Navel gazing

It’s beginning to look a lot like…desperate Christmas advertising

Ahhh, you can tell it’s almost Christmas because none of your clothes have sun-cream stains on them and you spend a good twenty minutes frantically wondering where on earth you put your gloves last February. But mostly, you can tell it’s almost Christmas because there you are, not thinking about Christmas in the slightest, and your eyeballs are suddenly assailed by a Christmas advert on your television from one of our esteemed retailing giants, who have spent an inordinate amount of cash on less than two minutes of air time in an attempt to hypnotise you into wandering into one of their venerable establishments and emptying your purse or wallet into their tills.

Christmas adverts. I do love a Christmas advert. And when I say love, I mean despise enough to want to run down to my local supermarket and buy a family-size pack of mince pies just so I can hurl them at the TV the next time one appears. In turns mawkish, overly-cheery or just downright desperate, the Christmas ad is just one more thing to endure before we reach December the 25th, breathless, sobbing quietly to ourselves and ever-so-slightly deranged.

First up is John Lewis. In essence, an animated story of The Bear and the Hare, a couple of old muckers from Forestville. It opens with Hare – a mange-free and ridiculously cute, long-eared specimen – looking sad, because Bear is about to naff off for several months to hibernate, leaving Billy-No-Bear Hare looking like the last one left at a swingers party after all the car keys have been taken. But, this is where it gets interesting. Hare, obviously miffed about being stood up every flipping year as all the other forest residents are getting into the Yuletide groove, plots his revenge. He skitters over to Bear’s cave to drop off a present with an evil glint in his eye. We then see Bear lumbering over the hill, not full of the joys of Spring (mainly due to the fact that it is still bloody December) to hunt down Hare.  Cut to the cave, where the discarded present lies: an alarm clock. Now there is a snarky present worthy of giving to a truculent teenager who refuses to get out of bed before noon. Hare, the evil little lepus, has awoken Bear with the aforementioned alarm clock, and Bear is now forlornly staring at a whopping great Christmas tree with an expression that clearly says: “Really? You woke me up for this?” Actually, I am beginning to quite like these Christmas ads, you know.

 

Bear and Hare: They claim it is ‘plutonic’

Next up is good old Marks and Spencer. They seem to have finally found an answer to the tricky question of which celebrities they should feature in their ads to really appeal to their target audience. In previous years, they obviously did not have a clue, instead opting to cram as many of the blighters into ninety seconds as they possibly could, resulting in some weird celebs-dressed-in-High-Street-clothes-they-would-never-been-seen-dead-in-usually-fest. This year, they have gone for an easy-on-the-eye bloke and two birds, one of whom was the mad haired one from Harry Potter (you may have noticed ‘celebrities’ is not my specialist subject). It is a curious affair, this ad. The rather attractive protagonist, let’s call her Alice, chasing her wayward puppy (to clarify: that is not a euphemism), falls down an open drain. Really, she should immediately sit down and pen a stiffly worded letter to the local council, but instead, embarks on a surreal adventure. She is seated at a Christmas dinner table, an affair hosted by a Mad Hatter with chiselled chin and smouldering eyes (someone should really throw a damp tea towel over them, they could be a fire hazard), surrounded by pinched-faced older women with way too much make up on. Not dissimilar to most people’s Christmas dinner experience, give or take a male model. Then suddenly she is running though a forest until: ‘Ooh, whoopsie daisy, most of my clothes seem to have fallen off. Never mind, I shall soldier bravely on in just my knickers and bra’. As we would all do, in that situation. To save you from all the guff in between, the upshot is she is reunited with her puppy. Also not an euphemism, but then who knows what will happen when the cameras are switched off. So she found her pet. Hurrah. Christmas is saved. Pass the sick bucket.

 

Come back, you bloody flea-ridden hound, you’re going to make your owner’s clothes fall off

And finally, the Cooperative. Let’s leave aside the fact that the woman in their ad, having left the Co-op, meanders like a rambler on a warm sunny Sunday afternoon back to her abode. No one, repeat no one, walks that slowly in the run up to Christmas. Their strap-line? Christmas is just around the corner. Which just conjures images of Christmas, waiting to pounce, in a black, tinsel-trimmed cape, wielding a sparkly silver scythe with a flashing Santa on the top, laughing manically, just round the corner, waiting to chop you down in your prime and dance on your bauble-bedecked gravestone. You have been warned.

A version of this article first appeared in the rather spiffing Epping-based magazine Magascene. (www.magascene.net).

