Articles

Marks and Spencer Fail

Ah... a crowded M&S on a Saturday morning. You can imagine – tense, distracted shoppers eager to be outside and bundled up with bags, shrieking sproglets and the inevitable old dears who happily meander around the store as if it's a zoo: “Ooh – look at the buns, Ernie!”

And yet still I find myself at the self-service checkout line, a place so utterly fraught with tension it should come with a warning sign. Having fended off the “looks” by those who had mistakenly joined the other queue I shuffle into place and begin to unload my goods.

Beep – an error message plasters the screen. Beside me a middle-aged man tries to catch my eye: “These machines are supposed to be fast!” I nod and smile politely. “It's saying we've got steak – we haven't bought any bloody steak.” Get me out of here now.

An employee arrives and proceeds to chastise me for daring to use my own bag and not “place it” in the bagging area. My excuse of the bag already being full of library books fails to help my cause and he leaves to look after the increasingly irate man at the next till.

Beep. And so it continues for every single item I have left to scan. I swear the employee is mouthing the words: “I want to kill you” by this point as he huffily keys in his number once more.

It could have been fine. I could have finished and left the store with my dignity still somewhat intact... had my contact lens not decided at that exact moment to split in my eye, leaving me in agony with mascara streaking down my face. As my eyes and nose water the employee looks at me in disgust and beckons a girl over: “Can you help this lady, please?”

“Are you okay?” she asks, concerned, while everyone stares at me.

“Yes, yes,” I yap. “My contact lens has split. I'm not crying because the machine keeps breaking – honestly!” She looks at me with pity as she approves my wine, (perfect – a seemingly emotional woman on her own buying wine), and I can tell that no one watching believes me and to them I will forever be the girl who couldn't handle the heat of the self-service. I scuttle out of the store still wiping at my poor eye and decide that next time I shall definitely shop online...

 

A piece I wrote for the Prelude Character Analysis website, published in 2014. Here's a link to the original article: http://www.preludecharacteranalysis.com/blog/making-your-new-year-a-smart-one-some-tips-to-make-your-new-years-resolutions-stick

Making your New Year a SMART one...

We've all been there. Big Ben bongs, Champagne glasses clink and as the final strands of Auld Lang Syne disappear into the horizon your thoughts turn to the New Year. This year.

“This year I'm going to...”

“My New Year's Resolution is to...”

As T.S. Eliot said: “To make an end is to make a beginning.” It's a blank canvas: a fresh start. As of 00:00 on 1st January 2014 you can be or do anything you want to, (which may or may not be precipitated by the aforementioned Champagne!)

But all too often we find ourselves making grand declarations: “I'm going to go for a run five times a week,” without the ability to follow it through. So how do you make a decent resolution and actually stick to it? That's where SMART comes in.

Specific

Make your resolution/s specific – focus on what it is you would actually like to achieve. Want to see more of your friends in 2014? Your goal could be to put a date in the calendar each month to see a certain friend.

Measurable

How will you measure whether you are achieving/have achieved your objective? A resolution to get more exercise is no doubt up there in the top ten but it's not possible to measure as there are no clear parameters. In this case “more exercise” could be anything from attending the gym once, (once more than 2013!), or 365 times in the year. Planning to exercise for at least 90 minutes every week is a much more measurable goal.

Achievable

It may seem obvious but is your objective actually achievable? One of the most common resolutions is to be more organised – with a specific goal in mind this is certainly possible. Becoming a INTJ when you're an ESFP is simply not achievable – while we can change our behaviour, (taking some tips from a “J” on how better to organise your workload), we cannot change our personality. Give yourself attainable goals and come December 2014 you should be raising a glass to the changes you have made.

