31 Dec 2013

Finding Love On Tinder

One word: Tinder. AKA the fabulously cringeworthy and seedy dating app which has recently taken the UK by storm. And Exeter hasn't missed out on the "fun" either...Maybe I'm in the minority here but I don't really see the appeal, at all. Here are 10 bullet points which explain exactly why I think it's a waste of time and phone data...

1) It encourages people to be shallow
2) It encourages laziness
3) It'll make you paranoid
4) It's addictive
5) You suddenly become boring because all your "chat" revolves around tinder conquests
6) You forget how to act in real-life social situations because you realise you can't swipe left or right
7) Somehow it's now considered OK to use a dating app, even if you're in a relationship
8) You might get tinderitis: (n) the harmful side effect of incessant use of the smartphone app - Tinder. Often diagnosed by a flat battery, blowing your data allowance or a ruined index finger or thumb tendon.
9) Its tagline is "It's like real life, but better". Surely your life would have to suck big time for a silly dating app to be better than real life? Do I smell a whiff of arrogance, Tinder? 
10) If you do get a match, and the person responds, chances are a) they look nothing like they do in their photos, b) you confused him/her for his/her hotter friend who appears in all the pics, c) if they do initiate conversation, they'll probably call you "babe", d) how do you know it's not a prank? (which leads back to point 3 about paranoia).

Tinder encourages people to base their "worth" or "value" on the number of matches they get. It's the epitome of superficiality. Why let the world, AKA a bunch of horny students in a 3 mile radius of you, define your potential? So limiting. 

I read an article recently on businessinsider.com which spoke about how Tinder was thinking of introducing a "trending tool..that highlighted the most popular users on the app at any given time." Imagine how awkward that would be? This algorithm takes into account how active you are on tinder in terms of matches, messages sent etc. So while you're telling all your friends that you hardly use tinder and that it's "just for bants", they may not believe you when you're heading up the leader board on the "trending users" page. Not so subtle now, are we? As one person said: "Ordering a date is pretty much as mundane as ordering food"…But then again, maybe you're quite picky when it comes to ordering food. Maybe Tinder is your opportunity to pick out the caviar from the baked beans in life. Your Sainsbury's Taste the Difference from your Basics. 

"But it's just a bit of fun" you say, or "I do it for shiggles because it's hilaaaarious". My response to that? The majority of us already waste enough of our precious time on Facebook connecting with semi-real friends, that wasting more of it on a site like Tinder with non-friends seems absurd. It's like "Take Me Out" for smartphones. You can't share anything about your life with the other person until you've decided that you "like" what you see. And the likelihood is, you'll just end up being disappointed when their picture-perfect face doesn't have a personality. And all that time spent getting excited about your match could have been better spent investing in more worthwhile activities. Like getting out of your room and meeting people in real-life circumstances.

I'm not for a second trying to undermine the importance of physical attraction - hell, you've GOT to be attracted to someone for a stab at a relationship. If all you're thinking about is putting a paper bag over your significant other's face, then something's not quite right. Maybe swiping someone's face on Tinder is a method of filtering out, of selecting the best gene pool for your future sprog - but how would you feel if someone came up to you in the street and slapped you across the face because they didn't like what they saw? I guess the "beauty" of Tinder is that you can do all that from the comfort of a screen, without knowingly hurting anyone's feelings. But still - it encourages people to stare at someone else's face for a long amount of time and decide whether this person is "good enough" for them. The next time I hear someone say "I'm SOOOO out of his/her league", I'm going to roll my eyes. Did people never learn that there's no such thing as leagues? If there's going to be a league of any sort, there should be a league to distinguish the nice people from the arse holes, not the aesthetically pleasing from the less beautiful.

Let's be honest: our profile pics on Facebook tend to be our best. If you're picking 4 gorgeous pics of yourself where you've gone crazy with photoshop and removed pimples etc., just think about the pressure you're putting yourself under if you do finally meet your date. And if you're treating Tinder purely as an "online only" adventure without physically meeting up, any matches you get are probably because the guy likes the 4 best pics you've ever taken of yourself. He's liking a construction of you. That feeling might make you flutter or make you happy. But when you look at yourself at 7am in the morning with no makeup on, greasy hair and bags under your eyes, you want to be with someone who can see all this, and still want to be with you, no matter what. (Tip: If you haven't quite got the hang of photoshop - see photo on left - there's an iPhone app called Pixtr which is designed to make pictures of yourself more beautiful. Say what??)

If you're single, and this thought is depressing you, please do NOT resort to Tinder. It is attention-inducing and utterly repulsive. Fair enough if you're age 30 - online dating might be your thing. But please don't be sucked into this completely irrelevant and annoying app which only promises awkward confrontations and deception. If that's your thing - by all means, lap it up. But I'll only say "I told you so" when things don't go quite the way you planned….

NB: Maybe you just want to use it for hooking up with buff people, in which case, by all means, the platform is yours. 

NBB: For all the overly-sensitive readers out there, this is supposed to be a slight exaggeration on my real feelings.

20 Dec 2013

Snaphatting "Uglies" and Beyond

Ever since joining the iPhone brigade (I decided that having a Blackberry for 3 years wasn't doing any favours for my social life), I have been taken aback by all the shamazing (thanks Scherzinger for that one) apps I can download in a matter of moments. My silly little crapberry (oh hey autocorrect, stop trying to change it to "cranberry" - that's just insulting!) which unsurprisingly enough, died a most agonising and drawn-out death, is now sitting powerlessly (literally) in my bedside table drawer. Why won't I throw it out? Oh ya know…brings back memories of those times when the battery used to fall out of the back and of me yelling at it to come back to life. #classiccrapberrymoments

And my iPhone (albeit the 4 because I'm stingée) provides much more amusement than my Blackberry ever did. I mean, trying to Google something on a Blackberry is about as fast as snail with a limp. And who uses BBM now anyway? That's soooo last year (and beyond). But now, thank heavens, my eyes have been opened to a whole new world of Apple (you know what the doctor says about apples..), which means loads of fun apps to keep me in touch with my sociable side...

