I mean, just look at the front window on Oxford Street. It’s actually ridiculous! Is the average Topshop buyer an extra member of The Darkness or are you really suggesting that I should wear a sequinned mini anorak to Tesco’s?

“It’s come to the point where we are being told exactly how to customise ... so now we’re all changing and ‘individualising’
our clothes in the same way. Marvellous.”

Now, before you start imagining me sitting here in a shapeless Bon Marché fleece and slacks, let me say again I do quite like fashion but all I am asking for is a bit of diversity. Just because the fashion elite, drunk on high quality champagne and (fat-free) caviar, click their fingers and say we should be following 80s trends, doesn’t mean we should all end up looking like Chaka Khan. I simply don’t want to be spoonfed clothes that make me look like a drunken 80s rock star.

We have all become one massive wishy-washy brand and, in this age where everyone supposedly strives for independent buying and individuality, we’ve never looked more similar. It’s come to the point where we are being told exactly how to customise ... so now we are all changing and ‘individualising’ our clothes in the same way. Marvellous.

I blame, in part, shows of the 10 years Younger/Extreme Makeover variety that chastise women who’ve dared to devote themselves to something other than the rise and fall of the shoulder pad. After these poor women have gone through the initial soul-destroying humiliation – something like standing naked in front of a magnifying mirror and counting their pores, etc etc – these ‘fashion rejects’, regardless of size, shape and personality, are then scraped, peeled, sucked and shoved into a pair of skinny jeans and the obligatory belt around the waist, and then somehow deemed ‘whole and acceptable’.

All these women want to hear is that they are enough the way they are. So, to see these fashion fiends standing on their Gucci soapboxes, pushing women down the fashionable factory line and prescribing Botox as the cure is incredibly irritating. And of course the average woman that goes on these shows presumably cannot afford to maintain the rat-poison-in-forehead and chemical peel lifestyle, so it’s only a matter of time before the shine begins to fade. Where will all the fashion gurus of the world be then? Already moved on to another victim with low esteem and shouting at her for using the wrong kind of conditioner, no doubt.

That’s why I do kind of (note my reluctance) like How to Look Good Naked, because at least Gok recognises that everyone should look the best they can but within their own means. And, although interspersed with outlandish bra fondling, the most important aspect of the whole thing is to show that we need to change our self-perception more than anything else.

Wow. I think I just praised Gok Wan. Does this officially make me a Gokette?! Disturbingly enough, I am not totally against this – minus the prancing down catwalks in underwear part. You do, however, have full permission to slap me if I start saying “You go girlfriend” without any irony. Read more by Selina.

Wednesday, 2 December 2009

Baby greens


“But my friend already has five,” she says.
“So?” I reply.
“Well, it’s not fair.”

You see, my mum is entitled – at least she thinks she is – to grandchildren, so this topic of conversation rears its horrendously ugly head on a regular basis, albeit with some variation. With this level of tenacity being utilised, it would be easy to assume that I am an only child – wrong. She hedges her bets and tells my siblings and me the same thing in the hope that one of us will take heed.

I suspect she thinks that I’ll change my mind at some point, suddenly embrace some mythical maternal instinct and start breeding. It is a mindset that seems to be held by other people too, but alas, bad daughter that I am, they are all wrong.

I don’t want children and can’t understand why people don’t get that. I don’t question parents on their insistence on having children and filling the world with more people than it can handle and, yet, I’m fair game.

“I don’t really like children. I’ve seen their work: I’m not a fan. They’re loud, needy, expensive and worrying.”

Not only is it fair game to question (and rubbish) my motives, but it is apparently also quite alright to deem me selfish for the decision I have made. Selfish! Maybe I should have six kids and bring them up with Government assistance – how selfish would I be then? Or have a few rugrats before taking up a debauched lifestyle so I could leave them home alone – that wouldn’t be selfish at all.

If breeders were truly the altruistic ones, they would do more to look after the children that are already here, languishing in care, rather than producing more.

Does my apparent selfishness arise due to the fact that a woman’s purpose in life is to have children? Is that all we’re good for? I suspect that, in the main, I’m seen as selfish because I have chosen not to spend my time and money on a child, but that is my decision to make. I like the fact that no one is dependent on me – I don’t want the responsibility and, besides that, I don’t really like children. I’ve seen their work: I’m not a fan. They’re loud, needy, expensive and worrying.

I don’t want to be concerned with illnesses, injuries, schools, behaviour, general well-being. I don’t want to be concerned with someone else every minute of the day and I certainly don’t want to think of all the money a sprog requires to raise it to adulthood.

I want to retain the freedom and independence I have and I’m sure many would baulk at the suggestion that people’s outrage may be a result of jealousy, a touch of the greens arising from the fact that I am not a slave to the fruit of my loins. Seething yet? Now you know how I feel.

I don’t wish that I was a parent and am not jealous of those that are – more power to them – but they should do me the same courtesy and accept that we don’t all want the same thing. They should also accept that we are not all as impressed as you are by every action and garbled word that comes from Little Darling Resource Drain.

I certainly don’t begrudge the love and pride that parents have for their children; in fact, I respect those that chose to dedicate their lives to children. In turn, respect the fact that I like my life as it is and that I don’t want the major responsibility that having a child brings.

There is no maternal instinct, I don’t feel the need to coo over babies, I don’t need a mini me to follow in my footsteps – I’m happy for my genes to die with me.

Believe me, it doesn’t matter if I ‘meet the right man’ or ‘get to a certain age’; I still won’t want them. Female prerogative - get over it! Read more by Shermaine.


