Monday, 26 April 2010

Grumpy Young Women Abroad: Got milk?

Grumpy in America

So I am in the land of the free. The nation that claims democracy as its best friend. Liberty as its foundation and freedom of speech its God-given right. Well, that’s all well and good. But this idealised state of existence, I assure you, goes right out of the window when it comes to milk.

I am a citizen of Britain, therefore my fuel is tea. It’s my staple; it’s what I live on. Without it I become a wizened husk of a human – stark mad and foaming at the mouth. Whenever I travel I either take my own teabags or spend the holiday in a state of tormented despair. This time I took a risk and relied on the American love of all things British, in particular tea. They even had a party for it, right?

Anyway, I tracked down the golden brew and proceeded to empty the required pack of sugar, and then I looked at the range of milk on offer. That’s right, not just milk, but a range. So, what do we have here, I muttered to myself? Something called “2%”, something called “half half”, something called “skimmed” and, of course, the nut/water mush they call “soya milk”. Erm, so where’s the milk? I had to ask.

Where’s the milk?
It’s there.
Yes, but none of that is actually milk.
Whaddya mean?
I just want normal milk.
For your tea?
We got lemon.
I’m British, I take milk.
Right, well there’s the milk.
Yes, but none of that is normal. For example, what is “half half”?
Half cream, half full-fat milk
OK, well where is the whole milk?
What’s whole milk?
“Full fat” to you.
We don’t do that.
Right, I’ll take half half then.

Cue my look of amazement as I dump the fatty concoction into my tea.

Seriously, the madness when it comes to milk consumption. Why is normal milk so taboo? You can get milk laden with cream but not just ordinary, from the udder, milk.


And it’s not just our dear friends across the pond who cannot let people enjoy whole milk. Oh, no. We have it too. The number of times I am in a coffee shop and hear someone ask for a “skinny” coffee beggars belief. Have I missed something here? Because, in my world, unique as that may be, drinking watered-down milk in coffee is not going to render you a size zero EVER. And giving a drink the suffix “skinny” is not going to render you a size zero EVER.

If you are going to spend a ridiculous sum of money on a hot drink then you may as well do it properly and go all out. Why deny yourself the creamy pleasure that milk provides? I promise you all that drinking a – gasp! – full-fat latte does not mean that you will wake up in the morning 10 stone heavier. It just means that you won’t sound like a complete pillock as you don’t have to say “skinny” before the product name. It’s just a latte. No skinny, no bull shit.

It’s a free country, right? So let’s embrace our liberty and enjoy milk that isn’t just greyish water or half coronary-inducing milk or a random percentile milk. Let’s have it just as the cow intended: from a bottle saying “whole”. Read more by Naomi.

Wednesday, 21 April 2010

Is civility dead?

I’ve discovered the reason why I can be deemed a Grumpy Young Woman. It really is so simple that I don’t know how I didn’t realise it before. I used to think that it was just the actions of other people that naturally left me seething, but I’ve come to the conclusion: I have the ability to soak up fury. Like some dodgy lotion that should be avoided because of the chemicals it contains, the bile seeps into me and settles into my organs.

This is why my aggravation is always worse when I am forced to use the London Underground. What is it about public transport that makes people act like lunatics? Why would anyone feel the need to do battle for a seat during a journey to a location where they will spend the day sitting down? In fact, the seat is so precious that it cannot possibly be offered to anyone who needs it more. In my experience, the culprit is invariably male and clad in a pin-stripe suit.

To make matters worse, men love to spread their legs in a concerted effort to occupy the seats either side of them, apparently to accommodate their substantial balls. Well, they have to do something now that the recession has made it uneconomical to fill the Porsche/Hummer/whatever with petrol.

“Apparently, it is easy to confuse public transport with your own living room.”

For the most part, the utter lack of common courtesy doesn’t appear intentional; it stems from an inability to recognise that there are other people around them. Egocentric somehow doesn’t seem to provide an adequate description. It is the only explanation for why anyone would open up a broadsheet in a position where it covers the book that their neighbouring passenger is reading. Apparently, it is easy to confuse public transport with your own living room.