My current 'fave' has to be snapchat. I think it's the fact that it's just so simple to use - it cuts to the chase. It doesn't try to over-complicate photo or video sharing or bring in fancy new design features unlike some of its competitors (touch wood/maybe I'm missing out on all the advanced snapchat features cos I iz stoopid). Unlike instagram which involves turning every moment into one of grainy nostalgia, snapchat records moments as they are, dependent on your quality of camera. And the best bit? Those moments are only available for your friends to view for up to 10 seconds! WARNING: if you place yourself in the "I like to send drunken snapchats" category, then this can be incredibly dangerous because you'll have literally no record of its contents on your phone in the morning. 

My new favourite procrastination method is sending "uglies" to members of my family and/or best friends. Of course these "uglies" (i.e. incredibly repulsive selfies) are rarely shared with anyone bar those closest to me. Why is this? Oh you know, the fear that they might get into the hands of a boy I fancy and ruin any chance at a romantic liaison…and I trust my family to love me, even when I'm sporting five chins and rabbit teeth. Although I was slightly put off when I received an update from snapchat, informing me that a few of my "uglies" had been "screenshotted" by said individuals. Let's hope they don't come back to haunt me later on in life…

And most recently I decided to hold an in-house "Miss Mount Bures" (the tiny village I live in) competition. Each one of the lads (aka the sisters - moi, Sash & Rejay) made a 10 second video application via snapchat on why we thought WE should be crowned "Miss Mount Bures". The competition was (slightly) rigged since I was the judge, so, naturally, I sent them back "refused applications" because they didn't fit the "really really good-looking" criteria (Derek Zoolander style). I thought the whole thing was hilarious and cracked myself up in the process. The things one does to avoid essay writing…pfft. #procrastinationbaby.

But imagine a world where you had to impress a future employer over snapchat. Job applications would no longer be the long, drawn-out applications they are today, but rather, a 10 second statement or film of some sort to explain why YOU have what it takes to be the next top dog.  Nope, I'm struggling to imagine it too…So in the mean-time, I'll stick to sending uglies to my sisters. And hope that I don't accidentally tick the wrong name and send it to a real-life hottie...

23 Nov 2013

Free Haircut On Twitter: Is It Worth It?

I'm pretty attached to my hair. I think most women can empathise with me on this one. Hair can make or break a woman. Seriously. A bad haircut or a style or colour that doesn't suit you, will have you feeling down for as long as it takes to resurrect the hair-rific situation. Which is why it's never a great idea to trust any old person with a pair of scissors. I've cut hair before and it's no easy task. So don't you dare get anywhere near me unless you've got five pages of qualifications under your belt.

Given the above paragraph, you may be surprised to read what I'm about to write. Those of you who have been following my rather dramatic Facebook updates recently will know that I had a good few inches hacked off my head. I use the verb "hack" because the guy essentially put my hair in a ponytail and cut right across it. The ponytail fell to the ground…All 6 or 7 inches of it. A lot, given I'd initially asked for about 3. 

A little backstory: I was on Twitter and received an update about some hairstylist in the Exeter area who had recently started 'following' me. I went onto the profile and saw something about free haircuts. Being the bargain hunter that I am, I thought "why the hell not?" I had so many split ends and my hair desperately needed some TLC and I wasn't feeling wealthy enough to splurge out on a £35 haircut in a salon. Not to mention my last haircut which cost me an extraordinary £65 in London (no colour, no highlights) - just a cut and blow-dry. That sort of money doesn't just grow on trees. Anyway, I tweeted the stylist and received a reply almost instantly, asking whether I was free that afternoon at 5:15. Luckily I was and he said he would drive over and do it from the comfort of my own home. What service. The only thing I needed to do was wash my hair in advance so that it was still damp when he came to cut it.

He arrived 5 minutes late and I'd set up a chair in the lounge. I needn't have because he instantly suggested doing it in my bedroom. Slightly shocked at first, I agreed. He didn't want to be in anyone's way. Understandable I suppose, but he was nonetheless a strange man, coming into my house, specifically my bedroom. He was young, 24, and I asked him about his experience. Apparently his mum is also a hairdresser and he'd studied it at college. I told him what I wanted and showed him some photos and he seemed to get the picture. But when he started touching my hair, I became increasingly nervous. He didn't seem to have much confidence in the way he was holding it. He told me he was going to put my hair in a ponytail and just chop across it. I had a moment when I thought "hang on a sec, is this guy actually legit? Or did he lose a bet?" I thought perhaps this was some sort of awful hoax - that I'd been duped into believing this guy had any qualifications whatsoever. Was I actually going to let him do this? I felt a mixture of fear and guilt. He'd supposedly driven 45 minutes to get here. If he was (contrary to what I thought) actually legit, how could I just dash his dreams like that? I stayed in my seat, shivering slightly. I started contemplating what sort of wig I'd have to buy after he'd done away with my locks.

When he started to chop off the ponytail, it sounded like he was snipping upwards towards my scalp...all my hair...completely off. I almost screamed but bit my tongue to stop myself. I was nervous, frightened, wishing I could go back in time. He continued cutting, again, with little confidence. It seemed to me that the layers he was chopping were completely at random. A cut here and there. Nothing too specific. Just a few jagged edges. I made it clear that if he messed up, I'd be a miserable human being. He was beginning to feel the pressure, and he told me. Hearing a hairdresser say "I feel under a lot of pressure" isn't the most comforting of thoughts. 

