Sunday, 29 May 2011

In which the water temperature is just fine, thank you.

Those of you who follow this column might remember that I have recently, after an eight-year hiatus, rekindled my relationship with the great British hairdresser. After enduring another mildly nervewracking session in The Chair this afternoon, I have decided to try to capture in print exactly what is is that troubles me so much about the experience.

1) Trying to establish whether or not your hairdresser is a Talker. "They probably don't want to chat," you tell yourself. "They've had a long day, perhaps they'd like to be alone with their thoughts for an hour or two. Why should I bombard them with my blather? Why do we have to fake a friendship based entirely on serum and why my fringe flicks upward on some days and downward on others? Let's both just BE for a while."

Then after four silent minutes, the pressure gets to you. You remember all the cosy, women's mag articles you've read about a hairdresser being a girl's best friend, confidante, therapist and mother all in one, and you feel inadequate. Maybe they do want to chat, it's just that they've judged you unchattable-to. WHY can't you chat? You are a person, with thoughts, and things - why shouldn't you share them with this nice stranger? Particularly when the nice stranger is holding scissors menacingly close to your jugular.

So you grope desperately for something to say. You can't ask them about holidays, obviously, because that's a massive cliche and would probably offend them. "Just because I'm a hairdresser," they might reply, "it doesn't mean I spend all my time getting in a tizzy over package deals to Marbella. Talk to me about voting reform, or Proust, for God's sake."
"Um," you say. "It looks like it might rain."

2) The repeated enquiries about whether you're happy with the water temperature. Nobody in the history of hairdressing has ever had a problem with the water temperature, And if you did, the blistering skin or blue lips would tip them off without you having to say.

3) Staring at your own face in a mirror under fluorescent light for upwards of two hours while your hair is placed in unnatural parting arrangements, making one look like one's mother in her secondary school photo.

4) Needing the toilet but not being sure if you're 'allowed' to go with a head full of foils.

5) When they ask you how you like your hair blow-dried, and the only answer you can think to produce is "err.. until it's dry?"

6) When they ask you if you would like to purchase some of the products used on you today. Your mouth says "Ooh, not today but maybe next time" while your face says "wonder if they sell it in Savers?"

7) When the hairdresser asks you, smoothing your beautifully coiffed new do into a style that demands swishy exhibition, what you are doing that night. Because obviously, you must be going out tonight. You're a hip young thing, and you've just spent an eye watering sum on having somebody preen you. So telling the truth, that you're going to spend it on the sofa steadily eating your way through a packet of chocolate Hobnobs, feels like failing your hairdresser. They will look at you in the mirror with sad eyes and think "My art! For what?"

So lie. At least tell them you're going on a hen night, or something.

Tuesday, 24 May 2011

In which I work pretty hard to preserve my public image.

To be printed 26/05/11.

It's a Hobson's Choice, this super-injunction lark. Or Sophie's, depending on your mental back catalogue.

Thus far, what have we learned? We've learned: adultery = bad. Lying about adultery = really bad. Covering up adultery to save face under guise of protecting family = a whole heap of bad. But gossip-fuelled tabloids = also bad. And society feeding on misdeeds of people we've never met = a crock of bad. And freedom of speech via social media = (can be) a big ol' puddle of bad.

But never mind the fact that my lifelong crush on a certain footballer has been dashed under the weight of all this badness (I had a poster of a topless he-who-shall-not-be-named on my bedroom wall as a nine year old. My Dad thought it was inappropriate. In hindsight, it was) or that we'll never be able to look at Jemima Khan's lovely face without seeing an erroneous, gurning Clarkson. No, the reason it stings so much is because, being mere mortals without a special legal fund tucked away in the toilet tank,  we're left out of all the fun.

So in between gorging myself silly on the Daily Mail's Right-Hand Column of Doom, I've spent the last couple of days imagining what it would be like if normal people could have a go at super-injunctioning.