Realistic

I'd love to have a book published in 2014. I'd like to learn the didgeridoo just to say I can play it, (new resolution – find something interesting to talk about at parties). My husband would love to have dinner with Bill Murray. All great aspirations: all pretty unrealistic. A goal may be physically achievable – “I'm going to give up all unhealthy food for a year” – but in reality will you be able to stick to it? Give yourself the best possible chance of keeping your resolutions by making them realistic.

Time-bound

Determined to quit smoking or another habit this year? Make sure you have a timeframe in which to work - “by April I will have...” Give yourself small, realistic milestones and an end date – that way you can see how the results of your efforts are paying off.

My final word of advice? Good luck, happy resolution-ing and please do make the odd “learn to play the didgeridoo” promise – after all, the S in SMART doesn't stand for sensible...

 

A piece I started back in 2002 - I have no doubt that some of this will be creeping into my novel, The Villagers, at some point...

University Life

What the handbook doesn’t tell you is that if you decide to arrive actually on ‘arrivals day’ you will no doubt then queue for the best part of the day even to get into the university.

The handbook also doesn’t tell you that, however early you applied for accommodation, it doesn’t necessarily mean that you’ll end up with what you wanted. Cue me believing I am staying in Nelson Court, (very plush, en suite, big white walls, huge shared kitchen – you can imagine), then receiving a key saying ‘University Village.’ Okay, wasn’t the village that place we had passed on the way into the campus? I.e. the place that isn’t on campus? The place where my mum had remarked: “Oh, the village – that’s where all the post-graduate students stay, isn’t it?”

“Oh there will be other freshers there,” said a “helpful” union member, but when we asked how far away from campus it was, the smile wavered a little.

“Well, it’s about 20 minutes.” Well, it would get me fit, I suppose, but I wasn’t worrying too much about the walk now; I was worrying about the comment mum had made earlier and “what-ifs” were running through my mind. What if I’m the only fresher? What if I’m the only girl? What if I’m the only person in the whole flat?

So dad’s car drove up into the village, past a number of houses that looked suspiciously like real houses, i.e. residential and not student houses, (which the amount of children running around soon proved), and down into a car park, which appeared to be as far away from the university and all the rest of the flats in the village as humanely possible.

We trooped into the flat and up the stairs, where I was greeted with a door with a sign on it saying: “Please do not disturb – many thanks!” Fantastic – a nice, warm welcome from one of my flatmates, whoever he or she may be. Now a new what-if: what if all my flatmates were hermits? My parents exchanged glances and I could almost hear the unsaid: “Oh no.”

While they got to work unloading my things, (and believe me, there was a lot to unload), and unpacking, I got to work trying to find another fresher who wouldn’t mind being disturbed. I turned around to see a girl standing outside the room next to me, looking as if she had just been told she had to don only a feather boa and sing in front of a hundred thousand people, (thereafter known to me as the “terrified”).

We introduced ourselves and I was immensely relieved to find out that she too was a fresher, and had already met a couple of our flatmates. I left my relieved parents unpacking my stuff, and thus deciding where everything was going to go, and exchanged mutual anxieties with the terrified. Like why were there two mums furiously scrubbing the kitchen down, when we were going to be the ones living there? And who was the hermit? Up until this point I haven’t mentioned the obvious feature I was being forced to sport at that present moment in time: a huge eye patch. Well, it made for good conversation anyway and it meant whoever I drunkenly stumbled into and exchanged some sort of rambling wordage with at the ‘introduction party’ that night would remember me the next day…

 

Embarrassing moments sneak up on the best of us...

