Friday, 27 July 2012

In which I find my Olympic event

The thing about the Olympics is, they’re basically all about sport.

All of it. Sporty, sportsmanlike, sporting… sport. Cutting edge investigative journalism this may not be, but watching the gas companies and soft drinks brands and laughably lardy burger chains bend over backwards to try and associate themselves with fitness over the last few months, I’ve finally realised why I feel like a kid with its nose pressed up against the window of a really good party.

I can’t do sport. And by ‘do’, I mean perform, understand, and not be picked last in a team for the purposes of. But despite that, I want to be involved. I’m not going to be able to justify crying at the Adidas advert until I’ve felt a genuine spark of sporting endeavor course through my brittle, unfit veins. So I decided the best option (short of starting my Make Eurovision As Massive As The Olympics And See How Everyone Else Likes It Campaign) was to forget about the incredible feats of human achievement that I can’t participate in, and start thinking about the ones that I can. For example:  

Enormous hair
As a nation, we do enormous hair brilliantly. From Elizabeth I via Maggie Thatcher and Leo Sayer to Adele and the late Amy Winehouse, Britain specialises in barnets you can rest a pint on and hide a chinchilla in. Those of us not blessed with voluminous follicles have taken on nature, and conquered it - all we need is a can of industrial strength dry shampoo, a comb and a dream. That’s stamina and determination I can contribute to. I mean, I would if I could fit my head through the door.  

While there’s little chance of me covering myself in glory on track or field, there’s plenty of chance I’ll cover myself in pastry crumbs while sitting in a field. So I’ll take picnicking to new levels. I’ll walk around armed with M&S sausage rolls, a rug and a posh bottle of elderflower cordial every day for the month of August, and host impromptu picnics wherever possible. On the bus. In the Primark changing room queue. Gold medal standard picnicking.  

Spot the sexism
Now I think about it, if I had got my act together sooner I could have volunteered myself for Chief Sexism Spotter at the Games, marching around with a clipboard yelling “I CALL BULLSHIT” at every obvious inequality. Because there’s a veritable buffet cart of them rolling around at the moment. First I’d start with every TV presenter, newspaper and other douchebag who publicly whinged at the news beach volleyball players would be playing in trousers instead of bikinis if the weather was too cold, then move onto the Australian and Japanese authorities who flew their male teams in first class while the (more successful) women’s teams sat in economy.  

Appreciating the opening ceremony
A fleet of flying Mary Poppins descending from the sky to fight Voldemort? I plan to appreciate the heck out of the opening ceremony.

Friday, 20 July 2012

Street Harassment FAQs: an imaginary conversation


Sorry, what was that?

Hello, gorgeous.

Yes I thought so. Would you like the middle finger with accompanying eyeroll, or a clumsy expletive? I’m might have a more eloquent speech jotted down somewhere in my bag if you can hang on a minute?

But it’s a compliment!

Is it, though? Is it actually? As @Blonde_M excellently put it in this post, a true compliment is intended to make the recipient feel good – not the giver feel powerful. Did you say it with my feelings in mind?

Honestly, it was meant as a compliment

Ok, fine. But what made you think you should pay it in the first place? You don’t know me. I’m not in a pageant. I’m not being officially presented at the Ambassador’s Ball. I’m just on the Northern Line, biting a hangnail. I’ve got a bit of lunch down my top. Did I look like I was fishing for compliments?

Well, you’re a girl…

Ah, of course! I’m a girl. I’d stupidly forgotten for a minute. But yep, there they are – the steady throb of my baby-hungry ovaries, the whirring cogs of the part of my brain still trying to figure out the offside rule, and, most importantly, my urgent gnawing need to be evaluated and approved by every male I have the good fortune to pass on the street.

Are you being sarcastic?


So you’re saying you DON’T want us to compliment you?

Most of the time, honestly, no I don’t. I have friends for that. And family. And a talking Ken doll from the mid-90s. If it means not having to feel like I’m being scrutinised and rated out of 10 every time I leave the house, I’ll happily forgo the odd stranger telling me I look hot, thanks.

