Tuesday, 20 December 2011

Dear Urban Outfitters...

Dear Urban Outfitters,

We've got a problem, you and I. You might not be aware of it, distracted as you are by the armies of spendy hipsters that march through your doors each week, but our relationship has been deteriorating for years. If indeed, it was ever truly a relationship to begin with. I've hankered after your nostalgic blouses, your vampy skirts and your little strappy dresses for yonks now, while you remain coolly oblivious.

Not to toot my own trumpet, but I'd like to think that on paper, I'm the kind of customer you'd like. I'm 23, I live in London, I work in the media. I throw more of my income than is sensible at the high street, and I'm a sucker for a whimsical trend. If you wanted, you could probably have quite a lot of my money. You'd like that, wouldn't you?

So what's standing between you, me and this beautiful cash-splashing coupledom, then? Well, a zip. Or a few zips. The zips on your clothes that I can't do up, despite wriggling, wrenching, partially dislocating joints and inhaling till I turn puce.

You see, while most high street stores stick to the conventional 8, 10, 12 sizing, up to 16 and beyond, you prefer to keep things rustic with XS, S, M and L. Which might be fine, if my 12-14 figure could fit into the 'M' that I'd expect it to. But it doesn't. Often it doesn't fit an L. Now, I made my peace with not being Alexa Chung many years ago, but I'm still moderately confident that if you saw me walking down the street you wouldn't think 'Hark! There thunders an EXTRA-LARGE woman.'

Have you ever heard of breasts, Urban Outfitters? Of course you have, I'm sorry for being patronising. But did you know that we can't conveniently detach them, or reposition them under our armpits, each time we'd like to wear a garment that isn't made of stretch jersey? It's just that, sometimes, when I'm trying on your clothes, it seems like you're not very familiar with the concept.

Then there are hips. These are like breasts, but lower down, on the sides, and not as squishy. It would be nice if we could contain these in our clothes too, as an alternative to, y'know, carrying them in our handbags or wearing them as a decorative headpiece. A little arse-coverage would be good too, though I realise that might be stretching it (boom boom).

You're not the only ones, of course. I've rarely exited a Zara changing room without tears in my eyes (and bruises on my ribs), or had an encounter with American Apparel that didn't leave me reaching for the gin bottle. Up and down the high street, stores are playing fast and loose with sizes and our gymnastic capabilities. I've been stuck in more impossibly-designed garments than you've had hot dinners.

But before you dismiss this as yet another chubby girl rant, let me assure you that it isn't. It's a piece of sage business advice. You're making money, I'm sure, given that you sell ironic pendants for the price of a weekly travelcard, but you could be making more. Oh, you could be making SO much more - if you weren't alienating a massive portion of your potential customer base.

And yes, I'm wishing I hadn't just used the words 'massive portion'. It was between them and 'huge chunk'. Pass me a biscuit.

We're all here, you see, Urban Outfitters. Look, over here! The ladies with the swinging handbags and great hair. We're not that scary. In fact we're a lot like your other customers, just slightly better insulated against the cold. Our demands are simple - we want clothes that do up properly, don't brand us gargantuan humans when we're patently not, and look foxy.

Are you ready for this jelly, Urban Outfitters? Are you?


Lauren (or 'XL' to you)

Sunday, 18 December 2011

In which we'll have a blue Christmas, and love it

The Bravo family has a broken boiler.

They're soldiering bravely on, according to reports, with portable fan heaters and hot water bottles strapped in strategic places about their persons, but as things-to-happen-a-week-before-Christmas go, it's a fairly bleak one. "You might want to bring your slanket home with you," my Mother has advised, prompting mental images of us all shuffling softly round the house in our fleecy shrouds, like the multicoloured ghosts of Christmas past.

Having existed in a state of almost permanent shiver myself since mid-October (how long does it take to shake off the student notion that warmth is a luxury we can't afford, while organic goat's cheese is a basic right?), I should have been upset by the news. And I was, a bit. Nobody likes to think of their nearest and dearest awaking each morning nervous to see if their drippy nose has grown stalactites during the night. I don't want them having to fill baths with a kettle then all get in together to save water. Because, well, that would be weird.
But part of me, secretly, and please don't tell my parents this if you bump into them on the Morrisons parsnip run, is quite excited. What fabulous comedy material this will make! We'll have hilarious Christmas anecdotes coming out of our EARS! And we were due a refresh, what with The Great Giblet Disaster of '94 wearing slightly thin, having been trotted out every year since it happened.

Everybody loves a Christmas disaster, don't they? One of those moderately vexing but not life-altering incidents that gives everyone a chance to pull together, battle through, keep calm, carry on etc, and forever after remember it as being at least 40 per cent more humorous than it actually was. You'll look back in decades to come through sherry-tinted specs, and say, "Remember that Christmas the dog ate the trifle and sicked up over Aunt Maud's holiday slides? And Uncle Terry threatened to sue? REMEMBER? Those were the days." 

So far as a family, we've not had our fair dosage of potentially hilarious festive catastrophes. I mean, the hamster died on Christmas Eve one year, and Brother #2 went into hospital with pneumonia on Boxing Day another, but neither of those incidents were exactly high on LOLs. A broken boiler, however, has the makings of a proper 'remember the time?' story, so I'm determined to stay chipper.