I hadn't been looking in a mirror so had no idea what it would look like. A brave move. I suppose I wanted to trust him, or perhaps I was too scared to watch his amateur attempt. When it came to looking at the finished product, I paused, breathing heavily.  It felt like that moment when you receive an essay back and you're too scared to look at the mark; the feelings of dread and anxiety, mingled with excitement and intrigue. I inched closer and closer towards the mirror and finally when I saw my reflection staring back at me, I almost screamed. Not necessarily because it looked awful, but mainly because it was just so much shorter than I'd wanted. We'd decided on a long bob, and this was far from it. This was verging on bowl cut (OK maybe a slight exaggeration) and I couldn't believe it. I smiled, one of those fake smiles, and thanked him. 

When he left, my housemate came in. After complimenting me on the new "do", she asked if it was meant to be asymmetric. Sorry, what? "Well, the right side is definitely longer than the left" she commented. "Surely he did it on purpose?" she continued. "You know, like Victoria Beckham?" I looked in the mirror and suddenly noticed what she was talking about. It genuinely was. I'd been given one of those awful, lopsided haircuts that only feature on those "BEST FAILS OF 2013" websites. The layers also didn't seem to blend in particularly well and random chunks of hair were sticking out. OH wow. I immediately called him but he simply responded with "I don't know what to say". Isn't it obvious? Surely you'd come back and fix it? I mean, this is my hair we're talking about. He started getting mouthy with me and was completely unprofessional. I went to my desk and picked up some paper-cutting scissors and went to the mirror. Did I trust myself?

Later on that evening I received a whatsapp message on my phone from the guy, asking if I was getting used to the new hair. I explained that I liked it, just that it was wonky which wasn't exactly 'ideal'. He agreed to come over the next evening and fix it, much to my relief. He seemed very apologetic which was nice and I thought that perhaps after all, he wasn't so bad a guy. But apologies soon turned into annoying comments such as "I always knew you'd try to find fault with anything I did", "Did the haircut not deserve a tweet then?", "Can you recommend me?", "Do your friends like it?" The desperation was coming out. It was verging on harassment.  It just doesn't seem very ethical to recommend a bad hairdresser, even if it is free. Nevertheless, I became his temporary counsellor. I told him not to lose faith, that he'd get better over time, and that I admired him for going freelance and setting up his own business at such a young age. I told him life was hard and that he'd just have to get used to it. Poor guy.

Anyway, long story short…I ended up booking an appointment at Richard Beaumont Salon the next day on Longbrook St which I've been to before. I paid £25 for a hair fix (so much for the free haircut) which involved taking another inch off my right side and neatening the layers (apparently he'd missed a huge triangle of layers at the back of my head). So reassuring. But to his credit, he hadn't completely screwed up. The left side was "nicely shaped" according to the hairdresser in the salon. It was just a shame that he lacked consistency.

So there you have it. If you're going to take anything anyway from this article, it's that you shouldn't trust random hairdressers on social media who try and throw free haircuts at you. Because you'll probably be disappointed. But then again, I enjoyed being a little reckless. When you spend all day in the library, sometimes it's nice to do something a little crazy. And it doesn't always have to involve alcohol.

And because a new haircut is one of the only acceptable times to take selfies (this was actually taken before I went to Richard Beaumont Salon)...

30 Aug 2013

Sex-Deprived Strangers in Paris

OK so I know this title is a little bit promiscuous, but I'm struggling to come up with another way to describe their irrational behaviour. I mean, maybe "strange" men on this side of the channel are just far more forward than their British frenemies, but despite spending nearly 12 months here (eek!), their unrequited desire to be my lover me still fuureeeaks me out. Let me explain.

There are a few places where I believe it is unacceptable, and I mean unacceptable to chat up a woman. This info is clearly not ingrained in some people.

1) Public transport. I've already decided that I won't be meeting my future husband on an underground train/metro/subway/tube...or whatever you call it where you come from. This is the actual antithesis of romantic and anyone who thinks they stand a chance is shooting themselves in the foot. It's obvious that all you're looking for is a quickie in the disabled toilet of a skanky tube station, so GET OUT of my face. Exactly the same with buses or night buses. Tapping someone on the knee to ask if they're day-dreaming (best chat-up line ever?) is a no-go too; and tapping someone on the knee to ask if they're Irish (more about this one later), is at the top of the cringe list.  Do you really think a sweaty metro journey against a graffited door and piss-stained seats is the time or place for idle flirting?! Yea, me neither.

2) In the street. You see it in the movies; two people glancing across at each other on a crowded street and they fall in love. Earth to mankind: this is fiction. So for Pete's sake, don't come up to me and ask if I prefer strawberries or raspberries and then proceed to ask me out for a drink at a smoothie bar. It's not going to happen. And don't you dare randomly get out of your car, only to run after me and tell me you like the spirit of my walk. Spirit? Really? It's not going to get you a coffee date, or a phone number. So 4get about it. And pulling your motorbike up to the curb to try to stroke my face and dribble on me is also out of the question. In case there were any doubts. And for the love of Bob, stop calling me "charmante". It's not going to happen.

3) When you're a waiter in a restaurant. Yes, I'm surprised as much as you are. From asking for my Facebook deets on a receipt, giving me overly-generous discounts, asking me out for salsa dancing, inviting me over for a free glass of Champagne, to following me out of the restaurant to my office...I've had it all.

And I wish I could say that the reason behind all "this" is because I look like a modern day Marilyn. Not quite. The truth of the matter is that I am female, and that seems to be a good enough reason to be bombarded with attention. Although I do seem to have particularly rotten luck with attracting the creeps of this world. So women of this world: when a strange man tries to coax you into a cup of coffee, tells you he can show you what a "real French kiss feels like", or starts silent orgasming in the corner while staring intensely at you… RUN AWAY. 

8 Aug 2013

Le Bal du Moulin Rouge!

As an avid supporter of the 2001 film of the same name starring my Scottish heartthrob Ewan McGregor and Australian beauty Nicole Kidman, it only seemed natural to be drawn to its namesake and take in the glam and glitz such a place has to offer. You got it! It’s off to the cabaret old chum...!

