Stop the Music


Photo by K15 Photos on Unsplash

The build-up to Christmas is the one time of year I feel I need a short break from music.

Although I’ve recently enjoyed zooming around in my car listening to carefully chosen soul classics from my phone and joining in an impromptu sing along with the family, it’s the small selection of songs forced on us at this time of year, wherever we venture out in public, which really gets on my last nerve.

I’ve trudged past shops along the local high streets, assaulted by the sound of jingle bells, as stores compete with each other to entice us inside. Or worse: I’ve slipped between concessions in a single department store playing conflicting tunes.  There will be a spot where two songs collide and it’s impossible to differentiate between them.  That, of course, will be the exact spot where I need to locate what I’m looking for.

Last week at the checkout in the supermarket, weary after about three years of trying to edge past others keen to fill their trolleys with festive foodstuffs, I turned into the worst version of my Scrooge self and moaned to the poor student made to work there wearing a ridiculous jumper: “I can’t hear a word you’re saying.”  I regret not showing more sympathy for the lad who’d been suffering Christmas songs on a loud loop his whole shift and was verging on the edge of insanity himself.

Christmas shopping means listening to the same few songs over and over again all day.  If you time it right (or wrong) you could skip between shops and repeatedly hear just one of the few at every single location.  I’m sure last year I was followed around by Noddy Holder reminding me “It’s Christmaaaassss”.  Noddy, I know – that’s why I’m struggling with these bags and I’d appreciate a bit of hush to make some decisions, mate.  And I’m unconvinced that all Maria Carey wants for Christmas is “yooo” when we all know she won’t even step on a carpet unless it’s red.

The one Christmas song I do like is Fairytale of New York but I’m no longer comfortable with it because of the inclusion of a particularly offensive word, no one who has ever grown up facing homophobic bullying should have to be subjected to in the spirit of Christmas. That said, I’ve noticed it hasn’t been as prominent this year.

After the big day itself, Christmas hits have no purpose, becoming even more repugnant – like leftover, soggy, brussel sprouts.  Have mercy people.  We should then cease to be force-fed these cheesy compositions and place them in custody after Boxing Day for everyone’s sake.

Happy new year all.






Why we need so many knickers

By the time you reach my age, you’ll have been through many phases of knickers, starting off with something serviceable then probably shrinking to something scanty, and back again on occasion.

Photo by Serhat Beyazkaya on Unsplash

When I was old enough to choose my own briefs, I remember my mum voicing her disgust at the scarcity of fabric.  But knowing her mother (my grandmother) was from the era of the bloomer, I’m pretty sure Mum was considered racy herself.  So modest was my grandmother, she couldn’t even name what she wore under her dress and referred only in a whisper to ‘undergarments’.  I may have inherited this revulsion as the word ‘panties’ perturbs me if uttered aloud and as a small schoolgirl, I couldn’t bring myself to say ‘navy blues’, so my uniform unmentionables were known as ‘nabynoos’.

Life was so much simpler when you could buy your undies of choice in a multipack and one style worked under every outfit.  For a while, the range of knicker types a woman requires has been expanding not least because much as we love how feminine lace lingerie looks when choosing from the drawer in the morning, we must weigh up the pros and cons of committing to it for the day.  Will knowing you’re wearing something sexy be worth the discomfort or will the scratchy surface and lack of stretch simply get too distressing?  I can be quite moody if I’m uncomfortably conscious of my pants.  But that’s nothing compared to the irritation caused by accidentally wearing them the wrong way round – these days, knickers are often illogically smaller at the back than the front.  And as for gussets: I’m pretty sure the word indicates strength, support and width, so what’s been going on there then?

In Australia, thongs are what we call flip-flops which suggests they don’t bother with the bottom strap variety – how sensible of them.  There surely has to be an extremely good reason to decide to spend the day with a wedgie.  I’m not certain what the difference is between a thong and a g-string, but one does sound slightly more slicey than the other and now we are expected to deal with the c-string which, in case you were wondering, has no strings at all.

Just like the kitchen cupboards we can’t reach, these garments are likely to have been designed by misogynists – for men.  I wouldn’t want to deny anyone the boyish excitement of glimpsing his consenting other’s netherwear, especially if he bought them for her, but what he imagines will look sexy doesn’t often allow for her spare tyre flopping over the top and quite possibly concealing the entire triangle of fabric which barely contains her lady region.

 Industrial strength knickers with armholes anyone?

