Wednesday, 31 March 2010

It's good to talk; just do it quietly.

Today, I am glad to say, I am feeling quite chilled. Mellow. Calm. Why? Well, I’ve got a week off work (Smug? Me? Never!) and I started it with a long weekend with friends at Centre Parcs. Not only was much fun (and alcohol) had, but we made the wise decision of upgrading to a deluxe villa with our own private sauna, steam room and hot tub.

And then, of course, there was the on-site spa. I started the weekend with a scalp massage (strange but good) and rounded it off with three hours exploring the numerous steam rooms, salt water pool and shower “experiences” of Aqua Sana. Aaaah, bliss.

However, I can’t ignore a little niggle at the back of my mind. That niggle being the question of Spa Etiquette. My idea of a good time in a spa is relaxing in various hot and humid rooms with your mates, enjoying their company while respecting the aura of peace and harmony. I don’t expect complete silence in a spa, but I do expect people to keep, well, quiet. By all means, catch up with your chums, ask them for a bit of boyfriend advice and run your career plan past them, but keep your voice below a certain number of decibels.

Unfortunately, not everyone can follow these simple rules. They think it is acceptable to screech at each other while trying out the ice fountain. Apparently they aren’t expecting it to be cold, but even if it is news to you that ice tends to hover around zero degrees, I don’t want to hear about it. Not from the other end of the spa, anyway.

Oh, and then there’s the protocol to follow when you enter a sauna or steam room that someone else is already using. Rather than shushing each other loudly and giggling, why not show others a little respect? And when they sit up when you come in, it’s because they want to make sure there is room for you and your gaggle, not because they have a problem with sharing the room with you. And yes, when you slag off other spa-goers for being snobs for the above, I suggest you do it when you leave the spa – because you are clearly incapable of doing it quietly.

On the drive back from our little jolly, my friend commented that her boyfriend left early because the level of noise was off-putting for him. I agreed the spa was a little busy and some people didn’t quite grasp the concept of tranquillity. “It’s not that I mind people talking,” I continued. “I just expect people to talk to each other quietly.”

My friend looked at me. “Yes, but the spa did have signs all over it saying 'Ssh, be quiet'. People go there to relax, not to listen to other people talking.”

Now, that made me feel bad. I had been quite happily chatting away to the pair of them (in hushed tones, of course) throughout the session. Well, before they both went off on their own. Ooops.

So I am now left a little confused. Although I agree that spas should be relaxing places, surely you are permitted to talk? I like a bit of peace and quiet as much as the next spa-goer, but three hours is a long time to spend with your friends without talking. And what happens if you go to a spa for a whole day? Or even a weekend? Do you have to use sign language or pass each other notes to communicate?

My point is: I think to enjoy a spa experience you need to get the balance right. By all means, have a good time; just keep the volume down. And if you really need silence in order to relax, as far as I’m concerned you’re better off having a candle-lit bath. Human beings are sociable animals after all, and appreciate each other’s company. Read more by Shelly.

Sunday, 28 March 2010

Being late is not cute or eccentric; it's unacceptable.

I read Alice’s latest post on flakey friends with a sense of painful recognition. I, too, suffer at the hands of those who stretch the word ‘friend’ to its utmost limit by messing me around when it comes to getting together. The worst offender on record must surely be the individual who left me waiting outside Centre Point on the Tottenham Court Road for an hour and a half on an unbearably hot summer’s evening, to then text saying he been caught late at work. Funnily enough I already knew that as I’d been there for a full 90 minutes. Men could have played an entire game of football in that time.

Now, you’re probably wondering why I hung around so long doing aimless circuits around the block, past the Michael Jackson statue and We Will Rock You, before I pretended to browse merchandise in yet another sex shop, all with a raging cheap-white-wine-hangover.

Well, it’s my own fault. I worry about my own shortcomings. Some call me high maintenance and some are a little more unkind, going straight for fussy. I like things just so; not only big things but the little ones, too. Suspecting that my detractors may have a point, I often feel an obligation to tone down my flagrant disapproval and pretend that small things don’t bother me and I’m actually super chilled about the fact you’re running late.

I notice myself having to do it more and more when it comes to tardiness as slowly, bit by bit, the entire world loses the ability to turn up anywhere at the appointed hour. At the age of 15 I was awarded a prefect’s badge at school. My duties included lurking at the gate one week per half term and jotting down the names of those arriving after the first bell. Why, may we ask, was this done? To impress upon impressionable adolescents the importance of being on time. Not five minutes late, not 10 minutes late – on time.

Once I’d left school, GCSE results clutched in my sweaty hand, all instruction regarding lateness was finished. At Sixth Form College they were pleased you turned up at all, then university was a come-and-go-as-you-please affair with no registers. Surely the world of work would get things back on track. But no. Of the weird and wonderful mix of jobs I’ve had, most only become concerned with time keeping when looking for a reason to get rid of someone. The closer to Central London and the more professional the workplace, the laxer they become about lateness. It took me a long while to realise that up to 15 minutes late wasn’t late; it wasn’t even noticed. So now I see how the word got out and spread like wildfire.

Let’s not forget the role of the mobile telephone in this malevolent brainwashing. Once upon a time, one simply had to be at the agreed meeting place at the agreed time or the other party would give up and go home. Maybe a person would wait 15 minutes, 30 for a very good friend but after that the window of opportunity had closed. Now thanks to your little portable device you can send endless mendacious messages along the lines of: “Trains slow – there in 10 minutes” (which means “I left late and I’ll be half an hour”) or: “Just picking up a few bits in the shop, get yourself a drink and I’ll be there ASAP” (which means “I’m going to try on the contents of three clothes stores, seriously consider totally overhauling my entire look, buy something, take it back, buy something else and then meet you. Allow at least an hour; I hope you’ve got a book with you”).

