Tuesday, 25 May 2010

In which the sun has got its hat on, hip hip hip hooray!

To be printed 27/05/10.

Has anybody seen the devil? I'm his advocate. Some think I'm only playing at the role, but between you and me I'm pretty darned serious about this one – particularly in this next presentation, entitled Reasons to Hate Summer. I realise "hate" is a strong word, one that we're only meant to use for Hitler and late delivery men, but I feel if I'm not emphatic enough my point will get lost amid all the barbecue fumes and gay laughter.

I've lived with these controversial views for 22 years now, buoyed on purely by the belief that I can't be the only one who hates summer. Somewhere out there, I know there are more of you. You're all lying in darkened rooms with bags of frozen peas on your extremities, ignoring invites to picnics. And quite right too, but I'd appreciate it if you came out and revealed yourself for the purposes of this article. We could form a support group, where we meet in a refrigerated underground vault, eat shepherd's pie and wear massive jumpers. I'd like that.

1. Sweat.
The most obvious and basic of all summer downsides, I never understand why this doesn't put more people off. When you can't perform normal, day-to-day tasks like making a sandwich or sitting on a bus or blowdrying your hair without turning into a puddle of person, there is something wrong with the world.  

2. Smells.
What is the scent of summer? Freshly-mown grass, coconut sun cream, barbecuing burger suspended on a delicate breeze? Or is it, actually, when you really think about it, BO? And warm bin sack? And dog poo, slowly roasting on the pavement? Next time you're standing in a fat man's armpit on public transport, tell me honestly how much freshly-mown grass is wafting your way. (See also: sweat.)

3. Sunburn.
Your own is a pretty negative experience, yes, but almost more distressing is the parade of other people's. The worst are the leather handbag ladies, whose deep-etched mahogany faces read like a poster saying "Melanoma? Is that a Delia recipe?" The second worst are massive bald shirtless men with pink-striped bellies, giving them the curious appearance of a processed seafood stick. And the third worst are sunburned children, of any description, because they trigger my transformation into Super Suncream Girl (saving the nation's skin one squirt at a time). I'm not sure if you've ever tried to apply Factor 30 to a strange child in public, but parents don't always take it in the helpful spirit it was intended.

4. The Calorie Contradiction.
Those of you who say 'oh, I only want a small salad when it's hot' can shut up; summer is really about over-consumption. That's why we have Magnums, and Aztec Gold Magnums, and White Chocolate Magnums, and barbecues and drinking beer at 11am in the garden. However, summer is also about looking like a wee slip of a thing in a bikini. It is about having the longest, leanest limbs in the whole park, and using strategic moments to do a cartwheel where your top falls down. I ask here that you spot the paradox, and take a moment to ponder the unfairness.

Here endeth the lecture. If you'd like to take a leaflet on your way out, I'll look forward to seeing you all in the vault for some knitwear action. Alternatively, buy my book – Lauren Bravo's Summer Loving*. 

*Title ironic.

Sunday, 16 May 2010

In which I fight prejudice, one sweaty sock at a time.

To be printed 20/05/10.

There are many prejudices in this life. While we, most of us, do our best to dodge the main ones - race, gender, sexuality, haircut - we are still living lives influenced daily by numerous other, more socially acceptable, prejudices. In the interests of self-improvement (and because my other option for this week's column was the words "Why did you all vote Tory, you south coast idiots?" in massive letters), I am addressing one of mine. I have, my whole life, been prejudiced against sporty people.

I could try to deny it - after all, some of my closest friends are sporty - but it's about time I confronted the issue. Every time I look at someone in workout gear, with their ergonomic trainers and their iPod strapped to their arm like an IV, a little voice in my head goes "coughPILLOCKcough."

There is, naturally, a lot of horror tied up with sport in my mind as a result of having to wear uniform knickershorts in public for four years (take note, Davison - you might have ruined a potentially great olympic career). But I think the main reason I tell myself I don't like sporty folk, same as with vegans and people who don't watch TV, is the smugness. It's the idea that their flagrant energy and desire to take care of themselves is all done to make me feel like a substandard person. In my head, the fact that they will live longer, and die thinner, and spend the time until that day feeling a lot less out of breath than me, all come second to their desire to scream, "Look at me, all healthy! Look how good at being human I am!"

But imagined smugness is not an excuse for persecution. "I torched her house because I thought she briefly pictured me in a bikini" would not stand up in court. Besides, there are plenty of things I'm probably smug about myself, without meaning to be. I don't smoke, I don't take recreational drugs (apart from Berocca, and I can quit that any time I want to) and I know all the words to Subterranean Homesick Blues. I probably ooze smugness. So in an effort to put aside my prejudice and become a more tolerant person, I am undertaking some aversion therapy and joining the ranks of the sporty. I have started jogging.

It took a while to put the plan into action, because first I had to find some proper trainers and an outfit that didn't immediately prompt other joggers to assume I must be lost and extrodite me to the nearest Starbucks. I settled on my PE trainers from year 10, because they might trick my brain into thinking I have the cardiovascular system of a 15-year-old, and a t-shirt from Hairspray the musical, just to make it subtly clear that I'm not really One Of Them.

So now, I am a jogger. I am a person who jogs. I am, by the way, still working with the word 'jog' rather than 'run' - baby steps and all that. Which, incidentally, is also how I'm doing the actual jogging. But still, it is exciting new territory. I can use words like "metabolism" and go shopping for sports bras. I think I may only be weeks away from a rucksack with some rocks in it. Prejudice successfully obliterated.

Monday, 10 May 2010

In which I am behind the times, by several minutes...

To be printed 13/05/10 (by which time this will be woefully out of date).

