Sunday, 25 July 2010

In which the world is an endlessly baffling place.

To be printed 29/07/10 (which is my half birthday! Get your card in the post now).

Things I Don't Understand (and probably never will):

The Perle de Lait adverts.

First we were meant to gurn because our yogurt was too sour, now we're meant to put it on our faces like moisturiser. Leading me to believe that while French women Don't Get Fat, they do walk around pulling stupid faces and rubbing yogurt on their skin. Which isn't necessarily preferable, if you ask me. I know which I'd rather sit next to on the bus.

Who pays for Odeon Premier seats?

How loaded does one have to be to fork out a whole extra two quid for the pleasure of waggling one's legs about a bit? After much consideration I have come up with three possible answers: 1) That it's people who mistakenly think they're booking with an airline 2) That it's people with piles, who need the extra cushioning, and 3) That it's people trying to impress on dates - in which case they'd be advised to splash the cash on a Ben and Jerry's Wich, the most romantic cinema snack known to man, and not on what's ostensibly another four inches you'll have to reach to get an arm round their shoulders. Think, people.

Does anyone have an internet service provider that they don't hate with the fire of a thousand suns?

I imagine that in the fledgling days of the internet, when it was dreamed that one day we would all have access in the comfort of our own homes, part of that dream was a reliable supply from a company qualified and capable to meet your needs. Not solid weeks spent on the phone to someone pretending to be called Nigel saying things like, "I've plugged yellow cable A into blue outlet C, and the wiggly thing STILL ISN'T FLASHING." And as no one has any story involving their service provider than doesn't begin with a fit of involuntary shuddering, I'm beginning to think that maybe no one is actually capable of this job. It might just be a little too far-reaching for human brains. Maybe we peaked at the walkman.

What a hedge fund is.

My friend Fiona, an investment banker (how great it is when one finally gets to the age where you can refer to people as 'my friend, the investment banker' rather than 'my friend, that one who sicked on Offington roundabout), has tried to explain hedge funds to me numerous times. But as soon as she starts explaining, I am instantly transported to a place where little kittens leap over rainbows, while Good Morning Starshine plays gently in the background. So far I know this: they have nothing to do with shrubbery, but do need pruning from time to time.

How BHS is still in business.

It needs to be shown some respect, really, for sheer audacity - what other company would get away with churning out the same shapeless jersey separates for nigh on 13 years without anybody stepping in and saying, "But wait a minute… by George, this is tat!" It's led me to believe that maybe BHS is a front for something altogether more sinister, maybe a nationwide chain of crack dens. Crack dens with coffee shops.

Wednesday, 21 July 2010

In which I want mod cons, not actual cons.

To be printed 22/07/10.

I'm genuinely quite excited about flathunting again. This is naïve, I know, like the way women block out the pain of childbirth in order to be able to put themselves through it more than once, but still I am excited. After three years in the same house, during which I've watched it become steadily more derelict and mold-encrusted, its cupboards more full of unclaimed carbohydrates and its plugholes more full of unidentified hair, it's time to move on. Of course, my "pastures new" are most likely to be a woodchipped maisonette above a takeaway, but it's wistful all the same.

This point of the flathunting process is definitely the good bit. It's the bit where you can still dream of stripped wood flooring and Edwardian fireplaces and a neighbour who just 'happens' to be a Calvin Klein model. When you can say things like, "three floors up with no lift will be fine, we could use the exercise" and actually believe them. Before the estate agent brethren come and piddle on your property parade.

Estate agents are my third least favourite people to deal with, after beauty counter assistants and the men who work in Phones 4U. I can barely recall an encounter with an estate agent that hasn't left me wanting to gnaw my own arm off and drown it in a pool of my tears. This summer's going to be an especial bundle of fun because I get to deal with a double dose of them - one lot trying to find me the new place, and the other lot (let's call them Incompetent, McLiars and Sons) - trying to avoid giving me my deposit back from the one I'm currently living in. 

I anticipate having a lot of conversations that go like this:

Squeaky-voiced youth named Dwayne: "We've got a two-bed in Wapping for £500 a week that we think you'll be very interested in." 

Me: "Really, how so? Because there are three of us…"

Dwayne: "It has a very spacious downstairs loo."

Me: "…and Wapping's about an hour away from where we're looking, isn't it…"

Dwayne: "Excellent transport links."

