Thursday, 15 December 2016

The 40 Year Old (I.T) Virgin




I've always liked the idea of being an 'IT Girl.' That's IT as in rhymes with fit, not IT as in Information Technology. As a teenager flicking through the glossy pages of Vogue (in the newsagents, before putting it back and buying More magazine), my secret ambition was to be an It Girl (well I didn't want my grammar school education going to waste, did I?).

I had visions of being an effortlessly chic and stylish siren, wafting in and out of parties, dry martini dangling from one perfectly manicured hand, on a cloud of Chanel number 5. It all sounded so glamorous, such fun - and so easy. You simply loitered casually around the swankiest bar you could find, primped and bouffed to within an inch of your young life, and your Prince Charming would appear in a puff of smoke (well, through clouds of cigarette smoke at least - you could smoke in bars in those days) and sweep you off your stiletto-clad feet...and into a life of elegant luxury.

Only that never happened. The slight flaw in my plan was the fact I lived in Bexley and not Bayswater, and the swankiest bar in town was....The Polo Bar. Where the men were chavvy rather than chivalrous. And not even men, it turned out. They were mostly pimply boy-racers named Dave or Steve, driving pimped-up Escorts and sporting snyde Ralph Lauren polo shirts with the collars turned up. You know the type: more no money than new money. The hours spent getting ready for a night out felt like a waste of make-up as soon as you got to the bar and had a quick scout about, talent-spotting. Jeez, the totty sure was thin on the ground. The fellas I seemed to attract like drunken moths to a flame were more Mr Potato Head than Mr Head of Finance.

I had a go at hanging around the King's Rd for a while in my late teens, but the cliquey Hooray Henry's seek out their own, and the Sloane Rangers could sniff out a Cockney (or Mockney, in my case, having been born in Kent) at a thousand paces - even (especially?) if it's doused liberally in Erith Market knock-off Chanel. Or perhaps it was my Joker-style attempt at a brick red pout that put them off (I was channelling Heath Ledger's interpretation of The Joker long before he was even a twitch in his dad's pants).

So my plan backfired.

By my early twenties I began to wish I'd studied IT instead of Latin, as any hopes of living in a penthouse in Knightsbridge with a gaggle of daschunds and an oligarch began to evaporate like my cheap synthetic fragrance. It was looking like I was just going to have to fend for myself. How very modern, I sighed. I still dressed up like a Disney princess on a night out, ever the optimist, but alas I was just a donkey making an ass of myself in a sea of Shreks.

Since I wasn't interested (or capable, probably) of being a doctor or a vet, and had zero interest in horticulture (I was more interested in hotty-culture), it quickly became apparent that Mr Chandler's Latin classes would be as much use in my future endeavours as a chocolate fireguard. The other occupation best suited to a Latin speaker is a Latin teacher, and judging by his rhino-hide skin, horn-rimmed glasses and miserable downcast expression, Mr C's career path wasn't a line of enquiry I was inspired to pursue.

So it was an endless merry-go-round of beauty and make-up artist jobs for me. Yes, Dear Reader, I'm afraid I ended up working in Harvey Nics instead of shopping there. Ah, the irony! I think I was subconsciously hoping some of the wealth would rub off; that by making up the faces of the It-girls, one day I'd meet a sister-from-a-richer-mister whom I'd instantly bond with; she'd whisk me off to Bond St for shopping and cocktails, before introducing me to her trustafarian brother and heir to the family fortune, Tarquin.

But alas, it was not to be. Oh I met many a Tarquin, for sure, but he usually had a bejewelled Tamara on his arm, looking down her perfect aquiline nose at me with smug condescension. She'd give a visible shudder as I thanked her with my weak vowels (chucking in a bit of gratuitous rhyming slang just to watch her wince), before snatching her bag of pricey products and turning on her Valentino heels to clip-clop off for a (liquid, fizzy) lunch on the 5th floor (because eating in public is sooo vulgar, sweetie).

Fortunately, life on the shop floor doesn't call for IT skills. There's no need to be tech-savvy when your day-to-day business involves comparing the merits of various caviar face creams. We specialised in soft skin, not software. By evening we were out clubbing, not poring over computer manuals: I prefer techno to technology. I'm more familiar with fish 'n' chips than microchips...and if you mention gigs I picture music concerts. Which is why I come unstuck in the modern world.

I love to write, but when it comes to code and formatting - forget it. You may as well be speaking in Japanese. My eyes glaze over and I zone out. If I'm having trouble sleeping, I whack an Excel tutorial on YouTube and I'm snoring quicker than if I'd swallowed a fistful of Valium. You know you're a technophobic dinosaur when your two-year-old nephew takes the ipad out of your hands with a sigh, before expertly flipping through the apps to find the one he likes.

My mind boggles when I'm blogging and I have a technical issue. Whenever someone praises my blog, I laugh nervously, terrified they'll discover I'm a fraud: one-finger tapping it out on an ancient Amstrad. That's a joke, by the way. I have a beautiful baby named Mac - well, her full name is MacBook - and she's been keeping me awake all night just like the real thing. I look blankly at her while she makes noises at me, wondering when I'll learn how to look after properly. These things don't come with a manual, you know (oh no actually they do - I was confusing her with a real baby for a moment there).





Somehow, amidst the travelling, the partying and the chaotic noise of life, I forgot to tick the achievement box marked "PC literate" on my CV (Curriculum Vitae - see, fluent in Latin). Anyone will tell you I'm the most un-PC person, in all senses of the term. I'm a 40-year-old I.T virgin.

So if anyone fancies popping my Apple cherry, I'm all yours. No gooseberries allowed, just a right pear of sorts. I'll whip out my Blackberry and let's get fruity. I've got all-you-can-eat data on the Orange network so we can really go bananas. I'm not taking the pith, I'm just a bit of a plum on the 'puter.

Sorry. I'll stop.

It would appear my puns are about as good as my IT skills - and my fruitless attempts at becoming an It-Girl.