Those who don’t make a mad dash for the seats can be equally annoying, but just in a different way. It is clearly too much trouble to stand out of the way of other passengers. Standing in the aisle and blocking empty seats is much more preferable.

Now I don’t remember myself as a teenager – it was much too long ago – but I’m sure I wasn’t as loud as those who seem to live at the back of the bus. Not only do they love the sound of their own voices; they think everyone else also loves it so much that they think nothing of singing aloud in public. Can you imagine – whole groups of teenagers singing? Maybe it wouldn’t be so bad if they were tuneful, but even Simon Cowell’s botoxed face would form a frown if he heard it.

It doesn’t get any better when you decide to walk anywhere, because you have to contend with drivers who show little courtesy towards each other and even less for pedestrians. I’m sure the Highway Code says that a pedestrian has the right of way if they are in the process of crossing the road. It doesn’t say blow your horn at them and attempt to intimidate them with the car bumper.

In fact, the spirit of entitlement and selfishness is so bad that, not long ago, in a supermarket close to where I live, a man died after being attacked over an argument about a place in a queue. Had all parties involved remembered their manners and dealt with the matter in a civilised way, the whole tragic mess could have been avoided.

There are some glimmers of hope, though. A teenager held the door open for me at Wimbledon’s Centre Court. This is despite the fact that I was several steps behind her and she was perfectly within her rights to let the door go, but she saw me, stopped and held it open. Of course, I thanked her; I’m sure she thought it was only for the door, but it was actually for renewing my faith in youngsters!

The normally hateful chore of supermarket shopping was made a little better when an assistant offered me the opportunity to pick apples from a brand new pallet when he saw me attempting to choose from the shrivelled crap that was on the shelf – bless him for helping me get my five a day. I thanked him twice and skipped off to the checkout.

There are still signs of life – quick, pass the defibrillators! Read more by Shermaine.

Tuesday, 20 April 2010

Stop pushing me down the aisle!

OK, I’ve had enough now. Maybe it’s my age. Maybe it’s catching up with old friends. Maybe it’s seeing people’s status updates on Facebook basking in the glory of their personal achievements. But, if one more person tells me what I should be doing with my life I swear I will be forced to blow a raspberry in their face before farting in their general direction.

Firstly, there is my relationship with the fella, aka Him Indoors. Him Indoors and I have been together for over seven years now. We have lived together for over three of them, and before that managed to maintain a long distance relationship before I dragged him kicking and screaming to London. During that time, we have survived unemployment, illness, bereavement, and our relationship is stronger than ever.

Aaaah, you might say. But here comes the hitch (excuse the pun). We have no plans to get married. He has never popped the question. Walking down the aisle is not a priority. OK, it will probably happen one day, but neither of us is in any hurry. And we are both quite happy about this. The problem is other people seem unable to grasp that this is an acceptable state of affairs. The conversation goes something like this:

Other person: So, how long have you and Him Indoors been together?
Me (smiling): Oh, just over seven years.
Other person (amazed look): Wow, that long? So, are you going to get married?
Me (still smiling): Nah, neither of us are that fussed to be honest.
Other Person (knowing look): Yeah, right. I bet you want him to propose really ...
Me (smile becoming a grimace): Nope. We are perfectly happy as we are.
Other Person (concerned look): Oh ... er ... so is everything OK?

Why? Why do people assume that just because we don’t feel the need to spunk all our savings on a flouncy dress and an over-priced fruit cake that there is a problem with our relationship?

Another classic came a couple of weeks ago when I went dancing with a friend and her boyfriend (whom, for the record, have been together for nearly as long as Him Indoors and me and, believe it or not, are also not married. Or engaged. Or having a baby.) Him Indoors didn’t come along.

Had we had a big bust up? No. Was I on the lookout for a bit of extracurricular activity? Certainly not. The truth is he doesn’t like dancing. But I do. So sometimes I go out dancing and he stays in with the Xbox (aka The Other Woman). On this occasion, I ran into a colleague. Whilst having a break from bopping, he asked where Him Indoors was. I happily explained our arrangement. He took a sharp intake of breath before changing the subject.

The following Monday at work he announced to the office that he had ran into me at a bar in Brixton. Without my man. Un-chaperoned. Glances were exchanged. I bit my tongue and glared at my computer screen.

