Wednesday, 28 July 2010

No rest for the Grumpy

There is something seriously wrong going on here. Work has been busier than usual, which is OK, I can live with that. But it’s not just my paid employment. I’m overworked at home.

Don’t get me wrong, Him Indoors doesn’t have me scrubbing the floor on my hands and knees on a daily basis and starching his shirts with one hand and cooking a roast dinner with the other every Sunday. It’s everything else. And who is it who is pushing me to these limits? Well, me actually.

The thing is, in order to get anything done, I need to set myself little targets. For example, I make myself write for this blog once a fortnight and my fledgling Love to Hate London blog every week. Easy peasy, you might say. But then there is the “long piece”, which I have been chipping away at all year at the rate of 1,500 words a week. No problemo, I hear you cry.

Are you kidding me? OK, so I can fit that into my schedule around the full time job, the housework, the social life and three visits to the gym a week (at my peak anyway ... and no, I haven’t been this week ... yet). But then there are the distractions of the internet.

A-ha! Facebook addict! You may accuse. Well, not really. The thing is I am keen to promote my writing now I have got into the swing of it. And that takes time. Online. A friend of mine introduced me to Twitter. “It is a really good way to network, but you do have to devote a lot of time to fully utilise it,” she warned. I nodded obediently, wondering to myself what the big deal is. I just write a few random comments every now and then, right? Wrong! You need to seek out your followers, retweet them, direct message, reply and mention them in order to get their followers to see you too – and in the hope that they will return the favour of sharing the birdie love. It is not for the faint-hearted.

Then I asked the lovely Maddie York for advice on setting up a newsletter to send out to current (and potential) blog followers – or anyone else who is unfortunate enough to have their email address in my contacts list. She replied with a comprehensive email explaining in technophobe language how to go about it. Now I just need to find the time between visiting my sister up in Leeds and hosting a barbeque the weekend after to get my butt into gear and do it. Then the hostess with the mostest Blogger sent me a very useful email telling me how to fully utilise its promotional tools, linking my blog to Facebook, Twitter and even Amazon. Oh goody, I thought, something else I need to do but don’t know how the hell I am going to find the time to do it.

Then there are the other things I need to do. Like reading my book club book, going to see the osteopath, looking after the plants on the terrace (note to self: I must water them when I have finished being grumpy). Talking to my mum on the phone. Shaving my legs. All things that I need to do (and most of which I enjoy doing) but seem to be finding increasingly difficult to squeeze in at the moment. And yes, it is all self-inflicted. Put it down to over-ambition or plain craziness, I don’t know ... and I don’t even have time to figure out what to do about it. And I’m supposed to be starting a college course in September too ...

Last night I promised myself a night of chilling out in front of the telly with a glass of wine followed by a candle lit bath. I was in need of some R&R, and, what with meeting a friend today, going to the gym, the osteopath and meeting another friend for lunch on Friday before catching my train up north, it seemed like the best opportunity to allocate myself a little bit of “me time”. So, did I have the glass of wine? Oh yes. Did I watch some mindless telly? Indeed – whilst chatting to my sister and pratting on the internet. As for the candlelit bath ... well, that didn't happen. It got to 9.15 and I hadn’t even tweeted yet ...

Read more by Shelly on Grumpy Young Women
Visit her blog at and follow her on Twitter.

Thursday, 22 July 2010

Chess's Charming Neighbours

I’ve got some really rather charming neighbours. They throw things like dirty nappies and KFC boxes into our garden. But only when we’re not watching.

It all started when we moved in; first the occasional Fruit Corner pot, graduating to beer bottles then full on bin bag missiles. Bin bags tend to create a lot of mess, particularly on a windy day when they’ve been speared by a tree. And, judging by the contents of said bags, I am frankly concerned for the health of the perpetrators whilst simultaneously pissed off by the risk they pose to my own. But it gets better.

I was woken one morning last week by scrabbling, screeching, something smacking against the window pane. Tired and a little hungover, I did my best to ignore it and go back to sleep but with only partial success. Once I had dragged my bones out of bed, showered and dressed, I opened the curtains to reveal a dead pigeon swinging by one foot from the wire surrounding the guttering. I screamed. I cried. I felt utterly disturbed and quite sick. My boyfriend rushed to shut the curtains and hide the dangling corpse from view while its pigeon friends congregated around it, for what reason we could not imagine. Some undiscovered form of avian grief? Cannibalism? No: the people in the flat above were feeding the dirty little specimens. Not only were they depositing human waste in our garden but they were beckoning filthy, disease-ridden creatures to our bedroom window.