We will all wear five jumpers like a family of festive Michelin men, and play highly energetic charades to keep our pulse rate up. We can take it in turns to put our underwear in the microwave for toasty-bottomed comfort. When frost forms on the insides of the windows, we'll write our names in it. Such larks! Indeed, if I arrive home tomorrow night to discover that they've fixed the ruddy boiler, I think I'll be faintly disappointed.

Thursday, 15 December 2011

In which I'm bringing tacky back

On Sunday we had our annual faux-Christmas extravaganza in my flat. As usual, we bought our combined bodyweight in meat and trimmings, did a posh breakfast, put our friendships on the line with a round of aggressive parlour games, and fell asleep in front of the telly.

To kick off the festivities, I buy a tub of cheesy footballs. Christmas had begun! I proudly open them and set about the traditional method of biting off the wafer case in two complete pieces, leaving the cheesy centre to savour like a precious truffle. Everybody else gags in horror.

"They're revolting!" one declares. "They smell like cardboard," says another. "They taste like feet," a third. 

"But… but… they're Christmas! Cheesy footballs ARE Christmas!" I protest to a roomful of blank faces. Until this point I don't believe I'd ever paused to consider how cheesy footballs tasted, or whether it even mattered. They were novel, they were bite-sized, and they were as synonymous with my Christmases as the bumper Radio Times or fill-in-the-blanks thank you letters.

The problem isn't that I enjoy synthetic cheese-filled wafer snacks while my peers do not. It's that the cheesy footballs, I feel, symbolise a wider issue - the glorious naffness, or lack thereof, in the average modern Christmas.

When did it all get so tasteful? At some point during the 23 years I've been alive, good taste has crept into the tinsel pile and turned Christmas from a riotous assault of glitter and gaudiness into a refined affair, full of artisan produce and wooden decorations from Muji. I'm not excusing myself - I banished tinsel from the Bravo tree years ago, with such vigour that the law has been upheld even after I left home. Meanwhile my office is bedecked in geometric paper lanterns, the sort that say, 'hip young media agency' rather than 'SQUEE it's Christmas! Pass the cooking sherry'.  It's all just a bit… safe.

Maybe it's because, as a food writer, I spend the three months before Christmas in a mental fug, with organic stuffings and three-bird roasts and expensive bakeware and pine-infused sugar dancing round my head like cartoon tweety birds. Then when the big day arrives, I want nothing more than an Iceland king prawn ring and a tin of Quality Street to plunge my face into.

Or maybe, after a lifetime of Decembers spent trying to tone down and style up the festive season, I've realised that Christmas should be a holiday from taste.

Despite never having existed during them, I secretly yearn for the Christmases of the '70s. When it was all Advocaat this and Blue Nun that, and a trifle with angelica on top was the height of sophistication. So I'm bringing tacky back. I want my Christmas to wear a massive jumper and a cracker hat, win at charades, and hiccup its way through Mistletoe and Wine without irony. I want flashing reindeer earrings and musical ties. I want those plastic trays of differently shaped salty snacks and tiny sets of screwdrivers on every surface.


Merry Christmas, everyone.

Sunday, 11 December 2011

Just don't mention the tea

The other day, on my literary travels, I came across an article on wikiHow called How to Avoid Looking Like an American tourist - for American tourists. Among its solemn pieces of advice were 'don't ask for ice', 'don't speak too loudly', and the ever-applicable 'don't wear a fanny-pack', all apparently dead giveaways for the tasteful American hoping to blend into a continental crowd. While I'm not one to join in the sport of American-bashing (whatever the New York equivalent of asking for Ly-cester Square is, you can bet Uncle Sam's corndog I'd be doing it), it still seemed prudent advice.

It also made food for thought on my romantic* trip to Paris this weekend. If there was a guide to avoiding looking like a British tourist, we considered, as we Franglais-ed around the capital like a pair of 'Allo 'Allo extras… what would it say?

1. Don't complain about the tea

You might think you need good strong PG Tips injected intravenously once every half hour to function, but so far no scientific evidence has been produced to prove the physical repercussions of drinking Bad Tea. Besides, if the rest of the world starting making proper cuppas, our international distinctions would be down to Marmite and Pippa Middleton's arse. The first cup of tea I asked for in Paris this weekend was served to me as a tea latte. Extravagantly foamed milk, with a tea bag in it. It was 187ft up the Eiffel tower to be fair, but still this seemed like a cheekily loose interpretation of a classic. Did I whinge, though? Did I harrumph and splutter over its fraudulent composition? No. I marvelled at its novelty. "A tea latte! Whatever next?"

2. Don't be a massive cheapskate

I don't want to make a huge sweeping generalisation about my kinsmen here (I do but we'll pretend I don't), but I'd wager if there was one nationality statistically more likely to walk into a café, sit down, look at the menu, then walk out again because the sandwiches were too expensive, it'll be us.

3. Don't use up all your GCSE French/German/Chinese on one expertly-pronounced sentence, then be surprised when they speak said language back at you and you don't understand a word.

If you really ne comprend pas, it's best to assume the hapless expression of the mute tourist from the off, I find. Then anything that does come out right will be a lovely bonus.

4. Don't take photos of yourself in front of 'hilarious' lost-in-translation shop titles

Except do, obviously. We all LOVE those back home.

5. Don't hold up mundane food products in the supermarket and shriek "Sue! Look! They're the same as back home!"

6. Don't start humming Jerusalem every time you pull out of the Channel tunnel/start to descend over Heathrow/disembark the ferry.

Or am I the only one who does that?

*For 'romantic', read: he got excited by trains, bridges and government buildings, I gorged myself giddy on Nutella crepes.