So, apparently there is something terribly wrong with our relationship because we haven’t felt the need to run down the aisle, and we feel comfortable enough in ourselves not to have to spend every living second within sight of each other. But that isn’t where it ends.

At Christmas I met an old school friend who had just dropped baby number two. She clearly loves being a mum and has already managed to convince her hubby to have a third in the interest of conceiving a girl. So, baby number one happily being entertained by dad and baby number two happily chomping down some milk, she asked if Him Indoors and I were ever going to tie the knot. I gave my usual, well-practised response. She looked at me.

“Yes, but you will want to before you have kids, won’t you?”
I took a deep breath. “Mmm. Don’t think we will have kids.”
“What? OK, maybe not now, but you will one day. And you don’t want to leave it too late.”
I took another deep breath. “I don’t think I’ll ever want them. I just don’t feel the urge.”
She looked at me dumbstruck, then smiled reassuringly. “Oh, you’ll change your mind.”

Hang on. Don’t I know my own mind? OK, so fair enough, my maternal instinct may kick in any day, but right now I can quite safely say I have no urge whatsoever to add to the burden of this already over-populated planet. Why can’t people accept that my life doesn’t revolve around wanting to “settle down”?

And guess what? I am 30 ... and I don’t have a mortgage. Or a car. Nope, not even a cat. I am also still naive enough to do a job, not because it is in a field that pays particularly well, but because I believe in it and it is something I am passionate about. I am also likely to vote in the general election, not for Labour or the Tories, but for a party that I actually feel stands for what I stand for too. Not in protest, but because I refuse to vote for someone because they are “the lesser of two evils”.

Bloody minded? Maybe. But at least I know my own mind, what I want and what I don’t want. And if that doesn’t fit into your perfect little pre-conceived world, well, frankly my dear, I don’t give a damn. Read more by Shelly.

Sunday, 18 April 2010

The ladies' room: how can it go so wrong?

How can it go so wrong? All that’s required is a toilet that flushes, a door that has some form of secure lock, enough toilet paper, somewhere to place your coat and bag, a sink nearby, some soap, and something that dries hands. Yet, for some reason, women’s public toilets are, 9 out of 10 times, barely tolerable, lacking basic provisions and cleanliness, and so awkward to navigate that you emerge, 15 minutes later, damp (“Please, please, please let people realise I just splashed water from the sink on my skirt, rather than wet myself”), flustered and annoyed.

It’s all wrong right from the moment you start looking for the toilets in a pub or restaurant. You meander around the establishment, looking for a sign or symbol to show you where the facilities are, and eventually you see something on the wall: a drawing of a hand pointing the way round a corner and up some stairs, and you follow the hand and find the room labelled with something the establishment thinks is a quirky, modern, perhaps even feminist, way to distinguish the ladies’ from the gents’, just in case we’d be offended by the old, reliable stick woman with a skirt on. Increasingly you get just an absurd “W” or “F” painted on the door, or a vintage drawing/photograph of a woman. Just give me the damn stick woman. I know her. Women have trusted her for decades; we’re seriously not about to hold her up as a symbol of female objectification.

So you’ve established it’s the ladies’ and you go in, to be confronted, usually, by two or three schoolish cubicles. You pick one; it’s the one with the broken lock, obviously. Sometimes the lock isn’t just broken but has been removed completely. Who, please, are the people who break the locks and steal them? Why would this be a fun thing to do? What is going on with that? Anyway, so you go into the next cubicle and that one has a lock that works. Good.

But, oh, hang on, where do you put your bag? There’s no hook on the door and no flat surface of any kind. Other than the floor. Which is slightly damp. “Please, please, please, let that just be splashed water, not wee,” you think as you gingerly put your bag down.

And you sit down on the loo. I won’t dwell on this particular detail, but the experience of sitting down on a wet toilet seat is one that will happen in a woman’s life hundreds of times. And a woman never, ever gets used to it, or finds a way to convince herself that it was just water splashed up by an over-zealous flushing design, rather than another woman’s ... ugh, fluids.

