Thursday, 24 December 2009


I wish I was this relaxed when near a suitcase...

 I mentioned Christmas traditions in a previous post and while I relish the fun parts of the festive season, I also have some less enjoyable traditions that happen each year, including the packing of the Christmas suitcase...

This is because as I tend to visit Belfast for Christmas and since I go for at least a week, it's not possible just to bring a plastic bag with a toothbrush in it and some spare knickers. Instead it requires the kind of organisation that might cause military planners to have a minor fit. By the time I've negotiated a wardrobe warm enough to cope with the fact Belfast is bollock bloody freezing compared to London, made sure the presents I'm giving won't break mid transit, hope that the presents I'm getting will fit in on the return journey and that the budget airline I'm flying with can't destroy this year's suitcase, you'd think the stress would be over and I could relax with a nice glass of gluhwein instead?

No, because while I love visiting my family at Christmas, I also loathe living out of a suitcase even for a few days. After the guts of a year living out of a suitcase and a large laundry bag on my bag like a gaudy tartan snail in a variety of homeless hostels, living out of a suitcase makes me anxious in ways it is hard to quite explain. I think it's mainly because agoraphobics aren't well known for their love of travel and partly because I have strange notions that not packing the right items for a week away will be the end of the world as we know it. Combine that with the everchanging regulations on suitcase sizes and hand baggage allowances and I need something much stronger than festive booze.

This year's panic is being compounded by the threat of snow over the next few days. Do I have enough warm clothes to suffice? Will they make me look like a bag lady if I layer too drastically? How do I create the maximum number of outfits with the minimum number of pairs of shoes? Will my flight even be able to take off or will I be snowed in and spending Christmas alone in London? Is my tiger print suitcase amazing or the tackiest thing on the carousel?

Normally I'd be sitting the corner rocking back and forth quietly if anyone needed me over the weekend...but this time I decided to drink cheap mulled wine in the afternoon and meet friends for an impromptu meal on Sunday evening, before just taking a deep breath and heading to Gatwick with sharpened elbows and a charming smile to make my way through the crowds no matter what was happening on Monday morning. It seemed to work; I made it back to Belfast with barely any delay just before the airport closed for de-icing. I have been sitting in front of a real fire with a glass of cava in hand since then, pretending to recover from my stress-less travels.

I hope everyone else made it to their respective Christmas destinations with as little panic and are now also enjoying a warm welcome and a cold drink wherever they are...have a wonderful day!

Wednesday, 16 December 2009


 Normally when I leave London for a day or two, I feel slightly unsettled. I thought it was just a pretentious Londoner's affectation of pining for double decker buses and sushi at 3am in Soho, but it turns out I just don't like not to know what's happening in the world of local news. I like to be on top of the news at the best of times, but I particularly like the local news and views of London. It makes me feel more connected to a city that can feel incredibly impersonal at times.

However this time when I head out of London for the festive season, I won't suddenly lose grasp on this has already happened while living here. It's been a gradual slide for a while with the BBC turning their bulletins into chirpy chats about the 2012 Olympics and the opportunity to see what high jinks Boris has been up to today. There is barely a mention of anything in the boroughs outside Westminster or City Hall. ITV have gone one further and simply removed nearly all their local news bulletins from the schedules. And then the Evening Standard went free and can only be obtained if you now know the right people and my last link to the realities of London vanished.

I used to buy the Standard almost everyday, a routine I have had for the entire 8 years I haved lived in London, even when I lived in the outer boroughs and it meant a 15 minute walk to find a shop that sold a paper mentioning London rather than Surrey. I liked the London-ness of the Standard, especially as it was mixed with enough national news to stop it feeling provinicial. I liked its self importance at being the paper that told you what was hip and happening in this bustling global city while missing the mark nearly every time. I secretly loved reading overly opinionated columnists debating utterly middle class dilemmas and bemoaning situations that never seemed to happen to normal people I knew. The ES magazine made me very glad not to be posh. I had a soft spot for their crosswords. In short, for all its Daily Mail overtones, I liked the Standard hugely.

Yet since the Evening Standard went free on October 12, I have probably read it about 4 times. It has suddenly become almost as difficult to get your hands on as a unicorn. No matter what time I pass Brixton tube, there only ever seem to be two or three torn dog eared copies lying around forlornly and I'm not that keen to read it. On the odd occasion I've been in the West End, I have failed to find a copy near either Oxford Circus or Warren Street stations even late in the afternoon. In desperation, I have resorted to the Evening Standard website only to discover that the slightly old fashioned air that was almost charming in newsprint is badly laid out, slow to load and difficult to read online. It's also rather difficult to shove in your bag on peruse on the bus. The modern version isn't doing it for me, especially as the amount of actual London based news it contains seems to have declined, making it ever more tabloid-esque.

I will continue to read the Standard if I can find it on my not so extensive travels round London, mainly because the crosswords are the only ones I will do. I will read the BBC London online pages and occasionally depress myself with the South London Press in order to try and find out what's going on in my locale, but mostly I will resign myself to the fact that it is just becoming a fact of life that local media is being dumbed down horribly in the modern day. I'm sad to see it happen, especially when it meant all the Evening Standard vendors vanished almost overnight, but I don't know what I can do to help slow the decline? I might as well get used to not knowing what the hell is going on in my city anymore. Maybe ignorance really is bliss?

Sunday, 13 December 2009


 At risk of causing the Daily Mail to have a heart attack at the thought of its interference, the EU has suggested a maximum volume on MP3 players to help protect listeners' hearing. Some may think this is the ultimate in the nanny state, but personally I think it's a marvellous idea...

This is not because I worry about my hearing. In fact, I may be the only person in the UK who doesn't own an MP3 player of any type. No, it's because I couldn't be more fed up with listening to other people's music in public. Every time I leave the house I am bombarded with the tinny overspill of someone's overly loud iPod and it drives me nuts. Admittedly it isn't as bad as actually being subjected to someone's shit Rn'B played on the bus on a mobile phone, but it still grates on me like you wouldn't believe.

Partly it's because music never sounds good mumbling along through bad headphones competing with the noise of modern life around it, but also partly because MP3 players seem to help erode what few manners most people have left. They are the electronic equivalent of a security blanket for those who own them. They cannot spend two seconds in your company without fiddling with their increasingly tiny music player, usually at the expense of conversation or eye contact with you. The way people insist on shoving their earbuds in before they've even left your house or fitting their iPod to the car before doing up their seatbelt makes me think that most people value the opportunity to listen to music above interacting with a real life human being these days. It's like an itch they can't stop scratching.