Fancy reading my back-story before you go any further? You can find my other blogs at:


Thursday, 8 December 2016

Speaking Out About Sexual Abuse: The Seed Of Change




photo credit


A child is like a tiny seed; a tree at the start of it's long life. The quality of the soil, the water, the climate - all determine the tree that seed will grow into. It's the duty of everyone who comes into contact with that little sapling to nurture it and protect it from the elements; to help it grow.

I don't have a child, but I've been one, and so have you, so we're all qualified to speak about this topic. We all remember the bewildering feeling of being small, defenceless; not yet understanding the world. Everything we encounter as a child is new: in turn awe-inspiring and confusing, fascinating and terrifying, as we look to the grown-ups to guide us and help make sense of it all. To be betrayed by the very adults that are meant to protect us causes lasting, irreversible damage. The bark of that young tree is marked with permanent scars.

The recent revelations of widespread sexual abuse in football have once again brought this difficult topic to the fore, although for victims of abuse it's never far from their minds. A survey last week revealed that 86% of respondents had either been abused themselves, or knew someone who had. This figure, whilst shocking in itself, is likely to be even higher in reality, as it doesn't include those who have never breathed a word of their suffering to another soul - of which I'm sure there are many.

So I, alongside many others, was disgusted by the recent ignorant comments made on Twitter by Eric Bristow: a washed-up former darts player who was probably spouting his nonsense from his front room, beer can in hand, whilst watching old reruns of Bullseye.

Eric, the overweight chain-smoking dinosaur who's been putting the "cock" in Cockney since 1973, implied that the victims were somehow "wimps" for not taking action sooner. I took to my own social media account to let him know exactly what I thought of his careless and damaging remarks, and was horrified to discover that although the majority of my friends and followers firmly agreed with me, there was the odd (very odd!) person who defended him. One particular Bristow-sympathiser was a woman, albeit an "old school" one from a similar era as him, who questioned why anyone would "wait thirty years to speak up."

Whilst infuriated and incensed by their comments, I'd actually like to thank Eric and his out-of-touch cronies, as their ignorance inspired me to write this piece.

Firstly, they clearly have never experienced any form of bullying, assault or abuse themselves, otherwise they would have some understanding and compassion for the shame, fear and self-loathing that wraps itself around the victim like a bone-crushing boa-constrictor.

Many years ago, when I was of primary-school age, I was sexually assaulted several times by the neighbour of a relative. Despite being appalled, disgusted and terrified on each occasion, I didn't tell anyone what had happened until much later and soon after that, the man died. I came from a loving family, I knew it was wrong, yet I was told by this person to stay quiet, so I did.

Does that make me a wimp? Of course not. Quite the opposite in fact. It takes a lot of courage to carry around a burden like that, especially as a child. I know several people - strong, amazing people - who have also been sexually assaulted, raped or abused. In most cases, the perpetrator went unpunished.

So I have nothing but the utmost respect for these footballers and others who have been abused - in fact all victims of any crimes - who find the courage and strength to speak out - no matter how long it takes for them to feel able to do so.

Self-confessed selfie-queen Karen Danczuk has also recently been in the spotlight for winning a court case against her brother, who was last week found guilty of repeatedly raping her (along with two other victims) throughout her childhood. Having attempted to bury the trauma for many years, Karen finally spoke out on Thursday during an emotional interview on the daytime television show Loose Women, during which she told of her shattered confidence and efforts to seek approval from others through constant selfies, a habit which had previously seen her ridiculed and written off as arrogant and narcissistic.

Those of you who read my blog regularly will know that I don't shy away from broaching difficult topics, yet it's taken me until this post (my 60th article for 'Life: A Bird's Eye View') and forty years of life on Earth to write anything about this subject - although I've started to a few times then hit the 'delete' button instead of 'publish.'

Common effects of abuse include anger issues, low self-esteem, depression, self-harm, law-breaking, substance abuse and promiscuity. This may seem like a tenuous link, but I directly attribute my childlessness to those unfortunate childhood experiences, since the careless behaviour which led to my cervical cancer surgery and subsequent inability to conceive was a direct result of my damaged self-worth caused by those events.

The repercussions were mental, as well as physical. I was afraid of bringing another person into this world, for fear of passing on my flaws; the responsibility for shaping the personality of another human being just too great. Well, I got my wish and never became a mum. (I later changed my stance on this and went on to have multiple failed IVF cycles; it was too late).

Why am I telling you this? Certainly not for sympathy, or to jump on any bandwagon; rather to illustrate the far-reaching effects of sexual abuse, and that it can happen to anyone.

So how can we protect our children from these vile predators?

It is vital to talk to your child. Even if you think they are too young for such a conversation - they are not. The NSPCC Pants campaign and accompanying Pantosaurus Quiz are great tools to assist with this, and the charity recommends introducing them to children as young as four.

Do not make the mistake of thinking that it can't or won't happen to your child. Abusers are usually well known to the child: a family member, family "friend" or trusted adult in a position of authority. These are rarely scary strangers in macs; they are the smiling, normal-looking men you've known (and trusted) for years.

This has to be a joint effort. It's up to all of us to protect all children, not just our own. One in five girls under 18 is a victim of sexual abuse, and one in 25 boys. If you suspect something, do something. If a child's behaviour changes, find out why. The internet presents a whole extra dimension of risk that didn't exist when my generation was growing up; including very young children being groomed online whilst their parents watch TV downstairs, oblivious. Educate yourself - your children are probably more internet-savvy than you are.

By talking openly about uncomfortable topics such as this, we remove some of the shame, guilt and isolation felt by the innocent victims. Perhaps then, we can prevent some of these incidents happening in the first place - and if they do happen, hopefully victims will feel able to speak out sooner and the perpetrators punished so that they can't harm anyone else.

We've all heard the saying: "from tiny acorns mighty oak trees grow." Well it's up to us to nurture those tiny acorns as they grow into trees, warding off silent predators that creep like poison ivy, threatening to wrap their suffocating fronds around delicate branches. A child can only truly reach his or her full potential as an adult if they are allowed to blossom without suffering physical and/or psychological harm.