In reality, of course, it would be a gigantic, Owellian, humanity-defying mess. But in my head, it's actually a darned tempting idea. Rather than bought with the tainted riches of over-amorous footballers and politicians (I'm genuinely surprised nobody has yet tried to use 'I misloved' as a defence), we could give super-injunctions as special rewards to the deserving, like house points, to mop up any inoffensive but mildly embarrassing messiness in their past.

For a start, I'd have taken out more than a handful of super-injunctions against my friends. With a nifty little legal procedure I could have covered the tracks of high school humiliation that would be dished up in front of boyfriends, colleagues and family for years to come. I'd have super-injunctioned the time I swore that Tory was short for the Conservatory Party. I'd totally have gagged the time I ate a half-finished piece of cheesecake that I found abandoned on a ferry. I could wipe out everything I wore between 2002 and 2007 with a blanket photo ban.

I'd virtually erase the time I fell over on stage while playing the Angel Gabriel, aged 15. And I'd definitely have super-injunctioned myself for the time I texted "Don't tell anyone because I swore I'd keep it a secret, but Perpetua is pregnant", then accidentally sent it to Perpetua*. You get the idea.

Serious pondering and a quick straw poll of my most humiliating misdemeanours on Facebook has led me to compile the following list of deeds I'd super-injunction the hell out of. 

In no particular order: the time I ate an entire Tesco family trifle in one sitting; the time I lost a shoe under a train at West Worthing station and ended up on the train, school-bound and shoeless; the time I was sent home to change on the first day of my restaurant receptionist job because my dress was unsuitable; the time I thought I could see England from the top of the Eiffel Tower; the time I ate a fingerful of orange scum from the edge of a saucepan believing it was butternut squash; the time I was taken to A&E in the midst of an anxiety attack but still refused to wear flat shoes; the time I asked if Australians call summer 'winter' and vice versa; and the time I ate a piece of half-eaten cheesecake someone had abandoned in a bar. 

That's a different piece of cheesecake from the ferry cheesecake, by the way. One life, two abandoned cheesecakes devoured.

Of course, if my own bountiful list of gaffs is anything to go by, there's a danger it would turn into the sectioning scene in Peep Show - "If you super-injunction me, then so help me GOD I'll super-injunction you back!" etc. But at least nobody influential would ever have to hear about the time I was voted off the Weakest Link for not being able to subtract 26 from 33.

That really happened. Don't tell the tabloids, will you? 

*Names have been changed for entertainment purposes.

Sunday, 15 May 2011

In which we should say 'no!' to the hobbling woman

To be printed 19/05/11.

If this column was a Year 9 English essay (and to be honest I'm finding increasingly heard to tell the difference), it would probably start with a sentence like, "The Oxford English Dictionary defines blank as 'blankety blank blank blank'. So that's how I'm going to start today. The Oxford English Dictionary defines shoes as "an external covering for the human foot, usually of leather and consisting of a more or less stiff or heavy sole and a lighter upper part ending a short distance above, at, or below the ankle."

You notice there is no reference to heels in this. Nor to blisters, back problems, adopting a funny, clown-like stilts hobble, or blood. There is no sub-point that lists them also as 'an object to be carried ostentatiously while the owner walks barefoot, usually into a kebab shop.'

I'm feeling particularly sensitive about this issue at the moment, because yesterday I witnessed the worst bunions I have ever seen in my life. It was on the tube, and I was entirely unprepared. They were in flip-flops, but even those they seemed to be bursting to escape from. The lady they belonged to (because they were attached to a pair of human feet, not just perched on a seat reading the Metro) seemed oblivious to my horror, but maybe she's just learned to block out the gawping by now. Her big toe was almost at a 90˚ angle to the rest of her foot. I tried to take a surreptitious photo on my phone, but decided it was just too mean. Plus, I couldn't work out how to turn off the camera noise.