But isn’t it nice to get a surprise compliment from a stranger?

Well, yes – this is a tricky one, because it can be lovely. A lady at a bus stop once told me I had incredible skin, and I walked around like one big beaming epidermis for the rest of the day. But I think that’s because, like all truly great compliments, it was no-strings. She didn’t expect anything in return (or at least, she didn’t hang around leering, so I assumed she didn’t). She just wanted to say a nice thing.

But what if, y’know… it isn’t no-strings?

What’s that? You mean, if you see a comely lady and want to tell her she’s purdy in the hope she might agree to kiss you on the mouth?

Something like that

Well, first I feel it’s only fair to warn you that the chances of successfully pulling anyone you meet on the street are minimal. Teeny. Like your-


It’s true though. You can be a perfectly appealing guy, not drooling down your t-shirt or wearing a dirty overcoat or anything, and we’re still likely to back away when you try to hit on us in public. Partly, because it sets off a security alarm in our heads. And partly because, like any ill-judged social interaction, it just makes us cringe.

Sure, everyone likes the idea of meeting the love of their life after they’ve groped your bum outside a corner shop in Kilburn – but life isn’t a fairytale. Sometimes you’ve just got to acknowledge the odds.

But what CAN we say then?

Well. I’m about the employ a massive cliché here, so brace yourself. Ahem. It’s not WHAT you say, it’s the way you say it.

Or at least, that’s partially true. If what you want to say is “Hey baby, suck this” then no amount of warm smiling and non-threatening body language is going to stop us wanting to thwack you in the delicates.

But when you’re treading the fine line between a friendly approach and a sleazy come-on, you just need to make it clear that you’ll retreat without fuss if we want you to. Start small, with a smile. Not a creepy one. See if she smiles back. Learn the signals. If they make a fake phone call to a friend, they’re not interested. If they frown nervously and shuffle away, that’s your cue to quit.

It really isn’t that different from any person who strikes up a chat with any other person at the bus stop, and then won’t piss off when they want to get back to their book – except we have the added fear that you’ll follow us down a dark alleyway and we’ll have to jab our keys in your eye. Nobody likes being harangued.

That’s true. I gave a guy the time once and he ended up sitting with me the whole way from Piccadilly to Cockfosters talking about which waterfowl are native to Britain. It was bloody annoying.

Now imagine he also wanted to have sex with you. Maybe he did want to have sex with you.

That’s a point.

Also good to note: there’s a big difference between complimenting us on something we’ve chosen, like our shoes, and being ‘complimented’ on an intrinsic part of our physicality. Like our arses. “Hey, great hat!” says, “You have brilliant taste. You chose an excellent hat. Congratulations*”, while (and forgive me if there’s a GNVQ out there I haven’t heard of), there’s no expertise involved in growing a nice pair of tits.

Rather than feeling proud, it makes you feel like a piece of meat laid out for inspection. And even if we’ve been classified as prime fillet today, what if we’re scrag end of neck tomorrow? It establishes a system in which we feel we have to look hot all the time. Every day. Just in case there’s a bloke looking.

(*Actually that’s a lie. “Great hat!” usually means “Whoah there! Hat. You’ve got a hat on.”)

So, if in doubt…

Say nothing at all. Yep, ’fraid so. And I hate to break it to you, but nothing catastrophic is going to happen if you DON’T toot your horn at that girl in the sundress. Her day will carry on perfectly well without you shouting ‘Awright sexayyy’ out of the window. If anything it will probably be better.

Wouldn’t it be nice if one day we could just tell women we think they’re beautiful without them feeling scared or objectified or pissed off?

Yes, Men. Yes it would.

(Thanks to @ashleyfryer and the brilliant ladies of AWOT for their inspiration, opinions and lols on this topic.)