So please, look around you; be aware. Let's not blindly trust people with access to our children, no matter who they are or how well (you think) you know them. Sometimes, you can't see the wood for the trees.







Useful Links:

NSPCC parents' guide
Samaritans
NAPAC
The Compassion Cure

This article has also appeared in The Huffington Post UK.

Fancy reading my back-story before you go any further? You can find my other blogs at:


Monday, 5 December 2016

Vote for me in the UK Blog Awards 2017!

They say "every dog has it's day." Well this flea-bitten old dog would really love hers. My blog has been  nominated in the #UKBlogAwards2017 lifestyle category. I know, mental right?!

Obviously I'm up against the blogging big guns with 6-figure followers, but so much crazy and unexpected fun stuff has happened this year that you just never know. So please support this underdog and vote for my humble little blog.

Thanks so much, I'll be sure to give you a nuzzle with my furry lil snout next time I see ya! 

😉
PLEASE VOTE BY CLICKING HERE!





Fancy reading my back-story before you go any further? You can find my other blogs at:

Wednesday, 23 November 2016

Wanna be a Stone Cold Fox? Get Teatox!





The invitation to test the Essential Teatox 14-day detox couldn't have landed in my inbox at a better time: a few days before my eventful trip to India.

To me, this was a green light to scrap the beach yoga and instead indulge in all the calorific curries and Kingfisher beers my little pot-belly could handle, safe in the knowledge that immediately upon my return I could flip the kettle on and brew up some evil-tasting concoction that would magically melt away the evidence of my gluttony.

Now I'm not overweight - my BMI is 22 - and at almost 6ft tall I have a lot of body to fill, BUT - having turned the big (whisper it!) 4-0 this year, I've decided to take a bit more care of myself. Let's face it, the only place a muffin top looks good is on a muffin. And I'd been no stranger to the M&S bakery...

So I ditched the cigs and am eating my veggies like a good girl. Unfortunately 'smoke-free' is not synonymous with 'sugar-free': my taste buds - suddenly reawakened - start twerking furiously at the prospect of a cinnamon bun. I'm no GI (Glycaemic Index) Jane; I'm more familiar with Kettle Chips than kettle bells, admittedly. But I'm getting there. Kinda. Oh, don't get me wrong, I love a prosecco (or 3), and I'm still partial to the odd Big Mac, but Rome wasn't built in a day (and neither was Gisele's body).

So I was sitting on the beach in Goa, eyeing my physique appraisingly. Hmmm, hardly the stone cold fox I'd envisaged. More an urban fox. You know the ones: weathered; mangy-looking; furiously tearing open rubbish bags with their teeth in search of scraps; existing on a diet of old tea bags, sandwich crusts and discarded bacon rind...and perhaps the occasional small child if they can squeeze through an unlocked suburban cat-flap.

"You're in shape, darling," soothed Andy, in an attempt to rebuild my flagging body confidence. "Oh yeah," I replied, resignedly....."the shape of a barrel," vowing to take action upon my return...







As soon as I squeezed (sideways) through the door when I arrived home, I tore at the packaging with my teeth (see, fox?) and scrutinised the contents. Hmmm. The teabags themselves are aesthetically pleasing: silky little pyramids; high quality. It was the contents that I was more dubious about: bits of bark and plant material. Well, it certainly looks organic, I thought. A few minutes later I took a tentative sip of my new brew.....and was pleasantly surprised. I expected rank-tasting swamp water....but it's actually....very nice. No involuntary screwface. The licorice sweetens it nicely, and there's no bitter aftertaste. Result!




In the evening, I steel my tastebuds for the PM blend. Again, to my surprise, it tastes fresh and sweet. The detox is simplicity itself: a tea each morning and a different blend every other evening. I made the decision not to adjust my diet or exercise regime at all for 2 reasons:

1. I don't diet or have an exercise regime, and
2. I wanted to ensure any results were 100% down to the tea.




Over the coming days, I find myself looking forward to my Teatox. I know people are always sceptical about these things, and I was too, but I swear I saw an uplift in my energy, and my mood, within a few days. Even if this was partly the placebo effect, caused by me feeling all virtuous and thus projecting a smugly satisfied glowing aura, then surely even that's a good thing?

The list of ingredients is impressive, all renowned for their energising and slimming properties, so I'm convinced there's a bit more at work than my imaginary shiny halo. Judge for yourself:

   


The programme costs £19.99, so 95p per cup: a third of the price of my usual coffee-shop skinny hot choc with chocolate sprinkles (and yes, I'm fully aware that there's really no such thing as a skinny hot chocolate thank-you-very-much), and leaves me feeling far more energised than the over-priced Starbucks sugar-rush that's soon followed by a crash. The only place I lose weight with my regular beverage is my purse, as I empty all my hard-earned coins onto the counter.

As the tea tastes so good, I leave the teabag in whilst drinking to make it as strong as possible, and even find myself topping up the hot water a further few times to really get the most out of each bag. This is not in the guidelines, but I figure you may as well get maximum benefit and value from the detox, right?


                                            


A week in, and I'm feeling great. On a night out with my girlfriends I feel confident and happy in my silky dress and get a few cheesy compliments from some randoms in the pub. I'm not in the market for a new fella, but it's nice to be appreciated nonetheless, hey?

Working in retail at Christmas time is flat-out busy, and I often resort to double-dropping Pro Plus in a desperate attempt to pep up my flagging energy levels with caffeine (since I hate coffee and you need arms like Popeye's for the mammoth stock deliveries), but during the detox I find I'm awake before the alarm and don't feel tired during the day at all. My sleep is better too: although I still wake up super-early, I'm not waking as much during the night.

At the end of the 2 weeks, I'm sad to see my tea supplies come to an end. I haven't lost weight (unsurprising, considering I've had fast food a few times, boozy nights out with the girls and my usual sneaky snacks), yet I definitely feel less bloated, more energised, and happier overall with my figure.