That might be why it’s begun to happen, but let’s take a minute to talk about why it should not happen. For starters it is rude. In a world of incredibly busy people constantly chasing time and trying to squeeze yet more into the day, causing someone to lose a quantity of that precious commodity because you can’t be arsed to miss the end of Hollyoaks is thoughtless and selfish.

Although many a modern woman is perfectly capable of sitting in a bar, coffee shop or other venue alone, it doesn’t mean she enjoys it. Nor should she have to put up with it because a supposed mate is either unable to organise their own time or under the impression that their life is far more important than that of the kindly soul sat somewhere glancing hopefully at the door each time it opens. Regardless of what you may have seen, read or heard, lateness is not quirky, cute or eccentric. Keeping another person waiting, apart from in the instance of genuine emergency, is nothing short of bad form and a damning statement about your own time management skills. Read more by Rosie.


No, 4pm is not lunch time; it's tea time.


I find myself regularly baffled by how inconsiderate, cavalier and often downright stupid other people’s invitations to social engagements can be. “Come to a roast lunch at 4pm,” says one, and “come for coffee at 7pm,” says another, completely bloody oblivious to the fact that there are, for very good reasons, generally accepted meal times and sections of the day that are appropriate for various activities to take place. Bugger all of that boring convention, these people seem to say, bulldozing their way through the day in whatever way suits their own wants and desires, without considering the fact that the people with whom they want to share their “lovely lazy roast lunch at 4pm” have – shock! – the rest of their own day to think about. Well, I’ve had absolutely enough of this.

Life is sliced up by cycles and hours and meals and schedules, whether we like it or not (and I do), because having a generally agreed system in place helps people structure their days and interact smoothly and happily with other people. The person who crashes in with their supposedly relaxed late roast lunch tramples all over these conventions, requiring of their guests a complete overhaul of their day: their breakfast will have to happen later in order to prevent an unpleasant stomach-aching hunger by the time the lunch is served; they’ll get home at an awkward time after the gathering and not be able to join in with dinner with their family/partner/children, feeling full and very probably drunk at the wrong time of day; they’ll go to bed feeling that they’ve not eaten properly (regardless of how good the roast probably was), and wake up at 3am feeling hungry and confused and have to eat a bowl of Alpen, despondently, alone at the kitchen table, in the dark.

Is it really so difficult for people just to slot into the normal, standard meal times? Does this rebellion without a cause have to persist much longer? Will it (please!) subside once my generation reaches our thirties? It was sort of acceptable when we were all students and having our first experiences of living on our own terms, without our parents or schools imposing a timetable. We all loved it, I suppose. Leftover chow mein for breakfast at noon! Black tea and doughnuts for lunch at 5pm! Kebabs at 1am! Yeah, yeah, it was all deeply thrilling, I’m sure. (Need I tell you I absolutely hated all of that mayhem? You’ve probably gathered.)

In actual fact, it’s perfectly possible to enjoy a relaxing day while also observing a general system of meal times and slots for various engagements. The margins are, actually, quite generous, and they just make sense. 10am to 12 noon: coffee date.12 noon to 2.30pm: lunch date. 3pm to 5pm: afternoon tea. 5pm to 6.30pm: drinks (if only having drinks and not dinner). 6pm to 8.30pm: drinks and dinner. 8.30pm onwards: drinks gathering (or, American-style, drinks/coffee and desserts).

If everyone adhered to these broad slots, it would be possible to fit all of the above social engagements into a day – if you really wanted to! Our approach to initiating a meet-up should presume, by default, that our guests will have other engagements in their diary; that way, we are being considerate and making sure our lunch, tea or drinks party fits in with, rather than completely obliterates, their plans.

What pisses me off is the total lack of consideration, the bulldozing approach, the selfishness of the person who assumes everyone will drop everything to attend a lunch at 4pm. The lunch may well be delicious, marvellous, amazing, the social event of the year. But, if I have to eat it at a stupid time, I couldn’t care less what is served: I’ll already have a sour taste in my mouth. Read more by Madeleine.

Saturday, 27 March 2010

Only the crumbliest, flakiest friends ...


I have a friend who, to put it bluntly, is a flake. He’s a lovely guy, a friend of mine for five years, but pinning him down for a social occasion is like trying to nail jelly to a moving wall. It’s bad enough when it’s me that has suggested a get-together and he flakes out at the last minute, but I’m starting to lose count of the number of times he has arranged something and then failed to turn up.

It’s got to the stage where I don’t even leave the house to meet him until he’s sent a “Where are you?” text to chase me up; otherwise I end up sitting in the pub nursing a white wine on my own, looking shifty. My friends and I all let him get away with it because it’s been his behavioural pattern the entire time we’ve known him; however, finally the patience is starting to run out. It’s an understanding among my friends that we all lead busy lives and don’t get to meet up as often as we would like – which makes it an even bigger slap in the face when Flakey flakes out yet again.

In this technologically advanced world, I refuse to believe that people are unable to let others know if they have to cancel plans at the last minute. Between text messaging, emails, Facebook, Twitter, MySpace and a good old-fashioned telephone call, there’s a multitude of ways to let the person you are meeting know that you’re not going to turn up, saving them the indignity of being stood up.

However, even after the years of missed engagements and flakey behaviour, my friend doesn’t even quite win the crown of ‘Flakiest Friend’. That dubious honour goes to the guy who stood up my friends at their wedding.