Folded up at the other end of the knicker drawer, we can choose between ‘Bridgets’ (sturdy control briefs, the source of surprise for Hugh Grant’s character who had finally managed to get Bridget Jones on her back) and the whopping ‘Hollys’.

Why we need so many knickers
Holly Willoughby

When asked on telly how she got such a smooth line in her dress (by the bloomer-wearing drag comedian Mrs Brown) Holly Willoughby disclosed her underpinnings started at her navel and came down to her knees and then revealed her expansive, flesh-coloured underwear to prove it.  Quite remarkable for someone who’s modelled lingerie for years.  But Holly is now a mother of three.  As a mother of three myself with more than a few years on Holly, I’m wondering if the next phase will be industrial strength knickers with armholes.

I recently ventured with Drew into a lovely lingerie shop saying: “You can’t ever come in here without me or you’ll look like a perv.”  I needed some Hollys to wear beneath the weather-girl style dress I’d chosen for my nephew’s wedding. While Drew sat on a velvet chaise trying not to make eye contact with anyone, I disappeared behind a swish curtain and squeezed myself into the ugly, tight instruments of torture hoping the seams wouldn’t split.

The effort required made me very hot but even under all three different lighting settings (day, night and dusk), I couldn’t see in the mirror where all the extra flesh had gone.  What I could see, however, didn’t resemble a human abdomen in any way.  And I simply hated how they felt, so braced myself for the reverse procedure which was when I noticed the livid, red wheels on my skin.  I was having such an extreme reaction to something in the fabric (fibreglass perhaps?) that Drew had to walk very close behind me on the way out while I had a good ol’ furtive scratch.  He even began to talk quite loudly to mask that noise you just have to make when relieving a powerful itch.

From comfortable ‘nun’s knicks’ through fun frillies to bedroom pretties, our drawers are full (pun intended) but if they’re not on show, do we really need so much choice?  Do you honestly care about the neighbours seeing them on the washing line? When I moved in with Drew, he felt uneasy unloading the washing machine because it meant handling my briefs without me present.  To me, with a lifetime of dealing with it, our underpants are just laundry at that stage.


What? Are you reading?


A classic, 1 non-fiction, 1 trusted novelist, 1 shortlisted for a prize

I’m unembarrassed by my love of reading; I’d be more ashamed to admit I’m not an avid reader.

I don’t consider myself especially well-read though, which probably sounds ridiculous to those who know I teach English, studied literature at university and have never been without a book since I cracked the whole reading to myself thing before I even started school. I still remember the thrill of finally convincing my mum I could safely catch the bus to the big library in town after running out of books for my age group in the local library.  I read either fiction, non-fiction or both every day because I have to, just as much as I have to eat.  Occasionally, I admit, I may only manage a few pages before the book lands on my face and wakes me up after a particularly industrious day. But I don’t enjoy the pressure to meet the expectations of others because reading is how I relax, retreat and learn.

My favourite wall in Krakow

Unsurprisingly, I’m expected to have an immediate answer to the question: ‘Which is your favourite novel?’ That’s OK – it’s Flaubert’s Madame Bovary, if you’re interested.  However, I’m also supposed to have an opinion on every recent bestseller and to be an authority on all works of classic literature – which really isn’t OK at all.  If you’ve recently enjoyed or remember a work of fiction well, you might try to engage me in an awkward conversation which will probably fizzle out when you realise I either have no knowledge of your chosen book or I’d never choose to read the one you’re recommending.  Either I’ll be slightly red-faced by my lack of expertness, or you’ll be by your lack of persuasion. I usually mumble something about how great literature speaks to you personally and my towering to-be-read pile.

We are not all the same, I understand that.  Reading isn’t as sexy as other pastimes and there are many who haven’t read a single book they weren’t forced to wade through at school.

I’m between two worlds in my work: teaching teenagers who are struggling to achieve an English qualification but obliged to keep at it until they are nineteen lest the government comes to get them in the night and, in a parallel universe, the writing community who devour books hungrily, connecting with enthusiastic book bloggers/reviewers without whom indie writers especially struggle to promote their work in this digital age.

‘Pride and Prejudice and Zombies’

The first group is tough to excite.  For them, reading is uncool (or whatever the current term is), a book is the worst possible present to receive and challenging them to even skim-read creative publications in return for prizes isn’t working. Compulsory English qualifications can steal reading pleasure when the escapism element is replaced by the requirement to analyse and evaluate.  Trying to hook them when approaching 19th Century literature, I showed my students images of Charles Dickens and my heroine, Jane Austen and asked if anyone wanted to have a go at naming any of their novels.  I had to back up and give clues until we were eventually discussing the films The Muppet Christmas Carol; Pride and Prejudice and Zombies (who was THAT aimed at?) and the TV series Downton Abbey (good effort, Sam – not one of Jane’s though).