Tuesday, 1 December 2009

Good will to all ignoramuses


On Saturday afternoon I attended what, in my family, constitutes the annual kick-start to Christmas – or at least the month after November that we might as well just call ‘Christmas’. I attended a church (shocker) in Covent Garden and dutifully sat through over two hours of school choirs performing such heart-warming carols as Away in a Manger and The First Noel. Thankfully an over-active little boy with nil coordination and a tendency to dance like Mr Bean kept my Mum and me in hysterics for the majority of the performance.

Of course, my only legitimate interest in this pleasant but at times cringe-worthy showcase was my sister – my own flesh and blood – who incidentally sang beautifully. And I understand that everyone was primarily, if not exclusively, interested in seeing their own sibling or sprog. But does this familial devotion have to be expressed in a way that is so self-absorbed and downright ignorant?

I presume that this annual event is held in a religious building in the hope that it encourages the children and, more importantly, the audience to be on Best Behaviour. Unfortunately even the threat of eternal damnation is not enough to prompt ‘good will to all men’ in all men, or women.

The church was packed with woolly-wearers craning their necks to get a glimpse of their own little bundle of joy. Nine of us virtuously crushed onto our bum-numbing pew whilst a mere five luxuriated on the one directly in front.

For the purposes of clarity I shall depict the following events using the names ‘Standing Man’ and ‘Sitting Man’.

Standing Man was a member of the party with whom we were sharing our pew. During the applause between songs he came to sit down and upon discovering that there was no room at our ‘inn’ he approached the Sitting Man who was surrounded by several coats at the end of the bench directly in front.

At this moment the choir burst into song and Sitting Man removed his phone from his pocket and held it aloft, grinning inanely, hoping to catch his munchkin’s stage debut on camera. Sitting Man did this without so much as a turn of the head or a glance of the eye to acknowledge Standing Man who was patiently hovering less than a foot away and gesturing towards the four empty seats.

This embarrassing situation continued for at least a minute whilst all nine members of our pew stared in disbelief. I imagine we looked not dissimilar to the startled stable animals at the birth of the baby Jesus. How much of an ignoramus must you be to be surrounded by empty seats and yet outright refuse to acknowledge a fellow human being who is standing inches away from you, awkwardly, in the middle of a church performance?

Eventually Standing Man, in utter disbelief, made some irritated sighing noise and moved to the back of the church to wait politely until the carol had come to an end. Aggrieved on behalf of this patient man, I muttered “ignorant idiot” loudly enough to be heard by the offending party and loud enough also to make my mother blush.

At the song’s conclusion, several minutes later, Standing Man returned from the back of the church and asked Sitting Man quite pointedly whether it would now be possible for him to sit down. Sitting Man shrugged and begrudgingly moved his coat to make way for the sixth member of their pew.

I could only presume that the reluctance to share pew space meant that Sitting Man had at least three, if not four, more guests arriving to make their pew up to the appropriate nine bottoms. Two hours later, when no one else had arrived to join him, I felt perfectly justified in having pegged him an ignorant idiot.

His little darling is no more photogenic than anyone else’s, nor does he reserve the right to be less uncomfortable on his pew than we were on ours. Rather than the kid learning from parental example, let’s hope dad heeds child’s incessant singing on themes of peace, love and good will. Otherwise he’ll be lucky if St Nick brings him more than a lump of coal this Christmas. Read more by Cat.

Happy ... December

Someone said to me this morning “Happy First Day of Christmas” and, to be honest, it made me want to poke them in the face whilst shouting “BAH HUMBUG!”

Let’s all get one thing straight: it is only the first day of December, the 12th month of the year, not the first day of Christmas. The first day of Christmas is 24th December, aka Christmas Eve.

All these people who put their decorations up at the end of October and start listening to cheesy Christmas music and eating mince pies on 1st November really ruin the whole thing for me and run the risk every year of making me seem like a Grinch.

In my eyes, Christmas begins on 24th December and ends on the 26th; after all, those three days are the only ones in the calendar which are prefixed by any word to do with Christmas – the clue really is in the title.

As a child, our house would be totally bare until Christmas morning when we’d scamper downstairs to be told that, because we had been such wonderful children, Santa had taken a bit of extra time to turn our house into an outpost of his own grotto.

That is what made my childhood Christmases magical – not banging up some tacky decorations at the start of December and drawing out the festive season as long as is humanly possible, ending up on Christmas Day with a manky brown tree that died weeks before the actual day because it had been sat in your living room since November.

I’m not a Grinch; I do love Christmas, but only in its proper place – at the end of December. I love watching my nephews open their presents, and keeping the magic alive by convincing them that I heard Santa on the roof. I even love spending time with my family playing board games and eating chocs.

What I don’t love is walking into my local supermarket at the end of August to see them beginning to roll out their Christmas wares. I understand in this financial climate that people have to save and stock up throughout the year in order to survive the festive period financially, but I’m sure people are capable of quietly doing that of their own volition without Asda telling them to.

You might think, given my feelings on keeping Christmas in its proper place, that I’m one of those shoppers who leaves everything to the last minute and I’m pleased to tell you that you’d be wrong. My presents are all bought and wrapped, in a military operation last night which involved only spending half an hour in the shops.

I buy good presents but, with a bit of forward planning and the ability to weave through crowds at the pace of a champion power walker, I get it done in one fell swoop and can now avoid the Christmas madness in the shops where people dither over what to buy Great Aunty Mabel.

The ability to get my shopping out of the way and thus avoid the Christmas crush is the only redeeming quality about living in a country that has gone Christmas bonkers so early. Happy ... Nope, I can’t bring myself to say it yet! Read more by Alice.