Wednesday, 18 July 2012

How Not To Piss Everyone Off During The Olympics

THEY’RE NEARLY HERE. Advancing with an ever-thunderous momentum like that giant boulder in Indiana Jones, the Olympics are almost upon us. Or to adhere to official style rules (presumably in case any of you bright sparks are scratching your heads and saying “Olympics - does she mean the kebab shop on the high street?”), the London 2012 Olympic and Paralympic Games are almost upon us. Now’s the time to get in the mood, to dust off Granny’s javelin from the loft and instigate a few random family drug tests.

But while you chaps settle down and start planning your intercontinental themed buffets from the safety of the south coast, I ask you to spare a thought for us lot in the capital. It won’t be much of a thought, I understand, given our bent to smugness over everything from 24-hour transport to knowing what a macchiato was a full three years before the rest of you, but if ever there was a time to throw a little compassion our way, it’s now.

It’s nearly six years since I threw a few carefree nothings into a knapsack and moved here from Worthing, but (and especially so since discovering my company’s Olympic contingency plan is the skillfully-devised ‘everyone get up earlier’), it’s come to dawn on me that living in London will never have felt MORE like living in London than it is about to feel over the next month.

So here, for our mutual benefit, is a little cheat sheet for everyone coming to visit during the Games.

How Not To Piss Everyone Off During The Olympics:

1.    Walk faster. No, faster than that. And a bit faster. Are you moderately breathless? Is your upper lip moist? There you go! Keep it up. Remember, this is an over-caffeinated city full of people who are paying more rent per month than your car cost entirely. We have angry, sharpened elbows and we’re not afraid to use them.

2.    Spend a little time familiarising yourself with a map. Just enough, say, to realise that Covent Garden and Leicester Square are so close they’re practically the same place and don’t require you to chuff your shopping bags all over the laps of everyone on the Piccadilly Line for ten minutes just to get to Nando’s.

3.    Standing on the right hand side of escalators I don’t need to tell you about, as it’ll have been subliminally transmitted through Boris Johnson’s Head Boy announcements at all major rail stations. But wait – there’s more. If you’re going to brave the lefthand walking side, you better be damned sure you’re prepared to walk. No ambling. No having a little rest halfway. No ooh-look-they’ve-extended-the-run-of-Jersey-Boys. MOVE. If in any doubt, aim to live by the maxim, ‘I may not be in a rush, but the person behind me probably is.’ It’ll save you getting twonked on the head with a rolled up copy of the Metro.

4.    It’s pronounced Theydon Bois, as spelled. None of your faux-French here, Hyacinth Bucket.

5.    Is this Pret A Manger busy? Don’t worry, there’s another one over there. And another one next to that. In fact, like the proverbial turtles, it’s pretty much Pret A Mangers all the way down.

Tuesday, 10 July 2012

Umbrellas I have known and loved

I have just bought an umbrella. It was a thoroughly stupid decision and I regretted it immediately.

The audacity, that I, who have bought and promptly lost or broken one umbrella every fortnight for the whole of my adult life, should presume that I could suddenly go against the natural order of things, just because this one was nice and flowery and cost £16 from Accessorize. No. I am at the mercy of the Law of Umbrellas and there I shall stay.

The Law of Umbrellas is an especially hard one to work out, as it bears almost no relation to cost or size. Indeed, the bigger an umbrella, the more cumbersome it is, and the more likely your subconscious is to reject it and leave it on a bus. And the more you spend on an umbrella, thinking, "I'll invest in the gold standard of umbrellas! It will be a model of great British craftsmanship and see me through the rest of my days like a faithful whippet",  the more likely it is to turn inside out and snap at the first gusty breeze. If any of you have ever successfully kept and used an umbrella for longer than one season, you deserve some sort of tribute and recognition, like those kids in the local paper who kept their Tamagotchi alive for a year.

The umbrellas that fare best, of course, are the ones you acquire by other means. The ones you find abandoned in the office cloakroom, or borrow off someone and never give back. Those umbrellas stand a better chance because they come with a faint whiff of crime - the two of you are an illicit partnership, living outside the law, doing whatever you can to survive. And by 'survive', I mean 'stay dry' or 'not pop a spoke and get binned before you've even seen Brighton'.