His RSVP was sent and he even emailed them the day before saying how excited he was to see them get married and to celebrate with them – and then, nothing. He simply failed to materialise. If that wasn’t bad enough, he then disappeared off the face of the earth and didn’t even try to explain his absence from their special day.

Is it too much to ask for a little courtesy and a few manners in this day and age? In the case of some of my own friends, it seems the answer is yes. Read more by Alice.

Tuesday, 23 March 2010

Must we watch women put on their faces in public places?

If there is only one thing you need to know about me, it is that I’m not a morning person. Having to get up in the morning is one of the banes of my life, and every day that I don’t have to do it is a good day.

Nevertheless, as much as I hate it, I still do it when it is necessary.

Were it possible for me to be fine and fragrant the moment I rolled out of bed then I’d be laughing but, alas, that is not the case. I make time to get ready, because I have enough respect for my fellow Londoners not to leave my house looking like the love child of a troll doll and a gremlin.

It takes a lot of time and effort to get me looking decent enough to leave the house, but I get out of my bed so that I have enough time to do it. To me, it is a common courtesy but, apparently, this isn’t a belief shared by all.

There’s a reason why I keep my grooming rituals confined to my home and it isn’t just because it ain’t pretty. It’s also because there are just come things that need to be kept private. Whether it is applying make up or shaving your legs, there a some things that a woman needs to keep to herself, not undertake on a tube carriage or a train platform. Yep, I said women, because women appear to be the worst culprits. I know we have more maintenance to undertake but that should be no excuse for letting everyone see it.

Don’t get me wrong; I’ve seen men acting in a disgusting manner as if they believe themselves to be invisible. Most notably was a man who felt it necessary to pick his teeth by shoving his finger into his mouth as though searching for gold. And they do love rearranging their junk (or maybe checking that it’s still there). I don’t want to see the things that people should keep to themselves, whether they be male or female. This is an equal opportunity rant.

I do not want to see other women dragging at their faces in the process of applying make up as though they’re in the privacy of their own bathrooms. Call me picky, but I don’t want to be covered in foundation powder and I hate the smell of nail varnish. I shouldn’t have to be assaulted in this manner.

I’m well aware that the media have a lot to do with it, making women think that we can only look good by using all the lotions and potions we can find. Don’t believe the hype, people! It’s all airbrushing – don’t be swayed by it. In any case, many women I’ve seen look a lot better without all the slap that they insist on wearing. This helps when it comes to the common argument of needing to use public areas because “I don’t have enough time in the morning”. Do without, and save both time and money.

We shouldn’t all have to be subjected to it. Get out of bed earlier so that you have enough time for your morning ablutions, change out of the pyjamas, shave everything that needs it, spray on the smellies and slap on the war paint. Alternatively, go to war without it. Whatever you do – keep it to yourself. Not least because being choked by a cloud of perfume isn’t fun for anyone. Read more by Shermaine.

Thursday, 18 March 2010

Britain, please stop licking the lid of life, ok?

I used to be one of those people who would lick the top of the yoghurt pot with relish, carefully wriggling my tongue across the foil to make sure I got every last drop. After all, I’d paid for it, right? That was until I moved in with my current housemate, the Physics Geek. We rubbed along together nicely for just short of five years before his actions one sunny afternoon altered the course of my dairy appreciation forever.

Picture the scene: PG sat in our living room noshing his way through a sandwich, with an apple and a yoghurt on the table in front of him. All fairly innocuous items, nothing that caused particular concern ...

Until he opened the yoghurt.

Something about the way he fondled and caressed the foil caught my attention. The way his tongue deftly and expertly licked all the creamy goodness and, oh my, was he groaning? I felt repulsed watching him lick that foil as if he was licking the lady parts of a very hot woman. I felt the hairs on the back of my neck stand up as his eyes closed slightly, caught up in the pleasure of the moment.

I had hoped that it was a momentary lapse in PG’s usually reserved nature, that perhaps he was having a flashback to some summer afternoon lovers’ tryst and got carried away. Sadly that hope was dashed over the coming weeks when he kept exhibiting the same oral pleasure over his Muller lights. I considered feigning a massive fatal allergy to yoghurt preventing it from crossing our threshold but he would have seen straight through that and so every time I am in the vicinity when the yoghurt comes out I scrunch up my eyes, put my fingers in my ears and sing “lalalalala” until it’s all over.

It’s not just damaged my relations with PG. I am unable to be around other yoghurt eaters without wanting to spit and curse at them, snarling like some she-beast as soon as their tongue starts venturing towards the lid. I dream of creating an advertising campaign to draw others to the cause of non yoghurty lid tongue action however I suspect, as with my unsuccessful campaign to outlaw pencils, I’ll be the only member and will end up sat at home alone forlornly scraping the yoghurt off the lid ... with a spoon. Read more by Alice.

Wednesday, 17 March 2010

Let's rescue the king of beverages

Oh, tea. It really is quite a drink, isn’t it? It has such a marvellously comforting quality, particularly when it’s just right. For me that means real leaf tea heaped in a chunky teapot filled up with water just at the moment it boils in the kettle, stirred, left for a few minutes to brew with a tea cosy on, on a tea tray with gorgeous cups, a tea strainer, milk, sugar for those partial, and a spoon. Then, it’s poured into the cups through the strainer, milk is added, stirred gently, and it’s ready to drink, all steaming, strong and powerful.

Yes, there’s quite a lot to making the perfect cup of tea in my world. I’m OK with teabags, just about, and there are certainly ways to make the most of a teabag brew so that it creates almost the same effect as the real stuff. Putting the teabags in a pot and leaving them in there to brew helps, for starters, instead of allocating one bag per mug and doing that vaguely depressing thing of prodding the teabag about in the water, scooping it out and plopping it in the bin or, worse, on the sideboard so that it sits there sweating its sad little cold life away.

