Tuesday, 27 March 2012

The problem with fringes

Disclaimer: What follows is an article entirely about fringes. It features no political bent or biting satirical commentary, it does not address issues of technology, economy or environment, and it will not teach you anything. Except how ruddy hard it is having a fringe.

You may think the topic is irrelevant to you, because you do not have a fringe. But look around you! Look at your spouse or offspring, your colleague, the angry person next to you in Tesco. You're never more than three feet away from a fringe, and each day some 86% of people are affected by fringes, either directly or indirectly. Fringes are all around us.

Having a fringe is, and I am not exaggerating here, almost exactly like having a child. From the moment it enters your life it becomes a constant source of nagging worry - the taming, the training, the tears. Praying it will head in right direction, but knowing it will choose its own path irrespective of your wishes. When you can't see it, you convince yourself it's probably misbehaving, and on the rare occasion that it does exactly what you want it to, there's never anyone around to applaud.

Quite honestly, given my time again, I don't think I'd have one at all.

Image: cosmopolitan.co.uk

They always start off as such a good idea, too. "FRAME YOUR FACE," scream the magazines, and we obediently bedeck our forehead with little hair curtains like a Victorian four poster bed. We imagine we'll peer out winsomely from beneath it like Penelope Tree, or Wednesday Adams, and that it will fall endearingly into our eyes when we're feeling coy.

What we forget, in those crucial minutes in the salon chair, is that we're not in a book or a Woody Allen film, and we never peer winsomely at anything, and that at the slightest bit of rain or humidity our hair turns from a conventional, downward-facing mass of proteins into an extravagant, curling, topiary structure, the likes of which even the most delicate features can't set off. We forget all this. Thus is the deceitful power of the fringe.

Fringes refuse to work with weather. Rain = forehead spaghetti. Wind = Duran Duran bouffant. Heat = HIYA, sweat farm. They exist at their best inside a complete vacuum (which indeed is where I believe most of Zooey Deschanel's filming must take place). Likewise they don't like to cooperate with the rest of the hair, preferring to perch separately on the front of an up-do like a stroppy child at a party.

I have had my current fringe for seven years. Unlike many fringes, it was not the product of an over-zealous hairdresser - I actually cut it in myself, in a fit of teenage scissor stupidity. This means that in the subsequent years, every time I've cursed my fringe (we're talking hourly), I've had no one to blame but myself.

As a result, it's been a sadly abusive relationship. I've hacked it, bleached it, pinned it, moussed it, sprayed it and battered it into submission with straighteners. I've been known to pull out whole clumps as punishment for flicking at an odd angle. And now, I’m ending things once and for all. I’m growing it out.

As 'research' for this column, I asked my boyfriend what his views on my fringe were.

"That bit that goes across your forehead?" he asked.


"I like it."

“Shut up.”

Wednesday, 21 March 2012

In which things get Pinteresting

I would have written a column about Pinterest sooner, but for the past month I've been too busy staring blankly at an upload box, shouting, "What things do I like? What THINGS do I LIKE?"

Do I like that lamp? Sure, I like that lamp. But do I like-like it? Do I PINTEREST-like it? For the commitment-phobes among us, it has presented a whole new level of uncertainty.

In the way these things always do, Pinterest has turned up unannounced in a life I'd previously thought complete*, and immediately declared itself indispensable. Before Pinterest, what did we do when we had a nice image of a thing and wanted to show it to people? I mean, apart from posting it on all our other digital forums, or showing it the retro way with our hands and mouths? It also has a nifty pun in its name, which immediately endeared it to me (not to mention quickly spawning the flagrant and slightly sweaty-sounding imitation site 'Pinspire').

For the unacquainted, Pinterest.com is the virtual equivalent of covering your school jotter in pictures snipped out of More! magazine. If More! magazine had taken a sharp about-turn and started featuring mainly rural sunsets, trendy bookshelves and cake. Lots of cake.

Image: dressedtoat.wordpress.com

Sold as a (new favourite phrase alert) "curation platform", Pinterest lets you create online pinboards of images that you think are nice, for other people to agree are nice. It can be, in turn, a showroom of expensive things you can't afford, a source of soothing natural wonder and therapeutic uplift, a stellar collection of animals in comedy outfits, or the world's best buffet table. Sadly it can also be 27 pictures of wedding favours with :) written as a caption.

The absolute beauty of it, though, is that you're not being judged on your own photography skills, or cookery skills, or looking-attractive-in-a-cape skills. You're just riding on the back of other people's. It's genius. Those who can, do - those who can't, curate. "Can you cook?" we might ask each other soon on dates, to get the reply, "no, but I'm an excellent curator." Which I suppose, when you think about it, just means "I'm great at doing an M&S shop then hotting it up in a microwave." But anyway.

I'm also hugely in favour of Pinterest because it offers a break for people who aren't so much… how can I put this? 'With the words'. With the rise of Twitter and the continuing rule of Facebook serving to remind us which of our acquaintances can string together and properly punctuate a sentence, and which… well, can’t, it might be nice to let pictures do the talking for a change.

Plus, I like to think of it as a sort of crude window into someone’s brain. Inside your head, is it all cherry blossom and rainbows or sci-fi tattoos and chandeliers made from forks? Mine currently features three pictures of Dolly Parton, a plate of Guinness brownies and a dog wearing a superman cape. Which I’d say is fairly accurate.