Umbrellas I have known and loved:

'Scottish Granny'

The Look: blue tartan with a floral overlay. Purchased at an Edinburgh newsagents, because it seemed like a slightly subtler option than walking around in a Tam O'Shanter whistling The Proclaimers.
Lifespan: two weeks.
Death: tube abandonment.

Plastic Fantastic'

The Look: a child's brolly, clear plastic with flowers and butterflies on it. I was 15, and thought it was the last word in chic irony.
Lifespan: four weeks.
Death: ruptured plastic, and fickle adolescence.

'Minnie Mouse: parts 1 & 2'

The Look: two red, foldable polka dot umbrellas, owned within a year of each other; purchased under the false belief they made me look vaguely Parisian. OOH LA LA I AM SO CHEERFUL WITH MY POLKA DOTS, NO RAIN CAN FAZE ME.
Lifespan: five weeks; two weeks.
Death: broken spoke; left at the office and never seen again.

'Dark Crusader'

The Look: Black, sturdy, dependable. My most recent brolly, this was stolen from my boyfriend, who in turn had found it on a bus (as Elton John almost wrote, it's the Circle of Brollies and it moves us all) - as such, it was clear that this umbrella was a fighter. To maximise this, I tied it to my handbag, and together, for almost two months, we were an unbeatable duo.
Lifespan: seven weeks.
Death: Left at a friend's house, never bothered retrieving. I bid you well, Dark Crusader. Thanks for all the dry times.

In which not all animals are created equal

I'm not sure how it happened, but I like to imagine that at some point a couple of years ago, the owls got some sort of memo. "Congratulations, you are now trendy" it would read. Or maybe "Cngrts, ur totes hip!", as I don't know how au fait the owl community is with its text speak. Maybe it would be a voicemail of squawks, or a code spelled out in dead mice on a field. Anyway, I just like to think they KNOW their status in the human world.

Because it is really quite something, the owl's reign as Hipster Animal of Choice. For years now, despite some serious competition from penguins, sloths, horses, swallows and giraffes, owls have been the ultimate animal motif. It started with necklaces, earrings and whatnot, then spread to clothes and homeware and stationery and internet memes and desktop backgrounds and possibly, for all I know, people in Dalston buying actual owls as pets to live in their warehouse conversions and deal with the mouse problem.

But why? What makes some animals trendy, the four-legged Alexa Chung equivalent, while other languish at the bottom of the hipster food chain, at best a cozily strokable Holly Willoughby? Take cats. Cats make up roughly 63% of the internet, but despite all their best efforts – using computers, playing instruments, wanting cheeseburgers – they just can’t seem to make it beyond the mainstream.

Dogs have fared slightly better because there are so many novel varieties to coo over. Wrinkly ones! Sausage ones! Ones wearing earrings! But generally, it seems the Hipster Animal needs an allure beyond the common household pet. They need exotic cache.

Where owls are concerned, we can thank the Harry Potter effect of course. Owls assumed magical status, which made everyone think 'owls. Huh. I'd forgotten about owls', and thus their novelty made them the perfect creature to adorn every soft furnishing from here to Timbuktoo. Also, owls are expressive birds, thus easy to write hilarious captions underneath. Plus, they’re nocturnal and so appeal to the average hipster schedule, plus their startling Roy Hodgson resemblance has managed to extend their popularity for several more months (whether Roy Hodgson’s owl resemblance will have the same effect on his career remains to be seen).

Before owls started turning our heads (though not the whole 360°) there were lions, stags, and a brief flirtation with otters. Next up, for Hipster Animal of Choice for A/W’12, I’m taking a punt on flamingos. They’re pink, they’re kitsch, and in their one-legged pose they could be about to launch into One Singular Sensation from A Chorus Line at any moment. If there isn’t already a Flamingos Who Look Like Lionel Blair tumblr. I’m darn well going to make one.