 


Not another dead fairy…

Modern communication. (Insert obligatory tut or eye-roll here if you are over 35 of age). It’s a funny old thing, eh, all the ways now we can communicate? And when I say funny, I mean not particularly amusing quite a lot of the time. And by old, I mean new. Look, it’s patently obvious I struggle with the old style communication – you know, words on paper – so I am bound to have an ambivalent relationship with all things modern when it comes to the exchange of thoughts, messages or information. And if you think I suddenly sound all erudite, that’s because I looked that last bit up. On an online dictionary, of course – I am not a total luddite.

The usual banshee cry of those too old to be comfortable bed-fellows with the ways of modern communication (and I am with them: have you ever rolled over in your sleep and had the corner of an iPad puncture your spleen? It is not pleasant) is that there is simply too much of it. But quantity, I can cope with. It’s the quality that makes my blood boil and my jaw clench until my teeth crack.

Take Facebook. One of my particular bug bears is the sort of communication that is both utterly pointless and wearisome in the extreme: “I have a cold.” Sometimes followed by an inevitably onomatopoeic word to emphasize their displeasure: “grrr”. Why? Why do they feel the need to share this with everyone, including someone who they met once and then friended on Facebook in a slightly weird, over-familiar way? If you have nothing news-worthy to say, go back to picking your toe nails. I don’t give a monkey’s if you have a cold: you are boring me. If you accidentally sever your arm in a freak letterbox incident, or poke your eye out in an argument with a fondue set, then by all means, talk about it. Heck, post some photos, I’d take a peek. Otherwise, just don’t.

And then there are those who know they have nothing interesting to say, so employ the Eastenders tactic of a cliff hanger: “I am so excited!” or “You won’t believe what just happened!!!” (They often over-use exclamation marks in a vain attempt to hide the fact that actually, nothing of note has happened whatsoever). You know as they type that post that are imagining the ‘duf duf’ Eastender drums, as they eagerly await the flood of equally excited enquires as to what has happened. Except there are no replies. Because anyone who cliff-hangs on Facebook has no friends and may well be pushed off that cliff for good, into a tedious abyss of other people all talking and saying nothing.

The other misdemeanour on Facebook  – or Twitter, for that matter – is posting photos of your kids. Again and again. With captions such as ‘so cute!’. Really? I think she looks a little bit like a frog, and I have just wasted three seconds of my life scrolling past that picture. Time I can barely afford, what with all these other posts showing Jonny’s first steps, or Francesca’s painting “masterpiece” that reminds me of a dirty cell protest. I think there should be a one-kid-one-photo-a-year rule. Had a baby? Post one picture, and that’s your lot for the next 364 days. You may, however, apply for exemption should you live on a different continent from your immediate family. I am not totally unreasonable.

Much etiquette seems to be missing from modern communication. The main culprit is the misuse of the cc button. I am not even sure it is required any more. All it seems to say is that you are writing an email to someone who is important enough to receive it, but publically making the point that all those plebs in the cc bar are slightly inferior in status. And then, just to compound the misery some idiot replies with a jokey quip…. TO ALL. And seeing as one of them has done it, this opens the flood gates to a load more people joining in the email jollity with even more unfunny comments… to all. STOP IT. Look, it makes me so angry, I have had to resort to capital letter shouting.

And what the heck is wrong with a bit of punctuation on a text message? If you used Alphabetti spaghetti to text, where apostrophes and semi colons are in pretty short supply, I could forgive you. But there is the whole gamut of punctuation to choose from at the touch of a button, and it is roundly ignored. You know that every time you miss an apostrophe out, a fairy is tortured, dont you? Oops, there goes another one.

This article first appeared in the super-doper Epping-based magazine Magascene (www.magascene.net).


Moan, moan, bloody moan

Moaning. Along with talking about the weather, is moaning not one of our national pastimes? It is a multi-faceted discipline and comes in many shapes and sizes, from straightforward complaining, through sullen grumbling, to nails-down-a-blackboard whining, and we just love it. We could have put one more gold medal in our Olympics treasure chest if moaning had been on the sporting agenda last month. I’ve been in training all my life for it.

There is nothing like a good moan to lift the spirits, and quite frankly, there is an endless supply of topics on which we can lament forth: how late the post arrives (which, incidentally, could be so simply solved by giving posties a ride-on lawn mower, a large rucksack and a modified cross bow), how miserable the woman in the shop down the road is, the price of petrol. Moan, moan, moan. Having a bad day? Get home, kick your shoes off, and when a concerned party casually enquires: “So, how was your day?” you can pour forth with gusto.

