Tuesday, 28 June 2011

In which I enter the Bronze Age

I bought some fake tan at the weekend. It was the stuff that masquerades as moisturiser, not the hardcore slap-it-on-with-gloves-and-protective-goggles stuff, but still. Possibly that makes it worse.

I'm still tearing myself apart slightly for the purchase, because I have long been a conscientious fake tan objector. I've been known to carry a placard through Basildon, chanting. My objection to fake tan is threefold:

1. The smell. It seems bizarrely backward that in a world of such advanced technological developments as ours, they can't make a product that turns you a few shades of tangerine darker without reeking out half the top deck of the 134 bus. But then perhaps it goes to prove my long-held belief that the Laboratoire Garnier is not in fact a laboratory, but just an enormous shiny factory full of monkeys pouring goop into bottles while an executive brays "And they'll pay £12.99 for this crap! Audrey, find me an island on eBay." 
The most popular school of thought says that fake tan smells of biscuits. But that isn't quite it. Biscuits, after all, smell pretty darn tasty. It's something else, something more specific and less appealing. And I know what it is. After many years of analysing the scent emitting from mahogany-stained ladies on bus journeys, in nightclub toilet queues and the like, I have pinpointed the exact smell. It is: the dried-on milk left in the bottom of a bowl of Crunchy Nut Cornflakes, after it's sat in your bedroom for two days.

Biscuity, yes, but also slightly sour and musty. Since the days Egyptian ladies in waiting would hold their noses as Cleopatra wafted down the corridor after a Nesquik bath, womankind has known deep down that it didn't want to smell of milky cereal. Now if only someone would tell cosmetics companies the same thing.

2. Part of the pro-fake tan theory goes, if we fake it then we won't be tempted to sit out in the real sun, leathering our future complexions and cultivating cancerous moles. This is a good theory. It is true. But sadly, the flipside of the issue is that fake tan merely reinforces the belief that to be attractive, we must be satsuma-tinted. And while we all believe that tan is glam, pale is wail, etc, people will still be tempted to sit out in the real sun and do themselves all that damage.

The only way to counter the idea, perhaps, is for them to start making fake-pale creams so that honey-toned girls can look a little pastier. I'm going out tonight; I must go for a spray-pale first," they'll say. "I want to look proper peaky. With a few blue veins, if you can." Then gradually, we might learn to accept the skin tone we were born with as opposed to the one Donatella Versace thinks we're supposed to have.

3. The effort. To tan up before every flesh-bearing occasion, or even daily as a matter of habit, is just adding to the already tremendous list of preenings that is expected of us. In the time it takes to effectively bronze each inch of exposed skin, we could have made a souffle, sorted the recycling or finally unblocked the sink. Not to mention the domestic drudgery saved in not having to wash orange-streaked sheets twice a week.

So in short, fake tan makes us smell of cornflakey milk, robs us of time we could be using to make, then eat, souffle, and reinforces the belief that only sun-wizened skin is hot. But I still bought some. And I must say, my treacherous legs seem to be enjoying it.

Monday, 20 June 2011

In which I camp. The kind with tents.

"Am I hearing correctly?" said a text from my Dad a couple of weeks ago. "YOU want a TENT?"

It was a surprising, but perhaps not inevitable occurrence, that I would one day want to go camping. For all my attachment to hot running water, electrical appliances and garments made of chiffon, there is also the collected effects of a childhood spent reading books about boarding schools and pony treks to combat them. For every voice in my head reminding me how much I enjoy television and dry underwear, there's another shrieking "Let's play sardines in a wood then eat ginger cake under a tarpaulin in the rain - it will be RIPPING FUN."

So when we set off for the campsite in West Hoathly (that's somewhere near East Grinstead), I am feeling prepared. I have wellies (borrowed), a tent (borrowed) a sleeping bag (stolen) and a waterproof parka with a hood (salvaged from my brief 17-year-old period as a mod). Boyfriend has vetoed my desire to bring a pillow, and also forgotten to pack himself a towel.

"You won't need a towel," he says. "We're not going to shower."

