Wednesday, 30 March 2011

Bye bye baby

It is nice to see that being child-free has become somewhat fashionable these days and we are no longer regarded as selfish freaks for not wanting to play maidservant to a demanding little emperor/princess for 20 years (up to 40 now, what with rising tuition fees and not being able to get on the housing ladder to fly the nest).

Not that child-freedom was a deliberate choice on my part. More an absence of desire and the right circumstances to even consider it (and I was never going to go it alone).

I knew from an early age that I simply didn't have the energy to work AND raise a child. It was one or the other, and challenge enough to get myself up and out the house every morning, let alone a bunch of little people. Yet today's economic situation virtually dictates that unless unusually well-off, both parents have to work full-time to pay the mortgage and run themselves ragged 24/7, too exhausted for each other at the end of the day, not least after that quality half-hour with the kiddiwinks before bedtime.

A negative experience of childhood at the mercy of warring parents, (despite my mother being lucky enough to be able to stay home in the days where one mortgage payer was just about enough), similarly left me reluctant to inflict the indignities of childhood on anyone else. I didn't take kindly to being a child myself and couldn't wait to put the ghastly experience behind me.

Notwithstanding, babies do suffer from that rather serious drawback of not being furry. Button-cute kittens I know my way around (ears, chin, chest tickle) and can love at first sight, but a pink fleshy baby is another thing. A pink fleshy baby is more akin to a mysterious little alien in my arms that I fret about holding correctly and panic about detecting leakage from, at one end or the other. I know I am always terribly relieved to hand them back anyway, and even more relieved when they turn at least two and I can actually talk to and interact with them!

How babies have convinced so many parents to have them and spend all their money on them in return for little thanks that I can see is anyone's guess, though working in further education, I suppose I should be grateful that they evidently have some great PR company somewhere working on their behalf.

But will I be lonely in my old age? Judging from the number of lovingly-neglected youngsters seeking adult mentors I seem to keep encountering, I think not. I could very well still end up as someone's beloved 'Great Aunt Agatha' if by informal adoption, rather than blood. And as I often joke, I actually think there's a layer of respect and emotional intimacy you can have with someone who's never changed your nappy. Sometimes parents are just too close for comfort.

Monday, 21 March 2011


I know exactly how my mother is going to die. One day she is going to be found dead, prey to the suffocating fall of one of her many binbags full of unworn clothes with the tags still on.

My mother is a war baby who grew up with a single doll and about three dresses. She's been making up for it ever since! Unfortunately she has no concept of quality. Any old cut-price or sweat shop chain creation will do, preferably as long as it's her favourite colour, mauve. Nearly everything she possesses hangs badly and she hasn't a tailored item to her name. Nor has she thrown away a single garment since she married my father and whole wardrobes full of 1970s and 80s jumpers in clashing primary colours and geometric designs groan vying for space. My father has about three inches of wardrobe space for his clothes. Luckily for my mother, he'd be quite happy to wear the same three suits for bonfires, holidays and outings until he dies as he hoards other things.

Meantime, what do you buy the woman who has everything for her birthday? Even more clothes she will never wear? Even more jewellery to gather dust or books to be buried under piles of paper (even the ones I feature in and which she professed to want copies of)?

I ended up plumping for a pair of luxury fleece-lined house boot slippers with non-slip soles that she would never buy herself in a million years, but will be sure to wear until they turn to holes - in the garden too no doubt. And a glasses case with her name embossed on it in large mauve lettering (she and my father are forever putting on each others' glasses by mistake), which I also know she will use.

But every birthday and Christmas is a struggle to think of something suitable which won't end up under a mountain of clothes or newspapers (my father's perversion) or shoved at the back of a cupboard.

I am so glad the hoarding has skipped a generation as it drives me nuts every time I visit and causes my parents to be permanently at each others' throats accusing each other of losing things. One more reason to remain child-free methinks.

Thursday, 10 March 2011

My Shoes Blues

Medical advice has it that homo sapiens are supposed to walk 10,000 steps a day for optimum health.

You try walking more than 100 steps in most women's shoes and feel those heel and toe blisters start forming, shortly followed by bunions, ankle spurs, aching contracted tendons and hammer toes, depending on what style of high fashion pointy-toed torture implement you have selected purporting to be in your size.

Small wonder then that even Posh Becks discards her six-inch heels to live in trainers the moment the camera bulbs cease flashing and she steps off the red carpet. Despite this, her feet are now clearly deformed with her toes trying to point inwards as unphotoshopped photographs demonstrate.

Even 'flats' are little more than 'toe covers' nowadays, providing little or no foot support, but just enough coverage to still ensure blisters.
Kitten heels are the highest I can personally tolerate, and even taking those off is akin to walking on velvet after a few hours.
Luckily I am naturally 5'10", so don't need shoes to give me height, but I do sympathise with those women who do.

My distant cousin Margaret-Doreen was similarly tall and a size 7 back in WWII. A combination of shame at being a size women weren't supposed to be in those dainty days, plus the sheer paucity of female shoes in that size led her to cram her feet into size 5's and even 4's.

In her 70s and 80s, she enjoyed near-perfect health compared to her multi-ailing contemporaries, except for her feet, which became so crippled, she could scarcely walk and she spent hundreds of pounds on both chiropodists and various orthopaedic shoes trying to find a wearable pair, preferably offering some relief.