Bu choose your moan length wisely. A Sprint Moan can be perfect for a burst of vitriol, allowing you to get straight to the point of your chagrin with little hanging around, and will often contain a high proportion of expletives to really give it propulsion. The Sprint Moan is high octane stuff, but allow the listener to stand well back, as there is often some collateral damage in the form of flecks of spit flying from your mouth. And then there’s the Marathon Moan. Here, you must really pace yourself, as this one goes on for hours. You start gently, for fear of running out of puff too soon, and must maintain a steady pace of moaning. It is likely there will be need to take on high energy drinks and snacks to sustain you through the long moan ahead.

There is a little-known method for measuring moans, called the Bleater Scale. Think Richter Scale, but for whinging. You can score low on the Bleater Scale for some gentle complaining about the number of potholes on the local roads, but the moment you drive over one and get a puncture, the moaning escalates to almost epic proportions, culminating in a stiffly worded letter to the council and a photo in the paper of you pointing forlornly into the yawning abyss where tarmac once was. This scores a perfect ten on the Bleater Scale and you may wish to consider retirement from bleating at this point for fear of never reaching these giddy heights again.

There is a type of moaning that is considered by moaning experts to be the perfect storm of grumbling: Weather Whinging. It is a culmination of two of our most cherished hobbies – all things meteorological… and moaning. It has to be the most versatile of pastimes, as quite frankly, there is no type of weather that cannot be moaned about. “It’s too flipping hot,” we moan as the sun makes a belated entrance into our summer. “Bloody rain,” we grumble as we step in another puddle in our inappropriate and definitely not waterproof shoes. “This snow is ridiculous,” we gripe as we slide down the pavement to the tube. And when you are practised at the entry level Weather Whinging, you can attempt the more nuanced moaning: “Those cumulonimbus are really spoiling our day on the beach.”

Old fashioned moaning has a certain nostalgic glow to it what with all that leaning on the garden fence. And there is something to be said for face-to-face moaning. But there is no doubt that technology has advanced our moaning. No longer is it reserved for long-suffering spouses or mates down the pub. Oh no. Now you can moan online, twenty-four seven. You can tweet a moan, facebook a moan, blog a moan or simply moan in a review of a product that you bought online that promised to make you look ten years younger but turns out to give your wrinkles wrinkles. There is no end to the moaning you can do online. And in the unlikely event that you do exhaust your moan list, what the hell, you can then read what other people are moaning about. Call it the internet? More like a festival of moaning. MoanFest, if you will. A virtual crowd of grumblers, gripers and grousers standing in a virtual field, wearing their virtual wellies, moaning about the virtual weather and virtually everything else..

So perhaps just one piece of moan-related advice. Always be the moaner, never the moanee. And no  matter how tempting, never ask ‘how was your day, dear?’. You might find yourself an unwilling spectator in a Moan Marathon.

 

This article first appeared in the fabulous Magascene (www.magascene.net)


The Tidy Conundrum

I have always been a  meticulous, house-proud, zero-tolerance-to-mess, death to clutter kind of a gal. Well. Sort of. In my head, that is. But in reality… perhaps not.  I always wanted to be, I really did, but two key factors constantly impeded my dream: my inherent laziness when it came to tidying and the fact that my husband and I are just a little bit messy, all the time.

I have always wanted a permanently tidy house, one where the dining table can be used for its primary purpose of dining without having to clear a smorgasbord of rubbish out of the way first, but it has just never happened. At one end is a pile of newspapers, swollen and threatening to topple, almost a not-pile; more of a heap. All it would take is maybe twenty seconds to pick them up and deposit them in the recycling bin, but somehow the Herculean effort required to execute this is not forthcoming. And besides, there is probably a really important bit of post interleaved with that three-day old paper, seeing as the post gets dumped on the table too. So that twenty second task is more like three minutes by the time I have made sure there are no letter-shaped interlopers. And then there is that shopping list I wrote on the back of that envelope, which I left on the table. That needs locating before I can even begin to think about throwing anything away. You see, tidying is never simple.

And with atwo kids added into this mix, all tidiness bets are well and truly off. How dosuch small human beings being create such chaos with such little effort? And despite our attempts to at least constrain the mess, there is no crevice of the house left uncluttered. Stuff just gets absolutely everywhere. I walk into the bathroom and there is a Santa hat discarded in the middle of the floor (which is surely bad luck, given it is past twelfth night?). A cricket bat lies abandoned under the kitchen table. A plastic zebra nestles in my shoe.  A small car wheel appears in my underwear drawer.  A two-inch plastic rod with a threaded end, once part of a construction kit but now universally referred to as ‘the red thing’ turns up absolutely everywhere: first by the cooker, then in my son’s bed, then down the back of the sofa cushion. I swear I throw the flipping thing away in a fit of pique, only then to see it floating in his bath the next day. I close my eyes at night and I see it in my peripheral vision. Even the insides of my eyelids need tidying.

