Sunday, 20 February 2011

In which I reveal my man-ifesto

To be printed 23/02/11.

Men of Britain! You're quite lucky to get the following column, because were it not for a few intervening factors (lack of interested publisher, lack of ideas, lack of being arsed) I would almost certainly turn it into a book. But as it is, the following concise little offering is small enough to slip, almost unnoticed, into your life, where it will better it significantly for you and those around you. Put it on your fridge, keep it in your wallet, sleep with it under your pillow. You're welcome.


1. Telling a woman that you see in the street to "smile" does not make her want to smile. It makes her want to punch you in the kidneys.

2. Your shoes are more important than you think. However important you think they are, they're more important than that.

3. You cannot buy Nuts magazine ironically.

4. Sex and the City by no means represents what women actually think. But when asked, you must always say your favourite is Carrie. Lie. And don't mention horses.

5. Unless you are called Julio or are attending a fancy dress party as Marti Pellow, you may not have a ponytail. Ever. No exceptions.

6. Definitely is spelled 'definitely'. Not 'definately'. Actually everybody needs to know this one, but now seems as good a time as any to say it.

7. However well meaning your intentions, telling a woman she has a ladder in her tights will never be well received. She probably knows. And even if she doesn't, she isn't about to run home and change. Just keep schtum

8. Do you own a large, short-sleeved shirt? Is it useful for work and breezy in the summer? Do you wear it with jeans to 'smart' clubs? Burn it.

9. The man who dances will earn more points than the man who doesn't, no matter how David Brent the moves are. Girls like dancing with dodgy dancers. It reminds us of our Dads.

10. If you live in Britain, you are only permitted to remove your shirt in public during the months of July and August. And only then if unseasonably warm.

11. No man in the history of the world has ever pulled by calling a girl he doesn't know "gorgeous" in a leery fashion at a bus stop at 11 o'clock in the morning. Your life will be significantly easier once you realise this.

12. Never underestimate the power of a good scarf.

13. Growing your nails long makes you look like a terrifying child catcher from a fairytale. I don't care if it helps you play guitar like Hendrix.

14. The girls you think look great without make up are almost invariably wearing make up.

15. No gift bought in Clintons will ever please anyone. If it does, you are dating an idiot.

16. Put. The hair gel. Down.

17. Periods may not be as painful as being kicked in the crotch. Ok. But you aren't kicked in the crotch once a month for several days for 40-odd years of your life.

18. We are never going to wear stockings on a day to day basis. They chafe. So stop asking.

19. Look at your estate agent. Then wear and do the opposite.

20. If you are a  genuinely nice person, then none of the above matters*.

*This is a massive lie. Learn to recognise those.

Sunday, 13 February 2011

In which the postcode always shoots twice

To be printed 17/02/11.

It's the been the funnest online game for grown-ups since Google Street View was launched. Indeed, the next logical step is surely to combine the two, and allow us to find our own house on the map and discover someone robbing it.

Yes, I refer this week to the launch of, the new online crime map service - otherwise known as A neurotic's gift, the site lets you type in your postcode and find out how many crimes were reported in your area in December. It also breaks them down into different categories, which is helpful, because then you can play your neighbourhood off against your friends' like Top Trumps. "45 burglaries? I've got 135 on Violent Crime, BOO-YA…"

The trick they're missing is having a little pop-up of Kirsty Allsopp, in a guise not unlike the Word paperclip, to say "It looks like you live in a crack den. Why not move to a plusher neighbourhood with not so much murdering?"

But if it doesn't cause you to sleep with a hefty frying pan under your bed (or a Le Creuset casserole, depending on your postcode), the site will do the opposite and provide some nice reassurance. Or, even better, an opportunity for gloating.

My postcode in Muswell Hill, for example, had 499 crimes. Is that a lot? It's more than you'd want, I guess, but then part of me is glad it's a substantial number. Nobody wants to live in a wussy neighbourhood, after all. Live somewhere with no crime and one day everyone might snap and rise up in mutiny. You just know Balamory is ripe for some bloodshed.

So it's not until you start comparing with other people's postcodes that you really get any perspective. It's comforting, for example, to know that as I have moved further out of London during the last five years, I have also significantly decreased my chance of being hacked to pieces with a crowbar round the back of Budgens. In Camden Town, where I was nestled safe in the halls of residence bosom for my first year in the city, the number is an eye-watering 1665. Of which 526 are the vaguely unnerving "other crime" - knowing Camden I imagine these are largely the crime of dying one's hair pink and wearing an ironic 'iPod' t-shirt while sucking a cannabis lollipop, but it's chilling all the same.

From there I more than halved my crime threat in one swift move by shipping out to Highgate (681), and then on to my current road, cotton-woolly by comparison. But the real surprise was that my family's postcode in Tarring, Worthing, had 358. That's only 141 more than my street in Big Bad London, where the streets are paved with syringes and a stranger's just a rapist you haven't met yet. My flatmate's village in the Cotswolds, just to bring a little more perspective, had 1.

So what have we learned, kids? That you can't tell what crime might be just around the corner. That the Costwolds are safer than Camden. And that maybe my hometown isn't quite as wussy as I might lead people to believe.

Monday, 7 February 2011

In which my fitness career is in the bag

It was all going fine until they gave me the rucksack.

"I can be a gym person," I had told myself. "I can wear a trainers in public. I can get up early at the weekends to go to classes with words like "pump" and "crunch" in the title. I can consider a banana 'a snack', without the addition of toffee, whipped cream and buttery biscuit base. I definitely can."