Would I use Essential Teatox again? Yes - particularly before a holiday or a special occasion. Who knows, next time I may even combine it with a healthier diet and some exercise to get the maximum slink-factor. Stranger things have happened (erm, it begins with T and ends in 'rump').

Oh, and did I mention I'm also a Victoria's Secret model now? Best keep schtum for the time being - it's such a secret that even Victoria doesn't know...

Seriously though, I'm bright-eyed, bushy-tailed and feeling fierce. So you wanna be a Stone Cold Fox?  Get Teatox  ;-)

Use code TEATOX10 for 10% off when placing your order.
For a chance to try the 14-day Teatox for FREE,  enter my competition here.*

UPDATE: This competition is now closed and the winner has been chosen at random. Congratulations to Kirsten Hyde - your Teatox is winging it's way to you!




Find more opinions and reviews on Essential Teatox via Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.

*Competition T&Cs:

- the competition will run from Monday 5th December until 11.59pm on 30th December GMT.
- entrants must be UK residents aged 18 and over.
- all entries to be completed using the Rafflecopter link above.
- all entries will be checked and verified.
- the winner will be chosen at random from all valid entries.
- the winner will be announced by the 5th Jan (emailed as well as via social media and as a blog update).
- the winner will have 72hrs to respond with their details, otherwise a new winner will be picked following the same procedure.

Thanks for entering - good luck!


Fancy reading my back-story before you go any further? You can find my other blogs at:

Monday, 21 November 2016

No Goa-n Back This Time...


My last trip to Goa saw me tripping like a hippy at a hilltop rave. Unfortunately, this was not due to imbibing some fantastical mind-bending substance and having a "spiritual awakening" - you know, the kind those faux-Rasta gap yah brats bang on about down the pub on their return...to Kingston (Upon-Thames, not Kingston Town).

Ohhh no.

My hallucinations were due to my having imbibed some...human faeces. Yep, I'd basically eaten shit. Delicious. The holiday ended with me being whisked to hospital where I was quarantined and hooked up to a drip whilst the doctors scratched their heads and frantically tried to fathom whether I'd contracted malaria. Luckily(?), it turned out to be dysentery instead. On the plus side, I was as brown and skinny as a Pepperami within days - so much cheaper than a colonic, daaahling.

So, you may ask, why the hell am I Goa-n back for more? Well, you're not a proper traveller until you've had a parasite eat you from the inside out, so I thought it only fair that Andy experience the delights of India too. I know, I know: I'm all heart (quite literally - that's about the only internal organ I have left after that darned bug ravaged my guts).

There are various tiers to India, and it's vital that you ease yourself into it gradually, in stages, like getting into an icy swimming pool. First, you visit Goa, which is basically India Lite: for beginners. Once you've built up your immune system you might want to progress to intermediate level: Mumbai. Only when you have guts of steel or a blackbelt in backpacking should you attempt the ninja stage: Delhi.

True to form, I feel as rough as a cat's tongue within hours of take-off from Heathrow on our Air India flight. Everyone on the aircraft has already consumed two plane meals of curry, and the methane levels are rising to dangerous levels in the cabin. I'm already turning a deep shade of Kermit as passengers shift in their seats, bellies rumbling, releasing a steady stream of toxic gases. We are the only non-Indians on the flight. Our noses twitch like Bisto kids', and I realise now why the crew confiscated Samsung phones: one spark from a dodgy Galaxy Note in here and we'd all go up in a fireball.



After a 22-hour journey, the first thing I want to do when we finally reach the hotel is shower and clean my teeth. Absent-mindedly, I run my toothbrush under the tap. Big mistake! The water in India is liquid poison: one drop and your insides melt like ice in the sun.

I then accidentally ingest a single molecule of H2O in the shower and frantically run around the bathroom naked to locate a towel, mouth open in a state of panic, like that little girl in Vietnam, the one who'd had Agent Orange dropped on her from a great height. Napalm is less toxic than the water here, let me tell you.



Hungry, we hit the hotel restaurant. As soon as the first mouthful of curry hits my stomach, my guts start churning like a washing machine on spin cycle. It may only cost a few hundred rupees, but it's guaranteed to give you the poopees. The flavours are like fireworks going off in my mouth, and a nice cold Kingsfisher compliments them beautifully, but I know the true cost will be more than those few rupees. Sure enough, as Andy later snuffles and snores like a contented puppy, my immune system implodes and I'm writhing in agony with a classic case of Delhi belly.

Having spent most of the night sleeping upright on the loo popping Immodium Instants like sweets, my eyes are bulging like an overactive thyroid sufferer when I stagger down to breakfast in the morning, silently questioning my sanity for returning to this godforsaken land.

What do you eat in a country where everything is laced with chilli? I opt for a plain omelette. Unfortunately, an Indian's idea of an omelette is a hot curry wrapped in a thin veil of egg. Sickos! After what's left of my already-pounding head has been blown off, we take a taxi to Anjuna. I pray there are no shart attacks at the beach today, as we stroll gingerly along the hot sand, buttocks clenched.

Within seconds, swarms of stallholders descend on us, commenting on our "chicken skin" and attempting to drag us in various directions to "come look at my cheap rubbish" (their actual words, which did make us lol). Like careworn rag dolls, we are resigned to our fate and we stand patiently as I have sarongs draped on me, tacky ankle bracelets hooked on and all manner of tat thrust under my nose. Considering cows are sacred here, they seem to be rather fond of turning them into handbags, I think to myself as I cast a wary eye over their wares.

They ignore our feeble excuses that we have no money, although it is in fact true: the Indian government has withdrawn 500 and 1000 rupee notes overnight in a bid to combat the country's huge fraud issues. There are mile-long queues snaking from every ATM and the banks are all closed as they are empty. We attempted to swop our cash in pounds for rupees at every exchange bureau we could find, to no avail. Now I know how Mary and Joseph felt when they were constantly told there was no room at the inn. The country is in a state of panic, with tales of people dying in the stampede for money on the front of the papers.