I do have the occasional tidy, usually pre-empted by my stepping on a Lego brick in bare feet. The level 1 tidying is not too taxing – large items are quickly restored to their rightful places in cupboards; obvious detritus is discarded. Level 2 is then all about dealing with those items that were found beyond arm’s length of their location. A large pile of stuff is gathered at the bottom of the stairs (one dirty sock, a reading book, a new bottle of shampoo) awaiting re-distribution. This is a little more time consuming and so there is always the risk that level 2 is irrevocably disturbed by a cup of tea or a biscuit break. But level 3 is where the real difficulty lies. Here, a small but insidious group of objects has been corralled together. The only thing they have in common is that they either have no fixed abode (batteries that may be new or may be dead, a pair of insoles for my boots, a computer cable) or they are simply unidentifiable. Whilst I deal with the first category with a certain aplomb, by scooping the stuff wholesale into the ‘bits and bobs drawer’ the unidentifiables pose more of a conundrum. This little black thing, shaped a bit like a thick washer but with an intricate cut-out, which probably goes by the name of a grommet in more nerdy circles, looks useless. But if I throw it away, I run the risk of discovering its true purpose five days hence, when I am pondering what exactly I need to affix the rotor blades back onto my son’s toy helicopter. So what to do? I know, I’ll leave it on the dining room table.

I did write a plan of action to make my tidying easier; it was part of a list I wrote on the 1st of January as part of my New Year’s resolution. But I have a horrible, sinking feeling that I left it on the dining room table.

This article first appeared in the fabulous Magascene, a local magazine stuffed with wondrous things. www.magascene.net


(Not so) fancy dress

I have had the utter misfortune to be invited to a fancy dress party and I hate fancy dress. No, wait, I fear I may have not made myself clear. I abhor fancy dress with a passion and utterly refuse to attend. Whilst those around me may be squealing with delight at the prospect of donning ridiculous garb and having a right old knees up, I am grinding my teeth into barely visible nubs of enamel just contemplating it. It is the thought of all those hilarious people, dressed in hilarious clothes, having a hilarious time. Perhaps that is the root of my hatred: people in fancy dress have to have a good time – in fact, it is written in party law (under the sub-section ‘Organised Fun for those who should know better’) that people in fancy dress must be having The Most Fun That They Have Ever Had. Because dressed as Superman, you simply can’t sit slumped on the sofa with a face like a slapped arse with piles. You would no longer be Superman, you’d just be an twat who’s got the hump in a shiny cape.

And to make matters worse, the host of such a party simply must have the most elaborate costume of all, in order to simultaneously demonstrate that they have more money and more fancy dress flair – ergo, they will enjoy themselves considerably more than you. This is ably demonstrated by the well known fancy dress equation E2 + H x £ = MF10 (for those of you not versed in the science of fancy dress, this is Elaboration [doubled], plus Host, multiplied by Cash equals ten times More Fun). So whilst you might don a long dress found under a pile of shoes at the bottom of your wardrobe and a cheap string of beads for the Elizabethan party, the host will greet you at their door wearing a hand-made diamante headpiece, a ten foot diameter bustle trimmed with antique lace, a vertiginous wig made from human hair and an entourage of six vertically challenged footmen serving mulled wine.

I have actually attended a fancy dress party – once. I was possibly persuaded to attend by the mention of a free bar and I went as a Hula girl. But not for me a grass skirt made out of plastic strips that threatened to combust if I got within ten paces of a cigarette, coupled with a garland of paper flowers that scratched my chin and left colour stains on my neck so it looked like I had contracted some nasty skin disease. Oh no. My costume comprised a cardboard band round my head on which I sellotaped a length of wire vertically, onto the top of which I attached a single Hula Hoop. Ta da… a Hula girl. The benefits of this costume were three-fold: the entire costume took approximately eight seconds to make, I could scoff an entire pack of Hula Hoops (minus one) down my gullet whilst making it, and I got to wear my own clothes to the party. And this is where the payback really was, as I could get in and out of a taxi without tripping over my own comedy shoes, or bashing my uproariously funny hat, or stepping on some swathe of fabric that hung from my costume. I could also go to the toilet without the assistance of two friends and a crow bar to pull the bee costume away from the danger area. And lastly, I could get the tube home without the ’I’ve been to a fancy dress party and had a fabulous time, but now, sat here all alone on the Central Line, I look like a total fuckwit dressed as a slightly rubbish Elvis’.