Located in the heart of Montmartre (the red-light district of Paris) amidst sex shops selling erotic memorabilia and raunchy attire, the Moulin Rouge (quite literally, the "red fan") is as spectacular as it is iconic. We arrived, 109€ (each) the poorer to a queue which ran its course down the Boulevard de Clichy, lit up with street lamps and the buzz of a crowd slightly stifled by the overbearing heat.

Once the queue started moving we were up and away and flapping our tickets at the door to suited waiters who scoured the room momentarily, decked with oblong tables of four to eight people. The majority of the seats were on the ground floor but I noticed that a cluster of tables had also been arranged on a balcony above. The ground floor surrounded a huge T shaped stage and there was no set seating per se; it really was all down to the attendants to choose where to place you. 

I had wanted to dress to the nines for the special occasion; each lick of mascara and stroke of eye shadow had been delicately placed with precision. I was wearing a white dress with a bandeau adorned with golden sequins. The night was all about opulence and extravagance and I was going to be part of it. I was only lacking in long silk gloves and a feather in my hair.

The waiter smiled at me and my suitor and I gleamed back at him with a needy elegance, as if to ask with the bat of an eyelash to be placed in the most superior of seats. He swung us past various different tables, some empty, some full, before arriving at a half-empty table at the front of the stage. He called me Madame and pulled back my chair. We'd done it! We'd been seated like royals, with a view matched by none.  It wasn't long before our Champagne arrived and the cool liquid was bubbling through my veins. Bliss.

The music started and the singers appeared with beads and faux diamonds hanging vivaciously over their slender frames. Each one of them a vision. The costumes were spell-binding; the lavishness, the colours, the feathers and the eccentricity. Each song or dance showcased a new magical ensemble as the troupe of the world's finest dancers performed in bewitching unison against the exotic backdrop. Their bodies moved like sculptures, chiselled and refined by the hands of an esteemed artist. From birds of paradise to peacocks, the dancers flaunted their costumes in glorious array, much to the excitement of the audience.

Perhaps the biggest highlights of the show were the acrobatic acts in the interludes. The sheer physical strength of the dancers was one thing, but the danger they placed themselves in was what made it even more provoking.  The ability to balance their bodies on each other in such a manner that one slight twitch could prove to be fatal meant it was both exciting and nerve-racking at the same time. The control and skill possessed by these select performers was inspiring to say the least. We also witnessed a woman diving into a pool of snakes and watched in horror as she coiled the snakes around her body as she danced amongst them. 

I couldn't say that I was aware of a narrative in the cabaret, but the show was not void of humour or character (the ponies being a definite favourite!) My one criticism would be the slightly 'cheesy' French songs and the fact that the singers were miming to a soundtrack which was noticeable given that we were touching distance from the stage.  The proximity was fabulous though: the tiniest mole, scar or wink between the dancers didn't go unnoticed. 

One thing which the Moulin Rouge was not was vulgar. Yes, breasts were sometimes on display, but a naked form in itself is not vulgar. It's how you choose to present it. This was art, not profanity.

Next stop (hopefully!): the Paris Opera!

6 Aug 2013

A Phoney's Survival Guide to Dating

Him or the idea of him?

Whenever I fancied someone in the past and had my heart torn in two, I tormented myself with the following question: Do I really like a) him or b) the idea of him? Both can result in tears of frustration; the former results in genuine tears because you are pining after a man who can't be yours/ broke your heart/ doesn't know how ardently you adore him, while the latter tears are because you loved the fact that you had a shoulder to cry on, someone to hang out with when you had nothing better to do, someone to tell you you're beautiful even when you look like you've been pulled through a bush backwards...and now this has been shattered. You're so desperate to be in a relationship that you find yourself loving the idea of the happy couple more than loving your significant other. Essentially, you might have loved the way he made you feel, but you didn't actually love him.
Some women have a habit of falling for people who are just no good for them; too old, too young, too much of a bachelor, too noncommittal, too arse-hole-ish, too wannabe John Mayer or Tiger Woods. I know full well when he's all wrong for me, when I'm treading in deep waters, when I'm only throwing myself into a messy war of runny noses and hysterical comments like "I just feel so empty". You ask yourself how he ever managed to imprison and capture you in what can only be described as a vicious circle of mental turmoil. Him wanting you is the best feeling in the world but sometimes you ask yourself what it is or was about him that made you fall so hard.  Do you love him or the idea of him?

I'm reminded of one of my favourite novels: The Great Gatsby.  If you've only ever seen the film starring Leonardo DiCaprio, I urge you to go pick F. Scott Fitzgerald's masterpiece off the bookshelf this second. The question we forever ask ourselves throughout the novel (fuelled by narrator Nick Carraway) is the following: does Gatsby actually love Daisy, or does he merely want to recapture the idea of himself which went into loving Daisy? There's no denying (in my opinion) that he did truly love Daisy at one point or another, but over time this love turned into nothing more than a concept.

Are you falling for someone for what they represent rather than for who they are? Do you love their soul (as cliched as it sounds) or merely the fact that they fulfill a part of your life which needs fulfilling?

The time-bomb of ticking boxes

It's funny - I've been on dates where guys have asked me what I look for in a man. The awkward question which results in you lying slyly because a) you don't want to hurt his feelings by describing the polar opposite of him, and b) you don't want to accidentally describe him in case he thinks you're making a move on him. I usually say something along the line of "great sense of humour", "confident but not too full of himself", "down to earth"...I try to steer away from describing looks because while a certain appearance may appeal to me more than others, I'd much rather fall for a man in his entirety than only because he had piercing blue eyes, blonde curls and a strong jaw. I personally wouldn't want to be with someone who was that picky because it's a far cry from the "down to earth" nature which so appeals to me. I'd only be a hypocrite.