I called the council as soon as I arrived at work that morning and they pledged to ‘address the situation as appropriate’, promising to call me when they’d cleaned the gutters out and presumably given someone a bollocking. For the next five days I was awoken by the same noise (thankfully minus the cadavers) and decided to call back and find out exactly what was going on:

‘Sorry, there’s no record of your call. And anyway, we don’t deal with pest control. You’ll have to phone this number instead.’

So I called the number the lady gave me, then they made me call someone else and then I was put on hold four 15 minutes then finally, finally I was granted the privilege of a conversation with a council worker. I explained the situation, my shock, my utter disgust; she was making the right noises and I really felt like I was getting somewhere.

‘So what are the options?’

‘Well, I’ll issue a letter saying we’ve had a complaint from your address and hopefully it will encourage them to stop.’

A letter? With my address on it? To compel the skanks upstairs to dream up something even more revolting to subject us to? Weeing over the side of the balcony, perhaps? I conveyed this to her in the politest possible terms and subsequently demanded that she dispatch somebody to clean the rice out of the gutters and pay them a visit and, after much umming and ahhing she eventually agreed.

The council are popping into our neighbours’ flat at the weekend and I am feeling a strange mixture of excitement and dread, anticipating either the first decent night’s sleep I’ve had in a while or a deluge of chicken bones and Pampers. But if all else fails we have a back-up plan: an arsenal of that 90s favourite, the SuperSoaker. Suggestions for what they should contain are most welcome. Read more by Chess.

Monday, 19 July 2010

The perils of sun cream

Summer is well and truly here. The shades are on, the layers are off, and everyone is in a decidedly better mood – or they were until England was knocked out of the World Cup anyway. The parks are packed and the beer gardens are bursting. Happy days.

But, yes, I’m afraid I have something to be grumpy about. No, I’m not going to complain that it’s too hot – if the sun were to suddenly disappear it would no doubt be all my fault. I’m not even going to moan about summer telly – even without the footie we now have Channel Four and its sister channels going Big Brother bonkers, thankfully for the last time.

What I truly hate about summer – or more specifically, sunny weather – is sun cream. I hate it. But I can’t live without it. You see, without a decent amount of SPF I would shrivel up like a rasher of streaky bacon that’s been left under the grill for too long. At this time of year, I truly envy those around me will lovely dark skin who can get away without protection, or at least get by with a light coating of factor 15. Not me. I’m slathering it on every morning before work, again in the middle of the day if I am out of the office, and topping it up before making my way home. So by the time I get home I resemble one of those triple-cooked chips. So sexy!

Then, being a resident of lovely London, I have to put up with the layer of grime that sticks to my tacky limbs whenever I step outdoors. So whenever I re-apply I am basically massaging dirt into my skin. Not any old triple-cooked chip, you see, but one liberally seasoned with muck. Lovely! And yes, I have seen the adverts for all these wonderful sunscreens that are invisible, non-sticky, non-greasy. And yes, I have tried some of them. The verdict? So far I have failed to see any difference. Maybe more of a roast potato than a chip, but still not quite the look I was after. I did try those one-application-a-day versions a couple of years ago too. All very well and good, but you still need to re-apply every six hours or so, and they are even thicker and gloopier than their counterparts. Yummy.

I’m sure someone reading this will tell me about a super brand that does exactly what it says on the tin. I’m also sure that the said product, if it actually does live up to its reputation, has a hefty price tag to match. So if you are fair like me and want to stay looking fresh and frisky rather than frazzled and filthy this summer, you’ll have to put paying off your summer holiday on hold. Or just stay indoors and watch crap telly. Read more by Shelly.

Sunday, 18 July 2010

That's quite enough money grabbing, thank you very much.


There’s nothing like a recession to bring out one’s finest qualities, my own being the complete lack of desire to give away my money unnecessarily. Not to be confused with stinginess, you understand; I’m (somewhat) happy to pay for goods and services, just not over the odds.

On realising that my passport had expired, I decided to investigate what would be required in order to update it. Let’s say nothing about the fact that renewing the passport itself costs the better part of £100, not because it isn’t excessive, but because I’ve cussed about it enough already – I can’t look at the form without turning the air blue. A little administration is not worth £100 – for that fee I expect to get the passport hand-delivered on a silver tray.