The way you involve the milk is crucial, too. With a teabag brew, the only acceptable way to do it is to get the tea to the full strength – whether that’s through said prodding/plopping action, or through brewing it in a pot and then pouring it out – and then, only then, adding the milk. Sorry, but that thing people do where they add cold milk to the teabag before pouring the boiling water in? I don’t know what to say, actually. It renders me aghast.

Tea is ritual, first and foremost. It’s not actually a functional drink. Fine, it’s hydrating, but its purpose is so much more than that. If you’re thirsty, drink some water. The whole point of having tea is that it’s more fun. It’s about mood. And it’s about sharing, getting together and having a chat while it brews, pouring it out from the communal pot, and then going back for a second cup just because you can, and it’s nice.

So, office tea rounds really are one of the most depressing things I’ve ever encountered. And, actually, they are one of the principle reasons I don’t slot easily into the office environment. There’s just no place in the corporate world for a girl who wants tea time to involve pots, strainers and cosies, is there? Unless you make the bold decision early on to be the office nutter, winning yourself an irritating tea-based nickname like Loopy Leafy and being sent incessant internal emails and YouTube videos that have any slight ‘hilarious’ reference to Mad Hatter’s Tea Parties for however long you stay with the company which, because of the tedious tea nutter role you’ve assumed, will feel like approximately forever.

The worst thing about office tea rounds, for someone like me who is massively controlling and prescriptive about how tea should be made, is having to relinquish control to the person doing the round. I can’t say “Oh, that’s fine, you make everyone else’s; I’ll do my own” because that’s just rude, selfish and sounds nutty, and you certainly can’t follow your colleague into the kitchen and hover over them giving pointers and complaining when they’re doing it wrong. And you can’t always be the one to make the tea because you end up looking like the company skivvy. So, you either have to opt out of tea rounds completely, or allow the tea to be made for you in full knowledge of the atrocities happening behind the office kitchen door.

And eventually your tea arrives on your desk, and you just know from its appearance that it’s had almost no attention paid to it. It’s quite clearly a drink that’s been bunged together: bag, plonk, milk, slosh, done. It’s got a slight film of unstirred milk floating on its surface. It’s pale and not steaming: you suspect the milk’s gone in before the water. Horrifying. Instead of flavour – you’ve taken a sip to give it a chance – it has the sad non-taste of a drink prepared almost with disdain, as though the person resented the time it took even to brew it for 10 seconds. And you drink half of it, out of politeness, and if the tea maker passes by your desk you make a big “Oh, what am I like?” pretence of having innocently forgotten it and let it go cold.

Dear, oh dear. It really is unbearable. I just can’t see the point of drinking tea unless it’s made properly. I seriously think the office workers of this nation may as well just do water rounds and have done with it. At least there’s less room to make mistakes in preparation. I wonder: would everyone start jealously guarding their own particular water glass: one person with a tumbler, one a pint glass and another a hi-ball? I’m sure office politics would ensure that even water rounds would become a ridiculous song and dance, possibly leading to memos from HR about how best to transition an effective water preparation strategy going forward to ensure hydration buy-in from all team members.

But, it would still be preferable. Frankly, anything to protect tea, the king of beverages, from this ongoing, needless abuse. Read more by Maddie.

Seriously, who would sell their home because a fake letter told them to?

It takes a person with a special talent to be able to annoy others despite not having any direct contact with them. In my world that unique honour goes to estate agents. Why is it that anything to do with property brings out the worst in people?

Sadly, estate agents are a necessary evil. Even with the proliferation of do-it-yourself house sales and purchases, I can accept that some people still want to go to an agent to make use of their services. ‘Go to’ being the operative phrase. But an estate agent touting for business where there is none really takes the chocolate HobNob.

In my area, they market themselves in the same way as takeaway restaurants, with endless leaflets cluttering up the letterbox. The only difference is that they do make the effort of putting their mailshots in an envelope to give the impression that it is actually a real letter. Sometimes, rarely, they do the research to find out the name of the addressee. Most times they can’t be bothered and simply address it to ‘The Occupier’.

And no matter which company they come from, these missives are all along the same lines: “We have qualified applicants looking for a property just like yours.” Really? Have they actually seen my flat? Was that them I caught looking in my windows? I’m sure that if they saw the newspaper and book-strewn rooms and weird layout I call home, they’d change their minds.

I’m beginning to suspect they all coordinate their efforts specifically to piss me off. There is often a brief, deceptive quiet spell before you get deluged with attempts to convince you to sell or rent out your home. I wonder whether they genuinely believe that people will make such a major decision in the same way that they peruse menus for their dinner.

Botheration by correspondence is one thing; it is quite another when they get in my face. One of the perils of living in a flat is coming into contact with one of them when they are showing another unit. Finding one of their damned minis parked in the space that belongs to me, despite the space belonging to the flat they are showing being empty, causes me to have a reaction similar to that achieved by dunking a Gremlin in a bucket of water. It ain’t pretty.

It gets even worse when the agent doesn’t bother to lock the communal door – the same door that morons have previously attempted to force. Not a good idea with a territorial and belligerent woman in the building. I caught up with him and politely requested that he make sure the door was locked and that he stayed out of my space. He responded with excuses. I responded by loudly mentioning the attempted break-ins within hearing distance of a pair of potential renters. War!

When they’re not killing trees for their publicity or giving people the opportunity to burgle me, they still make their omnipotent presence felt with endless advertising boards. Flimsily constructed, they are the ideal plaything for many a drunkard to find and brandish as a trophy on the stagger home.