And as the subheading suggests, ticking boxes really grates on me. I know we can all dream up our perfect guy - how he'd look, his personality, his talents, his hobbies - and of course I'm not denying that certain traits may be important, if not intrinsic for a happy relationship, but that doesn't automatically mean that a man who ticks all the right boxes is going to be right for you, nor does it mean that you'll fall in love with him.

And searching for the ticking-all-the-right-boxes sorta fella may take forever. In fact, maybe the guy doesn't even exist. So quit worrying about how he's brunette rather than blond, 5'11" instead of 6'2" or doesn't have a stomach so chiseled that he could make chocolate bars melt on it. You can't pull up a list of pros and cons for someone - they're not objects. I mean, imagine a world where human beings were rated, just like products on Amazon. In fact, don't!

Call to Action

So stop your wasting time in a relationship where you feel miserable or serial dating losers who only want to pop your cherry.  And for Pete's sake: Don't date someone just because they're nice and possess all the qualities of a perfect boyfriend. His "perfection" will only end up getting on your nerves. If you can't find someone right for you right now, enjoy being single and relish your ability to be a little bit selfish. I know I am.
"You have bewitched me, body and soul, and I love... I love... I love you." (Darcy, Pride and Prejudice). Now that, ladies, is true love.
So there you have it. A phoney's survival guide to dating. Or maybe, a phoney's survival guide to singledom?

20 Jul 2013

America's Obesity & France's Fast-Food Addiction

This past year in Paris, I've been surrounded by slim women, in fact, slim people in general. I don't know how they do it - good genes perhaps? But the image of the slender, elegant Parisian woman holds a lot of truth. And when I'm out there working up a sweat as I jog around the Eiffel Tower, I'm stunned to see that it's mainly men who are exercising, not women. Maybe the women exercise within the comfort of their own home, but I have a feeling that a combination of chain smoking, small portions and good genes are the real reason behind their slim physiques.  And maybe the fact that on every advert there's a health warning. If there's anyone telling you to eat your five portions of fruit and veg a day or not to snack, it's the French.

My first stop this summer on my American adventure was a six hour layover in Minneapolis, Minnesota. Since the layover was so long, we decided to pass the time in the largest mall in America with its very own indoor theme park. And I'll tell you now - it was something else. Or, as I like to say, sumfin' else.

As we wandered around the mall, the sheer size of the people we came across was worrying. Maybe malls are social hubs for overweight people, but I couldn't get my head around it. Fat kids licking ice-creams larger than their heads or people so overweight that they had to be pushed around in wheelchairs because they couldn't walk. At one point, I saw a man sitting on a bench with his XXXXL t-shirt which still didn't fit him and I noticed his leg was purple and swollen. When he got up to move, I felt pain come over me as I saw the large globules of fat bursting out of the back of his knees. Surely that cannot be comfortable. His head looked so small in proportion to the rest of his body that if I'd have seen a photograph of him, I'd have thought he'd been photoshopped.

From beer bellies to muffin tops, I kid you not when I say that 90% of the people we saw were overweight, and many of them clinically obese. In that moment I envisaged a world where everyone was fat; really fat. Where fitness died out and the average person didn't move from their couch because they had everything they needed within their reach. Fridges walked towards them with the click of a remote; people ate and slept in the same seat because they couldn't lift themselves out of it. Automated cranes heaved people from one location to the next.

And another shocking discovery in this mall was the fashion, or lack of it. I know this wasn't Beverley Hills but where the hell is Gok Wan when you need him. Neon trainers and oversized basketball shorts are never a good look. Neither are tight tops which cling painfully over heaving guts, butt cracks on display and cankles: the lack of calf/ankle definition where the two seem to merge.

The root of it? Oh where to begin. Free soda refills in every restaurant, the continual fast-food frenzy, the HUGE portions. I remember on our trip to Alaska a few years ago when I ordered a cooked breakfast. My plate arrived and on it I had about 3 fried eggs, 6 rashers of bacon, 4 sausages....and to top it all off, a stack of four large pancakes on the side covered in lashings of butter and Canadian maple syrup. If that doesn't clog your arteries just thinking about it, then I don't know what will. I think it's safe to say that I didn't even manage a third of it. And even just a few days ago when I went for a single scoop of ice-cream in a cafe, the scoop was so large that it could have easily passed for a triple scoop in the UK where in comparison, the portions seem stingy.

And I'm not kidding when I say that being fat costs you, and not just because of the amount of food you're getting through. Samoa Air for example charges passengers per kilo. Thus, a 60kg person will be paying a much lighter airfare than the 120kg person sitting across the aisle.  Fancy a future where along with baggage, passengers also have to hit the scales to determine their airfare. And before people start getting sensitive over the issue, "Every extra kilogram means more expensive jet fuel must be burned, which leads to CO2 emissions and financial cost" according to Dr Ian Yeoman.  

The sad reality is that the fast-food frenzy has made its way to France, too. A recent survey showed that more French people go out for fast-food than to your typical French cafe or bistro. The shocking discovery shows that 54% of all restaurant sales in France comes from fast-food chains. Part of me is not surprised at all; many (male) colleagues at work spend 4 out of 5 lunches a week at McDonalds, and don't bat an eyelid. For the country which gave the world "gastronomie", things aren't looking too great. In fact, reports have shown that after the U.S., France is the largest consumer of fast-food. But the pressing question is: How do the French stay so slim?

I appreciate that certain medical conditions mean that being overweight is not a choice. But I'd be very surprised to hear that all 75% of overweight individuals in the U.S. suffer from medical conditions which mean that being overweight is uncontrollable.

Now, would someone please go get me a corn dog with extra mayo, a side of fries and a large soda.  I'm starving. 

15 Jul 2013

Giverny and Monet's Water Lilies

So a few weekends ago (yes, I'm a little *en retard in writing this), I went to Giverny, the former home of French Impressionist painter Claude Monet.  I could have just called him Monet but after a colleague in Paris asked me who exactly this Monet was, I felt that I should be a little more lucid, in case any of you confused him with the 21st century child rapper Chi Chi Monet. FYI, no relation.