No, I was mainly aggrieved to be told that submission of the form would cost an additional £8 if done through the Post Office. That is £8 for them to undertake the initial work required, as would normally be done at the passport office. Bearing in mind this doesn’t get the passport to you any quicker, what exactly is the extra money for? The fee isn’t required when the passport office does the exact same work so I can only conclude that it’s money for nothing. The old distraction con: wave the excessive fee in my face while they slip their hand in my pocket.

Then there’s Royal Mail, of course. Ah, Royal Mail, making millions through incompetence for years. Although the service doesn’t improve, the cost of posting correspondence increases every year, but enough of that (air = blue).

My problem is with a handling charge of £1 in addition to the difference in the cost of stamps when a letter had insufficient postage. Why am I being charged? I didn’t send it. What is the point of a return address if you don’t bother using it? As far as I can tell, it is another money making scam: the process of collecting (and paying for) the letter was exactly the same as it is for a letter that went back to the depot because it needed to be signed for and I wasn’t home. That doesn’t attract a charge.

And the supermarket’s trick of gradually putting up the price of products or reducing the size/amount being provided without reducing the price really does my nut in. The massive profits they already make off the back of customers and farmers are simply not enough. They want more, they need more and will stick vacuum hoses in our pockets to get it while distracting us with BOGOFs and bonus points, trying to make us believe we’re getting a good deal.

If avoiding paying for unnecessary nonsense makes me stingy then so be it. I pay enough already, dammit! Read more by Shermaine.

Image: Chris Sharp /

Wednesday, 14 July 2010

Do you promise to spend your life savings on a wedding...? I don't.


It strikes me that if a person is rude enough to ask someone why they’re not married to their long term partner then they should expect an honest, albeit uncomfortable, answer. But the many women who are routinely assailed by this conversational grenade are polite creatures so they shelter away from the blast, instead hurling it right back by honestly answering “Because I think it’s a dreadful waste of money. I’d rather spend my cash on the deposit for a house/a trip around the world/starting my own small business.” Delete as appropriate.

If it was simply a case of nipping down the town hall wearing something clean, preferably in a moderate state of repair, saying a few vows and then going for a cup of tea afterwards, I bet a lot more non-marriage fans would come around. Personally, I think the most prohibitive factor in your average modern couple tying the knot is the huge expense it seems to entail.

You’re right Shelly: blowing your savings on a big poofey dress that on the day you’ll be too tired and then too pissed to appreciate is nothing short of lunacy. The hours you worked for that, the tax you paid and the things you missed out on to save it all up all gone so fast. Ahhh, but this is the ‘most special day of your life’, you’re about to tell me. Is it? According to statistics a lot of those special days will end in the divorce courts at some point down the line, so you’d better be sure.

Of course we’ve all fallen madly, head-over-heels for someone only to discover at a later date that the object of our affections is actually best mates with Satan himself. And at that point, rightly so, you want to be a million away miles from them. Let’s just hope you didn’t spend the best part of £20k on the act of legally uniting with the person who didn’t turn out to be your soul mate after all.

It’s the parents who get my sympathy. Chances are they dipped into their savings, wanting to give their little girl her big white wedding. On the whole they’re nice like that. Things will probably be completely different by the time I’m in that position but right now I’m tempted to draw up a legally binding claw-back agreement. Divorce within a year, you’re paying me every penny back; within two, 50%, and so on. In this day and age you can happily live in sin, have babies out of wedlock and many other things our Victorian great-great-grandmothers would be thoroughly shocked about. There’s no actual necessity to marry, so you’d think people would take their time and make sure before entering into the big wedding circus.

Do you want my honest opinion as to why they do? Because culturally we’ve developed this notion that the bride-to-be is some sort of deity. It must be pretty nice to have eighteen months of people talking about your big day and how it’s important to get exactly what you want. Pushing the boat out, spending that bit more than you can really afford as it will be your wedding - who would not enjoy that? The rest of us have to make do with one day per annum of being the centre of attention, and that still comes with the downside of being a year older.

However, the prospect of upcoming nuptials allows you to behave exactly as you like: throw tantrums, make unreasonable demands and bore your friends to within an inch of their lives talking about it. Going back to being a lowly normal person after a prolonged period in the elevated status of ‘bride’ must be a bit of a downer. Not the best way to start married life. But I suppose it’s your life and your money. If you’ve earned it, it is up to you to do want with - even big meringue dresses or the release of 50 white doves to symbolise your love.

