CITIZEN & ECHO COLUMN

I write a weekly column for the Weekend magazine for the Citizen and Echo newspapers. It’s called the Last Word, because, well, it’s on the last page.

All new and glossy, it’s out in the shops every Saturday with the Citizen and Echo newspapers. I’ll post the column to my blog each week.

You can also catch my columns on their website on this link. You can also follow them on Twitter with @WeekendGlos.

Saturday 7th September, 2013

What ever you do, don’t use the word ‘fat’.

There are certain words in our house that are banned. Let’s call them swear words, although not, are these words the traditional parade of expletives you hear on a Saturday night down the high street at closing time. No, I refer in this instance to other words, more sedate, more acceptable, socially, but in my view still just a potent. Idiot – there’s one. Silly, too – I don’t believe in labeling anything a kid says as silly. Who are we to say something is silly when to that person, that child, it is perfectly normal? The other word I have banned is fat.

Fat as a word is accepted. Cor blimey, it’s even a right old laugh. Take TV comedy, Fat Friends. I wonder if the same laughter would have been thrown about if it was called Black Friends? No. Quite. So why then is the word fat so socially acceptable?

Right now Britain is wading through the muddy waters of an obesity crisis. Take our kids. For the first time ever, the youngest generation, the babes, the toddlers, teenagers – they will be the first set to not outlive their parents, according to a recent study. Children, these days, have it all – and that includes food. We have morphed into a society of hamburger stuffing, crisp crunching, fizzy drink guzzling sofa surfers. And it shows. And what do we all do? Oh my days, if we don’t all step away from any responsibility, jumping as we do away from any notion of a fresh food or perhaps a dash of exercise. How this nation has changed. When I was a kid, the only rounder figure we saw was Roly on Grange Hill – now UK childhood obesity has risen four-fold in just a decade.

 And so now the word fat is used. And it used quicker than you can say ready meal. And it makes me sad, so sad I could reach for the phone and dial me in a  pizza with a side order of ice-cream. But hey, I will not. By gum, I shall resist! And while I’m at it, while I calm the grimy waters of my thoughts, I shall keep myself in check and hope that, even if we reach the darkest days, we will eat fruit and we will call each other happy names. So long as happy is not followed by the word meal.

Saturday 31st August, 2013

Princess Beatrice – living off the state

I sometimes wonder if I work hard enough. I do. Darn it, I even speculate, from time to time when I pick up a paper declaring yet another war on benefit frauds, if I am not but a hop, skip and P45 away from a scrounger myself. Amplify this to us all and we have ourselves the big, fat question as to whether, really, we are all in fact benefit spongers in waiting, such is the economic Armageddon we are facing in these times.

Thank goodness then for Princess Beatrice. Previously fifth in line to the throne, now bumped down to sixth thanks to a certain baby George, Princess Beatrice has recently turned 25. Daughter to Prince Andrew, it has been announced of late that Beatrice, bless her, is going to increase the amount of charity work she is to carry out. Now, here’s the thing: I like the Royal family. I do. They smell nice (I think). They bring in shed loads of cash via tourism from Americans, Chinese and Japanese, all hooked on our traditions and pomp and jubilee tea towels. By gum, them there Royals even brighten up a day, nay a year, with their triumphant weddings that finally make the family seem normal – as long as normal consists of a £20million security detail.

And this money, the sourcing of it – this is my bug bear with Princess Beatrice. See, among the announcement of her charity workload, it was slipped in that, some time ago, she gave up – yes, you read right, gave up – her job at a London financial house. So, effectively, what we are seeing here is Beatrice living off the taxpayer. And I ask you this: what makes her living off the taxpayer any different from anyone living on benefits? The answer is there is no difference. Well there is – it’s called royalty.

See, turns out, not only is the Royal family having a commoner into its ranks – they are having common benefits too. Except, of course, when Princess Beatrice lives off the state, its deemed okay, and so proving my theory that we are all – even Royals – one hop, skip and P45 away from being jobless. Only Beatrice’s job loss isn’t down to economic Armageddon – it’s down to massive, appalling, aristocratic freeloading. And so the big thought I have now is who truly is a state sponger? And who works hard enough.

Saturday 17th August, 2013

How to be a numpty

What I have learned about being a numpty, by Nikki Owen, aged 39.

  1. Clothes are your enemy. Not what you choose to wear, nah, not that. That is the good bit. No, here I refer to the daft things you do with them. Trust me -this is the absolute truth. Take jumpers. The other day, I went to put on my jumper and do the school run. So far, so normal. Except that, upon my return home, I realized that I had been wearing said jumper inside out, the label wafting in the wind like a barcoded flag.  Mortifying. Or how about jeans? Some time ago, I purchased a new pair of jeans and once wearing them, decided I needed to nip into town. When I got back, my other half was there, and when I walked in the door, he immediately burst out laughing. ‘What?’ I frowned. He pointed; I looked down – in horror. There, along the length of my leg, was the sticker – with my size emblazoned on it. I had been in town for two hours
  2. You have a tendency to say the wrong thing. Oh boy is this one true. Think about it. You’re feeling nervous, perhaps in a new situation – a job interview, maybe, or perhaps a social gathering – and you are sweating. As you mop your brow, you spot an opportunity to make your move and say something witty or funny or just coherent will do. And then you open your mouth. And out comes some daft statement that you know, when the lights are dimmed at night and your head is on your pillow, you will relive like the longest nightmare in history.
  3. You fall over. A lot. I was on my way to work once, Walkman in my ears (showing my age…) when, out of the blue, I fell over. Just like that. Once I had hauled myself back up, I surveyed the road. Surely there must have been a rock or crack in the pavement? But no. Turns out I just tripped up over myself, creating a gaping hole in my work trousers to boot. I fear my second daughter has inherited this trait. My advice: always pack spare trousers.
  4. You are never too old to make a fool of yourself. Because being a fool is essentially the new happy. Just with slightly sorer knees.

Saturday 10th August, 2013

With a broken satnav, we loose our way in every way

Sometimes, I worry for us all. I do. I see, in the pages of the newspapers, on

Twitter, Facebook and the Internet, a hole heap of stuff, of words and phrases and quotes that make me think we’ve all lost our way a little.

And so to sat navs. If there was ever a time to reevaluate the sat nav, now is it.  Summer holidays are in flow, the M5 is like a car park, sardined as the cars are into a boiling can of steam and fumes and crying children. Thing is, with cars comes the complete inability to navigate. Sure, we have maps – remember those? The paper things that, once opened, act like a curtain for your windscreen and a catalyst for divorce for your marriage? We have tried, us all, to read those things, but let’s face it, we know as a country, as a people when we are beaten. Just look at Eurovision.

But sat navs. Well, sat navs are a whole new ball came. And here begins my worry. See, I was living on Twitter the other week when I happened upon a tweet that read: ‘I can’t find my sat nav, therefore I can’t find where I’m actually going.’  And that says it all. What has the world come to, to have lead us to this, a time when, if we do not have a piece of technology, we are, essentially, stuffed, utterly lost, bewildered?

But, when you think about it, this sat nav situation is not simply about cars and motorways and family arguments.  It is about life. Because, really, sometimes, we haven’t got the foggiest where we are going. Like a metaphor for modern living, without our sat navs, you’ll find thousands of us stumbling through our days, no computer voice to guide us, wondering where on earth we are and how in the hell are we going to figure out where we are going.

Yes, this is what modern day has come to. Our brains have morphed into computer generated look-a-likes that become lost at the slightest technical glitch. And I worry. I worry that, one day, we will lose the ability to think for ourselves, to figure out what to do, where to go purely because no one is telling us. No guidance. No technology. There’s nothing for it: in life, folks, we’ll have to make our own maps.

Saturday 3rd August, 2013

Are cellulite and tiny shorts really the way to go?

I don’t often have trouble with making up my mind. I’m a gal of opinions, see, forthright as I am in the defence of all things woman and socially moral and downright fair.  Show me an injustice and I’ll show you a piece of my mind, not to mention a cracking opinion from my daughters to boot. Yes, we are a force to be reckoned with, us Owens.

But there has been one thing of late that has thrown me. As with everyone of conscience, there comes a time when instead of resorting to your steadfast principles, knowing that, no matter how far you fall they will act as a net to catch you, you find yourself freefalling without a parachute.

And, so, I am rather aghast to admit here, in print, that the thing that has me free-falling is this: cellulite and revealing clothes. Now, here’s the thing: I’m all for a bit of self-expression. We shouldn’t any of us, I normally think, give two hoots about what people think of us, free as we are, to wear what we like. But, then, the other day I saw something that challenged this: a woman, in her 50s wearing the tiniest denim shorts, her thighs wobbling, pockmarked top to toe in cellulite. Was my immediate thought a right on one? I am ashamed to say no. My first thought was, ‘Why?’  Why was the woman wearing something that showed herself off in such a way?

And here is where I have trouble making up my mind. See, on the one hand, why should she care what people think? And on the other: cellulite, thighs and tiny shorts – they just don’t mix, people. The thought of this, of this deliberation – it is like marmite for my head: it stinks and leaves a bad taste. And I don’t want to have that bad taste, because that’s what we’re talking about here, about thinking ill of this woman and her cellulite and her shorts – it’s my bad taste, not hers. And besides, no one would look twice at a bloke for wearing what he liked.

That is why I have made a decision today and it is this: we should all just wear what we like and to heck with everyone else. Flash your thighs, toes, bingo wings, y’all, because I am declaring that body freedom is the future. Phew.

Saturday 26th July, 2013

Camping – the window on the real life

Now here’s a thing to ponder: our secrets. Think on that. We have them, all of us, if you listen carefully, if you stop and press your ear to the wall of life. Nudge up and you will hear the whispers of secrets surfing the air like the waft of dandelion seeds.

The secrets we keep, of course, are not really secrets, not in the definitive sense anyhow. Because here on this page, in this column, when I say secrets I mean reality. We don’t, as a rule, fully see the reality of each other’s lives, not really. Our doors, in this age of increased crime and mindless violence, remain closed, shut off as we keep ourselves, to the world, a world that we mainly fight and fear, especially for our children.

And so it is that camping is an eye-opener. See, us Brits, us hardy folk, we’re all up for a bit of camping. This summer, this summer of (whisper it) sunshine is one where you’ll see us, us hoards of deluded optimists, cramming our cars with canvas and poles and airbeds that deflate upon immediate use, never mind creak every single time you turn over, ready to drive to a campsite, pitch up and kick back. Except that we don’t, kick back, that is. Nah. What you’ll find happening upon arrival at a campsite is one or all of the following things: argue over putting up the tent (that always takes longer than you thought); shout at the kids for running in half-up tent; realise you forgot the air pump; realize you forgot the matches; remember you left the iron/cooker on at home; shout at the kids for squabbling; mutter to yourself you will never, ever camp again; and, finally, shout at your spouse.

That, my friend, is reality. Because camping means living life in public view, real, no secrets life. Camping, see, offers nowhere to hide, it offers no walls to put up, no doors to shut. In fact, camping is the one place, the one time where you will see the secrets of families, of lives not simply floating like flower seeds in the air, but instead juggernauting like ten tonne lorries on a highway whose only exit is the one home.

Tears, laughter, anger, sadness. If you want to peek in through the window of people’s lives, go camping. And buy a better airbed.

Saturday 20th July, 2013

Cricket is just one massive metaphor on life

I’ve recently come to the conclusion that everything in life is one massive metaphor. See, summer in this country, in this land of Greensleeves and greasy chips means one thing. No, not rain, not the arc of an umbrella, although, to be fair, that is a defining image of our country. No. In this instance, I refer to sport. Or, if I may be more specific, cricket.

I have to confess, I’ve never quite got into cricket. I tried once going to a match – at Old Trafford cricket ground no less – young as I was then and intrigued by the game. Going to Old Trafford was on my ‘list of things to do’, so I bought a ticket. Two hours and three beers later, I exited, sold my tickets and hit the bars. Enough said.