It started two weeks ago, when I walked past tracksuited men handing out fliers on Muswell Hill Broadway Just before I could whip out the standard "not today thank you" response for leafleters, clipboard-bearers and those people who want you ask you a few questions about your hair (to which I like to reply "a lady never tells," with a knowing smirk), they threw me with a piece of genuinely useful information.

"Did you know there's an LA Fitness round the corner?" they said. I did not know. "That's near your house. Near enough that you might actually manage to go there sometimes. It's the same distance as Whistles and you make it there often enough, don't you?"

The trouble is, am a health club marketer's dream. I begin every Monday full of muesli and good intentions, and end every Friday face down in a tub of brownie bites. I have had two exercisey spurts in the last five years - one during my finals, when I realised that swimming was the ultimate form of procrastination because kudos for the exercise cancel out guilt for the not revising, and the other last summer, when I started getting up an hour early to go jogging before work. I'm pretty sure this second phase did really happen (I have the sodden ball of workout gear in the bottom of my wardrobe to prove it) but from where I'm sitting it seems like the giddy behaviour of a sun-soaked moron.

"So what do you want to achieve from joining?" asks the tracksuited man when I go for my tour.

Um. To lose the permanent indentation round my stomach where my control pants dig in? To not get out of breath singing in the shower? To learn to view sweat as a badge of honour rather than a reason not to use my hairdryer in summer?

"Just to improve my general fitness," I say.

Then a quick chat and a whizz around with my bank details later, he presents me with The Rucksack. Up till now, when he's mentioned "your bag" I was picturing a purple plastic number with drawstring. But no, it turns out "my bag" is a hardcore, padded-straps-gortex-panels-clippy-bit-to-do-up-round-your-middle-whilst-climbing-a-mountain rucksack. Which isn't my bag at all. I've spent my whole life ensuring that I never have need for a rucksack, and now I've actively bought myself a rucksack for the princely sum of £49 a month plus a £25 joining fee.

So here we go, exercisey spurt number three. I am going to find my swimming costume, fill up my water bottle, grab a banana and crunch and pump for all I'm worth.

But if all else fails and I never go, at least I can recoup a little by selling the rucksack.

In which I'm free

Printed 03/02/11.

You know you're getting  to A Certain Age* when you stop 'going shopping' and just start 'going to Debenhams'. When the terrifying urban jungle that is the high street starts overwhelming you, when you've done one this-way-that-way pavement dance too many with pedestrians as you charge from shop to shop, when you need the reassurance of knowing there's a cafe where you can have a nice cup of tea and a sit down just an escalator ride away. That's when the department store comes beckoning from the shadows.

"Come to me!" it whispers in your ear like a slightly seedy Auntie, as you lie supine on the floor of the River Island changing room with a taffeta playlist stuck halfway over your head. "I have everything you need. Don't waste your precious energy gadding about like a fool - within my doors you can buy a pillowcase, some pants and a teacake in 20 minutes."

Until now, I'd never fully understood the appeal of the department store. Much in the same way that those massive buffet restaurants who serve every cuisine are basically always delivering quantity at the expense of quality ("Lasagne and pad thai on the same plate, mmmm a taste sensation"), I'd assumed department stores always just covered every base, weakly, instead of selling one thing really damned well.

Guarded by their army of terrifying make-up ladies (original skin tone unknown) department stores felt to me as a teenager like somewhere you would always leave having purchased a towelling dressing gown, no matter what you originally went in to buy.

But no longer. Now, I get it. The Are You Being Served fantasy suddenly makes sense to me. Department Stores are like tiny, complete little worlds. Their appeal lies in the idea that if you got locked in for the night, everything would be perfectly fine! You'd eat all the toasted teacakes in the cafe, sleep in the beds, and spend the rest of the time trying on beachwear in a hilarious filmic montage. When those people got stranded in the snow last year and were invited to spend the night in a nearby John Lewis, my Mum rang me up in the throws of absolute jealousy and wonderment - and it was then I realised the truth. We would all, really, just like to live in a department store.

Which one, though? In Worthing you basically have Debenhams or Beales, with the slightly depressing lesser option of BHS if needed. Debenhams is the shinier of the two, more in touch with the outside world, but Beales has a homespun charm that can't be matched.

In London, meanwhile, the department store provides a invaluable port in the Oxford Street storm. There's Debenhams and John Lewis for sales shopping that starts on cocktail dresses and will always inevitably end up at control pants, House of Fraser for pretending to be a young urbanite who goes to drinks functions (instead of a young luddite who goes to Nandos for a treat) and then, the Grandaddy of them all - Selfridges.

For years, I was as intimidated by Selfridges as everyone else. It's posh! It has Fendi handbags! It has people who can afford to buy Fendi handbags! Am I even allowed in here wearing jeans? But then I uncovered its secret. The great equaliser.

Here it is: it has a Topshop. And I can afford Topshop! It's right at the back and you have to walk through a load of mortgage-defying stationery to get to it, but it has one, and thus, I have as much right to shop in Selfridges as every Arab Sheikh and his wife. "Don't mind me," I silently say, as I trot past the Cartier and through the millionaire's bedding section. "I am just a simple gal, on my way to Topshop."

"But if we happen to get stranded here for the night, don't think I'm not going to town on the Chanel."

*For many people, that Certain Age is somewhere in the midst of mortgage repayments, parents' evenings and menopause. In my head, however, it's about 26.