As a result of this encounter, I'm experiencing a fresh wave of bafflement at the women's footwear industry. I, like so many women across this nation and the world, have practised a slavish and occasionally masochistic devotion to Good Shoes for all of my pre-teen, teen and adult life. One of the earliest articles I wrote for this paper, aged 15, was about wearing new shoes 'through the pain' until your feet, and supposedly your common sense, are numb enough to cope.

But for years now, a niggling thought has plagued me. The thought is this: why have women come so far in so many ways, yet still are expected to buy shoes that wound us? We have fought for centuries to prove our rationality and intelligence as equal to men, yet we blow it every Friday night by forcing our feet into podiatric chastity belts.

The thought pipes up every time I see a hobbling girl on a night out, clack-clacking over some uneven terrain with the splayed legs and helpless expression of a baby gazelle. It's every time I pick up a pair of gravity-defying wedges to feel my feet scream "NO! PUT THEM DOWN AND PICK UP SOMETHING WITH SOLE CUSHIONING". It's every time I see pictures of Victoria Beckham at the Royal Wedding. Because the truth VB needed to realised was that when she stepped out in her brutal six-inch Louboutins, nobody was thinking 'Mama looks FIERCE.' No, we were all thinking: pain, pain, pregnant bladder, more pain.

I'd like to say that we should all rise up, clutching our inch-and-a-half Clarks court shoes, and simply refuse to be The Hobbling Girl. We could call ourselves the Female League Against Torturous Shoes (or FLATS for short - literally, for short). But the truth is, I'm probably not going to swear off heels any time soon. I love the aesthetic of a (non-stripperish) heel too much. At least though, my encounter with Bunion Woman has reminded me that we have a choice. A choice, ladies! Crippling shoes do not an evening out defineth. And the Oxford English Dictionary would probably agree with me.

Tuesday, 10 May 2011

In which Dick Van Dyke was more convincing

You might not have sensed it, but a collective wave of disappointment and anguish ran through the country last week. I'm not talking about the elections. Or the the fact that they've made another series of Two Pints of Lager. I'm talking about the release of the trailer of the most hotly anticipated movie adaptations of the last few years - and what ho! They've butchered it.

It's a horrible thing, when Hollywood ruins a book you love. I'd only just recovered from the artless massacre that was Angus, Thongs and Perfect Snogging, a book that had more influence over my adolescence than Clearasil, magazine flowcharts and Davison's regulation PE knickers put together*. By moving the action into a mixed school, casting a vastly too attractive lead male and making one of the characters inexplicably Welsh, they ruined the magic. I was gutted.

But this time, it'll be more than just me and a handful of 14 year olds that are gutted. Because this time, it's One Day by David Nicholls. Y'know, that one with the orange cover. The one from the tube. And the bus and the train. That one. If you haven't read it, your Mum will have done. The book has sold over a million copies, which means a potential million people will be screaming themselves hoarse at a cinema screen come July.

For the uninitiated, here's the spoiler-free lowdown: Emma and Dexter meet as students and the book traces them over the two decades to come. Dexter is devilishly handsome in a louche, wouldn't-take-home-to-your-granny way, while Emma is EVERY WOMAN. She is pretty but in the most accessible of ways, with proper thighs and an unfortunate haircut. She is from Yorkshire. She has ruddy cheeks. She works in a Mexican restaurant for a large portion of the book. And who fits the description of the chubby, chippy, slightly unkempt Northern girl better than… you've guessed it… Anne Hathaway!

Yes, she of the lily-limbed, angel-faced yank charm. Of COURSE. I mean, she played Jane Austen once. That basically makes her British, doesn't it? And to be fair, where uglying up for a part is concerned, Anne has a resume to rival none - except perhaps Zellweger. Remember The Princess Diaries, where they frizzed her hair out so you didn't know she was pretty? Then there was The Devil Wears Prada, where a shapeless sweater effectively compensated for the couple of stone she didn't bother gaining for the role.

Of course, we've been prepared for months. I've lamented the casting decision, read interviews with Nicholls weakly defending the casting decision ("She's a bit brighter than the Emma in the book"), and lamented it some more. But none of this stopped me wailing at my desk when the trailer made its first appearance online last week. 