But lately, for some reason – call it The Ashes, call it summer, call it the fever that was Wimbledon and the glorious Andy Murray victory – cricket has been on my mind, and I’ll tell you for why. See, I have realized that cricket is a metaphor for life, for the way in which families and friends integrate, live and behave. Seriously. Just think about it.

Take the bowler. The bowler is the engine of a cricket team. Busy firing balls all over the shop, it’s one busy role. In a family, this will be your mum. Okay, next, there’s the batsman. This is the second busiest person, but, unlike the bowler, the batsman stands around more, maybe swinging a bat once in a while then runs a bit, yet gets the glory. This, folks, is the dad. Next up, you have your fielders. Fielders are essentially the loafers of cricket. They stand on the edges, scratching their whites, squinting in the sun, waiting to catch a ball that may never come. These are your children.

And so there you have it. You may find yourself thinking, “Hang on a minute, this cricket lark sounds a lot like my life,” and you’d be right. You’d be right to make that association because life, folks, is one massive metaphor with us lot just swimming around it, joining up the dots. And if you don’t believe me, look again at cricket. It is the only sport that has a tea and lunch break. Yes, cricket – the metaphor for life as we know it.

Saturday 13th July, 2013

I declare today a day of rest

There is something about now, about this time of year that just screams, ‘Busy!’ I don’t know what it is. My friends and I have tried, and subsequently failed, to pinpoint exactly what the causes are of the escalating to-do-lists, with their deadlines and their unticked words and their never-ending reminders that you’re not quite done yet.

It is, in a word, exhausting. And it’s not just me. The summer has peered over the hill and decided to slip back into its cave; the children on their routes to school walk, wilting like unwatered flowers, along the roadsides; commuters hang elbows from car windows, eyes glazed in snaking cues wondering when things will ever get moving again; and economies slump and retreat and instead of helping, demand from us all more money that we cannot give.

And so it is this week that I have, as your humble column servant, made a decision, and it is this: that we, as a nation, need a holiday. A break. A rest. A massive, humungous lie down. Because, we all keep going us lot, you me, that bloke in the car over there – yes, you. We all keep calm and carry on and on and on until we arrive, blinking at our destinations wondering how on earth we got there and how in God’s name we are ever going to get ourselves back.

And that is why we need to stop, all of us, every single one. The teacher; the economist; the refuse collector; the hairdresser, lawyer, nurse, and, heck, writer. We all need to take a moment, just a second, and give ourselves a break. We need to, as summer beckons and we begin our annual ‘will it rain’ watch, be able to have a quiet moment and just do nothing. Zip. Nada.

Everyone is always busy, no time, as there is in our world now for thought, for reflection, for just staring at the TV stuffing your face with popcorn and thinking of nothing but what to watch next. We are assaulted every day with doom and gloom and debt and deficits, and if we continue that way, if we do not give our bodies, our minds a wee holiday from it all, then what?

So, I declare that today – Saturday – I am going out. I am having a break. Yes, today, we are all having one massive, collective break.

Saturday 6th July, 2013

Roller coasters & why we need to open our eyes

 This week has been one of drawing conclusions. My head has been crammed, stacked, as weeks go, with work, and family and, if I’m frank, the biggest pile of washing in the world, which, is so exhausting to look at, so shoulder-dropping and long-drawn-in-breath inducing that the only, most sensible action to take is to quietly shut bathroom door where the laundry basket overspills, and go and lie down.

 And so to roller coasters. Last week, I made, along with my family, a pleasant return to Alton Towers. Like lines on my forehead, I can determine my age by the visits I have made to the theme park. The first trip I was 15 – on the Corkscrew – selected, as I was, as House Captain, mad then for sports and athletics. The trip was a reward for my year of sporting effort, which I then thought odd: I was 15 and full of energy – nothing even took any effort.

 My subsequent visit came at 24 with my then future husband, taking me, as he did, on a trip to a place where, if you went really fast on Oblivion, you would chuck up and still be loved. Next, saw me at 29, with friends, not long having had my first born, leaving her at a few months old with the grandparents to escape and feel free and young just for one day, screaming out my lungs on Nemesis.

And, then, the final two times came when our girls were older, times – at 38 and 39-years respectively – that saw me attempting to calm my rising fear at roller coasters, on Air (upside down!) and Rita (0-60 in three seconds!), only for my husband and kids to dismount the rides at the end laughing at how, all the way round, I had my eyes clamped shut.

 And that’s when I made it, the conclusion, the drawing of it, and it was this: that show me a rollercoaster and you’ll find many of us with our eyes clamped shut, too scared to open them, and that this, this eye closing, is our approach to everything. It is our approach to life and all it’s mess and fear and dirty cups.

 And so, I have concluded that we must open them, our eyes, to take in everything, to see life. Except, naturally, the washing pile. That I will still ignore.

Saturday 29th June, 2013

Jeans – squeezing our unmentionables and our sanity

 I don’t swear. Not in writing, anyway. If I said I didn’t swear at all, you would, right now, if you cupped your hand to your ear and listened very closely, detect the stampede of my family’s feet as they ran to the printing press, banging down the door, demanding I tell the sorry, messy truth.

 And so to jeans, or, more specifically, the purchasing of. There is something about jeans that makes me smile and cry all at once. In this age, a time of freedom of thought, of modernity, of utter expression of self through clothes, jeans remain the one, inexplicable obstacle to complete happiness. And I’ll tell you for why: jeans are not made to fit us.

 What is it about them? What is it about denim that makes our stomachs resemble the Pillsbury Doughboy and our ankles look like something out of a sausage factory? Boot cut. Skinny. Straight. Flare. Long and lean. Boyfriend (what the?). These are just some of the menu of options we are faced with when purchasing a pair of jeans, options that, upon fitting, we realize only have very niche appeal. And as for getting into the jeans, one question: why are they so small? Every time I shop for jeans I end up with a pair punching two sizes above my usual girth, resulting in me, sloping from the store, avoiding eye contact with anyone under the age of 25.  Do jean makers not know our sizes, or, as I suspect, are they making them for Lilliputians? Or Victoria Beckham?

 Because, jeans, bad ones, they pinch in your unmentionables, they squeeze your hips, they do, on occasion, dye your skin when you sweat (long story).  And don’t get me started on the price. I saw a cracking pair of jeans on a website the other week and thought, ‘Ooo. They are skinny, no camel’s hoof. They’ll do nicely!’ And then I saw the price. £120. Over a hundred quid for something you will get home, squeeze yourself into only then to discover, upon eating, that the zip pinches your skin and you cannot breathe. Blokes, welcome to a woman’s mind.

 In idle moments, I imagine finding a pair of jeans that fit, and how, like youth, I would hold on to them forever and never let go. And eventually they age and rip – and I swear.

Saturday 22nd June, 2013

The Women’s Football Show and the dismaying of my heart

 I’m not all that keen on football. Well, when I say not that keen, what I really mean is I don’t like it. Don’t get me wrong, come the World Cup or a big Euro competition, say, I’m up chanting with the best of them, although being an Irish lass living in England with a half welsh husband and children that declare they are, ‘a quarter English, quarter Welsh and half Irish’ does pose its problems.

So, when I saw that the BBC had a new show about football, I can’t say I was intrigued. Until, one day, flicking through the iPlayer when I was meant to be working, I happened upon a show about football that caught my eye. That show was entitled the “Women’s Football Show.”

 Now, I, more than most, am all for a bit of sister power. Back in the day at my primary school, I was at the forefront of a carefully crafted campaign to allow girls to play rugby, outraged as we were, even at the age of 9, at what we rightly saw as the clear inequality that existed within the then school sports system.

 Thing is, even then, us girls didn’t want to have a separate female team. We wanted to be with the lads, craving, as we did, to be given the chance to prove that we could pass back a rugby ball with the best of them. Yes, we knew that one day soon our bodies would develop, that the boys would build muscle that we couldn’t, but until that time came we wanted to feel, at least for a moment, that we were on, if you pardon the pun, an equal playing field.

 And so, it is with heavy heart, that I find myself dismayed by a programme called Women’s Football. Not because it’s about women. Hell no. Not even because it’s about football. But because it separates women’s football from men’s. It uses gender to divide the game so deeply, so definitively that I wonder if there will ever be any way back. Because what should be televised is a show simply entitled ‘Football,’ a show where the men’s and women’s game are shown – shocker alert – in the same programme.

 Yes, there’s nothing else for it – I’m going to have to raid the crayons and craft a new campaign: the campaign of common sense.

Saturday 15th June, 2013

Kissing and decorum

 PDAs – public displays of affection – or, as I like to call them, totally unnecessary acts, have worryingly been on my mind of late, and I’ll tell you for why. Recently, see, whilst in a shop – in public – two people kissed. I say kissed, they practically inhaled each other; you couldn’t tell where one began and the other ended.

 Now while, sure, there weren’t many people around at the time, the fact that they carried right on anyway, salvia dripping from their conjoined mouths like two seals gnawing each other, made me want to run for the hills and hide. For a very long time.

And I thought why? Why is it that in this isle of individualism, we, as a people, get icky over a high street snog? But of course, once you think about it, once you consider the straight-jacket combination of our crippling class system, hung over as it is still from Victorian times when much happened but nothing was discussed, the answer is simple: we are all prudes. We, as a nation, are a group of secret squares, all of us walking the breadth of Britain avoiding anything that displays how we really feel. Show us a PDA and we will show you the exit. Or a bucket – whichever comes first.

We know kissing exists – open a door quietly enough and you’ll see. Sometimes, we want to say, ‘to heck with it, continue with all the kissing!’ but we can’t, bound, as we are, by culture and tradition and utter, hide-behind-a-pillow embarrassment. We cringe, we judge, we tut. Look at a country with no class system and I give you a nation of public kissers. Take France – a republic, where a canoodle isn’t just accepted, it’s downright expected. And the USA – no monarchy, and there you’ll see, on a sunny street, two folks in lip lock, although, even by USA standards, the red carpet PDAs way back from Tom Cruise and Katie Holmes, pushed even the most open of American citizens to their cringe worthy limit.

 Do I think Brits should lighten up a bit? Mah, probably. But that would mean talking about it, and, to be fair, no one needs that, because, let’s face it, all we’re asking for here is just a little decorum. Yes, I’ve weighed up the options and I have decided: PDA really stands for Public Decorum Association.

Saturday 8th June, 2013

Miss Piggy – my feminist hero

When I was younger, the Muppets were big. When I say big, I mean -rather like being the only one in your class who owned a Girl’s World head- huge. We would, in our house, my brother, sister, me, sit round the TV awaiting what would invariably be a positive felt-fest of fun. And chicken chucking. And frogs.

Then, as now, one Muppet character stood out for me, one character that, in my young eyes, was the utter, vocal, fuzzy example of what a woman should be like – even if that woman had a substantially nostrilled nose and a penchant for amphibians: Miss Piggy.

Miss. Piggy – or, as we used to call her, the Pigster – was my first ever symbol of feminism. Then, I was an 11-year old growing up in a world that was male-dominated, a world that, ironically, looking back was brimming with male TV presenters leering over girls, working in a media culture that, as it turned out, did almost nothing to stop that leeriness developing into something altogether more sinister.

The feminism Miss. Piggy therefore posed was a force. And how. With one raised voice, she could level a room of crazy, flapping Muppets and render them speechless. Rather like, if you think about it, real life, or at least, the way we’d like to think real life could actually be.

Because you see, hands, or indeed, trotters, down, Miss Piggy takes no messing. There’s one old Muppet film in which she was mugged in New York’s Central Park. Did she cry, are you thinking? Did she slump, desperate to the ground and flap? Nah. Miss Piggy promptly ran after the assailant, got him by the scruff and with one loud ‘Hiiiiii Ya!’ swiftly grabbed her belongings and scared the bejesus out of the mugger. Okay, sure, it is questionable that such a scene be shown to children, a scene that depicted the grim realities of crime and violence, but oh what a result! And not only for women. My brother too, at seven, would quote the Pigster when the moment required. Nothing got past us siblings then. Nothing gets past us now.