I look at young women these days and wonder if they have a clue what trouble they are storing up for themselves by insisting on the Western equivalent of foot-binding in their determination to suffer for fashion. Or is it for the scruffy young men who wouldn't go to nearly those sartorial lengths for them?

And let's not mention the stars who have started having bits of bone shaved off their feet to fit their shoes - despite having the money to have shoes made to fit them!

Now call me strange, but I've always taken the radical view that shoes should be made to fit feet, not our feet forged to fit shoes.
The irony is that most female shoes are not even as glamorous as they used to be, lacking in both originality and wow factor and looking like a mere three designers probably design them all.

Then again, any shoes requiring the multitude of 'foot rescue' gel pad inserts which have sprung up in order to be tolerated are asking for trouble and should remain firmly on the shelf until someone comes up with the revolutionary concept of both sexy and sensible in the same shoe.
I was recently amused to see disposable 'Rollasole' shoes in pink and silver appear in my local Superdrug for that party girl, who can't walk a step further in her foot griddles, but is still far from home, and even more amused to hear they had won a Design award for coming up with a solution to a problem that shouldn’t by rights exist.

My own shoe blues continue, bar a pair of bright Red microfibre early 'footglove' Mary Janes circa 1995 M&S, which continue to attract admiring comments and glances on the rare occasions I get them out, for fear of wearing them out, (the worn through companion pairs in sensible Navy and Black having being consigned to the bin long ago).

Before fashion goes any further leaving us needing blacksmiths to shoe us rather than shoe shops, I therefore throw down the gauntlet to any shoe designers, manufacturers and orthopaedic specialists who may be reading - let's work together and come up with the perfect female shoes. I have lots of ideas and am willing to split any profits we make.

Meantime how to walk 10,000 steps a day, even in a pair of Clarks (not as sensible as they used to be), whilst musing why slippers are called 'slippers'.

Wednesday, 2 March 2011

The Rise of the Nihilistic Drinker

Working in universities for the last 14 years, I am no stranger to the alarming new trend, particularly among female students of 'pre-loading' - ie tanking themselves up on cheap supermarket booze, often in the form of shared 'dirty pint' cocktails containing everything except toilet cleaner before they go out in order to save money on getting paralytic in clubs. Three recently nearly ended up beneath my car wheels indeed as they drunkenly barged into the road arm-in-arm in front of me without even looking, but trashily dressed to the nines as they tottered uncertainly to whatever club they were heading for. It was 5.30pm in the evening.

This practice has become so endemic now that persuading them it is an extremely dangerous thing to do and actually they are not immortal has become a real challenge, notwithstanding the number who end up rounding the evening off with a pumped stomach in A&E or getting mugged or worse, yet still manage to shrug it off as 'a bad night' and carry on regardless. Far from having any shame attached, bragging about their drunken exploits has become de rigeur, almost a competitive sport.

Perhaps the most surprising thing is that many of these youngsters are well-brought up middle-class gals who had ponies and piano lessons and their own en-suite from early childhood with parents who still dote on them. The worst offenders do not necessarily come from underprivileged backgrounds as you might expect. In fact the harder a student has struggled to make it to university, the better-behaved they often are as they value it more and are determined to make the most of their opportunities.

The university I work for is currently running an admirably upfront poster campaign about the dangers of binge-drinking and also how bringing the University into disrepute through their behaviour will result in disciplinary penalties and their parents being informed, not to mention a devalued degree if they destroy the reputation of the establishment We are also working closely with the local Police in this initiative.

I wholeheartedly support this and only wish the government would do more to support such measures through outlawing cheap supermarket booze, banning petrol station sales (which shouldn't be allowed in any case when drinking and driving are illegal) and targeting all the unlicensed one-man bands offering home delivery of cheap booze to student homes at any time of the day or night, so students do not even need to leave their homes!

This would also lend valuable support to our struggling pubs and off-licences, where more civilised drinking can be promoted in a safer environment.

I know this would invariably lead to protestations from those of more modest alcohol consumption who ask why they should also be penalised, but then again if their intake is as modest as they claim, they will still be able to afford it. In addition it is not some proud longstanding tradition that alcohol has been so cheaply and readily available, but a recent development. Fifteen years ago, if you wanted cheap alcohol, you had to embark on a long and inconvenient 'booze cruise' to France with a long shopping list of all your friends' requirements as well before trying to convince Customs it was all for personal consumption, thus risking confiscation along the way, and supermarkets did not sell alcohol on a Sunday as their licence did not permit, let alone at much less than the local 'offy'

Another measure I would like to see which would not affect more moderate drinkers would be to fine people who ended up in A&E through pre-loading and speed drinking £500 a time as a deterrent. Being 'drunk and disorderly' is still technically an offence after all, as is 'wasting Police time' when the Police have to escort them there (it is apparently too risky to slam them in the cells overnight to sleep it off any more lest they die in custody via their own vomit or not being examined for concussion and alcohol poisoning).

Crueller commentators have suggested that nihilistic drinking is just the latest manifestation of Darwinism. I like to hope this is being disingenuous.

However it seems the following fate at least could be awaiting many young binge drinkers further down the line.