So let me say it now - Dear Film People. It isn't hard. Just do what it says in the book. Ok there are time constraints, and some things don't translate well on screen, yada yada. But basically, for the most part, just do what it says in the book.

It works like this: if the book says a character has brown hair, fat arms and a limp, you give them brown hair, fat arms and a limp. The fans go 'yay!', spend lots of money on cinema tickets, dvds and merchandise, and everyone can be happy.

For now, I've got a couple of months to re-read One Day, eek the last droplets of joy from its Hathaway-less pages, and hope. Hope that maybe, if we're lucky, it might be another Bridget Jones. Good luck with your 'ee by gum's, Anne.

*In fact, we maintain to this day that the book was actually supposed to be set in a fictional Davison CE High School for Girls, such was its insight into the friendship-rich, romance-poor world of the teen girl geek.

Sunday, 1 May 2011

In which it turns out we're just massive flag-wavers

To be printed 05/05/11.

5.15am. Alarm goes. Snooze.

5.20am. Alarm goes again. Grunt. “This is truly horrible,” I say to Jo, who is not only in my bed but has stolen all of the covers. We get up.

5.30am. Since last night, we have been playing ‘What is Kate Middleton Doing Now?’ The answer has mostly been, ‘probably on the toilet.’

5.40am. I have compiled a last-minute wedding playlist, consisting of White Wedding by Billy Idol, Chapel of Love by the Dixie Cups and I’m Getting Married in the Morning, sung by Tommy Steele. Rose has put her Union Jack socks on.

5.50am. What is Kate Middleton Doing Now? “Groaning quietly while her Mum says ‘Eat a croissant! You’ll feel better! Eat a croissant!’”

6am. We have left.

7am. We are here. Picnic spot located, blankets spread, thermos out, flags acquired.

7.10am. Successful portaloo trip! There was a clean seat, ample loo roll, even hand sanitiser. Am beginning to realise that I may be better suited to massive state occasions than to music festivals. 

7.20am. Tara is unpacking the cheeseboard. They are all British cheeses, naturally. The BBC preamble is in full swing on the giant screens. “I’m surprised Fearne Cotton isn’t on this,” I say.

7.55am. I have just tried to bribe our way onto Japanese TV by offering the cameraman some homemade caramelised onion and feta tart. I was an unashamed tart-tart. It didn’t work.

8.05am. Fearne Cotton has appeared.

8.45am. The sun has made a fleeting appearance! There is blue sky, but not enough to make a pair of sailor’s trousers from. After an extensive assessment of our neighbours we’ve concluded that we definitely have the best picnic here. Nobody else has elderflower cordial, Pimm’s in a plastic Coke bottle and THREE varieties of chocolate chip brioche.

9am. A car is on the screen! A car! A posh, empty car!

9.05am. What is Kate Middleton Doing Now? “Puking.”

9.10am. More sun! Still not enough sky for sailor’s trousers but maybe a fetching gilet. Relentless sun spotting is beginning to make it feel like a Bravo family holiday.

9.15am. The Beckhams! It’s only the bloody Beckhams!

9.25am. “Rowan Williams looks like he has a laboratory under his house,” says Jo.

9.45am. Gleeful anticipation as Matt Baker is allowed to interview David Cameron again. But all on best behaviour, it would seem. Shame.

9.50am. BORIS ALERT.


9.56am. John Major alert downgraded to ‘John Major incident’.

10am. The meat is out – scotch eggs, chicken legs, sausages, made by Jo’s heroic Mum, who was up at FOUR to travel from Worthing. What is Kate Middleton Doing Now? “Having a sneaky watch of it all on the telly.”

10.05am. One of our elbows has just been on the BBC. I hope my Granny was watching.

10.10am. William and Harry have made their appearance. Rose is already crying.

10.15am. We have just yelled at a woman for standing up and blocking everyone’s view. “NO LOITERING!” we bellowed. How very British.