This insistance on fussing and fiddling with bits of plastic and wire instead of paying attention to the world around you is rude, dismissive and in many cases dangerous, as people are too busy trying to skip a track rather than pay attention to the road or street around them whether they are driving or simply dandering round a crime-ridden city. Plus I've lost count of how many people have trodden on me on public transport as they frantically try to adjust their iPod as if leaving it be for 30 seconds will cause them to expire on the spot...

I obviously have no objections to people using MP3 players with some regard for the world round them, unlike  the man I went on a date with a few years ago who turned up in the bar to meet me with his earphones in and music still blaring from his iPod as if he was surprised to see me waiting where we had arranged to all means block out the noise of screaming children or the generally unhinged on public transport or add a soundtrack to everyday things, but please turn it down, buy some decent headphones and try not to fiddle with your MP3 compulsively like a dog with a bone when dealing with other people. Or just try eavesdropping on other people's conversations when you're out and about like us iPod-less folk do...

Friday, 11 December 2009


In case you weren't aware, Christmas is exactly a fortnight away and I'm starting to get rather excited. I can't help it, I'm a big kid when it comes to Christmas!

Christmas encorporates many of my favourite things. I love shopping at the best of times, but my favourite sort of shopping is buying things for other people....and then wrapping them up in beautiful glossy paper and shiny ribbons! My festive feeling starts each year when I make my Christmas pilgrimage to Paperchase and scare my bank manager with the amount I can spend on bits of paper. Even the crappiest present become something special when wrapped to look its best and I like my presents to be both thoughtful and beautiful.

Once I'm stocked up with pretty paper, I like to indulge my aesthetic side even further by getting out my Christmas decorations and gussying up my living room with lovely shimmery sparkly things on my tree. The rest of the year is sadly lacking in opportunities to dress one's house up to the nines so I do like the chance to crack out some tasteful baubles and a plastic penguin or two.

Of course once all that is done and dusted, it's time to spend time with those you love whilst eating and drinking and frankly it just doesn't get better than that for me at any time of the year, especially if there's roast poultry and veg in the offing! I have simple tastes in life...

This year I will be spending Christmas with my mum and then New Year with my brother. While it would be nice to spend the big day with both of them and watch my brother's face when he realises I have outdone him on our traditional attempt to buy the weirdest present for each other possible, my split celebration allows me to double up on the fun and food and I'm not complaining about that!

What say you? What's the best bit about Christmas for you?

Friday, 4 December 2009


In seven short days from today I will hopefully have achieved my longest held dream...I will have smooth clear acne free skin thanks to finishing a year long course of Roaccutane...

Saturday, 28 November 2009


At risk of sounding like a therapy junkie, I am currently halfway through my therapy for Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. Once a week, I spend an intense hour and a half attempting to put my many demons back into their box and get my life in order.

Unlike the hypnotherapy for my wasp problem, this is not a particular straightfoward task. I know what I want to achieve from the PTSD therapy, but since I have to do all the hard work myself without any helpful input from my subconscious, it is a much trickier path, especially since all the fears and anxieties my PTSD are more low level and insidious than the my fear of wasps. The former is constant, the latter is seasonal and while my answer to both is stay indoors away from the big bad world, it doesn't really help either problem.

Post Traumatic Stress Disorder is a slippery customer to define. It tends to encompass a certain number of common symptoms, such as suffering nightmares and the day-time equivalent known as 'flashbacks', along with active avoidance of anything that exacerbates or 'triggers' symptoms and feelings and a sense of heightened danger and being 'on guard'. The severity and complexity of these symptoms can vary according to the type of trauma experienced, leaving a combat veteran and a rape victim with the same disorder, but on different pages.

PTSD also causes secondary problems that develop like ivy on the drainpipe of an old house. In my case these are depression, anxiety, panic disorder and agoraphobia. The sheer list of problems to be tackled in 12 weeks of therapy can be discouraging in itself, but it would be very fulfilling to tick off each of those things at the end of it. Unfortunately all these secondary problem make it more difficult to thwart the PTSD. They interfere with the attempt to consign the current feeling of flashbacks that make it feel like the trauma is happening to you again to regular normal memories that lurk in your mind, only to be recalled when you choose. It is the difference between keeping everything in a messy emotional heap that threatens to take over the table or storing it neatly in a filing cabinet to access when needed.

Sadly I have never been very good with random bits of paper and tend to accumulate piles on tables in my physical life, so I'm not entirely sure why it comes as such a shock to me that I haven't been able to tidy my emotions either. It's never particularly confidence inspiring to have to admit to yourself or others that you can't handle your own emotions and events in your life, especially when others have managed fine, but that has been the reality of the last few years of my life. I'm also my own greatest critic (in my mind I'm like one of those old school types with a super posh accent who frequents a members' club) so I find it hard to admit it's ok to find things tough.

It seemed like for the therapy to work, I was going to have to change a lot about myself as person as well as try to put the lid back on Pandora's Box. Unsurprisingly I was apprehensive about this, but it turns out that my therapy is more about being encouraged to look at things from another perspective rather than the rut I've got myself into over the past few years. It's surprisingly easy to do when someone else guides you and I'm getting a lot more from the sessions than I expected.

I have had CBT for these problems a few years previously, although without a formal diagnosis of PTSD. This is when I discovered that it's sometimes not about the therapy, but all about the therapist. If you don't trust them and feel like they will be your safety net in tough times, it's probably not worth even doing the therapy. My first CBT practitioner was not-so affectionately known in my house as Dr Dickhead. His helpful advice to someone as traumatised as myself was that I was paranoid about personal safety as so many women are, and that I was nervous around men not because 3 had attacked me in 1 year, but because my parents are divorced. Our sessions were shortlived to say the least.

My current therapist is calm, reassuring and encouraging. There is no sense of judgement, just a genuine feeling that she wants to help me resolve my issues. Plus she is available by email in between the sessions if anything gets too much which is a particular reassurance. I feel I can talk to her about even the weirdest things that arise in my sessions. It just goes to show that the NHS can get mental health services right if you give them long enough! All I need to do is keep up the hard work for the next 5 weeks...and hope I don't start to lapse into therapy speak before then!

Monday, 23 November 2009


After yesterday's Observer Women article I feel I should confess. I have a guilty secret...I love real fur. In fact I happily wear real fur and I don't really care what other people think about my choice.

It's warm, it's cosy, I like the style it adds to my outfits and I don't see much difference between fur and leather. Both involve the not so palatable fact that an animal died to accessorize your wardrobe, and with the way that cows are mass produced these days and the cost of leather has plummeted, both involve a certain amount of cruelty.

Before you write me off as the bastard child of Cruella DeVil with an utter disregard for all animal life, believe me when I say I'm not condoning cruelty. I would like to see all livestock farming become kinder to the creatures and the workers.  I'm just not comfortable with the dichotomy that cows are OK to kill and ickle furry things aren't. I know there is a difference in that most cattle are raised for milk and meat, while animals for fur farming are generally only raised for the pelts, so it is intrinsically more wasteful, but I wonder how many people simply have a knee-jerk reaction that furry is their friend?