And so, if I have learnt one thing from Miss Piggy it is this: that women are strong, and that in a world full of (real) muppets sometimes only one phrase will do: Hiiiiii Ya! Oh yes, take that, Kermie.

Saturday 1st June, 2013

Gwyneth Paltrow, Dairy Milk and a case of sloppy pyjamas

The problem with illusions is that they can easily be shattered. The vitamin supplement that does no additional good; the votes we cast that make no difference to political wrongdoings whatsoever; the hair dye that still leaves your greys poking out like spiders’ legs from your scalp.

But, of course, illusions, rather like chocolate, are something we seek, something we crave, something that, in this time of austerity, of snow in Spring and central heating systems still on timers, we want in order to assure us that, out there, beyond the grey, life is good, life is fun – life is glamorous.

 And so to Gwyneth Paltrow and her website, Goop. Launched in 2008, Gwyneth originally began the lifestyle website to “share life’s positives”. Well, now marvellous, absolutely marvellous. I mean, sure, here is a movie star who is to the public as Marmite is to the palate. But, as they say, God loves a trier, and Paltrow certainly is that.

Goop chronicles all her worldly advice, such as what to feed your kids (get this – no carbs, apparently); how to dress for the plane (flats); and which holiday apartments to rent. So far, so unobtainable. But while the media went Gwynnie bashing recently after she appeared on a ‘most hated’ list, all I could think of was this: she sits at home and writes her blog! In her PJs! Oh the delight at the thought that this glamazon could be found, like me, slumped at her laptop, cuppa by her side, stuffing her face with dried crackers and chocolate, safe that no one could see her, yet still all would listen.

But oh, how that dream was shattered. See, the further I delved into Goop, the more I realized the illusion was not the reality, and that, in actual life, the website has a team – a team, I ask you – with an editor and a web developer and everything. And I wondered, do they work whilst stuffing their faces with chocolate? But of course, they don’t, and I realized that her team scoffing Dairy Milk in their onesies would be about as likely as vegetarian, non-dairy Gwyneth downing a bowl of bolognaise followed by a cream cake chaser.

And so, if I have learned anything from illusions it is this: that we should never assume we know what people are like; and children really should eat carbs.

Saturday 25th May 2013

Despite Radio One, you are never too old to be a supermodel

There comes a time in everyone’s life when realization dawns. Like knowing black does not go with navy, a fleece should not be worn with heels, and that when you were 10 and you were told by your mum that your dog had “gone to the farm” what she actually meant was it had been lethally injected at the vets.

And so to Radio One. Radio One, the flagship station of youth for the BBC, is on the change. Not, you understand, in a menopausal sense, but in a new breakfast show presenter one.  And I am, quite frankly, confused.

Back in the days of my twenties, Radio One was, along with a well-thumbed copy of Heat magazine, a regular part of my Fiat Cinquecento. Blaring, as he did with his big voice, big belly and even bigger ego, a then fresh-faced Chris Moyles bounded on to the breakfast show declaring, like Braveheart thrusting his stake into the ground, that he was the saviour of Radio One. Eight years on and Moyles has been ousted because (wait for it) he is too old.  At 38, the suits were worried that Moyles was attracting an older audience of yes, you’ve guessed it, thirty to forty somethings. Or, as controller Ben Cooper put it: ‘Festival dad who refuses to grow up and will now take his family to hear new music at festivals.’  So basically, all our friends.

Thing is, I heard this and I worried. Should I be listening to Radio One anymore? Should I, a 39-year old woman with a dodgy knee and a tendency to groan when I rise from a seat, be listening to a station that considers news as entertainment? But then I think, why shouldn’t we, us Generation-Xers who have been used to, growing up as we did in a time of plenty, hog it all? Trouble is, the new ‘yoof’ breakfast show presenter, Nick Grimshaw, is just 28. He hangs with a hip crowd. He clubs in Ibiza. But, then, dig further, and you find that one of ‘Grimmy’s’ bessie mates is Kate Moss. Who is 39. My age.

 Yes indeed, reader, the realisations have dawned and they are thus: there is no right age for Radio One; our knees, in the cold, will ache; and we’re never too old to be a supermodel. I hear Kate Moss loves a festival.

Saturday 18th May, 2013

Swimsuit purchasing: the definition of hell

‘It looks like a napkin,’ said my friend. ‘I’m 42. It’s a bikini the size of a flipping napkin. Stuff this. I’m going for a cream cake.’ And so commenceth the season of swimwear purchasing.

 Buying swimwear, or, as I like to call it, living hell, is something we look forward to as much as we look forward to root canal work. It is painful. It is uncomfortable. And, Lord help us, it is here. A bit like trying to fathom why Eastenders is so unbelievably dull, swimwear purchasing has to be one of the most ridiculous, soul-destroying parts of a woman’s life.

 Bodies, you see, are what swimwear is all about. Bottoms, thighs, stomachs, calves. All the pieces that make us who we are and map the lives we have lead. But, while for 50 weeks of the year we cover our bodies, shrouding them as we do in polo necks, jeans, chunky knit sweaters, the onset of summer holidays heralds the requirement to flash our flesh. And it scares us to the core. What on earth do we buy? Bikinis. Tankinis. High legs. Low legs. One pieces. Halter necks. Underwire support. Swimsuits that have panels of fabric cut out of them (why?). Teeny triangle tops that would have trouble covering my knuckle, never mind a lady’s chest. Not to mention ones with bits of metal that scorch skin.

 Matters are not helped by the fact that, plastered all over the glossies, are airbrushed images of celebrities flaunting their perfect beach bods, sculpted, taut, lean. The thought, quite frankly, of ever running on a beach in, what is effectively my bra and pants, brings me out in a nervous rash. Never mind the fact that my stomach, a stomach that housed two babies, that, even despite avoiding stretch marks still, on occasion, can resemble a pile of crepe paper, will be on display. To the world.

A bloke wouldn’t think this way of himself. Men, nine times out of ten, think they look great regardless. How often does a man glance at his reflection and mutter, ‘Does my bum look big in this?’

 ‘What I could do with,’ said my (slim) friend, exhausted, ‘is a cossie that comes down to the knee and up to the throat. In matt black.’ In the end she bought a bikini. And, on the beach, the old French blokes swam in Speedos.

Saturday 11th May, 2013

I have verbal diarrhoea – it’s who I am

I really can’t shut up. The quiet times are the worst, blabbering as I will when the air goes silent and nobody is talking. At all. I have to step in. I think it may be a curse.

Verbal diarrhoea is my curse.  Afflicted since, as far as I am aware, birth, I have always wanted to communicate. Well, I say communicate, I suspect some would say waffle. Or chatter. Or simple talk. And talk. Either way, I am inbuilt to speak. I mean, yes, as humans, evolved as we have from apes and excessive bodily hair (with the exception of Tom Selleck’s chest) we have developed to communicate, to think, to debate. But, here’s the thing: women, above the men, are wired to talk. Not only do us females speak 13,000 more words than men a day, but the University of Maryland, in a study of language, identified we have a higher amount of something called the ‘Foxp2 protein’ that makes us chat. And chat.

While filling in the conversational gaps is, as I have grown up, helpful, it comes at a price. For me it began young. As a toddler, I would talk for my younger brother – not talk at him, you understand, but for him. He couldn’t get a word in edgeways. It got so bad that, in the end, he gave up, lapsing into silence because, even then, he knew it kept the peace. He was three before he eventually spoke.

And so to putting your foot in it. Thirty years on and while I have learned (sometimes painfully) when to zip it, I still put my size fives in. The time, for example, I stood talking to someone at the school gates who was with her dog and I felt so awkward that when she went to leave I glanced at her dog and blurted out, ‘Happy dogging!’ shall go down in my file of shame. But, I’m not the only one. My friend, on a business trip with a new colleague, sniffed his car and, for want of something else to say, chirped, ‘It smells of cheesy balls in here!’ She was, of course, referring to the crisp variety, but the damage was done.

Sometimes, in idle moments, I imagine being a silent-type person. And then the phone rings and I start talking. And I realise: we can’t help but be who we are.

Saturday 4th May, 2013

Let’s get some wobbly bottoms on TV 

TV, in this day, in this age of beauty and perfection, is sometimes agony. Hard, confusing, delightful agony. Gold medals to us, the viewers who sit and watch, wondering as we do, how on earth the characters get to look so sweat free, so smooth-haired even though they’re shouting like nutters or running for a bus.

Right now, my obsession, TV wise, following a box-set splurge of Grey’s Anatomy, is The West Wing. Having started more than a decade ago, The West Wing is one of the best TV shows. Ever. It’s got it all. Politics. Intrigue. Fast, mind-bending dialogue. And good-lookers. Or, in this case, Rob Lowe. Mr.Lowe may be mid-forties now, but back in the day, back in a time when he was Brat Packer along with Demi Moore, Emilio Estevez and Matt Dillon, Rob Lowe was the man.

Look to the rest of the cast of The West Wing, and they’re all lookers, too, and I can’t help but wonder if, in America, Barack’s administration are all as hot as the fictional President Bartlet’s. Not that it matters. And that’s the thing, that mattering. That’s what niggles. See, I’ve come to the realisation that TV cares too much what its actors look like. Botoxed. Line-free. Wash-board stomachs. So perfect.

Thank the Lord then for change. Girls is a show in the USA that’s taking stereotypes by the scruff of the neck and giving them a good shake. It has women on it who ain’t ugly by any standards, but – and here’s the deal breaker – they have flaws. Wobbly bottoms. Cellulite. Wonky teeth. These bits of us, these areas, they are all items that, come TV time, we don’t see on screen, and yet every day, off screen, they are there, like little reminders of a life we have lead.

TV shows – dramas, comedy – they serve a purpose: to entertain. Sure, that often means allowing us to forget the bits of ourselves we’d rather not remember. But go too far the other way and we start to feel pressure, to feel that those bits of us are wrong, or, heaven forbid, not normal, and the last thing we need is to feel rubbish – we have the British weather for that. Spots, skin, frown lines and thighs – that’s what real people are. Not botox and white-teeth. Although, fair’s fair, they are much better than my yellow toe-nails.

Saturday 27th April, 2013

To make it as a model, do you have to be posh?

The problem with class is that it distorts stuff. Like a picking your favourite Spice Girl, deciding which class someone is from is rather like slapping a label on a doll and declaring with folded arms that you know all about them. Posh. Scary. Sporty. You get, from that label, an idea in your head of who they are and that’s that – you’ve made your mind up about them.

And so to models. Over the past two decades, models have become big. Claudia Schiffer. Kate Moss. Cindy Crawford – house-hold names that have not only adorned thousands of magazines, but have changed the face of fashion and pop-culture. Step forward latest ‘it’ model, Cara Delevingne. 2013 and Cara is big. 20-years of age and with two caterpillars for eyebrows, she is in demand. But what’s different, is that the girl does not do conventional.

Here is a model partial to a funny face, six different ‘types’ apparently, ranging from ‘the goofy eye’ to ‘the lizard tongue’. Then there’s Cara’s style. Forget your standard issue model long-and-lean-in-a-tank-top look. Cara is more partial to a onesie than a newborn baby, owning, as she does, well over a dozen of the things. Not to mention wearing her puffa jacket back to front. And you know what? The fash pack love her. They gush over Cara’s penchant for beany hats and face-pulling, enchanted, as they are, at her quirkiness

But what I haven’t mentioned yet is this: the girl is seriously posh.  A London socialite, Cara is the grand-daughter of English Heritage boss, Sir Jocelyn Stevens, her young years spent growing up in London’s exclusive Mayfair. Which brings me to the problem of how class can distort stuff.

See, I can’t help but think that Cara’s heritage contributes to her appeal. And I wonder, if Cara wasn’t from Mayfair, but from Macclesfield, would she be admired so much, for her quirky face pulling? Would the fashionistas fawn, as they do, over Miss.Delevingne if her grandmother worked not as a lady in waiting to Princess Margaret (true), but at the tills down Tesco? Would they view her eccentricity as quite so endearing if she had an accent straight from the set of Corrie? I’ve got a sneaking suspicion they wouldn’t. But, as it happens, it doesn’t matter anyway. Because it’s not only class that can distort stuff. So, too, can the lense of a camera.

Saturday 20th April, 2013

There’s a lot you can learn from the pages of a book

There’s a lot you can learn from the pages of a book.  From as early as I can remember, my life has been directed by the novels I have read. Rules on friendship? Try Mallory Towers. Want to know about poverty and the shame of society? Charles Dickens is your man.  Need to understand how to talk to a boy without turning the colour of a beetroot? Have a Jackie annual.

Books, novels, the words on pages – they affect what we do, the way we think. They shape who we are.  As the years have gone by, the learning I glean from books has changed just as my life, the rollercoasting, boat-journeying time that it is, has changed too.

Bleary-eyed and strung out on broken sleep, my first few months of motherhood a decade ago were saved by books. Sleep. Sleep was our heroin back then in those hazy first weeks. We craved it, fantasied over it, endlessly talked about it. We would have dreamed about it save for the fact that to dream you need to, you know, sleep.

Desperate and, quite frankly, shattered, I turned to a book for help – and it worked. The book, the words, the instructions, the delightful, exquisite advice it gushed meant our new baby, finally, slumbered and so too did us zombied parents.

As our children grew, so did my reading quota. Terrible two issues? I’ll have a book about that, thank you. First day at school and feeling sad, oh child of mine? I think I saw a picture book in the library on that, my girl.

Of course, the danger, the hidden terror of learning life’s lessons through the words of, what is effectively, another person, is that the message they give may not actually be helpful. The time, for example, when I followed the advice of feeding my then toddler chopped liver once a week, only for the stuff to be regurgitated by her all over my head half an hour later, shall be filed forever under, ‘what was I thinking?’

But it’s the good times, the good advice that stays with you, that shapes your thoughts, how you act, what you do. My girls are fast approaching teenage years and while I look forward to it, I am also – shocker – apprehensive. But it’s okay. I’ve got it covered – I already know what book I’m going to buy.

Saturday 13th April, 2013

Taylor Swift as a role model – who knew?

The subject of role models is big in our house. When I say ‘in our house’ I mean with me. The kids, our girls, I think, couldn’t give two hoots about who they are or aren’t supposed to look up too. As long as they are supplied with a constant stream of chocolate on a Friday after school they’ll nod yes to anything I ask them when I stand in front of the TV to block their view (it’s the only way we can get their attention).

It normally wouldn’t bother me, except now they are growing, our daughters. The eldest is on the cusp of secondary school, a time where she will leave the house and journey on a bus without me, delirious, as she’ll be, at the thought of utter, unadulterated, unsupervised freedom.

While she doesn’t seek role models now, I know she will and then what? Show me a boy and I’ll show you a truck load of men he can aspire to. Sport? Try Usain Bolt. Politics? Barack Obama. Art? Damien Hirst. But girls? Women? My mind starts to go blank.

And so to the singer, Taylor Swift. There are many things I like about Taylor Swift. She has nice hair. She can dance. She can belt out a decent tune without, apparently, the aid of on-stage technical magic. So far so, like, whatever. But here’s the thing: the girl is no pushover.

At 13, Swift was on the payroll of Sony as one of its songwriters. And now, at just 23, Forbes has listed her as the world’s 11th highest earning person in showbusiness, only a few places behind Steven Spielberg and Tom Cruise, but way ahead of Beyonce and Sir Paul McCartney.  This girl is smart, driven. She writes all her own material. She is intelligent. She’s clean, doesn’t do drugs and from all reports is nice, despite the odd celebrity boyfriend.

It’s her determination that makes me forget, momentarily, that she’s a singer and therefore not the default role model of choice for my daughters.  Yet, Swift makes me realise this: there are women, in many guises, out there to aspire to.

Despite the toe-curling reality TV wanabees, women have brains, focus, motivation.  So when my daughters eventually seek a role model, I’ll not worry. Because, out there, women exist, living, breathing – singing- reminders that we are all one thing: equal.

Saturday 6th April, 2013

Now is the future we just haven’t recognised yet

In 1988, the LA Times asked 30 futurologists what life would be like 25 years in the future. Some predictions they got right, like knowing we’d all end up with Satnavs in our cars, use emails to replace paper, or teleconference via Skype. Others they got utterly wrong. Robotic man-servants were one failure (or not, depending on your viewpoint), and body paint that protected against radioactivity was another doomed prophecy.

Thing is, what we tend to do, us people, us humans, is spend our time forecasting what the future will bring. We can’t help it. A bit like running away from something scary, we’re inbuilt to guess the future, to envisage technologies, to foretell catastrophic world events.  It’s like a whole new way to be nosey, just with permission.

And so to pondering on our own lives. 1988, the year the report was compiled, found me at 14-years old, my mind on Madonna song lyrics and my heart won over by Morten Harket from A-ha. Days, weeks would be spent gabbling about our futures. It was our topic du jour, desperate as we were to know what was going to happen, to predict like some cosmic crystal ball what was in store for us.

Some of it I got right. I did go to University, although no one could have predicted the almost world-record breaking amount of times I missed the final two lectures each Friday afternoon to hit the student union bar early. And married, I got married, happily, gladly and without the need to be dragged down the aisle.

But there comes a point when this wondering about the future has to stop, and you come to realise, in the twilight of the day that it’s not about what’s ahead – it’s about what’s happening now.

See, spend too much time pondering the future and you’ll miss things, you’ll miss life. Family, friends, the daft little things that make you smile. Watching your kids in school plays.  Belly-laughing on a rare night out.  Because that’s the stuff we have, the here, the now, that’s the gold. Obsess instead with prophecies and we end up with a future we didn’t intend to have all because we ignored the present we did.

Yes, our futures are important. Yes, heck, we need ambition, but I’m going to try concentrating on today. That way tomorrow will come all by itself.

Saturday 23rd March, 2013

We’re not apes – even Julia Roberts

When it comes to my girls, learning about life through me, there is a lot to recommend. How to read, how floss, how to shoot a glare at their dad at 10 paces and shut. It. Down. Then there is hair. Messy, beautiful, embarrassing, bodily hair.

As a woman, hair is an issue. We are, as a species, no longer apes, which is a shame since apes don’t have to get up at 5.30am before they go swimming at six to shave their armpits and legs. Nor do apes have two daughters who, upon walking in on you in the bath, singing (slaying) Beyoncé, your leg sticking out and covered in bubbles, point to your razor and ask, ‘What’s that?’ Apes don’t have to answer fast, as I did, yelping, ‘Bubble scraper!’ and proceed to scrape their leg without wincing before shooing said daughters away.

In name at least, us humans are no longer apes, but why in this day, in this age when women are celebrated, when women openly talk about everything, do we depilate in secret? It’s like knowing that we all secretly scoff bowls of cereal for dinner rather than cooking, but never admitting

Julia Roberts back in 2007 with her pit flash.
Julia Roberts back in 2007 with her pit flash.

it. Back in 2007, at a certain Notting Hill film premiere, the actress Julia Roberts caused a global sensation: she flashed some arm pit hair. The world was aghast. Aghast. Here was a woman, a beautiful, award-winning actress who had failed to shave her pits. There was outrage. Never mind whether we should have invaded Iraq or not, the question on everyone’s lips was, ‘Should Roberts shave?

And so back to my daughters. They are children now, but every day they grow and one day, one bittersweet, tear-filled day, they will be women.  Women with careers, boyfriends, (please God) a place of their own – and a mind of their own too.

And that is it, really, that mind, that pink blancmange in our heads that makes us who we are, that defines the apes from the humans. It is that mind which means we can decide, all by ourselves, what we should do.

Because, shaving hair – fuzzy, smooth, bubble scraper or razor – is all about us, who we are, what we like. Us. Not other people. Not the press. Not global razor brands. To shave or not to shave – that is the question. Our decision. And ours alone.

Saturday 16th March, 2013

Bieber’s given everything – and it’s taken his sanity

Previously, I had never thought you could wish for too much.  The concept of wanting something, of wishing so hard that things would work out the way you only dreamed seemed as sensible as flat shoes, or fibre, or drinking a pint of water before bed after a heavy night out. In a world seeping with office jobs, the daily commute, why on earth would we not dream, would we not close our eyes and wonder how things might be?

In this age of reality TV, dreams come true more often than they used to. And fast. Overnight, wishes are granted by media moguls, music maestros and viewing-figure obsessed TV producers.  The X-factor. The Voice. Big Brother. And then there’s You Tube. You Tube has been responsible for the launch of many a music career – and one of its most famous sensations is pop singer, Justin Bieber. Spotted at just the age of 14 singing on You Tube, Justin Bieber was the first solo artist to have seven songs from a debut album to chart on the American Billboard Hot 100. The lad is huge. And he’s also in meltdown.

The past few weeks have seen Bieber in a series of very public incidents. Outwardly, he tries to hide it. ‘Smiles all round today. Being creative,’ he tweets, after rumours whizz about that he has pulled out of a UK TV show appearance.  Yet only a few days before, he got into a fight with a paparazzi, fainted back stage, was 2-hours late for a UK concert and cancelled all his Portugal shows.  You’re not fooling me, Beiber.

See, on paper, Beiber is living the dream. He’s 19. A millionaire. He has a massive following of fans called, wait for it, ‘Beliebers’. And he gets to sing for a living travelling the world. It sounds great, right? Like something you’d give anything for. But that’s the thing right there: while we’d give anything to have what he’s got, Bieber already has. For his fame, his money, he’s given what we take for granted. His childhood. His privacy. And now, it seems, his sanity.

I haven’t given up on dreams, with their endless possibilities. It’s just I’ve glimpsed inside the media bubble and seen it’s a place where you cash yourself in on entry and come out different. Only this different, isn’t good. It’s isn’t good at all.

Saturday 10th March, 2013

Perfume’s not just scent, it’s the journey of our lives

Perfume. In this day, this age, a time of celebrity worship and big bucks, perfume has changed. There was a time when, washed out jam jars laid on the pavement, two bottles of pop tipped out to make room for water, perfume marked the start of something. The start of growing up. Me and my sister, to passers-by thrusting their eyes to the ground to avoid us, would try and flog our homemade rose petal perfume wares. We thought we had the market cornered.

Come teenage years and our fragrance tastes had progressed. We had progressed. Gone were the childish attempts at flower smells and in was the experimentation with pulling power. We tried them all. Lulu, Charlie, a bit of my mum’s Yves Saint Laurent. Every scent marked something, marked a stage in our lives. Boys, friends, highs, lows, spilling the entire bottle.

Perfumes, see, are like pins in a map, marking out journeys in our lives. Sniff a perfume and you’re sniffing a journey. You’re sniffing a period of time in someone’s life when that aroma, that heady scent, meant something. My first years at University were marked out by Samsara. Every time I whiff it, I am transported back to a time of study, parties, pulling all-nighters to get essays done, staying out till 6am clubbing.

Later came Happy, Clinique Happy, the perfume I wore on my wedding day, a day so wonderful, so filled with family, friends, with utter heavenly contentness, that when I smell it now, I pause, breathe and smile.

Unlike my day, celebrities now have got a corner on perfume. Kylie, Britney – even David Beckham’s got his own scent going on. And I look at them with their champagne lifestyles and their bling and think, what journey are they forging? For the folk that buy these perfumes to be like their celeb idols, what journey will it mean for them?

Jennifer Lopez launched her new scent in 2013 and for many it means a quick buy. But that will soon change. It will change from just a fragrance to a memory, to something that stirs thoughts of everything you’ve done, everywhere you’ve been for that snapshot in time. Yes we have cameras. Yes we have smart phones to record events. But it’s perfume that leaves behind it, like aeroplane vapours in the sky, the real trail of the journeys we’ve made.

Saturday 2nd March, 2013

Me, party and Harry Styles

When I turned 19 I was at University and we had a party. It was my first year and when my birthday came, we grabbed on to it like a rope thrown into the sea, pulling ourselves up and over the deck, ready to live. We were young and reckless, and, when the party came to an inevitable lull we knew there was only one thing for it: whiskey. ‘Whiskies all round!’ I declared. Only problem was, I didn’t drink whiskey. The stuff, even a whiff of it, made me nauseous. And so it was, that I found myself, the morning after, newly aged 19, with my head down a toilet crying for my mum.

Last month Harry Styles from One Direction turned 19 and the lad partied. For three days, he went on a bender, staggering out of nightclubs at 4a.m, gooning at waiting paparazzi. And all I could do was sigh. Sigh because he’s young enough to cope, to wretch his guts up on the bathroom floor only to rise fresh-faced the following day and do it all again.

Parties, you see, are like the badges of life – the more you age, the more you have. This year, I’m going to be 40 and the question is whether or not to have a party, and it’s driving me nuts. Nuts because I’ve never wavered on parties before, loving them as I do with their loud music, their assorted drinks, their crazy, wandering conversations. Except that’s not party now. That’s not party for your middle age, an age where an evening is considered a success if you’ve made it through a dinner with friends without nodding off before 10p.m. Party now means focus, people gathering for you, invitations, organisation, lists, food planning, tidying up afterwards. Partying at 40 doesn’t mean Harry Styles-type benders – it means sleep by midnight.

But the difference between 40 and 19 is age, and with that comes people, people I have known over the years, friends, family, dear folk who mean so much, who I have an absolute ball with. And I think, is that what party is all about now? Not the nightclubs, not (just) the booze, the staggering, but the laughs, the chats, the sharing your precious free time with people who you love to pieces. So perhaps I will have me a party. With not a whiff of whiskey in sight.

Saturday 23rd February, 2013

The Oscars – like stickers for grown ups

I used to know if I’d done well. Chubby handed, clutching my pencil, I would stare wide-eyed at my reception teacher, hanging on her every word, eager to please. If I did well, I was rewarded with a sticker such were stickers then, the award system for our learning youth.

Fast-forward to my secondary years, and while the stickers had faded, the yearning for awards, for recognition had not. Certificates became the pat-on-the-head for a job well done, delivered to a school hall packed full of young people who knew, deep down, that they weren’t going to get one.

We made up for this lack of recognition by pretending. The mirror and brush were our friends, fantasising, as we would, by receiving a hairbrush statue for maybe ‘Best Gum Chewing’ or ‘Most Improved Head Stand’. We were in another land and it suited our teenage selves just fine.

Tomorrow sees the 85th Oscars award ceremony and I’m fascinated. Awards, you see, are like stickers for grown-ups. And stickers mean you’ve done well. Come Sunday, there will be an array of gowns, gliding as they do along the red carpet, paparazzi shouting, fans sobbing, teeth gleaming. Like groomed hair or a fine suit, the Oscars, like the BAFTAS before them, scream success. They are the tequila slammers of recognition, one after another, and I can only but stare.

Because recognition, people knowing that you’ve done good is – when you lie in bed awake at night, unable to sleep – what we are really looking for.  It’s why babies cry, why kids at school hope their teachers notice them, why employees arrive early in the morning and leave late at night – and why actors dress up to the nines and hit the red  carpet.

It’s this wanting to be acknowledged, this primitive yearning to be seen, to be heard, even for just a moment, which makes us do stuff, which drives us to keep going even when, along the way, we feel utterly shattered or forgotten or passed over.

So tomorrow night, you shall find me, bleary-eyed, watching the Oscars, marvelling at the swooshy gowns and the insane, rambling acceptance speeches. My hair brush will be my gold statue, awarded to me for ‘Best Coffee Cake Eater’, sitting with my kids’ sticker book open, handing them out, one for each of you. Oh yes, Mr.Oscar, we’ve all done so well.

Saturday 16th February, 2013

Remembering my first time

I remember my first time. The year was 1990 and I was 17. It was the birth of a new decade, a fresh chapter, the end of the 80s and the goodbye to shoulder pads. Our thoughts had turned to our looks. How we looked then was crucial.

As girls on the edge of adulthood, we would chat beauty routines a lot, and if it was exam revision time, then that beauty chat would increase 10-fold. Anything for a bit of procrastination. We talked first times endlessly. What it felt like. How we did it. Which brand we chose. Uh-huh, because, the first time I refer to is false tan. The first time we ever used false tan.

Back then at the start line of a decade, tans had everything to run for. And boy did we run with it. It was a time when scare stories were emerging about the danger of sun bathing. Skin cancer. Scarring. Early onset wrinkles.

Thing was, it wasn’t this that swung it for us. We didn’t look at ourselves at 17 and see wrinkles at 40. At 17 we were just starting out in life. Everything was full of possibilities. So when false tans started to spill on to the market, we didn’t see a way to stay safe; we saw a way to get a tan, faster. A way to feel better about the way we looked, the way we were perceived.  Gone was this lying about on a beach bobbins for us. We had tan in a bottle and we weren’t afraid to use it.

But using false tan is like a marriage – over time, your feelings change and you realise you’re different to the person you once were. Orange is not a colour for me, not any more. But I still can’t bring myself to be pale, hooked as I am to bronze, knowing that without a tan I look tired, feel tired.

My friend, once, couldn’t go swimming with her kids because she’d only tanned up to her knees. She had two-tone legs. And I cannot tell you the amount of times I’ve had skin patchier than rhino’s backside. But over a decade on, I still turn to it, like a marriage, needing a tan to make me feel better, remind me of who I was. And that’s false tan in 2013. A product that relives my first time.

Saturday 9th February, 2013

Valentine’s Day – our island in the sea

Kiss chase. When I was a kid, we used to play kiss chase in the playground at our Catholic primary school. It was mental. The girls, come the 14th February, would arrive at school psyched. This was our time. We would get these lads if it was the last thing we would do – and often it was. See, we didn’t play kiss chase for the romance. We played kiss chase for the sweet smell of running victory.

Because if you managed to catch up to a lad and kiss him, it meant you were fast, and as girls back then at our school, running, along with acing our spellings and beating the lads at football, was our day job see. We always ran. There was no time for anything else.

But every now and then the boys would surprise us. In a sea of limbs, one of them would stop and smile. Or one might kiss us back and we’d blink, frozen to the spot. And, just every now and then, they’d send cards, maybe a chocolate bar, anonymously, and we’d frown and wonder what was going on. We didn’t have time for this, we’d think, we were running, our school lives were too stacked for anything else.

Come 2013 and, while granted, I don’t chase lads anymore because a) I’m married, and b) I’m not that fast now, nothing’s changed. By which I mean, life is still stacked.  That’s why, for me, Valentine’s Day is a saviour. Valentine’s Day is like an island in the sea – it turns up just when you need it. The thing about life is that it’s mental, utterly, crazily mental. Work, school runs, bills, friends, emails, Facebook, pegging it everywhere, making ends meet. Finding time for anything else in the middle of all that is like trying to find my contact lense in the snow – practically impossible.

So when critics moan Valentine’s is just one day, and that we should show love all year round, sure, I agree with them. But how do you get the time to show it, to even remember?  That’s why, when you’re drowning in day-to-day stuff and you see an island, you grab on to it, hurling yourself up onto the sand, heaving down great gulps of air. That’s Valentine’s. Because, even if it is just for one day, it might just save you from drowning.

Saturday 2nd February, 2013

Kate’s bump shows we’re all human

When it comes to life, I learnt a lot from the Royals. Teary eyed and staring at the TV, my chin propped up on the heels of my palms, I watched the wedding of Diana to Charles. I was instantly hooked. It was a fairy tale, something that had broken free from the page of a book and blasted its way into real life.

I decided there and then that watching these guys, these Royal people with their swooshy hair and gold carriages, would be my guide in growing up. And

Kate's bump - proving we're all human
Kate’s bump – proving we’re all human

they guided me good. How to wave properly. How to smile constantly. How to pretend that everything is ship shape when, really, doors closed, they suck.

I learnt invaluable lessons, lessons that without Andrew and Edward et al, I would only have picked up by the usual, less glamorous route of the school playground. The school playground, you see, was where we learnt truths. Truths such as bills have to be paid, babies don’t come from storks, and, if you twizz round someone’s coat, their dinner money WILL eventually fall out of the pockets.

The Royals, meanwhile, carried right on. I grew up, as they did. I kissed boys, I passed exams, I failed ones, too. But all the while I thought the Royals – much like titanium or the Incredible Hulk –invincible. And then it all fell apart.

Affairs, like worm rot, began to surface, burrowing their way through the Royal family like a riddled oak beam. I was appalled. Heading straight to my shelves, I boxed up my Princess Di books and shoved them in the loft. From then, it all snowballed. Deaths, marriages, ups, downs. And then, one day, sat watching the Queen declare her annus horribilis, I realised something: we’re all human. Thirty years on and the new Kate and Wills baby bump shows that, when all said and done, we’re all only human. See, Kate and Wills’ baby is an emblem of that new spirit of, well, human.  A baby says ‘fresh start’ like Kate’s engagement ring says ‘bling’.

Divorce, marriage, public disappointment, utter sadness followed by celebrated happiness – that’s what I have learnt from the Royals, from this baby bump. Granted, it may not be the best lesson in the world. Although, to be fair, it beats having your coat swung round the playground until your dinner money falls out.

Saturday 26th January, 2013

Hair – the mirror of who we are

I have an eternal battle with my hair. Ever since I was a kid I have been very aware of what my hair looks like. Once, for my Holy Communion, my mum whipped out the curling tongs and styled my then page boy cut into little flicks all the way round so I ended up looking like I had one long series of Quavers licking my head.  My fellow classmates never let me live it down.

Then, mind, I had the mercy of straightness. My hair was like a wet plank, unmoveable and stubborn. Basically, a reflection of my then child self. But when I hit 14, that all changed. My hair suddenly adopted a frizz, a curl that was so angry, so untameable that I wondered if it was really mine.  I was livid. I bought half the contents of the chemist down Leyland market on a Saturday to sort it. Gel, mousse, rock hard Insette hairspray – you name it. None of it worked. I still had a wave, one that, with time, was becoming more pronounced.

gwyneth-paltrow
Cool hair for cool people

The frizz was worse. Where once I could go swimming and walk the 3 miles home eating a bag of chips with hair that would dry to pane-of-glass sleek, now I had a metal scouring pad. A mad bird’s nest that, when dry from wet, would resemble a head rubbed with a balloon. A million times. It defined me. When my hair was rubbish, so was I. When it was half decent, I was like bouncy bolt of sunshine.

Last week, my daughter had a haircut and it has changed everything. She is 8 and amazing – and a tomboy. She has gone from a long like-her-sister’s- bob, to a short, Gwyneth-Paltrow-from-Sliding Doors do. And she looks ace. Awesome. Cool. But, and here’s the thing, she’s like a different person. She’s more confident, self-assured. Basically, ace, awesome, cool. It’s like cutting off her hair has uncovered the person she really is. It’s really quite remarkable, the change in her.

And, her haircut, that’s when I realised. Our hair is the mirror of who we are. Technically, it’s just, you know, hair, but, boy, it’s more. Hair is a reflection. Angry, happy, tomboy, girly, in love, sad. Want to know how you’re feeling? Look at your hair. And that’s when you realise the person you are is staring right back at you.

Saturday 19th January, 2013

A high heels is fashion’s yielding whip

Personally, I don’t mind shoes. They keep your feet warm. They stop you from experiencing the squelch of dog poo and chewing gum discarded on the pavement like some surreal obstacle course.

What I do mind is pain. Unless you count watching Big Brother, I have never known real pain until I wore a pair of heels. It was for a job interview. I was fresh out of Uni, my eyes bright-ish, and in my head I knew what to wear – a

High heels - fashion's little prison
High heels – fashion’s little prison

suit. And in the mid 90s that meant a skirt and heels, or specifically, a court shoe. The amusing thing was, the job I was going for was for a company that sold shoes. And not just any shoes – comfort shoes.

So, you can imagine the amusement when I rock up, my heel bloodied and bandaged from my shoes. I sit, face a gargoyle of pain where upon the interviewer takes one look at my heel, sighs and says, ‘That wouldn’t happen with our brand of shoe, love.’

High heel shoes, you see, are like the yielding whip of fashion.  They dictate that we are only women if we wear them, that somehow a high heel maketh the lady and to heck with the pain. Christian Louboutin, the major shoe designer, said that he doesn’t care if high heels hurt women, and that – get this – high heels are a ‘pleasure with pain’. That’s like saying root canal work is great because it hurts. This all from a bloke who doesn’t have to wear what he makes – and that’s the point. You can’t dictate anything to anyone if you have no idea what it’s really like to, in this case, quite literally, walk in their shoes. Or Mr.Louboutin’s shoes, for that matter.

The real pain is that women are on the receiving end of this ball and chain shoe thing. We feel, as lasses, we should be rocking that sleek court-shoe-pencil-skirt thing to look the part. Yet the fellas can go comfort all the way with a nice slip on flat and still nail the male look with not an Elastoplast in sight.

I haven’t given up on heels – the delight of feeling tall, sleek. It’s just I’ve seen the reality now. A fashion prison where your free thinking is welded with glue. And then you pull away and run, barefoot, as fast as you can.

Saturday 12th January, 2013

Celebrity fitness DVDs – the nemesis of happiness

I think I’ve figured out what the worst thing about January is. It’s not the grim weather. It’s not the prospect of filling another year with new hopes and ambitions that you pray won’t be shredded come December (bit deep there). It’s not even the thought of the return of another Celebrity Big Brother. No. It’s fitness DVDs.

Fitness DVDs are the nemesis of happiness. They are like one of Santa’s elves who’s jumped ship and become a buffed up C-list gnome with bigger biceps than Rudolf and a set of abs harder than the bottom of the sleigh. They are a nightmare. And specifically, I refer to celebrity DVDs, and I’ll tell you for why.

clare-nasir
Really? REALLY?

Celebrity is not real. It’s not. Every day of every week some PR publicist somewhere is working on maxing up their client, some B-list wannbe or some C-list TV presenter who, after eating too many pies, decided to pay for a personal fitness trainer to come sculpt them right up so they can jump out in January and say to the rest of us, ‘Tut, tut. You didn’t catch me eating an entire cake by myself now, did you?’ No, what they do instead is pretend they buffed up all by themselves and now they’re charging us 15 quid for the privilege.

Celebrity DVDs are the worst thing because of what lies beneath them – reality. Reality, ironically, lies beneath every celebrity DVD like a slice of bread lies beneath cheese. Real life is a sucker punch to the DVD set. In real life, there are jobs, family, emptying the bins, putting a wash on whilst necking an instant coffee. In celebrity DVD world there are tiny tank tops, makeup artists and fitness gurus with wheatgrass juice. It’s a bit sad. Sad in the fact that the key to a happy and healthy life seems to be based on a TV presenter, some WAGS and the half the female cast of EastEnders.

The fact that the DVDs are held up as a shiny example of how to get fit is an unfortunate by-product. What we want to do is hold them up as a bit of fun, like the other day when I was at the shops with my friend, eye-rolling at some celebrity fit flab DVD. And then I buy a magazine for the week. With pictures of celebrities all over it.

Saturday 5th January, 2013

New Year’s resolutions should be more fun

I groan when I hear someone ask what my New Year’s resolutions are. I tense right up. My brain goes blank, my mouth hanging open like a fish marooned on a ship’s deck.

Resolutionsscare me now, but it wasn’t always the case. Back in the day when my bell bottoms were wider than our TV, resolutions were the trading playground currency. I remember they were always good things, like dare ourselves more often to make the lads’ makeshift jumper goalposts wider so that when they scored a goal, it didn’t count, and then chuckle as they tried to figure out what had happened.Or, Wagon Wheels – get a whole one in your mouth.

New Year's resolution - get a whole Wagon Wheel in your mouth.
New Year’s resolution – get a whole Wagon Wheel in your mouth.

Back then, New Year’sresolutions werethe beacons of joy for our youth.  They were like massive bouncy castles of fun, inflating each time we thought of one until we had so far to jump we felt giddy with excitement.

These days, things are a little more serious. The number one New Year’s resolution in the UK is to lose weight, along with further exciting commitments such as get fit, quit smoking and get out of debt.  These are all very important, but when you consider that by the end of January 35% of resolutions will be broken, and by the time we ring in 2014, a blinding 88% of these promises will have been shelved, it makes you wonder why we do them. Why do we make these daft promises only to basically say to ourselves, ‘Ah, stuff it,’ and carry on our merry way?

If you ask me, we are thinking this thing way too deeply. What we need to do is think like a kid. Kids are great. They just bounce through life from one thing to the next without considering the consequences. ‘Look, a butterfly…Oh, a buttercup…Ooo, dog poo. Ooo, sweets.’

As grown-ups, let’s face it, we have a lot on our plate. We have to consider the consequences so the kids can let it all hang. But maybe if we nabbed a bit of their carefree spirit, 2013 might not be so bad. So stuff all this diet malarkey, how’s about a resolution that says, ‘I WILL play a practical joke on my other half every week.’ Or, ‘I WILL go to the hairdressers more often.’ Yes, by 2014 you will feel 10-years younger.With great hair.

Saturday 29th December, 2012

My top tips to a New Year’s party for the very tired

I used to freeze at New Year parties. Not, you know, in a bunny-in-the-headlights-standing-ram-rod straight sort of freeze, but I mean chilled to the bone what-on-earth-was-I-thinking type of freeze. In my early twenties, getting outside was the thing. Come midnight, we’d stand side by side like shivering soldiers defending our right to be cold, a bunch of

Ah, stuff it. Stay inside - it's warmer.
Ah, stuff it. Stay inside – it’s warmer.

us with no coats and silly shoes stood inthe dark watching fireworks whist convincing ourselves we really were having a good time.

Two kids down the line and the only time I want to be standing outside at night is to put the bins out. Trouble is, with New Year you feel compelled to have a good time. But when you’re wacked out on Christmas pud after housing relatives and friends, knackered after battling over how to put together your daughters Lego Starship she got for Christmas, New Year feels like a chore. Never mind the fact that all your nice clothes are covered in gravy.

So, in light of such trauma, I have compiledfor you this, the all-encompassing New Year Party rules for the very tired.

  1. Drink coffee – essential. A two-teabag cuppa will also do
  2. Ring friends with kids at the last minute and ask them if they want to party – you can guarantee they won’t have thought of New Year either, such a monumental effort is planning for Christmas. Invite them to stay if you can bare their kids
  3. Tell the kids they can have a sleepover – trust me here. Tell them your friends (see above) are coming over. If they groan, a sleepover is a good sales pitch. It’s like kid catnip
  4. Hide the hoover – there will be no point in cleaning up. The place is going to get trashed anyway. Who wants extra work? You are not Mother Teresa
  5. Get in ready meals then hide the packaging when guests arrive – if the French do it, then so can we
  6. Change – your clothes, not your personality, although sometimes, this also is not a bad idea
  7. Laugh – when everyone gets there, laugh. But wait!Not too hysterically. It’s not midnight/New Year’s resolution time yet
  8. Secure a get-together date for the following year – but not at your’s. You’ll be too tired, remember?

So there you go. A fool-proof party plan for the utterly shattered. Beats freezing your limbs off. Happy New Year.

Saturday 22nd December, 2012

All I want for Christmas is good TV

Back in the 80s we had a black and white TV. There used to be three channels, tops, until we got Channel 4 and Countdown. When Christmas came, we’d sit round the TV like it was a roaring fire. To get the listings, you had your newspaper, your Radio Times, or, if your folks were really daring, your TV Times. Through the year you didn’t always watch TV, but once Christmas turned up, TV was where it was at.

TV is like the hearth of the home at Christmas time. Even if all through the year you hardly speak to one another, your family reduced to a shuffling sound of feet from the fridge to the chair, at Christmas that all changes.  Everyone becomes

All wewant for Xmas is good TV - and to own the remote.
All we want for Xmas is good TV – and to own the remote.

obsessed with TV.  It’s like a massive gossip where you all want in on the chat. Because Christmas is that time where you just can do nothing. Absolutely diddly squat. And the TV helps.

What other time of the year can you all just potter round, remote control under one arm, tin of Quality Street under the other  with your eyes fixed on the sofa and your family goes, ‘I’ll join you.’  Stick on the TV and there’s a chance to forget. You can just let your brain flop in a way not much else allows you to. You can take yourself away to another world and forget the rubbish work year you’ve had, or the burnt parsnips, or the fact that at some point, someone is going to have to wash stuff up.

There’s also that sense of proper Britishness. What other country in the world gets to nosey into the Queen’s house on the big bauble-filled day? Never mind none of us actually listen to what she says, the point is, the TV is on during the Queen’s speech. It’s just what you do. It’s Christmas, don’t you know.

Of course, if you’re concerned about overdosing – a bit like you do with the turkey leftovers – you can always slow down your TV intake by playing things like games. Charades. Chinese whispers. Hide dad’s slippers. But you know that eventually, when you get that post-meal slump, you’ll all be lifting for the remote and checking out the guide for a really good film. Yes, there is one thing we all know about Christmas. It’s not presents we want. It’s good TV.

Saturday 15th December 2012

Christmas decorations – the guardians of fun

I love a Christmas decoration. Love it. When we were kids we’d bicker over who put the angel on the top of the tree. It was a right fight. I would nick it off my brother, my sister would nick it off me and then we’d all pounce on her as she tried to scale the heights of our tree, desperate to ram the angel on the top with being dive bombed, sibling style.

Thing was, I was always on alert for a good decoration. I was partial to a bit of

Ah, see, now there's a nice family fight at Christmas over the decs.
Ah, see, now there’s a nice family fight at Christmas over the decs.

glitter. The sparklier, the better, and I remember there was this kind of pink reindeer ornament that used to make us giggle because its antlers appeared to salute like two sweary fingers.

Decorations are the guardians of fun, like endless wooden fence posts encircling the massive field that is Christmas.  Go shopping for decorations and you can pretty much guarantee that the decs aisle will be the shiniest, happiest aisle of the entire shop. Decorations that give away clues. Clues to who we are and how we roll. Multi coloured lights, plain lights, tinsel, ribbon. The world is your oyster when it comes to decorations which reflect what you like and who you are.

Take my friend. Last year she rang me up and said, ‘I have the Christmas horn!’ I nearly spat out my sherry. It emerged she was referring to a decoration, namely a golden horn ornament that sat on her mantelpiece. ‘It’s a reindeer horn!’ she shrieked. Come Christmas day, and we got the horn too, in the form of a present from said friend. She thought it was so hilarious, she had got one for us too so we didn’t miss out on the fun. We then proceeded to ring each other at intervals, as the sherry took hold, shrieking, ‘We’ve got the Christmas horn!’ It made sense at the time.

While decorations don’t all require, well, double meanings, they should make us smile. They should be one twinkling chocolate box of fun, because without them what have we got left? A plain tree, plain walls, plain life. Even if you do find yourself squabbling over who hangs up what and where, it’s got to be worth it.  Yes, decorations mean a fight over who sticks the angel/star on the top of the tree. Wouldn’t be Christmas without a family fight.