Me: "…and £500 seems to be stretching our budget to accommodate a moon launch."

Dwayne: "Did I mention the light fittings?"

Me: "What about the light fittings?"

Dwayne: "Well. It has them."

But, like women with their babies, I fully believe that two months of being idiot-adjacent will all feel worth it in the end. When I hold that key in my cradled arms, I will know that I'm home. And provided there's a patio to bury Dwayne under, I think we'll be very happy.

In which even Pavement can't convince me

Printed 15/07/10.

Haircuts. For most, an unremarkable factor of modern life. For some, a terrifying ordeal fraught with anxiety, horror and potential life-ruining. Well ok, for me. 

You'd think that, as a girl who knows her way around a make-up bag (indeed, a girl who once successfully applied liquid eyeliner standing up on the 73 bus), I'd like getting haircuts. Aren't they, after all, the pinnacle of our "pampering" routines? More than that, don't they help us discover who we are as a PERSON? As the holy trinity of female propaganda (magazines; telly; people you overhear in changing rooms) will have you believe, a girl's hairdresser is meant to occupy a special place in your life that no on else can. They laugh with you, cry with you, they can turn you from Brillo pad to brilliant in a few swift flicks of a tailcomb. Thus goes the legend. 

*Not me*
I wouldn't know - I haven't been to a hairdresser since December 28th, 2003. The date is scorched onto my memory like a GHD straightening wound. On that day, leaving with yet another cut that looked vaguely like something an angry six year old might do to a Barbie, I vowed never to return. 

In my 15 years of experience, I had learned the following about hairdressers: They will give you the haircut they want to give you, not the one in the photo. They will give you haircuts that require a full-scale military operation of blowdrying, tonging, swooshing and spritzing every morning to look anything like they did on leaving the salon. When you say "loose waves'" they hear "corkscrew curls". 

And worst of all, they like to lecture you on mistreatment of your hair as though they are social services quizzing an unfit mother. They tut, and tsk, and peer at your split ends, and berate you for doing anything with your hair other than stroking it gently while a Brahms lullaby plays in the background. As far as I can tell, things you're not meant to do with your hair include: straighten it, curl it, dry it, wash it, colour it, tie it up, leave it down, or take it on holiday. Yet, by Jove, these are all the things the hair industry is built on! Where is the humanity? 

So I took matters, and scissors, into my own hands and started doing my own. For seven years, I was barnet self-sufficient, like the Barbara Good of beauty (with less good hair). There were a few mishaps, yes, and a few days that necessitated a Very Big Hat, but by and large I got by ok. My hair remained firmly attached to my follicles, and nobody threw things at me in the street. 

But now I fear the time may have come to skulk back to the salon. For one thing, once you're out of your teens, cutting your own hair becomes a bit like tie-dying your bedspread or putting kooky coloured laces in your Doc Martens. It looks like purposeful kookiness, heaven forbid. Also, to be a grown woman afraid of the hairdressers is stupid. 

And finally, because after seven years of ad-hoc trimming with blunt scissors two minutes before leaving the house, I have created a fringe monster. My fringe has more power over my face than I do. Entire days have been ruined because my fringe has refused to play ball. So if it's a toss-up between being bossed around by a hairdresser or bossed around by an inanimate three inch pelt at the top of my forehead, I know which I'm going to choose.

Monday, 5 July 2010

In which I'm not dressing to the max, thanks all the same.

The long and short of the maxi dress trend

In which my love don't cost a thing.

To be printed 08/07/10.

Here's a question: why does anybody become a journalist? Is it for the sheer joy of communicating vital (or not so vital) information to others? Is it because they read Evelyn Waugh's Scoop and thought it was all true? Is it because the other option was a painting themselves gold and starting a career as a living statue?

No. It's for the freebies. And if anyone claims otherwise, they are lying through their canapé. I have no pension plan, no health benefits, no in-office gym or even a particularly comfortable desk chair, but I do have daily opportunities to blag myself hoards of wonderful tat I never knew I needed.

Things I've been gifted in the last few months include: a playsuit, a handbag, a pair of shoes, a voucher for Specsavers, a selection of condiments, four bottles of wine, a case of chocolate, a silk scarf, a tip to New York that never happened and, by far the best, a diamante-encrusted USB stick. And I'm only a rookie, a journalist of the most amateurish breed it's possible to be while actually getting paid for it. If I'm raking in this kind of booty, people like Jane Moore and AA Gill must be driving around in golden chariots being fed free caviar by winged cherubs.