I also wonder how much of the reaction to even vintage fur is fashion in itself. From the 80s campaigns of Lynx to PETA today, it has become practically de rigeur for young nubile women to proclaim they "would rather go naked than wear fur" and appear scantily clad in the adverts that back this up. Sexualised human flesh has become acceptable, but animal skin is frowned upon. Obviously not everyone who dislikes fur is this easily swayed, but I wonder how much is simply going with the flow rather than strong opinions on the subject? Would they start to give a shit about how the milk in their cheese was farmed if celebrities started asking those questions whilst looking so glam?

I eat meat and dairy. Why should I be comfortable with these things, but not with wearing the packaging the animal came in? I do believe that no matter what part of the animal I eat or wear, I should try to be an ethical consumer and avoid giving my money to producers who wilfully mistreat animals or impact the environment unnecessarily.

I do this in part by wearing vintage fur, often pieces that are family heirlooms. I have a 1940s rabbit fur jacket that I have been wearing in cold weather for almost 6 years. It keeps me unbelievably toasty in cold weather and since it was bought cheaply on Ebay, it has kept me from modern mass farmed fur, which is poorly regulated and often plagued with rumour of unneeded cruelty. It has also deterred me from buying cheap, mass produced leather (or other winter coats) from stores like Primark, which may have been shipped all round the world, made by sweatshop workers and possibly created a toxic problem in its tanning.

I feel comfortable with vintage fur as lifestyle choice. I would be perfectly comfortable with contemporary fur if I could be sure of its provenance. The excellent Channel 4 documentary Kill it, Skin it, Wear it looks at the fur lover's dilemma in brutal detail.

I wouldn't criticise others for their choices, whether those be disposable fashion or haute couture even if I may disagree with them. I would appreciate the same and in return if someone is really upset by my wearing fur, I'll happily leave it at home that day. But I won't apologise for it.

I even promise not to be smug when I am almost uncomfortably warm at the bus stop on a windy winter's day in my fur coat. That might justify having red paint chucked over you...

Monday, 16 November 2009


 As I may have mentioned I will be going on a date in the next week and on close scrutiny there is very little in my closet suitable for such an occasion, so I took it upon myself to hit the High Street in search of something with a certain je ne sais quoi...

I had quite the sartorial shock when I arrived in Oxford Street. I don't get out much so I must have missed the day it was state mandated that every garment in W1 must either be shimmery or extremely revealing. My tastes run more to simple, black, classic and understated. I sensed I may have to expand my horizons. I took a deep breath and selected a fabulous 20s esque fringed top from Warehouse for some flapper chic. None of the double digit sizes would zip up. Blaming a rogue fringe in the zipper, I backed away hastily and went in search of something less challenging to get in and out of.

This proved somewhat trickier than you'd imagine. I don't wear dresses. I am not a dress kind of girl. I rarely look sleek or chic in a dress, more like a sullen child primped and preened in her uncomfortable Sunday best. So of course the entire High Street is awash with dresses. Even the few tops I could find were long enough length to obviously be aspiring to being a dress. I lifted a few dresses only to be struck by how short and tight they all seemed to be. My mind boggled as to how average women wear them...I'm 5' 2 and the majority barely covered my mid thigh. Did I miss another memo where women stopped feeling the cold, never lift their arm above hip height and don't mind exposing naked flesh to seats on public transport?

Feeling immeasurably prim, I retreated to the petite department where theoretically things would be a more suitable length for my delicate sensibilities. I immediately spied several promising tops and made a beeline for them. A hovering sales assistan appeared as by magic, shot out an accusing hand and said 'these items are for petites madam' as I tried to pick one up. I informed her that at under 5' 3 this was kind of the point, she disagreed with my height and told me the top would be too short for my tummy. I'm not entirely sure what she meant by this, but I'm doubting it was a compliment. Fearing a hanger related tragedy in petites, I flounced off and went to H&M instead.

You don't expect customer service in Hennes, so I figured I was safe. But only from thinly veiled insults apparently, as every other sensibility was shocked to its core by the gratuitous ugliness of all their clothes. There were sequins on everything, jostling side by side with 80s-esque lamé and foil fabrics in shades of rainbow garishness and interspersed with fun fur. It looked as if Liberace and the Muppets had been hunted down and hung on the walls like camp taxidermy. It frightened me slightly.

But it's a big shop, surely I could find a fairly plain black top? After much rummaging, I found 3 tops that seemed to fit the bill. One even had a little bit of gold lurex to show how down with the young folk I am. All seemed well until I tried them on and realised I had missed another fashion diktat of the past while. All items of clothing that aren't specifically body-con must be empire line...

Being not very tall (despite what random strangers tell me) and blessed with a pair of ribs a grasshopper would envy, empire line is the least flattering style possible on me, despite my apple shape. Since my ribs are not the narrowest part of my torso and I have a bust, the gold lurex vest with a cunningly disguised waistband made me look like a Spacehopper dressed as Studio 54 for Halloween. The classic black tops made me look a good 6 or 7 months pregnant. I don't date enough to have any date outfits in my wardrobe, but even I know that turning up looking like you might be on the hunt for a new daddy for Little Johnny probably isn't the wisest move on a blind date.

Leaving Hennes didn't improve matters much. Every other store was crammed with similarly short, tight, gaudy garments often with equally eye popping price tags for what you get. Structured shoulders and cocoon skirts abounded screaming "I'll be so out of fashion in 3 months' when you looked carefully. Everything was so fucking sparkly Robert Pattinson could hide from even the most rabid Twihard in Topshop. Most clothes looked like they wanted to audition to be Cheryl Cole's outfit on the X Factor. There was a decided self consciously trendy air about everything.

Feeling frumpy, oddly shaped and mightily pissed off, I gave up and went for a drink instead. But if you're in your late 20s or early 30s and don't want to dress like Grazia magazine threw up on you, where the hell do you shop in the UK? Everything is so damned fashionable, but what if you want classic, stylish and flattering without looking like a dedicated follower of fashion? What's a girl to do?

Sunday, 15 November 2009


 You may have noticed that the name of Enid Blyton seems to be back in fashion somewhat of late with a new Noddy book and a BBC4 drama starring Helena Bonham Carter making an appearance along with countless articles in the broadsheets. With the exception of the Noddy book, few of these mentions of Enid Blyton are particularly positive. By all accounts, she was a nasty piece of work...

But to me she is the creator of some of my happiest childhood memories as I was an avid reader of her books. In fact the very first proper book I ever remember reading was her Tales of Toyland and Other Stories. It had a lilac hardback cover and set me on a life's love of reading (even if I remember nothing of the actual stories in it!)