Eventually, we manage to get a stack of old notes when a security guard takes pity on our sorry, sweaty selves and directs us towards a huge Portuguese-style house in town, where a man takes our British cash and swops it out on his porch, no questions asked...




...although we discover later that these denominations are useless in most parts of town. Even the most poverty-stricken turn their noses up. The words "beggars" and "choosers" spring to mind, especially when we attempt to offer wads of notes in restaurants for dinner later and get sent packing, as contemptuously as if we'd tried to pay with shirt buttons.




Having fought through the sellers and onto the beach, we plot up on sunbeds outside Lilliput, a beach bar pumping out house music, order up the drinks and relax (sort of - not our sphincters, obvs). The more we're hassled to buy jewellery (which will clearly turn whichever body part it's adorning a deep shade of green), the more we chug back the bevvies in a bid to take the edge off the annoyance factor.

By mid-afternoon, I'm half-cut and laughing along with half-a-dozen sellers - and have so far bought two anklets, had a couple of massages and Andy's got a hat that we both know he'll never wear again. That's when I really let my guard down - and the henna 'artiste' strikes...

A beautiful girl with big doe eyes (and impossibly long lashes that handily double up as fans, such are their breeze-creating abilities) hypnotises me somehow and I recline, eyes closed, allowing her to use my pure white carcass as her blank canvas, armed only with a pot of black henna and a toothpick. What could go wrong huh? Well, quite a lot as it happens. When I casually glance down to check on her progress, it looks like a toddler has drawn all over me with black marker. Great.

That night, we decide to go to the Full Moon Party, since it's the much-hyped 'supermoon',  and we'll take any excuse to party. Only this is not like any full moon party I've ever been to (and as a regular visitor to Thailand, I've been to plenty): everyone is sitting inches from huge speakers, ear-bleed trance pumping out....eating curry. Yep, no-one is even so much as tapping a foot (except one overweight Russian couple incongruously going nuts at the seashore). I'm not impressed. Just when I thought it couldn't get worse, we're joined by some nauseatingly loud and annoying Texans, who proceed to wedge themselves between us and shout drunkenly in our ears for the next hour. Joy.

Not content with the relentless harassment we received at the beach, later in the week we go to Anjuna flea market. It's blisteringly hot and we drink a plastic cup of sugar cane, which is priced more like cocaine, and head into the throng. I attempt to look at the wares without moving my head too much - as soon as I show the slightest interest the stallholder pounces. We're clearly regarded as cash-cows...and we've already seen what happens to the cows.






Andy wants to buy a few packets of herbs, but the seller gets greedy and attempts to relieve him of 2000 rupees (25 quid!) and we fall out with him. The same scenario plays out at various stalls around the market. These guys hustle like New York crack dealers: you'd think they were selling drugs in those little baggies, not garamasala. After several attempts to completely mug us off, we eventually settle on more realistic prices for a few bits of junk, and escape the chaos, exhausted from the heat and haggling. Two large Kingfishers please!




Throughout the week, whenever we visit a tourist attraction, it becomes apparent that we are the tourist attraction. As we snap away at the church or a cow in the road, the locals snap us. The boldest ones grab me, shouting "selfie" in an Indian accent, then taking a selfie of us before I can change my mind, whilst others just take pictures when they think I'm not looking. I don't mind; I guess they don't get many 6ft blonde women in these parts. I jokingly put my hand out for money in exchange for the shot, as they do to us.





At Vagator beach, a local attempts to scam Andy using an age-old distraction technique: he gesticulates that he has something in his ear and sticks a toothpick in Andy's lughole, pulling out what looks like a waxy maggot. Gross. Of course, it hasn't really come from his ear at all, and the guy is probably about to cunningly relieve Andy of his mobile or wallet. I've seen similar tricks whilst backpacking, so quickly shoo him away and we escape with all our belongings intact - although Andy is left feeling slightly queasy.

A trip to the spice plantation is interesting, and we buy some essential oils for various ailments. I wonder how essential they really are, having successfully survived 40 years without these particular oils, although I'm super-impressed when the cinnamon one I buy totally sorts out my neck and shoulder pain when massaged in (caused, no doubt, by the air-con wars Andy and I have most nights, with him insisting on total refrigeration of the room, grrr).

By the end of the week, we've had fun, but it's all been rather a lot of hard work. I do love you India, but it would appear the relationship is a little one-sided. I've had enough spicy food to last me a lifetime; even the crisps here are masala flavoured. I'm craving bland British fodder, all flavourless and beige-coloured. Mm-mm-mmmmm.




So that's it India, my love. I came back for more and you used and abused me once again. You've had all the chances I'm willing to give. You win; I'll never get past beginner level. You're like a computer game I can't play; I just don't have the dexterity.

Stick a fork in me - I'm done.

Which is more than I can say for some of the food here...







Fancy reading my back-story before you go any further? You can find my other blogs at:








Monday, 7 November 2016

Christmas Carol's Nightmare On Elf Street

Christmas: A time for folk to spend money (they don't have) buying gifts (they can't afford) for relatives (they don't like) to celebrate the birth of the son of a God (they don't believe in).  

                                                               
One day, when I grow up, I'm hoping to be a big-shot author; just as a penniless JKRowling penned her early Harry Potter novels in a steamed-up 'caff' in Edinburgh, so I write my blogs travelling to and fro on cattle-class Kent commuter trains. I can often be found daydreaming on lonesome lunchbreaks; tapping out my innermost thoughts in between bites of flattened cheese-and-pickle sandwiches wrapped in tinfoil.

In the meantime, I'm still a humble shopkeeper, and I'd quite like to keep my job, so I'll tell you some of the biggest retail bugbears, as relayed to me by my mate, Christmas Carol*.....

Once upon a time, there was a fresh-faced young filly named Carol: a bright young shop assistant who smiled and curtsied for curt customers until her cheeks ached and her back was sore. Gradually, through years of wear-and-tear of her weary body as well as her good nature, Carol's smile grew slightly less wide and the floor-scraping curtsey became more of a gentle dip (her knees were not what they once were; she might not get back up).