And the quality doesn’t stop there. These are highly trained professionals, aren’t they? I’d like to know exactly how much training you need for the skilled job of unlocking a front door. Not that much. The last time I made use of the services of an estate agent, I learnt that one was a bricklayer the week before and another was doing the job part time whilst studying. The high level of staff turnover that most estate agents experience is very telling. The majority of them are completely unqualified to do the job and it shows. Nice to know your biggest purchase or large piece of monthly expenditure is entrusted to such an honourable bunch then.

No one can possibly have any faith in a profession that has been the subject of repeated documentaries that blatantly exposed their fraudulent ways. I certainly can’t. But I will take the Thai takeaway menu, though. Read more by Shermaine.

Monday, 8 March 2010

Please: let's pull our socks up when it comes to getting dressed


I looked at myself in the mirror this morning and decided that, unless partaking in physical exercise, I’m too old to wear trainers. Aside from actual sport, I’m taking exercise to include long walks, prolonged periods of standing, DIY and gardening. With persuasion I might even let long haul air travel onto the list, too. But that’s it. The rest of the time my feet will be in footwear appropriate to the activity I’m doing. Seems logical enough, yet I know I’m in the minority with this view.

I understand that people compulsively wear trainers at the expense of anything else because they’re comfy. Shoes, especially cheap ones, can rub and chafe, causing a great deal of pain. You have my sympathy; I’ve got odd-shaped feet meaning that every new pair of shoes I buy will draw blood before the leather gives in and we eventually get to a point where we can exist together in harmony. However, I persevere as I realise that looking respectable requires a little discomfort.

But the triumph of the trainer over the sensible shoe is just the tip of the iceberg. Tracksuits are next on my clothing hate list. It seems so few people can get it right. The clue’s in the name, folks. Loose trousers and tops in fleecy or jersey material are designed to be worn by athletes to keep them warm in preparation for or after physical exertions such as running around a track at speed or jumping over a high bar. Apparently that now includes the not-yet-Olympic sport of slowly pushing a supermarket trolley.

“As soon as someone wanders out into the open wearing a fabric malapropos, then I have the right to complain about it.”

Of course I’ll acknowledge that many people own some form of what the Americans would call ‘sweats’, donned on lazy TV days, during periods of illness and other activities in which the wearer is restricted solely to their own home. What people want to do behind closed doors is up to them and certainly not my place to comment on.

But as soon as they wander out into the open wearing a fabric malapropos, then I have the right to complain about it. Shopping centres, cinemas and pubs are routinely filled with people giving the impression that they might break into a jog at any minute. The irony is that it’s so often larger individuals who are clad head to toe in athletic apparel, when in all probability their last bit of aerobic exercise was answering the door to the pizza delivery man.

Not only is it inappropriate, it’s unattractive and makes the wearer look plain ridiculous. Can you imagine slipping into some ski wear – salopettes and jacket, or maybe even an 80s one-piece – for a quiet drink with friends? How about some shooting wear for shopping? Cape and deerstalker for a wander down the high street?

Not keen? Why ever not? Well, I’d assume most people would feel a bit silly dressed in specialist clothing for an activity they’re clearly not doing. So why is the tracksuit any different? Only because it’s seductively easy to wear.

“Next time I spot someone in denim at a ceremonial occasion I won’t hesitate to suggest they get on with changing a light bulb or weeding a nearby border.”

It astounds me that the desire for personal comfort is so great that it justifies being seen out and about in something resembling an adult romper suit. Clothing has developed to become a lot more comfortable and a lot less restrictive in line with what people want for their everyday lives; starched shirts and corsets are now resigned to vintage clothing fans. With so much body-friendly apparel out there, I can’t fathom why people choose to dress as if suffering from all-over bedsores.

Then there’s the abandonment of formal attire. A little bit of me dies every time I go to a black tie event only to spot some idiot in a pair of jeans. Christmas parties at fancy locations, weddings and other formal parties are not the place to show off a total lack of understanding of clothing etiquette. Jeans, originally designed as heavy duty work clothes to be worn during manual labour, have no place at such occasions. Next time I spot someone in denim at a ceremonial occasion I won’t hesitate to suggest they get on with changing a light bulb or weeding a nearby border.

How a person chooses to dress makes a big statement about them to the outside world. Thankfully the old adage that it is ill bred to be overdressed is no longer true. There is now no excuse for being too lazy to spend the time and effort on dressing properly. Taking pride in your appearance demonstrates a certain level of self-respect and suggests an understanding of how the world works.

I despair of people who bitterly complain about not being taken seriously when they insist on wearing lurid logo-covered items which look as if they were designed exclusively for Kevin the Teenager. If you choose to dress like a child, don’t be surprised to be treated as such. Read more by Rosie.

Image (trainers) :

Sunday, 7 March 2010

Why overpluck? Don't we need our eyebrows to form expressions?

There is a serious issue that needs to be debated, chewed over, by society. It might be good if someone could arrange a slot on Question Time. Yes, Dimbleby’s input is definitely needed. Actually, let’s go the whole hog and throw this issue onto the agenda at PMQs. Politicos (and politicas) out there, I call for your help in bringing this issue to the jaded attention of Broken Britain.

It is, of course, the nationally important matter of women overplucking their eyebrows.

I’ve been bothered by this for many, many years, ever since girls at my school began sporting thinner and thinner eyebrows until, by sixth form, there was less actual brow than brow pencil to be seen. Occasionally this preoccupation of mine takes over completely and it’s all I can think about. I simply stop seeing the women behind the eyebrows – all I can focus on is their inexpressive curves of ex-hair idling ineffectually atop their brow bones.

