Thursday, 26 September 2013

In which the pudding carousel's still turning

It’s not very often that Worthing pops up in my Twitter feed. Usually because I follow 90s hero Dave Benson Phillips, or because my dad is plugging his comedy nights (Matt’s Comedy Club, Worthing’s premier/only comedy club – you should all go).

But this week I was alerted by a non-resident to something I didn’t even know about my hometown - that alongside the swish new swimming pool and distinctly above-average H&M, it can currently boast ‘Wimpy of the Year’ on Chapel Road. Wimpy of the Year! I know, I’d forgotten it existed too.

But it turns out there are still 220 of them in the UK, mainly concentrated around Surrey, Sussex, Essex and London. Despite not having eaten there since I was yea high to a seagull’s eye, Wimpy Worthing has stolen my heart from afar because it has one of the loveliest examples of a branded Facebook page I have seen in a long time. And that is coming from someone who spends half her day job working on branded Facebook pages.

I bid you, go and join the page immediately. Meet managers Nick and Charlie, marvel at the height of their rocky road sundaes, enter their competition to win a bottle of special sauce (the fewer questions asked the better) by guessing how many tables the restaurant has, and succumb to their home-fried charms.

“Have you tried one of our fantastically refreshing cheese toasties?” they ask. “No!” I cry back to the screen, “but boy, do I want to now!”

There are many other things to love about Wimpy too. The blithe optimism of a company that subtitles itself, “The Home of Fresh-Cooked, Nutritional Meals” above a picture of a burger with cheesy nachos and sour cream on top just has to be admired.

When I was young, I remember my mum considering Wimpy a more refined alternative to McDonalds, based mainly around the face they gave you actual cutlery and had that nice rotating dessert carousel. Puddings taste better when you’ve studied them intensely from all angles first, obviously.

Plus, I’m suffering from gourmet fast food fatigue syndrome. In a year where every variation on artery-blocking, truffle-infused, peanut butter-slathered, bone marrow-smeared ‘dirty’ burgers and hot dogs under the sun have been peddled through the London food scene to the point where I generally book myself two hours after lunch to lie on the floor, quietly groaning and rubbing my belly, there’s something so appealing about a nice, simple plate of calories without any trendy connotations.

So Nick and Charlie, if you’re reading this – save me a nacho burger, hash browns and a hot chocolate with cream on top. I’m coming to Wimpy Worthing next time I’m home, and I want the works.Diary of

In which Lady Mary's froideur has nothing on my flat

I know it’s September now, but if I’m honest I still haven’t fully forgiven Dan Stevens for ruining Christmas.

Because we know now that it was he, and not Julian Fellowes, who demanded Cousin Matthew be killed in the last brutal minute of the Downton Abbey Christmas special, leaving 10 million viewers weeping hopelessly into their trifle, because he fancied a go at Hollywood.

“There, I knew they wouldn’t kill anyone at Christmas!” sighed my too-trusting mother, seconds before Cousin Matthew’s car rammed into what was probably the only other car on a country road for about 100 miles in 1921. It would have been more honest and less jarring if they’d just shown him getting his teeth whitened, putting on some docksiders and hopping on a plane to LA with a duty-free Toblerone under his arm. 

But despite the way they toyed with our emotions like a crumpled Quality Street wrapper, I am prepared to embrace Downton Abbey again when series four starts on Sunday – gingerly, the way you’d embrace the prodigal son who might still take your wallet when you’re not looking.

Because the truth is, I need Downton in the same way I need 100 denier opaque tights, hot water bottle and food items that can be smothered in cheese sauce then baked in the oven. It is part of my autumn/winter arsenal. Just as they say, “there’s no bad weather, only bad clothing choices”, I fully believe that being gloomy in the cold months is only because you haven’t assembled the right kit.

Here, for your reference, is everything on my autumn kit list. Yours might vary, but this is a good start:

Hot water bottle, standard size
Hot water bottle, mini size (for stowing in crevices when you go out)
Blankety socks, three pairs
Comedy sweatshirt (mine is an Adidas one that belonged to my dad in the 90s)
Friends who accept, “I’m not coming, I just got really comfy” as a valid cancellation excuse
Vodka lemsip (preventative)
A bottle of Stone’s Ginger Wine, or anything else sticky
Custard, Bird’s instant
Custard, posh from a tub
A long reaching grabber, for fetching items when you don’t want to get up from under your blanket
All the tea bags you could possibly get through between now and March
A real-time TV obsession, such as Downton Abbey or X-Factor
A time-filling TV obsession, such as re-watching all of Dawson’s Creek on Netflix
A board game obsession (recommend Settlers of Catan for maximum heat-giving tension)
A Tesco home delivery account
An Ocado home delivery account, for posher occasions
A loved one, or a cat, or a realistic body pillow shaped like a loved one. Or a cat.