Decades of uppity and snippy, short-tempered customers almost broke her spirit, but Carol strengthened her resolve along with her sense of humour, slipped on support tights and vowed not to be broken. And she never has been. There is one time of year, however, when Carol's unending patience is tested to breaking point. And that time, dear reader, is Christmas....

For fellow retail workers the world over, the mere mention of the C-word is enough to bring them out in a cold sweat, and not just from the sheer effort of unloading mammoth deliveries. As we speak, store staff everywhere are taking a collective deep breath and muttering:

"Ho Ho Ho...
                        ...ly shit, it's that time again..."

So for all those festive freaks who start harping on about their love of all things Yule as soon as they've ushered little Tarquin back through the school gates in September, spare a thought for Carol and her cronies as they launch themselves headlong into making sure your Christmas crackers go with a bang.

For no sooner are the children packed off to school after summer in their boxfresh brogues and crisp new uniforms, than Mum's Army descends on the shops greedily searching for goodies to stuff in Santa's sack. There's just something inherently wrong in Christmas shopping whilst still wearing flip-flops and sporting a mahogany suntan that David Dickinson would be envious of.

Thus Carol and her hapless team of elves will be putting up decorations mid-October and steeling themselves for the endless loop of torturously cheery Christmas muzak. These tunes will be streamed into their subconscious minds like parasitic ear-worms by head office via the in-store music system, in an attempt to brainwash them into embracing the festive spirit when it's still sunny outside.

"These are some of the things," confided Carol recently through gritted teeth, "that really get my tinsel-trimmed knickers in a twist during the festive season...."

Being the kind-hearted blogger that I am, I offered to pass them on via my site in the hope that Joe (or rather Joanne) Public may read it and take mercy on Satan's - sorry, Santa's - little helpers this year:


1. Ratty Customers

There is a direct correlation between blood pressure readings and December days until Christmas. Instead of chocolate-filled advent calendars, a more appropriate calendar filling might be little blister packs of beta-blockers in ever-increasing dosages as the tension builds towards the 25th.

For retail staff, replace beta-blockers with Pro-Plus. Sales of these little white pills go through the roof in December, as we attempt to Superdrug ourselves into Superwoman.

Oh, and don't forget to redeem a year's worth of Boots advantage card points purchasing bucketloads of Deep Heat - an essential part of any manual worker's winter uniform. Alongside thermals, a generous undercoat must be applied like medicinal emulsion prior to slipping into regulation black attire, in order to grease up those aching muscles, ready for another day of unpacking an avalanche of boxes.

Despite needing more limbs than your average octopus, as she juggles serving three customers with answering the phone and simultaneously slipping off a ballet pump to expertly wrap a gift with her toes, Carol will be scowled and tutted at throughout the season of good cheer by countless ratty customers, who are clearly disgruntled that Carol is merely a human being, and not a machine.

Whilst apologising for having blood in her veins rather than rocket fuel, Carol will attempt to solve all your Christmas dilemmas with a smile - even if you have left all your shopping until 4.59pm on Christmas Eve and cannot comprehend why some lines are now out of stock.

She'll smile sweetly as another customer stunt-rolls Indiana Jones-style under the shutters in a bid to foil her attempts to close the store in order to spend a few precious moments with her own family on Christmas Eve.

"Even more reason to use robots" sniffs Mrs Meddlesome, "they wouldn't mind working until midnight on Christmas Eve...."


2. Absent-minded Annie

Whilst Carol is burning more calories on the shop floor than Usain Bolt at the Rio Olympics, Fitbit on fire as her average daily footsteps climb into the thousands, there's always that Christmas temp who gazes forlornly into space whilst all hell is breaking loose around her.

Even the most experienced manager makes the occasional hiring misfire; Carol recalls one seasonal worker whom she nicknamed "Dory" (of Finding Nemo fame), such was her goldfish-like inability to retain any knowledge whatsover. Even after being sacked, Dory forgot that solemn conversation within seconds and still turned up for her next shift. Then it was Carol's turn to do an award-winning fish impression as she opened and closed her mouth in surprise at seeing her casually bowl in for her cancelled shift. Some people can't spell initiative, much less use it.


3. Shoplifters and Small Children

You may think it strange to lump these in the same category, but both have the ability to terrorise a shop in equal measure: the former by stuffing valuable merchandise into suspiciously puffy Puffa jackets, the latter by destroying aforementioned merchandise (however unintentionally). Both have the same effect on stock-loss spreadsheets.

The all-seeing Carol, with her chameleon-like 360-degree rotating eyeballs, manages to deftly retrieve the pricey perfumes from the sticky-fingered thief, whilst simultaneously removing the sticky-fingered toddler from mountaineering up a pile of triple-figure gift sets. After decades of Christmases in retail, she has the ninja-fast reflexes of a multi-eyed fruit fly, and a black belt in patience.

I could go on with her list, but I'm sure you get the picture. Carol is eternally grateful for your Christmas custom, but next time you're huffing and puffing in the queue, if you can see the staff are flat-out, please cut them a little slack. Unless you spot an Absent-Minded Annie or a Dithering Dory of course, in which case you have Carol's express permission to give them hell.

As the shutters come down on her final Oscar-winning pre-Christmas performance, it's still not over for careworn Carol. For no sooner has she rung through that final transaction on Christmas Eve, than she and the elves must set about tearing down the decorations and slashing stock prices - even before the shopping centre has emptied and the big man has squeezed himself down a single chimney. Such is the fickle nature of retail.

Come Christmas Day, Carol will collapse, exhausted, onto the sofa with a gallon of prosecco and a plate of pigs-in-blankets and proceed to sleep through most of the celebrations.

Which is just as well as she'll need all her energy for....


....the SALE.




photo credit



*Carol is her real name...honest.

This article has also appeared in The Huffington Post UK.

Fancy reading my back-story before you go any further? You can find my other blogs at:


Thursday, 3 November 2016

The Hoo-gah Hoo-ha


You know when you discover something new, something you've never seen/heard of/noticed before, or something you've recently decided you now love....and then suddenly it's everywhere? It seems like every time you walk down the street, you see one of whatever-it-is: a particular car that your mate's just bought...or a breed of dog that you love?