Oh dear. The whole country is in a shambles, and we have a mouse in our kitchen. Whether these two facts are related is as yet unconfirmed, but sources report that a little-read footnote in the Conservative manifesto included a scheme re-homing vermin in the houses of empoverished graduates. Just underneath the cuts in arts funding.

The annoying thing isn’t the mouse as such, but the fact that my mother was right. About a fortnight ago we had a conversation that went like this: Me – “We’re so lucky we don’t have mice. I’ve lived in that house two and a half years, and we’ve never even seen one.” Mother Superior – “Don’t be silly, you must have mice. All London houses have mice.” Me – “But we just don’t. Maybe it’s because we’re two floors up. Maybe it’s like nits, and they prefer clean houses. Maybe we have more than our fair quota of mould, and this is to address the balance. Whatever the reason, we are a mouse-free house.” Mother Superior – “Nah, you have mice. You just don’t know it yet.”

But ho, we know it now. So far we’re resolutely talking about mousey in the singular, because acknowledging that there might be mousey friends in the picture is more than my nerves can handle. Normally a fearless, gung-ho, intrepid female explorer type, I’ve suddenly become the unseen dame from Tom and Jerry, scurrying around in my furry slippers and shrieking at sudden noises. On being told about the mousey sighting by my flatmates (the way parents break the news about divorce – this isn’t your fault, there’s no need to be scared, we love you etc), I very nearly had to sleep the night standing on a chair in the kitchen.

My mum has been proved righter still by everyone else I’ve mentioned it to having gone, “Mice? Yeah, we’ve got loads. They’re called Dave, Dee, Dozy, Mick and Madonna and we feed them on sugar puffs” as though it’s the most natural thing in the world. And perhaps it is a rite of passage in London living, like rocketing council tax and pollution turning your snot black. But that hasn’t stopped me entering rooms like a police negotiator, announcing, “I am HERE, in my KITCHEN, just reaching for a CUP-A-SOUP, no need to make any sudden movements…”.

Meanwhile, we’re all twitchy and tiptoeing as we wait to find out what’s going to happen to the government (I’m writing this on Sunday, so forgive me if by publication it’s all been resolved into a nice job share, with Dave, Nick and Gord taking two days each and Lorraine Kelly filling in on Sundays). Scary though the prospects at the end of it might be, the political limbo bit is actually a tiny bit exciting. Go on, admit it. It’s like the bit between Christmas and New Year where nobody really knows what they’re meant to be doing. Do all the laws still stand? Are we allowed to do anything we couldn’t before, like drive on the other side of the road or keep ostriches on our allotments? Has anybody looked into it?

Sooner or later though, for better or worse or Tory, I guess we’ll have to settle on one of them to rule the country. Because once the turkey’s all used up, Christmas stops being fun; driving on the other side of the road would cause more death than the novelty is probably worth; and ostriches just taste like cows anyway. Besides, we need somebody to name the mouse after.

Monday, 3 May 2010

In which Pamela Haynes-Wallis has something to say

To be printed 06/05/10.

Happy election day everybody! I’m not sure what the mood will be by the time you read this – perhaps Gillian Duffy will have crept in as an outside contender, heading up the Monster Raving Loony party with Eddie from Love Thy Neighbour as second in command – but from where I’m standing on Monday morning everything is looking decidedly uncertain. If this were X-Factor, Peter Dickson would be booming “ANYTHING COULD HAPPEN” while Brown, Cameron and Clegg tried to pout in front of a wind machine.

From a purely entertaining point of view, it’s been an exciting few months. It’s also been an educational one, and as we all stock up on Red Bull and Haribo for the final stretch tonight, I’d like to look at all the Things I Have Learned in This Election:

1. The British Public Can’t Vote Properly. 

There is a veritable wealth of examples from talent show television that I could draw on here, but I would like to focus on the one that is still raw – Stephanie being voted off Over the Rainbow on Sunday. When the nation can’t even recognise a fantastic rendition of Mr Bojangles (not to mention other potential evictee Steph’s flawless performance), it worries me that they can be allowed to pick who runs the country. Though as a side thought, if they could somehow arrange for the losing candidates to ride an enormous crescent moon back to their stately homes, weeping, I think it would add a little extra razz to the proceedings.

2. Elections Can Be Fun. 

My mother can usually be trusted to find an interesting diversion in any bleak situation (stemming from years of playing the numberplate game on vomitous car journeys), and she’s come up trumps for the election with ‘Find your Tory name’. Take your Grandmother’s/Grandfather’s first name, then double barrel the name of the street you grew up in with the name of your old headteacher. My variations are the deliciously alliterative Blanche Beaufort-Bugden and the altogether snootier Pamela Haynes-Wallis. Put me down for the moat cleaning.

3. Frankly, I’d Like a Prime Minister Who Knows a Bigot When He Sees One. 

Whether Gordon got a little too exuberant with his bigot-spotting is, I suppose, a matter of opinion. But the whole affair has made me think I’d prefer it if the entire election was staged like a game of bigot whack-a-rat, with members of the public in a line up spouting opinions and the candidates with a big foam mallet, running up and down spotting the bigots and bopping them on the head. But maybe that’s just me.

4.  Everybody has a Slightly Different Idea of What a Hung Parliament Actually Means, and Nobody has Bothered to Google it. 

“The Queen picks the Prime Minister,” says my flatmate. “Or no, maybe it means the Queen makes the decisions when they can’t decide. Anyway, it’s something to do with the Queen.” Which is exciting, isn’t it? The Queen! We’d all forgotten about her.

In which channelling conceptual boyfriend chic is totally BIJ.

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