Most Saturday mornings, my father would take my brother and me to a local charity bookshop and we would all rummage to our heart's content. I tended to come up with fistfuls of Blyton classics priced around 10p each and would come home with at least 5 pre-loved tales per week. Most of the rest of the weekend was spent curled up somewhere quietly absorbing a world of magical wonderment.

No one could say that Enid Blyton wrote high literature, but she did manage to write gripping books set in a delightfully hypnotic world where children had endless freedom and everything was always spiffing in the end. Growing up in 80s Belfast with its unpredictable political climate and simmering violence made the positively idyllic world of rural England seem utterly beguiling. I was vaguely aware that it was no longer the 1930s and many of the scenarios in her books no longer existed, but that didn't stop my enjoyment throughout the ages.

As a precocious 5 year clutching a compendium of her early tales for children that had belonged to my own mum when she was a child I somehow managed to resist the temptation to be a naughty little shit like Amelia Jane or the aptly named Naughiest Girl in the School. At 6 or 7 I spent a lot of time suggesting my parents give up their city lives so I could prance about the countryside like one of The Children of Cherry Tree Farm since my Wishing Chair didn't seem to work. At age 8 with my newly androgynous first name, I desperately wanted to be George from The Famous Five (but without the dog...)

I devoured far-fetched tales of groups of children who outwitted the adults to foil smugglers, kidnappers, espionage and corruption. Take a team of sharp witted children, add a dog/parrot/monkey as appropriate, include a slow witted local bobby on the beat and some wily criminals, make sure the children's guardians are conspiciously absent and you're good to go whether it was the Five Find Outers outwitting PC Goon, the Secret Seven foiling a plot to dye a racehorse in order to kidnap it or the Adventure children saving the Island of Gloom from copper thieves.

If I wanted variation from this tried and tested formula, I simply reached for one of her equally famous school stories and lapped up tales of midnight feasts, lacrosse sticks, straw boaters and jolly japes at the expense of Mam'zelle instead. How pedestrian my school seemed in comparison to Malory Towers or St Clare's without its own swimming pool hewn from rock or stables to board one's horse! I wanted to spend time with the impossibly adult sounding Darrell Rivers and O'Sullivan twins in glorious England where everyone was so proper and polite and rode a bicycle with a basket on the front. It never occurred to me that these were 11 year old girls sent away from home to a freezing stone edifice with only a tin of sardines for excitement...

It also never entered my slightly giddy head that there were other enormous flaws in these seemingly delightful books. Everyone was stunning privileged with the money to travel widely, pay for boarding school and keep large numbers of staff who seemingly raised the children in between baking a nice cherry cake. Poor people were seen as ragamuffins, crooks or gypsies. Children were called Fatty or Snubby after physical characteristics. People with learning disabilities were openly mocked or described as madmen. Americans were brash and loud. The Spanish were flighty and hotheaded. Other foreigners were suspect in myriad ways that were declared in the haughtily imperialist tones of one who approved of the colonies.

I cringe in horror when I think back to how black people were regarded in Enid Blyton's books. Despite growing up in an almost universally white country, I felt uncomfortable without really knowing why when I read about her living black characters. Between Enid Blyton and Robertson's jam I was utterly oblivious to golliwogs being anything other than a type of toy no one seemed to have anymore. I don't think I absorbed any of her bigotry or racism whilst in my liberal middle class 80s upbringing, but I would feel extremely embarrassed allowing a modern child to read such things and see what was once regarded as no big deal...

In fact despite how much I loved Enid Blyton's books, I'm not sure I could go back and re-read them with a more discerning adult eye due to the casual racism, astounding classism and (whisper this) the fairly mediocre calibre of writing. I think I might prefer to simply cast a nostalgic eye back over my own memories (often drunkenly with friends of a similar age and background) and revel in those instead of re-visiting the books themselves. Or I might take the risk and dip into the beautiful hardback copies of the Adventure series that still reside in my mum's house. Pity I'll have to find the secret passage to get at them!

Monday, 9 November 2009


I attended a friend's wedding not so long again and it was a lovely day watching two people close to me declare their love to each other. It was also extremely trying to spend the day as the only single person in the entire room...

Every single conversation revolved around that special someone, usually before branching off to involve babies, career plans and mortgages that could happen because of that special someone. Not much mutual ground for a childless, single unemployed 30-something who rents.

I didn't feel too bad about the renting (especially after hearing the size of some people's mortgage payments), but despite normally feeling perfectly fine about being single I came away feeling disturbingly like a cross between Carrie Bradshaw and an Old Maid and promptly joined OKCupid.

I'm not quite sure what I expected, but seeing so many myriad people who had found love and security reminded even the cynical old me that such things aren't actually fantasy. With visions of greener grass online, I picked a perky screename, found a photo of me smiling and waited to see how things would pan out. Sadly no one online seemed to be on quite the same page...

Messages from bisexual men looking for other men filled my inbox. I removed the picture of me with a pixie cut. Interest from men in their 50s and 60s rolled in. I checked the 29-35 box so many times I developed RSI. Several people enquired after my spiritual needs. I prayed they would leave me alone.

Determined not to be one of those passive women who never seizes the day, I browsed the many men available and added a selection of handsome young things to my favourites list. I read their profiles carefully and messaged several. None bothered to reply. Yet for each interesting man I messaged, an entirely different slightly kinky, invariably creepy man would write to me. It was like a penpal scheme with trainee serial killers. After being told I looked like the kind of girl whose nipples would look good covered in blood, the grass online looked less like lush meadow and more like it had been the victim of a weedkiller accident.

I stopped checking my inbox with anything other than a sense of dread. What lunacy and bad spelling would each new day bring? But I persisted and finally started chatting with a guy who seems engaging and a good laugh. Faith in humanity has been restored. We're going on a first date this week. On Friday the keep your fingers crossed for me!

Tuesday, 3 November 2009


Unlike most people my age, I cannot drive a car...but recently I have been toying with rectifying this. I flit between thinking this is the most independent thing I could do and gut wrenching anxiety at the thought of controlling a tonne of speeding metal, mixed with a splash of embarrassment that something others find so easy is beyond me.

I was heartened by the recent Guardian article by Hannah Pool describing her attempts to learn to drive aged 35. Older, cooler people with proper jobs also haven't grasped this seemingly basic skill and are willing to take to the crazed streets of London to learn. Surely I could do the same?

Thursday, 29 October 2009


I have completed my six weeks of hypnotherapy for my wasp technically I'm pretty much sorted and can downgrade my level of terror to a healthy dislike these days. However, things aren't just as straightforward as this.

