Size No-No


For the benefit of those of you who have never laid eyes on me, I am average. I am tallish, but nothing out of the way. My hair is brown, my eyes are blue, my skin is fair – English-rose fair that turns pink after about thirty seconds in the sun. I am wholly unremarkable in practically every single way except to people who love me. However, one thing that makes me a bit unusual is that I don’t really like clothes shopping.


I said it.

Actually, I am a woman who is not too keen on shopping full stop. I like clothes and I really like shoes, but seeking them out and trying them on is something that I prefer not to do unless I have to. All that huffing and puffing, wrestling about in a confined space into an even more confined outfit. That awful bit when you’ve got the dress over your head and shoulders but are yet to get it over your boobs and you wonder whether you’ll be stuck forever, trapped, with your arms waving about above your head, snared by a dress from your elbows to your chin. After eventually struggling into the garment and discovering a zip that you hadn’t noticed when trying to get the damned thing on, you emerge from the changing room (if indeed you dare emerge) pink, sweaty and slightly traumatised, whilst your significant other, a friend, a shop assistant or even the woman in the changing room opposite, ventures their opinion on what you have wrangled yourself into. It is just not the activity for me. I wish it was.

However, I am off on a day out in the next couple of weeks that requires me to wear something other than jeans and trainers, so I had to go. And Man of the House offered to take me, with his credit card, so it would have been rude to refuse. Particularly as he was also going to buy lunch. Off we went to a well known designer outlet shopping village that is not too far away from where we live.

The very first shop we went into I found a dress that I liked. This is no mean feat and our trip had started well. I tried one size on after going through the dress wrestle described above, and it was a little too tight. I asked if they had the next size up. A usual size. Neither tiny nor vast. Normal. And that was when it all started to go downhill. There was a sharp intake of breath from the assistant. On realising what she had done she attempted to re-arrange her features, and on re-grouping said “I’ll just pop up to the stock room, madam.” Now, what I heard after her initial reaction was “goodness madam, you are immense, I’m not sure there is enough material in the world for a dress that size I’ll just go into another room to lie down.” This did my self confidence no end of good as you can imagine. In spite of clearly thinking I should have been in a camping shop, she did find the dress in my size, and I looked acceptable in it. But the damage was already done. We left empty-handed.

Shop number two. This lady was slightly more tactful, and scrupulously polite, but again, my size, which before that day I had thought was not unusual, caused something of an issue. “Madam, our stockroom is not on site, so if you like the style of something, I shall telephone someone in the stock room to bring one in your size for you.” It was a small shop and it would be unfair for me to say that there was nothing in the shop that would fit me, so they were already doing better than the previous establishment. However, I heard “Blimey lady. If you find anything, I shall get a colleague to turn the stock room upside down in an attempt to find your size.”

Now the next shop we went into was really just for amusement. There was no way that they were going to stock anything other than a size zero at an obscene price. There was a dress in there. It was beautiful. Absolutely beautiful. It wasn’t actually a size zero – more of an eight. But there was no way I was even going to ask if they had one in my size, in spite of the fact that it was forty per cent reduced at a mere £6,000. Man of the House admitted that it was indeed a beautiful dress, but said it was a little more than he had been intending to spend. How incredibly unreasonable of him.

Shop number four. The gentleman who served me in there was charming. Truly charming. He rifled through the entire stock room to try and find something to fit and suit me, without actually suggesting to me in any way that anything above a size ten would be something of an ask. I knew that in finding me a dress the stock room must have looked like Storm Doris had been to visit, but at least he had the kindness and good sense not to show it. He made comments such as “well you’re tall, you would fall over with tiny feet” and “these come up very small.” He found me a dress. It looked okay. We made a purchase and thanked him for his assistance.

Breaking for lunch, I was a bit worried about eating anything after my morning of causing offence to shop assistants by my mere presence, but I was quite hungry, so I decided to look after my own health and eat something. For that authentic home from home experience, as the children weren’t with us, I considered asking the people at the next table if one of them could spit some of their meal out in disgust (in spite of it being what they had ordered) and if another of them would be kind enough to declare loudly whilst pushing the plate away with both hands that there was no way that they were eating something with onion in, because that looked suspiciously like onion to them.