Giverny is located 50 miles outside of Paris in Haute-Normandy and is accessible by train to Vernon followed by a one hour trail walk or 3€ shuttle bus. We picked up some treats from the bakery for lunch before making our way. It was boiling that day which called for factor 50+ suncream and a hat but I don't own the latter so had to make do with rubbing suncream into my scalp. A greasy affair.

The trail was nice in the sunshine, albeit a little long and monotonous, and after an hour we were entering the picturesque village of Giverny. The whole village was blooming with brightly coloured flowers and green; so much green. Quaint houses were hidden by charming gates and mini stone facades. It all seemed so mystical and I cherished the sweet chirping of birds and fragrant scent of roses. So much beauty in one place.

We couldn't have come at a better time of year.  It was none other than breathtaking as we walked down the rows of flowers of every colour imaginable. I drew my camera up to the buds but the end result could not even begin to capture what I beheld.

We followed the garden down into a small underpass which opened up into the pond. THE pond, with water lilies galore and an abandoned wooden boat which must have been used once upon a time when its owner came out to paint the ladies amongst the water lilies. We crossed a bridge and tiptoed through the gorgeous melange of forest green and vibrant purples, pinks and oranges. Delicate petals, as white as they were pure, clouded together to create a hanging bouquet over the water's surface. Large fish swam lazily through the murky water, just clear enough to see their dark shapes easing through the pond.  
We sidled up to Le Pont Japonais. It really was picture perfect with the branches hanging like a veil of green over the painted green bridge. A large weeping willow stood imposingly on the opposite side of the pond, its gallant arms sulking towards the water. I could see so easily the inspiration this place evoked.

We then entered Monet's house.  I was initially surprised by his obsession with Japanese art - the endless engravings; the walls were covered.  I had felt an immense curiosity to go inside and explore the world of such a renowned artist; to feel an essence of his being which he has undoubtedly left behind. It had such a magical air about it, as if living there would be like living on the pages of a storybook, much like the village itself which seemed so bite-sized; so mignon. I suppose I was charmed by its winding streets and sweeping landscape views, its sereneness and its ability to let your imagination paddle with the water lilies and never look back.

A definite must.

*late in French, not retarded

9 Jul 2013

Katie Hopkins: The Snob Who'd Hate Me

It's not often that I stare at my laptop and actually scream in outrage (apart from during an overly tense episode of some trashy TV series).  That said, I'm known for being a tad dramatic - scrap that - highly dramatic when it comes to crossing the road without looking (I do this a lot), being tickled or watching Rafael Nadal play tennis.

It may come as no surprise therefore that whilst watching the hugely hyped interview on ITV's This Morning between controversial social commentator and journalist Katie Hopkins and Holly Willoughby, I was choking on my own saliva. On more than one occasion I had to pause the youtube video and divert my thoughts to a slightly mundane Facebook newsfeed to shake away the contempt towards this woman which was mounting inside of me.

Let's get to the crux of the issue: Hopkins bases who her children are allowed to play with solely on the child's name.  Why?  Because apparently the Tylers, Brandons, Ashlees, Charmains and Chardonnays of this world are working class children who aren't fit to wine and dine with her own league-above-the-rest offspring.  And not only that - a boy with a name like Tyler never does his homework, spends class-time being disruptive and beats up children in the playground.  Such is the way in Hopkins' shallow universe. In a nutshell, her remarks are so unfounded, so excessive and so ignorant that I can't even take offense.

One of the "name categories" she sneered at and labeled unfit for playdates was geograpahical locations (ironic that her own daughter is called India).  Being called Montana then, I guess I'm screwed.  Although maybe I'd beg at my knees and insist that rather than the American state, I was actually named after the New Zealand wine company (then again, she hates the Chardonnays of this world, so I suppose being named after wine wouldn't improve my situation!)  Or perhaps I'd go for the the protagonist from the 1983 film Scarface, or, God forbid it, Hannah Montana (despite her being a year my junior.)   Oh wait, she hates celebrity names too.  That includes Gwyneth Paltrow's daughter's name: Apple.  So I suppose that also cancels out "food" names.  There's a chocolate bar called Montana and I recently discovered a Montana bagel in a cafe too.  I'm really not doing too well at this game. Oh, and why not hate on the gingers too: "Ginger babies. Like a baby. Just so much harder to love." I really am doomed for failure in the Katie Hopkins survival-of-the-fittest guide.  And does the fact that my Dad is American make it all the more worse?  She's clearly scared of anything mildly exotic.

Wait, just wait! Her daughter is called Poppy and there's a Clematis called Montana - a vigorous climbing plant. *Dances around wildly*.  There is hope!

On a slightly different note; one thing being abroad in Paris has reminded me is that socialising with people from other backgrounds, nationalities, classes, cultures, religions - however you want to divide them - is one of the most fuelling and enriching things you can experience.  Katie insists that fast-tracking  - culling people with certain names from your social circles - is a quick way to avoid spending time with people who will be detrimental to your environment and success.  But why the desperate need to take a (what I would argue counterproductive) short cut? Life is short which is why young people should make the most of enriching rather than limiting their social circles.  After all, no-one comes in or leaves the world less equal to the next. Whether they're called Chardonnay or Matilda.

26 Jun 2013

Putain! At War with French Women!

Gone are the days where I attempt to be polite on my blog.  Being polite is boring. (Disclaimer: If you're French and act like the women I'm about to mention below, you are exempt from this. You need politeness therapy. NOW!)
I'm one of the unlucky bunch who suffers from hay-fever and recently, the pollen count has been ridiculously high and I've been sneezing to hell and back.  My nostrils are flaming red after I practically devoured the toilet paper at work, while trying to avoid raised eyebrows from people who think I have an unfortunate bladder problem.  I'm sure my colleagues were appreciative of the lovely long strips of white loo roll I spent much of today wrestling with at my desk.  My annoying sniffs and continually running nose (if only I had as much stamina as my nose, I'd be an Olympic athlete) meant that I bucked up the courage to do something about it.  (Brownie points for initiative?!)