I can now look at the word wasp written down without shuddering, I can read about them on the internet without trapping my hands in my laptop in my attempt to get away and I can spend time in a garden either enjoying the world of horticulture or a beverage, but I still can't shake the habit of shrieking and flapping my hands when a wasp flies near me on a lovely autumn day, as 3 British Transport Police officers could attest to after seeing me actually put my neck out trying to get away from a particularly persistent one in Goodge Street the other week...

I'm trying to remind myself that I've come so far, but it's hard not to be demoralised by the fact I still look like a crazy lady in the street, especially as I've taken to talking to any passing wasps, reminding myself that while I would prefer it if the wasp did not touch me, there is no law to say it can't and it won't be the worst thing in the world and thus trying to keep my anxiety at a tolerable level. Luckily I also have a high embarrassment threshold.

I've been buoying myself up by gaining some knowledge about wasps to see if that will take the sting out of the situation. Finding out that they exist to kill garden pests such as caterpillars and beetles makes me feel slightly less hostile to them. But it's discovering why wasps are so tetchy in autumn that has helped me the most so far.

The simple answer is that they are depressed and lonely. The queen of the nest has moved on and the average worker wasp has basically been made redundant, leaving them to meander around looking for a purpose in life. Like the cliche of anyone who has ever been dumped in a rom-com, this seems to take the form of seeking out sweet things to cheer themselves up and moping in a self involved manner, preferably round a bus stop like a disaffected teen. Wasps are in fact the emos of the insect world, right down to the stripy outfits.

Reminding myself that the wasp doesn't want to ruin my day, but is simply looking for attention is keeping me much calmer than normal.  I don't like them any better for knowing this, because who likes an attention seeker? But it does make me feel much better about performing a mercy killing right about now...

Tuesday, 27 October 2009


 This week sees one of my favourite nights of the year which also happens to fall on a Saturday this year for maximum is of course Halloween! Night of ghouls and ghosties and all that.

I particularly love this time of year with its crisp fresh air, golden cornflake-like leaves and stunning purplish dusk, so Halloween seems like a excuse to enjoy and embrace the glories of autumn as much as anything. A last gasp of fun before winter in fact.

Growing up in Northern Ireland in the 80s and 90s, October 31st was a big deal. There has been a celebration at this time of the year in Ireland since Pagan times when it would have been known as Samhain, and the day has remained relevant as All Hallow's Eve even now. The traditionally English festival of Guy Fawkes' or Bonfire Night on the 5th November was utterly alien to us in comparison, simply something I read about in Enid Blyton books or were briefly taught in school. (Probably wise that in those years of the Troubles, no one encouraged us to embrace a holiday involving treason and high explosives...)

Instead it was all about Halloween. Both Catholics and Protestants seemed to embrace it equally which was unusual in a divided country. It tended to co-incide with half term holidays from school which allowed some serious time for costume prep and a real sense of social occasion when you went to a party as you hadn't spent the whole day together already. There were always bowls of fresh nuts in the house to be cracked with proper nutcrackers and glistening toffee apples wrapped in shiny cellophane waiting to be devoured with greedy gusto on the night.

The great treat on the day was getting to carve the lantern which was not a cheery orange pumpkin in those days, but a grimacing purple turnip (or what the English call a swede.) Being allowed to hollow out this most unforgiving of vegetables with a surprisingly sharp knife for a child and a spoon made you feel very grown up: at least for about the first fifteen minutes and after that it felt positively Sisyphean. Kids these days don't know they're living with the arrival of the pumpkin...

But on the night with the turnip lantern glowing in the gloaming, the real fun would begin. Some years there were Halloween parties at friends' house, or sometimes there would be an organised firework display at school. Both these events required a costume and my mum created some masterpieces for us, including a complete Pink Panther outfit on one memorable year. Made from cosy pink fleece and totally head-turning, it may well be the best outfit I have worn in my life, ever!

Wrapped up against the October elements, the night was ours for the taking. There were small people swaddled in all kinds of garb everywhere you looked, running round with sparklers, or gazing in fascination at the fireworks overhead ( a real novelty since fireworks were illegal the rest of the year due to their pesky explosive nature). But the best fun of a Halloween night out was trick or treating...often your parents lurked in the shadows watching aswe picked our way up a garden path to assail some poor household with a badly recited poem or song in return for a handful of fun sized chocolate bars. For me, the excitement lay less in the song and dance routine, and more in the feeling of freedom that trick or treating seemed to offer to an eight year old who rarely had the opportunity to roam the streets at night otherwise.

Not every Halloween involved going out (I'm guessing the famous Irish weather may have played a part in this) but staying in was equally fantastic as it involved the ritual of indoor fireworks which I looked forward to all year . We would turn down the lights and be hypnotised by such exotic creations as Dragon's Breath, Blazing Bengals and Snakes Alive coming to fiery life in front of our very eyes with only assorted gasps of amazement to punctuate the palpable tension...

Or more accurately two children hopped up on sugar gazed upon a tin tray dotted with bits of gaudy cardboard that managed to emit a brief light and a strange extuberance of ash that generally looked remarkably scatological in shape, interpersed with oversized matches that burned green and mini sparklers that looked slightly like snake's fangs before they were lit. It was to all intents and purposes a slightly flammable anti-climax. But I loved them, probably for their inherent crappiness and the marvellous kitsch factor involved.

After this there would be the traditional Halloween dish of apple dumpling which had been steamed for hours in a cloth til it was stickily delicious and filled with spicy cloves and five pence pieces for good luck. There may have been scary stories or maybe the flickering candle light and feeling of possibility on this night just made me imagine ghosts and goblins as I went to bed on All Hallow's Eve.

I still love Halloween, even though people bemoan its Americanisation and adults tend to use it as an excuse to wear something revealing while getting drunk. The fact that so many Halloween traditions originally came from Ireland (before being imported to the USA with Irish immigrants and then recently introduced to the rest of the UK as an excuse to sell stuff) makes me feel oddly homesick for Ireland in a way that St Patrick's Day never manages.

I haven't done anything specifically for Halloween in a few years now that I spend more time with English people, but this year I'm going to a proper party and need a good costume. I intend to plan it tomorrow as I carve my pumpkin...I'm hoping I'll be as excited as I was as a child come the big night!

Monday, 19 October 2009


My entire adult life has been accessoried by glossy magazines...a month simply wasn't complete without a knee high pile of shiny smooth spined magazines to entice me. Over the years I have been a voracious reader of Minx, Elle, Marie Claire, Nylon, Grazia and Vogue to name my essentials. I used to look forward to the release date of certain international copies like a small child awaiting Christmas Day and be at the newsagent when it opened. The International Collections issues warranted a Saturday night in to make sure they were scoured from cover to cover. A trip to RD Franks depleted my student loan cheque more than all the boozing I could manage in a term...