Over in the reading and writing community, the chance to analyse and evaluate is relished. Reading doesn’t have to be a solitary experience – unless that’s what you want.  Reading groups, book blogs, book fairs and cafes in bookshops all forge a sharing space for the widely-read along with the opportunity to add a personal review to a bookseller’s website which benefits other readers and the writer.  These days, once you’ve done the industry research and perhaps joined a writing group for support, the chance to publish your own work is wonderfully wide open.

Recently, I think I spotted a bridge between the two worlds.  Unlike the Harry Potter generation who are now graduating, working and starting families, my experience of millennials is that they are seemingly unable to easily engage with a story unless watching it or taking part via a games console, whereas the Potter Posse are beginning to share literature with their own children and some are using their innate techno-savvy to self-publish their own stories.

And the winner is …

In the meantime, I could possibly be the only one in her class who bothered to take out at least three books this term from the college library and write a review of one.  Silver lining: “The winner is … me!”









abi-ismail-462665-unsplash (1)
Photo by abi ismail on Unsplash

I think I might be a little late to the party, but I’ve just discovered Bloglovin’.  Who would have thought there was so much to learn about being an indie writer?  There’s barely any time to write!

This is what Bloglovin’ says: “When you create an account, you can follow any blogger on any platform, whether or not they’re also signed up. Then, you can log in and see the latest posts from all the blogs you follow in one spot. There’s also an app, so you can catch up with your reading on the go.”



Please stop showing off; I’m trying to eat out.

Please stop showing off. I'm trying to eat out.
Photo by Jennifer Pallian on Unsplash

On a recent trip to Florence, I was struck by the authentic individuality of the restaurants and coffee shops.   For example, the organic pasta restaurant I tried served pasta, breads, salad, wine and spirits.  I don’t speak much Italian, but I suspect the sign on the door said: “If you’re looking for a burger and a beer – or even a pizza – look somewhere else.”

In Britain by comparison, the overriding quest to appear cosmopolitan and chic or niche is fake because it’s diluted by our demands as well as being over manufactured.  Can everyone just stop showing off please?

In order for you to appreciate the ‘gastro’ experience, without which you’d simply be having a pub lunch, there’s probably a piece of greaseproof paper underneath your crusty, avocado-topped ciabatta, with some pretentious nonsense written on it. Be warned: the paper you’re tearing with your knife will, no doubt, find its way into the ingredients, adding no nutritional value I can fathom.

In an English restaurant and bar a while back, I was struck by how uncomfortable the experience was simply because the management had decided to create something uncommon.  To begin with, all soft furnishings had been removed which always makes a place, especially one with music, shockingly noisy and the iron furniture was not only hard, but so ridiculously high, heat from the overhead light fittings seemed to scorch my scalp.  I had to take a run-up to get onto the chair, but despite being many feet from the ground, the table was so much higher up, some of us were at eye level with the strange doodahs our food arrived on.

I’ve come to expect my gravy to arrive in an oil can and my chunky chips in a plant pot.

Seriously, where have all the plates gone?  After struggling for a while to lance my meat served in a bowl designed for a medical emergency most probably, I politely requested the flat surface traditionally used for the purpose. The waitress returned with a side plate and looked puzzled when I said: “No thanks, I’d like a dinner plate to eat my dinner off.”  Either that or take it away and cut it up for me.

I’ve come to expect my gravy to arrive in an oil can and my chunky fries in a plant pot, but as I’m not going to sketch a still life drawing, I’d rather have the right crockery if it’s not too much trouble.  There’s now a website where you can upload photographs of the most imaginative plate alternatives, so widespread is the batty practice, although posting photos of our food on social media has surely added to the trend of reclaiming unusual objects from the rubbish on which to offer food.

At the other end of the hospitality scale, many coffee shops now expect us to manage with just a napkin as a barrier between the cake and the probably unwiped table because their dishwasher is designed to take only cups.  Mind you, I’m always grateful for a cup rather than a cardboard receptacle, the only benefit of which is choosing the name to be written on the thing while passing the time in the queue.  Drew likes to hear them shout out: “Max Power?” presumably to feel like a superhero for a moment.  I usually settle for “Bunty”.