10.20am. William and Harry have gone off to ‘a quiet place’ in the Abbey to ‘have a chat’. We suspect they may be deciding to re-enact the last episode of Peep Show, Season 4.

10.26am. Princess Beatrice appears to have come dressed as a lobster. I am waving a flag. I never thought of myself as a flag-waver before, but it seems I am. I am waving my flag like no flag has ever been waved before.

10.30am. What Is Kate Middleton Doing Now? “Flapping her hands in front of her face, while Pippa shouts ‘STOP IT, YOU’RE GOING SHIINY.’”

10.45am. (To the tune of Guys and Dolls) And the people all said, ‘sit down! Sit down you’re blocking the queen! The people all said sit down! Sit down you’re blocking the Queen.’ Etc

10.50am. The bride! The beautiful bride is getting in her car! A collective ovary-swoon ripples across Hyde Park, Britain and The World. Rose cries some more.

10.51am. The sun has come out properly! “Can the Queen pay it to do that?”

10.59am. What is Kate Middleton Doing Now? “Shitting it.”

11am. Showtime.

In which I go upside-down

Printed 28/04/11.

It's nice to discover, at the ripe old age of 23, that I can be a theme park person.

I'd always assumed otherwise. I don't wear practical shoes, I have hair at the floofy end of the scale, and I would sooner staple my eyelids together than be anywhere near anyone who might vomit. The words 'scream if you want to go faster' usually inspire in me only a steadfast desire to stay mute and still (though this no doubt can be blamed as much on Geri Halliwell as any formative incidents at Alton Towers).

So it was after neatly sidestepping all of the above that we found ourselves at Flamingo Land, Yorkshire's premier amusement park that is named after a pink bird. I was promised flamingos, Boyfriend was promised multiple adrenaline highs and the opportunity to take his top off in public.

What Boyfriend didn't realise was that taking someone who hadn't been to a theme park since they were 12, to a theme park, was essentially tantamount to taking a 12-year-old to a theme park.

"Is there a Professor Burp's Bubbleworks?"


"Will I have to go upside down?"


"Can I buy some pointless tat in the gift shop?"

"If you must."

Matters weren't helped when the operator of our first ride decided to make a racist comment about some other visitors, just before we got on. So alongside general fear, safety concerns and the overall 'rickety charm' look that most of the Flamingo Land rides seem to be going for, I also had, "and a racist is pushing the buttons!" bleating round in my head.

A massive racist! Does that make it less safe? Could the screw loose in his head somehow also make a screw come loose on the tracks? What sort of establishment is this? Do they have a sexist on the ticket booth? A homophobe selling ice creams?

But then all moral indignancy gets pushed out of my head, because it is being hurtled around at eighty million miles an hour on a mock-motorbike. Another fleeting moment of concern arises when, on the log flume, three men have to come out to physically haul the wagon onto the 90ยบ incline (is this a quirky part of the rustic safari-style concept? Nope, the thing just hasn't been serviced since the 70s…) but by this point I have seen a rhino and had a Twister lolly. I am content.

Four more rollercoasters, a drippy fajita and a quid's worth of giddy fun on a 2p machine later, I have also had an epiphany, and begun to understand the appeal of the theme park. It is a place where we celebrate life. We have our appreciation of life tested by entrance fees that could buy a small bungalow in Aberystwyth, hours of dehydrated queuing and regular performances of the World's Worst Parenting by bands of travelling, Stella-touting jesters. It is shaken to its core by repeatedly being asked if you want to buy a photo of yourself with a face that can only be described as 'constipated wind tunnel terror pout'.

But then, THEN, you allow yourself to be flung about like a human ragdoll for thirty seconds believing all the time that you actually might die, and you realise two things: 1) Going upside down is completely awesome, and 2) Life back on the ground is worth hanging on to.

In short, I left with a lot more than promised – I had a new-found respect for the human condition.

I didn't, however, see any flamingos.