"That's not the point," bleats the Hitchhiker's Guide in my head. "I will almost certainly be glad of a towel." In the end, I do not wrap it around myself for warmth as I bound across the cold moons of Jaglan Beta, but I do roll it up in the place of my absent pillow.

Pitching a tent in the pouring rain, it turns out, is one of those activities that is equally as hilarious in memory as it is un-hilarious at the time. A bit like burning your kitchen down, or breaking a minor limb. Buoyed only by the promise of fish and chips at the end and the vague notion that rain might be an exfoliant, we battle torrential conditions to claim and furnish our corner of field. A family with hardcore, hurricane-resistant style tents and a roaring fire look on, pity in their eyes.

But on the plus side, the fish and chip shop has pineapple fritters! Never underestimate the ability of deep-fried fruit to soothe the soul.

Twenty hours later, we have sung a rousing midnight chorus of Bohemian Rhapsody, slept on a bit of lumpy ground, flicked a slug off the outside of our tent from the inside (satisfying), weed in the woods (also satisfying), played a full two innings of cricket in intermittent rain showers, argued over the merits of chocolate-filled pre-packaged croissants, driven to a pub, driven back from the pub, gone on a three mile hike in the woods, got very, very lost, ended up in Ardingly, and been forced to take a taxi back to the campsite.

I am wearing damp socks, damp jeans, a damp top, with a damp jumper, and a damp coat, and a slightly damp soul. But (potentially inspired by my formative local reporter experience on this paper), my spirit is not dampened. Boyfriend has built a fire, which is obviously awakening some Early Man pride within him. I have smuggled a fire-baked potato into my sleeping bag for warmth.

Another twelve hours or so on, and we have driven through a couple of villages, then back through the same villages, then through them again, and then into something looking suspiciously like a town. Every limb aches. There is an M&S Simply Food on the horizon! Civilisation beckons. I buy an overpriced jelly and eat it in three lavish gulps.

It was though, on balance, dampness accepted, RIPPING FUN.

Monday, 13 June 2011

I which The Only Way Isn't Worthing

I've just had a very interesting taxi journey, from my parents' house to Worthing station. It went like this:

Driver: "So where are you going?"

Me: "London."

Driver: "Why?"

Me. "I live there."

Driver: "Uggh. Why?"

Me. "Um. It's nice?"

Driver: "It's a shithole."

Me: "Oh. Wow. Ok. The WHOLE of London is a shithole?"

Driver: Yes. They need to brick over the whole place and fill it with water."

Me, blinking: "You want to turn our capital city into… a massive pond?"

Driver: "It's a shithole. Why would you live there?"

Me: "The culture? The people? All the, um, STUFF?"

Driver: "Pffffft"

Me: "To get away from people like you?"


Me: "I don't think you've been to the right bits, mate."

Driver: "The whole place is a shithole."

Me, in a tiny voice: "You do know that the Queen lives there, right?"

Driver, tapping meter which reads £3.20: "In London, THAT would say twenty quid."

Me: "True. But I wouldn't be in a cab in London. I'd be on a night bus, chatting to a nice wino."

The exchange continued in this fashion until we reached the station, at which point Mr Awful Taxi Driver did not receive a tip.

The whole thing got me thinking. We all know I would never speak ill of Worthing (well I would and frequently do, but for the purposes of this article we'll pretend otherwise). It produced my father, housed my grandparents and bred me for a happy decade. It taught me what a 'twitten' is, and how to most effectively play 2p machines. It gave me a hefty two-year crush on Preston from The Ordinary Boys. It helped me appreciate beaches, both with and without sand, more than your average inlander.

But even for the sake of giving Mr Awful Taxi Driver the benefit of the doubt, it's pretty hard to pretend that the town has ever equalled London in terms of culture, interesting people, or nice things to do, eat, see, smell, wear, watch and be (it has better fish and chips, I'll give it that). In fact I've always privately thought that an Essex-style spin on my hometown would have to be called Worthing Is One Of Many Ways - Consider All Options First. It's a great place to grown up, because it inspires you to get out and go somewhere better. My friend the Awful Taxi Driver, it seems would disagree.