Well that's how I'm feeling about Hygge (pronounced hoo-gah) right now. For forty long years, I'd never heard the word uttered by another human's lips. I'd never seen it written in a single book or magazine. Then, early this summer, my partner Andy and I were sitting outside our local country pub, squinting in the sunshine and shooting the breeze over a chilled Sauvignon (or three), when he mentioned that his boss's wife had recently written a book about hoo-gah.

"Who what?" I enquired. "Never heard of it."

Fast forward to now, and it's everywhere. Every time I open a magazine there's an article about it; there's an explosion of new books on the topic.

So what's all this hoo-ha about hoo-gah? I hear you cry.

There's no direct translation, since us Brits aren't renowned for our 'cosiness,' our ability to 'revel in the beauty of the moment,' but I understand it's something along those lines. We (ok, I) tend to be more of a stiff-upper-lip stoic, the ingrained nature of generations of Blakes (my maiden name) going against these hippyish displays of peace and lurve. We're not known for our public outpourings of affection and gratitude; I come out in hives at the thought of hugging strangers (maybe after midnight on a crowded dancefloor, at a push).

But the Danes, now they really know how to hygge. So it means cosy. Sort of. Cosy contentment. It's all about creating a pleasurable ambience and being in the moment (man). Not crashing through the front door to a chilly house of an evening and scoffing a dubious-looking microwave lasagne straight from the plastic dish having collapsed, exhausted, in front of Eastenders. No, no. That just won't do. There's nothing hoo-gah about that sorry scene, which plays out regularly on weeknights up and down the UK, from Woolwich to Wigan.

Hygge, my friend, is all about dim lights, warmth, flickering candles and knitted throws. Think simple Scandi style. It's about being snug-as-a-bug-in-a-rug, sipping mulled wine and nibbling warm mince pies nestled in the comforting bosom of your family; it's curling up in your onesie after a long bubble bath with a good book.


photo credit: The Room Alive


My idea of hygge heaven would be snuggling down on our squishy sofa with my fella, cinnamon candle flickering on the windowsill, sipping a mug of hot chocolate, a heart-warming episode or two of First Dates playing on the telly, the rain lashing at the window on a lazy Sunday late-afternoon. Chuck in a giant bag of Kettle Chips and nestle a pile of snuffling sausage dog pups on my lap and you got me. Now you're talking.

photo credit: Sausage Dog Hotel 

Perhaps the Danes' obsession with hygge goes part-way to explaining why they are often cited as the happiest people in the world. Us Brits, on the other hand, have a half-arsed attempt at 'cosiness' by buying a pair of knock-off Uggs and wrapping ourselves in a fleece blanky in front of a 4-bar electric fire with X-Factor blaring, which we only half-watch as we're simultaneously scrolling mindlessly through Facebook and bickering over the remote.

We love the whole concept of effortlessly chic White Company-esque perfection, all co-ordinated grey-and-blush fabrics and tactile textures, a wholesome family scene; the sounds of tinkling laughter echoing around an elegant high-ceilinged drawing room. In reality, though, it's just not us, is it? The working classes, I mean.

When my family get together there's a sticky-fingered toddler jabbing an overweight bulldog in the eye and running toy cars along an Irish setter's back - the mutt peering up through bloodshot eyes in weary acceptance. The men are attempting to watch the footy over the din, nudging up the volume to drown out the sounds of us weary womenfolk yabbering on in the background. It's all just too...hectic to be hygge.  

Perhaps I'll have a go at hoo-gah'ing things up a little. Enjoy the simple things. Apply some Scandi style to our lives. It'd certainly make for a cheaper Christmas, that's for sure. Little Hayden can play with a wooden train set (away from my parents' dogs), we'll string popcorn for decorations and turn off the telly in favour of the art of conversation. We'll light some candles, slip on fleecy loungewear and actually talk to one another. Maybe. For about 10 minutes....before we quit the farce and Dad silently flips on the Top Gear Christmas Special.

Of course, hygge's for life, not just Christmas: it's in a Dane's DNA. The ability to savour the moment, enjoy the simplicity of just being - as long as the setting is conducive to relaxation - is something the super-cool Scandinavians embrace year-round. It could be a picnic in the park, a family barbeque...or just a coffee with a friend. Of course, we do all these things in the UK too....they're just likely to be doused liberally in alcohol and end in a headache and a bacon sarnie. There's nothing hygge about hangovers.

So I've decided to hurl myself into hoo-gah: think tea lights, cosy knitwear and saccharin displays of contentment. Press your nose against my window of a frosty winter's eve and you may catch a glimpse of me and a blissed-out boyf stringing fairy lights all over the house, shaking faux-fur throws over furnishings and sprinkling cinnamon onto frothy mugs of hot chocolate, as we batten down the hatches and welcome friends over for 'supper' (well I've never used that word before, so I must be getting into the zone).

photo credit



Hold on a minute.

Who am I trying to kid?

There's nothing that says nesting about this old bird. 'Soft' and 'cuddly' are words that will never feature in the same sentence as my name. I don't do emotion; I cringe at PDAs. I've never thrown a dinner party in my life, and my idea of cooking a hearty meal is pressing 'play' on the microwave. I'm more likely to be buying a clubbing outfit on ASOS than scrolling through Pinterest on the iPad for cosy interiors ideas.

I tell you what - I'll use the Ikea catalogue as a makeshift tray whilst I eat my frozen lasagne in front of the telly.

Realistically, that's as close to hygge as I'm likely to get....



buy here




This article has also appeared in The Huffington Post UK.

Fancy reading my back-story before you go any further? You can find my other blogs at:

Monday, 31 October 2016

Halloween High Jinks At The Twisted Toys Tea Party




In years gone by, I was one of those miserable killjoys who, when the trick-or-treating "yoof" of the neighbourhood came a-knocking on All Hallows Eve, would flip off all the lights and throw myself on the floor until the coast was clear.