After lunch, shoes. There was a minor hiccough with Man of the House when he was sat looking bored on a sofa whilst I coo-ed over some shoes that we would need to re-mortgage the house to buy and he said that he “just didn’t get it”. As far as sizes stocked were concerned, apparently I don’t have feet, but water skis. I never usually have that much trouble finding shoes, but there was a bit of lip-biting when I asked for my size. One of my friends who has feet slightly larger than mine has been asked if the size she requested was “[her] true size”, the implication being that she must be a hobbit if her feet were really that big. Well, that’s just lovely.

The striking thing about all of these comments, is that they were all made by women, to women. I find it particularly baffling that the self interest of making a sale to a customer did not override the mouth before the words came out of it, nor were the women making them all that different from the person receiving the benefit of their wisdom. Which I am very pleased about because somebody, somewhere loves them too in spite of their ordinariness.

It is well documented how little models eat in order to retain their tiny frames – some eating an apple a day quite literally. I have read that some models, young impressionable women who are starting to make their way in the world, have eaten cotton wool to try and fill themselves up but to avoid consuming any calories. They have long-standing and serious health problems in the same way that people who are overweight have long-standing and serious health problems. How can that be acceptable in any way? How has it become such that being so thin you are ill is something to aspire to? And as I discovered from my shopping trip, it is something that some normal women look down on other normal women for, without recognising the irony.

Perhaps I have mostly been surrounded by women who are like me for too long to notice that this attitude to each other is more commonplace than I had ever considered or realised. If true, it makes me want to stay surrounded by those women, so we can cocoon ourselves and our daughters. So we can teach them and they can see directly from us that it is more important to be strong, fit and healthy whatever size nature and genetics has made us, rather than have protruding chest bones and a thigh gap. Then when they face the world on their own for the first time, they have a cat in hell’s chance of knowing right from wrong.

Or maybe I am, in fact, enormous.



Fixed Marks



I don’t really like Valentine’s Day very much. I never have. Part of it is the rampant commercialism, but also the other part of it is the gushing nonsense it has made of love. As far as I can tell it is a day in which perfectly loveable and already very loved people are at risk of feeling unloved because they are not one of a perceived pair, and people who are also very loveable and loved, and are currently one of a pair, feel obligated to the other half of their pair. And there’s nothing less romantic than feeling obliged to be romantic.

On the rampant commercialism point, I was doing my online shop on Saturday night (yes, I know how to have a good time) and the supermarket website was inviting me to consider making a number of purchases along the “feeling obligated” line. What, pray tell, where they suggesting? Well, flowers, chocolates and champagne obviously. One suggestion was oysters. Traditional. Also risky if you ask me as you really have to like seafood to like oysters. Another was condoms. Hardly a gift that is likely to be enthusiastically received as unconditional, but nevertheless practical and safety conscious, which is to be commended. Also hints at a rather large amounts of time, confidence and stamina in the purchaser given the size of the box suggested to me. But not quite as much confidence as the person who buys the dairy squirty cream that popped up as a suggestion. And Squirty Cream Buyer is not as much as a clean freak as the person who plumps for the extra sensitive baby wipes that were also touted to me as being the perfect way of expressing my undying devotion.

I declined all tempting offers as they flashed across the screen. Just in case I wasn’t sure, as I went to checkout “Have you tried?”, “Have you forgotten something?” appeared with more tempting ideas. I decided that if three (reasonably clean) children, an ironed shirt and clean underpants are not sufficient as signs of devotion to the Man of the House, then he needed to be looking elsewhere for a different woman. A woman, who no doubt would get everything done, the children into bed and would be more than happy to wear just a smile for when he gets home from work. For those of you who were wondering, this woman lives in another universe entirely. And she’s a cyborg.

Feeling annoyed by the whole thing, I started to investigate Valentine’s Day and its origins to try and understand why and how we all got dragged into this. We all know that Valentine’s Day has something to do with St Valentine, but probably not much more than that. There are a few martyrs by the name of Valentine. There is very little reliable evidence about Saint Valentine himself other than that he was martyred and buried in a cemetery near the Via Flaminia in Rome. It has been suggested that Saint Valentine performed clandestine marriages for soldiers who were not permitted to marry. He was gaoled and executed for this and one story suggests that he fell in love with his gaoler’s daughter.  Before he was carted off to his doom he left her a letter signed “From Your Valentine.” The truth was, and will remain, forever a mystery.