Queueing for coffee is unavoidable since those clamorous, complicated coffee maker arrangements became standard.  Watching the ‘barista’ drag a dubious looking rag over a tube, before dispensing your fluid of choice through it, combining it with whatever drained that way beforehand, is never as thrilling as Tom Cruise mixing a cocktail to music.  And you know those chocolate sprinkles splattered in the general area of your foaming drink, without any thought given to avoiding the rim where it crusts unappetisingly in seconds before transferring to the corners of your mouth, leave you looking like a sad clown at the end of a hard day at the circus.

While we’re on the subject of chocolate: despite asking for hot, hot chocolate – it never, ever is.  Perhaps there’s a health and safety restriction, but if I’ve read “hot chocolate” on the menu and I ask for hot chocolate, I’m unlikely to be satisfied with lukewarm chocolate.  In Florence, I was lucky enough to sample the artisan hot chocolate served in glass ‘fairy’ cups with saucers, which makes our thin, pale, powdered effort seem pathetic.  I was drinking rich, melting, deep brown chocolate, or rather spooning it into my face, it was that thick and sticky.  I stopped at one glorious place noticing the chocolate fountain in the window only to be stunned by the wall of liquid chocolate behind the counter, slithering and ‘glissading’ perpetually.  Mmm …

Photo by Domenico Loia

Er, did I mention I was in Florence recently?

Not showing off, am I?


Miss, Mrs or Ms?

Photo by Lorenzo Spoleti on Unsplash

   When the customer assistant asked for my name, I hesitated.  Should I offer my married name, although I am no longer married, or my maiden name?

If I give my maiden name,  at least I know how to answer the next question:  “Is that Miss or Mrs?” I didn’t marry my dad, so it’s Miss – obviously. But giving the name still on my bank account, passport and bills throws me into confusion because that one goes with Mrs and I haven’t been anyone’s missus for ages.

If I answer the Miss or Mrs question with: “I don’t really know,” I sound like one of those newspaper stories about a bewildered individual apparently suffering from amnesia who remembers how to play complex piano concertos but is stumped when asked, “Who are you?”

Many women are opting not to change their names on marriage, but what happens after divorce?

I asked my divorce solicitor what I had to do should I ever decide to ditch the one I’d been using for years and use my birth name again.  She told me there were no legal requirements as that’s technically who I still am.  It sounded more of an identity issue suddenly and as my identity was firmly connected to my children at the time,  I wasn’t in a hurry to have a different name from theirs.  It did mean there were no further legal charges though, so we should keep it between us or someone might decide we should pay to be ourselves.

I’ve heard there is a rising number of women in their forties, fifties and sixties filing for divorce since we’ve been better positioned to choose independence over a bad marriage. Is the choice of name (with which goes a title and therefore a declaration of marital status) tricky when you’ve likely been using the same one for more than twenty years?  We know many women are now opting not to change their names on marriage, but what do those of us, who chose to change, do about it after we get divorced?

In my experience, a mature woman who no longer has a husband, but has kept her personal title and husband’s name is sometimes presumed to be widowed, which can be awkward and, for someone like me, difficult not to joke about when it happens.  No kids, of course I don’t really wish your dad was dead, I just meant I’d rather not have sole responsibility for my mortgage.

Feminists of all ages rightly object to being made to declare ourselves married or not by having to tell anyone who asks whether we are Miss or Mrs when usually all that’s required is confirmation of whether or not you’re a man – oh hang on, that’s not good either.

You’re probably thinking why not use ‘Ms’?   Nobody actually likes ‘Ms’, that’s why. Apart from the lack of confidence when pronouncing it (muzz? mizz? Was this even a word before it became an abbreviation?) a lot can go through a person’s mind on hearing ‘Ms’ – their own prejudices mostly.  Their faces indicate they’re puzzling over whether you’re a bitter divorcee, a radical (man-hating) feminazi or a little too fiercely proclaiming your right to be attracted to other women.  All rather negative.

And then if you really can’t be bothered with the admin to change your name back, but find yourself living with a different life-partner, it’s sometimes necessary to have to point out that he’s Mr Someone and you’re Mrs Someone Else.  At hotel check-ins, you will appear to be having an affair with each other. If it bothers you, simply avoid eye-contact with the staff rather than try to explain. No one cares in that context except you and it might even make your holiday a little more exciting.

Consider this: if remarriage is your ‘ambition’ and you’d like your certificate to show Miss Whatshername married Mr So-and-So, rather than Mrs Whatshisname married Mr So-and-So, you’d have to revert to your maiden name to be able to change to a new married name.  Do you follow me?