Glossing past the lack of toilet paper – so annoying, so inevitable, and so simple to fix, I can’t be bothered to moan about it – we’ll now move over to the basins. Right, the sink’s in one location, the soap is all the way over there on the wall and the hand-drier is all the way over on the opposite wall. And, unsurprisingly, there are trails of gloopy (often lurid pink) handwash and water marking the distances that countless women have attempted to negotiate.

Oh, I should also mention that there isn’t anywhere to put your bag down at the basins, either, so you have to clutch it under your arm, which makes washing your hands into a very careful stunt: in order to avoid covering yourself in water and dropping your bag, you can move only your forearms and vaguely rotate your wrists under the water. Which comes out in a big, badly-plumbed explosion, and gives you a wet patch just where you really don’t want one.

You get to the hand-drier which, if it works at all – how many times have you stood there waving your hands under it, to be given nothing and resort to drying your hands with cheap toilet paper that flakes wetly all over you? – gives a pathetic, rasping air that gets absolutely nowhere near sorting out your hands, particularly if it’s one of those that only blows out air in one-second bursts so you have to keep either pressing the button or waving your hands under it in order to keep it going.

Finally, mission accomplished, you can leave and return to your friends. But not before reaching into your bag for your antibacterial hand gel which you feel compelled to use, either because the soap dispensers were empty or because, even though you did manage to wash your hands, the door handle you had to touch on the way out was wet with some horrifyingly unidentifiable liquid.

So I return to my question: how can it go so wrong? The criteria for a workable, pleasant public bathroom are not particularly difficult to fulfil, are they? But it is infuriatingly rare to find one that manages to combine sensible design (individual soap dispensers above each sink, and bag hooks inside each cubicle, to name two very easy and obvious features), with cleanliness and plentiful supplies of the fundamentals (loo paper, a hand drier that actually works).

What establishments don’t realise is that, for women (I can’t speak for the men. God only knows what they have to put up with in the room marked “M”), the state of the room and the experience that lies behind that stupid little “W” is important enough to affect our opinion of the entire place. Regardless of how good the food, how cheap the drinks, how lovely the atmosphere of the place, how confusedly feminist they think they’re being by taking away the stick woman with the skirt on, if the establishment can’t provide something as basic as a clean bathroom that doesn’t leave us huffing and puffing with irritation and disgust, we’ll be taking our custom somewhere else, thank you very much. Read more by Maddie.

Saturday, 17 April 2010

With a little understanding, we could find the perfect blend.

Faithful readers will know how things stand with the folks next door. If you’re a newcomer, I’ll sum up the situation. They do a fabulous job of point blank ignoring me unless they want something, namely a package I signed for while they were out, or the return of one of the many Frisbees, balls and other missiles routinely hurled over the fence by their excessively shrieky children. Am I happy with this arrangement? No, not really, but I have the common sense to accept that, after nearly five years, it’s one of the things I can’t change - much like the continued presence of Ant and Dec on prime-time television.

That was the status quo until I brought home a new arrival of my own. After months of consideration I got a puppy, who is unspeakably adorable and annoying in equal measure. For a split second I contemplated worrying about his little squeaky bark disturbing them but dismissed it after remembering the solid 20 minutes of screaming that goes on every single day, without fail, at 6.45am the other side of my bedroom wall. Let them understand how annoying noisy neighbours can be.

It was about week later that lady from next door came round to collect another of her infernal packages. Sod’s law, she caught me still in my dressing gown, hair looking like I’d licked the toaster and mascara streaked across my face. Pitifully I tried to explain that I’d been struck down with an especially virulent strain of food poisoning (OK, fine I’d been out drinking until 5am but who needs to know that?). She nodded, but her eyes were fixated on my ankles.

“Ahhhh you’ve got a puppy!” she exclaimed, and even more shockingly, smiled. “We thought we’d heard something! He’s so sweet.” Picking up the wriggly squirming creature before she batted him around his tiny face with her giant hand, I darkly warned “Yes, but he’s still a little nippy.” Damn my nice side which made me feel a little guilty and relate the details of his name, breed, age, etc. She left and I thought no more of it.

A few days later, while in the middle of something important, the doorbell rang; in my porch stood man from next door with his own pack of beasts in tow. “Can we come in and see your dog?” he asked. Well, what kind of a person can say no to the hopeful little faces of two small children? In they came while I was forced to stop what I was doing, offer teas, make small talk and generally feel awkward in my own kitchen. Smashing.