Embarrassing Moment

Picture the scene. Third year of university: second and last ever term. I strode confidently through the building as I made my way towards my first lecture of the semester, smiling indulgently at the tiny first years wandering around who still didn’t quite know how to figure out their timetables, bless them. Leaving plenty of time, I arrived at the room in which I would be receiving a lecture on the Philosophy of Religion, flicked on the light and settled myself into a seat on one of the long benches. As the time grew nearer to four-o clock students began to flock into the room and then two rather stern-looking, grey-haired lecturers stood at the front and silence fell. It was at that point that I noticed the girl beside me, and indeed the two guys across the way, had books on Rousseau, as opposed to the big, shiny books on religion that were spread out on the table before me. Shrugging, I decided that they must be all studying the philosopher as well as religion and so I sat back and prepared to be lectured to. It was then that one of the professors said: “Right, I assume you are all here for the unit on Rousseau and have the book with you. If you’re not supposed to be studying Rousseau, then you’re in the wrong place, haha!” The room erupted in laughter and, looking around at everyone, I laughed too – the sort of laugh that said: “As if anyone would be silly enough to go to the wrong lecture, haha!”

I shared what was in essence a joke, for who by the third year would misunderstand their timetable? However, as I laughed a sense of dread started to build up inside of me as I realised that I was indeed silly enough to go to a lecture an hour early and that everyone was now silent again as the other professor wrote on the whiteboard.

“I’m in the wrong lecture,” I eventually frantically whispered to the girl beside me and she gallantly stood up as, red-faced, I shuffled past clutching my books while the entire room stared at me, glad it wasn’t them. The sterner of the two lecturers gave me a look I can only describe as vile as I mumbled my apologies and hastily grabbed at the door, relief flooding me as I began to step out into the corridor.

Alas, the girl who had been sitting next to me piped up: “Er! You forgot your coat.”

Mumbling incoherently again and once more resembling a menopausal woman cooking Sunday lunch in a tiny kitchen, I snatched at the bright pink coat she smirkingly held out to me and fled.

Now, I’d like to say that I ended the embarrassment by turning up to the right lecture at five-o clock, as opposed to going home and buying lots of nice Tesco sandwiches and chocolate to console myself with and skipping it… but, sadly, I can’t.

 

This was published in the Sunday Times Metro Magazine when I was seventeen - my first time in print!

Letter

Last week, (March 7th - Your Shout), a reader complained about pop music today. As a teenager who regularly buys singles, I would like to say that every art form, whether it be music, books or film, goes through a transition period, and pop music hasn't become "shallow" simply because records are entering the chart at the top position. Music has become more significant, with the arrival of technology, the internet and magazines, and we cannot expect things to stay the same way they have always been. Finally, who is to say what the "best" sixties single is? Essentially, it is all down to opinion.

 

An article I wrote for my A-Level English class back in 1999...

A Rant on Sexism

“Tea?” A dismayed expression crossed the face of my boyfriend. It was the summer holidays; we were both working for my dad to earn a bit of extra money and, as there were only four of us working, (it is a small company), in the office, there were only two people who had not yet made a drink for everyone in the last couple of days. Unsurprisingly those two people were male.

My dad, however, did have an excuse, as he had not been in the office and, credit to him, he had done all the washing up when he got back. But now his colleague had just asked the boyfriend we shall name Boy to make everyone a drink and he was looking at her as if she had suddenly grown wings and had informed us of her plans to emigrate to Australia. It was as if the word “tea” was a foreign word to him. He slunk out into the kitchen, only to reappear seconds later to ask what Karen meant by “weak tea.” Our drinks finally arrived about twenty minutes later, by which time I had wondered whether it would have been quicker to order a takeaway from Aberdeen.

Perhaps I may have been exaggerating a little there, but my point is not about the drinks – Boy has made me a cup of tea plenty of times before, but the fact that he assumed because Karen and I had made the drinks the day before, women were “supposed” to do that in the office.

The worst thing is, most men who have sexist views don’t even realise it. They joke about “Essex girls” and call girls “birds” but when did you ever hear an “Essex boy” joke or hear a group of girls talking about all the “seagulls” they were going out with the following night?