Why, why, why do women overpluck? I scream to myself, as I observe yet another woman who has tweezed, threaded or waxed her way through these most necessary of facial features, giving herself that unmistakeably porny look of blank, doll-like, hairless non-womanhood.

I guess at some point in recent generational transitions – from our hairier, less bothered grandmothers to our younger sisters and daughters who are attempting, poor sods, to grow up in a society that markets depilation as a way to ‘reveal the goddess in you’ – many women have become convinced that hair and sexiness are mutually exclusive.

But, these are our eyebrows, girls! They’re not a sex feature! They’re a lovely bit of facial hair that actually adds something to your face! Do you see how mad it is to think of them in the same category as other hair on your body that you routinely remove?

We all like a tidy pit, a smooth leg and a moustache kept under control. But, please, develop a sense of perspective about this. Eyebrows are facial hair, yes, but they’re a crucial component of any expression. And keeping full, normal-shaped eyebrows does not make you ungroomed and unfeminine. I can’t believe I actually have to argue that as a point!

I have many problems with Keira Knightley, believe me, but her eyebrows are not one of them. They are fabulous. Keira is the poster girl for women’s eyebrows. They’re tidied up a bit, sure, but she’s kept their natural shape – lovely, dark, full (like the one pictured, but that’s not her) – and she looks intelligent, characterful and beautiful. Anyone think Keira looks unfeminine? No, I didn’t think so.

The fact is: the fuller your brows, the classier and more intelligent you look. I hate to make it a class thing, but almost every time I notice a woman with overplucked brows, she’s of a distinctly chavvy persuasion. Usually with her hair dyed a colour way too garish for her complexion, probably prompting her to thin out her eyebrows which now look far too dark and prominent against her fake hair colour.

So, what’s it going to take to stop women savaging their eyebrows? They’re everywhere, these women who’ve plucked so mercilessly for so long that they’ve killed the follicles and ended up having to draw them on completely! If even the fame, attractiveness and success of full-browed Hollywood actresses can’t convince women to take a more moderate approach to plucking, then I struggle to offer anything that might do the trick.

Perhaps all it would take is for eyebrows to be talked about a bit more in the women’s mags – and the teen mags, catching girls before they buy their first pair of slanted tweezers or get taken along with their mums for that first thorough threading.

It’s sad, is what it is (and with that, I frown). Maybe these girls agree that it’s sad, but you can bet their eyebrows would struggle to show it. Read more by Maddie.

Saturday, 6 March 2010

Has anyone actually successfully used a self-service checkout?

A couple of years ago I had an epiphany in my local supermarket. I was standing in the cereal aisle pondering the merits of muesli over porridge when it dawned on me: the weekly supermarket shop is the event of my week. My social life took second place to it and I positively bounced out of the office on ‘supermarket night’, as I coined the experience.

“Why is this?” I hear you cry. How is it that this young woman could find enjoyment in zig-zagging up and down aisles filled with prunes, pasta and pantyliners? Well, long ago my mum used to take me along with her to ‘help’ with the weekly shop. I would gaze at the forbidden fruits, marshmallows, bags of ‘funsize’ chocolates and out of season strawberries, instructed that I was “only” to go and get the loo roll “and nothing else!”

So, then, as a grown-up, I found I had free reign. This did often mean that I ended up with completely mismatching ingredients – but you would be surprised at how enterprising this made me in the kitchen. Nothing made me happier than opening the fridge the next day and having ‘options’.

The supermarket was my playground. Until the self-service checkouts moved in.

Now, I am not anti-change. But I am anti-inconvenience and definitely anti-stupidity. In order to fully offload the sheer devastation and outrage that I feel, I have to go back to the start.

A few months ago four self-service checkouts were installed. What a good idea, I thought to myself – people with baskets can use those while I, with my trolley load of random produce, will merrily use the old checkouts. Very convenient and efficient.

But then the self-service checkouts multiplied. Six more were installed, replacing three old checkouts. The scales were tipped and the queues rampaged out of control down the aisles. The people manning the remaining tills couldn’t cope.

Panic and mayhem ensued as the self-service machines started accusing shoppers of placing “unexpected items in the bagging areas” while repeatedly begging confused customers to “place items in the bagging area”. I watched as an 80-year-old man had to wait for 10 minutes to be IDd for his bottle of whisky as the self-service machine couldn’t see his age.

I almost wept. Gone were the halcyon days of my ritualised supermarket experience. Now I was scanning my goods in a panic so as to not be caught out by that ever-threatening “unexpected item” which could throw the whole thing off course. The queue backed up behind me as I fumbled with my wallet, the machine repeatedly screaming at me to “take my items”, just to reinforce the sense of panic.

“I got a response. I won’t go into detail, but I had to pour myself something large and strong as a result.”

I thought it would change as we all got used to fewer checkouts and more self-service machines. It didn’t, and I snapped. I donned my ‘Angry of London’ cap and sat down to write an exhaustive email to let them know exactly how they had failed me and shoppers throughout the land. And yes, I was hoping for some vouchers.

I waited for the response – after all, they would be worried, I was a valid customer who should be listened to. I had threatened to take my custom elsewhere. If anything, I thought, it would get me 20 quid off my next shop. But, no.

I got a response. I won’t go into detail, but I had to pour myself something large and strong as a result. Here is a particular sentence which amused me (once the drink had taken effect): “They have appointed checkout captains who are there to help at the checkouts.” Oh, well, that’s alright then. We now have ‘captains’. Thank god, because I was worried we might be left to the mercy of a shop assistant.