Then we fast forward a millenia and a bit to the fourteenth century when Geoffrey Chaucer was writing about courtly love. Knights, jousting, ladies waving hankies – that sort of thing. There was probably a bit of swooning. At this time, so the experts say, Valentine’s Day became associated with romantic love. In the eighteenth century in England, flowers, chocolates and greetings cards were then offered as tokens of affection. Think Mr Darcy (disappointing news about his appearance last week), bodices, more swooning, children being shoved up chimneys……And we have been stuck with it ever since. Cards and chocolates that is. It is considered poor form to shove children up chimneys these days.

Folklore suggests that Valentine’s Day is the day that we can all celebrate the start of Spring. Plants and flowers start to grow. Birds were said to propose to each other and marry on this day. Unlike Twelfth Night, there doesn’t seem to be any requirement to start singing in your orchard or to the neighbours, if indeed, they are still speaking to you after the last incident. But there is something to be said for hope in watching the daffodils start to sprout and the Dawn Chorus as (hopefully) the cold and dark days of Winter slowly melt away. I prefer that one. I’ll go with that one.

Maybe it makes me a grump that I am not won over by a man appearing in front of me with a bunch of flowers and offering to pay for my dinner once a year on a specific day. That is not to say you can’t buy me flowers and offer to pay for my dinner, I am just saying that it might not have the level of success you were hoping for, if indeed, that is what you were hoping for. And you may say that makes me a tough nut to crack. Perhaps. But I see love as a more long term and day to day thing than that. A partner who brings me a cup of tea in bed when they know I haven’t slept, a friend who drives two hours to see me on my birthday even though there were lots of people and we didn’t really get to spend any proper time together (and hardly ever do), a sister who helps me bath the children, a friend who helps with the washing up at birthday parties, a husband who says “You know I’ve been thinking, you really don’t have enough shoes.” That is true love to me. Little things. Tiny little things. “I love you every day of your life for whatever time we have together” kind of tiny little things. And I haven’t even got to the people who are not part of my day to day life anymore, either because circumstance or time has parted us. That feels like when my daughter asked me the other day: “Mummy, can you still love someone even if they’ve gone away?” “Yes darling, you can. Always.” Clintons just don’t seem to have a card for that.



Glass Houses


Today I find myself in the rather strange position of wanting to stand up for David Beckham. This is not something that I have had any urge to do before. And I am certain that he neither wants nor needs my support. He’s a grown man; talented, successful, handsome, with a sophisticated and expensive PR machine around him – he most certainly doesn’t need me. Neither can I claim to be a particular fan of him or of football. Although his talent as a footballer is undeniable. And as much as I can tell, Mr Beckham has worked incredibly hard for our country and for numerous charities. I know, he hasn’t done too badly out of it either, but talent and success is not something to blame him, or anyone else, for when he has clearly worked so hard to achieve it.

So to the point. The facts as I understand it are that Mr Beckham’s personal emails were hacked. The Hacker found some emails that cast Mr Beckham in an unflattering light and therefore tried to use them to blackmail him for up to a million pounds. An injunction was obtained to prevent publication in this country, but media from outside of this country who were not covered by the injunction published anyway. Some British media companies then followed suit in spite of the injunction in this territory.

Now there are two points here that particularly concern me; the first being the blackmail. Charming, obviously. I’m not sure how it is less of a crime even if it is more sophisticated than nicking money from someone’s piggy bank. A bit like trolling, there seem to be a number of people around who feel brave enough to behave appallingly if they have a degree of anonymity. I haven’t figured out why that should be, but I am sure that a psychologist or a psychiatrist could tell me. Is it like people behaving differently when inside a car rather than outside of it? If you are a psychologist or a psychiatrist, please tell me, I would be most interested to know. Anyway, blackmail. As old as the oldest profession and a lot less honourable. Hopefully the authorities will track this individual or individuals down and deal with them accordingly.