*This is clearly a lie. Until someone invents an ‘office slanket’ and they bring back chocolate Pretzel Flipz, my life will never be complete.

Monday, 12 March 2012

Let's get quizzical

I love a good pub quiz. It's surprising, though, that I still enjoy them as a pastime given my appalling track record of success in them of late. I mean, as a general rule of thumb in life, I only like doing things I am moderately good at. This is why I allocate such a generous portion of my time to whistling television theme tunes and making stew, in the place of, say, playing team sports or doing heavy lifting. I'm not usually one for self-development. I'd rather do something I've done umpteen times before and congratulate myself than take up a new challenge and be crap, then a bit sad. You might call this limiting. I call it 'logical'.

But pub quizzes are the exception to my rule. I am blithely optimistic about pub quizzes, like a second-time mother being wheeled into the labour ward. "Maybe this time we'll win!" I say cheerily. Most of these people look a pretty dim, and I've been reading the Metro quite carefully this week. Plus, I had salmon for lunch! We're going to ride that Omega 3 wave all the way to the prize pot, baby." Then three hours later I'm sobbing over a glass of wasabi peas, having discovered I know bupkis about flags of the world, photosynthesis, former barmaids of the Rovers' Return or indeed anything that matters.

Image: burnham-on-sea.com

The pressure of the team name alone is too much. Team names are an opportunity to compensate for your poor performance before you've poorly performed. But over time it gets harder, as the hilarious quiz team names of yesteryear lapse into tedious cliche. 'Universally Challenged' probably got rapturous applause when it was first used by Og and Ug at the Cavemen Arms. Meanwhile, the in-joke that seemed so droll when you wrote it down will become less and less funny each time the quizmaster reads out 'Sorry Tim, Mum says We've Got No Broccoli - seventh place' to a roomful of bemused silence. For uninspiring but solid names, you can always fall back on the old chestnut of inserting 'quiz' into rhyming phrases. Quiz Akabusi. Quiz team-a Aguilera. Bucks Quiz. Quizzee Rascal, to be down with the kids.

At this week's quiz, as always, i really thought things might be different. With a modest team of two, my boyfriend and I perfectly tessellated our opposite areas of expertise (him: politics, geography, transport; me: adverts, confectionary, pop hits of the noughties) and amazingly managed to come in second on the first points recap. Then second again in the second points recap. As we whizz confidently through the picture round and the guess-the-common-theme round, I start silently believing we are somehow going to win. It would be a triumph. There are only two of us, with an average age of 25. We'd go down in history! They'd have to put a special plaque up!

We didn't win. We came seventh. Apparently the rest of Muswell Hill has an encyclopaedic knowledge of racing horses and Frank Carson catchphrases like it's normal. But of course, despite the humiliating defeat, I enjoyed it. We also had a good team name - but I'm not telling you in case you nick it.

Thursday, 8 March 2012

In which we are woman, hear us roar

If you're reading this on Thursday - hurrah! It's International Women's Day! Are you wearing your I Love Ladies t-shirt and tooting your party blower? Have you turned to the nearest woman and told them they're incredibly wise/ their fringe looks great/ they've brightened your day through the power of pheromones alone? No? Well do it. Then get stuck into this lot:

Eight Empowering Things to Do Today

1. Get yourself a copy of The Sun* and some felt tips, and spend half an hour fashioning a lovely outfit for the Page Three girl. Give her some supportive underwear, then a nice warm jumper and a directional hairdo and some wellies. Maybe a lab coat. Go crazy.

2. Watch a film full of brilliant women, that doesn't feature Katherine Heigel or a makeover montage. For example: Little Women, where you can whoop enthusiastically at everything Marmee says ("I will not have my girls being silly about boys" WOOP YEAH HOLLERRR) and be inspired by hair-cutting, novel-writing proto feminist Jo, or Steel Magnolias, a film so brimming over with female spirit that Dolly Parton's the friendly neighbourhood hairdresser.

I’d advise against watching the 2008 remake of The Women, however, despite it being a supportive lady lovefest featuring no men whatsoever. It’s just a really shit film.

3. Make yourself an organic facemask using mashed banana and honey, then spread it on a crumpet and eat it instead. Repeat until full.

4. Burn something. You could go old school with a bra if you fancy (pick the scratchy lace one that digs in under the arms, and was clearly engineered by a sadist) or choose anything else debilitating from your wardrobe. Heels that make you do a knock-kneed Bambi walk; boned cocktail dress that you have to unzip in the toilet at hourly intervals so you can get some oxygen back to your extremities; anything that has ever drawn blood. Make a lovely bonfire (complying with local council regulations) then dance round it singing ‘down the patriarchy’ to the tune of your choice.

5. Phone your Mum and ask her to describe your birth in vivid detail, then gasp, sigh and applaud during each bit as appropriate. If you’re face-to-face, throw flowers at her feet and shout ‘Bravo!’ (This is more appropriate for my own mother, of course, but it works on a lesser level for yours).

6. Visit the magazine aisle in WH Smiths and cover each copy of Cosmopolitan, Glamour, Grazia or Nuts with a copy of National Geographic.

7. Compliment an older lady on her elegant, age-appropriate crow’s feet, and follow it up with “D’you know, there’s something of the Helen Mirren about you today?”

8. Learn all the lyrics and dance routine to Sister Suffragettes from Mary Poppins, and perform them in a public place.

*Don't buy it, of course - appropriate one on the bus or something