Yet I haven't bought a woman's magazine in months, much less flicked through one on a shelf. So what happened to sever this most heady of relationships? A multitude of tiny things; less like a boyfriend cheating on you, more like realising those seemingly cute little habits are in fact as annoying as fuck.

The first to break my heart was Vogue. In about 2005 it went from high fashion to high Heat and started featuring horrors like Erin O'Connor doing a Little Britain fashion shoot. Colleen Rooney began to appear and the more art and trend based articles started to move to smaller slots toward the back of the magazine. Yet the cover price leapt. A piece about Kate Moss's Topshop collection lifted straight from the press release saw me miss my first issue in 10 years. Apart from one dalliance since, we remain estranged.

Then my mum moved house and at risk of seeming like a crazy hoarder I had to get rid of all the magazines from the late 90s that still cluttered my old room. I couldn't ask her to take all my paper memories to her new life. So with a heavy heart and a craft knife for articles and adverts I couldn't jettison, I started to clear them out. And discovered that it wasn't the end of the world to part with them. I didn't become any less knowledgable or trendy, just less dusty.

I began to realise shortly after this that on my benefits-only budget, I really couldn't justify the same haul of magazines a month. No longer working as a make up artist I didn't need to be up with the trends and techniques so intimately. I began to be more discerning in my choices and buy only selected magazines each month. We were growing apart a little more with each issue.

And then came the straw that broke the spine, I discovered Mag Hag on and the scales were lifted from my eyes in a whole new light toward lady mags. Not only were they shilling products only Victoria Beckham could afford, with expectations of perfection few can achieve, they tended to be badly written, repetitive and boring. The exuberant articles of the 90s and early Naughties were gone only to be replaced by articles that read like a How-to guide to be a Wag or a Sex and the City clone but with a different It Bag each issue.

The glamour evaporated before my eyes and I felt scolded instead. The glossies suddenly seemed like textbooks for materialism rather the interesting lifestyle guides they had once been. Individualism seemed a dirty word in every area. The models seemed incredibly generic with no hope of a face like Alex Wek standing out, the articles were aimed at long haired white girls who wanted a tan and a pair of shoes for every day of the year and only the most photogenic singers, writers or designers got a mention. They had gone from glossy to beige. I had changed, but the magazines hadn't changed with me...

I realised that I wasn't learning anything anymore and for me that meant I couldn't justify the time or price anymore so I stopped my magazine habit cold. These days I only dabble in interiors magazines. I look at the rows of monthlies on the shelves and feel let down. Why isn't there an interesting, intelligent magazine for a variety of women available in this day and age? Why isn't the print media bringing its A-game against the many great blogs out there? It seems like one more arena where women are told what they want, rather than listened to and appreciated. Maybe this explains the size of the recent September issues as much the recession does?

In the meantime, I am glad I stockpiled copies of Vogue from the 1990s to revisit on sleepy Sunday afternoons as it doesn't look like there will be a glossy worth my money for quite some time and some of us just miss the feel of a magazine in our hands....

Monday, 12 October 2009


Thanks to my nasty little wasp phobia, it has been many years since I have seen the great outdoors as somewhere to be enjoyed and experienced. It has simply been somewhere to endure until I can get behind a closed window or door once again. My recent foray into hypnotherapy has quite literally opened the world up to me and I am suddenly finding myself able to get at one with nature again.

This week I have visited Kew Gardens and the lesser known Chelsea Physic Garden, both easily accessible from central London (I may not fear wasps so much, but this city girl isn't quite ready for the open country just yet.)

Both are a delightful way to spend an afternoon. There is something incredibly relaxing and rejuvunating about being outdoors and experiencing all that nature has to offer. My mum and I spent the day pottering round Kew, basking in the autumn sunshine and in my case, reminding myself how interesting and vital plant life can be.

We spent several hours in the beautiful glasshouses looking at plants from all round the globe. It is a wonderful way to feel as if you have travelled to all far-flung corners of the world in one afternoon, without all that tiresome packing and time in airport lounges. As you stroll round, marvelling at the natural world in all its finery, you half expect to hear David Attenborough commentating on each fascinating plant. It is oddly absorbing even if you could kill mustard and cress at twenty paces with your lack of gardening know-how...

The Chelsea Physic Garden was equally as interesting, partly due to the fact it began as an apothecary garden and many of the plants are grown for medical purposes and partly because it is glorious to discover such an oasis of tranquility and greenery in London. The garden is just off the King's Road and has been there since 1673. It is only open for part of the year on certain days of the week which adds to its charm as one of London's hidden gems...(the fact it has a lovely cafe that does exceptional pastries doesn't hurt either!)

Visiting these beautifully tended gardens encouraged me to come home and nuture my own little plot. I have been cultivating a nice collection of hard-to-kill grasses and succulents in pots for a while now on my patio and as they grew, so did my confidence. I felt ready for fruit and veg this summer and was handsomely rewarded with an abundance of runner beans and tomatoes.

Not only has this saved me a fortune on grocery bills, but it has given me a genuine sense of giddy pride in my achievements. I have grown things! Real things you can eat! This has made me ridiculously happy. Not only are my achievements delicious, they have connected me to the outdoors again. At risk of sounding like an earth mother, I'm finding really paying attention to the weather and seasons along with the plants and wildlife perks you up in a way that central heating and carpets can't.

Wasps and weather permitting, I will certainly be spending more time outdoors. I might even have to buy a Thermos at this rate...

Monday, 5 October 2009


I have been somewhat absent from here for a little while I'm afraid. This isn't a case of the novelty of a new shiny thing wearing off, but because I have been tired...

Tired, you say? We all get tired! But without turning it into a modern life pissing contest, I know tiredness. I suffer from chronic fatigue (or CFS), with the result that I spend an inordinate amount of my life in a haze of exhaustion.

Wednesday, 23 September 2009


This week sees my 31st birthday and I'm not entirely sure how I feel about fact I'm not that sure how I feel about birthdays in general.

Some people find them the perfect excuse to get dressed up and indulge themselves, others ignore them and some people like me find them a reminder of time, both passing and past. This makes birthdays more of a milestone for me than others might. Some might even say it makes them a millstone.

I used to rather like birthdays, then my life derailed somewhere around the age of 25 and since then each birthday has been a simple, but painful reminder of how much of my life is being held to ransom by all the issues I have been dealing with since then. It felt difficult to celebrate the day and myself with that feeling hanging over me. Unsurprisingly I dreaded turning 30...

Luckily my family staged an intervention and planned a weekend in Barcelona to mark the event. Who could dwell on anything with copious amounts of seafood and cava to distract them? It felt easier to feel positive blowing out the candle on my birthday tomato away from home and the realities of life and I resolved that my 30s would be better than my 20s.