Secondly (and this one is more nebulous): private emails are just that aren’t they? Private. Isn’t it like opening someone’s post, selling it and publishing that? I am deeply uncomfortable about private emails having been published, and I can say with confidence that no one is remotely interested in my private emails, probably not even the people to whom they are sent. So inane are my ramblings that sometimes, my friend, Catherine and I are being pursued relentlessly around the Warwickshire countryside by two famous men whom we find rather attractive. These men are found in various locations; one (we’ll call him Sebastian Cummerbund) reciting Shakespeare in his hideously unattractive voice to try and tempt me to him, and the other (we’ll call him Kiki TheFinnishOne) is dressed head to toe in a red racing’s driver outfit and crash helmet and is at the wheel of an ice cream van speeding past Catherine’s house or place of work at all times of the day and night. Sometimes our mutual friend, Sophie, appears in these stories as well. She has seen ‘Poldark’ and ‘And Then There Were None’ and has since developed a deep and sincere concern for the whereabouts of Aidan Turner’s towel. Imagine how embarrassing it would be if someone published those emails. I mean for the three men in them. Not us, no one cares about us. Sometimes (and this will surprise you) we rant about work as well.

Is it more acceptable because Mr Beckham is rich and famous? I’m really not sure where the line is drawn on that one. Just how rich and how famous do you have to be to make it all right? One million in the bank? Two million? Quite famous? Internationally famous or just recognised occasionally in the supermarket? And who amongst us, has not had a bad day? Who has not been exceedingly peeved about something and fired off an email or a text to a friend to get something off their chest that they would be mortified about should it be made public? No? No one? No one at all? Rubbish. If Facebook or WhatsApp published messages, they could blackmail the entire world. But if they did that then trust would be broken and their very, very lucrative businesses would be buggered, which is why they presumably work very hard indeed to prevent such a thing happening.

So the upshot of all this is that Mr Beckham is not a saint but a human being. Shocking indeed. And human beings get pissed off occasionally. A revelation. It does not negate any of the work he has done, or continues to do, for charity or for his country. At least, I don’t think it does. He uses his very extensive powers for good.  And however big or small your powers may be, there can never be enough of that in the world.


Generation XX


I take my children to and collect them from school.  As do a lot of parents.  I drive as we do not live in the same village as the school and it’s hard enough getting out of the door – if we had to add a forty five minute walk through fields into it, then I am not sure we would ever get there, and there would be no chance of us being remotely clean.

I used to have a bright green car in which to transport my family.  This was very noticeable and absolutely no good if I was planning on having an affair because my whereabouts could always be plotted.  On previous sightings I was either having a brief liaison with the Post Office or a fairly steamy one with the village cash machine.  There are a lot of cars about at drop off and pick up times as you might expect.  On the whole, collectively as a group of parents just trying to get our children safely to and from school before going about our day, we manage to park considerately, collect everyone and then leave.

Last year, when I was arriving and leaving in my green car, it seemed that I was a particular target of ire for a woman of certain age who lives in the village and near to the school.  Every time she saw me, she would exclaim loudly and gesticulate wildly about the number of vehicles.  This was when I was inside my car and her inside hers,  you understand.  I refrained from reacting as I thought that I had to come to the school each and every day and I didn’t want the hassle.  I have been tempted on so many occasions to question her wisdom of living near a school if she doesn’t like children, or isn’t prepared to accept that children will need to be brought to and from it.  Whilst I could have seized the opportunity at least ten times over to advise her on Highway Law and point her to a gripping read on the subject should she wish to take issue with my interpretation, I chose not to.  I decided that a shouting match in the street with an old crone was not very becoming for anyone and if it were to turn physical, a wrestling match would be even worse. So on one occasion, when she was really getting on my wick, I stiffened all of my sinews and smiled and waved.  This nearly sent her into the stratosphere. It was immensely satisfying – try it sometime.  I have been near this woman on the street on occasion and she has never so much as uttered a peep to me, so like so many people, she is very brave when behind the wheel of a car, but perhaps not so much at other times.