Then I moved from raucous Romford to the serenity of Sevenoaks - aka God's Waiting Room - and instead of threatening-looking clowns rattling the letterbox in need of a Haribo fix, the spookiest activity I now see on my quiet village street at Halloween is a single skeletal pensioner lit up Scream-style by a neon street light, whilst taking his scrawny Yorkie for an evening stroll.

Although I love my safe and peaceful Kent haven, the sorrowful sight of just the odd lonely old soul shuffling past the house is somehow more affecting than the boisterous Essex dramas I'm used to. It reminds me of the marching of time, the need to embrace every opportunity for fun while I still can; I too may be cutting a frail and lonesome figure in years to come.

Thus I throw myself wholeheartedly into everything I do; any opportunity for fun and frolics must be grabbed with both (increasingly gnarly) hands. So when a friend drew my attention to the Twisted Toys Tea Party, I was all over it. With the event blurb promising immersive theatre by Zebedee Productions, a three-course feast by Nanny Bill's and general ghoulish toy-themed antics it sounded right up my (dark, deserted) alley. I set about preparing my outfit immediately...

Saturday 29th October soon ticks around (there's that pesky thing called 'time' whizzing by again), and suddenly I find myself strutting down Bromley High St in broad daylight wearing full fancy-dress, complete with gothic toy dolls strung round my neck and towering Victorian-style lace-up stiletto boots, having hurriedly got ready at work in a flurry of false lashes and face-paint; huge clouds of talc and glitter billowing from my office as I set about the serious business of getting into character as a possessed china doll. It seems to have the desired effect as I'm aware of heads turning, my gawping fellow passengers ogling open-mouthed on the train. Job done.




Any self-consciousness felt in Kent soon dissipates as my Disco Devil-themed boyfriend Andy and I reach the anything-goes melting pot that is central London: no-one bats an eyelid here, and we're soon swallowed up by buzzing throngs of pimped-up party-goers.




Arriving at The Yard, an event space set back behind a gated entrance on Shoreditch's Worship Lane, we're suitably impressed by the queuing crowd, who have clearly gone all-out with their costumes: a snake of werewolves, zombies and blood-spattered Barbie dolls is weaving down the street, excited chatter reverberating all around. Instantly I see an old mate in the crowd and we join him, before being ushered inside...




Once over the threshold, we're greeted by a careworn toy dog, casually lolling in a shed and generally looking creepy. We continue on and the scene is set: childhood toys are strung from the ceiling, props such as bunkbeds, a rocking horse and a big old-fashioned pram hint at what's to come.

There are two cocktails on offer: a kermit-green gin-based number and a Barbie-pink vodka one. Tom goes for Kermit, Andy and I opt for Barbies and we select some prime seats on the long banquet-style tables at the front...

The show begins: the premise of the story being a young girl's toys, discarded and left to rot in the attic, become mentally disturbed after years left in isolation in the dark; their once-innocent games now descending into all sorts of bloodthirsty action. Amongst them are a pair of blonde-pigtailed ragdolls, a terrifying teddy, a jack-in-the-box....as well as bitchy Barbies, a rather dashing action man and a lily-livered Ken.


 


The spectacle kicks off with dancing dolls and a ballerina singing on her podium - only her rendition of "come on Barbie let's go party" has a haunting, sinister tone as she delivers it with a deep, raspy quality to her voice. It manages to be eerie and humorous at the same time, as she bickers with the jack-in-the-box, hinting at the discord between the toys and the all-out war that's to follow.

The soundtrack to the high-energy show succeeds in getting the crowd fired up: I particularly enjoy the LED-lit hula-hooping extravaganza played out to the beat of Lee Walker and DJ Deeon's 'Freak Like Me.'



Between each act food is served on wooden platters by toy soldiers; pumpkin and cheddar croquettes with chilli jam to start, followed by cola-glazed salt beef and buffalo chicken wings served with steamed greens and mac and cheese. The sharing element makes for a sociable environment, and everyone's chatting animatedly with their table-buddies as the delicious food is passed around.


                           


The conversation is flowing and the cocktails are slipping down nicely as the show continues. Next up, we meet the Bitchy Barbies - a pair of fabulously camp drag queens and a bestockinged bubble-haired blonde, who cavort around the set to the sounds of Britney Spears' Toxic, nonchalantly flipping their hair and generally working it. The costumes are suitably glam: the rhinestone-encrusted nude bodysuit is particularly impressive, although I doubt I could wear it quite as well as the lithe young guy who's inside it...


  


The show picks up pace as it builds towards the impending toy war, the effeminate Ken doll offset by a fit Dan Bilzerian-esque action man, who vows to lead the battle with the Barbies, toy gun in hand.

Dessert is a marshmallow platter in collaboration with The Marshmallowist, served alongside cookies, chocolate curls and a little oil lamp for diners to toast the caramelised apple and pecan mallows themselves, which is a nice touch.




There's a sexy scene with a pair of pigtailed ragdolls, one of whom gets left on the lawn and mangled by the mower. Consumed by jealousy of her still-beautiful twin, she sets out to maim her. The scene takes on a sexual twist as they shrug off their petticoats before making up with a lingering, lingerie-clad kiss - entirely gratuitous but it adds a certain extra frisson of excitement to the already-sizzling show.



                                            

                     
The performance reaches it's climax with the battle of the toys versus barbies - a rampaging riot of gory violence (well, as gory and violent as you can get with water pistols), played out to a blaring backdrop of The Prodigy's 'Smack My Bitch Up.'



With the crowd whipped up into a frenzy by the theatrical feast, high on sugar from the cocktails and dessert, we burn off some energy with a spot of hands-in-the-air booty-shaking to some classic house anthems spun by the dj, before heading out into the crisp autumn air, broad smiles spread across our painted faces, our desire for a memorable Halloween suitably satiated for another year...




Follow Zebedee productions on Facebook or Twitter to be kept informed of upcoming events.


Fancy reading my back-story before you go any further? You can find my other blogs at: