The North South Divide

northversussouthToday is London Marathon day. The sun is shining, the sky is almost indecently blue and somewhere several miles from where I currently sit thousands of sweaty people are running around the city centre dressed, if not just as themselves, as characters of varying degrees of comedic worth.

As I’ve remarked upon on this blog before, annual events inevitably cause me at least a few wistful moments of wondering what I was doing at the same time last year. This time around, due in part to the recent decision of a close friend to embark on a house hunt in my local area, it led me to think more about geographical location than any mildly pointless philosophical navel gazing on the subject of my personal development. Namely, the fact that this time last year I was a determined North Londoner, living on a terraced street in something of a no-man’s land between the industrial looking Archway tower and the gorgeous, journalist ridden cafes and restaurants of Crouch End, whereas nowadays, I live a hop skip and a jump from Brixton, in between it and the leafy residential streets of West Norwood, on what I am reliably informed is a rather fashionable street in Tulse Hill.

The fact that the semi-detached red brick houses and flats give way to a sort of millionaire’s row just slightly further up the hill would appear to support this hypothesis. What is interesting, is that this time a year ago, the last time the marathon runners were smugly checking the stopwatches surgically attached to their wrist, chattering about personal bests and throwing questionable looking ‘sports’ drinks down their throats – not to do their achievements a disservice, but it is ultimately rather a meaningless endeavour, surely? – I would never in a thousand million years have even considered living ‘Saarf of the river’. Now, conversely, I wouldn’t dream of going back North.

As an unrepentant Northerner with a borderline die-hard refusal to ever adopt the long ‘A’, the national North South divide has always been all too familiar to me. I’ve rolled my eyes at comedians’ perpetual use of their favourite coal mining accent to portray somebody not as intelligent as themselves, scoffed at perceived differences in weather ‘down South’ (differences I now admit to be more than a little bit true) and defended Northern identity and culture – with a glass of wine thrusting about dangerously in one hand – like the best of them. When I moved to London almost three years ago, however, I was wholly unprepared for the brand new North versus South rival which would engulf me here. North Londoners, as a rule, are perceived as hard-working, semi-wealthy sophisticates, with access to a coffee shop on each corner, and an antique shop on every street. South Londoners, with the notable exception of those residing in the sprawling palaces of Clapham, are usually labelled as poorer, impossible to visit and reliant entirely on buses, and as living in grisly tower blocks without a Starbucks in sight. Horror of horrors.

In reality, so far I’ve found living in the South of the capital entirely preferable to the North. In a total reversal of the national spread of wealth and culture, The North is established, historically wealthy, and positively brimming with poetry nights, small local theatres and acoustic performances. The South, on the other hand, feels on the up – developing and exciting. Brixton, incredibly, has only had a tube station since the 1970s, and Tooting has only acquired a Starbucks in the last couple of years. Yet, somehow, I’ve found that there’s so much more to do down here.

There’s an excellent independent café at the end of the road, another one just further up the hill, local restaurants serving food from as many countries as I could ever hope to shake a stick at, three independent bakeries, a fishmongers, a monthly Vintage and farmer’s market, and a ten minute walk to a fabulous park complete with two cafes, a gym, a walled garden and a Lido. Aside from more Tube stations, although at the last count my nearest over-ground station was a mere three minute walk away, what exactly is it I’m supposed to be missing out on down here? Admittedly it could be argued that I’m fortunate enough to live in rather a nice area, but it isn’t too long ago that it was seen as, ‘a bit rough’. But things change. Look at Peckham.

With capitals of culture being declared all over cities in the land of ‘not London’, with more Arts funding supposedly heading that way, and with even a large portion of the BBC now based in a Manchester suburb, and whilst the South of the country’s capital continues to flourish, leafy and quiet in some places, and vibrant and colourful in others, into a viable, accessible place to live, perhaps it is not just London-centric politicians whose opinions need a bit of an over-hall in the compass point department.


Happy Anniversary


A little while ago, in fact more than a little while ago, so behind am I with writing this blog, an anniversary of mine rolled around. Being not so terribly pleasant a reminder, it pulled me up rather short and forced me to think about a day I’d far rather forget. I would willingly, however, wager I know every word of the conversation that took place upon it off by heart.

Bad memories aside, though, it got me thinking. Why do we hold anniversaries in such high emotional regard? What is it about the same day, one, two, seven or twelve years on that makes us think more than usual about whatever it is the day is a yearly reminder of? If it’s so important, why don’t we think about it constantly? With the way the calendar works, chances are the day itself isn’t quite the one we think it is anyway.

In particular, though, why do we beat ourselves up so damn much about them? If it’s anniversary of something tragic, such as a death in the family, we spend that day feeling sad and down about their loss, almost regardless of the happy emotions that person instilled in us during their life.  The anniversary of a hard-hitting event leads to a kind of nauseas over-analysis of the event itself, particularly the days immediately prior to the bombshell. Even years later, we look back enviously upon the blissfully ignorant version of ourselves who, totally oblivious to the plank they’re walking, is about to drop into the sea about as ceremoniously as a bag of miscellaneous root vegetables*. Even happy anniversaries cause us grief. Are we doing enough to mark the occasion, we wonder? Should we be going to a fancier restaurant than we are? Should I feel differently than I do? Birthdays bless them, only really serve as a cheerful reminder of our mortality, like playing pass the parcel only to suddenly spot the Grim Reaper in the circle.**

All in all, it seems crystal clear to me that anniversaries of all kinds are far more trouble than they’re worth. I propose an international ban on all time keeping devices and calendars. Just look at the chaos the Mayans have caused over the years. Get rid of the lot I say.

I’m joking, obviously, but I do think that our treatment of days of note is long overdue a review. Unfortunately, we’re stuck with our current anniversary marking system, but perhaps we could use the days for good, rather than for evil? We could just use them as markers. Pins in the noticeboard of life (the fact I’ve even come up with that phrase perhaps suggest that my feelings towards stationery could use a review as well) between which we can swing Tarzans-like, grasping each one with both hands as nothing more than an opportunity to look at how much we’ve grown as people since the last one. God knows I’m no psychiatrist, but, to my mind at least, that should help things along a bit. Even those ‘significant’ anniversaries should hopefully make us squirm in our skin a little less.

And as for relationship anniversaries, I propose we steer well clear of any faulty mental processes the like of which are destined to turn the noteworthy date into an arena of competition between our romance, and how they do it on the big screen. Frankly, we’re only ever going to lose that battle. Believe me, I’ve tried. Let them instead be excuses to do exactly as we bloomin’ well please, whether that be a lavish meal at a fancy restaurant we could never afford otherwise, staying in with a guilty takeaway and film, or even going on a separate night out, buoyed up by the knowledge that this day means you are lucky enough to have someone lovely to go home to at the end of it. Whatever activity we choose, once it is upon us, let’s all forget it’s our ‘Anniversary’ with a capital ‘A’, our very own Scarlet Letter, and just try to have a nice time shall we? Even if the couple on the table next to us look like they’re having more fun.

Because really, anniversaries are only what we make them into. Even the most significant is just a number, a red cross on a black and white grid filled with lots of other numbers. If we can’t opt out from this rod we’ve built for our own backs though this convention of ours is, let’s just not let it get to us. Rise above it.

Otherwise we’re really no better than the Mayans.

*I think it is this very morbid jealously which has led to the deep enjoyment I take from looking back through my old diaries, with the resounding attitude of ‘o-ho, you think this is bad?’

** Co-incidentally, I’m told my WordPress anniversary has also recently passed. Not sure what I should feel about that. If anything at all.

A Weekend In The Country

Gypsy-Caravan-2878WTBAll too often, in our workplaces, on the Tube or in our friendship circles, we hear talk of people ‘getting out of London’, whether it be just for a weekend, a long holiday or for good.

This being a week or so after the Easter long weekend, talk of rural escapism should theoretically have ceased a little. Presuming as I am that the majority of us considering ‘getting away from it all for a bit’, have done so already over the bank holiday.

As is often the case, given that the majority of my family live a good few hours away from London, last weekend I counted myself amongst  that migrating number. Traditionally, we have tended to head up to the family caravan in the Lake District at the first sign of a)sun , b) a free day or two off work c) traditional Christian festival (apart from Christmas because it’s too bloody cold) . Easter weekend being both of the latter, and probably realistically the only Christian festival other than Christmas, we were there for a solid three nights.  So, yes, a total of three nights, in a box in a field. A box in a field very definitely not big enough for four adult sized people. And I’m not even particularly tall.

I admit, the landscape itself is beautiful. The area we go to is relatively untouched by irritating tourists with their loud voices and cameras. This is a breed of people I am all too used to having grown up in Blackpool and now being a resident  of good old London town, one of the most popular tourist cities in the world. But there are mercifully few of them, just jagged hills, a sweeping estuary and many, many sheep.  In fact, as far as the human eye can see there is nothing but mountains, sea and sky. Lovely.

Or so you would think.

Because, after a while, you do find yourself wondering when and where it will end. This District thing is very nice and all, but where exactly is the edge of it? You wonder. You could travel for a good hour or so in each direction and still see very little except the same mountains, the same sea and distinctly similar sheep. In the end it’s a little like being taken hostage by beauty- held at gunpoint by a gorse bush.

Don’t get me wrong, when I was younger I loved it. I l savoured the freedom to explore, the open space, the nothingness. These days, though, I find myself teetering dangerously close to an anxiety attack at the severe lack of transport once you’re up there.  Because, uninsured driver that I am, I know there is absolutely NO WAY I am going to be leaving, no way in hell that I am going anywhere even for a little bit unless somebody volunteers to drive me. And when you’re sleeping on the sofa of a, let’s be honest,  not terribly secure, box in the middle of a field with nought but snoring family, a flimsy door and an elderly dog with hearing difficulties for protection, the lack of escape options is downright terrifying.

The thing I’ve come to realise as a result of this rural kidnap, is that I really like where I live. I’ve only lived in London just shy of two years, but I really, really love it here. You can throw as many rolling hills as you like at me (please don’t try), but the sense of endless possibility here gives me a far greater senses of freedom these days than all the open space in the world. If you’re bored of one area, you just go to a different one. If you want a village atmosphere, go to Highgate.  A quiet riverside town? Putney.

I understand the principle of ‘getting away from it all’. Really, I do.  The bit I’m struggling with now however, is just, when there’s all this at home, why on earth would you want to?




The Waiting Game

clockI don’t like patience. I’ve no time for it.

The Waiting Game, they call it. I don’t think it’s a very good game, personally. It’s certainly no game I would ever have invented. It isn’t one made by Hasbro, and there are no plastic hippos or fake money to speak of. Funnily enough, I’m actually writing this whilst waiting for a rather sizeable chicken carcass to cook, as I am bored of waiting.

Boredom with waiting is one thing. One I daresay is perfectly cope-with-able. This is why humans doodle, or hum, and I’m actually convinced nail filing was only invented so that people can be filmed perfecting their cuticles in hospital waiting rooms in order to fully convey the fact that they have absolutely nothing better to do but wait. How boring. Recently, I’ve had rather a lot of waiting to do. A disproportionate amount, I’d say. And that, as ever, has got me thinking about waiting in general.

Namely, waiting for something bad.

‘The best time I ever had, was waiting around for something bad’. This lyric is, one of many things, the longevity of their career amongst them, that The Bravery were wrong about.

Because, as we all know, waiting around for something bad to happen, the anticipation of bad news, is awful.  As a child, I was terrified of fireworks. These days, this manifests itself as a fear of balloons*. I remember spending several pre-pubescent bonfire nights observing proceedings from safely behind the patio doors. I wanted to go outside and join in, just not until the fireworks had been and banged and gone.  On reflection, I don’t think it was the noises that scared me, though. Not at all- I wasn’t afraid of the bangs themselves, it was the waiting around for them to whistle up into the air and make me jump that I didn’t like. I knew it was going to happen, I’d just rather it already had and was over, so I could cover my ears and get on with my toffee apple.

As I said, I’ve been waiting around for a somewhat excessive amount of bad news lately. Some has happened, screeching into the air and exploding in a huge, roof shaking boom, some hasn’t been quite so bad as anticipated, just whistling slightly, like an unenthusiastic Argos kettle, and some bad news hasn’t actually arrived at all. Which begs the question, if we’re constantly waiting around for bad news, steeling ourselves for the arrival of an onslaught of betrayal, destroyed plans and dashed hopes (not the name of a new play at the Royal Court, contrary to popular belief), whilst a useful strategy when preparing ourselves for bad news we do wind up having to deal with, what happens when it doesn’t happen at all? When the firework is lit and nothing happens? Have we waited behind the patio doors for nothing?

Nice as living rooms can be, especially if there’s a small, scruffy, equally petrified dog in there with you, wouldn’t we rather be out in the fresh air next to the bonfire with everyone else? Because when you spend your life anticipating the bad, and never the good, perpetually waiting for that heart stopping stomach lurch announcing the arrival of something you’re going to need at least a good half hour to wrap your head around, you forget about the good stuff. You forget to look at the Catherine Wheels and admire the sparklers because you’re so busy fretting about rockets real or imaginary. You even try to bring them on yourself, making them explode in your mind just so that the noise can be over, and within your control.

True, this does mean that, as a perpetual worrier, your sense of relief is much greater when the bad news has been and gone, but is it really worth it?

I don’t want to always be waiting for the point at which I’ll stop waiting. I’ll just stop waiting now, I think.  I have a toffee apple to eat for one thing.

For another, I just don’t have the patience.

*dear most of my friends- this is a very real fear and it is NOT funny! Y’hear?

The Break-Up Card

man woman hands holding broken heartAs I was shocked to realise recently, it has now been nearly a year since I came out of ‘THAT relationship’.

We’ve all got one, I think/hope. A ‘big deal’ relationship. The ending of which affected you in almost every way, and still, despite your best efforts, overshadows your day to day life. Or at the very least how you feel about other relationships. A relationship hangover, if you like.

Everybody deals with hangovers in different ways, as we know. Some go for hair of the dog, others vow never to touch the stuff again and yet are back on it three weeks later, some simply have a bacon sandwich and get on with it.

But, as with hangovers, with break ups it can be incredibly hard to know where to draw the line. There are no right and wrong ways to get over, through, under, or around the corner from break ups. Frankly, however you manage to drag yourself to the other side is good enough for me. It’s a break up, not a bear hunt.* However, at what point has it gone on long enough? At what point must you stop saying ‘Leave me alone I’m hungover’ and proceed as if the bottle of wine, four gins and a suspiciously coloured cocktail never happened?

To move away from the metaphor, when is the right time to stop downing several whiskies before you can bring yourself to watch a rom-com, or demanding chocolate when mildly emotional as if it’s going out of fashion? Or even using your ex and all their many, many (many) faults and ways they upset you as a golden excuse to sprint for the hills at the slightest mention of commitment from someone new?

In short, how long can we get away with playing ‘the Break up card’?

Personally, I’m long, long past the chocolate and whisky stage, thank God, but ‘that relationship’ still effects how I see aspects of my life, and how I feel about others. I suspect that, as with a relationship I had a couple of years prior, it will continue to loom over me and my attempts at romantic feelings until another relationship becomes bigger than it, big enough to knock it out of the air and into oblivion. Otherwise known as the past.

And if we do decide that we can’t, or won’t play that card anymore, how do we remove it from the pack? Sadly, I fear this is one hangover a fry up and an orange juice won’t cure. Do we look the break up in the eye, stand tall and face up to it, or do we put it safely to the back of our minds, forget about it entirely and make some toast? Or something.

I think perhaps the best way is an element of both. In whatever order, one must be done in order for the other to happen. Face up to it in order to forget it, or forget it enough that we’re able to face up to it. Stand up to stand down.

At this point I’m reminded of an element of the Pirates code which seems to fit quite nicely with this situation.

“We fight… to run away”.


*Apologies if you were never taught ‘We’re Going On A Bear Hunt’ as a child and are currently staring baffled at that whole paragraph.

Reviews and Resolutions

Aside from dieting, going back to work and general post-Christmas misery, January is famous for one other thing. New Year’s Resolutions. From the sublime to the ridiculous, and whether you’ve made any or not, this annual life to-do listing provides the perfect opportunity to look back upon the past year.

And I’ve had a rocky one, to say to the least. At moments, it felt like alarmingly like an episode of EastEnders. But, I think every rocky moment rocked me in the right direction, so with that in mind before I make this year’s Resolutions, I’ve decided to review last years, and see how much progress I really have made.

New Year’s Resolutions 2012

1. Embrace the anti-climax. This was written in a bid to prevent me bursting into tears at the end of every birthday/Christmas/major date when it hadn’t been as good as I’d hoped. And to be honest I think I’ve got this one sorted now, although I would re-name it ‘accepting things for what they are’. Resolution Resolved.

2. Have fewer preconceptions, and in so doing become a better shopper. I’d forgotten about this one, but I think I’ve done okay. It has evolved to the point that I will enter most shops, but I only buy or look at certain things within them. Which is pretty sensible, I think. I’m also the proud owner of an M&S jumper that I love despite its origins. Job done.

3. Be more spontaneous. Well this is a tricky one. I’m very proud of how often I will say ‘yes’ to an invite now, on a whim. However, I’ve also turned into a complete diary addict, scheduling social events weeks in advance. Given that my social life has never been better though, I reckon there’s probably room in life for both. Verdict? Not quite as planned, but I’m ticking it off anyway.

 4. Learn more. Having had two jobs, one internship and worked the Edinburgh festival since I wrote last year’s resolutions, I think it’s fair to say that yes, professionally at least I’ve definitely learned a lot more. But I’ve learned an awful lot about myself too, and about people and how I relate to them. So yes, very much mission accomplished on this one. (Although I never did finish The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People – sorry, Dad!)

 5. Over-think less. Yes, it’s the big one. In fact last year I dubbed it ‘the one I hold out the least amount of hope for’. Which wasn’t terribly optimistic of me. And, well I was probably right. I think I’ve made some progress, but I’m not quite there yet. Still work to do.

And now time for this year’s. Some are variations on last year’s themes. Most are just weird.

New Year’s Resolutions 2013

1. Organise my kitchen cupboard. I’ve been meaning to do this for a while. It’s bursting at the seams with jars and packets, and of course my spice collection. I’ve recently discovered that I can adjust the shelf heights, which seems a good plan as currently I have to stand on a chair in order to reach anything higher than pasta and squash.  It could also do with a good clean.

 2. Don’t buy things on a whim. This is similar to last year’s shopping resolution. I’ve made good progress so far, as I’m piloting a strict scheme with myself whereby I keep monthly lists of all the things I need, and when shopping I am, theoretically, only allowed to choose things on the list. Although given that yesterday I bought myself a total of 5 new mugs and a saucer for absolutely no reason at all, I’m not sure how much hope to hold out on this. Probably not a lot.

 3. Have more photos. I very nearly made this one last year. I am really terrible at having/developing/printing off photos of any kind, and being the owner of several nice, but empty, photo frames, I’d like to get better at this.  Oddly, as I said that a photo fell out of my notebook. I’ve had it a while, but rather than put it up anywhere let alone frame it, I’ve opted to use it as bookmark. Case in point.

4.  Stop collecting boxes. This should have been proceeded by ‘For god’s sake…’, as frankly the situation is out of control. It’s even spread to work, as I now keep any box I deem ‘useful’ in a big pile on the landing, lest we should need to post out anything that shape/size ourselves, and require a suitable container. Which you might think is sensible enough, but then again you’ve not seen the size of the pile.

5. Start watching Homeland. Thus catching up with both the rest of the planet and, more specifically, my office.

6. Try out at least one new recipe a week. I’m doing pretty well at this so far, having tried two new recipes already. Mind you, I own that many recipe books I don’t really need much of an excuse.

 7. Be more badass. This is this year’s big one. Resolution, that is. It comes under my names and guises, including ‘be more of my own person’, and ‘do what I want to do, not what other people think I should do’. Now I’m not about to start running around tube stations pushing people out of the way, or going out clubbing every night (for one thing I couldn’t afford it) but rather to have the courage of convictions, stand up for myself more and care far less about what people think.

8. Stop checking Facebook every 5 seconds. Self explanatory.


Looking both forwards and backwards, I think it’s clear that above all things, since January 2012 I’ve become a lot more confident, but also a lot, lot weirder. To sign off with some apt words from Bridget Jones, ‘an excellent year’s progress’.

Roll on the rest of 2013.

Bah to the Humbugs.


Around about this time of year, or at least, a couple of weeks ago when I intended to write this blog post, the humbugs come out. And no, sadly I don’t mean the sort of humbugs you’d find in the glove compartment of your granddad’s car next to the Werthers Original- I mean the Christmas humbugs- the cynics and the Scrooges.

More specifically, I mean those who take to their columns, blogs, megaphones, polite conversation, whatever at this time of year in order to have a jolly good bash at the concept of present buying. Every year they do it. “Nobody understands the real spirit of Christmas any more”, they cry. “Everything is far too commercial”, a particularly dirty word. “We should all just put satsumas in each others’ stockings, say I love you and be done with it”, they shout, defying us to question their obvious logic. Because as we all know, the real meaning of Christmas is actually a Vitamin C laden citrus fruit it’ll take you until New Year to peel.

And at times, it’s easy to see their point. I point blank refuse to go within three quarters of a mile of Oxford Street after about mid November, because frankly, it is a living hell. The seven circles, the Devil himself and whatever monsters and ghouls he keeps down there would be a picnic in comparison with half an hour in M&S on the Saturday before Christmas. It’s easy to wonder, as you’re dodging overbearing mothers in Barbour jackets with umpteen paper bags under each arm shouting “come along Harriet, darling, we must pick up the hummus for Auntie Petunia” in the direction of a bored looking toddler walking at a pace that would embarrass a snail right in front of your feet- if this is what it’s all about. Would the recipient of this particular silk scarf or cheese and chutney hamper really want me to go through all of this for them, in return for a make-up set and fold up shopping bag? Is this really what the festive season is about?

To which I nearly always answer myself with, yes, it bloody well is. Get a grip. This is what we must suffer in order to earn the protective “it’s Christmas I’ll do whatever the sodding hell I like, pass me another profiterole and the Bailey’s bottle” armour. Get all the presents bought, wrap them, cheerfully cover both yourself and your living room in glitter and bits of sellotape, make some vague contribution to the cooking and as far as I’m concerned, you’ve earned every sip of your seventh mulled wine and can sit yourself down to watch Doctor Who on the Big Day without a care in the world. It’s your right.

More importantly than that, despite what the Christmas Critics say, the presents themselves are pretty damn crucial as well. There is no feeling in the world quite like opening a present bought for you by someone you didn’t especially knew cared, only to find they’ve chosen you the perfect gift, something you’ll really love, and will use/wear probably until the next Christmas. Time and effort goes into buying Christmas presents. To succeed, you must consider the person you’re buying for in great detail, their likes, dislikes and personal style. A good present says “I care about you enough to know what you like, and I’ve gone to the trouble of getting it for you”, in a way that a piece of fruit never could. Present givers treat you to things that, especially in this age of austerity*, you’d never think to buy for yourself.

And it’s not about the amount of money spent, either, before the nay-sayers jump down my throat. A well-chosen nail varnish in a favourite shade can cost next to nothing. The same is true of a beloved cooking ingredient, a favourite drink or even something prettily quirky from a local Charity shop. The only thing that really matters, is that it suits the person you’re buying for, and they know that you care. We’re all reminded that we’re loved every time we pull on that Christmas novelty jumper with the fluffy red reindeer nose knitted for us by an elderly relative, every time we eat one of our Secret Santa chocolates from someone in the office or put on a necklace bought by a friend. People can’t always be there to demonstrate their feelings, but a present, an object, doesn’t leave.

All this, and we haven’t even considered the warm candle-like glow we all experience when we know that we ourselves have chosen the perfect gift for someone we love.

If that’s commercialisation, well then I for one am all for it.




*far less fun that the Age of Aquarius, I’m told.

Truth Or Dare

For one reason or another, I’ve spent a lot of time this week thinking about ‘the truth’. Whatever the hell it really is.

It does, as they say, have a habit of outing itself. Whether it’s the horrific and illegal acts of certain individuals, the innocence of others initially implicated, or just a basic but overlooked fact of life – things do have a tendency to find their way to the surface eventually.

The Church, it transpires, or some of it at least, will probably always be a couple of centuries behind the rest of us, as it turns out that they, in truth, do not want women in positions of power within their organisation. The nation at large thinks they’re talking out of their cassocks, but for them, they’ve spoken the truth. They’ve been honest about it. I would say thank heavens for small mercies but something about it seemed a little inappropriate.

Others have been accused recently of terrible crimes that they did not, in truth, commit. It may take a while, a hell of a lot of tweets and a small platoon of lawyers*, but the truth will out eventually. Statements will be amended, apologies will be given, gulps will ensue – the record will be set straight.

Still others have committed terrible crimes the extents of which, in truth, are only just coming to light. Were bribes involved? Did more people know something than we know? Do they know we know? Does anybody know or have the dreadful secrets died with the perpetrator? In truth, we may have to accept that not only will we never know the full story, but that we’re unlikely to ever hold more than a couple of pages of it at once.

So that’s what’s going on in the world as a whole. In my small experience of it, truths are darting about like demented golden snitches. Some of them I’ve chased for ages, only to be whacked over the head by a Slytherin beater the second I got anywhere near, some I’ve caught up with pretty easily, calling time on the match with relative ease despite a dodgy broom and steamed up glasses. Some, though, well if we’re going to carry on with the Harry Potter metaphor (and I for one can think of no good reason why not), some I’ve accidentally swallowed – choked on. Having caught up after around about half a year of chasing, tactfully wondering and speculating, having finally held a truth (snitch) in my hand, I’ve gone and done myself an injury on one of its sharp little wings.

In truth then, and all snitches aside, we can pretend things are not as they really are for as long as we like. We can pretend that someone is someone that they’re not, that they didn’t really do the things we feared, that they’re not all bad, that it was all in our heads- that they do care, really, it was all just a big misunderstanding. But sometimes, in truth, we kid ourselves a little bit. Tricky, hurtful or embarrassing situations make liars of all of us.

“This above all, to thine own self be true”, the Stratford man once said. And in truth, we may as well be. Ultimately, I suppose, we don’t really have a choice. Whether it’s the truths of other people, facts and fictions about ourselves or simply the reality of what really happened, it will always out.

Whether we catch it or choke on it is up to us, really.

*N.B I have no idea what the collective noun or a group of lawyers is, I did hope it was gaggle, but, in all honesty, I think that’s geese…

Handbags, Knitwear, Pans and Fantasies

There’s something about department stores that makes us feel terribly British, quaint and altogether rather pleased with ourselves. In a charming chocolate box sort of way that is.

It may be well be something to do with their names. Marks and Spencer, John Lewis, House of Fraser, Selfridges and Debenhams at a push. They all sound like an English gent you might meet nursing half a shandy down the local pub. Which is odd, really, when you consider that, despite the images their imaginary namesakes may or may not invoke, these shopping meccas are designed to appeal entirely exclusively to women.

They draw us poor unsuspecting buggers in, tottering on our wedges and dragging our overdrafts and our handbags behind us.  And especially at this time of year.

Beyond the thousands of fairy lights and vaguely evergreen looking branches beckons the promise of quality, the sense of tradition and prestige. A glow. It’s the shine of new leather handbags under strong yet oddly unthreatening lighting, the sense of occasion, the smell of festive flavoured lattes, the sight of silk nighties peeping out from the various corners they’ve been tucked discreetly away into. It’s the designer looking candles, the whole floor devoted to your own particular vice, be it perfume, shoes or expensive bath salts, the hissing suggestion that this item is the only thing that really matters. You simply cannot go on without it. It says, you know you want this stuff, we know you want this stuff, so why not come and buy it in precisely the sort of safe, reliable environment your grandmother would have approved of?

We’re being slowly seduced, ladies. As we browse the endless party dresses and lingerie, as we meander through homeware gazing at a multi-coloured swap shop of cushions bearing this season’s in motif (seems to be swallows and peacocks this month), we are being conditioned, manipulated. Made to believe that this is the simply the best place for us to buy our fluffy bathmats and antiquated sweets. It would be stupid for us to go anywhere else.

Nowhere is this more evident than in the BBCs period drama du jour, The Paradise, based on Emile Zola’s Au Bonheur des Dames. For those of us without access to either a French A Level or Google translate, that means ‘The Ladies Delight’. Quite, Zola, quite. It tells the tale of Mouret, or Moray to the BBC, a powerful and successful department store owner, and Denise, a young shop girl who falls for him. There’s a reason she blushes every time he’s within eyesight, why Zola wrote such gnawing charisma into his character in the first place, why he’s played on screen with dashing twinkley eyes. It’s the same reason that his personal anthem, to my mind at least, would be a Glee style mash-up of I’m Sexy and I Know It, and Hey Big Spender.

And that reason is that he is just as seductively appealing as his store- Denise is just as enchanted by him as their customers are by their produce.

He fully understands his power to charm, but more than that, he understands said charm’s effect on sales. He’s a personification of our courtship with big, shiny shops. A living, breathing, all be it fictional explanation of why it is we choose to ignore the dark side of the high street titans. The guilty secret. We know, deep down, that they have long since put smaller independent stores out of business in order to get way they are. We know that they have worrying connotations with the 20th Century American need to display your worth though the number of high quality heavy based pans you have, or whether or not you have a car, a fridge. The world of Death of A Salesman, of commodity culture.

We know about the layout tricks, the way the escalators force you to peruse the floor before you can go up again. We know we’re being seduced, that the displays are sexily winking at us just as Moray might. We know it all. We’re not stupid.

But yet we keep going back, spending more money, making a bee-line for Selfridge’s displays every Christmas just to see what they’ve got.

Why? Why did I get inexplicably excited at the discovery of an independent department store in Wimbledon last week? Why do we continue to wander in like present seeking moths to a cash registering flame? Why?

Again, there’s a reason. And it’s: well, hell, who doesn’t want to be seduced?


Girls, Girls, Girls

Two and a half weeks ago, I’d never heard of writer and director Lena Dunham. Now, I’m eagerly clicking on parodied US Election promo videos she’s starred in, googling her name and trying to find examples of her previous work online. Oh and hanging on her every written word in her new HBO TV show, Girls, of course. That, too.

In case you left the country over the past few weeks, thus missing the colossal amount of publicity and general hype surrounding the show in magazines, newspapers and online, here’s a quick summary. Taking fellow HBO series of old, Sex and the City, as its starting point, Girls springboards away from an idyll of sophisticated, sorted and successful New York women, focusing instead on four girls in their early twenties, trying to make ends meet in the very same city a decade and a half later. It still cares about sex, it still cares about family life and about friendships, and we still can’t help but choose which of the four we’re most like, only the intention is that Girls be far more realistic, and true to life for young women in this post-recession world of parental support, internships and rent struggles.

And for the most part, I think it is. Their clothes, for one thing, don’t look like you’d need a mortgage to pay for them, they don’t look overly made up, and the sex scenes are so cringingly real that I frequently find myself hiding behind a cushion making alarmed squeaking noises. And I’m not even particularly squeamish. The apartments they live in are far smaller and grubbier than their older Upper East Side counterparts, and I think it’s fair to say that their careers haven’t really taken off yet. They can be far too self-involved, and are prone to making terrible decisions.

In short, they’re flawed. They’re not depicted as women per se- they’re human, instead. They’re people. That in itself is incredibly refreshing, not to mention the fact that it is very, very funny, smart, well-acted and just a tiny bit addictive. There’s little doubt than Dunham is a rising star in American comedy writing.

However. In its honourable attempt to realistically depict the lives of young twenty something women, Girls seems to have lost its way in a few places. There a few missteps. Personally, I think it’s a very real fact in the society I live in, the same society as that of the series characters albeit across the proverbial pond, that some men are nice. Some men are more than nice.

Plenty, in fact.

Girls, however, seems to forget this. There is not a single sympathetic male character in the entire friendship group and not one that the girls spend time with without prior sexual interest from one or the other party. Don’t take this wrong- I could not be happier that a mainstream television series is finally showing women as normal, pale, un-made up people who behave well, behave badly and have split ends (ignoring the above poster campaign) and that it is popular, and that it is working.

But, I think that it could do this with even more success. Perhaps if the male characters the women are surrounded by were not, without exception, hideous, selfish, emotionally dysfunctional monsters, always far more ready to blame the women around them for their problems than to look inwards at themselves. As familiar as that sadly sounds, it is more than a little reductionist to make the suggestion that they’re all like that. Because frankly, they’re not.

Besides which, how fantastic would it be, and I mean really fantastic, if there existed a TV series about real, slightly overweight, slightly underweight WHATEVER weight young women, in which their jewellery matching their handbag did not matter more than what they had to say, if all this existed in a show which men watched too.

Now that really would be something. And a series showing normal women AND women of the traditionally viewed ethnic minorities on screen together without being patronising? Too much? To truly change things in the entertainment industry and in the media, Girls will need a few more weapons in its armoury. It has made a start, certainly, but there is more that can be done, more that should be done.

As Lena’s hugely likeable alter ego Hannah says herself, she is the voice of her generation. And I couldn’t agree with her more. But in the name of even further progress, it’s just a shame that generation couldn’t have been a little more inclusive.