So far, so good. I have enjoyed 30 more than any of the last years of my 20s, but I'm apprehensive about 31. Suddenly you go from a nice even number to 'your early 30s' and that reminds me how much I had hoped to achieve by this stage in my life, and how little of that I have managed. It seems much harder to be positive in the dull light of a British autumn than the late summer sun of Spain.

Therefore I am experimenting this year and looking at my birthday as a reason to get dressed up and have fun, rather than as another grain in the egg-timer of my life. Come Saturday I will be throwing a party, complete with cake and cocktails. I'm hoping this new outlook on the actual birthday will give a different outlook to the year too...or maybe I will simply be too hungover and full of carbs to care?

Tuesday, 22 September 2009


 Unless you have been living in a box all week, you will probably have heard that it is London Fashion Week. What you may be less aware of is that legions of flying pigs have been spotted in Zone 1, because the designer Mark Fast put average sized models on his catwalk in the same clothes as the other models.

Usually any designer using what are known as plus sized models tend to clothe them differently to the other girls and only allow them to walk together. I'm never sure whether this is to stop the plus sized girls inadvertantly showing just how thin regular models really are or the actions of someone who thinks they deserve a cookie for using a woman with actual breasts? But this 'ghettoization' always has the effect of re-emphasizing how different a plus size model looks and adds a touch of freak show to the proceedings. I half expect to see the designer dressed as Ripley's Believe it or Not, beckoning at you in to see some unique sight.

Mark Fast has been known in previous collections for trying to clothe a particularly slender clientele with his body con knitwear, so it was doubly interesting to see him use more generously proportioned women. It was more interesting to see that two members of staff, including his stylist left their jobs over the issue. Stylist Erika Kurihara says this is because she was unhappy about the girls' walk on the runway, but the media seems abuzz with the suggestion that she was unhappy about the size of the plus size models.

Obviously I have no idea why she quit her role at Mark Fast, but that won't stop me saying that I find it odd that the stylist was more concerned about the walk, but not about the ill fitting underwear that the three larger girls wore on the runway. Every stylist I have ever met knows the importance of decent undies to your outfit no matter where you are wearing it....

I could understand the dresses being a smaller size depending how Fast measures his samples, but I cannot understand why a stylist doesn't have the correct underwear available for models who were apparently booked in advance unless there is some fundamental problem with the decision to cast those models?

I looked at the pictures of the plus sized models in question to see if I could shed more light on this furore and realised I had been out of the fashion industry for so long that I thought the models looked stunning and that the curves they sported made a lot of taupe wool look quite sexy, while it just looked lifeless on the skinnier girls. I definitely couldn't relate to the semi-hysterical reaction this decision had caused, but seeing how the larger girls' bodies did steal the show from the clothes, I could see why the idea seemed so shocking to fashion insiders.

I have heard every reason given for why runway models are so much thinner than editorial models, let alone regular women. None of them makes particularly good business sense to me. Showing very expensive clothes on a body shape that is rarer than hen's teeth surely discourages most women from buying them? No other industry seems so hell-bent on dissuading people from using it. This makes me think that essentially the worship of incredibly thin models (and the extortionately high prices to some extent) are because the fashion industry simply wants to be an exclusive club and feel special. They are an influential global version of the cool girls at primary school who made their own badges or bracelets to mark them out from the other plebs...and nothing will make them want to share their spotlight.

Realising that (and the fact that I will never be able to afford to buy designer clothes) has made me much more sanguine about the fashion industry. I understand the unrealistic expectations it places on women and the instrinic materialism of making you want new stuff all the time, but it seems inevitable that increasing consumer savvy thanks to the internet and the pressures of the recession will force fashion to change eventually. And don't discount fashion's own perpetual love affair with the long as it doesn't see a change in the size of models as body acceptance of the average person, the Emperor's New Clothes feel of rounded women on the runway will triumph!

Who ever said fashion was shallow?

Monday, 21 September 2009


I have a terrible confession to make...I can't stand monkeys, whether they be primates or apes. To be frank they give me the dry heaves.

I don't care for any of them, big or small, but I have a particularly strong dislike of orangutans. It could be their freakishly shaped faces, it could be those bug eyes or it might be one too many 'ginger' jokes as a kid, I can't look at them without shuddering.

I blame this weird foible, not on being a cold hearted animal hater but on a traumatic childhood event featuring Miss Marple. No, there were no homicidal baboons in St Mary Mead, but there was an episode called 'Sleeping Murder' that left me unable to sleep without the light on for several nights and a lifelong mistrust of our closest cousins. It featured a killer who wore leather driving gloves to strangle a woman and these were described by a child witness as looking "like a monkey's paws"...

Since that day, monkeys' paws have filled me with a terrible dread and I always associate them with death. This was quite a turn up for the books as until then I had been inseparable from a small stuffed gorilla who I was given when I was a few months old. While the real thing gives me the heebie-jeebies, I still love this now pitiful creature who looks like a half chewed liquorice allsort and would probably save him over all else in the event of a fire. I often look at him and resolve to be less hateful toward the great apes...but it never lasts.

Aside from their deathly paws, monkeys give me the creeps since they look like small children who have prematurely aged and grown a thick coat of fur. If God hadn't invented them, Stephen King would have. The recent Stephen Fry documentary 'Last Chance to See' that featured mountain gorillas had me hiding behind the sofa, thinking insanely uncharitable thoughts about an endangered species.  I felt like a terrible person until I remembered that monkeys aren't just ugly, they gave us the HIV virus all those years ago...

Wednesday, 16 September 2009


I have a strange relationship with the world of advertising. In magazines, it is something to be torn out before you can actually read the articles or simply ignored. On billboards, it tends to stay in my mind about 10 seconds before I notice something else newer and shinier and move on without purchase.

Yet TV advertising manages to grab my attention wholeheartedly...but before ad executives pat themselves on the back, it manages to do this by annoying me so much I find myself actively boycotting products.

The new GoCompare advert has me running for the mute button every time (and thanking my lucky stars I have no car to insure), the Triple Velvet baby makes me pine for the days of cut up newspaper by the loo and Calgon makes me wish the water was deep enough to drown the actors. But nothing compares to the homicidal rage and surging blood pressure I feel whenever the little red-jumpered devil pictured above appears on screen...

I want to lock both him and his mother in Paul's bathroom for all eternity to breathe in the nerve gas like spray of a Touch n'Fresh for their part in this advert. As if it wasn't already the most hideous advert on TV (since Glade's last cutesy shitting child), these two have managed to add insult to injury by making it the hammiest thing since gammon.

I realise writing about this heinous advert probably encourages an army of people who can't be discreet in the bathroom, but I'm prepared to run that risk to vent my spleen. I find myself actively avoiding any product connected to these (and all other) annoying adverts. But what about you? Does advertising woo you or warn you off? Am I the only one who feels this way?