Saturday 8th December, 2012

The alternative top 10 Christmas wish list

‘Why’s she smiling?’ said my friend. We were sitting in the cinema watching the ads, specifically an Asda Christmas ad. It’s the one where a woman runs around like a nutter preparing everything for the festive season. Presents. Food. Vacuuming. Dusting. Bedding. Baubles.  ‘She shouldn’t be smiling,’ said my friend. ‘She should be screaming.’  I gave her a wary glance. Clearly she was traumatised.

tired-woman
Look at her, poor love, she’s knackered.

You see, no woman likes to watch her fellow brethren wrestling with a turkey whilst pretending all’s okay. Because it’s not. It’s not okay to leave the juggernaut that is Christmas prep to your other half.  Me? My husband is known as Captain Christmas (he loves that wrist Sellotape gadgety thing…) But as most festivities are organised through gritted teeth, not smiles, I have compiled for you this, the alternative top ten Christmas wish list:

1)      Quiet – just a bit of, you know, stillness. Life is bonkers during the year, so please, some peace and quiet

2)      No snow – controversial this one, but stay with me. Snow stops you from doing stuff. When it snows for ages I feel like I am trapped in a prison. Sorry kids.

3)      A cup of tea in bed – me and my friend have this thing we call our ‘biannual cup of tea in bed’ i.e. we get two cups a year – birthday’s and Mother’s Day. Boys? It ain’t enough. Stick more days on that rota.

4)      A self-cleaning house – could someone invent this, please? Where you could just press a button and look! All clean. I’d be like Mary Poppins, only with a more rubbish singing voice.

5)      Kids’ bedrooms that stayed clean – too much to ask? Oh, okay then.

6)      Food that puts itself away – you know what it’s like when you come back from a big shop and your heart sinks when you look at it all. Imagine it put ITSELF away? Nice.

7)      Energy – I cannot remember the last time I felt really zippy.  Just for one day I would like some energy that is not caffeine induced.

8)      Sleep – see above.

9)      Organisation – sometimes it would be nice to be able to just find stuff. Like kids’ shoes. Or the cat.

10)   Self-putting-away decorations – for when it’s all over and you’re nursing that New Year’s Day headache with January looming like a bleak field on a rainy day.

Done. Being a woman really is great.

Saturday 1st December, 2012

Are Kate and Wills the new Barbie and Ken?

When I was eight I got my first Sindy. Sindy, back then, was the anti-Barbie.  Me and my sister were well up for Sindy. Unlike stick thin Barbie, Sindy had a bit of flesh on her and her hair wasn’t platinum blonde but a luxurious dark brown like a glossy horse’s mane.

Come Christmas, we got Sindy clothes. Friends got Barbie clothes – tiny

Kate and Wills. Sorry, Ken and Barbie
Kate and Wills. Sorry, Ken and Barbie

bikinis, mini-skirts, glitter gowns. But Sindy, we had her decked out in hard-wearing trousers and army jackets nicked from our brother’s Action Man, a fella who, as time went by, Sindy often had a canoodle with.

It’s coming up to Christmas now and so imagine my surprise, when, Googling for present ideas, I stumble across some Kate and Wills dolls. That’s right, the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge – royalty – as dolls. We’re used to dolls of people. Pop stars, film folk. Even One Direction have a mini-me of themselves. But Kate and Wills?

Immediately I was worried about what they were wearing. Dolls are notoriously badly styled. Just look at Ken. Ken is Barbie’s right hand man and, let’s be honest, he’s not the smoothest dresser in the box. But Kate and Wills as Ken and Barbie? Please, no.

Turns out, the royal dolls look okay. Well, I say okay, by that I mean they look like Ken and Barbie but with posher clothes. Think Kate’s lace wedding frock and Will’s red army suit. Problem is, if you’re thinking, ‘Ooo, Christmas pressie,’ think again. Not only are they now collector’s items but you’d have to have a bank balance like a prince to be able to afford one, with each doll going for close to £100.  The good thing – if there is one – has got to be Kate’s hair. She’s got lovely hair, hasn’t she? Rather Sindy-like hair, in fact. It’s the doll’s saving grace, that instead of being a plastic, bikini wearing bimbo, she’s a mahogany-haired sports nut in lace.

But what of the rest of Kate doll’s wardrobe? What does she get to wear when she’s not about to marry into one of the most dysfunctional families in the world? So far, after a quick Google, it’s just their wedding kit the dolls have. There’s nothing else for it. Looks like I’m going to have to unearth my old Sindy combat outfits for her. Kate’ll look great in a tank top this Christmas.

Saturday 24th November, 2012

Kids, you’re getting a panto for Christmas this year

I grew up in Leyland. Not much happened in Leyland. Apart from truck making. And strikes. Thing was, it was the 70s and 80s, a time when kid’s TV was only on for three hours a day, pizzas were something you bought in a frozen tower of 12 and computer games were reserved for a ZX Spectrum your best mate had at their house.

Check out that clobber. Panto really is a wonder.

We filled our time by making up games. Anything would do, really. Cafes. Spiderman Stairs (me and my brother would get on our bellies at the top and just slide right on down to the bottom. Sorry, mum). A lot of the time we would make up plays and sketches. Any genre was fair game. Sci-fi. Period dramas. My brother looked great in a frock.

Anyway, I look back now and think how good all that free time was. It gave me an everlasting love of stuff made up. You know, plays, films, books, make-believe. That’s why I love a panto. Oh no you don’t. Oh yes I do! (See what I’ve done there?) Panto is utter, bonkers fun. These days, kids don’t know what they’re missing out on. Xboxes. Wii thingies. DS games. Kids go on computers far too much, especially as the months get darker. It just must be so dull and solitary. Don’t their fingers hurt? Aren’t their eyes, well, sore?

It’s time to haul the kids from their rooms and get them to a panto this Christmas instead of to the computer games store. The panto has real people! You can eat ice cream there without dropping it on the electrics.  Alright, you have to you pay for the tickets, but you pay for an Xbox. At least with a panto you can join in, you know who your kids are with (you!) as opposed to worrying who on earth Skullscar547 is.

Think of panto as an annual reminder to chill and have fun without, well, technology.  I mean, sure, us parents will be furiously checking our phones at the interval for messages, but I know that when I go to the Everyman in Cheltenham this Christmas with my kids to watch Dick Whittington, I’ll be banging on about how good it is until my kids are yelling, ‘He’s behind you’ and thrusting an ice cream into my mouth just to silence me. Really, the panto is a wonder.

Saturday 17th November, 2012

The new Twilight film is out and I feel sick

Look! It’s out NOW! What do you mean you’re not excited?

When I was little, I used to feel sick when I got excited.  I’d cry, but hey, that was part of it. You got excited, you rumbled. So, brace yourself when I tell you that I’m currently in a state of excitement. And here’s why: the new Twilight film is out.  Hmmm? Sorry. Let me repeat that. THE NEW TWILIGHT FILM IS OUT.

Right, so, my guess is you’ve taken this news one of three ways: a) you have no idea what I mean and are about to turn to the crossword page; b) you know what I mean and are currently tutting/sighing whilst simultaneously rolling your eyes, or c) are shouting, ‘What? Out now? NOW? Where’s my laptop so I can book a ticket. Quick!’

Yes, I am here to tell you that the new, blockbusting Twilight film was out yesterday, the final in a series of four. Adapted from bestselling books, it is a series originally for teenagers. Uh-huh, teenagers. Have I ever mentioned how old I am? Thing is, I really don’t care. I don’t. And the reason? Because I love a good love story.

If you are unfamiliar with these films, a quick synopsis: human meets vampire. They fall in love. And that’s pretty much it. Just because I’m (a lot) older than 18, why shouldn’t I like this stuff? I mean, sure, the two main Twilight characters have had a ding-dong in real life, but so what?  Life sucks out there. Hurricanes. Recessions. Rude rap music. When times get tough, it doesn’t matter what age or gender you are, we all need a good love story.

Back in the day when Big Brother was, well, good, we lapped it up when two housemates got together and Davina would coo about the prospect of purchasing a wedding hat. And remember Dirty Dancing? 100% love story. Top Gun? All love (and big fighter jets. And aviators).  Grease? Gotta love those Pinks.

Gay, straight, married, shacked up, we all deserve some love. And who is anyone to wreck that? So when I go see Twilight Breaking Dawn (Part 2), I’ll be donning my rose-tinted glasses with my middle-aged buddies, trying desperately to keep awake before we bicker over wine in the pub afterwards as to who is Team Edward (vampire) or Team Jacob (werewolf).  Hell, yeah. Life doesn’t get more exciting than this, right..? I feel sick.

Saturday 10th November, 2012

I just want to get down and boogie

Don’t you sometimes just want to get down with that funky groove? I mean, really, do you sometimes wish you could go out and just dance? I do. I really, really do. So much so in fact that sometimes, instead of working, I find myself daydreaming Glee-like scenarios where a load of us are nailing a John-Travolta style dance routine that goes viral on You Tube. Needless to say, I don’t get much work done.

The thing is, I wonder if I am too old. Seriously. When I was a teenager I loved a boogie. Loved it. Every Saturday night I would go down the disco (Kids: Discos are where people DANCE). Once there I would get to that dance floor, down my bag and give it some welly to the Stone Roses, New Order and other various pick and mix Brit pop bands of the day. Oh good times. So why then can I not do that now? When did life change from one huge party to one massive mortgage? When?

I look at teenagers today and I want to scream. Okay, not scream, but maybe have a quiet word.  I want to say, come on! You have NO IDEA how lucky you

Kylie. Over 40 and still getting down to the funky beat. If she can do it…

are. You have youth! No responsibilities! No bills to pay! And no wrinkles that make you a laughing stock in a nightclub/discothèque/rave (delete where applicable). Trouble is, I am not a teenager. Nope, it’s no good. I may try and feel young, but one look in the mirror blasts that mirage away. Also, I do not wear my jeans correctly. Take my nephew (hello, Daniel – told you I’d get you!) He’s 16 and therefore, a dude. He also shows his pants. Not in a weird way, you understand, but in a fashion one. Just a bit of boxer at the back is shown as he walks along with his friends. Why? WHY? I just want to hoik them back up.

Mercifully, there may be a solution. There’s a venue in Manchester called Bop Local that caters for the over 40s. No, not with Wi-Fi and slippers, but with indie music and folk our own age. And they all pull their jeans up. So, heck, maybe there’s hope for us yet. So come! Join me! Let’s get out and boogie, and show those teenagers how it’s done. As long as I can get a seat.

Saturday 3rd November, 2012

Don’t put me in a binder, whatever you do.

Sometimes I get really tired, you know? I mean, so tired I could just lie down in the middle of the path and let commuters walk over me, rather like a discarded wrapper. Or a dead mouse.

So, you can imagine my groaning when I heard about the forthcoming USA presidential elections. Or, more specifically, binders.

You see, a few weeks back there was a presidential debate with Obama and Romney. In the first round, Barack bombed. Seriously, even his ratings with women dropped, despite his attempt at a strategic forearm flash. I watched round two online. Obama went full on cool, attempting to trawl back his flagging support. And then there was Mitt Romney. Man, that fella has a smile! I mean, seriously, you could charge lamps with that grin.

As predicted, big issues ruled. War. The economy. Healthcare. Serious stuff. And then someone asked about the quota of women on Mitt’s Republican team and he replied: ‘We have binders full of women.’ Oh. Boy.

Twitter exploded. Immediately, the Internet was flooded with the quote. So much so that if you typed ‘completely wrong’ into Google images, up shot hundreds of pictures of Mr.Mitt. And here’s my point, folks: what Mitt Romney said was, indeed, completely wrong.

You see, he was trying to infer that the Republicans did not have enough women on their team and goddamit if he wasn’t the man to sort it! But then he went on to say that his Chief of Staff needed to leave early to get the tea on, and Mitt’s reply? Hell yeah! I can be flexible to these women!