Nonetheless, I tried to be as polite and friendly as possible while concealing my utter disgust when I was asked outright how much I’d paid. If we’re not on good enough terms for you to say hello to me in the street, we’re certainly not close enough to explicitly discuss money. Still, they left and I got back to work.

The next morning when yet again I was still in my pyjamas (honestly, I do have normal clothes and wear them a lot of time; it’s like they have a sensor for knowing when I’m not ready to receive people), the bell went again. This time the idle so-and-sos just sent the kids. Too lazy to come over and face yet more small talk I bet. Once more I invited them in. But the thing is I’m terrible at talking to small children. Never knowing exactly what they do and don’t understand I invariably end up speaking to them slowly and loudly in one syllable words as if they’re lost tourists asking for directions. Fifteen minutes of this merry hell elapsed before a parent came and retrieved them.

I don’t blame the kids. Their manners, up close, were better than expected. They’d brought me a picture of the dog. Very sweet, even though they think he’s called Baxter. It’s Dexter, actually. But still, it’s bit much to send your offspring over, totally uninvited, to pester the same neighbours you studiously ignore. Why not come round and actually spend a few minutes getting to know me? I’m pleasant enough to talk to. But not even the mother of all ice-breakers, a baby dog, is enough to strike up any form of acquaintance.

Instead, as the weather improves and I’m outside more, hanging out washing, playing with the dog or just taking time to enjoy the sunshine, two little heads routinely pop up over the garden fence shouting: “Baxter! Baxter! Baxter!” And once more I have to stop and talk to them (at least I’m improving with practice).

One of the joys of having no relationship whatsoever with the neighbours was feeling you could do exactly as you pleased in your own garden unconcerned by what they thought. But now, despite still being shunned, I no longer feel like I can sunbathe in my bra, or have a sneaky dry sherry with my al fresco lunch as I never know when the floating heads will reappear. I think I’d rather go back to being invisible. Read more by Rosie.

Image (people with dog cushions)
Image (washing line): Mantas Ruzveltas /

Saturday, 3 April 2010

How hard is it to give up your seat?

If you’re the sort of person who studiously looks at their feet when an elderly or disabled person gets on the bus so you don’t have to shift your bum out of your seat then, to borrow a phrase from The Inbetweeners, you’re a ‘bus wanker’. In fact, I think you’re just a bit of a wanker, bus or not.

My local bus company started life as a student shuttle service running between the university and the halls of residence. Those days are gone and it now serves most of the city and carries a huge range of passengers. Some of the students can’t seem to get their cloth-eared little heads round the fact that not all the passengers are lazy students rolling in to 9am lectures. Many have been known to get territorial about letting the ‘wombles’ (the charming name given to the elderly passengers) onto the bus.

The students sit there gossiping loudly about who they want to pull and ‘like I’ve got so much work to do OMG’ and, as soon as someone who could actually do with sitting down gets on the bus, they either shut up and become engrossed in their phones or they talk even more loudly as if they’re deaf as well as blind.

When I offer my seat to someone more in need of it than me, nine times out of 10 they will politely decline, forcing me to engage in a battle of wits to get them to take my seat whether they like it or not. I can’t just sit there even if they decline the seat because I always imagine them to be thinking that I’m an ill-mannered lout. One thing is for certain, if my stepmother ever caught me not offering my seat to someone I’d get a clip round the ear, even if I am 28 and haven’t lived at home for 12 years.

The other thing that winds me up about bus travel is being stuck sitting next to men who feel compelled to sit with their legs as wide apart as is humanly possible. Are they trying to make the entire bus stare at their crotch? On the way home recently I sat next to an imbecile doing this, legs akimbo and a look on his face that said “Yeah? And?” His inability to sit properly left me clinging onto my seat with half my bottom and digging my heels into the floor to stop myself sliding down the aisle of the bus as it took a rather sharp corner. The temptation to elbow him straight in the gonads was overwhelming, but unfortunately, or fortunately for him, he left the bus before I got a chance.