Big supermarkets in France are always useful; you can buy make-up, endless toiletries, medicine.....  All the things you can't buy at those trashy little supermarkets like Dia which attempt to sell cardboard in any form and pass it off as anything from pizza to crackers to soap.  No joke - I bought some crackers from Dia the other day to smear some cheese on.  I opened the packet and they looked like the sort of thing you'd put through a paper shredder and use for your hamster's foul pit.  *Trash*.  It's therefore nice to treat yourself to the more up-market places like Monoprix if you want to avoid eating paper sandwiches.  

When I was in there today, I waltzed over to the "mini-pharmacy" section to find some blister plasters for my feet.  I recognised at once the compede plasters I used for my Duke of Edinburgh Bronze Award but I still wanted professional advice before parting ways with my well-earned dosh.  I spoke to a lovely man who was very helpful and didn't mind that I didn't know the word for 'blister' in French and we managed to get a good conversation going before I decided to choose the compede.  I thanked him for his time and he continued with his work.  

I then sneezed and remembered I needed to pick up some hay-fever tablets.  The man had disappeared so I approached another woman in the vicinity and started speaking to her.  She looked at me with such a judging mixture of disgust and confusion that I thought for a moment I'd accidentally approached a customer.  I told her I didn't know the word for hay-fever in French but I tried to describe the symptoms and said it was an allergy to pollen.  She just stood there staring at my face with contempt.  I mean, it wasn't like I'd asked her how to cure vaginal warts.  Seriously. She then muttered something under her breath about going to a pharmacy before I did one of those fake smiles and thanked her for "wasting" my time.  When I waited in the queue to pay, I did that thing where you just stare and stare and stare at someone when they're not looking at you, hoping your eyes might just burn into the back of their head and cause them to keel over and choke on their own depressing existence.  Bit harsh maybe?

Last weekend I was in Normandy and found myself in a touristy shop which had a clothing department upstairs.  As I walked up the stairs, I noticed a gorgeous trench coat on one of the mannequins and simply fell in love.  I don't actually own a trench coat and despite it being summer, the weather's been so foul that I figured purchasing a trench coat might not be such a bad idea.  I walked over to the rail where the coats were hanging and slipped on the bright orange number after finding my size (yes, it did clash with my hair a little). Before I'd even had a chance to look in the mirror, a lady who worked there condescendingly shouted over to me "are you actually going to buy that?", as if I were some random tramp who'd come into the store.  I was so taken aback that she actually had the cheek to speak to me like that and make such a grotesque judgement.  In retrospect I should have said: "No, I'm not going to buy it.  I'm going to steal it and sell it on eBay."  I stormed off.  If my mouth hadn't been so dry I would have spat on her.

My one piece of advice for these women?  Do us all a favour and remove that massive rod you have so firmly stuck up your arse. It's giving you wrinkle lines and a soggy disposition.

16 Jun 2013

The Red Light District and Other Tales

It was eight in the evening and the sun was still a peachy orange.  Armadas of vintage bicycles were resting on top of bridges above canals of slowly moving water, their handlebars glinting.  Picturesque houses on either side slanted forwards, their crooked façades giving them the appearance of reaching out towards the water below. The night was still young.

Walking down streets the distinctive smell of weed brought me back to my first year at university; the unforgettable stench would linger in the corridor of my student residence or waft in through my window in the early hours of the morning.  Walking into one coffee shop - the notorious name for a cannabis cafe - we were met by dazed faces.  A group of young men were sprawled out in one corner of space cake city, smoking joints and absentmindedly watching the peculiar music videos being aired on the different screens.  A druggy's paradise.

I watched my friends around me nibbling on their first hash brownies or sharing joints.  I didn't mind being there but I didn't want to try it.  I suppose part of me was scared I might have a bad reaction to it.  And then there was the money issue...I didn't want to spend well-earned money on weed.  Cheese, yes, but not weed. Yet the root of my decision was that despite it being one of those "When in Rome" moments, I just wasn't interested.


On first glance, it seemed like any other part of Amsterdam.  I searched for women in micro skirts and too much make-up but they were nowhere to be seen. We wondered if we weren't a bit early.  But then, looking to our left, we noticed alleyways lit up with red lights.  I thought red light was merely a phrase for "risqué", "naughty" or "dangerous" but it suddenly all made sense.  I was feeling nervous but intrigued and we decided to follow the flow of men and women who hounded the windows.  Beams of pinky red light infused the cramped passageways and I couldn't help but feel a twinge of fear as we ebbed deeper and deeper into the heart of Amsterdam's sex trade. I had been warned not to take photos; the pimps were protective of their ladies and wouldn't allow it.  I'd heard stories of cameras being taken and smashed to the ground. 
Walking past the windows, we saw slim, ample-breasted women wearing what looked like thin strips of elastic cloth, barely covering the essentials.  Some stared out at their voyeurs; others looked bored; some played on their mobile phones.  I don't know what was more upsetting; the women who actually looked like they wanted to be there, or the women who were conscious of their prison.  I felt a rush of guilt cloud over me.  They had been turned into dogs and these were their kennels. I saw a few men walking out of doorways, buttoning up shirts or doing up their flies. As we rushed back towards civilisation, seedy men eyed us up.  I couldn't help but ask my friends: "since when did prostitutes wear baggy jumpers and converse?"

Any woman who turns herself into a man’s whore knows no freedom.  

7 Jun 2013

You know you're not French when...

...You start using meaningless abbreviations like 'pdp' because you think you're in with the cool kids.  Until you realise that no French person has a clue what you're going on about (even the teenagers think you're weird); in fact, the more you try to make 'pdp' happen, the more confused you'll make them.  You may think that 'pdp' means 'pas de probleme' but for a French person it means f@ck all (excuse my French...) 