Astoundingly, I did actually win the fancy dress competition that night – I suspect the judges had been making liberal use of the free bar amenities before they cast judgement. And it was much to the chagrin of those who had waddled their way round the evening dressed as a penguin, or who had thought clown shoes were just the ticket until they fell over and broke their nose, or those who sustained a nasty poke in the eye from their own plastic pirate hook.  After that party, I hung up my crown (or rather my Hula Hoop) and vowed never to attend another fancy dress party again.


Just don’t say the C word

This article first appeared in the rather spiffing Epping-based magazine, Magascene (www.magascene.net).

Christmas. I will say it again in case you weren’t paying attention. Christmas. Am I the first person to mention Christmas to you? There is a fighting chance that I will be, which will no doubt provoke unmitigated rage and hatred in my direction for ever more. (But I can take it. I have broad shoulders, and they are covered in tinsel). I have already heard a plaintive cry from a friend that Christmas is getting earlier every year, and I didn’t particularly improve his mood when I pointed out that whilst I have only been on this earth a few decades, I am pretty sure that Christmas has been on December 25th for as long as I can remember and not once did it try and sneak itself to 9th. He was not amused and quite frankly, I am not surprised. No one likes a yuletide pedant.

Personally, I do not mind the appearance of all things Christmas in October or November. I am, by heart, a forward planner, and around about the time that I spy a glittering pack of baubles in the local supermarket, I am just brushing off my Christmas book (yes, I have a Christmas book, I can’t help it – I was born this way) and putting the finishing touches to my present list. I admit that Harrods are probably a little eager even for me, when they unveiled their Christmas shop on July the 26th. Apparently, it was opened by Santa, but that doesn’t perturb me. After all, what they hell else does he have to do in July?

There is absolutely nothing wrong in doing your Christmas shopping two months early – and let no one tell you any different. For a start, it means that you will not be shoved, pushed and tutted at in your local shopping centre as you do battle with the December shoppers. You can peruse at your leisure and can get through an entire shopping trip without swearing at someone else.

And moreover, you need not even leave the house. With plenty of time to go until the big day, you can order everything online, safe in the knowledge that even if they strap your order to a cat and get it to deliver it to you in between naps, you will still have it in your non-sweaty little hands way before the 25th. Whereas, if you leave your online shopping until mid-December, you will have to contend with a snow fall of eight large flakes that grinds the country’s transport infrastructure to a shuddering halt, or face a strike by the Royal Mail, or a flood of biblical proportions forcing posties to deliver everything by canoe.

And you have time to give some thought to your purchases, to really find the right present at the right price to show how much you care.  Some years ago, my boyfriend explained to me that all my Christmas presents that year were themed. How thoughtful, I mused, as I unwrapped them. It turned out the theme was that they had all been purchased at ten minutes to closing time at Tesco on Christmas eve. (Surprisingly, that man became my husband, but only when he promised on his life that he would never again buy me a present that attracted ClubCard points).

And there is another advantage to embracing Christmas in October. If you have small children who still find it plausible that a morbidly obese man carrying an enormous sack so big it looks like he has just held up Argos at gun point can fit down a chimney, then you are in luck. Because once Christmas is on the agenda, so are the Father Christmas threats. Or persuasions, as I like to call them. “If you don’t do as I say, I shall phone Santa and tell him what a naughty boy you are. And you know what Santa thinks of naughty boys,” I say, as I pull my mobile out of my pocket and scroll down to ‘S’. The terror in his eyes  as he scurries to tidy up his toys is a festive delight to behold.

Go on. Wrap yourself in a bit if scratchy gold tinsel, don an ill-fitting paper hat and stock the cupboard with mince pies two months early. You know it makes sense.


My baby…

Well, the book has finally left my hands and is with the printer. I have often heard writers talk about their creation as their baby. Born from within them, nutured and loved, a writer is fiercely protective of their baby.

Well yes. And no. I don’t think my book is that much like a baby. It is certainly not like my baby. My book does not wake me up in the middle of the night thinking it is time to tickle its toes. It does not vomit on my shoulder. And if I share a bed with it, it does not hog the pillow and keep punching me in the face.

In fact, I may bring back my book from the printers and give them my baby for a bit. That sounds like a much better idea.