As soon you as receive your first invite you know the summer wedding season is officially underway. I got mine a few weeks ago and it’s an unbearably intricate affair. The invitation itself is hidden behind a labyrinth of three inner envelopes plus bits of issue paper (I’m taking that level of ridiculous excess to be a litmus test for the entire event). And even though it isn’t until September, I’m sure the blushing bride is already on an extreme diet, making appointments to have her teeth bleached and has filled every Saturday between now and then with dress fittings, cake tastings and floral consultations.

Then will come the big day when 150 of her closest personal friends all cram into a church looking like a Coast concession has thrown up on them while she and her betrothed stress about forgotten rings, whether everyone’s having a good time and that rain cloud threatening to ruin the pictures. I’m sure that feeling really is priceless. Read more by Rosie.

Congratulations to Rosie who recently had a modest but lovely wedding in Mauritius.

Image: Sharron Goodyear /

Thursday, 1 July 2010

Put them away, love


Oh, Maddie ... I thought I was the only person who had noticed the striking similarities between bikinis and the standard knickers and bra combo worn by most women, most of the time, underneath their clothes.

Nevertheless, I do like the sun, and with age I am getting fonder and fonder of flopping around in it with a cold beverage and a book. For this activity, the bikini is perfect for exposing human flesh to the UV rays, while being, hopefully, devoid of uncomfortable fastenings and restrictive seams. Still, it is also borderline indecent. So I only sport mine in the privacy of my own garden (and close friends’ - at a push, provided the number gathered there does not exceed four) and specially designated areas eg. the beach or poolside of a holiday resort.

It’s part old-fashioned prudishness and part genuine fear that if I did just amble out into the street or wander around my local recreation ground in a revealing two-piece, small children would run screaming from the sight. Despite my moderate commitment to watching what I eat and engaging in vigorous exercise, the overall of effect of me in one of these outfits is not an aesthetic joy.

And I’m not alone. Unless you are incredibly, incredibly lucky (or blessed with a suntan which, admittedly, can do wonders), the chances are you will not look at your best with your wobbly bits covered with only small triangles of stretchy fabric trying to battle gravity and other repeatedly proven scientific principles.

I’ve just arrived back from a beach holiday and have sufficiently topped up my people-watching to feel like an authority on the matter. From my lounger I watched all creatures, great and small, in their swimwear, rubbing in lotions and bravely showing scars, imperfections and the badges of age. While many of these people wouldn’t be chosen to grace the cover of glossy magazines, there was nothing offensive about them going about the business of suntanning and general beach relaxing.

That is with one exception, the one sub-group of sun worshipper at which I draw the line: the topless sunbather. This isn’t about age, weight or general quality of breast. I don’t care if you could be the next WonderBra model due to your perfect bosoms; I still don’t wish to see them wobbling around the place as you bob in the sea or, even worse, order drinks from the bar.

Yes, I know in some cultures it’s traditional for women to be bare-breasted but last time I checked that didn’t extend to the Brits. It’s far too cold here for that behaviour. I’m pretty certain these ladies don’t whip off their bra at the park, but get them on their holidays abroad and it becomes perfectly acceptable to them to have no clothing on from the waist up.

Live and let live, you may say. What does this have to do with me anyway? Technically, nothing. So why does it bother me so? Because it is just so unnecessary: the shops are packed with all sorts of strapless swimwear this year, so the most dedicated tanner can get a decent colour without worrying about lines. It’s not uncommon or offensive to see sunbathers lying face down with the back of their bikini undone, ensuring an even tan on their back.

Furthermore, it makes you wonder why these women require such comprehensive tanning. Excluding glamour models, strippers and all others forms of sex worker, the average person won’t be able to show off their gloriously bronzed breasts, so really, what is the point?

Instead you’ll just have two weeks of making people uneasy. The gawky poolside waiter who doesn’t really know where to look as you vigorously sign the bill, the beach hawkers wrapped up from head to toe to stop any sunlight getting at them and therefore think you’re mad, and the all the others who, while engaged in totally innocent activities likes daydreaming as they paddle in the waves, suddenly and unexpectedly come face-to-boob to with you.

Possibly the thing that encourages topless sunbathing is just exhibitionism; a chance to feel freer and less repressed in a different place where people don’t know you. However, I can’t help but wonder: would it still feel so liberating if you knew it made so many others downright uncomfortable? Read more by Rosie.

Image: Suat Eman /