It’s not difficult to exhibit a little common courtesy so, next time you’re on a bus, why not give it a try? Yes, students of Southampton University, I am talking to you! A slight word of warning, though: do be careful offering your seat to someone you think is pregnant without being absolutely sure it is a baby in there and not just a food baby. I was mortified when that happened to me in Rome; that’s the one time I did wish the lad had just stayed in his seat, staring at the floor. Read more by Alice.

Image: Journal of Public Transit in Ottawa.

Friday, 2 April 2010

Hell is a supermarket full of other people.

Ah, the weekly trip to the supermarket. How I relish it. Off I scamper, head filled with thoughts of all the lovely things I’m going to buy, the delicious dinner I have planned for that evening.

In I go, grab my basket and make my way to the veg aisle. And I am stopped dead in my tracks by a mothers’ meeting. They’re not deliberating between the iceberg or the little gem or even exchanging recommendations; they’re just blathering away to one another about well ... nothing in particular: last night’s Coronation Street and that Brenda from down the road.

They look positively annoyed when, with an ‘excuse me’ and a smile, I try to get past. I was polite – don’t glare at me! – and surely there are better places to catch up than in amongst the tomatoes in Lidl? They don’t so much attempt to move out of the way, rather lean back, and I tentatively squeeze past, put a bag of spinach in my basket and swiftly move on to the distinctly less hostile cured meat section.

My initial annoyance has all but disappeared by the time I make it to the bread when, lo and behold, some pikey shoves into me and grabs at a packet of crumpets with a neon ‘30% less!’ sticker slapped on the side. Not so much as a ‘sorry’, just glee at the bargain he’s bagged. I mean, I’m all for watching the pennies but selling decorum for less than 20 pence? I think he’s been robbed.

The rest of my mission goes fairly smoothly, bar being confronted by three small children tearing around the aisles shouting at one other. However, one glance in the direction of their harassed-looking mother and I’ve got to allow it. I’ve not got to take the little buggers home; she has.

I head to the checkout. The queue’s long but it’s creeping closer and closer towards the tills. As I wait patiently, minding my own business, the woman standing behind me gets a call on her mobile and, as everyone takes a baby step forward, she promptly kicks her basket along the floor and slams it right into my heels. Given that it’s a Sunday and I am therefore wearing flip-flops (don’t ask me to explain the reasoning behind this), it hurts. A lot. I turn and glare but she’s oblivious to my irritation and pain and, in the space of the next five minutes, proceeds to do it a further four times. Does she genuinely not realise my Achilles tendons are acting as a buffer for her shopping? Or does she give herself a point for each time she manages to strike?

At long last I reach a till. I hurriedly pay the cashier, throw my purchases into bags and hobble out and towards freedom. Sod the dinner I was dreaming of, all I want now is a large glass of wine. And to do my shopping online in future. Read more by Chess.

Thursday, 1 April 2010

Out with the cold, in with stupidity.

Spring has sprung and I should be full of the joys ... but I am not. After a winter of distinct discontent and dark dreary days mired by recession, freezing temperatures and general hard bloody work, I was looking forward to enjoying – nay, revelling – in the mellow and sublime British springtime. What form does this revelling take, I hear you cry. (Those who know me understand that I am not a natural partaker in revelry.)

Well, it might include strolling past daffodils in the park, sitting outside a cafe sipping a cosy hot chocolate as I watch the world roll by or going for a brisk walk along the Thames. But all my attempts in this direction have been thwarted by the sheer annoyance that has risen up within and turned my innards into a writhing mass of knotted irritation.

This particular strain of annoyance was triggered when I was waiting for my friend on a pleasant springtime Saturday morning. As I stood outside Waterloo Station, I saw the most incredible sight: a trio of girls were walking out with no coats on. Not only had they failed to adorn their bodies in the vital warmth provider that is the blessed coat; they also had short sleeves and bare arms. By the time my friend arrived I was incredulous and spitting a rant on the subject of the madness of the British public.

But just consider for a moment the fact that this sight was not a one-off. Later that week I saw a woman hurrying past me with no coat and showing bare arms and legs. You might well hurry, lady, I thought to myself, but speed ain’t gonna keep you warm.