They added (and here is where I really wanted to shove their patronising email where the sun don’t shine): “I hope that the next time you visit our store you notice a huge improvement in our service. I look forward to seeing you again soon.”

Oh, do you? Do you really? You want to see me again do you? Cut the personal touch rubbish – this isn’t Open All Hours. What you actually want is for me to have no contact with anyone at all, hence the self-service checkouts which, my friend, negate any notion of ‘our service’; you have put the ‘self’ in service. So it’s about me now, and I am going to put loads of “unexpected items” in your bagging area – unless you send me that voucher. Read more by Naomi.

Thursday, 4 March 2010

Why is it so hard for people and shops to accept tall women?

SHELLY BERRY: There’s a widely held assumption in our society that women enjoy shopping. Apparently we love trawling the shops looking for a bargain or the perfect outfit for a special night out. I admit I do enjoy the odd trip to the shops when I don’t need anything in particular, but fancy treating myself to something shiny.

Then there are the days when I realise that my everyday black pumps are on their last legs, or I need some dainty sandals for a friend’s wedding. Ah yes, I hear you cry, the trauma of finding the perfect footwear to complement the perfect outfit. But that isn’t my complaint. My complaint is my whopping size 9 feet.

Those of you with the same predicament will understand. For those of you with average size 6s, let me explain: most shoe shops only go up to a size 8. Which means those of us who have been blessed with clown feet are decidedly limited on where we can turn to in our hour of need.

There is a handful of retailers who have cottoned on to the big-footed woman’s need to have pretty shoes. Next have saved me from granny-fied, over-priced shoe hell on more than one occasion. This week I acquired a pair of funky black sequinned ballet pumps and am hankering after some rather fetching strawberry-print wellies. I just need to justify buying them.

But this is not where my shopping misery ends. You see, not only do I have huge feet, but I am also 5’11’’. Which means I take an inside leg measurement of about 34’’. Oh, poor you, the petite among you may mock. But you forget it is a lot easier to take up a pair of jeans than it is to lengthen them.

Luckily when I was a teenager I discovered Long Tall Sally and at the age of 15 was able to buy a pair of women’s trousers that actually covered my ankles for the first time since I was about 11. 15 years later the number of stores with a “Tall” section has increased. There are now at least five I can think of, anyway (again Next gets top marks).

So when I do need a new pair of bootlegs, at least I only have a handful of shops I have to traipse around, and just keep my fingers crossed that one of them has a pair that fit me on the waist AND around the bum – a problem I think all women are familiar with.

So, I have big feet and long legs. And I have managed to find satisfactory solutions to these shopping challenges. But, alas, it doesn’t end there.

Last weekend Him Indoors very kindly offered to buy me some new underwear for Valentine’s Day. Although touched by the romantic gesture, my heart sank at the thought. Ungrateful cow? Not exactly. The thing is, not only do my feet and legs offer me dilemmas on the high street, but so do my boobs. I have a broad back, but little tits. Hopeful that the former had miraculously shrunk and the latter filled out since my last underwear shopping trip, I headed over to M&S to get measured, fella in tow.

“So, what are you wearing now?” the slightly harassed bra lady asked me.


With a sharp nod she whipped out her tape measure and got down to business. I held my breath.

“Well, 38 is spot on ... but an A might be a bit big for you.”

Whaaaaat? Are you trying to tell me my boobs have shrunk to near non-existent? This is the equivalent to telling a man that his willy has dropped off. And what is worse, finding a 38A bra is near impossible. A 38AA ... it ain’t gonna happen. You see, according to the lingerie industry, women with broad backs don’t have little boobs. I am officially a freak of nature.

I emerged from the changing room with a brave smile plastered across my face. Him Indoors looked at his watch. He was clearly regretting his romantic gesture. 10 minutes later I returned with every bra I could find in a 38A, praying that my bambino baps would fill at least one of them. Luckily, they did. Just about. No chicken fillets needed.

An hour and a half after arriving, we finally left the shop, Him Indoors officially shopped out, me officially with smaller tits.

So ladies, there you have it. Struggle to find a pair of jeans that make your arse look great? Unconvinced by the shoes in season at the moment? Can’t choose between a balcony and a push up? Trust me, it could be a hell of a lot worse. Read more by Shelly.

SELINA NWULU: OK so here’s the deal: I am tall. And while memories of childhood taunts are long gone, I’m often left wondering why people seem to have such a problem with it.

I am a tall lady and, shock horror, along with that I have a brain. You wouldn’t think that such a combination would be cause for concern. Maybe it could even be a cause for celebration, but sometimes I feel like I'm treated like some Frankenstein freak from the wild west.

Picture the scene: hundreds of small villagers running haphazardly, screaming: “Who’s that! She’s tall and has something to say! She’s broken the stereotypical mould! She’s not dainty and precious! She can open the jam jar by herself! Ruuunnn!”

I’m exaggerating, I know. But believe it or not, on some level this is true. I’ve managed to get over the same old tired wisecracks from the condescending family friend (“What’s the weather like up there, chief?”) and childhood nicknames such as Daddy Longer Legs (I lied – I’m not over it). But I do have a problem with the frank male friends who say things like “Selina, you’e OK, you are still a little under 6 foot so you’re not that bad ... just so long as you are not over 6 foot ... A woman over 6 foot? Ha! Now, that’s just weird!” I spoke to someone who actually shuddered at the idea. It seems to be this deep irrational fear that people, men in particular, seem to have.

Sure, equality seems all very good on well on the packet. “Men and women are equal but different” is the line. Man is strong and heroic while the woman is weak, dainty and mild. A Polly Pocket sized shape of loveliness. Suddenly here comes the modern age and that same woman can look you in the eyes because she is the same height as you and doesn’t need your protection and suddenly man gets all panicky and insecure. It’s really ridiculous!