Oh groan. You see, by saying this, what he does is not only completely blast bomb women, but men too. When was the last time a man said, ‘Look, boss, I need to get home early to get the dinner on for the kids.’ He would be laughed right outta that office! But it’s okay for a woman to leave early because, hey! She’s a woman! They do sinks and stuff, right? Never mind she has a 1st class degree from Oxford. Now fetch my slippers.

As soon as it’s recognised that men and women are equal, the better society becomes. Blokes, ladies – we’re all in it together and we should not be judged for our decisions. Oh joy. Maybe then I won’t be quite so tired.

Saturday 27th October, 2012

When someone feels low, it ain’t no time to judge

2005 was a rubbish year for me.  Truly bobbins. To put in in the words of HRH The Queen, if I may, it was my ‘annus horribilis’.  I had returned to work in a new job after babies. My second daughter, at the time, was only 6 months old. I remember now walking into the new office on my first day in a new suit, new shoes and a sick-free shoulder. Look! Grown-ups! There were no toys on the floor! The sun was shining! So why didn’t I feel great? Truth? I didn’t want to be there.  But, like a monkey caught up a tree stalked by a raging lion, I couldn’t escape. Clearly, action would have to be taken. 6 months later that’s just what happened.

You see, pre-meltdown, I had this great idea that I would just rise to the challenge. Heck, I’d seen Working Girl. True, I was no Melanie Griffiths, and the only sin I knew was the one the Catholic priest dropped into his sermon on a Sunday when I was 10. But I digress. I thought I had this busy thing nailed. I wasn’t down or depressed – I was just, you know juggling! Until the doctor signed me off.

Oh how I laugh now.  The fact that I’m telling you all this is a big step. People judge – and that ain’t right, or fair.  For this piece, I googled ‘depression anecdotes’ and found stuff out. Like, did you know that the comedian, Kenneth Williams suffered from depression? Him of the vitriolic (had to look that word up), nostril-flaring, hypochondriac (no need to check that meaning…) Carry On film fame? Whose catch phrase was, ‘Stop messing about!’ Who knew that this iconic caricature was on a downer?

It’s funny (no irony intended) how we cover up feeling rubbish with a laugh. It was recently World Mental Health Day and the 20th anniversary of the event. I look at the anniversary of my annus horribilis and think what’s changed. I took my foot off the peddle. Me and my husband figured out what worked for our family. I made peace with a few family demons. But most of all, I had a laugh. A good old, belly-aching laugh. Thankfully, I popped no pills. But we’ve all got to do what we’ve got to do. And no one should judge us for that.

Saturday 20th October 2012

Whatever you do, don’t stick me in a cape this half term

Brace yourselves, it’s the start of half term. That time of year when teachers heave a sigh of relief and parents omit a collective groan.  But, if I can, I want to mention another week that makes my stomach lurch harder than a ride on a roller coaster. Paris Fashion Week.

In my mind, never, ever shall the two weeks meet, and here’s why. Take half term week. If you have young kids you may well, right now, be sitting cup in hand desperately figuring out where the nearest indoor play barn is that serves decent coffee. If you have teenagers, well, good luck seeing them surface before 1pm. But I bet you won’t necessarily be wondering what to wear. And that brings me to Paris Fashion Week, where the 2013 trends of sports latex and feathers (really) strutted in Karl Largerfield’s catwalk show

The new Chanel loop handbag – and now picture yourself at the school gates/on the tube to work/getting on the bus…

that saw a Chanel bag bigger than your TV. Who on earth wears this stuff? Not me. Stick me in this season’s cape coat and my kids will think I’m ready to perform magic tricks. Look! No hands!Let’s face it, catwalk fashion is nothing like our real lives. The theme for Largerfield’s show this season was serenity and magnanimity (I had to look that word up! It means generosity, by the way…) Now apply those themes to half term. Oh what a laugh! Yes, I can see us all sashaying through half term – and work – serene and generous as our kids recreate a scene from the Battle of Trafalgar in the lounge with screams and an up turned sofa, while our boss barks out deadlines.

Thing is, high-end fashion is fab and fun. But it’s la-la land. Imagine doing the school run in the latest fur shoes and flounced off the shoulder shirts. Half term demands steadfastness, folks. It’s a time when we have to keep our cool and juggle everything. It’s when we figure out how to fit in work, childcare and that inevitable cabin fever the kids get when the British weather sets in and all you see are puddles. It ain’t a time for eccentric catwalk Chanel. Not that I can afford it. So we must resist! We must chuck on our jeans and jumpers with pride, wipe the snot from our shoulders and get on out there. We may be no catwalk queens, but at least we’ll survive half term.

Saturday 13th October, 2012

Come on! Let’s show what really happens in the kitchen…

Alright, hands up if you like cooking? You do? You don’t? Well, I have to say that my hand is resolutely down and I’ll tell you why: I cannot cook for toffee. Seriously, I burn baked beans. But look, I digress. Because it’s autumn now and in TV land that means only one thing: cookery programmes. And more specifically the lovely Nigella Lawson.

Oh boy, I might as well face facts – I can never be Nigella. Think of me as less domestic goddess, more domestic gargoyle. Never mind her curves like ski slopes and her glossy hair (if Nigella’s hair is a mane, then think of mine as,

Nigella – her of the lovely hair..and spaghetti.

let’s say, a tuft), I cannot do what she does in the kitchen. In her latest series on Italian cooking – Nigellissima – she dances us through a symphony of dishes, from oozing eggs in sizzling tomato to sliding slithers of spaghetti. And she does it so well. She looks fresh, happy and more than capable of whipping up a plate of pasta without so much as a swear word muttered under her breath. I, in comparison, would be found frizzy haired, face scorched from steam, clutching a bottle of Olive Oil (extra virgin) and whimpering, ‘Where’s the take out menu?’ It all gets me to wondering just what is expected of us? When our daughter began weaning, a book told us to puree butternut squash for her. I drew a blank – I had literally never heard of a butternut squash before.

So why is there a pressure to cook and cook well? And, mores the point, cook whilst looking your best? What era are we in? Men chefs don’t have this. They can rock a craggy look on TV and be hailed heroes. But us ladies? We are expected to look like cooking is the best thing that’s ever happened to us. Say no! Wouldn’t it be great to show what really happens in the kitchen?  The mess. The utter devastation. There’d be less sucking on a spoon of double cream, and more sucking on a left over fish finger from your kid’s dinner plate. Mercifully, if all that fails, at least we’re safe in the knowledge that Nigella is flying the cooking flag for us. Just as well. Because we’ll be caving in and reaching for the take-away menu. With our lippy on, of course.

Saturday 6th October

Rihanna’s hot in Year 6 for all the wrong reasons

Rihanna. Bless her. She’s been the talk of my friends recently. You see, the thing is, she’s a big deal in Year 6. All the girls know her. They know her songs,

Rihanna – someone get her a coat

her look, her clothes (or lack of), and, to be honest, it’s madness. And here’s why: young girls want to dress and be like her.

When I was little (no sniggering) I wanted to be like Madonna. Hmm, you may think, I remember Madonna donning some risky outfits just like this Rihanna lass. And you’d be correct. But singers these days have got more out of hand. It feels so fuddy duddy saying that, but there it is. Take Rihanna. We were downloading some songs for our eldest not long back and Rihanna’s tunes flashed up as explicit content. And you should hear them! It’s like top shelf for kids. Gulp. And then there’s her clothes.  I just want to run up to the girl and cover her with a long coat. Young girls copy her all the time. Problem is, stick a 10-year old in a bit of leopard print like Rihanna and what does it say? It says the girl is older than she is.

The issue is little girls today grow up way too fast and the music industry doesn’t help. Hot pants, crop-tops, sequins – it’s all standard stuff in the kids aisle these days and it’s just plain wrong. My eldest is 10 now. ‘When do you think I can have heels?’ she asks when my husband’s there. ‘When your 21,’ he pipes up. Oh dear. Dads want to wrap up their girls in cotton wool, it’s true – just not skin tight, slit-to-the-thigh cotton wool.

Oh crikey, I don’t know. Maybe, as we get older we worry more. I was a young girl once (distant memory), I know what it’s like. You want to be older. But isn’t it funny how when you’re young you add years to your age, and yet when you get older you take them off.  It all boils down to this: watch out for our kids. Ease up on the leopard print and rude songs a touch. Let them grow up gently and chuck a few more teddy bears their way instead.  Unless you’re Rihanna, of course, in which case it’s revealing bikinis all the way.  And Umbrellas, apparently.

Saturday 29th September

Step aside girls – the older woman is here.

Right. Confession time: I can’t stand clothes shopping. I know, I know, I’m a woman, it’s in my DNA to shop. But lately I just can’t bring myself to do it. The other day I walked into a well-known high street store, took one look at the nail-filing assistants and walked right back out. The reason is I feel old. There, said it. I feel like an old woman and I’m 38. Wait! Almost 39. Damn.

The problem is the fashion industry. Pick up one of the weekly or monthly women’s mags and you are bombarded with youth. The other day I was looking at a fashion spread and I swear the girl modelling the clothes was about 14. I say girl because that’s what she is. A girl. We, on the other hand, are women. Women with curves, stretch marks, wrinkles. We’ve lead a life already and it shows on us. But the thing is these magazines are all about being young. When did that happen? Why is it that as a woman, the older you get the less your value is?

Men don’t have to put up with this rubbish. Look at George Clooney (if you will). He’s 51 now and, like a fine wine, is considered to be aging well. He’s bagging good movie roles, whereas his female counter parts are popped into the Grandma slot once they reach 40. Thankfully, there is a glimmer of hope. This Autumn sees the first in what will hopefully be many fashion advertisements featuring the more mature lady. Do you remember Murder She Wrote? It had Angela Lansbury in it. Well, she is the new face of a cult style magazine – and she’s looking smoking at 86. Then take Isabella Rossellini, who, after being booted off Lancôme for being too old, is now modelling for a major label at the age of 60. And to boot, there’s the new season M&S ads.

It’s a relief to see this happening. Fashion brands have to reflect the fact that most of us are not 14. We don’t want to wear our daughter’s clothes (she would be mortified), we want to be us.  So come on fashion industry, get some more real women on your books.  And ladies, let’s go in those stores with our heads held high. I promise not to walk straight back out if you don’t.

Saturday 22nd September

New month. New term. And a whole heap of guilt.

October. Can you believe it’s nearly October already? It feels like only yesterday I was first asked to write this column for the new Weekend magazine, and now here we are. You may be wondering who on earth I am, so let me explain. I’m a couple of years shy of 40 with some (several) grey hairs. I write books for a living. I’m rubbish at cooking. And I have one lovely husband and two great girls. At this point I’m going to admit something to you here: I’m feeling guilty. I say this because my girls are back at primary school and while I miss them, I am sneakily enjoying being on my own again.  I love them, but you know what it’s like – kids are kids. There’s the sibling squabbling. And don’t get me started on mealtimes. But it all gets me to thinking: why do us mums constantly feel so guilty?

There is a new fad in America. It’s called attachment parenting where apparently mums never separate themselves from their child. Oh my giddy aunt. This comes right on the back of research that says nursery care can stress out kids. I just can’t keep up. It’s crazy. It’s reports like this that make us feel guilty. The minute you become a parent, everyone has something to say. Once, a friend of mine screamed at a health worker who said she should be at home with her baby, not out working so soon. We left the post-natal clinic pretty quick that day. It’s not easy for the dads either. My husband’s a great dad but I know he’d like to spend more time with our girls. But we’ve got to work. That fridge isn’t going to refill itself.

If all these research reports and one-way judgements stopped, it might just help us feel better about ourselves. My youngest is still getting used to just being herself at the moment. She likes being on her own and wonders if that’s okay. I tell her every day that it is. Be who you are. Be proud. ‘Is that what you tell yourself, mum?’ she says. And maybe I should. Maybe we all should. We should be proud of ourselves, no guilt. Trouble is, now school’s back and life’s busy, I know I’ll forget to tell myself this – and then I’ll feel guilty.

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