"So, you think Worthing isn't a shithole?" I innocently asked him. "It wasn't, but now there's too many of your London types here too," he snarled. "Really?" I said, looking around hopefully for someone with a Whole Foods bag and a Blackberry that I could run towards with my arms open, shrieking "Embrace me, kindred spirit!! Let's compare Oyster cards!".  Alas, none to be found.

My theory on the reason suburban people think they hate London, aside from the obvious excessive Mail/Express reading and general belief that every stranger's just a mugger you haven't met, is that they're thinking of the bits they go to as a tourist. King's Cross. Leicester Square. Oxford Street. Places that ooze with a sort of pungent pedestrian soup. But here's the secret that my angry friend might want to know - nobody LIVES in those places. And when we venture into them, Londoners hate them more than you do. It's the equivalent of someone coming to Worthing, spending an hour at Teville Gate, then going back and telling all their friends it's a shithole.

And you wouldn't like that, now would you?

Monday, 6 June 2011

In which the salad days are over

It's been a bad fortnight for vegetables. They've gone from the friendly, healthgiving, albeit slightly goodie-goodie friends in our fridge to secret killers. Children and salad-dodgers are rejoicing as they're proved right, while every persuasive aeroplane-fork that ever was has hit another obstacle on its journey to oesophagus central. Veg is the new chips, doughnuts and turkey twizzlers. 

I ought to say now that I am writing this on Monday, and you are reading it any time after Thursday. You might be reading this in 2025 after finding it in an attic, in which case I apologise for the hair in my byline. Either way, the point is that you are in the future and I am in the past, and by Thursday you may well know what has caused the E.coli outbreak. From where I'm sitting, all we know is: it isn't cucumbers, and it probably isn't bean sprouts.

Is anybody else disappointed that it isn't bean sprouts? I think I can do without bean sprouts. My stir fries would be slightly bereft of crunch, but that's basically the only blemish I can think of on an otherwise happily bean sprout-free life. And the benefits - virtual elimination of Gillian McKeith's legacy, never again being disappointed because you thought they were noodles but aren't - definitely outweigh it.

Sweet potatoes, now there we would have a problem. I adore sweet potatoes. They are as close to dessert as one can get while still technically eating a vegetable. It amazes me that more seven-year-olds haven't cottoned on to this fact. The clue's in the name, kids - though I should let you know now that the same can't be said of sugar snap peas.

Butternut squash and pumpkin can masquerade as pudding too, with the right culinary know-how (I find syrup usually does it). I'm also hoping it isn't turnips, because then childhood classic The Giant Turnip would suddenly take on a sinister air. In fact, if the perpetrator turns out to be any root vegetable at all then I think our gastronomic landscape will be all the poorer for it.

Carrots I could easily lose from their in-salads-and-stuff role, but never from their delicious-in-cakes cameo appearances. Likewise cauliflower, because no other veg lends itself quite so well to snuggling down under a blanket of cheese.

In all, I would like to express a wish now that the culprit be none of the following:

Peas - the vanilla of the veg world, basically impossible to dislike.
Beetroot - exciting despite negative effects on wee.
Aubergine - mm, purple.
Courgette - mm, green.
Leek - what would Wales do?
Mushroom - learning to like them is the official mark of adulthood.
Asparagus - ooh, posh.
Rocket - because I'd miss hearing people pronounce it 'rockay'
Sprouts - because actually liking them lends me some caché.
Tomato - quite obviously the King of Vegetables, despite all this 'actually a fruit' nonsense.

I realise this doesn't leave much room for manoeuvre, so I'm offering up a vegetable as sacrifice: green peppers.

Green peppers are conclusively rubbish. They are lesser versions of their red and yellow sisters, and they taste of grass. They are only used in bad student cooking and by people who don't know you can buy the yellow and red ones individually. I would happily send green peppers to Room 101 forever, if it meant people would stop getting ill and salad could keep its rep.

Keep your pecker up, veg.