I keep seeing people behaving as though we are in the midst of a heat wave. I just cannot fathom why we go through this year after year. The moment a weak, struggling ray of spring sun descends upon Britain, the public goes mad. They discard their clothes and all rational thought along with them. They step out and display their pasty limbs which, frankly, should be kept firmly covered until there is no danger of goose bumps making their legs and arms look like chicken skin.

Is it just the British who suffer from this over enthusiasm for the sun? Are we the only nation that has no concept of temperature? Why are we so keen to display our flesh? It is unsightly, undignified and distasteful.

I will be keeping my coat firmly on my back until the temperature is at least in double figures. In the mean time, I am trying to avoid the ugly sight of pale chicken skin, so I am limited as to where I can go. The park is out. The riverside walk is out. And I can kiss daffodil-gazing goodbye. Please, people, I want to see the spring. Put your clothes back on. Read more by Naomi.

I am not your 'love'. I am your customer.

There are some things I simply can’t let wash over me. Having strangers, especially customer service people, call me ‘love’ is one of those things. I mean, how dare they? Who do they think they’re speaking to? Their mum? Their grandma? Their girlfriend?

Well, I’m none of the above, and being addressed in this over-familiar way by complete strangers irks me to my very core. My very core, I tell you!

It happens so often, and each and every time it makes me flinch. “That’s two-pound-fifty, love,” says the man at the ticket office in my train station. “Where to, love?” asks the taxi driver.

Today I was reminded how much this offends me, when I answered a call from somebody attempting to get me to sign up for one of those makeover and photoshoot days at a studio and was greeted initially with a casual “Hello, love.”

If a complete stranger calls me, on my mobile, at a time that suits them not me, and they’re trying to sell me something, how dare they, for one single solitary second, think they are entitled to address me as ‘love’?

I didn’t say anything in objection the first time and allowed the guy to give me the spiel. (This wasn’t a cold call as such; back in December I got sucked in by a special offer for a haircut with this photography deal built in. I had the haircut straight away and promptly forgot about the shoot, so the studio was calling me to check if I still wanted it. Fair play, really, but still.)

I soon gathered, though, that they were asking for more money over the phone, as a deposit for the shoot. I’d gone off the idea completely, truth be told, and the whole deal only cost me the price of one of my usual haircuts so, you know, nothing lost on my side. I certainly didn’t want to get caught up making another payment to them for something I didn’t really want. “I’ve decided not to go ahead with this, actually,” I told my ‘gentleman’ caller.

“Oh, why’s that, sweet?”

Sweet’? Had he actually just called me ‘sweet’? A man I don’t know. A person engaged in a conversation geared towards taking my money. A man talking to a woman in a customer service scenario. Yes, yes, I’d heard him correctly.

“I don’t have to explain to you why I don’t want the service. I’m a customer and I’ve simply changed my mind,” said I, a bit trembly in the voice now on account of the irritation.

“You might as well do the shoot, love, as you’ve already paid for it.”

Well, that was it. Hit the roof, didn’t I?

“You should not call me ‘love’ or ‘sweet’. You don’t know me and it is completely inappropriate. Please count me out of the whole deal and strike me off your list of contacts. Thank you. Good BYE.”

I really resent the fact that there is no way to slam down a mobile phone to end a call. There’s only so much dramatic statement to be made from pressing a button really hard.

I’m not asking to be called ‘madam’ or ‘miss’. That’s probably going a bit far. But, in customer service interactions and sales calls – in fact, in any interaction with someone I don’t know – I definitely expect the person to be polite and vaguely aware that I’m actually not his best mate or his girlfriend, and that we’re not having a chat on the sofa.

It should feel a bit stiff and awkward, because it’s a business interaction and our custom is at stake. They should damn well address us with courtesy and formality. Presumably they think, if there is indeed any thinking behind it and it’s not just laziness and/or sexism, that being chatty and forcing us to engage with them in a personal way will win us over and make us feel comfortable.

Well, it does not. It makes me see red. I’m sure men get called ‘mate’ all the time, too, which must be equally aggravating.

Actually, I’ve just remembered I got called ‘mate’ several times by an electrician once. I was so baffled by the fact that this man apparently interacted with everyone, male and female, as his ‘mate’, I totally forgot to be offended by the rudeness. Until now. Read more by Maddie.