Anyway, so one day I had parked up.  I wasn’t blocking anyone, I wasn’t over anyone’s driveway, pathway – nothing.  This woman drove past in her car and went through her usual routine of huffing and puffing in my general direction.  She then drove, entirely uninhibited by other parents who had parked in an equally considerate manner, and parked on the road outside of her house.  In a space that her husband guards, presumably at her behest, asking people who park there to move.  Oh the temptation……She then decided to share her upset with, presumably, her long-suffering husband who was cowering by the front door.  I had had enough.   I got out of my car.  I slammed the door as hard as I could.  She turned around at hearing the door slam.  And then she saw me turn squarely towards her.  I folded my arms, leant against my car, and crossed one leg across the other.  All of my body language said “Come on.  Come and say it to my face.”  She went inside immediately.  And I have never, ever, had one word from her since.

Yesterday, my sister was browsing in a home wares shop.  You may consider this a foolhardy pursuit with my three year old nephew in tow, and you’d be right.  She had him safely secured in his pushchair and was looking for picture frames.  It wasn’t busy, and in an effort to see what they would look like on her wall, she placed a few carefully on the floor, away from the flailing arms of a three year old.  From across the shop, came a voice:

“I’m calling the Manager.  That is a trip hazard.  I could trip, I could fall.”

At first, my sister didn’t realise that this comment was intended for her ears as the person saying it was not near to her.  The voice got nearer, presumably in an effort to try and trip over the frames and claim compensation.  It was blathering on about a manager and health and safety, and then its owner, a woman of a certain age, hoved into view.  Still going, my sister interrupted the never-ending gob, and advised that if she was in the way, if asked, she would be more than happy to move the items from the floor.  The never-ending gob kept going, suggesting that picture frames are for walls, not floors and then pointed to my nephew and said “poor child.”  That was it.  My sister turned to her and said “why don’t you just fuck off?” Shocked, presumably because it is acceptable for her to be astonishingly rude but not for people to respond when provoked, the woman took a breath and then continued speaking. When it became apparent that my sister and this woman were not going to even agree to disagree on the subjects of the prevalence and severity of trip hazards and modern parenting styles, in a now marked and notable absence of staff, managerial or otherwise, the mouth and its owner went to leave.  As she left, my sister warned her to exercise caution because she could come a cropper given her propensity to make a beeline for things upon which to trip.

I have numerous examples that I could give you; the village I used to live in has a woman of a certain age who is so uniformally awful it is rumoured that she has been barred from the pub and banned from working in the community shop.  How monstrous do you have to be to be barred from a pub in your sixties?  Blimey.   I would love to know what it was that she did.  Or your behaviour is so vile that you can’t turn up and do your voluntary hour or two in the community shop that many of the elderly villagers rely on for essentials and a bit of a chat?  A friend of mine has to put up with her stepmother treating her to Masterchef-style critiques of her cooking, and to add insult to injury, the stepmother and her father invite themselves to stay rather than wait to be asked.  Another friend has her housekeeping skills queried regularly.  My own mother has previously commented that my husband may leave me if I don’t “make more of myself.”

So my question for you, All Ye Women of Certain Age is this?  What the hell is wrong with you?  Not all of you.  Some of you are lovely, and kind, and great fun to be around.  But the rest of you.  Really.  What makes you so pissed off that you feel the need to berate a woman picking her children up from school?  Why is it okay for you to accost a woman in a shop when looking at photo frames, be as rude as you like, also question her parenting, and be surprised when she gives you a mouthful back?  And why is it always women of my age with children that you want to have a go at?  Get over yourselves, ladies.  We’re not trying to upset anyone, we’re just trying to get through the day.  You should be helping and supporting the next generation of mothers, not bitching because of some misplaced desire to be queen bee.

When two people were trying to tell me what to do with my son when he was very small, by shouting over each other at the same time so that I couldn’t hear either of them, one of my friends gave me the best piece of advice I have ever been given.  She’s very quiet, not at all outspoken, but very perceptive and could see that not only was I likely to have hearing damage,  I was getting flustered.  She leant over to me, and said very, very quietly so that only I could hear: “Ignore them all, ignore them all.  You’re the mother now.”