Don’t get me wrong – I am not about to pull on my dungarees and start campaigning, or do my best Spice Girls impression and initiate the screaming of – “Girl power!” I don’t personally subscribe to the whole of the feminist ideal, but it does get on my goat when men start airing their sexist views, or make sexist comments. I mean, this is the 90s and no men, (except men of that generation of course), would dare to wear 50s clothing or listen to that age of music, so why do we still see men on the Jerry Springer show saying – “Women should stay at home to cook and clean”?

Perhaps this whole viewpoint of women being of less importance then men came from the fact that Eve was created from Adam’s rib. Well around that time people lived to be 800, and wore fig leaves, and we don’t see that happening any more, do we? And I don’t intend to be anyone’s spare rib! Times change, and everything changes with time – music, fashion and indeed viewpoints. Any man who says that men work harder than women or are brighter than women should look at Margaret Thatcher – she still only has three hours sleep a night.

Even in history, when most women were tied to the kitchen sink, others achieved great things: Marilyn Monroe, Florence Nightingale, Helen Keller and Marie Curie are just a few.

Sexism, however, can also work in the opposite way – for example, it can be assumed that girls need a lot more affection than boys do. Therefore in a family, a boy can actually be passed over for affection because the parents believe he is “tough” and doesn’t actually ever want a hug. This also annoys me, because who is to say what anyone needs, (whether they are male or female), except the person themselves? Such views tell us more about the person expressing them than they ever could about the subject of their views.

Books like “Men are from Mars, Women are from Venus” simply encourage sexism. I mean, with statements like – “After a hard day at work, women are more likely to want to talk about it, whereas men are more likely to sit in silence” – is it any wonder that some people actually believe men and women are from two different planets? Who says that is what they do? I haven’t read the whole book – I read part of it only so I could criticise it and am able to back myself up and is a perfect example of gender boxing – males to the left and females to the right. But the book basically consists of lots of examples how men and women react in different situations. I think it should be banned. It is written by both a man and a woman, (although the women is not mentioned on the cover), but what do they really know about relationships? Is every man supposed to sit in silence when they have had a bad day? Or just some men? Or even just introverted men?

And are women expected to “blabber” on and on? That doesn’t show them in a particularly good light – and who is to say that there are typical traits and characteristics of men and women? “Men are from Mars, women are from Venus.” I wonder which planet the author is from!

That leads me to another point – just because women talk for a long time on the phone, (and we’re not the only ones – my dad is frequently on the phone for longer than I am), it is assumed that we love to “gossip” and talk about “who is going out with who” etc. Well knock me down with a feather if men don’t do the same thing in the pub – it is just perceived differently! And if women wear short skirts and makeup, men infer that they are “tarts” and “slappers” and think that they have the right to make comments about us.

Map reading is another good one – this is also mentioned in that awful book. Apparently men are better at map reading because they have more eye for detail, or something like that. Pull the other one! Half of the people who could not comprehend Geography in my year nine class were male. Perhaps the reason that there are so many arguments over map reading is that the men naturally assume the women are going to get it wrong and so unconsciously do their best to put them off, just to prove themselves right. And the more the male believes that women are less able, the more they make the point, the more confidence women lose.

Admittedly, things have got better in the last few years, but there are still plenty of men around who think “a woman’s place is in the home.” Perhaps these men should be sentenced to a week of doing all the household chores, because why should women do that? Why should we not be allowed to go to work, or go out and do what we want to do? If a woman wants to be a housewife, then fine, but if her boyfriend/husband/father/whoever is dominating her, is that fair? Just because our ancestors let themselves be intimidated doesn’t mean we have to.

It is rare now that you see a housewife on television, and most cooking programmes are hosted by chefs. Even Barbie has changed so that she fits in. This is the new way of life – so it is about time that men with 50s conceptions started to ease up on sexism – in fact I think it is about time that sexism was banished altogether.

I think the best way is to tell sexist people straight out – I am certain that Boy will never complain about having to make a cup of tea again after listening to me up on my soap box.

“So, Boy – put the kettle on! All this ranting has made me thirsty...”