Monday, 9 September 2013

In which second hand books were my (Sweet Valley) high

I feel guilty even beginning to write a tribute to bookshops in this, the same paper in which two years ago I published a love song to my Kindle so passionate that it could have made a cold, grey machine blush and go a bit squirmy.

The love hasn’t faded, either – I still love my Kindle. With it I have read more, and more widely, and more freely than I ever did before, and on this my pro-e-reader argument has always rested. More reading can’t be a bad thing, whether you’re reading off leather-bound paper or a digital screen, or a holographic image projected onto the insides of your eyelids by a computer companion who lives inside your brain (it’ll come right after hoverboots, I’m convinced).

“Besides, nobody is saying e-readers are better than books!” my speech goes. “That would be like refusing to use MP3s because vinyl looks so much nicer”. We all know real books are lovely, and we will all still want to fill our shelves with them and let people stand around examining them at parties - but when it comes down to practicality, the 5mm thick device that can cart a thousand stories away in your holiday suitcase is always going to triumph.

But then, today, I started thinking about Jabberwocky. The mock-Tudor shop on the corner of Goring Road, Worthing, centre of all imagination as I knew it from the age of eight to 13. Jabberwocky smelled the way all secondhand bookshops should smell – of musty, yellowing pages and old electric heaters and cups of tea and biscuits and Sunday afternoons.

I can’t lie and say I went to Jabberwocky for the classics. They had a great selection of Enid Blyton’s St Clare’s books, so much funnier and far less sissy than Malory Towers, but the pocket money clasped in my sweaty palm had a different goal. It was to get me a slice of the States. Jabberwocky fed my pre-teen craving for all things American, with its seemingly endless supply of Sweet Valley High and The Babysitter’s Club paperbacks.

They never cared how long you lingered, thumbing your way through all the rude bits in Judy Blume before your mum came back from Co-op with the carrots. I think I imagined I would shop there as an adult too, and take my own daughter to get her fix of hand-me-down happiness – but Jabberwocky closed, years ago. I think these days it’s a plant shop.

So it’s all very well championing e-readers as an adult, but my eight year old self would never have had one, even if they’d been invented back then. For kids with a few precious pounds or nothing at all, bookshops and libraries are still the gateway to a hobby that will last them a lifetime.

Cosy, welcoming and accessible, those bookshops of my youth paid it forward in spades – which is more than we can say for Amazon, I guess.

Thursday, 5 September 2013

Eight ways to get that ‘back to school’ feeling as an adult

1. Get new hair! But don’t go to your usual stylist, or even a stylist at all. For that under-10s look, simply ask an arthritic relative to give you a “sensible trim” with some kitchen scissors.

Or alternatively, for the faint whiff of teenage rebellion, go to Superdrug and buy any packet dye with a name that sounds like a Wetherspoons cocktail – ‘Blackcurrant bonanza’ or ‘raspberry razzle’ or something – and apply it, ensuring at least one third ends up daubed around your ears and neck.

2. Buy a new pencil case! As few adults really have call for pencil cases in their lives, here are a few things you could store in it instead: make up, money, heartburn tablets, hair grips, plastic cutlery stolen from M&S, wet wipes.

3. Set yourself homework! Write it down in a diary at the beginning of the week, put the diary in your bag and ignore it until at least 8:35pm on Sunday night, then get it out with sinking heart and discover you have to build an entire scale model of Tutankhamun’s tomb out of balsa wood by tomorrow morning.

4. Have an argument with your mother! Take your pick from the following topics: high heeled shoes; trainers that cost more than the council tax; why you can’t have a belly button ring; why you can’t go to Jenny Miller’s party; and how if Jenny Miller jumped off a bridge you probably would do it too because Jenny Miller would make it look awesome. If your mother isn’t readily available, draw a face on a sofa cushion and shout at that instead.

5. Make a new best friend! Pretty much anyone will do, since you can break friends again in about a week under the flimsy excuse of your choice. How about that lady at the bus stop? Quick, ask her if she likes Taylor Swift. Or pandas.

6. Invent a cool personality quirk! I had an ironic imaginary friend for a whole term in year seven – try that. Or give yourself an awesome new nickname, like ‘The Lorenzonator’. Everyone will want to be in your gang. 

7. Do some involuntary exercise! Ask friends to help create that true back to school experience by picking you last for their sports teams, vocally critiquing your ability, then not showering afterwards.

8. Invent a nonsensical game! Pick a euphemism for farting, trick people into saying it through a series of innocent questions, then laugh maniacally until you get a stitch.