Tuesday, 15 September 2009


This summer seems to have been punctuated at every turn with well known people dying...practically every time I open Facebook there is a slew of status updates noting how these well loved names were iconic to my friends, especially from childhood.

While it is sad when anyone dies, especially after illness and pain, I have been mildly concerned to find that very few of the big celebrity deaths in the past few months have had any great impact on me. Either I am somewhat cold hearted or I spent the 80s living in a box...

I just felt sorry for Farah Fawcett having her death overshadowed by Michael Jackson's on the same day, while his death was mainly noticeable to me for the media circus it produced. I have barely any childhood memories of him other than my best friend at primary school playing 'Bad' til I thought I might scream.

Edward Kennedy's death was notable for the feeling of the end of an era, but not being American it wasn't as momentous as it might have been. John Hughes' premature demise made me realise I had never seen any of his classic 80s films. Somehow I had no idea what Ferris Bueller got up to on his day off.

Today brought news of two more celebrity deaths as both Keith Floyd and Patrick Swayze departed this earth. Most people have been discussing the latter and obviously since I have never seen Dirty Dancing or Ghost, I have been unable to contribute much. It has been reminding me of the sad loss of my own grandmother from pancreatic cancer, but I do not feel any personal connection beyond this.

Strangely the death that has saddened and affected me most is that of Keith Floyd. I grew up watching his delightfully barmy wine soaked cookery shows in the 80s and my parents owned a selection of his cookbooks. Unlike all the other iconic deaths this summer, I feel a connection to my childhood. His shows remind me of my parents entertaining with a glass of wine in hand on sunny summer evenings and I feel both old and nostalgic for times past. I suddenly get what other people have been experiencing all summer.

Unfortunately I am unlikely to be able to avoid this feeling again in the future. More of the people I consider iconic or influential in my life, whether they be people I have never met or those dearest to me, will be checking out in the foreseeable future. I am suddenly the age when you start to feel mortality as a presence in your life, while nostalgia seems to be everywhere.

I am not about to don a veil and start lurking about the shadows looking mournful, but I am going to start looking round me more and apprectiating these people while I can. I may also want to start pretending to have a clue about popular culture in preparation!

Monday, 14 September 2009


 I like the idea of Meat Free Mondays. I'm very aware that my deep love of meat makes me shockingly un-green and possibly quite unhealthy.

I just wonder why in a climate that encourages us to think about waste and practise recycling, someone picked the day that traditionally a British household has meat based leftovers from Sunday lunch to go veggie? Shouldn't we be re-using those delicious morsels rather than going to the supermarket for more food we don't really need? It seems like a mixed message to me.

I'll be striking a compromise and going meat free another day of the week. Maybe it won't scan so nicely, but my heart'll be the same place!

Sunday, 13 September 2009


As most of you will know, I love make up. Particularly mascara...

I know that foundation adverts are air brushed to a level of falsehood that eradicates pores. I know anti aging creams don't mimic Botox, but put me in front of a mascara advert and I even though I know they are Photoshopped to hell and laden with lash inserts, I am always blindly drawn toward the promise of longer thicker lashes...I have a strange belief that life will be magically better if only my lashes touched my eyebrows.

Unsurprisingly I have been suckered in by just about every mascara product on the market over the years from lash building undercoats to cake slabs. And every single one has let me down enough to make me return to my trusty 2000 Calories by Max Factor with a heartfelt sigh of relief.

So why today did my ears prick up to hear that Maybelline are launching a vibrating mascara? How long will it take me to succumb to this temptation? Why am I suckered in by the promises of one part of the beauty industry and not the rest?

Oh, why doesn't The Beauty Myth answer these questions and save me from myself?

Friday, 11 September 2009


 Everyone has heard the phrase "charity begins at home"...except those major charities who employ street fundraisers, more commonly known as 'charity muggers'. If you live anywhere larger than a hamlet, you'll be more than familiar with the T-shirt clad clipboard clutching phenomenon that has swept British high streets in the past few years.

Someone somewhere decided the best way to encourage the 93% of Brits who don't regularly donate to charity was to harangue them, harrass them and trip them up as they try to go about their daily business. While I admire the attempt to make us more generous, I can't quite comprehend why anyone thought hiring a bunch of out of work drama students to beseech people en route to the Tube would be the answer.

Considering the average 'chugger' gets around £10 per hour and some get commission for signing someone up, I find it hard to believe that this idea was a money saving plan. I also can't imagine it really was a plan to piss the entire nation I can only imagine charities really thought this would help boost their donations. I wonder if donations have genuinely gone up since this style of campaigning became widespread?

What I have found (in my highly scientific research of asking several people I know and reading Wikipedia) is that most people, myself included, really don't like the policy of street fundraising. I have only met one person has ever signed up to a charity after meeting one...and they cancelled the direct debit within a week. I wonder how many of the 600,000 people who sign up each year after street or doorstep fundraising either cancel their pledge soon after or feel negatively towards their chosen charity once they continue to be asked for money by them almost daily? Strangely enough, I couldn't find that information anywhere...

However I have found that if you want to break the ice with strangers and have run out of weather to discuss, nothing gets people going faster than a conversation about 'chuggers'. Everyone has a horror story, everyone has an opinion, everyone wants their say.

This post was inspired by a particularly infuriating and invasive run-in with a fundraiser outside the Tube station today. She grabbed my arm to stop me then kissed her teeth at me when I told her to let go. Unsurprisingly I declined to learn more about Friends of the Earth on this occasion, but at least this one knew a bit about who she was representing. I've met a few who have almost needed to read the back of their T-shirt to know who they were selling that day. Hardly inspiring.

How secure would you feel giving your personal and bank details to someone like this? I certainly don't find it wise to dole out details like this to a total stranger, without being sure of the references required to get a job like this. I wonder if this fear is partly behind some councils' decisions to install 'cold calling zones' now that some charities are taking their 'chugging' door to door too.

Maybe this is a great way to pick up extra donations that will truly benefit charities, but I suspect it might be the straw that breaks the camel's back for most people. Personally my tipping point was reached some time ago after a male fundraiser physically blocked my path along Regent Street, hemming me in against a window and not letting me past until I began having a panic attack. I now refuse to donate to any charity who employs street or door to door fundraising, including using their charity shops.

I now prefer to make my donations to the smaller charities who are often less fashionable and overshadowed by large organisations. I think more about what charities are important to me and how my donations will be used. (Plus my local church charity shop has a cafe that serves excellent bacon sarnies...) 

In the meantime, I will be starting charity at home...and trying to dodge the clipboards better so I don't get made to feel like a bad person for not wanting to hear more about the poor animals/children/ozone layer etc. Maybe I should get a badge saying this?