I'm told that eventually the novelty wears off, but what a sad day that will be. When one is too jaded and professional to treat one's career like a perpetual game of Supermarket Sweep, grabbing everything you can before Dale Winton arrives and demotes you to the post room. Until that day comes, if anyone needs me, I'll be the girl sitting under the buffet table with pastry crumbs down her front, rifling through goodie bags to check they're all 'equal'.

Of course, ninety percent of all the free stuff is either ugly, the wrong size or something you have no use for, like contact lens fluid or a car air freshener. But that isn't the point. The point is that YOU DIDN'T PAY FOR IT. And as Janet and Luther told us all those years ago, the best things in life are free.

There are a couple of downsides though. Firstly, there's the judgement of other, older, more freebie-weary hacks. Nothing spoils the fun of looting more than somebody from somewhere proper, eyeing you up and down with a look that says, "oh lore, actually taking the freebies are we? How vulgar." It makes you feel like the guest at the royal banquet who accidentally drinks the finger bowl.

Then there's the fact that, enormous though your joy is, you aren't really allowed to go on about it. Because unless you're sharing your stash with them, and often even if you are, people find it really irritating when you talk about all your free stuff. I mean, you've just read 400 words about it and I'll bet you're already dreaming about ramming a biro into my gullet, aren't you? A biro you paid for.

In which I will probably lose about half of my friends.

Printed 01/07/10.

The Top 5 Things You Just Shouldn't Tweet (or Facebook)

1. Death

A long time ago, the passing of a loved one from this world to the next would be announced by telegram. Just like Twitter's 140 characters, they too were adhering to a strict limit - yet somehow there is far more emotion in "AUNTIE MABEL SADLY DEPARTED STOP FELL OFF OUTHOUSE ROOF STOP BEQUEATHS YOU BEST HATPIN STOP" than there is in 'RIP Auntie Mabel, may you be the brightest star in the sky, you will be missed :(" written underneath a picture of you playing beer pong in a candy bikini top. Not until there's a dislike button, anyway.

2. Pregnancy

You've got a bun in the oven! A little bundle of joy! Of COURSE you want to share the news with the world, as quickly as possible. So what do you do? Spend a day making phone calls to your nearest and dearest, so they can gush over the news with you? Hire a plane with a banner with your due date written on it to fly over your hometown? Nah, you change your profile picture to an ultrasound and regale everyone you've ever met with thrice-weekly updates on your morning sickness.

3. Break-ups

Now, I know the status-change is an unavoidable factor in a modern relationship casualty. There it sits on everybody's homepage, blaring "Lonely McNeedy is now single" with a little broken heart next to it, just in case people have difficulty envisaging your pain. But even Facebook has an airing cupboard for that dirty laundry, and it's called the 'hide' button. Meanwhile the accompanying status - letting us all know what a cretin he is, and how you'll be crying into a tub of pralines and cream for a month because the love you once thought would never end has now been reduced to a little fractured husk of hate - that's even easier to deal with. Just don't write it in the first place.

4. Weight loss

Reasons for this are twofold; firstly, for those who'd quite like to drop a few pounds themselves, it is irritating in the extreme to read that you've, omg, lost a stone! Particularly if they read it with a Magnum in one hand and a cider in the other.  Secondly, for those unconcerned with weightless, it is embarrassing to have to read about yours. It's terribly un-British, like going on about how much you earn, or your bowel difficulties (prime candidates were I to make this column a two-parter). People then feel compelled to say something, but what to say? A hearty "well done!" may as well read, "about time, you lardy cow."

5. Exam results

I've been over this one numerous times in my head, and I'm sorry to say that I just don't think there's any way one can tweet their exam results with dignity. It's harsh, I know, particularly with degree results, when all you want to do is run throug the streets sounding a klaxon, naked but for a sash saying ALL THE CASH WAS WORTH IT (MAYBE). But self-congratulatory statuses will only counter the warm glow of your achievement with the chilly breeze of everyone secretly hating you. If you really can't fight the urge, change your status in the middle of the night, sit grinning at it for a few hours, then delete it before anyone sees.