And heaven forbid that I would want to wear heels. People look at me like I’m insane: why would someone like me want to bother with something like that? What’s the point, right? Never mind that those shoes go well with my outfit. I should spend my whole life glued to Croc pumps, it would seem.

I remember at school a woman actually suggested that being over 5’7” was unladylike. Is there some kind of underground network of ladylike, pearl-wearing dames who are handing out charts and posters full of this ridiculous and nonsensical information? Perhaps there is some kind of chart similar to the ape-to-man chart about human evolution – but instead of the ape there’s a picture of a tall woman (in my head I’m picturing someone like Vicky Pollard), rough and unkempt, and then the woman gets progressively smaller until we reach the other end of the scale where there is a pocket-sized, Joan Collins-esque woman?! It’s almost as though this silly woman was telling me that because I’d skipped the obligatory elocution classes that of course every young lady should have, being tall is some kind of punishment with which I now have to contend.

When I was living in Italy – maybe this is my fault for choosing to live in a country renowned for its short people – I was mid salsa class, watching the instructor teach everyone a new move. My dance partner, who wasn’t nice so he shall be named Short Arse, stopped the whole class and said “Excuse me, but how am I supposed to dance with her?” while looking me up and down with disdain. Well, I’m sorry, Short Arse, but if you had a bit of rhythm and a back bone it wouldn’t be a problem! Don’t blame my height!

The icing on the cake was at a night out, not so long ago. I was, stop the press, wearing heels, and I was getting my groove on and cutting a few shapes on the dance floor. A man came up to me – he wasn’t very nice either and so shall be named Short Arse Two – and said: “I was going to ask you to dance with me but as you are wearing heels, I won’t. How many people approach you in those heels?”

I think my stunned rage couldn’t quite believe the presumptuous gall of Short Arse Two, but I turned and said something along the lines of “keep walking, Shorty. I like being tall and, heels on or off, I wouldn’t dance with someone who looks like the third Chuckle Brother” and then I casually walked back to join some friends at the bar.

You see, that’s the thing: never underestimate the power of a tall girl’s strut, especially when she is wearing heels. Read more by Selina.

Tuesday, 2 March 2010

Administration is the redundancy of the mind of woman


It’s getting past the point of ridiculous. You know the place; where the other people are starting to glance at you only ever from one side, when they think you’re not looking. And not always when you’re mumbling tricky things in a delicate tone. Sometimes it’s all the time. Do they know? Oh gosh, maybe they know.

I’ve noticed an increasingly pesky pattern to the time that’s unfolding itself all around my humble existence. It’s as if my mind has been split in half, like in a Stephen King novel that’s been ripped off by one of those other ones - Koontz, or Layman; those guys you tend to reverse back over when you accidentally pulverise them in your vehicle of choice.

So, week one, it’s all OK. Things may well be rolling all over the place, but mostly you can see which ones to grasp at. Week two, and everything is broken, mashed and rotting into the floorboards. But that’s okay; week three will roll on soon, and the mess will be covered by a thin veneer of Try Again. Week 17 and the tedium of hopeful week/car crash week is beginning to chew away at the fraying seams of your soul.

And so you’re back inside the working walls once more. You sort of know things are not off to a promising start as now your left eye is twitching along – though not in synch – with your other eye. The right one. But they’re both maddeningly wrong, what with the twitching. You’re probably quite tired, but it’s gone past the point of fatigue and into that dangerous territory that deceives you into thinking you’re hyper awake and ready for every little thing willing to throw itself in your path. Reality is lurking in the sidelines, sneaking glimpses of your symptoms as they stumble over each other in a lovely pile of all that has gone so horribly, horribly, wrong. Your brain has slowed down; concentration has been obliterated; and the twitchy eye thing is lending a menacing air to your not so calm façade. That’s a lie; you don’t have a façade to shield yourself with anymore. You probably dropped it somewhere in the debris of the previous bad week. Twat.

You know things have taken an all more sinister turn when you struggle with the sort of tasks that maybe you’re not meant to be doing anyway, like opening a bin liner and HAVING TO ASK FOR HELP. You know there are more examples of your brain decay meets workplace humiliation that you could list, but they’ve already slipped away into a dark place, where they belong.

Things take a less heartening turn when you start typing things like ‘early onset dementia’ into Google, and in more desperate moments, ‘stop eye twitching’ (they refuse). Turns out that your collection of symptoms - the shoddy memory, shameful attention span, the general slowing down of the inner mind cogs – are mostly down to that delightful mix of tiredness and Gloom. This might also, you hope, account for your seesawing perspective, which is starting to edge its way that little bit closer to a not so temporary species of madness.

So take heart, my unemployed friends; those jobs you’re lusting after are in the reassuringly incapable hands of people just like me. With each day my grip loosens it becomes a tiny bit easier to pry my fingers out of your way, before swooping in to show them how it’s done. You know, by someone in possession of proper IT skills and a peppy phone manner. Things I may have pretended to have at some point, or maybe even did have, but exchanged for the myriad joys that being an idiot brings.

Just wait, five months down the line you’ll start to flag and flail; that spring in your step will slowly slide into a limp, and you’ll find yourself on the verge of a nervous breakdown because you suddenly find yourself totally unable to open a bin liner. My advice? Keep schtum; don’t let them know that it’s taunting you. Try to overlook that fact that it’s not biodegradable and will outlive you by a trillion years or so. That’s a hollow victory, and after all, you’re better than a plastic bag. Probably.

Chin up.

Read more by Sam.