Does any of this really matter?  Well, yes it does because how women of all ages are identified in society is at odds with their independence from the men in their lives and their rights to equality and to privacy.

The next time you’re asked:  “Is that Miss or Mrs?”  shake it up a bit if you dare.  Ask ‘Why do you need to know?’ Ask ‘Are you married?’ Say ‘I’ll tell if you will,” or whatever you feel like.  None of which means you’ll be able to play a piano concerto any better than you can now, but you’ll be making a point worth making.






Honestly Hating Exercise

Photo by Matthew Kane on Unsplash

Are you secretly too ashamed to admit you aren’t exercising all the chuffing time?   I used to dread hearing the words “at the gym” coming up in conversation with anyone in case they realised I’ve barely been to a gym since they were called gymnasiums. But now, at last, I’m beginning to feel comfortable with honestly hating exercise.

If you’re anything like me, please remember: we are entitled to this attitude without judgement from the others.  Don’t be embarrassed.  I’ll bet you are busily rushing around, on a daily basis without having to make an appointment with someone whose purpose it is to coach you in whatever rushing around substitute is currently fashionable.  Or if you’re not, that’s your business.  I won’t sloth-shame you.

I learned a long time ago that I don’t belong in a gym.  It was after having my daughter – a year’s membership being the ‘thoughtful’  post-partum gift from her father.

I had hoped for something a little less exhausting as a push present, but I was carrying extra weight and definitely out of shape, so I eased my lactating orbs into my most supportive maternity bra and borrowed one of his loose t-shirts as mine were all too snug to stretch over my wobbling form.

After warming up for a while, the one rowing machine became free, and as it seemed less intimidating than the rest of the equipment, I arranged my ample backside on the seat positioned a few inches from the floor, and gripped the handles.  I hadn’t noticed that the shirt was hanging down behind me, close to the wheel which glides the seat along.  It became harder and harder to row until I started to choke and the penny dropped.  The hem was caught up in the mechanism beneath me which was winding the t-shirt up.  I was strangling myself with every strenuous stroke.

Then I realised the only escape option was to slither out of the t-shirt, firmly wedged in the machine, and onto the floor. Covering my modesty with my sweat towel, I eventually managed to rip the shirt from the machine with my free hand, leaving a scrap of fabric lodged in the cogs to add to my shame.

The rowing machine was out of order for a while after that.

Nobody speaks to each other at the gym either, so I clearly didn’t fit in.  I wasn’t familiar with the protocol initially, but when I summoned the courage to return, I tried out a treadmill while music thundered around me and, to my amusement, the song was:  Road to Nowhere by Talking Heads.  I made the mistake of remarking on the irony to the miserable bag of bones pounding on the treadmill next to mine who threw me a glance, but wordlessly continued her futile effort to run at the wall we were facing.

Other Things I’ve Tried

Pilatesquite nice because much of it is done lying down and it’s not yoga – I didn’t want to have to change religion.

Zumba: doesn’t seem to know what it is supposed to be and for those of us who can’t tell a samba from a mambo, keeping up is a problem.

Hips, bums and tums: I mostly barged in the opposite direction to everyone else and being made to run around the exercise space for a warm up just about finished me off before I’d even started.

Callanetics: pulsing the muscle you’ve located to encourage inch loss.  Finding any muscles at all was problematic, but I persevered with some success until sheer, bloody boredom set in.

Jogging:  I was advised to jog for five minutes then walk for five and repeat.  For me, there’s little discernible difference between the pace of the two.

At the peak of my exercise enthusiasm, I would swim a mile on a Sunday morning before anyone in the house woke.  The pool was a very short walk from my home at the time and so I often managed to attend aqua-fit classes during the week too.  Then I moved house and almost two years later, still haven’t committed myself to a convenient pool or aqua class even though I know of two nearby.  Breaking a routine is a killer if you find it difficult to build up enthusiasm for exercise and I’m brilliant at excusing myself because I really don’t want to do it.

Come on –  let’s put an end to the shaming of non-exercisers who, like me, probably walk miles around their workplace every day, climbing flights of stairs and taking fresh air breaks whenever too long has been spent at a desk, then commuting home to the housework.  At the weekends, we might be walking for its own sake, outside, in real life, for free, rather than on an expensive conveyor belt, or sometimes on a Saturday night, we might be dancing like no-one is bothered.

So if you think ‘proper’ exercising at my age is even more important than before, my arthritic, overworked skeleton really is indifferent to your disapproval.