...You have unbearably pale (synonym: translucent) skin, freckles and reddish hair.  They will assume right away that you are British, or, not of their country.  Note to self: try dying your hair and hitting a tanning booth. 

...You pronounce croissant like "cwoson" because you still can't manage to pronounce the French 'r' without sounding like you're choking on your own tongue or trying to impersonate Gollum.

...You ask for your hamburger to be served 'well done' in a restaurant.  The waiter will most certainly look at you like you made a mistake and the chef will serve it rare.  Expect blood to spill onto your plate because you'll be getting far from the lump of charcoal you initially requested.  If the idea of Steak tartare (raw minced beef on a plate) fills you with disgust, you're definitely not French.

...You apologise when someone bumps into you because you're British and it's the social norm to apologise to everyone, all of the time.  Must. Stop. Being. Overly. Polite.  Contrary to popular belief, old people aren't always nice either.  Feel free to scream at them once in a while when they're in your way.

...You offer up your seat to a pregnant woman on the metro.  That's far too nice.

...You continue to use sarcasm, and think it's hilarious.  French people don't get British humour.  Your attempt at being 'ironic' will go right over their heads and they'll either think you're being incredible mean, or incredibly nice.  Either way, it should be avoided at all costs if you want to make French friends.

...You start having panic attacks in a restaurant when they bring you the wrong flavoured ice-cream because you can't bring yourself to tell the waiter that instead of vanilla, he gave you coconut, which you LOATHE.  You feel guilty because you can't bear to cause an inconvenience and you stare at your food for a long period of time, swirling it around your plate, hoping it might miraculously turn into what you ordered if you frown at it for long enough.  Hint: it won't.

Where on earth is the Eiffel Tower?
...You say each digit individually in your mobile number instead of putting them in pairs.  

...Someone asks you where the closest tube station is and you get your Paris map out.

...You forget how to use the 24 hour clock.  If you say "8" instead of "20" for 8pm, a French person will look at you like you just asked them a complicated mathematical equation, before asking the person behind you.

...You give money to homeless people on the metro.  And then get your wallet stolen because you forgot to zip your bag up.

...You ask for extra ketchup.  On everything.  And then ask how much the free bread costs.

2 Jun 2013

Bridal Fever and Marrying Animals

The last thing on my mind right now should be marriage and children.  I'm 21, sans potential husband, and I still haven't reached the perfect pre-baby figure.  But this doesn't stop me endlessly pinning wedding dresses onto a board I've called "My style".  Don't ask.

Furthermore, when I hear wedding bells ringing on my Facebook timeline, coupled with my colleagues sending me pictures of their dream wedding dresses and sparkling white Jimmy Choos over the office IM, it's hard to ignore the matter altogether.  I think I can therefore be forgiven for occasionally daydreaming about ivory, lace, fruit cake and fondant icing shaped like doves.  And dropping into conversation the fact that I want aquamarines and diamonds in my engagement ring too.  I mean, I'm obviously not going to accept a freebie from a cereal box so I might as well state the real deal before it's too late and my husband to be buys me a sickly Canary diamond ring à la Kelly Clarkson.  I kid you not when I say that poor taste in engagement rings could make it or break it for a potential suitor of mine.  And that includes buying it online.  Apart from that, I'm not too fussy.  Although I might as well mention that I also want a horse-drawn carriage on my way to the church and a reception of 2,000 and four dozen white roses in crystal vases for every square metre.  That's all.

Even if I have to dress up my dog as the groom in the process, I am determined at some point in my life to walk down the aisle.  You know, marrying your pet isn't actually frowned upon in all cultures.  I'm kidding.  Human-animal marriage, as my source acutely puts it, is not recognised in law by any country.  Sadly this doesn't include men with animalistic tendencies.  Sigh.

Interestingly enough however, in 2003 a 9 year old tribal girl in eastern India married a dog because she believed it would ward off bad omens. Fact.  And this wasn't some beloved pet she'd been caring for - it was a stray dog.  According to the BBC article, the girl had a tooth rooted to her upper gum (a sign of bad things to come), hence her tribe's insistence that she either marry a dog, or face the bad omen.  Luckily for the girl, the tribal elders confirmed that this marriage would not affect her ability to marry again, and neither would she have to go through divorce proceedings.  I wouldn't be surprised however if she was found citing "irreconcilable differences".

And then in 2006, a Sudanese man was forced to marry a goat after being caught having sex with it. The culprit, Mr Tombe, was ordered by a council of elders to pay 15,000 Sudanese dinars (£37) to the goat's owner before taking it home to be his wife.  The goat, who was later nicknamed Rose, became the best-known goat in Sudan.  Sadly for Mr. Tombe however, Rose died a few months following the wedding after choking.  On a plastic bag, I hasten to add.  Gone, but not forgoaten.  (And she left a 'kid' in her legacy too. I'm thinking someone wasn't a very faithful wife!)

2006 was a popular year in terms of human-animal weddings after an Indian woman supposedly, and I quote, 'fell in love with a snake' - yes, that is right.  She married the reptile in a traditional Hindu ceremony with 2,000 guests in attendance.  The Press Trust of India exaplined how Priests chanted mantras to 'seal' the union, but the cobra failed to come out of a nearby ant hill where it lived.  Instead, a brass replica of the snake stood in for the hesitant groom.  Sneaky.  Or should I say snakey?

So, dear readers, if you had to marry any animal, which would you choose?  A dog, a goat, a snake?  Or maybe you'd go a little closer to home and wed an orangutan?  The possibilities are endless...

P.s. I'd just like to point out that contrary to popular belief, I am in no desperate rush to get married.  Quite the opposite.  I am almost determined not to tie the knot until I'm at least 27.  So in the meantime, I'll satisfy myself by Googling wedding venues instead.. ;)